Sunday, July 10, 2016

Pre-1900 Logistics

Having problems deciding what food stuffs to pack for the upcoming reenactment event? What rifle or smoothbore to take? "Oh what the heck, plenty room in the truck I'll take extra".

Was not that smiple in the 18th Century.

Historian Scott Stephenson writes in “Forbes Trail”: “An 18th century artillery train was a formidable sight. One hundred and twenty wagons, pulled by five hundred horses, were required to move the 1758 Forbes Expedition’s artillery, ammunition, and equipment.”

Forbes commanded between 6,000 and 8,000 men. Rations for the soldiers were a huge undertaking as well as forage and feed for the animals. 
Brigadier General Forbes set the rations for each man for a one week as eight pounds of fresh beef (on the average, a steer weighing 1,000 pounds on the hoof will average around 430 pounds of retail cuts (steaks, roasts, ground beef, stew beef, etc.) or five pounds of salted pork. This was followed by seven pounds of flour or cooked biscuits, one pint of rice in lieu of one pound of flour. Pork would be transported in barrels that could weigh upwards to 233 pounds packed in salt brine. Often barrels would spoil and problem that was ongoing during the campaign. 


In the War of 1812 getting supplies to the army on the western frontier of Indiana, Ohio and Michigan was a difficult business. Heavy barrels, sacks and bales of food and clothing were loaded onto boats that sailed down the Ohio River. Supplies were then transferred to smaller boats or canoes and paddled north to where the army was camped.

The winter weather of 1812 plagued General James Winchester’s left wing of the Northwestern Army as it marched north to recapture Detroit, which had been surrendered to the British on August 16th. First rain flooded the land, then the rivers dried up. Finally, it froze, so that Winchester’s men couldn’t use their boats at all. Soldiers laboriously loaded the provisions onto much slower pack trains of horses and makeshift sleds.

The difficulty moving supplies posed serious problems for the small force of about two thousand soldiers, mostly Kentucky militia, with four hundred regular soldiers from the 17th and 19th U.S. Infantry Regiments. In order to support a large army in the early nineteenth century, commanders had to feed all the men and officers a daily ration. In addition, the army’s horses and cattle consumed large amounts of fodder.

Not only did Winchester have to feed everyone on the trip, but he also needed to build a large stockpile of food and supplies to support his army when he reached Detroit. As most armies of the day did, Winchester’s soldiers drove a herd of cattle along with them on the march. Soldiers assigned to guard the animals were called the “grass guard.” These cattle were slaughtered as needed, and all the parts were used; the hides saved for leather and the fat for making tallow candles.

We need only multiply the army’s regulation daily ration for each soldier to fully grasp the scale of Winchester’s supply problem. Each soldier was supposed to receive the following, each day:
1¼ pounds of beef
1½ pounds of flour
5 ounces of liquor
5 ounces of vinegar

In addition to these basics, soldiers were also issued small amounts of salt, lye soap and candles. When cattle were unavailable, meat was preserved with salt in large wooden barrels. If possible, the flour was baked into bread or hard biscuits. Soldiers banded together in groups of five or six and cooked their rations in a common pot.