Archive for the ‘Camp followers’ Category

“Following the Drum”

Although the book Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment was published in 2009, I just recently discovered it. For shame! Written by Nancy K. Loane who is a former seasonal ranger at Valley Forge National Historical Park, it describes the women, of high social status, middling, and low, who spent time at Valley Forge in 1777-1778 and at other winter encampments. Women whose names you are likely to recognize—Martha Washington, Catherine Greene, Lucy Knox, Rebekah Biddle, Lady Stirling, and Alice Shippen—receive considerable attention, in part, because there is a good deal of source material available: documents, diaries, and letters. But there are also chapters devoted to the women of Washington’s “family,”—his slaves, servants, and spies—as well as to camp followers, many of whom were wives of serving soldiers. Mostly they washed, cooked, did laundry, nursed the ill and wounded, and cared for children and babies, with only grudging recognition and little recompense. Ms. Loane provides many details about their roles and the hardships they endured. Very readable, the book is well researched and documented. You can see a video of Ms. Loane talking about the book on C-SPAN.

posted April 28th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Camp followers,Valley Forge,Washington, Martha

“washing, mending, and cooking for the soldiers”

In her deposition, Sarah Osborn, a camp follower (see previous post), describes her journey with the American troops to the South, first to Philadelphia, and then on to Yorktown.

They continued their march to Philadelphia, deponent [Sarah] on horseback through the streets, and arrived at a place towards the Schuylkill where the British had burnt some houses, where they encamped for the afternoon and night. Being out of bread, deponent was employed in baking the afternoon and evening. Deponent recollects no females but Sergeant Lamberson’s and Lieutenant Forman’s wives and a colored woman by the name of Letta. The Quaker ladies who came round urged deponent to stay, but her said husband said, “No, he could not leave her behind.” Accordingly, next day they continued their march from day to day till they arrived at Baltimore. . . .

They, however, marched immediately for a place called Williamsburg . . . deponent alternately on horseback and on foot. There arrived, they remained two days till the army all came in by land and then marched for Yorktown, or Little York as it was then called. The York troops were posted at the right, the Connecticut troops next, and the French to the left. In about one day or less than a day, they reached the place of encampment about one mile from Yorktown. Deponent was on foot and the other females above named and her said husband still on the commissary’s guard. . . .

Deponent took her stand just back of the American tents, say about a mile from the town, and busied herself washing, mending, and cooking for the soldiers, in which she was assisted by the other females; some men washed their own clothing. She heard the roar of the artillery for a number of days, and the last night the Americans threw up entrenchments. It was a misty, foggy night, rather wet but not rainy. . . . deponent cooked and carried in beef, and bread, and coffee (in a gallon pot) to the soldiers in the entrenchment.

On one occasion when deponent was thus employed carrying in provisions, she met General Washington, who asked her if she “was not afraid of the cannonballs?”

She replied, “No, the bullets would not cheat the gallows,” that “It would not do for the men to fight and starve too.”


They dug entrenchments nearer and nearer to Yorktown every night or two till the last. While digging that, the enemy fired very heavy till about nine o’clock next morning, then stopped, and the drums from the enemy beat excessively. . . . all at once the officers hurrahed and swung their hats, and deponent asked them, “What is the matter now?”

One of them replied, “Are not you soldier enough to know what it means?” Deponent replied, “No.” They then replied, “The British have surrendered.” Deponent, having provisions ready, carried the same down to the entrenchments that morning, and four of the soldiers whom she was in the habit of cooking for ate their breakfasts. Deponent stood on one side of the road and the American officers upon the other side when the British officers came out of the town and rode up to the American officers and delivered up their swords . . . and the British officers rode right on before the army, who marched out beating and playing a melancholy tune, their drums covered with black handkerchiefs and their fifes with black ribbands tied around them, into an old field and there grounded their arms and then returned into town again to await their destiny. . . .

See In the Words of Women, pages 153-54, for Osborn’s deposition. Osborn’s pension application, like many, was dictated to a transcriber. See the National Humanities WEBSITE for the complete deposition of Sarah Osborn as well as the illustration.

posted March 20th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,British soldiers,Camp followers,Washington, George

“Row on boys”

Sarah Matthews Osborn, wife of Aaron, a blacksmith, whom she had married “during the hard winter of 1780” in Albany, New York, accompanied her husband when he re-enlisted as a commissary guard on condition that she would be permitted to ride in a wagon or on horseback. That first winter, they resided at West Point. Sarah Osborn’s deposition applying for her husband’s pension (in 1837) gives a vivid picture of life with the Continental Army.

While at West Point, deponent [Sarah] lived at Lieutenant Foot’s, who kept a boarding house. Deponent was employed in washing and sewing for the soldiers. Her said husband was employed about the camp. She well recollects the uproar occasioned when word came that a British officer had been taken as a spy. She understood at the time that Major André was brought up on the opposite side of the river and kept there till he was executed. On the return of the bargemen who assisted [Benedict] Arnold to escape, deponent recollects seeing two of them, one by the name of Montecu, the other by the name of Clark. That they said Arnold told them to hang up their dinners, for he had to be at Stony Point in so many minutes, and when he got there he hoisted his pocket handkerchief and his sword and said, “Row on boys,” and that they soon arrived in Haverstraw Bay and found the British ship. That Arnold jumped on board, and they were all invited, and they went aboard and had their choice to go or stay. And some chose to stay and some to go and did accordingly.
When the army were about to leave West Point and go south, they crossed over the [Hudson] river to Robinson’s Farms [the property of Beverly Robinson] and remained their for a length of time to induce the belief . . . that they were going to take up quarters there, whereas they recrossed the river in the nighttime into the Jerseys and traveled all night in a direct course for Philadelphia. . . . In their march for Philadelphia, they were under command of Generals Washington and [James] Clinton.

Sarah Osborn continues her story in the next post.

Part of the deposition quoted above is from In the Words of Women, page 153. The illustration of Benedict Arnold is at the Library of Congress, Prints and Photos Division.

posted March 17th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Camp followers,Military Service

“such a great quantity of snow fell”

Outside the window next to my computer I see that snow is falling, along with the temperatures, yet again. Fie on the polar vortex. Yet it puts me in mind of Valley Forge and the suffering of the Americans there in the cold winter of 1777-78. And of other examples of severe winter weather described by women, some in our book and others I have since come upon. It seems appropriate to present a few.

In 1777, Frederika von Riedesel, with their three children, had joined her husband in Canada where he commanded the German mercenaries hired by the British. General von Riedesel pushed south into New York with British General John Burgoyne and his troops in an attempt to cut off New England from the other colonies. Frederika, who was with him, witnessed the decisive defeat of their combined forces by the Americans at Saratoga on October 17, 1777. The British and Hessian troops were marched to Boston, where the Von Riedesels were put up in a house in Cambridge. In the following year as winter approached, Congress decided to move the prisoners to Virginia where their maintenance would be less costly. The Baroness and her children traveled by carriage while her husband made the journey with his troops. Frederika described what the family had to contend with.

Before we passed the so-called Blue mountains, we were forced to make a still further halt of eight days, that our troops might have time to collect together again. In the mean time such a great quantity of snow fell, that four of our servants were obliged to go before my wagon on horseback, in order to make a path for it. We passed through a picturesque portion of the country, which, however, by reason of its wilderness, inspired us with terror. Often we were in danger of our lives while going along these break-neck roads; and more than all this we suffered from cold, and what was still worse, from a lack of provisions. When we arrived in Virginia, and were only a day’s journey from the place of our destination, we had actually nothing more remaining but our tea, and none of us could obtain any thing but bread and butter. A countryman, whom we met on the way, gave me only a hand full of acrid fruits. At noon we came to a dwelling where I begged for something to eat. They refused me with hard words, saying that there was nothing for dogs of Royalists. Seeing some Turkish [Indian] meal lying around, I begged for a couple of hands full, that I might mix it with water, and make bread. The woman answered me “No, that is for our negroes, who work for us, but you have wished to kill us.”

. . . The place of our destination was Colle in Virginia, where my husband, who had gone ahead with our troops, awaited us with impatient longing. We arrived here about the middle of February, 1779, having, on our journey, passed through the provinces of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and having traveled in twelve weeks, six hundred and seventy-eight English miles. . . .

The passages from the Baroness’s journal appear on pages 268-69 of In the Words of Women.

posted January 30th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Camp followers,Canada,Hessians,New York,Prisoners,Saratoga,Travel,Weather

“We … had this sad sight before us the whole day”

Mercenaries from the small states of what is now Germany were hired by the British to supplement their forces. They too had camp followers. Madame Fredericka von Riedesel, with their three children, joined her husband who was a general in Burgoyne’s army. With her were also a maid, a cook, and an old servant of the family. As fighting intensified prior to the British surrender at Saratoga, she witnessed firsthand the casualties of war. In her journal she described what happened on October 7, 1777.

I had just sat down with my husband at his quarters to breakfast. General Fraser, and … Generals Burgoyne and Phillips … were to have dined with me on that same day. …

About three o’clock in the afternoon, in place of the guests who were to have dined with me, they brought in to me, upon a litter, poor General Fraser … mortally wounded. Our dining table, which was already spread, was taken away, and in its place they fixed up a bed for the general. I sat in the corner of the room trembling and quaking. The noises grew constantly louder. … The general said to the surgeon, “Do not conceal any thing from me. “Must I die?” The ball had gone through his bowels … Unfortunately … the general had eaten a hearty breakfast, by reason of which the intestines were distended, and the ball … had not gone … between the intestines, but through them. I heard him often, amidst his groans, exclaim,”O, fatal ambition! Poor General Burgoyne! My poor wife!” Prayers were read to him. He then sent a message to General Burgoyne, begging that he would have him buried the following day at six o”clock in the evening on the top of a hill, which was a sort of redoubt. …

Early in the morning … he expired. After they had washed the corpse, they wrapped it in a sheet, and laid it on a bedstead. We then came into the room, and had this sad sight before us the whole day. … We learned that General Burgoyne intended to fulfill the last wish of General Fraser. … Precisely at six o’clock the corpse was brought out, and we saw the entire body of generals with their retinues on the hill assisting at the obsequies. The English chaplain, Mr. Brudenel, performed the funeral services. The canonballs flew continually around and over the party.
The American general Gates, afterward said, that if he had known that it was a burial he would not have allowed any firing in that direction. … The order had gone forth that the army should break up after the burial, and the horses were already harnessed to our calaches. … we drove off at eight o’clock in the evening.

Narrative from In the Words of Women pages 82-83. Illustrations: View of the West Bank of the Hudson by Thomas Anbury, 1789 and Burial of General Fraser after John Graham.

posted November 19th, 2012 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Camp followers,Death,Hessians,Saratoga

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