How to Pick a Soldier for the Continental Army (No Short Guys Need Apply)

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
June 13 2013 11:05 AM

How to Pick a Soldier for the Continental Army (No Short Guys Need Apply)

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This undated sheet, addressed to a “Col. Jackson,” issues instructions for enlistment of men in the Continental Army. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which holds the orders, believes that the addressee was Henry Jackson, who commanded various Massachusetts regiments between 1777 and 1784.

The document shows how, in the absence of a central structure for recruitment, officers of individual regiments were in charge of enlisting new soldiers and enforcing recruitment policy determined by the Continental Congress.

Advertisement

These orders begin by restricting enlistment by racial category: “Neither Negroes, Mulattoes, or Indians, shall be inlisted in the Service of the United States.” The reality of the Army’s composition was more complex. Historian Erna Risch writes that while we don’t know how many soldiers enlisted in the Army were black, “an initial policy of excluding” black soldiers from the Continental Army “soon gave way, under the pressure of manpower deficiencies, to one of accepting their service.” Black enlistees would probably have served as support staff, working as cooks or orderlies.

The mention of the small “Allowance of Women to a Regiment” refers to a phenomenon that George Washington and the Army’s leaders found most vexing: Some wives followed their husbands into the service as an alternative to an impoverished life at home.

In 1777, Washington wrote that such women, who often earned their keep by doing laundry and nursing, were “a clog upon every movement,” and entreated his officers to “use every reasonable method in their power to get rid of all such as are not absolutely necessary.” By restricting recruitment to single men whenever possible, Col. Jackson and the other officers could avoid such problems altogether.

The promises to the enlisted—a “complete Suit of uniform Clothing,” “comfortable Barracks, good Provisions, and every Thing necessary to the Health and Comfort of the Soldiers”—eventually became difficult to fulfill. As Risch writes, the Army faced serious logistical issues as the war stretched on: Rations were cut, pay delayed, and uniforms became less than uniform.

Recruitment Orders

GLC02437.08189 [Rules for enlisting men for service], ca. 1777-1786. Courtesy of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?