The Delicious Rations Promised to Prospective Soldiers of the Continental Army

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
June 23 2014 1:02 PM

The Delicious Rations Promised to Prospective Soldiers of the Continental Army

The Vault is Slate's 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.

In August 1776, the Continental Congress ordered that 2,000 copies of this broadside, promising adequate rations, be printed and distributed to men who might be persuaded to sign up for George Washington’s experimental Flying Camp. This unit would (in concept) be a flexible group that could assist more established forces at stress points where the army needed reinforcement.

In comparison with this list of rations given troops in Boston in 1775, the Flying Camp bill of fare is reasonable. The Boston soldiers received a gill (a quarter-pint) of peas or beans a day, while those who signed up for the Flying Camp could expect three pints (or 12 gills) of peas, beans, or equivalent vegetables. Spruce beer, made from the tips of spruce branches, was provided to help combat scurvy (a function it may not have performed).


Historian Richard Baker of the U.S. Army Military History Institute writes that today the flying camp “would be considered a mobile rapid reserve force.” The camp was supposed to be made up of 10,000 men from three states (Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware).

The promise put forth in this broadside wasn’t necessarily kept. Baker writes that Washington’s Flying Camp had many “logistical problems and supply shortages,” and had trouble holding onto its soldiers. When the term of service for the troops who’d signed up ended in December 1776, the idea was scrapped.

Later in the war, the whole Continental Army began to face challenges in providing the rations it promised. Meat was a special problem: without a native source of salt, the colonists had trouble preserving meat for long marches, and attempts to move beef on the hoof along with the army met with varying degrees of success. The bill of fare often narrowed to boiled beef and firecake, made by mixing flour and water and cooking it into biscuit over a campfire. 


National Archives.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.