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Providing food and supplies for the garrison at Fort Stanwix proved to be a job of considerable magnitude, frequently exhausting the patience of those who commanded the fort. All the logistical problems faced by Fort Stanwix were common to any frontier fort. The fort was separated from Albany and Schenectady by more than 90 miles of heavily wooded areas. In the spring, summer, and fall, provisions were loaded onto bateaux, which sailed westward on the Mohawk River. In the winter, when the river was not navigable, supplies were shipped on wagons and sleighs over inland routes that often proved treacherous. Even when the elements were conquered, supplies en route faced the uncertainties of the Tories and their allies, the Iroquois, who thrived in large numbers, particularly in Tryon County.

Nor was the enemy the worst offender; the men hired to operate the bateaux frequently proved to be untrustworthy, and often stole the supplies. General Schuyler decried these practices in the most vehement language, and when these thieves were caught redhanded, punishment was severely meted out.

When the provisions finally did arrive, the garrison had to contend with other problems. Often food would either arrive spoiled or would spoil shortly after its arrival, especially if packaging or storage facilities were inadequate. The quantity of food and supplies available at the fort was frequently insufficient because it was affected by the fluctuating number of men at the fort. Despite General Schuyler's attempts to make sure that supplies followed new assignments to the garrison, the complicated supply line made this difficult. Then there was the extensive pilfering at the fort itself. One member of the garrison noted that men frequently broke into the stores and stole provisions. [1]

The inconsistency of the supply system often led to an imbalance in the diet of the soldier. As early as 1759, complaints were heard from Fort Stanwix that the "Scurvy begins to make its Appearance upon some . . . men, who have now been reduced some time to pork and Flower [sic]." [2]

The food supplies consumed at Fort Stanwix consisted largely of salted pork and beef. At times when cattle were abundant, in an effort to avoid the ill-effects of too much salted meat, fresh beef was issued. Thus, in July 1776, while he was commanding the Northern Department, General Gates ordered his commissary to issue a 4-day ration of fresh meat and a 3-day ration of salted meat. As the number of cattle increased, the commissary was directed to issue a 5-day ration of fresh meat and a 2-day ration of salted meat a week. [3]

Most important among the foods eaten at Fort Stanwix were beef, pork, bread, flour, oatmeal, rice, peas, butter, and salt. Of lesser importance were cheese, bacon, suet, fish, raisins, and molasses. Occasionally, different kinds of vegetables were shipped to the fort, such as potatoes, parsnips, carrots, turnips, cabbage, and onions, but these were intended mainly for the sick. Vegetable seeds were also sent to the fort to encourage soldiers to plant their own gardens, and, as a result, several gardens flourished outside the fort. Beverages usually seen at Fort Stanwix consisted of beer, cider, rum, and wine. Rum was a significant part of the soldier's ration, particularly while he was on fatigue duty.

With spring approaching in 1777, it became more apparent that the enemy would strike from the west through Fort Stanwix. The garrison worked feverishly to make the fort defensible. In the meantime, Schuyler had reported as early as August 1776 to Washington that almost 80 days worth of pork and flour were in store for the garrison. Moreover, a considerable quantity of flour was also being shipped from Schenectady, and because the garrison had 23 head of beef cattle, Schuyler believed it would have a constant supply of fresh meat on hand. "I am under no apprehensions," he concluded with some optimism, "that the garrison will be under any Difficulty in the article of provision." [4]

In spite of these words of optimism and the effort made to supply the garrison with provisions, the desired goal was never reached. In fairness to Schuyler, however, it should be noted that at the time he made his statement the garrison numbered no more than 400 men, whereas the garrison continued to grow until mid-1777, when it reached almost 700. By June 1777 Schuyler had changed his tune, and he was now complaining that the quantity of provisions at Fort Stanwix was "very inadequate." He directed his subordinates to take the proper measures without further delay to convey to the fort whatever was needed. [5] Colonel Gansevoort, meanwhile, noted on the eve of the siege that although his garrison was small, it was too large for the amount of provisions in store. [6]

Salt provisions, such as salt beef and salt pork, were especially needed, and condemning more than 20,000 pounds of spoiled salt meat at Fort Stanwix did not help matters any. Nevertheless, every effort was being made to supply the fort. On July 10, 1777, John Lansing, aid to Schuyler, wrote to the commissary of the Northern Department that "The General wishes you to take the most effectual Measures to throw into Fort [Stanwix] as much provisions as will compleat what is now at that post to a Sufficiency for four hundred men for two months." At the same time Schuyler reassured Gansevoort that he would give him all the assistance in his power. [7]

At the beginning of the siege, the commissary stores at Fort Stanwix consisted of 500 barrels of flour, 60 barrels of salted provisions, a quantity of peas, and 20 head of cattle. In addition, Colonel Gansevoort had procured 50 head of cattle from the inhabitants around the fort. [8]

Salted meat was always at a premium, and frequently reliance was placed upon livestock. which was not always plentiful. [9] One month after the siege, Lt. Col. Marinus Willett, second in command of the garrison, complained about the dismal situation due to the garrison's lack of provisions. The garrison, he said, had only an 8-day supply of salted pork. He had employed every possible method in his power to supply the garrison with provisions, but without effect. [10] Although the problem had somewhat ameliorated with the promise of a shipment of 40 head of cattle and a quantity of salt, [11] months later Colonel Gansevoort was complaining that ever

since my Command at this place since the 6th Day of May last I have been only Supply'd from hand to mouth and during the Siege [sic] obliged to kill Milch Cows Hoggs [sic] etc & which I had retained in the Fort Ditch being the property of the late Inhabitants of this place when the Enemy opened the Seige [sic]; from whence this neglect proceeds I cannot tell. [12]

A return of the provisions at Fort Stanwix in May 1778, only eight months after the siege, noted that the commissary stores consisted of the following items: [13]

106 barrels of beef
160 barrels of pork
470 barrels of flour
3-1/4 barrels of salt
3-3/4 barrels of soap
5 boxes of soap
2-1/2 barrels of candles
5 hogsheads of rum
16 bushels of beef
4-1/2 tierces of rice
13 fat cattle

A return of provisions made 7 weeks later by John Hansen, commissary at Fort Stanwix, noted the following items on hand:

5 barrels of beef
128 barrels of pork
433 barrels of flour
2 barrels of salt
24 boxes of soap
7 boxes of candles
7 boxes of rice
an unknown quantity of peas
an unknown quantity of fat cattle
30 gallons hogsheads of rum
3/4 hogshead of brandy
3/4 hogshead of rum for the Indian Department [14]

One may conclude from these two returns that the items were more or less the same as those that were probably on hand at the time of the siege. The quantity of some of these items might have been larger during the siege, since at that time there were about 700 people in the fort, whereas by May 1778 the number had been reduced to 451. [15]

To appreciate fully in what quantities provisions were consumed at Fort Stanwix, a brief word should be said about rationing. It was evident that those soldiers on heavy duty were entitled to more of the commissary stores. In 1780 garrison orders read:

The several Issuing Commissaries at this post and its Dependencies, are to Issue provisions as follows Viz, to Artificers waggoners, Colleirs [sic], Boatmen, wood Cutters, on Constant hard Duty 24 oz of Bread or flower [sic], 24 ditto of Beef or 18 oz of pork or fish, one Jill of Rum [per] Day if it be had, Eight lb of Soape [per] hundred men, [per] Week one Quart of salt to Every hundred lb of Beef.

To the troops one lb of Bread or flour and one lb of Beef Soape salt and Candles as usual, one Jill of Rum to men on fatigue When to be had.

When there is Vegitables in store, the Rations of flour is to be Reduced on Quarter of a lb and for every hundred Weight of flour so Reduced, two and half Bushells of peas or two and half ditto Beans or Eight ditto potatoes or twelve ditto Turnips, are to be issued in proportion for a Greater or Less Quantity.

If at any times the Commissaries are Destitute of flour at such times a half lb Beef is to be Added to the Ration of meat aggreable to the Orders of the 2nd Instant. [16]

Rum was a major part of the provisions at Fort Stanwix. As early as 1759 the importance of rum was clearly recognized when General Gage, speaking of bringing supplies through Wood Creek in November, complained that the garrison at Fort Stanwix "will not be well pleased to have their men up to the middle in Water at that season of the year & not a drop of rum to give them [and] I fear the King's Troops will suffer greatly from such Service." [17] In 1777, at the height of construction, Colonel Gansevoort appealed to General Gates to have a "quantity of Rum . . . sent up immediately as our fatigue [details] have already been 7 Days with what little is left." [18] Three days later he signed an order for the purchase of 25 gills of rum for fatigue parties under the engineer's supervision. [19] In 1776 and 1777, men on fatigue duty—much of which consisted of cutting down trees and clearing the forest surrounding the fort—wagoners bringing up supplies, and artificers working on the fort were always first to get whatever rum was available.

The quantity of rum issued to each man depended upon whether they were on fatigue duty, construction work, or some lighter detail. Moreover, the quantity issued to each man varied from time to time depending upon the quantity of rum on hand. Reflecting the shortage of rum, in August 1776 General Schuyler directed the commander of Fort Stanwix to distribute rum "at such times [and] in such portions as you may think proper to Fatigue men," but cautioned that it should not exceed one gill a day "unless upon very Extraordinary occasions." [20] In October 1777 the commissary was ordered to deliver a half gill of rum to each man before he went on fatigue duty and another after such duty. In Feberuary 1778 fatigue men engaged in cutting two cords of wood a day were permitted to have a half pint of rum a day. [21]

Although commissary provisions represented the major part of a soldier's rations at Fort Stanwix, they were not by any means the sole source of his nourishment. Sutlers who made their way to the fort and farmers living in the neighborhood of the fort sold their vegetables, alcoholic beverages, and wares to the commissary and to the soldiers directly. Receipts signed by Colonel Gansevoort on December 13, 1777, and March 7, 1778, reveal that he purchased peas, oats, and other grain for the use of his garrison. [22] In addition to these items, cider, turnips, potatoes, cabbage, apples, sugar, fowl, geese, turkeys, butter, cheese, onions, and tobacco were also purchased from sutlers and farmers.

Because abuses in the sale of these items were flagrant, Colonel Gansevoort felt constrained to convene a "Court of Regulations" to fix prices on all items brought to the garrison for sale. Henceforth, no farmer, officer, soldier, or anyone else would be permitted to sell his articles at a price higher than that set by the court. [23]

An item that never appeared in the commissary stores, but which was sought by some men of the garrison, was milk. The milk was sold to the soldiers by farmers and even by the inhabitants of the fort who owned cows. Even in this instance there was price gouging, and the commandant of the fort was forced to issue a warning to these persons. He reminded them that since "they receive their Feed from the Publick," 6 pence a quart was the highest price they could receive for milk. If any person violated this rule, his cows were to be expropriated for the use of the sick at the hospital. [24]

There was a variety of items that were either purchased from sutlers or received directly from home which reflected the personal preferences of the soldier. In this respect, officers, many of whom were from the upper class of society and financially able, had a greater selection of provisions to choose from. So good was this source of supply to Colonel Gansevoort that in June 1777, while he was complaining of serious shortages of commissary provisions for his men, he wrote to his future wife: "I must inform you that I have Exceeding [sic] good living here [with] plenty of Veal Pigions and Fish of Different Sorts." [25] There is little doubt that these delicacies were purchased by Colonel Gansevoort through local sources. Another time Gansevoort upbraided his brother for not sending him some lemons when he had asked for them. [26]

While rum was usually a part of the commissary stores and the most common alcoholic beverage of the enlisted man, wine, brandy, and other fine spirits were usually the drinks of the privileged officer. General Schuyler, a wealthy aristocrat, was careful to specify imported brandy when he ordered five kegs for himself and "a Gallon or two for Mrs. Schuyler at Saratoga." [27]

Another means of obtaining provisions, other than through the commissary, was by growing a garden. Gardens were encouraged at all times by providing the commissary at the fort with bushels of garden seed. At times the commissary ran low on seed, but when this happened individuals were able to acquire it by other means. [28] Before the siege took place, guards were posted at the gardens to prevent anyone from stealing the crops. [29] During the siege, potatoes were growing in the garden. [30]

Medicines also comprised part of the provisions at Fort Stanwix. A fairly large hospital existed outside the fort, [31] but once the siege got underway, this facility was no longer practical. Although some of the sick were confined to their quarters, the more serious cases, as well as the wounded, were sent to the southwest bombproof where a hospital had been set up.

Although it is difficult to give a precise description of the medicines that were employed at Fort Stanwix, there is a very interesting document, albeit illegible, prepared several months before the siege, which provides a good picture of what the situation probably was like. This document is significant not only because it gives us some idea of the medicines used, but also because it indicates the serious shortage of medicines that existed. A doctor who was at Fort Dayton in the German Flatts as part of a detachment from Fort Stanwix (and who later was stationed at Fort Stanwix) had requested medicines for one of his patients from Dr. Lewis F. Dunham, the surgeon at Fort Stanwix. Dr. Dunham was somewhat reluctant to part with them, but sent them nevertheless with the following advice:

By the Bearer you have Such Medicines as you mentioned, though I assure you I know not how to part with them being half of the kind I have with me and know not where to get any more this side of New York. For Mr. Giffords [billious] complaints I send you a few Pills Composed of [aloes] Soap [gum ammonia] & Squills three of which [are] to be taken night & morning Drastic carthart [sic]: [composed] of Aloes Soap and Calomel [is] to be taken as often as you may think necessary without paying any Respect to the Pills. Horse Radish [sic] [is] very essential with his Diet. . . . My Respect to Mr. Gifford and hope the Medicines may prove a Balsam to his Complaints, a Sweet Cordial to my Desires. . . .

If any Bayberry bark Could be procured with you & [kept] in Cyder [sic] or mild Vinegar a TeaCup full of [which] now and then might be of the utmost Service to Mr. Gifford. [32]

Just before the siege, Fort Stanwix received a supply of medicines. In June 1777 Colonel Gansevoort's brother Leonard, who was then in Albany, wrote to the Colonel that a Doctor Williams was headed for the fort with medicines and hospital supplies. [33] Despite this heartening news and a later shipment, medicines continued to be at such a premium that only the most serious cases would get to use them. [34]

There are several references in documents pertaining to other posts in the Northern Department which also describe medicines and related hospital supplies. There is no doubt that these medicines were also used at Fort Stanwix at one time or another. At Fort Ticonderoga, the doctor ordered chocolate and sugar for the sick in the hospital, and one-half the beef or other meat that a soldier normally drew. He also ordered the commissary to purchase sheep for the sick. At the general hospital in Albany, an inventory of the stores, revealed, among other things, a gallon of rum, a gallon of wine, a gallon of molasses, chocolate, corn, and turnips. [35]

As in all logistical operations involving long supply lines, containers and packages in which food was stored played a major role. Numerous references to different types of containers are made in the manuscripts of this period. Barrels, bushels, boxes, bags, and hogsheads, and to a lesser degree, casks, tierces, firkins, and puncheons, were all containers in which provisions were shipped to and stored at the fort in bulk. Glass containers, such as gallon, quart, and pint bottles, though only mentioned as units of measurement, must also have existed in large quantities at Fort Stanwix.

Salted beef and salted pork, two large items, were usually stored in barrels, but occasionally a reference is made to "bushels of beef." Other items that also appeared in barrels were flour, rum, wine, salt, and even soap. Usually stored in bushels were corn grain, and peas, and sometimes salt. The hogshead usually contained rum and brandy. Rice containers were referred to as "tierces of rice." References are also made to "flour casks." Although no references were found to the employment of bags, the latter must have been used because the British Army constantly shipped bread and peas in bags. Similarly, though no references were found to the use of the firkin, it must have been used because the British Army shipped and stored its butter in firkins.

Glass containers, such as gallons, quarts, and pints, were probably used to hold rum, brandy, wine, beer, cider, and other liquids. Frequently. these containers stored liquids purchased from sutlers or farmers.

Food spoilage represented a very serious logistical problem to both sides in the Revolution. The longer the lines of communication, the greater the problem. It took several days by boat or wagon to ship provisions and supplies to Fort Stanwix from Albany and Schenectady. Such a long journey without modern refrigeration caused considerable spoilage. Proper containers and proper packaging were imperative if spoilage, particularly of meat, was to be avoided. In July 1777, on the eve of the siege, Fort Stanwix found itself with more than 20,000 pounds of spoiled salted meat. [36] Such instances of spoilage must have been frequent, because in April 1778 Lt. Col. Willett issued orders to fit up the southwest and northwest bombproofs for the storage of beef and pork provisions. He further instructed the commissary to take the necessary precautions to see that the beef and pork were properly examined and well coopered before they were stored in the bombproofs. [37]

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Last Updated: 26-Dec-2008