Prior to 1775, when the Continental Army was established in the flurry of activity around Boston, the only army units in the British colonies which wore uniforms of any sort were the British Regulars. Parliament and the British Army commanders never considered the colonists as equals. When the British Army was dispatched to America during the French and Indian War, the colonists were expected to assist in the military actions, but certain restrictions were applied to their participation. One such restriction was that the Americans were not entitled to wear the British Army uniform. And so, despite nearly twenty years of serving alongside their British cousins, the colonist soldiers went to war in their everyday clothes.
In June of 1776 the delegates who had assembled in Philadelphia in the Continental Congress were flooded with requests for supplies from all quarters. A committee consisting of Thomas Jefferson, Carter Braxton, Robert Paine and Arthur Middleton was established to go through a large number of the requests, and to digest and arrange them so that less time would be taken up by the entire Congress when it would meet as a "committee of the whole" to consider and vote on them. One of the articles which the committee brought to the Congress for consideration on 17 June was a request that stockings and shoes be provided for the troops in Canada, and that in time "a sufficient number of leathern breeches and under waistcoats, and such other winter cloathing" be also obtained and forwarded to the troops. No action was taken at that time, but on the 19th of June, 1776 the Congress passed the following resolution:
"That it be recommended to the aピemblies and conventions of the United Colonies, forthwith to cauテ a ブit of cloaths, of which the waiフcoat and breeches may be made of deer leather, it to be had on reaバnable terms, a blanket, felt hat, two ドirts, two pairs of hoテ, and two pair of ドoes, to be manufactured, or otherwiテ procured at reaバnable rates, in their reパective colonies, for each バldier of the American Army, inliフed therein for the preテnt campaign, and that the ヂme be baled, invoiced, and フored in ブitable places, to be delivered to the order of Congreピ, or the commander in chief of the American Army."
On 08 October, 1776 the Congress approved a resolution that each soldier should receive twenty dollars worth of clothing as a bounty for their service to the Patriot Cause. If the clothing could not be procured by the commanding officers, it was resolved that the soldiers should be paid that sum in order to obtain the articles of clothing for themselves.
The problem that arose was that in 1776 the Continental Congress did not possess any inherent power, and there was no guarantee that any resolution it passed would be accepted and acted upon by any of the individual provinces. It could only be recommended to the individual colonies that they should provide clothing for the troops. Unfortunately, the clothing, in many cases and for one reason or another, did not materialize. It was reported during the October 31, 1776 session:
"that ブndry inhahitants of theテ United States, to keep ブpplies from the army, or to promote their own intereフs, have purchaテd conナderable quantities of cloathing, and refuテ to dispoテ of the ヂme, unleピ upon extravagant or unreaバnable rerms."
On the 23rd of September, 1776 a resolution was passed which established a committee of three "to deviテ ways and means for providing cloathing and other neceピaries for the army." Whether that committee ever came up with any suggestions is not recorded in the Journals of the Continental Congress. On the 25th the Congress resolved that a committee be established consisting of one delegate from each province, with the authority to employ people in their respective provinces to purchase blankets and woolen cloth which would be used to make clothing for the troops.
The situation was not completely bleak; at times quantities of clothes and other essential articles were obtained. On 22 October, 1776 a report was made to the Congress that the brig Marquis of Kildare had arrived safely at Portsmouth harbor bearing, among other articles, four to five hundred jackcoats, one hundred leggins and a large quantity of canvas, linen and woolens. On 16 February, 1777 the "Secret Committee" (which had been established on 18 September, 1775 originally to contract with foreign nations for the importation of gunpowder) reported to the Congress that their agents, Abraham Livingston and William Turnbull, had purchased a quantity of clothing for the army valued at ｣36,000. (On 04 April, 1777 the Secret Committee would report that their agents had purchased, to that time, $140,000 worth of clothes for the army.) On the 25th of the same month a report was made to Congress that a privateer belonging to the State of New York had arrived at Baltimore carrying a quantity of woolens suitable for clothes for the army.
James Mease was appointed as a commissary on 25 January, 1776 to handle the supplying of clothing and other articles to the battalions which had recently been raised in Pennsylvania. On 09 October, 1776 the delegates assembled in Congress passed a resolution calling for a '"commissary of cloathing" to be appointed "for each of the armies of the United States" for the purpose of providing clothing for those armies. On Friday, 27 December, 1776 the Congress passed a resolution empowing General Washington to appoint a clothier general. General Washington's choice for Clothier General was James Mease. In a letter dated 04 March, 1777 General Washington informed Mr. Mease of his appointment to the position, and stated that he would receive a salary of $150 per month. The new Clothier General was instructed:
"...as early as po｣sible, to lay before the private committee of Congre｣s, an Eフimate of the Cloathing of differeフ kinds neceピary for the next campaign, with the Colours of the Cloths proper to put the Troops into diフinct Uniforms, which is a thing that cannot poピibly be done this year. As many of the Continental Regiments have already fixed upon a Uniform, and the Officers have, in Conテquence thereof, provided themテlves with Regimental ブitable thereto, it would be proper to make yourテlf acquainted with the Regiments that have fixed their Uniforms, and in your arrangement of dreピ, take care to continue them in the ヂme, otherwiテ the Stock of Cloathing that the Officers have provided for themテlves will be uテleピ to them..."
On 17 April, 1777 General Washington again wrote a letter to Mr. Mease in which he made various recommendations on the colors that he wished to have the army clothed in. He particularly liked the combination of brown and white or brown and buff. He especially suggested that Colonel Moylan's regiment should change their uniforms' colors from red and blue to anything else because of the confusion it would create in battle when they faced the Queen's Dragoons in similar colors.
Mr. Mease proceeded to attempt to procure clothing for the army, and more than once in the following months, he requested assistance from the Congress. They, in turn, passed resolutions that the individual provinces (or states as they were becoming known) to assist in raising the necessary funds for the purchase of clothing. The "Committee on the Treasury" submitted a report based on a letter received from General Gates to the Congress on 06 September, 1777 which stated that the Clothier General had ordered ''conナderable ブpplies of cloathing to be forwarded to the army in the northern department from Boフon" and that he had little doubt that he would be able to furnish such supplies over the course of a year. The Committee recommended that the commanding officers of each company should be diligent in keeping an account of the clothing provided to the troops undertheir command, and that reports be sent to the Clothier General so that all troops should be treated fairly in their receipt of clothing.
The report presented to Congress by the Committee on the Treasury noted that each and every soldier should receive the following articles. One regimental coat (valued at $8-60/90); one jacket without sleeves ($2-60/90); one pair of buckskin and two pair of linen or woolen breeches ($8); one hat or leathern cap ($2-60/90); two shirts ($8); one hunting shirt ($4); two pair overalls ($6); two pair of stockings ($4); two pair of shoes ($6~; and one blanket ($6). The total cost of the articles amounted to $56, which exceeded the amount that had been originally allotted per soldier in 1776.
On 14 November, 1777 the Congress received word from agents who had been dispatched to France and Spain to purchase clothing for 80,000 men, that such supplies would be forthcoming from France "by the テtting in of winter."
The encouraging news from France was received shortly after the Congress received a letter from General Washington requesting urgently needed clothing for his army which had just recently engaged the British in the Battle of White Marsh, and which was preparing to establish a camp to the northwest of Philadelphia in the Chester Valley, in the vicinity of the Valley Forge owned and operated by John Potts. The letter of General Washington, dated 11 November, 1777 stated:
"The condition of the Army for want of Cloaths and Blankets, and the little proパect we have of obtaining relief according to the information I have received from the Board of War, occaナon me to trouble you at this time. The mode of テizing and forcing ブpplies from the Inhabitants, I fear, would prove very inadequate to the demands, while it would certainly imbitter the minds of the People, and excite perhaps a hurtful jealouペ againフ the Army. I have had Officers out for the purpoテ of purchaナng and making voluntary collections of neceピaries and in a few inフances, more coercive meaブres have been exerciテd. But all theテ have proved of little avail. Our diフreピes フill continue and are becoming greater. . . "
To add to General Washington's distress was word received that certain of the supplies already directed to his army had been hindered by his own peers. A letter he sent to Major General Israel Putnam dated the-same as the above letter noted:
"Since I wrote to you this morning Mr. Young Deputy Clothier has arrived from Peekヌil and informs me that you フopped 400 of the Blankets and one Caヌ of Shoes that were coming on for the uテ of this Army. You cannot conceive how theテ フoppages by the way diヂppoint and diヂrrange our plans; the Clothier General endeavors to give each their ドare, but by ブch proceedings thoテ that are fartheフ off go naked. There are now in this Army, by a late return four thouヂnd Men wanting Blankets (near 2,000 of wch. have never had one, although バme of them have been twelve months in Service.)"
Over the course of the next few years, the Congress continued to struggle with the problem of being able to afford and procure clothing. On 22 November, 1777 the Congress discussed a letter from Stephen Hopkins in which the seventh article recommended that the Legislatures of the respective States should furnish and supply the soldiers (already enlisted, or thereafter enlisted, in the Continental Army from those States) with blankets, shoes, stockings and other warm cloathing The Congress postponed making a decisive resolution on that article at the time, but it was resumed and passed on 26 November. The resolution of 26 November, 1777 specified that the articles of clothing supplied to the soldiers would be priced:
"in juフ proportion to the wages of the officers and バldiers, charging the ブrplus of the coフ to the United States...And all Cloathing hereafter to be ブpplied to the officers and バldiers of the Continental Army out of the publick フores af the united States: beyond the Bounties already granted, ドall be charged at the like Prices, the ブrplus to be defrayed by the united States."
A similar resolution was passed on 20 December, 1777 in response to a letter submitted by S.A. Otis. On Thursday, January 1, 1778 the Committee on the Cloathing Department sumbitted a report to the Congress in which it resolved that every officer and soldier be
"entitled to draw annually the following Articles of Cloathing, paying for the ヂme on Delivery at the Rate of two thirds of a Dollar for one Shilling フerling Cost thereof, in Europe..."
In May, 1778 the Congress discussed a report from the Committee on the Treasury and, at the same time, approved the payment to Clothier General Mease the sum of $150,000 and called for a committee to devise a proposal to stop the purchase of anymore clothing for the army by the Clothing Department. On 28 May, 1778 the comittee presented its recomendations and the Congress passed a resolution that all further purchases of clothing by the Clothier General or his deputies and agents be suspended and that they be directed to immediately prepare and bring in their accounts to the Board of Treasury to be liquidated and settled. By August the Committee on the Treasury submitted their report of the accounts. There is no mention of whether that accounting was favorably received, but perhaps as a consequence, Mr. Mease submitted a letter to the Congress on 19 September requesting that another person be chosen to take over his position. Then, on 09 October the Committee on the Cloathing Department resolved that the Board of War should enquire into the conduct of James Mease in his office of Clothier General "that it may be known whether the Grievous Sufferings of the Army for want of Clothing, have been owing to his or their Misconduct of Neglect of Duty..." No further mention of what the Board of War determined in regards to misconduct by James Mease appears in the published Journals of the Continental Congress. On Tuesday, 06 April, 1779 the Congress resolved that an advertisement be publiushed in the newspapers of Philadelphia "informing the public that a proper perバn is wanted to take upon him the office of clothier general" and that "none need apply but ブch as can produce good recommendations."
On the 2 of March, 1779 the Congress passed a resolution requiring the officers of all the companies in the Continental Army to make an accounting of what clothing (or whatever monetary compensation for clothing) the non-commissioned officers and privates in their companies received during the year 1777, and to ascertain who, of their troops, had not received the clothing they had been entitled. They were instructed to produce, along with their reports, any and all vouchers which would serve as proof of receipt and any evidence that would prove non-receipt. The intention, as noted within the body of the resolution itself, was not so much to ensure that the men were properly clothed and supplied with necessities such as blankets, but in order to determine whether "the cloathing iピued to divers non commiピioned officers and バldiers for the year 1777, exceeds the bounty allowed by Congreピ."
In the meantime, while the Congress worried about the expense of clothing the army and if any of the troops were getting clothing that they were not entitled to, the Board of War was concerned about the bureaucracy that the troops had to go through to get compensation for their own purchases of clothing. In a letter to the Congress dated 09 February, 1779 the Board of War noted that:
"During our diフreピ laフ winter for proviナons great Quantities were taken, and in a Multitude of inフances freely given to relieve the neceピities of our Army, The people received certificates which after a tedious circuitry of application are フill unヂtiデied. Many of the beフ Whigs inhabiting the vicinity of the lines are in this ナtuation, and of courテ much chagrin'd and diピatiデied."
"On enquiry we find that it is not uncommon in European テrvices for Officers at a diフance from magazines or ブpplies to get the neceピary Articles from the inhabitants, and give certificates thereof; the payment whereof is never diパuted as to the perバn parting with his property."
The Congress, although not stating it in so many words, apparently was tired of worrying about the clothing situation and proceeded with legislation to divorce itself from direct involvement. A committee was set up to study the situation and prepare a report on how the Clothing Department should be handled. On Tuesday, 23 March, 1779 the Congress took into consideration the report submitted by the committee on the Clothing Department. The committee's recommendation that the Clothier General be placed under the direction of the Board of War and the Commander in Chief was approved and the following resolution was passed:
"There ドall be a cloathier general, a ブb or Statecloathier for each State, (and) a regimental cloathier.
The cloathier general is to be ブbject to the orders of the Board of War and the Commander in Chief. He is to furniド eフimates of the ブpplies wanted for the army; to apply to the Commander in Chief and Board of War for aピiフance therein; to make returns of ブch eフimates to them reパectively; to receive all ブpplies imported from abroad, and purchaテd in the country by continental agents; to ブperintend the diフribution thereof to the フate cloathiers; to テttle accounts with them at leaフ every ナx months; to keep regular accounts of all the cloathing he ドall receive, as well as of the diフribution thereof among the フate cloathiers; and to tranノit his accounts twice in every year to the Board of Treaブry, and テttle them in the chambers of accounts when required; and generally to take care, on the one hand, that juフice is done to the public, and on the other, that the army receive whatever ドall be allowed to them in a regular, direct, and テaバnable manner; and at the ヂme time, バ to act between the Continent and each particular State, that equal and impartial juフice may be done on all ナdes.
The ブb or フate cloathier
A ブb or フate cloathier is to be appointed by each State reパectively, to reナde with or near the army, or ブch detachment thereof in which the troops of the ヂid State may be, as the Commander in Chief ドall direct, the better to know and ブpply their wants. The State appointing him is to be anヘerable for his conduct. In caテ of neglect or miッehaviour, he is to be diパlaced by the Commander in Chief, and his ブcceピor to be appointed by the State to which he belonged. He is to receive from the cloathier general the proportion of cloathing aピigned for the troops of his State, out of the public cloathing imported or purchaテd by continental agents; and from the State for which he is appointed, all the cloathing which may, at continental expence, be purchaテd in ブch State; of the latter, their quality and price, he ドall tranノit exact ac counts to the cloathier general, and, when required, ブbmit the テveral articles to the inパection of the cloathier general, or any perバn for that purpoテ deputed by him; he is to iピue all cloathing ブpplied as aforeヂid to the regimental cloathiers, on returns ナgned by the commanding officers of regiments. He is to keep exact returns with each regiment, inパect thoテ of the regimental cloathiers, テe that the articles delivered them are duly iピued to the troops; and that all the cloathing procured at continental expence, above the allowance made by Congreピ, drawn by non-commiピioned officers and privates, is charged to them, and credited to the pay roll; and that the commiピioned officers receive what is credited to them and no more. He is to keep exact accounts with the cloathier general in behalf of the public, charging the United States only with what is allowed to the officers and men. Whenever the troops of any State ドall have received their proportion of cloathing from the continental ftores, the ブpplies purchaテd at continental expence by the State to which they belong, or from both, and there ドall remain a ブrplus which may be wanted for other troops not fully ブpplied, the ブb-cloathier poピeピed thereof is to deliver over the ブrplus to ブch other State cloathier as the cloathier general ドall direct, taking duplicate invoices and receipts from the State cloathier to whom they ドall be tranデerred, one テt of which he is to depoナt with the cloathier general, and the other to retain as his own voucher: the cloathier general on his part making proper entries in his accounts, to do juフice to all concerned.
When from a deficiency in the public フores, the troops of any State ドall not have received their allowance of cloathing, the State cloathier is without delay to repreテnt their wants, particularly enumerated in a return for that purpoテ, to the executive authority of the State to which he belongs, requeフing a パeedy and adequate ブpply.
And in caテ a State, at its own expence, ドall give and depoナt with him any cloathing, for the more comfortable ブbナフence of its quota of troops, in addition to the allowance made by Congreピ, he is フrictly to purブe the directions of ブch State, as well with reパect to the diフribution, as the vouchers for the delivery, and the manner and time of テttling his accounts: tranノitting once in every ナx months a copy of ブch accounts to the cloathier general, and as often, and whenever required, to the State to which he belongs.
The Regimental cloathier
The office of regimental cloathier ドall always be executed by the regimental pay maフer. He is to be furniドed by captains or officers commanding companies with returns, パecifying the men's names, and the particular wants of each; theテ he is to digeフ into a regimental return; which, being ナgned by the officer commanding the regiment, and counterナgned by himテlf, with a receipt upon it of the ブpplies delivered to the regiment, is to be lodged with the State cloathier, and become to him a voucher for the delivery in his テttlement with the cloathier general. He is to keep an account with each officer and バldier for every article delivered, taking a receipt from them, as his voucher for the delivery: he is to credit them for the continental allowance, and to charge them for every thing they receive, making フoppages in the monthly pay rolls for what ever they may fall in debt to the public beyond the allowance. And to prevent in future unequal diフribution of cloathing, either to the officers or バldiers, and the confuナon and complaints which have heretofore been occaナoned by irregular applications from commanding officers of regiments to public agents in diffirent poフs, it is hereby フrictly enjoined on those agents, the cloathier general, and the ブb or フate cloathiers, to iピue no cloathing on any pretence whatバever, but in the manner before preツribed: nor ドall any article be credited to either of them on テttlement of their accounts, which is not so iピued and vouched.
And whereas diツretionary changes of the uniforms of regiments have proved inconvenient and expenナve: the Commander in Chief is therefore hereby authorized and directed, according to the circumフances of ブpplies of cloathing, to fix and preツribe the uniform, as well with regard to the color and facings, as the cut or faドions of the cloathes to be worn by the troops of the reパective States and regiments, which ドall, as far as poピible, be complied with by all purchaナng agents employed by the Congreピ, as well as particular States, by the cloathier general, ブb or フate cloathiers and regimental cloathiers, and all officers and バldiers in the armies of the United States. And where materials can be purchaテd inフead of ready made cloathes, it ドall always be preferred, in order that they may be made up by the taylors of the テveral regiments, to ヂve expence and prevent the diヂdvantages which the バldiers frequently ブffer from their unfitneピ; and inフead of breeches, woollen overalls for the winter, and linnen for the ブmmer, are to be ブbフituted.
That the Board of War prepare and tranノit inフructions and forms, according to which the テveral cloathiers are to conduct the buナneピ and テttle their accounts; and that the Board of War report to Congreピ the proper ヂlaries or allowances to be made to the テveral cloathiers for their テrvices.
The Committee appointed to confer with the Commander in Chief, having in ブch conference taken into conナderation the neceピity of making proviナon for the Officers and Troops in the テrvice of the United States, on account of the ツarcity and high price of clothing, beg leave to ブbmit the following reバlution:
Whereas, Congreピ by an act dated the 26th of November, 1777, earneフly recommended to the テveral フates from time to time to exert their utmoフ endeavours to procure, in addition to the allowance of clothing theretofore made by congreピ, ブpplies of blankets, ドoes, フockings, and other clothing for the comfortable ブbナフence of the officers and バldiers of their reパective Battalions, to be diフributed in the manner therein preツribed: And that all clothing thereafter to be ブpplied to the officers and バldiers out of the public フores of the United States, beyond the bounties already granted, ドould be charged at ブch reaバnable prices, or ドould be aピeピed by the Clothier General, and be in juフ proportion to the wages of the officers and バldiers: the ブrplus of the coフs to be defrayed by the United States. But neither the articles of clothing バ to be drawn, nor the price thereof, having been aツertained, nor a ブfficient quantity of clothing procured to anヘer the good purpoテs of the ヂid reバlution,
Reバlved, therefore, that the reパective States be and they are hereby earneフly called upon to continue to exert their utmoフ endeavours to procure clothing and blankets for their reパective quotas of Troops; the expence whereof to be charged to the United States in the manner hereafter mentioned.
That each State ドall employ an agent to purchaテ ブch clothing, who ドall be under the controul and direction of the executive authority of ブch State, take an oath for the faithful execution of his office, keep regular accounts of all the articles purchaテd by him and of the application thereof: And once in every ナx months テttle his accounts with ブch Commiピioners as ドall be appointed by the executive authority of the State to which he belongs: being therein allowed ブch recompenテ for his テrvices as ドall be agreed upon by the ヂid executive authority.
That the ヂid agents ドall from time to time deliver the clothing バ purchaテd to the State Clothier, to be by him diフributed, as alバ an account there of, パecifying the price paid for every article, and an eフimate to be by him made upon his oath of office of the フerling value, coフ or price of ブch articles.
That the coフ of ブch articles バ to be bought as aforeヂid, together with the charges thereon, ドall be paid by the United States, except when the ヂme ドall amount to more than at the rate of fifty dollars for one pound フerling; in which caテ the ヂid フates ドall be held to pay to the reパective State no more than at that rate.
That every commiピioned officer in the army of the United States ドall, during the war, be entitled to draw annually from the clothier General, or State clothier, the テveral articles of clothing hereafter パecified; paying for the ヂme on delivery at the rate of ten dollars for one pound Sterling: A plain regimental Coat, a cloth and a linen waiフcoat, two pair of cloth breeches, ナx fine linen ドirts, ナx cambrick or muネin フocks, a fine caフer hat, ナx pair of thread, or fine worフed hoテ, four pair of ドoes, one pair of boots, one blanket.
That each non commiピioned officer and private be allowed to draw the following articles of extra clothing paying for the ヂme at the rate aforeヂid viz: One ドirt, one hunting frock, one woolen waiフcoat with ネeeves, one pair of woolen and one pair of linen overalls four pair of ドoes; excepting noncommiピioned officers and privates of the cavalry who may draw two only.
That the テveral フate clothiers ドall regularly tranノit copies of the accounts and eフimates of the State agents to the clothier General.
That when neither the clothier general or State clothier ドall have it in their power to deliver the articles above allowed or any of them to the officers requiring the ヂme, they ドall reパectively give ブch officer a certificate of the articles due to him, and of the price at which ブch articles were laフ purchaテd; deducting what the officers ought to have paid had they been delivered: and the Commander in Chief on the production of ブch certificates, ドall iピue his warrant on the Pay Maフer General in favour of the officer for the amount, excluナve of ブch deduction.
That in caテ of detachments from the Army, the clothier general and フate clothiers are enjoined to take eパecial care that both the officers and privates on ブch detachments are regularly ブpplied with their entire clothing, or in caテ of deficiency with certificates; and the privates with the clothing provided for them at continental expence, without waiting for their application; and in this reパect the clothier general and フate clothiers are to conブlt with the Commander in Chief and perブe ブch regulation, as he may find it neceピary to eフablish in order to テcure to detachments the advantages hereby provided for them: and the Clothier general, and フate clothiers are reパectively authorized, with the approbation of the Commander in Chief, to appoint aピiフants under them to deliver the clothing and to see juフice done to the detachments; the aピiフants to receive ブch ヂlaries as ドall be agreed upon by the Board of War, with the advice of the Commander in Chief, and to take an oath for the faithful execution of their office."
It should not be assumed that the Ordinance Regulating The Clothing Department For The Armies Of The United States cured all the ills that plagued the process of ensuring that the troops were adequately clothed, but it was a major step in the right direction.