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Re: Soldier Shelter in the Field pt. IV

John U. Rees
May 27 at 12:25pm

part IV, "`We are now ... properly ... enwigwamed.': British and German Soldiers and Brush Huts, 1776-1781":
The popular mind-image of Revolutionary armies at rest is of troops camping upon a tented field. More often, campaigning soldiers "lay on their arms" without any covering or built shelters from materials at hand, because of the divestment of baggage to enhance mobility, or a lack of tentage due to supply shortages.
British soldiers began using temporary campaign shelters as early as 1776, building them more often, and relying upon their shelter for longer periods, than did their Continental Army counterparts. British troops usually resorted to "wigwams," a popular appellation that probably began as a derogatory term for any type of ad hoc structure; as the war progressed wigwams (usually some form of brush hut) became customarily adopted as a useful and acceptable alternative to tents.
During the autumn 1776 campaigns around New York City a British officer of the 40th Regiment noted in his diary:

16 September 1776, "... no tents ... encamped near on ye Common."
17 September, " ... Very wet m[ornin]g. p.m. Cleared. No tents, built wigwams ..."
18 September, "... got our Tents."1

The following year saw increasing Crown forces recourse to makeshift shelters. Initially the army's light troops made the most use of them. British 52nd Regiment officer Martin Hunter noted that in spring and summer 1777 "The Light Infantry were always in front of the army, and not allowed tents. We generally quartered our men in farmhouses and barns, or made huts when houses were not conveniently situated ..." Eventually all Crown units constructed makeshift shelters as an occasional alternative to tents in the field. Timothy Pickering described how, "On the 19th [June 1777], General Howe decamped with the greatest precipitation from Millstone [New Jersey], and retired to Brunswick ... That part of his army which had advanced to Middle Bush and Millstone had no tents, but lodged in booths." Corporal Thomas Sullivan, 49th Regiment, wrote that on June 28th, his unit marched "to Amboy, and took up our former encampment, where we built Wigwams, for we had no tents." On 7 August 1777 American Ebenezer Hazard noted the "Great Devastation ... made by the Enemy at Somerset Court House" including "Thatch ... torn off of Barns & Barracks, & two Orchards ... cut down that Booths might be made for the Soldiers, of the Branches of the Trees. The Enemy's advanced Guard was kept in an Orchard just back of the Court House; their main Body laid about half a Mile farther on a beautiful rising Ground: their Booths still remain there." (The term “booth” was one of several appellations applied to makeshift campaign shelters.) 2
During the Philadelphia campaign, lasting from late August to December 1777, wigwams almost entirely replaced tents as shelter. General George Washington's 7 September orders mentioned "the Intilligence ... that the Enemy has Disencumber'd themselves of all their Baggage even tents Reserving only their Blankets, & Such part of their Clothing as is Absolutely Necessary, this Indicates A Speedy and Rapid movement"; he then required that his own troops do the same. Major Carl Leopold Baurmeister, a Hessian staff officer with General Sir William Howe's army, confirmed this, noting that the British "army remained encamped through the 7th of September, during which time all tents and other heavy baggage and the sick were taken to Elk Town and put on transports, so that the provision train could be strengthened ..." Lieutenant William Hale, 45th Regiment Grenadier Company, later recalled how this effected the soldiers: "The fatigues of the march from the Head of the Elk River to Philadelphia ... were really great, our best habitations being wigwams, through which the heavy rains of this climate ... easily penetrated."3
Soon after disembarking from transports the troops were living in brush shelters. Lieutenant Hale wrote from Head of Elk on 30 August, "We passed three most uncomfortable nights in Wigwams, drenched to the skin by those torrents of rain common in this Southern climate ... we are now encamped, or more properly speaking enwigwamed, on the other side of the Town ..." He then noted his own circumstances. "By good fortune my canteen was brought this morning, for this week past we have lived like beasts, no plates, no dishes, no tableclothes, biscuits supply the place of the first but for the others no substitute can be found ... I write this under a tree, while my black is making a fire to boil my pork, and my white servant is pitching my tent."4

part IV, "`We are now ... properly ... enwigwamed.': British and German Soldiers and Brush Huts, 1776-1781":
1. Overview
2. "Laying up poles and covering them with leaves ...": Building Brush Huts
3. Comparative Use of Makeshift Shelters in the French and Indian War, and American Civil War
1. A Narragansett Wigwam, 1761
2. Recreated Brush Shelters
3. Additional Articles on Campaign Shelter, 1775-1865

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Soldier Shelter in the Field per Rees
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Re: Soldier Shelter in the Field pt. IV
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