By Steve Gilbert & Mark Tully
Most of the rations issued to 18th-century troops were either dry (rice, peas, oatmeal) or needed to have the salt extracted from them before they were fit for consumption (salt beef, pork and fish). The ONLY way to prepare these foods was by boiling them, and camp kettles were issued for this purpose.
Camp Kettles show up in numerous returns and were issued to both armies. Extensive research has been done on camp kettles by several individuals, including the NWTA's own Linnea Bass, Steve Gilbert, Dan Joyce, Steve Towne and Mark Tully, as well as folks like Roy Najecki, John Rees* Phil Weaver, and several others. In fact, enough data has probably been compiled to create a multi-volume book on the topic!
But, rather than get into all of the particulars on the various sizes and construction details, we will instead concentrate on what was most common and, more importantly, what is available to us today in the form of reproduction camp kettles. Camp kettles were basically straight-sided "pails" made from tin or sheet iron. Their size and capacity varied, but the most common size seems to have been about eight inches in diameter by eight inches tall (a capacity of just under seven modern quarts). The bail was attached either by piercing the sides of the kettle, or by attaching a pair of short "lugs" to the rim, which in turn were pierced to accept the bail.
Shown above are several reproductions of camp kettles that are currently available. Sources for these include:
G. Gedney Godwin (#388 Tin Pail)
Box 100, Valley Forge, PA 19481
(Second from left)
Patrick Cunningham (sheet iron kettles)
402 East Main Street
Madison, IN 47250
Steve Towne, former NWTA commander, and Steve Gilbert are also developing a tin camp kettle (the shiny one third from left). More on their efforts will follow in a future edition (the kettle shown at right is really a Leaktite #5 paint pail which is not really authentic as it has an embossed model number on the bottom).
Judging from surviving fragments, inventories, returns and pictorial evidence, camp kettles were possibly the most common cooking vessel employed by troops during the American Revolution. As such, camp kettles are the most authentic piece of equipment you can have sitting over your fire.
*For John Rees' excellent, in-depth article on camp kettles see The Brigade Dispatch Vol. XXVII, No. 3.