General Sir William Howe's Orderly Book -- Revisited.

by Kim R. Stacy

One of the neat things about having tens of thousands of pages of documents in my library, is that occasionally, I get to go back over some stuff and find all sorts of juicy information that I missed on the first pass. For your reenacting edification and application, I offer the following pertinent "stuff". Though these entries mostly apply to the Royal Highland Emigrants, you can get some idea of the problems and hardships facing an army on campaign in North America.

This entry does give us an interesting but not unexpected insight into the marauding of the camp followers.

13 April, 1776: "The Commanding officers of Corps, to be answerable that proper People be sent on Shore at Dartmouth, to superintend the Women, and others that may be left there to wash or for any other purpose, who are to be accountable for all Depredations that may be committed on the Houses or Estates of the Inhabitants".

It is interesting to note that by the spring of 1776, fresh foods were starting to be issued to the men.

14 April, 1776: "The Corps will apply to the Department Quarter Master General for Sour Crout and will issue to the Men, at the rate of 3 lbs. per man, per week, and it is recommended to the Commanding Officers to give particular Directions that they make a proper use of it."

This is fascinating in that the officers are admonished to have the men actually eat it -- I'll leave you to determine what "a proper use" is for Sour Kraut. Would it be any good for removing tarnish from buttons?

Fresh produce was often substituted for the regular rations when available.

18 April 1776: "The 4th, 5th, and 10th, Regiments will receive one days fresh fish, at the rate of two pounds per man in lieu of Salt Provisions, for which they are not to pay and they will only receive six days Pork next week instead of seven."

The following no doubt went a long way to relieve the scurvy that was on the rampage during the winter months when the men were subsisted on salt rations. Even though the potato crop was from the previous year, it would have been very welcome.

26 April, 1776: "The Quarter Masters of the Regiments on board ship to send ships boats on board, where they will receive from 40 to 60 bushels of Potatoes for each regiment, to be issued to the Troops at a Peck each Man every Week."

The rations, including the fresh rations, were paid for by the men from stoppages at 2 1/2 pence per day on land and at 3p per day on ship -- this was taken from their normal 8p per day pay.

The following orders to the Navy hopefully resulted in the troops not finding any unpleasant surprises on the beach after the tide went out.

21 April, 1776. "The men who die on board ship in the Harbour to be sent on shore to be buried".

The Royal Highland Emigrants were very lucky in that the Regiment took very good care of its families. The Line Regiments dumped their surplus (unauthorized women and children) on the beach when it sailed South, leaving all sorts of human debris in Halifax for to fend for themselves. The R.H.E. were spared this ordeal when they were left in Nova Scotia for garrison duty instead of being with the Army.

2 May, 1776: "Six women per company will be allowed to embark with each regiment, the Commanding Officers will be responsible that no more Women are received on board nor any children. Provisions will be allowed a the rate of half a Ration for each women and a quarter for each Child that is left behind."

3 May, 1776: "A return to be given in by each Corps by Sunday Noon, to the Adjutant General at the Court House of such Women as wish to go to England".

Halifax was flooded with desperate women about this time who could not live on the "official" rations.

Firewood was always at a premium, since the area for miles around had been denuded of lumber of any sort. The men were foraging for fuel to cook their rations and often were forced to resort to pillage:

18 May, 1776: "The Commander in Chief desire the Troops may be informed that he is determined to Punish with the greatest regiour any Soldier who is detected in pulling down houses, Fences, or destroying any thing else belonging to the inhabitants."

Wood for fuel would continue to be a major problem in Halifax for the duration of the War.

On 24 May 76, the men received a free ration of Tobacco from the Soldiers Relief Society.

"The Commanding Officers of the different Regiments will order it to be issued to such men on as use Tobacco and in small quantity's at a time so that this donation of the Society may serve for the Campaign." The R.H.E. received three hundred pounds.

The last entry for this manuscript is made on 26 May 76. The Emigrants are introduced to a variation in the standard (or non-standard) drill: "The Grenadier and Battalions of the Line are to form in future in three ranks with the Files as formerly ordered at 18 inches."

The interesting thing is that we still do not know from which drill manual this is from?

SOURCE: General Sir William Howe's Orderly Book, 1775-1776, compiled and edited by Benjamin Franklin Stevens, London, 1890.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Sir William Howe, was knighted with the order of Bath for his crushing victory over the rebel forces at Long Island, New York, on August 27th, 1776.