From George Washington to Henry Knox, 8 March 1783.
This is a letter from George Washington to a fellow military officer written during the war. He writes explaining how he has been "obliged, " or felt he had no other choice than to establish regulations that gave women and children who were part of the regiment provisions, or food. Women were part of the army as it moved from battle to battle. Unlike Deborah Sampson, most women did not fight. Based on reading this letter, what do you think women did for the soldiers? Why does Washington feel he has to provide food for them and their children? What did the women argue would happen to the male troops if Washington did not give women and children provisions? Did the women who came to talk to him convince him?
Women followed the military during the Revolutionary War and provided many valuable services to the soldiers stationed near the battlefields. These women engaged in tasks that American men, unaccustomed to military service, deemed feminine, such as cooking and laundering. Women also nursed soldiers. The women benefited from their status as "camp followers" by receiving protection, being able to be with their family members, and by earning income for their work. As Washington points out in the letter, the army had regulations that obligated it to provide food for these women, both in exchange for work and because otherwise the soldiers might desert to be with and protect their families during the chaos of the war. Ask your students to read this source several times to answer the questions in the "for the student" section.
From George Washington to Henry Knox, 8 March 1783
Head Quarters 8th March 1783
The Women of the New York Regt of Artillery have applied to me on the Subject of allowing them and their Children Provisions.
The number of Women & Children in the New York Regiments of Infantry before the New System of Issues took place obliged me, either to depart from that System and allow them provision or by driving them from the Army risk the loss of a number of Men, who very probably would have followed their Wives—I preferred the former and accordingly directed that the whole of the Women & Children then with the Troops, should be allowed to draw as usual.
So far as the Artillery Regimt was under the same circumstances they are intitled to the same indulgence: but as that indulgence was to remedy, and not to create, an evil—I would by no means extend it to Women who on the prospect of it, have since been brought into Camp—and I would wish you to see that no such do draw Provisions. I am Dear Sir Your [most] Obedient Servt