Feeding the Armies

In the Revolution, Patriot and British armies often marched and fought on empty stomachs as plans for obtaining food went awry. This was particularly true in the backcountry where food was scarce. Examples of foraging for food and food-related problems abound. Earlier in the war, General Gates and his Southern Continentals, on the march to Camden, subsisted on apples, peaches, and half-ripened corn. James Collins, writing about backcountry campaigns in his Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier, told of eating turnips and parched corn. In one poignant example, Battle of Cowpen's participant John Martin, recuperating from wounds in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, and beyond assistance of the army, reported the death of his horse because he lacked money to purchase forage. In another instance, Cornwallis, because his army was so dead tired and hungry, chose not to pursue General Greene in the aftermath of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Up in Virginia, Samuel McCune was employed to drive cattle from Augusta County to Yorktown. Throughout the southern theater of war, scouting parties on both sides would scour the country in every direction in search of food.

At Cowpens, Daniel Morgan worried about obtaining food for his men - the area around the Pacolet River had been plundered and fought over so much, there was little to requisition. In addition, he had horses to feed. Each militiaman had brought a horse, in addition to those of the cavalry, making the total over 450. Perhaps that was part of Morgan's plan to stop at Cowpens - there should be some grass for the horses, even in winter, and, possibly free-ranging calves could be found and killed for beef. Beef was indeed available: James Turner, a Spartanburg District resident and participant in the battle, butchered beef to feed Morgan's army before and after the battle. It was reported that militia groups constantly left camp to hunt for forage. Such were the realities of feeding the armies.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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