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Quartermaster Spoils
“Dec. 28th. Yesterday upwards of fifty Officers in General Green’s Division resigned their Commissions … All this is occasion’d by Officers Families ...

Quartermaster Spoils

“Dec. 28th. Yesterday upwards of fifty Officers in General Green’s Division resigned their Commissions … All this is occasion’d by Officers Families being so much neglected at home on account of Provisions. Their Wages will not considerable purchase a few trifling Comfortables here in Camp, & maintain their families at home,” Dr. Albigence Waldo wrote of Greene’s predicament and the army’s financial conditions in early 1778.

The officers resigned because they could not support their families. Waldo wrote that enlisted men were better off financially than officers. States supplied the soldiers serving from their states. Because officers held more responsibility, the cost of providing for them was greater. As a result, many officers did not receive enough money to take care of their families. The problem was so severe some officers had resorted to begging.

Finances were not the only problem facing Greene or the army that year. The army’s stores were as empty as a creek during a drought. A menu of problems contributed to the low food supplies. The quartermaster and the men in his department usually knocked on the doors of local farmers and others to find food for the army. Unfortunately, many people had succumbed to scams by other men who pretended to acquire food on behalf of the army. This deception, combined with soaring inflation, had led to the department’s depletion.

“Many difficulties had grown out of this neglect; the army was irregularly supplied with provisions and forage, while the country people suffered much on account of the demands made upon them for provisions by unauthorized foraging parties,” historian William Jackman wrote.

Although the problems were numerous, the quartermaster department was primarily starved for leadership. As quartermaster, General Mifflin was disorganized. He lacked both the foresight of squirrels to store acorns for the winter and the craftiness of raccoons to scavenge when necessary.

“We are still in danger of starving. Hundreds of our horses have already starved to death,” Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene wrote to his friend Henry Knox, who was away in Boston visiting his wife. The food shortages and the loss of many of his officers had put Greene in a difficult position.

“The Committee of Congress have seen all these things with their own eyes. They have been urging me for several days to accept the quartermaster-general’s appointment, his Excellency [Washington] also presses it upon me exceedingly,” Greene wrote to Knox. “I hate the place [the quartermaster department], but hardly know what to do.”

The lackluster job of quartermaster was as exciting to Greene as returning to the life of a blacksmith. He much preferred a battle command. But he chose an attitude of service over self-centeredness. Nathanael Greene became the quartermaster, and by doing so, this revolutionary showed he was working for the food that does not spoil.


Thank you for your provisions, for the necessities in life. May I work for the food that doesn’t spoil and taste the sweetness of service.

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval”

(John 6:27).

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