“camp Followers.”

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“camp Followers.” Although this expression has been corrupted into a synonym for prostitutes who follow army camps, it historically referred to all civilians, male and female, associated with the military. Followers accompanied military units to pursue profit, find employment, or remain with loved ones. American military forces have always had such followers; their number, kind, activities, and administration, however, have changed over time.

Camp followers helped the Continental army during the Revolutionary War. Sutlers—those merchants authorized to peddle provisions in camp—sold such merchandise as soap, thread, and liquor. They served both morale and supply functions. Family followers also affected a soldier's welfare and his will to fight. Finally, an assortment of civilians served the army in key staff and logistics positions, releasing soldiers and officers for combat.

Followers continued to be important to the maintenance and morale of military forces in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Authorized merchants suttled goods at posts established across the continent; in the twentieth century, suttling became big business in the form of base exchanges. Spouses and children endured hardships to maintain their families, and in so doing provided a civilian—some might say civilized—context to military life.

Civilian employees also continued their labors in the military. During the Civil War, they clerked, drove teams, nursed, spied, and operated telegraphs; since then the services have experimented with the civilian‐military mix in attempts to find the most efficient, cost‐effective formula.

As camp followers could hinder as well as help the military, they had to be controlled. Although not subject to military law, these civilians did have to conform to regulations and were liable for punishment—generally revocation of privileges or banishment—if they did not. The legal basis for such control was established via a clause in the first American Articles of War and maintained in subsequent revisions, including, in a modified form, the Uniform Code of Military Justice that replaced the articles in 1950.
[See also Bases, Military: Life On; Families, Military; Justice, Military; Logistics; Women in the Military.]


Edward M. Coffman , The Old Army: A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime, 1784–1898, 1986.
Betty Sowers Alt and and Bonnie Domrose Stone , Campfollowing: A History of the Military Wife, 1991.

Holly A. Mayer

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“camp Followers.”

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