Knapsacks and the Soldiers' Burden

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Knapsacks and the Soldiers' Burden

KNAPSACKS AND THE SOLDIERS' BURDEN. The individual soldier's load was burdensome in the best of times. British troops carried as much as sixty pounds of equipment and a Continental soldier's usual load was about forty to fifty pounds. Standard campaign gear consisted of a musket, cartridge pouch, forty to sixty cartridges, bayonet and carriage, haversack with two to four days' bread and meat rations (one day's ration weighed approximately two and one-quarter pounds), canteen, blanket, and a knapsack or blanket sling containing extra clothing and other personal necessities. Shared between each mess squad of five or six men were a tin or sheet-iron camp kettle and wooden bowl, along with one or several tomahawks or hatchets. Tent poles were carried only rarely, tentage never.

The standard British knapsack consisted of two large pockets, with a small slit enclosure between, suspended from two shoulder straps. The Continental army copied that design, but used other styles as well. The manufacturer of a single-strap, "new Invented napsack and haversack" in February 1776 claimed it had been adopted by Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia troops. If true, the model likely saw only limited service. A 1781 Continental army return listed 10,350 linen knapsacks (painted and unpainted) and 323 made of "Goat Skin"; the British army more often used the latter material.

British forces often carried blanket slings (tumplines), consisting of a blanket rolled and tied around a single woven linen strap, slung over one shoulder. In 1777, Fortieth Regiment soldiers were issued a linen wallet, placed inside to hold their belongings. Captain William Leslie of the Seventeenth Regiment noted in 1776: "My whole stock consists of two shirts 2 pr of shoes, 2 Handkerchiefs half of which I use, the other half I carry in my Blanket, like a Pedlars Pack" (Cohen, "Captain William Leslie's 'Paths of Glory,'" p. 63).

Blanket rolls, much used in the American Civil War (1861–1865), saw some use in the Revolution. J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur described "six militiamen with linsey-woolsey blankets tied from the right shoulder to the left arm" (St. John de Crèvecoeur, Letters, p. 488).


Cohen, Sheldon. "Captain William Leslie's 'Paths of Glory.'" New Jersey History 108 (1990): 55-81.

St. John de Crevecoeur, J. Hector. Letters from an American Farmer and Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America. Edited by Albert E. Stone. New York: Viking Penguin, 1986.