Being deployed to fight during wars and some other dangerous situations was unquestionably hard. Not only because you were trying not to get killed while fighting, all while being surrounded by enemies who wanted you dead. You were also away from the comforts of your home and family. You would also have to worry about cooking, doing the laundry, and some other general logistical tasks, especially when modern military logistics were not a thing yet. Thankfully, armies at that time could rely on the help of camp followers.

Yes, I Do the Cooking

During the Revolutionary War, soldiers faced the most dangerous military campaigns and engaged in combats left and right. Thousands of American women volunteered themselves in the military and helped alleviate some of the burdens. These unenlisted people, who were usually the soldiers’ families and relatives, would do the laundry, cooking, nursing, and general logistics and travel with the troops as they moved through campaigns.

Although this was not an officially approved practice, the help and presence of these camp followers alleviated the strains on the crude logistical services that the armies had during that period. A large number of these women were widows or had been displaced by the ongoing conflict. In addition, the wives of the high-ranking officials would also join the camp followers.

In Front of the Tent of a Camp-follower. (Philips Wouwerman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Aside from the wives, families, and widows, civilian traders also joined in the travel. These traders would follow the soldiers to sell goods and services that were not supplied by the government.

Providing Much-Needed Help

The camp followers were essential in maintaining the overall high morale of the troops, that in turn, ensured smooth operation. They kept the conditions of the camps in great shape as their services helped maintain hygiene which was basically the least of the soldiers’ priorities during times of combat. Washing their clothes, keeping the campsite clean and tidy, making sure the utensils were cleaned properly, and keeping the continuous supply of running water kept the troops well-maintained.

A collage of American Revolutionary War public domain images. (Howard Pyle, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Communicable diseases and infections were significantly reduced from spreading, and the desertion rate among troops also decreased. This was because their families were there following them, so they wouldn’t have much reason to want to go home.

Most of the time, the services offered by the camp followers were purely voluntary and unpaid, although there were numerous occasions when they were given a fair wage. Once, General George Washington’s men got sick during the Revolutionary War. To help, he brought more camp followers who would tend to the troops. Soon after, Congress authorized payment for these nurses who followed the continental army, and they were paid eight dollars a month.

Extra Burden?

Camp followers were no doubt a huge help to the troops, but they were without critics. The commanders needed more food, clothes, and general supplies not only for the troops but also for the followers. Sometimes, there were too many of them that it was impossible to feed them all. Because of that, the vulnerable ones were usually just sent back home. Aside from that, the soldiers had to make an extra effort to make sure that the camp followers were safe, too.

In the end, these women were no question vital during that time, and their roles allowed the armies to function and keep on going during difficult times. Sadly, their contributions were often forgotten, and only a few women’s names were kept on the record of the military.

Today, camp followers were no longer necessary as the logistical advancement could aid the troops’ needs.