Wednesday, January 24, 2018

More Military Camp Followers, Young & Old, 1782

Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Susan reporting,

Last year I wrote a post about 18thc artifacts and paintings that showed how the children of soldiers followed their parents to war. Here's another example showing both women and girls as part of a Revolutionary War encampment.

The exhibition Among His Troops - currently at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia through March 4, 2018 - is primarily focused on the Museum's new acquisition, a watercolor panorama by the French engineer Pierre L'Enfant  of the Continental Army's encampment at Verplanck's Point in 1782. (More about this painting in my blog post here.) But also included in the exhibition is another, similar watercolor by L'Enfant showing the army's encampment that same year at West Point.

Owned by the Library of Congress, this watercolor, shown in its entirety below, has seldom been exhibited; for those of you unable to travel to Philadelphia, it's available to view on the LoC site here. For most of the war, West Point had served as the strategic and administrative headquarters for the Continental Army. This watercolor depicts not only the 18thc landscape of the Hudson River and the surrounding regions, but also the rows upon rows of soldiers' tents in the distance as well as West Point's buildings, fortifications, and encampment. As the exhibition's placards note, today's cadets at the United States Military Academy continue to march and train on the exact same ground the Continental soldiers were using in 1782 - and in this painting.

Details, right and lower left, in the foreground show more of everyday life in the encampment. Soldiers gather to talk and rest, muskets are neatly stacked at the ready, officers are shown on horseback, and wagons and ships on the river bring supplies and news.

But there's one small group in the foreground, upper left, of special interest. A woman is shown holding a tin kettle for three soldiers to eat directly from it, while an interested (and likely hungry!) dog waits nearby. To their left are two girls climbing up the hillside. Again according to the exhibition's notes, documents from 1782 list 150 women and children at West Point in addition to about 3,600 soldiers. Wives, daughters, and sweethearts, these women sewed, washed laundry, and supplied food for the men -  important if often overlooked contributions to the military effort.

Many thanks to Phil Mead and Scott Stephenson for the early tour of the exhibition, and to Alex McKechnie for her assistance.

Panoramic View of West Point by Pierre Charles L'Enfant, watercolor, August 1782, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.


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