Today’s object focuses on the knapsack, a vital piece of equipment for the Maryland soldiers. During the Revolutionary War, soldiers used knapsacks to carry extra clothing and personal items. They also used haversacks to carry their food and eating utensils. The knapsack shown below is a modern reproduction of the type carried by some Maryland soldiers in 1776 (although not the men who fought at the Battle of Brooklyn).
This reproduction was made from a design in the Maryland State Archives’ collections. In February 1776, the manufacturer sent Maryland’s government “a rough draft of the new Invented Napsack and haversack in one that is adopted by the Americans Regulars of Pennsylvania New Jersey & Virginia.” The knapsack portion was made of canvas, lined with linen, and painted red. The coat of paint was thought to weatherproof the front layer, protecting items from unfavorable weather conditions. The haversack portion was made of linen and was left unpainted so that it was washable. Soldiers could also carry their blanket between the two sections. This reproduction is emblazoned with “I MR” to signify the First Maryland Regiment, the soldier’s regiment.
These knapsacks were usually worn either under a soldier’s left arm or with the strap slung over his right shoulder towards his rear. It is possible that some soldiers may have even chosen to wear their knapsack squarely on their back, which at the time was the new British fashion and is still seen as “the modern manner,” and it is still popular to wear it this way today!
The food that soldiers carried in their knapsack was normally issued directly to the soldier instead of towards the company as a whole. Rations were often quickly reduced and hunger became a familiar state. Food was usually issued raw, making it necessary for the soldiers to also carry cooking and eating utensils. Soldiers were provided kettles to cook peas, beans, soups, and meat. The soldiers were also required to think about their well-being while cooking, and were encouraged to use as much vinegar as they would like to benefit their health. Officers were often instructed to make sure that the soldiers were properly preparing their food, as they were told the provisions should only be boiled and never fried, baked, or broiled as those methods were seen as unhealthy.In addition to the food and clothing found in their knapsacks and haversacks, soldiers carried muskets, bayonets, and cartridge boxes, along with items like canteens, axes, and whatever miscellaneous gear they accumulated. Supply shortages were a constant problem, and men were frequently without adequate clothing or shoes, even as they marched for thousands of miles. Worse, during hasty retreats, soldiers often lost their equipment, and baggage wagons, carrying things like tents, could be captured.
This style of knapsack, however, proved not to be the perfect solution. As the reenactors who made this reproduction discovered, the strap’s design made using the bag very uncomfortable. Apparently, the soldiers of the Maryland Line learned the same lesson, since purchases of these knapsacks disappeared within a year or so.
If you missed the other objects in this series, click here to view them all.