Military Subjects:  War of 1812


The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 16: September 2011

Documents, Artifacts, and Imagery

A General Order regarding the Distribution of Rations 1813

A General Order from the collection of the Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Record Group 8 C 3502, Vol. 1171: 3, 4.

“When a man entered a soldier’s life, he should have parted with half his stomach.”

Sergeant J.S. Cooper, 7th Royal Fusiliers

The soldier’s daily ration varied from time to time, depending upon the season, the distance from a base or depot, the efficiency of the commissariat transport and other factors. The provenance of rations in British North America was from several sources: contracts from farmers in all provinces (whose production varied due to militia service and weather), meat and grains smuggled from the United States and from overseas sources, such as the Mediterranean or the West Indies. During the Napoleonic War, Great Britain operated a global provision system that was designed to ensure sufficient food to feed its army and navy, aid its allies (including the annual gifts to Native nations) and to feed its own population.[1]

The army’s demand for rations increased as the War of 1812 progressed and the competing requirements for food and warlike stores for the army and navy often strained the supply system, which was reliant on waterborne transport. A flotilla of bateaux and boats shuttled supplies from Montreal to Kingston; from there the cheapest and easiest means of moving them further west was by water. During 1813, the series of dynamic American offensives against Upper Canada often disrupted the line of communications throughout Upper Canada, often leaving troops wanting for rations and military supplies.

A typical daily allotment provided to troops in the field consisted of 1 lb. of meat, 1 ½ pounds of bread or 1 lb. of ships biscuit, and either 1/3 of a pint of rum or a pint of wine. Rations were often supplemented by garrison gardens or by fair means or foul.

The following general order issued by the Adjutant-General’s Office in Kingston (by the Adjutant-General for British North America and applicable to both Canadas) during August 1813 announced a change to the daily ration given to each soldier.

General Orders
Adjutant Generals Office
Headquarters Kingston

13 August 1813

The Field Rations for the Troops is in future to consist of the following Articles and Quantities Vizt:

1 ½ lbs of Flour or Biscuit
10 ½ oz of Salt Pork or
1 lb. of Fresh or Salt Beef

Every other description of Ration has already been fixed by General Orders which are to be strictly adhered to.

Much inconvenience has arisen in carrying on the Service in the Commissariat Department in consequence of General Officers in Command of Divisions of the Army having taken upon themselves to make alterations and additions to the Ration established by the King for the Troops serving in the North American Provinces. His Excellency The Commander of the Forces, therefore directs, that in future no change or addition to that allowance be made without previous concurrence and authority being obtained–except in very extraordinary occasion, when the emergency of the service will be stated for consideration.


[1] The regulations regarding provisions are contained in Adjutant-General’s Office. General Regulations and Orders for the Army, Horse Guards, 12 August 1811, p. 151-169. Other useful sources include Antony Brett James. Life in Wellington’s Army. London: Tom Donovan, 1994 and Toby Redgrave, “Wellington’s Logistical Arrangements in the Peninsular War, 1809-1814.” PhD diss., King’s College, University of London, 2009 . Chapter 3 examines food and forage supplies. A number of recent studies have also examined the caloric intake of soldiers during this period. They can be found by consulting more studies on the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars.


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