Only a tiny fraction of any soldier’s time was spent in combat. The vast majority of the time, the army was in camp. Camp life was exactly a time of rest and idleness. Uniforms and arms required daily attention, food had to be cooked, firewood collected, shelters built and the near endless work that caring for the camp required kept them far from idle.
A day in camp began at sunrise with the beating of the reveille, or earlier when some important movement was to be executed. Many of the men were farmers and unaccustomed to shaving but General Washington insisted upon clean shaven faces at the morning parade. Canteens and cartridge boxes were to be filled at night whenever there was reason to expect an early departure from camp or an attack. Even though early in the war there were few uniforms in the Continental army, the men were ordered to brush their clothes and present themselves in as good a personal appearance as possible. And finally, of course there was the mandatory six to eight hours of military drill, construction of earthworks, and general hardening of the defenses of the camp. Soldiers also each took shifts on guard or sentry duty.
Frequently, because rations were scarce, a soldier would also forage for food. Joseph Plumb Martin tells of coming across what at first seemed good luck: “Being pinched with hunger, I one day strolled to a place, where sometime before, some cattle had been slaughtered; here I had the good luck to find an ox’s milt, which had escaped the hogs and dogs. With this prize, I steered off to my tent, threw it upon the fire and broiled it, and then sat down to eat it, without either bread or salt.” A diet of root crops or crushed corn gathered from local fields as they passed while heading to guard duty or between encampments became what could be called a staple diet. Time was also spent bartering with the locals. “…we began to think about cooking some of our fat beef; one of the men proposed to the landlady to sell her a shirt for some sauce; she very readily took the shirt, which was worth a dollar at least…” Many soldiers would use what small leisure time allowed to hire themselves out to local farmers in exchange for food. “One day, after roll-call, one of my messmates with me, sat off upon a little jaunt into the country to get some sauce of some kind or other. We soon came to a field of English turnips; but the owner was there, and we could not get any of them without paying for them in some way or other. We soon agreed with the man to pull and cut off the tops of the turnips at the halves, until we got as many as we needed…”