The Continental Army Staff: What's In It for You?

By Bob Sullivan

I have been asked to contribute a regular column. Never refusing to add my two cents to any discussion, I would like to use this space to share with you some of the research I have found, and some ideas and opinions that I have formed from it. I am writing this column in the hope that discussions and actions will be generated on these topics. As an esteemed colleague of mine from the Southern Department of this organization once told me, "If you want to find out something, don't ask for information. Rather, share what you know. It is human nature that people will always point out where you are wrong, rather than answering your question. But you're getting your answer anyway, and isn't that what you wanted in the first place?" Here is my sharing for the first issue:

In addition to the military chain of command, which we recreate in every unit, there was an operational staff performing duties as well. While we have no need for paymasters, quartermasters, and the like at most events, there is one position that would prove beneficial to even coordinators. This position is the adjutant.

Now, with apologies to Kim Newell, I realize that we have a Continental Line position of adjutant. But the adjutant I am referring to is the one in the von Steuben (and almost every other military manual of the time).

The adjutant was in charge of the camp and the non-fighting control of the army. The adjutant's tent was pitched in the center of the first line of tents, in the main street, directly behind the colors. The adjutant was in charge of the roll calls, the parades, the guard, and other formations. He was responsible for communicating the orders of the day from the army commander to the rest of the officers.

So how can these positions benefit us?

I believe that having someone portray each of these positions will help an event go more smoothly. If anyone needs to find something out, go to the adjutant's tent. The adjutant's tent should contain a roll of all applicants, a map of unit locations within the camp, a schedule of events, and other information about local sights for sightseeing, food, accommodations, etc. When you arrive at an event, you check in at the adjutant's tent. your name is added to your unit roll, and the adjutant can give you your unit location within the camp. We do this now, and call it a registration tent. But what about the people who arrive after the registration tent is taken down?

When the official registration time ends, the registration materials should be moved to the adjutant's tent and continued. And what about those who leave? For the sake of emergencies, if we are looking for someone and they have left (or are still at the event), how will we know unless they tell someone? There should be a communications link with the local emergency units at the tent. If there is a medical or other emergency, go to the adjutant's tent and call for help. We can make the adjutant's tent an integral (and authentic) part of every event.

So what's in it for you?

If you are running an event, just how busy are you? (Actually, if you are running an event, you're probably too busy to read this article.) Wouldn't it be nice to share some of the responsibility with others? They certainly did 200 years ago. The two people they shared it with were the officer of the day and the adjutant. By maintaining a working adjutant's tent, you will be able to delegate some of the responsibilities that now drive you crazy when running an event. (Note that I added the adjective "working" to the adjutant's tent. Setting up a tent and forcing someone to sit there with nothing to do is rather boring. But give that person the responsibility to maintain camp order and the schedule and you have a working adjutant.)

The key to the working atmosphere is the answer you must give to everyone: "Go to the adjutant's tent." Some of the questions that this answer pertains to are listed below:

Where do I register now that the registration tent is closed?
I need to leave, who do I notify?
Where can I find Joe Smith of the 86th Delaware?
What time is the battle?
When is the next formation?
Where is the officer's meeting?
We need more wood, who's in charge?
I lost my bayonet, who do I tell?

I can add more questions, but you get the idea.

Who will be the adjutant?

This is up to you as event coordinator. I would suggest that you ask various individuals to be the adjutant on a revolving basis for an hour or two. Or you can ask someone to take it on a daily basis as an officer of the day.

However you chose to do it, you will gain three things from it. You will be able to concentrate on the battle scenario and delegate the rest of your responsibilities. You will be providing a higher level of camp authenticity for everyone who participates. You will gain some insight into how the Army really functioned in the 90% of its existence when it wasn't fighting.

When it comes time for the battle, try this one out: Two hundred years ago, the adjutant formed the troops. Have it done again. And when the troops are formed, the adjutant will take a roll call to find out if everyone is present. He will then turn to you, salute, and report, "Sir, the Parade is formed!"

Copyright © 1995 Bob Sullivan. All rights reserved.