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The support activities of the British Army in America were furnished by an entity known as the Civil Branches. Both the Regular Army and Royal Artillery (under the Board of Ordnance) maintained their own branches, tailored to their specific needs.
The Civil Branches were recruited mostly from local Loyalists but were expected to accompany the army wherever and whenever needed. The terms of enlistment were looser and the pay better than that of a soldier, making service here more attractive to refugees with families to support.
The Civil Branches provided all the logistical work that is today performed by many National Guard or Reserve units. They transported by land and water food, fuel and baggage; provided forage for the horses; repaired roads and bridges; built and maintained fortifications and barracks; issued and stored provisions; maintained and issued arms and ammunition; established supply magazines, etc.
The size of the various branches depended upon the local and seasonal need. The numbers at New York swelled dramatically as the war progressed and the city filled with unemployed, homeless refugees from the countryside.
During the winter of 1779-1780 in New York, each Civil Branch raised one or more armed companies to help defend the city in case of attack. This was necessitated by the absence of the main army (off to attack Charlestown) and the freezing over of the Hudson River, Long Island Sound and New York Harbor, essentially making the islands of New York a part of the mainland and open to attack from Washington’s Army. An attack did not materialize, but these companies did duty nonetheless.
Below you will find a sampling of some of the documents detailing the service and membership of these units. The Civil Branches did not prepare regular muster rolls like those of the regiments; therefore, knowing exactly who was in them at any given time is nearly impossible. Where lists are available, we have included them.
Barrack Master General's Department
Commissary General's Department
Receipt for Provisions, 1776
Quarter Master General's Department
Account of Vanderlinda Cattle Taken, 1777
Royal Artillery Regiment
Recruiting Notice, 1777
Waggon Master General's Department
The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies