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Revolutionary War Era Orderly Books from the New-York Historical Society FAQs

The following are frequently asked questions about Revolutionary War Era Orderly Books from the New-York Historical Society, part of EBSCO's Digital Archives Collection. Click on the question links to read the answers.

What is the Revolutionary War Era Orderly Books from the New-York Historical Society?
Revolutionary War Era Orderly Books from the New-York Historical Society collection consists of more than 200 orderly books spanning from 1748 to 1817 and representing over 30,000 pages of historically unique material. They were the controlling method of documenting day-to-day life in the military, most notably during the Revolutionary War. Orderly books once numbered in the hundreds of thousands and only a fraction of that number still exist.

This collection includes both British and American orderly books, a form of manuscript journals kept by military units containing their orders from higher-ranking officers in addition to other information essential to military operations. These hand-written volumes date from the French and Indian War through the War of 1812, with the bulk representing the activities of American forces during the Revolutionary War.

An orderly book consisted primarily of copies of official orders that flowed from upper chains of command to the lower units, and served as a way to transmit essential information to the troops in an era before mass communication. The material presented in the Revolutionary War Era Orderly Books from the New-York Historical Society collection include orders from generals such as George Washington and other higher ranking officers to their many commanders, lieutenants, and captains to execute various military actions. This communication was essential for the smooth operations of war efforts. The orderly books also contain other important historical information, such as the names of unit members, troop movements, court-martial proceedings, quantities of supplies, relevant acts of Congress, the general state of morale, and other information important to the respective units. All of the books reference specific geographic locations, military units, and their activities.

This unique collection of Revolutionary War Era Orderly Books from the New-York Historical Society, a result of EBSCO's long-term partnership with the New-York Historical Society (N-YHS), is presented through an innovative and dynamic digital interface specifically designed for this content, enabling scholars and students to interact with the material in new ways. The interface replicates the experience of browsing and reading original archival material while also allowing keyword searching, manipulation of page views, note-taking capabilities, and various downloading options.

To view a complete product description, key content features, and a title list for Revolutionary War Era Orderly Books, click here

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What is an orderly book?
Eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century orderly books consist of hand-written copies of orders from higher-ranking officers and locations out to the various units involved in the military operations. For example, orders would go out from the headquarters of General George Washington to lower ranking officers in charge of various units. A person would write down those orders from headquarters and deliver them to the lower-ranking commanding officer. The orderly books also include notes regarding the military unit’s operations, including food supplies, morale, discipline, or any other items of importance. These books consistently contain detailed references to the particulars of people, time, and place.

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Are there names of people I would recognize represented in the books?
Yes. General (and future, first U.S. President) George Washington and his orders as commanding General of the Continental Army are seen throughout many of the books. Other famous names include Benedict Arnold (both as a soldier and a traitor) and British General Sir William Howe.

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What places of interest might I recognize in the books?
Many of the important places and battle sites of the Revolutionary War are represented, including Valley Forge, Bunker Hill, New York City and its environs, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Fort Ticonderoga, and many more.

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Military history is not my area of study. What do these books provide to other historians and scholars?
While these orderly books are important to military historians, they also provide unique insights into how soldiers lived everyday live, many of whom were untrained volunteers wanting to fight for the cause of the Revolution. How these men behaved and were handled by the military are revealed in the pages of these books. The orderly books also contain rich information about the particular locations the military units were camped and where they marched, offering first-hand accounts of towns and geography.

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Sample/Demonstration Searches
From the Advanced Search screen, enter the following terms in the Find field, following the steps described below:

Valley Forge
(the famous location of General Washington’s encampment for the winter of 1777-78)

  1. Select “TX – All Text” in the “Select a field (optional)” drop-down box
  2. Notice the number of results that describe or reference the encampment.
  3. Click on the book titled “Gen. Washington's General & After Orders from Whitemarsh, Gulph & Valley Forge,” advance to page 4, and notice the name of George Washington at the top.

Benedict Arnold
(the infamous traitor of the Revolutionary War)

  1. Select “TX – All Text” in the “Select a field (optional)” drop-down box
  2. Notice the results for Arnold as both an officer and a convicted traitor.

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