The United States Army logistics complex, 1818-1845: A case study of the northern frontier

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




D. W. Meinig


United States Army, Logistics facilities, Transportation, Northern frontier

Subject Categories



From its founding in the late eighteenth century, the United States Army has always been dependent upon supplies and labor procured from civilian sources. This study examines the evolution of the five major logistics bureaus (the Adjutant General Department, the Commissary General of Subsistence Department, the Commissary General of Purchases Department, the Ordnance Department, and the Quartermaster General Department) as they expanded beyond their disorganized, parochial origins in the early national period into refined, national-scale systems by the start of the Mexican War. This development exhibited clearly distinguishable geographic patterns; each bureau which was responsible for the procurement and distribution of a particular class of commodities and services required to support the military developed policies that resulted in the creation of specific geographies depending upon the source areas and the economical transportation routes that were available to the northern frontier.

Based upon contracting records and documentary materials in the National Archives, this case study maps the principal source areas of each type of commodity, the locations of key government logistics facilities, and the transportation routes used to move the supplies to the posts on the northern frontier, extending from the Great Lakes to the Upper Mississippi Valley. The logistics departments purchased the majority of all manufactured items, including arms, clothing, camp equipage, from contractors located in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic states. Foodstuffs for the posts on the northern and western frontiers were purchased from merchants generally located in the vicinity of the Great Lakes and the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys. Critical civilian shipping hubs served as key military transportation centers, and recruiters sought enlistees in population centers along major routes with easy access to the frontier. The networks developed for each class of supply, in effect, represent the optimum geographic patterns that were possible, given the constraints of civilian source locations, the availability of transportation to distant posts, and modest Congressional budgets. The resulting complex transformed the early nineteenth century United States Army into a continental-scale imperial force, and can be considered the forerunner of the modern military-industrial complex in the United States.


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