Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Sutler Definition:

A civilian merchant assigned to an army in the field to provision soldiers with consumer goods.

A term of military law referring to an individual, a civilian and merchant by trade, who was given special permission to intermingle with soldiers in order to sell and distribute consumer goods and sundry daily necessities, to supplement regular army rations, such as wine, beer, liquor, cigarettes or cigars.

Scolnick and Packer write:

"Beginning as early as the 17th century, soldiers in the European armies were able to obtain food, drink and provision not supplied by the rulers from civilians who were appointed as sutlers. These sutlers were given sales concessions to supply certain specified articles to the troops whom they usually followed into the field."

In Dudzick v Lewis, the Tennessee court noted that sutlers were deployed during the Civil War and were merchants who had written permission of military authorities to accompany troops in the field and carry with them a stock of consumer goods; but that the sutler was not a soldier but a civilian camp follower.

The 1863 Lieber Code provided, at §50:

"Citizens who accompany an army for whatever purpose, such as sutlers, editors, or reporters of journals, or contractors, if captured, may be made prisoners of war and be detained as such.


  • Dudzick v. Lewis, 133 SW (2d) 496
  • Scolnick, Meyer; Packer, Joseph L., Evolution of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, 8 U.S.A.F. JAG L. Rev. 19 (1966)

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