These merchants often followed the armies of the American Revolution to try and sell their merchandise to the men. Sutlers played a major role in the recreation of army men between at least 1865 to 1890. Generally, the sutlers built their stores within the limits of an army post or just off the defense line, and first needed to receive a license from the Commander prior to construction; they were, by extension, also subject to his regulations. Sutlers, frequently the only local supplier of non-military goods, often developed monopolies on simple commodities like tobacco, coffee, or sugar and rose to powerful statures. Since government-issued coinage was scarce during the Civil War, sutlers often conducted transactions using a particular type of Civil War token known as a sutler token.
In modern use the term sutler is often used to describe businesses that provide period uniforms and supplies to reenactors, especially to reenactors of the American Civil War. These businesses will often themselves play the part of historical sutlers while selling their goods at reenactments.