An investigation was carried out into the hydrolysis of cellulose dissolved in 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride ([Emim][Cl]) and 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride ([Bmim][Cl]) catalyzed by mineral acids. Glucose, cellobiose, and 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF) were observed as the primary reaction products. The initial rate of glucose formation was determined to be of first order in the concentrations of dissolved glucan and protons and of zero order in the concentration of water. The absence of a dependence on water concentration suggests that cleavage of the β-1,4-glycosidic linkages near chain ends is irreversible. The apparent activation energy for glucose formation is 96 kJ mol−1. The absence of oligosaccharides longer than cellobiose suggests that cleavage of interior glycosidic bonds is reversible due to the slow diffusional separation of cleaved chains in the highly viscous glucan/ionic liquid solution. Progressive addition of water during the course of glucan hydrolysis inhibited the rate of glucose dehydration to 5-HMF and the formation of humins. The inhibition of glucose dehydration is attributed to stronger interaction of protons with water than the 2-OH atom of the pyranose ring of glucose, the critical step in the proposed mechanism for the formation of 5-HMF. The reduction in humin formation associated with water addition is ascribed to the lowered concentration of 5-HMF, since the formation of humins is suggested to proceed through the condensation polymerization of 5-HMF with glucose.