Monday, February 9, 2009

Redcoat uniforms, Part 1: privates and drummers

"An exact Neatness in the appearance of a Battalion, not only does honor to the attention of its Officers, in the opinion of every indifferent spectator, but gives great reason to the more discerning part of the world, to suppose, that proper regulations are established, in every other particular, for the support of Discipline, it being the most difficult task in forming of a Soldier, to make him dress in a becoming manner..." (Cuthbertson: 107)

Cuthbertson's quote from his famous military manual shows the importance of the uniform to the British army in the 18th century. Not only was the uniform a mark of distinction for redcoats, but to an inspecting British officer, or a potential foe, the neatness and proper wear of the uniform was an important indicator that a regiment was under good discipline and control by its officers. This series of posts is meant to be an introduction to various topics of redcoat life during the Revolution.

The uniforms of British soldiers in the Revolution were regulated under the Royal Warrant of 1768. This warrant specified the proper dimensions, form and color for enlisted and officer's uniforms, and was one of a series of ordinances issued by the crown under the early Hanoverian Kings. This was an attempt to achieve more uniformity and control over the army's clothing, since in previous decades the Colonels of each regiment (who were responsible for purchasing their mens' clothing) would often use their own patterns and put their own family crests on uniform items.

The official uniform of redcoat during the Revolution consisted of a long wool coat dyed red with madder root. Madder was a cheaper dye and had become emblematic of the British by the time of Cromwell's New Model Army in the mid-1640s. This coat had long skirts, extending to the back of the knee that were worn pulled back most of the time. The facings of the coat, cuffs, lapels and collar (or cape)were covered with colored fabric. Each regiment was assigned a distinctive color: buff (tan), white, yellow, green, black, orange, purple, gray, red, or blue for Royal regiments (those specially recognized by the Crown). The coat was worn open to reveal the small clothes, a waistcoat (vest) and breeches. The lapels and cuffs were turned back, and the 1768 Warrant also specified that they were to be held down with pewter buttons cast with the regiment's number (Top left, original 47th foot button, Fort Mackinac, from the collections of the Mackinac State Historic Parks, photo: Trevor Barnes). The regiments were also assigned a pattern of lace, or worsted wool tape with colored stripes, that was to be sewn around each buttonhole. For most regiments this lace was folded square, but for some it was folded in a bastion, or pointed, shape. Some regiments set their buttons and lace in pairs. (Below, reproduction 47th coat showing placement of buttons and lace).

Small clothes for most regiments were white wool, but those with buff facings wore buff waistcoats and breeches. The regiment's musicians, or drummers wore coats of reversed colors: the coat body of the regiment's facing color with cuffs, lapels and collar of red (regiments with red facings had white coats faced and lined red). Drummers' coats were also decorated on the sleeves and shoulders with extra regimental lace and "wings". For regiments with white, buff or red facings drummers wore red waistcoats and breeches. Musicians of Royal regiments wore red coats with blue facings and special yellow Royal lace. Drummers also wore special black bearskin caps with a metal plate in front bearing stacked trophies and colors.

The bulk of the men in a regiment made up the battalion, or hat companies, so called for their black felt "cocked" hats. Cocked hats had a higher, flatter front than the older style tricorn hat. These hats were trimmed with white wool tape and a black horsehair (sometimes silk) cockade, or bow, was worn on the left side. Soldiers from the regiment's two specialist companies, the grenadiers and light infantry, were issued tall black bearskin, or small, brimless caps, respectively. (Right, battalion company soldiers march past a group of drummers).

Rounding out the redcoat's uniform was a long, white linen shirt worn as underwear, a stiff black horsehair neckstock, or often a softer fabric roller, or neckcloth. Long wool yarn stockings were worn under the knee-breeches, the most acceptable colors being gray and white (Cuthbertson: 82). Black leather garters with small brass buckles held up the stockings. Covering the feet and lower legs soldiers wore low, black leather shoes closed with shoe buckles, over which they wore black linen gaiters that buttoned up the sides. These gaiters came to just below the knee, but in practice most soldiers during the Revolution were shorter linen gaiters, or spats.

More to come on Redcoat uniforms in Part 2: sergeants and officers