Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Redcoat Uniforms, Part 2: corporals, sergeants and officers

Non-commissioned officers
“Good sergeants and Corporals being so very essential for the support of discipline and order in a Regiment, their merit must be well considered…honesty, sobriety, and a remarkable attention to every point of duty, with a neatness in their dress and a quickness in their understanding, above the common run of Soldiers…”(Cuthbertson: 5)
Among the qualifications of good non-commissioned officers, corporal or sergeant, was attention to proper dress. The uniform distinction for a corporal was a shoulder knot of white cord on the right shoulder, a vestige of the extra slow match carried in earlier days. By the 1780s, regiments shifted to a single white silk epaulette. Other than the knot/epaulette, corporals wore the same uniforms as privates. Sergeants wore coats of slightly better cloth than privates, scarlet not dull madder red. Sergeants’ wore hats trimmed with silver lace and their coats trimmed with plain white lace instead of the regimental pattern. They also wore a red wool sash with a stripe of the regiment’s facing color woven in the middle. Regiments with red facings wore a white stripe. For duty on more formal occasions a sergeants carried a halberd and short sword, but for most duty in America, sergeants carried a musket with bayonet.
“A good figure (at least a genteel one) is a circumstance to be also considered in the young gentleman…as it must be allowed, that a well-looking Corps of Officers are as striking to the eye, as a fine body of private men…” (Cuthbertson: 2)
Officers wore coats of fine scarlet faced with their regiments' color. Officers had their coats and hats trimmed in either gold or silver metallic lace depending on their regiment’s designated metal. On duty, officers carried a sword and wore a matching metal gorget around their neck. Officers tied the gorget, a vestige of medieval armor, with a silk ribbon of the facing color. Company-level officers, up to captain, wore a metallic lace epaulette on their right shoulder. Officers above captain, as well as grenadier and light company officers, wore two. Many officers in America wore plain unlaced coats and hats on duty, often carrying a light musket, or fusil.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

47th Recieves Pricey Blankets

British posts on the Great Lakes were at the end of a long supply line that stretched back to Ireland and Britain. As the War of Independence progressed it became increasingly difficult for the British to ship all the supplies necessary to support the far flung garrisons of Niagara, Detroit and Mackinac. This excerpt from an inspection report shows how post commanders were sometimes forced to purchase necessary supplies for their soldiers (and their Indian allies) from local fur traders, much to the government's chagrin.

"When Troops are ordered up to a [Great Lakes] Post they should bring allong their Camp equipage, and Barrack furniture and when ordered down should leave the later at the Post...the last Barrack furniture sent up to Niagara was rotten and unfit for Service consequently condemed...when the 47th Regt or the Detachment arrived hier, they applied for Blankets and Captn Lernould was obliged to purchase them at a great expense."

(from: Captain Dietrich Brehm to General Frederick Haldimand, Detroit, 5 July 1779, in Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, Volume 9, 416-17.)

Friday, April 30, 2010

In Memoriam Dr. David A. Armour

It is with sadness that I mark the passing of Dr. David Armour on April 28, 2010. Dr. Armour was deputy director of the Mackinac State Historic Parks (Mackinac Island State Park Commission) for 36 years, and supervised much of the restoration and reconstruction of the park structures. He shared his love of colonial history in numerous publications and through teaching at the University of Wisconsin, Calvin College and Grove City College.

Thank you Dr. Armour.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Michigan During the American Revolution

On July 4th, 2006 Michigan Radio's Jack Lessenberry interviewed Dr. David Armour, former Deputy Director of the Mackinac State Historic Parks. Armour gives a great overview of the character of Michigan and upper Great Lakes region during the Revolution.

To listen please click here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Redcoat Tactics Part 2: With Zeal and Bayonets Only

In this post I continue my summary of With Zeal and Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783 by Matthew Spring covering his chapters on “March and Deployment” and “Motivation”.

(Left: Colors of the 47th Regiment of Foot, image courtesy of Ron Aylor, British Regimental Drums & Colours in North America, 1755-1783.)

As was mentioned in the last post increasing mobility became key to British strategy in North America. In his chapter covering the march to, and deployment for, battle Spring unpacks the details of the movement of battalions both as part of larger brigade formations, but especially as independent units of movement. As with other areas of British tactical thinking during the war, Spring notes that in their efforts to speed up their assaults, pursue the enemy and cope the problems posed by lack of information about the terrain and enemy depositions, the British did not strictly adhere to established conventions for deploying their armies.

Generally speaking senior regiments would be placed to the right of the battle line and regiments were to be deployed in a particular order, according to seniority and function, on the march. In America these rules often had to be ignored for the sake of speeding up deployment into battle and for flexibility in responding to enemy threats from unexpected quarters. Even companies within a battalion had an order of precedence based on the seniority of the officer commanding them. This rule also had to be ignored as company commanders were rearranged to cover losses from casualties and reassignment of officers to staff positions.

The rush to deploy and the two-rank, extended-order formations adopted by the British could leave their formations strung out over an large area, making communication and command more difficult and sometimes placing companies in danger of being destroyed in detail. These extended deployments could also leave formations without a reserve of men to follow up any success in battle, cover a withdrawal, or to stop up a hole in the line if things went badly. To sum up, Spring points out that: “British battalions did not deploy, advance and engage in strictly linear fashion but instead fought fluid and ragged combats that defy detailed sequencing and make nonsense of contemporary and modern battle maps” (102).

Unlike many studies of Recoats during the Revolution, Spring explores the motivations and attitudes of British soldiers in some depth. Anyone who has read much about today’s British regimental system can’t fail to be impressed by soldiers’ “tribal” loyalty to the regiment. At the dawn of the Revolution some of the most senior British regiments had a record of service well over 100 years long. Uniform distinctions, such as different colored facings and lace, were an important source of pride, as were the regimental colors, or flags. Some of the most senior regiments in the army were granted special badges, symbols associated with their origins or former campaigns, the dragon badge of the 3rd Foot and the Prince of Wales feathers for the 23rd are good examples for units serving in North America.

(Left: Colors of the 3rd Regiment of Foot, image courtesy of Ron Aylor, British Regimental Drums & Colours in North America, 1755-1783.)

And yet, Spring points out many of the less senior line regiments did not have long traditions of service, or particularly unique regimental distinctions, nor would they likely see their colors while on service in North America. Another problem with viewing the regiment as family is that most soldiers served in garrisons consisting of detached companies spread out over a region. Given that, Spring asserts that smaller formations like companies (30-50 men), mess/tent groups of 5-6 men, and even two file partners, a pair of soldiers who made up one row of a line formation, played a much greater role in developing loyalty among soldiers. A soldier would be loath to let down the men he ate, worked and shared a bunk or tent with. A great deal also depended on the how the officers ran the unit. Officers who obviously cared for their men could, and did inspire intense loyalty.

(Below Right: Drum of the 23rd Regiment of Foot, image courtesy of Ron Aylor, British Regimental Drums & Colours in North America, 1755-1783.)

The relatively rapid and extensive turnover in the personnel of regiments during the war, due to officer transfers, death, and drafting (transfer of soldiers to another regiment) also mitigated against finding many long-term veterans in a regiment. But as the war progressed there was often a core of seasoned veterans to help the new recruits adjust to campaigning and battle. Interestingly, Spring points out that at the beginning of the war even veteran redcoats of several years service had never been in battle and that the disorder noted among troops in early battles like Lexington and Bunker Hill may, in part, be a function of never having been under fire before.

National pride and xenophobia were also major factors affecting British morale. Some regiments sought to focus their recruiting on a particular part of Britain adding a regional character to their units that helped motivate the men. The 23rd Welsh Fusiliers, Scottish Highlanders, and Irish regiments were particularly aware of national pride and rivalries.

Spring also discusses several other factors contributing to a British sense of military superiority. For many units the efficient conduct of even routine garrison and camp work, the good maintenance of uniforms and gear—generally described, as “smartness”—and the crispness of drill were all signs of unit pride. Having one’s unit designated elite was another source of pride. Spring offers several examples of the motivational power of elite status on the conduct of composite grenadier and light infantry battalions in battle.

Finally, Spring explores the redcoats view of their enemies and the cause they were fighting for. Not surprisingly, many redcoats viewed rebels with hostility and held the rebel cause to be unjust and unlawful, if not downright insulting to the King. According to Spring, “…both officers and men often lectured rebel captives on the badness of their cause and the impropriety of fighting against their King” (127). Unfortunately, contempt for rebels sometimes led to mistreatment of prisoners. Rebel soldiers experienced both verbal and physical abuse meted out by angry British soldiers, especially in situations were the rebels employed the irregular, hit and run tactics of petite guerre.

Next Time: With Zeal and Bayonets Only, Part 3, “The Advance” and “Commanding the Battalion”.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Redcoat Tactics: With Zeal and Bayonets Only

With Zeal and Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783 (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008) is Matthew Spring’s reassessment of British tactics during the American Revolution. The book provides a good starting place to begin to better understand the actual tactics used by the British during the war. Along with Fusiliers by Mark Urban, the book provides a much clearer picture of the role and practices of the British Army in the Revolution.

The book, originally Spring’s dissertation for the University of Leeds, uses examples from period-British accounts of combat and inspections to analyze the origins and evolution of British tactical thinking as they met the challenges presented by American rebellion, North American terrain and their own fiscal and manpower limitations.

Spring provides ample evidence that the British were not tactically inflexible and tradition bound, rather they were flexible and forward thinking and changed their tactical thinking based on previous experience, including what they learned in North America in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). This, in spite of basing their thinking on the assumption of their own military superiority and an underestimation of the strength of the rebellion and the rebels.

To set the stage Spring begins with a discussion of what British commanders saw as the key factors for winning the war. First among these, simply enough, was to engage and effectively destroy the fighting capacity of the Continental Army. At that point British commanders pictured dispersing their forces in garrisons to re-assert royal authority over the country. It was expected that rebel defeats would encourage popular loyalist support. When, as British leaders envisioned, military action was no longer tenable, rebel leaders were expected to break ranks and sue for peace. It was not often possible for the British to achieve the kind of decisive victories they wanted, as American commanders often evaded them, or escaped defeat to fight another day.

Spring then goes on to outline what he calls the operational constraints that faced the British. British commanders were aware that, just as rebel defeats would help them, if they were to be defeated by the rebels it would do much damage to their cause, discouraging loyalists and fueling the rebellion. This realization helped make British commanders very cautions about where and when they engaged the enemy in battle. Because their manpower was limited, British commanders also attempted to conserve soldiers and not put them at undue risk. Logistics was another problem, the American terrain making it difficult to move the food, ammunition and other supplies needed by the army. Cumbersome supply trains also made it harder to pursue rebel forces. The terrain also generally favored the defender, and Americans exploited this whenever possible inflicting lopsided damage on British forces. As the war progressed British commanders tried to lighten the army’s load by cutting down uniforms and reducing the amount of supplies carried to a minimum, but even these measures failed to increase mobility enough to gain a decisive advantage in most cases.

(Left: example of cut down redcoat uniform)

In his chapter titled “Grand Tactics” Spring asserts the British commanders were not tactically unimaginative or bound by the drill manual, but that they relied on certain assumptions and techniques, like the bayonet charge that worked less and less well as Continentals gained more experience and training. As British commanders sought to engage the enemy, they tried to concentrate their best troops for attacks, the specialized light infantry and grenadier companies. These units were often removed from their parent regiments and grouped together in new composite battalions. With rebel reliance on defensive positions the British looked for ways to turn the enemy’s flank with speedy, aggressive assaults. When these tactics did not immediately work the British could become bogged down in costly, lopsided firefights. Reliance on quick bayonet assaults in America marked a break from the noted British tradition of fire discipline and firepower.

Next Time: With Zeal and Bayonets Only, Part 2, “March and Deployment” and “Motivation”.

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