Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Uniform Notes

Finding accurate information on the uniforms of Revolutionary War soldiers is not always easy. This is especially true of the American army. Here are two remarkably detailed descriptions of the American soldier that I've come across in the course of past reading on the Revolutionary War.

The first description concerns the Philadelphia Associators, one of several uniformed city militias that antedated the Revolutionary War. The description appears in a June 3, 1775, letter by Silas Deane to his wife. Deane was in Philadelphia as one of Connecticut's representatives at the Second Continental Congress. The Philadelphia Associators are perhaps best known for leading a crucial counterattack at the battle of Princeton (January 3, 1777).

Deane wrote:

"The militia are constantly out, morning and evening, at exercise, and there are already thirty companies in this city in uniform, well armed, and have made a most surprising progress. The uniform is worth describing to you; it is a dark brown (like our homespun) coat, faced with red, white, yellow, or buff, according to their different battallions; white vest and breeches, white stockings, half-boots, black kneegarters. Their coat is made short, falling but little below the waistband of the breeches, which shows the size of a man to very great advantage. Their hats are small (as Jesse's little one, almost,) with a red, or white, or black ribbon, according to their battallions, closing in a rose, out of which rises a tuft of fur of deer, made to resemble the Buck's tail as much as possible, of about six or eight inches high. Their cartouch boxes are large, with the word LIBERTY and the number of their battallion, wrote on the outside in large white letters. Thus equipped they make a most elegant appearance, as their cartouch boxes are hung with a broad white wash-leather strap or belt, and their bayonet &c. on the other side, with one of the same; which two, crossing on the shoulders diamond-fashion, gives an agreeable appearance viewed in the rear."

"The Light Infantry are in green faced with buff; vests &c. as the others, except the cap, which is a hunter's cap, or jockey. These are, without exception, the genteelest companies I ever saw. They have besides a body of Irregulars, or Riflemen, whose dress it is hard to describe. They take a piece of Ticklenburgh, or tow cloth that is stout, and put it in a tan-vat until it has the shade of a dry or fading leaf; then they make a kind of frock of it, reaching down below the knee, open before, with a large cape. They wrap it round them tight, on a march, and tie it with their belt, in which hangs their tomahawk. Their hats, as the others. They exercise in the neighboring groves firing at marks, and throwing their tomahawks; forming on a sudden into one line, and then, at the word, break their order and take their posts, to hit their mark. West of this city is an open square of near two miles each way, with large groves each side, in which each afternoon they collect, with a vast number of spectators."

Don Troiani's painting of the Associators at Princeton can be seen here. He has also painted soldiers of the 2nd and 3rd battalions.

The second description concerns the mounted militia that served in the South Carolina backcountry in 1780-1781. The description appears in James Collins' (1859) Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier. Collins joined Captain John Moffett's mounted company in the summer of 1780, and fought at Williamson's Plantation, Fishing Creek, and Cowpens.

Collins left the following description of how he and his neighbors transformed themselves into volunteer dragoons:

"It will be, perhaps, proper here to mention, that we were a set of men acting entirely on our own footing, without the promise or expectation of any pay. There was nothing furnished us from the public; we furnished our own clothes, composed of course materials, and all home spun; our over dress was a hunting shirt, of what was called linsey woolsey, well belted around us. We furnished our own horses, saddles, bridles, guns, swords, butcher knives, and our own spurs; we got our powder and lead as we could, and had often to apply to the old women of the country, for their old pewter dishes and spoons, to supply the place of lead; and if we had lead sufficient to make balls, half lead and the other pewter, we felt well supplied. Swords, at first, were scarce, but we had several good blacksmiths among us; besides, there were several in the country. If we got hold of a piece of good steel, we would keep it; and likewise, go to all the sawmills, and take all the old whip saws we could find, set three or four smiths to work, in one shop, and take the steel we had, to another. In this way, we soon had a pretty good supply of swords and butcher knives. Mostly all our spurs, bridle bits, and horsemen's caps, were manufactured by us. We would go to a turner or wheelwright, and get head blocks turned, of various sizes, according to the heads that had to wear them, in shape resembling a sugar loaf; we would then get some super strong upper, or light sole leather, cut it out in shape, close it on the block, then grease it well with tallow, and set it before a warm fire, still on the block, and keep turning it round before the fire, still rubbing on the tallow, until it became almost as hard as a sheet of iron; we then got two small straps or plates of steel, made by our own smiths, of a good spring temper, and crossing it the center above, one reaching from ear to ear, the other, in the contrary direction; the lining was made of strong cloth, padded with wool, and fixed so as to prevent the cap from pressing too hard on the ears; there was a small brim attached to the front, resembling the caps now worn, a piece of bear skin lined with strong cloth, padded with wool, passed over from the front to the back of the head; then a large bunch of hair taken from the tail of a horse, generally white, was attached to the back part and hung down the back; then, a bunch of white feathers, or deer's tail, was attached to the sides, which completed the cap. The cap was heavy, but custom soon made it so that it could be worn without inconvenience. We made the scabbards of our swords of leather, by closing on a pattern of wood, and treating it similar to the cap. Our swords and knives, we polished mostly with a grindstone—not a very fine polish to be sure; but they were of a good temper, sharpened to a keen edge, and seldom failed to do execution, when brought into requisition."


  1. I really wish the Perries would make some associators in this uniform. I think that description of militia cavalry was provided to Eureka Miniatures as reference for the "100 Club" request for such figures. I heaerd a year ago that they were moving up into the production line, and then another rumour recently that they would be sculpted reasonably soon. Hopefully I'll find out more when I visit Eureka next March!


  2. It's a similar situation in 15mm. I don't believe any manufacturer makes 15mm Associators or 15mm militia dragoons with the headgear described by Collins. The omission is curious, because one can find minis for some pretty obscure units.