Saturday, July 9, 2011

Uniforms of the St. Kitts Campaign

I'm about halfway through a series of posts on the St. Kitts campaign of 1782 (the most recent post was Part 5). Upcoming posts will focus on a naval engagement on January 26, a land battle on January 28, and the final days of the siege of Brimstone Hill.

As an aside to this series, I discuss in this post the uniforms worn by British and French army regulars during the campaign.

The description that follows touches on only some aspects of the clothing worn by these troops. For a much more complete account, see Philip R. N. Katcher (1973). Encyclopedia of British, Provincial, and German Army Units 1775-1783, and René Chartrand (1991). The French army in the American War of Independence.

British Army

British regulars wore red coats. Individual regiments were distinguished by the color of the coat "facings" (i.e., collar, cuffs, and lapes), by the lace pattern worn around the buttonholes (white with different combinations of colored stripes), and by the metallic color used for officers’ buttons, hat trim, etc. (A copy of the uniform regulations can be found here).

  • 1st (or Royal) Regiment of Foot: Blue facings. Lace pattern was one blue "worm". Officers’ metal was silver.
  • 13th Regiment of Foot: Yellow ochre facings. Lace was worn in pairs; pattern was one yellow stripe. Officers’ metal was silver.
  • 15th Regiment of Foot: Yellow ochre facings. Lace pattern was one mixed yellow and black stripe and one red stripe. Officers’ metal was silver.
  • 28th Regiment of Foot: Bright yellow facings. Lace pattern was one yellow and two black stripes. Officers’ metal was silver.
  • 69th Regiment of Foot: Dull dark green facings. Lace pattern was one red stripe between two green stripes. Officers’ metal was gold.

Perhaps the feature of British army uniforms that is least well understood is the caps and hats worn by the light infantry companies, which were not standardized, and which changed over time. At right is a private of the "picket company" of the 13th Foot, wearing an early version of a light infantryman's cap. The uniform predates the Revolutionary War (by which time picket companies had been replaced by light infantry companies).

British Light Infantry Officer. This officer, thought to have been with the 15th Foot, is wearing a round hat cocked up on the left side and adorned with a feather. This style of hat would have been worn by the light infantry companies of the 15th and 28th regiments during the Philadelphia campaign of 1777, and possibly retained by these regiments after they were sent to the West Indies in 1778. The light infantry company of the 15th Regiment helped garrison Brimstone Hill fortress.

British Light Infantry on Maneuvers. This section of a painting by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg shows what may be the light infantry company of the 69th Foot participating in war game exercises in England, circa 1778. The dark green facings and the style of leather cap match known uniform details for this unit.

French Army

Most regiments of the French regular army wore white coats. Individual regiments were distinguished by the combination of facing color on cuffs and lapels, the orientation of the side pocket flaps, and the color of the buttons.

  • Régiment d'Armagnac (6e): Light blue lapels, vertical pocket flaps, white buttons.
  • Régiment de Champagne (7e): Light blue cuffs, vertical pocket flaps, white buttons.
  • Régiment d'Auxerrois (12e): Black lapels, vertical pocket flaps, white buttons.
  • Régiment d'Agénois (16e): Violet cuffs, horizontal pocket flaps, yellow buttons.
  • Régiment de Touraine (34e): Pink cuffs, vertical pocket flaps, white buttons.
  • Régiment d'Hainault (51e): Crimson cuffs, vertical pocket flaps, white buttons.
  • Régiment Royal Comtois (76e): Blue cuffs, vertical pocket flaps, white buttons.
  • Régiment de Dillon (90e): Red coats, yellow cuffs and lapels, horizontal pocket flaps, yellow buttons set in herringbone fashion. At right is a 1779 illustration of a chasseur of this regiment.

Several units of French colonial troops also participated in the St. Kitts campaign. Régiment de la Martinique wore blue coats without lapels and with buff cuffs and collars. Régiment de la Guadeloupe were dressed similarly, but had crimson cuffs and collars. The Volontaires de Bouillé wore a distinctive "blue short coat" with "red cuffs," and a "helmet" (per Chartrand, 1992). Hussars of the 1st Legion of the Volontaires étrangers de la Marine were also present. These wore a uniform similar to that of the well-known Lauzun's Legion.

Regulation uniforms for grenadiers of regiments Hainault (left) and Touraine (right). Note the facing color is used to line the collar and lapels. The red epaulets and hat tuft identify these men as grenadiers.

Both British and French army units may have modified their clothing in various ways. One well-known example of this in the French case is that some (and possibly many) grenadier companies wore bearskin caps rather than the proscribed cocked hats.

Grenadiers of Régiment de Soissonnois in 1781.

A series of images by Nicolas Ponce suggests that chasseur companies also deviated from the regulated headgear. In these images, the chasseurs are shown wearing a round hat that is cocked in the back and adorned with a feather. This style seems practical; unfortunately, I have not come across any evidence to date that corroborates the accuracy of this depiction.

Chasseurs of Régiment de Dillon at the capture of St. Eustatius in 1781.

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