The Regimental Coat
The red regimental coat is the most iconic element of the British soldier’s uniform. Because we portray the King’s personal regiments, our coat wool is dyed bright scarlet – which was a difficult and expensive color to achieve in the 18th century. Mere “marching regiments” wore coats dyed a brick red using much cheaper madder root dyes. Our facings (i.e., the coat’s cuffs, collar and lapels) are dark blue, as befits a Royal regiment. All of our buttonholes are set off with white wool lace arranged in patterns unique to each individual regiment. Period documents indicate that the Guards removed and later re-attached the white lace on more than one occasion while serving in North America. The 4th Company has decided to wear regimental coats that include the white lace which allows us to portray British infantry during both the early and later phases of the war. The example shown is an original from the 1770′s. Note the distinct pattern of the lacing and buttons, as well as the grouping in singles that would clearly show the wearer of this regimental to be a member of the 1st Guards.
The linen shirt and wool waistcoat (weskit) form what is sometimes referred to as a soldier’s small clothes. The white shirt can be replaced by a checked linen shirt for work details, but the pattern is the same: long sleeved, long in length, with a single button securing the collar tight around the neck. The enlisted man wore a black horsehair neck stock under his shirt collar to keep his head up and faced to the front. The neck stock also provided limited protection to the neck area against saber slashes and over-eager tavern wenches. Over the linen shirt is the weskit. While the pattern is the same between members of all three regiments, the eleven buttons down the front are unique and are another way of identifying which unit they are a member of.
The 4th Company wears full-length gaitered trousers rather than the traditional knee breeches and spatterdashes. These are tailored close to the shape of the leg and button tightly closed at the ankle. They are also cut so as to cover the tops of the shoes, which keeps out rocks and dirt while on the march. Most units campaigning in the southern colonies found the gaitered trouser to be well suited to the rigors of the back country.
The Round Hat
Unlike in England, British soldiers fighting in North America were frequently subjected to an unusual meteorological phenomenon called “sunshine.” Per General Mathew’s orders, the brims of the unit’s cocked hats were let down so they could shade the eyes and the back of the neck. The left side of the hat was turned up “cavalier style” to keep the shouldered musket from knocking it off the soldier’s head. This style of headwear was generally called a round hat. It was particularly popular with British Light Infantry units but was increasingly adopted by line regiments as well as the war progressed.
18th Century Hair Styles
To present as authentic a portrayal as possible the 4th Company takes the extra step of requiring all its soldiers to take the field in a wig. Hair was worn quite long in the 18th century and the common soldier wore his own hair pulled back into a tight queue or ponytail which was then folded up on itself and “clubbed” like a race horse’s tail. Officers would have worn either fashionably coiffeured wigs or had their own hair dressed in a style befitting their social status.
All enlisted soldiers would carry a musket, either the First Model Long Land Pattern, the Second Model Short Land Pattern, or a Fusil. The Fusil is limited to use by the serjeants while the privates and corporals men carried one of the muskets that became popularly known as the Brown Bess. Documentation suggests that 4th Coy would have been carrying the First Model Long Land Pattern musket while in service in the American Colonies but due to availability and price, many members of the reenacted 4th Coy carry the Second Model Short Land Pattern. The muskets are distinguished by the length and weight, with the First Model obviously the larger musket. The basic operation of all three muskets is the same: a soldier would first grab a pre-rolled cartridge from his cartridge box that contains both the ball and powder, bite off the top of the cartridge while pinching the ball at the bottom of the roll, pour a small amount of the powder into the pan, and pour the remaining powder and ball down the barrel. After using the rammer to seat the ball and powder at the bottom of the barrel, the musket is ready to be fired. A well-trained soldier could be expected to repeat this operation three or four times a minute while in the face of returning fire and deafening noise.
A Guard’s bayonet and cartridge box are suspended from cross belts of buff leather whitened with polish and secured with brass regimental buckle. The cartridge box sits just behind the soldier’s right hip and contains a wooden box with 29 holes to hold cartridges for the soldier’s musket. The enlisted soldier would typically stash additional rounds under the wooden box, as well as perhaps a few cleaning items and some spare flints and leathers or leads. Tied to the catridge box is the musket tool, a three sided tool that is all the soldier needs to perform maintenance on his musket. Hanging on the left side of the soldier is a bayonet carriage holding not only the bayonet, but a small light infantry ax. At some point in the campaigns, the short sword was discarded in favor of the more useful ax. The canteen would also be slung over the right shoulder to sit comfortably behind your left shoulder. Personal possessions are carried in a canvas knapsack covered with white goatskin, which was a form of 18th century waterproofing.