Brigade of Guards in the American Service

by William W. Burke and Linnea M. Bass

During the War of His Britannic Majesty’s North American Colonies, 1775-1783, a composite brigade of men drawn from the three British Regiments of Foot Guards was dispatched to the scene of conflict. This history of the detachment is written in two parts: the early history of the three Guards Regiments and their service in America 1776-1783.


A. FIRST GUARDS – A 12 company regiment of Guards was formed by Charles II in 1659 while he was in exile from England. The unit remained in Flanders when Charles returned home in 1660. At this time he created another regiment of Guards, also of 12 companies. In 1662 these two units were amalgamated to form the Royal or King’s Regiment of Foot Guards. The name later became the First Regiment of Foot Guards, and was changed to Grenadier Guards in 1815, after Waterloo. Four grenadier companies were added to Regiment in the late 1600′s. By 1776 the 28 companies in First Guards had been organized into 3 battalions, the 1st Battalion having 2 grenadier companies and the others only 1 each.

B. COLDSTREAM GUARDS – Col. Monck formed this regiment, which carried his name, in 1650 as part of the Cromwellian Army. In 1660 he marched the unit from Coldstream, Scotland to London in support of Charles II’s return to the throne. In 1661 Charles designated the unit as second in seniority to the First Guards and bestowed the name of The Lord General’s Regiment of Guards in honor of Monck’s new title. In 1670, after Monck’s death, the unit was redesignated as Coldstream Guards. Because its founding date precedes that of First Guards, the Coldstream to this day considers itself the senior regiment. It adopted the motto “Nulli Secundus” meaning “Second to None.” In 1776 the regiment consisted of 18 companies divided into 2 battalions, with 1 grenadier company in each.

C. THIRD GUARDS – Originally formed as the Life Guards of the Army of Scotland in 1642, the regiment was deactivated when Charles II fled to France after the Battle of Worcestershire in 1651. It was reactivated by Charles in 1660 as part of the Scottish, rather than English, Army. With the Union of the two countries in 1707, the Scots Guards marched to London and became the Third Regiment of Foot Guards on the British establishment. In 1776 the unit was organized in the same fashion as the Coldstream.



On 13 February 1776 orders were issued from Guards Headquarters in London forming a detachment from the three Regiments of Foot Guards for service in the war in America. Under the command of Brigadier General Edward Mathew (Coldstream Guards), the detachment was to consist of 15 privates from each of the 64 companies of Foot Guards. Officers, non-commissioned officers, and musicians were also drawn from the regiments. A chaplain, surgeon, and surgeon’s mates were recruited. The personnel were divided into 8 regular infantry or battalion companies, 1 light infantry company, and 1 grenadier company. The unit embarked for America on 2 May 1776.

Upon the detachment’s arrival at Sandy Hook, New York, on 12 August 1776, General Howe ordered it to field as a Brigade composed of 2 battalions of 5 companies each. First Battalion consisted of the Grenadier Company (men and officers from all three regiments), the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Infantry Companies (men and officers from First Guards), and the Brigade or 4th Company (men from all three regiments, officers from First Guards). Second Battalion was composed of Companies 5 and 6 (men and officers from Third Guards), Companies 7 and 8 (men and officers from Coldstream Guards), and a Light Infantry Company (men and officers from all three regiments).


Shortly after the Brigade’s arrival off Sandy Hook in 1776, the uniform was altered from the parade ground look of a London garrison regiment to the more rugged appearance of a combat unit. The smartly cocked hats of the infantrymen were let down and cut smaller, then turned up on one side only. The gleaming white waist belts were laid aside and the bayonet scabbards mounted on the cartridge pouches. Trousers and spatterdashes replaced breeches and gaiters for field service. Finally, the last vestige of the Guardsman’s glory, the 18 yards of white lace, was removed from the uniform coats, with the First Battalion men retaining only the lace on their shoulder straps.

The Brigade began its American service on 22 August 1776 when it went ashore on Long Island and camped at New Utrecht. During the next few months it saw service at various locations in New York. The Guards participated in the Battle of Long Island on 27 August, after which they camped at Hell Gate until 15 September when the Army landed on New York (Manhattan) Island at Kip’s Bay. The Brigade encamped near Turtle Bay during which time the men were called out to create a fire break to prevent the spread of the disastrous fire that burned one-third of the city of New York on the night of 21 September. The Guards accompanied Howe when the Army went north and landed at Frog’s Neck on 12 October and Pell’s Point on 18 October. They were present at White Plains on 28 October, although they did not see combat. From White Plains, the Army marched west to Tarry Town and then South towards New York Island again.

The Grenadier Company suffered the loss of two of its officers early in the campaign. Capt. Bourne died in New York on 14 October and Capt. Madan was left sick in New York from October 1776 until May 1777. As a result, on 11 October Capt. Charles Leigh of the 6th Company (Third Guards) was assigned to do duty with the Grenadiers until otherwise ordered.

On 15 November 1776 the Guards were ordered to leave their camp standing near Kingsbridge, New York, and be ready to march at 4:00 the next morning carrying canteens, blankets and haversacks with one day’s provisions. They were provided with a guide, a local loyalist who knew the territory. Their objective was Fort Washington, located on a prominent height at the north end of New York Island. Howe had planned a four-pronged attack on the fort. No attempt was made from the west, due to the high cliffs rising from the Hudson River. The main assault was launched from the north by German troops under General Kniphausen. General Percy, bringing up a column from New York City, formed line of battle from the south. The 42nd Regiment of Foot crossed Harlem Creek to storm the fort from the southeast. Meanwhile, Brigadier General Mathew led the Brigade of Guards and the Army Light Infantry in a waterborne assault down Harlem Creek from Kingsbridge to attack the fort from the northeast. The defenders surrendered to Kniphausen, and although the Germans suffered heavy losses in the fighting, there appear to have been no casualties among the Guards.

From Fort Washington the Brigade, with other elements of the Crown Forces under Cornwallis, crossed the Hudson River to New Jersey, participating in the capture of Forts Lee and Constitution. After marching through the Jerseys, Cornwallis sent his force to winter quarters. The Guards were quartered at Raritan Landing, just up river from Brunswick, New Jersey. After the Continental victory at Trenton, the First Battalion of Guards was ordered to the field for several days in early January 1777, while the Second Battalion stayed with Brigadier General Mathew to assist in the defense of Brunswick. During the remainder of the winter the Guards participated in several raids, feints, and foraging parties.

After going to the field in May of 1777, the Brigade was in combat at Short Hills, New Jersey. It took ship from New York with the British force destined for Philadelphia via the Chesapeake. The Guards saw action at Brandywine, Valley Forge, Germantown, and White Marsh before going to winter quarters in Philadelphia.

In 1778 the British forces, including the Guards, en route from Philadelphia to New York, met the Continentals in battle at Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey. Due to a lack of officers, the Guards spent most of the next two years in garrison in and around New York City. The flank companies of the Brigade were sent to the field for raids and skirmishes including Portsmouth, Virginia and New Haven, Connecticut in 1779, and Young’s House in New York in 1780. The entire Brigade saw action at Springfield, New Jersey in 1780.

Brigadier General John Howard (First Guards) was temporarily appointed to replace Brigadier General Mathew in 1780 until the arrival of the new commander, Brigadier General Charles O’Hara (Coldstream Guards). The Brigade embarked for the South in October of that year, eventually joining Cornwallis in North Carolina in January of 1781. By that time O’Hara had joined the detachment. On 1 February the Guards forced the crossing of the Catawba River (North Carolina) with great gallantry and on 15 March suffered grievous losses at the battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, after which the Brigade was temporarily reduced to one battalion of 4 under-strength companies.

They marched with Cornwallis to Yorktown, Virginia and surrendered to the Continental Army on 19 October 1781. General O’Hara, as second in command, surrendered Cornwallis’ sword to Washington’s representative, General Lincoln. Most of the Brigade’s officers were paroled and the men marched into captivity at York, Pennsylvania, where they remained until 1783. During most their imprisonment, Lt. Col. John Watson Tadwell Watson (Third Guards) commanded the Brigade from New York.

The Guards returned to England in two detachments, one arriving in January and one in July of 1783. After disembarking, the men marched to London to rejoin their respective regiments.


Glyn, Thomas. “Ensign Glyn’s Journal on the American Service with the Detachment of 1,000 Men of the Guards commanded by Brigadier General Mathew in 1776.” Manuscript, Princeton University Library. Transcript by Linnea M. Bass, unpublished.

Hamilton, Frederick William. The Origin and History of the First or Grenadier Guards. 3 Vols. London: John Murray, 1874.

MacKinnon, Colonel. Origin and Services of the Coldstream Guards. 2 Vols. London: Richard Bentley, 1833.

Maurice, F. The History of the Scots Guards: From the Creation of the Regiment to the Eve of the Great War. 2 Vols. London: Chatto Windus, 1934.

Orderly Book of the Brigade of Guards, 1776-1778. Officially called “Howe Orderly Book, 1776-1778″ in the document collection of the Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

“Orders, Returns, Morning Reports and Accounts of British Troops 1776-1781.” Washington, D.C.: National Archives Microfilm, roll M922.


by Linnea M. Bass

On 13 February 1776 the Earl of Loudoun, commanding His Majesty’s Foot Guards, issued orders forming a detachment to serve in the American War for Independence. The unit was to consist of men and officers from all three existing regiments: the First (now Grenadier) Guards, the Coldstream Guards, and the Third (now Scots) Guards. The original order called for the detachment for American Service to consist of 30 officers, 82 NCOs, 14 drummers, 6 fifers, and 960 privates. Three staff officers, five additional staff, and one drummer were added to the strength prior to embarkation for North America. The men were to be selected by draft from the three regiments of Foot Guards. Captain and Lieutenant Colonel Edward Mathew, Coldstream Guards, was chosen for the command. An augmentation to each regiment was ordered to replace the men going abroad.

The initial organization of the Service Brigade’s companies in 1776 included a Grenadier Company, a Light Infantry Company, and eight infantry companies numbered the 1st through the 8th. In early March 1776, a draft of 15 privates from each of the 64 companies in the three regiments provided the men for American service. They were reorganized into ten new companies. The 120 drafts from the 8 existing grenadier companies (4 in First Guards, 2 each in Coldstream and Third) formed a composite Grenadier Company. The 56 regular infantry companies (24 in First Guards, 16 each in Coldstream and Third) contributed 840 privates. Ninety-six of them were diverted to form a composite Light Infantry Company, since there was no extant light infantry in the Guards. The remaining 744 men were divided into 8 regular infantry companies of 93 men each.

The Grenadier and Light Infantry Companies were made up of officers, NCOs and men from all three Regiments of Guards. The 4th or “Brigade” Company was originally staffed by First Guards officers, but consisted of NCOs and rank and file from elements of each of the three Guards regiments at home. 1st through 3rd Companies consisted of First Guards personnel; 5th and 6th Companies were Scots Guards; 7th and 8th Companies were Coldstream Guards. These ten companies were at first styled a “detachment,” but on arrival in America they were, by Howe’s orders, reorganized into a Brigade of two battalions. NOTE: The Brigade Co. was not a headquarters co., but was called that because of its composite nature.

First Battalion consisted of the Grenadiers and the 1st through 4th Companies; Second Battalion was constituted by the 5th through 8th Companies and the Light Infantry. When 2nd Battalion was activated, the existing staff was assigned to First Battalion and took on Brigade Staff functions as well. A new position, that of Battalion Commandant, was created. A staff was also appointed for Second Battalion, beginning with an Adjutant and Sergeant-Major. Additional Second Battalion Staff positions were created over time. It was necessary to fill the newly created positions with officers already assigned to companies, since no additional officers were ordered out to staff the battalion. Subsequently, due to a shortage of officers caused by sickness, detached service, promotions, etc., some of these posts were filled by NCOs and volunteers (civilians awaiting commissions).
Over the course of the conflict, the companies were renumbered and/or redesignated for a variety of reasons. For instance, in June 1777 a draft of officers and men arrived from home. The 1st Company’s commander was replaced by a junior First Guards lieutenant colonel. As a result, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th (Brigade) Companies were renumbered 1st, 2nd, and 3rd respectively, and the old 1st Company became number 4. Several similar renumberings occurred from time to time. The men in the companies evidently remained the same, but the numbers were changed. When the number of companies was reduced, men from disbanded companies were added to the remaining companies.


1. In April of 1779 the Brigade was reduced to six infantry, or center, companies by the activation of one additional grenadier company and one additional light infantry company. The original Grenadier Company became the First Battalion Grenadier Company and the Brigade Company (at that time the 3rd Co.) was designated as the 1st Battalion Light Infantry Company. Companies 5 and 6 became the 4th and 5th respectively. The 7th was redesignated as the Second Battalion Grenadier Company and the 8th was renumbered as the 6th. The original Light Infantry Company was renamed the Second Battalion Light Infantry Company.

The First Battalion then consisted of the 1st Grenadier Company, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalion Companies, and the 1st Light Infantry. Second Battalion was composed of the 2nd Grenadiers, 4th, 5th, and 6thBattalion Companies, and the 2nd Light Infantry.

TOTAL: 4 flank, 6 battalion companies

2. In August of 1779 a large draft of officers and soldiers arrived.It was specified that the new 5th Company would take on a Brigade Company function by absorbing supernumerary Scots and Coldstream Guards privates and NCOs who were not in the 4th or 6th Companies, respectively. After the initial orders for the reorganization were given, several officers complained that they would prefer to stay with men from their own regiments if possible and many of them were reassigned the next day.

TOTAL: 4 flank, 6 battalion companies

3. In October 1780 in October 1780 the 2nd Grenadiers and the 2nd Light Infantry Company were reduced to zero strength due to reduced officer strength. The officers and men were reassigned to the remaining eight companies. The 1st Battalion Light Infantry was transferred to Second Battalion, and the flank companies lost their Battalion designations.

TOTAL: 2 flank, 6 battalion companies

4. In December of 1780, the Brigade was reduced once more, with the elimination of the 1st and 4th Companies, the 3rd becoming the 1st Co.The 1st and 2nd companies were assigned to 1st Battalion. The 6th and 5th became the 3rd and 4th Companies, 2nd Battalion. This structure remained in force until after the combat at Guilford Court House in March of 1781.

TOTAL: 2 flank, 4 battalion companies

5. On 17 March 1781 the Brigade was at least temporarily styled as one battalion containing the Grenadier Company, the former 2nd Company (still 2nd), the former 4th Company (now 1st), and the Light Infantry Company.

TOTAL: 2 flank, 2 battalion companies

6. There may have been additional reorganizations and redesignations after this time due to the receipt of a draft of soldiers and officers from home in June 1781, plus the return to duty of several officers wounded in earlier combat.


Double rank was bestowed on the Guards officers by James II and restated by William III in 1691. The system remained in force until well after the War for American Independence. During the period under discussion the system did not pertain to the Ensigns. Officers who served as company lieutenants in the Guards also held the army rank of captain in the Army and were most often referred to as such. Consequently when “a Lieutenant is required for the Picket,” it is not unusual to find a Guards officer referred to as a captain mounting the duty. Both Guards captains and captain-lieutenants held the army rank of lieutenant colonel. These officers commanded companies or battalions, or sometimes both, and also ranked as field grade officers. On at least one occasion, a Guards captain in his rank of army lieutenant colonel commanded an army composite brigade which included the 1st Battalion of Guards and two army battalions.