55th Regiment, Compy. of Light Infantry (1759-1764)

 

“Clad Almost Like Indians…”

Winter Clothing and Accoutrements

Among British Regulars in North America during the French and Indian War

By Richard F.C. Seidemann Jr.

 

          In comparison to the British Isles, the upper North American Continent had very harsh winters.  These harsh winters forced the British Army serving in the North America to adapt and add to their uniforms and accoutrements.  Some of what was added was European winter clothing; other adaptations were influenced by the Native Americans and the French.  The result was British soldiers that did not look like soldiers, but a rabble instead.  From the many memoirs, journals, letters, and orderly books we can get an idea of what these adaptations were and descriptions in some cases of the adaptations. 

Probably the biggest difficulty to deal with and adapt to during the winter is its cold temperatures.  Making clothing adaptations the best place to start.  Clothing was an obvious importance to British command in North America.  The importance of providing winter clothing to the soldiers is apparent in several orderly book entries.  Each fall the orderly books were full of orders for Regimental Commanders to provide the necessaries for their men to take on the cold winter.  Journals and letters as well abound with entries describing the winter dress of the troops. 

In 1757, Lord Loudoun wrote to Cumberland on the 17th of October, “I have got, warm Stockings, Socks, Mittens and woolen Caps…Flannel waistcoats….”  In the same letter, Lord Loudoun stated that “every Soldier in this Country carrys a Blanket, and I will have some ready in case of Accidents.”1  In Nova Scotia, Capt. John Knox described the dress of some Regulars stationed there during the winter of 1757-1758, as follows:  “The disordered shape of their hats, and the raggedness of their ranging party-coloured cloathing; for some had brown, others blue watchcoats (buckled round their waists with a cartouch-box strap) and some were in their threadbear uniforms; in short they had very little of the British regular about them.”2  In April 1758, Knox described in his journal the appearance of a party of men of the 43rd Regiment of Foot marching through the woods:  “The Officers having dark-coloured cloaks, and the soldiers brown watchcoats on them.”3  

In the Fall of 1758, Capt. Alexander Moneypenny  wrote in his Orderly Book on Sept. 13th, “The Commanding Officers of Regts to provide their Regts with warm cloathing, as soon as possible, such as, warm stockings, Leggins, Bretches or Flannel Drawers, & Flannel waistcoats.”4  The entry dated for the 11th of February 1759 stated, “The Offrs. Commanding Regts. To see that the men who march to the Upper Posts are well provided in all Necessarys & have Blankets & Mittens….”5  On the Pennsylvania Front in 1758 it appears the men were wearing blanket coats.  Orders were issued in September “that no Officer for the future shall appear in a Blanket Coat.”6  In Nova Scotia, Capt. Knox wrote, “The Colonel is ordered to provide the regiment with flannel under-waistcoats, and Leggers, or Indian stockings….”7

In preparation for winter in 1759, General Amherst Commander of British Forces in North America wrote, “I directed the commanding Officers of Regiments to send for flannel Waistcoats, Leggens & Socks for the men as our Quarters will be more Northerly than they have been and probably we may stay linger in the Field.”8  The Orderly Book of Capt. Stewart of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment has an entry for November 22, 1759 pertaining to winter clothing:

“As soon as the Regiments arrive in Winter Qtrs the new clothing is to be fitted and waistcoats made as fast as possible that the men may be warmly clad during the severity of the Winter, and it is recommended to the Commanding Officers that every man has a warm cloth cap made.  The Light Infantry company of each battalion when ordered to join their corps is to remain as a company of the battalion.  The men are to keep their carbines, powder boxes and are to wear their new clothing but not to cut it into the Light Infantry dress until further orders.”9

This entry is very interesting because of its reference to Light Infantry clothing.  The uniforms of the companies of Light Infantry of the Regiments were ordered to be cut short.10  The short coats were obviously impractical for the winter; a full coat with its long tails would offer much more protection.  At the Royal Highland Regiment camp at Half Way Brook, on December 17th, the Orderly Book recorded, “Nightcapers to be sent for to Albany for such men as are not already provided and have not cloth to make them of.”11 

The British garrison at Quebec had difficulties in not just the harsh winter there, but also in supplying the soldiers garrisoned the post.  A description of soldiers at Quebec, stated:

“Our guards, on the grand parade, make a most grotesque appearance in their different dresses; and our inventions to guard against the extreme rigour of this climate are various beyond imagination:  the uniformity, as well as nicety, of the clean,  methodical soldier, is buried in the rough fur-wrought garb of the frozen Laplander; and we rather resemble a masquerade than a body or regular troops….”12

Capt. Knox wrote on October 28, 1759, “Some French uniforms, blankets, freizes, and flannels, found in the stores, are to be delivered to the soldiers….”13  In early November he again wrote, “Various articles are issuing out of the French stores, to our soldiers, gratis; viz. uniform coats and waistcoats, coarse hats with copper laces, powder-horns, mogosons, some remants of flannel, coarse and damaged linens.”14  In respect to the blankets issued out of the French stores on November 3rd it was ordered, “The Governor desires the Commanding Officers of the regiments will not allow the blankets that were delivered to be cut up, until further orders.”15  The Order to cut up the French blankets came a few days later:

“The Commanding Officers of corps are now permitted to cut up the blankets that were found in the French magazines, and delivered to them, to be applied to such uses at they shall think proper; these are a great acquisition to the soldiers, at they serve them for socks and gloves, &c.”16 

A list provided by Knox tells what was to be provided to each man going upon a detachment in winter; “One pair of leggers, One pair of spare shoes, One pair of good spare stockings, One warm waistcoat, One good blanket, and One pair of warm mittens.”17  In the beginning of January 1760, it was ordered:

“the mogosans which have been delivered to the Quarter-Masters, are to be issued to the men immediately, as they are not only useful in the frost, and were provided with the view, not only to prevent the soldiers being frost-bitten, but to save their shoes; it is therefore expected that no soldier parade for the future without them, for and duty whatsoever.” 18

Anne Grant’s Memoirs and the Royal Highland Regiment have more descriptions from after the fall of Canada in 1760.  Anne Grant, whose father was a subaltern in the 55th Regt. garrisoned at Oswego wrote, “In the end of February, a chosen party, on whose hardihood and endurance the major could depend, were permitted to go on a regular hunting excursion in the Indian fashion.”19  She wrote that they were “clad almost like Indians…” and “provided with a competent supply of bear-skins, blankets, &c.”20  That statement by Anne Grant that they were “clad almost like Indians” is probably a similar observation as what Capt. Knox observed in Nova Scotia and Quebec, that soldiers did not look soldier-like at all.  In 1761, the Royal Highland Regiment ordered, “Two watch coats too be delivered to each company this day for which the companys are to be accountable.”21

Knox is the only one to have written down that moccasins were issued or used, though Col. Henry Bouquet spoke of shoe-packs when the Colonel described what should be issued to Light Infantrymen.22  Knox described moccasins in his journal:

“These slippers are generally made of the skin of beaver, elf [Author’s note: Elk], calf, sheep, or other pliant leather, half dressed:  each Moggosan is of one intire piece, joined or sewed up the middle of the vamp, and closed behind like the quarters of a shoe; they have no additional sole or heel-piece, and must be used with three or four frize socks, or folds of thick flannel wrapt around the foot; they are tied on the instep with thongs of the save leather, which are fastened to the joining behind, and run through the upper part of the quarters; they are exceedingly warm, and much fitter for the winters of this country than our European shoe….”23

In Quebec, he again reiterates the point, “We find the mogosan, with double frize sock, much warmer [than European shoes].”24

          Speaking of moccasins leads into the other major concern of officers and soldiers alike- getting around during the winter.  Deep snow and ice can make movement difficult and tiresome.  Moccasins was one adaptation the British army made to make movement easier.  Capt. Knox wrote of moccasins, “A person may walk over sheets of ice without the least danger of falling.”25  In Nova Scotia, he described the other ways in which soldiers tried to keep form slipping on the ice:

“the troops, throughout this province, are obliged to have recourse to various expedients to prevent meeting with accidents by falling:  some by wearing coarse stockings over their shoes, with an additional sole or two, of thick frize or other woolen cloath; some wear moggosans; and others again use what by us termed creepers, which are an invention calculated for the hollow of the foot, that buckles like a spur; it is a small plate of iron an inch broad, with two ears that come up on both sides of the shoe between the ancle and instep, with a stud on each of them, for the leathers:  from the two extremities are four stout points turned downward, to the length of two thirds of an inch, which, by the weight of the person who wears them, are dented in the ice; this contrivance is actually necessary, and prevents many fatal accidents.”26

These “creepers” were issued to the regiments in Quebec as well.27

          While those adaptations were used to prevent falling on the ice, there was another accoutrement that would make travel in the deep snow easier.  The snow shoe was adopted by the British army as a necessary means to get places.  In 1757, Lord Loudoun planned to use snow shoes to make a winter attack on Fort Ticonderoga.  Rogers’ Rangers were to make these for the winter expedition.28  Col. Bouquet, when describing what Light Infantryman should be trained to do, wrote that they should be able “to make use of snow shoes.”30  In Quebec, the regiments were to have “snow-shoes or rackets… delivered to them.”31  Fortunately, Capt. Knox described what snow shoes looked like and how they were used:

“Our soldiers make great progress in walking on snow-shoes, but men, not accustomed to them, find them very fatiguing.  These inventions are made of hoops of hickory, or other tough wood, bended to a particular form, round before; and the two extremities of the hoop terminate in a point behind, secured well together with strong twine; the inward space is worked, like close netting, with cat-gut, or the dried entrails of other animals.  Each racket is from three quarters to one yard in length.  At the broadest part, which is about the center, where it is fastened by thongs and straps to the person’s foot, it is fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen inches; a light lively man does not require them so large as he who is more corpulent and less active; the hard-soled shoe is not at all suitable to them; they must be used under mogosans, as well, for the sake of the wearer’s feet, to keep them warm and preserve them from the snow, as that they will not bind on so well, nor be so soon worn out.  The uncoth attitude, in which men a obliged to walk, is what renders them laborious; the body must incline forward, the knees bend, ancles and instep remain stiff as if the joints in those parts were completely ossified, and the feet at a great distance asunder…”32

When soldiers came back from detachments, Knox added that “their snow-shoes, with their appurtenances, viz.  mogosans, straps, packstrings, and socks, are ordered to be returned into stores.”33  The Soldier were ordered to “take care to keep them properly fitted, that they may be come at for use on the shortest notice; the snow-shoes to be kept hung up, to prevent the rats and mice from eating them.”34

          Another piece of equipment used to make transportation of equipment and goods easier was the sleigh or hand sleigh.   Lord Loudoun planned to use “Hand Slays which the men could draw” to carry supplies and provisions in his aborted winter attack on Fort Ticonderoga.35  In Quebec, the sleighs were very important to transport wood to the garrison and inhabitants.36  These are the instructions given to the soldiers and officers:  “The sleighing parties to carry their arms and ammunition; the officers to take care that the men sling them properly, while they are drawing their sleighs.”37

          From all this, it is evident that British Officers were able to modify their uniforms and accoutrements to suit North America’s severe winters.  First and foremost in their minds was their men’s health.  Officers made modifications to ensure their soldiers were warmly dressed and tried to make travel easier by adapting many new accoutrements such as woolen caps, great coats, mittens, leggings, ice creepers, snow shoes, and moccasins.  All of these adaptations and modifications created a British soldier, Capt. John Knox described; “had very little of the British regular about them.”

 

 

 

 



1 Pargellis, Stanley.  Military Affairs In North America 1748-1765, Selected Documents From The

  Cumberland Papers In Windsor Castle.  Archon Books, 1969.  P. 401.

2 Knox, John.  An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America For the Years 1757, 1758, 1759,

   and 1760.  Vol. I.  Greenwood Press.  New York 1968.  P. 111

3 Ibid, P. 148.

4 Moneypenny, Alexander.  “The Moneypenny Orderly Book” The Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga

   Museum Vol XIII No. 1 Dec. 1970.  Fort Ticonderoga, NY.  P. 101.

5  Ibid.  P. 115.

6 Barton, Thomas.  Journal of an Expedition to the Ohio, commanded by His Excellency Brigadier-General

  Forbes; in the Year of our Lord 1758

7 Knox. Vol. I.  P. 285.

8 Knox, John. An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America For the Years 1757, 1758, 1759,

   and 1760.  Vol. III.  Greenwood Press.  New York 1968.  P. 61.

9 Stewart, John.  Royal Highland Regiment Copy of the Order Book of Capt. James Stewart’s Coy, 1759. 

   Transcribed by John Neitz, 2001.  P. 30.

10 Knox, Vol. I.  P. 352 & 353. 

    Rogers, Robert.  The Journals of Major Robert Rogers.  Dresslar Publishing, Bargarsville, IN 1997.  P. 

    123.

11 Stewart.  P. 30.

12 Knox, John. An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America For the Years 1757, 1758, 1759,

    and 1760.  Vol. II.  Greenwood Press.  New York 1968.  P. 309.

13 Ibid.  P. 245.

14 Ibid.  P. 272.

15 Ibid.  P. 253.

16 Ibid.  P. 270.

17 Ibid.  P. 284 & 285.

18 Ibid.  P. 316.

19 Grant, Anne.  Memoirs of an American Lady Vol. II.  Research Reprints Inc.  New York 1970.  P. 128.

20 Ibid.  P. 129.

21 Stewart.  P. 51.

22 Bouquet, Henry.  An Historical Account of the Expedition Against the Ohio Indians in the Year 1764,

    Under the Command of Henry Bouquet, Esq.  Dresslar Publishing, Bargarsville, IN 1997.  P. 60.

23 Knox Vol. I.  P. 111.

24 Knox Vol. II.  P. 312.

25 Knox.  Vol. I.  P. 111

26 Ibid.  P. 134.

27 Knox Vol. II.  P. 259.

28 Pargellis.  P. 401.

30 Bouquet.  P.  64.

31 Knox. Vol. II.

32 Ibid.  P. 314 & 315.

33 Ibid.  P. 311.

34 Ibid.  P. 259.

35 Pargellis.  P. 401 & 402.

36 Knox.  Vol. II.  P. 302

37 Ibid.  P.  302

 

A special thanks to Tom Burket of Rochester, MN for his help in writing this article.

Make a Free Website with Yola.