Light Infantry of the Regiments - Uniforms


Of the Uniforms of Light Infantry of the Regiments,

And in particular that of the 55th Regiment. 

During the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s Rebellion.

 By Richard F.C. Seidemann Jr


Benjamin West painting showing two light infantrymen at the seige of Fort Niagara.


            Light Infantry of the Regiments just as the Provisional Light Infantry Battalion of 1758, Gage’s 80th Light Armed Foot, and the Rangers needed different uniforms, because of their special duties.  However the light infantry company’s uniforms  differed from the light infantry of the Gage’s Regiment, the Provisional Light Infantry Battalion, as well as the colonial Rangers.  While there is no known documented reasons why the light infantry companies belonging to the regiments never adopted the brown uniform of Gage’s or the green of the Rangers, it may be that they were supposed to keep their regimental ties.  They were never intended to be a permanent light infantry battalion, like their comrades in Gage’s, but rather their use would be more like that of the grenadier company that every regiment had.  In fact the addition of the light infantry company was only for North America, it was not an official addition in the British military establishment until 1771.1  Green may not have been used because it was the choice of the Rangers and thus there could be recognizable differences in uniforms to distinguish the troops.  A more logical and probable reason was the cost in outfitting a whole company in every regiment in North America in different coats, caps, and accoutrements.  Bennett Cuthbertson’s treatise of 1769 sheds some light on this theory; he promoted “a very trifling degree of oeconomy,” the cutting of coats into jackets and hats into caps.2

            So rather than make a completely different uniform for the light infantry company, the standard uniform was modified into a light infantry uniform.  In a letter to Robert Rogers, Roger Townsend stated that the newly forming light infantry companies of 1759 were to be, “cloathed and accoutred as light as possible.”3

On January 31st  of the same year General Jeffery Amherst ordered that “the Coats of the Light Infantry may be quite plain, or with the Facings of the Regt., as the Commanding Officers like best.  The less they are seen in the Woods the better.”4  Later, in the spring John Knox recorded the following orders concerning the coats of the light infantryman;


“the sleeves of the coat are put on the waistcoat, and, instead of coat-sleeves, he has two wings like the grenadiers, but fuller; and a round slope reaching about half-way down his arm; which makes his coat of no incumberance to him, but can be split off with pleasure; he has no lace, but lapels remain:  besides the usual pockets, he has two, not quite so high as his breast, made of leather, for ball and flints; and a flap of red cloth on the inside, which secures the ball from rolling out, if he should fall.”5 

These were orders by General Wolfe, but conforming to General Amherst’s wishes.   This last order brings up a question about the facings… were they to remain or did the commanding officer get to choose to keep it or go with a more plain coat… the answer is unknown.

While these descriptions do not say that the coat of the light infantry were shortened it would not have been improbable. That seems to have been the trend for light troops in North America.   The previous year Lord Howe had the army cut their coats almost to their waist.  The light troops under command of Major Scott in Nova Scotia attacking Louisbourg in 1758 were dressed in blue and green jackets or short coats.6 In  February of that same year he proposed uniforms for rangers/light infantry;


"The Coat is just the same as common Coats of Regular Soldier, only the Skirts are shorten'd and the lining and Pocketts taken away, as they only serve to fatigue the Men upon a long march, and the Pocketts are put on the inside of the Breast of the Coat, as two pounds weight in that place will not tire a Man near so much as one pound placed where the Soldier's pocketts commonly are and the Lappell's of the Coat are the length of the Wast to keep the Mens Body's warm in winter."7

Keep in mind that Amherst placed Scott in command of his light troops in the Louisbourg campaign. Note how similar the pocket placement at the breast is with the exception Amherst wanted them placed outside of the coat so as to get at easier.   Then there is Townshend’s quote from above, "We have chose out one hundred men from each regiment, and pitched upon the officers to act this year as light infantry; the are cloathed and accoutred as light as possible..." If the skirts are not cut off the regimental, you would be acutally adding weight to your uniform with the addition of pockets at the breast and the wings at the shoulder.  Gage’s light armed foot, the 80th organized the year before to act as a five company light infantry regiment also wore a shortened regimental, they were described as “dark brown short coats.”8  In the Inspection return for the 28th regiment on May 28, 1768, it was noted, “A Company, called the Light Infantry Company, appeared clothed in short coats and caps, but have notwithstanding proper clothing like the other companies, when required to be worn.”9  Bear in mind that the 28th had done service in North America and the Caribbean for over a decade arriving in Ireland in the August of 1767.10  Another consideration was that at that time light infantry companies were not a part of the Army’s establishment.  There is one painting from the 1760’s with light infantrymen depicted.   The painting is General Johnson Saving a Wounded French Officer from the Tomahawk of a North American Indian. by Benjamin West, circa. 1764-1768. In this painting there are two light infantrymen standing behind Sir William Johnson.  There lapels show that one is of the 44th regiment and the other from the 60th.  They are clothed in short coats, but do not have any of the additions prescribed by General Amherst.   Even so it is probable that the coats of the light infantry were shortened for the ease of movement and to lighten the light infantrymen’s load. 

            The coats the 55th regiment, were of a madder red, just as the rest of the army, as to their cuffs and pockets it is unsure.  The army lists for 1759 and 1761 show that the 55th regiment had deep green facings and yellow lace.11  Obviously the light infantry took off their lace, but it remains to be found if they kept their green facings or cut them off.  An Indian spy under the French officer Pierre Pouchot identified the 55th at Oswego in 1760 as having a red tunic “with small black facings.”12  It is certain that these “black” facings were probably indeed deep green, as from my own experience deep or dark green can look black in certain light conditions.

            Another major modification to the light infantrymen’s uniform was the cutting of his cocked hat or tricorn into a cap.  The military cocked hat was found to be awkward in the woods of North America, and indeed there are several instances where the men were ordered cut their hats done, often into round hats or derby-style hats.  In 1758, Lord Howe had Abercromby’s army do this.  Many soldiers in Major Scott’s light infantry battalion did the same that year.  Provincials continued to do it in 1759, an order from June 21, 1759, “In all partys it is further ordered that all Great Hats are cut so that the brims be 2 inches and a half wide….   This order to be strickly observed.”13  A provincial serving near Niagara and Oswego remarked that their “Hats [were] cut Small that they mite be youeform.”14  Many redcoat re-enactors believe that the British army continued to wear round hats even in 1759 and 1760. With all these modifications being done to hats already it makes sense that the light infantry were ordered to modify their hats as well.  The order for cutting the hats stated, “his hat is made into a cap, with a flap and a button, and with as much black cloth added as will come under his chin, and keep him warm, when he lies down; it hooks in the front and is made like the old velvet caps in England.”15  West’s painting shows the two light infantrymen in small caps, but they are not very distinguishable, however what is easily noticed is the “GR” on the brim of the cap.  As the addition of the “GR” to the cap is not mentioned, this could be a soldier’s, company commander’s, or battalion commander’s modification for dressing up the cap or the artist taking the liberty of dressing up the light infantry for his painting.  Many other light infantry and ranger units during the period and immediately after had emblems on their caps.

             A third major modification to the light infantrymen’s uniform was the use of woolen leggings in place of linen canvas gaiters.  In regards to leggings, the January 31, 1759 orders stated that, “The Commanding Officers will order leggins of what colour they please.”16  Regulars wearing leggings wasn’t all that new, the previous year they were worn as part of Lord Howe’s uniform modifications, and there is ample evidence that regiments, such as the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment and the 60th Royal Americans continued to use them throughout the war.17  New drafts into the regiments at Crown Point in 1759 were “to be immediately provided with Blankets, Legens, &c.”18  In the May orders the leggings to worn by the light infantry are described as having “leathern straps under his shoes, like spatterdashes.”19  Captain John Knox in his journal described the leggings worn by soldiers,

“Leggers, Leggins, or Indian Spatterdashes, are usually made of frize, or other coarse woolen cloth; they should be at least three quarters of a yard in length; each Leggin about  three quarters wide (which is about three by three) then double it, and sew it together from end to end, within four, five, or  six inches of the outside selvages, fitting this long, narrow bag to the shape of the leg; the flaps to be on the outside, which serve to wrap over the shin, of fore-part of the leg, tied under the knee, and above the ancle, with agrters of the same colour; which the legs are preserved from many fatal accidents, that may happen by briars, stumps of trees, or under-wood, &c. in marching through a close, wooded country.  The army have made an ingenious addition to them, by putting a tongue, or sloped piece before, as there is the lower part of a spatterdash; and a strap fixed to it under the heart of the foot, which fastens under the outside of the ancle with a button.  By these improvements they cover the part of the instep below the shoe-buckle, and the quarters all round…”20

The most common colors for leggings were blue and green.  The light infantrymen in West’s painting appear to wear blue leggings with a red tie just below the knee.  The troops of the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment were ordered blue leggings as well.21  As evidenced by a Thomas Davies painting many rangers during the conflict were wearing green leggings.22   At one time several companies in the 60th Royal Americans were given green leggings, because enough blue cloth could not be had.23 

             Some historical artists have pictured light infantry in moccasins, however there seems to be little basis for such an assertion.  It clearly states in the orders for light infantry dress that they were to wear shoes.  In addition, orders for August 1, 1759 reveal that the army under General Amherst received a large shipment of shoes, of which 288 were intended for the light infantry of the regiments.24  Winter may have been the only time moccasins were worn by light infantrymen.  Captain Knox  in the winter of 1760 at Quebec recorded this order; “The Commanding Officers of the regiments are desired to make their light infantry practice walking on snow-shoes.”25  Knox also noted that, “they [snow-shoes] must be used under mogosans.”26  While using snow-shoes moccasins were probably worn, but majority of the time the light infantrymen’s feet were in shoes. 

            While moccasins saw use in the winter, so did the full regimental coat see it’s use by light infantrymen.  On November 22, 1759 regimental commanding officers were ordered to have their light infantry “wear their new clothing but not to cut it into Light Infantry dress until further orders.”27  On September 18, 1760, William Hervey noted; “The Light Infantry companies of each regiment are to remain as such when they receive new cloathing; they are to be dressed like the other companys of the regiment unless order are given to the contrary.”28 The most likely reason for these two orders is concern for the oncoming winter and its severity.  It is most probable that they were not cut down until the springtime.

In the summer months often times that the men did not wear their coats, but instead wore their sleeved waistcoats alone.  Josiah Goodrich recorded that a party of light infantry, Gage’s, and rangers were “to go In wastcoats.”29   At Fort Edward on June 14, 1759, Major John Hawks wrote that “The Grenadeers and Light Infentry to be in their Wastcoats and legons.”30  June 23, 1759, another detachment of the same was ordered out, “the whole to goe in their Waistcoats.”31 

            There are no written accounts as to what the officers of the light infantry companies wore.  The marks of distinction of an officer was his gorget, a metal piece worn hanging down from the neck, ornamental lace on the coat, as well as a silk crimson sash worn over one shoulder.32 In 1758, Lord Howe induced his officers to wear soldiers coats, and to take off their lace and sashes, leaving only the gorget.33  In 1759, General Amherst, allowed for only the wearing of the gorget by officers.34  In accordance with that order officers in light infantry companies most likely wore the gorget alone. The officers in Gage’s light infantry were required to get brown uniforms, just as the soldiers were issued brown uniforms.35 So, it is quite possible that officers of the light infantry companies were required to wear the same uniform as their men.  Though Major Scott of the 40th commanded rangers for much of the war, in 1758 and 1761 he commanded a corps of light infantry companies.  He is shown in a painting by  John Singleton Copley, wearing a cut-down officers coat, without lace.  His hat is also shown made into a cap with an up-turned brim.  He wears a buff waistcoat with gold lace and buff breeches.36  Buff breeches may have been commonly worn by officers, instead of the red or blue ones the soldiers wore.37  In another painting from around 1763 of Lt. Col. George Maddison of the 4th regiment or the King’s Own Regiment, which served in the West Indies.  He is shown wearing a cut down coat, without lace but an fringed epaulette on his right shoulder.  His waistcoat and breeches are of  white cloth.  Instead of tall gaiters, he has short ankle height black gaiters and stockings.  On his side on a shoulder belt is his sword.  Upon his head is a light dragoon-styled helmet with the front painted black or a dark blue with a silver lion upon it and a turban.38  The officers of the 55th regiment may have worn red, white, green, or buff waistcoats and breeches, and possibly buckskin breeches which was quite common among officers.  In the 1760 painting Robert Clive and Mia Jaffier after the Battle of Plassey, 1757. he is shown in a uniform of red faced green and wearing a green laced waistcoat and red breeches with black topped gaiters.39 This deserter report in The New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy dated August 6, 1761, provides another clue as to the color of waistcoats of the officers serving in the 55th; “Whereas John Fairweather, Grenadier, in Captain Wilkins’s Company, in the 55th Regiment, had the Charge of Baggage &c. for the said Regiment, and quitted the said Charge by deserting from the Sloop he was ordered to remain on…had on when he deserted, a Gold lac’d Hat, brown Cloth Coat with plain Brass Buttons and a green Velvet Waistcoat Gold Lac’d.”40  In a painting in the Public Archives of Canada there is an unidentified British officer ca. 1750-1760 shown in red coat faced green with silver buttons, lace, and aiguillette and a red waistcoat.41  While the 55th was the only regiment that had green facings in North America, independent companies also worn green facings, and there is no proof that the said painting is from an officer that served in North America.  If it is in fact an officer of the 55th, it could be an early portrait and may not even reflect what was worn later in the war.  The 5th Foot which served in France and Germany during the Seven Years War also had green facings, in 1766 they are listed as having “white waistcoat and breeches instead of green.”42 

The officers of the light infantry companies most likely had two uniforms.   In fact all the officers in the 55th had two uniforms, one for fatigue and one for parade.  Anne Grant daughter of a subaltern in the 55th regiment noted while she stayed at Fort Ontario, that the commandant, Major Alexander Duncan had his officers wear extra soldier’s coats and small round hats.  “In the store was a great surplus of soldiers coats.  These had been sent from Europe to the supply the regiment, which had been greatly diminished in number by the fatal lines, and succeeding hard march.  The major ordered the regimental taylor to fit these as a kind of short undress frock to the officers, to whom correspondent little round hats, very different from their regimental ones, were allotted.”43  In any case it is highly unlikely that the officers in light infantry companies wore their normal uniform, especially with the type of service they were doing.


            The light infantry uniform was a direct result of the environment in which the light infantrymen fought in and of the type of duty in which he performed.  These men were scouting, providing cover parties for detachments, screened the army on its advances.  Rather than being clothed in all new uniforms, they modified theirs to save money.  These modifications were gained from the experience of almost four years of warfare in North America.

1 McCulloch, Ian.  “Within Ourselves…”  The Development of British Light Infantry in North America During the Seven Year’s War.  Canadian Military History.  Vol. 7, No. 2, Spring 1998.  P. 52.

2 Cuthbertson, Bennett.  The Compleat Cuthbertson.  Compiled, transcribed and edited by Mark Tully and Don Haigst.  On CD Rom by Ballindalloch Press, Baraboo, WI.  2000.  P. 182.

3 Rogers, Robert.  The Journals of Major Robert Rogers.  Dresslar Publishing, IN 1997.  P. 123

4 Moneypenny, Alexander.  Alexander Moneypenny Orderly Book.  The Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum.  Vol. XII.  No. 2. June 1971.  P. 169-170.

5 Knox, John. An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760.  Volume I.  Greenwood Press, Publishers:  New York, 1968.  P.  307.

6 Ibid.  P. 221.

7 Scott, George.  Letter to Lord Loudoun, Feb. 13, 1758.  Huntington Library, CA.  Photocopy courtesy of Barton Redmon.

8 Dunnigan, Brain Leigh.  Manders, Eric J.  Elting, John R.  80th Regiment of Foot, 1757-1764.  Plate No. 613.  Company of Military Historians.

9 Strachan, Hew.  British Military Uniforms 1768-1796:  The Dress of the British Army from Official Sources.  Arms and Armour Press, London, 1975.  P. 219.

10 Brumwell, Stephen.  Redcoats:  The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763.  Cambridge University Press, UK, 2002.  Page 231.

11 Embleton, Gerry & Haythornthwaite, Philip.  The British Infantry of the Seven Years’ War, Part Two.  Military Illustrated Past & Present.  No. 37.

12 Pouchot, Pierre.  Memoirs on the Late War in North America Between the French and English, 1755-60.  Translated by Michael Cardy.  Edited and Annotated by Brian Leigh Dunnigan.  Old Fort Niagara Association, Youngstown, NY, 1994.  Page 296.

13 Hawks, John.  Orderly Book and Journal of Major John Hawks on the Ticonderoga-Crown Point Campaign, under General Jeffrey Amherst, 1759-1760.  The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of New York, NY, 1911.  Pages 19-20.

14 Pond, Peter.  Journal of Peter Pond.  Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XVIII.  Wisconsin State Historical Society, Madison, WI.  Page 323.

15 Knox, Vol. I.  Page 353.

16 Moneypenny.  Page 169.

17 Stewart.  Pages 2, 8, 14, 31.

Kemmer, Brent.  Redcoats, Yankees, and Allies.  Heritage Books, Inc.  Bowie, MD, 1998.  Page  111.

18 Wilson.  Commissary Wilson’s Orderly Book.  Expedition of the British and Provincial Army, under Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Amherst, against Ticonderoga and Crown Point, 1759.  J. Munsell, Albany, NY, 1857.  Page 166.

19 Knox, Vol. I.  Page 353.

20 Ibid.  Pages 285-286.

21 Stewart.  Page 31.

22 Davies, Thomas.  A View of the Lines at Lake George, 1759.  Fort Ticonderoga Museum collection.

23 Kemmer.  Page 111.

24 Hawks.  Page52.

Wilson.  Page 108.

25 Knox, John. An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760.  Volume II.  Greenwood Press, Publishers:  New York, 1968.  Page 312.

26 Ibid.  Pages 314-315.

27 Stewart.  Page 30.

28 Hervey, William.  Journals of the Hon. William Hervey.  Paul & Mathew, Bury St. Edmunds, England, 1906.  Page 128.

29 Goodrich, Josiah.  Josiah Goodrich Orderbook.  The Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Vol. XIII, No. 6, Fall 1980.  Fort Ticonderoga, NY.  Page 425.

30 Hawks.  Page 12.

31 Wilson.  Page 44.

32 Embleton, Gerry & Haythornthwaite, Philip.  The British Infantry of the Seven Years’ War, Part One.  Military Illustrated Past & Present.  No. 36, May 1991.  Page 30.

33 Grant, Anne.  Memoirs of an American Lady.  Research Reprints, Inc. NY, 1970.  Pages 67-68.

34 Knox.  Vol. I.  Page 459.

35 Westbrook, Nicholas.  “Like roaring lions breaking from their chains”  The Royal Highland Regiment at Ticonderoga.  Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, Vol. XVI, No. 1, 1998.  Documents compiled and edited by Nicholas Westbrook.  Page 60-61.

36 Copley, John Singleton.  Portrait of Major George Scott.  Frick Art Reference Library collection.

37 Embleton, Gerry & Haythornthwaite, Philip.  Part One.  Page 24.

38 Embleton, Gerry & Haythornthwaite, Philip.  The British Infantry of the Seven Years’ War, Part Two.  Military Illustrated Past & Present.  No. 37.

39 Hayman, Francis.  Robert Clive and Mia Jaffier after the Battle of Plassey, 1757.  Oil on canvas.  National Portrait Gallery in London.

40 Zaboly, Gary.  “Descriptions of Military Uniforms and Equipage in North America, 1755-1764, From Deserter Reports and Other Sources, Part I.  P. 15.

41 Chartrand, Rene.  “British Army Deserter and Related Descriptions of Clothing, 1754.  Page 18.

42 Embleton, Gerry & Haythornthwaite, Philip.  The British Infantry of the Seven Years’ War, Part Two.  Military Illustrated Past & Present.  No. 37.

43 Grant.  Pages 135-136.

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