Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Outfits of the Outfits

 My wife and I were discussing my blog last evening. She said that a good idea for my blog would be to present photos of the uniforms of the reenactors of the War of 1812. Many of the public who come to the events are surprised by the various uniforms worn by the reenactors. It appears that there is a belief that all the Crown Forces wore red and all the American forces wore blue.

Many of you who read this blog will find this to be "old hat." I'm also sure that many of you reading this could do a far better job than I. Please be gentle in your correction and constructive in your criticism; I'm just a simple Coal-Cracker from Pennsylvania who finds himself living in Ontario engaged in a ministry I never would have dreamt of.

So here we go.

Yes, the British infantry wore red coatees (a jacket with short tails, reaching to about the waist in the front) as did the uniformed Canadian militia, that is when they could get them! The uniformed/"Embodied" militia and the Fencible infantry (regulars recruited locally to serve only in the nation they were raised in) were in other colours at times, sometimes by design, sometimes by necessity. The various regiments were differentiated by the colours of their "facings" (collar, cuffs, and shoulder straps.) as well as the arrangement of the buttons and the shako badge. The red of the jacket was a bright red of finer cloth for the officers and a red that was almost "brick red" for the other ranks. Sometimes the dye would run from the new coatees, staining the crossbelts a pinkish shade. Trousers were either white or gray, although blue or other colours were possible. The British command attempted to keep the troops in full and proper uniform.

Two officers - one in the white barracks jacket (fatigue or undress) and one in full uniform

The light company of the 1st Regiment of Foot, the Royal Scots
Note the shape of the button lace on the chests and cuffs. The green plumes and the "shoulder wings" denote the elite status of the light company.

TV personality and comedian Rick Mercer in the uniform of the Canadian Fencible Infantry.
Mr. Mercer came out to Fanshawe Pioneer Village a few years ago to take part in and report on the reenactment.
The egg... well, that's another story... for another time. Buy me a beer and I'll tell all.

Various units are seen here including bandsmen in "reversed" uniforms,
that is, collars and cuffs in red and the coatees in the regiment's facing colour.

The 10th Royal Veterans in the so-called "Stovepipe" shako for their head-gear.
The white-over-red plume or tuft denotes a line company.
This regiment of old soldiers was know for drinking, drinking, and, of course, drinking.

"General Brock" stands with an honour guard of the Royal Scots.
They troops are wearing the "Belgic" shako with it's raised false front.

A soldier of the 41st, a red facing regiment with a different sort of cuff lace and an interesting forage cap.

Gunners of the Royal Artillery - blue with red facings and yellow lace.

The Glangarry Light Infantry Fencibles - A Canadian unit in green coatees with black facings.

Caldwell's Rangers - a somewhat irregular Canadian unit, raised to fight alongside the First Nations warriors
Green coatees or jackets with a "bucket cap" shown here.

There were only a few cavalry actions in the War of 1812, but here you see reenactors doing an impression
of the 19th Light Dragoons in their Tarleton helmets and laced jackets.
The red-coated reenactor on the far right of the photo is an infantry "Pioneer." These soldiers used axes and brushhooks to
clear the line of march for the column. His axe and leather apron are quite visible.
Soldiers and an officer of the British Indian Department.
The officers wore the red coat to keep from being shot by accident by the First Nations warriors.
The soldiers fought alongside the native warriors and served as advisers and translators.
They're shown here in hunting frocks, tam-o-shanters, straw hats, or peaked caps.
Now, the American forces are a real mixed bag. The regulations had the infantry regiments in blue coatees with red collars and cuffs and white lace on the collars, cuffs, and chest. However, regulations had nothing to do with reality. One general might divert supplies of uniforms from one command to his own. Supply problems put some units in make-shift uniforms of green, brown, tan, black, grey, and "drab." The white summer "roundabout"(a linen-cotton jacket with no tails) was issued to recruits because it was inexpensive. Some units wore these linen jackets through the winter until they were reduced to rags. The four rifle regiments were dressed in green for the 1st Regiment and grey for the other three. Volunteers and militia were dressed in anything from fanciful dress uniforms to civilian clothes to rags.

My reenacting unit in regulation coatees. Mine is fully laced while the others are not.
The soldier on the right is in the 1812 felt shako without a shako plate. The other three are the 1813 leather
"Tombstone" shako. Trousers were generally white, but that could vary wildly.
The second man from the left wears the two wool epaulets and red sash of a sergeant.

Men of the 22nd Infantry, part of Gen. Winfield Scott's brigade at Chippawa and Lundy's Lane in 1814.
The blue coats meant for this brigade were diverted to another command and Scott was asked if he minded
grey coats, and he didn't care so long as the men were clothed. The bravery and discipline of this brigade is
remembered today in the grey dress uniforms of the cadets of the US Military Academy at West Point, NY.
The one soldier is wearing the white linen apron of the pioneers of Scott's brigade.

The unit on the right of the photo reenacts the 16th Infantry who were issued black coatees and green pants.
They are wearing one kind of forage cap although there was no regulation regarding these caps in the US Army.

Your humble blogger in the white linen roundabout jacket.
It was to be a summer issue for troops stationed south of the Potomac River, but it was issued to many regiments
as an inexpensive expedient.
Cross belts in black leather were the most common for the US Infantry.

US Rifles in their green hunting frocks with yellow trim.
These comfortable garments were issued to the Rifle regiments in the summer for the sake of coolness and
concealment. Many militia and volunteer regiments wore them as well. Some regular infantry units wore white
frocks made for them when their issue uniforms fell apart and no supplies were on the way.

Men of the US Light Artillery - a field artillery unit which was intended to be horse artillery, but sometimes served
as infantry. This unit had blue jackets with no red trim at all. Their red-over-white shako plumes show their elite status.
These troops never quite made it to be horse artillery, but the other artillery regiments manned the forts all along the Atlantic coast as well as serving in the field as both field artillery and infantry.

Troops of the 2nd Artillery Regiment - blue coatees, red facings, yellow trim

The 2nd Artillery hauls a 6-pound gun. 

A US regimental musician in the red coat (reversed colours) set for the musicians.
A unit reenacting the 5th Maryland State Militia Regiment - a infantry unit that fought at Bladensburg and North Point
when the British landed to attack Baltimore and Washington D.C.
The unit was a classy one and was made up of the social elite of Baltimore. At North Point, they also proved they could fight.

Men of a state militia regiment advancing. Most of the unit is dressed in an undyed linen hunting shirt and a sort of top hat.

The Kentucky Volunteer Rifles - a fearsome unit.
Blue hunting frocks with red trim and round hats.
(Hats have a brim all around; caps have a brim only over the eyes.)

Volunteers or rangers or some sort of American irregulars in hunting frocks.
The trooper in the brown frock is holding a rifle rather than a musket.

I've left out a lot - British and US Marines, US cavalry, some of the wilder militia units, the First Nations warriors, the Canadian Provincial Marine (a Naval unit), and many others. This is an introduction at best and I may add more to it later.

As I said before, for many of you reading this, it's information you've long been aware of and probably know better than I, but it is my attempt to lay out some of the possible uniforms for reenactors of the War of 1812.

I used to wear a white hunting frock until my wife - pictured here- made the blue coat for me.


  1. Great post. The militias from both sides can get a little confusing on an open field. It must have been much harder in the bush.

    1. I agree. I sure there were loads of friendly fire incidents despite the intent that Canadian militia were to wear white armbands and the US Militia red armbands.

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  4. Very nice! However, as regards Scott's Brigade, the reason West Point cadets began wearing gray uniforms was not because of the valor of Scott's Brigade, but because the acting superintendent at the time thought gray uniforms were cheaper. Check here for the full story. Fact-based corrections welcome! http://www.bahrnoproducts.com/WestPointLore.htm