British Troops in the Saratoga Campaign

BRITISH TROOPS IN THE SARATOGA CAMPAIGN
by Brendan Morrissey


24th charging - figures painted by Dave Woodward

Old myths and new research often sit uneasily together, and the 30 years since the publication of the famous (and still very useful) Mollo/McGregor book Uniforms of the American Revolution have seen a considerable amount of new data unearthed – often quite literally – in Europe and North America. The following article attempts to bring together all the latest knowledge concerning the organisation and appearance of the British element of the ill-fated army that left Canada in June 1777. Two more articles will look at the German (Brunswick/Hesse Hanau) and North American (Loyalist, Canadian and Indian) contingents, respectively.

1. General comments on the British troops, starting with the artillery:-

  • Brigades – the artillery park was split into three brigades, right, centre and left; the right brigade had two medium 12pdrs, two 6pdrs, one 8” howitzer and one 5½” howitzer; the centre brigade had two light 24pdrs; and the left brigade had two medium 12pdrs, two 6pdrs, one 8” howitzer and one 5½” howitzer.
  • Companies – on paper, each company had six officers, four sergeants, four corporals, nine bombardiers, 18 gunners, 73 matrosses, and two drummers, but actual strength was usually nearer five officers and 50 enlisted men; a full strength company would have enough personnel to man nine 6-pounders.
  • Carriages – between the Seven Years’ War and the outbreak of the American Revolution, the woodwork of British guns and supporting vehicles changed from dull red to light blue-grey.
Table 1: ARTILLERY IN THE SARATOGA CAMPAIGN
Calibre
Park
Advance Guard
Right Wing
Left Wing
Total
24 pounders (heavy)
16
-
-
-
16
24 pounders (light)*
2
-
-
-
2
12 pounders (heavy)
10
-
-
-
10
12 pounders (medium)
4
-
-
-
4
12 pounders (light)
-
-
-
-
-
6 pounders (light)
10
4
-
6
20
3 pounders (light)
11
4
4
-
19
8 inch howitzers
4
-
-
2
6
5.5 inch howitzers
2
-
-
-
2
13 inch mortars
2
2
-
-
4
10 inch mortars
2
-
-
-
2
8 inch mortars
4
-
-
-
4
5.5 inch mortars ("Royals")
8
-
-
-
8
4.4 inch mortars ("Coehorns")
10
-
-
-
10
Totals
85
10
4
8
107

Royal Regiment of Artillery – Maj. Giffith Williams

  • Composition - 6th & 8th Coys, 1st Bn; 7th Coy, 3rd Bn; plus at least one company of the Royal Irish Artillery [22 officers / 245 other ranks]; iin addition, there were two companies of the 33rd Foot attached to help serve the guns in action [1 officer and 154 men]
  • Uniform – cap had red horsehair crest; coat dark blue faced red; waistcoat white; American trousers, belts white, knapsack style unknown

2. General comments on the infantry:-

  • Brigades – initially, there were two British infantry brigades: the 1st contained the 9th, 47th and 53rd Foot, and the 2nd the 20th, 21st and 62nd Foot (note that the 47th replaced the 31st, which was withdrawn from the expedition due to indiscipline). After the capture of Ticonderoga, the 62nd was left behind to garrison the fort, but was later replaced by the 53rd, whilst the 47th was used to garrison Fort Diamond and protect the bateaux, leaving the 9th, 20th, 21st and 62nd in a single brigade – which was how they fought at Freeman’s Farm.
  • Battalions – each British infantry regiment in Canada had one battalion, and (apart possibly from the 47th Foot, which had been in America for some time) would have at least attempted to adopt the “augmented” organisation approved in August 1775. This had 12 companies, two of which were “additional” and remained in Europe to provide trained replacements, and two of which were “flank” companies – grenadiers and light infantry – that were detached and formed into “converged” battalions on arrival in Canada (these included the flank companies of the three regiments – 29th, 31st and 34th – left at Quebec). Note that it was common for battalions to split into two “wings” in action, especially in wooded areas, to provide tighter control; this was particularly true of the two flank battalions, which were almost twice as large as the others.
  • Companies – on paper, every company, regardless of type, had three officers, three sergeants, three corporals and 53 privates. In addition there were two drummers (four for the grenadier company, two being fifers), and three extra privates who were “contingent men” – ie non-existent, but whose pay supplemented regimental funds. Note that the company was an administrative unit, and was split into two platoons –but by the 1770s, the latter were not the same as the tactical formations referred to in manuals of the time.
  • Platoons – in battle, battalions were divided into “platoons” for movement and firing; in the Seven Years’ /French and Indian War there had been 18 platoons (two from each of the 1 grenadier and 8 centre companies), but by 1775, the strength of a typical British battalion had halved and the tactical platoon and the administrative company were synonymous (as were the tactical battalion and the administrative regiment). Increasingly, the term “company” became used for tactical formations, although “division” was used in some manuals (two “divisions” formed a “grand division” and four of the latter a battalion).
  • Officers – three of the ten companies in the field were commanded by the senior regimental officers. However, of these the colonel was always absent, employed at a higher level – though quite often he served in the same theatre as his regiment, contrary to popular belief; the lieutenant colonel usually led the unit in the field, but could be removed to command the brigade in which it was serving; and the major could either be serving as CO vice (in place of) the lieutenant colonel, or else absent commanding a detached formation eg the Grenadier Battalion). During the campaign, the 53rd was initially commanded by its senior captain, until sent into garrison at Ticonderoga; and the 21st and 24th were commanded by their majors (after Hubbardton, the 24th was also led by its senior captain).
  • Sergeants – these played a far more important role in the command process than is generally known – especially as officer casualties mounted during the campaign, and the terrain became more broken and formations more fluid; typically, sergeants were young men – often early- to mid-20s – literate and inspiring to their peers (in fact, little different from the poorer officers).
  • Colours – according to a Brunswick officer (and Burgoyne’s sworn statement following the Convention), the British regiments left their colours in Canada, although those of the 9th Foot were apparently hidden and smuggled back to England. The Royal Artillery, Grenadiers, Light Infantry and Fraser’s Marksmen had none, and it is highly unlikely the 24th – being part of the Advance Corps – took theirs along. As for the other regiments, prima facie it seems unlikely that the 9th acted alone, but there is another case – Yorktown – where some elements of a force carried them, but others did not.

Some general comments on the uniform and equipment:

  • General – the modifications introduced by Burgoyne were prompted by more than just the capture of the 1777 clothing issue by American privateers (a few units DID receive the issue, but still modified their old clothing – including the units left in Canada).
  • Coat – one reason for this being cut short was to provide extra material for repairs; the main areas of wear and tear were those rubbed constantly by webbing or equipment. As these were old uniforms, it is likely that all regimental lace was removed, except perhaps the flank company “wings” and drummers’ sleeve lace, as both groups would have needed some distinguishing mark.
  • Cap – this was supposed to be cut to a single style, but there is evidence that they varied. Badges have been found for several units, so it may be safe to assume that they were universal – in most cases this was probably just the number, but units with special badges may have incorporated these as well.
  • Legwear – though some von Germann drawings show breeches and gaiters, it seems most likely that campaign dress included the one-piece gaitered trouser (note that what we think of as trousers today were usually called “overhauls” at this time). An order required these to be made from cut-up tents and this style became sufficiently common in all theatres to be called “American trousers” after the war.
  • Equipment – belts would have been allowed to revert to their natural colour (a pale buff) on campaign, although two units are known to have worn black. In most cases, knapsacks (back packs) would have been the canvas “envelope” type, with the exposed flaps painted either a dull red, or the facing hue, and the regimental badge and/or number usually set in a circle of contrasting colour (unfortunately, no knapsack used in this conflict has survived, but suggestions for possible colour schemes have been included in the regimental notes). The haversack (bread bag) was off-white and the water-bottle the tin version – usually this had some sort of cloth cover to keep it (relatively) cool, or was painted to prevent rust.
  • Weapons – most rank-and-file were armed with the Brown Bess (though note that it was probably never called that at this time), a bayonet and a hatchet; grenadiers put their hangers (small swords) into storage; officers and sergeants had handed in their spontoons and halberds for fusils; and finally, a proportion of Fraser’s Marksmen – perhaps 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 – had rifles, either the Tower version, or American weapons captured in the attack on Quebec in 1775.

Company of Select Marksmen (Fraser’s Corps)

  • Composition – four(?) platoons for the 1777 campaign [approximately 100 officers and men – NOT 2 officers and 48 men, as often cited, which was just the detachment sent to Bennington]; the best shot from every battalion company, plus one corporal, from each of the regiments in Canada (the 8th Foot was certainly not included, and the 24th Foot may also have been exempt from this order); there were also four sergeants and two drummers
  • Uniform – the enlisted men would have been clothed and equipped by their parent unit throughout the campaign; officers apparently enjoyed more latitude in their clothing, at least one attached officer of the 34th Foot wearing a blue waistcoat (which drew a complaint from St Leger) and Indian leggings.
  • Equipment – no baggage, everything carried in the knapsack or left behind(!); men armed with rifles may have carried powder horns and ball bags.

Forbes’ Pickets

  • Composition – probably similar to Fraser’s company, but entirely musket-armed; the unit was drawn from the four battalions of the unified brigade of British infantry and may have been intended to compensate for the losses of light troops at Bennington (unfortunately, the unit was badly shot up by Morgan’s riflemen in its first action, at Freeman’s Farm).
  • Uniform – as for battalion companies of their parent regiments
  • Equipment – standard for battalion company men


62nd at Freemans Farm - figures painted by Dave Woodward

Grenadier Battalion – Maj John Acland

  • Composition – grenadier companies of the 9th, 20th, 21st, 24th, 29th, 31st, 34th, 47th, 53rd and 62nd Foot [approximately 25-30 officers and 550 men]
  • Uniform – it seems likely that the bearskin caps went into storage and the grenadiers wore hat-caps like the battalion companies (presumably with crests in the relevant regimental colour), although comments by Phillips and Fraser suggest that there were some variations in style; coats had facings and officers’ lace of the appropriate regimental hue, and two red shoulder-straps, but all lace – except possibly the wings – probably removed.
  • Equipment – the distinctive match cases and hangars (short swords) were probably also put into storage (with the latter replaced by hatchets)

Light Battalion – Maj Alexander Lyndsay

  • Composition – light companies of the 9th, 20th, 21st, 24th, 29th, 31st, 34th, 47th, 53rd and 62nd Foot [approximately 25-30 officers and 550 men]
  • Uniforms – most likely all companies retained their own light infantry caps to distinguish them from the battalion companies (for most, this would have been the standard “Keppel” model, but possibly with visors, flaps and/or turbans to protect against the sun and rain; coats had facings and officers’ lace of the appropriate regimental hue, two red shoulder straps, and lace (except possibly the wings) probably removed; waistcoats were red for all companies (again, most likely without lace); belts were black for ALL companies and the bayonet belt was worn over the right shoulder.

9th Regiment of Foot – Lt Col John Hill

  • Composition – eight centre companies [24 officers and 374 men] and two flank companies [approximately 6 officers and 100 men]
  • Cap – cut-down tricorne, colour of horsehair crest unknown, but may have been black (possibly white for light company whose cap was similar to that of the 5th Foot, but with the Britannia badge)
  • Coat – bright yellow facings; officers’ lace silver; one shoulder strap in red
  • Belts – black for light company, white for the rest
  • Knapsack – as an “old corps” allowed a special badge, suggest either a yellow flap with a red circle, or natural canvas with a yellow or white circle, and the Britannia badge

20th Regiment of Foot – Lt Col John Lind

  • Composition – eight centre companies [23 officers and 360 men] and two flank companies [approximately 6 officers and 100 men]
  • Cap – cut-down tricorne with black horsehair crest
  • Coat – pale yellow facings; officers’ lace silver
  • Belts – black for ALL companies; bayonet worn over shoulder
  • Knapsack – suggest yellow circle with “XX” in black

21st Regiment of Foot (Royal North British Fusiliers) – Lt Col James Hamilton

  • Composition – eight centre companies [23 officers and 370 men] and two flank companies [approximately 6 officers and 100 men]
  • Cap – cut-down tricorne with white horsehair crest
  • Coat – royal blue facings; officers’ lace gold; being Fusiliers they had two shoulder straps, whereas battalion companies of other units had only one
  • Waistcoat – white for all, except light company (red)
  • Drummers – red coats faced blue with regimental lace
  • Belts – white, except light company black; bayonet still worn on waistbelt
  • Legwear – white one-piece gaiter-trousers reported for this unit
  • Knapsack – suggest blue circle with “21” and/or thistle badge in white

24th Regiment of Foot – Maj James Grant / Maj William Agnew

  • Composition – eight centre companies [23 officers and 368 men] and two flank companies [approximately 6 officers and 100 men]
  • Cap – cut-down tricornes with black or dark green horsehair crests
  • Coat – dark (bluish) green facings; officers’ lace silver
  • Waistcoat – white for all except light company (red)
  • Legwear – white breeches, grey stockings, black half-gaiters
  • Belts – black for ALL companies; bayonet worn over shoulder
  • Knapsack – suggest green circle with “24” in white
29th Regiment of Foot – Lt Col Thomas Carleton [in Canada]
  • Composition – two flank companies [approximately 6 officers and 100 men]
  • Caps – see Grenadier and Light units; red horsehair crests
  • Coat – yellow ochre facings; officers’ lace silver
  • Waistcoat – white for grenadiers, red for lights
  • Belts – white for grenadiers, black for lights
  • Knapsack – suggest yellow circle and “34” in red, or vice versa

31st Regiment of Foot – Lt Col Jeremiah French [in Canada]

  • Composition – two flank companies [approximately 6 officers and 100 men]
  • Caps – see Grenadier and Light units
  • Coat – buff facings; officers’ lace silver
  • Waistcoat – buff for grenadiers, red for lights
  • Belts – white for grenadiers, black for lights
  • Knapsack – suggest buff with red circle and “31” or “XXXI” in white

34th Regiment of Foot – Lt Col Barry St Leger [in Canada]

  • Composition – two flank companies [approximately 6 officers and 100men]
  • Caps – see Grenadier and Light units
  • Coat – yellow facings; officers’ lace silver
  • Waistcoat – white for grenadiers, red for lights
  • Belts – white for grenadiers, black for lights
  • Knapsack – suggest yellow flap with white “34” in red circle

47th Regiment of Foot – Lt Col Nicholas Sutherland

  • Composition – eight centre companies [24 officers and 356 men] and two flank companies [approximately 6 officers and 100 men]
  • Caps – cut-down tricornes with white (NOT red) horsehair crests
  • Coats – cream-white facings; officers’ lace silver
  • Waistcoat – white for all except light company (red)
  • Drummers – having white facings, these should have had a white coat, faced red, with red waistcoat and breeches (however, a white waistcoat and American trousers may have been worn instead)
  • Belts – white; bayonet still worn on waistbelt
  • Knapsacks – suggest oxide red with gold/red crown and royal cipher, over black “XLVII” all in a white circle
53rd Regiment of Foot – Lt Col Henry Watson-Powell / Captain Paul Irving
  • Composition – eight centre companies [22 officers and 369 men] and two flank companies [approximately 6 officers and 100 men]
  • Cap – cut-down tricornes, horsehair crest colour unknown
  • Coat – red facings, gold officers’ lace
  • Waistcoat – white for all except light company (red)
  • Drummers - having red facings, these should have had a white coat, faced red, with red waistcoat and breeches (however, a white waistcoat and American trousers may have been worn instead)
  • Belts – white
  • Knapsack – suggest as for 47th, but with black “LIII” under crown and cypher

62nd Regiment of Foot (full battalion) – Lt Col John Anstruther [24 / 353]

  • Composition – eight centre companies [22 officers and 369 men] and two flank companies [approximately 6 officers and 100 men]
  • Caps – cut-down tricornes white horsehair crests
  • Coats – pale buff facings; officers’ metal gold
  • Waistcoats – should have been pale buff
  • Legwear – should have been pale buff, but may have been white
  • Belts – pale buff
  • Knapsacks – suggest buff flap with red circle and “62” in white

33rd Regiment of Foot – Lt George Nutt

  • Composition – two additional companies [1 officer and 154 men] attached to the Royal Regiment of Artillery to help move the guns in action
  • Caps – cut-down tricorne with light brown horsehair crest
  • Coat – red facings; officers’ lace silver
  • Waistcoat – white for all
  • Drummers – having red facings, these should have had a white coat, faced red, with red waistcoat and breeches (however, a white waistcoat and American trousers may have been worn instead)
  • Belts – white for all
  • Knapsack – suggest white goatskin, being recently arrived from Europe; if canvas, then suggest oxide red flap, white circle, with gold/red crown over royal cipher, and “XXXIII” in red or black underneath

The above information was obtained from a wide range of sources, but particularly helpful were the von Germann drawings of British, German and Loyalist troops in Canada (New York Public Library), and the research efforts of Christian Cameron and Justin Clement (re-created Company of Select Marksmen), Don Hagist (recreated 22nd Foot), and Eric Schnitzer (re-created 62nd Foot) – just a few of the many Americans whose interest in the British Army of this period has helped to broaden our knowledge of our common history and heritage.

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