Military Subjects:  War of 1812


The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 3: June 2006


Dressed to Kill: Uniforms, Dress and Equipment of the War of 1812

The War of 1812 Magazine is please to provide a new feature, depicting uniforms, dress and equipment of the forces involved in the War of 1812. The plates and text in this feature are kindly provided by Tim Reese, an established artist and authority on military dress.  As a lifelong professional graphic artist, Tim Reese served eighteen years as a graphic exhibits specialist with The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. He graduated from the Central Academy of Commercial Art, Cincinnati, Ohio in 1968. Tim has devised his own digital technique for the artistry of war. Numerous examples of his artwork are featured on his web site at The Art of War

War of 1812 Vestomilitarology: Dressed to Kill - No. 1

By Tim Reese

For our first installment we choose two opposing units active in the Battle of New Orleans (Chalmette), Louisiana, January 8, 1815, ironically an engagement which actually occurred after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed halting hostilities.

7th U.S. Infantry

7th U.S. Infantry
(Click on Image for Larger View)

On the American side the 7th U.S. Infantry is a standout by merit of this unit later adopting the sobriquet  “Cottonbalers” for their having allegedly fought behind cotton bale breastworks. Though of questionable accuracy, the unit nevertheless distinguished itself in defending a battery of artillery hand-to-hand when American works were closely threatened. Raised in January, 1812, primarily in Tennessee, Georgia and adjacent territories, the regiment was short lived and lost its coveted number 7 in the radical regimental amalgamations of 1815 at war’s close. Numerically identical unit descendants have adopted a coat of arms and crest on both of which a cotton bale is conspicuous. It’s modern unit motto is Volens et Potens (Willing and Able).

Revised U.S. Army uniform regulations for 1813 stripped the infantryman of his red facings and coat lace, adding an all-leather simulation of the Belgic or “Waterloo” shako then in use by his adversary. Musicians still wore reversed colors—namely red—despite there no longer being any facing color to reverse. Lace loops were replaced with cotton twist at each buttonhole herringbone fashion. Lherbette’s 1808 Patent Knapsack was by then universal issue, far superior to earlier models. By now stovepipe trousers had uniformly replaced the tight-fitting gaitered variety which covered the shoe, some soldiers having gone so far as to cut off the feet of the latter without orders.

93rd Sutherland Highlanders

93rd Sutherland Highlanders
(Click on Image for Larger View)

In counterpoint the much heralded 93rd Sutherland Highlanders have often been portrayed in cinema and paintings as wearing kilts and full Scottish Highland regalia at New Orleans, not the case. Just prior to leaving their duty station at the Cape of Good Hope for America the 93rd were issued “trews”—or more accurately tartan trousers—made of “Government” or “Black Watch sett” cloth. Coatees and equipment were identical in design and cut to those worn by their European counterparts.

Facings were lemon yellow, and the regiment was issued Hummell or “porkpie” bonnets with wider than normal diced borders bearing a red-and-white checked pattern later so closely and uniquely associated with its lineal successor, The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. Caps had a tourie or tuft atop them, red for battalion companies, white for grenadiers, and green for the light company. Officers’ caps bore a white metal thistle badge. Blue-gray trousers had been worn in South Africa, these apparently retained by some officers and supernumeraries.

Through sheer tenacity the 93rd numbered among the few British troops to actually reach the American parapet through withering fire. In so doing it lost three-quarters of its strength in killed and wounded, an appalling toll. One American observer characterized them as “firm and immovable as a brick wall.”

Note on Terminology

There exists no broad consensus on an existing academic term which formally defines the study of military costume. In recent times the term uniformology has acquired acceptance in some quarters. However, this strikes the ear uncomfortably as a rather clumsy English-Latin hybrid of dubious origin. Confining equivalence to strictly Latin roots, we can join: 

vestis = clothing, garment, covering, blanket

to militaris = of a soldier, military, martial

attaching then the familiar suffix -ology for the study of

rendering vestomilitarology as a more homogenous though admittedly tongue-taxing term.

Reviewed by several Latin professors and scholars, no objection has been raised to this incipient coinage. Recall too that the study of flags is properly called vexillology, no less atypical a form.

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