Prussian Reserve Infantry: 1813-15
Part III: Uniforms of the Reserve Infantry
By Robert Mantle
The diverse origins of the Reserve Regiments is reflected in their uniforms. The principal fact governing these uniforms was that Prussia, before the Industrial Revolution, was a poor country. Northern and Eastern Germany was, and still is, relative infertile due to its sandy soil and agriculture was hampered by vast forests, particularly in the East. Mineral deposits in Silesia and Posen were not fully exploited and the Ruhr valley only became Prussian after 1815. The expenses of the war of 1806-07, the loss of territory and the French occupation impoverished Prussia -- there was simply no way of supporting a large army (this of course, was what Napoleon intended.) When theMusketeer Battalions of 1811 and the Reserve Battalions were raised, very little money was available and uniforms tended to be as simple and cheap as possible. By the time the Landwehr was raised, funds were even more limited and consequently, the appearance of early Landwehr battalions was appalling.
'Spit and polish' which had been an obsession in the old army virtually disappeared and by the end of the War of Liberation, the Prussian army was wearing whatever they could find. The new attitude to outward appearances is shown by an incident on October 5 1813. Bülow's corps, serving with Bernadotte's Army of the North was marching through Dessau when the army's commander decided to review them. There was no time to smarten up and Bernadotte was deeply shocked by their appearance. Hermann von Boyen's account (quoted in Anthony Brett-James's Europe against Napoleon) makes it clear that Bülow and his men could not have cared less; they were fully aware that the former Marshal of the empire was far more at ease on the parade ground than on the battlefield.
The uniforms of the Reserve Regiments may be divided into four types:
A. The 'Regulation Uniform' of the regular army.
The Regulation Uniform
As this uniform is so well documented, these notes will be confined to campaign dress.
Privates: The shako was always worn with an oilskin cover. The Prussian cockade at the front of the shako produced a distinctive shape. Fusilier Battalions painted a white ring on the front of the cover, but Musketeers left theirs plain. The shako had a black chin strap.
The double-breasted jacket, or Kollet, was Prussian blue, with two rows of eight brass buttons. The cuffs were of the Brandenburg pattern: the sash was blue with three buttons (the lowest was usually left undone). The turnbacks of the short tails and the lining of the coat were poppy red, while the collar and cuffs were in a distinctive colour for each province, i.e.:
In 1814, the following colours were added.
The seniority of the regiment within the province was indicated by the shoulder straps, ie:
Thus, the Second East Prussian Regiment (No 3) had brick red facings (collars and cuffs) with poppy red shoulder straps. The vegetable dyes in use at the time were not 'fast', causing many variations in shade. The collar was worn open until 1814, exposing a black neckstock; after that date, the collar was closed with hooks and eyes, but was left unfastened on campaign.
Breeches wer mid-grey, tucked into black gaiters reaching to just below the knee. Boots were black, crossbelts were white for Musketeers and black for Fusiliers. the lower one, worn over the right shoulder, carried the short sword, which had a brass hilt and black grip; the scabbard was black leather with brass fittings. Around the hilt was a sword knot which was used to distinguish the individual companies. The system is a complex one, but basically the companies were numbered consecutively, through the three battalions:
Thus the seventh company was the third company, II Battalion. The sword knot itself was divided into five parts (see illustration). The strap (A) and the tassel, or Troddel were always white. Parts B, C and D were known as the Schiebe, Stengel and Kranz respectively. The colour combinations were:
Above the sword belt and over the left shoulder was the belt for the black cartridge box. This was plain for Fusiliers, but Musketeers had a brass oval plate bearing a trophy of arms.
The pouch was of brown calfskin and had a harness which matched the crossbelts in colour. All buckles were brass. The grey greatcoat was usually worn over the left shoulder, bandolier fashion, with a brown leather sleeve over the shoulder itself. A white linen haversack was worn on the left hip -- the strap was white. The mess tin, in a white cover, was usually attached to the pack.
The knee length greatcoat was grey, single breasted with six brass buttons. Collar and shoulder straps matched those on the kollet. The forage cap or feldmutz was often worn in this order o fdress. The first model was grey, similar to the World War One German forage cap -- it had a narrow band in provincial colour. In 1814, it was replaced by a grey peakless cap with a wide band in province colour and similar piping around the top.
The musket was always carried with the bayonet fixed, the stock was stained black for Fusiliers and brown for Musketeers. Fittings were brass and the sling was red.
NCOs wore the same uniform with a few variations. Their insignia consisted of flat gold lace on the top edge of the cuffs and around collar. In 1813 the lace was moved from the lower edge of the collar to the top. NCOs also wore marching boots instead of gaiters and carried canes, attached to a tunic button. Sword knots were white with embroidered black lines, for all companies.
Musicians Comprised of drummers and fifers and the horn players of Fuislier Battalions. They wore the private's uniform with NCOs lace; in addition they wore semi-circular patches of cloth on each shoulder. Know as 'swallows nests', these were of the province colour, laced white; those of Pomeranian regiments matched the shoulder straps; only the First Pomeranian Regiment had all white ones.
Drums were brass and had an oval badge bearing a trophy of arms on the front. COrds were white and the hoops were painted in alternate diagonal bands on white and province colour (as for the swallow's nests). The slings were white and calfskin aprons protected the drummers' legs: sticks were black. Fifes were black and carried in a red case on a white belt worn over the left shoulder. Horns were brass, crescent shaped with green cords. Musicians were armed only with short swords.
Bandsmen wore the musicians' uniform, but with the white lace replaced by gold. At this period bands were rarely larger than a dozen men; the instruments were flutes, clarinets, oboes, 'natural'(i.e. valveless) horns, trumpets and trombones -- usually one or two of each. Percussion consisted of cymbals, tambourines, a brass drum and a 'jingling johnny'.
Officers wore the same shako as the men. The kollet had knee length tails with horizontal pockets piped red with two buttons. All buttons were gilt; the colours followed that of the privates. The officer's waist sash was cloth of silver with two black embroidered lines; it fastened on the left with two tassels. Under it was a sword belt, black or white depending on the battalion, supporting a straight bladed epee for Musketeer officers, or a curved sabre for Fusiliers. Both patterns had gilt hilts. They had black scabbards, with gilt fittings for the epee, and iron scabbards for sabres; the sword knots were all silver with black embroidered lines.
Legwear consisted of either grey trousers with a red stripe and gilt buttons down the seams or grey breeches tucked into marching boots. On campaign, officers wore a pack similar to the mens'. This was intended to cut down on officers' personal baggage -- conservatives referred to the pack as 'the badge of dishounr'(!) The greatcoat was grey and double breasted with gilt buttons. The length and colouring was the same as for the privates.
Rank was indicated by a system of shoulder straps replaced during the period 1812-1814 by epaulettes. Readers are referred to the full description in David Nash's The Prussian Army 1808-1815.
This uniform was largely based on the Russian infantry uniform of the 1806-1807 period, when the Prussian court had moved first to Konigsberg and then to Memel. A close friendship developed between the King and Tsar Alexander. Joint operations had emphasised the archaic appearance of the Prussian infantry and the King ordered a detailed record of Russian uniforms to be compiled. (Before 1806, Friedrich Wilhelm had 'improved' the Prussian uniforms, notably with a singularly ugly grenadier cap.) The reformers encouraged the King's interest in designing the new uniforms new uniforms to keep him from interfering with their more radical measures. It was the beginning of a close relationship between the Houses of Hohenzollern and Romanov and their respective countries, which was to endure for over fifty years. The Prussian Army's 'borrowings' ranged from the 'goose-step' to the permanently fixed bayonet and many marches, (in 1914, 15 percent of the offical Prussian march collection was of Russian origin), while Prussian uniforms followed Russian ones in every detail.
This uniform, henceforth referred to as the 'regulation uniform' was worn by the cadres of officers, NCOs and musicians supplied by Regular Regiments to their Reserve Battalions, on their formation. During 1813-1815, it was gradually issued to Reserve units, but many regiments took the field in June 1815 wearing a variety of uniforms.
It is possible that some of the men of the Third Musketeer Battalions of Infantry Regiments wore this uniform when they were established in 1811, but it is for more likely that all privates wore the uniform described below.
The Reservist Uniform of 1812
Although the Reserves were not called up until February 1 1813, their uniforms had been established by a Cabinet Order of December 20. (The mobilization had clearly been planned as the state of the French army worsened -- whatever side Prussia intended to join.) They were clearly the product of limited resources and were closely based on the Regular fatigue uniform.
The headgear was a mid-grey peaked cap (schirmmutz). The top was not wired giving a floppy appearance and it was clearly based on the contemporary civilian cap, widely worn in Northern Europe. Some battalions had a capband in provincial colour. A black chin strap was worn.
The mid-grey jacket (jacke) was single breasted with eight brass buttons. It had no tails or cuffs and some models had no shoulder straps. Patches in the provincial colour were attached to the collar in some units and shoulder straps, when worn, were grey or matched those of the Stamm regiment. The two Reserve Jusketeer Battalions of the First West Prussian Regiment wore a variant of this jacket, which had short tails and turnbacks, piped crimson. The uniform was completed by grey trousers and a cartridge box on a shoulder belt, usually white.
Clearly this was no more than a stopgap and gradually the Reservists acquired more equipment. Most units replaced the cap with a regulation covered shako and gaiters were issued; these were worn over the trousers though some menmay have received breeches. Some units received haversaks of gray cloth and packs of the same material, though packs of yellow/brown cloth are also recorded. Wherever possible an attempt was made to replace this uniform with the regulation one or the 'British' uniforms described below but it was still being worn in June 1815, by elements of the 18th and 22nd Regiments, two battalions of the 12th and the greater part of the 23rd and 24th.
Uniforms Supplied by Britain
If Prussia was the poorest 'Great Power' of the era, Britain was, without doubt, the richest and economically the most advanced. The Industrial Revolution, the British Empire and the Royal Navy's command of the sea meant that Britain could spend vast sums on the war against Napoleon. As the British army was small and committed to the defence of the Empire and the war in the Peninsula, only a few battalions of doubtful quality could be spared for the struggle on the Continent; but if the men were not available, uniforms, arms and money certainly were. Throughout 1813 and 1814 the Royal Navy ensured a constant flow of supplies to the North German ports -- a far less glamorous contribution to victory than the activities of the Rocket Troop at Leipzig, but far more significant.
In response to Prussian requests, supplies of uniforms began to arrive during the early summer of 1813 and were issued during the armisitce of June 4 to August 10. Very few people in Britain apart from senior, or much-travelled officers had any idea of what Prussian uniforms looked like and it would have taken too long to find out and circulate patterns to contractors. Consequently the uniforms were of existing patterns: the Prussians, grateful for any uniforms, raised no objection. These uniforms are usually described as the pattern supplied to the Spanish and Portuguese army, but have features (ie the lace on the tunics) not found on any Spanish or Portuguese uniform of the period.
The shakos were conical, eight inches high, with a constant upper diameter of six and a half inches. They were of black felt with black leather binding at top and bottom, peaks and chinstraps. A circular cockade at the front of the top edge was whitewith a red centre: many battalions replaced the red with black to form the Prussian cockade. Above it was a white plume with the lower third dyed red: the NCOs of the III/4 R.I.R. dyed the bases of their plumes black and the privates removed their altogether. (The 9th R.I.R. had all removed their plumes by 1815.) The shako plate was a yellow metal oval with a lion rampant, facing left. A variant on this was worn by the III Battalions of the 8th and 9th R.I.R. The shako had a green plume and bore a bugle horn badge, in yellow metal.
Two patterns of jacket were recorded. The first was single breasted with one row of buttons -- the button holes were decorated with white lace, after the British style, as were the buttons on the round cuffs. Both plain and pointed loops are recorded. The tails reached the back of the knee and had double turnbacks. Some turnbacks had grenades on them. The collar, the top edge of the cuffs and in some cases, the shoulder straps, were edged with white tape and some examples had shoulder rolls or 'wings', as illustrated. Some battalions modified their tunics to look more Prussian by removing the lace lops and the ornaments on the turnbacks. In the notes on individual regiments this will be referred as the 'British' jacket.
The III/8 R.I.R. and IV/9 R.I.R. received a jacket which was closely based on the British Rifleman's tunic and which will be referred to as such. It was 'rifle green' (which can vary from dark green to almost black) and single breasted with three rows of white metal buttons. The short tails had turnbacks on the front edges only, and vertical pockets with three buttons. The jackets of the III/8 R.I.R. had plain shoulder straps but those of the III/9R.I.R. had shoulder rolls.
The trousers were of the same colour as the jacket and were usually worn outside the gaiters.
Equipment consisted of the cartridge box on a shoulder belt, a cloth haversack and either a regulation calfskin pack or a cloth one. The II and III/4 R.I.R. and the III/8 R.I.R. received British great-coats - these were grey with capes.
NCOs wore short swords on belts over thier right shoulder and wore the regulation lace, usually in yellow material. In addition, the NCOs of the I/1 R.I.R., II/4 R.I.R. and all battalions of the 8th R.I.R. wore waistsashes like British sergeants.
This distinctive and very un-Prussian uniform was issued to the following units:
I Battalion, 1st Reserve Infantry Regiment
In the 1815 campaign this uniform was worn by the 21st Infantry Regiment, ex-9th Reserve.
Captured French Equipment
During the operations of late April 1813, Prussian troops captured Halle and the III Musketeer Battalion of the Third East Prussian Infanty Regiment (later I/4 R.I.R.) equipped themselves from French clothing stores. As the French shako resembled the Prussian, the Battalion removed their eagle plates and cockades but retained the distinctive brass chin scales. French sabre-briquets were worn by the whole Battalion, as was a rather curious jacket.
The jacket was dark blue, single breasted with a red collar, turnbacks (with blue grenades), round cuffs and white metal buttons. The shoulder straps were bastion ended, blue piped red, like those of French Fusiliers. In addition the two buttons on each cuff had bars of plain white lace, as on the British jackets described above. This jacket had element sof the Artillery uniform (turnbacks) and the Light Infantry (collar and buttons) but the cuffs were totally unlike normal French practice. The whole jacket did not fit in with any French regulation of the period, but it is worth remembering that even Napoleon could prevent his troops from ignoring the regulations if they wished to.
Besides these examples there were of course countless individual cases of soldiers replacing worn out items of uniform or equipment with the French equivalent.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2000
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