Military Uniforms in America, Years of Growth, 1796-1851
By John R. Elting
Elting, John R., ed. Military Uniforms in America, Years of Growth, 1796-1851. Produced by the Company of Military Historians. San Rafael, CA: Presidio Press, 1977. 147 pages. ISBN# 0891410082. Hardcover. Out of print.
In Gallant Company
The Company of Military Historians, founded by dedicated historians, artists, collectors, and enthusiasts in 1949, has been instrumental in the study of the uniforms and equipment of all armies that have served in America. It has produced over 600 color plates, most by renowned military artists such as H. Charles McBarron, Eugene Leliepvre, Herbert Knötel, Harry C. Larter, and Frederick P. Todd.
In the 1970s they also produced a four-volume study of these uniforms, from the 'pick of the litter' so to speak, and these volumes have become classics in their own right. Three of the volumes are still in print and they cover The American Revolution, The Civil War, and the Modern Period. The second volume, which is being reviewed here, covers mainly the War of 1812 and The Mexican War. Of its sixty-four color plates, thirty-nine cover the period from 1796-1815, which, of course, is the period with which most of us are concerned. Unfortunately, this is the only volume of the series that is out of print.
I was fortunate to locate this volume, for which I have been searching for at least ten years, through The Military Bookman book service in New York. An additional plus was that it sold for just about the same amount as when published. The other three volumes now sell for around $60.00 each, over twice the original price. While they are definitely worth it, I (and my wife) was more than happy to find one in excellent condition with the dust cover for less than $30.00.
The book is arranged with the plates on the right hand side, and the description on the left side. Usually, more than one member of the Company worked on the narrative and all those who did are listed. In addition to the artists listed above, Col. Elting helped with most of the plates, as did René Chartrand, lending their expertise to the expert narrative, most taken from primary source material.
The units covered are a very good sampling of the period. Included are the navies of the United States, Great Britain, and France; American militia units; the British 85th, 93rd, and 100th Foot; de Watteville's Swiss Regiment; a rocket section of the Royal Marine Artillery; and the Canadian Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles, a distinguished regiment from the War of 1812 along the Canadian frontier. The American regulars are well covered, infantry, cavalry, and artillery being displayed, along with the United States Marine Corps, plus staff officers, field music, and riflemen. An additional treat is the inclusion of the first American attempt at horse artillery, Captain Peter's company of the Regiment of Light Artillery in 1809. Also illustrated is the American use of the French Gribeauval system and the possible color of the Grande Armée's artillery carriages and caissons as developed by the Company.
This volume is a valuable addition to the literature and uniformology of the period. The plates are meticulous in both accuracy and detail, backed up by expert research and narrative. This book, whether you are a War of 1812 enthusiast or not, should be on every Napoleonic bookshelf. You wont be disappointed, and it does stand alone without the other three volumes. It stands as a tribute to the gallant gentlemen who did the research and put it together, the greater majority of who have now, unfortunately, passed on and represent an entire generation of American military historians.
Reviewed by Kevin Kiley