Arms of British Infantry Rank and File, 1768-1784:
the “Stand of Arms”
Great Court Yard, Dublin Castle, 1792
print after a pen and ink watercolor by James Malton (1761-1803)
Before joining a regiment, a new recruit received a “Stand of Arms” issued by government from either the Tower of London (for regiments operating on the British Establishment) or Dublin Castle (for regiments stationed on the Irish Establishment). Collectively, this set included a firelock (musket), matching bayonet, bayonet scabbard, cartridge box, bayonet frog, and cartridge box waist belt. The “stand of arms” was issued together since, with the absence of any regimental accoutrements, the recruit could be trained immediately in the loading and firing procedures, as well as in bayonet usage. Any individual components of the stand of arms could also be issued to a regiment—upon successful application to government—in order to replace old, worn, or missing pieces. This resulted in yearly inspection returns sometimes listing any or all of the various components as having been issued in varying years. For example, in a letter dated Kinsale, Ireland, 11 December 1770, then Lieutenant-Colonel John Deaken of the 62nd Regiment wrote to then regimental colonel, Lieutenant-General William Strode, that he had "Endevour'd by a proper Application [to government] to get a Set of New Scabbards for the Bayonets of the old Establishment, but have been refused, so what is to be done I know not as our present ones are quite wore out and unfit for Service."
Even though all elements of the stand of arms provided by government followed set patterns, changes to those patterns over time, differences between the patterns and production qualities of the arms provided by the respective Ordnance Boards of the two establishments, differences inherent with the mass production technology of the period, and changes and repairs made by the men themselves, created disuniformity between regiments of the army and even within regiments themselves.
The firelock was the hallmark of any 18th-century European infantry soldier, and the now-famed British “Redcoat” in particular, who carried any one of a number of variations of a weapon now popularly called a “Brown Bess.” By the time of the American Revolutionary War, the British army had long produced a running series of different musket models (each newer version of which was considered an improvement), resulting in great musket disuniformity throughout the army and sometimes within a regiment. The differences were, however, generally aesthetic, as basic function and general caliber size remained the same throughout the century. The two models of infantry muskets in common use by the army in 1775 were the pattern 1756 land service musket (commonly called a “long land musket” today) and the newer pattern 1768/69 land service musket (commonly called a “short land musket” today).
As a regiment on the Irish Establishment, the 62nd Regiment received its arms from the Irish Board of Ordnance operating out of Dublin Castle. General Reviews of the regiment show that the 62nd Regiment received 390 new “Firelocks, Bayonets and Cartridge Boxes in 1770…1771…& 1772” and that these were found to be “clean.—And Good” by the inspecting general in 1772. By 1775, an inspecting general with a sharp eye noted that of the original 390 stands of arms, only 39 firelocks were “good” (351 were returned as bad), and 39 bayonets were “good” (311 were returned as bad, with 40 wanting because they were “lost by Desertion and Broke on Duty”), while all 390 cartridge boxes were returned in good condition (implying, not surprisingly, that those articles were rarely ever used). The poorness of the firelocks may have root in the same inspecting general's further observation that the men of the 62nd Regiment “have been so abus'd to keep them bright, that there is not the least appearance of the Kings mark.” Because of the poor condition of the regiment's arms by the time of the 1775 review, and because the regiment was preparing for embarkation to Canada, the 62nd Regiment secured a warrant to receive new complete stands of arms from Dublin Castle on 26 January 1776. The muskets issued to the regiment in 1776 were those of the new 1768/69 land pattern service type. As such, an extant musket with American war service provenance marked to the 62nd Regiment confirms this issuance.
Another 62nd Regiment musket in a private collection and also with an American war service provenance is significantly different: while of the same pattern, it retains its original Tower lock. Also, its original wristplate is engraved with a fractional “11/10,” an unusual marking. However, this musket may well have been an "augmentation" musket issued to an additional company of the regiment (i.e. the “11th ” company). Further, other Irish Establishment regiments serving in America had issuances of Tower muskets made to their additional companies, perhaps because it was fully expected that those recruits would join their parent regiments abroad (and therefore the burden should not have been borne by the Irish Board of Ordnance) or because it was simply more convenient to arm them with arms issued from the Tower (since many of these recruits came through barracks located in Britain, not Ireland).
On 17 October 1777, the entire 62nd Regiment had to surrender its arms to the victorious Revolutionaries at Saratoga. Rebel inventory of surrendered firelocks enumerated “only 4647 muskets, which are returned ‘unfit for service.'” Use and hard campaigning through most of 1776 and 1777 apparently had a significant toll on what had been new pieces, although the poor conditions of the firelocks were no doubt compounded by other factors as well: the 17 October 1777 journal entry of rebel Private Samuel Harris, Jr. of Colonel Jonathan Latimer's Regiment of Connecticut Militia makes note that many of the British troops marched out of Saratoga using their "iron ram-rods for walking-sticks,” a clear violation of the Articles of Convention.
Lady Louisa Lennox with her Husband's Regiment at Minorca (detail)
Artist unknown, ca.1770
National Army Museum
The background of this painting shows the prevalent British practice of “piling”
(stacking) arms in groups of three. This is how British infantry surrendered
their firelocks at Saratoga on 17 October 1777 (the Germans with the army
followed the older system of grounding theirs in order to dispose of them).
After the 62nd Regiment's repatriation to England in 1781, the men received new stands of arms; those same arms were returned as “New, and in good order” even as late as September 1784.
It is important to note that although firelocks were issued with sling swivels, they were not issued with slings. Slings were considered accoutrements, and were the property of the colonel of the regiment. Hence, there was no army-wide musket sling uniformity.
The Firelock Bayonet and Bayonet Scabbard
Seamed iron-to-steel bayonets and fitted black leather bayonet scabbards with brass mountings were issued with each musket. As there was no guarantee for interchangeability between bayonets and muskets, bayonets were generally engraved with a numbering system corresponding with that found on the musket it belonged to.
Brass firelock wristplate and bayonet socket (reproductions). Generally, both the firelock
and bayonet were engraved with matching regimental, company, and/or soldier number
information. Markings between regiments sometimes differed considerably, especially between
the two establishments. Commonly, arms of regiments on the Irish Establishment were
engraved with the regimental number / company letter (or number) / soldier number on the
musket wristplate and bayonet socket.
Amongst all British regiments which served in America during the War for Independence, the 62nd Regiment had a unique, documented uniform modification made to the bayonet scabbards by some of its men on campaign, thanks to the general order dated Ticonderoga, New York, 6 July 1777: “The 62d Regiment to take possession of Mount Independence; the Regiment Prince Frederick to take possession of Ticonderoga; Brigadier General Hamilton to command the two regiments.” Before the name was changed to “Mount Independence” by the rebels in 1776, this 300 foot peninsular height overlooking the Lake Champlain Valley was known as “Rattlesnake Hill,” and with good reason: the place was famous for its overabundance of timber rattlesnakes. The European soldiers of Burgoyne's army were both terrified and fascinated with the snakes—especially rattlesnakes—found in America, and there is no end of correspondence by the officers upon the subject. This fascination took an unexpected turn with the soldiers of the 62nd Regiment, as expressed by Lieutenant James Green (26th Regiment), who had been sergeant-major of the 62nd Regiment in 1777, in a letter to his friend Mr. Bainton written on 26 January 1781:
With respect to the wild Animals of America, I never saw any except a Fox now and then. The Snakes indeed are terrible and numerous. I have killed several with my own hands. I have seen Rattle Snakes Seven feet long. They were in such plenty near Ticonderoga that the Men used to cover their bayonet Scabbards with the Skins.
Green was alluding to the fact that the 62nd Regiment, as a whole or in part, garrisoned Rattlesnake Hill from 6 July though 12 August 1777 before being ordered to rejoin Burgoyne's main army. The men no doubt served the rest of the campaign with their timber rattlesnake skin covered bayonet scabbards.
British bayonet scabbards (reproductions), as used by the recreated 62nd Regiment.
in the foreground is the original as issued by the Irish Board of Ordnance. The other two scabbards
are wrapped in rattlesnake skin, one of which retains the rattle. As timber rattlesnakes
(Crotalus horridus) are today declared extinct, endangered, or threatened in every state,
we use rattlesnake skins from a non-threatened species with near-identical markings.
After the surrender of Burgoyne's army at Saratoga on 17 October 1777, an inventory of the articles surrendered to the rebels included “3477 bayonets without scabbards.” Certainly, the surrendering soldiers (apparently to a man), simply withdrew their bayonets and surrendered those with their muskets, leaving their bayonet scabbards hooked into their waist belts (which they retained). However, such would have been a technical violation of the Articles of Convention.
The Cartridge Box with Frog and Belt
The final component to a soldier's stand of arms was the black painted 18-hole cartridge box, detachable bayonet frog, and waist belt. assembly. After he came to his regiment, the new recruit was eventually issued a regimental cartridge pouch with shoulder belt and a regimental waist belt. to hold the bayonet scabbard (and therefore bayonet). Originally, the pouch and box were intended to be worn together, with the pouch over the shoulder and the box around the waist. This may be seen in a majority of the early 1750s paintings of British grenadiers executed by David Morier housed in the Royal Collection. Judging by these paintings, it's clear that the cartridge box was originally intended to be worn over the regimental waist belt. However, with the advent of regimental-specific waist belt. clasps (or plates, buckles) primarily in the early 1770s, it's likely that this discontinued, as there are early 1770s references to regiments wearing their waist belts over the shoulder. In fact, it is probable that regimental waist belt. clasps developed at that time due to the fact that cartridge boxes were rarely being worn.
The unpopularity of the cartridge box was infamous, as the construct was of very poor design: attached to the soldier around the waist by the accompanying thin leather belt, the box was prone to turning upon itself and dumping. Because of that, as well as the increased restrictiveness of a soldier's ability to move and the generally increasing carrying capacities of the regimental pouches, boxes were often set aside. The other component issued with the cartridge box and belt—the detachable bayonet frog—was useless after a soldier received his regimental waist belt.
The 18-hole cartridge box, bayonet frog, and waist belt. assembly (reproductions).
is a copy of an original, unmodified Board of Ordnance pattern, meant for wear around the waist.
Because cartridge boxes were found to be problematic and the frogs superfluous,
many regiments opted to keep them in storage.
Nevertheless, cartridge box assemblies continued to be issued to recruits by the Boards of Ordnance. While the cartridge boxes may not have been commonly used in peacetime, they were used, as prescribed, during the early days of the war in 1775. However, fighting along the “Battle Road” in April and in so-called Battle of Bunker Hill in June demonstrated all too well the faults of the cartridge box design in combat, and the British command in America had a ready solution. According to the 3 August 1775 general order issued by the commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, Lieutenant-General the Hon. Thomas Gage, the soldiers were “to wear their Cartouch Boxes Over their Shoulders and not round their waists” (this is often cited as an order made by Howe, perhaps due to his interest in ordering uniform modifications). Extant pieces demonstrate how this modification was made. Although the order does not explain which shoulder the modified box was to be slung over, there are many corroborating examples in orders from the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and artwork from the American War for Independence which demonstrate how this was done.
Detail of a sketch of the back of a light infantry private in the 69th Regiment, 1778
by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, R.A. (1740-1812)
© Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library
Like their battalion and grenadier soldier counterparts, light infantry soldiers received 18-hole cartridge box
assemblies with their firelocks. In addition, according to the light infantry uniform regulations of 4 March 1771,
light infantry soldier accoutrements provided by the colonels of regiments were to consist of "a small cartridge
box to contain 9 rounds in one row, to be worn before with a belt of tanned leather round the waist," and a
powder horn and leather ball-bag for "running ball" firing. Of course, both cartridge boxes could not be worn
around the waist; this sketch demonstrates how the 18-hole government issue box was worn over the right
shoulder, to rest on the left side. Alternate views of this soldier, and similar views of a light infantry private of
the 6th Regiment from the same encampment, show that the 9-hole box was worn around the waist. It is
important to note that none of the battalion nor grenadier soldiers were depicted wearing cartridge boxes.
An army-wide regulation, dated 21 July 1784, stipulated the official government decision as to over which shoulder the cartridge box was to be worn which, as expected, was consistent with previous documented practices: "The whole Quantity of Ammunition carried by each Soldier to be fifty-six Rounds; Thirty-two of which are to be carried in a Pouch on his Right Side, and Twenty-four in a Cartridge-Box, by Way of Magazine, upon a new Construction, to be worn occasionally on his Left Side." Although it was originally expected that British infantry soldiers carry both the over-the-shoulder pouch and the newly modified over-the-shoulder cartridge box during the American War for Independence, this practice was not universally complied with throughout the war. Often, cartridge boxes were kept in storage in North America or even in Britain.
Cartridge Box use by British Infantry in
Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne's Army from Canada in 1777
Evidence of cartridge box use in Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne's army is lacking, but with good reason. During the course of the campaign, the only accounting of cartridge boxes used by British infantry is found in a single regimental order to the 47th Regiment dated 21 August 1777: "Whatever Ammunition the pouche and Cartouche box will not contain is to be carefully packet up by the men in paper or linen; & put in the top of the knapsack.—" But what of the other British regiments, such as the 62nd? According to the first article of the Articles of Convention Between Lieutenant-General Burgoyne and Major General Gates; October 16, 1777:
The troops under Lieutenant-general Burgoyne, to march out of their camp with the honours of war, and the artillery of the entrenchments, to the verge of the river where the old fort [Fort Hardy] stood, where the arms and artillery are to be left; the arms to be piled by word of command from their own officers.
It was probably no accident that, of the two British commissioners assigned by Burgoyne to hammer out the details of the convention with their rebel counterparts before the surrender, one was Captain James Henry Craig (47th Regiment), Burgoyne's judge advocate. Craig was no doubt careful to ensure that only the term “arms” found its way into the Convention, and that neither clothing nor military accoutrements were to be included. Nevertheless, chaos soon ensued. An inventory of the military articles surrendered by Burgoyne's entire army on 17 October 1777 included the following arms:
4647 muskets, returned “unfit for service”
3477 bayonets without scabbards
638 cartouch boxes
Of great concern to the rebel congress was, among other things, the fact that the number of firelocks was not equal to the number of soldiers surrendered, the number of bayonets was significantly less than the number of firelocks (and none had scabbards), and the number of “cartridge boxes” surrendered was significantly less than everything else. The later was compounded with reports received by the rebel congress that many of Burgoyne's prisoner soldiers still retained their “cartouch boxes.”
After a committee review, Congress put the question to Burgoyne. The following is an excerpt of Burgoyne's response, submitted in a letter written to rebel President of Congress Henry Laurens, dated Cambridge, Massachusetts, 11 February 1778:
I desire to refer in this matter to the recollection of General Gates and I rely upon his justice to vindicate my assertion that neither cartouche boxes nor any other article of accoutrements that, agreeably to the spirit of the convention or the “technical” or possible interpretation could come under the word “arms,” were refused to be delivered up or clandestinely carried away. The cartouche boxes, vizt. those that are technically interpreted arms or military stores because delivered from the Tower of London with every new set of firelocks and bayonets, were by most regiments left in Canada as less convenient than pouches; the cartouche boxes that remained were on only those of the light infantry companies; several of them were actually deposited with the arms; and the very few others were carried away under the eyes and with the knowledge of General Gates.
The Congress having dwelt particularly upon this charge both in the report and the resolve, I trust I am justifiable in pressing further upon their attention the report of the officer who carried a message to the troops in consequence of a conversation between General Gates and Major-General Phillips (No. 1) which clearly demonstrates the first sense General Gates entertained of the whole transaction; and the report of Lieut.-Colonel Kingston, the deputy adjutant-general (No. 2), which refers to the time when the troops passed by General Gates on their march [during the surrender] with all their accoutrements upon their backs some hours after the above message, makes the general's participation, consent, and approbation upon reflection, equally evident.
The depositions referred to in the letter above were as follows:
Report of Lieutenant [Mungo] Noble [21st Regiment or Royal North British Fusiliers], acting aid-de-camp to Major-general Phillips:
In the course of conversation at Saratoga, October 17, 1777, I heard Major-general Gates say, that he did not mean to injure private property; and as the colonels would suffer by the loss of their accoutrements, the soldiers might take them. I was the officer sent to the commanding officers to tell them, the soldiers were to keep their accoutrements; they had taken them off with a design to leave them behind, and upon my delivering the message, they put them on again. This was before dinner—Major-general Phillips and Major-general gates together.
Conversation between Major-general Gates and Lieutenant-Colonel [Robert] Kingston [Deputy Adjutant-General].
At the convention of Saratoga, October 17, 1777, when the troops marched with their accoutrements, General Gates asked me, if it was not customary for arms and accoutrements to go together. Replying, that the accoutrements were the colonels, and private property, General Gates said, very true; they are yours as such, and because we have not mentioned them in the convention.
Congress disagreed. According to the minutes dated 8 January 1778, they passed three resolutions, each of which damned Burgoyne and his supposed noncompliance with the Articles of Convention. According to the first resolution:
Resolved, That, as many of the cartouch boxes and several other articles of military accoutrement, annexed to the persons of the non-commissioned officers and soldiers, included in the convention of Saratoga, have not been delivered up, the convention, on the part of the British army, has not been strictly complied with;
This, and three other points made by congress (Burgoyne's army not having surrendered any colours to the rebels, Burgoyne's refusal to submit descriptive lists of the other ranks of the Convention Army, and his written declaration to rebel General Horatio Gates that the “public faith is broke”), directly resulted in the following infamous order: "Resolved, therefore, That the embarkation of Lieutenant General Burgoyne, and the troops under his command, be suspended till a distinct and explicit ratification of the convention of Saratoga shall be properly notified by the court of Great Britain to Congress."
It is both important and ironic to note that the term “cartridge box” as used today (when referring to British equipment) is often applied to what was in fact called a“cartridge pouch;” but this is not new. As with the word “Hessian,” as used commonly both by Americans today and in the 18th century, “cartridge box” was the term of choice used by Americans during the years of the War for Independence for anything which carried cartridges. Clearly, British parlance was consistent in the differing definitions of cartridge “boxes” and “pouches.” The confusion resulting from the rebels' ignorance over nomenclature—still prevalent to this very day—was the main catalyst for the order cited above which doomed the Convention Army, including the officers and men of the 62nd Regiment, to a life of imprisonment in America for nearly the entirety of the war.