Building the Giberne, Part 1

Images, such as this French Guards soldier in a copy of the 1755 manual exercise provide visual evidence for written documentation.

One of the essential articles needed to portray soldiers of the Languedoc regiment at Ticonderoga in 1755 are cartridge pouches. These cartridge pouches or, ‘cartouches,’ were properly called, ‘gibernes,‘ for French regular army soldiers. Much like English cartridge pouches; these gibernes were carried slung on leather belts from the left shoulder, and hung down near the soldier’s right hip. These were very different than the, waist-mounted, ‘gargousiers,’ carried by Canada’s colonial regulars or Troupe de la Marine. Unlike gargousiers, for which significant leather archaeological artifacts survive, reconstructing the giberne for theLanguedoc soldiers requires some careful detective work.

Much like the French predilection for capturing mechanical details in mechanical trades manuals such as that of Diderot and Garsault, Royal regulations for the army included relatively detailed orders for clothing and equipment. The French army ordinances of 1747 rather tersely stated about the giberne, “a pouch of red or black calf, the flap of the same, with a pattern of cartridges of 19 to 20 holes; the shoulders strap of buff leather well-stitched without nails or pricks.” As short as this statement is, it still provides enough detail to verify that the cartouches shown in images are legitimate sources to intimate details.

Similar in function to the famous grenadiers painted by David Morier in the British army, the 1757 watercolors served as a pictoral record of each regiment in the French Army, albeit in an ideal, regulation form.

The two great sources for the giberne used by the Languedoc soldiers at Ticonderoga during the French and Indian war survive. The first is the 1755 manual exercise. The engravings that detail the movements to handle the firelock, in marching, loading, and firing, also include images of the giberne from various angles. From these images the shield-shaped outer flap is quite visible, as is the stitching along the buff shoulder strap and the two sets of buckles used to adjust the pouch. Along the shoulder strap there is one buckle below the right breast and the pouch strap itself attaches with buckles on each side of the giberne. Unfortunately, the engravings for the 1755 manual exercise show soldiers of the French Guards, who had their own regimental distinctions on their gibernes, such as  gilded royal coat of arms and some sort of leather bound edge to the flap.  Luckily, a watercolor image for every single regiment in the French army was commissioned in 1757, providing detailed color images of enlisted soldiers of each regiment. While these images were created after 1755, there are no new regulations known for soldiers’ gibernes prior to December of 1758, which merely effected officers’ and sergeants’ pouches. Accordingly these images can reliably used as color source to discern details about the giberne. These watercolors also show the pouch quite clearly with a plain red leather flap and a stitched edge. They also confirm the buff shoulder strap, and potentially show a stitched edge as was specified in 1747. These watercolors also confirm the placement of buckles shown in the 1755 manual exercise.

On some level all of these documentary sources have to be taken with a grain of salt. Written regulations, beyond the challenges of translating them, are always open to interpretation. Engravings and watercolors include the inherent flaws of the artist’s perception of whatever subject he rendered. Even the best images aren’t truly technical diagrams, and so require educated imagination to discern exactly what they show. Equally problematic, all of these written and visual sources were created in France, begging the question of whether these gibernes were actually carried to Ticonderoga. To this question we have archaeological evidence that helps to prove the documents. During the excavation and reconstruction of Fort Ticonderoga, an unparalleled volume of artifacts were recovered. The collapsed fort walls and earthworks did not preserve much organic matter, ruling out whole gibernes or remnants surviving, but brass and other copper alloy objects survived very well. Among brass artifacts many buckles survive, including the exact buckles shown in pictorial sources.

This French buckle, recovered from the site of Fort Ticonderoga was worn by one of the thousands of French soldiers who encamped at the site. This pattern of buckle was used both on the shoulder strap of the giberne and on the waistbelt that carried the sword and bayonet.

Numerous buckles shaped like two capital letter Ds back to back, survived in the ruins of FortTiconderoga. These buckles could potentially be British or American made, were it not for one detail. English and American buckles nearly always have the tongue set in the middle of the two Ds. While the iron tongues rusted away in the soil, the slot cut into the brass shows that the tongue rotated around the edge of one of the Ds, not the center. This is a detail almost exclusively found on French buckles. This combined with the particular width and proportions of these buckles shows that they are in fact French giberne strap buckles.

A second type French giberne buckle survived among the remains of Fort Ticonderoga in quite large numbers. This buckle is shaped like a single letter D, and like the French double-D style buckle has the tongue slot set to the outside of the D rather than the center. This style of buckle could be interpreted as simply a musket sling buckle, which is a similar form. However, the width of this single-D giberne buckle matches the double-D shoulder strap buckle, indicating they were used on the same strap. The single-D giberne buckle is not shown in the 1755 manual exercise, which shows double-D buckles set on either side of the giberne. It would appear that the double-D buckles shows in the manual exercise are merely a regimental distinction of the French Guards. The 1757 watercolors show a single-D buckle on either side of the giberne, of exactly the same proportions as those recovered fromFortTiconderoga.

This style buckle appears to have been stitched directly onto each side of the giberne, allowing the shoulder strap to be easily removed or adjusted. This buckle was used for the same purpose on the frog of the waistbelt that supported the sword and bayonet.

When archaeological artifacts correspond with pictorial evidence and other documents there is a two-way street of corroboration. The documentary evidence helps confirm the original use of the artifacts, helping support our understanding of them. Conversely, archaeologically recovered artifacts provide tangible evidence to tie the process of researching documents back to reality. Artifacts, like these two styles of buckles, take what could merely be a semantic argument about French cartridge pouch details, and let us know that real objects were made that correspond with the documents about them. By extension, these artifacts help ground our drive to recreate the soldiers of the Languedocregiment in reality as well. The giberne buckles that were unearthed during the reconstruction ofFortTiconderoga, did not simply appear at the fort. Real soldiers carried these buckles as part of their accouterments. We may not know much about each individual soldier, but when we hold one of these buckles we hold something actually carried by the soldiers we are trying to portray.

This detail from the 1757 watercolors shows the distinctive outline of the single-D buckles recovered at Fort Ticonderoga.

As we work on recreating these soldiers’ gibernes we will be using buckles copied right from those examples recovered from the Fort’s remains. Hopefully, this not only makes our reproductions more accurate, but provides a real tangible connection to these French soldiers for our visitors as well. I would love to say that the job of recreating these French soldiers’ gibernes is done merely with the buckles. There are still plenty of questions to answer, such as the leather used, or the exact shape and form of its stitching. Please check in again as this process continues…

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