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3 Details for the Perfect 1777 Continental Regular Portrayal

Military officer uniforms
There is good evidence of a variety of military cut uniforms on Massachusetts and New Hampshire regular officers in 1777. Their colors seem to have been based on preference or the availability of cloth more than any broader regulation.

Looking ahead to next summer’s Defiance and Independence event it is important to examine some common elements of the dress and equipment of the Continental soldiers defending the post. While Fort Ticonderoga had a diverse crowd of Continental regular soldiers in 1775 and 1776, the garrison in 1777 was almost exclusively from New England. Among them, Massachusetts and New Hampshire provided the vast majority of regular soldiers. Each regiment, and really each company within, has a unique history and a unique assemblage of clothing and equipment. However, there are specific details that apply to the Massachusetts and New Hampshire regulars defending Ticonderoga in the summer of 1777.

1)  Plenty of Civilian Clothes

In New England states, like Massachusetts and Connecticut, regular enlistment was not completely different from militia service. All the able-bodied men subject to militia duty trained with their respective town militia companies, part of a larger county and statewide militia structure. Excepting emergencies, such as the Lexington alarm, these companies rarely fielded together. Instead these companies provided a pool of manpower from which to draft regulars and militia for service on campaign. In previous campaign seasons regular enlistments typically meant a full campaign season’s worth of service, with terms  of an appropriate number of months or simply an end date. In 1777 regular Continental enlistments changed from these short terms of service to three years or the duration of the war. Each state’s quota of Continental regulars was allocated through the county militia regiments and down to each town’s militia company. In each town the selection for the draft was made to fulfill its quota. Those drafted could pay replacements to go in their stead and there were individuals who looked to sell their services as a potential replace. A riskier approach was to petition the town to demonstrate how they were vital to the community and therefore too important to draft. Town selectmen were eager to find, ‘warned-out,’ and ‘old-countrymen,’ to fill draft slots for their town’s respectable residents. The same process was used to raise companies of militia for the field, the only difference being the duration of service, such as two months from the time of their arrival at Ticonderoga.

Continental regulars civilian clothes in watercolor
This copy of the original watercolors drawn by a Brunswick officer hints at the volume of civilian clothes worn by Continental regulars facing him in 1777. Despite the military coat, this private’s stockings, breeches, waistcoat, and hat most likely came with him from home when he was drafted.

Much as the process for raising regular troops was the same as that of raising militia to fight in the field, so too there are parallels in their clothing and equipment. With the exception of clothing and equipment items issued at the discretion of officers, these Massachusetts and New Hampshire regulars were just as responsible for their clothing and equipment as their militia counterparts. Deserter descriptions bear this out as nearly every regular regiment at Ticonderoga listed deserters who left wearing some form of civilian clothing. The First New Hampshire regiment listed on July 10th in the Independent Chronical two deserters wearing, “1 suit of white clothing bound with black ferret and buttons, 1 sailor’s jacket and long trousers.” Colonel Jackson’s Massachusetts regiment advertised on March 29th, 1777, the loss of a soldier wearing, “blue coat with blue breeches.” On March 6th, Captain Benjamin Walcott of Colonel Marshall’s Massachusetts regiment lost a man wearing, “a blue surtout, a light colored surtout.” These deserters in terms of personal clothing differ very little from their deserting militia counter parts.

2) Uniforms, but Hardly Uniform

No evidence has surfaced for the mass issuance of clothing to Massachusetts and New Hampshire Continental regulars in 1777, though not necessarily for lack of good intentions. A February 6, 1777, New Hampshire Committee of Safety report cited the fact that no wool cloth had been available in the colony since the war started. Supply of these regulars fell to Colonels, Captains, and regular soldiers themselves. Despite these decentralized channels of supply, military clothing does appear in descriptions of these regular soldiers. A deserter from Colonel Marshall’s Massachusetts regiment was described in a March 17, 1777, Connecticut Courant advertisement wearing, “light colored coat with red facings, brown waistcoat, leather breeches and half boots.” A drummer in Colonel Bradford’s Massachusetts Regiment must not have deserted for lack of good clothing. He was described March 17th in the Boston Gazette wearing “scarlet coat faced black, leather breeches, white shoes, beaver hat.” Likewise, Brunswick soldiers in their artwork and diaries describe soldiers in military coats of grey with straw colored facings, brown with red facings, and brown with sea foam-green facings.

Hunting shirt
A hunting shirt of osnaburg or tow-cloth, a very coarse linen, was one of the most common uniform clothing issued from Northern Continental army stores. These split front shirts lent some military appearance, worn over otherwise civilian dress.

Another deserter from Colonel Francis’ Regiment was described in the May 31st edition of the Freeman’s Journal as wearing, a “tow frock and moose-skin breeches.” Both linen hunting shirts and leather breeches show up very commonly on the regulars posted to Ticonderoga in 1777. Indeed, the Northern Continental Army’s public store, which had a post at Ticonderoga, issued out tons of these garments. Colonel Jackson’s Massachusetts Regiment drew 238 hunting shirts out of these stores. Similarly, Colonel Bradford’s regiment drew 116 hunting shirts between February and August of 1777. Other regimental issues of clothing from Northern Department stores were more piecemeal. Colonel Brewer’s Massachusetts regiment drew only fifteen coats, waistcoats, breeches, pairs of shoes, and thirty shirts and pairs of hose or stockings.New Hampshire regulars seem to have had less success in military clothing. In desperate need for leg-wear, the Second New Hampshire regiment drew 240 pairs of trousers, worth a mere ten shillings each. These smatterings of uniform clothing filled holes of necessity, rather than creating a martial appearance.

3) French Musket, French Musket, French Musket

By the spring of 1777 diplomatic efforts in France to secure their military aid really began to pay off. On April 21st, 1777, supply ships from France arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, laden with 7000 French muskets complete with bayonets, scabbards, flints and worms. 2000 of these went to New Hampshire stores and 5000 went to Massachusetts. This shipment of muskets seems to have gone right into the hands of the regulars from these two states. Lieutenant Henry Sewell, of the Colonel Brewer’s Massachusetts Regiment, recorded that his company exchanged old muskets for new French Muskets by April 25th. Even as late as June 17th, supply returns for the Second and Third New Hampshire regiments still record a nearly perfect armament of muskets and bayonets. Rather than cobbling together old, civilian, and state-produced firelocks, Massachusetts and New Hampshire regulars carried new French muskets in their defense of Ticonderoga.

The regular soldiers, who tried to defend the extensive works all around Ticonderoga in early July 1777, were clothed and equipped in a manner that was a testament to their state as a fighting force. They were citizens turned soldiers and many simply wore their civilian clothing when no proper regular uniform could be provided. By the spring of 1777, when they were rapidly raised for the defense of a new nation, not yet a year old, many of these soldiers were already veterans, seasoned by surviving one or two previous campaigns. The military clothing that was available spoke to an ever growing local military industry, which strained to supply 1777’s regulars, but could fill in gaps. In that spring, the first mass shipments of new French muskets put excellent firelocks in the hands of veteran soldiers. While this wasn’t enough to save American-held Ticonderoga, in due time these would put the noose in the year of the hangman.