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Lafayette's 1781 Light Infantry and Arms Supply

This posting was in my email this AM and the contents would be of interest to anyone studying Revolutionary War small Arms Or uniforms. I’ll add the photos below. If you find this interesting you may want to join the Facebook group “MHAU 1600-1788” or contact John U. Rees.


John U. Rees added 3 photos in MHAU - 1600 to 1788.

John U. Rees
April 29 at 9:18pm

Lafayette's 1781 Light Infantry and Arms Supply on Campaign

This post ultimately has to do with arms in the 1781 light infantry with Lafayette in Virginia, but a rough documentary recounting of Continental Army arms from 1776 to 1781 provides a foundation.

So, here are several references to the types of arms in use and/or predominating.

(Israel Shreve Papers, Rutgers University)
"New Jersey pieces – S No. 40 – one Curl’d Stock
I - 54 1 Walnut Do. Short
P - 76 1 Dutch Stock
H - 12 1 Walnut Length N Jersey
K - 24 1 Spanish
P - 85 1 No 40 on Barrell
I - 52 1 small Belonging to J Cox
E - 28 1 small No. 15 stock
G - 87 1 old and ugly
1 Buckanear Stock John Pope
1 Do.
1 Queen Anne Musket
1776 1 other peace
1 Mr Bowns

The above guns I purchased and had repaired at my own expence and Delivered them out to the Regt. before they Marched for Canada –
fourteen Guns at 10 Dollars Each 52:10
To one stand of Arms Compleat Furnished
Sergt. Chattin 4.10

Israel Shreve Lt. Col. 2nd Regt:
Verso: -
No. of Guns
Sent to Bordentown
to be Repaired
at My own Expense.
Col Israel Shreve”

Modern excavations of the Valley Forge cantonment give a rough picture of the differing arms used in several brigades. Based on musket balls found at various sites “the proportion of .75 calibre ammunition to .69 calibre suggest that there were more of the larger calibre weapons in use at Valley Forge. However, 123 of the larger calibre balls came from the area around [Connecticut] General Jedediah Huntingdon’s quarters … This may indicate that the men quartered there were equipped with a larger proportion of British or American muskets than French. In contrast, out of 39 measurable musket balls from Wayne’s [Pennsylvania] Brigade area 32 were .69 calibre, suggesting a higher proportion of French muskets. At the Virginia Brigade area the proportions of .69 and .75 balls were more or less equal.”
John B.B. Trussell, Birthplace of an Army … (Harrisburg, Pa.: 1983), 127,131.
M. Parrington, H. Schenck, and J. Thibaut, “The Material World of the Revolutionary Soldier at Valley Forge Soldier,” David G. Orr and Daniel G. Crozier, eds., The Scope of Historical Archaeology, Essays in Honor of John L. Cotter, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984), 144-146.

On 12 June 1778 John Conway informed New Jersey Brigade commander Brig. Gen. William Maxwell, “By Mr. Samuel Caldwell, conductor of Waggons I send you sundries as p[e]r. the inclosed invoice. – The Arms are mostly French & Hessian, one box only of British. I stript the store to get them & am sorry there was no better on hand …”
John Conway to William Maxwell, 12 June 1778, Israel Shreve Papers, Buxton Collection, Prescott Memorial Library, Louisiana Tech University.

A year later regiments still contained a mix of different firearms types. Lt. Col. Josiah Harmar, 6th Pennsylvania Regiment, recorded an attempt to standardize the arms of the Pennsylvania troops. “May 18th: [1779] … the Second Pennsylvania Brigade … [is] ordered to march early to morrow Morning to Pluckemin to exchange the arms of our Brigade for British. May 19th: … March’d … to Pluckemin … On our Arrival there, the nominal British Arms turn’d out mere Patch Work Old Arms cobbled up – refused them … May 21st. … The Virginians have accepted the Nominal British Arms – We must endeavour to be completed with French Musquets, which are as good again …”
18 May to 24 May, 1780 entries, Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar’s Journal No. 1, 35-37, Josiah Harmar Papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

According to one document, muskets were still not uniformly supplied in 1780, though French weapons were beginning to predominate. A return for Lt. Col. Grosvenor’s Connecticut regiment (either the 3rd or 4th), and Lt. Col. Sprout’s 12th Massachusetts indicates the various kinds of muskets in those units. Dated 29 July 1780, the return lists 843 French, 281 Hessian, 125 British, and 124 American firelocks. Of the French arms, 612 had no bayonets; 70 Hessian and 94 American muskets also lacked bayonets, as did all of the British weapons. It is likely similar proportions were to be found in other Continental Army units. (Edith von Zemensky, ed., The Papers of General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, 1777-1794, guide and index to the microfilm edition (New York, 1984), reel 11, 270-288.

For further discussion of French muskets see:
Bob McDonald, “A Primer on French Firelocks Supplied to the Continental Army”

Now to the main focus. I found this receipt book some years ago, recalled it a number of times but thought I had failed to copy the pertinent pages. Lucky for me, I found them a short while ago.

We don't certainly know, but given that by 1781 French arms predominated in Continental regiments, and Lafayette's provisional light battalions were picked troops, likely given preference for arms, etc., the appended receipts show the light battalions accepting British firelocks as a matter of necessity, as well as locally available cutlasses for non-commissioned officers. Interestingly, the latter reference indicates that either the "Lafayette" swords the Marquis imported in 1780 were not issued to his 1781 light troops or there was a shortfall of numbers of those swords that needed to be augmented while in Virginia.
(For context see below, too, for the link to an online article about Lafayette's 1781 light battalions.)

Receipt book, February to May 1781 (Virginia), for light infantry battalions commanded by Maj. Gen. Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, Miscellaneous Numbered Records (The Manuscript File) in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records 1775-1790's, no. 28632 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M859, reel 98) U.S. War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93, Washington, D.C.

“Received Richmond April 30th – 1781. four british musquets & three bayonetts & four catridges boxes for the use of Col Gimats Regiment”

“Received Richmond April 30th – 1781, two stands british arms compleat for the use of Col: Barbers Regiment”

“Received Richmond April 30th – 1781 three british muskets, two bayonetts & three catridges boxes for the use of Colonel Voses Regiment”

“Received Richmond May 1:st – 1781. one stand british Arms compleat for the use of Col: Barbers Regt”

“Received Andersons Bridge May 29th – 1781 from Capt John Trotter fifty six common Cutlasses for the use of the Non: Comd officers of Col: Voses Regt”

“Received Andersons Bridge May 29th – 1781 from Capt John Trotter fifty three common Cutlasses for the use of the Non: Comd Officers of Col: Barbers Regt”

“Received Andersons Bridge May 29th – 1781 from Capt John Trotter seventy common Cutlasses for the use of the Non: Comd Officers of Col: Gimats Regt”

“`Their presence Here … Has Saved this State …’: Continental Provisional Battalions with Lafayette in Virginia, 1781”
Part 1. “`This Detachement is Extremely Good …’: The Light Battalions Move South”
A. “`The Fire of the Light Infantry …cheked the Enemys Progress …’: Light Battalion Composition and Service”
B. “`Ill founded jealousies, and groundless suspicions.” ‘: Unrest in the Light Battalions”
C. “`The Cloathing you … long ago Sent to the light infantry is not Yet Arrived.‘: Apparel and Equipment”
The Brigade Dispatch, vol. XXXVI, no. 2 (Autumn 2006), 2-23.
Appendices for Above
1. Diary of Soldier with Lafayette’s Light Infantry, 1781
2. Asa Redington, Scammell’s Light Infantry Regiment, 1781
3. Barber’s Light Battalion, 1781 (New Jersey Light Company Personnel)

Image 1: Continental light infantry portrayal.
Image 2: Likely design of caps worn by Lafayette's light infantry after the end of April 1781. Here is the documentation:

Lafayette's orders, “Head quarters Fredericksburgh 26th. April 1781,” : "Such of the hats as can afford it, are to be made in to light infantry caps with a very large front piece, as the climate of the state renders it extremely advantagious to them."

The way this is worded seems to indicate a front piece without
a visor, thus allowing the front piece to be lowered as a sun shade.

The cut–down hats are reminiscent of similar measures adopted by Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne twice before. In late autumn 1778 the Pennsylvania troops received new French uniforms, but the soldiers having only old tattered hats, Wayne ordered his troops in early 1779 to convert into caps all the hats “which do not Admit of been[g] Cockd.” Wayne’s instructions were to cut off all “but About half An Inch of the brim” around three quarters of the crown. The remaining flap was cocked up to make a front piece, and the edge of the brim was “bound Round with White Tape Linnen.” In October 1780 General Wayne again resorted to modified hats:

"I believe no Army before this was ever put to such shifts, in order to have even the appearance of uniformity – when the Charge of the Pennsa Division devolved on me, after the removal of Genl. St. Clair to the command of the left wing, I thought of an expedient of reducing the heterogenious of new, old, cock’d & flopped hats & pieces of hats, to [light] Infantry Caps, in which we succeded very well – by making three decent caps out of one tolerable & two very ordinary hats, to which we added, as an embellishment, a white plume & a Comb of flowing red hair."

Similarly, on 6 September 1780 the Brig. Gen. James Clinton’s New York Brigade orders recommended “to the Officers Commanding Regiments [2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th] to have the Hatts of their Men formed into Caps of one Moddle and Covered with white Hair." Fourth New York Regiment orders followed on 30 September: “the Colo [Frederick Weissenfels] Orders that the remaining hatts in the Regiment immediately Cut into Caps and if there Cannot be any white hair procured Red or black must be Adapted.”

Image 3: The Marquis de Lafayette at the Battle of Green Spring. (Painting by Don Troiani, )

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