Saturday, 24 December 2016

AWI: ABC Introduction to Uniforms and Sources

If I wanted for anything when I started gaming this period, it was a general introduction to uniforms and pointers to good guides on the uniforms themselves. There were so many different units, uniforms, nationalities, exceptions and terms.

Trouble is, this was the reason there were no general guides in the first place, because of the differences. But having been reading about this period for over ten years now (OMG time flies!) and having covered most of the contemporary sources, I thought I'd give writing an introduction to the uniforms a crack.

So there is only really one rule of thumb when considering uniforms for this period 'check the sources for confirmation'. That's it. There's bound to be exceptions and differences for even the same regiment over time, because of campaign standards, uniform availability, and the like.

Single AWI Rule of Thumb: check the sources for confirmation.

But having established that rule of thumb it is possible to provide a light general introduction to the uniforms of the period, focusing mostly on uniform terms and infantry - using the British uniform as a benchmark/standard and acknowledging that:
- the militias of the period didn't wear uniforms
- for every statement I make here, there will be exceptions; hence the rule of thumb above.

ABC: Coats, Facings, Cuffs, and Turnbacks (Linings)
Most uniforms included a medium length coat of a certain colour. The coat colours were red for the British, commonly blue or brown for the American Continentals, white for the French, light blue for French Colony regiments, and blue or green for the Germans. Loyalists were given green cloth early on in the war for their coats and red cloth later, as per their British counterparts.

Most regiments had their own official 'colour'. The colours included red, green, yellow, blues, pinks, black, burgundy, white, to name a few common ones. This is best thought of and often referred to as the regimental colour. Not to be confused with - but which are related to - the regimental colours, which refer to the flags and standards many regiments carried.

The coats had tails and were lined with a fabric of a different colour to the coat. The tails were able to be buttoned back and the resulting buttoned tails are referred to as turnbacks. In many cases the lining and hence turnbacks were white, other times the regimental colour.

Turnback examples circled in yellow, 'Hessians' with red turnbacks, British with white.

Coats were faced with strips of fabric which ran down the front of the coat where the buttons and buttonholes were situated and would be of the regimental colour; as would be the collars and lapels. These are all referred to as facings.

Finally the cuffs of the coats were also picked out in the regimental colour - also commonly included in the term facings.

Facings and cuffs: British Colonel and his troops display their blue regimental colour on the common areas of their standard red coat.

Underneath the coat a wastecoat would also be worn, with the majority of regiments having a standard colour for their wastecoats.

To tie it all together, the regimental colour was used as the colour for the facings and cuffs of a regiment's coats, and in some cases the turnbacks.

Facings and cuffs: British regimental colour examples, L to R: white, yellow, blue, and green.

But when some hoary old wargame nut is waxing lyrical about facings and turnbacks, you can relax and follow their rants knowing that in summary: each regiment had its own colour and that the cuffs and facings of their coats would generally be of that colour.

ABC: Exceptions
American Continentals: became more uniformly dressed as the war progressed and they followed the same standard with their coats as described above, although possibly with a little more relaxed approach to following strict regimental standards and adopting a regimental colour.

Its possibly more accurate to describe them as following the general style of dress for the period, as their uniform lotteries allowed and the availability of uniforms increased - with some American regiments even receiving batches of coats with different facing/cuff/turnback arrangements.

Musicians: I covered these in an earlier post on painting but will post here again for completeness.

Reversed Coats: British drummers (musicians) regimental colour for the coat with facings and cuffs of red (blue drummer is incorrect and should be red faced blue).

Musicians were often dressed differently to their units, for easy identification in the field. Many of the musicians of the period had 'reversed coats', with the facings/cuffs and coat colour of their regiment reversed.

Reversed Coats: American Continental drummer and fifer (musicians), regimental colour for coat with facings and cuffs the colour of the regiment's coat.

I was going to write that reversed coats for musicians was a general rule of thumb but came up with more exceptions to the rule. So to the best of my knowledge:
- British Line Musicians: reversed coats
- British Guard Musicians and units with blue as regimental colour: same as regiment
- French Musicians: royal blue coats and facings/cuffs the same as their regiment
- German ('Hessian') Musicians: same as their regiment
- Loyalist Musicians: (if uniformed) some reversed others the same as regiment**
- American Continental Musicians*: reversed coats unless they don't**
- American Militia*: um... lucky to have uniforms, wing it or research

* early on British uniforms were used, especially for officers and musicians, so would be red with whatever facing/cuff colour they could nick, er borrow, er commandeer, or reversed coats for the musicians if they could get them.
** more likely to be uniformly dressed and better uniformed to the standard of the day (reversed coats) in the later part of the war

Hessian Musicians: drummer's coat the same as the rest of the regiment - not reversed.

Although sometimes the musicians of American units were dressed in a unique way specific to the regiment - which only research will confirm.

Hessian Musicians: Jager drummer's coat the same as the rest of the regiment - not reversed.

French: In 1779 the French adopted a new uniform standard and stopped facing their coats as above and instead edged the 'facing' areas, referred to as edging/piping or as facings edged with or piped with, to produce facings of the same colour as the coat but with piping of the regimental colour, just to confuse things further. Good luck picking the piping out on 15mm or 20mm figuures!

Militia: didn't have uniforms and wore frilly pink tutus into battle... no, not really, they wore their normal clothes, although their officers and musicians often wore a uniform of some description, and its not unfeasible that some, most, or a few of a militia's soldiers had uniforms of some description.

Campaign dress: individual regiments may adopt different dress on a given day/campaign which could include cut down coats as with the British light infantry, or hunting shirts as with many American regiments.

Cavalry: individual regiments and squadrons could be dressed differently, some to no particular standard, others to strict regimental standards like the British Light Dragoons and Lauzun's Legion Hussars; or to a standard somewhere in between.

Reversed Coats: a shot from behind of American Continentals and musicians with reversed coats, note the white turnbacks for soldiers and musicians.

ABC: Gaters, Stockings, and 3/4 Length Trousers
The common trouser of the day was a 3/4 length trou that ended just past the knee (red circle below). To cover the lower leg, below where the trou ended, gaiters were worn to prevent a soldier's stockings (yes stockings) from becoming splattered with mud.

There were two common types of gaiters which we shall call long and short. The short gaiter (yellow circle above) ended just above the ankle and the long gaiter ended just above the knee. Gaiters could be either white (blue circle below), black (white circle below), or leather coloured. Gaiters were made from leather or cloth. There were also medium length gaiters that ended just above the calf.

Out of interest the gaiter was also called a splatterdash - as in 'damn your splatterdashes man, get your regiment up that hill!'

Just to provide more confusion for this area, long trousers and overalls were worn and also became common as the period progressed.

ABC: Hats, Caps, Helmets, and Powdered Wigs
In brief - as this is one area where only research will confirm what regiment wore a certain type of headgear - the most common headgear for the period was a broad-brimmed hat with the brim angled up three times and often laced with white, gold or black lace, also called a Tricorn. Another common derivation of this hat was a broad-brimmed hat with only one side cocked up and often festooned with bearskin or feathers.

Cocked hats or Tricorns.

Other common headgear of the period included leather caps of varying description and fashion, some with plumes and in some cases adorned with a metal frontplate.

Hessian grenadiers wearing caps with a high faced metal frontplate.

Caps were favoured by grenadiers, light infantry and cavalry, with some grenadiers also sporting a bearskin cover - see pictures of British drummers above for an example of this, although later in the period, as their uniform became more regular, some American Continental regiments were also issued caps of varying description.

Caps were worn by many light infantry units and could be adorned with plumes of varying description.

For completeness, Lauzun's Legion Hussars wore the very discreet Mirliton hat - which towered several meters into the air and was made of cheese.. no, not really, but it did stand over a foot tall. Some light cavalry even wore helmets fashioned on the Roman/Greek style but mostly made of leather.

It seems that everyone wore a wig as well - must have taken them ages to get ready in the morning - fashioned from human and horse hair, tied back in a ponytail.

Wigs, I paint all of mine white, although this is not seemingly the case for all wigs - I am basically a lazy person.

As every figure of the period seems to be modelled with a wig and it was the standard of fashion of the day, required in standing orders, its fair to consider it a mandatory part of the uniform - especially as I have read that soldiers could be flogged for showing up to muster without one (ref: Redcoats by Richard Holmes).

The international uniform standard for artillery of the period was blue coats with red facings and cuffs as described above; with wastecoats and trousers of varying colours - mostly blue or white.

No, I don't know why this standard was adopted by all nations, but this was the norm for all nations with the occasional exception by the Americans - which only research will confirm.

Varying headgear was worn including tricorns, caps, and the pokalem - which is not a fast formal dance but a type of forage cap worn by the French.

And for clarity, even the British adopted this standard so their artillerymen did not wear red coats.

In Summary

That's a fairly basic but comprehensive introduction to the uniforms of the day. As you can see though, every area of the uniform has exceptions and no hard and fast rule of thumb, and because there are so many exceptions to the uniforms of the period, you can't do without good sources for this period.

Uniform Sources

These are the sources I use to get the uniforms 'rightish' or 'not completely wrong'.

Black Powder: Rebellion! AWI Supplement

Left: My well thumbed copy of the AWI supplement for the Black Powder war game.

Even if you don't play Warlord Games' Black Powder, this is the most comprehensive uniform guide I have come across in terms of information that is in one place. There are over 40 pages concisely dedicated to the forces and their uniforms, presented as text, tables, and excellent 28mm eye candy of Perry Miniatures figures. For each nationality the table information is one of the most valuable contemporary sources around today, listing the regiments and their: uniforms, coat types, facing, cuffs, and turnback colours, for pretty much every unit that fought in the war.

For those that don't play black powder this supplement is still a good investment as apart from the comprehensive uniform guide it also has: an overview of the entire period, weapons and tactics, and commanders, and 19 scenarios based on historic actions from the period that could be modified for any rule set.

This is my most highly recommended uniform source for the AWI period.

Osprey Books
My collection of campaign references from Osprey Publishing.

Obviously the content of these books provides excellent information on the major campaigns but they also provide the legendary colour plates of the forces that fought in the conflict, providing an accurate visual reference.

Uniforms of The American Revolution: a great and free internet source with a fairly comprehensive collection of contemporary artwork regarding the uniforms of the period.

Baccus 6mm Figures: uniform pages for the AWI come up when doing the Goolge searches below, although I can't navigate to the actual pages using their site, so use the Google 'Visit page' link in an image search to actually get to the pages. Just click on the thumbs and choose 'Visit Page'.


Baccus thumbs look like the above on Google searches.

Google Images and PinInterest: seriously, just type in 'AWI' 'insertnationalityhere' and 'uniform' and - guided by other sources -  get inspired by the visual results.

Awwwwwwww! Puss came to play while I was snapping the uniform shots.

In summary there weren't many rules of thumb for the uniforms of this period without equally as many exceptions. This is both the hardest thing about this period if you're worried about accuracy and also one of its strong points because it results in a wargames table full of colour and different units.

But don't let it put you off, even just browsing the internet would give you the information you need to start an army. There are even some shortcuts for painting figures to a reasonable standard.


  1. Wow. Like, wow. That's some detailed...stuff...right there. :-)