British Light Infantry 1758-1783

Gorham’s Ranger

The Seven Years War (1756-1763) was the first global conflict; driven by the hostility between Prussia and Austria, which expanded to include all of Europe, and the struggle between Britain and France for overseas supremacy. On the American continent France (who controlled the Canadian Colonies) and their American Indian Allies were fighting Britain and their American Colonies in ‘The French Indian War’. It was in this arena that the Corp of Light Infantry was formed.

In order to deal with the terrain and style of warfare in North America (John Knox described his regulars as ‘no match for the rabble in the woods’) various Ranger companies were raised. These were formed from Americans (picture shows a Gorham’s Ranger) to act as reconnaissance scouts and for skirmishing but their information proved to be unreliable and General James Wolfe famously called them “the worst soldiers in the universe”.

The British decided that the only way to gain reliable information was to form their own ranging company to be known as the Corp of Light Infantry. These would be chosen for their specialist skills – as recounted in the journals of Captain John Knox:

British-Light-Infantry

“A body of Light Infantry from different corps to act as irregulars; the regiment that have been at any time in America are to furnish such as to have been most accustomed to the woods and are good marksmen and those from Europe are to furnish native marchers and men that are expert at firing ball and all in general must be alert spirited soldiers able to endure fatigue” – Historical Journal of the Campaigns of 1757, 1758, 1759 and 1760 by Captain John Knox

UNIFORM
The uniforms we use for the British Infantry (1758) are based on a contemporary account (reproduced below).

“The Following order for the dress of the light infantry, as approved by his Excellency General Amhurst; Major-General Wolfe desires the same may be exactly conformed to by the light troops under his command; the sleeves of the coat are put on the waistcoat, and instead of coat sleeves he has two wings like the Grenadiers, but fuller; and a round slope reaching about half-way down his arm; which makes his coat of no encumberance to him, but can be slipt off with pleasure; he has no lace, but lapels remain; besides the usual pockets, he has two not quite so high as his brest, made of leather, for ball and flints; and a flap of red cloth on the inside, which secures the ball from rolling out, if he should fall. His knapsack is carried very high between his shoulders and is fastened with a strap of web over his shoulder, as the Indians carry their pack. His cartouch box hangs under his arm on the left side, slung with a leathern strap; and his horn under the other arm on the right, hanging by a narrower web than that used for his knapsack; his canteen down his back, under his knapsack, and covered with cloth, he has a rough case for his tomahawk with a button, and it hangs in a leathern sling down his side, like a hanger, between his coat and waistcoat, no bayonet, his leggings have leathern straps under his shoes, like spatterdashes; his hat is made into a cap with a flap and a button and with as much black cloth added as will come under his chin and keep him warm when he lies down; it hoops in the front and is made like the old velvet caps in England.”

“Chosen of the most active and resolute from all the battalions of regulars, dressed some in Blue, some in green jackets and drawers for easier brushing through woods with ruffs of black Bearskin round their necks. The beard of their upper lips, some grown into whiskers, others not so.”

An Authentic Account of the Reduction of Louisbourg, 1758

N.B. Bearskin was also a type of wool.
 
Private’s Uniform
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As you can see from the pictures we have taken a standard regimental battalion coat and stripped it of all its regimental lace. Removed the arms and cut off the tails of the coat to approx the same length as the waistcoat.

From the tails we removed the yellow serge lining (that will come in handy for something else!) and cut two large crescent shapes from the red (enough to go midway down our arm) and sewed them onto the ‘armless’ regimental coat. Spare material was used to cover the water canteen.

Leather pockets have been added to the chest for spare musket balls with red cloth flaps sewn on to stop them falling out.

The waistcoat has the arms sewn onto it to make a short jacket and breeches are standard issue.

Regimental gaiters are replaced with Native Indian pull-on leggings (much easier than buttoning up what seems like hundreds (okay so it’s only 40 on each really) small horn buttons. Standard regimental buckled shoes are worn…although Indian Moggosan or slippers (Moccasins) may also have been worn.

colour

We have represented the fact that the Light Corps were selected from different regiments by having different facings on our jackets the yellow of the 28th, green of the 45th, blue of the 1st, and white of the 47th.
 
 
 

An Officer of the Light Corps

OfficerThis officer has chosen a private’s ‘ammunition’[1] coat and breeches rather than cut up his fine scarlet coat[2]. He has divested himself of all badges of rank (in order to make himself less of a target) but still wears his officers sash around his body and has dropped his outer ‘winged coat’ due to the hot weather. He is carrying the ‘artillery’ pattern (shorter) Firelock musket, his backpack is carried high on his back between his shoulders with the cartridge box on his left. His officers sword has been replaced by a tomahawk axe. He still prefers his comfortable hand-made boots rather than the Indian leggings. His cocked hat with fine silver lace is gone and replaced by a felt hat cut down to nothing but a cap and peak but with enough black wool cloth sewn on to cover his neck and when buttoned under his chin cover his ears. His long hair which would normally be clubbed and cued has been cut short.

[1] Ammunition – used to describe anything that was government issue such as ammunition shoes; ammunition bread etc

[2] Officers had ‘scarlet’ coats (of a finer quality), lower ranks were clothed in ‘red’ broadcloth

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