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Personal logo StoneMtnMinis Supporting Member of TMP06 Dec 2018 6:58 a.m. PST

..did the officers commanding British and American light infantry carry. Muskets and swords? Swords only?

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP06 Dec 2018 7:10 a.m. PST

I believe that LI officers carried fusils. Light muskets.

NBATemplate06 Dec 2018 7:17 a.m. PST

Yes, it seems that British LI officers usually carried fusils and bayonets only. Swords were a useless encumbrance! They also made officers too easy to identify and target.

This was also true of British grenadier officers and even many battalion company officers from relatively early in the war.

Personal logo StoneMtnMinis Supporting Member of TMP06 Dec 2018 7:26 a.m. PST

Thanks, that was what I thought, but couldn't quickly locate a firm answer.

Andrew Walters06 Dec 2018 8:06 a.m. PST

There was a lot of variation.

I am currently enjoying "Special Operations in the American Revolution"
by Robert L. Tonsetic which has lots of descriptions of small actions. In these cases officers up to Lt Col are carrying muskets, and there are swords as well. Of course, a lot of these are "Ranger" units and atypical British units. Maybe there was more uniformity in the line troops.

42flanker06 Dec 2018 9:10 a.m. PST

Here is a link to a TMP thread that includes a rather dim image of a rather nice portrait depicting Lieutenant James Stewart of the 42nd RHR light company circa 1778-81, shown in off-duty dress but with his fusil.

TMP link

historygamer07 Dec 2018 1:28 p.m. PST

According to Saratoga National Battlefield Park Historian, Light Infantry officers only carried a sword. Hat company and grenadine officers, along with some field officers, carried fusils.

Eric has said there was a big debate at this time what officers should be carrying, only resolved in the 1790s when all just carried swords.

Bill N07 Dec 2018 6:53 p.m. PST

According to Troiani, officers of the grenadier and light infantry companies were authorized to carry fusils before the authority was granted to officers of hat companies. Another source I saw said grenadier officers got the authorization first, then officers of light and fusilier companies and finally officers of hat companies. The Royal warrant of 1768 quoted in Lefferts has grenadier officers armed with fusils which is consistent with the above. Lefferts also says regarding the 40th regiment "officers and sergeants carried fusils and pouches". In 1771 the additional weapons authorized for the newly raised light infantry company of the 29th foot included fusils for sergeants. Then there are the period portraits showing light infantry officers with either fusils or muskets. I am not saying it is definitive that light infantry officers did carry fusils at times during the AWI, but there is evidence for it.

One mistake I made was to give a fusil to an officer who didn't have the appropriate belts. Depending on the regiment the officer should have a shoulder belt and waist belt or two shoulder belts if he is carrying a firearm. My bad.

Burgoyne was not a fan of officers carrying firearms from what I have read. He felt the temptation to use them distracted officers from performing their primary functions. He may have been less willing than Howe to allow officers carrying fusils.

Brechtel19808 Dec 2018 3:19 a.m. PST

Continental infantry officers, both line and light, carried a spontoon by Washington's direction. Washington believed that if infantry officers carried a firearm they would be more concentrating of firing than leading and commanding. They could, however, adequately defend themselves in close order combat with a sturdy polearm.

Brechtel19808 Dec 2018 3:20 a.m. PST

Continental infantry officers, both line and light, carried a spontoon by Washington's direction. Washington believed that if infantry officers carried a firearm they would be more concentrating of firing than leading and commanding.

Bill N08 Dec 2018 11:14 a.m. PST

One correction. It was supposed to say officers and sergeants of the 40th's light company.

historygamer08 Dec 2018 3:47 p.m. PST

Eric also stated it would not be correct for an officer to be carrying a pouch, as the fusil was more for personal protection. I don't think there were any dogmatic rules about this sort of thing as there were no regulations. Most officers likely owned a fusil. It is unclear if it was theirs or provided by the regiment.

historygamer08 Dec 2018 3:49 p.m. PST

As someone who has carried a spontoon at events when doing American, I'd be hard pressed to think of a more useless combat implement.

42flanker08 Dec 2018 4:01 p.m. PST

"it would not be correct for an officer to be carrying a pouch.'

I doubt a fusil would not provide much protection if the officer wasn't carrying any ammunition.

historygamer08 Dec 2018 9:22 p.m. PST

Again, according to NPS historian, the fusil was meant for self defense with perhaps a few cartridges on his person for reload. The officer was not supposed to be shooting. And again, the thought is Light officers did not generally carry a fusil, just a sword which is what the entire army supposedly move to post-war. I will provide artwork later tomorrow that he used to support his assertion.

historygamer08 Dec 2018 9:26 p.m. PST

On another note, two major historians are working on a book specifically on the Saratoga campaign which might address some of this topic about that particular army. The artwork will be Howe specific per Philly campaign.

42flanker09 Dec 2018 1:32 a.m. PST

In the interim, I thought it would be interesting to see three images of officers, two with firelock and fixed bayonet in hand, each with a strap over their left shoulder presumably supporting an ammunition pouch, albeit out of sight in each case..

Captain West, 4th Regiment grenadier coy, Philadelphia 1777.


Lieutenant and Captain Thomas Dowdeswell, 1st Foot Guards, c. 1778


A Lieutenant of the 4th Regiment, c.1776-1780.


Brechtel19809 Dec 2018 2:36 p.m. PST

As someone who has carried a spontoon at events when doing American, I'd be hard pressed to think of a more useless combat implement.

How much actual close combat have you engaged in with it? Seems to me the Continental infantry officers did quite well with it.

It was also a badge of rank.

historygamer09 Dec 2018 8:04 p.m. PST

Sorry, still slammed, but let me throw a few things out there:


Hopefully this comes through. Shows a the 2nd Battalion Lights at Germantown, being led by a Light officer who is only armed with a sword. The subject was Lights. As I said, one can't be too dogmatic about this stuff.

Which is a close up of this painting, which shows regulars being led into a house by a field officer who is directing them into the house with a walking stick.


Note the artwork that 42nd posted show the officers pantaloons, not overalls. I'm not sure what all that shows as the leather gear is black, usually only worn by Lights and Highlanders. Hard to say if they are their weapons or they have picked up the arms of wounded soldiers. 42nd – you are often one to question art work I have posted. Point being, I could do the same about this as well. It is crude, and raises more questions than it answers in some cases.

Obviously the portrait of the IV regiment officer is a center company. Leather gear is white, only one shoulder epaulet on the right. My comment, or quote, was from Eric. I am a bit skeptical myself. The first rule of this stuff is, there are no rules.

Most/all British army officers owned, or were issued fusils – it is unclear which was the case. See De Witt Bailey's book on that subject. They were not numbered, and it does not appear they were issued a stand of arms like the enlisted men.

Spontoons – the British Army thought so much of them they ditched them in two consecutive wars – Rev War and F&I, then ditched them altogether after that. The British army seems equally conflicted on officers carrying fusils. See the Clinton papers when he criticizes a senior officer stopping to fire his fusil while neglecting his brigade.

I have seen the Dowdeswell painting many times, including in person, likely closer than any here has seen it. It is interesting, to say the least. Since the Guards had to create Light infantry and Grenadiers, it is hard to make too much of it one way or the other. It is a great painting though.

To Brecthel – can you cite me one incident of a Continental Officer using a spontoon in combat? I find them unwieldy, and apparently I share the same opinion as the British army of the time period since they put them in storage. I think Brunwell did an excellent job of describing how Washington made the American Continentals an image of the British than the British. Since the Americans always seemed short of weapons, and carrying an enlisted man's musket would be beneath an officer, carrying a spontoon perhaps was a stop-gap solution. That said, they are heavy and awkward – at least in my experience. Perhaps you can tell me how you felt carrying one for a weekend. :-)

historygamer09 Dec 2018 8:06 p.m. PST

One thing the portraits posted do show are officers wearing their gorgets and sashes – something that was questioned in an earlier thread.

Bill N09 Dec 2018 8:30 p.m. PST

The website "Finding the Marland 400" includes an account of one officer caught literally in hand to hand combat at Camden using his Spontoon to pin his British opponent to the ground.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP09 Dec 2018 9:30 p.m. PST

I am just thinking out loud and with nothing to back this up with. As the war went on didn't officers carry just about anything they wanted? At least that is how I approach my figure selection. I have quite a few of my Continental and militia officers with muskets. Some of my British officers carry muskets.

42flanker09 Dec 2018 11:38 p.m. PST

hg, my intention in posting the images above was, as perhaps I failed to explain adequately, in relation to the question of how an officer might be carrying ammunition for his fusil (and ergo how much), rather than whether a fusil was or was not carried per se.

As for questioning artwork you have posted, hg, I am not quite sure what you're saying there but as far as I am concerned all art work should be interrogated regularly to prevent interpretations becoming fixed assumptions. This is never more true than in the case of della Gatta's Paoli and Germantown paintings, given that they sit at the heart of contemporary understanding of how British infantry may have looked in the field (even if only in the autumn of 1777).

The della Gatta works and the 'My triumphant entry into Philadelphia' cartoon would seem to be related, given that both are associated with the same officer, Lieutenant St George of the 52nd, and so are all at least based on one man's first hand observation.

Captain West is not carrying a weapon (perhaps the firelock on the ground at his feet is meant to be his) but the most likely interpretation of the black strap hanging from his left shoulder must be that it is an ammunition pouch. The fact that as a grenadier officer he is wearing black accoutrements doesn't affect that analysis. (The one LI officer visible in the della Gatta G'town painting appears to have a white sword belt!)

It is worth noting that the soldier in the foreground, apparently St George's servant following the waggon, would seem to be carrying his officer's hat and firelock. Now, St George was a light infantry officer.

It is interesting however that the infantry officers in both della Gatta's paintings (Paoli & G'town), whether in 2nd LI or line coys of the 40th, are all depicted wearing swordbelts (and swords) only.

That includes the three officers of the 40th at the Chew House who are shown carrying firelocks.

historygamer10 Dec 2018 6:50 a.m. PST


My point on artwork is that in the past I have posted stuff and you have sometimes been rather dismissive of it if it didn't support your own thoughts on the subject. That's all I was saying. Yes, I agree, we should view such stuff with a jaundice eyed approach. That said, much of the artwork we have both posted raises as many questions as it answers.

My own personal belief on much of this is that there were no rules, even when there were rules. Uniforms and what people did changed throughout the war, and from army to army. I personally don't like making dogmatic statements (not saying you are) that all officers did this or that. I do believe we can make some generalizations at times.

Now, back to the artwork.

In the della Gatta painting – hard to tell what the color of the LI Officer's belt is (did the artist paint it so as to show reflecting sunlight?). Might be white, might be black. Either way it is a single belt, no cartridge pouch strap or firearm in his hand. Agreed about all the other offices as pictured.

To the St. George artwork – many contradictions in it, including the black leather straps worn by what are supposed to be grenadiers. Also, the servant is wearing pantaloons, usually only associated with officers of the period, not enlisted men. The servant might also be carrying his own musket, not the fusil of his officer.

Some other thoughts raised by all the artwork – did officers wear a double frog that could carry both a bayonet for their fusils and their sword? Did they have carriages for both? Was the sword useful or cumbersome at that point, if carrying a bayonet for the fusil?

De Witt Bailey seems as perplexed as the rest of us on many of the details of fusils and officers – were they issued, were they privately owned, etc.? If issued, did they come with a pouch and bayonet (and sling)? No records on the subject have been found yet. Interestingly, the inventory of Brigadier General Henry Bouquet lists both a fusil and rifle in his personal inventory. No bayonet, sling, or pouch are listed. I suspect a fusil was a personal belonging of an officer of the period, whether purchased through the regiment, or somehow acquired on their own. Knox's Journals details how British officers were issued French fusils after the capture of Louisbourg.

Let me look at some more sources on the subject later.

Bill N – good find, but one instance hardly confirms that spontoons were a good thing to have. Not having read the quote, I wonder if he knocked his opponent to the ground, or was he already there? My own take is that if I were a serving officer of the time period, I'd prefer carrying a lighter fusil with a bayonet over a pole arm. Apparently the British Army agreed with that idea. I say that with all due respect to his Excellency, General Washington. :-)

Brechtel19810 Dec 2018 10:47 a.m. PST

To Brecthel can you cite me one incident of a Continental Officer using a spontoon in combat?

Bill N gave you one example and that is what you asked for, was it not? One example?

As you appear to want some more, here are two:

At Cowpens in 1781 Captain Anderson used his spontoon by putting it into the ground in order to leap upon a British field piece to capture it.

At Yorktown in October 1781 Captain Stephen Olney of the Rhode Island Regiment fought with his against used his spontoon to defend himself against British bayonet and musket armed British infantrymen during the assault on Redoubt Number 10.

So, that's now three examples of the use of spontoons, also called half-pikes, by Continental infantry officers.

In 1778 a general council of Continental brigade commanders recommended that spontoons be standardized…'the Quartermaster General be directed to cause spontoons or pikes made for the officers, the staff six feet long and one inch and one quarter diameter in the largest part, and that the iron part to be one foot long.'

Washington approved the recommendation and ordered it put into effect immediately. (General Orders, Valley Forge, 18 January 1778).

'Unlike the British, the Americans did not abandon their spontoons during the Revolution…Washington was a firm believer in the use of pole arms, as were Wayne and many others. Thus, throughout the war one finds frequent general orders to the effect that all platoon officers who did not have spontoons were to apply to the quartermaster immediately, and that no such officer or any other officer who was performing his duties on foot was to appear with his men without being so armed.' (The Book of the Continental Soldier by Harold Peterson, 99).

'As the arming of officers would add considerable strength to the Army, and the officers themselves derive great confidence from being armed in the time of action, the General orders every one of them to provide himself with a half-pike or spear as soon as possible-firearms, when made use of, withdrawing their attention too much from their men, and to be without either, has a very awkward and unofficer-like appearance.'-George Washington, General Orders, Valley Forge, 22 December 1777.

Brechtel19810 Dec 2018 10:50 a.m. PST

I have quite a few of my Continental and militia officers with muskets.

I don't believe that Washington's General Orders, or the practice of Continental infantry officers being armed with spontoons applies to the militia.

And at the beginning of the war up to Valley Forge and the advent of von Steuben, Continental infantry officers were sometimes armed with muskets.

42flanker10 Dec 2018 10:54 a.m. PST

"I have posted stuff and you have sometimes been rather dismissive of it if it didn't support your own thoughts"

-you might have been mistaking dismissive for a difference of opinion.

"hard to tell what the color of the LI Officer's belt is (did the artist paint it so as to show reflecting sunlight?)"

A curious detail, but wouldn't that indicate that black accoutrements for LI served no purpose?

" the black leather straps worn by what are supposed to be grenadiers.."

There are a number of explanations for the anomalous black strap on the grenadier, (just the one- and an officer) allowing for what was observed, what was remembered, and the fact that the artist had recently been shot in the head, but remained an eyewitness nonetheless.

"The servant might also be carrying his own musket, not the fusil of his officer."

The soldier in question is carrying two firearms; one at the trail and one on his shoulder.

As for differences in trousers, pantaloons etc, in another St George cartoon, a soldier attending St George is depicted wearing simple trousers over what appear to be short black gaiters, in Peninsula fashion.

If we accept that the cartoons and della Gatta's depictions both have St George as a source, then any apparent contradictions have to be taken on their own merits and might indicate a lack of uniformity on the ground.


I believe that in general officers were expected to clothe and equip themselves entirely at their own expense which would have included any firearm- be it regulation or non-regulation- and there is no reason to think they wouldnt be expected to provide their own ammunition pouches, too. This would be particularly so if official sanction for officers arming themselves in the field had not been given.

Perhaps, however, they could obtain a pouch and belt from the quarter-master, an item for which they would be answerable, especially should their own prove unservicable, be lost or damaged.

Sets of accoutrements in portraits tend to be matching and have the appearance of regulation sets. Then again, we have to allow for circumstances in the artist's studio when the sitter was back in Britain and far from the seat of war. It may be that not every detail in a portrait accurately depicted circumstances back in America.

Here is another well known portrait of an LI officer of the 10th Regt. in smart regimentals, with black equipment, and holding a firearm with fixed bayonet. He evidently has a pouch for ammunition on his right hip.

Were the lighter fusils able to accomodate the regulation bayonet? Did officers have to provide their own or would they obtain those from QM stores? Presumably this is one of the unknown factors.

In yet another St George cartoon,'Myself Conversing with Rebel Prisoners according to the Rules of Chivalry,' St George only has a dirk-like bayonet inserted in the frog on his left hip


historygamer13 Dec 2018 7:10 a.m. PST

42nd please forgive me if I read "tone" into your past replies. The internet can be tricky that way. :-)

I would tend to agree that a firearm without a resupply of ammunition isn't of much value. That said, it was not the officer's job to engage and fire his weapon in the field not that such behavior didn't happen at times.

De Witt Bailey seems unsure of how officers fusils were handled private purchase or supplied by the regiment, as apparently not many records have been found on the subject one way or the other. I suspect, like all other regimental things, there might have been a pattern weapon for each unit. There are also examples of when officers exchanged or sold out their commission, of selling their entire kit to the new guy meaning, such stuff could have turned over within the unit too.

Sorry, I missed the other firearm that man is carrying, as it blended into the background. He appears to be using it as a prop for his wounded arm. Hard to say what the weapons are representing, but not unreasonable to assume one is an officer's firearm. I'm not aware of any other artwork supporting enlisted men in pantaloons, and that may or may not be a mistake by the artist. We do know that Howe's army went into overalls in 1776, and continued that trend into 1777.

In regards to bayonets on fusils, most portraits show them to be smaller than those carried on the King's arm (First or Second Land pattern). In order to stay on a fusil, the firearm would require the "sight" that it attaches to (rectangular shaped), and the bayonet would have to fit the bore of the firearm usually in the .62 or .65 caliber range otherwise it would just fall off the barrel.

" …but wouldn't that indicate that black accoutrements for LI served no purpose"

I'm not sure what you mean by this, as I was not aware the black leather served any purpose other than to be a different color than the hats and grens. I believe that black leather gear was associated with troops performing light infantry duties including the Highlanders. Highland black leather is well documented in the Morier painting of the 42nd Highlanders during the 1750s. I'd have to look to see what British Lights in the F&I period had, but that was only temporary and likely had a lot of variation.

Note to the Light officer portrait shows the Lights wore the smaller regimental buttons on their coat as well as their waistcoat. Kind of unique different there as well.

Brechtel198 I never doubted that the American officers carried spontoons, I simply questioned their efficiency over a good firearm with a bayonet. I have carried one at times (most recently during the filming of the new visitor center movie for Valley Forge), and while they are handy to lean on, I simply question their value as a weapon pole vaulting aside. :-)

42flanker13 Dec 2018 7:45 a.m. PST

Hg- all good.

Until the post-WW2 period when the SLR was carried by platoon cmdrs as a matter of course, I believe the standard policy was that the principal role of infantry officers was to command rather than engage the enemy.

I don't think we can read too much into the specifics of the firelocks as depicted by St George which I suspect are generic in form. As for the trousers tucked into gaiters, it is possible that the soldier servant was aping his officer, . I seem to recall reading something of the sort in either Stephen Gilbert's articles on della Gata or one of McGuire's books on the Philadelphia campaign. It seems unlikely St George would have gone to the trouble of drawing in that detail on his own servant if it hadn't been the case.

Re bayonets specific to the lighter fusil, roger that.

My assumption was that black acccoutrements were chosen for LI as being less conspicuous as well as requiring less maintenance than white, suitable for men operaating in the vanguard or on the flanks of the army. The latter quality would also have been more suitable for Highland troops spending time out 'watching the braes' (but also contributing to the shadowy image of the freiceadan dubh).

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