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"Burgoyne's Regulars with Backpacks?" Topic

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18th Century

569 hits since 21 Feb 2019
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Durban Gamer21 Feb 2019 4:30 a.m. PST

I am going to do some conversions to produce 3 units of Burgoyne's British regular line infantry in 15mm. They are intended only for gaming the larger actions of the Burgoyne expedition, such as Freeman's Farm and Bemis Heights. So they will have the unusual headgear for that expedition.

My question is, should I depict them wearing backpacks?
I note that Don Troiani's painting of Freeman's Farm shows the 21st Fusiliers without backpacks.
Opinions would be appreciated – would Burgoyne's line regulars have fought mainly with or without backpacks?

historygamer Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2019 5:40 a.m. PST

Going into combat, it was SOP to drop packs and other unnecessary encumbrances (which could include canteen, haversack, blanket roll, etc.)

There is much debate within the current British re-enacting community about what packs looked like at the time too. Evidently, as the war progressed, and many were lost (often times the soldiers never returned to their pile of packs), replacements were made in North America, likely of canvas/linen instead of the likely original goat skin packs.

jurgenation Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2019 7:01 a.m. PST

.No packs,

Virginia Tory21 Feb 2019 7:09 a.m. PST

I hate those goatskin packs… rolled blankets on a tump line were used as well.

Durban Gamer21 Feb 2019 7:59 a.m. PST

Thanks everyone- no packs it shall be. And less work for me on the conversion!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2019 8:02 a.m. PST

I think historygamer's "it was SOP" overstates the matter a bit. Yes, it's a joy to shed the weight, but remember the first two attacks at Bunker Hill are made with backpacks, and only the third without--and that was within sight of their base and very confident (starting out) of victory.

Especially given Burgoyne's iffy logistics, you'd hate to have to tell the men to leave items they couldn't replace.

I notice no one's cited an eyewitness as saying "the Loamshires lost their backpacks, stacked at Freeman's Farm" or "the West Yorkshire Fusiliers staggered up still carrying their backpacks." I think if you were clearly wrong one way or the other, you'd know by now.

Old Contemptibles Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2019 8:26 a.m. PST

No packs.

historygamer Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2019 8:39 a.m. PST

The ditching of packs during the Saratoga campaign is covered in this book, by the park Historian:


Robert – you make a good point per Bunker Hill. I'd have to see who made those statements as it seems dumb to have worn them going into battle, but it was a green army largely led by green (junior) officers.

I have seen first hand accounts of packs lost on the battlefield due to all taking them off in the field.

Artwork from the period gives a bewildering array of what they might have carried at different times, including the Germans.

22ndFoot21 Feb 2019 8:57 a.m. PST

Spring in With Zeal and Bayonets Only, notes (at page 149):

"…one Quaker lad, who had watched Cornwallis's division make its attack at Brandywine later recorded that the fields in front of him had contained great heaps of blankets and gear, thrown together to relieve the King's troops for action. Likewise, Captain Lieutenant John Peebles of the 42nd Regiment recorded that at Monmouth the battalions of the Third Brigade cast off their knapsacks before engaging. And at Princeton, according to one local witness, "A party of them [i.e. redcoats from the Fourth Brigade] came to our field and laid down their packs there and formed at the corner of our garden about 60 yards from the door and then marched away immediately to the field of battle." Possibly this was the same gear mentioned by one anonymous rebel sergeant who recalled that, after the first clash between the 17th Regiment and Washington's advanced guard, the redcoats "retreated eight rods to their packs, which were laid in line." According to the aforementioned local witness, when the troops of Cornwallis's main force arrived on the scene too late to succour the Fourth Brigade, they "began to plunder their fellow soldiers' packs, taking out what they pleased and leaving the rest in the dirt."

So, although not with Burgoyne, we have a clear indication that British troops did lay down their packs and did, sometimes, lose them or their contents. Whether this amounts to an SOP is open to debate (one might check for orders issued by either Howe or Burgoyne) but, clearly, the army in 1777 and thereafter was a very different animal to the army at Breed's Hill and relied very heavily on fast, shock action that would be aided by not carrying unnecessary gear. Also, and I can't lay my hands on it now, I have read that British regiments might detail soldiers to guard the regiment's knapsacks as it went into action.

I would suggest that you would not be far wrong to portray your troops in action without their heavy kit but either way you wouldn't be wrong.

Source: Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, Vol. 17 (1919) contains several entires such as this:

"WRIGHT, SOLOMON. (Northampton, Mass.) Lost knapsack, blankets and clothing in the battles of Saratoga. His company was almost surrounded by the enemy and compelled to retreat hurriedly."

historygamer Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2019 12:41 p.m. PST

Not everything had an official order behind it either. Some things are just what they did. Unfortunately, for those of us living in 2019, we often look for official evidence, records, orders, etc., and come away sorely disappointed.

Your troops, you can do as you please. No one will call you wrong. Many figures already come cast one way or the other anyway.

Winston Smith21 Feb 2019 12:43 p.m. PST

If you automatically assume that the Yankees will automatically run from a bayonet charge, why drop your packs? It's not like you're actually going to use your bayonets, is it?
Bayonet charges were just a sharp walk in formation with fixed and leveled bayonets. Yankees will run. I guarantee it! grin

Having said that, I hate painting packs and the extra straps involved. Too much work.

22ndFoot21 Feb 2019 1:40 p.m. PST

Indeed, not everything has an official order behind it but plenty do and many things must have been orderd but we no longer have copies. It's worth taking a look. Collective actions must have had a degree of official sanction and the colonel's preference and permission. The use of knapsacks, or not using knapsacks, was clearly a matter that exercised senior officers, for example:

Guards Brigade Orders August 19th, 1776:

"When the Brigade disembarks two Gils of Rum to be delivered for each mans Canteen which must be filled with Water, Each Man to disembark with a Blanket & Haversack in which he is to carry one Shirt one pair of Socks and Three Days Provisions a careful Man to be left on board each Ship to take care of the Knapsacks. The Articles of War to be read to the Men by an Officer of each Ship."

General Orders 20 August 1776:

"When the Troops land they are to carry nothing with them but their Arms, Ammunition, Blankets, & three Days provisions."

Brigade Orders 24 August 1776 (84th Regiment order book):

"the Commanding offrs of Battns may send their Knapsacks on board of Ships again if they find any ill Conveniency of them."

Guards Brigade Orders 11 March 1777:

"The Waistbelts to Carry the Bayonet & to be wore across the Shoulder. The Captains are desired to provide Webbing for Carrying the Mens Blankets according to a pattern to be Seen at the Cantonment of Lt. Colo. Sr. J. Wrottesleys Company. The Serjeants to Observe how they are Sewed."

So, the Guards at least didn't carry their knapsacks in New York in 1776 or in the 1777 campaign and it would appear that no British troops did on landing on Long Island in 1776. Of course none of these refer to Burgoyne's campaign but, as has been said, you won't go far wrong if you use the figures you have as sculpted.

23rdFusilier Supporting Member of TMP21 Feb 2019 3:02 p.m. PST

"Yes, it's a joy to shed the weight, but remember the first two attacks at Bunker Hill are made with backpacks, and only the third without--and that was within sight of their base and very confident (starting out) of victory."

The British at Bunker were not wearing back packs. Orders from General William Howe's orderly book for the day states the soldiers would parade:

"…with their Arms, Ammunition, Blankets, and Provisions ordered to be cooked this morning; they will March by files to the long warf."

Similar to the orders quoted above.

Durban Gamer22 Feb 2019 4:44 a.m. PST

The further thoughtful and learned input which nuances the picture is appreciated. The overall view that backpacks were often dropped off, but could sometimes be kept, makes it easy to make good use of all the castings we have! I had previously done Burgoyne's 24th foot in backpacks (laboriously made from green stuff). But the remaining two regular line units will be done without!

historygamer Supporting Member of TMP22 Feb 2019 10:56 a.m. PST

My computer and internet connection are acting up, but if you google images for Kip's Bay Landing, you'll see some rather interesting images by an eyewitness (American) of some sort of packs being carried by the Brits (Guards?) when still in boats. It is also interesting to note the hats on the artillerymen as well.

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP23 Feb 2019 4:43 a.m. PST

"some sort of packs being carried by the Brits (Guards?"

Rather like the original Bergen rucksacks adopted by British in the 1940s.

historygamer Supporting Member of TMP28 Feb 2019 12:35 p.m. PST

So I am reading the book on Hessians and I just read a passage where it stated that both the 71st and von Bose took off their packs before going into battle at GCH. I don't recall that passage being footnoted though.

Virginia Tory28 Feb 2019 8:02 p.m. PST

Some interesting knapsack discussion here:


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