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"American riflemen units; Drum, fife or bugle?" Topic

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MiniPigs11 Aug 2019 6:51 a.m. PST

Did these units use drums? Did they use horns, fifes? All three?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP11 Aug 2019 7:36 a.m. PST

MiniPigs, almost all AWI rifle units were militia, and mostly western militia at that, so you can get away with plenty. But while you might parade through Philadelphia with drums, you command skirmishers in combat with horns. Maybe turkey calls, sometimes.

Personal logo Der Alte Fritz Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Aug 2019 8:53 a.m. PST

The Rifle Brigade in the 1777 Brandywine were chosen men from various Continental regiments, thrown together on a ad hoc basis.

To answer your question though, I wouldn't use any musicians in your Rifle units.

jurgenation Supporting Member of TMP11 Aug 2019 9:53 a.m. PST

turkey calls…

MiniPigs11 Aug 2019 11:18 a.m. PST

Did they at least carry a flag?

Old Peculiar11 Aug 2019 12:14 p.m. PST

Fiddle players

MiniPigs11 Aug 2019 12:35 p.m. PST

Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah
Someone's in the kitchen I know
Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah
Strummin' on the old banjo!

Singin' fee, fie, fiddly-i-o
Fee, fie, fiddly-i-o-o-o-o
Fee, fie, fiddly-i-o
Strummin' on the old banjo.

Bill N11 Aug 2019 12:41 p.m. PST

There is the story about a drummer in GR Clark's corps that floated on his drum during the march to Vincennes.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP11 Aug 2019 12:57 p.m. PST

The Rifle Brigade in the 1777 Brandywine were chosen men from various Continental regiments, thrown together on a ad hoc basis.

Morgan's Rifle Corps was a provisional Continental unit organized by Washington's order and then sent to the northern army.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP11 Aug 2019 2:07 p.m. PST

Let's try again. In 1775, you've got the Pennsylvania Rifles and some stray Maryland and Virginia companies. The Pennsylvania Rifles become the 1st Continental Regiment in 1776, and the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment from 1777 on. Not clear what the percentage of rifles was in later years. The Maryland and Virginia companies are consolidated into an understrength battalion which persists--sort of--for a few years, and Morgan gets the 11th Virginia in 1777, which gets reorganized to death in late 1778, and was largely rifle-armed. These are all the regular Continental rifle units. We know the 1st Continental/1st PA had a flag, and I'd expect the 11th Virginia to have had one--but in either case, not to be using it while skirmishing.

Other than those, we are mostly not talking rifle units. We're talking militia companies and battalions with no standard arms, but a rising percentage of rifles as you travel west. If any state had a regular system of militia colors, it is not now known. I generally use flags with pine trees for New England militia units and rattlesnake flags for southern ones.

If you want a guess, many companies would have had a drum for parades and most battalions would have had some sort of flag, but actually deployed on a skirmish line, what would you do with either one?

oldnorthstate11 Aug 2019 4:12 p.m. PST

Robert is only partially correct with regard to Morgan's rifles in 1777. Morgan's command was composed of rifle armed troops for the most part.

The other units that tends to get confused with Morgan is the ad hoc Light Infantry Corps under Maxwell that fought in the Brandywine campaign. Washington ordered 120 men from probably six brigades into an informal unit. Most of those men came from Continental regiments, not militia, although there might have been some thrown in. Whether the majority of them were equipped with muskets is not definitively known but I suspect they were. They were not necessarily chosen because they were great shots with a rifle, but because they were largely veterans who could operate in loose order formations and could be relied upon.

MiniPigs11 Aug 2019 5:08 p.m. PST

So a tabletop unit get no flag and no drum? Is that the long and the short of it?

historygamer11 Aug 2019 6:45 p.m. PST


rmaker11 Aug 2019 8:31 p.m. PST

Already by the 1730's light troops would not carry a flag in the field, even if they had one. To much chance of losing it.

Standard instrument for conveying orders, at least in British and American service, was the officer's whistle (replicas on sale at every FIW, AWI, and W1812 battlefield park I've visited, with book of standard signals), so no need for drums.

Old Contemptible11 Aug 2019 10:32 p.m. PST

I have this unit with a drum and a flag.


Most of the rifle units did not carry a flag. Maybe a bugle. Some of mine have a fifer but that is debatable. That's the thing with AWI Americans. You have a lot of leeway when it comes to uniforms and flags.

My Morgan's Riflemen have that gold flag with their name on it, but that probably never existed. It just looks cool and no one has ever said a word about it.


historygamer12 Aug 2019 8:55 a.m. PST

Bugles were not used in the AWI by anyone.

And note that in Katcher's book, there is no record of the 11th VA being issued hunting shirts either.

Virginia Tory12 Aug 2019 10:09 a.m. PST

Considering Morgan's battalion was made up of Virginia and PA companies, I don't even think they would have been dressed alike, let alone carry a flag or anything like that.

Pan Marek Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2019 11:24 a.m. PST


Yep. Lights/Jaegers used hunting horns. What would one call the proto-bugle carried by cavalry?

Bill N12 Aug 2019 4:57 p.m. PST

I'm not sure I agree with Robert's assessment of rifles serving on the American side. In addition to Continental rifle regiments serving with Washington there were also smaller sized rifle units within Washington's army, plus individual soldiers armed with rifles, at least as late as 1778. Then there were the rifle armed troops serving elsewhere.

Getting back to the original questions, for Continentals:

Thompson's 1775 rifle regiment, each company was supposed to have a drummer or trumpeter. In August 1775 there were 13 drummers or fifers with the regiment. In December 1775 there were still 5 drummers or fifers fit for duty.

The Maryland & Virginia Rifle Regiment was thrown into action in 1776 while still in formation. It had 7 drummers or fifers before Fort Washington and three in the portion of the regiment that survived that action. Since the MD & VA was supposedly organized on the same basis as the First Continental, this suggests the First Continental also had drummers and/or fifers in 1776.

Ottendorf's Corps organized in 1777 had three companies, two of them rifle armed. At least one drummer served in one of the rifle companies.

Both the 5th and 6th SC Continental (rifle) regiments had drummers and fifers. So did the 3rd SC rangers which may have been partially rifle armed.

For flags we know the 1st Continental/1st Pennsylvania had one at some point, and the 3rd SC had two. The 8th and 11th Virginia regiments, both of which had riflemen in them had flags. The 8ths is still in existence and IIRC the 11ths was destroyed in a fire in the 19th century.

For State Troops & Militia:

Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment of 1776 had drummers on its roster.

Clark's forces in Illinois as noted had at least one drummer.

Virginia, North and South Carolina militia companies from areas where rifles were common had drummers and fifers on their roster. In Virginia free blacks could serve as musicians in the militia. Virginia militia companies were also supposed to have flags. Whether such units had musicians and flags in action is another matter.

Shelby is known to have used a horn on one occasion as part of a ruse. Several American rifle commanders supposedly used whistles or turkey calls to control their men.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2019 5:00 p.m. PST

What would one call the proto-bugle carried by cavalry?

A trumpet.

historygamer13 Aug 2019 7:22 p.m. PST


Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2019 4:34 a.m. PST

The British light infantry apparently used hunting horns in combat. The Americans at the Hollow Way in 1776 heard them in the field during the fighting.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2019 5:06 a.m. PST

See Robert Wright's The Continental Army page 259 for the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment.

It was originally authorized on 14 June 1775 in the Continental Army as six separate companies of Pennsylvania Riflemen.

It was redesignated on 22 June as the Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment. The regiment was organized with nine companies from Cumberland, Lancaster, Northumberland, Northampton, Bedford, Berks, and York counties.

The regiment was redesignated on 1 January 1776 as the 1st Continental Regiment.

The 11th Virginia Regiment was organized on 3 February 1777 and was made up of four companies from Loudoun, Frederick, Prince William, and Amelia Counties, as well as Captain Daniel Morgan's Independent Rifle Company, and five companies comprising the Virginia portion of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment.

Morgan's Independent Rifle Company was authorized on 14 June 1775 as an independent Virginia Rifle Company. This company, including Morgan, was captured at Quebec on 31 December 1775 and was later reorganized on 3 February 1777 commanded by Captain Charles Porterfield.-pages 289 and 290.

After Morgan was released from captivity, built the 11th Virginia, which he now commanded, around the five Virginia companies from the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment and the remnants of his original rifle company.-page 108.

On 13 June 1777 Washington formed a provisional rifle corps under Col Morgan. The men selected were primarily from Pennsylvania and Virginia regiments and were especially selected for the 'marksmanship and woodcraft.' The Rifle corps was 'a light infantry and skirmishing force' and was dispatched to the Northern Department. There 'Morgan worked closely with a provisional light infantry detachment that Schuyler organized in August under Major Henry Dearborn; they quickly intimidated Burgoyne's Indians and drastically reduced his ability to procure accurate intelligence. pages 116-117.

For the performance of Morgan and Dearborn, see John Elting's excellent The Battles of Saratoga.

historygamer14 Aug 2019 5:16 a.m. PST

I just started reading the new Schnitzer/Troiani book on the Saratoga campaign. I think this will be setting a new standard for the campaign.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2019 6:55 a.m. PST

I didn't find it as informative, or as scholarly, as the older, much better researched, Battle of Saratoga.

Have you read that one?

historygamer14 Aug 2019 8:16 a.m. PST

The Park regarded the Luzader book as "the" book on the campaign, prior to this one. This is the second book that Schnitzer has been involved with. The prior one had a lot of archeological information, along with chapters from Luzader (former park historian) and Eric (current park historian). No, have not read the older one.

42flanker14 Aug 2019 8:18 a.m. PST

Ewald reports the jagers using 'half moon' hunting horns for signalling.

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