Uniforms & Equipment

Clothing and equipment descriptions; special thanks to Nick Hoffman for gathering much of this information

Walker, Adam, A Journal of Two Campaigns of the Fourth Regiment of U.S. Infantry in the Michigan and Indiana Territories Under the Command of Col. John P. Boyd ad Lt. Col. James Miller During the Years 1811 and 12, (Keene, N.H.: Sentinel Press, 1816).

Landing at Vincennes Indiana among the assembled Indiana and Kentucky Militia prior to the Battle of Tippecanoe

“Many of these militia spoke the French language; their dress was a short frock of deer-skin, a belt around their bodies, with a tomahawk and scalping knife attached to it, and were nearly as destitute of discipline as the savages themselves.  The militia from Kentucky and a few companies of Indiana were decent soldiers, yet the large knife and hatchet which constituted a part of their equipment, with their dress, gave them rather a savage appearance.  The hatchet, however, was found to be a very useful article on the march – they had no tents but with their hatchets would in a short time form themselves a shelter from the weather, on encamping at night.”

Description of the typical dress and equipment of a private in Captain Hickman’s Company of Franklin County Volunteers, John Allen’s 1st Kentucky Volunteer Rifle Regiment.  “The Governors of Kentucky,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 1951, p. 203.

“… a hunting-shirt made of linsey, with a slight fringe border, color either blue, such as obtained from indigo, a pale yellow made from hickory bark, or a dingy brown obtained from black walnut.  His pants were Kentucky jeans, and he walked in shoes or moccasins as was his fancy.  Around his waist was a leather belt, on one side of which was a leather pocket fastened by leaden tacks, instead of thread, and in this was placed the indispensable tomahawk.  Across his shoulder was the strap that held up his powder horn, in which strap was another leather case containing his formidable butcher knife, and another to hold his bullets.  A knapsack of home manufacture contained his clothing, and the outside of it was garnished with a glittering tin cup.  His well-tried-rifle . . . was his weapon of choice.”

“Kentuckians…” recruiting notice by Col. Richard M. Johnson, March 22, 1813, copy in the files of Old Fort Niagara, Youngstown, NY.  Another account describes the men in hunting shirts with red fringe and the headgear was a round hat with white plume tipped with red.

“The black hunting shirt, or a round-about coat, to be the uniform of the respective companies… [with] a pair of overalls lined with leather … two shirts, 2 pairs of socks, one good pair of shoes, and one pair of moccasins, and black neck handkerchief,” a good sturdy horse with a pair of saddle bags, another bag and two blankets which could be put under saddle or one under and one over… a rifle or musket, a tomahawk and a butcher knife.

The dress of the Regiment was not strictly uniform, however, since the men were said to be “in a motley garb” when they charged at the Thames. Governor Isaac Shelby of Kentucky was also present and was remembered by Richardson as a “stout elderly officer” who was “dressed like his men in Kentucky hunting frocks” and armed with a sabre.

John C. Fredricksen, ed. “Kentucky at the Thames, 1813: A Rediscovered Narrative by
William Greathouse”, The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society (Spring 1985): pgs.
93-108. Greathouse served in Martin H. Wickliffe’s Company of Mount Riflemen, 5th Kentucky
Regiment.

“Our uniforms were blue trimmed with red. Our arms, American rifles, caliber from 16 to 25 to the pound, belt with tomahawk and butcher knife buckled around us.” ( Greathouse is referring to their rifleman’s frocks or hunting shirts, he was part of Col. Johnson 5th Rgt at the battle of the Thames)

Knopf, Richard C., Ed.. The Journal of Ennis Duncan, Jr., Orderly Sergeant, 16th Regiment, Kentucky Militia Detached.  Columbus, OH: The Ohio State Museum, 1956.  Duncan was a member of the Kentucky militia, and was called into service near the end of the war.  His diary details the tedious daily routine most militia soldiers ensued. 

Sunday, January 1, 1815 – “the day was so warm that I sat at my writing with my hunting shirt & neck handkerchief off.”

Christian, Thomas.  “Campaign of 1813 on the Ohio River: Sortie at Fort Meigs, May, 1813,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 67, No. 3 (July 1969).  Christian was a solider in Captain Archibald Morrison’s Company of Kentucky Militia whom fought at Fort Meigs in Dudley’s Defeat.

“Soon my loose warm jeans roundabout seems to be my most protecting friend . . .”

John Richardson, War of 1812.  First Series, Contained a Full and Detailed Narrative of the Operations of the Right Division of the Canadian Army (Brockville, Ontario, 1842), pp. 79-80.  Richardson served in the war in 41st Regiment at the Thames, Frenchtown, and Fort Meigs.  His description details the appearance of Kentucky soldiers who were captured after the Battle of Frenchtown (River Raisin)

“…it was the depths of winter; but scarcely an individual was in possession of a great coat or cloak, and few of them wore garments of wool of any description.  They still retained their summer dress, consisting of cotton stuff of various colors, shaped into frocks, and descending to the knee; their trowsers were of the same material.  They were covered with slouched hats, worn bare by constant use; beneath which their long hair, fell matted and uncombed over their cheeks; and these together with dirty blankets wrapped around their loins to protect them against the inclemency of the season, and fastened by broad leathern belts, into which were thrust axes and knives of an enormous length gave them an air of wildness and savageness…

Another British soldier, Sergeant James Commins of the 8th Regiment of Foot, recalled that the Kentucky men had “blanket clothing like the Indians, with long scalloping knife and other barbarous articles

War of 1812 Diary of William B. Northcutt edited by G. Glenn Clift, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 1958.  Northcutt, joined Captain Garrard’s Company of Light Dragoons or the “Bourbon Blues” from Kentucky. This unit was attached to Jas. V. Ball’s Squadron of U.S. Light Dragoons. Garrard’s company was Volunteer Militia. In his diary, Northcutt mentions the uniform of his unit.

“I left on foot and carried all that I owned in a small checked handkerchief… Our uniform was of the finest Blue broadcloth, trimmed with white lace and Red Scarlet vest with a jacked, Leather cap, Black Cockade, Black plume tipt with Red and our horse acquippage was very Expensive so that it took all that I had made to acquipt me in the Service of my Country and I took all that I had Except one Suit of Clothes with me into the Service of my Country.”

Pg 178: Writes his unit was originally formed as the Bourbon County Company of Mounted Rangers. They had to furnish their own horse and equipment which were to consist of a rifle, tomahawk, and scalping knife. Dress to be a hunting shirt and pantaloons of linen dyed black.

During their service when Northcutt’s unit was stationed at Lower Sandusky, they were sent out to escort wagons into the fort. He writes; “When I saw three men a coming down the road with red flannel shirts on and their heads tied up with handkerchiefs; thinks I, here comes the red coats and I halted until the Sergeant came up and reported; says he, “What are we to do” says I, “hold on I saw but three and if there is no more of them we will give them a fight,” by this time the wagon men got so close that we could tell who they were.”

Journal of John Dale Wisconsin Historical Society Collections

John Dale was a private in Captain John Morrison’s Company of Volunteer Militia under Col. William Dudley. Dale was captured in Dudley’s Defeat during the 1st Siege of Fort Meigs.

“The company by vote agreed upon blue cloth coats and pantaloons, trimmed with red, and silver plated buttons; everything else in proportion.”

Letter to Mary Johnson from her husband William Johnson Ohio Historical Society collections

William Johnson was born in 1789 in Mason County, Kentucky.

By 1812, he had settled in Delaware County, Ohio, with his wife Mary. In March of 1813, Johnson signed up as a “hire” with Captain Thomas’ company in the Kentucky Militia. On May 5th, Johnson participated in the unsuccessful attack led by Col. William Dudley on the north bank of the Maumee River, and was one of the few Americans to escape the battle unharmed. In his letter dated April 12, 1813 he writes: “…we marched from Synthiany the 31st of March and marched to Newport from thare on the Ohio oposot to Cyncinnaty and thare we received som few utenteals for our support such as tents and Campcettles musquets Bayonets cartrege boxes canteens and ten dollars in money.”

John Gisbson and Thomas Posey, eds. Governors Messages and Letters of William Henry
Harrison. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1922

Harrison to Secretary of War, Headquarters Piqua, Sept. 27, 1812: “There is nothing that gives me more apprehension than the destitute condition of many of my men in the article of clothing and blankets. It appears to me that it is impossible that they can act in such a Climate as that of Canada without warm clothing. I have applied to the Governor of Kentucky and have addressed the Citizens of that state on the
subject myself.

Great exertions will I am persuaded be made to relieve them but I must beg leave to recommend that some assistance if possible be afforded by the government.
I have put in requisition all the woolens that have been sent on for the Indians and will have them distributed and accounts kept against men who receive them that the price may be deducted from their pay.”

“ps. I fear the Western Country cannot furnish shoes and Blankets for the troops.”

“Permit me to recommend that a supply of those articles and if possible woolen jackets & overalls be sent on from Pittsburgh to Wooster by land to be disposed of to the Militia in the same manner that the surplus clothing is to the Regular Troops. It appears to me proper also that the Government should furnish Watch Coats for the militia Centinels.   From the short period of their service they cannot purchase those things out of their pay.  I have therefore taken upon myself the responsibility of directing them to be procured.”

Harrison to the People of Kentucky, Oct. 1812:  “Fellow Citizens, The executive of your state acting, as it was believed, in unison with your wishes, have conferred on me the command of that part of the state quota of militia, which was destined to relieve Detroit. The general government has confirmed and extended my command to all the troops which have been called into service from the western states.
Upon that point of leading these brave men into a rigorous northern climate, I discovered that many of them are without blankets, and much the greater part of them totally destitute of every article of winter clothing. It is impracticable to procure the supplies necessary for them from the public stores, and there is no alternative but in your feelings
and patriotism. A contribution of articles which will not be felt by you, will enable your soldiers to withstand the keen northern blasts with as much fortitude as they will the
assaults of the enemy.

Can any patriot sleep easy in his bed of down when he reflects upon the situation of a centinel exposed to the cold of a winter night in Canada, in a linen hunting shirt? Will the amiable fair sex suffer their brave defenders to be mutilated by the frost for the want of the mittens and socks which they can with little exertion procure for them? I trust that I know my fair countrywomen too well not to believe that this appeal to their patriotism and liberality will be effectual. Blankets, overalls, roundabout jackets, shoes, socks, and mittens are the articles most wanted. Colonel Thomas Bufford, the deputy commissary-general, will provide for the transportation of the articles, and will pay for the blankets and shoes if required.”

Harrison to Secretary of War, Head Quarters, Newark 11th Nov 1813:  “To my great disappointment and mortification, I find that there are but 400 cartouch boxes to be procured for the militia that are expected. If they should not have them the expedition to the Head of Lake cannot take place. There are neither tents nor camp kettles and I fear that the militia of this frontier will not, like the Kentuckians, do without them.”

John Gisbson and Thomas Posey, eds. Governors Messages and Letters of William Henry
Harrison. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1922

Harrison to Secretary of War, Head Quarters N.W. Army, Upper Sandusky Dec. 21st 1812: “Blankets and Shoes are beginning to arrive and the clothing for the regular troops is coming up the Scioto, it will however be a considerable time before it can reach them. I have not heard, of the woolen overalls and jackets (so long ago ordered by you in Philadelphia) having reached Pittsburg. The militia too are many of them naked and some corps from that cause remarkably sickly. General [Edward] Tupper reports 260 out of 700 be unfit for duty out of his Brigade.”

“Letters of Captain Cushing” in Harlow Lindley, ed. Captain Cushing in the War of 1812. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.

Brigade Majors Office, Nov. 20 1813. AL Langham, B.M. General Orders: “An account will be entered on each company book and another will be kept by the payment of the regiment. Blanket, shoes and socks will be issued to the militia on the same principles.”

Secretary of War to Irvine, Oct. 1 and 24, 1812, National Archives.  Request made by Harrison to Secretary of War to furnish the troops with amble warm clothing for the winter.  Complaints by officers regarding the poor clothing worn by soldiers in the winter of 1812-1813 are too numerous to list.  Evidence only suggests that a small portion of this shipment reached the men from Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. 

“5,000 woolen round jackets, & 5,000 pairs of woolen overhalls of drab or mixed cloth”

Generally, the Kentucky volunteers were destitute and this was especially true of General John Thomas’ 2,200 men who arrived at New Orleans on January 4, 1815 “The worst provided body of men, perhaps, that ever went 1,500 miles from home to help a sister state,” according to General Andrew Jackson. Their clothing were ragged, they lacked tents and blankets and were issued some of the supplies made by the ladies of New Orleans.

Summary:

From the Battle of Tippecanoe to the end of the war at the Battle of New Orleans it is safest to portray a Kentucky Volunteer wearing a fringed rifleman’s frock or simple “clothes from home”. Wide brim floppy hats were the most common unless one portrays a mounted dragoon but Federal or 1812 era top hats would’ve been worn as well. Round about jackets and even regimental uniform coats are appropriate especially if one portrays a garrison troop stationed at Fort Meigs or Fort Wayne. Harrison’s letters to the women of Kentucky to make and send clothing for their sons is a clear indication that they were in need of even the most basics, particularly in the Northern climates. It has also been noted that very little of the clothing arrived in time for General Winchester’s men to make use of it at the battle of the River Raisin. The bulk of the clothing would’ve been available for the men stationed at Fort Meigs and Fort Wayne.

The color of the rifleman’s frocks would’ve been decided by each company commander. It has been observed that blue, yellow from hickory bark, dingy brown and natural linen colors are all acceptable with blue being most popular. There are mentions of the fringe being the same color as the frock as well as red, red fringe with blue frock and red fringe with black frock.

Either shoes or moccasins are acceptable.

There are many companies of mounted rifles listed the Adjutant Generals Report of the State of Kentucky during the War of 1812. The average Kentucky Volunteer would be best if armed with a rifle but there are plenty of accounts of muskets being “issued”.

The Kentucky Volunteer armed with a rifle would’ve had to carry a large knife and tomahawk for close in fighting because their rifle could not be fitted with a bayonet. If one carries a musket than a cartridge box and a bayonet would be in order.

There are plenty of references to KY Vols being issued knapsacks, blankets and canteens.

 

Evidence of Manual of Arms and Military Discipline

“Letters of Captain Cushing” in Harlow Lindley, ed. Captain Cushing in the War of 1812. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.

“the commandants of the Ohio and Kentucky miltia with cause theire respective commands to be Exercised each day at least four hours by companies in the manual exercise march in
time facing Wheeling & C” General Orders, Camp Meigs June 15 1813