3: 1st Light Battalion

The dress of the two Light Battalions appears well documented at first glance, but closer examination presents some difficulties and anomalies. While most sources show the two battalions as diversely dressed, Hamilton Smith’s documentation suggests that by 1815 the other ranks, at least, of both battalions wore the same. The dress of the 2nd Light Battalion is discussed on page 4.

Sources mentioned below are described on page 1 if not otherwise referenced. Click to enlarge images.

 

Other ranks

Beamish

The rather murky Castell plate in Beamish’s history seems to be the one near contemporary image we have of an enlisted man, and much weight has been piled up over the years on this slight premise. The single breasted jacket has a black collar, apparently edged in black, black cuffs and straps with rolled wings. A bugle and cord are dimly visible on the cap, while the small circular shape below the tuft must be intended as a cockade. The trousers are light grey, worn over black gaiters.

From the Beamish Centrepiece

Though there is no sign of it on the jacket in this plate, a breast pocket with a straight flap and single button is shown clearly on the corresponding figure in the Beamish Centrepiece commissioned in 1839 by ex-officers of the Legion, and now held by the National Army Museum. The figures modelled on this impressive piece of silver tableware seem very close to the plates in Beamish’s book. The cap of the rifleman on the Centrepiece shows cockade, cord and bugle clearly, clarifying the vague image in the plate, and there is no suggestion of edging to the collar or cuffs.

Knötel

The first Knötel plate to tackle the Light Battalions, in his Vol III, stays close to Beamish, but by Vol XIV, in a plate devoted entirely to the 1st Battalion, new details have appeared: black braid edging is added to the cuffs, green turnbacks with black edging and slash pockets appear, while the cap is reinforced with leather on the crown and band. (For what it’s worth, there is no suggestion of such reinforcement on the OR’s cap either in the Beamish plate or in the Beamish Centrepiece.) Much of this passes through to Mike Chappell, with emphasis on the reinforced cap, and in the meantime to a plate in Bryan Fosten’s 1982 Osprey Wellington’s Infantry 2, which also adds a “1” to the cap bugle. I’m ignorant as to what the grounds might be for some of these added details. Hofschröer’s 1989 Osprey maintains that the jackets of the 1st Battalion were of a lighter green than those of the 2nd, a difference perpetuated by some modern reenactors. I have no idea what the evidence, if any, for this might be.

Moving back to the primary sources, we find that by 1815 Hamilton Smith’s chart and plate, generically captioned “Light Infantry”, show both battalions in the same dress, essentially as already worn by the 2nd Battalion: a “rifles” jacket of 95th style with three rows of white buttons, black collar, cuffs and straps feathered in white, and no turnbacks. Interestingly, a single button is shown on the collar, not too obvious in the plate, but distinct enough in the preparatory drawing. Trousers are dark green, not grey, worn over black gaiters. As the figure in the plate is not a rifleman, both pouch belt and bayonet belt are worn, with a socket bayonet.

Hamilton’s Smith’s chart, plate and preparatory drawing: note collar button

The headwear is particularly interesting, being a peakless cap with a cockade with a small bugle, a green tuft & green cords. This is similar in style to the officer’s cap of the 2nd Light Battalion, which has been taken as an indication that the figure is intended for a man of the 2nd (see page 4). However it seems feasible to me that the similarity of dress between the men of the two battalions also now extended to headwear.

Greatcoats

For a discussion of the pattern of greatcoat issued, or not issued, to the men of the Legion’s infantry, see page 2 on the Line Battalions.

von Pivka & Chappell

Undress

Both von Pivka and Chappell illustrate an undress uniform for both battalions of a white undress jacket with white collar and cuffs, and a black “muffin” cap with a toorie, the band and edging round the top in dark green. I don’t know what the source might be for these portrayals.

Bandsmen

von Pivka & Chappell

The same two modern authors include in their plates a figure of a black percussionist of the 1st battalion in “Moorish” costume, von Pivka as a cymbalist, Chappell as a tambourine player. There is obviously a common source here of which I’m ignorant, but the discrepancies between these two interpretations are
puzzling: the feather, the shell in black
or green, details of the ornamentation
on the front, the colours of the legwear,
and so on.

 

Officers

Again, the Beamish plate provides a surprisingly weak basis for the later accretions of detail. It shows a jacket with silver chain wings and two rows of buttons, black collar and cuffs with black braid edging, the cuffs with a loop. The trousers are grey; a faint line is visible where the outer seam would be, but there is no other colour to suggest any stripe. The cap has a pointed plume and the suggestion of cords, but no bugle. The shape of the peak could be taken for squareish, and in this case lines on the cap do suggest some sort of reinforcement to the crown and base.

Beamish

von Baring

This rather murky image is usefully supplemented by a miniature of Georg von Baring, which suggests 20 or so silver ball buttons in each row, and shows the black lapels worn turned back from the top dozen. The black collar is edged with cord, with another line of cord inside, but without any decorative eyes. The details of the chain wings are not clear, but they are mounted on a black or dark green ground, edged with silver cord.

In this context, it’s worth noting that von Pivka picks up on a feature of the Beamish image, a faint line running centrally down the jacket front, taking it as evidence that the buttons were “only for decoration” and that the jacket was single breasted, closing with hooks and eyes. However, the Baring portrait proves that this was certainly not the case, and that the jacket was indeed double breasted.

The Meyer ledger (thanks to Meyer & Mortimer and Ben Townsend for images) contains orders for ten officers of the battalion between 1809 and 1814, which include eight green superfine cloth regimental jackets; in February 1814 the jacket is described as having black velvet facings and being trimmed with cord. Most of these jackets were bought with a pair of wings; since wings were still purchased in September 1814, it seems that the same pattern of jacket was worn to the end of the battalion’s service.

Knötel

von Röder

Let’s see what Knötel proceeds to make of all this. The smallish figure in his Vol III is close to  Beamish but adds a silver trouser stripe. In the later plate in Vol XIV, as with the other ranks, further details are added: braid with eyes on the collar, silver furniture on the pouch belt, a double silver trouser stripe, a bugle on the cap and a firmly square peak. I can’t help but suspect that some of these details reflect what Knötel felt should be there, rather than what he had evidence for.

Moving back to the remaining primary evidence, we come to the interesting watercolour by von Röder, an observer of Wallmoden’s army of 1813. The jacket is as known, with black pointed cuffs and collar, while the pouch belt has silver furniture. The officer wears light grey overalls, with dark green ornaments and stripe, and black leather cuffs. Both the jacket and the colour of the overalls confirm that he is of the 1st Battalion. (The 2nd Battalion wore black pantaloons and overalls – see page 4.) This is significant, as the headdress, a black cap with silver cords but no plume, broadly resembles that shown by Beamish for officers of the 2nd Battalion, as discussed on page 4. Here the cap also has a folding square peak, visible below the line of the bottom edge. Von Röder’s sketch may be less than fully reliable in some details, but it is convincing in its main features, and the possibility that officers of the 1st Battalion wore this form of cap in the later years reinforces the theory that the other ranks did also, as suggested by the Hamilton Smith evidence and discussed above.

Finally, a few other items in the Meyer ledger may help to round out the picture a little. Two pairs of pantaloons are described as of grey or light grey stocking, one ornamented with cord. In 1811 a lieutenant’s trousers are noted as of “dark grey mixed second cloth”. In 1814 a belt is noted as of “glazed leather”, the accompanying sash as with “long cords and bullion”.

Four purchases of greatcoats are noted between 1811 and 1814, three described as of superfine dark green cloth, one of these with cloth covered buttons. There is no sign of any “regulation” grey greatcoat. Judging by the prices, all are plain or relatively simply ornamented. In 1814 two orders are made for “pelisses” at a far higher price, suggesting that these are the fashionable long top coats, much ornamented with cord, braid and olives; unfortunately, no details are given.

Go to page 1: some sources

Go to page 2: Line Battalions

Go to page 4: 2nd Light Battalion

Go to page 5: Light Dragoons 1803-7

Go to page 6: 1st Hussars 1808-16


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