Friday, September 13, 2019

"But when their powderhorns were empty, their cannonading ceased": Brown's Raid Through German Eyes

Soldiers from Regiment Prinz Friedrich prepare to defend Ticonderoga


Dear Reader,

As public historians from across the United States gather this weekend at Fort Ticonderoga  for the commemoration of Colonel John Brown's Raid, I thought it would be appropriate to post some primary sources from the German-speaking soldiers defending the fort. These men, from the Prinz Friedrich Regiment of Brunswick (Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel), described the American attack on Ticonderoga: the last significant military event to occur at the famous American fort. Many of the details which these sources give are inaccurate, particularly the claims regarding the numbers of American soldiers. Despite that, they give a unique perspective on the fighting in September 1777.

Ensign von Hille of the Prinz Friedrich Regiment described the attack as follows:

....................................................................................................................................................

"Your Honor will surely have received my letter No. 9 from the 10th of this month, at least I hope so. In it I wrote that we had been cut off from Burgoyne's Army because of their changed position and suspected a provincial raid. That came to pass, for since that time, we know nothing about the army, because we have endured a five day blockade this side of Mount Independence and that on the side of Lake George, the 4 English Companies of the 53rd Regiment stationed there have been attacked and captured.

Sept. 18th ...At daybreak... Brigadier Brown on Lake George... wanted to make a surprise attack from all sides, against our very weak and sick garrison and take them prisoner. The reveille shot from the frigate Maria, which was riding at anchor together with the Frigate Carleton in front of the alarm battery to cover the dense woods towards Hubbardton was the agreed enemy signal. Brigadier Brown succeeded in making a surprise attack on and captured 4 English companies in their camp at the Portage of Lake George, taking the Canadians prisoner who were working there, and with 15 provincials making a surprise attack and seizing the so-called Sugar Loaf Battery that was occupied by 1 sergeant and 12 English soldiers. On the last map I sent you, it was marked, not laid out, it commands Ticonderoga as well as Mount Independence. Instead of the reveille shot from this battery, 4 small-arms shots were fired which got our attention in the camp. Thereupon several small-arms shots fell on our picket that consisted of 1 non-commissioned officer and 13 men and was stationed on a warning post about 1,000 paces on the road to Hubbardton.

The regiment hurried to the alarm posts. Your Honor's company had their's at the first battery, mine, those of von. Tunderfeldt's and Dietrich's companies had theirs behind the lines up to the 2nd battery where Lt. Colonel Praetorius' company was placed and the 5th and very weak company of the 53rd Regiment had their posts at the 3rd Battery.

The picket reported at their arrival that a corps was pushing through the dense woods against the 2nd and 3rd Batteries. We immediately became aware of several scouts on the large road. But because of the heavy cannonades from the battery and frigate there, nothing else could be seen further ahead.

Meanwhile, there was a cannonading from the 12pd. cannon on the Sugar Loaf Battery against Fort Ticonderoga, also Provincials frequently appeared but were again fired on. At 9am Musketeer Wilcke from your company had both thighs shot off by a cannonball and died immediately. At the same time, Lt. Volckmar, who had been commanded to the Fort with 40 men from the regiment, together with 1 captain and 2 officers and about 50 convalescing Englishmen was severely burned by a exposed gunpowder barrel together with Musketeer Francke from your company, and Musketeer Hartmann from my company.

At 11am, the Provincials sent one of their officers with a pole and a rag and invited the garrison to surrender and submit to captivity. It was rejected. Besides a few skirmishings, and cannonades, nothing else remarkable happened this day or night. . We remained at the alarm stations, pitched a few tents and half a company was under arms at all times.

September 19th. Our entire defense consisted of breastworks of trees and stones placed on top of one another. Here and there was an abatis in the woods. The provincials had taken 2 cannons they had discovered, (since they had none with them) into the nearest redoubt from Ticondergoa and cannonaded the fort. At  noon, Brigadier Brown again sent a letter to exchange the English officers for the Provincials here. Rejected.

At 4pm, a Provincial Captain of the militia came on this side with a fellow who carried a white rag, who in a letter from Brigadier Warner invited the garrison to enter captivity. Rejected.

Today their Excellenies, the Provincial Generals, observed our situation from the woods. The small-arms fire was at times very fierce.  About 9pm, in the evening, the Provincials seemed to move
around in the very near woods and sneak up towards the 2nd and 3rd Batteries. One noticed individuals moving up towards the 1st Battery. As we could not maintain any advanced post and because of the darkness of the night we were unable to distinguish anything, we trailed a general and violent small-arms fire and cannonade from the batteries and frigates on our side for 2 minutes. We learned afterwards that since they had succeeded in yesterday's surprise attack on this side, the provincials had been about to make a general attack at this time, meant especially between the 1st and 2nd Batteries but through this furious shooting had been deterred from it.  Each soldier had 60 cartridges and 40 in reserve. English Brigadier Powell had given orders to use the bayonets in forced charges and retreat only if extremely necessary into the barracks covered with palisades and artillery.

Nothing important happened during the night.  Lt. Wallmoden arrived from Canada with 1 non-commissioned officer and 7 Grenadiers this afternoon. During the night all remained on their old places under arms although it was very cold.

September 20th. There also was a little small-arms fire from the Sugar Loaf Battery, but all the more from the redoubt of the 2 cannons, against Ticonderoga, to which the cannons of the redoubt on Mount Independence at Lake Champlain gave a sharp reply.

September 21st. Around noon one Sergeant from the 53rd Regiment deserted from the 3rd Battery. He had been recruiting with Scheither [in German-Central Europe]. As it seemed that the Provincials had left the redoubt with the two cannons, 10 men Lt. Wolgast's command at the bridge were sent to Mount Independence in batteau to spike the cannons. At the disembarkation about 30 provincials rushed out of various ditches and holes against those people, wounded Musketeer Engelcke of Captain von Tunderfeldt's company very severly on his head and shot Musketeer Lieffert's hat, sword, and accouterments to bits and wounded him slighted in his left ear. Musketeer Engelcke was taken prisoner.

At 4pm, the officers and recruits from the Light Infantry, the Dragoons, Prinz Friedrich, and v. Riedesel came to us from Canada. These were quickly distributed among the regiment. Lt. von Reitzenstein had to stay at Chambly with all the large baggage. In the evening, Musketeer Bodemann from Captain Dietrichs' company deserted from the command at the left wing of the 3rd Battery-- the garrison remained under arms during the night and nothing of importance happened.

September 22nd. ...It redounds to our regiment's honor that it has to man the main posts while the English troops merely occupied the 3rd Battery. At 10pm, the enemy made an attack on Ticonderoga, but it was fiercely saluted. There also was much firing in the woods onto Mount Independence. On account of a day-long rainstorm, it was a bad night.

September 23rd. Nothing was heard or seen from the enemy, and later it was learned that their main corps had set out on the retreat at 5pm. They had done this because their first surprise attack the night of the 19th and 20th was a failure and because they lacked supplies.

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Young Lt. Ernst Schroeder, of Captain von Tunderfeldt's Company also wrote a report on the raid, submitted to General Riedesel:

.......................................................................................................................................................
Gracious Lord, Dread General, Ect.

....It was on Sept. 18th about one hour before daybreak that the Rebels intended to attack us; but our picket was awake and quickly sounded the alarm. In less than half a minute, the entire regiment stood fully armed and occupied the line[s]... This line is well fortified by nature and in most places inaccessible. Close to the front of this line is a woods where we have for some time now erected several abatis and which we have cleared in front of us as far as a good musket shot. The Rebels, who are said to be 3,000 strong, withdrew into the woods on this side. In the little river their were two cannon ships, that when the rebels came out, could spray the whole terrain in front of our line. At the right wing lay a frigate in the bay with 2 canons that covered the regular road. The 3 Batteries and 3 newly built blockhouses were all covered with cannons. The Rebels, however, had no cannons but were trying almost every night to attack us.
We also were continually under arms every night and fired sharply as soon as they ventured out of the woods so that they quickly withdrew into the woods. They eventually lost the courage to come out and no longer risked a real attack on our side, although at their arrival, they had firmly challenged us. Just on the 18th of September towards noon, another rebel corps attacked, it was 5,000 men strong and had come from Fort George.
The first rebel attack occured before day-break against the new entrenchment on the Sugar Loaf Hill. This entrenchment commands both Ticonderoga and Mount Independence and is the same where, at the capture of these places, we had set up our batteries and thus forced the enemy to withdraw.  This entrenchment and the portage where the rapids are, dividing Lake Champlain from Lake George, was occupied by 4 companies of the 53rd English Regiment. These were surprised and captured by the rebels. Fortunately, there were in the entrenchment no more than 2 cannons and about 100 rounds of ammunition, that the rebels took as booty and later used to fire on both forts. For this corps had neither taken any cannon along and when the ammunition was spent, they had to cease cannonading. After this they pressed forward up to the French lines and seized all small entrenchments ececpt the two that lay closest to Ticonderoga. Yet none of these had been occupied by us. Among the cannons that were in these entrenchments, the rebels had found three that had not been spiked, together with balls and cartridges; they fired with them upon the fort they had previously challenged as long as they powderhorns would last.

But when their powderhorns were empty, their cannonading ceased: our cannons did not stop firing, night and day. While the Rebels were now thinking every night how to make a surprise attack on this fort, we in turn received a small reinforcement: these were about 150 men who joined us instead of the recruits from the commands in Canada. They all came in batteaux, and the rebels tried to make their arrival difficult; but our cannons fired so violently on them that they forgot their project and let the batteaux land successfully.
Finally, the Rebels withdrew with considerable losses in the evening of September 23rd.

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Alex Burns

Friday, August 30, 2019

Black Soldiers in European Armies during the Eighteenth Century

An excellent reenactor from HM 17th Regiment of Infantry,
Photo Credit: Wilson Freeman /Drifting Focus Photography courtesy of H
M 17th Regiment of Infantry
Dear Reader,

This post is designed to give an overview of the history of African soldiers fighting in Europe during the eighteenth century. It purposely does not include soldiers who fought in all-black regiments, which occurred at the end of this era in the British Army, and American Continental Army. For excellent research into that important topic, see the work of Professsor Norman Roger Buckley, who has written extensively on the West Indian Regiments of the British Army in the 1790s-1810s. Rather, this post examines a smaller number of men of color, often elusive and difficult to track, who served in particular roles in largely white regiments of European Armies.

Writing on the history of slavery and enslaved people, even slavery which is disconnected from how it is traditionally seen in the western hemisphere, requires a great deal of care. I hope this post respectfully explores some of the complexities of the service of these men, who both experienced a lack of freedom, and were sometimes able to use their military service to improve their social and economic status. Black soldiers fighting in European armies during the eighteenth century possessed a wide range of experiences: as human beings, they were often given as gifts, they acquired powerful patrons, were the object of stares on the part of Europeans who had previously not encountered Africans, sometimes earned higher wages than white soldiers, died of diseases contracted while in service, married and had children, and in at least one case, rose to high rank and power as a result of patronage. This post attempts to show the range of possibilities for these men of color, without obscuring the lack of freedom and various difficulties which they faced.

Hessian Drummer painted after the American War of Independence
There has been a great deal of research on Africans and African-Americans in eighteenth century armies, and the work of these historians, particularly Hugh Barnes, Judith L.Van Buskirk, Peter Fryer,  Alan Gilbert, George Fenwick Jones, Rebekka von Mallinckrodt, and John U. Rees has been very helpful in providing a framework for this post.[1] For the assistance I received while researching this post, I would like to thank Jason Doerflein, Dr. Thomasz Karpiński, and Arthur Yushkevich.

In the mid-eighteenth century most European armies included a few black soldiers, who were often employed as musicians, particularly as drummers and fifers. A few of these men also served as laborers, and there is evidence to suggest that in some armies, small numbers were employed in combat roles. These men were not always willingly enlisted into the armed forces they served in: many were purchased in Africa or North America for inclusion as symbols of prestige. The use of these men, particularly their uniforms, was a part of a larger process of emulating the fashion of the Ottoman Empire, a craze which swept through Europe during the early part of the eighteenth century.[2] Having black men as musicians was a mark of pride for regimental commanders, and demonstrated the wealth and power of the colonel-proprietors able to acquire them. Although in some states actually Ottoman Turkish musicians were initially imported, these were swiftly replaced African musicians, whose involvement in European armies pre-dated the Turkish craze, but was greatly increased by it.[3] In an odd moment in European history, Africans (as well as African-Americans born in the American Colonies) became drawn into the European military experience as a result of court fascination with Ottoman Military bands.[4]

These men were often purchased, and thus experienced part of the painful world of slavery. They drew a wage.  Particularly in the Prussian service, data from 1747 indicates that black musicians were paid 4 Thalers per month, double the wage of white musketeers who served alongside them.[5] Where records are available, it appears these men were discharged and free at the end of their service.[6] Some African-Americans, by contrast, used the desire for "exotic" bands on the part of European officers for their own ends: joining European military forces in order to escape from the world of enslavement.  There is a small amount of evidence to suggest that some were even able to draw on the institutions available for the care of former soldiers, such as the Royal Hospital at Chelsea.

An African Musician in Wilkie's "Reading of the Waterloo Dispatch
Although the practice of acquiring African musicians is most famous in American circles as a result of the American War of Independence, the practice long pre-dates this. This post will look at the experience of Africans in the Russian and Prussian military, before turning to the more familiar British and Hessian armies.

Disputed portrait of Abram Petrovich Gannibal.
Author Hugh Barnes indicates that this may be a portrait of a white officer 
Russian Army: 
Though the Russian court imported an Ottoman military band in 1725, there are few images of African soldiers serving as musicians in the Russian Army. However, a small number of Africans found their way into Russian service as well. The most famous of these is Abram Petrovich Gannibal, a Russian Major General who served in the early-eighteenth century, and is credited with inspiring Alexander Suvorov to become a soldier. Though his exact place of origin in Africa is disputed (both Medri Bahri, in present-day Eritria, as well as Logone-Birni in modern Cameroon have been suggested), Gannibal was brought as an enslaved person to Istanbul, and sent to Russian as a gift to Tsar Peter I in 1704. Likely born in 1696-1698, the Tsar chose to adopt Gannibal as his godson. With this adoption and patronage, Gannibal traveled to France to learn modern military science, and he served in the French Army during the War of the Quadruple Alliance. 

Gannibal was exiled to Siberia after Peter I's death, but continued to demonstrate his excellence by designing fortresses for the Russian state. With the succession of Elizabeth Petrovna to the throne in 1741, Gannibal returned to power, was promoted to Major General, and briefly became the governor of Estonia. His rise to power came with privileges, he became the owner of several estates, and as a result, owned many families of serfs.[7] His power lasted for the lifetime of Elizabeth Petrovna, he was General in Chief of Russian forces in 1762, but retired to his estate after Empress Elizabeth died in January of that year. He lived on his estates until his death in 1781.
Ivan Gannibal, the eldest son of Abram Gannibal
Abram Gannibal married twice, and had ten children with his second wife, a Swedish woman named Christina Regina Siöberg. Their oldest son, pictured above, Ivan Gannibal, also led a distinguished military career. He served as an officer in the Russian Navy, commanding several important naval actions and sieges, but also designed and constructed fortresses, like his father. Also like his father, he achieved the position of General in Chief of the Russian Army.

The fifer is likely an African, based upon his lack
of a queue, and signifying headgear
Prussian Army:
The history of African soldier-musicians in the Prussian Army goes back to seventeenth century, when in 1685, Frederick William, the Elector of Brandenburg, brought a drummer, whose European name was Ludwig Besemann, into his army. In 1737, another African soldier, Josef Sancta Maria, was a drummer in Dragoon Regiment von Moellendorf.[8] It appears that Frederick William I and Frederick II ("the Great") of Prussia maintained a Paukenwagen or a mobile drum platform, for their artillery.[9] You can see a Dutch example of this type of carriage from the era of William III below.



There is a great deal of visual evidence that Prussian armies included African drummers. However, Ottoman emissaries were not impressed by Frederick II's efforts to imitate their bands. After a presentation of a military band, Ottoman Ambassador Achmed Effendi shook his head, and simply commented to the Prussian king, "It is not Turkish."[10] Like in other European states, it seems that African musicians were primarily concentrated in elite regiments, such as Frederick II's Garde, which had a corps of black fifers.

A detail of the image above from the
archival collection of Hans Bleckwenn[11]

However, there were also a number of African Musicians in other regiments, such as the Regiment Markgraf Karl (IR 7).[12] African musicians also served in the Cuirassier Regiment Markgraf Friedrich von Brandenburg (CR 5).[13] Many of these soldiers served in the famous Lange-Kerls of Frederick William I.

An African Drummer from IR 6.
archival collection of Hans Bleckwenn[14]

British Army: 
Historian Peter Fryer provides a clear window into African soldier-musicians in his book: Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain. He begins his excellent summary of this topic: "The use of black musicians as military bandsmen, a tradition which reached its height toward the end of the eighteenth century, seems to have started in the second half of the seventeenth."[15] As early as 1679, African musicians served in British Regiments, and served as drummers in cavalry regiments as early as 1685.

Despite African soldiers relatively frequent service as musicians in Europeans armies, they still faced surprise from local people. Ensign Hugh Mackay of the 13th Regiment of Foot described the surprise of townspeople in the Netherlands at seeing African musicians:"At 3 O'Clock in the Afternoon Sr. Robt. Riches Dragoons-- enter'd the Town with their black Drummers- at whom the people stared like bewitched, wondering to see Blacks amongst the English Soldiers."[16] This quote gives a window into the sort of reactions which black troops faced as they served in small numbers across Europe.

A Black trumpeter in a detail of a Guard's Officer Painting
Like other European armies, the British regular army acquired black soldiers through the purchase of human beings. The diary of John Peebles on March 4th 1780 indicates: "picked up a little [black child] for a fifer."[17] Peebles' diary later indicates that he attempted to sell a enslaved, it is unclear if it was this same fifer.[18] If that is the case, it would be the sole instance of a black soldier musician being exchange for money which I have encountered. Many of these men were given as gifts, but their being sold individually seems to be a relative rarity. However, it remains a possibility, and would be another similar experience to more traditional slavery encountered by black soldiers and musicians.

The 29th Regiment of Foot, famous in America for their involvement in the Riot on King Street (Boston Massacare), was also famous for the presence of black drummers in the regiment. Regimental Historian Hugh Everard recorded:
"It was while stationed here that the regiment first got its black drummers, which occurred in the following manner. Admiral Boscawen being at the surrender of Guadaloupe, and thinking that blacks would prove very ornamental as drummers, procured eight or ten boys, whom he brought home and gave to his brother, who then commanded the 29th Regiment. Col. Enys, in his MS. Records, states: “His Majesty's permission was obtained to retain them in that capacity, and when I joined the regiment in 1775, there were three, if not more, of the Original blacks in the corps, who were remarkable good drummers.” The custom of having black drummers in the regiment was continued for the better part of 84 years (the last one died on the 15th July, 1843)."[19]
During the eighteenth century, there were also Africans serving in various roles in the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards, 7th Royal Fusiliers, 14th Regiment, 38th Regiment, possibly the 45th Light Company, the Life Guards, 4th Dragoons, and 3rd Hussars.[20]

A Hessian Regiment Circa 1789
Private Archives of Hans Bleckwenn

Hessian Armies:
The longstanding practice of utilizing black musicians followed European armies to North America. In June of 1781, Hesse-Hanauer Captain Georg Pausch reported to his Landgraf that, "Almost all the Hesse-Cassel regiments and grenadier battalions have taken on Negroes as drummers, fifers, and pack-servants[.]"[21] These reports appear rather envious, and Pausch indicates that quickly, "followed this practice at little cost". Interestingly, Pausch mentions the idea of raising an entire regiment of "similar blacks," drawing on experiences of the war in North America. [22] His report to the Landgraf also makes it clear that black soldiers were still a status symbol, human beings who could be given as gifts: "The Brunswick Dragoon Regiment has filled its needs with black drummers, which were however, a present to Major General von Riedesel from Brigadier General Arnold."[23]


As a result of the research of George Fenwick Jones, more is known regarding the Africans who fought alongside the German Subsidientruppen from various states in the American War of Independence.[24] The Hessian muster rolls available at the Hessian State Archives in Marburg list approximately 125 individuals with black skin who served in Hessian forces during the American War of Independence. These roles give an indication that a small number of these soldiers served not only as musicians, but also as combat troops in the Hessian forces. In addition to the large numbers of drummers and fifers, there are a small number of entries for Gemeine, Musketiere, and Fusiliere. Those wishing to make their own notes regarding this particular subset of Africans in Germanic armies should examine the excellent HETRINA database.

These soldiers came from a wide variety of backgrounds in America, including South Carolina, Virginia, both Long Island and upstate New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Florida. Some of the soldiers were not born in America, but originally came from West Africa, and were doubtless transported as slaves before their service with the Subsidentruppen. Still more originally came from the Caribbean. One of these soldiers was born in Lisbon, another is listed as coming from China. 


Of the approximately 125 Black soldiers whose service was recorded, we known approximate dates of service for 56. Of these 56 soldiers, the average term of service was 2 years, some serving as long as six years (and continuing that service after the war) and others serving for as short as 1 month. It seems that some appeared to value their service as an end unto itself, while others simply viewed it as a pit-stop on the journey to freedom.

Of these 56 soldiers, it appears that 16 continued their service past the end of the war, and perhaps returned to the Holy Roman Empire with their regiments. The three images of Black Drummers of the Hessian Garde Regiments come from after the war, possibly confirming that a number of these soldiers returned to Europe. George Fenwick Jones claims that approximately thirty of these drummers serving in Hessian units returned to Europe, but that many of these died of disease in Europe. Others appear to have survived and married in Hessen. The Landgraf even became a god-parent to children of one of these drummers.[25]

I hope that this post has respectfully showed some of the possible life experiences for black soldiers and musicians serving in European military forces during the eighteenth century. They faced incredible challenges, and certainly faced a lack of freedom, but particularly in the case of the Hessian forces, were able to use military service as a way to escape more traditional forms of slavery in North America.

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook,  or following us on twitter. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:


Thanks for Reading,





Alex Burns




------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] Hugh Barnes, Gannibal, Judith L. Van Buskirk, Standing in their Own Light, Peter Fryer, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, Alan Gilbert, Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence, George Fenwick Jones, "The Black Hessians", Rebekka von Mallinckrodt, "There are no slaves in Prussia?" Slavery Hinterland, John U. Rees, ‘They Were Good Soldiers’: African–Americans Serving in the Continental Army, 1775-1783. 
[2]Peter Fryer, Staying Power, 82.
[3] Henry George Farmer, "Turkish Influence in Military Music", Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, (1946)
[4] Edmund A. Bowles, "The Impact of Turkish Military Bands on European Court Festivals in the 17th and 18th Centuries", Early Music, (2006).
[5]Rebekka von Mallinckrodt, "There are no slaves in Prussia?" Slavery Hinterland, 120.
[6]George Fenwick Jones, "The Black Hessians", The South Carolina Historical Magazine, (1982) 301-302.
[7] Hugh Barnes, Gannibal, 221-224.
[8] Herbert Tobischeck, Die Pauke, 30.
[9] Wolfgang Glauche, Pro Gloria et Patria?,47.
[10] Christian F. Schubart, Ideean zur einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst, 331
[11] P.C. Marten, Die Musik, Der Spielleute.
[12] Theilig, Türken, Mohren, und Tataren, 73-4.
[13] Daniel Hohrath, Uniforms of the Prussian Army, Vol 1, 39.
[14] P.C. Marten, Die Musik, Der Spielleute.
[15]Peter Fryer, Staying Power, 81.
[16] NAM 1997-04-81, pg. 29 (Journal of Ensign Hugh Mackay, 13th Regiment)
[17]John Peebles, John Peebles' American War, 345.
[18] Ibid, 504.
[19] Hugh Everard, History of Thos. Farrington's Regiment, 55.
[20] Peter Fryer, Staying Power, 81-84, Steven Baule, "Drummers in the British Army during the American Revolution, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, (2008).
[21] Georg Pausch (Burgoyne tr.), Journals and Reports of the Campaigns in America, 111.
[22] (both quotes) Ibid.
[23]Ibid, 112.
[24] George Fenwick Jones, "The Black Hessians", The South Carolina Historical Magazine, (1982)
[25] Ibid, 302.




Friday, August 2, 2019

Soldiers and Facial Hair in the Kabinettskriege Era

Excellent reenactor Tom Pickerel Portrays a Jaeger 
in 1781 North Carolina
A previous version of this post used a photograph without permission
based on a misunderstanding of its origin. Kabinettskriege sincerely 
apologizes for the confusion.

Dear Reader,

Ahhhh. This topic. Almost nothing I choose to write about will lose me as many friends in so short a span of time, I'll wager. The issue of facial hair among eighteenth-century men is one that sharply divides reenactors of this era, perhaps more than any other issue. So, this post will use period images in an effort to explore the topic in some detail.  In this post, I want to briefly track the course of men's facial hair (with particularly reference to military settings) between the middle of the seventeenth century and near the end of the eighteenth century. There has been a lot of excellent work on this subject by both academic historians, such as Dr. Alun Withey, as well as public historians such as Adam Hodges-LeClaire.

Received wisdom is that during the eighteenth-century, only madmen, beggars, cripples, Catholic Priests, and Jewish people wore beards in the Northern Atlantic World. By and large, I would agree with that assertion. Beards were not common, and should only be worn when portraying one of the groups above. However, in order to fully grapple with this fact, we need to examine the entire era.

Beards were quite common, even among soldiers, during the Thirty Years War. This can be observed in the etchings of French artist Jacques Callot, specifically a series entitled, "Les Grandes Misères de la guerre". The etching below, depicting the enrollment of soldiers, shows the veteran commanders in the right foreground, most of them have beards (even if it is just a goatee.)
Indeed, in the middle of the seventeenth century, it was quite common for monarchs to possess neatly trimmed facial hair. Gustav II. Adolph of Sweden, Karl X. Gustav of Sweden, Charles I of England, Charles II of England, Frederick William, the "great" Elector of Brandenburg, Louis XIII of France, and during the early portion of his life, Louis XIV of France. In 1659, Louis XIV still appears to have a "soul patch" in the tradition of his father, by 1673, he is simply sporting a mustache. However, in almost all of these cases, the beard portion of their facial hair is carefully managed, or even shaved completely. We must thank the monarchs of this era for their popularization of the Soul Patch.



As Dr. Alun Withey has written, razors and the act of shaving came to symbolize the Enlightenment, and control over nature. Dr. Withey has also suggested that shaving came to embody a "cult of youth", and indeed, I would argue that it also resulted from a desire to imitated classical norms. By the early eighteenth-century, these factors had combined to make (clean) shaving a necessity across the Northern Atlantic World. Thus, in paintings across Europe between 1650 and 1700, we see a gradual reduction, but not always a complete elimination of facial hair. 

Soldiers in the second-half of the seventeenth century began to shave more and more, as can be observed in the paintings of Johan Filip Lemke, a Swedish battle painter active in this era. Lemke's art develops a clear trend: in the early part of his career, mustaches were common among infantry soldiers, and goatees were common among the cavalry.

Musketeers in the mid-seventeenth century,
Sketch by Johan Filip Lemke
By the end of Lemke's career, infantrymen were clean-shaven, following the patterns set by late-seventeenth-century monarch Karl XI, and his early-eighteenth-century son, Karl XII.





The situation in the early-eighteenth century can be observed in the paintings of Jean Antoine Watteau, who demonstrates that the fusiliers he encamped with were almost always clean shaven. I have reproduced a number of them below, so that you may have a representative sample. They were executed during the later years of the War of Spanish Succession.





The Portal of Valenciennes, 1709 
These paintings clearly show that like their splendid Sun-King, most French infantry soldiers were clean shaven in the early-eighteenth century. This would remain the norm for both military and civilian fashion for around one hundred years, being challenged by the development of prominent facial hair once again in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. However, unlike beards, mustaches remain a more challenging subject to adequately address in the Kabinettskriege-Era. We cannot simply assert that mustaches were the provenance of the insane, indigent, or specific religious groups. Rather, in both military and civilian settings, mustaches need to be carefully contextualized. 

In military settings, the most famous group consistently possessing mustaches are grenadiers. It has been suggested that these men wore mustaches as a result of a desire to imitate Turkish fashion. John Evelyn, commenting on the development of these troops in 1677, had this to say on the subject:
"Now were brought into service a new sort of soldier called Grenadiers, who were dexterous in flinging hand grenadoes, every one having a pouch full; they had furred caps with coped crowns like Janizaries, which made them look very fierce, and some had long hoods hanging down behind, as we picture fools. Their clothing being likewise piebald, yellow and red."[1]
Clearly, this quote is an indication that these uniforms of these troops were designed to resemble Ottoman military fashion. However, I think there are three primary problems asserting that this applied to their mustaches. First and primarily, Evelyn does not mention grenadier mustaches anywhere in his quote, leaving us to infer that he meant that all aspects of their fashion were imitating the Ottoman borderlands. Second, in 1677, the King of England, Charles II, likely wore a mustache, based on his portraits of 1675 and 1685, so it seems odd that wearing mustaches would need a justification lying in Orientalism for this particular type of soldier. Third, as recently as 1650, Evelyn himself wore a mustache, although he did not have one for his 1689 portrait.

David Morier's depiction of Grenadiers from Regiments:
Stammer, Tunderfeld, and Both

There is no question that grenadiers were the most famous wearers of mustaches, and even grenadiers who normally went clean shaven could occasionally be ordered to wear them. In 1721, British Army grenadiers were ordered to, "let their whiskers grow for the arrival of the King of Prussia," who was then contemplating a visit to Britain, on the occasion of the christening of his God-son, William Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland.[2] As it turns out, the King of Prussia cancelled his visit, and the mustaches were shaved.

However, the idea that only grenadiers wore mustaches as a result of imitating Ottoman fashion also seems odd in the face of overwhelming evidence that between 1670 and 1760, mustaches were quite common among infantry soldiers across German Central Europe and beyond. I've compiled a few period images below to demonstrate my point.





Austrian Fusilier in the 1730s 



Prussian Musketeers, showing both clean shaven and mustaches, 1730s 

Prussian Musketeers 1750s/60s
Prussian Musketeers 1750/60s


Austrian Grenadier and two Fusiliers in the 1750/60s 
French Soldiers at Assietta, Hyacinth de La Pegna
French soldier, Régiment Royal-Suédois, 1760s

Detail from The Siege of Yorktown, Louis Nicholas van Blarenberghe, 1786

These images demonstrate that mustaches were rather common among the infantry troops of the larger armies of German Central Europe and perhaps France as well. Cavalry soldiers wore mustaches with a greater regularity than infantrymen.

 If Grenadiers, Musketeers, Jaeger, Hussars, Dragoons, and Cuirassiers all wore mustaches, it does not seem as though we can assign the development of mustache wearing troops in the eighteenth century to a small number of specialists who were deliberately imitating Ottoman fashion. Imitations of Ottoman fashion occurred, there is no doubt, in the way that Bosniaken lancers were uniformed, the way which African musicians were uniformed, but I am not as confident that mustaches can be placed squarely within this realm. 

In the early portion of the eighteenth century, mustaches were still common among middle-aged men in the highlands of Scotland, but appear to have died out by the time of the 1745 uprising. 


Indeed, in the wonderful Penicuik drawings from the era of the '45 rebellion, the only individuals wearing mustaches are children, "playing at Hessians." Thus, by the 1740s, the mustache had come to be associated with Germanic soldiers in British minds. 


If the paintings of Bernardo Bellotto are any measure, it appears that the mustache may survived in civilian fashion in some parts of the Austrian Empire into the 1750s. The men below are wearing peasant clothing common in German Central Europe at this time, especially in the rural southern portions of the Habsburg State. 

Detail from Bellotto, Schloss Schoenbrunn, 1759
Other groups, of course, continued to wear mustaches as a mark of a specialized trade. Venetian Gondoliers seem to have fit into this mold, at least as depicted by Gaspare Diziani, in the middle of the eighteenth century:

Detail from La Sagra di Santa Marta
Russian civilians as well, appear to have ignored the moratorium on facial hair. Here, Giuseppe Moretti depicts merchants from Russia in Venice in the middle of the eighteenth century:

Detail from Prospettiva con Poritco
And what about Colonial America? Considering the marked aversion which the British Isles had towards mustaches, it is unsurprising that we almost never find them in Colonial America. Continental Army soldiers may not have always been cleanly shaven, but I would be shocked to find more than a week's growth. Even in the harsh winter at Valley Forge, a continental officer noted that Washington advised the men, "The want of uniformity in the soldiers' clothing, and its deficiency in quality, so far from slovenliness and unsoldierly neglect, ought rather to excite the men to compensate for those bleamishes,-- for instance, the soldier may always shave his beard."[3]

What does all this mean for those most interested in it: reenactors of this era? It is vital to tailor your facial hair to the specific time, person, and place you are representing. I see almost no evidence that aside from a few week period in 1721, that the British Army ever wore mustaches (much less beards!) in 1700-1789 era. If your heart's desire is to be a redcoat with facial hair, create a first-rate impression of a British Grenadier waiting for the arrival of the King of Prussia in 1721. Mustaches, while still very uncommon, can be found in a number of military impressions in Europe. If you want to wear a mustache in a military impression, develop of first-rate impression of a French or Spanish soldiers, or Hessian Grenadier or Jaeger from the American War of Independence, or attach yourself to one of a number of units who portray the Seven Years War in Central Europe.

If a full-beard is your desire, I would say that there are a number of impressions in the 1648-1789 era which might allow for it. In addition to being various shades of insane and crippled, you could portray a Russian merchant, or if a military impression is your heart's desire, portray a soldier in 17th Century Colonial America, or the era of the late-Thirty Years War in Europe. I understand that shaving is not convenient, and that beards take a long time to grow. However, if the eighteenth century past is worth recreating, it is worth recreating well.

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook,  or following us on twitter. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:


Thanks for Reading,





Alex Burns



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[1] John Evelyn, The Diary of John Evelyn, 400.
[2] The Weekly Journal, or British Gazetteer, April 29th, 1721.
[3] National Army Museum, 1991-07-117 (Journal of Captain John Davis)

Monday, July 29, 2019

Prussian Infantry Blankets from the Paintings of Hyacinth de La Pegna


Detail from La Pegna, Maxen, HGM
Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to look at examples of Prussian infantry enlisted-men's blankets as drawn in the paintings of artist Hyacinth de La Pegna. La Pegna is famous for his many excellent eighteenth century battle scenes, ranging from the Battle of Assietta to fighting in the Austrian Netherlands, to his most famous painting in the English-speaking world: The Ambush at Hochkirch.

La Pegna's Surrender at Maxen, HGM
The subject of Prussian soldiers' blankets is mentioned in contemporary sources A special thanks to Christoph Koester for sending me Musketier Dominicus' comment on blankets: "Then the Prince of Zweibruecken stopped by, and said that since the men had on an old clothing issue, it was getting cold, they should take the tent blankets. We were happy, and they issued them to us. Those who had no blankets carved up old tents, and took pieces of them."[1] An anonymous letter from an Unteroffizier in Regiment Nr. 3 (Anhalt) described the situation on the night of September 30th, 1756: "Our Tornisters were our pillows, the earth was our bed, and the heavens were our blanket." He had failed to retrieve blankets from the supply train for his Leutnant, as a result of a skirmish between the outposts of the army and enemy Grenzer. [2] We know that at least according to the infantry regulations, each Prussian tent squad was supposed to be issued with two blankets.[3]



La Pegna's Battle of Hochkirch, HGM



I had the opportunity to examine two of La Pegna's paintings up close  at the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in Vienna a few weeks ago. In that museum, there are two paintings, both by La Pegna, which depict Prussian blankets. Both of these paintings, the Attack at Hochkirch, and the Surrender at Maxen, were completed during the later years of the Seven Years War. The first painting, rather well known, is the detail below from La Pegna's depiction of the Battle of Hochkirch. The detail shows an Austrian grenadier and two fusiliers chasing a woman from a Prussian tent, with a camp bed and blanket prominently depicted in the tent itself.


Detail from La Pegna, Hochkirch, 

The remaining images, as well as the image at the topic of the post, come from a second painting by La Pegna: the surrender of Finck at Maxen. Here, Prussian troops are shown grounding their weapons and surrendering to Austrian forces, in cold weather. The temperature is apparent from a number of factors including the fact that many Prussian soldiers have their hands thrust inside their coats. I'll continue the textual narrative below, after having allowed you to examine the images.


Detail from La Pegna, Maxen, HGM

Detail from La Pegna, Maxen, HGM

Detail from La Pegna's Maxen, HGM
Detail from La Pegna, Maxen, HGM
With the following images, I believe that it might be proper to conclude the following: La Pegna believed that in Prussian camps, and on surrender marches, the Prussian army was equipped with rectangular blankets, white or off white in color, surrounded by two blue stripes (one blanket appears to have three, but that it is an isolated example.) The images above seem to indicated that the blankets were available to Prussian soldiers, not just officers, as the officer in the first of the four images does not have a blanket. It does not appear, at least to me, as though the soldiers depict in this image have formally turned their blankets into blanket coats, but I am open to those with contrary evidence on that point. However, the blankets have been made to a size where it was quite easy to wear them while walking in cold weather.

Obviously, this has been a rather cursory investigation of blankets in the Prussian army during the Seven Years War-era. If you have more information regarding Prussian army blankets in the middle of the eighteenth century, please let us know via the comments below, or via email, found on the about the author page.

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook,  or following us on twitter. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:


Thanks for Reading,





Alex Burns



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[1] Tagebuch von Musketier Dominicus, s. 77
[1]Curt Jany, Urkundliche Beitraege und Forschungen zur Geschichte des Preussischen Heeres, section 2, pg. 2. 1901.
[2] Reglement vor die königl. preussische Infanterie, 1750, pg. 297.