|Like the British Army itself, these reenactors display a range of lower leg-wear|
From Left: Linen Gaitered Trowser, Cloth Half Gaiter, Cloth Tall Gaiter, Blackballed Linen Half Gaiter
What is a gaiter, half-gaiter, spatterdash, or leggin? Historians, wargamers, and reenactors often confront a bewildering array of terminology in their effort to reconstruct the uniforms and equipment of the armies of the past. Historical enthusiasts often have concrete views on this subject, convinced that one word always refers to one type of garment, in a standard fashion. Infuriatingly, that is rarely the case. References to lower leg-wear in Euroepan armies during the Kabinettskriege era need to be carefully interrogated for context and even then treated with caution. A recent article on 18th century notebook provides links to civilian and military images. For the purposes of this post, only sources from the British and Prussian regular militaries were considered.
In the quest to understand this topic, I have had a great deal of help. The seeds of this article were planted in Sjt. Canady's living room during the winter of 2014, as he carefully explained the current state of understanding on this topic. As reenactors, Canady and I were attempting to responsibly recreate the clothing of the past, and this quest shows no signs of stopping. Canady carefully compiled a mountain of evidence from the American War of Independence. I researched a number of British sources from the 1740s, and a larger number from 1760s Prussia. Addition sources and information comes from research by Matthew Keagle and other specialists in eighteenth-century clothing. Despite the bewildering array of lower-leg garments on display in these pictures and text of this post, it is important to keep in mind that as far as possible, units of soldiers would have been uniform with one another, even if the armies they fought in contained great variation.
|Reproduced Prussian Stiefeletten (Gaiters)|
Since the era of Marlborough and before, European armies had used gaiters [German: Stiefeletten/Gamaschen] to protect the lower legs of their soldiers. These garments usually stretched from the shoe to the knee or mid-thigh, buttoning on the outside of the leg, and were constructed of a linen or twill material. Usually, white, beige, or grey, this style of garment had no standard name in the eighteenth century. Period sources refer to them as, "gaiters," and "spatterdashes." In these two names, there are often variants, such as gaitor, gaytor, gayter, and spatterdashers. Going into the era of the Seven Years' War, these garments were standard in European militaries.
It is often assumed that "spatterdashes" refers a shorter type of gaiter, the "half-gaiter" or "short gaiter." This may be correct in some circumstances, but cannot be taken for granted. During the 1745-6 Jacobite rebellion (the '45), General Wade's army purchased, "12,000 pair of Breeches, 12,000 shirts, 10,000 woolen caps, and 1,000 Blankets, 12,000 Pair of knit Woolen Gloves, and 9,000 Pair of Woolen Spatterdashes." The context of this purchase makes it extremely unlikely that these are half-gaiters, and more likely that they are tall woolen gaiters for winter use. In addition, the use of adjectives such as "half" before spatterdashes makes it rather unlikely that this term always refers to a short or half gaiter.
|A Prussian NCO with black (likely) cloth gaiters, 1770|
As demonstrated by the reference above, in the middle of the eighteenth century, armies began to utilize alternating gaiters as a cold weather garment. In May of 1744, Frederick the Great of Prussia ordered:
"His Royal Majesty has graciously commanded that the infantry regiments should have black gaiters of twill, each regiment should send a sample of these when completed. This should be done to be completed by Autumn. The black gaiters should be worn in autumn and winter. In the spring, replace them with a pair of white gaiters. The black gaiters should be worn in peacetime during winter garrison for six months out of the year, and in wartime for the whole campaign season and through the winter, to be issued every year."By the end of the Seven Years' War, the Prussian Army began to utilize gaiters that were both black and made of wool cloth. After 1761, Allied armies overran the portions of Silesia where linen was produced, it is possible that this had some impact on the use of wool cloth. By 1773, Prussian General Schemtau reported,
"The Gaiters: They had formerly been made out of twill, but it is better that they be made out of cloth, experience has taught us that these are warmer and lay better, so that the soldier looks more orderly, therefore, they have been almost universally adopted. Although they cost twice as much as the others, they only need to be issued once a year, because they are much more durable than the others, and the company proprietors prefer to issue something that looks better."The Prussian Army had experimented with white and black twill gaiters throughout the century, but by the end of the Seven Years' War, they increasingly employed tall cloth gaiters as a result of warmth, appearance, and durability. The British army took a much longer road, but reached much the same conclusion. In 1784, at the end of the American War of Independence, the British Army formally adopted the tall cloth gaiter as standard:
"Proceedings of a committee of General Officers, appointed by the Board, the 15th of June, 1784:.. the Committee is likewise of opinion, that the black linnen gayter at present in use is extremely inconvenient, and prejudicial to the soldier: and earnestly propose a black woolen cloth gayter with white metal buttons, without stiff tops, in its place."A few weeks later, a royal warrant confirmed, "the gaytors to be made of black woollen cloth, (instead of linen), with white metal buttons; and without stiff tops." Both the British and the Prussian armies standardized the black wool tall gaiter in the 1760-1785 era. In the British case, this came after a long period of experimentation with different types of legwear.
|Phillip James de Loutherboug, Soldier Study|
The British army officially utilized a linen tall gaiter, often with a stiff top made of leather, for much of the eighteenth century. When encountering the word gaiter in British military sources, particularly in isolation from other adjectives, it may be safer to assume that it refers to a linen tall gaiter than any other article of clothing. Fortunately, there is usually a bewildering array of adjectives which accompany these terms. Bennet Cuthbertson described the linen gaiter in 1768:
"Gaiters being first designed to prevent the dirt and gravel from getting into the shoes, and therby galling the soldiers feet upon a march, the greatest pains should be taken to answer thoroughly that purpose, by shaping them to the leg without wrinkles, to come down low upon the quarters of the shoe, and to have their tounges full large enough to cover the buckles, without rising from them, on every motion of the foot: stout grey linen answers best for gaiters to be blacked, and as that sort only are, with great propriety, for some time past, in general use throughout the Army (white gaiters being merely for parade and show, and by no means calculated for a soldier's convenience) they do not require being made longer, than just to meet the kneeband of the breeches, as a stiff leather top, like those to huzzar boots, is occasionally added to them, which buckles behind above the calf, entirely covers the pan of the knee, defends it when kneeling in the strings, and is a considerable addition to the good appearance of the leg: small horn, or metal buttons, without* shanks, are best adapted to these gaiters, as they will last for years; and it will contribute greatly to their fitting tight and smooth upon the leg.."Cuthbertson follows this with a description of half gaiters:
As long gaiters confine and heat the Soldiers legs too much, upon a March, in warm weather, it will be prudent to furnish them with black short ones, to rise only to the swell of the calve, with a small peak at the topof the back seam, and made in every other particular, like the long gaiters: and as they are considerably cheaper, it must be oeconomical to wear them on all occasions, when the others can be dispensed with.
|These British troops show a mix of half gaiters and gaitered trowsers.|
Perhaps the most famous innovation in lower-leg garments during the American War of Independence was not a lower-leg garment at all: the gaitered trowser. In each year from 1776 to 1783, there are references to multiple units with gaitered trowsers, often simply rendered as "trowsers." In October of 1776, the 22nd, 46th, and 63rd Regiments possessed this garment. References to these garments are everywhere in 1777, and begin to become more specific in 1778. Intially, these garments appear to have been only linen for summer wear, but winter wool and cloth references become more frequent after 1777. John Peebles refers to brown cloth for trowsers in October of 1778, and then refers to "summer trousers" in 1779. Newspaper references to the 82nd Regiment of Foot describe, "blue cloth gaiter trowsers," in January of 1780. By the late war, even German units fighting for the British, such as Johann Döhla's Ansbach-Bayreuth Regiment reported, "we received heavy brown woolen cloth for making trousers."
|Detail of an image by Benjamin West, showing British Gaiters/Leggings|
However, despite the relative frequency of references to gaitered trousers, there are still more references to gaiters and yet another type of lower-leg garment: leggings. The British began to truly experiment with different sorts of legwear in North America, during the era of the Seven Years' War. Coming to North America, the British adopted the third type of lower legwear we must deal with in this saga: the Legging. Like the Gaiter and Spatterdash, words for leggings were frequently mispelled, or different terms used. They include: "leggins", "leggers", "Indian Spatterdashes", and "Indian stockings". In the Seven Years' War era, John Knox gives a description of several different types of this subset of lower leg-wear. According to Knox, these garments:
are usually made of frize, or other coarfe woollen cloth ; they ſhould be at leaft three quarters of a yard in length ; each Leggin about three quarters wide (which is three by three) then double it, and few it together from end to end, within four, five, or fix inches of the outfide felvages, fitting this long, narrow bag to the ſhape of the leg; the fiaps to be on the outfide, which ferve to wrap over the fkin, or fore-part of the leg, tied round under the knee, and above the ancle, with garters of the fame colour; by which the legs are preferved from many fatal accidents, that may happen by briars, ftumps of trees, or under-wood, &c. in marching through a clofe, woody country. The army have made an ingenious addition to them, by putting a tongue, or floped piece before, as there is in the lower part of a spatterdash; and aftrap fixed to it under the heart of the foot, which faſtens under the outfide ancle with a button.Knox also gives us a description of another type of leggin, used by rangers: "a pair of leggins of the same colour with their coat, which reach up to the middle of their thighs (without flaps) and, from the calf of the leg downwards, they button like spatterdashes." So- we have two types of leggings presented in Knox's journal: a legging which uses fully sewn but ties at the knee and ankle, and one which is ostensibly sewn at the thigh, and buttons, like a regular gaiter, from the calf down.
|HM 17th Regiment of Infantry displays black woolen leggings|
Leggings became a common British military garment. In fact, they became so common, that it appears that many in the British army began to use the term legging and gaiter interchangeably, as they had with gaiters and spatterdashes before. This does not mean that in certain circumstances, leggings and gaiters implied different garments. Especially as sources move into the era of the American War of Independence, meanings become rather unclear. For example, in 1774, a court-martial from the 10th Regiment of Foot references, "leggins with binding", but also "leggins buttons and thread." Such items could certainly be used to construct leggings as described by Knox for Gorham's Rangers, above.
However, some sources from the American War of Independence seem to imply that the term "leggings" actually means "gaiters,": or that leggins refers simply refers to a thigh/knee length military garment which buttons from the ankle to the top of the garment. Allow me to cite a few examples. In Boston on November 17th of 1775, British Headquarters ordered, "the guards to mount in leggins or cloth gaiters till further orders." This order could imply that leggins and gaiters are the same, or different items, depending on how it is read. An July 11th, 1777 order for the 84th Regiment (Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment) states that soldiers are to, "constantly appear in their short leggings the tops of which must be taken great care of as they are to be occasionally worn when the Battalion or further detachments from it are called to active service." "Tops," in this case, referring to stiff leather tops, which were often used with linen gaiters in this era. Finally, a orderly book for the 49th Regiment refers to, "linnen leggins," twice. Linen is a very common substance used to make gaiters, but not usually associated with Seven Years' War-era leggings. There are also two Brigade of Guards orderly books which refer to linen leggins. Is it possible that like spatterdashes, "leggings" had become a catch all term for gaiters?
|Reproduced tall woolen gaiters|
With the sheer amount of references to woolen leggings and gaiters, it is perhaps unsurprising that these tough garments were made standard issue after the wars. Of course, both of these garments would be replaced again by straight leg trousers the Napoleonic Wars, and even by 1788, British light infantry appears to have favored a return to the half-gaiter. In the 1760s-1780s, however, both the Prussians and the British found that woolen gaiters, or garments which offered a close approximation of them, truly met the needs of eighteenth-century fighting men.
Thanks for Reading,
 Andrew Henderson, The Edinburgh History of the Late Rebellion, 87.
 Quoted in Hew Strachen, British Military Uniforms 1768-1796, 187. ; Mark Odintz, The British Officer Corps, 4.
 Quoted in Constantin Kling, Die Infanterie-Regimenter Allgemeine Bemerkungen, 51.
 Fredrich Wilhelm von Schemttau, Einrichtung des Krieges-Wesens für die Preussische Infanterie zu Friedens-Zetien, 209. (Page number is from 2016 reprinting)
 WO 26/32, Miscellany Book, 298.
 Ibid, 303.
 Quoted in Hew Strachan, British Military Uniforms, 147.
 Ibid, 147-8.
 WO 71/83 1, 41. WO 71/82, 405.
 Peebles, American War, 227-9; 252.
[11New York Gazette, 17 January 1780.
Johann Döhla, A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution, 231.
 John Knox, A Historical Journal, Vol 1, 220.
 Ibid, Vol 1, 238.
 WO 71/80 176-184.
 Quoted in Strachan, British Military Uniforms, 189.
 Murdoch Maclaine Papers
 George Washington Papers, Series 6, Military Papers, 1755-1798, Subseries 6B, Captured British Orderly Books, 1777-1778: Captured British Army 49th Regiment Orderly Book, June 25-September 10, 1777 (August 21-24th, 1777).
 Quoted in Strachan, British Military Uniforms, 227.
 John Peebles, John Peebles' American War, 161, 431.
 Quoted in Hew Strachan, British Military Uniforms, 203.
 Ibid, 100.
 Ibid, 236.