Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Brigade of Guards on American Service 1781

   In early 1776 a composite battalion was formed of detachments from each of the three Guards regiments for service in America.  Each company of the three Guards regiments  were to send 15 privates. Officers volunteered for service.  Although a Grenadier company already existed with each regiment none had a light infantry company, so one was  organised.  These various detachments were organised into regiment of eight battalion, one Grenadier and one Light Infantry companies and fielded a little over one thousand men.

   On arrival in New York on12 August 1776 the Guards were trained in Sir William Howe's light infantry discipline.  Due to command and control problems with such a large regiment the Guards were reorganized into two battalions;  the Grenadiers and four battalion companies were assigned to the first battalion while the Light company and the remaining four battalion companies were assigned to the second battalion.  In addition the Guards were now designated a brigade under the command of General Matthew.

In addition to this reorganization, the uniform of the Guards underwent a transformation.  Instead of the London parade ground appearance and more practical campaign look was acquired.  Regimental coats were shortened, shoulder straps replaced with blue cloth.  The
distinctive regimental lace was removed.  Trousers and short gainers issued.  The cocked hat was uncocked, lace removed, brim cut short and recocked on one side only.  The waistbelt was placed in storage and the bayonet standard attached to the
cartridge box belt.  Haversacks and a water tub issued.  The Grenadiers and Light Infantry were issued a curious hat-cap.  This appears to be a visor cap with a bearskin crest.  A possible drawing of this was done by Major John Andre on his map of Brandywine. To distinguish the two battalions the first were to leave strips of lace on their shoulder straps.

As the was progressed it appears that the regimental lace was placed back on the coats, and bayonets may have regained their separate belts.  At least by the time of the southern campaigns.

   The Guards fought extensively throughout the American war.  In fact few units saw more service throughout the war then the Guards.  In 1776 notably at Long Island and  Fort Washington.  The brigade also participated in the 1777 campaign at the battles of Short Hills and later in the invasion of Pennsylvania and the 1778 retreat through New Jersey.  The last major battle in which the brigade served in the northern theater was Springfield, New Jersey in  1780.

 The following year, the brigade was sent south and served with the Lord Cornwallis field force, most notably at Catawba Ford, Guilford Courthouse and Yorktown in October 1781. They were commanded by the colorful brigadier Charles O'Hara.  Due to losses the Brigade was reduced to two battalions of two battalion companies and one flank company each.  Often the flank companies, especially the Light company were detached.   By the time of Yorktown the Guards were reduced in  numbers to a single battalion.

My miniature Brigade of Guards is made up of figures from the truly outstanding Fife and Drum miniatures.  They are the only company out there to do a historically correct Guards figure for this time period.
In addition they also do the correct Grenadier and Light figure with the the curious hat-cap.  So you can field a correct Brigade of Guards.  There is no evidence that the regimental colors were sent to American so this is one of the few units I have without colors.  On the table top the Brigade fields two thirty figure battalions and two twelve figure flank companies.


  1. Thanks for sharing your deep knowledge and super figures!

  2. Man! You field BIG battalions! Good history lesson on the Guards as a bonus.

  3. Thank you for the very kind comments. And yes I do tend to like big beefy battalions. Which is why I do not have too many battalions.

  4. I shared this on the evil Book of Faces.

  5. Very nice. I'm pretty sure the hat-cap, as illustrated, was ornamented with an simple feather fixed on the left-hand side and leaning across the crown, rather than a bearskin crest. Whether the feathers were colour-coded to identify grenadiers and LI, as supposedly occurred in the combined Flank Battalions, I am not sure.

  6. artymcclench, thank you for the comments. You are correct it is feathers and not a bearskin roach. I went back to my research materials and pulled up the correct information. Looks like I will do a post to correct this as I have gotten a lot of comments about the Guards. Please come back!