Monday, April 5, 2021

Nathaniel Greene's Southern Army December 1780 to September 1781


 One of my favorite articles in the Old Courier magazine was by Stephen Haller on building Greene's army 1780-81.  I have returned to it again and again and always found it inspiring.  Having used it to build my own armies I thought I might update and expand it.  Here is my take on building Greene's, Cornwallis' and Rawdon's armies.

Wargames like to talk about building an army.  Often, our miniature collections are really bits and pieces.  Few gamers can afford to build a actual historical army.  But America Rev War gamers can build an actual army due to the limited number who fought in the war.  The campaigns of American General Nathaniel Greene in 1780 to 1781 offer the wargamer a chance to build an actual historical army at an reasonable price.  Because of the variety of regiments within his army it is also a interesting force to field on the table top.  It includes Continentals and militia as well as light infantry, rifle armed units and cavalry.   A very nice variety of troops and a very nice collection.

Continental Line:

Lt. Col. William Washington's Horse:

Made up of the 1st and 3rd Continental Light Dragoons.  They served Greene throughout his campaigns and played decisive roles at Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse.  They number between 80 and 100 men.  The old uniform of the 3rd with white coats faced light blue is one of the most attractive uniforms from the period and a shame not to paint.  I have included the red demask guidon alleged to have been made for Washington.

Lt. Col. Henry Lee's Legion:

The 2nd Partisan Corp or as it's better known name,  Lee's Legion was formed in April 1778 when it was detached from the 1st Continental Light Dragoons.  Through its commander, "Light Horse" Harry Lee and his memoir the Legion's service is one of the better known regiments during the American Revolution.  As to if it was an elite unit, that is up to the reader to decide. But what is not debatable is it could be, at times as ruthless as the British Legion with whom it fought. It was a very active part of Greene's army and played a prominent role in his campaign. Incidentally, Lee's  memoir was written partly to adress the controversy over Lee's action at Eutaw Springs.  His son, Robert E. Lee would continue the defense of his father in later editions of the book.

Legion Dragoons:

  I understand that suggesting Lee's Legion were not dressed in green coats might go against current  practice.  This color combination  is usually suggested by Lee's ambush of Pyle's loyalists.  Lee himself in his memoir says they were dressed similar to the British Legion in green.  (Please note the memoirs were published long after events and have been questioned in numerous details).  When I painted them up I bucked tradition and used the painting of Lee himself in a tan/brown faced green coat. I feel thus might be a more accurate presentation.  Again, my opinion only and I wouldn't criticize another interpretation.

In addition I also used the following quote from private Shaw of the 33rd regiment of foot. He was captured just prior to Guilford Courthouse and wrote later:

"Scarcely had we gone half way up the lane, when seven of Lee's light horse made their appearance: my companion swore there was Tarleton's light horse coming, and, says he, ‘we shall be taken up on suspicion of plundering, and get 500 lashes a piece.' ‘No;' said I, upon observing their brown coats, and white cockades, ‘no, friend, you are deceived; these must be the rebels.' Having therefore discovered his mistake, he began to cry;--but for my part, I thought it very good fortune.—As they were advancing towards us, we concluded to go and meet them; which we accordingly did, and falling on our knees begged for quarter; which they granted ….

Legion Infantry:

The Infantry of the Legion are much more of an mystery.  I think the evidence suggests the Legion infantry had a different uniform from the mounted element. There was an issue of enough cloth to three officers to make coats of blue faced red and lined white (see p40 Katcher Uniforms of the Continental Army). This was from the clothier general of Maryland in 1782.  There is also a portrait of an officer of the Legion Infantry,  Lieutenant Laurence Manning who was shown in a blue coat faced red with silver lace.

 Delaware Continentals:

After the Battle of Camden the once proud Delaware regiment is reduced to 175 rank and file plus officers.  They are reorganised into two companies of about 90 men each.  One company, under Captain Jaquett is assigned to the 2nd Maryland battalion as a line company.  The other company under Captain Kirkwood serves as a light infantry company.  They served as part of the famous Maryland-Delaware light battalion and later were often assigned to Washington's cavalry as infantry support.  Regimental coats were blue faced red and lined white.  Both companies had been issued cocked hats with yellow lace trim.

Maryland Continental line:

Maryland Brigade: Colonel Otho Williams

1st Maryland Battalion (later regiment)

2nd Maryland Battalion (later regiment)

Greene had two veteran battalions or regiments of Maryland Continentals with him throughout his campaigns. Their strength ranged from a high if about 300/350 men at Guilford Courthouse to 200 or less at Hibkirk Hill and Eutaw Springs.

 The actual composition of these two groups has caused much confusion.  Following the disaster at Camden Gates reorganised the Marylanders at Hillsboro North Carolina from two brigades of  eight regiments into the Maryland Regiment of two battalions and the light infantry companies assigned to the new light battalion.  The September  returns list  42 field officers, 30 company  officers and 797 rank and file present.  When Greene arrived in December the Marylanders and an additional one hundred recruits (from the so called Additional Maryland battalion) were organized into three battalions;  the new 1st Maryland  battalion was formed from the survivors of the old 1st Maryland brigade, the 2nd Maryland battalion made up of survivors from the 2nd Maryland brigade and the Light companies assigned to the Light Battalion.  In January 1781 each battalion is listed with 300 or 350 men. By the time of Hobkirk Hill and Eutaw Springs they were down to 240 - 200 men. The Additional battalion men were distributed between the two line battalions.  

The uniform of the Maryland line were blue coats faced red and lined white.  Recruits from the Additional Maryland battalion were reported to have brown coats faced red and lined white.  Cocked hats were trimmed in white lace. Belting were either white or black leather.  Linen or wool overalls were off white or tan material.  In the hot months linen hunting shirts were issued to replace the wool coats.  

Virginia Continental line:

Virginia Brigade: Brigadier Issac Huger

4th Virginia Regiment

5th Virginia Regiment

Greene had two Virginia Continentals with him for most if his campaign.  One Regiment or battalion was organized from the survivors of Buford's 3rd Virginia Detachment (made up if the old 6th, 8th and Gist's Virginia regiments ), Porterfield's light infantry and recruits.  It is commanded by Colonel Hawes.  These be one the 4th Virginia Regiment.  An newly organized 5th Virginia Regiment arrives in time to join Greene's army retreat into Virginia.  Both are large regiments of over 300-350 men at Guilford Courthouse but by Hoboken Hill they are down to 240 men.

Both regiments were supposed to wear blue coat faced red.  It is possible other regimental coats were  issued and sleeved jackets are mentioned for the 5th.  Hunting shirts were issued for hit weather.

Maryland - Delaware Light Infantry battalion:

Was in existence from November 1780 to February 1781.  Its actual organization is open to question.   It appears to have had three companies from the Maryland Regiment ( two line and one light), plus Kirkwood's Delaware company and a Virginia company.  This battalion was disbanded and the companies returned to their patent units after crossing the Dan river.  Once Greene returned to North Carolina he reformed the light battalion.  This time it was made up of four companies and was slightly smaller then the original battalion. The men of this elite battalion would be wearing the uniform of their the parent regiment.  

North Carolina Continental Line:

Major Eaton's NC light infantry 

North Carolina Brigade: Colonel Jethro Summer

1st North Carolina

2nd North Carolina

3rd North Carolina

North Carolina's Continental line was destroyed at Charkeston in 1780.  It was not untill Cornwallis mar hed into Virgina that they were able to rebuild the line.  They did so by drafting milita to serve for 12 months. An advanced detachment under Major Eaton was used as light infantry and was attached to Lee's Legion.  Eventualy three battalions of about 200 men each commanded by Colonel Jethro Summer arrived in time for the battle of Eutaw Springs.

  North Carolina was one if the poorest colonies and their Continentals were amount the lest uniformed.  The 1779 regulations suggested light blue regimental coats faced and lined white with drummers in blue faces white also.  It us doubtful if anyone, other then officers wore thus uniform.  More probably they wore a mixture of hunting shirts and civilian clothing.  Because of their lack of uniforms these figures could do double duty as militia on your table top.

Continental Artillery:

Served throughout the campaign with mostly six pound guns.  Blue coats faced and lined red and yellow trimmed cocked hats.

Militia and State Forces:

The various militia, Rifle men, mounted militia and State regiments deserves a page of their own.  But because numbers and regiments varied from month to month this is almost impossible to do. I suggest painting up a number of stands for militia regiments and rifle men that can be used for various battles.  Four to eight regiments would be enough for any historical battle.  Figures should be dressed in mixtures of civilian clothing and hunting shirts.  Actual uniforms would be few but could add to the appearance if you want.  Use your imagination!


  1. Mark, this is an impressive mustering of Greene's Army. Well done!

  2. Those are very nice and a relatively easily achievable force as you rightly say, as well as a nice bit of history too:)

  3. Good post. Can you talk a little bit about your Maryland flags ( blue, red and yellow, each with stars in a blue field in the upper quarter). I’m not familiar with them, but they are good looking.

    1. I had these done by The Flag Dude about 8-9 years ago before my present research. I gave each battalion a grand division tho flag with either stars or strips in the upper canton and a national flag based on the Virginia flags if a solid color with a scroll and number of regiment.

  4. Beautiful parade Mark, wonderful looking units!!

  5. Nice to see your lovely collection of AWI Americans Mark. You are certainly correct that the stake if th war allows for more accurate representation of the forces without breaking the bank!

  6. One if the advantages of the period

  7. A very enjoyable read, thanks.

  8. I think we should all show our appreciation of Greene and Cornwallis that they had the foresight to muster perfect armies for wargaming!

  9. I can just imagine one of Greene's letters to Congress. " thank you for the additional Continental regiments but I must decline them. It will make raising an army of miniature soldiers for future wargamers too expensive. Please send more militia as they will be less expensive and more useful for these gamers. "