|Impression and Equipment Guidelines
For use by McCall's State Dragoons Living Historians (AKA The Iron Scouts)
by Dan Murphy
American Soldiers of the Revolution fell into two basic groups: militia troops raised by local counties and called in times of emergency, and Continentals sanctioned by Congress and enlisted for the duration of the war. The best known example of militia troops is probably the Minute Men of Lexington and Concord. This early success set the ideal for the type army that Congress intended to field; citizen soldiers providing their
own arms and serving short terms between tending their farms and trades. In the Carolina campaign of 1780-81, most militia would have shown up as mounted infantry.
At the other end of the spectrum were the Continentals, professional troops with standardized equipment, enlisted for the duration of the war and trained in linear tactics, as were the standing armies of 'Continental' Europe.
Continentals were the troops George Washington lobbied Congress for early on and was denied. After a string of defeats at the hands of Britain's trained armies, Congress bent to Washington's wishes and a standing force of Continentals were formed, some American successes quickly followed. Continentals were generally raised by individual states and given to the control of Continental Commanders who were commissioned by Congress. Though well trained and issued the basic musket and bayonet, the Continentals were notoriously under equipped and lacking basic items such as coats, blankets, canteens, cartridge boxes etc. A common statement of the Continental army was, ‘make do or do without.’
Falling somewhere between the Continentals and Militias were 'state' troops. Raised for defined periods of time, usually three to six months, state troops were self equipped and paid by their individual states in land bounties. At times they served under Continental commanders as at Cowpens. State troops would have considered themselves a cut above regular militia and likely would have considered their position better off than the low paid Continentals who were required to serve out the war indefinitely.
So what exactly was a dragoon?
The term dragoon originates in the late 1500’s. A 'dragon' was a type of carbine carried by mounted infantry. By the 1770’s Dragoons had evolved from mounted infantry into light cavalry. During the war there were four Continental Light Dragoon Regiments. They were primarily employed as scouts, couriers, escorts and foragers. Dragoons were sometimes coupled with light infantry to form quick striking ‘light corps’ or Legions.
On the other side were the British Light Dragoons, both the 16th and 17th Regiments were deployed in America. Along with the 16th and 17th were a number of provincial mounted regiments. These provincial units were enlisted with loyalist 'Tory' Americans, mostly from New York and New Jersey. Well trained and equipped, the provincials wore green coats and usually served under English officers. Tarleton’s Legion was one provincial unit in particular that enjoyed a great deal of initial success in South Carolina. Other mounted provincial units serving in the South Carolina were Coffin’s New York Dragoons and the Queen's Rangers.
McCall’s State Dragoons were likely commissioned with an eye toward countering these British provincials.
Our target impression is to portray McCall’s State Dragoons, who arrived for service, “equipped as Horsemen with swords and pistols”. A member of McCall’s Dragoons would have lived in the upstate or ‘back country’ of frontier South Carolina. He was probably of English or Scots Irish descent, most likely protestant, and had probably seen militia service in the past against the Cherokee. He may well have served in General Rutherford’s expedition against the Cherokee Nation in ‘76-‘77. Likely civilian professions for recruits would have been farmers, stockmen, millers, sawyers, coopers, tanners, wheelwrights, and blacksmiths - the frontier middle class, individuals who could equip themselves with a good horse and serviceable weapons. Keep in mind that McCall’s Dragoons left home to fight the best army in the world, as a unit we should appear ‘well heeled’ but not ‘issued’.
The Road to Guilford Courthouse, by John Buchanan
Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier, by James Collins
A Devil of a Whipping, by Lawrence Babits
Military Exploits of James McCall, by Ron Crawley
The Basic Gear
Clothing - Don't fall into the mountain man or buckskinner impression. It is not accurate. Remember people wore leather in Europe before they figured out weaving. Upstate frontiersmen wore cloth, mainly wool and linen. Indians were always wanting to trade for two things, guns and cloth. Yeah leather fringe shirts looked cool on Fess Parker but it was only some long hunters that wore it on the frontier, and only if they couldn't get CLOTH!
A. Head gear - Leather helmet, round hat, civilian tricorn. No coon skins! G Gedney Goodwin has helmets for $50 to $80. Get type with visor.
B. Hunting frock or Hunting shirt - Can be either caped or smock style. Either way it should fit big. Canvas, hemp, linen or Linsey-woolsey would serve. Color should be what they refer to as unbleached (oatmeal looking) or some shade of brown. Keeping them an ‘earth tone’ color will give us more versatility for later impressions. The best frock I've seen so far is from Jas. Townsend and Son.
C. Leather Belt - A sturdy leather belt two to three inches wide.
D. Shirts - Cotton, though not correct may be what we end up with here just due to availability. Hemp or wool would also work. 2nd war for Independence shirts will work for a starters kit but the cut of the collar is not correct. Paisleys and checks were popular fabric patterns.
E. Trousers - Fall front breeches are best. Cotton will serve, but hemp would be better. Colors should vary blues, greens and browns. Period overalls are not as good a choice, they were issued to Continental and British troops but were likely rare in the upstate.
F. Hose - Wool hose with leather straps were worn with knee breeches. Colors ‘run’ the gamut.
G. Gaiters - I think the full length would be better for dragoons. Either canvas painted black or brown or gaiters made out of leather. A pair of hose straps works to keep them up. You can button your gaiters to your breeches but they tend to want to drastically lower your waistline when mounting/riding.
H. Footwear - Either boots or buckle shoes were the most common. If you spring for period boots you can avoid gaiters! There were string laced ‘bootees’ back in the day but they were not as common as buckles. For our impression, 2nd war for Independence brogans will do fine with gaiters covering the laces.
A. Haversack - Typically larger than civil war pattern although those would work for a start. Painting for weather proofing was common, red, brown or black.
B. Canteen - Two main types. Wooden ‘barrel’ style or metal military issue. Barrel style probably best for state troops.
C. Cartridge box - **See Shoulder arms below.
D. Sword Carriage - The shoulder style looks good and I think works better than the waist belt rig of the day. Godwin makes either the shoulder style runs about $70.00. Ron is making one with a canvas strap and leather frog from a pattern in the Dragoon sketchbook.
A. Swords - There were three options back in the day. Locally made, pulled of the mantle piece, or acquired surplus, all with leather scabbards. Backcountry blacksmiths started turning out horseman's swords early on but I haven't found anybody that can make one yet. Broadswords or hunting swords would come next. i.e. something your family passed down. Ron and I have broadswords already so it would probably be best if the rest differed, though not absolute. Goodwin has a hunting sword that's pretty cool, its a little short, but would be a dream to carry. As for acquired surplus, Goodwin has a couple of period military blades, the British dragoon and the American and British officers swords would work. Henry is using a 1796 British light cavalry blade from the Discriminating General, the blade is fine but he's had to have a leather scabbard made.
B. Pistols - Most common repop styles are the Queen Anne and the Kentucky. Unfortunately, most of the Kentuckys are patterned after the later 1820’s mountain man style with a too large front site and incorrect curve on the but grip. (Easy Ed!) The Queen Anne's are fine. For military styles the best is any of the British dragoon horse pistols. These would probably be the best around choice. There's also the French made Charleville pistol, but they were probably a bit more scarce in the upstate than the British pistols. Ultimately you should have two pistols, but they do not have to be the same type!
C. Shoulder Arms - McCall’s men often fought on foot as at Blackstocks and Beatties Mill. Right now we have two in the unit, I have a Charleville (French Infantry) musket and Ed has a Brown Bess (British Infantry) musket. If anybody wants to get a shoulder arm I’d recommend a rifle, that was the most common shoulder arm used in the backcountry. Other possibilities would be trade muskets (built by fur traders for dealing with Indians), blunderbusses, fowlers and actual carbines, I have never seen the later three offered in a catalogue but have seen them for sale at events. **Your cartridge box should match your shoulder arm, i.e. if you choose to carry a rifle you should be carrying a leather, soft sided shooting pouch. Musket boxes generally had a wooden inset wrapped in leather, suspended with a simple canvas shoulder sling. Another option is the leather cartridge belts issued to Continental dragoons and light infantrymen. They were were like a wallet worn on a waist belt containing twelve cartridge tubes for cartridges. I made one from a pattern in the ‘dragoon sketchbook’ without to much trouble.
D. Tomahawks/War clubs - Not necessary but I threw it in because one or two could make an interesting addition to a frontier unit - if you go with a hawk make sure you have a leather cover for the edge. I have a hawk if anybody wants to use it - but no cover.
Tack - For now I think we should stay real simple and put our money in other aspects of the impression.
Any English saddle rigged to tie blankets front and back will work. The longer the skirts and the flatter the seat the better.
B. Bridles and halters
Civilian style. Mixing and matching black and russet saddlery and tack was common in the day. There is little difference between 1780’s and 1860’s tack. Neil has found a dealer, Bison Saddlery, which makes a nice halter that would serve for both the first and second war for American independence.
C Pommel holsters
There is an excellent pattern in the dragoon sketchbook. I plan on taking my Doug Kidd holsters and put a bearskin toupee over the top flaps.
Fitting it all together - We should look like a group, not troop, of frontier horsemen. None of us should appear the same as the man beside him, different weapons, head gear, shirts, trousers, slings and traps. Some carrying shoulder arms and some not. But we should still have a look of cohesiveness about us, all having a sword, gaiters and hunting shirt. This impression will give us a great deal of flexibility in the hobby. We'll be able to portray any state or militia cavalry, Whig or Tory, that fought in the Revolution.
Back to Research Articles
© 2005, The Iron Scouts, Inc., All Rights Reserved