Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Late Revolutionary war Virginia Militia cartridge box issuance

Cartouche Boxes

In the opening stages of the American Revolution, many Virginians in Militia companies, or the new Continental regiments were armed with older "Cartouch" or Cartridge boxes (frequently called "belly" boxes in modern parlance) that belted around the waist, and/or shot bags and horns. Many arms shipments from England in the past had included these cartouch boxes with bayonets as part of a complete "stand of arms." Around 1,200 cartouch boxes were inventoried in the Williamsburg Powder Magazine in 1775 and helped supply the fledgling Virginia Continental Regiments (Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia 1773-1776, Volume 13, Pages 223-4.) These boxes were light and economical. A thin leather flap was nailed over a painted wooden box. Belt loops were nailed to the front of the wooden block. As defined in The Gentleman's Compleat Military Dictionary (1759):

CARTRIDGE-BOX  is a Case of Wood, or turn'd Iron covered with Leather , holding a dozen Musquet Cartridges; it is wore upon a Belt, and hangs a little higher than the right Pocket-Hole.

[Cartridge] POUCH; a Grenadier's Pouch, is a square Case or Bag of Leather, with a Flap over it, hanging in a Strap of about two Inches broad, over the left Shoulder...

Although the British generally differentiate the two by using the terms box [belly] or pouch [shoulder] , American soldiers were not always as unambiguous, such as James Johnston, who testified that " my Cartridge box was never of [off] my neck"

British issue "Belly" Cartouch box from historical image bank

Wartime shortages caused Adjutant General and soon to be Quartermaster General, Timothy Pickering to suggest to Governor Jefferson that Virginia substitute waist boxes of this type instead of shoulder pouches in 1780.
To Thomas Jefferson from Timothy Pickering, 3 July 1780
War-Office July 3d. 1780

We did ourselves the honour of writing to your Excellency on the 20th ulto. when we expected to be able to send you 2000 cartridge boxes: but we have been disappointed; and Major Peirce has received at present but between six and seven hundred: nor, are we certain how soon the rest can be furnished. But as the whole number will be incompetent to the demands of your state, we beg leave to suggest to your Excellency the expediency of getting a quantity made in Virginia; and as the time is pressing, a slighter kind may be provided. The British have for several years past furnished their new levies with cartridge boxes made of close wood (as maple or beech) with no other covering than a good leathern flap nailed at the back near the upper edge, and of sufficient breadth to cover the top and whole front of the box: they are fixed to the body by a waist belt which passes thro’ two straps that are nailed to the front of the box. Cartouch boxes of this kind will answer very well, and may be made at small expence and with great dispatch."

Soft Pouches
Shoulder slung pouches seemed to have been preferred, and they offered quite a bit more protection than the waist belt boxes that had only a single leather flap . A variety of forms, materials and capacities are noted (some holding 19 rounds, others 24 and etc.) but many featured a bag with a leather flap and shoulder straps nailed to the back of the wooden block from the exterior.

American 19 hole cartridge pouch or box with linen strap and
 "soft" bottom construction from historical image bank

American Cartridge box and webbing sling used by a Connecticut soldier,
Benjamin Fogg,in the New York campaign of 1776.

American 24 hole cartridge pouch with linen strap from historical image bank

RWq56d- Cartridgebox with 24 drilled holes of Gideon Norton from Connecticut who served 
at White Plains, Trenton, Princeton and Morristown. Henry Whitfield Museum

A proposed "Contract for 3000 Cartridge boxes, to hold 23 rounds, with a bag, a large strong flap to cover the bag and box, and a buff belt with a buckle." was offered by the State of Virginia to Edward Simpson of Fredericksburg, but it does not appear that the terms of the contract were ever agreed upon. Associated correspondence indicates that Simpson initially made at least two hundred boxes. Incidentally, George Connolly's oddly specific pension application states that prior to being wounded by gunshots at the battle of Petersburg in 1781 "after firing 23 rounds himself." 

Tin Canisters
Tin Cartridge boxes or Canisters, were used in the Continental army as a substitute for leather cartridge boxes. At times, these canisters were misused. In 1777, Lieutenant "Rains of the 15th. Virga. charg'd with sending a Soldier (William Bluford) to bring water in a tin Cartouch box, found not guilty by the unanimous opinion of the Court." (Valley Forge orderly book of General George Weedon of the Continental Army ...).

"An original canister. Photo courtesy Paul Ackermann, Conservator, United States Military Academy." from  The Complete Continental Cartridge Cannister Chronicles by Michael Barbieri

 On the 16th of November, in 1779, the Virginia Board of War meeting in Williamsburg directed "... that to supply the want of leather Cartridge boxes, of which there is a great scantiness, two thousand tin boxes such as are used in the Continental Army by Light Infantry be immediately made, that recommendations be immmediatley sent out to county Lieutenants to have the arms and military stores in their possession, put into the best order..." Jefferson, Madison, and the Executive Council noted three days later that  "....they approve of having tin Cartridge Boxes made as proposed by the board of War..."

A substantial number of Canisters show up in returns from Capt. Charles Russell, Assistant Deputy Quarter Master for Virginia:

 112 "Tin Cannisters" February 1781; Boyd's Ferry Virginia

"Muskets-220, Bayonets-70, Ditto Slings-400, Cartg Boxes-69, Gun Flints-5640, pounds lead-2368, Pickers & Brushes-400, Tin Cannisters-112, ditto Slings -190, Fifes-20, Drums-6, Pair Drum Sticks-32, Oil Bottles-7..." (Summary Account of Articles purchased, Received and of the Issues and Deliveries therof under the direction of Capt. Charles Russell DQM for the district of Boyd Ferry from the first day Feb till the last day 1781 Inclusive, National Archives: Roll 30, Target 1,Volume 108).

Further information on these tin canisters or cartridge boxes has remained scanty, but the quote below implies that two hundred were issued in May, 1781:

Mr. W. Porter, C.M. Stores
Chesterfield Court-House, Va. May 5, 1781
Sir:- You will take under your charge five wagons, containing 400 stand of arms, complete with bayonets, &c. 200 leather cartridges, two hundred tin canisters, and two thousand flints, and you will proceed immediately to Suffolk. Immediately on your arrival, you will acquaint General Muhlenburgh of it. You will not by any means deliver any of the above articles without General Muhlenburgh's particular order."

"New Construction" Boxes

"New Construction" box from historical image bank

By 1779 some Continental soldiers were receiving 29 hole "new construction" boxes that mimicked the higher quality British issued pouches and provided a much greater amount of protection for the ammunition.These boxes were among the highest quality accoutrements being produced by Continental artificers for the infantry.

Receipt for "N. Const.d C Boxes" belonging to Woodford's Brigade of Virginia Continentals on June 18th, 1779. (Volume 130 Journal of Military Stores Delivered and Received Aug 9, 1778-Feb 18, 1780 NA 606471).

The Virginia Continentals of Woodford's Brigade appear to have been first issued a small number of "New Construction" Cartridge boxes on June 18th, 1779. Other units such as the 2nd Pennsylvania Brigade received them much earlier on January 8th of the same year; at a time when Woodford's Brigade was still being issued tin and damaged old construction leather boxes. Muhlenburg's Brigade of Virginians received 192 "New" Cartridge boxes on August 7th, 1779, likely of the "New Construction" pattern. 

Some new construction boxes may have been delivered to the state of Virginia from Continental stores as implied by Col. Febiger when he complained that the cartridge boxes the Virginia recruits he was organizing received substandard boxes- "many of the old construction" in 1781.

Domestic Production

Thomas Jefferson's 1781 Circular-Letter to the County Lieutenants of Virginia pleaded that:

"...every man who has or can procure a Gun have it instantly put into the best order a Bayonet fitted to it, a Bayonet belt, Cartouche Box, Canteen with its strap, Tomahawk, Blanket and knapsack. Some of these articles are necessary for his own safety and some for his Health & Comfort. The constant exhausture of the Public Stock of these Articles by calls from all Quarters renders it vain for the Militia to expect to be supplied from thence when they come into the Field, and nothing is so
easy as for every man to have them prepared while quiet and at Home. The cartouche box with a leathern Flap, a wooden canteen with its strap and a knapsack of thick linen (the better if plaid [possibly painted]) are what may be had in any man's family and there are few neighborhoods which do not afford artificers equal to the repair of a Fireloack and furnishing it with a Bayonet..."

In his deposition on the naval service of Northern neck resident Robert Hall,  John Neal "recollects the fact of his father making cartouch boxes for the men, & his mother melting up pewter basins into musket balls."

Boxes Issued for Militia Service 

Several pension applications and receipts show that Virginia Militia were regularly issued proper military cartridge boxes and muskets in 1780 and 1781; even when they entered service with civilian arms.

Pension application of Thomas McDearman S5749 f8VA+f13VA

Thomas McDearman one of the Virginia Militia
has Served his Tower [tour] of Duty in Genl. Stephens's Brigade
& delivered up his Gun & Cartridge Box – and is hereby
discharged by me
the 8th of November 80 S/ Nath'l G. Morris [Nathaniel G Morris]
Major [illegible]

Pension application of Daniel Holder W9064 Ruth Holder f29VA

Hilsborough Jany 30th 1781
Rec'd by Order of Colo. Gunby from Daniel Holder One Gun Bayonett and Cartridge Box.
S/ [illegible signature, possibly "Pat Danelly" ]. Lt. & A. [Lieutenant & Adjutant]

Pension application of Thomas Kitchen (Kitchens) R5998 f19VA

I was drafted sometime before the battle of Gilford [Guilford] Courthouse [March 15, 1781]... 
I cannot recollect the precise date. 
I was placed on for they called the Bullock gard [guard?] while the battle was being fought.When I went out to Guilford I took my small shotgun (for if I had not taken it with me they would have pressed it into service so I might as well take it.). I showed it to my Colonel, he said as I was a small follow I might keep it. But the rest of the officers took it from me, valued it and gave me a receipt for the valuation. And gave me a great heavy musket and cartridge box. They took my musket when they gave me my discharge, but never gave me back my little gun and I never got anything to do any good for my receipt. They asked me for my cartridge box. I told them I had none, so they said no more about it. I had thrown it away during our retreat at Guilford's battle. We were compelled to retreat at the top of our speed and it was so large and I was so young that I pulled out my cartridges slipped them into my knapsack and threw the cartridge box away.
Some North Carolina Militia soldiers were also issued muskets and bayonets despite mustering with civilian arms. Francis Myrick stated that "when he was attached to Greene's Army his gun, shot bag and powder horn was taken from [him] and a musket and cartridge boxes was given to him in their stead".


What were these cartridge boxes being issued in Virginia like? Complaints about the quality of the boxes were circulated:

the 300 cartouch boxes, that I informed you I understood were on the road coming from Virginia, are just come in. I have received them and can assure you that they are not worthy of the name. Numbers of them are without any straps, others without flaps, and scarce any of them would preserve the cartridges in a moderate show of Rain-what straps there are to the boxes of are linen."

Jefferson to E Stevens, 4 August 1780

"Richmond, August 4, 1780.
Your several favors of July the 16th, 21st, and 22nd, are now before me. Our smiths are engaged in making five hundred axes and some tomahawks for General Gates. ... We are endeavoring to get bayonet belts made. The State quarter-master affirms the cartouch boxes sent from this place, (nine hundred and fifty-nine in number,) were all in good condition. I therefore suppose the three hundred you received in such very bad order, must have gone from the continental quarter-master at Petersburg, or, perhaps, have been pillaged, on the road, of their flaps, to mend shoes, &c. I must still press the return of as many wagons as possible. All you will send, shall be loaded with spirits or something else for the army. By their next return, we shall have a good deal of bacon collected. The enclosed is a copy of what was reported to me, as heretofore sent by the wagons.

I am. Sir, with the greatest esteem,
your most obedient, humble servant,
Th: Jefferson."

Sadly, to my knowledge, no original cartridge boxes with an iron clad Revolutionary war Virginia provenance survive. Correspondence from 1781 points towards a motley mixture of the soft pouch/old construction boxes, new construction boxes, waist belt boxes and tin canisters being in use in Virginia. An intriguing and unique 9 hole leather covered waist box was found in Virginia with early 19th century newspaper cartridges in it is pictured in The Cromwell Collection.

Danish born Colonel Christian Febiger of the 2d Virginia commanded the General Rendezvous of Virginia's newly recruited Continental troops in 1781. After the British surrender at Yorktown, he wrote that:

"The arms in general are good but the cartouch boxes bad, many of the old construction and wore out. Some with waist belts, others without any belts at all slung by pieces of rope or other strings- I could wish that a quantity of British arms and accoutrements not exceeding 600 stands may be sent me."
( Fiebiger to Col Davies Dec. 3, 1781 )

Note: This is an updated and expanded post that was originally published in 2017.

Monday, April 13, 2020

French Rampart Muskets in the Revolutionary War Southern Theater by Jim Mullins

By 1778, Virginia was in dire need of additional arms, having armed her 15 Continental regiments, and other forces, which then took those arms out of the state. From September 1775 to July 1776 alone, the Virginia Committee of Safety had purchased some 3,325 Muskets and 2,098 Rifles from private hands (P109-124 The Gunsmith in Colonial Virginia, Harold B. Gill, Jr. Williamsburg, Va. [1974]). In 1781, Thomas Jefferson estimated over 5,500 arms had been “Carried into Continental service” from Virginia, which is a considerable number for a state that was at that time fielding 6,235 regulars and militia yet had only 71,052 free men over age 16 in Jefferson’s population estimate the year afterwards.

As a result, supplies of arms were running short, as illustrated by a letter from backcountry Militia Colonels William Preston and William Fleming to Virginia’s Governor Patrick Henry, dated July 8th 1778:
“… we are sorry to find that numbers of Our effective Men are not armed, which we can only account for from the Number of Firelocks that were purchased in these parts, for the use of the State...” (Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Historical Publications Collections Volume XXIII Draper Series, Volume IV p106)

Early on in the revolution, Virginia and other American states sought munitions and assistance from Europe including a past enemy, France:

Virginia Gazette, Purdie, March 22, 1776, page 2
Williamsburg, March 22.
"It is an undoubted fact, that between 8 and 9000 wt. of gunpowder is just brought into this colony, from one of the French islands, with a number of fieldpieces, four and six pounders, some muskets, &c."

Included in these various shipments of French arms were a number of "Rampart muskets". Governor Thomas Jefferson wrote in January of 1781 that of 5000 stands of arms "We received of Continental arms in 1779... one half of which were rampart arms...."

 Captn. de Klauman's report of Ammunition, Cannon, Small arms, Waggons... belonging to the State of Virginia July 17, 1779" lists at : "Hampton     7. French Amusettes" (Library of Congress) 

12,000 rampart muskets arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on April 20, 1777 aboard the Amphitrite and an additional 1,500 were landed at Portsmouth, New Hampshire on January 8th, 1778 aboard the Dutchess d'Grammont (American Military Shoulder Arms, Moller v. 1, Appendix 5).
In addition to complete rampart muskets, "From 1777 to 1780, at least 16,000 rampart musket barrels were received from France." (American Military Shoulder Arms, Moller, v. 1, p. 136).

What is a Rampart Musket?

An unaltered French model 1717 Rampart Musket 
Overall: 63 1/4" Barrel: 47" x .75 caliber Lockplate: 7 1/8"

In the 17th century, French arms makers were producing oversized (both matchlock and later flintlock) “rampart” or “demi-citadelle” muskets that were “used for the defense of the Places [fortifications]." 

Detail of plate 65 Artillerie pratique (1846) "Armes de guerre...fusil de rampart" showing a matchlock rampart musket with a hook, sometimes referred to as an "Arquebuses a croc".

Pierre Surirey de Saint Remy’s Mémoires d'artillerie contains a 1716 ordinance that notes that they will cost 25% more than a common soldier’s musket and were being procured from the same shops that were making the regulation infantry muskets. (Mémoires d'artillerie, In three volumes In quarto by Pierre Surirey de Saint Remy Volume 3 Paris, 1745 p 427-428). French Army small arms were officially standardized with the 1717 regulations, and a parallel, larger “rampart” sized version of the 1717 musket and later, the 1728 model musket were produced. Didier Bianchi estimates production at 30,000-40,000 for 1717 rampart muskets and a smaller unknown number of 1728 rampart guns (French Military Small Arms volume 1 p18-22).

A banded 1728 rampart musket style gun with a large, non regulation .85 caliber fully octagonal barrel (similar to the illustration of a matchlock rampart gun shown in Artillerie pratique). No complete specimens matching the 1728 regulations are known to the author at this time, and this atypical barrel may represent a thrifty arsenal reuse of an older barrel from French stores or a working life replacement (courtesy the Cromwell Collection). Other French rampart guns with non regulation barrels are in collections in France and America.
These rampart muskets differed from the common infantry muskets as they had thicker stocks and larger bores (rampart muskets weighed roughly 10.5 lbs, the same as an English "King's Pattern" Long land musket vs the roughly eight pounds of the contemporary French infantry musket): 

“The bullet of the soldier's musket is from eighteen to a pound [.69” bore firing .65” ball]; And the bullet of the rampart musket, is of an ounce or of sixteen to the pound [.73” bore firing .68” ball, roughly the same size as English muskets]”(Encyclopédie méthodique. Arts et métiers mécaniques. Tome 1 / , par Jacques Lacombe; Paris 1782)

Rampart muskets also lacked sling swivels or provisions for mounting a bayonet. These features suited the rampart musket’s intended use as a shoulder fired weapon that bridged the gap between the infantry muskets and light artillery for the defense of fixed positions. Lieutenant William Grant of the 42nd regiment mentions the difficulty in attacking the French entrenchments at Ticonderoga in 1758 “gave the enemy abundance of time to mow us down like a field of corn, with their wall-pieces and small arms, before we fired one single shot.” (The Royal American Regiment: An Atlantic Microcosm, 1755–1772, Alexander V. Campbell, p95) The “wall-pieces” Grant mentioned were likely a portion of the 1,000 stands of rampart muskets brought to Canada in 1755 (French Military Arms and Armor in America, 1503-1783, René Chartrand, p. 160-161)

An American restocked 1717 rampart musket's lock. Private Collection. 

Three unique and large (over 1 1/8"s) frizzen bridles from 1717 Rampart muskets have been recovered at the Point of Fork Arsenal site in Virginia (courtesy the Cromwell Collection). Additional rampart musket parts have been excavated in Virginia.

 Virginia’s stock of Rampart muskets from Continental stores, which lacked bayonets had "long lain dormant…supposed useless for the field"  (THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS: The Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and ...By James Morton -- Ed. "Smith, Madison and the Virginia Congressional Delegation to Governor Jefferson Philadelphia Apr. 27, 1781; also see Madison papers p88 Va. Delegates to TJ April 27th 1781) and remained in storage for two years while more suitable guns were issued. Other states were not as picky, and hundreds were lent to Pennsylvania in order to arm her militia:

"...When we had the honour of waiting on the council & consented to furnish arms for the militia, our views were confined to those who should form the guard in this city : the state of the public stores will not at present warrant a more extensive supply. We expect a quantity of rampart muskets from Virginia in a few days; they are substantial arms without bayonets : out of these the 750 asked for may be lent to the state. The one ton of powder you requested shall be delivered to your order."

Model 1728 Rampart lock found at Guilford Courthouse
This lock can be confirmed as a 1728 Rampart lock by the larger than musket sized 7.3 inch overall length. Note the lack of the bridle on  the frizzen spring featured on the 1717 models.

North Carolina received 2,200 rampart arms in 1780, and a 1728 pattern Rampart musket lock (identifiable as such due to the lock’s larger size) was recovered on the battlefield at Guilford Court House (fought on March 15, 1781). This likely indicates that some North Carolina issued rampart muskets were used in that battle. 

In December 1780, American traitor Benedict Arnold, now a British General, accompanied by Colonel John Graves Simcoe’s Queen’s rangers and other troops arrived in Virginia, attacking Richmond on January 5th, 1781. Arnold's force caused significant damage, and the poorly armed Virginia militia proved ineffective at stopping his invasion.

By April British reinforcements under General Phillips had reached Virginia and on April 27, 1781 the urgent needs for more arms brought these "useless" rampart muskets to the forefront. Several Virginia Delegates (Madison, Bland and Smith) wrote to Governor Thomas Jefferson on April 27th, 1781 from Philadelphia that:

"Having discovered that there were a considerable number of Rampart Arms belonging to the U.S. at this place, which have long lain dormant, (having been supposed useless for the Field,) we have found on enquiry that with a small alteration, and fixing Bayonettes to them they are capable of being renderd exceeding good Field Arms; & knowing the necessity of the State for a Supply of that article we have been extreemely desireous to have them alterd and Sent on with all possible dispatch…”

Paying for these alterations proved problematic. The Virginia delegates
“…flatterd ourselves that this might have been done expeditiously by the Intervention of some Virginia Merchants who had money in this City which they offerd to dispose of for the purchase of the Arms from the Continent; to have them fitted and transported at their own expence, and on their arrival in Virginia giving the State the offer of them upon terms yielding them a reasonable Profit for their trouble and expence in so doing; but when they gave in their proposals to us in writing, we were extreemely sorry to find that what would yield them a profit, (far short as they informed us of what might be obtaind by vesting their money in other Articles of Commerce,) greatly exceeded any allowance we thought ourselves Justifiable in agreeing they shd. receive, especially when we considerd the fowl condition of the treasury of the State, and that we must engage the faith of the State for the Immediate advance of one half the Money, and the payment of the other half on the delivery of the Arms. This determined us to embrace an Alternative, which we hope in the End will prove more Eligible; we have in consequence of that determination procured an Order of Congress to the board of War to have two thousand Stand immediately alterd and fitted up for field Service, to be forwarded with all possible expedition to Virginia and the remainder to be sent to Maryland and North Carolina.

A request was made for Jefferson to furnish
“the amount of 1,300 Pounds hard money_ or its Value in Paper,' such as will Circulate in this State; without which we find it will absolutely be impracticable to carry into execution a measure which will be productive of the greatest advantage to the Southern States, for want of some fund in this City we have often found ourselves greatly embarrassed, and frequently absolutely prevented from expediting Succours of whose consequences we are fully apprized to the Southward…”

In case this financial request was declined, the Virginia Delegates' Agreement with Pennsylvania gunsmith Ebenezer Cowell ("Agreement between the delegates of Virginia and Ebenezer Cowell of Philadelphia, to "Cut and put in good Repair two Thousand Ramport Muskets, the Property of the said State." April 2, 1781 published in Papers of James Madison, Vol 3 p86-Wm T. Hutchinson and Wm Rachal eds.) included a mechanism for him to receive 800 stands of these arms to resell himself in lieu of payment should the Virginian’s tenuous payment fall through.

"PHILADELPHIA April 27th. 1781

Memorandum of an Agreement entered into this 27th of April 1781

Between the Honble The Delegates of the State of Virginia on the one

Part, and Ebenezer Cowell of the City of Philadelphia on the other.'-

The said Cowell doth hereby undertake to Cut and put in good Repair two Thousand Rampart Muskets, the Property of the Said State, in the same Manner, and of the same length as those now Shewn in the War Office, at the rate of Seven Shillings and Six Pence Hard Money, or the value thereof in Paper Money at the Time of Payment. And the said Cowell doth hereby engage to finish Twelve Hundred of the said Muskets in Fourteen Days from this Time, and deliver the same to the orders' of the said Delegates to be transported to the said State of Virginia-and the Residue before the day of Payment.

And the said Delegates do hereby engage to Pay the said Cowell or order the said Sum of Seven Shillings and Six Pence Hard Money or the real value thereof in Paper m[oney] for each Musket, in Sixty days from the day of the Date of these Presents; and they hereby agree that if it is not paid at that Day, that the Eight Hundred Muskets or so many there­ of as shall be sufficient for the [pu]rpose shall be immediately sold to satisfy the said Cowell his demand according to this agreement.




Cowell worked quickly, on May 1, 1781 Madison and the Virginia Congressional Delegation were able to report to Governor Jefferson that“We had previous to his coming taken some measures which we flatter ourselves will yield about 2000 good muskets in about two weeks. .. The 1100 Stand belonging to the State have at length gone forward, with most of the other Articles brought hither with them." (THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS: The Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and ...By James Morton -- Ed. "Smith May 1, 1781 Madison and the Virginia Congressional Delegation to Jefferson)."

Seven days later the same delegation reported “About 400 of the Rampart arms to be made into good Muskets and fixd with Bayonettes for the State as advised in ours of last week are finishd and will be sent forward immediately and the others are finishing with all possible Expedition."(THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS: The Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and ...By James Morton -- Ed. "Smith Madison and the Virginia Congressional Delegation to Governor Jefferson, Philadelphia May 8, 1781)."

An altered 1717 rampart musket that has been cut for a bayonet featured in the 2019 Society of the Cincinnati program "Gifts from the Sea: The Miraculous Stories of Two Continental Army Guns" 

Around this time an additional army under British General Lord Charles Cornwallis reached Virginia from North Carolina.

By May 22, 1781, George Weedon was able to report to Lafayette that he had "a letter this post from the Board of war dated [14th? Inst.] They inform 250 Stand of repared Rampart Arms were set out from Phila. and 250 more would follow in three days." (George Weedon to Lafayette May 22, 1781 Fredericksburg Va- Lafayette in the American Revolution vol 4 page 125).

On May 29, 1781 Col. Grayson, sent General Weedon the following account of arms (George Weedon Military Correspondence (Mss.B.W41) at the American Philosophical Society- Grayson's letter of June 26th confirms that these were "four thousand Rampart arms...for the use of the Southern Militia" ).
Dr. Sir.

An account of the Arms is as follow:-

Sent on} 1,100.- property of the State- from R. Island.

1000- Do.- Rampart Arms. repaired

1000. Do.- ...Ready }at this place

500... Continental...Do.-

1000... Do. on their way from West point

In all...4.600.-

The thousand repaired rampart arms for the State & the five hundred Continental Arms for the new levies, will go on this week: the thousand which are on the way from West point will be sent as soon as they arrive:- As to swords, and pistols, which you write for, I am doing all in my power, perhaps you may get part: if the State agent who is here, can get money to put them together, the Board will furnish him with the limbs [?]and charge them to the state- Sweet Virginia goes on as usual, the agent is sent up to purchase an immense quantity of articles without a farthing of cash in his pockett: as to the credit of the State I don't believe any body would trust her for half a crown:- There never was more maneuvering than to get the rampart arms, & have them repaired. I shall comuel [?illeg] the Delegates of the State and fall upon all the ways and means upon the face of the Earth to get your swords and pistols. As to Musketts, I think you are in a pretty good way.- Wayne has at last marched through:- 600. new levies will shortly join you from Maryland and Delawar: Moylan's horse will go in fourteen days amounting to 60 dragoons: Pray with Steubans 1200 & this force cannot you look Cornwallis in the face?-

The old story of evacuating N. York has revived again:- the idea is ridiculed by some but I own I am among those who do not think such a measure improbable:- I am very impatient to hear when the last detachment from N. York has gone; I have always thought they were for Chesapeake bay, but from their being out to Camp, I begin to think they have gon to Charles town._ The advices next week from Europe hold the most agreeable expectations.- France is firm, & Holland determined to act vigourously.

Having a great number of letters to answer, must conclude, with assuring you I am one of the most indus: trious men in the City---

Yr. Affect. friend.

Since writing the above, we have served out fifty pair of pistols, and a thousand cartridge boxes.- Pray inform me what you want every thing shall be done that can be done."

Virginia's Governor Thomas Jefferson followed up in a letter to Lafayette on May 31st, confirming "...Mr. Ross's Agent in Philadelphia on the 9th. instant forwarded 275 Stand of Arms and a ton of Powder to Fredericksburg; on the 11th he forwarded another stand of Arms; on the 18th. he forwarded 600 stand of Arms, and by this time expected the remainder of the 2000 engaged from Congress by the board of war...." adding that "I must pray you to take such measures....as may secure these Stores from fall in in with the enemy and moving them to where they may be useful to you."

By June 1781, the arms were being issued in Virginia, Colonel William Grayson wrote Weedon that

I have been indefatigable about procuring Arms, and I am now authorized to tell you you will be supplyed to a much greater extent than I expected by the first day of July, there shall be a sufficient quantity of arms in Virginia for all your purposes :- therefore skirmish, but risque not a general action; The Congress have ordered three battalions of Militia from Maryland & from this State: Maylans [Moyland] goes in ten days from this with Sixty Horse well accoutred- & I presume that Green will shortly return. Inclosed is a list of the rampart Arms sent on: exclusive of those taken by Baron Steuban [likely used to arm Gaskin’s Virginia Continental Battalion. See Steuben to Greene, 5118/81, PTJ 5:668; Steuben to Oliver Towles, et al., 5/17/81, Steuben Papers; Richard Claiborne to Jefferson, 5/18/81, PTJ 5:665-66; Davies to Steuben, 5/22/8l, Steuben Papers.].- I shall send you by every Part returns of the quantities the name of the waggoners, point of destination & the route they will take. I shall push hard to get leave to go to Virginia, after the affair with regards to the arms is carried into full execution:" (George Weedon Military Correspondence (Mss.B.W41) at the American Philosophical Society. 1781 June 5. Grayson, Col. - Encloses list of arms sent on... pg. 106.)

Although termed “substantial arms" , on June 26th, Colonel William Grayson asked Weedon’s opinion of the rampart guns succinctly noting “The militia cannot grumble about them being heavy, as they are precisely of the same weight with a Brittish muskett.” ( George Weedon Military Correspondence (Mss.B.W41) at the American Philosophical Society. 1781 June 26. Grayson, William. to Weedon ). Despite being at first considered “useless” when compared to the prolific contemporary French muskets like the 1763 "Charlevilles"; a considerable quantity of fifty to sixty year old French rampart guns were “made into good Muskets and fixd with Bayonettes” at a critical time when Virginia and other southern states needed them most. 

NB: I'd like to express my extreme gratitude to Steve Delisle, André Gousse, Erik Goldstien, The Colonial Williamsburg John D. Rockefeller Library staff, Giles Cromwell, Jim Kochan, and the American Philosophical Society for assisting with this research project.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Clothing and Equipment at the battle of King's Mountain

The October 7th, 1780 Battle of King's Mountain pitted a well organized Loyalist force under British Major Patrick Ferguson against Patriot militia. Despite experienced leadership and a well chosen position occupying high ground, the Loyalist force was surrounded, eventually enveloped and then captured by enraged Virginia (drawing heavily from Washington County men) and Carolina back country militia who had arrived swiftly by horseback before the Loyalist force could escape or be reinforced. Prior to the engagement Ferguson had issued an inflammatory missive urging local loyalists to join his forces against the "Backwater men"or be "pissed upon forever and ever by a set of mongrels."  The Loyalists eventually became casualties or surrendered after a spirited defense that relied heavily on the bayonet while many of the Americans assaulting their position fired from the trees below.  The accounts of no quarter given to American forces by Tarleton at Buford's defeat or Waxhaws earlier that year urged little sympathy for Tories and some where killed in the chaotic moments after the surrender had taken place. This dramatic Patriot victory remained a proud and romanticized moment for many back country Americans, and many items descended through participant's families with a sometimes unjustified provenance of use at this important battle.

Loyalist Units Clothing and Equipment

Provincial Officer Lt. Anthony Allaire of the Loyal American Regiment 
Attributed to John Ramage c. 1779 (New Brunswick Museum) from His Majesty's Loyalists, & Indian Allies by The 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center
 An extract of Allaire's account of the battle can be found here.

The Loyalist Units under Ferguson were a mixed bag, from local Tories in their civilian clothes and arms to experienced and red uniformed Provincial (American) troops. Some Loyalist militia men from South Carolina appear to have been clothed in Hunting shirts and were armed with captured French muskets from Charlestown, causing a confusing as well as bloody engagement. Ferguson himself may have been wearing a hunting shirt when he was killed at the battle. Alexander Chesney's Diary states that "Col. Ferguson was at last recognized by his gallantry, although wearing a hunting shirt and fell pierced by seven balls, at the moment he had killed the American Col. Williams with his left hand (The right being useless) [several accounts mention him holding a sword in his left hand due to a prior injury] (The Battle of Kings Mountain: Eyewitness Accounts Robert M. Dunkerly p 132) Red coated Loyalist Provincials are mentioned in a postwar participant statement from 1824 (James Davison of Virginia serving under Campbell): "the Enemy were ordered to set down that they might be distinguished as others from us as we were dressed alike except the red coats.” (The Battle of Kings Mountain: Eyewitness Accounts byRobert M. Dunkerly p43).  Thomas Young later mentioned that both forces used field signs to differentiate each other. He saw "paper which the Whigs wore in their hats, and the pine twigs the tories wore in theirs, these being the badges of distinction." The Battle of Kings Mountain: Eyewitness Accounts byRobert M. Dunkerly p92 ).

 Model 1763 Infantry Musket and Bayonet Colonial Williamsburg

 As for small arms; in May 1780 Charleston SC: "Issued to Maj. Ferguson's [Militia] Corps...300 serviceable French muskets and bayonets, and 50 Sea Service Swords..." (British Military Rifles -Appendix 3 p215 by DeWitt Bailey). The pension application of North Carolinian John Fields mentions that he "was wounded on the head by a cutlass, a short sword, during the battle of King's Mountain."

Firearms with King's Mountain provenance are rare, but a pattern 56 Long Land survives in the Kentucky Historical Society Collection that was said to have been captured by Isaac Shelby at the battle.

An iron mounted Dutch musket similar to the original appearance of the "Vannoy" musket. 
Both were likely French and Indian war era imports.

A restocked iron mounted Dutch musket with family provenance to a South Carolina militiaman named Vannoy who supposedly captured it from Tories at King's Mountain was donated to the Smithsonian in 1887 and remains there to this day. The gun barrel was marked "Douglas" for an officer in Dutch service prior to the gun being imported to America (see The Sword of Lord and Gideon William Baker Clyde p24).

Patriot Militia Clothing and Equipment 

Although not uniformed like some of their Loyalist enemies, several trends can be noted in Patriot militia clothing and equipment. Wallets and rifles seem to have been commonplace, and although several hunting shirts are present in Washington County Va probate inventories before and after the battle- I was surprised at the scarcity of primary source information on them from Patriot militia participants (this may be due to the cold weather). South Carolina militiaman William Shaw's pension application states that "at the battle at Kings Mountain your petitioner was able to show a hunting shirt struck with several balls and nothing but a kind & overruling Providence preserved his life."

An original 18th century linen wallet marked "CD" in red thread. Private Collection

Ensign Robert Campbell mentions the mounted militia rushing to attack Ferguson were commonly equipped with wallets or saddlebags (a tidbit also mentioned in the Draper MS in the 19th century). Multiple sources indicate Colonel William Campbell fought in his "shirt sleeves" after removing his "light colored coat" (Isaac Shelby account The Battle of Kings Mountain: Eyewitness Accounts byRobert M. Dunkerly ).

Probate inventories from several of the men from Washington County Virginia who were killed in the battle mention typical civilian clothing such as blue coats and leather breeches. Some of the participants from Washington County also owned greatcoats, as found in Captain Wm Edmiston's estate. The appraised values are noted.

"One blue broadcloth [coat] and linen jacket £150...One pair of leather breeches £75...One great coat £150...One horse £600"

In addition to the probates of men who were killed at the battle [I highly recommend Washington County Virginia Will Book 1 1777-1792 Abstracted & annotated by Jack Hockett & indexed by Donald Helton Iberian Publishing ] claims were also made for items lost by survivors (a few of the more interesting ones are included below).

"Agreeable to an Act for adjusting claims for property impressed or taken for public service- The following claims was ordered to be reported to the General Assembly.

Nathaniel Gist heir at Law to Richard Gist one rifle gun lost at Kings Mountain 11/6d
Lattice Laird Executrix of James one rifle gun lost at Kings Mountain 6/10d
Jeremiah Alexander a horse 13 hands and one inche high seven years old 12/18d
Robert Hamilton curing Thomas Hobbs do
    Wounded Soldier 2L
Robert Hickinbottom a horse Saddle bridle and blanket 11/6d
James Cock twenty two pounds and a half of dry Beef and three and half pounds of Bacon 11s/3d
Charles Cock fifty pounds of Venison 4s/2d
Charles Cock fourteen pounds of Bacon 10s/3d....
p1119At a Court continued and Held for Washington County September 19th 1782...William Edmondson for Saddle bridle bagg two blankets on pair of Leggons- Continental use 5L/6s/6d

Kentucky Rifle Foundation  display of Jacob Dickert rifles 2019 Eastern Pa. Longrifle show

Many of the Washington County men seem to have been armed with rifles. Draper's Secondary source "King's Mountain and its heroes" makes a point to mention that many of the men were armed with rifles by "Deckert" or as we know him Jacob Dickert, of Pennsylvania. Dickert's rifles were known in North Carolina in years prior as discussed here.

"Mostly armed with the Deckard rifle, in the use of which they were expert alike against Indians and beasts of the forest, they regarded themselves the equals of Ferguson and his practiced riflemen and musketeers. They were little encumbered with baggage — each with a blanket, a cup by his side, with which to quench his thirst from the mountain streams, and a wallet of provisions, the latter
principally of parched corn meal, mixed, as it generally was, with maple sugar, making a very agreeable repast, and withal full of nourishment. An occasional skillet was taken along for a mess, in which to warm up in water their parched meal, and cook such wild or other meat as fortune
should throw in their way. " (
"King's Mountain and its heroes" )

This notion of Dickert's rifles being preferred by the "Overmountain" men from Virginia is backed up by at least two of the surviving (sadly restocked and altered) rifles with King's Mountain provenance being signed or having a family provenance of starting out as Dickert's work. The Edmundson gun at the Muster Grounds museum in Abingdon is signed "J. Dickert 1773" on the barrel and the also heavily modified- Robert Young rifle known as "Sweetlips" at the Tennessee State Museum has a provenance that mentions Deckert being the original maker.

At least one Washington County, Virginia man named Banning was armed with a "smooth [bore] gun.
"At a Court held for Washington County, April 15, 1783: Present — James Dysart, Aaron Lewis, Alexander Outlaw, John Lowrey, Samuel Newell. Gentlemen :

"Ordered that Benoni Banning be allowed for a mare the sum of six pounds; for a saddle, one pound ten shillings; for a bridle, six shillings; for a smooth gun, two pounds; for a bell, four shillings; twelve shillings for a shirt and wallet; for a pocket-book and nine dollars paper money, six shillings, he having made sufficient proof to the Court that he lost them when he was wounded at the battle of King's Mountain."  

The Pension application of Abner Lee R6257  states that " The Company in which I served was of the Virginia Militia: We were footman and was armed with Rifles mostly but had muskets & shotguns generally as we owned them before we started. 

"Old Tom" at the Smith McDowell house museum

The Smith-McDowell House Museum in North Carolina displays a restocked smooth bore shotgun that belonged to North Carolinian Daniel Smith who participated in the battle.

Isaac Shelby's canteen, horn and hatchet

Charles Bowen's Pension application ( S16055 ) mentions that "friendly fire" almost cost him his life in the confused combat during the pitched battle "-declarant [Bowen] stepped behind a tree, leveled his Gun and shot the first man who hoisted the flag among the enemy and immediately turned his back to the tree to reload his Gun when Col Cleveland advanced, called on declarant for the countersign, which declarant did not immediately recollect, nor could he give it. Col Cleveland instantly leveled his rifle at Declarant's breast and attempted to fire, but the Gun snapped. Declarant jumped at Cleveland seized him by the collar, drew his tomahawk, and would have sunk it in Cleveland's head if his arm had not been arrested by a soldier by the name of Beanhannon [sic, Buchanan?], who knew the parties.  Declarant immediately recollected the countersign which was “Blueford,” [sic, Buford] named it and Cleveland dropped his gun and clasped Declarant in his arms."  

North Carolinian Major Thomas Young's Narrative of the battle mentions his painful lack of shoes and his "large old musket":

"...After we had fairly got on the Mountain, I heard a great noise & voices saying, Col. Williams is shot-I ran to him- his son Daniel had raised him up; they ran into a tent and got some water & washed his face so that he could speak. The first words he spoke were "For God's sake, boys, don't give up the hill." We now had the Enemy huddled up on the top of the Mountain; they whelled to fire a platoon over us, some of our men ranback, but I was too much fatigued to run. They fired, but without effect. They soon hoisted two flags & surrendered. I had no shoes, and of course
fought in this battle barefoot; when it was over, my feet were much torn and bleeding all over."...The next morning we were ordered to fire a round. I fired my large old musket, charged at the time of the battle with two musket balls, as I had done every time during the engagement; and the recoil, in this case was dreadful, but I had not noticed it in the battle..."

 An iron mounted Dutch musket that has a round lock and at some point appears to have been retrofitted with French style barrel bands is on display at the King's Mountain visitor's center. This musket has a family provenance of being used by Jacob Beeler at the battle. According to his pension application, Beeler originally hailed from Virginia, and removed to the Holston river in North Carolina around 1770 and volunteered under Captain John Pemberton to go against Ferguson in the King's Mountain campaign.

For further reading of primary sources, I highly recommend  The Battle of Kings Mountain: Eyewitness Accounts by Robert M. Dunkerly.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Notes on 18th century Rifles in North Carolina

Early references to rifles in North Carolina are somewhat rare, and completely absent from a 1755 list of arms used by the coastal Hyde County militia company of Henry Gibbs. Below are a few scattered references that I hope to add to as I find more.

Moravian Rifles

Edward Marshall’s Rifle- further discussion can be found here

Moravians arrived in North Carolina from Pennsylvania to establish a settlement and industry at their land termed "Wachovia" as early as 1753 (first establishing a village at Bethabara and subsequently Salem). The community included gunsmith Andreas Betz, his apprentice Joseph Muller, the gun-stocker Johan Valentine Beck and locksmith/gunsmith Johan Jacob Loesch (Jr.); who are discussed in Eric Kettenburg's excellent article Moravian Artisans in North Carolina. Having local gunsmiths did not end the importation of Moravian made rifles from Pennsylvania (likely due to the demands of other projects in the new settlement):

 "1757 May: Sundry Accounts...Dr ye Locksmith (at Bethlehem) Abraham Steiner for a Gun for Jacob Steiner in Wachovia. £3.10." (Moravian Gun making of the American Revolution p. 24)

Kettenburg's article notes a "1758 request to provide Betz with his own gunsmith shop (separate from the smithy) indicates an increased need for repair work, possibly amongst the arms off the Brethren themselves but also very likely amongst the increasing number of 'strangers' utilizing the services of the Moravian tradesmen."

 Christian Oerter rifle made in 1775 at Christian's Spring, Pennsylvania

1775 Oerter lock

Arthur Dobbs mentions "thirty men on horseback armed with muskets and rifled guns" in a 1762 letter from Brunswick.

War of the Regulation

The Journal of William Tryon's journey to Hillsborough

 "Deep River Camp, Fryday 16th Sept: 1768.

The Guard upon His Excellency's Quarters and camp guards to be furnished by the Mecklenburg Battalion and to mount as usual.

The Captain of each Company to inspect the Arms and Ammunition of the men and to see that the lead that was delivered to them is run into bullets of a proper size for their rifles. As this is an essential duty the Governor recommends it to them to observe it with great punctuality, and make report to-morrow morning of the condition of the Arms and Ammunition to the commanding Officers of their respective regiments who will make report of the same to His Excellency to-morrow morning before the Troops march."

An account of the battle of Alamance in 1771 (SC Gazette May 30, 1771) mentions Regulators "Sculking being Trees and Bushes with their Rifles loaded..."  Rifles were present on the side of Governor Tryon's forces as well, and compensation was requested for several rifles that were lost in the battle.
Pennsylvania sources

In an older post I discussed the flow of goods from Pennsylvania to the Southern back country via the great wagon road (vs the water route to Kentucky via Fort Pitt).  William Sample Alexander operated a wagon train between Mecklenburg County, NC and Chester County, Pa. (tip of the hat to the "Clothing the Carolinas" Blog for posting the link). Two entries from the William Sample Alexander Diary (1770-1778) provide some interesting info as to the possible source of a 1770s rifle manufactured in Pennsylvania that was purchased through Alexander and delivered to a North Carolina customer (these two may be different purchases but I suspect the pricing discrepancy is from conversions between currency in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

"For Capt Jas. Alexander1 ryfal [rifle] gun 
3 feet 7 Inches Inches long light and handy received 4 dollars-"
William Sample Alexander Diary #1504-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 "...4£ 10/ to dickert for gun..." 
William Sample Alexander Diary #1504-z, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Kentucky Rifle Foundation  display of Jacob Dickert rifles 2019 Eastern Pa. Longrifle show

The Pennsylvania gunsmith involved was most likely  Jacob Dickert of Lancaster, a prolific and popular gunsmith. Dickert's career (and excellent full color images of the rifle shown below) is covered in Moravian Gun making of the American Revolution p124-129.

J. Dickert Signature on a rifle barrel

Early Dickert Rifle from Rifles of Colonial America Volume 1