Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Late Revolutionary war Virginia Militia cartridge box issuance

Pre War Cartouch Boxes

In the opening stages of the American Revolution, many Virginians in minute 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."  The Magazine in Williamsburg contained military stores such as "twelve hundred Cartouch Boxes" in 1775.

The Gentleman's Compleat Military Dictionary (printed in 1759) defines them as:

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...

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...

Timothy Pickering noted that
"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 leather flap nailed to it at the back
near the upper edge, and of sufficient breadth to cover the top & whole front of the box; they are fixed to the body by a waist belt, which passes through two loops that are nailed to the front of the box..."

British issue "Belly" Cartouch box with waistbelt and bayonet frog from historical image bank

Although the British generally differentiated between the waist worn box or shoulder worn pouch by using the terms box [belly] or pouch [shoulder] , American soldiers during the revolution were not always as unambiguous.  James Johnston,  testified in his pension application that " my Cartridge box was never of [off] my neck"

Early War "soft" boxes

 As the war progressed, shoulder slung pouches became more prevalent. A variety of forms, materials and capacities are noted (some holding 19 rounds, others 24 and etc.).

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

New Construction Boxes

By 1779 some continental soldiers were receiving 29 hole "new construction" boxes that mimicked better British pouches.

"New Construction" box from historical image bank

Pension applications mentioning box issuance

Several pension applications and receipts show that some Virginia Militia were indeed issued proper military cartridge boxes and muskets in 1780 and 1781; even in at least one instance 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.

What were these Virginia issued boxes like?

What were these cartridge boxes being issued in Virginia like? They are generally assumed to be pouches, that is shoulder slung.  Correspondence from 1780-81 points towards the majority of them being of the soft pouch or old construction and at times fairly shoddy or robbed for leather, verses the higher quality new construction boxes.

Edward Stevens to Gen Gates July 21, 1780 (quoted in Peterson's Book of the Continental Soldier p238-9)

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 shower of Rain-what straps there are to the boxes of are linen."

"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."

Fiebiger to Col Davies Dec. 3, 1781 (Peterson's Book of the Continental Soldier)

"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 peices of rope or other strings- I could wish that a quantity of British arms and accoutrements not exceeding 600 stands may be sent me."