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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Uniform of an Expert Marksman

by Roseanna M. White
British lines during the Battle of Bunker Hill
To 18th century England, war was a civilized endeavor. It was a matter of politics, of wearing the uniform, of showing one's bravery to the nobility that came out to watch a battle. Guns weren't meant to be too accurate. Weaponry ought to be gleaming. The reasons for fighting...well, often only the king knew what they were.

When the Colonies went to war in 1775, they introduced England to a new kind of battle. The kind where men actually took aim at the opposing force--and aimed at the officers. The kind where each man was fighting to defend his home. The weapons were often dirty, they had no uniforms. But those weapons were more than shiny muskets that couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. They were rifled. They were accurate.

And the Americans knew how to use them.

More, their leader knew how to fight on more than one front. In 1775, a month after he took command, General Washington had an idea. Being well acquainted with how the British military thought, he called for an exhibition of marksmanship in Massachusetts. He urged the men--who still had no Continental uniforms, mind you--to wear their hunting shirts and breeches. These were often made of buckskin, with fringes. Almost every man had such an outfit, and they often wore them on campaign since they were the most practical clothing for long treks.
Concord Minute Man

So these men gathered, raised their rifles, and had some fun. Target practice, nothing more. But they actually hit the target. More, the bulls-eye. These men, with their guns that didn't look so dissimilar from the Brown Bess that the English soldier carries, appeared to be expert shots, every one of them.

The British were watching too. And what were they to assume but that General Washington had put together an entire company of the best marksmen in the world? And their uniform must be those fringed buckskin outfits--because no company could possibly be without a uniform, right?

The tales spread among the British. Fear spread with it. And any time a soldier (or hunter or farmer) was spotted in this attire, the British panicked. Which, as it happens, was often.

To make matters even worse for the British, one of these rifled men was taken prisoner and shipped to England, where they thought it would be great fun to show the English populace what their trophy could do. The American obliged them.

The result--suddenly no one wanted to enlist in the British military to fight against the Americans anymore. This is why King George had to resort to hiring Hessians!

All because George Washington took advantage of a preconceived notion about uniforms...and made use of a newfangled hunting rifle owned by many American farmers.

4 comments:

  1. There is so much here that is new to me and are also some things that also made the "uniform" fearsome such as these back woodmen needing to hunt to support their families and motivation to be accurate in their shots to spare wastage and effort. The long rifle was the "accessory" to go with the uniform!

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    1. It sure was! And they didn't care about keeping them polished...but loved how the polished pieces of the British reflected the sunlight and made for better targets, LOL!

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  2. Great article! I very much enjoyed the subject. Being a gentleman really didn't have place in the colonial's war. Being accurate and winning was much more important!

    Mary

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