Clothing British Recruits

Submitted by Steve Baule

The large majority of recruiting for the Marching Regiments of British Foot was done by the regiments themselves, this being the prime function of the additional companies stationed in Ireland and Britain. Once the new recruits were raised they would be assembled at recruit depots such as Stirling, Scotland, Dublin, Ireland and Chatham, England. At these depots they would receive basic training in marching and carrying themselves as soldiers, handling the firelock, etc. When 50 or so recruits were present, they would be sent North America at their regiment's expense under the command of one of the officers from the additional company. Normally, the regiment would fill in the vacancy in the additional company by sending an officer back to Britain at the same time.

Between the time the recruits were raised and the time the recruits were assigned to the depot, they did not regularly receive any clothing, but would continue to wear the clothes they had on when they had enlisted. A captain of the 22nd Foot was reprimanded for providing pre-depot recruits with jackets (WO1) which is how we can determine recruits were not to be issued jackets before arriving at the depot. However, several sources comment that the recruiting sergeants were to issue the new recruits with "necessaries" (Simes, Cuthbertson), and they were issued with stockings, shirts, and probably small clothes before entering into the depot. An inventory of recruit clothing for the 14th Foot includes jackets and caps for the recruits.

The recruit coat or jacket was most likely a simple sleeved waistcoat. Since recruits were commonly transferred between regiments, it is unlikely that the jackets would have been faced with any type of regimental distinctions. For example, the 55th Foot received drafts from the recruits of the 8th, 10th, 22nd, and 64th regiments in 1776 and 1777 (Cox & Company ledgers). These coats are thought to be similar to the "campaign clothing used in America by British regulars" by Hagist in a recent RevWar listserv posting. The short jacket is referred to as a "Rifle Jacket" in the courts-martial proceedings of Pvt. John Harris, Captain Trevor's Coy., 55th Foot in 1778 (WO 71/86). Since Pvt. Harris had only recently been exchanged as a prisoner with the Colonial Forces (he was captured at Princeton), it is possible that this type of jacket was commonly issued to returning prisoners of war until they could be resupplied by their regiment. The courts-martial proceedings specifically mention that Harris had "exchanged as a Prisoner of War; a few days before", had yet to be re-equipped with "Arms and Accoutrements or Necessaries" by his regiment.

These jackets may also have been kept around for fatigue work by soldiers even after they had been issued their regimental coats. Both Simes and Cuthbertson mention the value of having soldiers keep a second coat or waistcoat, and recommend having them made-up for fatigue duty from the old coats. The recruit jacket or "Rifle Jacket" would have been a very serviceable and practical method of providing a second uniform coat.

Plain, red, sleeved waistcoats without any sort of facings or trim are therefore a reasonable piece of attire for new recruits of re-created regiments of British foot. This would allow units to quickly get new recruits into a red coat without the immediate expense of a full regimental coat.