What the Drunken Soldier Wore:
Non-Uniform Clothing in British Regiments

Don N. Hagist
© 1994, 2002

Originally published in The Brigade Dispatch,
Volume XXIV, No. 3 (Summer 1994), pp. 16-18.

When we think of British regiments, we think of uniformity. The clothing warrant which governed the style of the British uniforms during the American Revolution is well known, and an examination of various general and regimental orders makes it clear that strict uniformity of clothing and equipment was a major priority. Different regiments met this goal with varying degrees of exacti­tude, but it was always a goal nonetheless.

War, of course, changed priorities, but order­ly books continue to reveal that uniformity was valued. We expect deviation from uniformity due to wear and tear and to limited and inconsis­tent availability of materiel. A far greater impact on the uniformity of clothing in a regiment was caused by soldiers trans­ferring from one regiment to another, these men often continuing to wear the uniform of their old regiment while in service with the new one.

Attrition was a problem in wartime. In order to maintain regi­ments at their established strengths, some regi­ments were drafted. This meant that the private soldiers were transferred to other regiments, and the officers, drummers and non-commissioned officers returned to Great Britain to recruit new soldiers. Regiments chosen to be drafted were usually under strength or had been on foreign service for a long time.1 The trans­ferred sol­diers, called drafts, provided experi­enced sol­diers to fill the ranks of the regiments remaining on service.

Since the soldiers owned their regimental clothing, having paid for it through stoppages from their wages, the regiments receiv­ing the drafts were directed to reach a settlement of some kind with the soldiers for their clothing.2 Often, it was ordered that the men continue to wear the clothing of their former regiment, as illus­trated by the following example:

200 Men shall be drafted from the Regiments of Foot in Ireland, and 60 Men from the Regi­ments of Foot in Great Britain... the said Body of Drafts... shall embark for Boston in North America to recruit the Forces there... I am to add that the Drafts are to embark in their present Clothing, leaving their Arms and Accoutre­ments..."3

That this practice was followed is proven by the proceedings of a court martial held in the city of New York on October 3 and 4, 1776.4 Two soldiers of the 22nd Regiment of Foot, Bryan Sweeney and James Gardner,5 were on trial for breaking into the basement of Joshua Loring, a town resident. Loring's testimony describes the scene when he, his servant, and an officer quartered in his house, discovered the defen­dants:

...upon their entering an inner Cellar, the door of which had also been broke open they discov­ered the two prisoners, one of them hid away behind a Cask of bottled wine, and the other leaning over it, and the Cellar floor very wet, and many empty bottles broke and laying about; Gardiner, he thinks, had a bottle in his hand or between his legs; they were both very drunk, and one was vomiting when they took them... he had observed when he took them in the Cellar, that the man with Gardiner was in the uniform of the 50th. Regt.

The soldiers were taken and delivered to the main guard, where Loring said that he would return to press charges in the morning. When morning came,

...he found to his great surprize, that they were both dismissed; but Gardiner having told the Witness his name, and that he belonged to the provi­sion Guard, at the time that he apprehended them in the Cellar, he went imme­diately to that Guard, and desired the Corporal would let him see all the men... the prison­er Swyney, when the Witness went to the provision Guard was laying asleep, and upon his being made to get up, the Witness knew him to be one of the men, by his uniform and by his trowzers being still wet with the wine..."6

This passage illustrates not only that Sweeney, drafted two months before, retained the uniform of his old regiment, but also that he wore this clothing while on guard duty, something which we associate with a dress uniform.7 It is also clear that this uniform was unique enough to distinguish the regiment.8

Looking in more detail at the 22nd Regiment in 1776, we find that, like all foot regiments on American service, it had been augmented to an establishment of 677 men, an addition of 18 men to each company.9 This augmentation was ordered in 1775, but it took some time to raise this large number of new men. Recruiting proceeded throughout the winter, and the new men did not start arriving in America until the summer of 1776, with the bulk of them arriving in the fall. The 22nd Regiment received five drafts from the 1st Regiment of Foot, thirteen from the 65th Regi­ment, and fifteen from the 50th Regi­ment, as well as 153 recruits, forty of them Ger­man.10 These drafts and recruits were distribut­ed among the eight battalion companies, so that each company of fifty-two to fifty-seven men included two to six drafts and eighteen to twenty re­cruits.11 Among the uniforms of this buff-faced regiment, then, we could expect to see a smat­tering of blue, white, and black facings. Since the other regiments on American service at the time of the augmentation received similar num­bers of drafts and recruits, we could expect a similar effect on uniformity.12

The clothing of the recruits will not be ad­dressed in detail here. The following extract, however, refers to the 23rd Regiment of Foot, in action on Long Island on Au­gust 27, 1776:

The 23d Regiment signalized them­selves in this action, and shewed such a good example, that undis­ciplined Recruits among them, that had not even received their Regimen­tals, fought with great cour­age.13

We see, then, that a variety of regimen­tal uni­forms could be worn within a regiment, and that a significant portion might have no regimentals at all. This creates an interesting picture of a company or regiment on service, even without addressing the possibility of alter­ations to the regimental uniforms.

As with so many orders, circumstances led to exceptions. When the 6th Regiment of Foot was drafted, the following orders were issued:

The men drafted from the 6th Regiment are to receive their clothing for the year 1776 from the 6th Regiment.14

Some of these drafts went to the 43rd Regiment, then stationed in Rhode Island. When the clothing ar­rived, Lieutenant-Colonel James Marsh, commanding the 43rd, made these observations to the commander in Rhode Island:

I beg leave to inform your Lordship, the drafts ordered to the 43d Regt. from the 6th Regt., the Cloathing is so bad, that I cannot order them for any duty; (tho' the order given by the Commander in Chief was that the drafts were to be Cloathed by the 6th Regt. for the year 1776)... it is not in my power to Cloath them from Genl. Carey's Cloathing, & they are litterally naked.15

Other situations could lead to the use of uni­forms from other regiments. When the 4th, 5th and 52nd Regiments were drafted in 1780, their clothing for that year was retained in New York. The 4th’s clothing was issued out piecemeal to recruits, and in 1783 the 76th Regiment of Foot received the entirety of the 5th Regiment’s clothing. In August of 1776, the commander of the 65th Regiment of Foot offered to supply arms and clothing from his recently drafted regiment to the 71st Regi­ment, which was "ill sup­plied." Although this offer was subse­quently declined by the commander of the 71st, it provides an interesting example of the kind of circumstances that could occur.16

It is clear from the above examples that there is sometimes more to the look of a regi­ment than the regimental uniform itself. The possibil­ity exists that men within a given compa­ny could be clothed differ­ently simply because of the movement of men be­tween regiments. Even though uniformity was a goal of regimental commanders, other consid­erations sometimes took priority over that goal. Only through detailed and careful research can we deter­mine the look of a regiment at a given time and place.

The two drunken soldiers, Gardner and Swee­ny, have inadvertently and indirectly pro­vided us with far more information than most of their fellows who were more attentive to disci­pline. The proceedings of their trial have yield valuable insight into matters of cloth­ing, as well as a marvelously vivid vignette. A few addition­al useful tidbits also come from their trial.

Witnesses at the trial included officers and soldiers who were members of the provision guard on which the prisoners were serving. These soldiers were not from the same regiment as the prisoners, but were all part of the 5th Brigade of General Howe's army, composed of the 22nd, 43rd, 54th, and 63rd Regiments of Foot. This makes it clear that detachments such as this were not necessarily composed of men from a single regiment, nor were soldiers grouped according to their regiments when on duty (the corporal of the guard on which the soldiers of the 22nd served was from the 54th Regiment.) So, it was normal to see a detachment of soldiers in different uniforms working together.

Gardner and Sweeny were not able to provide much of a defense to the charges against them. Witnesses pieced together the story, from the occupants of the house being roused in the night by a crowd apparently breaking into the cellar, through finding the soldiers in the amusing scene described above (corroborated by several wit­nesses). Further, the corporal of the guard had attempted to post Gardner and discovered him missing during the night. Even though the soldiers were released by the main guard after they were initially arrested, they were easily identified. Gardner had given his name to his accusers, and Sweeny still had a reddened face from where a sergeant had slapped him to rouse him from his drunken state - not to mention his uniform being soaked with wine.

Gardner testified that he had merely gone for a walk during the night because the guardroom was too crowded for him to sleep, and that he had not been in Loring's cellar. Sweeny claimed that his trousers were wet from having spilled a canteen of water. Not surprisingly, the prisoners were found guilty of breaking into the house, and each was sentenced to receive 1,000 lashes. We do not know to what extent the sentence was carried out.


1. Regiments drafted during the American war were: 6th (1776), 10th (1778), 14th (1776), 16th (1782), 18th (1775), 26th (1779), 45th (1778), 50th (1776), 52nd (1778), 59th (1775), 65th (1776). May, Robin, The British Army in North America, Reading, Berkshire, 1974, p. 24-26.

2. Concerning the 18th and 59th Regiments, "Each Draft will get Clothing and one Guinea and a half from the Regiment that receives them." General Orders, Boston, 3 December 1775. Collections of the New York Historical Society, New York, 1883. Concerning the 50th Regiment, "Each Draught will be Settled with for his Clothing, and get one guinea an half, from the Regiment that Receives him..." Gener­al Orders, Decker's Ferry (Staten Island, NY), 14 August 1776. Orderly Book, British Regi­ment of Foot Guards, 14 August 1776 - 28 January 1777, New York Historical Society.

3. Barrington to Gage, 31 January 1775. American Letter Books, W. O. 4/273, p. 2-3. In addition, the 22nd did not receive new clothing in 1775, meaning that the drafts received in Ireland retained their original regimental clothing well into 1776. In May of 1775, the 22nd Regiment received 5 drafts each from the 3rd, 11th, 20th, 27th and 62nd Regiments; the facings of these regiments were buff, green, yellow, buff and buff, respectively.

4. General Courts Martial, Proceedings, W. O. 71/83 p. 41 - 48.

5. "Bryan Sweeney", was a laborer born in Macromp, County Cork, Ireland, in 1750. He joined the 50th Regiment in 1768, and was draughted into the 22nd Regiment, Captain Rawlins Hillman's battalion company, on 25 August 1776. At the end of the war he was transferred into the 54th Regiment, and in 1788 transferred again into the 20th Regiment. He was discharged from the army with a pension in 1791. Pension files, W.O. 121/12/371; Pay Lists, 22nd Regiment of Foot, W. O. 12/3872.

James Gardner served in the same company of the 22nd Regiment as Sweeny. He joined the regiment in Ireland in March of 1775 while the regiment was preparing to embark for America, and died on 24 October 1777 in Rhode Island. Pay Lists, Ibid.

6. Both extracts are from W. O. 71/83, op. cit.

7. The author has not found any orders discussing uniform requirements for this provision guard or similar types of duty.

8. The facings of the 22nd Regiment were pale buff, those of the 50th were black.

9. As per General Orders, 10 November 1775. General Orders, America, W. O. 36/1, p. 157-158. This figure does not include two "Additional Companies" on home recruiting service; the establishment with the Additional Companies was 811. Ibid., p. 164.

10. W. O. 12/3872. These drafts were received (administratively) on 10 June, 25 June, and 25 August, respectively; the facings were blue, white, and black, respec­tively. His Majesty's Warrant, op. cit. The 1st Regiment was not on American service. May, op. cit.

11. The recruits, and the drafts from the 1st Regiment, did not arrive in America until October of 1776. The distribution of recruits and drafts in each company was as follows: Colonel's company, 18 recruits, 5 drafts, 56 men total; Lt.-Col. Campbell's, 20 rec., 2 dft., 57 tot.; Major French's, 19 rec., 4 dft., 56 tot.; Capt. Hillman's, 20 rec., 2 dft., 56 tot.; Capt. McDonald's, 20 rec., 5 dft., 54 tot.; Capt. Timpson's, 18 rec., 6 dft., 53 tot.; Capt. Brabazon's, 18 rec., 5 dft., 54 tot.; Capt. Handfield's, 20 rec., 4 dft., 57 tot. W. O. 12/3872.

12. The Regiments in America at the time of the 10 November 1775 augmentation were the 4th, 5th, 10th, 17th, 22nd, 23rd, 26th, 27th, 35th, 38th, 40th, 43rd, 44th, 45th, 49th, 52nd, 55th, 63rd and 64th. May, op. cit. Drafts and recruits were distributed as re­quired among regiments, so that each regi­ment did not necessarily receive men from each drafted regiment. The distri­bution of drafts can be found in the General Orders for each drafted regi­ment, and in Regimental Pay Lists, W. O. 12.

13. Journals of Thomas Sullivan, soldier in the 49th Regiment, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA, p. 67.

14. Entry dated New York, 8 February 1777. W. O. 36/2, General Orders, Rhode Island. The clothing for the 6th Regiment had arrived in America shortly before the regiment was ordered to be drafted. Howe to Barrington, 1 December 1776, W. O. 1/10.

15. Lt. Col. Marsh to Lt. Gen. Percy, 14 March 1777. Mss. of the Duke of North­umberland, Letter & Papers, Jan. - March 1777. Alnwick Castle, No. 51, 23.3, p. 249-250 (microfilm copies, Library of Con­gress). General Carey was the Colonel of the 43rd; Marsh's mention of him apparent­ly refers to the use of spare clothing already in possession of the regiment.

16. Charles Jenkinson to Henry Clinton, 1 November 1780, WO 28/4/187. John Robinson to Henry Clinton, 15 December 1781, W. O. 28/ 23/155. Receipt for clothing, WO 60/29. Howe to Barrington, 9 August 1776. W. O. 1/10, In Letters, 1776-1780. Trans­ports carrying soldiers of the 71st, as well as much of the regiment's clothing and equipment, had been captured in June of 1776. Morgan, J. B. ed., Naval Documents of the American Revolution, Vol. 5, Wash­ington, D. C., 1970.