A Few Notes on Military Works in North America, 1690-1779

All images are of books in the collection of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum. The numbers in parentheses are the volume’s catalog number in the museum’s library. Photo credit: Robert S. Bartgis.

As early as An Abridgement of the English Military Discipline (Boston, 1690), American colonists were printing their own military titles. A number of these titles were reprints of London properties, but the colonial editions were often “enlarged” or “improved” for the needs of the local market.”[1]

Early titles were short: printed in smaller formats and often sold as pamphlets instead of bound books. They included manuals for militia drill, military dictionaries, and abstracts of longer works.

001 Bland002 Bland

An Abstract of Military Discipline. Boston, 1755. (586)

003 Dictionary.jpg004 Dictionary

The Gentleman’s Compleat Military Dictionary. Boston, 1759 (831).

This reflected the general state of the printing market in America before the 1770s, where most printers focused on shorter works. The market books was uncertain, and many American printers lacked the capital or desire to risk publishing longer books that might languish unsold. Some exceptions were books printed by subscription, books with guaranteed buyers such as government publications of laws and edicts, and regular sellers like psalters, books of sermons, and school books.[2]

As a result, in 18th century America most longer specialty works were imported, either at the request of a buyer or by a bookseller who bought from a publisher in England and advertised the titles available.[3] Thus when the officers of the continental army and militias such as George Washington and Henry Knox educated themselves in military theory, they were usually reading London imprints of standard works by Bland, Simes, Saxe, and so on.

005 Bland
A Treatise of Military Discipline (Bland). London, 1727. (510)
006 Saxe.jpg
Reveries, or Memoirs upon the Art of War (Saxe). London, 1757 (uncataloged)

“As to the manual exercise, the evolutions and manoeuvres of a regiment, with other knowledge necessary to the solider, you will acquire them from those authors who have treated upon these subjects, among whom Bland (the newest edition) stands foremost; also an Essay on the Art of War; Instructions for Officers, lately published in Philadelphia; the Partisan; Young; and others.”

– George Washington to William Woodford, November 10, 1775

The status quo began to change in 1775, as the heightening of hostilities between the colonies and Great Britain created a flood of demand for military books that could not keep up with imports.

“Much of this activity was centered in Philadelphia, where more than thirty works on military subjects were published in the years 1775 and 1776 alone. Initially these books were reprints or new editions of British or European standards, but publishers quickly turned to a new generation of American military authors whose works reflected the immediacy of the war.”[4]

“In a country where every gentleman is a soldier, and every soldier a student in the art of war, it necessarily follows that military treatises will be considerably sought after, and attended to”, wrote Hugh Henry Ferguson in 1775, after editing the American edition of  “Military Instructions for Officers Detached in the Field”, a Philadelphia publication. This book was a best-seller for the printer Robert Aitken, who collaborated with two other Philadelphia printers, James Humphreys, Jr. and Robert Bell, to spread out the cost, particularly of paper (roughly 75% of the cost), as well as the book’s copperplate illustrations.

007 Instructions
Military Instructions for Officers (Stevenson). Philadelphia, 1775. (527)

On May 16, 1776 Henry Knox wrote to John Adams about the need for more books:

“The officers of the army are very difficient [sic] in Books upon the military art which does not arise from their disinclination to read but the impossibility of procuring the Books in America; something has been done to remedy this at Philadelphia and I hope they will not stop short.”


008 Military Guide
The Military Guide for Young Officers. Philadelphia, 1776. (532)
009 Valiere.jpg
The Art of War, De La Valiere. Philadelphia, 1776. (494)

The British occupation of Philadelphia between September 1777 and June 1778 disrupted the city’s production of military works, but by 1779 another volume had appeared on the market: General Von Steuben’s “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States”. Paper was so short for the first edition that the printer used waste from the Pennsylvania Magazine for endpapers and spine linings. [5]

010 Steuben 1779

011 Steuben 1779
Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops (Von Steuben). Philadelphia, 1779 (513)

Surviving copies attest to the poor quality of the paper available to the printers in 1779: brown from being made from lower quality rags and brittle from ineffective attempts to whiten the paper pulp paper with lime, with a heavy impression of the laid wire screen used to form each sheet. These wartime books stand in stark contrast to the supple white text block papers and marbled paper covers of some of the elegant treatises published contemporaneously in London.

012 Pocket Atlas.jpg013 Pocket Atlas

014 Pocket Atlas
The American Military Pocket Atlas. London, 1776. (852)


015 Fortification
Elements of Fortification, bound with Castrametation and Education. London, 1780. (1023)

Von Steuben’s manual was reproduced throughout the course of  the war, not just in Philadelphia but in other cities such as Boston, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut. 

016 Steuben 1782
Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops (Von Steuben). Hartford, 1782. (514)

Other wartime American publications included A Treatise of Artillery, and the Rules for an Army, the latter printed in Norwich, CT. Norwich had a population of about two thousand people at the time, and the printing of a manual in even so small a town demonstrates the huge demand for military literature during the war. [6]

017 Rules Army
Rules for an Army. Norwich, 1777. (518)

018 Artillery

019 Artillery
A Treatise of Artillery. Philadelphia, 1779. (556)

Between imports and domestic publication at least some American officers were able to fulfill their desire for military works, since Hessian commander Johann von Ewald wrote that,

“I was sometimes astonished when American baggage fell into our hands during that war to see how every wretched knapsack in which were only a few shirts and a pair of torn breeches would be filled up with military books.”

After the end of the war Von Steuben’s Regulations would be reprinted regularly throughout the new American states, along with many other new titles for the fledgling country.

020 Steuben 1794
Von Steuben, Boston, 1794 (517)


[1] A History of the Book in America, Volume 1: The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, p. 85
[2] Ibid, p. 156.
[3] Ibid, p. 185.
[4] Books in the Field: Studying the Art of War in Revolutionary America. Exhibit catalog, Society of the Cincinnati, 2017. P. 10.
[5] Ibid, p. 12.
[6] Phone interview with M. Keagle, 16 October 2017



Ben Bartgis is a book conservator technician at a very large institution. This talk is excerpted from a presentation he gave at Ft. Ticonderoga in November 2017: “Bound for War: The Military Manual as Object in the Handpress Era”.

Bands of Music in the British Army 1762-1790 Part 2

In the last post, we discussed what a band of music was and who made up their ranks. This time, we’ll tackle what a band of music played and the types of duties they performed.

            In part one, we learned about William Simpson, a member of the band of the 29th Regiment that deserted. Despite his absence, the band provided concerts for the public while stationed in New York and Philadelphia. In an ad in the New York Gazette, Fife Major John McLean advertised a concert for his own benefit that would not only feature the band but the drums and fifes of the regiment performing as well. [8]

            The ad for his concert in Philadelphia provides more detail on what a concert from a band may have looked like.

The Concert will consist of two Acts, commencing and ending with favourite Overtures, performed by a full band of Music, with trumpets, kettledrums, and every instrument that can be introduced with propriety. The performance will be interspersed with the most pleasing and select pieces, composed by approved authors. A solo will be played on German Flute by John McLean; and the whole will conclude with an Overture composed (for the occasion) by Philip Roth, Master of the Band of Music belonging to his Majesty’s Royal Regiment of North British Fusiliers. . . .after the Concert there should be a Ball; and, on this account, the music begins early. As soon as the second Act is finished, the usual arrangement will be made for dancing. [9]

Figure 4: A VIEW of CHEAPSIDE as it appeared on LORD MAYOR’S DAY laft, Novr 17. 1761, Sold by I Smith at Hogarth’s Hd Cheapside

In April of 1775, the Band of the 64th Regiment held a concert in Boston. A large undertaking, it combined solos, symphonic, and vocal pieces. The set list consisted of the following:

ACT 1st.

Overture   Stamitz 1st.
Concert   German Flute,
Song   ‘My Dear Mistress,’ &c
Harpsic. Concerto by Mr. Selby
Simphony   Artaxerexes,

ACT 2d.

Overture   Stamitz 4th.
Hunting Song.
Solo, German Flute.
Song, Oh! My Delia, &c.
Solo Violin.

   To conclude with a grand Military Simphony accompanied by Kettle Drums, &c. compos’d by Mr. Morgan.[10]

            What is interesting to note is the absence of military music except for the final piece. Though military in nature, bands did not play only military songs. Instead, they drew from the music around them. Pieces by Stamitz, a notable German composer, and the symphony from Thomas Arne’s 1729 opera Artaxerexes show that bands of music played popular music as well as songs of martial origin.

            In addition to public concerts, bands also performed at military functions like funerals and ceremonies. On July 2nd, 1781, the Battalion of Loyal Volunteers of the city of New York paraded on Broadway at five in the morning. When they arrived at the house of their Lieutenant Colonel, they presented their arms, the band of music played God Save the King, and the regiment received their colours.[11]

Figure 5: Detail, Francis Xavier Habermann. “L’Entré triumphale de troupes royales a Nouvelle Yorck.” Paris: J. Chereau, [177?]. Hand-colored engraving. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

John Rowe, a citizen in Boston, wrote on March 22nd, 1773 that he attended a funeral for his friend Captain Hay of the sloop HMS Tamar. Besides the officers and Marines, the Band of the 64th Regiment was present. Rowe remarked that “The Corps was preceded with Solemn Musick to the Chapel.” On December 17th, 1774, Rowe attended a similar service for Captain Gabriel Maturin, secretary for General Gage, where the band of the 4th Regiment played.[12]

            We’ve established the basis of bands of music, what they played, and where they played. In the next and final instalment of this series, we’ll be looking at what the musicians wore.

Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 1.04.10 PM.png
Figure 6: Alderman-Kirkman, Funeral for the Lord Mayor of London, 1780


[8] The New-York Gazette; and the Weekly Mercury, January 14, 1771, Page 3
[9] The Pennsylvania Packet, 25 November 1771, Page 1
[10] Boston Gazette, 11 April 1774. Courtesy of Don Hagist
[11] New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, July 9, 1781
[12] John Rowe, Anne Rowe Cunningham, and Edward Lillie Pierce, Letters and Diary of John Rowe: Boston Merchant, 1759-1762, 1764-1779, Boston, MA: W.B. Clarke Co., 1903, Pages 240-241, 288, Accessed September 3, 2017. https://archive.org/details/lettersdiaryofjo00rowe

Read Part 1 Here

Joshua is an undergraduate student at Rhode Island College majoring in Secondary Education and History. He’s been researching fifers, drummers, and bands of music during the eighteenth century for the past 5 years.

Bands of Music in the British Army 1762-1790

“The band of Musick very fine. The whole perfectly well cloathed and appointed”

On the 9th of March, 1768, Alexander Mackrabie wrote to his sister to describe his time in Philadelphia. Unfortunately for him, he writes, “at this place and at this season there is so little of anything amusing.” In order to pass the time, Mr. Mackrabie described a recent practice in the city that was “extremely in vogue” called “Serenading.”

We—with four or five young officers of the regiment in barracks—drink as hard as we can to keep out the cold, and about midnight sally forth, attended by the Band which consists of ten musicians, horns, clarionets, hautboys, and bassoons, march through the streets and play under the window of any lady you choose to distinguish, which they esteem a high Compliment. . . . I have been out twice and only once got a violent cold by it.[1]

Figure 1: Detail Showing the Band of the 1st Foot Guards, Artist Unknown, 1753

Bands of Music, also known simply as bands, were another musical entity that existed in the British Army. It is at this point that a distinction must be made between drums and fifes and bands of music. Drummers and fifers were enlisted to play the drum and fife for various duties in camp, signals in battle, and other martial ceremonies. In a regiment of foot, only the grenadier company was allowed two fifers. The other companies were only officially allowed one drummer per company, with the light company typically swapping its drummer for a horn player.[2]

            Instrumentation of a band varied by regiment but generally followed the German tradition of Harmoniemusik, or wind music. Typically scored for at least 6 instruments, compositions included parts for clarinets, hautboys (known today as oboes), horns, and bassoons.[3]

            A roll for the musicians of the 23rd Regiment exists from 1786. The leader, or Band Master was Jacob LeCroix. Under him were 2 clarinets, 2 hautboys, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and a timpani player. All of the men under LeCroix served in America, with the newest member of the band having served 5 years by 1786.[4]

When the band of the Royal Artillery was formed in 1762, Lieutenant-Colonel Phillips came up with Articles of Agreement. They laid out rules that most other regiments would unofficially use for their own bands.

  1. The band to consist of eight men. who must also be capable to play upon the violoncello, bass, violin and flute, as other common instruments.
  2. The regiment’s musick must consist of two trumpets, two French horns, two bassoons, and four hautbois or clarinets ; these instruments to be provided by the regiment, but kept in repair by the head musician.
  3. The musicians will be looked upon as actual soldiers, and cannot leave the regiment without a formal discharge. The same must also behave them, according to the articles of war.
  4. The aforesaid musicians will be clothed by the regiment.
  5. [In the handwriting of Colonel Phillips.] Provided the musicians are not found to be good performers at their arrival they will be discharged, and at their own expense. This is meant to make the person who engages the musicians careful in his choice.”[5]

Figure 2: The Band, c. 1780, Attributed to Thomas Rowlandson

As seen in the Royal Artillery Articles of Agreement, bands were typically made up of private soldiers. These men would receive extra pay from the officers of a regiment to supplement their wages as well as buying instruments. The soldiers were not drummers and fifers; instead, they were known as musicians. Despite being soldiers, these men were talented professional musicians, often able to play multiple instruments. Members of the band did not play or typically fight in battle but instead fulfilled other duties, military and non-military.[6]

It was not uncommon for drummers or fifers to also be members of the band. William Simpson of the 29th Regiment deserted from New York in December of 1770. In his description, his officer wrote that Simpson

“plays well on the Flute and Fife, and plays a little on the Violin and French Horn. Had on when he went away, a short yellow Coat, fac’d Red,. . . the Coat lac’d with Drummers’ Lace.”

William Simpson was most likely a fifer in the 29th but because he could play multiple instruments, it is possible he was in the band. [7]

Figure 3: British Foot Guards Parading at St James Place, c. 1792, Artist Unkown

Now that we know what a band was and who their musicians were, the next post will cover the duties and repertoires of these “genteel corps of music.”


[1] Philip France, Beata Francis, Eliza Keary, C. F. Keary, and Junius, The Francis Letters, New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1901, Pages 89-92, Accessed September 3, 2017, https://archive.org/details/cu31924088024413.

[2] John Williamson, The Elements of Military Arrangement; Comprehending the Tacktick, Exercise, Manoevers, and Discipline of the British Infantry, with an Appendix, containing the substance of the principal standing Orders and Regulations for the Army, London: John Wiliamson, 1781, Page 7. Courtesy of Andrew Kirk

[3] https://www.lipscomb.edu/windbandhistory/rhodeswindband_04_classical.htm

[4] Sherri Rapp, British Regimental Bands of Musick: The Material Culture of Regimental Bands of Music According to Pictorial Documentation, Extant Clothing, and Written Descriptions 1750-1800, Accessed September 4, 2017, https://www.scribd.com/presentation/215381883/British-Bands-of-Musick

[5] Ibid.

[6] Williamson, The Elements, London: John Wiliamson, 1781, Page 7

[7] The New-York Gazette or the Weekly Post-Boy, September 17, 1770, Page 4


Joshua is an undergraduate student at Rhode Island College majoring in Secondary Education and History. He’s been researching fifers, drummers, and bands of music during the eighteenth century for the past 5 years.