“Square knapsacks are most convenient …”
While British troops used blanket slings instead of knapsacks during several campaigns, one reason being the “ill Conveniency” of their packs (whatever that might mean), slung blankets had their own inconveniences, one of those being having to undo them every night and re-roll them before marching. Here we have American surgeon Dr. Benjamin Rush’s observations while tending to American wounded after the Battle of Brandywine:
One of the [British] officers, a subaltern, observed to me that his soldiers were infants that required constant attendance, and said as a proof of it that although they had blankets tied to their backs, yet such was their laziness that they would sleep in the dew and cold without them rather than have the trouble of untying and opening them. He said his business every night before he slept was to see that no soldier in his company laid down without a blanket.”1
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That said, British troops certainly used slings, and likely used rolled blankets slung over the shoulder, as well (see image of 25th Regiment soldier at Minorca, below). Here are a series of British narratives or general orders mentioning blanket slings, or occasions when blankets were to be carried without knapsacks.
84th Regiment, “point au Trimble,” Quebec, 18 August 1776, “Every Man to be pervided With a Topline [tumpline] if Wanted and to prade Opisite the Church, on Thursday Morning With thire Arms Accutements and packs, properly Made up as for a March.”2
Brigade of Guards, orders, 19 August 1776, “When the Brigade disembarks two Gills of Rum at most must be put into each Man’s Canteen which must be fill’d up with Water. Every Man is to disembark with a Blanket, in which he is to carry three days provisions, one Shirt, one pair of Socks, & one pair of Shoes. A careful Man to be left on Board each Ship to take care of the Mens Knapsacks, if there are any Convalescents they may be order’d for this.”3
Capt. William Leslie, 17th Regiment of Foot, 2 September 1776, “”Bedford Long Island Sept. 2nd 1776… The Day after their Retreat we had orders to march to the ground we are now encamped upon, near the Village of Bedford: It is now a fortnight we have lain upon the ground wrapt in our Blankets, and thank God who supports us when we stand most in need, I have never enjoyed better health in my Life. My whole stock consists of two shirts 2 pr of shoes, 2 Handkerchiefs half of which I use, the other half I carry in my Blanket, like a Pedlar’s Pack.”4
Brigade of Guards, orders, 11 March 1777, “The Waistbelts to Carry the Bayonet & to be wore across the Shoulder. The Captains are desired to provide Webbing for Carrying the Mens Blankets according to a pattern to be Seen at the Cantonment of Lt. Colo. Sr. J. Wrottesleys Company. The Serjeants to Observe how they are Sewed. The Officers to Mount Guard with their Fuzees.”5
40th Regiment orders regarding blanket slings, wallets, and contents, spring and summer 1777:6
After Regl Orders 7 at Night [10 May 1777]
A Return to be given immediatly from each Company to the Qr. Mr. of the Number of Shoe soles and heels wanting to Compleat each man with a pair to take with him the Ensuing Campaign
The Regt. to parade to morrow Morning at 11 oClock with Arms, Accoutrements & Necessarys in order to be inspected by their Officers — The Necessarys to be carried in their Wallet and slung over the Right Shoulder —
R[egimental]:O[rders] 14th May 1777
Each Compy. will immediately receive from the Qr. Mr. Serjt. 26 Slings & Wallets to put the quantity of Necesareys Intendd. to be Carrid. to the field Viz 2 shirts 1 pr. of shoes & soles 1 pr. of stockings 1 pr. of socks shoe Brushes, black ball &c Exclusive of the Necessareys they may have on (the[y] must be packd. in the snugest manner & the Blankts. done neatly round very little longer than the Wallets) to be Tyed. very close with the slings and near the end — the men that are not provided. with A blankett of their own may make use of one [of] the Cleanest Barrick Blanketts for to morrow –
After Regl. Orders 7 at Night [18 May 1777] …
The Regt: to parade to morrow Morning at 11 oClock with Arms, Accoutrements & Necessarys in order to be inspected by their Officers – The Necessarys to be carried in their Wallet and slung over the Right Shoulder … The pipe Clay brought this day from Staten Island to be divided in eight equal parts and each Company to get a dividend it is hoped the Compys: will make better use of this then thay did of the last
[Regimental Orders, 23 May 1777] …
The Non Commissd: Offrs: and Men to have their Necessareys Constantly packd: in their Wallets ready to sling in their Blanketts which they are to parade with Every morning at troop beating to Acustom them to do it with Readiness and Dispatch The men of the Qr:Gd: to parade when the taps beat to be properly inspectd: and ready to march of[f] Immediately fter the troop has beat –
Morn.g Regl. Orders 2d June 77 …
Black tape to be provided immediately to tie the Mens Hair — NB It is to be had in Amboy. — The Mens Hair that is not properly Cut to be done this Day — Each Company to give in a Return to the Quarr. Masr. of the Number of Wallets & Slings wanting to Compleat each Man as the whole must have them to appear uniform in the slinging on & Carrying their Blankets & Necessarys — Any of the Wallets or Slings not properly made to be returned to the Masr. Taylor –
R[egimental]:O[rders] [9 June 1777] …
The Commanding Offrs: of Comp[anie]s. are Immediately to settle their Accompts With the Qr: Mr: for the under Mentiond Articles According to the following rates at 4 [shillings]:8d pr Doller
Trowzrs: making &c ………………….. £ 4:2 1/2
Wallets & Slings. ……………………. 2:2 1/2
Coats Cuting & Mending when at Hallafax….. 4 1/2
Do: Do: at Amboy …………………….. 10
Diffeichinceis on Breeches cloth
when at Staten Island. ……………. 4 1/2 Do: on Leggons ……………………….. 3
49th Foot, “Regimental Order on Board the Rochford 21 August 1777 When the Regt. Lands
Every Non Commissd Officer and soldier of the Regiment is to have with him 2 very good Shirts, Stokings, 2 pair Shoes, their Linin drawers, Linnin Leggins, half Gaiters and their Blankets very well Rold. Every thing to be perfectly Clean. Officers Commanding Companies will be answerable to the Commanding Officer that these orders are Strictly Complyed with-“7
Guards, “Brigade Morning Orders 30 August 1779 The Qr. Masters are desir’d to be as expeditious as possible in processing proper Bedding &ca from the Bk. Mr. Genl.– & Field Blankets from the Qr. Mr. Genl. for the Draughts received from England.– & to deliver to them from the Regl. Store a proper proportion of Camp Kettles, Canteens & Haversacks.
The Companies are desir’d to Compt. their Draughts with proper Straps to Carry their Blankets, & to be as expeditious as possible in Compleating them with Trowsers.”8
Brigade of Guards, “1st Battn Orders 9 September 1779 The Men lately Joind having received their Field Blankets, the Serjts. are Ordered, to see that they are Mark’d with the Initial Letters of each Mans Name. The Men are to be provided with proper Straps for Carrying them & Shewn how to Roll them up.9
Lt. Gen. Charles Earl Cornwallis’s army, South Carolina, 1780 and 1781:10
On board ship off of Charlestown, South Carolina, 15 December 1780.
“The Corps to Compt. their Men with Camp Hatchets Canteens, & Kettles … It is recommended to the Comdg Offrs. of Regts. to provide the Men with Night Caps before they take the Field.”
“The Necessaries of the Brigde. are to be Imdy. Comptd. to 2 Good pr. Shoes, 2 Shts. & 2 pr. Worsted Stockgs. per Man … Each Mess to be furnish’d with a Good Camp Kettle, & every Man provided with a Canteen, & Tomahawk – & the Pioneers wth. all kind of Tools. The drumrs. are to carry a good Ax Each & provide themselves with Slings for the Same.”
General orders, Ramsour’s Mills, 24 January 1781:
“When upon any Occasion the Troops may be Order’d to March without their Packs; it is not intended they Should leave their Camp Kettles and Tomahawks behind them.”
Brigade orders, 24 January 1781:
“There being a Sufficient Quantity of Leather to Compleat the Brigade in Shoes … It is recommended to … the Commandg. Officers of Companies, see their Mens Shoes immediately Soled & Repaired, & if possible that every Man when they move from this Ground take in his Blankett one pair of Spare Soles …”
43rd Regiment, Virginia,
“Apollo Transport Of[f] Brandon James River 23rd May 1781 …
The Quarter Master will issue Canteens Haversacks and Camp Kettles to the Battalion immediately. The Companies to send Returns for their Effectives as this is the only supply the Regiment can possible Receive during the Campaign the Soldiers cannot be to careful to preserve them.
Five Regimental Waggons will land with the Regiment. One to each Grand Division the fifth for Major Fergusons Baggage.
The Quarter Master will issue an equal proportion of the Trowzers, made since the Embarkation- to each Company to compleat them as near as possible to Two pair per Man.
It is positively Ordered that no Soldier lands with more necessaries than his Blanket, Canteen,
Haversack, Two pair of Trowzers, Two pair of Stockings, and Two Shirts, and Two pair of good Shoes. The Remaining Necessaries of each Company to be carefully packed up and Orders will be given as soon as possible for its been taken proper care of.”11
- H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush, vol. I (Princeton, N.J., 1951), 154-155.
- 84th Regiment order book, Malcolm Fraser Papers, MG 23, K1,Vol 21, Library and Archives Canada.
- “Orderly Book: British Regiment Footguards, New York and New Jersey,” a 1st Battalion
Order Book covering August 1776 to January 1777, Early American Orderly Books, 1748-1817, Collections of the New-York Historical Society (Microfilm Edition – Woodbridge, N.J.: Research Publications, Inc.: 1977), reel 3, document 37.
- Sheldon S. Cohen, “Captain William Leslie’s ‘Paths of Glory,’” New Jersey History, 108 (1990), 63.
- “Howe Orderly Book 1776-1778” (actually a Brigade of Guards Orderly Book from 1st
Battalion beginning 12 March 1776, the day the Brigade for American Service was formed), Manuscript Department, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
(Courtesy of Linnea Bass.)
- British Orderly Book [40th Regiment of Foot] April 20, 1777 to August 28, 1777, George Washington Papers, Presidential Papers Microfilm (Washington: Library of Congress, 1961), series 6 (Military Papers, 1755-1798), vol. 1, reel 117. See also, John U. Rees, ed., “`Necessarys
… to be Properley Packd: & Slung in their Blanketts’: Selected Transcriptions 40th Regiment of
Foot Order Book,” http://revwar75.com/library/rees/40th.htm
- “Captured British Orderly Book [49th Regiment], 25 June 1777 to 10 September 1777, . George Washington Papers (microfilm), series 6, vol. 1, reel 117.
- “Orderly Book: First Battalion of Guards, British Army, New York” (covers all but a few days of 1779), Early American Orderly Books, N-YHS (microfilm), reel 6, document 77.
- R. Newsome, ed., “A British Orderly Book, 1780-1781”, North Carolina Historical Review, vol. IX (January-October 1932), no. 2, 178-179; no. 3, 286, 287.
- Order book, 43rd Regiment of Foot (British), 23 May 1781 to 25 August 1781, British Museum, London, Mss. 42,449 (transcription by Gilbert V. Riddle).
John has been involved in American War for Independence living history for 33 years, and began writing on various aspects of the armies in that conflict in 1986. In addition to publishing articles in journals such as Military Collector & Historian and Brigade Dispatch, he was a regular columnist for the quarterly newsletter Food History News for 15 years writing on soldiers’ food, wrote four entries for the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, and thirteen entries for the revised Thomson Gale edition of Boatner’s Encyclopedia of the American Revolution.
Many of his works may be accessed online at http://tinyurl.com/jureesarticles .