Looking Sharpe: The Well Dressed Infantryman

"This was exactly as it should be; for the young man wanted only regimentals to make him completely charming. His appearance was greatly in his favour; he had all the best part of beauty, a fine countenance, a good figure, and a very pleasing address." Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen

British Military of the Regency Era - The Infantryman

Wickham and Lydia- P&P Jane Austen had a great respect for the British military, as any of her readers will attest. The following article, reprinted from the The Sharpetorium, gives an idea of what it was like to be an infantryman in His Majesty's service in the early 19th century. The example, Pvt. Richard Sharpe (33rd Regiment of Foot; Light Infantry), is the hero of Bernard Cornwell's novels.

Uniform

"From a distance the red squares looked smart, for the men’s red coats were bright scarlet and slashed with white crossbelts, but in truth the troops were filthy and sweating. Their coats were wool, designed for battlefields in Flanders, not India, and the scarlet dye had run in the heavy rains so that the coats were stained white with dried sweat. Every man in the 33rd wore a leather stock, a cruel high collar that dug into the flesh of his neck, and each man’s long hair had been pulled harshly back, greased with candle wax, then twisted about a small sand-filled leather bag that was secured with a strip of black leather so that the hair hung like a club at the nape of the neck. The hair was then powdered white with flour, and though the clubbed and whitened hair looked smart and neat, it was a haven for lice and fleas." --Bernard Cornwell*British Soldiers. Screencap by Dee. Image used without permission.
The Infantryman of the Regency era wore a red wool jacket with collar, cuffs and shoulder straps in the regimental facing colour. For the 33rd, the facing colour was red. "A soldier’s coat should always be tight over the breast (without restraint) for the sake of shewing his figure to more advantage." Bennett Cuthbertson** An enlisted man’s neckstock was made from black horsehair, stiffened with buckram and lined with black linen, with black leather tabs and brass buckles. "Black stocks, besides having a more soldierly appearance than white ones, are a saving to the men in point of washing, and do not show the dirt of a shirt, so much, after a day’s war: two will be necessary for each man; one of horsehair for common use; the other of Manchester velvet for dress."** Shirts were made of coarse linen such as Holland. Sharpe & Co. preparing weapons White wool breeches were worn with grey stockings and black gaitors. In the West Indies and summer, white linen trousers were worn. Plain pewter buttons were used on the breeches. "Gaitors being first designed to prevent dirt and gravel from getting into the shoes, and thereby galling the soldier’s feet upon a march."** Shoes were ‘straight last’, that is, made to fit either the left or right foot. The regulation hairstyle at the time was long hair, tied in a queue doubled over and bound, which was known as being clubbed. The hair was then powdered with flour and waxed. The Light Company bore the bugle-horn badge and regimental number on the front of the shako.
"When a soldier can be brought to take a delight in his dress, it will be easy to mould him to whatever else may be desired, as it is in general a proof that he has thrown off the sullen, stubborn disposition which characterizes the peasants of most countries; therefore every method should be pursued to accomplish what may so justly be looked on, as the foundation of order and economy in a Corps." **
 

Accessories (sold separately):

A soldier’s pay was stopped for the cost of his uniform and necessaries, which included his equipment, rations and laundry. The standard armament carried by privates and sergeants was the musket, known colloquially as the ‘Brown Bess’. Brown Bess Bayonet available from Jas. Towsend and Sons Bayonets were 17 inch triangular blades with four inch sockets. "Care must be taken that the blades of the bayonets are well polished without notches, or the appearance of the smallest crack."** White-buff cross belts were worn, from which hung the cartridge box. "A case of wood...to wear before the body of the soldier, holding 24 musket ball cartridges in two rows; it is covered with leather, and worn upon a belt, both on duty, and on the day of battle."** Ball blacking was used to black the outside flaps of pouches and scabbards. Cross belts were whitened with pipeclay. Soldiers also carried clothes brushes and shoe brushes, which were all held in a knapsack. "Square knapsacks are most convenient, for packing up the soldier’s necessaries, and should be made with a division, to hold the shoes, black-ball and brushes, separate from the linen: a certain size must be determined on for the whole, and it will have a pleasing effect upon a march, if care has been taken, to get them of all white goat-skins, with leather slings well whitened, to hang over each shoulder."** The soldier also had a canvas folding knapsack for carrying spare clothing, "...his bread and provisions on a march."** These were marked with "...the name of the owner...the number of the Regiment and the Company he belongs to."** British Recoat Uniform. Photo by Heather. A wooden two-quart water canteen was carried, marked with the Regiment number. All clothes and equipment were marked, with the name of each man stitched onto clothing "...to prevent their being mixt or lost among those of other Corps."** Coats were also marked with the name of the tailor who altered it "...that in case anything afterwards should appear defective, it may at once be known on who to fix the blame." Aside from attempting to stop the confusion of equipment, this was done to "...prevent as much as possible, the least embezzlement of the necessaries, with which a soldier is provided and to give a greater chance for the discovery of thefts."** The musket’s firelock was also stamped with a hot iron marker, as were the belts and slings, to prevent the habit of soldiers changing accoutrements amongst themselves.

***

An exerpt from the The Sharpetorium, by Dee, Heather, Hellblazer, and Kirsty. Printed with the kind permission of the site owner, Jen Riddler. Quotes from: *Cornwell, Bernard. Sharpe’s Tiger. Harper Paperbacks. New York. 1997. **Cuthbertson, Bennett. A System for the Complete Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry, 1768 Enjoyed this article about the uniform of an infantryman? Visit our giftshop and escape into the world of Jane Austen for costumes, patterns and more!

Leave a comment