The Ubiquitous Hunting Frock, American War of Independence Garb
By Terry Martin
Anyone familiar with the American Revolution has a mental picture of troops attired in a variety of garments. The Revolutionary War saw the colonial army progress to literal rags due to uniform shortages. Eventually, the alliance with France leads to uniforms and more consistent clothing allowances. However, from 1775-1778 the Continental Army did suffer in clothing and attiring their troops in sufficient battlefield attire. The armies of George III and his paid mercenaries were dressed in their finest which was supplied through a regular commissary. The Continental soldier had his clothing allowance supplied by the states. The states lack of organization as well as unscrupulous business dealings prevented the Continental Army from having necessary clothing. The Continental Soldier worn the same clothing articles, but the states were not consistent in getting the articles and clothing to the troops. The mode of warfare adopted by the Colonials caused a need for a ubiquitous garment.
The shortage of cloth leads the American troops to adopt the hunting frock as standard dress. The American Army found the hunting frock to be very versatile. It was easy to make, easy to remove, and allowed a freedom of movement not unlike farmer’s or workman’s clothing. It also could be made cheaply and allowed for a utilitarian manner to cloth troops. General George Washington considered it to be an “ideal military garment”. It was made famous as the garb of the rifle regiments and was worn as field dress by most of the American army throughout the war. The hunting frock was made of deer leather, linen, or homespun. It could also be dyed in a variety of colors. It is noted that regiments dyed the hunting frocks in the following colors: white, natural linen, purple, brown, black, green and blue.
Note the following regiments and their use of the hunting frock.
(1) Kirkwood’s Deleware’s….
Colonel David Hall’s Delaware Regiment was re assigned to the Southern Army in October 1780. They fought at Camden and were reorganized as a light company under Robert Kirkwood. They established a reputation as an elite regiment in the Southern Army serving under Captain Robert Kirkwood. Their company was called “Kirkwood’s Delaware’s”. They were issued a pair of new shoes, a light tannish hunting shirt, and blue-striped overalls in October 1780 from North Carolina stores. This uniform was worn throughout the remainder of the war and at the battles of Cowpens, Guilford Court House, Hobkirk’s Hill, Siege of Ninety Six, and Eutaw Springs.
(2) Minute Battalion of Culpepper County, Virginia…
Consisted of ten companies of “regulars” from York and James City Counties. They marched in the fall of 1775 to Williamsburg to join in the expedition against Norfolk, where the Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore, was entrenched. According to the account of a Captain George Slaughter, the whole regiment appeared in hunting shirts made of strong, brown linen, dyed the color of leaves of the trees. On the breast of each hunting shirt was worked in large white letters the words ”Liberty or Death”. Fort Duquesne has an excellent 1/10th scale bust of this regiment.
(3) 6th Virginia Regiment, Continental Line, 1776
A wide variety of colors and types of hunting shirts were worn during the American Revolution, but nowhere does there appear to be more variety than in the Virginia regiments. The 6th was one of the first nine battalions or regiments to be raised by Virginia for the Continental service in February-March, 1776. Under the authority of act of the Virginia Convention of December 1, 1775 the 6th Virginia was raised. The 6th turned out with the 1st, 8th, and 9th Virginia and marched to Williamsburg in spring of
1776. It is recorded that the Captains of the 6th worked to provide themselves men with hunting shirts, short and fringed. The men’s shirts to be short and plain, the Sergeants to have a small white cuff
(4) First Georgia Regiment of Infantry
Early Georgia troops were attired in blue or black coats faced with red, but in the field the hunting shirt was the standard dress for officers and enlisted men. In late 1777, they were furnished with long overalls/leggings (wool for winter and white course lined or duck in the summer), captured British accoutrements, and dark reddish brown hunting shirts.
(5) 4th Independent Company of Maryland
The Maryland Council authorized their 7 Independent Companies to cloth their men at a cost not to exceed 13.5 lbs. Per man. Captain James Hindman clothed his regiment in osnabrug linen hunting shirts dyed purple with red cape and cuffs, buckskin breeches, and spatter dashes of black linen. Hindman’s Company defended New York in summer of 1775 and later saw service in the Battle of Long Island and in the fall campaign of 1776 in New York. They camped with Smallwood’s Maryland Regiment. Michael Roberts Miniatures has an excellent 1200MM figure of this regiment.
These are just a few regiments and companies that wore the hunting shirt during the American Revolution. There is record of other regiments wearing other color combinations. Please note the following references for more information.
-The Book of the Continental Soldier by Harold L. Peterson
-Company of Military Historians, The Era of the American Revolution, 1175-1795 --
-Uniforms of the Armies in the War of the American Revolution by Charles M. Lefferts
Miniatures available wearing the hunting shirt includes the following
-FD 310-Pvt. Continental Line, 1775-76, 54mm, resin.
-FD 413-Bust of Culpepper Minuteman Bat, 1776-77, 1/10th scale, resin
-MR-MH-Maryland State Troops, 1766, 120 mm, resin