18th Century Living History

A Soldier Like Manner

In Research on August 25, 2011 at 11:37 am

Having taken a looked at how and what a soldier ate. This week we are going to take a quick look at the maintenance or cleaning of equipment. The 18th century soldier is often potrayed as untidy in appearance with his arms and accoutrements dirty. This may have been true at times of long active campaigning, however on home service and during time of inactivity a quick look at primary sources reveals a different picture.

Using Humphrey Bland’s ‘Treatise of Military Discipline’ as a starting point it becomes clear that the 18th century Soldier was indeed expected to be visually clean. From the moment a soldier wakes in the morning, Bland promotes the cleansiness of the soldier by washing “and dress in a soldier-like way, by having their shoes black’d, their stockings and cravats rolled, their hats cock’d, and their hair tuck’d under them, and their cloaths brush’d and put on to their best advantage” (189). In fact Bland suggests that until the seargants have ensured these things are done they men are not permitted to leave their quarters. Of course the insistence of cleansiness didn’t end there and the first thing the subaltern should attend to when a company of soldiers is formed “after which he is to view their Arms, Ammunition, Cloaths and Accoutrements, and to see they are clean, and dress’d in a Soldier-like Manner” (2).

Argubably there could be a vast difference between manuals and the realities of a soldier life. However Wolfe’s “Instruction to young Officers” which includes his general order while serving as a Major in the 20th foot on garrison duty in Scotland also suggest on home service he expected his troops to be clean. For example on August 15th, 1749 he gave orders “the men are not to mount guard in their accoutrements till further orders, each man is to keep his buff clean and the brasses bright, that at all reviews, exercises or otherwise, they may appear well under arms” (14).

Of course on campaign we can assume that cleansiness of equipment became less of a priority to the soldiers. Which probably explains the following order by Wolfe on August 10th, 1759 during the siege of Quebec “when soldiers are not employed in work, they are to dress and clean themselves, so as to appear under arms and upon all occasions in the most soldier-like manner” (96).

It is clear from the sources that there was much emphasis placed on looking ‘soldier like’ and ‘cleaning’ accoutrements. However we should not mistake 18th century ‘clean’ for the modern shiny image of a British Soldier. Next week will look at how the 18th century soldier attained his ‘clean’ appearance.

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