Call for Articles

Ladies and Gentlemen of the First Virginia Regiment,

It has always been a long-term goal to make this website a true Research Portal. I have created a basic shell with a lot of very good information and links. However, I need your help to make this the collection of information that it can be.

If you have a particular set on knowledge, please consider writing an article for the website. Send the finished article to the Quartermistress for editing (as necessary), formatting, and posting.

There are only a couple of rules that you should abide by.

  1. Make sure your name and date is on the article. That way you receive credit for your hard work.
  2. Research should be backed up with sources. Primary sources are preferred but at least give the reader the opportunity to track your research to the sources that you used to come to your conclusions.
  3. Cite your research. If you have any questions about how to write a citation, ask. It doesn’t have to be hard!

My second request is that if you have any links or books not already listed on this site that have been of particular help to you, please pass along via the Contact Us! form. Include with the link a short paragraph describing the site and indicating what is good/bad about it.

The resulting articles will be posted and organized under this section heading.

Advertisements

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

By Joe Wagner

 

“Brown Bess”
(The Army Musket – 1700-1815)

In the days of lace ruffles, perukes and brocade
Brown Bess was a partner whom none would despise.
An out-spoken, flinty-lipped, brazen-faced jade,
With a habit of looking men strait in the eyes.
At Blenheim and Ramilles fops would confess,
They were pierced to the heart by the charms of Brown Bess.

 Though her sight was not long, and her weight was not small,
Yet her actions were winning, her language was clear;
And everyone bowed as she opened the ball
On the arm of some high-gaitered, grim grenadier.
Half Europe admitted the striking success
Of the dances and routs that were given by Brown Bess

If you go to Museums–there’s one in Whitehall–
Where old weapons are shown with their names writ beneath,
You will find her, upstanding, her back to the wall,
As stiff as a ramrod, the flint in her teeth.
And if ever we English had reason to bless
Any arm save our mothers’, that arm is Brown Bess!

 

Rudyard Kipling
January 1911

When it comes to the arms we carry as reenactors, there is one historical mystery in need of a solution which would help our interpretive discussion immensely, and that is the origin and meaning of the term “Brown Bess”.  Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer that has been unearthed and accepted by the military history community.  But there are a lot of clues and contemporaneous information that gives us something to chew on when considering the subject.  Among considerations for an open-minded discussion is that the term may not have applied only to the English long and short land pattern King’s musket, as implied by Kipling’s poem.  Another is that one obvious clue, the word Bess, being connected to Queen Elizabeth I (reign from 1558 to 1603) is probably not correct.

Taking each of the words in the identifying name, brown and bess, separately, we can associate each individually with terms and usages of the period during which the weapon was carried and used by the English.  This can get us to a reasonable set of meanings that might be very close to the truth.  Let look at some historical references associated with each.

BROWN

There is commonly accepted information among reenactors on the use of the terms “arms” and “firelock” in the drill commands handed down through the history of the flint weapon. Both drill terms were used at a time when infantry formations consisted of both musketmen and pikemen, who worked cooperatively in formations of infantry.  The two terms allowed for commands to be given for each weapon, or both, depending on the movement required. The pike plays a role in our discussion, and provides supporting evidence of the contemporary definition of the word “brown”.  We know that soldiers have strong traditions and associations with their craft that tend to carry on in song and slang.  The English soldier of the 17th and early 18th centuries was no different.  In a Christopher Marlowe work (Edward II), written in 1622, there is the following line:

“So, with a band of pikes and bowmen, brown bills and targetiers”

The phrase provides a Rosetta’s stone of translation for the 17th century slang terms for the pike man and archers.  “Bill” was a common term for a pike, halbard, or other shafted weapon.  “Brown bills” as a military slang term for pikes?  How uncannily close to a parallel term for the companion weapon of the infantry – the musket?  “Brown bill” did not mean browned in color, likely for neither the pike nor the musket. There was commonly used a Dutch word – brun – which means “bright” that had been carried over to the Scotch and English language.  Ballads in both languages contain phrases such as “My bonnie brown sword” and “brown as glass” meaning a bright finish or appearance.  Up until the mid-twentieth century, there was still in use a slang term for the English half penny, which is a bright copper color, called a “brown”.  If the bright metal pike was a “brown bill” to its users, how likely is it that the musket would also come to be described as “brown” among the same musket-bearing infantrymen fighting together with their pike-bearing brethren?

BESS

Like the term “brown”, the word “bess” in this context may also originate with the Dutch language.  In Dutch, “bus” (Middle Dutch: busse) means pipe or tube, and at the time, a gun barrel.  There is little doubt that the term carried over to the English language as a firearm in the 17th and 18th centuries, as we see in words like “blunderbuss” and “arquebus”, which are English language variations of contemporary firearms from that same period.  It is not hard to get from “busse” to “bess” in military slang.  While the pike man was calling his weapon a bill, his fellow infantryman was calling his firearm a bess.  Both were “brown” – bright.

Memorial Day 2017

Memorial Day is a unique holiday in that we honor the people whose blood formed and maintain the ground on which we walk and the government we have chosen to represent us. It is humbling to remember them by being at this Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day in the aftermath of the Civil War as a time to decorate the graves of the Union dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate traditions merged and the day was extended to all Americans who died while in military service. It has survived in US Code as a proclamation to all people of the United States to unite in prayer for permanent peace, each according to his or her own faith.

Writing a speech for Memorial Day is a bit tricky. There are some very large boots to fill in that department and so much that could be said. Veterans Affairs reports that between 1775 and 1991 America saw 11 periods of war, a total of almost 42 million service members, approximately one million in theater deaths, and an additional 230 thousand non theater deaths. We have been in the current Global War on Terror since 2001, our longest conflict yet. There is a tremendous amount of sacrifice packed into those numbers.

As I tossed around the many different tracks I could take, I kept coming back to two main concepts.

The first is that while somber, today is also a day to be celebrated. General Patton once said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived.” More so than many, we can recognize this as we stand in front of this particular tomb. The men who fought in the American War for Independence sacrificed everything to fight against a physically absent and thoroughly oppressive king. They resolutely left their homes, families, and livelihoods behind to fight for an experimental government. A government for the people, by the people.

On this very day in 1775 John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail from Philadelphia stating “The military Spirit which runs through the Continent is truly amazing. This City turns out 2000 Men every day. Mr. Dickinson is a Colonel. — Mr. Reed a Lieutenant Colonel. — Mr. Mifflin a Major. He ought to have been a General for he has been the animating soul of the whole.” He concluded with the following words. “Oh that I was a Soldier! — I will be. — I am reading military Books. — Every body must, and will, and shall be a soldier.”

This fighting spirit of even the upper echelons of contemporary 18th century society is what we can celebrate today. They were fighting not for individual glory but for a vision that many of them would never realize. They were dying for this country that we hold so beloved. Today is not a day of mourning but a day of gratitude.

The second idea that kept nagging at me is that a hero isn’t defined by one great act. We rightly consider the men and women who gave their lives for our country as heroes. We appropriately reward them with posthumous awards and stirring speeches. But in the pomp and circumstance we quickly forget that they were normal men and women. And like us, they were a sum of their choices. Every choice they were presented, every decision they made, and every sacrifice no matter how small steeled their resolve and gave them strength to do what they must. Their death doesn’t define their legacy but serves to illustrate the conviction and courage by which they lived.

To those of you who wear a uniform, don’t for a moment forget who you represent. You have the privilege to portray men of great fortitude and to share their story with others. Do them justice. For what you wear is not a costume but a uniform. The uniform of a country which many men have died to protect.

In her 5 July 1775 response to John, Abigail Adams said “I would not have you be distressed about me. Danger they say makes people valiant. Hitherto I have been distressed, but not dismayed. I have felt for my Country and her Sons, I have bled with them, and for them.

Today we remember our country’s sons and daughters who sacrificed everything. Now may our lives reflect that memory.

Speech given by Ms. Laura Marceau at the Memorial Day Ceremony, Old Presbyterian Meeting House, Alexandria VA. 29 May 2017.

Waxhaws (Buford’s Massacre) Battlefield Survey, 2011

In early 2010, proposed improvements at the intersection of South Carolina (SC) Route 9 and SC Route 522 would affect the Waxhaws battlefield. Brockington and Associates were asked to conduct “Mitigative archaeological investigations and boundary delineation for the Waxhaws (Buford’s Massacre) Battlefield (Site 38LA564)…” (p. iii) The following Survey is the result of these investigations.

Waxhaws (Buford’s Massacre) Battlefield Survey, 2011

Citation: Butler, Scott. “Buford’s Massacre (Waxhaws) Revolutionary War Battlefield, SC Route 9 and SC Route 522 Intersection Improvements, Lancaster County, South Carolina,” Brockington and Associates, Inc., 2011. PIN 30523.

The Survey was provided by CAPT Marshall Smith.

Logistics and the Continental Army: A Review in Four Parts

Logistics and the Continental Army:

A Review in Four Parts

by Joe Wagner

Discussion and Review of:

Supplying Washington’s Army by Erna Rich, published by the Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, DC.in 1981.

Logistics:  “. . . the branch of military science dealing with the procurement, maintenance, and movement of equipment, supplies, and personnel.”

The Continental Army winter camp at Valley Forge in 1777-78 is the stuff of legend.  A pitiable, cold, starving army in rags perseveres through all hardship to emerge in the spring ready to fight and win.  Skeptics will point out that it really wasn’t all that tough a winter from a meteorological point of view; the succeeding winter at Morristown, NJ was far more intense.    But for the men who were there, it was a time of real hardship.  More than the cold, the lack of clothing, food, fuel, and every necessity of life were made worse by the knowledge that the British were only a few miles away in the warmth and comfort of their late capitol, Philadelphia.  Why was there such a logistical failure at Valley Forge –what caused the inability of the Continentals to support themselves in the field for those cold winter months?

This first article begins a four-part series on logistics of the Continental Army drawn from the comprehensive US Army Military History Center publication that details the planning and execution necessary to support an American army in the field during the Revolution.  It will provide some information for the reenactment and interpretation of that world of 235 years ago.  It was easy enough to call up the militia, appoint the generals and colonels, establish tables for rations and clothing, and plan a campaign.  But who brings the ammo and the flints?  Where are the tents and kitchen gear?  Who collects the food that is authorized for each man?  Where are the wagons and carts to carry everything?  Where do the horses and oxen come from to pull the wagons – and who feeds those?  How does an army stay in one place for months and not suck dry the surrounding countryside?  Or how does it move twenty miles, or two hundred, and expect to find everything it needs along the way and at the other end?  And how did a collection of colonies with no experience or logistics structure instantaneously create the people and processes necessary to do all of these things and a million more?

The sections on Logistics to be provided here are:

Part I.  The Quartermaster General

Part II. Transport and Forage

Part III.  Subsistence and Clothing

Part IV.  Ordinance

Each Part will be posted on the First Virginia blog in future weeks and months.