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British Army Fatigue Caps during the War of 1812
by Robert Henderson and Keith Raynor

1813 pattern Grey Forage Cap being worn in Paris in 1815
(Anne S.K. Brown Collection - Photo by Paul Fortier)

            A Soldier’s life was not all marching on parades and fighting battles.   Cooking, cleaning and relaxing took up a good part of a Soldier’s day and his tall and sometimes awkward shako, while impressive in battle, was ill designed for regular going-abouts and fatigues.    Out of necessity, by the mid-18th century, the fatigue or forage cap was born for soldier’s to wear: "On all duties, such as sweeping barrack yards, and the streets and avenues of a camp, going for wood, water, straw, and things of that nature..." [1]  

             This "furagin cap" [2] , as one soldier pronounced it, was a cost saver for Army offiicals because it lengthened the life of the soldier’s more formal headdress.  Because of this its role expanded in use.  Bennett Cuthbertson pointed out in 1768 that the forage cap "will be found of infinite use, on all night duties, and those of fatigue, besides many other occasions." [3]    Certainly in garrison or camp, the forage cap would have been the preferred headdress as opposed to the uncomfortable, top-heavy shako.  Regulating the use of the forage cap was left up to the regiment or garrison commanders.  Regulations for the Experimental Rifle Corps in 1801, specified that the forage cap was to be worn by the riflemen from tattoo to sunrise. [4]   The wide use of forage caps for night duties is also documented for the 106th Regiment in 1795: "The night sentries always in foraging caps, as well as all the men of the guard, when it grows dark." [5]   In contrast to this, the 70th Regiment only specified for their men to wear forage caps on fatigues. [6]   While serving on the Cape of Good Hope in the 1790s, 78th Regiment issued orders for the men to parade for divine service [7] and march wearing their forage caps. [8]    It was not until 1829, that the War Office issued any General Order as to when the forage cap was to be worn.  In this order, it was stipulated that forage caps were "to be worn with the great coat off parade, and no other cap except the shako in regimentals." [9]   The impression from this order is that it was common practice for the soldiers to wear their forage caps with their regimentals.  A number of illustrations of soldiers in the 1808-15 period support this. [10]

            When not in use, the forage cap, at the beginning of the 1800s was rolled and fastened with leather straps above the cartridge pouch.   In some regiments a tin or leather case was used to protect the cap [11] .  Illustrative evidence seems to indicate that this method of storage was not being used by 1812.  Most likely throughout the War of 1812, the soldier simply stored it inside his knapsack.

 First Styles

             Initially forage caps were constructed, "conformable to pattern ones", out of spare cloth left over after the conversion of old coats into jackets. [12]   Cuthbertson offers considerable insight into the style and construction of the 18th century forage cap: “Every non-commissioned officer and soldier should be provided with a red cap lined with course linen, and turned up in the front by a small stiff flap of the facings of the Regiment, with an occasional falling cape, to defend and cover the neck from the extremities of violent weather; when the soldiers are converting their old coats into jackets, they can be easily made up from the remains of the old cloth..." [13]   From the American Revolution to the end of the 18th century, tailors with the regiment continued to convert the left-over tails of cut-down coats into forage caps. [14]   Because of this, the colour of the cap remained the same as that of the coat.   

The Raise of Regimental Patterns

            When the short-tailed, single-breasted regimental coat was introduced into the infantry in 1798, the source of extra material for forage caps was lost.  It became necessary to have each regiment's clothiers to make up forage caps from new material, and ship them with the regiment's annual clothing supply.  It is interesting to note, around this time of transformation, the 7th Fusiliers, while in Halifax, Canada, issued orders calling for the men to wear straw or chip hats for fatigues in the summer months, and fur caps in the winter. [15]   Whether this was due to a shortage of material to make proper forage caps caused by the change in coat is unknown.

             From the end of the 18th century to 1812 a wide variety of regimentally-distinct forage caps were introduced into the army and their colour and patterns were unregulated.  Riflemen of the Experimental Rifle Corps in 1801 had a forage cap made of black cloth, edged and lettered with white. [16]   Reorganized into a light infantry regiment in 1808, the 51st Regiment was noted as having a green cap, with 2 ½ yards of green binding with 2 small black horn buttons for turndowns. [17]   Another regimentally-distinct forage cap known of was that of the 44th Regiment.  Consisting of a ½ yard of black cloth and  1 ½ yards of red binding, this black cap had the number '44' mounted on it in scarlet cloth. [18]   The Royal York Rangers' green forage cap was decorated with 1 ½ yards of narrow royal cord, and 2 ½ yards of scarlet cord. [19]   The 10th Regiment's forage cap at this period was made of white wool decorated with red-dyed woollen tape binding. [20]   Watercolours of the 6th Regiment in 1802 depict a soldier wearing a yellow forage cap, with the number '6' mounted on the front.  A flaming grenade appears on the rolled forage cap of a grenadier in the 6th.

            There appears to be two common styles of forage caps used by regulars prior to 1812: the stocking and the wedge forage cap.  Stocking forage caps are displayed in numerous period illustrations including works by Pyne [21] , and Atkinson [22] .  There appear to be two prominent variations of stocking forage caps: (1) one a simple triangle shaped cap with ornamentation mounted on it to mimic French fashion ( 10th Regiment and Royal York Rangers examples of this); (2) the other of the exact same pattern as the French “bonnet de police”, with a large turned-up band where the forage cap's end and tassel could be tucked, as displayed in the watercolour of the soldier of the 6th Regiment in 1802.   The French design really had a unique following amongst regimental commanders.  An account by Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery of a captain Duncan captures this point:

I call to mind….the circumstance that Duncan, in 1804, took it into his head to give his troop a new and Frenchified forage-cap….  Numerous were the fancies he and I tried, some in sketches, some he actually had made up, until at last we pitched upon the annexed as the most elegant; and the tailors were forthwith set to work making them up.  In a short time they were finished, Duncan delighted; inspected the watering-order parade himself, and contemplated the beautiful effect of his Frenchified troop with rapture…. These caps, or something similar, were afterwards adopted generally [including the 12th or 16th Light Dragoons]. [23]  

That said there are numerous contemporary illustrations also depicting a wedge forage cap.  The 61st Regiment is portrayed in Egypt in 1801 wearing this small folding forage cap.   Pyne also illustrates this style in his military "camp scene" engravings published in 1803.  Similar illustrations of soldiers in the Peninsular War by St. Clair indicate a wide use of this forage cap. It is interesting to note, seemingly because of its comfort and inexpensiveness, this cap remained in use into the 1820s as an alternate (private purchase) working cap to the approved style of forage cap. [24]   Fortunately, an original of this style has survived for the North Hampshire Militia which is made of white wool with red trimmings.

It is important to note during the 1798-1812 period, none of the known regimental patterns had a red body to the cap.  After decades of red forage caps in the 18th century, the colour seems to have fallen out of fashion for fatigue caps. At the opening of the War of 1812 many of the regiments in North America would have been wearing a regimental pattern cap.

A Return to Army Uniformity

             By 1811 a pattern forage cap for the whole Infantry began to be deliberated upon.  French fashion seemed to be waning and Russian and Prussian designs seem to have attracted the eyes of British Army officials.  The proceedings of one board on the equipment of the infantry stated: "the foraging cap should be the same for the whole army that it should be made of black cloth, with an oil skin crown." [25]   Although no evidence exists showing that this proposed pattern was implemented, it is known that by 1812 forage caps for the infantry were ordered to be made in strict conformity to an approved pattern. [26]     From pictorial evidence it appears the cavalry also settled on a universal pattern of forage or watering cap in a shape similar to a Scottish “hummel” bonnet with the body of the cap in blue and a head band in white or yellow.  It is presumed the colour of the band reflected the cord and lace colour of the Cavalry regiment.  C. Hamilton Smith illustrates this pattern of watering cap without a pompom or torrie on top.  However Dennis Dighton’s illustration of the 10th Hussars in 1813 does show a torrie in the colour of the head band.  

            In August 1813, the Deputy Adjutant General at Horse Guards wrote the Inspectors of Army Clothing on a pattern for the infantry forage cap that had been selected:  "I am to acquaint you, that the Grey cap with which this is accompanied, has been approved as a foraging cap for the infantry; and sealed as a pattern to be lodged in the clothing office.  I am at the same time to return the two other foraging caps, and to desire they may be removed, so as to prevent their being in future shewn with the patterns." [27]   Whether the forage cap for the infantry was to be grey or that only the prototype was that colour is unclear.    Illustrations of camp scenes during the Waterloo campaign and the occupation of Paris show infantrymen wearing a slightly flared bonnet-style forage cap similar to the Cavalry pattern.  In fact one watercolour, which is incredibly accurate in all other details, shows a yellow faced regiment wearing bluish grey forage caps with white head bands (see top image).  However they do not look as flared as the Cavalry pattern and there does not appear to be a torrie.  This seems to be the pattern adopted for the infantry by 1813.  In Canada, a sketch of an execution at La Prairie in 1813, confirms soldiers wearing this pattern with the impression of a headband.  The sides of the forage cap seem stiffened somewhat.  Whether the Infantry fatigue caps were all one colour (grey or bluish-grey) or whether there was also a white or other colour headband is inconclusive.

detail of Execution at La Prairie, 1813  (LAC)

             Did this extend to the Rifle Regiments?   This is unknown but it is expected that the rifle regiments would have had a green forage cap.   The Glengarry Light Infantry Fencible Regiment in Canada , who were to be clothed like the 95th Rifles did receive green forage caps at the end of 1812.   It is interesting to note the Glengarries were supposed to be Highland Regiment but was switched to the Light Infantry corps at the last moment.  There is some conjecture that the Glengarries, later in the war, outfitted themselves with Scottish bonnets as forage caps.   A shipping list of items shows this regiment being sent blue and "red white"  or diced cloth. [28]

 Supplies to North America

             The annually supplied [29] forage cap weighed six ounces [30] and cost each soldier between two and three shillings.  In North America , the cost ranged from 2sh 6d in June 1813, [31] to 2sh 9d in July 1814. [32]   These prices applied to forage caps sold from government stores [33] to soldiers badly in need of clothing, and were not the forage caps shipped by the regiment's clothiers.  Whether the rise in price indicated a change in the style or quality of forage caps in government stores is uncertain.  Certainly the demand for forage caps remained high in Canada throughout these two years.  This is illustrated in one request by Major General Drummond, commander of Upper Canada in 1814, for more forage caps, where the Military Secretary for Canada replied:

"With respect to the requisition for 2,000 forage caps I am directed to observe that the 10,000 received last year have been distributed in Upper and Lower Canada , but as a large supply is expected shortly from England a proportion will be again allotted for and sent to the Upper Province ." [34]

Though these bulk shipments were distend for mostly militiamen, they do illustrate the presence of a generic style of forage cap in the British Army at that time and that the forage cap saw extensive use in the North American campaigns.       


[1] . Bennett Cuthbertson, A System for the Compleat Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry, 2nd edition, ( London , 1779), p. 81.  

[2] . As spelt by Corporal James Coles, 41st Regiment in 1811. Provincial Archives of Ontario.

[3] . Cuthbertson, A System..., p. 55.

[4] . Regulations for the Rifle Corps, 1801, p. 75.

[5] . Hew Strachan, British Military Uniforms, 1768-96, ( London , 1975), p. 258, according to the Standing Orders of the 106th Regiment, Waterford , 1795.

[6] . Ibid., p. 250, in the Standing Orders, 70th Regiment of Foot, 1 September 1788 .

[7] . P.J. Haythornthwaite, "Uniform and Equipment of the 78th, 1794-95", JSAHR p. 120.  Regimental Order, Poole , 27 December 1794 .

[8] . Ibid., Regimental Order, Poole , 15 February 1795 .

[9] . General Order, 10 February 1829 .

[10] . J. Atkinson's A Halt of Troops, 1808; W.H. Pyne's British troops in camp, (published 1803); and Martinet's Bivouacs Anglais, 1815 to name a few.

[11] . Regulations for the Rifle Corps, 1801, p. 75.

[12] . Thomas Simes, A Military Course for the Government and Conduct of a Battalion..., ( London , 1777), p. 130.

[13] . Bennett Cuthbertson, A System for the Compleat Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry, ( Dublin , 1768), p. 55.

[14] . Taylor 's rates for making a forage cap in the Queen's Dragoon Guards was two pence.  Strachan, British Military Uniforms..., p. 68-69, in Standing Orders, the Queen's Dragoon Guards, London , 1795.

[15] . Rev. Percy Sumner, "Standing Orders of the Royal Fusiliers, 1798", JSAHR, v. 27, p. 123.

[16] . Regulations for the Rifle Corps, 1801, p. 75.

[17] . Canadian War Museum , Tailor's Handbook of 'Messers. J.N. & B. Pearse', c. 1808 entry.

[18] . Ibid.

[19] . Ibid.

[20] . original in the National Army Museum .

[21] . In his plates "British troops in camp" and "camp scenes" show soldiers in this style of cap.  W.H. Pyne, Microcosm, ( London , 1803)

[22] . Atkinson illustrates the triangle-shaped forage cap in "Troops on the march", and "Watering Horses", 1808 ( National Army Museum )

[23] R.J.MacDonald The History of the Dress of the Royal Regiment of Artillery ( London 1899) pp. 46-47.

[24] . A watercolour of soldiers playing football in circa 1826 depicts a number of men definitely wearing the envelope type of forage cap, W.Y. Carman, British Military Uniforms From Contemporary Pictures, (New York, 1957), between p. 74 and p. 75.

[25] . Public Records Office (PRO), WO 7/56, p. 98.

[26] . War Office, Collection of Orders, Regulations, and Instructions,... , p. 469, "Regulations for the Provision of Clothing, Necessaries, Greatcoats, and Appointments, for Corps of Infantry, 15 July 1812 ".

[27] . PRO, WO 3/207 p. 80, Horse Guards, 24 August 1813 .

[28] . René Chartrand, "Uniforms of the Glengarry Light Infantry, 1812-1816"

[29] . War Office, Collection of Orders, Regulations, and Instructions, for the Army; On Matters of Finance and Points of Discipline, v. 2, (London, 1819), p. 455, "Regulations for the Provision of Clothing, Necessaries, Greatcoats, and Appointments, for Corps of Infantry, 15 July 1812", mentioning issue of forage caps to the Guards annually.

[30] . United Services Museum , 355-66, Inventory of Military Baggage, 1816, p. 81.

[31] . L.H. Irving, Officers of the British Forces in Canada During the War of 1812-15, ( Welland , 1908), p. 244.  General Order, 7 June 1813 .

[32] . Ibid., General Order, 16 July 1814 .

[33] . National Archives of Canada , RG 8, C 1220, p. 404. Forwarded from the stores in Quebec to Montreal for troops in Upper Canada : ...4017 forage caps, Quebec , 28 July 1813 .

[34] . LAC, RG 8 I, vol. 1222, p. 97, Freer to Drummond, Montreal , 3 April 1814 .

Copyright: The Discriminating General 2004

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