2d Virginia Regiment Light Company, July 1779

2d Virginia Regiment's Light Company, Stony Point, 1779 Artwork by Don Troiani, http://www.historicalartprints.com

Research shows that most of the troops involved at Stony Point would have been in French-made “contract coats” (aka “Lottery Coats”), supplemented by linen hunting shirts. Wayne comments to Washington in September 1779 that the clothing of the Light Infantry was “very Ragged–especially the Virginia Line whose coats are so worn out that they are Obliged to Substitute Linen hunting Shirts”. These hunting shirts were probably natural or off-white.

The Corps of Light Infantry had a difficult time becoming uniform, as Washington was not willing to apply too many resources to a temporary Corps. For that reason, some of the Corps had caps (either leather or felt “cap-hats”) and some had simple cocked hats. Wayne’s orders the day before state: “Every Officer & Soldier is then to fix a peice [sic] of white paper in the most Conspi[c]ous part of his Hat or Cap to Distinguish him from the Enemy”. Based on this information, either caps or hats are appropriate, with slips of white paper added to them.

Just after Stony Point, it can be documented that the battalion companies of the Virginia Line bought Nivernois style hats (4″ in the front, 3″ on the side, 5″ in the rear). The first mention specific mention of caps for the Virginian light companies comes in October 1779, “Gen’l Wayne has observed with Great Concern That the Virginians are the only troops in the Light Infantry that has not procured Hair for their Caps.”

July 16, 1779: Battle of Stony Point

“I have the happiness to say that every officer and soldier behaved with a fortitude and bravery peculiar to men who are determined to be free, and overcame every danger and difficulty without confusion or delay…the citizens of Virginia might know from your authority that their troops deserve their thanks and support.”

– Colonel Christian Febiger, 2d Virginia Regiment, to Governor Thomas Jefferson

By 1779, four years after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the American Revolution had developed into an expanded conflict. In addition to fighting the colonists, the British were also at war with the French and the Spanish, and had been compelled to evacuate Philadelphia, the nation’s capital, the previous winter. Sir Henry Clinton, commander-in-chief of the British forces in America, was ordered “to bring Mr. Washington to a general and decisive action.”

The British had captured the peninsula of Stony Point in May 1779, and began to fortify it by cutting down trees, and by erecting an earthen fort and two barriers called abatis. In addition, two British ships offered extra protection, and the newly-captured fort at Verplanck’s Point, across the river, could be signaled by rocket for reinforcements. The commander of the garrison at Stony Point felt certain that his defenses were secure, calling the new fort his “little Gibraltar.”

Washington responded to Clinton’s move by marching his troops north from Middlebrook, New Jersey, to protect the American fortifications at West Point. Clinton garrisoned Stony Point and Verplanck’s Point with about 1,000 men to protect the King’s Ferry, which crossed the Hudson River between the two posts. Clinton then launched raids against Connecticut coastal towns, in the continuing attempt to lure Washington into battle.

Clearly, the British could not be allowed to remain unopposed at Stony Point, and by early July, Washington observed the enemy works himself from nearby Buckberg Mountain and devised a plan. Brigadier General Anthony Wayne would lead a surprise midnight assault against Stony Point. Wayne commanded the Corps of Light Infantry, a select force which probed enemy lines, fought running skirmishes, and defended the army against sudden attack. The Light Infantry was comprised of the very best soldiers, each regiment producing one company, which then served on detached duty.

On July 15, 1779, Wayne’s troops began their march from Fort Montgomery, near the present-day Bear Mountain Bridge. For eight hours they struggled over narrow mountain trails, arresting civilians they encountered en route to avoid detection. When the soldiers arrived at Sprintsteel’s farm, two miles from Stony Point, they were told for the first time about their mission. Three columns would lead the Continental force. One column of 300 men would wade through the marches of the Hudson River from the north. A second column, led by Wayne, would wade through the waters of Haverstraw Bay and approach from the south. Each of these two columns would consist of three part: twenty men called “the forlorn hope” who would enter the enemy lines first, overcome sentries and cut through the abatis; an advance party which would enter the fort and seize its works; and the main body, which would continue around the unfinished back of the fort and approach it from the river.

Soldiers in these two attacking columns wore pieces of white paper in their hats to avoid confusion in the darkness, and were armed with unloaded muskets and fixed bayonets, so that an accidental shot would not reveal their presence and reduce the element of surprise. When they entered the enemy fort they would shout the watchword “the Fort’s Our Own” to signal their comrades-in-arms. Finally, twenty-four artillery men would accompany the Light Infantry, so that captured enemy cannon could be turned against the British ships and their other fort at Verplanck’s Point.

To create a diversion, a third column of two companies of Light Infantry would be positioned near the center of Stony Point peninsula and in front of the fort’s defenses, where they would divert the enemy’s attention by firing musket volleys. On a dark and windy midnight, the northern and southern attacking columns forded the marshes separating Stony Point from the mainland. The two columns swept up the treeless slopes, arriving in the fort within minutes of each other.

The heaviest fighting lasted half an hour, and by 1AM the garrison had surrendered. Fifteen Americans had been killed. Twenty British had also died, and the remainder were taken prisoners. “Our officers and men behaved like men who are determined to be free,” reported Wayne, who received a slight head wound. Three days later, Washington abandoned Stony Point because he knew it could not be defended against the combined might of the British army and navy.

Although they returned to Stony Point and rebuilt the fort, British troops were withdrawn in October because of insufficient reinforcements, and never again threatened the Hudson Highlands. The victory at Stony Point was the last major battle in the north, and boosted American morale. Clinton’s plan to defeat the Continentals and end the war had failed.

Colonel Christian Febiger

The 2d Virginia Regiment’s light infantry was in the First Regiment commanded by Col. Christian Febiger of the Light Infantry Corps. The following is a letter from Col. Christian Febiger to Thomas Jefferson regarding the storming of Stony Point:

“To his Excellence, Governor Jefferson, of the State of Virginia July 21, 1779 Sir: You must undoubtedly before this have heard of and seen the particulars of our glorious and successful enterprise at Stony Point, which renders my giving you a detail unnecessary. But as I had the honor to command all the troops from our State employed on that service I think it my duty, in justice to those brave men, to inform you that the front platoon of the forlorn hope consisted of 3/4 Virginians, and the front of the vanguard, of Virginians only, and the front of the column on the right of Posey’s battalion composed of four companies of Virginians and two Pennsylvanians.

….the advance composed of 150 Volunteers, first entered the works. Seven of my men in the forlorn hope who entered first were either killed or wounded. I have the happiness to say that every officer and soldier behaved with a fortitude and bravery peculiar to men who are determined to be free, and overcame every danger and difficulty without confusion or delay, far surpassing any enterprise in which I have had an active part. I request neither reward nor thanks, but I am happy in having done my duty and shared the dangers and honor of the day; but could wish, if not inconsistent, that the citizens of Virginia might know from your authority that their troops deserve their thanks and support. Christian Ferbiger, Col.”


Leggings: The 2d Virginia Regiment made up leggings of blue duffle with horn buttons, as entries in the Virginia Public Store Day Book indicate:

Capt William taliaferro Dr To Sundries to fill up his necessary Roll 3 yds blue duffil @ 6/8…17 doz horn buttons for leggings…4d
Virginia Public Store Daybook, October 31, 1775

Capt. Meade P Self Dr…10 yards Duffle @ 7/…11 doz small butts. @ 6d
Virginia Public Store Daybook, November 13, 1775

In the colonies “country boots” were often popular with civilians, especially the backcountry:

On their legs they have Indian boots, or leggins, made of course woolen cloth, that are either wrapped round loosely and tied with garters, or are laced upon the outside, and always come better than half way up the thigh; these are a great defence and preservative, not only against the bite of serpents and poisonous insects, but likewise against the scratches of thorns, briars, scrubby bushes, and under wood, with which this whole country is infested and overspread.

J.F.D. Smyth, A Tour in the United States of America…Sometime in 1773 or 1774, 2 volumes (London 1784), 2: 178-81.

This style of legging was also adopted by men of the Fairfax Independent Company, who resolved to “…distinguishing our Dress, when we are upon Duty, by painted Hunting-Shirts and Indian Boots…” (Fairfax County Militia Association; Independent Company of Fairfax, The Papers of George Mason, 1725-1792, edited by Robert A. Rutland (Chapel Hill), I, 210-211).  Given the quantity of buttons to fabric, it appears that the early Virginian leggings were made of blue duffle like “Indian boots” with approximately five horn buttons at the ankle.  Entries in the daybook of the Virginia Public Store indicate that the 1st Virginia Regiment also drew garters, but there are no such entries for the 2d Virginia Regiment.

Hunting Shirts

1775-1776: The hunting shirts of used by the Virginia regiments of 1775 were made of osnaburg and had differing finishing details to designate rank and regiment. Research seems to indicate that during the Revolutionary War, “hunting shirt” indicated an open front garment. They would become a defining feature of the early regimental clothing, as Colonel Woodford and others would refer to the soldiers as “shirtmen”.

Most of the exact finishing details come not from the 2d Virginia Regiment’s orderly book, or the orderly book for the regiments encamped at College Camp, but from another Virginia regiment that was serving in the same place during this time, the 6th Virginia Regiment. As there were several general orders being made in regards to all of the regiments at College Camp, the use of short round hats with black binding for instance, it stands to reason that the general construction techniques were the same and that they differed only in regimental distinctions.

The 2d Virginia Regiment’s hunting shirts were most definitely purple and made from osnaburg, however that is all that is known of their appearance from their own orderly book: “It is Expected that each Capt. will with all Expedition Provide Legins for his men & hunting shirts Dy’d of a purple Coulour…” (Orderly Book of the 2d Virginia Regiment, October 27, 1775)   The fabric used and the fact that the men made these shirts themselves is clearly established by several orders and draws of cloth:

Thread Sufficient for the purpose must be Drawn, at the same Time as much as will make each Soldier a Hunting Shirt
Orderly Book of the 2d Virginia Regiment, October 11, 1775

Capt George Johnston Dr P order Colo. Woodford…To 4 yards oznabr. For H. shirts @ 1/6
Captn William Taliaferro Dr P order Colo Woodford…137 yards Oznabr. Hunting Shts @ 1/6

Virginia Public Store Day Book, November 6, 1775

The orderly book of the 6th Virginia Regiment provides more detail: “…a hunting shirt well made and short just to come below the waistband of the breeches…” (Orderly Book of the 6th Virginia Regiment, 26 March 1776 to 26 January 1778, American Collection, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. September 11, 1776)  Rank apparently also was denoted by finishing details, for this entry goes on to say that the shirts (for the 6th Virginia Regiment) were to be: “Cuffed and Caped with red. The Serjts to be only cuffed with red. the Drummers and fifers to be white & cuffed with brown the Corporals shirts to be the same as the mens but they are to get some red twist & I will put then in the way of making a knot…” Unfortunately, the same extrapolation cannot be made to the what the 2d Virginia Regiment may have done for rank designations as their shirts were entirely one color, therefore there is no contrasting color to use to designate who the sergeants were.

The only additional piece of information is that in March 1776 that money would be provided for their addition: “The Committee allow Cuffs and Capes to be added to the Hunting Shirts of the regular’s at the expense of the Country.” which could be interpreted to mean that contrasting cuffs and capes were to be added (a common detail of Virginia Continental hunting shirts in 1776).

1777-1778: The 2d Virginia Regiment was completely suppled with new regimental coats at the expense of Colonel William Spotswood when they joined the Main Army in 1777 and no mention of hunting shirts are made in the clothing returns of late 1777 or early 1778.  There are only two apparent references during this period:

Deserted from capt. John Willis’s company, on their march to the Northward, a soldier by the name of Jos: Bryant, who lives in the upper end of Westmoreland, and frequently to be seen at mr. Benjamin Johnston’s ordinary, where he was enlisted. He is a well made man, with a dark skin, and black hair, about 5 feet 9 or 10 inches high ; had on when he deserted a dark hunting shirt.
Alexander Purdie, Virginia Gazette, April 11, 1777

Henry Mace, a Private, 5 feet 8 inches high, well set, fair faced, hand a blue hunting Shirt when he went off…
Dixon and Hunter, Virginia Gazette, September 5, 1777

It should be noted that of the thirteen men mentioned in the September 1777 deserter advertisement, Mace is the only one mentioned wearing a hunting shirt and five others are described as wearing regimental coats.  It is quite possible that these hunting shirts were leftovers from 1775-1776 as “dark” could describe purple and “blue” could be a faded purple shirt.  For these reasons, we do not currently use hunting shirts in our 1777-1778 impression other than as something to be loaned to a new recruit for their first few events.

Watercolor by Jean-Baptiste Antoine de Verger

1778-1780: In October 1778, a large quantity of French-made regimental coats were delivered and issued to the Continental Army with enough of a surplus that a second issue was made again in November 1779, “I must first request of you not to permit one of the men to wear their new clothes until the huts are done…” (Febiger Letter Book, 1778-1780, November 30, 1779, Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

The French and state issued bounty clothing issued in 1778 must not have been durable, as in the period between its issue and late 1779, the Virginians were frequently described as being in poor clothing, which was supplemented with hunting shirts:

General Anthony Wayne comments to Washington in September 1779 that the clothing of the Light Infantry was “very ragged — especially the Virginia Line whose coats are so worn out that they are Obliged to Substitute Linen hunting Shirts”

Head Quarters, West Point, September 28, 1779.

My Lord: I have your favr. of the 27th. Supposing the Continental Cloathing delivered to the Virginia line last Fall to be of equal quality with that delivered to the other part of the Army, they ought now to be in better condition than any other troops, as they had [at the same time contrary to my judgment and express desire] a very considerable quantity of state Cloathing in addition to the Continental [which I was sure coming altogether would be misapplied and avail them little].

I have directed Mr. Wilkinson the new Cloathier General who is gone to the Eastward to send immediately forward all the woolen Cloathing of every kind. The moment it arrives it shall be delivered to those most in want. I hope we shall have a sufficiency of Body Cloathing, but in Blankets [and Hats], notwithstanding my repeated remonstrances, I fear we shall fall short. I do not know what stock of shoes are on hand, but I imagine not great. I will write to the Cloathier and know, and will order a due proportion to your division. I hope the new arrangement of the Cloathing department will put it upon a better footing than it has heretofore been. It has occasioned more trouble to me, and has given more disgust to the Officers than any one thing besides in the service.

George Washington to William Alexander, Lord Stirling, September 28, 1779. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor

The common hunting shirt later in the war was open in the front, had a single cape, a simple cuff and light fringe as illustrated in the watercolor by Jean-Baptiste Antoine de Verger, a sublieutenant in the Royal Deux-Ponts Regiment that took part in the siege of Yorktown and painted several American soldiers.

Step #2: Shirts

The first piece of clothing you’ll want to invest in will be a shirt, in fact I would recommend two if you can. Not only is it also a common item to every impression we do, it is somewhat “intimate” in that a shirt is the garment worn closest to the body.

Two shirts are ultimately recommended for the same reason two pairs of stockings are recommended: health and hygiene. Just as wet feet lead to blisters and foot problems, a clean dry shirt on a hot day helps one cope with warm weather events.

Shirts are basically the same in construction, differing on materials due to economics. They are loose cut and very long (to the knees), the collar is long enough to fold over a stock. Materials would differ, but generally a heavier linen, bleached or unbleached/natural, was used with thread or bone buttons, one at each wrist and two at the collar.

Documentation for the 2d Virginia Regiment from the Virginia Public Store day book, issues by the clothier general, and later in 1780 at the recruiting depot in Chesterfield Courthouse show that checked linen and onsaburg were the most common materials for soldier’s body shirts:

Williamsburg, October 23, 1775
To 9 check shirts for his Comy @ 11/3 5:1:3

Williamsburg, October 27, 1775
23 check Shirts @ 12/6 14:7:6

Williamsburg November 4, 1775
To 18 check shirts @ 11/3 10:2:6

Williamsburg, November 7, 1775
To 31-1/2 yds Ozns for body shirts @ 1/6 2:7:3

Williamsburg, Novr 13, 1775
Capt. Meade P Self Dr
Sundries to fill up his necessary list
3-1/2 yds Ozns for body shirts @ 1/6

January 13, 1777 a purchase was made of “7 ps check 36 yds ea, 1 remnant do 28-3/4 yds, 8 ps do 18 yds ea, 6 remnt do 69 yds…

July 29, 1780 for a soldier escaped from Ch’town…13 yards ozn for 2 shirts, overalls, lining

Pattern: As a shirt is no more than a collection of squares and rectangles, there is no pattern to be purchased, but rather a set of instruction on how to make your own. There are several documents on the unit’s Yahoo Group that guide you on how to do this.

Osnaburg Linen

Osnaburg Linen

Materials: Good sources for linen are Burnley and Trowbridge, Najecki Reproductions, and Wm Booth, Draper who carry both osnaburg, shirting and check linens.

Check Linen

Check Linen

Note that in the 18th century, checks tended to be in a plain weave that had warp and weft colored stripes intersecting at right angles to form squares, and that typical checks for clothing were small in the range of 1/4-3/8″, and common colors would be white/blue, white/black, white/brown, etc.

Thread Buttons

Thread Buttons

Buttons should be thread or bone, also available at Burnley and Trowbridge, Najecki Reproductions, and Wm Booth.

Thread depends on whether you are going to completely hand sew your shirt or use a sewing machine for internal seams (remember, all visible seams, button holes, and topstitching should be done by hand). If using a machine, use 100% cotton thread for the internal seams. For hand sewing and finishing, use 16/2 natural/unbleached thread, available from Burnley and Trowbridge, Najecki Reproductions, and Wm Booth.