I’m Too Sexy for My…Bavarian Fly

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Werther Young.

I’m Too Sexy for My…Bavarian Fly

By Werther Young

        Of all of the unique things that have managed to make it to the internet, a concise history of colonial men’s pants flies is surprisingly not one of them.

        Our story begins in the Renaissance in, where else, France.  King Henry III of France eschewed the old-fashioned dress and hose and embraced a new fashion, culottes, now known as “knee breeches.”

Henry III in his dress and hose

Henry III in his tony new culottes.

The fly of Henry’s pants was a simple affair, a rectangular panel sewn to the left side with buttonholes that buttoned over the right.  This simple and practical design became known as the “French fly” and became almost universal in Western Europe over the next 60 years.

Ann Bonny the pirate, in French fly trousers, ca. 1721.

Over time, Ann Bonny’s “long” French fly was perfected into the “short” French fly.  Anne’s fly extends from the inseam to the waistband. By merely sewing a few inches of the front seam together, the fly can be made shorter, removing a buttonhole and button or two. 

        These fly designs apparently did not reach into Eastern Europe, where presumably leather pants were as expensive as wool ones but lasted much longer, because they were never washed. Translating the French Fly into leather posed some problems, and so these leather pants had a different fly, essentially a hole in the center front with a panel buttoned over it that flipped or dropped up and down as necessary. This design caught on in the Alpine areas of central Europe, and especially in Bavaria under the label of “Lederhosen,” which is German for “leather pants.”  

“Short” French Fly Breeches, ca. 1750.

The Bavarian fly migrated further north, as in the Deutsches Museum in Berlin can be found a pair of enlisted trousers from the mid-1700s,  with a half drop front fly; that is, it opens only the right side.  This is essentially a cheaper fly, because it needs only one button to close, and does the same thing.

        By the middle 1700s, the French fly had been around for over 150 years, and someone in France started a different fashion (and outdoing the Huns) by putting the two -opening Bavarian fly on culottes, thus making the culottes “a la Bavarois,” French for “like the Bavarians.”  This was runway level high fashion for the time, and quickly spread among the well to do as the latest thing, with a new name, the “drop front” or “fall front” fly. Unfortunately, translating the design from leather, which does not unravel, to fabric, which does, made the Bavarian fly extremely complicated and therefore expensive. This of course added to its cachet, so much so that by 1775, it had reached the aristocracy even in the backwater of Colonial America.


        Colonial Williamsburg has a fabulous collection of high-status men’s pants from the 18th century.  A survey thereof shows the number of French flies waning into the 1770s, and the number of Bavarian drop front flies waxing beginning in 1775, reaching a height about 1800.   Unfortunately, these are all very high-status garments, such as a pair of “button front breeches of cream-colored silk velvet, with repeat of small pink and green flowers self-covered buttons, those at knee embroidered with metallic silver thread. Silver galloon strap at knee.”  But did the states and Continent really issue enlisted soldiers what amounts to hand made Givenchy trousers? Of course not.

        The false idea that they did partially comes from a series of paintings done by Charles M. Lefferts in the early 1900s, later published as Uniforms of the Armies in the War of the American Revolution, 1775–1783. in 1926.

A Lefferts rendering of trousers a la Bavarois, 2d Maryland 1777.

Measuring this man’s height against the known length of his musket makes him about 6’4 inches tall, the height of actors Clint Walker, Chuck Connors, Clint Eastwood, and the average NBA basketball player.  If you look below the point of his vest, he is wearing drop front pants over his massive thighs. Curiously, he is also wearing a 1760s style skirted vest and long regimental coat.  Are we to believe that Maryland issued its men old fashioned vests and coats, but high fashion breeches?  Since Lefferts was born in 1873, he had no first-hand knowledge of his subject, we must look to period images.    

Alas, these are of little help.  It is difficult to discern whether any of the men in period paintings are wearing French Fly pants, Bavarian drop front pants, or anything else. The most informative images, the von German drawings, are unfortunately from the side, and of no help.

Von German “American Soldier” New York Hist Soc.  
Amerikanische Scharfschutz, Brown University

        Since information is so scarce, we must turn to the other reason we believe that rev war soldiers wore drop front pants.  Klinger’s Sketchbook ’76. Page 9 shows a pair of Bavarian drop front breeches, based on George Washington’s uniform in the Smithsonian, and Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman’s uniform from the Maryland Historical Society.  This is odd, because Washington’s uniform is from the 1794, 15 years after the war and at the height of the drop front craze.  Tilghman was the scion of a blue blood family, owned half of Baltimore, was an aide to Washington, and hobnobbed with Lafayette. Even if his uniform can be dated to the war years, it is not only a high-status uniform, but one of the highest status possible in America at the time; his not wearing Bavarian trousers would be of greater note. Neither are evidence that any of the 13 colonies nor the Continent paid to make their enlisted men such high fashion trousers. 

On Sketchbook page11, Klinger bases his Bavarian drop front overalls on unspecified plates in “Bernard’s History of England” and the images above. While these may establish Bavarian drop front flies supplied by the King George, it certainly does not necessarily mean that the colonies were doing so.

        Surprisingly, two pairs of enlisted overalls are known to exist, mistakenly labelled as “Pantaloons,” and residing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Department.  These are exquisitely made, and probably military examples, but unfortunately European, and from 1793 and later.  

        No credible evidence exists that any of the 13 colonies nor the Continent issued its troops Bavarian drop front pants.  This makes sense, as that design is difficult to make, does the exact same thing as the simple French fly, and fashionable pants do not really contribute much extra to Liberty.  Additionally, with all but the highest status clothiers making French fly pants, retraining them to cut out and make the new design would seriously impede production, even assuming that patterns and training could be somehow provided from Georgia to Vermont at a time when the men could barely be supplied a musket or shirt. In the War of the Revolution, the colonists were by all indications wearing French fly breeches and overalls, not drop front ones a la Bavarois.

Robert Rogers and the French and Indian War

Today, Emerging Revolutionary War is pleased to welcome guest writer, Arthur Ceconi.

There are a few figures from the French and Indian War that are recognizable to Americans today.  They the European generals Jeffery Amherst, James Wolfe, and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm – Grozon, Marquis de Montcalm de Saint-Veran, and two North Americans, George Washington and Robert Rogers.  In some ways Robert Rogers is the person that many Americans growing up in the 20th century associate with the French and Indian War. 

In part, Rogers’ recognizability can be traced to the historical novel Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts, which was published in 1937.  It was the second best-selling novel published that year behind Gone with the Wind.  The book is split into two parts – the first part is about the 1759 raid on the Abenaki village of St. Francis by Robert Rogers and his Rangers, and the second part is about Rogers’ post French and Indian War life.

In 1940 MGM released the movie Northwest Passage (covering the raid on St. Francis) starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Young, and Walter Brennan.  The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for best cinematography.  MGM later produced a Northwest Passage TV series, and its 26 episodes aired in 1958 and 1959.

Rogers’ Early Life and the Beginning of the French and Indian War.

Robert Rogers was born in Massachusetts in 1731 and raised on the New Hampshire frontier.  Little is known about Rogers’ life prior to 1754.

In 1754 he was arrested for counterfeiting and was standing for trial in 1755 when New Hampshire began enlisting men for an expedition to take Fort St. Frederic at Crown Point on Lake Champlain.  Rogers raised a fifty-man company and obtained a captain’s commission.  Rogers’ company was part of a regiment commanded by Joseph Blanchard, a justice who presided over the counterfeiting case.  With that, the case ended.  Rogers’ first lieutenant was a man, who a few months earlier had provided incriminating testimony against him in the counterfeiting case, named John Stark.

The expedition against Fort St. Frederic, led by William Johnson, was underway when Rogers and his company arrived at the south end of Lake George a few days after Johnson’s colonial and native force defeated the French and allied native army led by Baron de Dieskau in September 1755.

After the Battle of Lake George Johnson’s force did not advance and began construction of Fort William Henry.  With Johnson’s native allies gone, he called upon Rogers and his New Hampshire men for scouting/reconnaissance and harassing/spoiling missions.  The missions were directed at Fort St. Frederic and Fort Carillon at Ticonderoga and brought back critical intelligence on the French movements and manpower, and they raised Rogers’ profile and stature.  The missions continued through the winter of 1755 – 1756 and kept the French on edge.  Rogers and the rangers were providing the Anglo-American military on the New York frontier with a scouting capability they sorely lacked.  In my view these small detachment scouting and harassing missions were where Rogers and the rangers excelled.  Because of their success, Rogers was charged in 1756 with raising an independent company of rangers.

Rogers and Larger Scale Missions He Commanded

Due to their audacious and successful spoiling raids, Rogers and the rangers were marked men.  From this point forward I am of the opinion that Rogers’ and the rangers’ significant engagements were largely unsuccessful and some were disastrous. 

The First Battle on Snowshoes occurred in January 1757.  Rogers and his command left Fort Edward and, after stopping at Fort William Henry, traveled down a frozen Lake George and bypassed Fort Carillon at its northern end.  Several miles north of Fort Carillon they saw a French sled heading for Fort St. Frederic.  John Stark and a group of rangers took the sled and seven prisoners.  However, a larger trailing group of French sleds observed the ambush and escaped to Fort Carillon.  Knowing they were now discovered, Rogers called a council of war to decide on their return route to Fort William Henry.  The officers recommended making a return by Wood Creek, east of Lake George, but Rogers overruled the council and ordered a march to their last campsite.  This tactic violated Rogers’ Rule 5 of ranging he had authored: “[I]n your return take a different route from that in which you went out, that you may the better discover any party in your rear, and have an opportunity, if their strength be superior to yours, to alter your course, or disperse, as circumstances may require.”

After gathering themselves at the prior campsite they dried their muskets and began their 40-mile journey to Fort William Henry.  Late in the afternoon a combined French and native force of about 180 men ambushed Rogers and his party.  After the initial shock from the ambush the rangers killed the seven French captives and formed a defensive perimeter holding out until nightfall, when they were able to retreat to Lake George.  The rangers eventually arrived at Fort William Henry two days later.  The battle toll on the rangers was substantial – of the 74 rangers in the battle 14 were killed, six were wounded, and six missing.  The French reported 18 dead (11 from the battle plus the seven captives killed at the outset of the ambush) and 27 wounded (casualty figures from French and Indian War frontier engagements should be taken with a grain of salt).

For the remainder of 1757 Rogers did not participate in the Northern New York theatre as he was sick with smallpox and later assigned to a failed campaign to take Louisburg.  However, the rangers were involved in both battles at Fort William Henry, the one in March and the siege in August.

In March 1758 Rogers led a force of about 180 out of Fort Edward toward Fort Carillon.  It was bitter cold and they proceeded down a frozen Lake George.  Before leaving, Rogers feared the secrecy of the mission may have been compromised in the days leading up to their departure by colonials captured outside Fort Edward.  During their journey the rangers found signs they were being observed, and in fact the French had discovered Rogers was approaching and watched his progress down Lake George.  Rogers decided to approach Fort Carillon by leaving Lake George and traveling overland from the southwest down Trout Brook, a small stream.  The snow was four feet deep and the rangers donned large racquet like snowshoes.  Rogers expected a French patrol would follow the brook and the rangers set-up an ambush. 

Rogers’ instincts were correct and as a 95-man patrol consisting mainly of natives entered the kill zone  an ambush was triggered.  The rangers initial volley killed and wounded many (Rogers reported 40 killed), with the survivors fleeing.  Some of the rangers descended on the dead and wounded and began killing the wounded and scalping the dead.  A large group of rangers chased the fleeing French and native survivors along Trout Brook and they ran head long into the main French and native force of about 200 led by the Canadian partisan fighter Ensign Jean-Baptiste Langy.  Langy’s main party unleashed a devastating volley on the rangers killing outright upwards of 50 rangers.  Within minutes the rangers were overwhelmed by the counterattack and faced annihilation.  Rogers rallied his remaining force and began a close-range fighting retreat toward Lake George.  The situation was growing desperate—Rogers had lost maybe half his force within a short time and men were continuing to drop under the relentless assault of the French and natives.  As darkness fell, Rogers and what was left of his command scattered and made their way to a rendezvous on Lake George.  Rogers’ escape is a mystery, but the legend is he slid down what is now known as Rogers Rock to the shore of the frozen lake.  A couple days after the battle Rogers and what remained of his command made their way to Fort Edward.  The rangers were decimated – only about 50 survived. 

In the summer of 1758 a British and American force of 17,000, the largest ever assembled in North America, gathered at the south end of Lake George.  Their first objective was Fort Carillon, approximately 35 miles north.  The army embarked by water with Rogers and the rangers leading the way.  Upon landing a few miles from Fort Carillon Rogers was sent ahead to secure an advance position and, finding no French, they were followed by a mixed advance guard of British regulars and colonials led by Brigadier General Lord George Augustus Howe, who was effectively the leader of the British expedition.  The advance Anglo-American guard encountered difficulty negotiating the terrain and collided surprisingly with a French party.  In the ensuing engagement the French were routed, but significantly, Lord Howe was killed.  With his death, General James Abercromby lost the heart of the command structure.  A couple days later Abercromby ordered the army to assault the French entrenched defensive line with the disastrous consequences of approximately 1,000 dead and 1,500 wounded between the two sides.

Following the Battle of Carillon, Abercromby’s army retreated and encamped at the south end of Lake George.  Fort Edward, situated on the Hudson River about 15 miles south, supplied Abercromby’s army by a military road.  The British supply trains were regularly attacked by French and native raiders who inflicted serious casualties and ransacked the supplies.  Following a couple major attacks Abercromby ordered a mixed force of rangers, colonials and regulars commanded by Rogers and Israel Putnam to intercept and destroy the raiders.  A force of about 700 men set out for South Bay and Wood Creek, an area a few miles east of Lake George. 

After  more than a week in the field Rogers’ and Putnam’s command could not locate the enemy, and the sick and injured were sent to Fort Edward reducing its size to 600.  The British force camped near the ruins of the long-abandoned Fort Anne.  Feeling secure, camp security was dropped, including Rogers and a British officer competing in a marksmanship contest.  Lurking nearby was a Canadian and native force of about 350 – 450 men led by Captain Joseph Marin de La Malgue, an experienced and skilled partisan fighter.  Marin set-up an ambush which the British force stumbled into.  The ambush was sprung and Putnam was seized at its onset.  Rogers rallied the command and beat back the French, inflicting serious casualties.  Reported British losses were 37 dead, 40 wounded and 26 missing.  Rogers returned to Fort Edward with 50 plus scalps and it had been estimated Marin may have lost as many as 70 to 100 men.

In 1759 Major General Jeffery Amherst led a campaign to take Forts Carillon and St. Frederic and drive north up the Richelieu River into Canada.  As the army of 11,000 approached Forts Carillon and St. Frederic the French blew up the forts and withdrew north into Canada.  The campaign stalled as the British began construction of a massive fort at Crown Point, next to the ruins of Fort St. Frederic.  Rogers and his rangers were attached to Amherst’s army.

Rogers had long wanted to attack an Abenaki settlement at St. Francis, which is located south of the St. Lawrence River about midway between Montreal and Quebec.  The Abenaki originally lived in Massachusetts and Maine, but as the English encroached, a group settled in St. Francis.  Around 1700 the Jesuits established a mission at St. Francis converting many Abenakis to Catholicism, and the St. Francis people became closely allied with the French.  For decades Abenaki war parties from St. Francis terrorized the New England frontier, developing a notorious reputation among English frontier settlers such as Rogers.

In September 1759 Amherst approved a raid on St. Francis.  Rogers with a force of approximately 200 men – rangers, Stockbridge natives, provincials and British regulars – left Crown Point by whaleboat heading 80 miles north down Lake Champlain.   After beaching their craft, they set out on foot across Southern Canada; St. Francis was 75 miles away.  Soon after leaving Lake Champlain their boats were discovered by the French and Rogers was warned by Stockbridge allies of the French discovery.  Rogers considered his options and decided to push on to St. Francis.  He sent back to Crown Point 58 sick and injured, proceeding with 142 men.  The trip was daunting as the expedition crossed spruce bogs and unforgiving wilderness reaching St. Francis on October 4, three weeks after leaving Crown Point.

At daybreak Rogers’ force struck St. Francis and overwhelmed the village.  Most of the Abenaki warriors were away.  After pillaging the village the English torched it and departed knowing full well they were being pursued.  The English battle casualties were one killed and seven wounded and the estimates of Abenaki killed range from 30 to 200.

After traveling through Southern Canada Rogers’ force was out of food and still being pursued.  After nine days the party split up, with most heading to a rendezvous on the Connecticut River.  At the rendezvous the expected relief was absent so Rogers traveled to Fort No. 4 and brought food and supplies to his starving survivors on November 4.  The objective was achieved, St. Francis was destroyed, but of the 142-man English force that raided the village only 80 men made it to Fort No. 4 and Crown Point.

What to make of Rogers

Rogers is an iconic French and Indian War personality.  He is the key figure in many books, a landmark movie, and a TV show.  Historians have studied him for centuries.  But how should he be viewed as a military figure? 

The French and Indian War’s frontier was violent and brutal.  The terrain was rugged and engagements often occurred in remote areas during the winter.  The weapons were lethal and wounds very often fatal.

My opinion is that Rogers was a highly capable woodsman and scout at a time when the English sorely lacked such capability.  The raids he conducted in 1755 and 1756 kept the French on constant alert and provided British forces with much needed intelligence.  He was brave, physically strong, indefatigable, and a leader of men.  I would not call him a uniquely capable woodsman because Canada had many experienced and battle-hardened Canadian officers of Compagnies franches de la Marinein the field such as Langy, Marin, and Langlade, as well as a large contingent of coureur des bois, and one can plausibly argue these Canadians were superior bush fighters to Rogers.  His Rules for Ranging Service have withstood the test time.  Some of Rogers’ best personal qualities (bravery, leadership, clear thinking, resourcefulness) showed when he faced possible disaster as he and the rangers were able to inflict significant casualties on their foes and Rogers every time led his surviving command to safety.

When I push my self back and examine Rogers as a military tactician and his contributions to the British triumph in North America I have a very different opinion from many historians.  Why was he ambushed so often?  Why did he fail to adhere to the Rules for Ranging Service at key times?  Why were his men put at risk in battles and campaigns of no strategic consequence?  In the crucial British victories of the French and Indian War Rogers did not play a role. 

The purpose of this essay is not to tarnish Rogers’ military legacy, but to rather bring to light the blemishes of his service in the French and Indian War so there can be a balanced view of “the brave Major Rogers.”


  • White Devil by Steven Brumwell
  • A True Ranger by Gary Stephen Zaboly
  • The History of Rogers Rangers, Volume 1, by Burt Garfield Loescher
  • War on the Run by John F. Ross
  • Betrayals by Ian K. Steele
  • The Annotated and Illustrated Journals of Major Robert Rogers by Timothy Todish
  • Ticonderoga 1758 by Rene Chartand
  • Empires in the Mountains by Russell P. Bellico
  • Stark by Richard Polhemus and John Polhemus
  • Rogers Rangers and the French and Indian War by Bradford Smith
  • Wilderness Empire by Allan W. Eckert
  • Robert Rogers’ Rules For Ranging Service
  • Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts

Sites Visited

  • Crown Point State Historic Site
  • Fort Ticonderoga
  • Fort William Henry Museum
  • Lake George Battlefield Park
  • Rogers Island Visitors Center and Museum

Art Ceconi was raised in North Tarrytown, New York (now Sleepy Hollow) and is a longtime resident of Montville, New Jersey where he currently lives with his wife Eileen. A retired tax attorney, he earned degrees from Fordham University (BS), Rutgers Business School (MBA), Rutgers School of Law (JD), and New York University School of Law (LLM).

Art’s passion for North American colonial history took root with a family vacation to Lake George as a 7th grader. His reading and research centers on the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. As his five daughters can attest, no family vacation was complete without visiting at least one historical site.

Elegant Dining with the Lees.

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes this guest submission by historian Werther Young, aka Elmer Woodard

Not THAT Lee. And not at Stratford Hall,  Leesylvani, nor Shirley plantations. No rustle of silk, silver platters from the kitchen, obsequious servants bowing and scraping, no twitter of conversation, nor the tinkling of crystal.  Our repast was much less spectacular. In his Memoirs, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee told of a dining experience during the Race to the Dan on or about February 11, 1781. We tried to recreate that meal.

Lee’s Legion had been assigned By Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene to Col. Otho William’s Light Division, which had in turn been tasked with luring the British away from Greene’s main army on its retreat to Boyd’s Ferry (now South Boston, Virginia). Williams apparently roused his men at 3 a.m. at Guilford Courthouse (modern Greensboro, N.C.), drew rations, and marched north to collect his Delaware company at an outpost near Brice’s Crossroads (now Summerfield, North Carolina). He then marched northeast on the road to Dix’s Ferry (now US Rt. 158 towards Reidsville, North Carolina and Danville, Virginia) as far as Rodes’ House, six miles almost due north of Guilford Courthouse, and four miles northeast of Brice’s Crossroads.  With Lee’s cavalry rearguard at Rodes’ House, Williams’ infantry was probably spread out along the present Scalesville Road northeast towards Troublesome Iron Works and modern Reidsville. A Lt. Harrington commanded cavalry patrols southeast towards Salem, North Carolina on the Scalesville Road, the direction of the last reported location of the British. In the cool and drizzly morning, everything was quiet, so quiet that Williams’ men had started the slow process of cooking their rations. 

The latest intelligence put the British somewhere towards Salem (present Winston-Salem, North Carolina), some twenty-four miles away. Unfortunately, that information was stale. The British had marched early, passing through Dobson’s Crossroads (present day Kernersville, North Carolina) and by early morning were near present Oak Ridge, North Carolina just nine miles away from Rodes’ House and coming on hard, while Williams and his men were enjoying a “comfortable meal.”  

On paper, Revolutionary War infantry regiments were made up of companies of fifty men each. Generally, cavalrymen counted each horse as a man, so their “company” was only about twenty-five men, and was called a “troop.”  For ration purposes, each company/troop was further divided into subgroups of five or six men each, called a “mess.” In practice, a company could be anywhere from fifteen to seventy men, but let us stay with a typical size of fifty.  By 1781 in North Carolina, with many, many exceptions, army rations were essentially a pound of protein and a pound of carbohydrate per day, roughly four Quarter Pounder hamburgers per day.

“Protein” in the 1781 south was meat, usually pork, fresh or salted. Carbohydrate was usually ground corn, and was packaged from the mill in barrels of about 200 pounds.  Rations were usually issued in three day lots to the company, although six day lots were not unheard of. Indeed, the British 1768 warrant specified that the men’s haversacks were to be large enough for six days’ rations.   Williams’ “Light” Division was ‘Light’ because it did not contain wagons, so the men had to carry everything, including rations, themselves. Stopping to distribute rations would certainly lose the Race to the Dan, so the men were probably issued six days rations (two pounds per man per day, or twelve pounds per man) beforehand.[1]  Our theoretical fifty-man company would receive about 600 pounds of food for six days; the horsemen about the same because they had to feed the horse.  One whole (500 man) regiment would receive about 3,000 pounds of food.  Williams had about a regiment and a half, so his six days’ ration weight would approach 5,000 pounds. 

Rations were issued raw, and it was the messes’ responsibility to cook them.  One of the most essential pieces of equipment was therefore something to cook them in.  This item was so important that four iron kettles were among of the few items specifically mentioned by the Williamsburg Public Store on the very day it opened, October 12, 1775.[2] Kettles were sometimes cast iron, like a witch’s cauldron, but most often were sheet iron with soldered joints, holding about four gallons. Many were made in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Each mess received one kettle, which someone in the mess had to carry where ever they went.[3]

Read more: Elegant Dining with the Lees.

By 11 a.m. or so, somewhat delayed by the difficulties of igniting wet wood, Williams’ Light Division was happily cooking their rations. Lee described the fare as “the meat was on the coals and the corn cakes in the ashes.”[4] Apparently, it also was pretty far along in the process, as Lee referred to having had (past tense) a “comfortable meal” at that time.  For one five-man infantry mess with six days’ rations, this meant that they were boiling thirty pounds of meat and making thirty pounds of corn cakes per man.  

Earlier this year my son Patrick and I decided to try some applied archaeology and figure out just how the corn and pork ration system in the 1781 south worked.  We had found a first-person account from an Overmountain man who went through the Smoky Mountains from Sycamore Shoals (now Elizabethton, Tennessee) to King’s Mountain, North Carolina in ten days on twenty pounds of “parched corn,” about two pounds per day. While we had heard of parched corn, no one really knew what it was, because no one eats it anymore. Additional research showed that it’s just corn meal that has been browned over heat. It was usually mixed half and half with a sweetener of some sort. So, we browned some corn and mixed it with table sugar.  It tastes like sweet cornmeal-flavored sand.  We tried to make parched corn molasses bars, but this degenerated into a sticky mess, and we were … requested … to absent ourselves from the kitchen, permanently ending that part of that experiment.

The next project would be to figure out how Colonel Lee and his men prepared their February repast.  Having thirty years’ experience as a Civil War reenactor with the 44th Virginia and 5th New York Zouaves, I knew that cooking meat on coals in a hurry results most of the time in semi-raw, inedible meat, and corn cakes made in the ashes are just gritty yellow discs that taste like burned dirt.  Given that Lee’s Legion moved about sixty miles in five days, they weren’t eating raw meat and burned dirt.  

Happily, I have a four-gallon mess kettle, and so the experiment began. As it turned out, a friend had recently killed his wife’s pet hog, and he generously donated ten pounds of frozen pork.  In 1781,  pork was either on the hoof or salted, the only way of preserving it at the time.  Since Mr. Hogg was no longer on the hoof, our friend salted it. Finding a watertight oak barrel difficult to come by, he dry-salted it in a food safe plastic bucket, with a layer of pickling salt, then a layer of meat, and so on until the bucket was full, with the top layer being salt.  It then sat for several months, during which time we turned to the carbohydrate issue.

Corn meal is a much more complex article than one would imagine.  Back then in the South it was not just a staple, but THE staple. Farmers planted corn, which generated about twenty-six bushels (approximately 1500 pounds) per acre.  When harvested in the fall, the stalk was cut and then a dozen or so stalks tied together and set upright into a “shock” to dry.  Once dried, the ears went into the corn crib and the stalks fed the animals. Periodically the farmer removed the kernels from the cobs, placed them in a log bucket or a cloth bag, and took them to the mill to be ground.  The miller ground the corn, taking a percentage, and returned the rest to the farmer.  This would last a family of four for about two months before it became musty, at which time the farmer would shuck more corn and go back to the miller.  

The mill was water powered and contained two mill stones which ground the corn kernels into meal.  Nowadays, most “corn meal” is for baked corn bread, and is superfine, almost like powdered sugar.  Back then, this was almost unheard of.  The finer the grind, the higher the miller’s toll (grinding fee), so the grinds were usually much coarser.  Fine meal, meal, and grits were what humans generally ate.  One coarseness level below grits was “Indian grind,” which only Indians would buy, because it was the cheapest grind but still fit for humans, rather than animals.  Soldiers received it, too.  We managed to find a local mill that was happy to make us some Indian grind but we had to buy fifty pounds of it.  Ten bucks later, we had a about eight gallons of Indian grind.

We were not too thrilled about eating burned, dirt flavored disks, so we decided not to make ash cakes.  A bit of research revealed that non-ash corn cakes were often made on a flat rock, or even a shovel blade. We decided to use a spade blade with the edges bent up.  Spades these days are surprisingly expensive, but a case of beer delivered to a pal at the local machine shop soon had us a brand-new steel spade blade with turned up edges and an integral handle, just as shown in the Collectors Encyclopedia.[5]  

Rummaging through the pile of rarely-used reenacting gear produced a foot long “flesh” fork for manipulating the chunks of pork, a small kettle to mix in, a ladle, and a spatula for flipping, although these items could technically be considered cheating. Ten pounds of salt pork has its own unique needs, so we scrubbed out a cooler, put Mr. Hogg’s remains on ice, and set forth. 

As members of the re-created 7th Virginia Regiment, we attended their annual living history event at the Gloucester Museum of History in Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia, where the 7th was initially mustered in April 1776.  Since fires were not allowed, one of the members brought a charcoal brazier.  Not exactly wet wood from February 1781, but it would do. Once the coals were going, the first task was to put the pork on.  This was pretty simple, in that you put the pork in the kettle, fill it with water, and put it on the fire. The point of this is to remove the salt and cook the meat.  Ten pounds of salt pork half-filled the kettle. With the pork simmering, we reviewed the next phase of the plan.  When lard formed on the top of the water, we’d skim it off. When the pork was done, we’d use the salty pork water (the “liquor”) to make batter for the corn cakes, and then fry them in the lard on the spade.

Of course, the plan went awry almost from the beginning.  Despite a lot of boiling, there was not much lard, and nothing was going to get fried without any lard.  One of the kind folks at the museum had to run and errand and agreed to pick up a pound of lard for us.  Of course, as soon as she left, the kettle hit critical lard mass, and we were up to our smallclothes in it. We needed a way to get rid of the lard, so my son Patrick used the small kettle to go ahead and mix water with the Indian grind, and I greased up the shovel. In the meantime, we were fighting a lard tsunami that threatened to boil over into the fire.  We took turns using the spatula to skim, but had no place to put it, except my drinking cup. Hot lard is much like sand at the beach—it gets into everything. The cup was too hot to handle, so we had to use a rag.  Which was soon hot and slippery, because it was full of lard.  Soon our hands were covered with a layer of lard, which at least made everything else slippery.  

We must have gotten the triple expansion Indian grind, because soon we had half a gallon of batter and a hot shovel, so we started frying. The soupy batter just ran all over the shovel and over and out the sides in a giant boondoggle, but over time the water soaked into the grind, stiffening it up.  A three-inch portion, one-half inch thick, was enough to fry in place and we soon learned to flip it just as the visible top side began to tan, not brown, about five minutes for the first side, and four for the second. 

We soon had it going like gangbusters, cranking out five shovelcakes every ten minutes.  Surprisingly, the only thing that Indian grind likes to absorb more than water is – lard.  All of the lard we had skimmed was soon gone, but we avoided disaster by fishing nice fatty chunks of pork out of the kettle and greasing the shovel with that. In no time, we had gone through two pounds of Indian grind and had a plate of thirty to forty shovel cakes to go with our salt pork. The moment of truth had arrived.  Someone had to try it.  This whole thing being my idea, this duty fell to me. 

Honestly, it was pretty good.  The boiled salt pork tasted exactly like boiled pork, now known as “pork loin.”  We had accidentally used water in the Indian Grind instead of the kettle liquor from the pork, so the shovel cakes needed salt, but they were still really good, being essentially a crunchy corn pancake. Everyone was eating them like potato chips.  We purloined some honey from the surgeon, and the shovelcakes became REALLY good. Shovelcakes differ from potato chips in that the former, like the parched corn, are immensely filling.  After three or four each, everyone was stuffed, and we still had plenty of them, so we tossed them in a haversack, and turned to stopping car traffic to interrogate the drivers as to whether they were a friend of American Liberty or vile traitors in league with the pernicious Lord Dunmore.  Most of the drivers had clearly never heard of Lord Dunmore, but they got it when we used somc…historical license… and changed the vile traitor to the pernicious Benedict Arnold.  To our great surprise, the shovelcakes survived the trip home largely without crumbling, and we munched on shovelcakes while scrubbing out the kettles. We rustproofed the inside with lard.  We cleaned the guns and oiled them with lard. And we still have a great deal of lard.  

In summation, we had duplicated how Lee and his men fed themselves on the Race to the Dan.  Each mess had cooked its six days ration of thirty pounds of meat and made dozens of ash/shovelcakes out of their thirty pounds of Indian grind for their “comfortable meal” on that cold drizzly day in February.  What they didn’t eat hot went into their haversacks, and though we haven’t quite yet confirmed this, probably turned that item into a lard-soaked corny gritty pork mess.  Since it was already fully cooked, they could reach in and munch at any time, and all they needed to do for the next meal was to reheat it over the fire.

Recipe for stovetop Gateaux de la Pelle (shovel cakes):

1 cup water

½ cup Indian grind

¾ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

Boil water and add salt.  When hot, add butter.  Once the butter has melted, combine this mixture with the Indian grind, adding small amounts of grind until the batter is stiff.  Spoon onto well lard/bacon greased griddle/frying pan. Turn when the top side is just tan, just about to brown.  Condiments include honey, butter, molasses, more butter, powdered sugar, and/or more butter.

Regular store-bought corn meal probably won’t work, as it is too fine.  Uncooked yellow or white grits might work, but we haven’t tried that.  Yet.   

Returning to 1781, while “the meat was on the coals and the corn cakes in the ashes,” a citizen galloped into Williams’ camp at Rodes’ House.  The man had found one of Lt. Harrington’s patrols and had been rushed to headquarters in the emergency.  The British had evaded detection and were now only four miles away, approaching Brice’s Crossroads.  It was all mess kettles and elbows.  No doubt shocked that he had been so badly surprised, Williams ordered his men to stop cooking, fall in, and escape northeast.  Lee and his men rode south to fight – and delay – Banastre Tarleton and his Legion.

[1] The British accounts reveal that they had to forage during the Race, and were nevertheless starving.  In contrast, the American account mention extreme fatigue, but little hunger.

[2] Gregory B. Sandor, Journal of the Public Store at Williamsburg (privately published, 2015), 1.  See also 9, 10.

[3] Linen Bags for Camp Kettles (revwar75.com)

[4] Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States (Miami, FL: Hardpress, 2017), ebook location 4523-4542.  No mention is made of any campfire grates, fire irons, dining flies, etc.

[5] Spade converted into a frying pan by soldiers, from the collections of Morristown National Historical Park. Pictured in George C. Neumann and Frank J. Kravic, Collector’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1975), 94.

Wether Young  is a graduate of Norfolk Academy, Washington and Lee University, and Campbell University School of Law.  He has practiced law in Virginia for 35 years.  . Beginning in 1987, he has been a member or the 44th Virginia, Coppens’ Zouaves, Brian Pohanka’s 5the New York Duryees’ Zouaves (First Sergeant), the Life Guard, King Charles I, 151er Regiment de l’Armee de France, His Majesty’s Marines, and the 7th Virginia Regiment.  Publications include “Evolutions of the Color Guard in the Cam Chase Gazette,” and  “Johnson & Dow Waterproof and Combustible Cartridges” in the magazine of the Company of Military Historians. He is also the author of “A Bloody Day at Gaines’ Mill “  (McFarland, 2019). 

British Military Leadership and Provincial Loyalty

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian George Kotlik


By 1775, King George III ruled over nineteen provinces in British North America.[1] Six remained loyal to the Crown during the Revolutionary War. Historians have so far explored, in great depth, the various reasons why the thirteen original colonies rebelled. On the flipside, why did some colonies remain loyal? What role did colonial governors play in securing their province’s loyalty during the rebellion? In an attempt to answer these questions, this research will focus on British North America’s mainland colonial governors and general assemblies during 1775. Data on the backgrounds of each British colonial governor on the North American mainland was gathered from their respective biographies. Hereafter, each governor’s background is considered by colony, listed in alphabetical order. Each biography is brief and not meant to be comprehensive. There is not enough time or space in this paper to accomplish that end. Instead, the biographies help determine the type of individual who governed each province at the rebellion’s onset – a unique factor that I argue contributed, in whatever small way, to a colony’s political disposition during the American Revolution. In addition to looking at provincial executive leadership, I have also inspected general assemblies. General assemblies were an important aspect in this research due to the fact that the mere presence of an assembly influenced a colony’s political disposition in 1775. What’s more, colonial governors wielded the authority to dissolve assemblies. That connection, in addition to the assemblies’ influence on provincial loyalty, I argue, merits their inclusion in this study.[2]

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Artistic License and the French Artillery Park at Yorktown, A Case Study

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Karl G. Elsea

It is common for artists to use “artistic license” when painting historic events including American Revolutionary War art. The problem is this practice also

aids inaccuracies persisting. Here is one case study of one picture involving an historic event that is presented by the National Park Service (NPS) at Yorktown. Please note the staff is helpful and the grounds are beautiful. As for the severity of the problem, the reader can decide after reading the information.

The following picture is from the field at Yorktown where the French Artillery Park was located. The picture illustrates the idea of what an artillery park was.

The problem is this picture contains a number of images that are wrong. For example, the carriages, wagons, carts, and limbers should be painted light blue. The French Army artillery had been painted light blue prior to 1750. There is a lot of confusion to this day concerning gun and limber carriage colors. This confusion may have been generated by a current belief there was one French artillery color. The French used the color of the items to assist which department owned the material. The French Navy department [Ministry of Marine] was responsible for the colonies, including North America, and their cannon were on red carriages with, in all most all cases, iron barrels. The French Quartermaster’s department had their wagons were painted a brighter red. The French Army artillery was painted light blue with bronze barrels. Thus, the French Army barrels shown should appear to be “brass.”

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Peter Carried a Cannon, The Real Story

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Karl G. Elsea

History can be fun; for example, when a war trophy in Sweden and the popular television series “Antiques Roadshow” can be combined to explain an American Revolutionary War legend. There are a number of books, articles, an actor impersonator, and even an U. S. Postal stamp from 1975 showing Peter Francisco carrying a cannon barrel to save it from falling into British hands at the Battle of Camden. Sadly, their stories of Peter carrying a barrel weighting 600 pounds, or even an amazing 1,100 pounds, are not close to true. Here is the likely story. The kind of barrel Peter actually carried is shown in the next picture. The barrel likely weighed between 200 and 300 pounds.

An original amusette is located at the Armémuseums’s magazine in Stockholm. This amusette was constructed in 1768 and captured by the Swedes in the battle at Berby in 1808. The following picture shows this amusette:

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“Rev War Revelry” Ladies Night & Loyalist Women

Earlier this year, three great historians, in their words, “took over” the “Rev War Revelry” in a discussion that they dubbed “Ladies Night.” That particular Sunday night historian happy hour was well received, so Emerging Revolutionary War historians Kate Gruber and Vanessa Smiley have decided to have another “Ladies Night” but this time discuss the role of Loyalist women during and after the American Revolution.

Joining this dynamic duo will be Dr. Stephanie Seal Walters, who is currently the Digital Liaison in the Humanities for the University of Southern Mississippi. She earned her bachelor’s and graduate degrees in history from the University of Southern Mississippi and a doctorate in United States History from George Mason University. You may also recognize her from the first annual Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium held in Historic Alexandria, Virginia in September 2019.

We hope that you can tune in, on Sunday night, at 7pm EDT, to catch the next installment of “Rev War Revelry” on our Facebook page.

There Will Be Bloody Bill

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Andrew Waters

Appearing this month at the Journal of the American Revolution (JAR) is an article I wrote on William “Bloody Bill” Cunningham and his infamous raid known as the “Bloody Scout.” The article attempts to provide a single-source narrative of the Bloody Scout and some of the contexts for it, although it is based on a previous article I wrote (though never published) that attempted to explore more deeply its sociological implications.

            Anyone who comes to western South Carolina and has any interest in the American Revolution will soon encounter Bloody Bill. As I attempted to explain over at JAR, “without veering too deeply into sociological speculations, I can only say that his (Cunningham’s) presence is still palpable here, embedded in the cultural DNA. Though he may be only a curiosity in other parts of the United States, if he is known at all, in the South Carolina Upstate, it seems there will always be Bloody Bill.”

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Patriot Field Gun Horse Harness

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Karl G. Elsea

When visiting Revolutionary War battlefields there are often replica field guns (sometimes with original barrels) on the grounds. What is often not shown is the equipment needed for the gun to get to the field. That movement required horse(s) and harness and a limber. An earlier article provided information on Patriot limbers. This article concerns the horse harness.

NPS Yorktown, Author’s photo. Original 4-pounder barrel on reproduction carriage

There are inventories and paintings that show British harness used during the war. Muller’s A Treatise of Artillery shows the horse harness hook-ups on British limbers for medium and heavy artillery, and it is somewhat unique. The British hook-up appears more restrictive as to horse size. The cart-saddle used by the British was ubiquitous. It seems reasonable that the Patriots would have used the same harness with the exception of the specialized hook-up hardware on the limber. The following part of a Philipp Loutherbourg painting of Warley Camp detailing a review in 1778 clearly shows the cart-saddle with chain on the thill horse and the rest of the British harness.

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Secrets of the Patriot Limbers

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Karl G. Elsea

When visiting Revolutionary War battlefields there are often replica field guns on the grounds. Not shown, in almost all cases, is the vehicle that pulled the gun to the battle – the limber. Though less “cool” it was essential.

Author’s limber and photo. Obsolescent British design with cart hook-up hardware modification

Today, there is no surviving original Patriot field gun limber from the American Revolutionary War. That is a problem when attempting to reproduce representative Patriot field gun limbers. The normal starting place, Muller’s A Treatise of Artillery, does not include information concerning British field (light) gun limbers. Muller’s Treatise only contains information on limbers for medium and heavy guns.

The absence of any original limbers is especially gulling because the Patriots had access to both obsolescent designs and the most advanced designs. The Hessian field gun limber was probably the most advanced limber design in 1776, and the Patriot forces captured six of them at Trenton on December 26, 1776. The Hessian limber design had three important improvements; firstly, the pintle (pin that connects the gun carriage to the limber) was behind the axle of the limber thus allowing a shorter turning radius and less likely damage to the gun carriage. Secondly, an ammunition box containing sixty rounds was on the limber. Thirdly, two wheel-horses were used instead of one thill horse thus providing twice the braking power. It would be interesting to know if the Patriots reproduced or incorporated those design elements.

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