Thursday, 5 March 2009

British Legion Infantry

Having finished my British Legion dragoons, I wanted to complete my unit with its infantry arm (artillery is to follow later). But I didn’t know what they looked like and how many figures I would need.


There has been much disagreement and discussion among experts and collectors about the uniform of Tarleton’s Legion infantry.

I found some sources that solved the problem for me:

  • Great Britain, Public Record Office, Chancery, Class 106, Volume 90: A Return o f the Legion Arms, Accoutrements and Clothing (Charlestown, 14 June 1780) says "Green Cloth is wanting for 600 Men" and "400 Helmets are preparing for the Cavalry & 400 Leather Caps for the Infantry."
  • The British Headquarters (Sir Guy Carleton) papers (1747 –1783) refer to the Legion as follows: green jackets, white waistcoat and breeches; drummer green waistcoats and breeches.
  • A manuscript of 1783 notes: short round, tight green jackets with black collars, cuffs and lapels.
  • The issue of March 1782 for clothing was described as 'Green Light Infantry Coats & Jackets, Black Collar & Cuffs & white Breeches'.
  • Rivington's Army List for 1783: "British Legion Infantry -- Short Coat, Green with Same Lappel [sic!], Variety Button hole & Black Cuff and Collar."*)

*) W.Y. Carman, "Banastre Tarleton and the British Legion," Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 62 (1984), p. 130.

So with green jackets with black facings and white turnbacks and white waistcoats and breeches I would be on the safe side - even for the later years of the war. And black light infantry caps would be the right choice.


According to the Legion Muster Rolls the British Legion Infantry began with 5 companies in 1778. One company was disbanded in late 1778 or early 1779, and another one was disbanded after its commander’s death and severe casualties. In the 1780s three new companies were established during the Legion's southern campaign. The Legion Muster Rolls from 23rd February 1781 to 1782 list the names of a large number of soldiers taken prisoner. They appear on the muster rolls of 6 companies of infantry.

The above mentioned paper at the Public Record Office testifies coats respectively jackets, waistcoats, and breeches for 30 sergeants and 600 men. This does of course not mean that the numbers correspond to the actual strength of the unit. At its best it might have numbered 340 men. At Cowpens the strength of the British Legion Infantry was probably between 200 and 250 men, there might even have been only 175 ! (cf. Babits, Lawrence E., A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).


So I thought nine to seventeen figures would do to represent my British Legion infantry (ratio 1:20). I chose British light infantry figures by Foundry because their leather caps and uniform jackets suited the sources well. And the 16 figures corresponded with the actual (possible) numbers of soldiers.

The men got white small clothes, only drummer and trumpeter got green ones; the officers could afford buckskin breeches (I thought). The jackets were painted a dark green, with black facings and white lining. The caps are simply black, the white decoration on these (border and “BL”) is purely fictional of course.

Whatever you will say – I rather like them.