Sunday, 15 January 2017

American Cavalry Uniforms and Models for the Battle of Bladensburg 1814

Cavalry at the Battle of Bladensburg 1814

American Militia Cavalry during the War of 1812 were wealthier men that could afford to equip themselves. The cavalry from Kentucky and Illinois wore hunting shirts, most other states had a variety of uniforms, we know the uniforms of about half of these. Overall, most uniformed cavalry had tartelans, stovepipe shakos, or a horse hair crest similar to the American line dragoons. All of the head gear used by cavalry in Europe were probably used by militia cavalry units somewhere in the United States. Companies were typically 30 to 50 men, units larger than that were almost always combined from 2 to 6 volunteer companies often all with different uniforms.

The plates shown below were created by "The War of 1812 Uniform Blog", that are relevant to the the Battle of Bladensburg. I have also included some plates from Osprey and Renee Chartrand. At the end of this post I will list what numbers I would use for 1 man equals 15 for this battle.

Bladensburg; Second Line (Forward Left)

Maryland Cavalry; Possibly 240 (possibly up to 300) Cavalry Total 4 (or more) companies
 All / most of the bits you need to make these are in the Perry British Light Dragoons plastic boxed set! It is a fantastic set.

Most of their uniforms are unknown. Maryland state rules were that cavalry were to have a fur covered tartelan, and a dark blue jacket with braiding. Though at North Point, the majority seemed to be wearing stovepipe type shakos (as were many of the Maryland militia infantry). Militia cavalry often came up with their own uniforms.

This is my conjecture based on the fact the the "1st Harford County Light Dragoons" had their standard captured at the battle.
7th Maryland Cavalry District; Harford County-Lt. Col. / Major Unknown
Unknown Type; Captain Smith's Troop
Unknown Type; Captain Jenkin's Troop
Unknown Type; Captain Lee's Troop
Unknown Type; Unknown if 4th Troop existed
*The 1st Harford County Light Dragoons definitely had their standard captured by the British at the Battle of Bladensburg, this leads me to believe that these were troops were present. Some sources specify that it was the 7th Harford County District that was present at the battle.

*Since the uniforms for the Maryland cavalry at Bladensburg are mostly unknown, I would use the uniforms that are known for Maryland from North Point combined with state regulations.

The above two illustrations from "A Most Warlike Appearance" by Renee Chartrand, show the standard militia uniform for Maryland as well as for the the 1st Baltimore Hussars (Maryland). 

This Baltimore Maryland Hussar seems to have a fur busby. 

This painting of the Battle of North Point was created in 1814, and was considered accurate by the American General. Three of the 4 troops have stovepipe type cylindrical stove pipe type shakos, the 4th company (bottom left) seems to have a US Light Dragoon style cavalry helmet with a horse hair plume. 

Here is another contemporary drawing from the Battle of North Point showing the cavalry present. The majority are wearing stove pipe type shakos, with one company having horse hair plumes. Many companies from Maryland also would have worn Tartelans. I have not seen a contemporary drawing of the Maryland Cavalry at Bladensburg. The 5th Maryland Cavalry at North Point consisted of; the 1st Baltimore Hussars, Independent Light Dragoons, Maryland Chasseurs and Fells Point Light Dragoons. They were 140 strong. 

Perry British Light Dragoons; Use these torsos for all Maryland cavalry. Some companies had tartelans as above.

Perry British Light Dragoons; With modification, you could use the shakos above for some Maryland companies but trim off as needed. Green stuff could be used to increase the size of the plume. Alternatively, British infantry stovepipe shakos from the Perry British infantry boxed set could be used as headgear (with some additions to the plume as well).

The black uniform above shows the uniform of the Alexandria Dragoons. I would use the Perry 4th Continental Dragoons from their American War of Independence line to create these. The state regulated uniforms are at left. Black may have been a common state colour, since the District of Columbia Riflemen had black hunting frocks.

District of Columbia Dragoons; Lt.Col.John Tayloe *40 to 50 men 
Alexandria Dragoons (seen above)
The Alexandria Dragoons are named in many sources, I think they were probably the only DC troop present. One source stated that they were being used as couriers and scouts so were not much of a force at the battle.

Cavalry in Reserve
Colonel Jacinct Laval 

2nd Light Dragoons 125 to 140 men
To create these, I would use either Knuckleduster American Light Dragoons, or Brigade Games American Light Dragoons (but trim off the incorrect plume!).

Virginian Light Dragoons 100 men *Amalgamated during the battle with the 2nd Light Dragoons at the Battle
I would use the Perry American War of Independence 16th Light Dragoons

A Summary of the Cavalry Present at 1 model equals 15

Second Line; 280 to 350 Cavalry (21 models plus a command figure)
Maryland 1st, 2nd and 5th Districts; 240 to 300 men 4 Companies (18 models)
1st Harford County Light Dragoons, plus 3 unknown troops
*X 6 Perry Plastic British Light Dragoons (Baltimore Hussars Uniform)
*X 6 Perry Plastic British Light Dragoons (Maryland Light Dragoons Uniform with Tartelons)
*X 6 Perry Plastic British Light Dragoons (Maryland Light Dragoon Uniform with Stove Pipe type hat)

District of Columbia Cavalry; 40 to 50 men; 1 Companies (3 models)
*X 3 Perry 3rd Continental Dragoons AWI (DC Alexandria Dragoons Uniform)

Reserve; 225 to 240 Cavalry (16 models plus a command figure)
2nd Light Dragoons 125 to 140 men; 
*X 9 Brigade Games or Knuckleduster American Light Dragoons plus a command figure. (10 total)

Virginian Light Dragoons; 100 men;
*X 6  Perry 16th Light Dragoon American War of Independence Models

*It is unclear, but it's possibly the reserve cavalry may have been combined in the second line as well.

Here are 3 of the Sources;


  1. Hi Chuck,
    Thanks for posting your figure ideas for representing American militia cavalry at Bladensburg and North Point. They are most useful.

    Do the Perry plastic dragoon have carbines molded to the figure or are they separate? Re both the regular and militia light dragoons did not carry carbines.

    I just recently discovered another way of possibly replicating American militia cavalry through Trent Figures. The have British Yeomanry cavalry in Tarleton Helmets with or without carbines. So, I think I will order a few sets to see if they will fit the bill.

    BTW as you imply; Opsrey OOB for both Bladensburg and North Point are wrong. I have used Quimby, Lord, Pitch, Gleig, "Lion In the Bay", "Terror On the Chesapeake" and "The Man Who captured Washington as sources for my OOB.

    Cheers, Rod

  2. Hi Rod,
    I will check out that company's miniatures. The muskets from the plastic Perry miniatures are separate I believe, I have their hussars and dragons and they separate on both. Either way they are easily cut off their plastic or pewter models.

    Osprey titles seem to have a lot of errors. They were the only source I could find which listed the specific companies at Bladensburg, but since they are wrong about the DC cavalry present I question the rest as well. Still, at least the names of the companies give us clues about what the Maryland cavalry may have looked like.



  3. Outstanding information. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Glad you find it useful! I have been creating what I wish I had when I started out.

  4. Hi Chuck,
    Where did you get the numbers 40-50 for the D.C. Cavalry? I have started searching my refs but have not found any numbers yet.

  5. Hi Rod,
    I had copied down the numbers a couple of years ago, I can't remember which book, but they do match other sources. Whatever source it was, stated they were combined with the Regular Light Dragons at the Battle. I also have the book "The Darkest Day" but in a quick glance I don't see an OOB in it.

    Here are a couple that do show the numbers of DC cavalry.

    Captain Hamish Bain listed on Wikipedia

  6. Hi Chuck,

    Thanks for your reply. I will check those links. However, I have found Nafziger's figures for the War of 1812 very generic and sometimes incorrect. No disparaging intent on N, he was doing the best of what little information was available over forty years ago.

    Yes, most of the sources I have state that the militia cavalry was lumped in with the regulars for total of 300. However, there does not seem to be an accurate breakdown by district regiments. The one exception are the Virginia Dragoons that are numbered 100 by Pitch.

    300 is the number given to the Maryland district cavalry by Lossing and Quimby.

    So, more investigation is required for the D.C. cavalry.

    Thanks again, Rod

    1. If it was indeed just Harford County Light Dragoons from Maryland they had 3 or 4 Companies that were not specified. Here is their organization. Since the "1st Harford County Light Dragoons" standard was captured by the British it makes more sense than the Osprey units. Either way, American districts seemed to have Light Dragoons, Dragoons, Hussars, Chasseurs in equal quantities. (Really they would all have been light Dragoons for gaming purposes). "Hussars" seemed to have nicer uniforms at least.

  7. Hi Rod,
    I agree about Nafziger being vague and incorrect. I do find that the Battles that took place in the US are harder to find exact information for.

    All sources I have looked since you had asked stated that the total cavalry did not exceed 400, the number 380 was also given. If that is the case my OOB over represents them. The Virginians arrived very late to the battle and without ammunition or flints so perhaps the 100 Virginian cavalry were not included in the 380 figure? Assuming this is the case the numbers given in Wikipedia make sense.
    Forward positions; 240 Harford County Maryland Dragoons
    140 Regular Light Dragoons, plus 100 Virginian Light Dragoons which it states amalgamated with Lavalle's Regular Dragoons during the battle. The position of the 50 DC Dragoons is not listed, but they may have been so scattered that they were not even a force (which is what I remember reading). The other regulars were in the third / rear line in my OOB, not sure on my source for this either.

    Unfortunately I did not record the source I got the numbers from originally, but it too may disagree with the others. There were only two units of DC infantry present, so perhaps it makes sense that they had only a limited cavalry presence. I do remember reading that the Alexandria Dragoons were scattered on scouting and reconassaince before the battle so had limited numbers on the battlefield.

  8. Unfortunately, none of the colours supposedly captured by the British at Bladensburg were actually captured there. For instance the 68th colour was captured at the battle of Hampton in June 1813 by the Royal Marines and not the 85th. And it is far more likely that the Harford Dragoon flag was captured in a skirmish near North Point on Sept 14th. The Harford Dragoons were part of the 7th Cavalry District and were not at Bladensburg but they were at Baltimore and seemed to have participated in the pursuit of the British after their retreat from the city. There was a skirmish on the afternoon of the 14th where cavalry attacked the British Rear guard.

  9. Hi Ed,
    I don't recall reading anything about the other two captured standards, but generally the British were pretty meticulous about records. I'm not saying there couldn't be an error, in where they captured that standard, it just seems more likely that it was captured at Bladensburg. The British marched off from North Point undefeated. It seems unlikely militia cavalrymen would have charged the British with any gusto, though perhaps they may have exchanged shots.
    It certainly would sound more heroic for the Americans to have lost it in changing in against the British, making it sound as if the British were in full retreat at North Point, but they were not. They were to burn and cause havoc not to occupy. Certainly they did not take Fort McHenry of Baltimore, but neither was their campaign entirely unsuccessful (unlike New Orleans which was a disaster).
    The only source I could find which claim the militia cavalry at Bladensburg were the ones you stated is the Osprey campaign book which is full of errors in numbers and dispositions which seem to contradict other sources.

    1. Hi Chuck,
      The Harford Light Dragoons were part of the 7th Cavalry District which was Harford and Cecil Counties of Maryland. The 1st Brigade of MD, also from Harford & Cecil Counties, was at Baltimore as part of the defense of the city in Sept 1814. The MD 7th was attached to the 1st Brigade. When the British retreated, General Smith pushed Winder's VA brigade forward as well as all cavalry, US and Militia. In his AAR, Smith mentions both the commander of the 7th MD cavalry, Streett, and the commander of the Harford Dragoons, a Capt William Lee, and the service performed by their units. In Glieg's two narratives, there is definitely a skirmish, to the point of calling back some artillery to assist the rear guard. And there were British prisoners taken during this action. I've been emailing back and forth with Scott Sheads, former historian for Fort McHenry and am awaiting a response from him regarding this action.
      Regarding the cavalry at Bladensburg, besides US regulars, there was militia cavalry from MD 1st, 2nd and 5th Cavalry Districts as well as three units from DC. The MD 1st and 2nd Cavalry districts are Washington/Frederick and Montgomery/Prince Georges Counties, respectively. The 5th Cavalry District was Baltimore.

    2. BTW at the bottom of the following page is a short article on the number of British prisoners captured on the 14th during the American attack on the rear-guard.

    3. Thanks Ed,
      I will check it out. I have found that information on these two battles to be contradictory. Certainly the historian at Fort McHenry is a great source. Donald Graves and Richard Feltoe wrote in great detail about the campaigns in Canada, I have read several books on Bladensburg and North Point but none of them have been as specific. Those sources I have read have been as I said, contradictory. I have only seen the units you stated being at North Point in the Osprey campaign book. Do you have another source which states that?

    4. One book that has the OOB for both sides is "The Battle for Baltimore" by Joseph Whitehorne. Uses official sources. Nafziger added the 68th to the American line at Bladensburg only because of the so called captured flag. Since the 68th was from the Williamsburg area, you'd be hard pressed to believe they traveled all the way to Washington to be in a battle. Winder had a hard enough time getting troops from Alexandria to assist him! Besides that, I have the AAR for Bladensburg, by Ross, the offical Washington Inquiry on Winders defeat, and the AARs for North Point, written by Brooke and Stricker. The 3rd Brigade, from Baltimore City, for North Point was augmented by several companies from PA and western MD.

    5. Thanks for the information Ed. I will try and find that title as well. Certainly what you have said makes sense, though there were militia from far afield at Bladensburg as well. I will cross reference with the Maryland Militia Cavalry web page to look for those names.
      From a gaming perspective at least, the numbers and likely uniforms still make sense, though their organization seems contradictory.