Uniforms are important in battle so soldiers know who is on their side. You don't want to shoot your own people. During the Revolutionary War the main weapon was the musket. When muskets are fired they give off a cloud of white smoke. During a large battle, the entire battlefield would soon be covered in white smoke. For this reason, many armies at the time liked to wear bright colors so they could tell their enemies from their friends.
Uniforms are also a way of telling the ranks of the soldiers. By the stripes, badges, and piping on coats as well as the style of hats, soldiers could tell the rank of the officer and would know who was in charge.
The first American soldiers were local militia. Many of them weren't trained soldiers and they didn't have uniforms. Most of them wore whatever clothes they had. In 1775 the Congress adopted brown as the official color for the uniforms. However, many soldiers didn't have brown coats to wear because there was a shortage of brown material. Soldiers within the same regiment tried to wear the same color. In addition to brown, blue and gray were popular colors.
A typical uniform for an American soldier included a wool coat with a collar and cuffs, a hat that was generally turned up on the side, a cotton or linen shirt, a vest, breeches, and leather shoes.
A reproduction of a uniform worn by a captain in the Continental Army Photo by Ducksters
The British soldiers were often called the "Red Coats" because of their bright red coats. Although they are most famous for their red uniforms, they sometimes wore blue uniforms during the Revolutionary War.
British Uniforms by Unknown
The British had very specific uniforms. Different types of soldiers had different styles of hats. The colors of their flaps showed which regiment they were part of. For example, dark green facings meant the soldier was a member of the 63rd regiment.
The most important weapon for the Revolutionary War soldier was the musket. A good soldier could load and fire his musket around three times per minute. Muskets were smooth bore weapons that fired lead balls. They were not very accurate, so regiments of soldiers would fire at the same time in a "volley" in an effort to cover a wide area.
The most famous musket at the time was the "Brown Bess" used by the British. Many American soldiers had a Brown Bess musket that had been stolen or captured from the British.
Once the enemy came within close range, soldiers would fight with a sharp blade attached to the end of the musket called a bayonet.
Other gear carried by soldiers included a haversack or knapsack (like a backpack) that held food, clothing, and a blanket; a cartridge box that held extra ammunition; and a canteen filled with water.
The powder horn was used by soldiers to hold gunpowder. Photo by Ducksters from the Smithsonian Museum
Interesting Facts About the Soldiers Uniforms and Gear
Another nickname for British soldiers was "lobster backs" because of their red coats.
The French wore uniforms of white with different shades of blue jackets and coats.
The most difficult item of clothing to keep in good shape for the soldiers was shoes. Many soldiers wore out their shoes on long marches and had to go barefoot.
British soldiers were usually called "Regulars" or "the King's Men" during the Revolutionary period.
During the 1700s the dyes used to make uniforms would fade fairly quickly. Although we often see pictures of the British in bright red coats, it is likely that the actual coats worn by soldiers had faded to a pinkish brown color.