Saturday, November 10, 2018

Yes, Highland Regiments did use Knapsacks!

In this installment I want to discuss one of the biggest reenactor urban legends regarding F&I  Highland troops, that is that Highlanders never used knapsacks!   Nothing could be further from the truth, but somehow, somewhere back in the 1980's someone came up with the idea that all of the normal requisite gear and equipment that every other British soldier carried, somehow that Highlanders carried this in the back pocket of their plaid.  Now never mind that carrying all that equipment in that manner would not be secure, but also would rip the connection between plaid and coat, it is simply an unsupportable idea.  Something that is almost as interesting to me as historical research is the “Anthropology of Reenacting” where I try and figure out how we as a hobby made certain choices, especially wrong ones so as to craft better arguments as to why we should change.  In that vein I think the no knapsacks idea comes from 2 places.  The first being that in the 42nd Orderly Book extract, there is no talk of knapsacks, only tumplines, and then the following quote from a Revolutionary War OB from the 84th Regiment.  "Some men in the Battalion have been observed carrying provisions and other baggage in their plaids. This un-soldier like practice is positively forbidden." Halifax, November 13th, 1777, Murdock MacLaine's Papers.

So with these two bits of information, the no knapsacks idea perhaps sprang? 

We have military logistics documents showing knapsacks were issued to both battalions of the 42nd and the 78th, and we have other official military documents showing that members of the 77th lost knapsacks at Bushy Run.  Then we even have a soldiers memoir where he speaks of seeing a fellow member of the 78th wearing a knapsack.  Ample proof of Knapsacks being used here in the F&I period.  

But first, let’s look at what a soldier was expected to carry.  This comes from a list of the equipment carried by members of the 60th Grenadiers while on campaign here in North America.  Compiled by LT Baillie, it is most often simply referred to as Baillie's List.

A knapsack with strap and buckle Containing:
2 shirts, 2 stocks, 2 pairs of stockings
A pair summer breeches
A pair shoes
A clothes brush, pair shoe brushes, blackball
A pair leggings & garters, a handkerchief
2 combs, a knife & spoon

This document can be found in the Bouquet Papers:  Lieutenant Alexander Baillie to Colonel Henry Bouquet, 28 August 1762, Bouquet Papers, series 21648, part 2, 77-78.

The Regiments knapsacks:

42nd Regiment 

An Account book of COL Murray, Commander of the Royal Highland Regiment, found in the Murray Papers, Bagshawe Muniments, John Ryland's Library, University of Manchester;NRA 10462 Bagshawe  we have a list of equipment issued to the Highland Regiment in 1756 on the eve of their departure to North America.  That list includes an entry for 1060 knapsacks. 

A second account, that being the 1758 Quartermaster Record Book of CPT Stewart (Record of Issues of Clothing by Quartermaster Adam Stewart, Account of Clothing, BWRA 0253.) of the newly raised 2d Battalion has 700 knapsacks being delivered for issue to the newly raised unit.  NB:  The 42nd had in 1757 received authorization to raise 3 Additional companies, these companies became the basis for the 2d Battalion.  That is why it would appear that the 2d Battalion was 300+ knapsacks short compared to the 1st Battalion. 
From 1762 this document, part of a number of loose papers from CPT Stewart, that did not end up in the Black Watch Regimental museum, but rather in another collection on the other side of Perth, that being Blair Castle, we have this:  NRA 11000 Stewart-Murray Account of the Particulars sold belonging to the Deceased William Tait, Drummer RH Regt, 19 May 1762:
2 pair shoes
4 pair hose
Silk vest
One Shirt
One Knapsack

It should be noted here that knapsacks, paid for by off reckonings were considered the personal property of the soldiers and would leave the service with them, or be sold in a Vendu after their death. 

One last document relating to this issue is the request for reimbursement for lost equipment at Bushy Run, which Maj Allan Campbell submitted, and COL Bouquet endorsed, listed 59 knapsacks lost by the 42nd.

I’m purposely not addressing the use of tumplines by the 42nd.  That will be for a later installment.     

77th Regiment

Surviving documentation for both clothing and equipment for the Montgomery’s Regiment is scanty,  but we do have Captain Robert Grant’s 12 Aug 1763 request for reimbursement for equipment the77th lost at Bushy Run, which lists The following:

12 Sergeants Plaids, 23 Privates Plaids, 100 shirts, 47 pairs of shoes, 93 pair of hose, 21 stocks, 8 rollers, 8 jackets, 23 Knapsacks, 17 Haversacks, 8 Camp kettles, 23 tumplines, 1 bonnet, 3 pair of leggings, 6 wooden kegs, 1 shoulder belt and 1 kilt belt. 

78th Regiment

Regarding the 78th Jeff Campbell has been going thru the surviving documents in the Clephane papers and has posted many of the pages of this Company level account book showing knapsacks as being issued the 78th prior to departing Scotland.  Check out Jeff’s blog entry at:

In some cases soldiers were issued 2 knapsacks.  This might be because as the 78th was marching to their departure point, a barn that many of them were lodged in caught fire and possibly some members lost their possessions.  This incident was related by Vol Sgt Thompson of the 78th, as seen in “A Bard of Wolfe’s Army”  Another bit of documentation from that same source relates to a dismissed drummer from the 78th walking away from the regiment with a knapsack on his back.   
“The Poor devil, with his knapsack, went away on his business!”  Thompson, J., McCulloch, I. M., Chapman, E. J., David M. Stewart Museum., & 78th Fraser Highlanders. (2010). A bard of Wolfe's army: James Thompson, gentleman volunteer, 1733-1830. Montreal: R. Brass Studio.

With all this information, we can say without a doubt that the Highland Regiments used knapsacks.   Of course the next question is what did they look like.  For that I direct you to the following links:

Thanks for reading.


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  2. Thanks for stopping by the Blog and reinforcing the use of knapsacks by soldiers of the 78th! -- Jeff Campbell