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Q: Did Officers carry firelocks into the field?
A: Yes, depending on your rank. All company grade officers carried a smaller musket called a fusil on active service when outranked by a more senior officer. For example, Lieutenants (Capitaine en Secondes) and Captain (Capitaines) carried a fusil when outranked by a senior Officer (Major or Colonel). Ensigns however, even when not bearing colors would not carry a fusil.
All Company grade officers carried fusils while under arms at a position we call "advance". There is an entire section of the '79 regs that are dedicated to this drill. When the officer steps away to post, the Sergeant steps up, brings his musket to the advance and takes charge.
The fusil is exactly the same as the men's muskets with the exception that the barrel is 4 inches shorter and about 3 pounds lighter and like all smoothbore arms in the French army at this time, it is a .69 caliber musket. The weight was reduced by having a shorter and lighter barrel and as such, the stock would be lighter to support the lighter barrel and slightly smaller lock.
For company grade officers, the cartridge box is smaller and carries only 18 rounds.
Q: If the French army was not issued haversacks, where did the French army carry food?
A: They only carried bread and peas on the march. Meat was never carried in any form. The French soldier signed a contract with the King. If _ANY_ of the terms of the contract was not met, the soldier could declare the contract null and void, and leave the Army. One of those stipulations was being fed _every 3 days_. The French Army would only march for a maximum of _3 days_ then they would stop, encamp, and eat. They never had to carry meat, because it would be eaten when they stopped marching, they never had to "cook 3 days rations" and carry it was often done in the American Army.
Q: When I read accounts of the everyday man encountering French troops, they are always impressed with their appearance and the way they look. Was the French army that much better looking?
A: No, but they did have strict regulations about how to care for and when to wear their “dress whites” (habit and white full gaiters.) The French would often stop to change clothes, especially in areas of high-visibility. Like they did before marching through Philadelphia on their way south, they stopped just outside of the city, changed into their dress whites and habits and marched through. On the other side of the city, they again stopped, took off their dress whites and habits, and then continued on the march.
Q: Did a French soldier always have his habit?
A: If you were serving aboard ship or in the carribean, the wool habit was often stored and only used for very special circumstances, first to save the coat and keep it nice, and also to not overtax the men. This was also frequently done when the soldier was on garrison duty, he would never have full possession of his coat. Instead, he was given a "chit" with a number on it. If he needed to wear his coat for duty, he would go to the Quartermaster, give him his chit, and he would issue you your coat from storage. Once the duty was complete, the soldier then re-checked his coat. This helped preserve the coat and made it last longer.
Q: What would a French soldier do if he lost a numbered regimental button from his veste or habit?
A: Believe it or not, this was a large problem for the french army during the AWI. At one point an order was placed for 140,000 buttons for the french forces deployed in the American theater. In order to fill with this massive request and deal with the logistics of suppling them to the necessary regiments, the ordinance allowed the French Quartermaster to supply the regiment not only with their current regimental number, but also ANY previous regimental number the unit had had in previous regulations. This means that a soldier who was under the 1779 regulations could be issued buttons that they had not seen in some time. In light of this, the Regiment de Gatinois had been issued the previous numbers;
1779 - 18
1776 - 18
1775 - 9 (as Auvergne)
1762 - 9 (as Auvergne)
Regiment de Gatinois members interested in telling this piece of history to the public may feel free to intersperse the #9 silver button into their clothing to illustrate this if they so choose.
Q: How many French soldiers fought in the War of American Independence?
A: More than you’d think, 44,177 in fact. When France entered the war on the side of the Americans, it became a global conflict. That meant that there was battles fought in places as far away as India and Gibraltar that was directly connected to our Revolution. To see a plaque that commemorates the North American based forces under Rochambeau and Saint-Simon, click on the image below.
Q: I have heard that Europeans called the deployment of to the Caribbean as "the white man's grave", but what was the survival rate of a regiment/company that was deployed to the Caribbean?
A: A few years ago, there was a great blog post about this that delved into this by looking at four French units over that period. See here to read that article.