April 24, 2012

Why those crazy red coats?

Many people ask the question: Why did the British wear those crazy bright red coats? As many re-enactors and those who work at historic sites know, this is a particularly popular question. 

British troops in a cloud of smoke

By the War of 1812, the red coat had been part of the British Army uniform for at least 150 years. There were two primary reasons for the use of red coats: cost and effectiveness.  The use of red dye is very cheap and readily available. In order to dye a coat with red dye the process is easier than other colours since other colours require more than one stage in the dying process. Red dye only requires one stage for dying coats and this makes the process less expensive.
Preparing to fire

The second reason for red coats had to do with the use of black powder weaponry. Muskets were the most popular weapon on the 1812 battlefield, and due to their inaccuracy and reliability problems armies during the War of 1812 employed line formations in battle. Line formations allowed armies to overcome the inaccuracy and reliability problems of the musket. However, by using line formations large clouds of smoke were produced from the concentration of so many muskets, not to mention all the artillery on the battlefield. With so much smoke, armies needed to quickly identify friend from foe as quickly as possible, and the best way to do that was to use bright elaborate uniforms. In fact, those who did not wear red or blue during the War of 1812 were often shot at by everyone on the battlefield.   

Now you know why they wore red, and yes, they are hot in those coats. Please stop asking. 

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