July 04, 2012

Why, these are regulars!

The Battle of Chippawa fought on July 5, 1814 was a significant victory for the U.S. Army. Chippawa was the first time in the war that an American force defeated a veteran British force of equal size on an open battlefield. This battle proved that the American Army could not be underestimated.
American Soldier

Why were the Americans so successful at Chippawa? In part, it had to do with Winfield Scott’s grey-coated regulars. The traditional uniform of an American regular during the War of 1812 consisted of a solid blue coat with red cuffs and collars adorned with white lacing. However, due to supply shortages American uniforms during the war became much simpler and often varied in colour. Some American units during the war had brown, green or even red as their military coats. By 1814, Winfield Scoot decided to dress his regulars in grey work coats so that all his soldiers looked uniform on the battlefield.

At the Battle of Chippawa, Scott’s highly trained grey-coated regulars took on the British left flank and managed to maintain its formation even during heavy artillery fire. These grey coats managed to inflict heavy damage on the British left flank, causing the British to withdraw from the battlefield.

American Grey Coat
In Scott’s memoirs he claimed that upon seeing the grey-coated American infantry maintain their position after heavy artillery fire, that the British commander, General Riall, exclaimed “why, these are regulars!” Despite this colourful story, it is unlikely that Scott would be able to hear Riall say these words from across the battlefield.

Another claim by Scott is that the cadets at West Point adopted the grey uniform because of the American victory at Chippawa. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The cadets at West Point had already adopted the grey uniform before the Battle of Chippawa due to the shortage of blue cloth; although, the victory at Chippawa did provide a convenient excuse to retain the cheaper grey uniforms after the War of 1812.

If you want to learn more about the Battle of Chippawa, make sure you join the Niagara Parks Commission and the Chippawa Branch 396 of the Royal Canadian Legion as they honour those who served on the Chippawa Battlefield. The commemoration takes place on July 5 at 7 p.m. Click here for the event program.

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