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Tucker F.

Hentz, “Use of Longarms by Commissioned Officers in Continental Army Rifle Units,
1775-1779,” Military Collector & Historian, vol. 61, no. 1 (Spring 2009), 12-18.

Col. Richard Butler, 9th Pennsylvania Regiment, 1777-1783. Butler also served with
Morgan’s Rifle Corps at Saratoga in 1777. He was killed at St. Clair’s defeat (Battle of the
Wabash) in the Ohio Territory on 4 November 1791.
1. Tucker F. Hentz, “Use of Longarms by Commissioned Officers in Continental Army Rifle
Units, 1775-1779,”
2. Captain Jacob Bowers’ rifle, 6th Pennsylvania Regiment
3. John U. Rees "Shoulder Arms of the Officers of the Continental Army (With some
mention of bayonets and the lack thereof)," The Brigade Dispatch, vol. XXIII, no. 1
(Winter 1992), 12-14.
Jacob Bower rifle, circa 1765. “This pre-Revolutionary War American rifle is attributed to gunsmith
George Schroyer, working in Reading, PA until about 1768. Based on the inscription found on the
underside of the patchbox door, we know it was carried by Capt. Jacob Bower, [6th Regiment] of the
Pennsylvania Line, during the war.” Partial gift of Wallace B. and Elizabeth P. Gusler; acquisition funded
by the Friends of Colonial Williamsburg Collections, Acc. No. 2010-130. (Courtesy of Colonial
Below: Inscription inside patchbox cover, "Jacob Bower Sept. 6, 1777."
“For a standing salute, they are to order their fusees …”
Officers’ Shoulder Arms in the Continental Army;
(With some mention of bayonets and the lack thereof.)

John U. Rees

The arming of the officers of the Continental Army varied with both the year of the war and
the availability of specific weaponry. In conjunction with this problem, the desire of the officer
corps to supply their men with bayonets also was contingent upon the availability of that
weapon, and was a chronic concern throughout the war. The purpose of this article is to make
recreated regiments more aware of what is appropriate for use when there is no specific
information on what the original unit was issued during the period of the portrayal.
The use of shoulder arms for officers in the American army was patterned, as was everything
else, on their use in the British army. In the forces of Great Britain the officers carried a fusil
(aka fuzee, a light firelock; "Originally developed for artillery guards [fusiliers], it was later
carried by light infantry and officers.") This practice was followed with some variations in
Washington's army.1
The general rule in the early years of the American Revolution was for officers under the field
grades of colonel or major to carry fusils. Most officers were equipped like Captain Alexander
Graydon of the 3rd Pennsylvania Battalion and one of his lieutenants when they were cut off from
their company during the British assault on Fort Washington on November 16, 1776:2

... we clubbed our fusees in token of surrender, and continued to advance towards them. They
either did not or would not take the signal; and though there were but two of us, from whom they
could not possibly expect a design to attack, they did not cease firing at us. I may venture to say,
that not less than ten guns were discharged with their muzzles towards us, within the distance of
forty or fifty yards; and I might be nearer the truth in saying, that some were let off within twenty.
Luckily for us, it was not our rifle men to whom we were targets; and it is astonishing how even
these blunt shooters could have missed us. But as we were ascending a considerable hill, they
shot over us. I observed they took no aim, and that the moment of presenting and firing, was the
same. AB I had full leisure for reflection, and was perfectly collected, though fearful that their
design was to give no quarter, I took off my hat with such a sweep of the arm as could not but be
observed, without ceasing however to advance. This had the intended effect: A loud voice
proceeded from the breast-work, and the firing immediately ceased.3

The practice of officers carrying firelocks continued to be accepted during the 1777 campaign.
The general orders of June 16, 1777, stipulated the method by which officers were to perform a
salute while under arms.

For the sake of regularity, 'till a more eligible mode shall be pointed out, officers are to salute in
the following manner only. For a standing salute, they are to order their fusees, and take off their
hats gracefully, bringing the arm down close to the left side, until the person saluted passes.
For a marching salute, they are to trail their fusees, and take off their hats as in the foregoing.
In both cases, 'tis supposed they have their fusees rested on their left arms; from which they
perform the order or trail, the first in three, and the last in two motions; and afterwards return
their fusees, to the same position. In the order, they hold out their fusee, in a line with themselves,
with an easy extended arm.3
One mode of officer’s salute from, William Windham and Viscount George Townshend, A plan
of discipline for the use of the Norfolk militia ..., Part I. Containing the manual exercise ... Part
II. The method of teaching the exercise ... Part III. Reviewing, forming the battalion,
firings... With an introduction from Aelian, Vegetius, Folard, K. of Prussia, M. Saxe, Wolfe,
and the most celebrated ancient and modern authors ... By William Windham ... and the
Right Hon. George lord visc. Townshend ... The 2d ed., greatly improved. To which is now
added, the present manual exercise for the army, as ordered by His Majesty and the Adjutant
general. With encampments for infantry and cavalry (London: Printed for J. Millan, 1768).
Maj. Joseph Bloomfield, 3rd New Jersey Regiment, carried a musket in 1777, noting of his
wounding at the Brandywine battle, “By the assistance of a stranger [I] dressed my Wound with
some tow from my Catorich box & wrapped my Arm in my handkerchief.” To aid in the arming
of officers the Board of War recommended on August 23rd "That the Subalterns [lieutenants and
ensigns] in the Army be furnished with Muskets & Bayonets at the Expence of the States, and
that all able bodied Fifers & Drummers be obliged to do duty as Soldiers & be furnished with

Major Joseph Bloomfield, 3d New Jersey Regiment, by Charles Willson Peale, 1777
Privately owned
(Brother Jonathan’s Images, No. 7)
(Including “The Blues offered again to fight …”: Contemporary Use of the Term “Jersey Blues”)
In December of 1777 it was decided to effect a change in the armament of the officers. On the
22nd it was ordered that "As the proper arming of the Officers would add considerable to the
army and the Officers themselves derive great confidence from being armed in time of action,
the General orders every one to provide himself with a half pike or Spear as soon as possible;
firearms when made use of withdrawing their attention too much from the men; and to be
without either, has a very aukward and unofficerlike appearance. That these half pikes may be of
one length and uniformely made the Brigadiers are to meet at Genl. Maxwells Quarters
tomorrow morning at 10 oClock and direct their size and form." The "Officers Commanding
Brigades" were then ordered on January 17, 1778, to "examine into the state and Condition of the
arms in the respective Brigades, and get those out of repair put in order as soon as possible and
consult upon the most speedy method of procuring a sufficient number of proper sized Bayonets
to supply the deficiencies. The General desires that they will likewise agree upon the most proper
and speedy means to have all the Officers in their Brigades furnished with half pikes ... " The
following day it was ordered "that those Brigades which are furnished with Armourers and tools
have their Bayonets made in their Brigades and those [who] cannot [will] ... purchase Bayonets
from the Country Artificers... the Q.M. Genl. be directed to have Aspontons [espontoons] or
pikes to be made for the Officers. The staff 6 112 feet long and 1 112 Inch in Diameter. ... and
that the Iron part be one foot long."
When Von Steuben's new regulations for the army were published in March 1779 it was
stipulated that "The officers who exercise their functions on horseback, are to be armed with
swords, [and] the platoon officers with swords and espontoons ... " In the remarks of General St.
Clair and General Lord Stirling concerning the first draft of the manual they noted that "The
Fusee and Bayonet is an improper Weapon for an Officer, unless constructed as those for the
prussian Officers, without touch Holes. The Esponton is their most proper Arm." The reasons
given for this are that "They are a good defensive Weapon, and are very useful in dressing the
Ranks." There were not, however, sufficient numbers of espontoons to supply all the officers of
the army in 1779. In the early summer of that year Anthony Wayne had written to Washington
"stating that his officers had no means of defense in close fighting and asking for spontoons as
soon as possible so that the officers could practice with them before the impending attack on
Stony Point. The arms were sent promptly, and ... Wayne himself, who commanded his men on
foot, carried a spontoon" during the assault.6
Though the espontoon was officially recognized as the proper shoulder arm for officers there
were occasions when a fusil was thought to be more appropriate. In May of 1779 while preparing
for his expedition against the Indians in Pennsylvania and New York, General John Sullivan
requested that he be supplied with fusils to equip his officers. Washington replied that while
"Fusees for the Officers would be proper ... unfortunately there are none here." He was advised
to write to the Board of War but the commander in chief was "not certain that they will be able to
furnish either Fusees or Light Muskets, or Carbines... The state of our magazines in this instance,
is by no means such as I could wish." It is not known whether these arms were ever procured but
in General Washington's opinion they "appear[ ed] to me to be necessary." Evidently firearms
were thought to be of much more use than espontoons in the broken terrain and partisan warfare
found when fighting Indians7•
By 1780 the officers of the army were still not entirely equipped with espontoons. On October
12, 1779 it was ordered that "Such officers of the line whose duty it is to act on foot in time of an
engagement and who are not already provided with Espontoons are to use their utmost exertions
to get them, and it is expected from commanding officers of Corps that they will use
every means in their power to complete them with bayonets ... " Five months later the colonel of
the 6th Pennsylvania Regiment wrote that "General Washington this morning assembled at Head
Quarters ... Officers commanding Brigades, acquainting them with several points in which their
Brigades were defective, particularly in the Officers not being arm'd with Espontoons ... and
their Men not being provided with Bayonets. Fortunately the Pennsylvanians escaped Censure on
this Occasion, the Officers being all furnish'd with Espontoons, and ... our Troops are better
arm'd & equipp'd than any in the Army." There were still exceptions to the General Orders. In
November of 1780 a visiting French officer saw the Continental Light Infantry and noted that
"The officers are armed with espontoons, or rather half pikes, and the subalterns [i.e. lieutenants
and ensigns] with fusils; but both were provided with short sabres brought from France ... 8"
It is probable that most of the officers were eventually able to procure the espontoons required
by the army's regulations. Undoubtedly, some were never issued with them, while others, due to
service with the light infantry or duty on the frontier, continued to use fusils in their role as
officers. Additionally, it seems that it was not at all unusual through most of the war to find a
varying proportion of the troops in every Continental regiment to be lacking bayonets. Indeed,
during some periods there may have been more men who needed this weapon than were carrying

(These have not been reformatted and updated, but should suffice.)

1. Simes, Thomas, The Military Medley: Containing the most necessary Rules and Directions for
attaining a Competent Knowledge of the Art ... [Dublin, 1767; 2nd revised edition, 1768] page
201. Lederer, Richard M., Jr., Colonial American English - A Glossary [Essex, 1985] page 98.
2. Graydon, Alexander, Memoirs of a Life. Chiefly passed in Pennsylvania.
within the last sixty years ... , Harrisburg, 1811.
3. Fil2patrick, John C., ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript
Sources 1745-1799, 39 Volumes [Washington, 1931-1941], Volume 8, June 16, 1777, General
Orders, page 256. It is interesting to note that the foregoing excerpt does not seem to agree with
the manual of arms as described in the various military manuals used by the Continental Army
during the period 1775 - 1777.
4. Mark E. Lender and J. Kirby Martin, eds., Citizen Soldier: The Revolutionary War Journal of
Joseph Bloomfield (Newark, N.J.: 1982), 127. Papers of the Continental Congress 1774-1789
(Library of Congress Microfilm Collection) [Washington, D.C., 1978], Board of War, August
23, 1777, Reel 157, page 328.
5. Fil2patrick, ibid, Volume 10, December 22, 1777, General Orders, page 192. Valley Forge
Orderly Book of General George Weedon of the Continental Army under Command of Genl.
George Washington. in the Campaign of 1777-8, [New York, 1971] January 17, 1778, General
Orders, page 194; January 18, 1778, General Orders, page 197.
6. von Steuben, Baron Friedrich Wilhelm, Regulations For The Order And Discipline Of The
Troops of The United States ... [1794 edition, reprinted New York, 1985] page 5; von Zemensky,
Edith, ed., The Papers of General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben Im-1794, Guide and Index to
the Microfilm Edition [New York, 1984] Reel I, page 299. Peterson, Harold L., The Book of the
Continental Soldier, [Harrisburg, 1968] page 100.
7. Fitzpatrick, op cit, Volume 15, May 23, 1779, Washington to John Sullivan, page 134;
Volume 15, May 27, 1779, Washington to the Board of War, page 160.
8. Fil2patrick, op cit, Volume 16, October 12, 1779, General Orders; Josiah Harmar Papers,
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar's
Journal No.1, November 11, 1778 to September 2, 1780, entry of March 13, 1780, pages 90-91.
Wright, John Womack, Some Notes on the Continental Army, [Vails Gate, 1975] page 50.
Wright, Robert K., Jr., The Continental Army, [Washington, 1983] page 439.

General Bibliography
Peterson, Harold L., The Book of the Continental Soldier, [Harrisburg,
1968] page 98 to 100, officers spontoons.
Neumann, George C, and Kravic, Franlc J., Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American
Revolution, [Harrisburg, 1975]; page 127, fusils; page 248, spontoons.
Guthman, William, editor, Guns and Other Arms, [New York, 1979] pages 62-63, French
officers shoulder arms (French fusils).