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Clothing and Grooming

The winter rain, snow, sleet and mud at Valley Forge quickly revealed the inadequacy of American soldiers’ clothing and shoes. After months of moving in warm weather campaigns, clothing and shoes alike were worn out and offered soldiers little protection from the winter weather. General Washington wrote: “You might have tracked the army…to Valley Forge by the blood of their feet.”

Regimental uniforms were a vital part of dressing an 18th century army. Battles were fought with black-powder weapons that produce so much smoke that made it difficult to see more than a few yards. It was important to be able to distinguish between friend and foe. British soldiers wore mostly red uniforms. The French wore white with various shades of blue and American uniforms were dark blues and browns highlighted with different colors to represent individual regiments.

The American soldier’s uniform included a:

  • hat, possibly turned up on one or three sides
  • shirt made of linen
  • black leather stock, worn around the neck
  • wool regimental coat, usually with collar, cuffs, and lapels of a different color
  • waistcoat or vest, made of linen or wool
  • breeches or overalls of wool or linen
  • stockings
  • leather shoes

General Washington was deeply concerned about grooming in camp. His orders contained strict guidelines to keep soldiers short-haired and clean-shaven. This was not just to improve the professional appearance of the army; it was to prevent the spread of lice.


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