UNIFORMS OF THE UNITED STATES MARINES:
The Marines of 1812 were among the best dressed forces the United States fielded at the time. They were the ambassadors of American arms that would be seen all over the world as they traveled aboard the ships of the U.S. Navy. The uniform for the era was adopted in the formal uniform order issued April 19, 1810 by Commandant Franklin Wharton, transcribed here, in image below:
When performing any military duty Marines were to wear a single breasted, Federal Blue, wool coat with scarlet cuffs, turn backs and collar. On the turn backs were a yellow, worsted wool tape diamond. On the front of the coat there were eight buttons of the 1797 U.S. Navy design from which yellow, worsted wool tape, ending in a “half diamond” created a “V” like pattern. On the sleeves there are three similar pieces of yellow, worsted wool tape starting at the top of the cuff and extending out from three faux Naval buttons. Likewise, on the tails of the coat that hang on the hips, there is the same pattern of worsted wool tape extending from three buttons. On the collar there are two buttons with the worsted wool tape projecting forward towards the opening of the collar. Also on the collar is a small button with the same naval pattern that receives the epaulette. The epaulette is also lined with the yellow worsted wool tape and when fastened it holds the accutrmment belts in place on a Marines shoulder.
Corporal and Private Marine 1812-1818
The Marine wore a tall, yeoman pattern felt cap trimmed with a yellow cord and tassel, brass cap plate, a brass eagle “in place of a cockade” and a red plush plume. The visor is 2.5 inches long and stiffened by an added piece of leather. On the back is another piece of black leather attached in the same manner as the one under the brim for the purpose of keeping the powder in the hair from getting onto the cap.
The powder came from the Marine’s hair and queue (pronounce simply as “Q”) which they were required to have on and powdered at all times on duty. If a Marine did not have long enough hair to put into a queue he was required to purchase a false queue himself. Under the coat the Marine wore a linen or cotton long sleeved shirt with ruffles on the neck line. On the neck the Marine wore a 2.5 inch leather stock with a brass clasping system. In the Summer Marines wore white, linen, high wasted, fall front pantaloons/trousers that fit snuggly on the legs but had room in the seat to allow movement. In the winter, assuming the supply chain was working properly, the linen pantaloons/trousers were replaced by white, woolen overalls. In both summer and winter uniform Marines wore knee high, black wool gaiters that were fastened with fifteen small naval buttons.
Perhaps the most well known part of the uniform of the Marines of the 1812 Era was the neckstock often pointed out as the reason Marines are called “leathernecks,” but these were not unique to the Marine Corps. Most soldiers and Marines of the era wore these devices. The neckstock is a 2.5 in. wide black leather band that fit around the neck of the Marine and was fasten with a copper clasping system. The traditional, or mythical reason for these neckstocks has been passed down for generations now. This was that they were worn to protect the wearer’s neck from sword, knife and bayonet blades. This is wrong. The true intent of these were to keep the men’s head high and straight, preventing them from paying too much attention to the action (carnage) all about them and to help them maintain a military posture.
Lastly, for every guard or detachment of Marines there was an effort to provide them with the heavy wool military watch coat. These were issued, on average, to a One-to-Five ratio of coats to men expecting that they would be shared and used by only the portion of the guard or detachment on any required sentry duty on board a ship or at a Naval Establishment.
Non Commissioned Officers
For the non-commissioned officers, Corporals and Sergeants, much of the uniform is the same as the enlisted man.. The cut, color scheme and material of the coat are the exact same for the corporals. The difference for corporals was that they wore a yellow shoulder knot, or epaulette, on the right shoulder and substituted a red feather plume for the plush plume worn on the cap in the same location of the enlisted man’s plush plume.
Sergeants have the same color scheme as the enlisted man’s coat but historically their uniforms were made of finer materials. Sergeants wore yellow shoulder knots, or epaulettes, on both shoulders. The sergeant’s cap will have a red feather plume but will be worn over the left ear with an accompanying black leather cockade.
The uniform worn by United States Marine Corps musics (the name/rank given to drummers, fifers and Marine Band members), was of the same style and cut as the enlisted men‘s with the same tape and buttons upon the coat, but it was in “reverse colors.” Where the enlisted man‘s coat is blue the music‘s is red and vice versa. This red coat lives today with the President’s Own United States Marine Band as well as the USMC Drum and Bugle Corps and all other musicians in the current Marine Corps.
Other than the reverse colors of the music coat the only other difference in the uniform was the plume on the music’s cap. It differed in its placement, its color and its material. The music’s plume was to be a tall feather plume of red and blue feathers and was placed over the left ear.
Marine Fifer 1810-1818
Marine Corps officers, like those of other services, were required to obtain their uniform through thier own private purchase. Upn recieving notice of thier commission they would have to approach a tailor, or tailors who may have had experience in making the uniform for others. The uniform that had to be made was to be made to the requirements of the order issued by Commandant Wharton, again, on April 19, 1810.
H’d Quarters of the Marine Corps
Washington April 19th, 1810
The following dress will be the uniform of the Marine Corps.
Officers- Navy blue coat, buttoned across the breast, with two rows of Navy buttons, right on each side, the button-holes laced, & brot to a point in the center thus, (figure A)
Three buttons on the sleeves laced in the same manner, the pockets with three buttons plac’d & with lace similar to the sleeves; the collar of scarlet, with two buttons on each side laced; laced cuffs scarlet, the skirts turn’d up with scarlet & two laced Diamonds on blue ground on each thus, (figure B) the lapels of the coat lin’d with scarlet & three button-holes laced on each side, this however not to be seen when on duty in Winter. Vest & pantaloons white: Cock’t Hat, or shapeau-bras, with gold lace-loop, & navy button under the cockade, the cockade of leather thus described, (figure C)
the Hat to be worn over the right eye, the range of the cock of the Hat of course over the left eye, with Gold Tassels from the sides. Scarlet plumes; the hair queued and powder’d. The officers when in full uniform, are to wear a scarlet sash round the waist, outside the coat and over the belt, tied on the left side& over the thigh. Black boots to the knee, with black silk Tassels. Black leather stock when on Duty.
The Officer Grades are to be determined in the following manner vis.
A Colonel- Two Gold Epauletts, one on each shoulder
A Major- Two Gold Epauletts, one on each shoulder
A Captain- A Gold Epaulett on the right shoulder & Gold counter-strap on the left
A First Lieut.- A Gold epaulett on the right shoulder. A Second Lieut.- A gold Epaulett on the left shoulder
The Staff to wear- A Gold Epaulett, & Counter-strap embroidered on blue Cloth.
-Yellow-mounted Sabres, with Gilt scabbards, & white cross belts with Gilt plates.
(Official Uniform Order, April 19, 1810. RG 127, US National Archives)
Marine Corps Officers 1811-1815: Captain John Fenwick (Left)
Lt. William Bush (Top) Captain Daniel Carmick (Bottom)
When not on military duty the Marines would wear a fatigue uniform. The fatigue uniform for the Marines was made of wool. These wool fatigue uniforms came in whatever color was most available and affordable; Mixed Gray or Navy Blue. Records indicate however, that mixed gray was the most common. For a cover in fatigues Marines were issued a very unique and quite advanced piece of equipment. A black leather, folding cap that could be worn three different ways depending upon the weather. The cap had a crown with large fore and aft flaps that stood up with a small brim in the front. On the fore flap, when worn up and observer would see brass letters; “ and, under those, brass number or numbers between 1 and 1044.
No evidence has surfaced, to date, what those brass letter were. It is a debate as to whether they were "USMC" or "USM." Other services, such as the rifle regiments or the light dragoons of the Army are know to have four letters; USRR and USLD respectively. As to the numbers it is not certain what the numbers truly relate to, but the Marine Corps was authorized the 1044 men at the beginning of the in the tears proceeding the War of 1812 so there is a theory that these numbers may represent the first use of “serial” numbers by U.S. armed forces. However, by mid 1813, in what was probably a cost saving action, the fatigue caps were being ordered without letters or numbers . In bad weather the aft flap could be put down to cove the Marine’s neck. In real bad weather the cap could be turned sideways and both flaps could be drawn over the sides of the head like the famous fisherman Sou’ Wester. The cap’s functions and its storage due to its folding quality made it very useful and desirable.
Marine in Fatigue 1812-1815. Painted by Don Troiani