The necessary considerations of emulating an American rifleman during the Revolutionary War

By Larry Gorecki


a. 1775-76 Early War: Rifle Companies formed by the Colonies of Pennsylvania. Maryland and Virginia for duty in Massachusetts and the early northern battles.

b. 1777-1779 Transitional Period: Rifle Companies going from under their State control to the control of the Continental Congress.

c. 1780 through 1783 The Last Remaining Riflemen: These are the rifle units/ militia units carrying rifles who fought predominately in the Southern Campaign: Tennessee, Virginia and mostly in the Carolinas.


a. What colony/state is this rifle unit from? Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, New York.

b. What county of the colony or state is the unit from?

c. Does this unit come from a well-civilized area like a large city or town; or from a small rural area where only small farms and no villages or towns exist?


a. Community - City or Town

1. The overall economy of a community is generally reflected in its members.

b. Individual - Is the person you would portray a farmer, drover or a silversmith, gunsmith, merchant, etc.?

1. The occupation of a person was the key to their income? A silversmith or a merchant made much more money in a year than a farmer or drover.


a. Current styles abroad.

1. People were very conscious of style in the 18th century.

b. What styles were available locally and local cultural influence.

1. What kinds of cloth, foot wear and such were being imported, if any?

2. What local influences were there from various cultures like the Scot, Irish, German, Dutch, etc.?

c. Home made cloth (homespun), wools etc. What was available, were there any imported cloths being used?

d. Personal likes and comfort.

1. What were the best styles for this individual as far as comfort, practicality and access?


a. What regulations were there for clothing, footwear and other gear by the Company Commander, if any?

b. What regulations were there from the Township, County or State the unit was formed in, if any?

c. What regulations existed if any by the Continental Congress?

d. What original documentation is available for your unit?

1. Are there any letters or other papers from the company commander or other officers in the unit?

2. Are there any letters or diaries from regular soldiers of the unit?

3. Look for any examples of Military directories, letters of communication, storehouse list, clothing list and such from Quartermasters, officers and private shopkeepers who were involved with helping supply the army.


In order for a person to properly emulate a rifleman you must get out and research. Keep in mind that some books on the subject are very one sided. There are authors who have portrayed a rifleman early in the war and decide that this is the way all riflemen were. A common misconception was that all riflemen were hell raising men who followed few orders, did what they wanted, when they wanted.

Documentation from the period indicates that by September of 1775, George Washington had begun to control the unruliness of the riflemen. After the mutiny by riflemen from Thompson's Battalion at Cambridge in 1775, the riflemen began to accept orders more readily, stopped the unauthorized sniping and as a result events of misbehavior and desertion decreased. Keep in mind that there are many primary references to the terms riflemen and militia were utilized interchangeably. One is the other in writings from the period.

Many a rifleman came from a well-civilized area with a large city or town nearby. These men were often church going, god-fearing men of their community. Thus, they were not taking the field in a breechcloth and leggings of wool or leather. Breeches, waistcoats, shirts and sleeved waistcoats or frockcoats were just as common as rifle frocks and drover's shirts or smocks of that period.

I strongly hope that you research as much as possible and that you share your findings with others in your unit, as well as, other units in the hobby. GOOD LUCK AND BE SAFE!

Books with references to Riflemen

THOMPSON'S BATTALION by Oscar H. Stroh, Published by Graphic Services, Harrisburg, PA 17112.

RECRUITS TO CONTINENTALS - A HISTORY OF THE YORK COUNTY RIFLE COMPANY JUNE 1775 - JANUARY 1777 by Philip J. Schlegel, The Historical Society of York County, York, PA.

WILLIAM THOMPSON... A SHOOTING STAR by Allan G. Crist, Cumberland County Historical Society.

LANCASTER IN THE REVOLUTION by Charles H. Kessler, Sutter House, Lititz, PA.

THE PENNSYLVANIA LINE - REGIMENTAL ORGANIZATION AND OPERATION. 1775-1783 by John B. B. Trussell, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

THE PATRIOTS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION by W. Edmond Claussen, Gilbert Printing Company Inc., Boyertown, PA.

GENERAL WASHINGTON'S ARMY 1,1775-1778 by Marko Zlatich, Osprey, Reed:Consumer Books Ltd., London, England (ALSO SEE BOOK 2 by Zlatich).

THE FRONTIER RIFLEMAN by Richard B. LaCrosse, Jr., Pioneer Press, Union City, TN.

COLLECTOR'S ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION by George C. Neumann and Frank J. Kravic, Rebel Publishing Co., Inc., Texarkana, TX

RURAL PENNSYLVANIA CLOTHING by Ellen J. Gehret, George Shumway publisher, York, PA.

CLOTH AND COSTUME 1750 TO 1800 by Tandy and Charles Hersh, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA.

THE KENTUCKY RIFLE HUNTING POUCH by Madison Grant, The Maple Press Company, York, PA.

ACCOUTERMENTS by James R. Johnston, Golden Age Arms Company.

Copyright © 2001 Larry Gorecki. All rights reserved.