The Use of Tumplines or Blanket Slings by Light Troops

By John U. Rees

Excerpt from: "Reflections on the Clothing Worn by the Soldiers of the Rifle Company of the 1st Pennsylvania Regiment of 1777 With Additional Thoughts Concerning Riflemen in the Continental Army."

A piece of equipment which may be particularly useful to light troops is the tumpline or blanket sling. Blanket slings are used instead of knapsacks and are very simple to make and use. Early in the war, at least some of the Provincial forces besieging Boston were issued tumplines. A listing of articles lost by Colonel William Prescott's Regiment at Bunker Hill in June of 1775 included 23 tumplines in an accounting of 25 men.

During an active and extended campaign, more often than not, British troops modified both their dress and equipment to make them more suitable to the harsh conditions and rough terrain which was found in North America. The soldiers of the 40th Regiment in 1777 carried with them a blanket sling instead of a knapsack. This consisted of a simple leather belt or woven strap around which a blanket was rolled and tied. This was then slung over the right shoulder. Inside the blanket was a linen pouch or wallet in which small necessaries were carried. During the 1777 campaign, the contents of the blanket sling included "2 shirts, 1 pr. of shoes & soles 1 pr. of stockings 1 pr. of shocks shoe Brushes, black ball &c." Mention is also made of the issuing of pipeclay and sixty rounds of ammunition for the cartridge boxes.

Later in the war on 23 May 1781, prior to landing on the Virginia Peninsula, Lord Cornwallis stated, "It is positively Ordered that no Soldier lands with more necessaries than his Blanket, Canteen, Haversack, Two pair of Trowzers. Two pair of Stockings, and Two Shirts, and Two pair of good Shoes..."

Even officers were expected at times to reduce their personal equipment due to the exigencies of campaigning. In September of 1776, Captain William Leslie of the 17th Regiment wrote concerning the few possessions he carried into the field" "My whole stock consists of two shirts 2 pr of shoes, 2 Handkerchiefs half of which I use, the other half I carry in my Blanket, like a Pedlars Pack."

Tumpline Sources:

Worcester, Samuel, History of Hollis, New Hampshire 1730-1879 (1880), page 155.

Rees, John U., "'...the Soldier's necessaries': A Discussion of the Contents of the Knapsacks of British Troops During the American War", The Royal Gazette, Newsletter of the 40th Regiment of Foot, Vol. V., No. 1, February 1994.

The Brigade Dispatch, Journal of the Brigade of the American Revolution, Vol. XXI, No. 2, Summer 1990, "Uniform of the 40th Foot Light Infantry Company, 1777", James L. Kochan.

The George Washington Papers, (Library of Congress, President's Papers Index Series, Washington, 1964) Reel 117,, Series 6B, Vol. I, British Orderly Book (40th Regiment of Foot), April 20, 1777 to August 28, 1777; Reel 118, Series 6B, Vol. 4, British Orderly Book (Brigade Guards) January 30, 1778 to August 10, 1778.

Cohen, Sheldon S., "Captain William Leslie's 'Paths of Glory'", New Jersey History, Vol. 108 (1990), page 63.

Copyright © 1995 John U. Rees. All rights reserved.