The 10th Regiment of Foot

Paul O’Shaughnessy (above right) leading his men.

By Heather Aveson  |

Getting ready for Battle – Behind the Scenes with the reenactors as they prepare for Patriot’s Day

Uniforms have always served two purposes. They identify an individual as part of a group, but their cut, style, color and ornamentation can also act like a peacock’s feathers to draw attention and intimidate an opponent. According to the National Park Service, the British soldiers wore red not only because of it looked good and ‘added a frightening appearance, ‘ but ‘Battlefields in the 1700’s were smoky, confusing places. Red uniforms made it easier for British officers to see their men through the smoke of battle. As a result, they were better able to control the action, and could avoid shooting their own troops!’That’s what happened the first time a young Paul O’Shaughnessy saw a “Red Coat”. In 1972 he was a student at Lexington High School serving as a guide on the Battle Green with some friends. He’d saved up a few hundred dollars and he was planning to use the money to join a local re-created militia with his friends. But one day, he saw THEM – The Red Coats of the 10th Regiment of Foot. The tailored jackets in reds and yellows, shiny buttons and glistening muskets, towering Grenadier hats of real bearskin were irresistible. Paul still remembers his feelings in the jargon of the day, “We took one look at them and thought, ‘That is so cool’”. But the feeling wasn’t immediately reciprocated. The Red Coats played hard to get and it was several months before the 15 year old was able to convince them to let him join. That young recruit is now Lieutenant Colonel Paul O’Shaughnessy, Commanding Officer.

And the authenticity of the Regiment’s splendor is the foundation on which the 10th is built.

AUTHENTICITY MAKES A RETURN

In the late 1960’s there was a resurgence of interest in the battles of Lexington and Concord. The Bicentennial was approaching and many local towns re-established militia and minute companies. They began staging mock battles with the “British Regulars”.

Vincent Kehoe, a Chelmsford photographer and historian, was assigned to cover one of these battles at the North Bridge in March of 1967. “When he got there he couldn’t bring himself to take the pictures because the British were outfitted in red paper hats and red waiters vests,” according to Paul O’Shaughnessy, “That inspired him to do some research into which regiments were actually at the battle and recreate one more authentically.”

Kehoe’s research led him to pursue the 10th Regiment of Foot; he knew they were one of about five regiments garrisoned in Boston during that time. Kehoe himself had served in the 10th Mountain Division during WWII and so “the 10th” held special meaning for him.

Imagine his surprise when Sir Christopher Welby-Everard, President of the 10th Foot Royal Lincolnshire Regimental Association in Britain heard from a New England photographer asking to establish an American contingent of the Regiment back in the States. The two began a correspondence and any initial skepticism gave way to mutual respect. It was clear that Kehoe was serious about building a regiment that would bring authenticity to the living depiction of British regiments. In July 1968 he received authorization to establish his American regiment. Sir Christopher and Kehoe continued working together for several years researching the history and uniforms of the 10th Regiment. By 1972 The American Contingent had grown to two companies, Light Infantry and Grenadiers. The same two companies remain today.

Gone were the paper hats and waiters’ vests. They were replaced by an ever evolving uniform of wool felt, leather strapping, bear skin hats and “Brown Bess” muskets; each new element reflecting an additional piece of research uncovering a greater level of detail.

EVERYONE DOES WHAT THEY CAN

It is this continued commitment to research and authenticity that sets the Tenth Regiment of Foot apart. A few years ago a button from an original uniform was found. The shape and design were slightly different from what the Regiment had been using. New buttons were cast and are being replaced on all the uniforms.

Even more recently the Regiment found that the belt buckles they had been carefully hand etching had the X, for tenth, going horizontally instead of vertically. So they will now buff off the existing X on each belt buckle and etch in a new one.

The attention to detail that sets the 10th Regiment of Foot apart also demands a greater level of commitment from its members. Each winter finds the group not only repairing and replacing existing uniforms and accoutrements but also replacing elements as new information comes along. And everyone helps out. For Grenadier Captain Michael Graves it’s become a family affair. You could say that for one weekend each winter the 10th Regiment becomes an occupying force in their home. Sheets of white leather and bearskins, heads and all, fill the living room as infantryman, and Grave’s son, Ian works with Kelsey Brennan of the light infantry and drummer Matt Lee building a new Grenadiers hat. In the kitchen, Captain Graves has traded his musket barrel for a curling rod and is coiffing wigs in the style of the day. Meanwhile, his wife Valerie is repairing small leather pieces nearby. “It all started with Ian when he was twelve. He joined as a musician and Mike would drive him to practice,” recalls Valerie, “After about a month Ian said, ‘you have to take me anyway so you may as well join too,’ so Mike joined. I help out where I can, so now the whole family is involved.”

In the basement, other members of the Regiment are rolling cartridge casings, repairing uniforms and cutting and sewing leather belts or shoe guards.

Taught by his mother, Ian Graves has become the Regiment’s tailor. Uniforms are created from patterns that have been researched back to the 1700s. Each uniform is individually made, from coat to waistcoats and britches. There’s no buying off the rack when you’re going for this kind of authenticity. “I’ve been doing this about eight months. It takes about 40 hours to make one coat,” Ian says, “No other regiment does what we do. They don’t have these kinds of workshops. People put themselves up against our standards because we set the bar. It’s just who we are.”

A few weeks later the company commandeers Commander O’Shaughnessy’s basement. Here the emphasis is on muskets and metalwork. Grenadier Private Eric Niehaus is doing maintenance on a Brown Bess musket. He’s much more comfortable here with bear grease and flintlocks, “I’m a lousy artist. I stay away from leather and costuming or we’d all be running around in loin cloths.”

The Brown Bess, or 2nd Model Land Pattern, is the standard musket for the Regiment. They can be bought new, but most members own a used model they have found or that has been handed down through the regiment. Light Infantry Private Marc McVicker is working on a musket that’s come down through his family, “This is my grandfather’s gun. He got it about fifty or sixty years ago.” It’s starting to show its age, the wood cracked during a drill, so while the gun is apart to be repaired, Marc is polishing and treating the barrel.

It’s not uncommon for the wood of these older guns to crack. The wood itself dries out and the percussion of the discharge takes it toll. Members painstakingly drill small holes into the wood and then pin the pieces back together.

Meanwhile, other members are polishing stocks and barrels while they compare the benefits of bear grease, orange oil and beeswax to preserve and maintain the wood and steel.

That’s not to say there isn’t any leatherwork going on here. Captain Graves is working with two of his men to make a bayonet belting for Grenadier David Parker. It’s a slow process for the first timers. I’m not sure if their banter makes the work go faster, but it certainly makes the time pass more quickly. That’s part of what makes the 10th Regiment special. These winter workshops not only enhance the group’s outfitting, they encourage camaraderie as well.

David Parker is new to the Grenadiers. “I started out as Light Infantry, but then I moved away. I’m coming back as a Grenadier. I’m very interested in the history of the revolution, not just re-enacting, so I wanted to experience it from both sides,” he says. Truth be told, David also feels more comfortable in the Grenadiers now that he’s not a kid anymore. The light infantry is for the young and agile. The Grenadiers are considered the elite, relying more on strength and size. Parker puts it more subtly, “Also, I tend to stand out in the Infantry. The average age of the Light Infantry is about 18. In the Grenadiers I’m about average in the age and size range.” But fellow Grenadier Gary Mezack isn’t buying that explanation either. “The real reason he joined us is that the Grenadiers get their picture taken with all the ladies. What attracts the ladies? It’s the bearskin.” Sounds like he’s speaking from first hand experience.

PUTTING YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD

The bearskin apparently attracts the ladies, the uniform attracted a young Paul O’Shaughnessy; each recruit has their own reason for joining. Grenadier Gary Mezack remembers what brought him to the Regiment, “I’d been involved in re-enacting for many years. I always wanted to join the 10th because it does set the standard. But I was working, traveling and raising a family, so it seemed there wasn’t time. Then I realized this is never going to change. I may as well do it now. I miss a few things, but it works out. And I’m definitely glad I did it.”

The Regiment is always on the lookout for new recruits. This year the Regiment is putting six new members through their paces. On a recent Saturday the new recruits showed up for their third Recruit Training at the Depot. Sergeant Major Charlie Ziniti gives the orders, and Sgt. of the Grenadiers Ed Scull is another set of eyes critiquing and correcting along the way.

The recruits don’t drill alone; they are flanked by veteran members of the regiment. Captain Graves explains the training technique, “If the recruits trained alone, it would go a lot slower. They wouldn’t know what to do. This way they can follow a veteran’s lead. And the guys who come, improve their skills as well.” All the training techniques come straight from a British Army Drill Manual of the 1760’s. The exercises and maneuvers are practiced just as they were by British soldiers at the time of the American Revolution.

The muskets start to look pretty heavy as the recruits repeat maneuvers and work on new patterns. Captain Graves explains that the different musket positions are designed to make carrying the 12 lb. gun easier over long periods of time and through difficult terrain, “After a while you realize that the way the musket maneuvers happen is very logical. There will be a change in position for narrow paths, rough terrain, or up a hill.” For instance, when going through dense brush, the muskets are dropped low along the side of the body, in a ‘trail position.’ This keeps the guns from getting caught up in the brush.

The maneuvers are highly choreographed. The recruits first learn to change musket positions in proper sequence. Once the recruits are comfortable with that, footwork is added. All steps begin with the left foot on a count of two. Steps and musket changes coming together in perfect choreography. And then there’s what I refer to as “sticking the landing.” At the end of any drill the soldiers should finish in clean straight lines. It’s not easy. The Sergeant Major’s final order at the end of any maneuver is usually “Dress!” This allows the soldiers to adjust their positions and create clean lines.

So how does this new group look? Captain Graves looks them over, “These recruits look very well.”

THE BATTLE BEGINS

Patriot’s Day starts early for the 10th Regiment of Foot. Although they won’t be marching out to Lexington from Boston through out the night, they will gather as unobtrusively as possible in the darkness by 5am. Weapons and uniforms will be inspected. Black powder will be distributed. In a private ceremony new recruits will be sworn in. The recruits are read the Britain’s Articles of War from the 1770’s and swear their allegiance to the King.

Then at 5:45am the Light Infantry and the Grenadiers will organize themselves. The drums will begin to beat as they start down Massachusetts Ave. from the Police Station.

The Regiment will march onto Lexington Green in the cold dawn as men and women, as well as boys and girls admire the cut and detail of their handmade wool felt jackets, the grandeur of their bearskin hats, the polish of their muskets and the precision of their maneuvers. Those watching are captured by the moment without a thought to the hours of research and work that go into this display of pageantry. And that is the beauty of this form of theatre. It all looks so natural.

The teenage age Paul O’Shaughnessy who was first drawn to the Regiment by its regalia on this very spot, now leads his troops as Lieutenant Colonel, Paul O’Shaunnessy Commanding Officer onto the field of battle.

Through their research, attention to detail and commitment to the History they not only entertain and educate, but they pay tribute to those who over two hundred years ago used their skill and knowledge to present the 10th Regiment of Foot for service in Lexington and Concord.

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