Company Drill at Carlyle House: A Birthplace of British Military Adaptation

On Saturday June 22nd, the 4th Company was honored to take part in a combined birthday of NOVA Parks and the City of Alexandria, held at Carlyle House House Park. While the Company always appreciates the opportunity to fine-tune its drill, doing so at this location is particular enjoyable as it holds a special place in the history of the British Army fighting in America.

The Company's corporal and serjeant debate the finer points of the manual of arms while drilling at the Carlyle House in Alexandria, VA.

Home to Alexandrian merchant John Carlyle, the house hosted the fateful 1755 "Congress of Alexandria" where Major-General Edward Braddock (Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in North America and formerly an officer of the Coldstream Guards) planned his expedition to Fort Duquesne. His ensuing death and defeat at the hands of Indians and French Canadians at the July 1755 Battle of the Monongahela - which featured a young aide-de-camp George Washington - sent shockwaves through the British Army that would lead to significant adaptations to fighting in North America both in the French and Indian War (lasting until 1763) and the American Revolution more than ten years afterward.
The historic Carlyle House, completed in 1753 and currently restored as a national treasure of Georgian architecture.

John Carlyle (1720-1780), Alexandria-based merchant and host of the "Congress of Alexandria" in 1755.

First came the uniform adaptations. Both before departing London in spring 1776 and prior to debarking in New York in July, the Brigade of Guards sent to fight the rebels in America made significant changes to their "parade ground" dress in anticipation of the American theater. In particular, the Guards initially removed the lace from their coats; this likely was meant to function as a form of 18th century camouflage, and was undertaken as early as twenty years prior when John Campbell, the 4th Earl of Loudon, raised the Royal American Regiment to fight in the French and Indian War and advised them to do the same. By 1776, Loudon was the Colonel of the 3rd Guards, and had coordinated many uniform changes with General Mathew for the Brigade prior to its departure. For example, the Guards would also cut down their hats (to brimmed round hats rather than tricornes), shorten their coats, and prefer trousers to britches and gaiters, among other changes.

General John Campbell, 4th Earl of Loudon - Governor-General of Virginia and Commander-in-Chief, North America (1756-1757)
A second major change occurred due to lessons learned from fighting in the forested and broken ground of America. Rather than form in close formation in three ranks (as was the standard on European battlefields and in the 1764 Manual of Arms), the British Army fighting the American Revolution adopted two ranks at a looser/extended order (roughly 18 inches between each man). This "loose, flimsy order" - as Lieutenant-General Henry Clinton would derisively call it - allowed British soldiers to cover broken ground more easily and extend their lines to cover greater rebel frontage on certain occasions, but had the disadvantage of diluting the concentration of firepower and shock (i.e., bayonet) tactics.

Lastly, the Guards (and other British regiments) would form a light infantry company to provide screening and skirmishing functions against enemy forces and supply lines. In part birthed out of the legacy of units like Roger's Rangers that were formed to fight "in the Indian way" during the French and Indian War, light infantry companies had been re-introduced formally to every regiment in 1771. General William Howe, the future commander of British forces in America from 1775 to 1777, held light infantry drills on Salisbury Plain in 1774 and developed specific light tactics that would filter down to companies of all types (think the loose, flimsy order). The Guards were fairly late to the light infantry game, only forming a company in spring 1776 after learning of the Brigade's deployment to America. But over the course of the ensuing war, the Guards' light company provided valuable screening capabilities and was detached with the grenadier company for smaller-scale operations in multiple theaters.

Indeed, the events that followed Braddock's arrival at John Carlyle's home would forever alter the British approach to fighting in America, and have profound affects on how the Brigade of Guards carried themselves in a conflict twenty years later.