Friday, September 26, 2008

Rhode Island Regiment..

I was long overdue some time at the painting table, so I took myself off on Wednesday night and finished these guys...
These guys have been painted to "represent" the Rhode Island Regiment - I say represent, as I'm a little unsure what these guys would actually have looked like! Sources on the web seem contradictory at best, as do my off-line resources (ie. books!)... in the end I went with the depiction you see in the two paintings below...
The figures are Minifigs 25mm's, bought as part of a group of used figures from one of my fellow Old Schooler's (thanks Jim!), and originally painted as, I think, light infantry from one of the New York regiments. Happily I didn't have to strip them, I just re-undercoated in black, and painted as if they were new.

Caveats - before anyone thinks to let me know:

1/. It is far from certain (in my mind) that the whole regiment would have worn the cap - a couple of sources show the regiment in tricorn.... may be only the light company wore them? I went with the caps based on the other sources... :o)

2/. the caps as depicted are not right for the Rhode Island regiment. The cap the Rhode Island guys are shown wearing is pretty unique (see picture to the left), these Minifigs are wearing the standard light infantry cap painted to a rough approximation...

3/. I can't paint anchors that small, so they're absent from the hats...!

Some history then for what was a very unique regiment in the American service. The 1st Rhode Island (there were eventually two) was formed as a result of a decree by the revolutionary Rhode Island Assembly on 6 May 1775. The regiments first colonel was Colonel James Mitchell Varnum, and they were known "Varnum's Regiment" - the regiment consisted of eight companies.
Shortly after the Yorktown campaign, a young French sub-lieutenant named Jean-Baptiste-Antoine DeVerger sketched a watercolour image of four foot-soldiers in his notebook. The guy on the right is from the Rhode Island regiment...


~ From June 1775: took part in the siege of Boston.
~ 14 June 1775: adopted into the Continental Army
~ 28 June 1775: reorganized into ten companies.
~ 28 July 1775: assigned to General Nathanael Greene's Brigade in General George Washington's Main Army.
~ 1 January 1776: as part of the Continental army re-organisation, Varnum's Regiment was reorganized with eight companies and re-designated as the 9th Continental Regiment.
~ 1776: took part in the disastrous 1776 campaign, retreating from New York with the Main Army.
~ 1 January 1777: as part of another Continental army re-organisation, the 9th Continental Regiment was re-designated as the 1st Rhode Island Regiment (at the same time Varnum was promoted brigadier general; his successor being Colonel Christopher Greene)
~ 22 October 1777: regiment successfully defended Fort Mercer at the Battle of Red Bank against an assault by 2,000 Hessians.
~ 14 February 1778: having difficulties in meeting the recruiting requirements of the Continental Congress, and after a suggestion made by Varnum to Washington, the Rhode Island Assembly voted to allow the enlistment of "every able-bodied negro, mulatto, or Indian man slave" that chose to do so, and that "every slave so enlisting shall, upon his passing muster before Colonel Christopher Greene, be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress, and be absolutely free....". Owners would be paid for any slaves that joined.. 88 slaves enlisted in the regiment over the next four months, as well as some free blacks. The regiment eventually totalled about 225 men of which approximately just over half were African Americans. The enlistment of slaves had been controversial, and after June 1778, no more non-whites were enlisted.
~ August 1778: the regiment fought in the Battle of Rhode Island.

Like most of the Main Army, the regiment saw little action over the next few years, since the focus of the war had shifted to the south.
~ 1 January 1781: the regiment was consolidated with the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment and re-designated as the Rhode Island Regiment. It took part in the siege of Yorktown where the light company served with Lafayette. Greene and several of his black soldiers were killed in a skirmish with Loyalists earlier in the year, my records indicate that the regiment was then commanded by Lt. Col. Jeremiah Olney, and comprised 298 officers and men.
~ 1 March 1783: the regiment was re-designated as the Rhode Island Battalion, and was reorganized into six companies
~ 16 June 1783: reduced to two companies.
~ 25 December 1783: regiment disbanded at Saratoga, New York.

I think we probably should leave the final words to Rochambeau (the commander of the French troops under Washington):

"I had a chance to see the American army, man for man. It was really painful to see these brave men, almost naked with only some trousers and little linen jackets, most of them without stockings, but would you believe it? Very cheerful and healthy in appearance. A quarter of them were negroes, merry, confident, and sturdy. … Three quarters of the Rhode Island regiment consists of negroes, and that regiment is the most neatly dressed, the best under arms, and the most precise in its maneuvres (sic)."

Not a bad regiment to have in my American forces... even if they might perhaps have the wrong hat!


  1. Interesting information Steve. I didn't recognise the figures :-)
    Hope to see them in action soon. As they were a little different and light inf they often got the nasty jobs in my games. Didn't worry too much about the hat. I was at the stage that Minifigs were accurate enough for me and I wanted to get on with the battles.

  2. Steve,

    Thanks yet again for the 'history lesson'. I really appreciate your historical recaps of the units in your forces.

    -- Jeff

  3. Excellent! And a really informative post. Cheers, Steve.