J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sashes in Washington’s Early Military Career

I decided to use the Founders Online to further explore a topic I addressed earlier in the month: George Washington’s military sashes. In the mid-eighteenth century, a long sash was viewed as part of the necessary insignia of a genteel army officer.

When Washington threw himself into a military career in his early twenties, he ordered a “Rich Crimson ingr[ained] silk Sash,” as specified on this 23 Oct 1754 invoice.

The next year, as a volunteer aide de camp, Washington accompanied Gen. Edward Braddock’s expedition into the Pennsylvania wilderness—an expedition that reportedly ended with the commander being carried away, mortally wounded, in his sash. After his performance under fire, Washington was commissioned colonel of the Virginia troops.

Washington’s regard for the details of an officer’s uniform comes through clearly in his regimental orders for 6 July 1756, when he was commanding those provincial troops at Fort Cumberland:

Colonel Washington expressly orders, that no Officer do provide himself with any other kind of Clothes than those ordered the 17th of September last: as they will not be allowed to appear in them. Every Officer who has not complied with that order, to do it immediately—and they are all to procure Sashes, if to be had—They may be supplied with Hats, and waistcoat-lace, at Mr [Robert] Peters’s, Rock-Creek—and sword-knots…
Those orders treated sashes as not required but nonetheless very desirable. The young colonel was no doubt gratified that his attention to such details had earned the respect of regular British officers, as his friend George Mercer wrote him on 17 Aug 1757:
…we have been told here by the Officers that nothing ever gave them such Surprize as our Appearance at entering Hampton, for expecting to see a Parcel of ragged disorderly Fellows headed by Officers of their own Stamp (like the rest of the Provincials they had seen) behold they saw Men properly disposed who made a good & Soldier like Appearance and performed in every Particular as well as coud be expected from any Troops with Officers whom they found to be Gent. to see a Sash & Gorget with a genteel Uniform, a Sword properly hung, a Hat cocked, Persons capable of holding Conversation where only common Sense was requisite to continue the Discourse, and a White Shirt, with any other than a black Leather Stock, were Matters of great Surprize and Admiration & which engaged Them all to give Us a polite Invitation to spend the Evening, & after to agree to keep Us Company which they had determined before not to do—agreeable to what they had practised with the other Provincial Troops. We have lost that common Appellation of Provincials, & are known here by the Style & Title of the Detachment of the Virga Regiment.
Fifteen years later and happily retired from the field, Washington had Charles Willson Peale paint him with a military sash over his shoulder in 1772, as shown above.

COMING UP: Ordering sashes for another war.


John L Smith Jr said...

Just curious - in the 1772 Charles Willson Peale painting of Washington: what's the name of the booklet (pamphlet) sticking up out of Washington's vest pocket? Does anyone know? I take that its important enough to GW on purposely showing it, but can't quite make out the name of it? At first I thought "Rules of Civility", but it looks like something close to "Pride of March"?

J. L. Bell said...

According to this site, that paper is marked “Order of March.” It’s a symbol of Col. Washington’s participation in a military campaign.

One question about this red-cheeked portrait is whether it shows Washington in 1772, when he was forty, or whether he asked Peale to depict him as a young Virginia officer more than a decade before.