On quiet soles

Wrasp, wrasp, wrasp the sound of nailed boots on clay and cobblestone is a common sound for many reenactors of the 18.th Century. But are hobnailed boots verifiable for the Prussian army of the Seven Years War?

In the collection of the DHM (German Historical Museum) Berlin a pair of enlisted man’s shoes from 1786 have survived to this day. Although they are over twenty years later than the Seven Years War they are nevertheless important, since their form did not change during the longer era. The shoes are welt-sewn zweiballig[1] buckle shoes with a heel and the distinctive stump tip. Upper leather and sole consist of pit tanned cowhide while the heel is constructed from multiple patches fixed with wooden pins.[2]

Nails or holes created by them cannot be observed in the sole. Since the Berlin pair is the only known contemporary example we have today this alone would be enough evidence not to wear any hobnails in your boots. Nevertheless we are often faced with the objection that the Berlin pair was made for the Depot and would have been fitted with nails after been distributed to the troop. And it is in fact possible that crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm III who compiled the collection during the process of an ongoing uniform reform in 1786 to preserve the army of his granduncle Friedrich II collected items from the Magazines of the Regiments.[3] So we will extend our search a bit.

Since a few years Archaeologists from the University of Poznań (Poland) are examining the Battlefield of Kunersdorf (1759). During this work an area of roughly 1 x 1km was prospected in depth. It is part of the Mühlberg a height where the Russian army erected an extensive Fieldwork including an artificial bank crowned with felled trees and bushes to serve as an approach obstacle (Abatis).[4] During the battle roughly 5.000 Prussian soldiers attacked this position. Thanks to a lot of finds from Uniform buttons, grapeshot and even whole hole cartridges dropped during the hasty approach[5] the process of events on this area could be reconstructed quit detailed. Initially the approaching Prussians got under artillery fire, when they reached the abatis a short exchange of fire with small arms followed. After this the Russians retreated up hill and the Prussians removed the Abati to follow them.[6]

So we can summarize that a big number of Soldiers crossed a rather small area under fire and even conducted heavy work by removing the abatis. Nevertheless not a single Hobnail was found in this area. If we compare this archaeological picture with that of army’s which undoubtedly wore nailed boots like the roman legions in the time of the early emperors which left thousands of nails on the roads and in camp[7] it’s very likely that the Prussians didn’t use hobnails.

But what about the written sources? In a list of the spare material which the Prussian infantry Regiment Number seven took with him into the field dating from the 12.8.1756 we find per company: 150 pair of boots, Shirts, under Shirts, barrels, bayonets, Musket shafts… but no Hobnails.[8] Instead they took with them “für die ganze Compagnie geschnittene Sohlen” (for the whole company ready cut soles) additionally to the complete set of shoes.[9]

 Another important source is Schmettau who, in his work regarding the company economy, mentions following. „Acht Groschen monathlich auf den Mann betragen jährlich vier Reichsthaler, für welche der Dinestthuende das Jahr über erhält: 2 Paar Schue, das Paar zu 1 rthl. 2gl. Beträgt / 2 Paar Sohlen das Paar 6gl / 2 Unterhemden das Stück 12gl.“[10] (Eight Groschen per month for each man add up to four Reichstahler per year, for which the serving man receives every year two pair of shoes, the pair for 1 rthl. 2gl. / 2 pair of soles the pair for 6gl / 2 under shirts 12gl the piece.). Following this source the soldier received no hobnails but two pair of good shoes and spare soles per year for which the shoes maker was accountable.[11] During peace time soldiers often needed only one pair of shoes per year. To regard this economical behavior and encourage the good preservation of the uniform parts in general soldiers who needed less pieces of uniform than they could have had per year were paid the price of the pieces in cash as a reward.[12]

Summing up the contemporary written sources, preserved originals and archaeological finds all indicate the Prussians walked on Quiet soles into the horror of the battles of the Seven Years War. The wear off of the shoes during the long marches was countered with additional soles and spare boots.

With this in mind go out and buy good replicas without Hobnails. It is authentic and will prevent a lot of freezing in the winter and lakes in the shoes during marches. In addition the historic floor in Museums and historic sites will be very pleased with smooth leather soles.

[1] Both shoes (left and right) were crafted on the same strip. This meant there was no designated left or right shoe. To keep them in good shape and prevent one sided wearing off the shoes should switch the foot every day. (Cf. Schmettau)

[2] Daniel Hohrath: Friedrich der Große und die Uniformierung der preußischen Armee von 1740 bis 1786. Verlag Militaria, Wien 2011, P. 96. 

[3] Hohrath: 2011, P. 46.

[4] Grzegor Prodruczny / Jakub Wrzosek: Lost elements. Earthworks of the fortified camp of the Russian Army from the time oft he battle of Kunersdorf in the light oft he recent research. 2013, P. 74.

[5] Prodruczny: 2013, P. 77.

[6] Prodruczny: 2013, P. 77.

[7] Thomas Fischer: Die Armee der Caesaren Archäologie und Geschichte. Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 2012, P. 137.

[8] C. Kling: Die Infanterie Regimenter im Jahre 1806. Putze und Hölzer, Weimar 1902, P. 54.

[9] Kling: 1902, P.54.

[10] Schmettau: Einrichtung des Kriegs-Wesens für die Preußische Infanterie zu Friedens-Zeiten 1773. (Bearbeitung: Martin Winter) Duncker und Humboldt, Berlin 2016, P. 195.

[11] Schmettau: 1773, P. 197.

[12] Schmettau: 1773, P. 198.

Colored Shafts and Poles of Muskets, Regimental Colors and Polearms in the Ancien Régime Prussian Army and their Accurate Representation in Living History

At first glance, the uniforms of the Frederician era are one thing: They are utterly colorful. Too colorful for many reenactors, it seems, who, instead, prefer to re-enact less „gaudy“ (and more modern) eras.

So while it seems that German reenactors of the 18th century are a color-loving bunch of folks, this attitude changes completely when it comes to the shafts of soldiers‘ muskets. And, on a less obvious note, also comes to include the poles of regimental colors and polearms. While reenactors prefer to leave those in naturally wood-colored fashions, this does not represent historical facts. For, in fact, the wooden parts of arms where also gaily colored, just like the rest.

Two years ago, after a long time of research, some of No. 12’s members announced that they were going to paint our musket shafts. In bright red. Just as the real shafts of our regiment and era had been. No big deal, you think? On the contrary! Other reenactors‘ reactions were mostly like: „But it will look different! It will look like crap! Muskets were always brown! This is not military!“

This article here is meant to shed some light on the lively discussion we had just started! And now here’s some historcal research on the topic of the colors of the wooden shafts and poles used in muskets, regimental colours and polearms in the Ancien Régime Prussian army.

The first time we found some information on the red colored shafts of our regiment was in Hans Bleckwenns „Die Uniformen der Preußischen Infanterie“ (1973). With this in mind, we decided to take a closer look at the „Darmstädter Grenandierbilder“[1]. Those portray our regiment before and after 1752. It was clearly visible that the musket drawn here was painted in the same hue as the red musket strap – and, thus, differed clearly from the brown sheath of the sabre!

A mistake? A coincidence? Did the painter just run out of brown color and decided to paint the musket, instead, in just any random colour he had left? We don’t think so. The painter, after all, spent a lot of attention to detail and portraying all the rest of the uniform as closely to reality as he could!

Grenadier of Regiment Erbprinz von Hessen Darmstadt (Nr.12) provided for the second rank as depicted in the „Darmstädter Grenandierbilder“. Note the red color of the Musket compared to the brown scabbard. (Source: Darmstädter Grenandierbilder)

Last assurance we found in the daily orders of our Regiment from the 15th of June 1750:

„The Captains shall remind the fellows not to paint their muskets with the yellow vanish but with the red one as ordered by His Highness from the pharmacist Eggert. Also they should always smear their cartridge boxes with vanish, thus in future no one will be tolerate at the parade ho hasn’t painted his musket with vanish and the cartridge box with other vanish, the old paint shouldn’t be scrapped and only painted over. “[2]

Thus the red painting of the musket shafts is proved with certainty. The parolebuch even mentions the details about the color used to paint the musket red. They used oil paint which allows the texture of the wood to shine through. Also, it doesn’t cover it like modern paint.

An M 1740 Potsdam replica painted with the reconstructed red oil paint (middel) compared with a standard Indian made M1740 replica coated with brown paint. (Source: bq photography)

Based on this knowledge we painted our muskets red. The results were very good in our own eyes since the red is a good contrast to the silver of the steel and the gold from the brass parts of the muskets. Besides this the drill looks somewhat more artificial and of course it’s authentic. But which colors had the musket shafts and Standards of other regiments in the Prussian army? Besides some examples nothing is published or researched about this topic. Although it would be an interesting work.

Remains of white color on the shaft of a prussian fusilier Kurzgewehr dated 1775 in  Wehrhistorischen Museum Rastatt. (Source: own picture)

Nevertheless we will take a look with the help of two similar examples. Using the identifiable units in the Grenandierbilder we can find three musket colors. Black and brown muskets both make 41% (nine regiments each) red its third color it can be found in the pictures of four Regiments 18%. Sadly the pictures don’t show every regiment.

Color of Musket shafts in the prussian Infantry according to the Grenandierbilder (Source: own research)

What we have for every regiment are the colors of the standards. Based on Bleckwenns „Die Uniformen der Preußischen Infanterie“ we can distinguish four colors. Light or dark brown are only found in 16,3% of the regiments The biggest part of the standards were painted black (41,82%) or white (32,55%) yellow (7,27%) and red are the minorities.

Colors of prussian Standard shafts according to Bleckwenn. (Source: own research)

Of course the colors of the standards doesn’t necessarily have to be the colorsof the muskets but it shows it’s a complex and interesting field of research. Moreover it shows that before the blackening of the shafts in the late 18th century brown by far wasn’t the only color of muskets.

In the hobby however we find mainly brown shafts. The reason could be that we as people of the 21st. century prefere the pure nature color of the brown muskets. But the people in the eighteenth century had a very different sense of aesthetics, and therefore research is necessary!

Have the courage to be authentic, don’t accept the not meaning or assumption of others as true if you can do research on contemporary sources.

[1] A collection of Contemporary scatches painted by Ludwig of Hessen Darmstadt

[2] Parole Buch of Regiment Erbprinz von Hessen Darmstadt 1750, 15.06