Friday, November 20, 2015

Analyzing Benjamin West's painting Sir William Johnson Saving a French Officer

The French & Indian War was a significant event in pre-Revolutionary America, and some of its events were chronicled by Benjamin West.  West painted one painting entitled “General Johnson saving a wounded French officer from the tomahawk of a North American Indian.”  The General Johnson in question is Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs.  Johnson was a good friend of the Iroquois and recruited them to help the British during the French & Indian War.

The title of the painting gives little detail as to when this event happened but with the aid of history, we can put it in its proper setting.  Johnson only fought in two battles: Lake George (1755) and the Siege of Fort Niagara (1759).  But which battle does it depict?

Marechal-de-camp, licensed under GNU License
The painting is traditionally set during the Battle of Lake George, with the French officer being identified as the defeated French commander Baron Dieskau (1), who was wounded, captured, and nearly killed by the Mohawks, a part of the Iroquois Confederacy(2).  But there are several clues within the painting that disprove this theory.

First is the uniform of the French officer.  Baron Dieskau was a marechal-de-camp (3), and their uniform was decreed by Louis XV in 1755.  The picture shows how a marechal-de-camp’s uniform would appear (4).  This is clearly nothing like the uniform portrayed in West’s painting, which is white with green cuffs and lapels.  The uniform does match the French regiment Volontaires-Etrangers, and a detachment of them were sent to reinforce the Canadian Compagnies Franches de la Marine.

Volontaires-Etrangers, licensed under GNU License

Just to the right of Johnson’s arm are two soldiers in red coats.  One has blue cuffs and lapels and the other has yellowish cuffs and lapels.  The red color usually denotes regular (professional) British infantry, as most provincials (troops raised in the 13 colonies) wore blue or green.  But no provincial regiment wore red coats with blue cuffs (5), (6).  Therefore these two are British soldiers.  The soldier with blue cuffs belongs to the 60th Royal American Regiment which fought at Fort Niagara.  The other soldier wearing yellow cuffs is from either the 44th or 46th Regiments which also fought under Johnson’s command at Fort Niagara.  Unfortunately, there are no visible characteristics to pin which of these two regiments he belongs to, as he has stripped the lace off his coat and waistcoat. These two wear the “jockey caps” that were popular for light infantrymen.  They are marked with a “G R” which stands for “Georgius Rex”—Latin for “King George.”

While on the subject of British uniforms, it might be observed that Sir William Johnson is wearing a general's “undress” coat.  These were popular because of their plainness—there was no gold lace to mark one out as a general, or to be ruined by camping in the woods. (7)

But the final clue that this painting is set during the Siege of Fort Niagara is that a fort is depicted in the background of the painting (behind the soldier of the 60th Royal Americans).  There was no fort during the Battle of Lake George (8), so this painting must be set during the Siege of Fort Niagara.


(1) This is the prominent identification of the painting on Wikipedia, despite a note that details more closely correspond with Fort Niagara:

(2) pg. 31, Fort William-Henry 1755-57 by Ian Castle (Oxford: Osprey, 2013)

(3) pg. 10, Fort William-Henry 1755-57 by Ian Castle (Oxford: Osprey, 2013)


(5) At, uniform information for the provincial troops of all 13 colonies can be found.  None have red coats with blue cuffs for a uniform.

(6) There was one exception to this rule.  Some deserters from the Virginia Regiment in 1754 were recorded as wearing red coats with blue cuffs; however, others wore red coats with red cuffs and others, civilian clothing.  Besides, the Virginia provincials did not take part in the battle of Lake George.  Information from

(7) pgs. 42-43, Cumberland's Culloden Army 1745-46 by Stuart Reid (Oxford: Osprey, 2012)

(8) A good map of the battlefield is available on page 29 of Fort William-Henry 1755-57 by Ian Castle (Oxford: Osprey, 2013)

Friday, November 13, 2015

American Revolution--2nd Pennsylvania Regimental Flag

I recently featured the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment on my blog (to see it, go to  This unit is one of the few Continental units where the regimental flag is known and linked to that unit.  How?  

Colonel Stewart's portrait
Detail from the portrait
In the background details of Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of Colonel Walter Stewart of the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment, the regimental camp can be seen. (1)  Flying in front of a large tent (possibly the colonel’s) is a large flag.  Due to its size and placement in camp, it is the regimental flag rather than a camp flag.  Camp flags “marked the area when in camp.  They were 18in (45cm) square, with poles either 7ft (2.1m) or 9 ft (2.7m) high.” (2)

In this close-up from the recreated 2nd Pennsylvania’s website (3), the flag can be seen with a white ground, a yellowish snake, and a blue scroll below the snake.  This is my recreation of the 2nd Pennsylvania’s flag.  Unfortunately, the picture is much too small to make out any lettering in the blue scroll.  I put “Do Not Tread on Me” because that was a common motto on American flags.  However, the scroll could also contain the unit’s name: “2nd Pennsylvania Regiment.”

If you would like to use this flag for your wargame armies, that is great, but please make sure to credit Defending the Legacy (a link back to this post would be appreciated!)

(2)  pg. 146, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Uniforms from 1775-1783 The American Revolutionary War by Digby Smith and Kevin F. Kiley (Lorenz: London, 2010)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Review of When London Burned by G. A. Henty

I have often featured work by the author G. A. Henty on my blog ( but this is the first time I have reviewed one of his books.  This is in spite of the fact that I have read about 40 Henty novels over 5 years.  Today’s review will cover When London Burned: A Story of Restoration Times and the Great Fire.

 The historical setting is during the reign of King Charles II of England from 1661-1668.  The English Civil Wars have concluded and the King enjoys his own, but feeling still runs strongly in the country.  The Cavaliers (supporters of the King) and the Roundheads (supporters of Parliament) are not fighting with swords, but continue to regard each other with suspicion.  In foreign affairs, France and England are friends, but Holland is ready to make with England over trade and colonies.

The story begins by introducing us to Sir Aubrey Shenstone, a nobleman turned out of his estate after supporting King Charles I during the English Civil War (1642-1651).  He is forced to flee to France with his only son named Cyril, for his wife had died.  When Charles II returned to the throne, Sir Aubrey sailed to England to recover his estate—vainly, as it turned out.  In London father and son reunited, but not for long for Sir Aubrey died.  He had neither a penny to his name, nor any friends to help Cyril through the world

But Cyril had learned the trade of a clerk in France and had supported himself and his father while in London.  Now after much reflection, he decides to keep working as a clerk with the hope to buy back his rightful estate.  He worked for many men in London and one of them recommends him to a merchant named Captain Dave.  Captain Dave used to be a sailor but now sells merchandise for ships: rope, copper bolts, compasses, anchors.  Cyril is hired to help him keep the accounts and quickly discovers that someone has been stealing Captain Dave’s goods.  After some careful investigation, Captain Dave’s two apprentices are discovered to have been the thieves.  They and their accomplices are arrested and brought to trial.

This success in defending Captain Dave’s property has earned Cyril the hatred of the criminals, who go by the name of the “Black Gang.”  Cyril is kidnapped and sent to Holland, where he books passage on a ship back to England.  There the members of the “Black Gang” are tried and found guilty.  But two escape from the prison: Robert Ashford the apprentice and “Black” Dick.  But Cyril has other matters to worry him more than the escape of two prisoners.  Captain Dave’s daughter Nellie has been swept off her feet by a young gallant of Charles II’s Court, and is prepared to elope with him.  But he is not a nobleman but instead a fortune hunter named John Harvey.  To thwart him, Cyril enlists the help of John Wilkes, an old and trusty employee of Captain Dave’s.  Together, they fight and defeat Harvey and two of his cohorts as they attempt to carry Nellie off.  This narrow escape has its effect on Nellie, and she becomes more kindly and less vain. 

Shortly after this, Cyril and Wilkes fight a fire.  Together they rescue four women from a burning house and meet the Cavalier, Prince Rupert.  The Prince appoints Cyril as a volunteer aboard his own ship, the Henrietta, which is preparing to fight the Dutch fleet.  The English ships sail and engage the Dutch in what would become known as the Battle of Lowestoft.  During the battle, a Dutch fire ship (a ship lit on fire and then sent into an enemy ship) is bearing down on the Henrietta.  Cyril manages to steer it away from impacting his ship.  This action saved his life, for “Black” Dick was aboard the Henrietta and had determined to kill Cyril until he saw his sacrifice to save their ship.

Returning to England, Cyril helps battle the Plague of London in company with Dr. Hodges.  During this time, Cyril meets several Independents, so called because they were independent of the Church of England.  Among these are a Mr. and Mrs. Harvey.  They are nearly robbed by their son John, but Cyril manages to thwart him.  Mr. Harvey quickly writes out his will to prevent his son from inheriting any money.  But John Harvey is determined to strike back and since he has the Plague, infects Cyril before dying of it.  Cyril and John Wilkes the seaman fight the Plague with sweating, tobacco, and fresh air.  After this exhausting regimen of treatments, the plague spots abate and disappear completely.  Captain Dave and his family return from the country back to London in November.  On Christmas Eve, a lawyer arrives informing Cyril that he has received an inheritance of a house and land.  It comes from Mr. Harvey, who wishes to do justice by restoring it to the son of the former owner.

But war flares up again between the English and Dutch, and the English fleet is ordered to put to sea.  It clashes with the Dutch fleet for the four-day long Battle of Dunkirk.  Cyril is appointed to a small yacht and manages to reroute a few Dutch fireships during the battle.  Both sides refit their ships and clash in another battle.  After his service, Cyril returns to London only to find that the Great Fire of 1666 has broken out.  Cyril, John Wilkes and Captain Dave’s family work frantically to save a few of their goods from the fire by boarding a ship.  But the Dutch are far from beaten and proceed to land on the coast of England and capture Sheerness.  Again the English fleet meets them in battle.  Shortly after, the peace treaty between the two countries is signed.

This is one of Mr. Henty’s finest books.  Cyril’s hard work and his willingness to sacrifice for others give excellent lessons to the reader.  Wise quotes and maxims are sprinkled throughout the book as well.  It can be read for free at: