REGIMENT. The British regiment, after which the regiments of the Continental army were modeled, was both an administrative organization and the principal tactical formation of the period. For almost all purposes, the terms "regiment" and "battalion" were synonymous, since most regiments had only one active-service battalion. The nominal head of a British regiment was its colonel, but the unit was normally led in battle by its second-ranking officer, the lieutenant colonel. The normal British regiment was composed of ten companies, eight of which were called "battalion," "line," or "hat" companies, after their tricorne hats. Two companies were called "flank" companies because, when the battalion was arrayed in line of battle, the grenadiers formed on the right of the battalion and the light infantry on the left.
British regiments were generally known by the names of their colonels until 1752, when they were numbered in order of seniority by the date when they were first created. Many regiments had additional titles, most of which were honorifics granted by the king for some sort of outstanding service. Thus, the Fourth Regiment was the "King's Own" and the Eighth the "King's." Other titles combined a geographic location with royal favor: the Forty-second Regiment was the Royal Highland Regiment and the Sixtieth was the Royal American Regiment. Still others combined location, favor, and a reference to a former function: the Twenty-first Regiment was the Royal North British Fusiliers, and the Twenty-third was the Royal Welch Fusiliers, a fusil being a short flintlock firearm originally carried by regiments detailed to guard the artillery train, where the burning embers of the matchlocks carried by the other regiments might ignite open casks of gunpowder. Finally, several regiments newly raised in the Scottish Highlands combined the names of their colonels or the location of their muster with the term "Highlanders." For example, the British regiment that fought in more battles in the American war than any other was the Seventy-first Regiment, Fraser Highlanders.
Americans generally followed the British military models they had used effectively throughout the colonial wars, now with the additional desire of giving their armed forces credibility and respectability. At the start of the war, each colony raised its own regiments, generally with eight companies per regiment, but with regimental strengths that varied across the colonies because companies' strengths were different. Regiments from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, for example, were supposed to number 590 enlisted men at one time, while those from Connecticut varied from 1,000 to 600. In November 1775, Congress attempted to create a true "Continental army" for 1776 by merging the individual contingents of the four New England colonies, plus one Pennsylvania rifle regiment (essentially Washington's main army around Boston), into one numerical sequence of twenty-seven regiments. It prescribed that each regiment should have eight companies whose strength was set at 91 officers and men each, or a total of 728 men in a regiment. In the army of eighty-eight regiments raised for three years of service from 1 January 1777, most infantry regiments reverted to state designations. Those that did not initially carry a state number, like the sixteen Additional Continental Regiments, were raised by the states as part of their quotas, and those that became viable units eventually received state numbers. Congress continued the eight-company structure for the 1777 regiments and added a ninth company (light infantry) in 1779. In the American army, the colonel would be expected to lead the regiment himself. In 1781 Congress abolished the rank of colonel and created in its place the rank of lieutenant colonel commandant for regimental commanders. Since prisoners were exchanged on the basis of actual rank, the Continental army needed more lieutenant colonels to swap for British regimental commanders.
The prescribed table of organization, called the "establishment," was in most cases no more than a pious hope. American regiments almost never operated in the field with the numbers required by the table. British regiments, too, were almost always understrength, although to a lesser extent because their recruiting system was better. For example, the average strength of the regiments under Washington at the Battle of Long Island on 27 August 1776 was about 350 officers, noncommissioned officers, and privates fit for duty. As the 1777 three-years army gave way to the 1780 reorganization, the tables of organization were revised to fit reality. Inspector General Friedrich Steuben reported that a minimum of 324 men in 9 companies (36 men per company) was required in each regiment for service in the field.
Because American militia units were organized on a geographical basis, militia regiments followed no standard table of organization and could vary wildly in size, especially when every able-bodied man turned out to resist a British incursion. At Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775, for example, the mix of militia and minuteman regiments averaged 292 men per regiment.
Darling, Anthony D. Red Coat and Brown Bess. Ottawa: Museum Restoration Service, 1970.
Houlding, J. A. Fit for Service: The Training of the British Army, 1715–1795. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.
Katcher, Philip R. N. Encyclopedia of British, Provincial, and German Army Units, 1775–1783. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1973.
Wright, Robert K., Jr. The Continental Army. Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History, 1983.
revised by Harold E. Selesky
reg·i·ment • n. / ˈrejəmənt/ 1. a permanent unit of an army typically commanded by a colonel and divided into several companies, squadrons, or batteries and often into two battalions: two or three miles inland a highly experienced artillery regiment had established a defensive position. ∎ an operational unit of artillery. ∎ a large array or number of people or things: a neat regiment of jars and bottles.2. archaic rule or government over a person, people, or country: the powers of ecclesiastical regiment which none but the Church should wield.• v. / ˈrejəˌment/ [tr.] (usu. be regimented) 1. organize according to a strict, sometimes oppressive system or pattern: every aspect of their life is strictly regimented | [as adj.] (regimented) the regimented environment of the ward. 2. rare form (troops) into a regiment or regiments.DERIVATIVES: reg·i·men·ta·tion / ˌrejəmənˈtāshən; -ˌmen-/ n.