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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Canteens in the 2nd S.C. Regiment

There is absolutely no mention of canteens in any official S.C. records prior to the summer of 1778. Based on later documentation, however, it can be safely assumed that, in the early-war period, canteens were not generally issued to individual soldiers of the 1st and 2nd Regiments, but would have been issued to men with a specific need: guard duty, detachments, etc. This system was probably due to the largely garrison duty of the two regiments in 1775-1777, where water was readily available in and around the posts. By the beginning of 1779, however, as the Southern Army prepared for more vigorous field duty, canteens were probably issued to every soldier, if available.


The first direct mention of canteens comes from the participation of the 1st Regiment in the ill-conceived and disastrous invasion of East Florida by General Howe, then commanding the Southern Department. The men were simply not properly outfitted for a summer campaign. Col. C.C. Pinckney, commanding the 1st Regiment, wrote General Moultrie, describing the plight of his men, and urgently requesting canteens:

May 24-25 1778
Camp at Port Howe on the Altamaha
… I cannot help lamenting to you…that you have been much too parsimonious in your fitting us out for this expedition. What can be more cruel than … in this hot climate, to have one small canteen to six or eight men? We think no expense too great to procure men, but we do not think after we have got them, that we ought to go to the expense of preserving their health … I could wish, and the Gen. requested me to desire, you to send round in a boat…500 canteens…[1]

Moultrie subsequently sent 250 canteens from state stores, stating that that was all he could find. These had apparently not arrived by June 18, when Thomas Pinckney wrote home:

Camp at Red Gap 5 Miles from Great Sitilla [sic]
We have [had] tremendous hot Weather here in the Day but cool Nights, Marched 12 miles this morning without a Drop of Water, the Officers who had Canteens fared tolerably but the Soldiers, who had by the Oeconomy of our Style but one Canteen to Six Men, suffered considerably. Some gave out entirely…[2]

After this experience, canteens became a higher-priority item for the men. In December 1778, Benjamin Lincoln, newly appointed commander of the Southern Department, requested (and probably obtained) “5000 Canteens of Wood” for his army.[3] This number would have been sufficient to supply the entire Southern Army, regulars and militia, with wooden canteens.

In May 1779, while on the march, Lincoln issued the following order, indicating that most men had canteens:
…On the March, Officers will be constantly with their Platoons, & take particular care that the men do not leave the Ranks, but in cases of absolute Necessity; and to prevent its being done for Water they will cause the men to fill their Canteens in the Morning before they leave the Grounds…[4]

Though the large majority of canteens issued to the Southern Department troops were wooden, a significant quantity of tin canteens was commissioned by the South Carolina government, as noted in these entries in the S.C. Treasury Records:

Beard Robert for [Tin] Kettles & Canteens del:d Jn:s Creighton Q.M.G. June 28 1779…£792._._ [5]

Pincell & Comp:y for Camp-Kettles, Canteens & Cups, & Cannisters for Field pieces, delivered in April & May 1779 …  £1108.10._ [6]

Wooden canteens, however, were also being manufactured. Though most extant canteens of Continental Army provenance are unpainted, many wooden canteens of the period were painted to aid in prevention of leaking, as per this entry in the S.C. Treasury Records:

October 13 1779
Righton McCully & John for 808 Wooden Canteens … @ £5 each . . . £4040._._
      for painting them . . . £24.12.6 [7]

The ratio of tin-to-wood canteens is probably best summed up by an inventory of the State Arsenal in October 1779, which lists:

38        Tin Canteens
160      Wooden Canteens [8]

Canteens were such an essential item in the field that they continued to be issue to the men manning the lines during the siege of Charleston:

[Undated; approximately April-May 1780]
Accoutrements &ca. delivered to the Artillery Regiment [21 Men]
18 Canteens [9]


No canteens have been discovered with provenance to S.C. troops; therefore, generics of canteen design in the Revolutionary War must be discussed. The documentary evidence does suggest, however, that, in the Southern Department, roughly 80% of the canteens were wooden, with the remaining 20% made of tin.

Wooden canteens would have been of hoop-and-stave construction (see Figures 1-4) [10].

Most extant original canteens have wooden hoops, though some have iron bands instead (NOT tin bands as featured on canteens from most modern sutlers). “Cheese-box” style canteens were primarily native to New England, and are inappropriate for S.C. troops. Civilian-style canteens such as rumlets and swigglers (both small barrel-type canteens) were common amongst militia, but were not usually issued to regulars.[11]

The wooden canteens would have been painted, as documented above. The most likely color would have been Spanish Brown, a brownish-red iron oxide linseed-oil paint that was easily the cheapest and most common utilitarian paint in colonial America[12], and is documented to have been used by the S.C. Regiments.[13] The canteens would most likely have been branded or otherwise marked as regimental property; a painted regimental distinction (“2d Regt.”, etc) is possible but not documented. Canteens issued after 1778 were mostly likely purchased by the Continental Army, and most probably would have been stamped as such; most extant late-war Continental Army canteens are stamped “U.STATES.” Leather straps were most commonly used on wood canteens, but hemp webbing or linen is also documented, particularly by 1779 due to the rampant inflation in S.C. by that time.

As for tin canteens, lacking any specific documentation, these should be of the “kidney” or “half-moon” style, commonly documented in use during the Revolutionary War.[14]

Based on the above documentation, the modern 2nd Regiment should require all members to acquire a wood canteen, featuring:

  1)      typical design/dimensions of extant period hoop-and-stave canteens
  2)      wood (preferably) or iron (NOT tin) hoops
  3)      stamped either “2D REGT” (prior to 1779) or “U.STATES” (by 1779)
  4)      either left unpainted, or painted in period Spanish Brown paint (or appropriate modern equivalent)
  5)      leather strap, hemp webbing or sewn linen strap

Recommendations for Purchase

Most canteens currently made by well-known sutlers are either inappropriately made, poorly made, or both. Members wishing for the utmost authenticity should procure wood canteens from either Eric Swanson ( or Norm Fuss ( Those wishing for a more economic alternative should purchase the wood-banded canteen from G. Gedney Godwin; these will need to be modified by cutting down the spout to 1/2" in height, replacing the canvas strap for a leather or hemp strap, and procuring a less conspicuous plug; see Zack for assistance in these adjustments.

Recruits should use kidney-style tin canteens from the loaner locker; this will adequately represent the low proportion of this item in the line.

Eric Swanson reproduction canteen

Further Examples of Canteens

Online Survey of American Wood-Staved Canteens with Provenance to the RevolutionaryWar

[1]Moultrie, Memoirs of the American Revolution so Far as It Related to the States of North and South Carolina, and Georgia, vol. 2, 213.
[2].  Cross, “Letters of Thomas Pinckney, 1775-1780,” 155.
[3]Lincoln et al., Benjamin Lincoln Papers in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Reel 2, Dec. 22, 1779.
[4]. Salley, “Order Book of John Faucheraud Grimke, August 1778 to May 1780,” vol. 15, no. 4 (October 1914), 166.
[5]. Auditor General Accounts, 118.
[6]. Ibid., 130.
[7]. Ibid., 141.
[8]. Lincoln et al., Benjamin Lincoln Papers in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Reel 4, #763, Nov. 20, 1779.
[9]. Grimke Family, Grimke Family Papers, 1761-1866, “Accoutrements &ca. delivered to the Artillery Regiment,” (?; probably April-May 1780).
[10]. American Wooden Canteen Carried by Asahl Parmele, C.T., in the Revolutionary War, Military and Historical Image Bank, RWq32d_wooden_canteen_copy.jpg.html, accessed Sept. 15, 2010; Canteen (Carried in the Revolutionary War by William Joyner,  N.C.), The North Carolina Museum of History, IDCFile=/moh/DETAILS.IDC,SPECIFIC=155301,DATABASE=38908034, accessed Sept. 15, 2010; Revolutionary War Wooden Drum Canteen, ca. 1775, Live Auctioneers, 6135802, accessed Sept. 15, 2010; Wooden Canteen dated 1776, Military and Historical Image Bank,, accessed Sept. 15, 2010.
[11]. Michael J. O'Donnell, U.S. Army and Militia Canteens 1775-1910 (Alexandria, VA: O'Donnell Publications, 2008), 18, 21, 30-32, 36.
[12]. Robert Foley, Paint in 18th-Century Newport (Newport, RI: Newport Restoration Foundation, 2009), (accessed September 15, 2010).
[13]Lincoln et al., Benjamin Lincoln Papers in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Reel 4, #763, Nov. 30, 1779.
[14]. Neumann, Kravic, and Woodbridge, Collector's Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, 59; O'Donnell, U.S. Army and Militia Canteens 1775-1910, 23, 28.