British Army regiments of the War of 1812 period were distinguished by the varying colours of cloth applied to the collars and cuffs of their red coats, known as ‘facings.’ Their fifers and drummers, meanwhile, wore a traditional livery uniform known as ‘reversed colours,’ whereby their coats were (with some exceptions) made of the same colour cloth as the facings of their parent regiments. In addition, their coats were elaborately trimmed with woolen lace upon the buttonholes, sleeves and seams, according to regimental patterns.
The field musicians’ uniforms were purchased by the regimental Colonel-in-Chief, and therefore the design of their coats varied considerably between units according to the commander’s personal taste and available funds. For example, some wealthy, prestigious regiments purchased highly decorated coats with combinations of special musicians’ lace, whereas those of other regiments were comparatively plain. Orders issued in 1811 for fifers and drummers to adopt red coats and for regiments to curb excessive spending upon their uniforms were largely ignored, and the elaborate, facing-coloured coats were not fully abolished until the 1830s.
These eye-catching garments served a dual purpose. On parade, they served to attract attention and acted as an outward display of the regiment’s wealth and prestige. Conversely, in combat they aided command and control by making the field musicians – who relayed orders by musical signals – highly visible to their officers in the smoke and confusion of battle.
While the Drums do not depict a specific historical regiment, its coats are based upon numerous contemporary illustrations and surviving garments. ‘Bottle-Green’ was a popular facing colour during the War of 1812 period; the square-ended loops set in pairs, bearing a red stripe are also common features. The woolen fringes on the red shoulder wings identify the wearer as belonging to the regiment’s battalion (red and white), grenadier (white) or light infantry (green and white) companies respectively.