The Story behind the nickname of Redleg

Wearing the Scarlet Stripe 

Wherever Artillerymen gather, they will sooner or later be addressed by the sobriquet "Redleg." The question often arises as to the origin of the term. In spite of many fanciful stories, the truth may be found firmly planted in Army regulations. The uniform is a vehicle through which the soldier is separated from the common man and bound to his fellow soldiers. Early uniforms served to distinguish soldiers from civilians and as a means of identifying troops from one's own unit or army. Early use of color in uniforms was based on territorial allegiance, loyalty to one's superiors or simply availability. By the early 19th Century, each branch of the United States Army was assigned a branch or "facing" color; for the Artillery, this color was scarlet. By 1834, the new issue of uniforms provided for col­lars and cuffs of the jacket to be trimmed in red piping surrounding two tabs of yellow lace. Officers' and Non­commissioned officers' buttons were in double rows, while enlisted men wore coats with a single row of buttons. As a further distinction, officers and NCOs wore a stripe down the outer seam of their trousers in the branch color.

During the early 19th Century, the organization of the Army specified that one company of each of the four Artillery Regiments be designated, equipped and trained as light artillery. The remaining companies in these Regiments were to continue to serve as coast defense artillery. These companies were Company K, 1st Artillery; Company A, 2nd Artillery; Company C, 3rd Artillery and Company D, 4th Artillery. These and later light artillery companies serving in the Mexican War (1846-47) were issued uniforms different from any other corps with a 3/4-inch stripe down the outseam of the trouser for privates and two such stripes for ser­geants. In foot artillery, whose cannoneers walked alongside the heavy artillery, only sergeants wore the scarlet stripe.

Later regulations specified that regimental officers were to have a 1/8-inch welt let into the outer seam of the trousers, and enlisted men received a 1/8-inch cord, both were scarlet. A major change in 1861 gave officers a 1 /8-inch welt on dark blue trousers, and enlisted men in the light artillery wore light blue trousers with sergeants receiving a 1 1/2-inch stripe and corporals a 1/2-inch stripe in the branch color. This system continued until 1872, when a change in regulations prescribed a 1 1/2-inch stripe for officers, a 1-inch stripe for sergeants and a 1/2-inch stripe for corporals in the branch or facing color. In 1887, musicians in the respective branches had a pair of 1/2-inch stripes added to their uniform trousers. The system of trouser stripes in the branch color on the field uniform lasted until 1902 when the development of modern, high-velocity, small arms made such a highly visible uniform a liability.

A more somber style of civilian clothing and the emulation of European uniform styles led to the adoption of the first "olive drab" uniforms. Branch-colored trouser stripes continued to be worn on the dress and full-dress uniforms, but the khaki-colored field uniform was, by regulation "without stripe, welt or cord" for all ranks. The 1902-pattern uniform continued to be worn until the outbreak of World War I when the contingencies of war caused the uniform to lose the last vestiges of its original brilliance. This somber change was to last until 1924 and the publication of AR 600-35, which once again authorized branch-colored stripes on the dress and full­dress uniforms for officers. One blue uniform was authorized for enlisted men with noncommissioned officers and musicians allowed a "stripe of the color of the arm of service." In the 1940s, as in World War I, once again the uniform lost most of its color due to wartime emergency. The new regulation, AR 600-200, provided the Army with a dress uniform, unfortunately for Artillerymen, with the yellow stripe for all ranks. Today little remains of the brightly colored uniforms of Buena Vista, Bull Run, the Little Big Horn or San Juan Hill; except for formal attire, the black stripe on officers' green uniform trousers and the term "Redleg."