A piece from General A.C. Mercer, the Mercer of Waterloo fame, from his unpublished notes on the dress of the R.A.
The most ungraceful head-dress that could well be devised, I think, was the fatigue-cap worn by the Foot Artillery when first I entered the regiment, and only required the combination with the loose canvas frock and waistcoat to make it hideously unmilitary. It was of black leather, with a brass ornament in front (G.R. and crown, etc), the leather not stiff, full of cracks, and looking rusty, for they were never cleaned or expected to be. The Horse Artillery and drivers had a similar mitre-shaped cap, but better, inasmuch as, being made of thick stiff leather, it was kept polished, and looked smart. This was used for undress parades, watering order, etc. But for common stable parades, fatigues etc, the Horse Artillery had a blue cloth cap edged with red, and tied behind with red ferreting. This was also worn at night by stable sentries and others.
The captains of troops must have been greater men, and enjoyed much more latitude formerly, than in the present day. Many circumstances which I call to m ind make me think this, but among other, the circumstance that Duncan, in 1804, took it into his head to give his troop a new and frenchified forage-cap, such an one as until then was only known to us through the medium of costumes, etc, although familiar to him, a service officer. Numerous were the fancies he and I tried, some in sketches, some he actually had made up, until at last we pitched upon the annexed zs the most elegant; and the tailors were forthwith set to work making them up.
In a short time they were finished, Duncan delighted; inspected the watering order parade himself, and contemplated the beautiful effect of his frenchified troop with rapture. It was marched off, and again he took his stand at the end of the lane by which (en route for the Phoenix Park) they must gain the street of Island Bridge. The last of them had scarcely passed the bridge when, issueing from the barracks appeared the drivers, also in watering order. But, oh horror! Carefully as the intended change had been concealed, and carefully as had the intended pattern been guarded, old Colonel Schalch had managed to ferret it out, and there went the Wee Gees bridling in their finery, to the disgust of Duncan, whose rage I shall long remember. These caps, or something similar, were afterwards adopted generally, and here let me confess my uncertainty whether the 16th Light Dragoons, or the 12th or both, had not these caps before us."
Interesting that they usually used two caps for various orders of dress. Also of note, the fact that a troop captain could and did, institute his own pattern of forage cap. There are illustrations by the general. The first leather cap is similar to a wedge cap worn sideways with a low mitre front. The cloth effort is a ghastly concoction not corresponding to any of the three usual designs in any way. The innovation of Duncan is similar to the French bonnet de police, or wee willy winky cap, but actually nicer. Its quite fine.
On the Imperial service