MODEL 1812 UNITED STATES LIGHT DRAGOON CAP
In anticipation of renewed hostilities with Great Britain, the 2nd Regiment of Light Dragoons was authorized in the United States Army on January 11,1812. The Model 1808 dragoon cap with its 'USLD' lettering was continued as the pattern headgear and by July 8, 1812 Colonel James Burn was able to inform the Secretary of War that the "caps that are making for the 2d Regt of the U S Light Dragoons are nearly finished." Burns went on to request permission to use white metal letters and mountings on the caps of his regiment, "being uniform with the plate and Buckles of the sabre Belts"—noting that they "can be had in Philada. at the same price as brass." Permission was granted, but it appears that Burn used this authorization to acquire trimmings of an entire new form, as an October 16 contract for additional caps called for ones "with plates in front per pattern" and the cap pattern appears to have been modified at the same time.
By March 1813 there were 1238 "new Pattern" caps on hand, as opposed to 37 of the "old plan with brass mounting" suggesting that Burn may have influenced the Commissary General of Purchases to change not only the mountings, but the entire cap form by late 1812. The regulations for the light dragoon uniform circulated in December 1812 vaguely describe a "Helmet: according to pattern, blue feather with white top." This new light dragoon helmet or cap was another American adaptation of European military wear, resembling the crested helmets worn by both French and British heavy dragoons. It was described in December 1813 as having a "Skull 6 Inches in depth the helmet in front to be 3 inches higher than the top of the Scull forming the half Semi to the back part." It differed from the 1808 cap by having a comb blocked integral with the crown and there was no longer an applied front. Instead a pewter cap plate, bearing a "mounted dragoon in the act of charging", was affixed directly to the crown's front. Caps plates of this form were already in store by January 1813.
Instead, the comb was edged with white metal reinforcement strips, with additional bands running down the crown. Made of thin, tinned sheet iron, the strips had more decorative than protective qualities, as did the cap's leather chinstrap, covered with scales made of same metal. A flowing white horsehair crest was set into the comb, stepped back about 1/2 inch to allow space for the feather, which by 1814 had been replaced with a white/blue pompon or tuft. By June 1814, fears that there would be "great difficulty in procuring white hair" without excessive costs led to approval of "black hair instead of the white", although all surviving examples have white horsehair crests. Thus, the 'supply and demand' crisis must not have been as critical as first imagined. That same year, the two understrength regiments were merged and were later dissolved in 1815. This helmet was part of the 1813 contract with cap and accoutrement maker William Cressman and bears a "CRESSMAN' stamp on the green-painted underside of the helmet visor; it is the finest example of this cap pattern in private hands.
Provenance: found at Fort Snelling, MN, c. 1960; William Guthman Collection, c. 1960-2006; purchased at William Guthman Collection Sale, Northeast Auctions, 12 October 2006 as lot 687 ($22,250); James L. Kochan Study Collection to present.
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