Forage cap is the designation given to various types of military undress, fatigue or working headresses. These varied widely in form, according to country or period. The coloured peaked cap worn by the modern British Army for parade and other dress occasions is known as a forage cap.
In the 18th century, forage caps were small cloth caps worn by British cavalrymen when undertaking work duties such as foraging for food for their horses. The term was later applied to undress caps worn by men of all branches and regiments as a substitute for the full dress headdress. The kepi widely worn during the American Civil War is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a forage cap.
During the French Revolutionary Wars, French soldiers made their own forage caps from the sleeve of an old coat. Known as the Bonnet de Police, these caps resembled a nightcap and were also worn by Santa Anna's army during the Mexican War, and by Confederate troops during the American Civil War. From the 1840s until WWII, French troops wore the blue and red kepi, but in 1915, the Bonnet de Police was reintroduced as the Garrison cap. By the 1940s, the beret was also widely worn.
The German army was the first to use the peaked cap, in the final years of the Napoleonic Wars. When the pickelhaube was introduced in the 1840s, the Germans adopted a new, peakless forage cap, resembling the sailor cap. Originally made of Prussian blue wool, this was replaced with a slate grey version in the 1890s, with a dark green cap band. After WWI, the German Wehrmacht used a variant of the garrison cap called the Feldmutze, before adopting the Austrian-style ski cap of the Gebirgsjager.
In the British Army, forage caps were first regulated by the War Office in 1811 as a practical head dress that could be worn when out of action, in lieu of the cumbersome Shako that was otherwise stipulated when in full regimental dress. There is however evidence that they were worn before this date under regimental arrangements and they are specifically mentioned as early as 1768. Their construction was either knitted, or made up locally utilising still serviceable parts of worn out uniforms. Always round in shape, they initially had no peak, but many years later the idea of a peak was transferred from the shako to give the forage cap a more smart appearance. They were initially often in a blue-gray colour with a head band that may well have been in the facing colour of the regiment, but once standardised by war office regulation they began to take on a more uniform appearance and, when not in use, were rolled and carried strapped to the cartouche case. These crude but effective forage caps remained in use until replaced by a similar style of forage cap, known as a Kilmarnock Bonnet (from its place of manufacture), some time in the 1830s.
The Kilmarnock Bonnet style of forage cap was replaced in Scottish units by the glengarry in 1848, but English, Irish and Welsh units, as well as the Foot Guards, continued to wear a stiffened version of the Kilmarnock until 1868, when the remainder of the line regiments also adopted the glengarry, leaving only the Foot and Horse Guards in a forage cap, which had now evolved into two types, with and without a peak.
The Dress Regulations for the Army of 1900 described, and provided photographs of, several different models of forage cap. These included the staff pattern with wider crown and leather peak; the model worn by the Household Cavalry with straight sides and peak; and that worn by cavalry regiments - a small round cap without a peak, braided and coloured according to regimental pattern, worn at an angle on the head and held in place by a leather chin strap.
In 1902 a new style of forage cap was introduced and named after the then Secretary of State for War, St John Brodrick. The 'Brodrick cap' took the form of a stiffened and round shaped forage cap with no peak that was not dissimilar in appearance to a sailor's hat, although it was dark blue in colour and had a patch of facing colour cloth behind the regimental badge, which was worn centrally at the front.
In 1905 the Brodrick was replaced by a broad topped cap with wired brim and leather peak, based on the pattern worn in the Royal Navy, which was introduced as a "forage cap" for off-duty 'walking out' and other semi-formal occasions. Under the same name, a slightly modified version of this cap is currently worn by most modern British regiments with No. 1 Ceremonial and No. 2 khaki parade dress. The body of this headdress is generally dark blue, although the cap bands are red for "Royal" regiments and corps, or regimental colours for some other units, especially the cavalry and yeomanry.
Royal Air Force
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The Royal Air Force uses different nomenclature. The RAF forage cap has no peak and because of its longitudinal cut is called a "fore-and-after". Its two ornamental buttons at the front can be unfastened in order to let down earflaps for harsh weather. (The German army forage cap of the Second World War was similar, but of two distinct types, one with an eye-shading peak or bill, the other without.) The forage cap was worn by RAF personnel for everyday purposes from 1918 until about 1950 when it was superseded by the RAF blue beret (introduced after the Second World War.) The fore-and-after is still worn by airmen in other services, such as the U.S. Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force. The peaked cap worn in the RAF for parades etc., is called the SD or Service Dress cap. RAF Forage caps can still be bought privately and worn on duty by all ranks.
United States military
The M1825 forage cap (also known as the pinwheel cap) was worn by the United States military form 1825 to 1833 when it began to be replaced by the M1833 forage cap. It was used in conflicts such as the Black Hawk War of 1832 and the Winnebago War of 1827 by American forces. The cap was also adopted by the Texan Army and worn by American volunteers in the Texas revolution from 1835 to 1836. In the Civil War the M1858 forage cap, based on the French kepi, was the most common headgear worn by union troops even though it was described by one soldier as "Shapeless as a feedbag". There were two types of brims: the first, called the McClellan cap was flat; the second, called the McDowell cap, was curved. U.S. Army regulations called for insignia to be put on the top of the cap, with branch of service (infantry, cavalry or artillery) in the middle, company letter above and the regimental number below. In 1863 the corps badge was introduced in the Army of the Potomac in an attempt to boost morale among the troops; this badge was also added to the cap. If the soldier was in the infantry the bugle horn was put below the disk, with the regimental number inside the infantry horn, the company letter above the horn and the corp badge above that. It should be noted, however, that more frequently than not the soldier lacked this degree of insignia. Occasionally, the branch of service, company letter or regimental number insignia was also used. After the Civil War, the forage cap fell into disuse; it was rarely worn, but was in use until the 1870s.
- W.Y. Carman, Dictionary of Military Uniform, p.59, ISBN 0-684-15130-8
- J. Philip Langellier, Parade Ground Soldiers: Military Uniforms and Headdress 1837-1910, ISBN 0-87020-174-3
- Dress Regulations for the Army1900, Section 11 and Plate 8 Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1900
- Michael Barthorp, British Infantry Uniforms since 1660, ISBN 1-85079-009-4