Every combat arms branch within the United States Army comes with a long legacy. And with that legacy comes an accompanying piece of flair for their respective dress uniforms. Infantrymen rock a baby blue fourragere on their right shoulder, cavalrymen still wear their spurs and stetsons, and even Army aviators sport their very own badges in accordance with their position in the unit.
But long before the blue cords and spurs, another combat arms branch had their own unique uniform accouterment — one that has since been lost to time. Artillerymen once had scarlet red piping that ran down the side of their pant legs. In fact, these stripes were once so iconic that it gave rise to a nickname for artillerymen: “redlegs.“
Due to wartime restrictions, artillerymen stopped wearing the red piping during WWI — and it never made a comeback.
If you ask any young artilleryman at Fort Sill why they’re called “redlegs,” they’ll probably just look at you funny.
(Department of Defense photo by Margo Wright)
This fact is especially tragic because artillerymen wearing red stripes is one of the oldest military traditions of its kind. The blue cord of the infantry can only be traced as far back as the Korean War and cavalry’s stetson wasn’t invented until 1865. Meanwhile, artillerymen were rocking that red piping as far back as the 1830s.
During the 1800s, the role of the artilleryman was much more complex than most other roles in the Army at the time. Not just any bum off the street could walk into a job that required precise calculations to load the proper amount of gunpowder and fire the cannon at the perfect angle to hit the intended target.
While cannons were way too massive to carry into many fights, seeing the arrival of artillerymen meant that the U.S. Army meant business. Just seeing that red piping as artillerymen arrived on the scene during the Civil War was enough to inspire friendly troops and strike fear into enemies. The role of the artillerymen was crucial in the battles of Buena Vista, Bull Run, Palo Alto, and San Juan Hill.
I guess the only real debate here is if you give it to ADA as well or exclusively to field artillery.
Today, the role of the artilleryman has been reduced greatly. It’s not uncommon for artillerymen who were deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq to have more stories about their time on dismounted foot patrols with the infantrymen than ones about removing grid squares from the face of the Earth — after all, counter insurgency mostly forbids that level of wanton destruction.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still many artilleryman who’ve conducted fire missions into actual combat, but that number grows smaller and smaller with each passing year.
As field artillery units grow less common, their heritage is put at risk. At the same time, it seems as though the Army is increasingly leaning onto its historic roots for uniform ideas — as seen with the reintroduction of Army Greens.
Bringing back the distinctive red piping for artillerymen’s dress blues wouldn’t be that drastic of a change — or even that expensive — but it would be fitting. Dress blues are meant to honor the legacy of the soldiers of the American Revolution and Union Armies. What better way to do that than with an homage to the classic?