Belt Plates: Infantry

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 Royal Orders of 1841 and 1845

LINE INFANTRY

As early as 1841 soldiers serving in Spanish line infantry regiments were issued with belt plates bearing a regimental number.  The Royal Orders of September 27, 1841 and February 10, 1845 both describe a brass rectangular plate.  Both of these orders referred to a unit number being engraved in the center of the plate. 

LIGHT INFANTRY: LIGERAS AND CAZADORES

The same orders that governed the line infantry belt plates also regulated those of the light infantry, first called "Ligeras" up to 1847, and later "Cazadores.The 1841 and 1845 royal orders describe the brass plate as embossed with an hunter's horn, or corneta,  with the battalion number engraved in the center of the twist. 

An excavated example of an 1841/45 plate for the Batallon Ligera "Chiclana" No. 7.  It was dug in Spain.  The horn is applied to a plain plate and the number is engraved.

Royal Order of 1852

LINE INFANTRY

By the Royal Order of September 7, 1852, however, the number changed from being engraved to an openwork piercing through the plate.  The measurements were approximately 6.6 cm long and 5 cm tall.  Similar plates with pierced numbers were later issued to certain artillery units.  They differ, however, from the 1852 infantry plate in size.  These will covered in the artillery section.  

A belt plate matching the Royal Order of September 7, 1852.  In Cuba this plate would have been worn by men of the Regimiento de Linea "Habana" No. 6 during the period 1855 - 1874.  In the Peninsula during the same period, it was issued to troops of the Regimiento de Linea "Saboya" No. 6.

 

Two details of one of the earliest known images of a Spanish colonial soldier.  This daguerreotype, taken in Cuba around 1854-55, shows an officer of Regimiento de Linea "Reina" No. 2 wearing a Model 1852 belt plate with the pierced unit number "2" and a leather belt with a series of adjustment holes matching the plate's tongues, unseen on the reverse.  (Coll. Museu Marítim de Barcelona).

CAZADORES

The 1852 belt plate had an applied hunting horn and the battalion number pierced in the center of the horn's twist. 

 

An excavated 1852 pattern plate for the Batallón de Cazadores "Alcántara" No. 20 (1856 - 1874) with pierced battalion number.  The applied horn has fallen off and the holes where it was affixed are clearly visible.  (Photo: Todocoleccion).

  

Photo taken in Cuba with detail of a regular soldier from Batallón de Cazadores "Union" No. 2 showing the 1852 belt plate with a the pierced unit number in the twist of the horn, ca.1870.

Royal Order of 1867

LINE INFANTRY

In 1867 a Royal Order of January 30 described the plates as made of "smooth metal" and gave the dimensions as 8 cm long and 5.5 cm tall. 

CAZADORES

The 1867 regulations introduced the embossed hunting horn insignia.  They did not include a unit number as had the earlier regulations. 

The 1867 Cazadores plate without a unit number as per the regulations.

An 1867 Cazadores plate with an unit number "2" applied later to bring the plate in line with the 1886 regulations.

The Round Belt Plate 1870s - 80s

A round belt plate began to appear in photos sometime in the mid-1870s, continuing in service thought the 1880s.  Examples have been observed in images of both Peninsular and colonial infantrymen.  One photo taken in the Philippines shows this round plate with an applied unit number "2."

 

An example of the round plate with its original belt. (Photo: Todocoleccion).

This detail of an image of a Peninsular soldier taken after 1876 shows him wearing the round plate.

 

This 1880s CDV of a soldier of the garrison in Puerto Rico shows the round buckle being worn in colonial service.

Royal Order of 1886

LINE INFANTRY

The line infantry plate introduced in 1886 is perhaps the most familiar to collectors as it was the pattern in use during the Spanish American War.  Authorized by the Royal Order of August 18, 1886, it was part of sweeping Peninsular infantry uniform reforms that year. 

An illustration from the 1886 infantry uniform regulations showing the belt plate.

The rectangular brass plate was 6.7 cm long and 5.2 cm tall.  The unit number was embossed in bold relief on the center of the plate.  The face of the numbers were generally decorated with a simple line and dot pattern. 

 

 A Model 1886 infantry belt plate from the Regimiento  "Córdoba" No. 10.  This is the most common pattern found among Spanish American War souvenirs.  It was found with a label from Bannerman's, identifying it as one of the tens of thousands of Spanish war relics purchased by that firm at the end of the conflict in 1898-99.

A classic image of a Spanish infantryman from Regimiento "Garellano" No. 43 wearing the 1886 belt plate embossed with the regiment's number.

 

 

A variant of the 1886 plate of the Regimiento  "Borbón" No. 17 manufactured by "ARTURO DE HUETE."  Plates made by this company feature numbers embossed with a "pearl line" of dots instead of the more common line and dot design found on the example of all other makers.  This example was captured in Cuba in 1898.

The Model 1886 belt plate remained the regulation pattern for Spanish enlisted infantrymen until 1925.

CAZADORES

The regulations of 1886 replaced the earlier pierced unit number in the center of the horn's twist with one embossed in bold relief.

Regulation 1886 belt plate of Batallón de Cazadores "Navas" No. 10.

 

A Peninsula army private of Batallón de Cazadores "Alba de Tormes" No. 8.

In this image of a light infantryman taken at Havana in 1899 just before his repatriation to Spain.  He wears the belt plate of Batallón de Cazadores "Tarifa" No. 5.

Royal Order of 1893

The Royal Order of November 14, 1893 authorized troops of the regional infantry garrisons on the Canary Islands, Baleares and parts of North Africa to be issued belt plates and matching collar insignia embossed with intertwined letter and number cyphers.  These units did not serve in the colonies, but some of the personnel were sent as replacements to Cuba in 1896. At least one plate with the "B1" cypher of Regimiento de Infantería Regional de Baleares No. 1 is known in the context of the Cuban souvenir record.

Belt plate of the Regimiento de Infantería Regional de Baleares No. 1 as authorized in 1893.  In July, 1896, 140 men from this unit were sent to Cuba as replacements for losses.  This particular belt plate was the souvenir of a Tennessee soldier.


INFANTRY PLATES IN THE COLONIES

CUBA

In general, the infantry in Cuba utilized the same belt plates as the Peninsula infantry, especially after 1886.  Some exceptions have been observed.  In the 1861 Cartilla de Unifromidad for the Infantry in Cuba the proscribed belt plate was plain, without a unit number, grenade or horn, and measuring 7 x 5 cm. 

 

A plain brass Spanish belt plate of 19th century construction matching the dimensions specified in the 1861 regulations for Cuban infantry.

 

A CDV of a well armed soldier taken in Matanzas, Cuba in the 1860s showing the regulation plain belt plate.

However,  photographs from the 1860s clearly show plates pierced with the unit number still being worn by troops in Cuba.

 

A close-up of a CDV image of a soldier taken in the 1860s with a detail image of his 1852 pattern pierced number Line infantry belt plate.  The photo was taken in Santiago de Cuba.  His collar insignia identifies him as cazador but his belt plate is for a line infantryman.  It is difficult to determine if he is a soldier in the regular army or a volunteer.  It is possible that he is serving in either the left flank company, always considered light infantry at that time, of Regimiento No. 1 "Rey" or as a volunteer in the flank company of Santiago's 1st Volunteer Battalion.

As with other clothing and equipment, some belt plates were manufactured in the colonies.  Local manufacture not only save money for the always cash strapped army, but also helped ease supply problems and bolstered the local economy.  Several examples found in the souvenir record that may have been made in Cuba.  One example is an 1852 pattern brass plate with a pierced number "62." This is a souvenir with a Cuban provenance.  The Regimiento de Infantería No. 62 "Alfonso XIII" was one of the permanent regiments of the Cuban garrison organized in 1893.  This is notable as this plate would have been made at least seven years after the pierced plates were declared obsolete.

The Regimiento de Infantería No. 62 "Alfonso XIII" 1852 type plate with pierced unit number mentioned above.  It measures 6.5 x 4.9 cm, roughly the same as standard 1852 pattern plates.  Even though this is an high quality plate, it is likely that this was a locally made.

Another variation, also believed to have been made in Cuba during Spanish rule, is made of cast brass with applied numbers cast with floral patterns.  Three examples of this variation have been noted, the two shown here and one, also with the number "13", in the West Point Museum collection.  All have Cuba provenance.  These belt plates bear a strong resemblance to plates made in the Philippines in the 1890s.  They differ in small construction details, most notably the shape of the numbers. It should also be noted that these numbers represent regiments that served in Cuba during the 1895 - 1898 period and not units that fought in the Philippines. 

 

Two of the three observed belt plates with applied numbers.  Both have a Cuban provenance and are believed to have been locally produced for troops serving on the island.

PUERTO RICO

Judging from the souvenirs and period photographs of the army in Puerto Rico it appears the belt plates issued were the same as those worn in Spain and Cuba.  During the Spanish American War era the line infantry of that island consisted of six provisional battalions which wore the regulation 1886 belt pate embossed with the battalion's number 1 thru 6.  The two Cazadores battalions, the 24th and 25th, wore horns embossed on their plates. 

Locally manufactured plain brass belt plates are documented in an order dated April 6, 1895.  Because of logistical and financial problems with supplying the battalion, the master armorer of Batallón de Cazadores "Valladolid" No. 21 was instructed to make the plain plates "in house." 

PHILIPPINES

All the infantry plates observed in the context of the souvenir record with a clear Philippines provenance have been locally made.  Unlike the specimens manufactured in Spain, these unique plates are cast in brass, not stamped, and have their regimental numbers cast separately and applied.

Belt plate of the Regimiento de Infantería No. 73 "Joló" locally made in the Philippines.  The numbers are cast with a raised floral pattern and applied to the plate with pins cast on the back. 

 

A native Filipino soldier in Spanish service, ca. 1896.  He wears a locally made belt plate with applied numbers similar to the artifact show above.

GERMAN STYLE BELT PLATE FROM THE PHILIPPINES

A small number of belt plates of a pattern resembling, in general appearance, the German Model 1895 belt plate have been observed among the souvenirs brought back by American soldiers from the Philippines.  These are made of nickel with a plain face, although one example is known with an applied brass artillery emblem.  This well be discussed with the other artillery plates.  The Spanish plates have a hook catch on the reverse, were the German plates have a loop.  Very little is known about these plates other than that they are Spanish and found only in the context of Philippine artifacts.  No regulation for this pattern has been found and exactly where they were manufactured is not known.  I welcome photos of other examples of this plate and additional documentation.

   

Lt. J. J. Walsh, Co. K, 13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, captured this example of the German style plate, along with a number of other souvenirs, while fighting in the Battle of Manlia in 1898.  It measures 5.7 x 4.6 cm.

NEXT: Artillery and Engineer Belt PlatesComing Soon

All material is Copyright 2006 by William K. Combs.  No portion may be used without permission.