Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Charles Tudor, 16th Light Dragoons, Calls but is not Heard

The fact that Charles Tudor spent more time sitting in an American prison than did with his regiment in America didn't prevent him from having a long and prosperous military career. Maybe it even helped him out, giving him favor in the eyes of his superiors. But even before the war began he'd shown promise. The Shropshire native was 21 years old when he joined the 16th Light Dragoons in 1771, and by the time the regiment arrived in America in October 1776 he was already a corporal. In preparation for service in America, the 16th Light Dragoons was augmented significantly in size. The peacetime establishment for the cavalry regiment had been only 18 private men in each of the regiment's six troops. Suddenly that was increased to over 60, the difference made up partly by recruiting and partly by drafting men from other cavalry regiments. Another change was that about half of these men were to serve dismounted, operating as foot soldiers even though they were troopers in a cavalry regiment, scouting, screening and skirmishing in front and on the flanks.

The 16th Light Dragoons arrived in America in October of 1776, part of a large reinforcement for General William Howe's army. One transport carrying about twenty men of the regiment was captured by Massachusetts privateers, but the remainder disembarked in New York City and soon joined the British army's campaign that drove the Americans out of northeastern New Jersey. Several more troopers were captured in the New Brunswick area in December.

Somewhere during this time Charles Tudor was appointed serjeant in the dismounted portion of the regiment. The muster rolls show his appointment as occurring on 25 January 1777, but this is certainly an administrative date. He was already a serjeant on 3 January 1777, when the dismounted men of the 16th Light Dragoons were protecting the left flank of a British column that was advancing from Princeton, New Jersey to join a larger British force that was some miles away. The dismounted dragoons detected another column of troops in the distance and alerted the officers commanding the column. When it was determined to be a large force of the enemy, the British troops maneuvered for advantageous positions. As directed by Lt. Simon Wilmot, Sjt. Tudor went along the line of dragoons and told each one not to fire until the enemy "were on the points of their Bayonets," and even then only when ordered. 

After various movements, the dragoons, divided into four sections of about 18 men each, posted themselves along a fence where they exchanged fire with the enemy. When their opponents began to retreat, the dragoons prepared to charge with their bayonets, the favored tactic of British infantry when opposed to the relatively inexperienced, undisciplined American troops. Suddenly Lt. Wilmot saw that the section to his right, the one holding their flank, was retreating. He called to Cornet Evatt, commanding the section, to stop, but to no avail. He told Sjt. Tudor to call to Evatt, to stop the unordered retreat, but the noise of battle drowned out the serjeant's calls. The other sections of dragoons, now in danger of being outflanked, also proceeded to retreat. When Lt. Wilmot caught up with Cornet Evatt, he told the cornet that he'd have him brought before a court martial for disobedience and cowardice. But the action intensified, and Wilmot and several other dragoons were wounded. In the general British retreat that followed, the wounded men were left behind and became prisoners of war. Although it isn't clear whether Tudor was wounded or not, he was among the prisoners.

The prisoners taken at Princeton were sent to Connecticut, where they were parceled out among several towns. Serjeant Tudor and ten others were held in East Windsor. There he remained until an exchange was made in July 1778 which allowed several hundred British captives to return to their regiments. He resumed his duties as a serjeant. In October of 1778, the court martial of Cornet Evatt finally took place, now that his accuser, Lt. Wilmot and several other witness were free from internment. Serjeant Tudor testified at the trial, carefully describing his own role that day without either incriminating or exonerating the defendant. Because there was no evidence that Cornet Evatt had heard the orders from Lt. Wilmot, nor that he had behaved in a cowardly manner, he was acquitted.

In December 1778, the fortunes of war intervened once again. The 16th Light Dragoons were drafted, that is, the private men who were fit for service were transferred into other corps. Many went to the 17th Light Dragoons, some to the 17th Regiment of Foot, and some to Loyalist regiments. Men who were no longer fit for service were discharged, either in America or after returning to Great Britain. But the officers and non-commissioned officers, and a few of the private men, returned to Great Britain to recruit the regiment anew. Tudor was among these select few.

He continued to serve, and his diligence rewarded him. On 24 July 1789 he was appointed Quartermaster in regiment, not unusual for a long-serving serjeant. On 24 December 1794 he became the regiment's Adjutant. With over twenty years in the army, he could have retired and received a pension, but he chose to serve, and on 29 April 1795 received his first commission when he became a Cornet in the regiment. This entry-level officer rank was usually the domain of young men in their late teens, but Tudor, in his forties, performed well enough to be promoted to Lieutenant two years later.

In 1799, after twenty-eight years in the 16th Light Dragoons, Tudor took another promotion that sent him to a different corps; he became a Captain in the newly-formed Royal Waggon Train. In December 1803 he was promoted again, this time to Major. After seven more years, on 25 July 1810 he was made aide de camp to the King, a post that made him a brevet Lieutenant-Colonel 25 July 1810. Now sixty years old, his long service and dedication had gotten him much farther than most.

When he was sixty-four years old, in 1814, Charles Tudor obtained the lieutenant-colonelcy of the Royal Waggon Train. Later that year he finally left active service and went onto the half-pay list. His advancement, however, was still not quite done. On 12 August 1819 he received a brevet colonelcy, and in November of that year was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel in 1st Royal Veteran Battalion, a fitting appointment for this officer who was as much a veteran as could be.

Charles Tudor died in London in November 1830 at the age of eighty.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Richard Shea, 40th Regiment, goes for a swim without his money

Some soldiers told their own stories well enough that there's little need to elaborate on them, and the details can be correlated with other sources. Richard Shea's short stint as a soldier in the 40th Regiment of Foot began when he enlisted in Waterford, Ireland, in late 1774. Tensions were rising in America at this time, but the 40th had not yet received orders for their own embarkation.

We know nothing of Shea's background other than that he was an educated man. His talents were recognized and he was tasked with keeping records for the company, a job that probably consisted mostly of making copies of receipts, returns, orders and other military documents. It may not have been glamorous work, but it was one of many ways that soldiers earned extra money to supplement a base pay that was designed only to provide food and clothing.

The 40th Regiment, along with the 22nd, 44th and 45th, received orders for America in early 1775. Preparations were complete and transports were ready by the beginning of May, and the regiments sailed from Cork, Ireland on the 8th of that month. They arrived in Boston shortly after the battle of Bunker Hill, and served in that city's garrison until the place was evacuated in March 1776.

During a two-month stay in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the British army regrouped and trained for a new offensive. The town was crowded, and many regiment remained quartered on board their transport ships, going ashore during the day for training, washing and other activities. By the end of June the army was at sea again, quickly making their way to Staten Island where they landed unopposed. On this verdant island of farms and villages, the troops encamped or took quarters in outbuildings while awaiting reinforcements from Great Britain, the German states, and the expedition that had recently failed to take Charleston, South Carolina.

Duty could be difficult. An officer of Shea's regiment wrote about his experience on the night of 30 July:

Last night was the gloomiest I ever spent on duty. I was posted with a picket in an open field near the shore. About eleven o’clock there came on a severe burst of thunder and lightning, attended with most violent torrents of rain. Two of my centries being posted near some trees, got for shelter under them, and unfortunately were struck by the lightning. They were both knocked down, and found senseless; one of them is yet in that state. The tree against which he stood had two great branches torn off. 

It was during this time that things went sour for Richard Shea. He had a job that should have been comfortable and lucrative, but also may have been stressful if he was expected to perform his clerical duties in addition to the usual tasks of a private soldier. Perhaps he quarreled with his officers or was, in his own perception, ill-treated by one of them. For some reason he decided that he should collect his arrears in pay.

It was typical for company officers to maintain the finances of their men, keeping an account for each soldier of money earned and expenses incurred. Only if a soldier proved responsible and trustworthy was he given hard cash to spend at his leisure, for soldiers were known to squander their funds on drink, gaming and women. Although a soldier was legally entitled to be the rightful owner of his pay, the army was not required to put it into his hands as long as the basic obligations of food and clothing were met. Controlling the money was a way to control discipline.

When Richard Shea asked the regiment's paymaster for a substantial sum due to him, partly in base pay and partly for his clerical work, he was refused. This may have been for legitimate reasons: Shea may have shown a proclivity for drunkenness or gambling; there may have been a general policy in place to limit the amount of cash in soldiers' hands to dissuade them from straying from their encampments and their duties; or there may have been a simple shortage of hard currency available to the regiment at that time. Whether a reason was given or not, Shea did not accept it. His response, however, suggests that there was more to his discontent than his money being withheld, for he chose to forfeit it altogether. On August 4, 1776, he slipped into the waterway that separates Staten Island from New Jersey, and swam across it to Perth Amboy. An officer of another regiment noted in his diary, “Shea, 40th, Deserted. He swam across the River”

The New Jersey side of this "river" was teeming with American troops. He was taken up and brought to the headquarters of General Hugh Mercer, where he was examined. His clerical work for the regiment had given him access to some interesting details that other soldiers might not have known, and Mercer duly sent the information to the commander in chief on August 7:

Examination of Richard Shea, a Deserter. Inlisted in Waterford twenty-two months ago; an Irishman; of the Fortieth Regiment, commanded by LieutenantColonel James Grant; in Captain John Adlum's company; was clerk to the regiment. He has been six weeks on StatenIsland. Was at Boston last year from July to the 17th March. Went from there to Halifax. Remained there on ship, except now and then on shore to exercise. There are in the Fortieth Regiment three hundred and thirty-six rank and file. Supposed to have fourteen thousand on the Island. Two new Highland regiments very sickly. The Forty-Second Regiment of Highlanders. Expect some Hessians, but none come. The Fortieth Regiment opposite the Blazing-Star, in barns. Stretch two miles and a quarter on the right and left of the Old Blazing-Star. Had no leave to go one-quarter of a mile from quarters. If any soldier left quarters, severely punished. His reason for deserting was, he had £4 due for pay, and £10 as clerk, which he asked for, and was refused by the Paymaster. The officers are much afraid of the Riflemen; the soldiers in spirits; two thousand men sick— small-pox, the Highlanders with fluxes—poxes; not more than four thousand of the fourteen thousand clever soldiers. The Lighthorse and Marines remained at Halifax; also old men and others unfit for service.

Five days ago, ordered the officers' heavy baggage, and women of the Army, on board the fleet. As far as he heard, he believes they will not attack New-York, unless reinforced by the foreigners. He has seen in orders for working party at Billop's Point, where they are numerous, and have thrown up intrenchments. No works near the Blazing-Star. One company at the Old Blazing-Star. Don't know who is at the New Blazing-Star.

Two days' fresh provisions in a week. No vegetables in the week. Each company of the Fortieth Regiment have a guard in front—three men in daytime, six at night; no main guard. The inhabitants are sworn by the commanding officer.

There is on the Island Major-General James Grant, who was formerly Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fortieth Regiment; and the Lieutenant-Colonel James Grant, who is also there, was Major in the regiment.

He heard there were forty transports arrived last Thursday, chiefly store-ships; some few Highlanders. Heard Clinton was defeated, and he was expected to join them.

Blazing Star was the name of a fortification on Staten Island. The sickness of the two highland regiments, the 42nd and the 71st, was due to their sea voyage; they had just spend at least two months on transports, and needed time on land to recover from the arduous journey. The limited amount of "fresh provisions," as opposed to salted and preserved beef and biscuit, certainly hindered their recovery.

Shea's comment about the army having only four thousand "clever soldiers" apparently refers to training and experience; his point is debatable, given the superb overall performance of the army in the campaign that began three weeks later. They would remain "in spirits" throughout 1776 while their success was frequent and ultimate victory seemed assured.

What became of Richard Shea is not known. Intelligence like the report that he gave was typically aggregated with information from other sources, and although it was probably helpful in gaging the strength and capabilities of the British army, it was not enough to prevent their rapid march through New York and New Jersey in the coming months.

Monday, May 2, 2016

John Smith, tailor, in the 36th, 53rd and 22nd Regiments

John Smith enlisted in the 36th Regiment of Foot on 25 December 1770. For a 21 year old tailor, joining the British army offered prospects of travel and adventure unlike anything he might experience in his home town of Monkwearmouth in County Durham on the northeast coast of England. The 36th Regiment was in Jamaica when Smith enlisted, and he may have been enticed by the prospect of voyaging to that exotic location, or by the extra bounty and income sometimes offered to soldiers who served on that wealthy but disease-ridden island. It is not known whether Smith made the journey to join his regiment, or waited with other recruits in Great Britain until 1773 when the regiment returned from its nine-year tropic deployment.

Regardless of when Smith joined his regiment, he joined it in peaceful times. He probably followed his profession, learning the details of fitting and finishing the regimental uniforms that were issued annually, cutting and assembling supplemental military garments like overalls, watchcoats and winter leggings, and producing clothing bespoken by officers including garments for their soldier servants. The 36th Regiment served in Ireland from 1773 into the 1780s, where soldiers were occasionally called out to fight smugglers and quell civil disturbances, but army life consisted for the most part of military routine.

The 36th Regiment was not sent to America when war broke out there. Many of its soldiers, however, were. Regiments sent overseas needed to be brought up to strength, and this was accomplished by both recruiting and by transferring seasoned soldiers, a combination that insured war-bound regiments were not burdened with too many new recruits. In 1775 and 1776, the 36th provided over 100 men to regiments preparing for service in America. John Smith and many of his comrades went to the 53rd Regiment of Foot, one of six British regiments that sailed to Quebec in the first half of 1776. Whatever comfort and ease Smith had experienced so far in the army came to an abrupt end.

An Atlantic crossing in a transport ship, which usually took two or three months, was rigorous enough. Immediately after disembarking in Quebec, the troops went into action, chasing a collapsing American force up the Richelieu River towards Lake Champlain, retaking posts along the way that had fallen the previous autumn.

The 53rd and other British Regiments spent the winter of 1776-1777 distributed in posts along the Richelieu, isolated from each other by ice and snow, quartered in buildings but nonetheless fighting the harsh weather. As a tailor, it's possible that Smith stayed in Quebec or Montreal, but more likely he was with his regiment. Normally the regimental tailors spent the early months of the year fitting and altering the annual clothing, received late the previous year, for the upcoming campaign season. The regiments in Canada received the disappointing news, however, that their annual clothing had been captured at sea, and they would have to go on the 1777 campaign wearing the same uniforms they'd worn throughout 1776. Instead of preparing new clothing, the tailors got busy altering and repairing the uniforms that the men already had, making them as serviceable as possible for what they knew, from the previous year's experience, would be an arduous campaign.

Whatever tailoring work John Smith did during the winter months while the roads were impassable came to an end when the army received orders to march south in June 1777. Setting their sights first on the fabled fortress of Fort Ticonderoga, where British forces had suffered massive casualties two decades before, British and German troops under General John Burgoyne moved up Lake Champlain by water, then plunged in to the wilderness to invest the area surrounding the fort and its companion position on the opposite shore, Mount Independence.

Finding that Fort Ticonderoga was untenable, the American garrison retreated to the east side of Lake Chaplain during the night, and then abandoned Mount Independence as well. British light infantry and grenadiers made a rapid pursuit and caught up with their quarry at Hubbardton, Vermont, where a fierce clash occurred on 7 July 1777. Although the regiment's muster rolls don't make this clear, it appears that John Smith was in the 53rd Regiment's light infantry company at this time, for he was wounded in the neck during the fighting.

Perhaps due to this wound, Smith did not continue south with the light infantry. The 53rd Regiment remained in the area to garrison Fort Ticonderoga and the posts between there and nearby Lake George. For a while this was a safe, rear-area duty, but as Burgoyne's advance bogged down near Saratoga, American forces grew in strength and began threatening Burgoyne's supply lines.

On the night of September 13 and 14, a raid led by Col. John Brown captured over fifty men of the 53rd Regiment, including Smith. This made him a prisoner of war, but not one of those subject to the Convention of Saratoga that would be signed in October. Smith and the other prisoners from the 53rd nonetheless followed a similar path as those captured at Saratoga.

It didn't take long for the prisoners to find ways to abscond. Smith and three of his comrades, John Wishart, John Duncan and John Drury, managed to join up with a group of British sailors who were prisoners of war and were due to be exchanged. The exchange was effected, and the supposed sailors were sent to the British garrison at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they arrived on 12 January 1778 after less than four months as prisoners of war. There they revealed their true identities, and arrangements were made to return them to the British army. The detachment of British Marines in Halifax took care of them, providing clothing and provisions which they charged to the account of the 53rd Regiment. For some reason they were sent towards New York rather than to their regiment in Canada; perhaps it was convenience due to the season, or because the exact status of the 53rd Regiment was not known (portions of the regiment had been captured, but the bulk of it returned to Quebec and served in Canada for the remainder of the war).

Smith, Wishart, Duncan, Drury and fifteen or twenty other soldiers who had effected their exchange left Halifax on a British frigate, HMS Orpheus. While at sea they were transferred to a transport ship bound for Rhode Island. They landed in Newport, Rhode Island on 30 March 1778. Able-bodied soldiers were always useful to a British garrison, so these men from Burgoyne's army began doing duty with the regiments in the Rhode Island garrison; John Smith and a dozen of his fellows from the 53rd Regiment served with the 22nd Regiment of Foot, a corps that had been in Rhode Island since December 1776. In its ranks was another tailor named John Smith, this one a year younger and hailing from Yorkshire.

The 22nd Regiment conducted a successful raid on the mainland towns of Bristol and Warren in May 1778, destroying boats and military stores that were intended for an assault on the British garrison. The Americans, with the support of the French navy, were nonetheless able to attack in August, and the garrison endured a three-week siege that culminated in a fierce battle. The 22nd Regiment suffered twelve men killed and over fifty wounded, something over 20% of its strength. It is not known whether any of the men from the northern army serving with the 22nd were part of the battle or among the casualties.

In December 1778, John Smith and his comrades in Rhode Island from the 53rd Regiment were formally drafted into the 22nd Regiment of Foot, with which they'd been serving for months already. Among them was one of the men with whom he had served in the 36th Regiment, Christian Fisher. Transferring them was much more expedient than sending them to Quebec, and they'd probably received clothing from the 22nd Regiment by this time to replace what was lost when taken prisoner and discarded to facilitate their escape.

The 22nd left Rhode Island in October 1779 and spent the rest of the war in New York City. Christian Fisher died in May 1780; John Smith served in one more major engagement, the fighting at Connecticut Farms, New Jersey that occurred in June of that year.

By 1782 the war was winding down, and it was time to catch up on paperwork. A court of inquiry heard the claims of prisoners of war who had escaped and rejoined the army, and who were due arrears of pay and clothing. Smith, Wishart, Drury and Duncan made claims for three years' worth of clothing from the 53rd Regiment. They also claimed leggings and blanket coats that they'd left behind when captured, having learned that those items, which they'd paid for themselves, had been sent back to Montreal and resold. John Smith also was due £1.13 Sterling for unspecified reasons, perhaps back pay or perhaps fees due for tailoring.

The 22nd Regiment was among the last of the British troops to leave the United States, embarking from New York in November 1783. They returned to England, where many war-weary soldiers were discharged. John Smith continued to serve until 8 June 1789, when he was discharged from the regiment at Dover Castle. Unable to sign his own name, he marked an X on his discharge form. In the usual fashion, he received extra pay to allow him to return to the place of his choice. Before returning home he went to Chelsea, near London, where he appeared before the out-pension board to make a claim for benefits. He was awarded a pension due to "having served during the whole of the American War, being wounded in the Neck at Hubbertown, and Worn out in the Service." After nineteen years of service, three regiments and one wound, the tailor from Monkwearmouth had the comfort of knowing he would receive a modest income from the government for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Serjeant James Hughes, 24th Regiment: His Gun

A number of British muskets (called firelocks in their day) with regimental markings survive that were carried in America during the Revolutionary War. These weapons were owned by the regiment, not the individual soldier. They were marked in such a way as to uniquely identify the weapon, but it is rare that we can make a good assumption about which soldier carried a given weapon.

Serjeants of grenadiers carried specialized weapons, a few of which still exist. Read about the one that probably belonged to Serjeant James Hughes of the 24th Regiment of Foot.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

Monday, March 21, 2016

Upcoming Lectures, first half of 2016!

If you'd like to hear me give a talk, or get an autographed book, there are a number of opportunities to do so from March thru June 2016. I'll be giving talks at the following locations, in most cases about one or another of my books, but sometimes about other topics. Some of these events require registration, so contact the host organization for details. I hope to see you there!

Thursday 24 March, 5:30 PM: Newport Historical Society, Newport, RI

Saturday 9 April, 7:30 PM: Hale-Byrnes House, Newark, DE

Sunday 10 April, Noon-5 PM: Bergen County Historical Society, New Bridge Landing, River Edge, NJ

Monday 11 April, 6 PM: Paoli Battlefield Preservation Fund, General Warren Inne, Malvern, PA

Tuesday 12 April, 6:30 PM: Old Barracks Museum, Trenton, NJ

Friday 15 April, 7 PM: National Society, Sons of the American Revolution, Louisville, KY

Monday 23 May, 7 PM: American Revolution Round Table of Philadelphia, MaGerk's Pub and Grill, 582 South Bethlehem Pike, Ft. Washington, PA

Saturday 4 June, 1:30 PM: Stony Point Battlefield, Stony Point, NY

Saturday 11 June: Fort Plain Museum Conference on the American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley

Monday 27 June, 6 PM: Smith's Castle, North Kingstown, RI

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

John Hall, 35th Regiment, on a three-day stupor

The 65th Regiment of Foot had been in North America for seven years when fighting broke out Massachusetts in 1775. Having been overseas for so long, they were due to return to Great Britain. The outbreak of war delayed this, and soldiers of the 65th participated in the opening engagements of the American Revolution. In June of 1776, however, when the British army was reorganizing in Halifax, Nova Scotia for an upcoming campaign, the decision was made to send the regiment home. As was customary, those men who were fit for service were drafted into other regiments remaining in America; by this means, many of the regiment's soldiers went on to fight in most of the major campaigns during the next eight years of war.
Some of the drafts were already veterans of extensive service. John Hall had joined the army in 1755, at the beginning of the Seven Years' War and before the 65th Regiment was created. When the 65th was drafted, he was sent to the 35th Regiment of Foot, a corps that had arrived in Boston just in time to participate in the battle of Bunker Hill. A twenty-year veteran was a valuable asset, and in July Hall was appointed corporal.
A year later, the 35th was among the regiments garrisoning New York City while much of the British army campaigned to seize Philadelphia. Although the regiment was posted in the area of Morrisania, New York, on the fringes of the contested no-mans land in Westchester County, there were still routine and mundane duties to be done. Corporal Hall was assigned to be the orderly for the regiment's tailors, who at that time were busy making woolen leggings in anticipation of colder weather in the coming months.
Regimental tailors could be an unruly bunch, and had a reputation for requiring supervision. Corporal Hall may have resented the regiment's quartermaster for assigning him to the task of overseeing them. On September 9, 1777, Hall went on an errand to procure rum for the tailors, and didn't come back.
Three days later, a Loyalist dragoon was patrolling in the neutral ground, the swath of Westchester County that was not held by either side. He came upon Corporal John Hall, "who told him that he was glad to meet with a friend, as he wanted to go back to the Regiment." Hall then "began to damn the Rebels." The dragoon, who most likely was in either civilian clothing or the green cavalry jacket that was used by both armies, was suspicious. He apparently knew that men attempting to desert were likely to make excuses when caught, and seem abnormally anxious to befriend anyone who caught them in the act. He tried a trick to test the wandering British soldier, telling Hall that he was already among the rebels. Hall replied, "Is it true?" The dragoon responded, "Yes, you may depend it is."
Hall took the bait. When the dragoon said that he was a serjeant, Hall went on a rant: "Give me a musket, and by Jesus I will go with you, damn the Bougers I’ll fight them, the Quarter Master has used me very ill." He did indicate to the dragoon that his anger towards the quartermaster was the sole reason for his desertion, and that he wouldn't have done so otherwise. The dragoon continued the charade in an effort to get more information: If Hall enlisted with the rebels, would he not desert? No, if he did he'd be shot, and would deserve it. Hall said that many others in the 35th Regiment wanted to desert, but stopped short of offering names.
The dragoon brought Hall back to British lines, and he was then taken to the encampment of the 35th Regiment where he was confined. Put on trial for desertion a few weeks later, Corporal Hall offered a defense that was popular and all too plausible: "he went to get some Rum for the Taylors, about an hour before Sun-Sett, and being in liquor, and stupefied with having been drunk for three or four days before, he missed his road on his Return." He plead that he had no intention of deserting, and pointed out that he'd been a soldier for twenty-two years during which service he'd been twice wounded.
Two non-commissioned officers of the 35th Regiment testified to Hall's good character during the time they'd known him. The court may have been predisposed towards lenience, for they did not ask typical questions about whether the defendant had taken clothing with him, attempted to escape, or exhibited any other behavior that suggested he'd planned to abscond. Hall was found guilty, but rather than being shot (as he feared he deserved), he was sentenced to receive eight hundred lashes and to be reduced to the ranks. This was a fairly lenient punishment for the crime, suggesting that the court believed his absence was, in fact, unintended.
Hall served as a private soldier in the 35th Regiment for the next year. In the autumn of 1778 the regiment was sent to the West Indies. A two-year gap in the regiment's muster rolls makes it impossible to determine Hall's fate, as he is not on the rolls prepared in August 1780. With such a long career, he may well have been discharged, but it is also possible that the fortunes of war caught up with him and he succumbed to hostility or disease.

Learn more about British soldiers in America

Thursday, January 21, 2016

John Alexander, 4th Regiment of Foot, heard the important Article

We know very little about John Alexander, but what we know is provides some insight about the legal aspects of enlistment into the British army. He enlisted in the 4th (King's Own) Regiment of Foot, probably on 14 November 1777, in Philadelphia. It was unusual for men in America to enlist into regular British regiments during the war. Most who wished to join the army in America enlisted into the many Loyalist corps raised to augment the British army.

It's possible that Alexander was a deserter from the Continental army; a soldier named John Alexander went missing from the 5th Pennsylvania after the battle of Brandywine, but the name was common enough that we can't assume it is the same man. Several hundred men deserted from American service in the Philadelphia region in late 1777, discouraged by the string of defeats that Washington's army suffered. A substantial portion of those men are known to have enlisted into Loyalist regiments. It is entirely plausible that a few enlisted into regular British regiments, particularly if they were men with prior British army service. John Alexander may have been an escaped prisoner of war, a returned deserter, or even a veteran who had been discharged and wished to enlist again.

Whatever his background, Alexander was a British soldier from November 1777 until 4 March 1778 when he deserted. He took his spare clothing with him, but not his musket.

On 10 June, as the British were preparing to leave Philadelphia, a patrol of dragoons from the Queen's Rangers, one of the most storied Loyalist regiments, went out of Philadelphia to investigate a report that people coming in to the market from the countryside were being robbed by rebels. The dragoons scoured some woods were the rebels were reported to be hiding. One of them came upon a man "dressed in blue Coat & red Waistcoat with a Gold button and Loop to his hat, standing with a Woman," holding a musket with the butt resting on the ground. The dragoon was able to approach fairly close and challenge the man, brandishing his sword. The man claimed to be a member of the New Jersey militia, and the dragoon took him prisoner.

The militia man was put into the new jail in Philadelphia with other rebel prisoners, but was lodged in a dungeon with suspected deserters. He tried to escape by tunneling through the floor. It was his particular misfortune, however, that the jailer happened to be the former drum major of the 4th Regiment of Foot, who recognized Alexander and questioned him. Alexander initially denied his name and having met the former drum major, but when the jailor struck him with a cane Alexander admitted to both things. He was transferred to the old jail and held there with other deserters.

Preparing to march from Philadelphia to New York occupied the time of the army's administration, so Alexander was kept in confinement until the move to New York was completed; it is not known how the prisoner was conveyed. He went before a general court martial on 24 July in Brooklyn. A serjeant of the 4th Regiment testified to Alexander's enlistment, and deposed that he'd received pay and clothing from the regiment - in other words, that the army had fulfilled its obligations of the enlistment contract. An officer and a trooper of the Queen's Rangers described Alexander's capture.

Put on his defense, John Alexander gave an interesting argument. He claimed that he had not been properly enlisted and assumed himself to be only a volunteer, free to leave at any time he pleased. If he could prove this, he would have a valid case and could not be considered a deserter. He called upon a corporal in the 4th Regiment and the court questioned him:

Was Alexander ever attested as a soldier, that is, did a magistrate attest that he was legally enlisted? The corporal did not know. That worked in Alexander's favor.

Did the corporal have any doubt about the legality of Alexander's enlistment? "Not the least." Bad for Alexander.

"Did he ever hear the Prisoner say whilst he was with the 4th Regt. that he never had been attested?" "Yes he has frequently heard him say so." That was favorable for Alexander; he'd complained about not being attested, and the corporal knew it.

"Does he know of the Prisoner having ever heard the Articles of War read?" This was important, because the Articles of War spelled out the army's obligations to the soldier, and vice versa; hearing them read would mean that Alexander was aware of the laws governing enlistment and desertion. "Not the whole, but he had heard such as Circumstances would occasionally admit of." Not a clear answer. Apparently Alexander had heard only some of the Articles, those which pertained to specific events.

"Did the prisoner ever receive pay as a Soldier?" This was crucial. Alexander said that he'd never been paid, and therefore was under no obligation to the army. The corporal replied, "He received Pay from the Witness himself." Now things looked bad for Alexander.

"Does he know of the Prisoner having heard the 1st Article of War of the 6th Section read?" This Article was important for this particular case. It read,

The Penalty of Desertion: All Officers and Soldiers, who having received Pay, or having been duly inlisted in the Service, shall be convicted of having deserted the same, shall suffer death, or such other Punishment as by a Court-martial shall be inflicted. 

Notice that is says "received pay" OR "inlisted", not AND. Although he denied it, Alexander had done one of these things, received pay. As for having heard the Article, the corporal said that Alexander "has heard it frequently & the Witness himself had told him that he must look upon himself as a Soldier in His Majesty’s Service, as much as if he had been attested before a Magistrate in England."

Things looked very bad for Alexander now, but he put his own question to the corporal, perhaps in the hope of convincing the court that his enlistment was not properly handled: "Did the Prisoner ever receive any Bounty or inlisting Money?" The corporal did not know abou that, but had told him that the enlistment bounty was Guinea and a half. This was similar to peacetime enlistment bounties in Great Britain, but less than typical bounties offered there in 1778. Maybe that's what Alexander's complaint was about; perhaps he'd heard from other recruits about higher bounties. The corporal also indicated that he'd given Alexander "about three quarters of a Dollar which he had at three different times."

Alexander told the court that he'd received only a Pistereen from the corporal, "and that having lent the Corporal money, he thought that that was given him part of Payment." He said that he did not intend to desert, but had gone for wood and was captured, put into jail, and consented to join the militia to escape confinement. He explained that he'd seen the Loyalist dragoons and hidden from his comrades so that he could surrender, and that after he was in captured he sent word to the 4th Regiment so that he could return to their service.

The court was not impressed by John Alexander's testimony, particularly in light of statements by a witness that he himself had called. He was found guilty, and sentenced to death.

Learn more about British soldiers in America