Monday, May 20, 2013
Last week we looked at a veteran of the famous battle of Minden in the Seven Years War who also served throughout the American Revolution. There were other veterans of that war who served in the Revolution, but there were also younger veterans of more recent wars. With a global empire, Great Britain was in involved in many minor conflicts that are little known today; to the soldiers doing the fighting, however, combat was deadly, dangerous and personal regardless of the overall scale of the conflict.
Among the places troops were sent was the island of St. Vincent where a conflict now called the First Carib War which included intense fighting in 1772 and 1773. The island and its native population had been ceded to Great Britain in 1763 at the close of the Seven Years War; British agricultural expansion incited hostility that turned into armed conflict. Several British regiments were sent to the island; although these professional troops outnumbered the native fighters they were hampered by the health-imparing climate and mountainous jungle terrain. The war ended in 1773 with a peace treaty dividing the island between the British and the natives, an event commemorated in a well-known painting.
One of the regiments that fought in this bloody conflict was the 6th Regiment of Foot; in its ranks was a soldier named Samuel Stratton. From a town called Maidly in Shropshire, Stratton had learned the metalworking trade of a whitesmith before enlisting in the army when he was twenty years old in 1768. On 25 January 1773, fighting on St. Vincent, he was wounded in the neck and head. These injuries did not end his career, though; he remained in the ranks, and was with the 6th Regiment when it sailed from the Caribbean to New York in 1776 to join the escalating war there.
The 6th Regiment had suffered much during its service in the West Indies; by the time it joined General Howe's army, it was under strength and included many worn out men. In December 1776 the regiment was sent back to Great Britain, but following a common practice in both peace and war, its able-bodied men were transferred into other regiments on American service. This procedure, called drafting (in the sense of pulling men from one regiment to another), kept experienced soldiers in the ranks of regiments that needed them, leaving the officers and a cadre of soldiers from the homeward-bound regiment to recruit and train new men in the coming years. Having fully recovered from his wounds, Samuel Stratton was drafted into the grenadier company of the 37th Regiment of Foot.
It wasn't long before Stratton was scarred once again in battle. On 11 September 1777 at the Battle of Brandywine the grenadier battalions - corps formed by massing the grenadier companies from many regiments - were hotly engaged. Stratton was wounded, this time taking bullets "thro' the right Arm & right leg." Once again these injuries did not end his career. He continued with his company through the major engagement at Monmouth the following June. A year later he testified at a court martial in defense of one of his fellow soldiers, corroborating some aspects of the accused's story but offering only those things of which he had direct knowledge.
In 1780 he was appointed corporal, but in September 1781 was reduced again to private soldier. Short-term appointments like this were common and reduction to private did not necessarily reflect a disciplinary issue; sometimes men were appointed to corporal temporarily because another corporal was incapacitated, and sometimes recently-appointed corporals requested to resign the position for reasons that are not stated.
Samuel Stratton continued to serve in the 37th Regiment of Foot until 23 December 1790. He was discharged after 22 years of service and recommended for a pension not only because of his two wounds, but also because he was "worn out in the service." He signed his own name on his discharge.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Some British soldiers who served in the American Revolution were veterans of previous wars. There is no way to be sure how many, because of gaps in muster rolls and also gaps in careers - if a soldier was discharged because of a force reduction at the end of a war, then enlisted again later on, the muster rolls give no indication of the connection between the two terms of service; when the man enlisted there is nothing denoting that he had prior service. Only with the help of other documents, if they exist for that man, can we discern such a career.
Last week at the National Archives in England, I had the good fortune to come across just such a document. The muster rolls of the 4th (King's Own) Regiment of Foot show a soldier named Hendrick Leich being appointed Corporal on 25 October 1776, but there is no indication of where this man came from; his appointment is the first time he appears on the rolls. His name indicates that he was German, and we know that German recruits for British regiments arrived in America in October 1776. The muster rolls show other men with Germanic names joining the regiment on 25 October, so it's a safe bet that Hendrick Leich joined and was appointed Corporal on the same day.
A description list of some of the German recruits includes a Corporal Heinrich Lücke; the list doesn't say that this man joined the 4th Regiment, but does include several other German recruits who did. Furthermore, part of the agreement when these men entered British service was that non-commissioned officers would be appointed to their due ranks as soon as vacancies opened up in their new British regiments. We can safely deduce that Heinrich Lücke's name was anglicized to Hendrick Leich when the British muster rolls were prepared. The description list tells us more about this man: He was 39 years old in May 1776, six feet tall, Protestant, from the Hildesheim near Hanover, and was married but his wife did not accompany him on the voyage to America. It also mentions that he had previously served in the army of Hanover.
Although obliged to serve only until the close of hostilities, Lücke (Leich) remained in the regiment until he was 54 years old. He was discharged from British service in London on 23 March 1791. Like all long-serving British soldiers, he had the opportunity to go before the Chelsea Hospital examining board to seek an out-penion (that is, a pension for non-residents of the hospital, as opposed to an in-pension). The pension was granted and because it was, the hospital retained a copy of his discharge certificate; this document is the one that provides tantalizing details of this man's service.
The discharge is a printed form with personal details hand-written into blank spaces. It tells us that "Henry Lytch" was a laborer - that is, he had no skilled trade - and confirms his age. His place of birth is given as Hanover, a general term that sufficiently approximates the region including Hildesheim. It indicates that he had 17 years of service in the 4th Regiment, which is approximately right (we know that he had already been recruited for British service in May 1776 but do not know when he actually enlisted).
But the most interesting part is the reason why this soldier was recommended for a pension:
long service is worn out having also served 18 years & 9 months in Prince Charles Regt in the Hanoverian service in which Corps he received a wound, in the Wrist at the Battle of Minden. He was enlisted into the British Service by Lt. General Faucett under a general Order that the Hanoverian servitude should be considered.
So this man not only had prior service, he had had a very long career before joining the British army. And he had been wounded at one of the most storied battles in British military history, one that was famous in Lücke's own time. We can only guess whether he was held in high esteem because of this.
Most British soldiers who received pensions had served for at least 20 years; Lücke's discharge indicates overall service, not just service in the British army, was to be considered for pension candidates. He joined the military as a teenager, and served for almost 35 years in the armies of two nations. At the end of it all, including long service as a non-commissioned officer, he was unable to sign his own name on his discharge, instead marking it with an X.18th Century military books and first-hand accounts of the American Revolution
Monday, April 29, 2013
There's a common perception that people in the 18th century didn't live as long as they do today. It's true that the average life expectancy wasn't nearly as long, but some individuals became centenarians, dodging hazard and illness to far exceed the typical life span not only of their own era but also of the present one. One of these men was Henry Church.
Church was a native of England, born on 30 November 1750. He did not set foot in America until he was almost thirty years old, as a private soldier in the 63rd Regiment of Foot. That regiment had been in America since the middle of 1775; Church was a recruit who arrived in October 1780; family tradition suggests that he had prior experience as a soldier, and the fact that he was assigned directly to the regiment's light infantry company supports this theory (at least a year of experience was usually required before being sent to the light infantry or grenadiers).
However long his career as a soldier was, it came to a quick end in America. The light company of the 63rd was sent to Virginia in early 1781, and Henry Church was taken prisoner in the vicinity of Petersburg. He was sent to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where many other British prisoners were held, and remained there until a peace treaty was signed in 1783.
The end of the conflict brought about the repatriation of prisoners of war, but some chose not to return home. British prisoners who did not return were written off as deserters, among them Henry Church. He married a Philadelphia Quaker named Hannah Keine, three years younger than him, and the couple moved west to frontier lands. They settled in present-day West Virginia very near the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania where they built the homestead in which they spent the rest of their lives, raising eight children.
They lived on. Things changed. It is difficult to imagine such a temporal connection, but Henry and Hannah Church watched from his home as a railroad line was built nearby. The line, belonging to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, was not an early experimental venture; it was 1852 when regular service on it began. Henry Church was 101, and his wife 98. They lived on, and saw many trains pass. Henry Church came to be known in the region as "Old Hundred" in recognition of his age.
In 1858 railroad officials offered to give them a train ride to Wheeling, the nearest large town, where they would be treated with some celebrity. The story is that Henry declined the offer with the simple response, “I never did make a show of myself and I never will.” In spite of his modesty, conductors would point out the aged couple to passengers when trains passed. And many more passed.
Hannah Church died on 27 July 1860, having lived for 106 years. Henry Church survived her by only 49 days, passing on 14 September. Their legacy, however, lives on. A town grew up in the area where they lived, first called "Old Hundred" and in 1886 officially named Hundred. It remains to this day, with a population of around 300 including descendants of Henry and Hannah Church, the former British soldier and his American wife.
18th Century military books and first-hand accounts of the American Revolution
Monday, April 22, 2013
When hostilities broke out in America, it was critical to increase the strength of the British military presence there; this meant increasing the strength of the army overall. Recruiting efforts were intensified. Because the army was an all-volunteer force, greater incentives had to be offered than the usual enlistment bounty and the possibility of a pension after a long career. On 16 December 1775, a proclamation was issued that men who enlisted after that date would be entitled to a land grant in America if they chose it, as long as they had served at least three years when the war ended. For agricultural workers, some itinerant, this was a very tempting offer; even though the lands were in a far-away wilderness, it was the only likely way for a British laborer to own his own property.
One of the many who enlisted under these terms was William Disney. The 5' 10 1/2" tall Irishman enlisted in the 34th Regiment of Foot 1776 and proceeded with his regiment to Canada where he spent the entire war, mostly in the environs of Quebec. In 1783, when the war ended and the army was reduced in size again, he took his discharge at the age of 28. The land being offered, due to the outcome of the war, was in Canada rather than more southern colonies as had been anticipated years before; Disney opted to return to Great Britain instead of taking the land bounty (his reason for doing so, however, is not known).
Disney traveled from Quebec to Halifax with the intention of continuing on to England, but for some unknown reason was unable to continue the journey. Instead, he went to work for a landowner named George Deschamps in Windsor, some miles northwest of Halifax.
He worked hard and well. By 1786 he had saved some money and earned the respect of his employer. He decided it was time to try his had at developing his own land. In a good clear hand he wrote a petition to the local government expressing his desire to settle in the area if he could receive a land grant. His employer endorsed him, saying that he was a "well able to improve a location."
We have no information on how William Disney fared, but his story of voluntary enlistment, faithful service, diligent work and initiative is typical of the majority of British soldiers, largely overlooked because their careers were uneventful but nonetheless important.
18th Century military books and first-hand accounts of the American Revolution
Thursday, April 4, 2013
James Hollis received a pension for his military service. This in itself is not unusual; by the 1770s the British army had a well-established pension system and soldiers with careers of 20 years or more were likely to received this reward for their faithful service. Hollis, however, took a different route.
Hollis was born in Wanworth, Surrey, a few miles up the Thames river from London, on 19 August 1757. How he spent his early life is not known, but by 1780 he had enlisted in the British army. Along with about three dozen other recruits for the 63rd Regiment of Foot, he landed in Charleston, South Carolina in January 1781. From there, he was sent inland to join his regiment in time to participate in the relief of fort Ninety Six in June, and the battle of Eutaw Springs in September.
By the end of the year he was back in Charston and stationed at an outpost on Haddrell's point, across the Cooper River from the city. From here he deserted, as did over a dozen other men of the 63rd. The muster rolls show them all as having deserted on 24 December 1781, but it's more likely that they trickled away throughout the month and were administratively written off on the same date.
A year or so of service followed by desertion in a foreign land was not the way for a British soldier to get a pension. But Hollis found another way. He received the protection of American troops under Francis Marion in a region known as the High Hills of Santee. From there he went on to Wilmington, North Carolina. He soon enlisted as a fifer in a company of North Caroina troops commanded by a Captain Rhodes, and served for about 18 months until peace was declared. Notice that he had been a private soldier in British service, and was 24 years old when he started his brief career as a fifer; it is a widely-held misconception that all drummers and fifers were boys or teenagers.
It was for his service in with the American army as a fifer that James Hollis received a pension; he applied for it in 1832 when he was 75 years old and living in Union District, South Carolina. Had he remained in the British army, he could've received a pension thirty years sooner.
18th Century military books and first-hand accounts of the American Revolution
Thursday, March 28, 2013
The American Revolution lasted for 8 years (1775 to 1783), and many British soldiers were in America for the entire war. Each man had his own distinctive career, but sometimes an overview gives a useful perspective. Let's look at the men of one regiment who arrived in America just as the war was beginning, and see how they fared over the following years.
The 22nd Regiment of Foot embarked in Cork, Ireland in early May 1776. Hostilities had begun, but they didn't know that yet - they had been ordered to America simply to reinforce the army already there, along with the 40th, 44th and 45th Regiments. The men of the 22nd were divided among four transport ships. Originally bound for New York, they were met off the America coast by a British warship that redirected them to Boston. The transports trickled in to Boston harbor during the last week of June and the first week of July, encountering the aftermath of the battle of Bunker Hill and a fresh new war.
416 serjeants, corporals, drummers and fifers of the 22nd Regiment disembarked in Boston (along with about 30 officers, 60 soldiers' wives, and some soldiers' children, but we won't be discussing them here). Over the next years many more men came into the regiment, but for now we'll discuss only this initial 416. During the next 8 years:
4 became officers. In general it was unusual for a man to "cross over" from the enlisted ranks to the officer corps, so this low number is no surprise; it may even be deceptively high because some of the four may have been qualified for a commission but enlisted because there were no vacancies (there were several "tracks" for men to follow becoming officers; this is discussed in some detail in my book British Soldiers, American War).
14 were killed in battle in America. The 22nd Regiment was involved in fighting on Long Island in 1776, Rhode Island in 1777 and especially 1778, and in New Jersey in 1780; the Grenadier and Light Infantry companies were in many other actions. The regiment suffered more killed than this, but only 14 of the initial 416 died in battle.
4 died as prisoners of war. A few men of the regiment were taken prisoner here and there over the course of the war, including at least one in Boston; 18 men were taken in New Jersey in 1780, and the light infantry company of 50 men was part of the army that capitulated at Yorktown in 1781. Many prisoners died in captivity; again, this number reflects only those of the initial 416, not the total for the regiment during the war.
2 were executed in America after convictions for military crimes. One was convicted of robbery and desertion; it was his second offence for robbery, and he was executed in Rhode Island in 1778. The other man murdered his wife on Long Island in 1781.
7 never returned from captivity. Officially counted as deserters, the actual fate of many of these men is not known. Most probably succumbed to the temptations of land ownership and a new life in the colonies.
92 died in the service. During times of peace most British soldiers enlisted in their early 20s with no expectation of leaving the army until they were no longer fit for service; typical careers spanned 20 to 40 years. Wartime enlistment was different, but for the 416 men who arrived in Boston the American war was only a portion of their career. Some died in America, while others died years later, some as late as the 1790s. Muster rolls do not give the cause of death; we assume that most of these men died of illness, but accidents and post-1783 warfare may have claimed some.
30 deserted and never returned. This includes those who deserted in America and those who deserted in other places after 1783; it does not include those who did not return from captivity. Reasons for desertion were many and varied, so much so that we dare not suggest generalities!
176 were discharged and received pensions. Men who did serve 20 or more years, or who were disabled in the service, could apply for a pension; this, too, is discussed in detail in my book. After factoring out the men who died or deserted (and therefore could not received pensions), we see that the odds of getting a pension were fairly good! And few careers during this era offered anything like a pension.
22 were discharged and received land grants. Those men who were eligible for discharge at the end of the war could opt for a grant of 100 acres of land in Nova Scotia instead of returning to Great Britain and applying for a pension. Considering that land ownership was only a dream for most British citizens, this was a very tempting offer.
55 were discharged but received no known reward. When a man was discharged from the army, it was his own choice whether to return to Great Britain to apply for a pension. Once the muster rolls shows that the man was discharged, there is no way to know his fate unless he happens to show up later on the pension lists.
10 unknown. And a few men disappear from the muster rolls of the 22nd or subsequent regiments with no indication of why. In some cases the muster rolls themselves are missing. For the moment, we simply have no way of knowing what became of these soldiers.
Overall, we see that about half of the 416 men who landed in Boston completed their military careers and received either pensions or land grants. Considering the number that did not complete their careers, it becomes clear that military service, although arduous, was an attractive career because of the possibility of a pension or land grant, something that almost no other career could offer.
Monday, March 18, 2013
In studying the American Revolution, a war that lasted eight years, it is easy to forget that it spanned only a portion of the career of many of the British soldiers who fought here. Men enlisted as a career, usually in their early twenties after having tried their hand at some other career first. Many were seasoned veterans when they arrived in America, and many continued in the army long after they departed America. There are many examples on this blog; indeed, it would be impossible to profile British soldiers without featuring many such men.
When William Newton came to American with the 4th (King's Own) Regiment of Foot, he was an experienced soldier. The weaver from Ashton under Line in county Lancaster, Newton had joined the army in 1768 at the age of twenty. Between 10% and 15% of British soldiers were weavers, the most common trade among soldiers, a reflection of the textile industry being the backbone of the British economy.
Newton, 5' 9" tall and illiterate, arrived in Boston with the 4th Regiment in 1774. He saw the outbreak of hostilities in 1775, the city's evacuation the following March, and the New York campaign of 1776. In April 1777 his regiment was among those that landed in Connecticut and destroyed American supplies at Danbury. During the retreat from that place, he was wounded in three places: the right arm, left leg and neck. But he recovered and soldiered on, serving on the campaign that took Philadelphia, spending the winter in that city, and then retreating across New Jersey back to New York in 1778.
Late in 1778 the 4th Regiment was among those sent to the West Indies. Here the regiment, with William Newton in its ranks, served in a number of other actions. Early in 1780, after such long and arduous service in North America, the 4th Regiment was ordered back to Great Britain; first, however, the remaining able-bodied soldiers were transferred to other regiments in the West Indies. William Newton joined the 15th Regiment of Foot. With that regiment, he was among the defenders of Brimstone Hill on St. Kitt's when it was besieged by the French in early 1782. The burst of a shell wounded him in the chest. After a month-long defense, the garrison surrendered and Newton was imprisoned.
When peace came the following year, William Newton soldiered on. He continued in the army until June 1789 when he was discharged in Limerick, Ireland, having been "rendered entirely unfit for any further service" by his wounds. His long service and sacrifice earned him a pension.
18th Century military books and first-hand accounts of the American Revolution