Wednesday, January 11, 2017
In early 1775, the 54th Regiment of Foot sent 29 men to serve in America. These men were transferred to other regiments already on service in Boston, and to regiments about to embark for that place; with tensions building in America, the army saw the advantage of bringing the regiments there up to strength with experienced men rather than new recruits, so the 54th and other regiments in Ireland each contributed a share. Then they began recruiting to make up for the losses.
In May, a 24-year-old tobacconist named Thomas Cook from St. Mary's Parish, county Limerick, Ireland, joined the ranks of the 54th. Before the year was over, the 54th Regiment was ordered to America, and filled out its own ranks with equal portions of new recruits and experienced soldiers drafted from other regiments.
The 54th Regiment was part of the expedition that sailed in January 1776 to secure the southern colonies, which culminated in the failed attempt to take Charleston, South Carolina. The 54th and other regiments spend some time on shore encamped in hot, sandy coastal areas. In the summer they sailed north and joined the army on Staten Island, a verdant paradise compared to the places they'd recently been. After the campaign that drove American troops out of the New York area and into New Jersey, the 54th boarded ships once again and landed in December in Rhode Island, which would be their home for the next two and a half years.
The regiments in the Rhode Island garrison spend the winter quartered in buildings left vacant by inhabitants who had fled before the troops landed. In late spring, when roads were firm and ground was dry enough, encampments were established in the countryside. Rhode Island (the name for the island that today we call Aquidneck, or Newport) had points that were particularly close to the mainland; it was at those locations that redoubts were built for defense, and the encampments were usually within easy reach of these earthen fortifications. While encamped, the soldier's daily ration (served out not directly to individuals but to groups of five soldiers called messes) consisted of one and a half pounds of meat and a similar amount of bread each day. This diet was expected to be supplemented by vegetables purchased or foraged locally. The island's bountiful farms provided ample supplies, which British soldiers became quite proficient at obtaining both legally and illicitly. Thomas Cook may have become proficient at foraging. Or he may have decided he'd had enough of military service.
Late in the afternoon of 30 July 1777, Cook showed up at the advanced guard post on Common Fence Point, a neck of land at the northern tip of Rhode Island that juts eastward, creating a narrow but turbulent channel between the island and the mainland. The point itself was too close to the mainland to be safe, so the advanced sentries were posted well back from the shoreline, out of cannon shot from the mainland, with a number of arable fields and orchards between them and their opponents. Some distance behind the sentries was a redoubt where some fifty soldiers were posted. Cook asked a corporal of the advanced guard, who happened to be from his regiment, for some water, and the corporal noted that he was "seemingly a little in liquor." Cook wore a haversack, a canvas bag slung over his shoulder designed for carrying three or four days of rations on a march. He wandered away after getting his water.
Cook walked on towards Common Fence Point. Someone called to him, from behind. He began to run. Suddenly there was gunfire. Fearful of being shot, he ran into a field of Indian corn, then lay down for cover. The shooting stopped, but suddenly two soldiers appeared and seized him. They asked if he intended to desert, to which he answered no.
He was brought back to the redoubt, where he asserted that he had only gone to gather greens. The corporal's guard had fired at him, though, because there was a strict order against anyone passing the advanced sentries without a pass. Examining Cook's haversack, the men of the guard found a pair of shoes, a pair of stockings and some biscuit, signs that Cook had planned a journey rather than a brief foraging walk. And he was wearing two shirts, a further indication of trying to sneak away with essential extra clothing.
When brought before a general court martial on 7 August and charged with desertion, Thomas Cook had little to offer in his defense. He said that he went to gather greens, and ran into the corn field to avoid being killed when the corporal's advanced sentries fired on him; that he had no intention of deserting, and didn't know that the clothing and food were in his haversack. The court did not believe a word of this, and sentenced him to death.
Cook was held in confinement, awaiting the execution of his sentence. He waited. And waited.
In the meantime, the commander in chief of the army in which the 54th Regiment served, General Sir William Howe, received a copy of the trial proceedings and the sentence. He had to approve capital punishments, and it was his prerogative to grant stays of execution. He could also defer to a higher authority, namely, the king himself. A royal pardon was a way of communicating to the troops that their sovereign was merciful, that being tried and sentenced was punishment enough and that the life of a soldier was valued by the monarch. So General Howe sent a letter to the king recommending clemency for Cook and another soldier who'd been tried in New Jersey in April 1777. In January 1778, a letter was sent from the War Office in London indicating that pardons had been granted. It took some time for the letter to reach Rhode Island, but when it finally did, Thomas Cook was a free man.
Or, rather, a free soldier. He returned to the ranks of the 54th Regiment and resumed his duties. Some soldiers who endured such an experience of being tried, convicted, and confined for many months became bitter and deserted, but not Thomas Cook. He served in the regiment for twenty-one years, after which he joined the 63rd Regiment of Foot. He was discharged from the army in 1797 when the 63rd was posted at Spanish Town in Jamaica. In typical fashion, he was given two extra weeks of pay "to carry me to the place of my abode" on the document that he signed by making an X. The army also provided passage for his return to Great Britain, where he was awarded a pension for "being worn out" in the service.
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Most British soldiers enlisted in their early twenties, after they were fully grown and had tried their hands at other professions. There were exceptions both younger and older; among the former were those "born in the regiment" who could be put on the muster rolls as soon as they were old enough to perform useful service for the army. An extreme - and rare - example is Robert Mason who was put onto the muster rolls of the 23rd Regiment of Foot as a drummer on 5 September 1767. Two unrelated documents prepared in 1786 list his age as twenty-six; if that's correct, then he began playing the drum (or the fife - muster rolls often list both drummers and fifers as "drummers") at the age of just seven years.
There was a serjeant John Mason in the regiment at the time Robert Mason joined, making it safe to conclude that the young drummer was the serjeant's son. The boy must have been accomplished in his endeavors, for not only did he begin at this extraordinarily young age, but he remained a drummer for the next nineteen years at least. This was not an unusual career path; while not all British drummers began their careers at a young age, most served as drummers for their entire careers.
The 23rd Regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, came to America in 1773, disembarking in New York and moving to Boston the following year. The regiment, or portions of it, served in many of the war's most famous battles and campaigns, from Lexington and Concord in April 1775 to Yorktown in October 1781. In America during the war, he grew up, reaching a slender five feet eight inches. In May 1776, when the British army under General Howe was reorganizing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he was put into the regiment's light infantry company, where he almost certainly used a hunting horn rather than a drum to signal advances, retreats and other movements. The light infantry company joined similar companies from other regiments to form the 1st Battalion of Light Infantry, a corps that was at the forefront of the campaigns in New York and New Jersey in 1776 and 1777, and the marches to and from Philadelphia in 1777 and 1778. In August 1778 the 23rd's light infantry company was put on board the warship HMS Isis as part of the intended relief of Rhode Island; after the fleet was scattered by a storm, Isis fell in with a larger French warship, and the soldiers of the 23rd, Mason among them, participated the battle in which the British ship bested its larger French foe. Somewhere in the course of these years of fighting Mason was wounded by a musket ball in his left upper arm. And he acquired an interest in women, which began to affect his performance as a soldier.
On 28 July 1779, Mason and two fellow soldiers were absent from the light infantry battalion's encampment near New York City. The next morning, following standard procedure, a serjeant examined their knapsacks to see what they had taken with them: men who planned to desert often took spare clothing with them. The knapsacks were empty, so the men were reported as deserters and light infantrymen on horseback were sent to search for them.
In the mean time, around one o’clock in the morning, before their knapsacks were examined, the three missing men knocked at the door of a house in Throg's Neck, New York, which the British referred to as Frog's Neck. The woman of the house answered the door, and the men asked how to find the road to East Chester, farther away from British lines than they already were. The woman directed them, and the three travelers went on their way. The man of the house, however, was suspicious; he got out of bed, took up his gun, and followed the strangers into the night. The three soldiers stopped at another house, this time asking "if there were not any Rebels near at hand." Once again they were sent on their way. Then the first homeowner, gun in hand, arrived at the second home and told the owner, whom he knew, that he suspected the other men were deserters. The two local residents, both with guns, went off together in pursuit.
The two parties soon encountered each other, and the soldiers submitted to being taken to a nearby military post. The officer there determined to take them to the British lines at Kingsbridge, and off they went, the officer, the two local inhabitants, and the three soldiers of the 23rd Regiment. About two miles short of Kingsbridge, however, the soldiers turned on their escorts, wielding bayonets that they'd had concealed in spare clothing slung over their shoulders. In the ensuing scuffle, the soldiers managed with some difficulty to seize both of the guns. But when the officer severely wounded one of the soldiers, the other two backed down.
The party continued their trek towards Kingsbridge, leaving the wounded man behind. The next person they met was the captain of the 23rd Regiment's light infantry company, the soldiers' own commanding officer. He asked the two remaining soldiers what induced them to desert, to which Mason gave no reply, but his colleague attributed it to liquor. The third soldier, who had been left on the road, died of his wounds.
The two men were brought before a general court martial on 16 August. When the 19-year-old Mason asked the captain to provide a character reference (bearing in mind that the officer had known Mason for most of the young man's life), the officer replied, "you have lately been rather inattentive, owing to an attachment to two Women of the Regiment." In their defense, the two accused soldiers tried to explain their absence and why they’d taken clothing with them, claiming that "they had no intention to Desert, but that they had left the Camp, the preceeding Evening to wash their Necessaries, and in the night they went to gather some Vegetables, and lost their way. The reason that they took the Arms from the Refugees, is, that they on their March to Kingsbridge had used them ill." The court found them guilty, and sentenced them "to suffer death, by being hanged by the Neck, until they are Dead."
This sentence was never carried out. Robert Mason was instead discharged from the regiment in February 1780. This may have been some sort of plea bargain, for Mason enlisted again the very next day and became a private soldier in the 23rd Regiment. He apparently was not with the portion of the regiment that was captured at Yorktown in 1781, and his behavior must have improved, for he was appointed corporal in 1782. At the close of the war, he returned to Great Britain with the regiment, where he continued to advance. His skill with martial music was again recognized when he was appointed drum major in January 1785.
But Mason's mind was still not fully focused on military discipline. For reasons not known, he disappeared from the regiment's quarters at Tynemouth Barracks in Northumberland on 23 July 1786. A month later, he was advertised in the Newcastle Courant:
Deserted, on Sunday the 23rd July last, from his Majesty's 23d Regiment of Foot, or Royal Welsh Fusileers, now quartered in Tynemouth Barracks, Northumberland, ROBERT MASON, Drum Major, aged 26 years, five feet eight inches high, fair complexion, long visage, light brown hair, grey eyes, born in the parish of Oundle, in the country of Northampton, and by trade a labourer. The said Robert Mason had on when he went away a scarlet jacket, with silver lace down the breast, no lappels, blue cuffs and collar, with wings and silver fringe upon each shoulder, white linen waistcoat and breeches, regimental hat with three white feathers, regimental sword and belt, black stock and half gaiters; he slender made and walks very upright, has been wounded in the left arm a little above the elbow, by a musquet ball.
Another drummer, also a veteran of the American war, absconded at the same time. It is not currently know whether either of them returned, or what became of them.
Learn more about British soldiers in America!
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
You are allowed to inlist men of five feet six inches provided they are able bodied, Broad Shoulders well Limbed... Young Lads of five feet High will be allowed of provided they are Well Limbed and Likely to Grow.
British regiments sent officers far and wide in Great Britain seeking suitable men to fill the ranks. Each officer received a set of instructions from the regiment's commanding officer describing the types of men to look for and how they were to be managed once enlisted. Only a few original examples of recruiting instructions from the eighteenth century survive, and while they vary a great deal they do share some general characteristics. Usually they include an instruction concerning how tall recruits should be.
The passage above is from instructions for the 7th Regiment of Foot in 1775. The regiment was in America, but had a few officers back home enlisting men to keep the ranks full. Their height requirement of five feet six inches was typical of peacetime recruiting, as was the caveat about young men being allowed to be shorter if they were "likely to grow." This, and all of the other instructions, were guidelines; an officer could accept any man who he thought would make a good soldier, regardless of age, size or any other consideration, but the recruiting instructions outlined the preferred attributes. There was an element of risk, though, in going outside of the guidelines, because a recruit could be rejected by the regiment when he was sent to join it.
1775 and 1776 saw a dramatic increase in recruiting in order to increase the size of regiments committed to the American war. Instructions went out to over 200 officers from more than 40 regiments, all probably echoing similar guidance. We don't have the orders given to officers of the 46th Regiment, but a list of men they enlisted in January 1776 does survive. From it, we know that they did take the chance on a few young men being "likely to grow." One of them was John Dempsey, a sixteen-year-old from Geashill in Ireland.
During times of peace, there was no prescribed enlistment term; recruits went into the army as a career, and remained soldiers until they were no longer healthy enough to serve. On 16 December 1775, however, as an inducement to enlist more men for the American war, a Royal proclamation was made that men who enlisted after that date could be discharged when the war ended, if they had served for at least three years. This proclamation may have tipped the scales for men who were ambivalent about joining the army. Dempsey enlisted just eleven days later, on 27 December.
Dempsey was only five feet four-and-a-half inches tall, but he was also young enough to have some growth left in him. The officer who recruited the brown-haired, blue-eyed lad with a fair complexion was from the same town, and may have known Dempsey's family well enough to anticipate his full-grown height. The recruiter took the risk. Dempsey was sent with other recruits to America, where he disembarked in New York in late October 1776 and joined his new regiment.
The 46th Regiment served in several campaigns in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1776, 1777 and 1778. Towards the end of the latter year, it was one of several regiments sent on an expedition to the West Indies in response to France joining the war. The plan was for those regiments to return to the army in New York, but the course of the war kept most of them in the West Indies for the remainder of the war.
A number of significant actions occurred in the West Indies. One of them was a sea battle off the coast of Grenada in July. Many men of the 46th and other regiments had been put on board British warships to act as marines; John Dempsey went on board HMS Medway, a 60-gun ship. During the battle he was wounded in the leg, a wound from which he recovered, but which would continue to dog him throughout his life.
By 1782, combat and climate had taken its toll on the regiments in the Caribbean islands. The men of the 46th Regiment who were still fit for service were drafted into other regiments, and the remainder sent back to Great Britain. Dempsey and a number of his comrades joined the 55th Regiment of Foot, a corps that had been on the western side of the Atlantic a few months longer than the 46th had been. But the war was almost over. On 10 August 1783, Dempsey was discharged "in consequence of his majesty's proclamation of the 16th December 1775;" he had served three years as a soldier, and the war was over, so his obligation was ended.
Having spend all of his adult life as a soldier, however, and with no trade to fall back on, Dempsey enlisted once again, this time into the 6th Regiment of Foot. In Dublin, after only six months, he was discharged again because of his "ulcerous leg, which renders him unfit for service." He received a pension which provided a subsistence income, and his whereabouts for the next ten years are not known. In 1794 he joined a regiment called the Irish Fencibles, a corps raised solely for operations within the kingdom of Ireland. In this regiment he was appointed corporal, and managed to limp along for seven and a half more years until the regiment was disbanded in July of 1782. Once again being discharged, "still having the sore leg occasioned by being wounded aboard the Medway Man of War then served as a Marine." He returned to the pension rolls for the remainder of his life.
The recruiter had taken a good chance back in 1775 when John Dempsey was only sixteen years old and a bit shorter than the standard. He grew to be five feet seven inches tall, and gave the army fifteen years of his life.Learn more about British soldiers in America!
Saturday, December 10, 2016
In March and April of 1780, a string of home invasions and robberies occurred in the area around the villages of Jamaica and Flushing in Long Island, New York. The farming region had been garrisoned by the British army since 1776, and was teeming with soldiers, prisoners of war, refugees, and other itinerant and displaced people. Under these conditions, crimes were bound to occur, but this early 1780 spree was particularly disturbing. Residents heard a knock on the door in the middle of the night; if they didn't answer, their doors were broken open and men with blacked faces burst in, demanding money, guns, wearing apparel, watches and other valuables. Sometimes they forced the homeowners to light candles and lead them to goods, other times they forced their victims to cower under bedding while they ransacked the home, threatening to kill those who didn't comply. Residents were tied up, knocked down, blindfolded, belittled and overpowered. No one was sure exactly how many perpetrators there were - three, four, five - with blackened faces, wrapped in greatcoats, at least one carrying a gun - but they all had the appearance of soldiers, particularly one who was seen to be wearing a light infantry cap.
On 8 May they struck again, for at least the fifth time. Their target was the farmhouse occupied by William Creed and his adult son. In the middle of the night, there was noise as people attempted to enter the front door. Failing to break it open, they went to the kitchen door. Four men, one wielding a musket with fixed bayonet, burst through and rushed on the elder Creed, demanding his watch and purse. After threatening to kill him if he didn't comply and demanding a candle, they forced him to hide in his bed under his blankets. But there was something the robbers hadn't counted on. There was another person in the house, Serjeant Donald McCraw of the 42nd Regiment of Foot, the Royal Highlanders, a seasoned veteran soldier wielding a broadsword.
McCraw, a native of the village of Dunkeld, about fifteen miles north of Perth in the Scottish highlands, had enlisted in the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment in 1756 at the age of twenty-two. In his twenty-four years as a soldier, much of it as a grenadier, he had been through some scrapes - the disastrous assault on Fort Ticonderoga during the French and Indian War that took a heavy toll on his regiment, the difficult and dangerous campaign in New York and New Jersey in 1776 and 1777, battles like Brandywine and Monmouth in which the grenadier battalion to which his company belonged was heavily engaged, as well as the dangers imposed by long sea voyages, harsh wilderness campaigns, and even civil unrest in Ireland.
By 1779, McCraw had contracted an abdominal hernia which limited his ability to march and exercise with the regiment, but he and his wife worked for his commanding officer, Captain John Peebles, procuring his provisions, cooking, handling laundry, and other chores. In December 1779, the grenadier battalion quartered in Long Island was ordered to prepare for the expedition to Charleston, South Carolina, Capt. Peebles sent McCraw to Brooklyn to sell a horse, which the serjeant dutifully did, returning with ten guineas (gold coins worth twenty-one shillings, or 1.05 Pounds Sterling). When it came time for the battalion to embark, McCraw, his wife and son remained behind in Long Island. He took quarters at the house of William Creed, whose family treated him well enough that he felt a responsibility to protect them. He wasn't about to let a band of ruffians bring them harm.
The troops of the 42nd Regiment had been issued broadswords, the traditional weapons of highland soldiers, but it's not clear whether they were routinely carried in America. McCraw had his, though, and stormed out of his room wielding it to confront the invaders. The gunman pushed at McCraw with bayonet, but the Scotsman parried the thrust with his hand, and with the other hand swung his sword at his assailant, then seized the musket from him. McCraw then turned on another of the robbers who was at the fireplace attempting to light a candle, and ran him through with his sword. The invaders attempted to regroup and seize the elder Creed, but McCraw and the younger creed rescued him, cutting one on the head in the process, upon which three of the attackers dragged their stabbed comrade out of the house and fled. McCraw himself received two wounds in the scuffle.
The following morning, McCraw and the younger Creed went outside and found a wounded man sitting by the well. He had been stabbed, not by McCraw, but by the band of robbers; he had been with them, but when he refused to help break down the Creeds' door, they ran him through.
They took the man inside, and learned that although he was wearing "a Countrymans Coat," he was a soldier in the King's American Regiment, a Loyalist corps composed of men enlisted in America to fight with the British army. They sent word to his regiment and two officers came. To the officers, the man confessed having participated in three other robberies, and gave the names of several fellow soldiers of his regiment who had been involved including a serjeant and a corporal. Then he died.
The fight with the marauding soldiers was Serjeant McCraw's last battle. In June, the grenadier battalion returned from South Carolina and went into encampment on Long Island. In consideration of McCraw's health issues, Capt. Peebles deemed him eligible for discharge, noting in his diary on 2 July, “presented Sergt. McCraw to the board of Physicians & got him Invalided he fought well last winter in suppressing a gang of Robbers at Jamaica, he killed one & wounded two, & recd two wounds.” Being invalided meant that McCraw could return to Great Britain and stand before the pension board. On 4 July Peebles wrote, “saw Sergt. McCraw & his wife & child told them to get ready to go home in the fleet, & gave the Boy 2 guineas,” quite a generous gesture that represented over a month's worth of a serjeant's pay, a tribute to the great esteem the officer had for this long-serving soldier and his family.
Before he sailed, though, McCraw had one more piece of military business to attend to. He testified at the court martial of the several soldiers of the King's American Regiment implicated in the string of robberies a few months before. Several Jamaica and Flushing residents also testified, the dead man's confession was read, and the court deliberated: three of the perpetrators were sentenced to death, the others to lashes.
McCraw and his family sailed from New York in July 1780. The muster rolls of the 42nd Regiment of Foot indicate that he was discharged on 1 October, but this is the date through which he was paid rather than the date that he left the regiment. In typical fashion, he was given several weeks' pay to subsist him on his journey back to Great Britain. He went before the pension board in Chelsea outside of London on 10 November, forty-six years old, after twenty-four years of service in the 42nd Regiment.
Monday, November 28, 2016
During the 1800s, a great deal of mythology arose about the American Revolution, from reassessments of the conflict in terms of righteousness versus evil, to implausible accounts of individual heroism. Aging veterans of the war suffered from inaccurate memory, and some spun tales to amuse and amaze listeners. Authors recorded stories that were hearsay as facts, sometimes saying they'd been related by actual participants, other times simply repeating popular tales. All of this makes it risky to trust early sources, even those written by participants when a long time had passed since the events. Significant sleuthing is required to very a story, and often the results are inconclusive.
In 1822, Alexander Garden published a book called Anecdotes of the revolutionary war in America. Garden had served for several years as an officer in an American cavalry corps, so he had plenty of personal experience on which to base his writings. He nevertheless was relating events of a war that was half a century in the past. One of his anecdotes is of meeting a soldier named Michael Docherty, who told a long and peculiar story. Garden wrote,
At the moment of the retreat, on the 12th May, 1782, when Col. Laurens, commanding the troops of Gen. Green's army, beat up the quarters of the enemy near Accabec, Michael Docherty, a distinguished soldier of the Delawares, said to a comrade who was near — "It does my heart good to think that but little blood has been spilt this day and that we are likely to see the close of it without a fight."
No notice was taken of his speech at the time, but meeting him shortly after in the camp, I inquired how he who was so much applauded for uncommon gallantry, should have expressed so great a delight on beholding the enemy indisposed for action. "And who besides myself had a better right to be released, I wonder," said Docherty "Wounds and captivity have no charms for me, and Michael has never forgot, but as bad luck would have it, both have been his portion. When I give a little piece of the history of my past life, you will give credit for my wish to be careful of the part that is to come.
"I was unlucky from the jump. At the battle of Brandywine, acting as sergeant, my captain being killed, and lieutenant absenting himself from the field, for the greater safety of his mother's son, I fought with desperation till our amunition was expended, and my comrades being compelled to retire, I was left hopeless and wounded on the ground, and fell into the hands of the enemy.
"Confinement was never agreeable to me. I could never be easy within the walls of a prison. A recruiting sergeant of the British, who was at home in his business, and up to all manner of cajolery by dint of perpetual blarny, gained my good will, slipped the bounty into my hand, which I pocketed, and entered a volunteer into the 17th regiment. Stony Point was our station, and I thought myself snugly out of harm's way, when one ugly night when I did not dream of such an accident, the post was carried at the point of the bayonet, and an unlucky thrust laid me prostrate on the earth. It was a great consolation, however, although this was rather rough treatment from the hand of a friend, that the Delawares were covered with glory, and as their prisoner I was sure to meet the kindest attention.
"My wound once cured, and white-washed of my sins, my ancient comrades received me with kindness and light heart, and hoping to gain my quantity of laurels in the South, I marched forward with the regiment as a part of the command, destined to recover the Carolinas and Georgia. The bloody battle of Camden, fought on the 16th day of August, (bad luck to the day,) brought me once again into trouble. Our regiment was cut up root and branch, and poor Pilgarlic, my unfortunate self, wounded and made prisoner.
"My prejudices against a jail, I have frankly told, and being pretty confident that I should not a whit better relish a lodging in the inside of a prison-ship, I once again suffered myself to be persuaded, and listed in the infantry of Tarleton's legion. O! botheration — what a mistake — I never had such bad company; as a man of honor I was out of my element, and should certainly have given them leg bail, but that I had not time to brood over my misfortunes, for the battle of Cowpens quickly following, Howard and Kirkwood gave us the bayonet so handsomely, that we were taken one and all, and I should have escaped unhurt had not a dragoon of Washington's added a slight scratch or two to the account already scored on my unfortunate carcass.
"As to the miseries that I have endured — afflicted with a scarcity of every thing but appetite and musquitoes, I say nothing about them. My love for my country gives me courage to support that, and a great deal more when it comes. I love my comrades and they love Docherty. Exchanging kindness, we give care to the dogs; but surely you will not be surprised after all that I have said, that I feel some qualms at the thought of battle, since, take whatever side I will, I am always sure to find it the wrong one." [Alexander Garden, Anecdotes of the revolutionary war in America, with sketches of character of persons the most distinguished, in the Southern states, for civil and military services (Charleston, SC: E. A. Miller, 1822), 396-398" (Charleston, SC: E. A. Miller, 1822), 396-398]
Garden compared Michael Docherty to a character named Dugald Dalgetty in Sir Walter Scott's novel A Legend of Montrose, published in 1819. Dalgetty, a soldier of fortune, embraced the cause of whatever side he happened to be fighting for; Garden may have been pleased at the similarity of Dalegetty's and Docherty's names as well as of their stories. But could such a tale be true?
Turns out it could be. The muster rolls of the 17th Regiment of Foot show that a Michael Lochry enlisted in the regiment in Philadelphia on 14 January 1778. The names don't match perfectly, but there are many instances on British muster rolls where the spelling of names changes from one semi-annual roll to the next, sometimes quite a lot. Also, Lochry is the only man to enlist on that date, suggesting that he was recruited locally; usually recruits arrived from Great Britain in groups and were all added to the muster rolls on the same date, so this singular enlistment sets Lochry apart. Several hundred Americans captured after the battle of Brandywine are known to have enlisted in British and Loyalist regiments, so the time frame, situation and regiment suggest that Lochry and Docherty are the same man.
Michale Lochry of the 17th Regiment was captured at the battle of Stony Point in July 1779, which also correlates with the story written by Alexander Garden. The 17th Regiment's muster rolls indicate that Lochry was not exchanged at the end of 1780 with his fellow captives; he was carried on the rolls as “prisoner with the enemy” until the end of the war when he was written off as a deserter on 25 June 1783.
A man named Michael Dockerty was among the almost ninety men from the Delaware Regiment listed as "missing in action" after the battle of Camden on 16 August 1780. And a Michael Dockerty enlisted in the British Legion, commanded by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, on 3 September 1780. He was part of a new company composed largely of prisoners captured at the battle of Camden the previous month. This, too, fits perfectly with Alexander Garden's anecdote. The fact that Michael Lochry still was on the rolls of the 17th Regiment is immaterial; there was no way for the officers of the British Legion in South Carolina to compare their records with those of the 17th Regiment in New York.
The British Legion suffered greatly at the battle of Cowpens in January 1781. Many of its men were captured, including Micheal Dockerty. After that, he no longer appears in British records.
Based on the data from muster rolls, we can be confident that Alexander Garden did indeed learn of a man named Michael Docherty, or something that sounded similar to that, who had served in both the 17th Regiment and the British Legion. The only other way he could have known was to himself have studied the British muster rolls, which is unlikely for an American to have done in the early 1800s. Whether Garden truly met the man is less certain; perhaps he'd heard the story elsewhere. Garden relates the story as though it is Docherty's words verbatim, but the passage of time surely caused differences; the overall sequence of events, however, stands up to scrutiny.
Mostly, that is. The muster rolls of the Delaware Regiment indicate that a man named Michael Daugherty deserted the regiment, but not until 17 May 1778. Then they record him on the rolls again in September. Those dates are in complete conflict with both the story told by Garden and with the British muster rolls. Perhaps that Michael Daugherty was a different man, or perhaps there's some other explanation for the inconsistency. Most of Alexander Garden's story checks out, however, giving us a remarkable example of how unusual a soldier's career could be.
Monday, November 21, 2016
John Sutherland had intended only to visit his brother, and now he sat in confinement, awaiting a death sentence. It was not a likely fate for the forty-one year old private soldier of the 64th Regiment of Foot who had always borne "a very good Character" in over eighteen years as a soldier, except for an occasional bout of intoxication, a vice that was common enough among British soldiers, especially those who had spent several years fighting a frustrating, inconclusive war with American colonists.
Sutherland enlisted in the 64th Regiment in 1760 when he was twenty-two years old, after having pursued the trade of a tailor. The regiment, a new one established in 1756 as a second battalion to an existing regiment, and made an independent regiment two years later. Service in the West Indies, in particular the 1759 taking of Guadeloupe, severely depleted their ranks. The corps returned to Great Britain in 1759, and was soon sent to Scotland to recruit. Sutherland, a native of county Caithness in Scotland, was among the new enlistees. He had plenty of time to learn the military trade before another overseas deployment; the 64th Regiment spent three years in Scotland and another five in Ireland before crossing the Atlantic once again.
In 1768, the 64th Regiment of Foot, fully fit for service after a decade of recruiting and training, sailed to North America. There was no explicit crisis to address, it was just part of normal rotations of regiments from domestic to overseas service. The regiment spent the next several years in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Boston, Massachusetts, although much of the time in the latter city was actually passed at the fortified barracks on Castle Island in Boston Harbor. They moved into town in 1774 when tensions with the colonists grew, then served throughout the siege and subsequent evacuation of the city in March 1776. The next time that Sutherland's individual activities become apparent, though, is in October 1778.
The regiment was encamped near Bedford on Long Island. There were many British troops in the area, and their proclivity for foraging caused much mischief on the region's verdant farms. Some farmers applied to the army for safe guards, and individual trustworthy soldiers encamped on their properties to fend off nighttime forays by soldiers bent on illicitly procuring produce. One of these safe guards was John Hamilton of the 44th Regiment. He was well acquainted with the 64th Regiment encamped a few miles away, having "struck several of the Men of that Regiment who had come there to gather Peaches" in recent weeks. At about 1 in the morning on 8 October, he heard noise among the farms poultry. Investigating, he saw two men; when one ran away, Hamilton fired a shot at him, then confronted the other soldier, the somewhat belligerent and very drunk John Sutherland. Sutherland had his firelock (musket) with him, and aimed it at Hamilton; Hamilton, resolute in his duty and perhaps detecting Sutherland's impaired condition, "told him that if he offered to make any resistance he would kill him." Sutherland put the butt of the firelock - which was primed and loaded but did not have a bayonet fixed - on the ground. Hamilton recalled that he
put his hand upon the Muzzle of [Sutherland's] firelock and bid him give it up, but this he refused to do; that [Sutherland] then attempted to bring his firelock up to the Charge; that he [Hamilton] then quitted his hold of the prisoner's firelock, and bringing the point of his Bayonet which was fixed to his own firelock to [Sutherland's] Breast and told him that he would kill him if he offered to make any more resistance; that [Sutherland] then went up to the House where there were two Musicians, belonging to the 33d Regiment who advised him to give up his firelock, but he would not, and they were obliged to break it before they could get it from him.
The following week, John Sutherland was tried by a general court martial in New York, charged with the crime of forcing a safe guard. After hearing the testimony of the safe guard, John Hamilton, the court asked Sutherland for his defense; all he could off was that "he was so much in Liquor at the time that he did not know what he did, and that he never was Guilty of the like before." Perhaps based on his long record of good service, he was acquitted. He returned to his duties.
Sutherland had a brother who was also a soldier in America, serving in a grenadier battalion. Each regiment had a grenadier company, but during the American War those companies were usually detached from their regiments and assembled into composite battalions of their own. John Sutherland's brother may have been Corporal James Sutherland of the 64th Regiment's grenadiers, part of the 2nd Battalion of Grenadiers. In July 1779, that battalion and the 64th Regiment itself were part of a force that had just moved into Westchester County.
One Wednesday afternoon, John Sutherland finished his tasks with a working party and decided to pay a visit to his brother. He and another man, John Archibald, made their way to the grenadier encampment and spent an evening socializing and drinking. The combination of intoxication and darkness caused them to lose their way attempting to return to their own encampment, and they spent the night lost in the woods. In the morning they lost track of each other. Archibald found his way to the camp, but Sutherland did not.
During the same night that the two men got lost, the grenadier battalions and other corps in the area marched off to different locations; the following days brought more movements, until on Saturday the 2nd Battalion of Grenadiers encamped in Mamaroneck, New York. On the march that morning, a soldier of a light infantry battalion noticed a man peering out from the bushes and called to him to come out. The man, John Sutherland, revealed himself. Asked if he was a deserter, and how long he'd been off, Sutherland said three or four days, and that he'd been in liquor. He then compliantly went with the light infantryman and another soldier.
Sutherland was put on trial for desertion that very day. He explained himself to the court, concluding that after he lost contact with John Archibald, he was afraid to return to the regiment because he'd already been gone so long. The court did not ask the usual questions about whether Sutherland had taken clothing with him, or resisted apprehension. An officer of the 64th testified that "whilst he was with the Regiment, the prisoner bore a very good Character; and that he has great reason to believe, that it was from drunkenness the Prisoner deserted, as it agreed with what John Archibald (the Man that was with the Prisoner) told the Adjutant of the Regiment on his return." Compared to other desertion trials, this one seemed unambiguous; even though Sutherland had been absent, there was no reason to believe that he had intentionally absconded. Desertion was a capital crime, but a corporal sentence was appropriate in this case.
The court, however, ruled that Sutherland was guilty and sentenced him to death. This was probably a reaction to a recent spate of desertions in the grenadier battalion rather than to the evidence presented. The officers who composed the court were all from the grenadier battalion, and no testimony came from soldiers in Sutherland's own regiment. Grenadiers were deserting, and an example needed to be made.
The verdict did not sit right with two members of the court, Captain John Peebles of the 42nd Regiment's grenadier company and Captain Warren Simondson of the 64th's. Simondson had testified to Sutherland's character; Peebles recorded in his diary:
on a Genl. Court Martial for the tryal of John Sutherland of the 64th. Regt. for desertion, he was taken this morng. near Rye, - a poor silly creature who tells a simple & consistent story of his being in liquor & losing his way in the night, his greatest fault was in not returning, for it does not appear to me that he left his Regt. with an intention to desert. however he is condemned to suffer death by a mode of procedure in Court that I never saw or hear’d of before, & cannot reconcile to justice & humanity; a circumstance which I shall never forget, & now think in my own mind I should have protested against.
The execution was scheduled for 19 July. Captain Peebles and Captain Simondson went to the officer commanding their brigade and made a case on Sutherland's behalf; Peebles wrote,
Captain S--n & I waited on Genl. Vaughan to ask his opinion of a case like that which happen’d at the Court Martial which we found agreed with ours, we then told him that there was an irregularity in the proceedings, or rather in giving sentence, which we could not reconcile to our judgement & conscience, and begged he would order the Execution be put off untill we could acquaint the Comr. in chief with as much of the affair as the nature of our oath wod. allow us, which he was very ready to do
The general, however, soon learned that a surprise was in store, and let the two captains in on the secret: while forcing the troops to witness an execution was one method of deterring desertion, by striking fear into them, another method for gaining soldiers' loyalty was to show mercy. "The Comr. in Chief had left orders to pardon the prisoner at the foot of the Gallows, which satisfied us with respect to the safety of a man’s life who was not regularly condemn’d." Peebles then recorded the proceedings of the execution:
The Picquets of the left Column being ordered out with the Field officer of the day for the Execution of Jno. Sutherland of the 64th ... The Ceremony was gone thro’ & the poor man behaved very well and penitently at the approaching scenes of death, fainted with joy when his pardon was pronounced.
John Sutherland had escaped with his life. He may, however, have received corporal punishment for his absence from his regiment. For reasons that have not been determined, at the end of the year he was discharged from the 64th Regiment of Foot and took a new post as a soldier in the Royal Garrison Battalion. This was a corps composed of soldiers no longer fit for the demands of long marches and encampments, but who could render useful service at fixed posts. The Royal Garrison Battalion served in the New York area before being sent to garrison Bermuda.
At the end of the war the Royal Garrison Battalion in Bermuda was disbanded. Some of the soldiers took the opportunity to go to Nova Scotia and take their discharge there, Sutherland among them. He was discharged at Sheet Harbor in June 1784, having spent twenty-four years as a soldier. But his military days were not done. In 1793 he joined the Royal Nova Scotia Regiment, in which he served a further three years before being discharged and recommended for a pension, "being deemed by a medical board, from his advanced age, and long services, to be unfit for His Majesty's Service." He signed an X on his discharge, indicating that he had never learned to write. He was fifty-eight years old, five feet seven inches tall, with light hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion, and after twenty-six years in the army he was finally returning to Great Britain.
The pension examining board had other ideas for Sutherland than simply sending him home to Caithness. The directed him into another garrison corps, the Guernsey Invalids, which he joined on 13 February 1797. He stayed in that corps for five more years, finally taking his discharge on 24 December 1801, "being old & feeble." After thirty-one years in the army, this "poor, silly creature" had earned his pension.
Learn more about British soldiers in America!
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
When it became clear that all-out war had broken out in America, the British War Office made changes to allow more troops to be sent into the conflict. One change was to augment the size of regiments already in America, or ordered to go there. The number of private soldiers in each of an infantry regiment's ten companies was increased from 38 to 56, the number of serjeants in each company was raised from two to three, and the number of drummers per company increased from one to two.
This change was ordered in June 1775, but it would take time to raise the men. To facilitate recruiting, two "Additional Companies" were also added to each regiment. Nominally these were identical to the ten existing companies, with three officers, three serjeants, three corporals, two drummers and fifty-six private men. In reality, they were administrative structures to make recruiting possible: the officers, with a cadre of non-commissioned officers and drummers, spread out all over Great Britain seeking recruits wherever they might be had. About half of each regiment's needs would be filled by drafts, experienced men transferred from regiments not going overseas, thereby maintaining a reasonable level of overall experience in the deployed regiments. But that still meant that each regiment needed nearly 100 new recruits.
Three officers of the 46th Regiment of Foot worked hard to recruit men in Ireland at the beginning of 1776. The 46th had already gained many new men, both recruits and drafts, prior to embarking for America in late December 1775. Now that their regiment was at sea, Captain Alexander Duff, Lieutenant Samuel Bathurst and Ensign Thomas Digby enlisted 71 new men between 23 December 1775 and 4 February 1776. The results of their work, recorded in a very rare return of British recruits, provides many interesting details on British wartime recruiting.
Of the 71 men enlisted, 15 ranged in age from 16 to 20 years old; 26 ranged from 21 to 25; 21 were from 26 to 30, and five were from 31 to 35 years old. No data was recorded for four of the men. This age range mirrors that of broader data sets that include peacetime recruiting: the majority of British soldiers enlisted in their early to mid-twenties. Later in the war, when recruiting got more intensive to keep pace with increased manpower demands, the proportion of younger and older men increased, but the majority continued to be in the same early twenties range.
Thirteen of the men were below the peacetime recommended minimum of five feet six inches, with four standing only five feet four and a half inches tall. It was common for men in their teens, who might still have some growing to do, to be enlisted when below the standard, but only seven of the short men were below the age of twenty; one of the shortest was also one of the oldest, at thirty-two. He was a fifer, which may have influenced the decision to enlist him in spite of his low stature and advanced age.
Eight of the men were enlisted in Dublin by Capt. Duff, and fourty-four by Lt. Bathurst about twenty miles west in Kilcock, County Kildare. The remainder were enlisted farther west by Ens. Digby in Geashill, King's County (today named County Offaly), the ancestral home of the young officer's prominent military family; his influence is apparent in that twelve of his recruits were born in his home town. Almost all of the men came from towns in the midland Irish counties - Dublin (4), Meath (6), Westmeath (9), Offaly (King's) (14), Roscommon (8), and Kildare (11), the remainder being from Donegal (2), Galway (1), Kilkenny (1), Longford (2), Mayo (1), Monaghan (1), Laois (Queen's) (1), Sligo (1), and Tyrone (2). One man came from Middlesex in England, and four have no birthplace recorded.
Only 15 of the 71 had trades (with four unknown), the remainder being laborers. This is well below the overall average of between fifty and sixty percent with trades seen in larger data sets, but reasonably close (although still below) the norm for recruits from Ireland alone. The trades included three cordwainers (who made shoes), two butchers, a barber, breeches maker, dyer, flax dresser, hatter, school master, tailor and weaver. Also listed among the trades was a fiddler and the fifer mentioned above.
Perhaps most interesting of all is that only 37 of these 71 recruits joined the 46th Regiment in America; possibly only 35, given that two of the names don't match perfectly between the list of recruits and the regiment's muster rolls. 14 recruits had deserted by 9 February when the return from which this data comes was prepared (among them the fifer mentioned above); one of those deserters had been caught again and was held in a military prison in Dublin. The remaining twenty men are unaccounted for, having apparently been discharged, transferred, or deserted before the recruits set sail for America. Most of the recruits who joined the regiment in America embarked on transports in early July 1776, and arrived in New York in late October, meaning they'd spent six months in training before sailing; a few arrived a few months later.