Tuesday, April 29, 2014
We've seen many stories here of men who received pensions after being discharged. Usually the pension was a reward for long service, but some men received them because they'd sustained disabling injuries in the army and were no longer able to "earn their bread" even though still young. In most cases we lose sight of a man once he received his pension, because that's where the trail of military paperwork ends. There may be additional details in local records, but that type of research work is time consuming (if the records are accessible at all) and can be fruitless if there's no way to prove that the man mentioned in a non-military source is the same man discharged from the army some years before.
But occasionally there's a lucky break, as in the case of Samuel Mulley. A barber from the village of Diss in Norfolk, Mulley enlisted in the 63rd Regiment of Foot in 1776 when he was twenty years old, one of hundreds of recruits raised to increase the strength of this regiment that had arrived in Boston just as war broke out in 1775. Mully and almost 200 other men, some recruits and some drafts from other regiments, joined the 63rd in New York in October 1776. Shortly afterwards the regiment was among those that occupied Rhode Island, but they were removed from that garrison and sent back to New York early in 1777.
In October of that year the 63rd was among the British forces that stormed Forts Clinton and Montgomery on the Hudson River in an attempt to support Burgoyne's army operating far to the north. The 63rd suffered many casualties in this intense, bitter fight. Samuel Mulley was among the wounded. For the next year he was reported as "sick" on the regiment's muster rolls. He was finally discharged a year after the battle and sent back to Great Britain with other invalid soldiers.
The date given on the muster rolls for Mulley's discharge is 24 November 1778, but that's deceptive - the surviving muster rolls were prepared to reconcile how men were paid, and discharged men were usually given a few extra weeks of pay as an allowance for their travel home. We don't know the exact data that Mulley left the 63rd Regiment, but we do know that he appeared before the pension board at Chelsea Hospital outside London on 18 December 1778. They recorded that he was wounded in the left thigh, and granted him an out pension - semi-annual payments of 5 pence per day which he could collect at the excise office nearest to his town of residence.
The pension board seemed to think that Mulley's leg wound was severe enough that he couldn't work at his trade as a barber. That's hard to reconcile with the fact that Mulley was able to join the Suffolk Militia, which was called out in 1778 in response to the threat of French invasion. In 1779 this militia regiment was among the forces that encamped on Warley Common east of London for training and readiness. It was from there that Samuel Mulley deserted, as described in a London newspaper advertisement:
Camp at Warley, August 5, 1779.
Deserted on Sunday last, from the first Suffolk regiment of Militia, encamped on Warley Common, and from Capt. Lord Euston’s company, Samuel Mulley, by trade a barber, about 26 years of age (late apprentice to Mr. Evans in the Cook Row, Bury), about five feet seven inches high, grey eyes, light brown hair, broad flat feet, on the left of which he appears rather lame, owing to a wound under his left ham from a bullet: has also a scar on one of his hands, occasioned by a bayonet, and marks of gunpowder on the left side of his face; is rather knock’d kneed, though very stout, and takes much snuff. He was late of the 63d regiment of foot, and had on when he went away a light coloured cloth coat, a sky blue cloth waistcoat, and a pair of brown fustian breeches, all lately new; and a round flapped hat, with strings to tie occasionally, two of which were tied up when he went off, and the fore part was flapp’d.
Whoever will apprehend, or cause to be apprehended, the said Samuel Mulley, shall receive, over and above the usual money given for the apprehension of deserters, One Guinea, by giving notice to the commanding officer.
[Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, 6 August 1779]
The age given in the ad differs from that recorded by the pension board; we've assumed that the latter is more accurate, but discrepancies of a few years are quite common among various sources of age data from this era (and sources of age data for soldiers are themselves quite rare). More interesting is the description of Mulley's wounds, which suggest the bitterness of fighting that he had experienced. The mention of a gunpowder burn is extremely rare among descriptions of soldiers, indicating that it was distinctive and disproving the modern thinking that soldiers were frequently subject to singing by the muskets of adjacent men.
This is the last data that we've found on Mulley, so have no idea whether he returned to the Suffolk militia or remained away from military service for the rest of his life. By absconding, though, this militiaman in England unwittingly afforded us with interesting insight on a fight in America.
Monday, April 21, 2014
At this time of year there is naturally much discussion on the battle that began a long war, the fighting that occurred on 19 April 1775 when a British column marched out of Boston in an attempt to seized military stores at Concord. Who fired first will be the subject of debate for as long as the war is remembered; we have nothing new to add to that discussion. But people talking about the battle today often make erroneous statements about the British troops involved, using words like "young", "conscripts", "recruits", and other terms. There's a mistaken impression that these were inexperienced men. They were not.
The soldiers who marched to Concord that day were the light infantry and grenadier companies from regiments serving in Boston. Each regiment had ten companies, including one each of light infantry and grenadiers. These companies, each with about 35 private soldiers, were composed entirely of capable, experienced men. Their names are known from surviving muster rolls, and their careers can be traced using these semi-annual documents. Unfortunately, very few historians have used this valuable source of information (available only in the form of the original manuscripts at the British National Archives) to document the actual amount of military experince these soldiers had. It's tedious work, but it reveals that the soldiers involved in the fighting on 19 April typically had been in the army for five to ten years, many of them longer. Only a handful had fewer than three years of military experience. The British column did have issues with discipline that day, but they cannot be attributed to fundamental inexperience of the soldiers. Instead, we must look at other factors. Many of the soldiers lacked combat experience in spite of having been in the army for several years. More important, the individual companies had each been taken from their regiments and were put together for the expedition to Concord, but they had not trained together before. Even though each individual company was composed of well-trained men, they did not have experience working together. And no one expected a war to begin that day.
Among the most seasoned soldiers on the expedition was a private soldier in the grenadier company of the 4th Regiment of Foot, the King's Own. John Smith was from St. Andrews in Norfolk, England, and had learned the dyer's trade before he joined the army. He enlisted in 1754, just before the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, when he was 23 years old. His regiment participated in fighting at Minorca in the Mediterranean, and later was sent to the West Indies. When Martinique was taken by the British in 1762, John Smith was wounded in the lower leg. He recovered, and continued in the service.
By the time he marched out of Boston on 19 April 1775, John Smith was 44 years old and had been a soldier for 21 years. And there was nothing unusual about him; many soldiers on that march had similar service records. He received his second wound that day, this time in the thigh. Once again the injury was not severe enough to put him out of the war. It is not known whether he fought again at Bunker Hill, but he continued in the grenadier company after that battle. At the end of 1776 he was transferred into another company for unknown reasons; perhaps the effects of his wound made it too difficult to march with the fast-moving grenadiers. But he was still very much a serving soldier, continuing with the 4th Regiment as it participated in the 1777 campaign to Philadelphia and the 1778 march across New Jersey back to New York.
Later in 1778 the 4th Regiment was among those sent to the west Indies. Smith went there for the second time in his career. He continued to serve after the war ended and the army was reduced in size. He finally left the army in 1788, signing his own name on his discharge certificate. He was 57 years old, and had been wounded twice during his 34 years in the army. He received a pension for his long service.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
British regiments serving in America left a cadre of officers and soldiers in Great Britain to recruit the new soldiers that wartime attrition would necessitate. It was no easy job, particularly for those regiments that came to America in 1775; an order was given that June to increase the size of each regiment in America by 180 private soldiers. Some of those new men were provided by transferring ("drafting") men from other regiment in Great Britain, but many needed to be recruited. This meant that the recruiting officers had to raise many more men that the usual (but unpredictable) number required to make up for annual losses.
The 35th Regiment had arrived in Boston in 1775 just in time to participate in the battle of Bunker Hill. It's recruiting officers, in the mean time, set to work. On 3 March 1776, when the 35th was preparing to evacuate Boston with the rest of the British army, the recruiters enlisted a man named Edward Wade. Desertion, however, was a problem for recruiting parties: for a host of reasons, men changed their minds about the military as a career and absconded from their contractual obligation. Edward Wade did so, for reasons that we don't know. His desertion was advertised in the newspapers:
Deserted from Ensign Bevan’s Recruiting Party at Neath, near Swansea, South Wales, Edward Wade, Inlisted for the 35th regiment of foot the 3d of March, by trade a Shoemaker, sallow complexion, black hair, pitted with the small-pox, 5 feet 6 inches and a half high. He had on, when he deserted, a patched black coat, white waistcoat, leather breeches, and white stockings, and wore a broad-brimmed hat, cocked up behind only, with a large brass button upon it.
Whoever apprehends the said Deserter, and secures him, so that he may be brought to justice, shall receive Twenty Shillings reward over and above the allowance by Act of Parliament, by applying to the Commanding Officer at Neath, or to Messrs. Gray and Ogilvie, Agents, in Conduit-street, London.
[London Chronicle, 11 April 1776]
Whether he was caught or returned of his own volition, he was back with the 35th's recruits in time to embark for America that summer. He was among those who arrived in New York in October, having spent some two months on board a transport ship crossing the Atlantic.
As a shoemaker, Wade had good prospects in the army. It was a common trade for soldiers, but if he was diligent at it he could earn significant extra income working within his regiment or taking outside work. Even British prisoners of war enhanced their incomes making shoes for the Continental Army. But it was not to be. For reasons not recorded, Edward Wade died on 25 December 1776, having experienced only a glimpse of the war that would occupy his fellow soldiers for many more years.
Learn more about British soldiers in America!
Sunday, April 6, 2014
James Gilmour enlisted in the 82nd Regiment of Foot. It was a new regiment, raised in 1778 because there was a war on. The war in America had been going on for three years, and now France had declared war on Great Britain, necessitating a massive military buildup. Throughout the spring and summer of 1778 the 82nd Regiment was recruited; for a year the new corps, consisting of a mix of men previously discharged from the army and men new to military service, trained in Great Britain. Early in 1779 they were ready for deployment overseas, and boarded transports for America.
The regiment went first to Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there, most of the companies went on to Penobscot, Maine, where they would fight in a great siege. But the Grenadier company and the Light Infantry company, the latter including James Gilmour, were sent to join the British army in New York. Most of the 82nd's men were on the transport Mermaid. The ship rounded Cape Cod and made for New York, but instead of getting safely past Sandy Hook and into New York harbor, she ran aground off the New Jersey coast. What happened next is described in a newspaper article published in Philadelphia on 7 April 1779:
Since our last came to this city sundry prisoners saved from the Mermaid, stranded near Egg-harbour. From them we learn, that the said ship sailed from Halifax, in company with six other transports, having on board all the flank and light companies of that garrison; on board the Mermaid was the flank company and half the light company of the 82d regiment. That on the 22d, at five o’clock in the morning, the Mermaid ran ashore, when she soon bulged, and the people on board were obliged to take to the tops and shrouds, where, for 35 hours, those who were saved bore the severest cold, snow, &c. and while they had light, the survivors were almost every minute shocked with the falling of some of their unhappy ship-mates, who died with the cold, from the tops and other parts of the rigging, where they had endeavoured to secure themselves from the sea, which continually rolled over the ships deck. After having been in this miserable situation from five o’clock on Monday morning till noon on Tuesday, a boat came off to their relief, and saved about 42 of them, many of which are much frost bitten in their feet, and some of them were not able to help themselves on board the boat that came to their relief so that a few hours more must, in all probability, have finished the whole of them.
List of persons on board the ship Mermaid, Capt. Snowball, from Halifax to New-York: Perished, Capt. Snowball, master of the ship; Lieut. Snodgrass, of 82d light company; 112 serjeants, drums and privates; 13 women, seven children, 11 sailors. Total 145. Saved, five serjeants, 25 privates, seven sailors, and five officers, viz. Capt. Thomas Pitcairn, Lieuts. Andrew Rutherford, James Dunlap, of grenadiers, James Maxwell, and Robert Anderson, of light infantry of the 82d regiment. Total 42.
Among the 25 privates who survived the ordeal was James Gilmour. He got out of the water, but was also now effectively out of the war; he and the other survivors were brought ashore by their adversaries; the officers were put on parole in the interior of Pennsylvania while the private soldiers went into prison in Philadelphia.
A few months later one of the officers, Captain Thomas Pitcairn, made a plea to the American officer responsible for prisoners of war; he asked for Gilmour to be released, but for rather self-serving reasons. He wrote,
The Servant you was so good as to give us has taken the Oaths to the States, leaves us without any body to clean our Shoes and any other trifle we may want. I Should therefor be exceedingly obliged to you if you would allows us James Gillmour one of our own men now in Jail who having been always one of our Servants will be of greater use to us.
Cleaning shoes and attending to trifles doesn't sound like a glamorous life, but being an officer's servant could be a good life for a private soldier. The job paid well, sometimes officers provided additional clothing, servants obtained a measure of freedom and responsibility by being sent on errands for their officers - and in Gilmour's case, it was an alternative to jail.
It seems to have gone well for James Gilmour. He was released from captivity when the war ended, returned to Great Britain, and was discharged from the army on June 1784.