Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Ralph Brunker, 33rd Regiment, takes his own way out
Something went wrong in Ralph Brunker's career. We don't know what it was, but we have some clues.
Brunker, also spelled Bunker, came to America in 1776 as a corporal in the grenadier company of the 33rd Regiment of Foot. For a rank-and-file soldier, this was a reasonably prestigious post; the grenadier company, ten percent of the regiment's strength, was formed of men who had at least a year of experience, had good physiques including being among the tallest men in the regiment, and were generally reliable soldiers. Being appointed as a non-commissioned officer indicated that Brunker was a trustworthy, well-disciplined soldier; there were only three corporals and three serjeants in a company that included (at full strength) fifty-six private soldiers, so Brunker was in the top ten percent of an already-elite ten percent.
Things began to change for Brunker in the middle of 1777. After a year of hard campaigning with a grenadier battalion, he was transferred out of the grenadiers and into one of his regiment's eight battalion companies. This in itself wasn't unusual; men who had been wounded, fallen ill, or in some other way were unfit to continue the very active duties of a grenadier were always transferred back to the regiment and replaced with fit men. But Brunker was also reduced to be a private soldier before the end of 1777. While this, too, could have been due to physical incapacity, both the transfer and the reduction could have been caused by poor discipline.
A year later, in June 1778, Brunker was put back into the grenadier company, still a private soldier. The 33rd Regiment's grenadier company spent the winter of 1778-1779 as part of a grenadier battalion on Long Island, living in huts and, as is often the case with enthusiastic but bored soldiers, causing a fair amount of trouble with local inhabitants. When they finally went on campaign again in the late spring of 1779, it was difficult to contain the men who had been cooped up for months. When the grenadier battalions established a camp at Verplancks Point on the east bank of the Hudson River, the many of the soldiers set to plundering outside of their own lines. Several deserted. A few were caught a tried by courts martial.
In July the grenadiers moved south and east into Westchester County. The discipline problems continued. It was in this area that Ralph Brunker's career came to an abrupt end. He and another grenadier "went off"; whether for plunder or with an intention of deserting is not known. A local Loyalist named Elijah Vincent, who served as a guide for the army and later became an ensign in the Guides and Pioneers, came upon the two wayward soldiers in New Rochelle. He arrested them and brought them into the grenadiers' camp, where they were put in confinement. They could expect to be charged by a regimental court for being absent from camp, or by a general court for desertion. Either way, the likely punishment was lashes.
Ralph Brunker probably already knew the pain of lashing, the most likely explanation for this next move. And the army's response is indicative that he had already established a reputation as a bad character. An officer recorded, “Two from the Grrs went off & were taken up at New Rochelle by a young man call’d Vincent of East chester who march’d them into Camp, they were lodged in the Qr. Guard & in the Eveng one of them (Bromker the 33d) cut his throat & dyed & was buried in the highway with a stake thro’ his body.”