When he set foot on a sandy barrier island near Charlestown, South Carolina in the first half of 1776, William Nowland was already a seasoned soldier. The Enniscorthy, County Wexford native had joined the 46th Regiment of Foot on 22 April 1769 at the age of eighteen; now, having completed seven years of soldiering, he was barely beginning his army career.
The 46th Regiment spent several weeks encamped on the hot, barren Carolina coast as part of an expedition that was supposed to bring the region into British control, but which ended in failure. The seven regiments and the naval fleet that brought them to America then proceeded north to Staten Island, joining in August the large British army gathered there. In preparation for a new campaign, Nowland was transferred into his regiment's light infantry company. This company joined the light infantry companies from the other six regiments from the Charlestown expedition, forming the 3rd Battalion of Light Infantry. This temporary formation operated independently of the companies' parent regiments, instead working with two other light infantry battalions to form the vanguard of the army.
At the end of August, the army, led by the light infantry, successfully seized Long Island. In September they took New York City, and in October proceeded with a campaign to wrest the region surrounding Manhattan from rebel control.
The light infantry figured heavily in the campaigning in Westchester County, New York, but Nowland didn't remain long in that company. At the end of October he was appoint corporal in another company of the 46th Regiment. In his new role he probably took charge of a "squad of inspection," ensuring that about a dozen men were always fit for duty, their clothing and equipment clean, their diets and discipline properly managed. When on guard duty he posted pickets and sentries. In February 1778, when the regiment was in Philadelphia, he called the roll one evening and discovered a soldier missing; following normal procedure, the next morning he checked to see whether the man had taken anything with him. "Upon examining his knapsack yesterday morning," Nowland testified at the soldier's trial for desertion, "he found that all his necessaries, except a pair of shoes & a piece of an old Shirt had been taken out, & he was informed that he had taken away a Shirt of his Comrades."
The British army departed Philadelphia in June 1778, returning to the area around the city of New York. Late that year, the 46th and nine other regiments embarked on an expedition to the West Indies to defend British interests there against the French. They landed in St. Lucia in December, and soon drove away an attacking French army. Some time before the end of 1779, William Nowland was appointed sergeant.
Service in the West Indies meant spending a lot of time on ships, often on warships rather than the transports that usually moved soldiers from one place to another. Several times, British soldiers participated in naval battles. One of these was the Battle of Martinique on 17 April 1780, an inconclusive action that prevented a French fleet from reaching British-held Jamaica. Casualties on both sides were light, but Sergeant William Nowland was wounded in the leg during the fighting while on board the 60-gun ship Medway.
A career soldier, he continued to serve in the 46th Regiment. He stayed in the army until November 1794, when he was discharged due to "old age, being worn out in the service" in addition to having been wounded. His discharge paper noted that he had been wounded in the right leg. He was granted a pension. But he didn't stay away from the army for long.
In December 1795 William Nowland joined an invalid corps, composed of soldiers who were not fit for campaigning but could help defend Great Britain's coast. He stayed in that corps until December 1802, when he joined the 3rd Royal Veteran Battalion, a similar organization. With them he served another six years, taking his discharge in December 1808 after almost forty years as a soldier. His discharge mentioned that he had "an old ulcer," included the note, "the mark of his wound is in his left leg."
But he still had more to give to the army. He took a job in the Barrack Office on the Isle of Jersey. He finally resigned from that post on 3 August 1813 "on account of ill health."
Information for this post comes from the following documents in the British National Archives:
Muster rolls of the 46th Regiment of Foot, WO 12/5796 and WO 12/5797
Discharges of William Nowland, WO 121/21/230 and WO 121/170/179
Acknowledgement of William Nowland's resignation, WO 121/176/105
Court Martial of James Garraty, WO 71/85, p. 281–283