Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pensioner: William Shanly, 38th Regiment of Foot

In studying the careers of British soldiers who served in America, it is important to understand the meaning of the word Draft. Drafting referred to transferring men from one regiment to another, as opposed to the modern meaning of how men enter military service. Men who were drafted were called drafts, and least at times when their transferred status was important.

During the American war, there were many circumstances under which men were drafted:
  • When regiments were preparing to go overseas, they were brought up to strength by drafting men from regiments remaining in Great Britain
  • When recruiting for regiments overseas was not keeping pace with requirements, men were drafted from regiments in Great Britain
  • When regiments serving in America (or other overseas posts) were due to be sent back to Great Britain, men who were still fit for service were drafted into regiments remaining in America
  • When escaped or released prisoners of war arrived in locations away from their regiments, they were often drafted into local regiments
  • When sick men in army hospitals recovered after their regiments had left the area, they were often drafted into local regiments
  • When recruits arrived in a location different from where there regiment was serving, they were sometimes drafted into local regiments
An example of the latter appears to have occurred when recruits for the 15th Regiment of Foot arrived in New York in 1781. This regiment had departed New York for the West Indies near the end of 1778. Nonetheless, new recruits arrived at New York on 26 June 1781; along with recruits for many other regiments, they had sailed from Cork, Ireland on 27 March (after some of them had first sailed from England to Cork) arriving first in Charleston, South Carolina before continuing on to New York. These men were immediately drafted into other regiments. Among them was a 31-year-old Dubliner named William Shanly.

Shanly had enlisted in the army some time in 1779. In typical fashion, he remained in Great Britain first with the recruiting party that enlisted him and then at a training depot, in this case probably in Cork. As such, he was certainly well-trained at least in basic military discipline by the time he arrived in America. At 5' 8 ½" he was of medium height for a soldier. Enlistment at age 29 was unusual during times of peace but reasonably common during the war.

When the recruits for the 15th Regiment were drafted Shanly was put into the 38th Regiment of Foot which was then part of the garrison in New York. Although there was a war on and service on the lines around New York meant frequent alarms and occasional skirmishes, this regiment which had been quite active in previous years saw no major fighting from the time that Shanley joined it through the end of the war. There was, however, always army work to be done. Shanley spent some of his time making fascines, bundles of brush and saplings used to build field fortifications. One military writer described a fascine as a

...faggot about six feet long and eight inches diameter, or which is the same thing, about twenty-four inches in circum ference; they have two bandages placed at the distance of about a foot from each end; sometimes they have three bandages.

A popular military dictionary of the era gave this more detailed description:

Fascines, in fortification, are a kind of faggots, made of small branches of trees or brush-wood, tied in 3, 4, 5, or 6 places, and are of various dimensions, according to the purposes intended. Those that are to be pitched over, for burning lodgements, galleries, or any other works of the enemy, should be 1½ or 2 feet long. Those that are for making epaulements or chandeliers, or to raise works, or to fill up ditches, are 10 feet long, and 1 or 1½ feet in diameter. They are made as follows: six small pickets are struck into the ground, 2 and 2, forming little crosses, well fastened in the middle with willow bindings. On these trestles the branches are laid, and are bound round with withes at the distance of every 2 feet. Six men are employed in making a fascine; 2 cut the boughs, two gather them, and the remaining 2 bind them. These 6 men can make 12 fascines every hour. Each fascine requires five pickets to fasten it.

The army often stockpiled fascines in preparation for possible campaigns, sending working parties to make them by the hundreds. The opportunistic nature of soldiers even during mundane activities such as making fascines is evident in a general order given to the British army in Boston on 21 August 1775:

Complaints having been made that the Soldiers employed on the working parties, under pretense of cutting down the small wood to make fascines with, cut down large branches, and even whole trees, and are selling them in a Scandalous manner about the town to the Inhabitants, the Officers who command these parties will be made answerable for the conduct of the men under their care; and any man found guilty of such practices will be severely punished.

For William Shanly the work proved hazardous. He served in the 38th Regiment until 1786, and after his discharge joined a corps called the Royal Irish Invalids. Invalid companies and battalions were composed of soldiers who were not fit for active service in regular regiments but who were still able to perform garrison duties; these corps existed throughout Great Britain and in some foreign stations. Shanly remained in this battalion until September 1802 when he was discharged and awarded an out pension though Kilmainham Hospital in Dublin. His discharge after 23 years and 7 months of service reveals an injury he received early in his career:

He is astmatick Rheumatick, loss of an Eye in America by making [fashenes?] by the 38th Regt. And unfit for any service & being afflicted with inward Piles and not able to earn his bread.

No trade is listed on his discharge but he did sign his own name, suggesting that he was a literate man. William Shanly saw no fighting but served long in spite of the serious injury he sustained in America. His pension was a just reward for his dedication to the military.

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