At a recent lecture, an audience member asked me if the data I was presenting was posted on my blog. Although the focus of this forum is individual soldiers, it makes sense to include some statistical data on the on the men who served in the British army during the 1775-1783 American War. This installment will look at the ages and military experience of common British soldiers.
The 22nd Regiment of Foot disembarked in Boston in late June and early July of 1775, arriving piecemeal because they were distributed among four transport ships. They had served in Ireland for two years, and in Scotland for a few years before that. Typical of British regiments, the 22nd recruited from all over the British isles. Regiments did not received county titles until 1782 and even thn were not required to recruit from their own counties. In the 1760s and 1770s most regiments recruited from the regions where they were serving and also sent recruiting parties to places where suitable men were likely to be found. Some regiments recruited preferentially in particular regions, but every regiment contained men from all over Great Britain. When the 22nd was inspected in May 1774 it was composed of a fairly typical mix:
197 English (47%)
174 Scottish (41%)
48 Irish (11%)
3 Foreign (1)
Men from Wales are included among the English on the inspection return. Although there was some turnover during the ensuing year, the mix of nationalities was similar when the regiment embarked for America in May 1775. As the war progressed the mix of nationalities changed significantly, but that will be discussed in another installment.
What has consistently surprised audiences to my lectures is the ages of British soldiers. We might expect a regiment arriving in America for a tour of foreign service to be composed largely of young new recruits. Out of 416 soldiers of the 22nd Regiment who arrived in Boston we known the ages of 183, or just under half. This includes serjeants, corporals, drummers & fifers, and private soldiers; officers are not included in this study. The ages of the 183 are distributed as follows:
15 – 20 years old: 3 men
21 – 25 years old: 20 men
26 - 30 years old: 65 men
31 - 35 years old: 50 men
36 - 40 years old: 24 men
41 – 45 years old: 13 men
46 – 50 years old: 7 men
51 – 55 years old: 1 man
Clearly the majority of the men were in their late twenties and early thirties, and about a quarter of them were over 35. We have more complete data on the length of service men had, and this service data suggests that the sample of 183 ages is representative of the entire regiment.
Of 416 men who served in Boston, we know how much experience 386 of them had in 1775. This information is not precise; it is taken from muster rolls which indicate when each man joined the main body of the regiment, but not when he enlisted with a recruiting party. We the enlistment date of a few men, from other sources, and this reveals that many men spent a year or more with a recruiting party before they appear on the muster rolls. We also know of several men who enlisted in the 22nd Regiment after having been discharged from another regiment - sometimes with a gap of months or years between discharge and subsequent enlistment. Therefore, we can be sure that the service data presented here is somewhat conservative. With this caveat in mind, the service of 386 men is distributed as follows:
1 year or less: 41 men
2 – 5 years: 128 men
6 – 10 years: 167 men
11 – 20 years: 36 men
21 years or more: 14 men
Enlistment younger than the age of 17 was quite rare. The service data, then, reinforces the age data; for men to have between 6 and 10 years of service, they were most likely at least 25 to 30 years old if we assume a typical enlistment age of 20 years old.
In a future installment we'll show that this age and experience distribution remained similar throughout the war in spite of attrition and changes to recruiting policies. Although attrition reduced the number of older men, wartime recruits were drawn from a wider age range and many of the 'recruits' were actually drafts from other regiments.
Although the 22nd Regiment that disembarked in Boston in 1775 did not have recent combat experience, it was composed largely of mature men who had several years of experience in the army. The same can be said of nearly every regiment in America at this stage of the war. This certainly contributed to the rapid adaptation that the army was able to accomplish in order to campaign successfully in America.
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