Friday, May 28, 2010

Augustus Barret, 24th and 22nd Regiments

The American War saw several instances of British regiments being surrendered as entities to Continental forces. The two principal examples are the regiments of Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga in October 1777 and those of Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown in October 1781. Unlike individuals who were taken prisoner, soldiers in these regiments remained under the care of their officers and in the service of their regiments, albeit in captivity. Many of these men nonetheless escaped and attempted to make their way to British garrisons in New York, Canada or Rhode Island; considerable numbers were successful. Because these men left their regiments they technically were deserters. For the most part, however, these desertions were sanctioned and the repatriated soldiers were allowed to join other regiments. The most famous of these was Roger Lamb, originally of the 9th and later of the 23rd Regiment, well-known because he later published the details of his escapes.

Many other escaped prisoners told their stories in the form of depositions given to a board of inquiry that sat in New York in 1782. These soldiers, having rejoined the army, considered their time as fugitives to have been part of their military service; fully aware of their entitlements, each man set forth his claim for arrears of pay and clothing due not only from the time before escaping incarceration, but also for the time between that escape and being added to the rolls of another British regiment. Records of their testimonies are brief but concise, usually with exact dates of their departure from captivity and arrival in New York, dates which could be translated into days of service and therefore into wages due.

One of these petitioners was Augustus (or Augustine) Barrett, formerly a soldier in the light infantry company of the 24th Regiment of Foot. He was a bricklayer from Leeds in England, and had enlisted in the 24th Regiment in 1771 when he was 18 years old. Soon after he joined the army, light infantry companies were added to the establishment of British regiments; at 5' 6" tall, Barrett was the right stature for this company of young active men  For reasons not known he deserted with another soldier in December 1774 but returned less than a month later. In 1776 his regiment sailed to America, and the following year was actively engaged in the campaign that was intended to secure the waterways from Quebec to Albany but instead resulted in capitulation at Saratoga. Augustine Barrett became a prisoner of war.

Barrett was among the first deserters from the Burgoyne's incarcerated army when he left the barracks at Prospect Hill outside of Boston on 13 November 1777. Barrett deposed that he was captured five weeks after his escape and

...confined in the Prison Ship at Boston where he continued between 5 & six Months, & from thence enlisted in Col. Jackson’s Regt. in the Rebel service; that he remained in this Regt. about 18 Months...

In September 1780 while serving in Colonel Henry Jackson's 16th Massachusetts Regiment in northern New Jersey, Barrett and some other men were given passes to go into the country to seek provisions in the area between Paramus and New Bridge. Barrett and another Convention Army deserter, James Cuffe, took the opportunity to desert and make their way to the Hudson river. There they were able to get on board a British ship and then proceed to the British garrison in New York City. They joined the 22nd Regiment of Foot on 14 September, three days after deserting the Continental army.

Barrett petitioned for clothing (or the value thereof) that he was owed by the 24th Regiment, plus pay for the time between deserting the barracks at Prospect Hill and joining the 16th Massachusetts Regiment. He duly noted that "that he received pay & clothing from the Rebels, whilst he served them" and therefore did not make any claim for compensation during this time period. Barrett’s story was reasonably typical of those heard by the board; many petitioners freely admitted to service in the American army and astutely did not claim pay for the duration of that service. The board of inquiry approved Barrett's claim and many others like it.

The British officers on the board of inquiry, however, did not have access to Continental army documents that tell a somewhat different story of Barrett’s service. Contrary to his claim of spending five weeks as a fugitive followed by six months of incarceration on a prison ship, Barrett started drawing pay in the American army on 14 November 1777 – one day after he left the prisoner of war barracks outside Boston. Exactly one year later he was appointed corporal. In August 1779 he deserted but returned in October, when he was reduced to a private soldier.

The rolls for the 16th Massachusetts Regiment indicate Barrett's desertion on 11 September 1780 which agrees with his deposition and correlates to the muster rolls of the British regiment that he joined in New York. Barrett’s Continental service record suggests that he was encouraged to enlist while still a prisoner as a way to gain release from captivity. While the British board of inquiry may have accepted this as a motive to escape from a prison ship, they certainly would not have looked favorably on a man leaving the frail barracks in which so many other British soldiers endured the winter.

A Continental army roll from October 1779, the time of his return from a two-month desertion, exposes another facet of Barrett’s life. An note on the roll says that he had his “family in camp.” It is possible that Barrett was married while in the 24th Regiment, and that his wife either escaped with him or made her own way to Boston from Canada. It is more likely that Barrett married an American woman after his escape from the Convention Army, as some of these soldiers are known to have done. This supposition might explain the closure to his service as a British soldier: he deserted from the 22nd Regiment on 7 June 1783, a time when it was clear that the British army would soon be leaving the newly-created United States for posts in Great Britain and Canada. Although a wife and children would be allowed to travel with him as part of the British army, if they were American-born they may have compelled him to stay. Regardless of his motive for leaving Continental service and returning to the British army, a family in America may have provided Augustus Barrett's incentive to ultimately remain on the continent.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lance Corporal John Lee, Brigade of Guards

We welcome your comments, questions and observations on these blog posts. A comment to our previous installment about Corporal John McChesnie brings up several interesting points. The observation that "Some English officers weren't always the calm, collected bunch they wished to portray..." is certainly true. Think of any professional organization where the entry-level people are in their late teens and early twenties - some are focused on learning and making the best impression possible, while others are cocky, headstrong and act with a sense of entitlement. Among British officers there were all sorts of personalities, from the reserved to the arrogant.

It is also important to note that this was the British army, not the English army. Lt. John Wallace of the 22nd Regiment was Irish; Corporal McChesnie was Scottish. The British army included many officers and soldiers from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, as well as a smattering from America and from various European countries. In general this multinational group functioned well, but occasionally language and national pride became issues.

The comment goes on to say "...quite a few veteran soldiers were being outranked by more colorful men half their age." True enough, but this is the reality in most professional armies even today. Regardless of the factors that allow men to choose their paths, some men begin their careers as officers while others serve their entire careers in the ranks. Even today many soldiers are commanded by officers barely half their age, with varying results depending upon the personalities involved and the quality of training.

And the comment includes a question: "Do you know what prompted the Light Dragoons into a scuffle against the lieutenants in the first place?" Sadly, the court martial proceedings that give us our information on these events give no details about the scuffle that initiated things. The dragoons escaped into the night and apparently no attempt was made to identify them. Altercations between officers and soldiers (and between officers and other officers) happened from time to time, particularly in garrison towns when there was much idle time. Darkness and alcohol were often a factor. When these misadventures led to courts martial, the testimony often illustrate the confusion and uncertainly of the events themselves. Thanks to the research of Linnea Bass we have a good example in the case of another soldier of the Brigade of Guards, John Lee.

In January 1779, Lee was a lance corporal in the brigade. This meant that he was officially a private soldier, but was doing the duty of a corporal for the time being and was to be recognized as such. On the night of 15 January he was in a house being used as a barracks on Dock Street in New York City duly washing one of his shirts. Suddenly the sentry posted outside the barracks came to the door and called for help because someone had been knocked down in the street. Lee and two other soldiers went out into the dark night, where they saw a man writhing on the ground across the street and another man standing over him. Acting quickly, Lee ran over and pushed the standing man away, asking him what he intended to do to the stricken man. The pushed man lunged back at Lee, grabbing his collar with one hand and sinking his fingernails into Lee's cheek with the other. Lee demanded that he desist or be struck, and pushed the assailant away. The man lunged back; they struggled and exchanged harsh language. Soldiers poured out of the barracks, civilians poured out of houses, and several officers walking in the area rushed to the scene. The sentry who had originally called for help managed to separate the two.

As if there were not already enough people in the street, the relief guard (that is, a party of soldiers on guard duty) came up to relieve the sentry. The first person they encountered was Lee, who was bleeding and complaining of having been assaulted. Just then his assailant came up, seized him by the collar and called him the rascal who assaulted him. The man was Lieutenant Edmund Prideaux of the 7th Regiment of Foot, known as the Royal Fusiliers.

This was profoundly unfortunate for Lance Corporal Lee, for he had unwittingly assaulted an officer. Lt. Prideaux was still highly agitated, but other officers who were now on the scene advised him to have Lee confined. Lt. Prideaux attempted to write down a charge to be delivered with Lee to the provost guard, but was unable to collect himself enough to do so. The other officers took over the formalities. They went into the barracks to collect Lee (who had gone back inside) and get names of other soldiers who may have struck or insulted Lt. Prideaux. Although the soldiers in the barracks were insolent, they begrudgingly complied with what was demanded of them. John Lee surrendered himself angrily, insisting that he had done nothing wrong, and was put into confinement. People in the street took the stricken man - who proved to be an officer of a Loyalist regiment - into a house to attend to him. The disturbance was over.

The court martial of John Lee occurred a week later. Lt. Prideaux testified that he was assisting the Loyalist officer (a colleague in a regiment that Prideaux himself had recently served in) to get home because he was very drunk. When they happened to be opposite the Dock Street barracks, by chance the drunken officer collapsed in a fit. Lt. Prideaux called to the nearby sentry for help and water, the sentry called forth men from the barracks, but Lt. Prideaux was stunned when instead of receiving help he was pushed away.

Prideaux called five witnesses including a soldier who had been helping him to escort his comrade, a local resident and another soldier who saw the initial struggle, and two officers who came up as the events unfolded (or unraveled). Lee called seven witnesses including the sentry, other soldiers and non-commissioned officers who had been in the barracks, an officer who arrived late on the scene and the regimental surgeon who had attended to his wounds. The disagreements in the testimony are striking: those who testified for Prideaux insisted that he was sober while those who spoke for Lee said that he was in a drunken rage; some said that Lee struck Prideaux, some that he did not, while others could not say one way or the other. They all agreed that the night was dark enough that it was not immediately obvious that Prideaux was an officer, but some stated that he wore a blue great coat while others said he was in his regimental coat, red with blue facings (it is possible that Prideaux had been wearing the great coat initially, and shed it when the struggle ended).

Lance Corporal Lee made a good argument that he acted as the situation seemed to warrant when he pushed Lt. Prideaux, and after that acted only in his own defense. Three officers of the Brigade of Guards gave him excellent character references, stating that this was the first complaint that they had received about Lee and calling him a "clean, regular and obedient soldier," "as good a Soldier as any in the British Army," whose "particular good behavior" had led to his recommendation for lance corporal. He was nonetheless found guilty and sentenced to receive one thousand lashes. We do not know whether the punishment was actually inflicted.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thomas McChesnie and Joseph Mauncey, Brigade of Guards

Thomas McChesnie was out for a walk one night with his colleague Joseph Mouncey in British-garrisoned New York city. The two were volunteer soldiers in more than one sense. During the era of the American Revolution the British army was, for the most part, a volunteer force - men enlisted for a career in the army, and there was (with a few exceptions) no impressment or compulsory service. McChesnie, born in county Galloway in Scotland in 1738, had left his trade as a weaver to join the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards at the age of 21; Mouncey, born in St. Marlybone, London, had not learned a trade when he enlisted in the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards at 17 years of age in 1773.

The outbreak of war in America brought them a second opportunity to volunteer. Besides the regiments of the regular army sent to America, a composite corps was formed of volunteer soldiers from the three regiments of Foot Guards that traditionally provided security for the monarchy and government in London. 15 volunteers were drawn from the private soldiers in each of the 64 companies that comprised the Guards regiments, in addition to officers, non-commissioned officers, drummers and fifers. This detachment operated in America as the Brigade of Guards; it included a grenadier company composed of soldiers from all three of the Foot Guards regiments. McChesnie and Mouncey were both corporals in this company. On the night of 1 August 1779 they were making their way through the dark streets of old New York after a walk on the Battery at the south end of Manhattan island.

Also out for a walk that night were two young officers, Lieutenants John Wallace of the 22nd Regiment of Foot and James Drury of the 57th Regiment of Foot. They were walking towards the Battery between 9 and 10 o'clock when they parted company with each other. Moments later, Lt. Wallace heard a commotion. He drew his sword and ran to the noise where he found Lt. Drury struggling with two soldiers of the 17th Light Dragoons. The dragoons had hold of Drury, but released him after receiving several strokes from the flat of Wallace's sword; the two officers secured the dragoons and set off towards the provost with them.

This is when the two corporals met up with the two officers. Apparently there were other soldiers hovering in the darkness, perhaps drawn by the commotion, because the officer perceived that they had encountered a party of about 10 grenadiers. Lt. Drury directed the soldiers to take custody of the two dragoons and take them to the main guard. McChesnie, a with nearly 20 years in the army, responded that he could not take them without first getting their names and the charges against them; without this information the guard would not receive them. The officers, already agitated from their scuffle with the dragoons, viewed this as a flippant response. Wallace (who, it bears noting, was 19 years old; Drury was probably only a few years older) told McChesnie that he and the Brigade of Guards were rebellious rascals and, gesturing with his sword, threatened to imprison McChesnie if he did not comply with orders. McChesnie snatched the sword from Wallace's hand and responded that he would not be taken prisoner. Drury seized McChesnie by his bayonet belt and demanded his name, which McChensie readily gave. Wallace, in the mean time, moved behind McChesnie, grabbed the sword again and wrested it free. More threatening words were exchanged. Wallace asked for help from another soldier who not only refused but drew his bayonet. McChesnie's bayonet belt gave way. A scuffle ensued in which the officers received blows, but within moments all of the soldiers cleared off into the night leaving the two officers with only McChesnie's bayonet belt, an unidentified hat, and extremely wounded pride.

The young lieutenants took the belt to the commander of the Brigade of Guards who were able to trace it to McChesnie. The long-serving corporal was brought before a general court martial the following week on charges of abusing the officers and threatening Lt. Drury's life. The officers gave their version of the story, characterizing McChesnie as drunk and insolent, while Mouncey corroborated McChensie's testimony that they were sober and compliant, but that the officers became belligerent when asked for necessary information. An officer gave a favorable character witness. In a "his word against mine" situation like this a court composed of army officers had little choice but to find in favor of one of their own. Corporal McChensie was sentence to be reduced to the ranks and receive 1000 lashes.

Thomas McChesney continued his career as a soldier. After being discharged from the Foot Guards he served in several garrison corps in Great Britain, taking his final discharge in 1796 at the age of 58. Joseph Mauncey also stayed in the army, remaining the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards until 1787. Both received pensions.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Trial of William Johnstone, 43rd Regiment of Foot

Having explained some details about the source material used for these posts, it is fitting to present the proceedings of a general court martial. The text below is transcribed from a copy of the original manuscript. This is typical of the 'raw' data used to tell the many of the stories related in these pages. Some of the formatting of the original is difficult to render on a web page, particular indentations and the layout of the list of court members, but all of the information in the manuscript is shown.

Perhaps the only surprise in this case is that the soldier on trial was found completely innocent; presumably this was because there was no direct evidence that he had committed a crime, even though the circumstantial evidence weighed strongly against him. Clearly the commander in chief was of the same opinion, because he did not approve of the sentence even though he opted to confirm it.

At a General Court Martial held at the Head of Elk, in the Province of Maryland, on Friday the 29th of August 1777, by Virtue of a Warrant, bearing date the same day, from His Excellency Sir William Howe, Knight of the most Honourable order of the Bath, General and Commander in Chief of all His Majesty’s Forces within the Colonies, laying on the Atlantic Ocean, from Nova Scotia to West Florida inclusive &c, &c, &c.

Lieutenant Colonel Henry Trelawney, Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards, President.

Lieut. Col. William Walcot, 5th Foot
Lieut. Col. Jas. Ogilvie, 4th Foot
Capt. John Swint. Dyer Coldstream Guards
Capt. Thos. Thomlinson, 5th Foot
Capt. John Barker, 10th Foot
Capt. John Westropp, 5th Foot
Capt. Thos. Gibbings, 23d Foot
Lieut. Myrick Shaw, 4th Foot
Lieut. William Cox, 5th Foot
Lieut. John Browne, 23d Foot
Ensign Florintius Boscawen 3d F. Guards
Ensign Robert Haddin 5th Foot
Stephen Payne Adye Esqr Deputy Judge Advocate

The President, Members and Judge Advocate being duly sworn.

William Johnstone private soldier in His Majesty’s 43d Regiment of Foot was brought prisoner before the Court and accused of plundering, & the following Witnesses were examined in support of the Charge viz:

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Abercrombie of His Majesty’s 37th Regt of Foot, being duly sworn, deposed that on the Morning of the 27th Instant he met the prisoner going towards his out post, having in his hand a pretty large bundle, wrapped up in a blue and white calico Curtain, that he made him open it, and found it to contain some things of the same nature as the calico, he thinks that there was a Woman’s Gown amongst them, but with regard to this circumstance he cannot be positive; that he asked him whither he was going and he replied that he was going to this Battalion, meaning the 2d Battalion of Light Infantry, but he had then passed the Battalion several Miles, and was going the contrary way, that he afterwards asked him where he had got that Bundle of Goods and he answered from a Grenadier, upon which he ordered him to be confined; that about two hours afterwards he received a Letter from Major Cuyler, informing him that it was the General’s Order that he should endeavour to find out a soldier of the Light Infantry, who had robbed a Countryman of the name of Taylor (and by whom the Note was sent) that upon showing him the bundle, the Prisoner had been found in possession of, he claimed part of the things it contained, particularly the blue and white Calico curtain, and the Deponent then sent him to Head Quarters with the Countryman.
Q. Did the Countryman say that the Prisoner was the man, who had taken the things from him?
A. He did not.

Thomas Mudd Corporal in the 17th Regt of Foot, being duly sworn deposed that he commanded the Guard when the prisoner was put in Confinement, & he then had a bundle, in which were a blue and white Calico Curtain, a Woman’s gown, a small piece of Cloth, of the same colour as the Curtain, and a small white earthen pot, containing butter; and he heard a Countryman, upon being shewn these different Articles, claim all of them as his property, except the Woman’s gown, which he said he could not with certainty say, belonged to him.
Q. Did he hear the Countryman say that the Prisoner had taken those things from him?
A. No, he said that he did not know the Prisoner, nor did he know the man that took them from him.
Q. Did the Countryman say whether he was in his own house at the time the things were taken away?
A. He did not.

The Prisoner being then put upon his defence, said that on the morning Lieutenant Colonel Abercrombie met him, he had been to the rear of the Battalion he belonged to, in order to see an acquaintance, and on returning back among a Party of Grenadiers whom he met, on their return from a foraging party, there was one, who had a bundle, and calling to him (the Prisoner) he said, Light Infantry man will you take this. That upon asking him what it was, he answered that it was something which would be of service to him when he went to Camp, that soon after getting the bundle, he met Lieut. Col. Abercrombie, who examined him, and asked him where he was going, and he answered to his Battalion; that he was then rather in the rear of his Battalion, being between the first and second Battalion of Light Infantry, and had he not been stopped by Lieut. Colonel Abercrombie, he should have gone to this Battalion by a Lane which turned off to the left hand and led to the Battalion.

The Court having considered the evidence against the Prisoner William Johnstone together with what he had to offer in his Defence, is of Opinion that he is not guilty of the crime laid to his charge, & doth therefore acquit him.

Harry Trelawny Capt in the Coldstream Guards & Lt. Col. in the Army President

Stepn Pn AdyeDeputy Judge Advocate

Confirmed but Disapproved
W. Howe