Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thomas Edwards, 22nd Regiment of Foot

A little-known detail of British army operations during the era of the American Revolution is that musket ammunition did not always consist solely of single round lead balls. Although certainly the projectile of choice on the battlefield, there were situations when other types of ammunition were more practical. Unfortunately only enough information has come to light to inform us that other types existed, but not to tell us categorically when they were used.

When the 32nd Regiment of Foot was stationed in Waterford, Ireland, orders were given for "six rounds of Buck shot Cartridges" per man to be available, "which are only to be distributed when a party is called out." Although not explicitly stated, the orders imply that the parties might be called out to quell domestic disturbances. For small groups of soldiers on this type of duty, shot was a better option that ball, since it would be more likely to inflict multiple wounds when fired into a crowd but perhaps less likely to produce fatal wounds.

The 32nd Regiment did not serve in America during the 1775-1783 war, but a case concerning a soldier in the 22nd Regiment in America provides another example of non-ball ammunition. When the British army occupied Newport, Rhode Island and the surrounding countryside in December 1776 orders were given immediately to protect local farms from plunder - plunder that could come from wayward soldiers of the garrison or from American raiding parties that visited the island almost nightly. To provide this protection, individual soldiers called Safe Guards were posted at each place of interest.

One of the Safe Guards was Thomas Edwards of the 22nd Regiment of Foot. Edwards was an experienced soldier; he had joined the 65th Regiment of Foot some time before 1769 (gaps in the muster rolls leave his enlistment date unknown) and was drafted into the 22nd Regiment in 1776. His long service made him a good choice for a post of responsibility, but he found the job a challenging one. Although there were two officers and several soldiers quartered at the farm that he was ordered to protect, it was the target of marauders during the nights of December 1776. Edwards managed to catch several German soldiers in the act of robbery on several nights, but nonetheless sheep, hay and other stock were spirited away throughout the month.

The specific orders given to the Safe Guards have not been found, but apparently they were only expected to challenge intruders and ward them off without resorting to use of firearms. On the night of 31 December, Edwards attempted to stop four German soldiers from robbing stock from the farm - which had been robbed the night before - but the Germans dragged him around a field before disappearing into the night. A dazed and confused Edwards staggered into the house, bedraggled and open-shirted, and asked why no one had come to his aid. The next day he protested to Captain Brabazon of the 22nd Regiment, one of the officers living in the house, that he no longer wished to be a safe guard if he had no way of stopping intruders. Brabazon took the matter to the commander of the regiment, who authorized Safe Guards to fire on marauders if necessary. The other officer quartered at the house, young Ensign Richard Proctor of the 22nd Regiment, went to the German barracks to inform the officers that Safe Guards were now authorized to fire on intruders.

On the next night, about an hour after the evening gun had fired, a party of perhaps ten German soldiers broke down a fence to enter the farm grounds. Edwards challenged them, but they did not respond. Edwards fired one shot at the group of interlopers; because his musket was loaded with "Balls cut into square pieces", this one shot wounded two of the Germans, one in five places and the other in seven. The man with seven wounds died within a few days.

Edwards was brought before a general court martial on charges of "Maliciously Firing a Musket" and causing the death of the German soldier. The full proceedings of the trial have been published, and it is from them that we have the above details of the affair including the way that Edwards' musket was loaded. There are many other accounts of individual British sentries firing on individual men - plunderers, deserters and others - and killing or wounding them. Perhaps it was common for guards and sentries to use shot-like loads rather than single musket balls, making their individual shots more effective.

Thomas Edwards was acquitted. He continued to serve in the 22nd Regiment until 29 August 1778 when he was killed in the Battle of Rhode Island. Ensign Richard Proctor was also mortally wounded in that fight.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Richard Hutchinson, 64th Regiment of Foot

Some men deserted more than once, but occasionally such men returned to the army on their own rather than face what they apparently perceived as a worse option. A case in point is Richard Hutchinson of the 64th Regiment of Foot.

The 64th Regiment came to America in 1769, landing first in Boston but then spending a few years in Halifax before returning to Boston in 1772. Hutchinson joined the regiment in America as a recruit in 1777, and although he was “a good Soldier & was very clean,” he seems to have had other ambitions than remaining a career soldier.

As the 64th was preparing to sail south in late 1779 under General Sir Henry Clinton to besiege Charleston, South Carolina, Richard Hutchinson deserted. It was not unusual for men to desert shortly before their regiments were preparing to remove to a new location; apparently it was seen as an opportune way to avoid recapture. Staying in New York, however, was not a safe option because the 64th, like most regiments on campaign, left a small contingent behind to mind regimental goods left in storage; usually a few sick men remained behind as well. Hutchinson signed on to the British privateer General Pattison and went to sea, either due to a genuine inclination towards seafaring, aspirations of wealth from prize money, or simply as a way to escape from the garrison city.

Several months later the General Pattison returned to the New York area from a cruise. While the ship was still outside New York harbor the officer of a British guard ship came on board and took Hutchinson in order to press him into service on the guard ship. Apparently unwilling to do this duty, Hutchinson admitted to being a deserter which resulted in his being sent to the main guard in New York. He remained in confinement until the commandant ordered him released to his regiment for reasons that are not recorded.

The 64th was still far away in the south, but Hutchinson joined the contingent caring for the regiment's storehouse at a place called Coenties Market in what is now Lower Manhattan; today there is a historic walkway in the area called Coenties Slip. Hutchinson did not remain long. About three weeks after joining the detachment he deserted again. This time the regiment advertised for him:

Deserted from the 64th Regimental Store at Coenties Market; Richard Hutchinson, private Soldier in the 64th regiment, born in Ireland, about 5 feet 7 inches high, short curly hair, much freckled in the face; had when he went off, a crimson coloured jacket, a pair of new duck trowsers, (was lately on board the General Pattison privateer.) Whoever will give information of the said Hutchinson, to Serjeant M’Donald at the said store, so that he may be apprehended, shall receive One Guinea Reward. All Masters of ships are hereby warned not to harbour the above-mentioned Hutchinson, at their peril. M. Wood, Ensign 64th Regt.
[Royal Gazette (New York), 1 July 1780]

In addition to the non-regimental clothing described in the advertisement, Hutchinson took his necessaries (that is, his shirts, stockings and shoes) with him, a sure sign that he had absconded intentionally rather than just wandering off.

It was not long before Hutchinson was discovered. He had managed to go to sea again, but was soon brought back to New York by another privateer, the General Rodney. It is not clear whether the General Rodney was a privateer in the British service or was a captured American privateer. Regardless, Hutchinson, now wounded, was put on board the infamous Jersey prison ship in New York harbor. Here he once again declared himself a deserter. Serjeant John McDonald and private John Williams of the 64th went to the Jersey to collect him and put him into confinement once again.

At his general court martial in September 1780, Hutchinson offered no testimony except to beg for the mercy of the court. It is unfortunate that he did not relate the details of his activities at sea. The two soldiers of the 64th who brought him off the Jersey provided the testimony upon which the above narrative is based. Surprisingly, the court did in fact show mercy to this repeat deserter. Rather than sentencing him to death, he was ordered to receive 700 lashes (somewhat lighter than the usual sentence of 1000 lashes for desertion, and that more typical for ‘accidental’ desertion rather than deliberate moves like Hutchinson’s) and then to be drummed out of the service, a particularly rare sentence. Gaps in the 64th Regiment's muster rolls leave us with no specifics about when or how Hutchinson left the regiment; he was listed as 'sick in New York in the second half of 1781, but is not on the next available roll covering the beginning of 1783.