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.

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