Saturday, August 27, 2011

Daniel McCarty, 22nd Regiment of Foot

I have done a poor job of responding to comments on this blog. Please don't let that stop you from commenting, though - your feedback is welcome and interesting. One reader asked for more information about the Rhode Island hospital garden mentioned in the installment about James McGregor of the 22nd Regiment. There are some details on the garden and the produce it yielded in my book General Orders: Rhode Island which gives a detailed picture of military activities during one year of a British garrison. An in-depth look at the variety of considerations given to the health of British soldiers can be found in period textbooks on the subject.

Another interesting detail about the Rhode Island garrison also comes from the general orders. Soon after the garrison was established, a newspaper began publication under the name of The Newport Gazette. This paper was the work of John Howe, who had published the Massachusetts Gazette until Boston was evacuated in March 1776. Well before the inaugural issue of that paper in the early months of 1777, in fact only a week after the British landed on the island, the army sought a capable man from within the ranks, presumably to operate presses left behind by the Newport printer who had chosen to flee the British occupation:

14 Decr. 1776
If there are Soldiers in any British Regiment who understand the Printing Business, they are to be sent to Lieut. Col. Campbell in Newport.

Probably the soldier would print notices to be posted around the town, but I wonder if the soldier-printer helped John Howe with the newspaper. I thought I had found the soldier in Daniel McCarty of the 22nd Regiment. This young Irishman, born in Cork in 1757, enlisted in the 22nd Regiment in late 1775 or early 1776. At the end of the occupation of Rhode Island, he was transferred briefly into the regiment's grenadier company, and then into the light infantry - a rare but not unprecedented move. He was in the light infantry during the 1780 siege of Charleston, South Carolina, but for some reason as yet unknown he was not with the company when it was made prisoners of war at Yorktown the following year. At the end of the war he received a discharge but reinlisted; after returning to Great Britain, however, he was once again discharged.

McCarty received a pension in 1784 due to a bad leg (perhaps this was the reason he was not on the Yorktown campaign); he also received 1 pound 12 shillings in prize money as his share of the goods seized at Charleston. Rather than subsist strictly on his pension, however, he enlisted again in the 77th Regiment of Foot, taking his final discharge and rejoining the pension rolls in 1788.

When I first found McCarty's name on a list of pensioners, his occupation caught my eye: he was a printer - or was he a painter? The faint image on the microfilm made it difficult to read the cursive writing, and the writing style left only a slight difference between the two possible words. I hoped he was a printer, and that he assisted John Howe in creating the newspapers that have provided me much rich detail on the activities and culture of the Rhode Island garrison.

The original manuscript of the pension list would probably be clear enough to discern McCarty's trade with certainty. As it happened, though, I did not need to look at it. Another collection of documents also includes McCarty's name and trade, and on this one the writing is clear. He was a painter. Also, a close examination of his career shows that he did not arrive in Rhode Island until December of 1777. His trade may have occasionally been useful for the army, but he certainly was not the man who started the presses for the British garrison in Rhode Island.

Friday, August 12, 2011

John Wallace, 76th Regiment of Foot

When it became clear that the war in America would not end quickly, the British government authorized several new regiments to be raised. Among the newly established regiments was the 76th Regiment of Foot, which recruited primarily from Scotland. During the rapid recruiting of this corps in late 1777 and early 1778, a 26 year old baker from the town of Kelso nestled in the southeast of Scotland at the confluence of the Teviot and Tweed rivers. Although from a lowland region, he had apparently resettled farther north in the highland county of Sutherland where he had a little property, a house and a garden. He was literate at least to the extent that he was able to write his own name. Why a man in such a situation would join the army is not known; he may have been enthusiastic about serving Great Britain, influenced by a local officer who knew him and encouraged him, or simply compelled to go along with others in his area.

By the summer of 1781, the 76th was on service in America, part of the army under General Cornwallis operating in Virginia along the banks of the James River. On 6 July they began the complex operation of moving the army across the river. Wallace was part of a detachment of about 20 men from the 76th and 80th Regiments posted in the rear of the army, charged with protecting the army during the delicate river crossing.

In the afternoon the picket was attacked by a substantial force from an American army commanded by the Marquis de Lafayette. The British hoped to convince the Americans that most of Cornwallis's army had already crossed the river and that the rear guard was vulnerable. This meant that the little piquet guard of Scottish soldiers was not reinforced. They fought desperately for about two hours, expending 50 rounds. The subaltern officer commanding the detachment was wounded; an officer who replaced him was wounded, and then a third. When they finally withdrew, John Wallace was one of only a few who escaped unscathed. The engagement escalated into the battle of Green Spring; the Americans were driven from the field, and Cornwallis's army moved on to establish a fateful encampment at Yorktown.

Soon after the army arrived at Yorktown in August 1781, violent thunderstorms roiled through the area. A few soldiers were killed. James Wallace, after surviving the gallant stand at Green Spring, was wounded by nature's wrath. A lightning strike caused him to lose an eye. So it was that he returned from America as a wounded soldier, albeit not wounded in battle.

When he arrived at this home in the Highlands of Sutherland, he learned that friends had, in his absence, "disposed of his little property, a house & garden." He went to a town to work at his trade as a baker, but his other eye soon began to dim, perhaps from the strain caused by the loss of the first. Unable to see well enough to earn a living at the age of only 33, he turned to the government for relief. He applied for an out pension, and was able to support his case with an affidavit signed by a general officer who was familiar with his brave service at Green Spring. His application was granted, providing this young old soldier a modest income for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Benjamin Reynard, 37th Regiment of Foot

Army muster rolls in general provide an overview of each soldier's career, allowing each man to be traced (in six-month intervals) from the time that he joined his regiment to the time he left it. Occasionally, however, a soldier enigmatically appears on the rolls without any indication of where he came from, and sometimes men disappear from the rolls with no explanation of where they went. Benjamin Reynard, a grenadier in the 37th Regiment of Foot provides an example of both of these nuances.

Reynard served in America, but it is not clear when he joined the army or arrived on the west side of the Atlantic Ocean. He first appears on the roll of the grenadier company covering the period 25 December 1777 through 24 June 1778. Most men who joined grenadier or light infantry companies had served for at least a year in other companies of the regiment (there were occasional exceptions, particularly for men who had prior military experience). There is no annotation on this roll that he joined the company during that muster period, and no trace of him on the rolls of other companies during preceding periods. Admittedly, more detailed analysis might resolve this mystery; sometimes there are significant changes in the ways that names are spelled from one roll to another, and sometimes even the man's first name changes (for example, there's a chance that Benjamin Reynard is the 'Thomas Raynor' who appears on the prior roll of the same company), but determining this requires careful tracing of all of the names on the rolls, a long and tedious process.

Reynard continues on the rolls of the grenadier company of the 37th Regiment through August of 1783. At that time, the regiment was reorganized due to force reductions at the end of the war; the strength was reduced from ten companies to eight, and many men were discharged. Reynard appears on a set of rolls covering the period 24 June through 24 August (an unusual muster period), but is absent from the subsequent roll covering 25 August through 24 December. Again, it is possible that his name is not obvious because of spelling permutations, but the spelling is very consistent on all of the interim rolls.

Although we lack career details on Reynard that we have for most soldiers, there survives a record of a personal vignette during Reynard's American service, something we lack for most soldiers. At the beginning of June 1779 the grenadier battalion that included his company was part of an expedition that fortified posts on the Hudson river north of New York city including Stony Point on the west shore and Verplanck's Point on the east shore. They camped in wigwams made of brush, a typical practice for the British army in America. On 4 June they fired a salute in honor of the King's birthday.

At about 10 AM on 5 June, Reynard asked his serjeant for leave to go outside of the camp to gather greens, which was granted. He took a haversack with him, and after about an hour returned to camp with the haversack full of dock greens and other wild greens. At noon he fell in for a formation.

Later that day or the next day, a local inhabitant named Mary Baker claimed that some soldiers had come to her house about two miles from the camp at around 11 in the morning of 5 June. She had an inventory of things that they had plundered which included "shirts, and a quantity of wearing Apparel." She identified Reynard as one of the perpetrators, and claimed that he had also killed a pig of hers and made off with it.

Reynard was put on trial for this crime on 7 June. Mary Baker was the only witness supporting the charge. Reynard claimed that he was away from the camp with leave but had not gone far and had only gathered greens. His serjeant and another grenadier both testified in his support, corroborating his story. Both testified that they were in the same mess as Reynard, that is, they prepared their food and dined together; this explained their explicit interest in having seen the greens that Reynard gathered, and both said that Reynard had nothing else with him when he returned to camp. (Typically a mess consisted of 5 men; military authors of the era recommended that serjeants and soldiers mess separately, so the testimony in this trial indicates either that this company of the 37th did not heed these recommendations or that the size and composition of messes varied while the army was on campaign).

In a striking verdict, which is perhaps yet another mystery about Reynard, the military court found him guilty of the crime. Apparently they gave greater significance to the testimony of the injured party than to Reynard and his two comrades. There is no mention in the trial proceedings of how Mary Barker singled out Reynard, but there are other accounts of soldiers being paraded so that wronged inhabitants could recognize an offender in the ranks. It is possible that the officers who sat on the court were privy to information that was not explicitly presented at the trial. It also may be that the court wanted to set an example to stave off plundering by other soldiers.

Benjamin Reynard was sentenced to received 1000 lashes. We have no information on the extent to which this punishment was inflicted. Sometimes soldiers who were severely punished, particularly on dubious evidence, deserted, but not this one. As described above, Reynard continued to serve through the end of the war.