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.


  1. I am always impressed with the depth of detail you provide in these posts. This one also provided an inadvertent laugh. I wonder whether the 26 year old Baker who nestled in southeast Scotland was from clan "Nestlé"? ;-)

  2. Great Blogs very informatif,
    keep update n happy blogging :)

  3. Where did the documentation for this come from?

    1. Thank you for asking. The core information, giving Wallace's age, place of birth, and trade appear on his discharge from the 76th Regiment, a copy of which was lodged at the pension office in Chelsea and is now held by the National Archives of Great Britain, catalogued as WO 121/3/341. With the discharge is an affidavit that reads, "I certify that John Wallace lost an Eye in America in Virginia by lightening whilst I commanded the 76th Regt at York Town, that he was a well behaved gallant soldier on a very [illeg] occasion under the command of Lieut. Wemys of the [illeg] Regt at James City Island in Virginia, when two [illeg] were killed and one badly wounded being the advanced [illeg] and most of the detachment consisting of eight men were killed or wounded being the advanced part of Lord Cornwallis's Army at James Town, when the Marquis de Lafayette made his attack with three thousand men. He went home to his friends in the Highlands of Sutherland, who in his absense had disposed of his little property, a house & garden. he then came to [illeg] to work at his Trade as a baker till his other eye in consequence of the suffering of the first was so dim he could not see sufficient to get his living..." It is signed by an officer who had been in the regiment during the war.