Sunday, November 13, 2011

William McCreally, 3rd Regiment of Foot

Military service in the 18th century is often perceived as a occupation of last resort, to be abandoned at the first opportunity. The careers of British soldiers who served in America consistently tell us otherwise. One place where this is evident is in the choices made by soldiers at the end of the war.

Before the outbreak of hostilities in America, enlistment in the army was for a career that lasted as long as the man was fit for service; discharge was at the discretion of the army. To stimulate wartime recruiting, however, a warrant was proclaimed that men who enlisted after 16 December 1775 would be entitled to be discharged after three years of service or at the end of the war, whichever was longer.

Among those who enlisted under these terms was a young blacksmith from the parish of Desertmartin in County Derry, Ireland. Born in 1760, William McCreally joined the 3rd Regiment of Foot (nicknamed The Buffs because of the beige color of the regimental uniform's lapels, waistcoats and breeches) on 26 July 1778. At that time his regiment had been on service in Ireland for several years, and although many men from the regiment had been drafted at the beginning of the war and were already fighting in America, there was no immediate expectation of overseas deployment for The Buffs.

By the end of 1780, however, the regiment had received orders for America. The 3rd Foot arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in March 1781. Almost immediately the regiment was on the march to the relief of the British post at Ninety-Six. After this campaign, the 3rd returned to Charleston.

On 8 September 1781, British forces from Charleston engaged an American army at the battle of Eutaw Springs. William McCreally was wounded, receiving a musket ball in the leg. This injury was not enough to end his career, though. McCreally remained in the ranks of the 3rd Regiment when it left Charleston at the end of the war.

While much of the British army concentrated in New York in 1783, the 3rd Foot went south to Jamaica. There, encamped at a place called Up Park they received orders for a reduction in size to a new peace-time establishment. Men who had enlisted after 16 December 1775 were entitled to be discharged. Having served his obligation and been wounded in battle, McCreally was an obvious choice to leave the service and return to his native land rather than remaining in the hostile tropical climate.

Instead he re-enlisted, as did dozens of his comrades, and served with the 3rd in Jamaica for five more years. During that time, perhaps in September 1786, a hurricane struck the island and McCreally, in unknown circumstances, had both of his arms broken.

The after effects of this new injury, combined with the lingering effects of his wound, was enough to render him unfit for service. He was discharged in 1788 at the age of 28. He returned to Great Britain and went before the pension board at Chelsea Hospital; they granted him an out pension for his disabilities and years of service.