Thursday, May 17, 2012

Christopher Stevens, 11th and 37th Regiments of Foot

When British regiments were deployed to overseas locations, they were first brought to their full established strength, that is, the complete compliment of soldiers and officers prescribed by the army. Each regiment was responsible for its own recruiting, and normal attrition even in peacetime could make it a challenge to maintain the full compliment of 38 private soldiers in each of a regiment's ten companies. After the war in America began, the established strength of regiments serving there was increased to 56 private soldiers per company. This meant that when a regiment in Great Britain received orders to sail for America, it had to raise at least 180 men to attain the larger establishment in addition to however many it was below the domestic establishment. Adding to the challenge, men who might not be fit for overseas service due to age or infirmity were discharged before embarkation. All of these factors meant that somewhere between a third and half of the men who embarked were new to the regiment.

If recruiting alone was relied upon to obtain all of these men in the few months available to do so, the regiments arriving in America would've been scarcely able to perform as required, even if they were able to meet the recruiting quotas. Keenly aware of this, the army did not consider recruiting alone to be a viable option. Instead, about half of the required men were obtained by drawing experienced soldiers from regiments remaining in Britain into those bound for America. This process of transferring soldiers was called drafting; the term did not have the same meaning that it does today. Drafting insured that about three quarters of the men sent to America had at least a few years of experience in the army.

One such draft was Christopher Stevens. When he enlisted in the 11th Regiment of Foot, it probably seemed like a safe enough choice. The regiment had served in Minorca since the end of the Seven Years War, but in July 1771 disembarked in England. Stevens may have enlisted with a recruiting party while the regiment was still overseas, but it is unlikely that he ever went to Minorca; he enlisted some time in 1770 or 1771. Stevens was born in Gloucestershire in 1748, in the area of Cirencester east of the town of Stroud. He pursued the profession of a sawyer, but left that trade in his early 20s to become a soldier. He may have been bored or discontent with his trade, seeking something more adventurous; we can only guess at his motivation. Sawyers were not particularly common in the army, but most regiments had half a dozen or so. Their skills could sometimes be valuable when materials were needed for barracks, shipping or other military demands.

After four years in the south of England, the 11th moved to Ireland. The regiment remained there for the duration of the war, but immediately began sending drafts into regiments preparing for American service, continuing to do so through March of 1776. All told, over 100 men left the 11th Regiment's peaceful Irish service to fight overseas. Drafting orders typically called for volunteers to be given preference, but no records survive to distinguish which drafts were volunteers and which were "drawn" by some other method. The drafts went to several regiments including the 15th, 22nd, 54th, 57th and 62nd. Christopher Stevens, either by his own choice or that of his commanding officer, was drafted into the 37th Regiment of Foot.

With the 37th, Stevens participated in the abortive assault on Charleston, South Carolina in early 1776. The regiment then joined General Howe's army on Staten Island and served in the fast-paced campaign that secured the city of New York and the surrounding area. It bears noting that, as most drafts did, he probably retained his uniform from the 11th Regiment for his first year in the 37th until a new annual issue of clothing was received in the late Autumn. Stevens served for the entire war. He is annotated as "sick" on the muster rolls for a time in 1779 and 1780 but no details of his service are known.

The war's end did not see a return to Great Britain for Stevens and his comrades in the 37th. Instead, they were sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia. As he closed in on 20 years of service, including several years of warfare, the dangers of his profession caught up with him. He was wounded, not in battle, but at a review on 9 September 1788. His discharge, granted the following year, used the common parlance for a musket in indicating that he was "disabled in the left shoulder by the bursting of a firelock." When firing, the butt of the firelock was pressed against the right shoulder; perhaps Stevens' left shoulder was damaged by splinters from his own weapon, or by it's being jerked from his grip; or perhaps it was an adjacent man's firelock that burst and sent debris into Stevens' shoulder. Regardless, this peacetime accident rendered him "unfit for service" at the age of 41. His discharge bears an X mark rather than his signature, indicating that he had never learned to write.

Christopher Stevens was granted an out pension, meaning that he could return to his native Gloucester and receive a subsistence level income. Instead of availing himself of this, however, he rejoined the army, this time serving in the Plymouth Invalids. This was one of many corps of men whose age or infirmity did not prevent them from performing garrison duty. After 12 and half years he was again discharged and returned to the pension rolls. But once again he returned to service, this time in the 2nd Royal Veteran Battalion, and continued as a soldier for another 5 and a half years. He was discharged and pensioned for the last time in 1808, having served 38 of his 61 years in the army.