Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Michael Lynch, 15th, 47th and 23rd Regiments

In the late 1760s and early 1770s when Great Britain was not at war, men enlisted in the army as a career; there was no specific enlistment term, but instead service lasted until the man was discharged because he was no longer fit for service. This is discussed at length in my book British Soldiers, American War. The notion that a man could not quit the service sounds harsh, but the careers of many soldiers prove that they did not wish to leave it. Indeed, many who had the opportunity to do so instead went to great lengths to remain soldiers. 

An example can be found in Michael Lynch, a laborer from Tipperary. He was 21 years old in 1770 when he enlisted in the 15th Regiment of Foot, making him very typical of the era's enlistees. But for reasons unknown, he was discharged after only five years in December 1775. This is particularly odd because the regiment was at that time recruiting, preparing for service in America; not only were new recruits being enlisted, but experienced soldiers from other regiments were being drafted into the 15th. We can only guess why Lynch was let go at such a time. 

Lynch's discharge clearly wasn't for lack of martial zeal or for aversion to service overseas, for he soon joined a recruiting party of the 47th Regiment of Foot. This corps was already in America, and Lynch joined them in Quebec in 1776. The 47th participated in that year's campaign, spent a cold winter in Canadian quarters, then formed part of General John Burgoyne's expedition towards Albany in 1777. 

This campaign brought some of the most storied fighting of the war, and Michael Lynch was in the thick of it. He was wounded in the right cheek at the second battle of Saratoga on 7 October. He then became a prisoner of war when the army capitulated a few days later. 

It is not known how long Lynch remained in captivity. It was probably at least a couple of years, but he is not on lists of prisoners in 1781. His whereabouts are unknown until September 1782 when he joined the 23rd Regiment of Foot in New York. He had, like many other British prisoners of war, escaped; instead of disappearing into the American countryside, he was one of hundreds who made their way back to British garrisons and continued serving as soldiers of the King. 

Michael Lynch was rewarded for his dedication when he was finally discharged from the 23rd in 1788, "being ruptured and worn out in the Service." The X that he put on his discharge in lieu of a signature was the mark of a man who had two opportunities to leave the army, but instead served until he was no longer able.

Learn more about British soldiers in America!

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