Tuesday, August 26, 2014

John Budge, 7th Regiment of Foot, regrets his decision

Few British soldiers left any record of why they chose to join the army. Almost all were volunteers, for it was not legal to force men into the army except for a brief period during the American War and even then only under certain conditions. In addition, the law required that every enlistee testify before a magistrate that he'd joined the army volutarily, within four days of enlisting. While there were certainly instances of this system being circumvented, they were few; just how few is evidenced by the fact that almost no men on trial for desertion brought their legal enlistment into question. If corrupt recruiting practices were widespread, we'd expect to see men charged with desertion using this as a defense in their trials - if their enlistment contract wasn't legal, then they couldn't be charged with desertion - but such a defense was extremely rare.

This doesn't mean that recruits were always happy about their decision to enlist. A man named John Budge joined the 7th Regiment of Foot in late 1777 or early January 1778, and soon found himself bound to join his regiment in America. Shortly before embarking with other recruits, the Nottingham native and batchelor prepared a will directing that a yearly income he'd been left by an uncle be managed by his brother until his return, or divided among various extended family members if he didn't return. His state of mind is reflected in the opening phrase of his will, which reads, "As it is my misfortune to enlist in the army and going abroad directly..." He doesn't say why he enlisted, but clearly he regretted it.

John Budge joined the 7th Regiment, known as the Royal Fusiliers, in New York. The regiment had been captured piecemeal early in the war as it manned posts between Lake Chaplain and Quebec that quickly fell to an American onslaught. The captives were released in late 1776, though, and the regiment had been returned to fighting trim by the addition of drafts and recruits. Budge probably became acclimated to warfare during the regiment's service in the New York City area during the second half of 1778 and throughout 1779 which included raids on the Connecticut coast.

The beginning of 1780 saw a shift in British strategy, and the 7th Regiment participated in the successful siege of Charleston, South Carolina. The 7th Regiment went on to fight at the disastrous battle of Cowpens in 1781, and also had elements at Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown later that year. The regiment had a tough war.

But for John Budge the fights at Cowpens and Yorktown didn't matter. He'd been wise to make out a will, for he died in Charleston on 24 July 1780; whether from wounds or illness is not known.