Monday, November 28, 2016
During the 1800s, a great deal of mythology arose about the American Revolution, from reassessments of the conflict in terms of righteousness versus evil, to implausible accounts of individual heroism. Aging veterans of the war suffered from inaccurate memory, and some spun tales to amuse and amaze listeners. Authors recorded stories that were hearsay as facts, sometimes saying they'd been related by actual participants, other times simply repeating popular tales. All of this makes it risky to trust early sources, even those written by participants when a long time had passed since the events. Significant sleuthing is required to very a story, and often the results are inconclusive.
In 1822, Alexander Garden published a book called Anecdotes of the revolutionary war in America. Garden had served for several years as an officer in an American cavalry corps, so he had plenty of personal experience on which to base his writings. He nevertheless was relating events of a war that was half a century in the past. One of his anecdotes is of meeting a soldier named Michael Docherty, who told a long and peculiar story. Garden wrote,
At the moment of the retreat, on the 12th May, 1782, when Col. Laurens, commanding the troops of Gen. Green's army, beat up the quarters of the enemy near Accabec, Michael Docherty, a distinguished soldier of the Delawares, said to a comrade who was near — "It does my heart good to think that but little blood has been spilt this day and that we are likely to see the close of it without a fight."
No notice was taken of his speech at the time, but meeting him shortly after in the camp, I inquired how he who was so much applauded for uncommon gallantry, should have expressed so great a delight on beholding the enemy indisposed for action. "And who besides myself had a better right to be released, I wonder," said Docherty "Wounds and captivity have no charms for me, and Michael has never forgot, but as bad luck would have it, both have been his portion. When I give a little piece of the history of my past life, you will give credit for my wish to be careful of the part that is to come.
"I was unlucky from the jump. At the battle of Brandywine, acting as sergeant, my captain being killed, and lieutenant absenting himself from the field, for the greater safety of his mother's son, I fought with desperation till our amunition was expended, and my comrades being compelled to retire, I was left hopeless and wounded on the ground, and fell into the hands of the enemy.
"Confinement was never agreeable to me. I could never be easy within the walls of a prison. A recruiting sergeant of the British, who was at home in his business, and up to all manner of cajolery by dint of perpetual blarny, gained my good will, slipped the bounty into my hand, which I pocketed, and entered a volunteer into the 17th regiment. Stony Point was our station, and I thought myself snugly out of harm's way, when one ugly night when I did not dream of such an accident, the post was carried at the point of the bayonet, and an unlucky thrust laid me prostrate on the earth. It was a great consolation, however, although this was rather rough treatment from the hand of a friend, that the Delawares were covered with glory, and as their prisoner I was sure to meet the kindest attention.
"My wound once cured, and white-washed of my sins, my ancient comrades received me with kindness and light heart, and hoping to gain my quantity of laurels in the South, I marched forward with the regiment as a part of the command, destined to recover the Carolinas and Georgia. The bloody battle of Camden, fought on the 16th day of August, (bad luck to the day,) brought me once again into trouble. Our regiment was cut up root and branch, and poor Pilgarlic, my unfortunate self, wounded and made prisoner.
"My prejudices against a jail, I have frankly told, and being pretty confident that I should not a whit better relish a lodging in the inside of a prison-ship, I once again suffered myself to be persuaded, and listed in the infantry of Tarleton's legion. O! botheration — what a mistake — I never had such bad company; as a man of honor I was out of my element, and should certainly have given them leg bail, but that I had not time to brood over my misfortunes, for the battle of Cowpens quickly following, Howard and Kirkwood gave us the bayonet so handsomely, that we were taken one and all, and I should have escaped unhurt had not a dragoon of Washington's added a slight scratch or two to the account already scored on my unfortunate carcass.
"As to the miseries that I have endured — afflicted with a scarcity of every thing but appetite and musquitoes, I say nothing about them. My love for my country gives me courage to support that, and a great deal more when it comes. I love my comrades and they love Docherty. Exchanging kindness, we give care to the dogs; but surely you will not be surprised after all that I have said, that I feel some qualms at the thought of battle, since, take whatever side I will, I am always sure to find it the wrong one." [Alexander Garden, Anecdotes of the revolutionary war in America, with sketches of character of persons the most distinguished, in the Southern states, for civil and military services (Charleston, SC: E. A. Miller, 1822), 396-398" (Charleston, SC: E. A. Miller, 1822), 396-398]
Garden compared Michael Docherty to a character named Dugald Dalgetty in Sir Walter Scott's novel A Legend of Montrose, published in 1819. Dalgetty, a soldier of fortune, embraced the cause of whatever side he happened to be fighting for; Garden may have been pleased at the similarity of Dalegetty's and Docherty's names as well as of their stories. But could such a tale be true?
Turns out it could be. The muster rolls of the 17th Regiment of Foot show that a Michael Lochry enlisted in the regiment in Philadelphia on 14 January 1778. The names don't match perfectly, but there are many instances on British muster rolls where the spelling of names changes from one semi-annual roll to the next, sometimes quite a lot. Also, Lochry is the only man to enlist on that date, suggesting that he was recruited locally; usually recruits arrived from Great Britain in groups and were all added to the muster rolls on the same date, so this singular enlistment sets Lochry apart. Several hundred Americans captured after the battle of Brandywine are known to have enlisted in British and Loyalist regiments, so the time frame, situation and regiment suggest that Lochry and Docherty are the same man.
Michale Lochry of the 17th Regiment was captured at the battle of Stony Point in July 1779, which also correlates with the story written by Alexander Garden. The 17th Regiment's muster rolls indicate that Lochry was not exchanged at the end of 1780 with his fellow captives; he was carried on the rolls as “prisoner with the enemy” until the end of the war when he was written off as a deserter on 25 June 1783.
A man named Michael Dockerty was among the almost ninety men from the Delaware Regiment listed as "missing in action" after the battle of Camden on 16 August 1780. And a Michael Dockerty enlisted in the British Legion, commanded by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, on 3 September 1780. He was part of a new company composed largely of prisoners captured at the battle of Camden the previous month. This, too, fits perfectly with Alexander Garden's anecdote. The fact that Michael Lochry still was on the rolls of the 17th Regiment is immaterial; there was no way for the officers of the British Legion in South Carolina to compare their records with those of the 17th Regiment in New York.
The British Legion suffered greatly at the battle of Cowpens in January 1781. Many of its men were captured, including Micheal Dockerty. After that, he no longer appears in British records.
Based on the data from muster rolls, we can be confident that Alexander Garden did indeed learn of a man named Michael Docherty, or something that sounded similar to that, who had served in both the 17th Regiment and the British Legion. The only other way he could have known was to himself have studied the British muster rolls, which is unlikely for an American to have done in the early 1800s. Whether Garden truly met the man is less certain; perhaps he'd heard the story elsewhere. Garden relates the story as though it is Docherty's words verbatim, but the passage of time surely caused differences; the overall sequence of events, however, stands up to scrutiny.
Mostly, that is. The muster rolls of the Delaware Regiment indicate that a man named Michael Daugherty deserted the regiment, but not until 17 May 1778. Then they record him on the rolls again in September. Those dates are in complete conflict with both the story told by Garden and with the British muster rolls. Perhaps that Michael Daugherty was a different man, or perhaps there's some other explanation for the inconsistency. Most of Alexander Garden's story checks out, however, giving us a remarkable example of how unusual a soldier's career could be.
Monday, November 21, 2016
John Sutherland had intended only to visit his brother, and now he sat in confinement, awaiting a death sentence. It was not a likely fate for the forty-one year old private soldier of the 64th Regiment of Foot who had always borne "a very good Character" in over eighteen years as a soldier, except for an occasional bout of intoxication, a vice that was common enough among British soldiers, especially those who had spent several years fighting a frustrating, inconclusive war with American colonists.
Sutherland enlisted in the 64th Regiment in 1760 when he was twenty-two years old, after having pursued the trade of a tailor. The regiment, a new one established in 1756 as a second battalion to an existing regiment, and made an independent regiment two years later. Service in the West Indies, in particular the 1759 taking of Guadeloupe, severely depleted their ranks. The corps returned to Great Britain in 1759, and was soon sent to Scotland to recruit. Sutherland, a native of county Caithness in Scotland, was among the new enlistees. He had plenty of time to learn the military trade before another overseas deployment; the 64th Regiment spent three years in Scotland and another five in Ireland before crossing the Atlantic once again.
In 1768, the 64th Regiment of Foot, fully fit for service after a decade of recruiting and training, sailed to North America. There was no explicit crisis to address, it was just part of normal rotations of regiments from domestic to overseas service. The regiment spent the next several years in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Boston, Massachusetts, although much of the time in the latter city was actually passed at the fortified barracks on Castle Island in Boston Harbor. They moved into town in 1774 when tensions with the colonists grew, then served throughout the siege and subsequent evacuation of the city in March 1776. The next time that Sutherland's individual activities become apparent, though, is in October 1778.
The regiment was encamped near Bedford on Long Island. There were many British troops in the area, and their proclivity for foraging caused much mischief on the region's verdant farms. Some farmers applied to the army for safe guards, and individual trustworthy soldiers encamped on their properties to fend off nighttime forays by soldiers bent on illicitly procuring produce. One of these safe guards was John Hamilton of the 44th Regiment. He was well acquainted with the 64th Regiment encamped a few miles away, having "struck several of the Men of that Regiment who had come there to gather Peaches" in recent weeks. At about 1 in the morning on 8 October, he heard noise among the farms poultry. Investigating, he saw two men; when one ran away, Hamilton fired a shot at him, then confronted the other soldier, the somewhat belligerent and very drunk John Sutherland. Sutherland had his firelock (musket) with him, and aimed it at Hamilton; Hamilton, resolute in his duty and perhaps detecting Sutherland's impaired condition, "told him that if he offered to make any resistance he would kill him." Sutherland put the butt of the firelock - which was primed and loaded but did not have a bayonet fixed - on the ground. Hamilton recalled that he
put his hand upon the Muzzle of [Sutherland's] firelock and bid him give it up, but this he refused to do; that [Sutherland] then attempted to bring his firelock up to the Charge; that he [Hamilton] then quitted his hold of the prisoner's firelock, and bringing the point of his Bayonet which was fixed to his own firelock to [Sutherland's] Breast and told him that he would kill him if he offered to make any more resistance; that [Sutherland] then went up to the House where there were two Musicians, belonging to the 33d Regiment who advised him to give up his firelock, but he would not, and they were obliged to break it before they could get it from him.
The following week, John Sutherland was tried by a general court martial in New York, charged with the crime of forcing a safe guard. After hearing the testimony of the safe guard, John Hamilton, the court asked Sutherland for his defense; all he could off was that "he was so much in Liquor at the time that he did not know what he did, and that he never was Guilty of the like before." Perhaps based on his long record of good service, he was acquitted. He returned to his duties.
Sutherland had a brother who was also a soldier in America, serving in a grenadier battalion. Each regiment had a grenadier company, but during the American War those companies were usually detached from their regiments and assembled into composite battalions of their own. John Sutherland's brother may have been Corporal James Sutherland of the 64th Regiment's grenadiers, part of the 2nd Battalion of Grenadiers. In July 1779, that battalion and the 64th Regiment itself were part of a force that had just moved into Westchester County.
One Wednesday afternoon, John Sutherland finished his tasks with a working party and decided to pay a visit to his brother. He and another man, John Archibald, made their way to the grenadier encampment and spent an evening socializing and drinking. The combination of intoxication and darkness caused them to lose their way attempting to return to their own encampment, and they spent the night lost in the woods. In the morning they lost track of each other. Archibald found his way to the camp, but Sutherland did not.
During the same night that the two men got lost, the grenadier battalions and other corps in the area marched off to different locations; the following days brought more movements, until on Saturday the 2nd Battalion of Grenadiers encamped in Mamaroneck, New York. On the march that morning, a soldier of a light infantry battalion noticed a man peering out from the bushes and called to him to come out. The man, John Sutherland, revealed himself. Asked if he was a deserter, and how long he'd been off, Sutherland said three or four days, and that he'd been in liquor. He then compliantly went with the light infantryman and another soldier.
Sutherland was put on trial for desertion that very day. He explained himself to the court, concluding that after he lost contact with John Archibald, he was afraid to return to the regiment because he'd already been gone so long. The court did not ask the usual questions about whether Sutherland had taken clothing with him, or resisted apprehension. An officer of the 64th testified that "whilst he was with the Regiment, the prisoner bore a very good Character; and that he has great reason to believe, that it was from drunkenness the Prisoner deserted, as it agreed with what John Archibald (the Man that was with the Prisoner) told the Adjutant of the Regiment on his return." Compared to other desertion trials, this one seemed unambiguous; even though Sutherland had been absent, there was no reason to believe that he had intentionally absconded. Desertion was a capital crime, but a corporal sentence was appropriate in this case.
The court, however, ruled that Sutherland was guilty and sentenced him to death. This was probably a reaction to a recent spate of desertions in the grenadier battalion rather than to the evidence presented. The officers who composed the court were all from the grenadier battalion, and no testimony came from soldiers in Sutherland's own regiment. Grenadiers were deserting, and an example needed to be made.
The verdict did not sit right with two members of the court, Captain John Peebles of the 42nd Regiment's grenadier company and Captain Warren Simondson of the 64th's. Simondson had testified to Sutherland's character; Peebles recorded in his diary:
on a Genl. Court Martial for the tryal of John Sutherland of the 64th. Regt. for desertion, he was taken this morng. near Rye, - a poor silly creature who tells a simple & consistent story of his being in liquor & losing his way in the night, his greatest fault was in not returning, for it does not appear to me that he left his Regt. with an intention to desert. however he is condemned to suffer death by a mode of procedure in Court that I never saw or hear’d of before, & cannot reconcile to justice & humanity; a circumstance which I shall never forget, & now think in my own mind I should have protested against.
The execution was scheduled for 19 July. Captain Peebles and Captain Simondson went to the officer commanding their brigade and made a case on Sutherland's behalf; Peebles wrote,
Captain S--n & I waited on Genl. Vaughan to ask his opinion of a case like that which happen’d at the Court Martial which we found agreed with ours, we then told him that there was an irregularity in the proceedings, or rather in giving sentence, which we could not reconcile to our judgement & conscience, and begged he would order the Execution be put off untill we could acquaint the Comr. in chief with as much of the affair as the nature of our oath wod. allow us, which he was very ready to do
The general, however, soon learned that a surprise was in store, and let the two captains in on the secret: while forcing the troops to witness an execution was one method of deterring desertion, by striking fear into them, another method for gaining soldiers' loyalty was to show mercy. "The Comr. in Chief had left orders to pardon the prisoner at the foot of the Gallows, which satisfied us with respect to the safety of a man’s life who was not regularly condemn’d." Peebles then recorded the proceedings of the execution:
The Picquets of the left Column being ordered out with the Field officer of the day for the Execution of Jno. Sutherland of the 64th ... The Ceremony was gone thro’ & the poor man behaved very well and penitently at the approaching scenes of death, fainted with joy when his pardon was pronounced.
John Sutherland had escaped with his life. He may, however, have received corporal punishment for his absence from his regiment. For reasons that have not been determined, at the end of the year he was discharged from the 64th Regiment of Foot and took a new post as a soldier in the Royal Garrison Battalion. This was a corps composed of soldiers no longer fit for the demands of long marches and encampments, but who could render useful service at fixed posts. The Royal Garrison Battalion served in the New York area before being sent to garrison Bermuda.
At the end of the war the Royal Garrison Battalion in Bermuda was disbanded. Some of the soldiers took the opportunity to go to Nova Scotia and take their discharge there, Sutherland among them. He was discharged at Sheet Harbor in June 1784, having spent twenty-four years as a soldier. But his military days were not done. In 1793 he joined the Royal Nova Scotia Regiment, in which he served a further three years before being discharged and recommended for a pension, "being deemed by a medical board, from his advanced age, and long services, to be unfit for His Majesty's Service." He signed an X on his discharge, indicating that he had never learned to write. He was fifty-eight years old, five feet seven inches tall, with light hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion, and after twenty-six years in the army he was finally returning to Great Britain.
The pension examining board had other ideas for Sutherland than simply sending him home to Caithness. The directed him into another garrison corps, the Guernsey Invalids, which he joined on 13 February 1797. He stayed in that corps for five more years, finally taking his discharge on 24 December 1801, "being old & feeble." After thirty-one years in the army, this "poor, silly creature" had earned his pension.
Learn more about British soldiers in America!
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
When it became clear that all-out war had broken out in America, the British War Office made changes to allow more troops to be sent into the conflict. One change was to augment the size of regiments already in America, or ordered to go there. The number of private soldiers in each of an infantry regiment's ten companies was increased from 38 to 56, the number of serjeants in each company was raised from two to three, and the number of drummers per company increased from one to two.
This change was ordered in June 1775, but it would take time to raise the men. To facilitate recruiting, two "Additional Companies" were also added to each regiment. Nominally these were identical to the ten existing companies, with three officers, three serjeants, three corporals, two drummers and fifty-six private men. In reality, they were administrative structures to make recruiting possible: the officers, with a cadre of non-commissioned officers and drummers, spread out all over Great Britain seeking recruits wherever they might be had. About half of each regiment's needs would be filled by drafts, experienced men transferred from regiments not going overseas, thereby maintaining a reasonable level of overall experience in the deployed regiments. But that still meant that each regiment needed nearly 100 new recruits.
Three officers of the 46th Regiment of Foot worked hard to recruit men in Ireland at the beginning of 1776. The 46th had already gained many new men, both recruits and drafts, prior to embarking for America in late December 1775. Now that their regiment was at sea, Captain Alexander Duff, Lieutenant Samuel Bathurst and Ensign Thomas Digby enlisted 71 new men between 23 December 1775 and 4 February 1776. The results of their work, recorded in a very rare return of British recruits, provides many interesting details on British wartime recruiting.
Of the 71 men enlisted, 15 ranged in age from 16 to 20 years old; 26 ranged from 21 to 25; 21 were from 26 to 30, and five were from 31 to 35 years old. No data was recorded for four of the men. This age range mirrors that of broader data sets that include peacetime recruiting: the majority of British soldiers enlisted in their early to mid-twenties. Later in the war, when recruiting got more intensive to keep pace with increased manpower demands, the proportion of younger and older men increased, but the majority continued to be in the same early twenties range.
Thirteen of the men were below the peacetime recommended minimum of five feet six inches, with four standing only five feet four and a half inches tall. It was common for men in their teens, who might still have some growing to do, to be enlisted when below the standard, but only seven of the short men were below the age of twenty; one of the shortest was also one of the oldest, at thirty-two. He was a fifer, which may have influenced the decision to enlist him in spite of his low stature and advanced age.
Eight of the men were enlisted in Dublin by Capt. Duff, and fourty-four by Lt. Bathurst about twenty miles west in Kilcock, County Kildare. The remainder were enlisted farther west by Ens. Digby in Geashill, King's County (today named County Offaly), the ancestral home of the young officer's prominent military family; his influence is apparent in that twelve of his recruits were born in his home town. Almost all of the men came from towns in the midland Irish counties - Dublin (4), Meath (6), Westmeath (9), Offaly (King's) (14), Roscommon (8), and Kildare (11), the remainder being from Donegal (2), Galway (1), Kilkenny (1), Longford (2), Mayo (1), Monaghan (1), Laois (Queen's) (1), Sligo (1), and Tyrone (2). One man came from Middlesex in England, and four have no birthplace recorded.
Only 15 of the 71 had trades (with four unknown), the remainder being laborers. This is well below the overall average of between fifty and sixty percent with trades seen in larger data sets, but reasonably close (although still below) the norm for recruits from Ireland alone. The trades included three cordwainers (who made shoes), two butchers, a barber, breeches maker, dyer, flax dresser, hatter, school master, tailor and weaver. Also listed among the trades was a fiddler and the fifer mentioned above.
Perhaps most interesting of all is that only 37 of these 71 recruits joined the 46th Regiment in America; possibly only 35, given that two of the names don't match perfectly between the list of recruits and the regiment's muster rolls. 14 recruits had deserted by 9 February when the return from which this data comes was prepared (among them the fifer mentioned above); one of those deserters had been caught again and was held in a military prison in Dublin. The remaining twenty men are unaccounted for, having apparently been discharged, transferred, or deserted before the recruits set sail for America. Most of the recruits who joined the regiment in America embarked on transports in early July 1776, and arrived in New York in late October, meaning they'd spent six months in training before sailing; a few arrived a few months later.