Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Cornelius Killegrew, 34th Regiment, a man of the sincerest integrity

Many men spent their entire military careers as private soldiers, but intelligent, literate men could advance quickly. The army needed capable non-commissioned officers, and was quick to recognize those who had the skills and capacity. Cornelius Killegrew was one such man.

Born in Edgeware just north of London, Killegrew learned to be a comb maker. Instead of pursuing this trade, however, he enlisted in the army when he was seventeen years old in 1765. What drew him to the army is not known, given that he had a trade that was probably in some demand in a metropolitan area, but he soon proved to be capable of leadership.

After just three and a half years, the 5-foot 9-inch tall soldier was appointed corporal, a significant step up in responsibility that also brought higher base pay and more opportunities for extra earnings. In 1775 he was appointed sergeant, the pinnacle of advancement for most enlistees.

His regiment, the 34th Regiment of Foot, sailed to Quebec in 1776 as part of the expanded British commitment to the American war. During the famous 1777 campaigns that attempted to split the colonies, Killegrew was among 100 men of the 34th with the detachment under his own regiment’s lieutenant colonel, Barrimore St. Leger, who held the local rank of brigadier general. They made their way to Lake Ontario, then along the Oswego River, and over land to Fort Stanwix.

Sergeant Killegrew was “appointed provost Martial at 2s-6d pr day for the Expedition and to be obeyed as such,” meaning that it was his job to receive and provide guards over all prisoners. This included enemy prisoners of war and soldiers on the expedition who had committed disciplinary infractions, including apprehended deserters. He probably had to pay expenses of his duty out of this stipend, which was in addition to his regular pay as a sergeant, but he nonetheless stood to profit from this posting. It was one of the myriad ways that British soldiers and non-commissioned officers earned more than their base pay, allowing them to live better than the subsistence-level base pay would allow. This extra earning potential that was pervasive in military duty may have been a factor in so many men choosing the army as a career.

And Killegrew had a long career. He spent thirteen years as a sergeant, and another six years as the 34th Regiment’s sergeant-major. He finally took his discharge in April of 1792 when the regiment was posted on the Isle of Guernsey.

Rather than return to his native London, Killegrew went to Ireland. In 1793, when the City of Limerick Militia was formed, he was appointed sergeant-major, bringing his twenty-seven years of experience in the regular army to the job.

The City of Limerick Militia had its moment of glory in the 1798 rebellion.  They were sent north to help repel a French invasion. On September 5, a force consisting primarily of some 200 infantry from the militia, supported by a few cavalry and others, was posted at the village of Colooney five miles from Sligo. Orders had come to abandon the village, but the militia instead took post at a critical defile. They held the position against an attack by five times their number, repelling French forces supported by Irish rebel militia in a four-hour engagement. So important was their stand that a silver medal was struck and awarded to each of the participants, bearing the inscription “to the Heroes of Colooney.”

At this writing, it is not known whether Sergeant-Major Killegrew was at the battle. He may have been in the thick of the fight, or he may have been back in Limerick handling administrative tasks. Either way, he soldiered on for another twenty years. He is one of very few soldiers to have an obituary posted, in the 16 September 1818 edition of the Limerick Chronicle:

Died - This morning, in Mary-street, aged 74, of gangrene in the leg, which baffled professional skill, Mr. Cornelius Killegrew, Serjeant-Major of the City of Limerick Militia since its first formation, and formerly of the 34th regiment; a man of the sincerest integrity. His remains will be interred with military honors to-morrow, at four o’clock afternoon.

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