Monday, April 21, 2014
At this time of year there is naturally much discussion on the battle that began a long war, the fighting that occurred on 19 April 1775 when a British column marched out of Boston in an attempt to seized military stores at Concord. Who fired first will be the subject of debate for as long as the war is remembered; we have nothing new to add to that discussion. But people talking about the battle today often make erroneous statements about the British troops involved, using words like "young", "conscripts", "recruits", and other terms. There's a mistaken impression that these were inexperienced men. They were not.
The soldiers who marched to Concord that day were the light infantry and grenadier companies from regiments serving in Boston. Each regiment had ten companies, including one each of light infantry and grenadiers. These companies, each with about 35 private soldiers, were composed entirely of capable, experienced men. Their names are known from surviving muster rolls, and their careers can be traced using these semi-annual documents. Unfortunately, very few historians have used this valuable source of information (available only in the form of the original manuscripts at the British National Archives) to document the actual amount of military experince these soldiers had. It's tedious work, but it reveals that the soldiers involved in the fighting on 19 April typically had been in the army for five to ten years, many of them longer. Only a handful had fewer than three years of military experience. The British column did have issues with discipline that day, but they cannot be attributed to fundamental inexperience of the soldiers. Instead, we must look at other factors. Many of the soldiers lacked combat experience in spite of having been in the army for several years. More important, the individual companies had each been taken from their regiments and were put together for the expedition to Concord, but they had not trained together before. Even though each individual company was composed of well-trained men, they did not have experience working together. And no one expected a war to begin that day.
Among the most seasoned soldiers on the expedition was a private soldier in the grenadier company of the 4th Regiment of Foot, the King's Own. John Smith was from St. Andrews in Norfolk, England, and had learned the dyer's trade before he joined the army. He enlisted in 1754, just before the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, when he was 23 years old. His regiment participated in fighting at Minorca in the Mediterranean, and later was sent to the West Indies. When Martinique was taken by the British in 1762, John Smith was wounded in the lower leg. He recovered, and continued in the service.
By the time he marched out of Boston on 19 April 1775, John Smith was 44 years old and had been a soldier for 21 years. And there was nothing unusual about him; many soldiers on that march had similar service records. He received his second wound that day, this time in the thigh. Once again the injury was not severe enough to put him out of the war. It is not known whether he fought again at Bunker Hill, but he continued in the grenadier company after that battle. At the end of 1776 he was transferred into another company for unknown reasons; perhaps the effects of his wound made it too difficult to march with the fast-moving grenadiers. But he was still very much a serving soldier, continuing with the 4th Regiment as it participated in the 1777 campaign to Philadelphia and the 1778 march across New Jersey back to New York.
Later in 1778 the 4th Regiment was among those sent to the west Indies. Smith went there for the second time in his career. He continued to serve after the war ended and the army was reduced in size. He finally left the army in 1788, signing his own name on his discharge certificate. He was 57 years old, and had been wounded twice during his 34 years in the army. He received a pension for his long service.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
British regiments serving in America left a cadre of officers and soldiers in Great Britain to recruit the new soldiers that wartime attrition would necessitate. It was no easy job, particularly for those regiments that came to America in 1775; an order was given that June to increase the size of each regiment in America by 180 private soldiers. Some of those new men were provided by transferring ("drafting") men from other regiment in Great Britain, but many needed to be recruited. This meant that the recruiting officers had to raise many more men that the usual (but unpredictable) number required to make up for annual losses.
The 35th Regiment had arrived in Boston in 1775 just in time to participate in the battle of Bunker Hill. It's recruiting officers, in the mean time, set to work. On 3 March 1776, when the 35th was preparing to evacuate Boston with the rest of the British army, the recruiters enlisted a man named Edward Wade. Desertion, however, was a problem for recruiting parties: for a host of reasons, men changed their minds about the military as a career and absconded from their contractual obligation. Edward Wade did so, for reasons that we don't know. His desertion was advertised in the newspapers:
Deserted from Ensign Bevan’s Recruiting Party at Neath, near Swansea, South Wales, Edward Wade, Inlisted for the 35th regiment of foot the 3d of March, by trade a Shoemaker, sallow complexion, black hair, pitted with the small-pox, 5 feet 6 inches and a half high. He had on, when he deserted, a patched black coat, white waistcoat, leather breeches, and white stockings, and wore a broad-brimmed hat, cocked up behind only, with a large brass button upon it.
Whoever apprehends the said Deserter, and secures him, so that he may be brought to justice, shall receive Twenty Shillings reward over and above the allowance by Act of Parliament, by applying to the Commanding Officer at Neath, or to Messrs. Gray and Ogilvie, Agents, in Conduit-street, London.
[London Chronicle, 11 April 1776]
Whether he was caught or returned of his own volition, he was back with the 35th's recruits in time to embark for America that summer. He was among those who arrived in New York in October, having spent some two months on board a transport ship crossing the Atlantic.
As a shoemaker, Wade had good prospects in the army. It was a common trade for soldiers, but if he was diligent at it he could earn significant extra income working within his regiment or taking outside work. Even British prisoners of war enhanced their incomes making shoes for the Continental Army. But it was not to be. For reasons not recorded, Edward Wade died on 25 December 1776, having experienced only a glimpse of the war that would occupy his fellow soldiers for many more years.
The Best Source for Primary Sources: Revolutionary Imprints
Sunday, April 6, 2014
James Gilmour enlisted in the 82nd Regiment of Foot. It was a new regiment, raised in 1778 because there was a war on. The war in America had been going on for three years, and now France had declared war on Great Britain, necessitating a massive military buildup. Throughout the spring and summer of 1778 the 82nd Regiment was recruited; for a year the new corps, consisting of a mix of men previously discharged from the army and men new to military service, trained in Great Britain. Early in 1779 they were ready for deployment overseas, and boarded transports for America.
The regiment went first to Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there, most of the companies went on to Penobscot, Maine, where they would fight in a great siege. But the Grenadier company and the Light Infantry company, the latter including James Gilmour, were sent to join the British army in New York. Most of the 82nd's men were on the transport Mermaid. The ship rounded Cape Cod and made for New York, but instead of getting safely past Sandy Hook and into New York harbor, she ran aground off the New Jersey coast. What happened next is described in a newspaper article published in Philadelphia on 7 April 1779:
Since our last came to this city sundry prisoners saved from the Mermaid, stranded near Egg-harbour. From them we learn, that the said ship sailed from Halifax, in company with six other transports, having on board all the flank and light companies of that garrison; on board the Mermaid was the flank company and half the light company of the 82d regiment. That on the 22d, at five o’clock in the morning, the Mermaid ran ashore, when she soon bulged, and the people on board were obliged to take to the tops and shrouds, where, for 35 hours, those who were saved bore the severest cold, snow, &c. and while they had light, the survivors were almost every minute shocked with the falling of some of their unhappy ship-mates, who died with the cold, from the tops and other parts of the rigging, where they had endeavoured to secure themselves from the sea, which continually rolled over the ships deck. After having been in this miserable situation from five o’clock on Monday morning till noon on Tuesday, a boat came off to their relief, and saved about 42 of them, many of which are much frost bitten in their feet, and some of them were not able to help themselves on board the boat that came to their relief so that a few hours more must, in all probability, have finished the whole of them.
List of persons on board the ship Mermaid, Capt. Snowball, from Halifax to New-York: Perished, Capt. Snowball, master of the ship; Lieut. Snodgrass, of 82d light company; 112 serjeants, drums and privates; 13 women, seven children, 11 sailors. Total 145. Saved, five serjeants, 25 privates, seven sailors, and five officers, viz. Capt. Thomas Pitcairn, Lieuts. Andrew Rutherford, James Dunlap, of grenadiers, James Maxwell, and Robert Anderson, of light infantry of the 82d regiment. Total 42.
Among the 25 privates who survived the ordeal was James Gilmour. He got out of the water, but was also now effectively out of the war; he and the other survivors were brought ashore by their adversaries; the officers were put on parole in the interior of Pennsylvania while the private soldiers went into prison in Philadelphia.
A few months later one of the officers, Captain Thomas Pitcairn, made a plea to the American officer responsible for prisoners of war; he asked for Gilmour to be released, but for rather self-serving reasons. He wrote,
The Servant you was so good as to give us has taken the Oaths to the States, leaves us without any body to clean our Shoes and any other trifle we may want. I Should therefor be exceedingly obliged to you if you would allows us James Gillmour one of our own men now in Jail who having been always one of our Servants will be of greater use to us.
Cleaning shoes and attending to trifles doesn't sound like a glamorous life, but being an officer's servant could be a good life for a private soldier. The job paid well, sometimes officers provided additional clothing, servants obtained a measure of freedom and responsibility by being sent on errands for their officers - and in Gilmour's case, it was an alternative to jail.
It seems to have gone well for James Gilmour. He was released from captivity when the war ended, returned to Great Britain, and was discharged from the army on June 1784.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
It should be well known to readers of this blog that soldiers’ wives were an integral part of the army; for those needing a quick refresher, see my article on the subject. These women were not, however, enlisted or attested like soldiers, and as such were not subject to charges of desertion if they absconded. They were nonetheless subject to punishment for some violations of military law, and a number of army wives were tried by general courts martial in America for an assortment of crimes. One woman who stood trial was Mary Jeffries, wife of a soldier in the Brigade of Guards named John Jeffries. She was charged not with desertion, but with persuading her husband to desert.
The British army included three regiments of Foot Guards, charged with protecting the royal family and government institutions in London. These regiments were much larger than typical infantry regiments. When the need came to increase the size of the British army in America, a composite brigade consisting of about 1000 men was created by calling for volunteers from each of the three Foot Guards regiments. The Brigade of Guards arrived in America in 1776 and served for the remainder of the war, participating in major campaigns around New York, Philadelphia, the Carolinas, and Virginia.
One of the soldiers in the Brigade of Guards was John Jeffries, a private from the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards. While the brigade was wintering in Philadelphia in late 1777 and early 1778, Jeffries met a local woman and fell in love. He dutifully applied to his Colonel for permission to marry her, but was disappointed when the officer would not grant his consent.
Whether they were legally married anyway is not clear, but when the army left Philadelphia in early June she accompanied Jeffries. It may be that she was not among those officially allowed on the march, for John and Mary stayed at the rear of their company while the army was on the move and each time the army halted, they “made their Hut” some distance away from the rest of the company. This behavior, uncharacteristic of the soldier who had in the past always kept up with his comrades, aroused the suspicion of Jeffries’ serjeant, James Wilson. It is not clear why Wilson did not take any direct action such as ordering Jeffries to keep up and to bivouac with his company; instead, he reported to the Colonel that he suspected the couple intended to desert. The Colonel directed Wilson to “particularly to observe Jeffries.”
The army arrived at Sandy Hook in New Jersey, and there waited to board ships for the final part of their journey to New York and Staten Island. In spite of his serjeant's close observation, John Jeffries was absent from the 10 o’clock roll call on the morning of 3 July. Following the usual protocol when a man was absent a search was made for his necessaries (his shirts, stockings and shoes) and it was soon discerned that they were missing, a typical sign of desertion. Men sent in searching of him found Mary in a house a quarter mile behind the encampment at about 2 o’clock that afternoon, with all of her clothing. Serjeant Wilson determined that she did not have any of the missing necessaries. She said that she knew nothing of John Jeffries’ whereabouts or intentions, but nonetheless she was confined on suspicion of having “advised and persuaded” him to desert. With the rest of the army, she boarded transports and proceeded to posts around New York city.
She was brought to trial by a general court martial in Brooklyn three weeks later. Serjeant Wilson testified that, besides the circumstances related above, he had heard her say that she intended to return to Philadelphia where her father lived. In her defence, Mary repeated that she knew nothing of her husband’s desertion. She said not only that she had gone to the house in the rear of the encampment to wash her clothing, but that she had informed Serjeant Wilson of her intentions before doing so. While the serjeant claimed to have found her at the house with her clothing packed up, she related that another soldier had found her there while her clothes were hanging out to dry, and that she then packed them up and went herself to the serjeant. Responding to the claim that she had said she would return to Philadelphia, she explained that many of the soldiers’ wives had heard that they might not be allowed on the transports that were to carry the army from New Jersey to posts around New York. Some had decided that they would return to Philadelphia only if they were so refused, but that she herself had planned to see her husband on board ship before returning.
The court acquitted her, probably because Serjeant Wilson was the only witness against her and her explanations were reasonable enough. It is interesting that in the trial proceedings she was called Mary Jeffries even though there was no indication that she was married to John, and she was introduced as a “follower of the army” rather than as the wife of a soldier or a member of the Brigade of Guards (in many other trials, wives are explicitly referred to as, for example, “of the 22nd Regiment”). Throughout the serjeant’s testimony neither the term “husband” nor “wife” is used, but she is nonetheless referred to by John Jeffries’ surname. Her own testimony, on the other hand, refers to Jeffries directly as her husband.
Although the serjeant mentioned in his testimony that he had “heard since Jeffries’s Desertion that he has been seen” in Philadelphia, we have no information on his actual fate, nor the life pursued by Mary Jeffries after the trial.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Before war broke out in America, there were already British troops on the continent. It was part of the British empire, and there were many places where local tensions required military presence to maintain order. In addition to frontier posts along the Ohio river and in Canada, there were the valuable islands in the West Indies where local natives resisted British colonial expansion. The most recent uprising had occurred fighting had occurred on the island of St. Vincent between 1769 and 1773, a conflict that came to be called the First Carib War. After a peace agreement was signed, British troops remained on the island including the 6th Regiment of Foot.
The outbreak of war in the thirteen mainland American colonies necessitated an immediate buildup of troops there. The 6th Regiment, along with others in the Caribbean, were sent to New York in 1776 to bolster the strength of Sir William Howe's army that was preparing for a campaign that, it was hoped, would put an end to the rebellion. Not long after their arrival, though, it became clear that the 6th wasn't up for campaigning in America after having spent a few years in the harsh Caribbean climate. In December 1776, orders were given that the regiment was to transfer all of its able-bodied soldiers into other regiment in America. The remainder, including the officers and non-commissioned officers, would return to Great Britain where worn out men would be discharged and new soldiers would be recruited.
Among the men drafted from the 6th Regiment was Michael Wright, who joined the 43rd Regiment of Foot. We know nothing of his background, including how long he had been in the 6th Regiment (no muster rolls survived for the regiment during this time period); he may have been a long serving soldier or a recently arrived recruit. Regardless, he was sent with other drafts from New York to Rhode Island where the 43rd was stationed. Initially, like the other drafts, he continued to wear his uniform from the 6th Regiment. Both the 6th and the 43rd had just received new uniforms for the year 1776, but it would take all winter for the clothing to be fitted properly to the men. Each regiment had tailors to do this work (Great Britain's thriving textile industry insured that there were plenty of skilled tailors among the men who enlisted in the army). When spring came, it is not known which newly-tailored uniform Wright donned - the one he'd recently received from his old regiment, or a new one from the 43rd Regiment.
Regardless, he didn't wear it long. The muster rolls show us that he died on 5 July 1777. There was no fighting on that day; although minor engagements occurred frequently in Rhode Island throughout that year, none correlate with Wright's demise. Muster rolls provide a record of many such unascribed deaths, and ordinarily we attribute them to illness for want of additional information. But in Wright's case, an officer of the Rhode Island garrison recorded the cause:
A Soldier of the 43rd Regt shot himself last night in the rear of the Camp. The discovery of a Connection he had with a married woman of the same Regiment, appears to have been the cause of this rash action.
Nothing else is known about the incident. All we know of this untold story is the tragic ending.
The best source of primary sources: Revolutionary Imprints
Sunday, March 2, 2014
By the beginning of 1776, war had broken out in America and the British government had put together a plan to establish a military presence in the southern colonies. A fleet of warships and transports carried several regiments that were to land and establish a foothold. Among those regiments was the 46th Regiment of Foot, previously stationed in Ireland; in the ranks of the regiment was a private soldier named Richard Pollard who brought with him his wife Mary. There is no record of whether they had children with them.
The fleet sailed from Cork, Ireland on 12 February 1776, later than indended. The voyage went poorly, particularly so for the Pollards. An officer in another regiment wrote that, on the day they set sail, "in the evening, a storm sprung up, which lasted three weeks, without intromission; and the wind being against us made our situation truly lamentable." The transport ships used to carry troops across the Atlantic were private vessels operating under contract to the government and typically ranged in size from 200 to 500 tons - tiny by today's oceangoing standards. It is difficult to image the prolonged discomfort and danger of being tossed about an open ocean in such a vessel. Whether due to illness or accident, Richard Pollard did not endure long; on 27 February 1776, he died of unknown causes.
May Pollard was now a widow on a transport full of soldiers bound for a foreign and possibly hostile land, her soldier husband having died without facing an enemy. There is a popular tale that army widows in such circumstances were required to remarry immediately or they would be cast out of their regiment where ever they happened to be. We've shown that this is not true; some widows stayed with the army for quite some time; they were allowed to return to Great Britain and provided with funds and transportation to do so. That doesn't mean it was easy, and it certainly couldn't always be effected immediately, especially in a case like Mary Pollard's. She have to continue to earn her keep with the regiment - probably as a washer woman or hospital nurse - while waiting to see where the fortunes of war brought her and the rest of the 46th Regiment.
She endured the remainder of the voyage. She may have stayed on board ship while the regiment sweated out an encampment on a barren, sandy island on the Carolina coast, ultimately looking on helplessly as a naval assault on Fort Moultrie near Charleston, South Carolina, failed. After several ineffective weeks in the steadily increasing southern heat, the soldier re-embarked and sailed north to join the British army that had just landed on Staten Island.
Mary Pollard could've gone home. There were opportunities to sail to Halifax where many women and children of the army had stayed to await word of the success of the campaign around New York. After the city and surrounding area was in British hands, there were other opportunities to return to Great Britain with other widows and wounded soldiers. But she stayed on with the army, for reasons now lost to history. on 25 June 1777 she and William Hyde, a soldier of the 46th who had also sailed from Ireland the previous year, obtained a marriage license and presumable took vows around that time in the area of New York City.
Assuming that they stayed married, things went better this time. Hyde served with the regiment during the campaign to Philadelphia in 1777 and the return to New York in 1778. Late that year the regiment was sent to the West Indies, but it appears that Hyde, due to either injury or other infirmity, was discharged and returned to Great Britain. There, he served for several years in the 41st Regiment of Foot, a corps of soldiers fit only for service within the home islands. He was discharged from that regiment in 1788 and received a pension.
The sad part about all of this is that we have no idea what became of Mary Pollard Hyde. In fact, the only direct information we have about her is from the marriage license - a single surviving document that records here name, that she was a widow in the 46th Regiment, and applied to marry William Hyde of the same regiment. Everything else about her is determined from the muster rolls of the 46th Regiment that record the names of her husbands and the day that Richard Pollard died (he was the only man named Pollard in the regiment, and there was only one man named William Hyde), and the pension of William Hyde. Mary could've died the day after her second marriage, and we would have no way of knowing. If she did return to Great Britain with William Hyde, there may be information about her tucked in a regional archive waiting to be discovered.
British Soldiers, American War is now out in paperback!
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Sometimes - often, in fact - we find single pieces of information that defy our efforts to discover corroborating or elaborating material. It remains tantalizing, a fragment of a broader untold story. A perfect example is the newspaper advertisement below, taken out by the abandoned wife of a British deserter. To date, we have found nothing more about John Saunders or Barbara Saunders. If anyone can discover anything more about this discordant couple, it'd be wonderful to learn of it!
To the Public.
Whereas John Saunders, late Gunner in the British Artillery, in the City of New-York, my lawful Husband, by and with the Advice of some dissolute and evil minded people, like himself, deserted from said Artillery, and absconded from me, upwards of four years ago, leaving me pregnant with two children, since dead.
And whereas the said John Saunders, hath now married in the City of Philadelphia (as his lawful Wife is credibly informed, and verily believe to be true). And whereas great scandal may arise, as well in this City as at the City of Philadelphia, amongst divers of its inhabitants, to the great disturbance and tranquility of me the Subscriber, owing to the contriving, devising, composing, and publishing to the world that he never was married, in order to vindicate his re-marrying, as above set forth, that I think it my duty, for the vindication of my character, to convince the respectable public, that I was lawfully married to him, in this City of New-York, upwards of six years ago; and that I know of no reasons for his absconding from me, and deceiving the woman that he is married to at said Philadelphia. And further, that I will not run him in debt, neither will I pay any for him; neither will I ever have any further Connections with him.
In witness whereof, I have, at said City of New-York, put my Hand to this Advertisement, this thirteenth day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty three.
[Royal Gazette (New York), 14 may 1783]
The best source of primary sources: Revolutionary Imprints