Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Each British infantry regiment included in its ranks a number of drummers and fifers. We refrain from calling these men "musicians" because many regiments also had a band of music whose members were called musicians (often these men were private soldiers who also played an instrument, but that's another story).
Before the war began, the established strength of each of the regiment's ten companies included one drummer. Soon after hostilities began, regimental strength was increased and a second drummer was added to each company - but this role often went unfilled; many regiments continued to field with only one drummer in each company. The established strength also included two fifers for the entire regiment. On the muster rolls these men are listed as part of the grenadier company. Regiments could have more fifers, but the government allowed for only two. Because additional fifers were not on the establishment, they don't appear on the muster rolls - meaning that we have no way of knowing whether they existed or not.
We tend to think of drummers and fifers as boys too young to serve as private soldiers. Some certainly were, but boys grow up and many drummers and fifers remained in this role for long military careers. It was also quite common for men to enlist at typical adult ages and begin serving as drummers or fifers. An example is Lewis Bright, born in Gloucestershire, on 25 December 1747.
We know nothing of Bright's early life, but when the drums beat for recruits to fight a new war in America he answered the call. At the age of 27 he enlisted with a recruiting party belonging to the 47th Regiment of Foot. The 47th had been in America since 1773 and saw serve in New Jersey and New York before joining the Boston garrison. By the time Lewis Bright and other recruits were ready to embark for America in the summer of 1776, however, the 47th Regiment had been sent to Canada.
Recruits for the army in Canada arrived too late in 1776 to join their regiments immediately; the harsh winter climate made it too difficult to go from Quebec, the usual Canadian port of arrival, to the various garrisons where the army spent the winter (the 47th was distributed among posts at St. Luce, Recollet, St. Geneviere and St. Lawrent). The recruits finally joined their regiments in the summer of 1777.
Lewis Bright first appears on the 47th's rolls as a drummer. Almost 30 years old, he was soon sailing south on Lake Champlain as part of the expedition under General Burgoyne. It was not long before he had a taste of combat at the battle of Hubbardton on 7 July 1777. Although drummers are sometimes considered non-combatants, Bright was clearly in the thick of the fighting: he was wounded three times.
His wounds did not put him out of service. He continued south with the army towards Albany. In September one of the officers in his company, Lieutenant Poole England, was ordered by General Burgoyne to take dispatches from the front lines back to Fort Ticonderoga. He took drummer Bright with him, entrusting Bright to carry the papers. On 18 September they reached the north end of Lake George, one of a series of posts established to maintain a supply line from Fort Ticonderoga to the Hudson River. Here they were captured.
Lt. England, being an officer, was granted a parole that allowed him to return to Canada, but a drummer was not entitled to such an indulgence. Still carrying the precious military correspondence, Lewis Bright took matters into his own hands. He managed to overpower and kill the sentry who had been placed guard over him, made his escape and delivered the dispatches to the commander of the Fort Ticonderoga garrison.
The bulk of the 47th Regiment was not so fortunate, being among the troops surrendered at Saratoga in October. Two companies of the regiment were not present at that capitulation and returned to Canada. He remained in the Canada-based army for the remainder of the war, appearing on the muster rolls sometimes as a drummer and sometimes as a fifer. In October 1782 the 47th Regiment soldiers in Canada were drafted into the 8th Regiment of Foot garrisoning Fort Niagara.
When the war ended, men who had enlisted after it commenced were entitled to be discharged if they wished. Lewis Bright took this option and accepted his discharge in June 1784, having served 8 years in the army. He remained in Canada. In 1786 at the age of 38 he married a woman 20 years his junior. They settled in York (present-day Toronto), seat of the government of Upper Canada; during the ensuing years the couple had eight sons and eight daughters. In 1796 he joined a military corps called the Royal Canadian Volunteers, serving with them for the next six years. When the city was attacked by American forces during the War of 1812, Bright brought his own musket and ammunition to join the defenders.
That same year, the 64-year-old war veteran was appointed as a messenger to the Legislative Council, a post that earned a steady salary. He diligently fulfilled this role until 1840 when, at 94 years of age, he petitioned the legislature to grant his retirement, which they accepted and granted him a generous pension. When Lewis Bright died on 11 November 1842, he had been the oldest resident of Upper Canada.
Friday, July 6, 2012
The word "mutiny" brings to mind the most heinous of military insubordination, of sailors taking over their ship and setting their officers adrift or soldiers going rogue and establishing their own private outpost. While those things certainly constituted mutiny, the crime applied to much simpler acts of insubordination. A 1779 military dictionary defined mutiny as "to rise against authority." It listed explicit types of mutinous behavior including traitorous or disrespectful words against the monarch, contempt or disrespect towards a commander in chief, striking or offering any threat of violence against an officer, or disobeying "any lawful command" of a superior officer. All serious crimes, but in actual application, sometimes the circumstances were not as scurrilous as the definition suggests.
When the 57th Regiment of Foot arrived in America early in 1776, their ranks included a young drummer named John Brayson. We do not know his age, but as a member of the Light Infantry company he'd certainly been in the regiment for at least a year. With a minimum age of 12 to appear on the muster rolls, we can be sure that Brayson was at least 16, probably older, when he ran afoul of military justice in early 1779.
By this time Brayson had served in several very active campaigns with the British Light Infantry. As such, he probably mastered the skill of sounding signals on a hunting horn, an instrument that proved more practical than drums for the rapid open-order style of maneuver used by the British army in America. In July 1778 the Light Infantry company of the 57th received a new commanding officer, Captain James Graham; it appears that there was a conflict between this officer and drummer Brayson the following winter.
Brayson was tried and convicted by a regimental court martial on 24 March 1779. Unfortunately we have no record of the crime for which he was charged. He was sentenced to be lashed - we don't know the number of lashes sentenced, but regimental courts typically sentenced anywhere from 50 to 500 - and was brought before the Light Infantry battalion in Southampton, New York a week later to receive his punishment.
As he bore the pain of the lash, John Brayson had a few things to say about his commanding officer. He called out, asking if Captain Graham was present.
He called for "Captain Graham, that rascal & Gentleman, that very honorable Gentleman."
It is not known whether Captain Graham was present at the punishment. Brayson nontheless called out, "Damn you, I know you. I know what you are!"
To the soldiers and officers witnessing the punishment, Brayson bellowed, "his honor is like mine – damn his honor!"
"He has no more honor than a pig in a potato garden!"
"He is a damn’d Lousey Scoundrel!"
"He is like a pig in a Potato Garden!"
These epithets were repeated throughout the lashing. They brought repercussions.
The officer commanding the Light Infantry battalion had witnessed the scene and charged Brayson with mutiny. Brayson was brought to trial by a general court martial on 9 April, just 11 days after bearing the sentence of the regimental court. There was no question of what had happened; several witnesses testified hearing the various expressions used by Brayson, over and over again. One witness indicated that Brayson appeared to have been "in liquor."
Brayson's only defence was "that the extreme pain of punishment might have extorted expressions from him which he don’t recollect, and denies his having any intention of mutiny." He called on two officers as witness, who both said that "during a Campaign he served with them, he was remarkable for being a well behaved lad."
In spite of the amusing nature of Brayson's outburst, the court did not deem it benign. They could not allow such behavior to go unpunished, for it would encourage soldiers to use abusive language towards their officers and perhaps incite other types of insubordination. Brayson was found guilty and sentenced to receive 1000 lashes.
We do not know whether this severe punishment was inflicted. On 30 May he was transferred out of the Light Infantry company and into the main body of the regiment, a move that could've been the result of physical incapacity, inability to do his duty because of continued confinement as a result of his conviction, disharmony between him and his company officers, or some combination of these things. On a muster roll prepared on 6 September 1779, Brayson is listed as being a prisoner in the provost, perhaps indicating that he had yet to receive his full punishment.
The next day, 7 September 1779, drummer John Brayson was discharged from the army. Occasionally this was done when a man was deemed such a discipline problem that the army simply didn't want him anymore; it could also be an indication that Brayson's punishments had so incapacitated him that he was no longer fit for service as a soldier. Lacking further information, we can only wonder what happened to this "well behaved lad" whose colorful language brought charges of mutiny.