May 15, 2013

American soldiers

When war was declared in June 1812 the United States increased recruitment in order to meet the demands of war. Many new recruits came from various vocations and joined for a variety of reasons.

Before the war, the minimum standards for recruitment were that men had to be 5 feet, 6 inches tall and less then 35 years old. Men had to be tall enough in order to load a musket properly. As recruitment started to wane, regulations started to relax and by 1814 the regulations stipulated that no man would be enlisted that had “ulcerated legs, scalded head, rupture, or scurvy, or who is an habitual drunkard, or known to have epileptic fits.” This meant that the army started to recruit almost anyone willing to join by 1814.
 
American soldier, 1814
Most soldiers tended to enlist for no more than five years service, but most choose to serve for only the duration of the war. About 86% of recruits were born in the U.S., and just over half of the foreign-born men were from Ireland. About 39% of recruits listed their occupations as farmers and 14.2% were listed as labourers. Many of the ‘farmers’ were actually agricultural labourers who owned no land. The Embargo Acts (which restricted trade with Europe), pressures of population growth on the Eastern seaboard, and the restructuring of traditional artisan crafts into early industrial manufacturing caused many young men to be out of work, thus forcing them into the army.

One young man, Jarvis Hanks, recounts his decision to join the U.S. Army. He mentions how a sergeant entered his town looking for recruits, offering a $20 bounty and 160 acres of land to anyone willing to serve for five years or the duration of the war. Hanks recounts his decision:

“My youthful mind was fired with ardour in anticipation of a soldier’s career; the pomp and splendour of a military life were vividly portrayed in my foolish imagination, and produced a desire to engage in the service, which was not to be relinquished.”

Many men joined the U.S. Army out of economic necessity whereas others joined in a desire to serve their country. 

This Saturday, May 18 you can visit the Genesee Country Village and Museum for their Military Heritage Day. This event will focus on the military lives of Western New Yorkers and it will highlight changes to military technology since the American Revolution. Click here to learn more.

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