Men from both armies often became dissatisfied with the army due to appalling conditions, presence of disease, homesickness and lack of pay, among other reasons. With
sharing a similar language and customs, many decided that desertion was a
viable option. Overall, the U.S.
army lost about 10% of its strength through desertion and at various times
during the war the government was forced to issue blanket pardons for
deserters. For the British it is estimated that the desertion rate was about
15%. Some regiments, such as the Glengarry Light Infantry, had a desertion rate
as high as 25%. In fact, in U.S. the government passed a law in 1812 offering
4.5 pounds for anyone who brought in a deserter. Upper
Desertion was particularly bad for the King’s 8th Regiment during their occupation of
Major-General Phineas Riall reported that the men were afforded extra food and
spirits to counteract the hard labour involved in improving Fort
defences. Despite the extra amenities, Riall reported that, “The men are sick
of the place, tired and disgusted with the labor to which they see no end.” Fort Niagara
Punishment for desertion was severe during the war. Desertion was considered a capital offence in both the British and American armies, but many escaped a death sentence. British deserters were likely to be flogged and American deserters could be branded, have their ears cropped, or face some other unpleasant form of corporal punishment.
If you want to learn more about interesting topics involving the War of 1812, make sure you signup for the 2013 War of 1812 Bicentennial Symposium in