May 28, 2014

Enlisted for drink

Before the War of 1812, the British Army issued alcohol rations to troops serving at home and abroad, and throughout the British Empire, the men’s affinity for the drink was strong. 

The soldiers love of alcohol was not lost on the future Duke of Wellington as he wrote in 1811, “British soldiers are fellows who have all enlisted for drink – that is the plain fact - they have enlisted for drink.” In North America, there were challenges to soldiers getting their full rations. Both Upper and Lower Canada did not have many breweries in the early 1800s and this caused a shortage of alcohol rations at various times before the War of 1812, much to the chagrin of the common soldier.

One of the most popular alcohol rations issued in North America was rum. Shipped from the Caribbean, the rum rations were distributed throughout Upper and Lower Canada with soldiers performing the majority of the transport. Naturally, this system allowed for abuse by soldiers, as an account from Fort Erie in 1803 reports on an incident by a member of the 49th Regiment:

When they arrived here, Morgan and every man in the Boat were in liquor; one man … was so drunk that he could not stand.  On coming out of the boat he fell to the Ground, and lay there until some of the Men of this post lifted him up and carried him to the Barracks … I examined the barrels and found that some of them had been pierced, and were not near full; Captain Ormsby … immediately came and saw them and threatened to send the Lance Corporal [Morgan] to Niagara

British soldiers pause for a drink in 1810
Alcohol fuelled civilian establishments as well. In Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), several establishments were in operation serving the local garrison at Fort George in addition to the local townspeople. These establishments were also popular among American officers at Fort Niagara who often crossed the Niagara River before the war to visit these locations. Military commanders understood the draw of Newark’s houses of ill repute as Colonel Isaac Brock sought to construct a garden to keep “the men as much as possible from the town [of Newark], … the nest of all wickedness.” Naturally, Brock’s efforts were in vein.   

When the War of 1812 broke out, alcohol rations varied throughout the war. Early on commanders increased alcohol rations in some locations but at the war continued, rations were restricted due to supply problems. Although it was unpopular, the limiting of the rum rations improved health, as was noted by American Dr. James Mann serving in the Niagara who wrote,

Deserters from the British army, of whom some hundreds came to our posts, exhibited marks of high health; while those of our soldiers were pallid and emaciated. The difference was too obvious to have escaped the observation of the officers of the army. It led me to seek the cause. Upon enquiry it was learnt, that spirits were no part of the ration of the British soldier; that these liquors could not be procured in the upper province of Canada for money. While, in addition to their daily rations, our soldiers, when they had money in their pockets, had free access to spirits at the stores of the sutlers.

During the Niagara 1814 campaign, restrictions on the alcohol rations were loosened as more supplies came to the Niagara. During the Siege of Fort Erie, General Drummond increased the alcohol ration to the men working on the siege lines; an act that he believed improved the men’s health. Drummond wrote, “Hitherto they are uncommonly healthy – This I am confident must in a part measure be attributed to an extra allowance of half a Gill of Spirits, & which I propose to continue so long as I have means & the Troops continue in the field.”

Unfortunately for the men, the increased alcohol ration ended in March 1815 with the conclusion of the war meaning that only men on fatigue duty received the ration. However, regulations were often broken and the men managed to frequently get their hands on the drink. The issuing of rum continued in the British Army until the allowance was abolished in 1830, a truly sad day in the British Army.

May 21, 2014

Robust, active, and good looking – 100th Regiment of Foot

The 100th Regiment of Foot formed during the Napoleonic Wars in 1804. Most of the men in the regiment were raised in Ireland from a Protestant background. The regiment’s commander, John Murray, joined the regiment shortly after it was formed, remaining with the regiment for most of its service.

By 1805 the 100th was sent to Nova Scotia were they remained until being sent to Quebec in 1807. Colonel Isaac Brock wrote a letter to the adjutant-general of the Crown Forces in 1807 reporting on the state of the 100th Regiment in Canada. The colonel had high praise for the men, writing that they were very well behaved and wrote that, “The men were principally raised in the north of Ireland, and are nearly all Protestants; they are robust, active, and good looking.” Brock also had high praise for Colonel Murray and Brock wrote about Murray to his brother in 1811 noting, Colonel Murray, 100th, went home last year, married, and brought out a charming little creature, full of good sense and spirit.” Clearly, Brock approved of the colonel’s wife as well.
Private and officer, 100th Regiment of Foot

During the War of 1812, the regiment served in various areas and in December 1813, the whole regiment participated in the Capture of Fort Niagara. The regiment’s participation guaranteed prize money for officers and men since a large quantity of military and civilian goods were captured. Later in December, the 100th participated in the raids on Buffalo and Black Rock.

In 1814, the 100th fought at the Battle of Chippawa where they received a number of casualties since they were leading in the centre of the line of infantry. Later on in 1814, the men fought at the Siege of Fort Erie. For their service, the 100th regiment was awarded the battle honour Niagara.

After the war, many soldiers in the 100th accepted land grants in Canada, many near modern-day Ottawa. A later 100th regiment was raised in Canada in 1858 and was eventually declared the successor to the original 100th regiment. The new 100th regiment was amalgamated into another regiment in 1881 and finally disbanded in 1922.

If you want to find about more about the 100th Regiment of Foot, check out the re-enactor website by clicking here.

May 14, 2014

19th Light Dragoons

The use of cavalry during the War of 1812 was very different than in Europe where mounted troops were used on the battlefield to smash through enemy infantry. In North America, the lack of large open fields meant that cavalry charges were rare and the dragoons were primarily used to relay messages and act as scouts.
The 19th Light Dragoons were originally raised as the 23rd Regiment of Light Dragoons in 1781. The regiment arrived in Madras, India in 1782, being the first British cavalry regiment to serve in India, and for 16 years it was the only British cavalry regiment on the subcontinent. In 1786, the regiment was renumbered as the 19th Light Dragoons.
The dragoons served in India up until the early 1800s performing garrison duties and fighting in a number of engagements. In 1803, the regiment was led by Major-General Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, in a battle against rebel forces.
In 1806, the regiment was sent to England where it remained until being sent to Canada in 1812. The regiment was scattered in various detachments during the war until being consolidated in 1814. In July 1814, two detachments were present with three officers and 71 men at Fort George, and three officers and 61 men at Long Point.
19th Light Dragoons button
On July 4 at Street’s Creek, about a mile south of the Chippawa River, a company of Americans were able to ford the creek upstream before the main body of Americans came up. Captain Turner Crooker’s 9th U.S. Infantry saw some British guns that appeared to be isolated. As they approached the guns, the Americans on the far bank watched as their comrades faced a cavalry charge by Lieutenant William Horton’s 19th Light Dragoons. The Americans reacted calmly, firing a volley before withdrawing to a nearby farmhouse for cover. Crooker’s men kept up a steady fire, bringing down eight horses and wounding four dragoons. Despite the casualties, Horton’s actions allowed the British guns to escape.
After Chippawa, the dragoons went on the participant in the Battle of Lundy’s Lane and the Siege of Fort Erie, receiving much praise from senior officers. By 1821, the regiment was disbanded but in 1862 the 19th Hussars formed and were granted permission to inherit the honours of the original 19th Light Dragoons.
If you want to find out more, you can check out the 19th Light Dragoons re-enactor group by clicking here

May 07, 2014

Longed to be at liberty – Melville prison

During the War of 1812 many were imprisoned by both sides. Melville prison in Nova Scotia was one facility where American prisoners were incarcerated after their capture. In Samuel White’s account of the war, he recounts a description of Melville prison from an assistant surgeon on board an American privateer.

The surgeon’s description of Melville prison was not favourable. He begins by writing that the prison “resembles a horse stable with stalls or stancheons for separating the cattle from each other.” The men slept in hammocks, or attempted to sleep, as the surgeon recounts that the smell of the place was most disagreeable and throughout the night many prisoners would be cursing the prison guards and younger inmates spent the night sobbing.

The author arrived in Melville prison in May 1813 and notes that there were 900 prisoners but many had died the previous winter. The surgeon goes on to state that the men were often mustered outside for parade in the extreme cold with temperatures dipping to ten below zero. The beef rations were a common complaint among the prisoners and on at least one occasion, the prisoners threw their beef over the pickets.
Sketch of Melville Island, 1855

The account goes on to note that about 200 Frenchmen were in Nova Scotia with some of them being there since 1803. The majority of them lived in or near Halifax, working with the inhabitants as cooks and butchers, but some taught dancing and fencing, among other jobs. The author goes on to explain why the French prisoners were treated differently by writing “A Frenchmen always tried to please, while many Americans seem to take an equal delight in letting their master know, that they longed to be at liberty to fight them again.”

Eventually men from Colonel Boerstler failed attack against FitzGibbon reached Melville prison in a deplorable state. After the Battle of Beaverdams the prisoners were marched to Montreal and then packed in transports to Melville. Many of these men had their clothing and possessions taken from them by natives after the Battle of Beaverdams.

In 1814, the men of Melville prison continued to suffer as a harsh winter stuck Nova Scotia, causing many prisoners to suffer from frostbite. Thankfully, for the prisoners news came in February of peace. After settling their debts, many officers found transport back to the U.S., ending their long imprisonment.

On May 11 head out to McFarland House for their annual Mother’s Day Afternoon Tea. Click here for more information.