Thursday, July 13, 2017

The "average" Mid-Eighteenth-Century Soldier

A Sargeant of the King's Regiment serving on a gun at Fort Niagara

Dear Reader,

This post is meant as a summary of the various datasets which I have been compiling over the past few weeks. By adding all the data together, we can both confirm and complicate our understanding of the "average" eighteenth-century soldier. So, over the past few weeks, what have we discovered about the mid-eighteenth-century soldier?

A Hessian in North America 

A picture of the "average" eighteenth-century soldier begins to take shape from the fog of history.  More than likely, he had been a day-laborer or apprenticed weaver before enlisting in the service. He had first enlisted in his early twenties, and after seven or eight years of service was around thirty years of age. He was unmarried. The soldier was tall compared with many civilians, likely around 5 feet 8 inches (approx 172 cm). When on the march with his regiment, the soldier was capable of covering an average of 14 miles per day, although that could easily be increased in times of extreme need, such as when 10th Regiment of Foot dashed 70 miles in a 24 hour period in the Seven Years' War.[1] His daily calorie intake ranged from roughly 2200-3000, and mainly consisted of meat and bread of some type.

Even when not marching or fighting, his daily life was quite rigorous, as he and the men around him were often engaged in strenuous physical labor. He would likely take part in between 3 and 4 major battles, which lasted roughly 4 hours apiece. In the course of his career, he also fought in innumerable sieges, skirmishes, and smaller actions. His chance of being wounded in an individual battle was quite small, but rose to almost 60% over the course of his career. He was far more likely to die from disease than enemy action.

A British Soldier on campaign 

This snapshot may not fully conform to all armies in all places, but it provides a good baseline for historians, reenactors, and wargamers to understand, portray, complicate and challenge. I hope you have enjoyed these posts as much as I have enjoyed working on them. I hope to meet you at an academic conference, reenactment, or across the wargame table in the future, so we can discuss these ideas a bit more. Feel free to contact me via the "about the author" page with concerns and questions, or leave a comment below.

As always, thanks for reading,


Alex Burns











[1] Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 160.

Monday, July 10, 2017

"Lay on your Arms!": The British Army's Use of Cover in the Eighteenth Century


Reenactors portraying the 7th Regiment of Foot lay on their arms
Dear Reader,

Last Monday found me five hundred yards south of Fort Niagara, laying on my belly, watching the approach of a column of (reenactors representing) French regular troops. The Fort Niagara reenactment, designed to emulate the 1759 siege and Battle of La Belle Familie, specifically calls for the British regulars to lie down, just as Lt. Colonel Massey's troops did during the approach of the French relief force. As the French column neared our position, I found myself wondering: just how common was this practice among the eighteenth-century British army?

We have already seen how the British army adapted to North America during the Seven Years' War, and how battlefield conditions often failed to match parade ground expectations. Thanks to the work of scholars like Michael Adams, Matthew Spring and Stephen Brumwell, we know that the British army was not the foppish, bewigged spectacle so often presented by Hollywood. However, laying down under fire has not received a great deal of attention from historians. I would like to extend special thanks to Mark Canady for assistance locating sources on this topic. How often did the British army perform this action, why did they do it, and what does it tell us about the nature of eighteenth-century warfare?

Reenactors portraying soldiers from HM 40th Regiment of Foot

First of all, from the available sources, it seems as though this practice was incredibly common. So common, that it might even be considered a normal (if not universal) British practice when on the defensive in the 1740-1815 era. Oddly enough, unlike the shallow, open order formations used by the British, laying down under fire does not seem to have originated in North America. Rather, it was a product of fighting in the low countries in the mid-1740s. Also, it should be carefully noted: by and large, the troops performing this tactic are battalion company soldiers, not light infantry of any sort. Where possible, I have avoided using sources from light infantry or provincial units, in order to establish that regular British soldiers employed this tactic. British soldiers, sometimes under orders, sometimes of their own accord, stooped low or laid down in order to present their enemies with a smaller target. You can see elements of HM 17th Regiment of Foot practicing this at timestamp 00:12-00:24 of the following video.



The first account of this type of behavior comes from War of Austrian Succession. British troops appear to have employed this tactic in almost every major battle of the War of Austrian Succession. Lt. Colonel Russell of the Guards describes the British and French infantry stooping low at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, and in his words: "our foot almost kneeled down by whole ranks, and so fired upon 'em a constant running fire."[1] Russell describes a pattern, by which both sides would wait until individual enemy soldiers would rise from a stooped position to load or fire, and then pick off the exposed individual enemy soldiers.[2] Although Russell's description of events is suspect because he took no significant part in the fighting himself, when weighted together with the other evidence from the War of Austrian Succession, it becomes irrefutable.

Members of the 7th and 8th Regiments of Foot take cover in a woodland environment


The next major engagement of the War of Austrian Succession, the Battle of Fontenoy, contains a number of instances of British soldiers employing cover to avoid enemy fire. The first instance is that of the Royal Highland Regiment. Under the orders of Colonel Robert Munro, the Highlanders were permitted to engage, "in their own way of fighting."[3] When the French would prepare to fire a volley, the Highland troops would "clap to the ground," allowing the French fire to pass over them, and, "instantly as soon as it was discharged, they sprung up, and coming close to the enemy, poured in their shot."[4] The fact that sources describe this as being, "their own way of fighting," might seem to imply it is a Scottish peculiarity, but this is not totally accurate.

Sampson Staniforth, a private soldier (probably in Bligh's Regiment, the 20th of Foot) described his experience of combat at Fontenoy as follows:
We marched up boldly; but when we came close to the town of Fontenoy, we observed a large battery ready to be opened on us. And the cannon were loaded with small bullets, nails, and pieces of old iron. We had orders to lie down on the ground; but for all that, many were wounded, and some killed. Presently after the discharge we rose up, and -marched to the first trench, still keeping up our fire.[5]
So, like the Highlanders, regular British infantry would lay down under the threat of severe enemy fire.  Later in the war, at the Battle of Rocoux, Staniforth again gives us a window into the defensive nature of laying down under fire. He begins, "We English posted ourselves in some gardens and orchards, which were some little cover," and other soldiers who were there note that the British tried to fortify the hedgerows by filling them with dirt. As the French forces marched on Staniforth's position:
"Here we lay, waiting for orders to retreat to our army... While we lay on our arms, I had both time and opportunity to reprove the wicked. [Staniforth was a deeply religious man] By this time the French came very near us, and a cannon-ball came straight up our rank. But, as we were lying upon the ground, it went over our heads. We then had orders to stand up and fire."[6] 
Reenactors portraying soldiers from HM 40th  kneel in a cornfield

So, in at least three of the major battles of the War of Austrian Succession, British troops presented their enemies with smaller targets to avoid enemy firepower. This trend continued into the Seven Years' War era, in both North America and Europe.

During the Raid on Cherbourg in 1758, Corporal Todd of the 12th Regiment of Foot recalled lying down, in order to prevent friendly-fire incidents. "And as soon as we got ashore, we lay down close upon the Beach, near the water edge, that our ships might fire over us in case the Enemy Advance to make any Attack upon us[.]"[7] British soldiers laid down, not only to make themselves smaller targets but also to facilitate supporting fire in certain contexts.

In North America, British soldiers frequently laid down under fire. John Knox frequently describes this practice during the 1759 campaign at Quebec. He describes laying down in the course of maneuvering against the enemy, during siege operations, when taking fire from enemy artillery, and on the battlefield against enemy infantry.[8] In addition, the British 46th Regiment used this tactic at the Battle of La Belle Familie, as suggested at the beginning of this article. [9]

Troops from Heylar's Company of the 7th Regiment of Foot take cover in a field


Unsurprisingly, the practice continued during the American War of Independence. Again in this era, it seems to have been a response to coming under artillery fire.  At the Battle of Harlem Heights, multiple British diarists record that they lay on their arms after coming under fire by American artillery batteries. Thomas Sullivan, with the 49th Regiment of Foot, recalled: "The Cannonading continued at both sides for an hour... All that time out Brigade i.e. 2d., lay upon our Arms in a field of Indian corn..." Sullivan describes this practice again at Brandywine in 1777.[9] Also in 1777, Enisgn Thomas Glyn of the Brigade of Guards reported, "the Enemy advanced with two pieces of Cannon & began to cannonade us, when we were ordered to lay down and being covered by the ground, no loss ensued...".[10] Once again, even while employing the quick aggressive tactics outlined by Matthew Spring, the British were not afraid to take cover if the situation demanded it.

As in the Seven Years' War, this British practice extends far beyond North America. At the Battle of La Vigie on St. Lucia in 1778, British soldiers repeatedly took cover to avoid French firepower. Major George Harris of the 5th Regiment of Foot recalled, "My gallant friend, now no more, Captain Shawe of the 4th. Company, was ordered by me to make his men lie down, and cover themselves with brushwood as much as possible, to prevent them being seen as marks."[11] Lt. the Hon. Colin Lindsay of the 55th Regiment also reports that his soldiers took cover in the course of the fighting.

It seems odd, then, that one of the most enduring myths of the American War of Independence is that the British were, "Too Dumb to Take Cover," in the articulation of Professor Michael Adams. Indeed, British soldiers' frequently took steps to minimize casualties, and protect themselves against enemy fire. Reenactors and wargamers should take note, in order to represent and simulate the British army of the eighteenth century in an accurate manner.

Please feel free to share if you know anyone who might be interested.

Thanks for Reading,



Alex Burns


[1] Russell, Reports on the Manuscripts, 260.
[2] Ibid, 278.
[3] Doddridge, The Life of Colonel Gardiner, 162.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Jackson, The Early Lives of the Methodist Preachers, Vol IV, 126.
[6] Ibid, 136.
[7] Todd, Journal, 68.
[8] Knox, Journal, Vol I, 302, 308, 321;  Vol II, 70.
[9] Brumwell, Redcoats, 252.
[10] Sullivan, Journal, 67, 131.
[11]Glyn, Journal on the American Service, 30.
[12] Lushington, The Life and Services of General Lord Harris, 70.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How Hard was Daily Work for Eighteenth-Century Soldiers?



Reenactors portraying a soldier and sergeant prepare for a work detail

Dear Reader,

Despite the agreeing with Matthew Spring's assessment that the "the ultimate purpose of all armies is to fight," the life of the soldier includes many army-related tasks that do not involve combat.[1] Rather than give some sort of numerical average, this post attempts to examine daily work in the armies of the eighteenth century and provide a picture pieced together from a number of qualitative sources. Assuming that the army was not marching or fighting a battle, what might daily life look like?

Usually, the day would begin quite early. The Prussian regulations indicate that reveille was beaten when visibility reached forty paces. In some armies, soldiers would immediately fall in for accountability formation, to make sure that no one had deserted during the night. After role was called on a campaign, the mess group would immediately begin to perform its daily tasks. In a peacetime garrison, the whole body of men might perform drill after cleaning their uniforms and equipment, depending on the day of the month.[2]

A Seven Years' War era NC Provincial officer assigns his dejected soldiers yet more work.

Daily work depended greatly on context and environment. Let us first examine the setting of a military campaign, and then turn to peacetime garrison. Usually, a large portion of the mess group would be assigned to manual labor, such as cutting wood, or digging and hauling earth. One member of the mess group might be detailed for food preparation. The army frequently sought out soldiers with particularly useful trades such as cobblers, tailors, carpenters, and masons (stoneworkers), and bricklayers.[3] Soldiers were often paid slightly more for work details. Unlike peacetime garrison duty, there was relatively little "free time" in the campaign setting. Regiment von Itzenplitz private Ulrich Braeker described the nature of daily work, giving a blow by blow of the Kameradschaft's duties: 
One man cleaned his musket, another did laundry, the third cooked, the fourth mended breeches, the fifth [repaired] shoes, the sixth cut wood... each tent had its six men and one extra, among these seven, one always had to be clean and prepared. Of the six remaining, one went on guard, one cooked, one fetched provisions, one gathered wood, one went after straw, one handled paperwork.[4]

Corporal Douglas cleans his musket

There were, of course, exceptions to this. If the army was granted a rest day after a long march, the men would be relatively free to move about the camp, provided they did not attempt to leave the picket lines. Once again, Braeker gives us an excellent account of this type of freedom outside Pirna in 1756: "With exception of the watch, everyone could do as he pleased, bowling, horse-play, in and around the camp."[5]  Fires were often extinguished at sunset, and a special squad of guards was detailed to be sure that noise was kept to a minimum after sundown.

The author constructs fascines at the July 2017 Fort Niagara siege event

In the course of a siege, the daily workload of a soldier, especially in the besieged fortress, would greatly increase. Officers noted the tiring natures of sieges and all the, "various chores necessitated by siege operations."[6] In the final stages of a siege operation, it was common for the defenders to go without sleep entirely. Soldiers would work in various states of dress. During the 1759 siege of Fort Niagara, a French sortie encountered a number of British soldiers, "naked to the waist."[7]


The relative ease of peacetime garrison

Peacetime garrison, by contrast, was a relatively free environment. After officers called the roll, and performed drill if required, soldiers were free to spend their afternoons working in the civilian sector or taking their ease. Depending on the army and year, soldiers might have lived in a fortress or barrack room, or have been quartered on the civilian population. Civilians and officers complained that soldiers grew idle and fat in peacetime service:

If the peace continues very long, I may live to see the foot [infantry] of England carried in waggons from quarter to quarter, for with their vast size and the idleness they live in, I'm sure they can't march... soon [a soldier] is incapable of wielding anything more than his musket. His hands become as delicate as a young girl, and are no longer equal to gripping a spade or pick.[8]
Reenactors at the 2016 Siege of Yorktown

  This polemic author seems to be exaggerating. Other observers took a decidedly different view. In late-eighteenth-century Prussia, a traveler found off-duty soldiers, "without uniform of any kind, dirty, uncombed, some even without their breeches, going about just as they pleased. There are soldiers on every street corner, pursuing every means of employment imaginable."[9], Ulrich Braeker portrays a quite similar scene in the 1750s:  "hundreds of soldiers occupied themselves loaded and unloading merchant's wares, while the timber-yards were full of toiling warriors."[10]

In conclusion, whether or not the army was on campaign, the life of soldier could be quite busy. Unless on a rest day, or during an afternoon lull in fortress garrison service, eighteenth-century soldiers worked industriously at the business of war, or if in an urban setting, contributed a ready workforce to the economy.

Feel free to share if you know individuals who might find the post interesting. 


Thanks for Reading,





Alex Burns 






[1] Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, xi. 
[2] Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 80. 
[3] Campbell, The Royal American Regiment, 136. 
[4] Braeker, Der Arme Mann von Toggenburg, 143. 
[5] Ibid.
[6] Pouchot, Memoirs of the Late War, 211
[7] Ibid, 234. 
[8] Hawley, "General Hawley's Chaos," JSAHR, XXVI, 93. 
[9] Guibert, Journal D'un Voyage En Allemagne, 166. 
[10] Braeker,Der Arme Mann von Toggenburg, 121. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

What did an Average Eighteenth-Century Soldier Eat?

Reenactors portraying a number of British Regiments work on at camp kitchen  (Photo credit: Tommy Tringale)
Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to briefly touch an issue which has received much attention in recent years from progressive eighteenth-century reenactors: the issues of food and rationing. What soldiers' ate was a vital part of life in the army, and deserves a post in this series.

First of all, I highly encourage you to look at the work of John U. Rees, Todd Post, Gregory Theberge, and Christopher Duffy, if you are interested in more in-depth coverage of soldiers' rations during the mid-eighteenth century. These authors have brought together a wealth of information regarding period soldiers' food, and their work deserves to be read. What was common, or shared between many eighteenth-century armies, in terms of feeding the men?

Most mid-eighteenth century armies arrived upon a common scheme for delivering food to their soldiers. Soldiers were divided into sub-groupings, which each group referred to as a "mess," or Kameradschaft in German-language armies. These men were responsible for cooking together. The mess ranged from between 5-7 soldiers, depending on the army, conflict, and year. An NCO of some rank was responsible for each mess, with a corporal being the most common in the larger Germanic armies. So, on average,  what might soldiers eat?


Brunswickers at Fort Ticonderoga (Photo Credit: Ron Videau)

For a good daily ration, something like 1 and a half pounds of bread/flour 3/4 of a pound of meat, 3-4 oz of rice, and 5oz of peas was quite common. This likely ran in the neighborhood of 2200-3000 calories per day.[1] However, this ranged widely enough and was varied enough that any type of true, "average" may be impossible.

Exactly what the soldiers were issued to cook depended greatly on the army and campaign in question. All armies of the era desperately tried to give their soldiers carbohydrates and protein every day. Usually, this took the form of a daily bread or flour issue, and a daily or weekly meat issue.

Between 1-2 pounds of bread or flour per day was average. In the Continental Army, one pound of bread or flour per day was a normal official issue, potentially dropping to a half-pound of flour during hardships of 1777-1778. The British army attempted to issue it's soldiers slightly more, around 1.5 pounds of bread or flour per day.[2]

The Prussian service gave the most bread, at the rate of 2 pounds per day in both war and peace. Frederick's army stopped the pay of its soldiers in peacetime for bread, but issued it free of charge during wartime.[3] The Austrian Army issued their soldiers 1.75 lbs of bread per day, free of charge.[4] On the other hand, the Prussians gave out the least protein to its soldiers: at the measly rate of 2lbs per soldier per week. Again, this issue was free of charge during wartime alone. The Austrians followed the practice of other Western European armies, providing one pound of meat per day to the soldier. However, unlike most armies, Austrian soldiers had to purchase their meat from regimental butchers.[5]

The Continental Army, at least officially, gave out a comparatively large portion, at 1 pound of meat (mixed beef and pork) per day, although this dropped to 3/4 of a pound as the war progressed. The British army on campaign attempted to give its soldiers 1.5 pounds of beef per day.[6] In the British service, both the bread and meat ration would occur on a weekly basis, which led to it being referred to as, "Sevens."[7]

Soldiers in both Europe and North America would frequently supplement their food issue through both forage and purchases. Soldiers bought and requisitioned vegetables, fruit, and other food not issued to them by the military supply system. British soldiers would also [very] occasionally be issued other substances, such as sugar or cocoa.

Soldiers became quite accustomed to their particular army's way of issuing rations. The diaries of the German troops who came to North America are full of complaints. These complaints are manifold and can be found in a variety of sources, but I will share my favorite, from a Brunswicker with Burgoyne:

The banks of the lake are covered with the thickest woods, and every time a camp had to be pitched, trees had to be cut down and the place cleared. In spite of the hard work, no other provisions were furnished than salt meat and flour. As each soldier had to bake his own bread, and no ovens for baking the same were there, he had to either bake it in hot ashes or on hot stones. This bread was, of course, very hard and heavy, and required good teeth. Furthermore there was neither whisky nor tobacco, which the German soldiers were accustomed to have. I consider these last indispensible for soldiers. According to ar rangements of the English Commissary, the troops are never supplied with bread. Only flour is furnished and the men have to bake their own bread. We were not accustomed to this and did not know how to do it...It is not my intention to pity the soldier. He cannot always find things as he is accustomed to having them. He must know how to endure the hardships of his profession without murmuring. However, it would be better to prepare him rather than have him come upon these hardships unexpectedly.[8]
(Photo Credit: Wilson Freeman/Drifting Focus Photography)
Reenactors giving an excellent portrayal of Brunswick Regiment Prinz Friedrich.
In this passage, the Brunswicker refers to the Germanic practice of having large mobile ovens following the army in Europe. German troops did not have a frame of reference for baking their own bread, because they were accustomed to a slightly more developed military supply system. In North America, these expectations were shattered by a more hearty method of campaigning.

Soldiers in the eighteenth-century, by and large, depended on their armies to feed them. If this food and logistical support was not forthcoming, armies would quickly cease to exist as a credible fighting force. Frederick II of Prussia found this particular lesson had this particular lesson driven home during the lean months of the 1778 campaign in Bohemia. However, if all remained well, a soldier could count on his army to supply he and his mess comrades with a daily allotment of bread, meat, and maybe even a little something extra.


Please feel free to share if you know anyone who might be interested.


Thanks for Reading,




Alex Burns




[1] Anderson, A People's Army, 84.
[2] Post, "Victualling the Army," 8.
[3]Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 198-201.
[4] Duffy, Instrument of War, 324.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Theberge, To Nourish the Troops, 122.
[7] Ibid, 160.
[8] Du Roi, Journal of Du Roi the Elder, 90-91.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Was the Average Soldier "the Scum of the Earth" in the Eighteenth Century?

Reenactors portraying a variety of British military units at Mount Vernon in 2016

Dear Reader,

Having established the average age of the eighteenth-century recruit (as well as his height), we must ask a follow-up question: If the average soldier did not enlist until between 21 and 25, what did he do before enlistment? Historical enthusiasts often claim that soldiers were the "scum of the earth." This is a quote from the Duke of Wellington, a Napoleonic figure. At times, this quote is used to claim that armies in the earlier eighteenth century were composed of criminal elements, drifters, and the unemployed. Is this true? Or, to put the question another way: what were common prior professions of eighteenth-century soldiers? What, if anything, did they do to earn living before enlisting in the military?

The most interesting research on this subject was performed in the early 1980s by Glenn Steppler and Sylvia Frey. Although Steppler's dissertation is difficult to come by, Frey's book, The British Soldier in America, belongs on the shelf of anyone interested social make-up of eighteenth-century armies. However, their research deals specifically with the British Army in the late-eighteenth century. This post seeks to bring their data together with research on the Continental Army, Austrian Army, and Prussian Army, in order to get a better picture of soldiers as a whole.

Line Drawing of a British Soldier by Philip James de Loutherbourg, possibly taken on Warley Commons in 1778
In eighteenth-century armies, before enlistment, as many as 50% of men were unskilled day-laborers, or agricultural workers who did not own land. While not moving in the highest circles of society, these men were not necessarily criminals or untrustworthy characters: they simply sold their labor and owned no land. Indeed, in most European, or Euro-American societies of the eighteenth century, these individuals made up the largest segment of the population. Day laborers were certainly on the lower rungs of eighteenth-century society: to use a modern term, they lived from paycheck to paycheck. With that being said, they were hardly, the "scum of the earth" as Wellington would later claim.

 Ilya Berkovich has recently written an excellent book specifically on soldiers motivation. More importantly, Ilya looks at the sustaining motivations which kept soldiers in their armies.  Though soldiers would often enlist to escape troubling domestic circumstances (to avoid paternal responsibilities, for example), more often they kept up positive relations with their relatives and village communities at home. Indeed, a rather large proportion of all the surviving Prussian correspondence from private soldiers in the Seven Years' War, most of it is addressed to family.[1]

Eighteenth-century common soldiers were admittedly often poor individuals. In an assessment of private soldiers from Maryland in the Continental Army from 1782, it seems that some 15% of soldiers were destitute. Practically, this means they possessed less than 10₤ of total worth. The average total wealth of the other soldiers was 49₤: still in a state of poverty.[2] Practically, this suggests that 15% of the men were unemployed with no prospects. 85%, on the other hand, possessed an income of some type, even if they were poor. However, this data also comes from the late-war era, when many states south of Pennsylvania had difficulty recruiting men to fill the ranks of the Continental Army. 

A Prussian soldier working to supplement his income
In Prussia, the canton system of recruitment, an early type of selective service system, drew heavily on the unskilled labor force in order to provide men for the Prussian army. Individuals with certain careers were exempt from enrollment in the system, including: "clergymen, civilian officials, businessmen, small landowners, fathers of families, only sons of widows, first sons, (and later second sons as well)... craftsmen, cooks, and all other people who had been trained for specific work at the expense of their masters."[3] Thus, it seems that something like 60% of the Prussian army might have been drawn from unskilled day laborers. Even men such as Ulrich Braeker, who were forcibly conscripted from outside Prussia, were also day laborers.[4] During peacetime, Prussian and Russian soldiers often worked supplemental jobs in addition to their work as soldiers. These additional sources of income supplemented the soldiers' regular pay, and allowed them to raise families and improve their standard of living. If eighteenth-century soldiers were so crime-ridden, lazy, and drunk, why did a large number of them pursue civilian work even while in the army?

In the eighteenth-century Austrian Army, roughly 30% of recruits had mastered a trade prior to enlisting. Of those, 27.7% formerly worked in trades related to shoes and clothing production and repair, and amazingly, 13.26% were former tailors. On the other hand, almost 70% of recruits had not mastered a trade.[5]

However, by far the best data comes from the British army in the period. As useful as it is to examine data from the British Army during the American War of Independence, Britain developing industrially in the eighteenth century at a rate unmatched by other states. Sylvia Frey argues that out-of-work weavers (textile workers) may have made up 20% of the British Army in the 1780s.[6] For Glenn Steppler, that number rose as high as 37.8%.[7] However, as shocking as that is, in the years before 1784, day laborers made up an even higher percentage of the British army: some 50-55%.[8]

On the other hand, this same data means that some perhaps 45-50% of the British army in the eighteenth century were skilled workers of some type. From their relatively large numbers in regimental returns, it seems that weavers, tailors, shoemakers, and cutlers were the most prevalent. Thus, roughly half the troops entering the British army acquired some type of marketable skill before enlisting.
Soldiers did have regular contact with fringe elements of society, in their work assisting law enforcement
In major urban centers, soldiers acted as first responders to disturbances, which put them at odds, and in close contact, with many criminal elements. Although the actual judicial work was managed by civilians, soldiers played an important role in maintaining law and order, particularly in confronting rioters.[9] This close association with criminal elements may have turned the views of elites against common soldiers.

Although not a true cross-section of eighteenth-century societies, most armies contained men from the working and lower-middle classes. Despite their relatively poor background, most of these soldiers did not enlist because, "they had no other choice." On the contrary, men like John Robert Shaw (a private soldier in the 33rd Regiment of Foot), made a conscious choice to enlist. He writes, "I... banished all thoughts of domestic concerns and firmly fixed my resolution of enlisting as a king's soldier."[10] While most armies contained a small number of fringe element criminals or men living in a state of extreme poverty, it is only the snobbery of elites such as Wellington that turned the average fighting man into the "scum of the earth."

Please feel free to share if you know individuals who might find this post interesting.

Thanks for Reading,



Alex Burns







[1] See Bleckwenn, Preussische Soldatenbriefe, for a number of examples.
[2] Papenfuse and Stiverson, "General Smallwood's Recruits," 123.
[3] Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 75.
[4] Braeker, Der Arme Mann, 85.
[5] Duffy, Instrument of War, 203.
[6]Frey, The British Soldier in North America, 12.
[7] Steppler, The Common Soldier in the Era of George III, 227.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Houlding, Fit for Service, 59-62, Hayter, The Army and the Crowd in Mid-Georgian England.
[10] Shaw, John Robert Shaw, 11.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Call for Research on Eighteenth-Century Warfare

Professor Jim McIntyre, Chief Editor of the Journal of the Seven Years' War Association
Photo taken by author, at the 2015 Seven Year' War Convention 

Dear Readers,

Do you have a great deal of knowledge on a specific aspect of eighteenth-century warfare? Have you always wanted to share your ideas, but had no way to express them to a wider audience? Do you know the particular history of a unit, battle, individual, or idea like the back of your hand?

If so, you should consider sending your research to The Journal of the Seven Years' War Association. This publication examines the history of warfare between 1740 and 1775, although, the editors also review content related to the American War of Independence, if it touches on the early period as well. For example, my article in a 2014 issue of the journal, "Peloton und Flanquers, Hessian Links between the Seven Years' War and American War of Independence," evaluated infantry tactics in both wars.

The journal began as a publication for wargamers in the 1980s, but has since expanded its scope to include material interesting to historians, reenactors, wargamers, and genealogists. If you have knowledge and want to see that knowledge shared to a wide audience, you should consider submitting a piece to the journal. Here are the submission guidelines:


Article Submission Guidelines
            Articles submitted for publication in the Journal of the Seven Years’ War Association Journal remain the property of the author. Articles on the middle third of the eighteenth century (1740-1775) are encouraged, though some that fall outside these parameters will be considered on a case by case basis. Format should be Times New Roman, 12 pt. font.
            It is the responsibility of the author to secure permissions for any copyrighted illustrations used in an article that is published. Illustrations included with an article submitted for publication will be assumed to have secured permissions.
The Journal retains the right not to publish an article submitted. In addition, it may return the piece to the author with requests for revisions.

To submit an article for potential publication in the Journal, send it as an e-mail attachment to mcintyrej@sevenyearswarassn.org


You can contact the editor,  Professor Jim McIntyre, at mcintyrej@sevenyearswarassn.org. Here is a link to the jounal's page. 

Feel free to comment or contact me via the "about the author" page if you have any questions.

Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Was the Average Eighteenth-Century Soldier Married?


Reenactors portray British Army soldiers and a laundress  during the 1781 Carolina Campaign
Photo Credit: Joe Bemis 

Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to look at a subject more difficult to pin down than soldiers' average age or height. Obviously, eighteenth-century soldiers were real individuals with deep emotional and thought lives. Many of these men carried on relations of various formal and informal types with women in the area they were stationed. However, the question before us today is, did the average eighteenth-century soldier have a wife?

That women accompanied eighteenth-armies is not in question, and has been well documented by historians. As with most of these posts, I am standing on the soldiers of intellectual giants as I write. Don Hagist, David Christiansen, Paul Kopperman, and Jennine Hurl-Eamon have all contributed greatly to this subject with regards to the British Army.[1] Holly Mayer has provided a mass of useful data on the Continental Army in the American Revolution.[2] Finally, in English, Christopher Duffy remains our guiding star for the armies of central and eastern Europe, even if better data exists in other languages.[3] Wherever possible, I have attempted to collate data from situations when soldiers were in garrison, as many few wives accompanied men on campaign, even if some did.

So, without further adieu, was the average eighteenth-century soldier married?

Reenactors portray British soldiers and a camp follower during a Valley Raid in Upstate NY
Photo Credit: Tommy Tringale

Using data from reliable sources only, not estimates, it seems that the average soldier was not married. Indeed, data from three armies suggests that perhaps as few as 20.9%, or just over 1/5th of all soldiers, were married during the eighteenth century.


Scanty data for the continental army leads us to believe that regardless of how many soldiers were actually married, only 2-4% of the total number of men were accompanied by women on campaign.[4] This figure is unhelpful as it is not clear how many of these were married to soldiers or performed work for the army. Even assuming this number was a smaller fraction of married soldiers as a whole, it would seem that majority of soldiers were not married. Hopefully, with the work of American genealogists, we can someday expand this data.


A British Grenadier from the 31st works his magic circa 1748, Morier
In during the later-eighteenth-century, roughly 12.5% of  British soldiers were accompanied by their wives on voyages outside Britain.[5] This matches up rather well with the data from troops stationed at New York during 1779-1780 when there were roughly 17 women per 100 men with the army.[6] British military administration treated marriage in the army with a sort of aloof indifference, which Jennine Hurl-Eamon has compared to the "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" policy of the U.S. Army at the turn of the twenty-first century.[7]


The Austrian Grenadier on the right has found something intensely funny.
Perhaps it is the fact that he isn't married. (Morier, circa 1748)

Oddly enough, the best-kept records for this type of question come from Austria (possibly because the lack of success of Austrian armies after the eighteenth century) so we will first turn to that data. Thanks to the enterprising work of Christopher Duffy, we have muster roll data from 122,435 Austrian privates, NCOs, and invalids.[8] Of those men, some 14.03% of soldiers were married. As might be expected, the number is higher, on average, for NCOs and invalids, and lower for enlisted men. Of all the armies for which data is readily available, the Austrian sample is the lowest and the largest: which is perhaps telling.

An artist's imagining of a Prussian soldier's widow after the Seven Years' War
Beate Engelen asserts that in the Prussian army after the Seven Years' War, some 29.65% of soldiers stationed in Berlin and Potsdam were married.[9] Christopher Duffy puts the Potsdam figure for 1776 a bit higher: at about 32.3 percent of NCOs and men.[10] Thus, the data from the post- Seven Years' War Prussian army might be skewed compared to the average, even if it does come from an army of the period. Why is this?

Thanks to the movement of Russian and Austrian armies, Prussia had lost some 500,000 of its civilian population in the Seven Years' War.[11] Frederick II possessed no illusions about the state of Prussia's economy. Taking drastic and severe measures, he forcibly abducted teenagers (boys and girls) from neighboring states under Prussian control (Saxony and portions of Poland). The boys were placed into the army, and the girls were married to Prussian soldiers. This act was understandably later viewed with some embarrassment in Prussia, even if contemporary foreign observers did not find it shocking. Frederick was willing to take whatever steps necessary to rebuild Prussia, regardless of lives affected.

Whatever their policy towards soldiers' wives, states felt a deep responsibility to soldiers' children. In Prussia, compulsory public education (much like we have in the United States today) was instituted in 1763, and former soldiers were often the teachers. In both Russia and Austria, schools for military children sprang up throughout the eighteenth century. In Russian, they appeared as early as the 1730s, in Austria, they appeared after the Seven Years' War.


Soldiers' wives could be a headache of the first order for military administrators
Many military observers held firm opinions on soldiers' marriage. Prussian cavalry general Warnery, who possessed no great love for women, had this to say regarding soldiers' wives:
"when a German army is on the march, there is no more hideous sight than a whole pack of those stinking Amazons, proceeding on foot or on horseback. They act like raiding parties, and you find them with the advance guard, the rearguard, and on the flanks of the army. No village, no hut is spared their attentions. They comb through the cellars, the rooms, hidden recesses and chests, and make off with whatever they pleace. They put to shame the Cossacks, who are amateurs in comparison."[12]
On the other hand, Frederick II firmly agreed with the practice of marriage for soldiers but preferred his officers remain perpetual bachelors.[13] British Army chaplain William Agar published a series of sermons in 1758, where he called for the total number of recognized wives per battalion to 200 (approx. 1/5 of the paper strength) and defended the virtues of married soldiers.[14]

On average, then, the vast majority eighteenth-century soldiers remained unmarried, even if women and marriage played a vital if limited role in the military system in which they worked.

Feel free to share this post if you know individuals who might be interested.

Thanks for Reading,



Alex Burns




[1] Hagist, "The Women of the British Army in North America," The Brigade Dispatch, (1994-1995); Kopperman, "The British High Command and Soldiers' Wives in America 1755-1783," JSAHR no. 60, (1982); Christiansen, From the Glorious Revolution to the French Revolutionary Wars: Civil-Military Relations in North-East England during the Eighteenth-Century, (Dissertation, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2005) and Hurl-Eamon, Marriage and the British Army in the Long Eighteenth-Century, (2014).
[2] Mayer, Belonging to the Army: Camp Followers and Community during the American Revolution, (1990).
[3] Duffy, Russia's Military Way to the West, (1981), Army of Frederick the Great, (2nd Ed, 1996) Instrument of War: The Austrian Army in the Seven Years' War, (Vol 1, 2000); Beate Engelen, Soldatenfrauen in Preussen: Eine Strukturanalyse der Garnisonsgesellschaft im sp├Ąten 17. und 18. Jahrhundert, (2005).
[4] Mayer, Belonging to the Army, 133.
[5] Hurl-Eamon, Marriage and the British Army, 23.
[6] Hagist, "The Women of the British Army in North America,"
[7] Hurl-Eamon, Marriage and the British Army, 24.
[8] Duffy, Instrument of War, 208.
[9] Engelen, Soldatenfrauen in Preussen, 88-89.
[10] Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 81.
[11] Schumann, "The end of the Seven Years' War in Europe," in The Seven Years War: Global Views, 514.
[12]  Duffy's translation, Warnery, Saemtliche Schriften, Vol 2, 26-27.
[13]  Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 81.
[14]  Agar, Military Devotion: or the soldier's duty to God, xxix.