Thursday, May 25, 2017

British Soldiers in the Upper Country: The King's (8th) Regiment in the American War of Independence

Reenactors portraying British Soldiers of the 8th Regiment
(Photo Credit: Lee Charles Gugino)
Dear Reader,

A mix of American bias and scholarly emphasis is whittling away at the presence of the British empire in the upper country of Revolutionary North America. Books such as Daniel Ingram's British Outposts in Eighteenth-Century North America, and a host of scholars such as Kathleen DuVal, Daniel Richter, and Micheal Witgen are accurately showing that Native Americans controlled almost all activities on the ground in territory west of Pennsylvania. These scholars are pointing us towards statements such as the following, from Major Arent Schuyler Depeyster, an officer in the King's (8th) Regiment, in October  of 1782:
Two British Soldiers at Montmorency Falls in 1781

"You must be sensible that my soldiers are little acquanted with wood fighting and illequiped for it withall. I have therefore only ordered to take post where they can secure ammunition and provisions,"[1]
And who can blame these scholars? Demographically, Native Americans and white settlers far outnumbered any military contribution that the British Empire could project into the upper country. However, despite these challenges, this post argues the men and in particular the officers of the King's Regiment played a vital and successful role in the maintenance of British power in the upper country throughout the American War of Independence.

Background to Service: 

Before diving into the sources, a brief description of the service of the King's (8th) Regiment in North America may be useful. First of all, by the time of the American War of Independence, the regiment had already been on a long deployment. In 1768, the men of the King's Regiment were sent to garrison Canada, at that point recently acquired after the Seven Years' War. From June of 1768 to 1774, the regiment guarded fortified positions around Montreal and Quebec City. Although the soldiers had hoped to be deployed home after this tour, the British government, facing a rising tide of dissatisfaction in colonies on the eastern seaboard of North America, sent the King's Regiment into the Upper Country posts.

Black: Oswegatchie/Carleton Island (1 Company)  Red: Fort Niagara (4 Companies) Green: Detroit (3 Companies) Blue: Michilimackinac (2 Companies) 

The men of the King's Regiment would spend 11 years in these posts, for a total 17 year deployment to North America. Even when close to full strength, the regiment numbered less than 500 individuals. The largest garrison at Fort Niagara was composed of less than two hundred men from the 8th, although soldiers from other units also supplemented the defenses. At their lowest strength, in 1770, the regiment numbered 379 men. They reached their highest strength of 603 near the end of the war.[2] However, even more impressive than the spread out nature of the garrisons are the distances that King's Regiment soldiers traveled to fight the American enemy.

Actions involving King's Regiment soldiers stretch from the Battle of Cedars southeast of Montreal to St. Louis, a distance of around 1,000 miles. 

In almost every one of these actions, a small group of soldiers from the King's Regiment joined forces with larger groups of Native Americans and/or Anglo/French militia in order to attack the enemy. For a regiment that supposedly did not have experience or the ability to fight in a woodland environment, the King's Regiment certainly performed the task a great deal. They conducted numerous successful interception of rebel forces or raids on rebel towns and outposts throughout the upper country, including:

1776 The Battle of the Cedars (Near Montreal, Canada)
1778 Cherry Valley Raid (Upstate New York)
1779 Siege of Fort St. Joseph (Western Michigan)
1780 Martin's Station and Ruddle's Station Raid (Northeastern Kentucky)
1780-81 Mohawk Valley Raids (Upstate New York)
1782 Hannastown Raid (East of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

There were failures too, such as the abortive Siege of Fort Stanwix in 1777,  or the capture of thirty men of the King's Regiment by George Rogers Clark at Vincennes, Indiana, in 1779.

A reenactor portraying a King's Regiment soldier
during a New York Valley Raid, 2016

The King's Regiment in the Upper Country: 

Fortunately, we have somewhat detailed accounts regarding the actions of King's Regiment soldiers in the upper country, focusing around the expeditions of men such as Governor Henry Hamilton surrender at Vincennes in 1779 and Captain Henry Bird's invasion of Kentucky in July of 1780. Despite Depeyster's dour warning above, the men of the King's Regiment undertook many of the necessary preparations for wilderness warfare. In 1770, the regiment engaged in what Mark Odintz has called, "realistic wilderness training," including, "engaging in the woods, rowing in boats, landing and walking on snow shoes[.]" [3]

Even more importantly, the men of the King's Regiment practiced marksmenship while on campaign. As Lt. Govenor Henry Hamilton's forces traveled towards Vincennes in late 1778, his troops repeated practiced firing at marks, or targets. On November 12th, Hamilton recorded: "Exercised the cannon and small arms at Marks-- The arms in very good order-- the savages expressed great surpize to see a mark of a foot sqaure struck from the 6lbr . at about 300 yards distance." Again on November 19th, after an abortive meeting with Indian leaders, Hamilton took offense at the Indian suggestion that the French would reclaim the upper country. He wrote, "I broke off the meeting abruptly, and told them I was going to exercise my young men, and gave orders for the men to turn out and fire ball at a mark, which they did, and shewed great dexterity firing very quick and making excellent shots." Norman MacLeod, a militia officer accompanying the British on the campaign, also recorded this occurence on November 19th. He wrote, "the troops was ordered to fire three rounds, each man at Targets in the Presence of the Indians. And the Indians was Very will Pleasd at their Performance." [4]

The benefits of these firing at marks are two-fold. First, they kept the soldiers on Hamilton's expedition proficient in the use of their firearms. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they demonstrated British military power to Native Americans, who might contribute additional soldiers and supplies. Thus, on Hamilton's expedition, firing at marks possessed both a military and a political objective.

In 1780, Captain Henry Bird and the King's Regiment launched an invasion of Kentucky, supported by around 900 Native Americans and Anglo/French militiamen. Henry Bird and the men of the King's Regiment operated effectively in the upper country, capturing two forts, and taking three hundred prisoners. Through use of waterways, Bird was able to cover 90 miles in four days, the last 50 of which he covered in one day alone. [5] By pushing his men to these extremes, Bird was able to avoid contact with larger American forces trying to run him down.

However, the most interesting aspect of the King's Regiment's expeditions is that they were conducted by volunteers. The letters and pay accounts of the King's Regiment make it clear that the soldiers who went on both Hamilton's march to Vincennes and Bird's invasion of Kentucky were volunteers.[6] Although he is probably also speaking rhetorically for Indian benefit, Hamilton may while be accurately describing the situation when he stated, "I told them I was going to exercise my young men."

A Seargent of the King's Regiment "exercises his young men," at Fort Niagara in 2016.

So, while Depeyster may have seriously thought that his men were ill-prepared for wilderness warfare, he may also have been exaggerating the situation. Indeed, in a subsequent letter to Lt. General Haldimand, he makes it clear that the lack of cold weather gear, not ill-preparedness, was the reason for his refusal to take part in the winter campaign of 1782.[7]

The King's Regiment served in an adverse environment, long after their expected deployment duration. Several authors, including Thomas Hughes, criticized the appearance of the regiment in 1785.[] The younger men were drafted into different regiments, and the old soldiers were transported back to Britain for discharge. However, the results of the 8th Regiment's deployment speaks for itself. They utilized realistic training in order to achieve battlefield success, they were able to move with a speed that confounded American forces, and they effectively utilized volunteers to get the most out of their limited resources. It is almost as if the borders of Canada correspond to where the posts of the King's Regiment stood.

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Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Depeyster, Miscellanies, pg. xxxvi
[2] William Potter, Redcoats on the Frontier, MA Thesis, unpublished, pg 40.
[3] Mark Frederick Odintz, The British Officer Corps. University of Michigan, Dissertation, unpublished, pg 88. Gage Papers, Letter from Guy Carleton to Gage, July 4th, 1770.
[4] John D. Barnhart ed, Henry Hamilton and George Rogers Clark in the American Revolution with the Unpublished Journal of Lieut. Gov. Henry Hamilton. William Evans ed, From Detroit to Fort Sackville: The Journal of Norman MacLeod, pg 81. 
[5] Haldimand Papers, Henry Bird to Arent S. Depeyster, July 1st, 1780.
[6] Hamilton to Haldimand, October 7th, 1778. This letter indicates that all Kingsmen on the expedition were volunteers. Haldimand Papers,
[7] Haldimand Papers, Arent S. Depeyster to Haldimand, November 21st, 1782.
[8] Hughes, A Journal by Thomas Hughes, 141.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Russian Account of Poltava

Peter the Great at Poltava, Artist Unknown
The following is an account the Battle of Poltava, which an English nobleman received from Russian colleagues present at the battle. I have standardized the spelling to be internally consistent, but not otherwise modified the text.

Mons 13/24 July 1709
Right Honble:
                On this day & night I had the honour to give you an account of the great victory obtained by his Tsarish Majesty on the 27th past near Pultawa. Counts Golopkin  and Scharproff have sent the following relation, which differs in some particulars from what I then mentioned.
                On the 20th June all the Muscovite Army past the River Worskla, and encamped a small German mile from the Swedes: On the 24th they advanced further within a quarter of a mile and intrenched themselves to prevent all surprises, posting their horse on the Right under cover of some thick Bushes and two or three redoubts which were well furnish'd with men and Cannon, designing in this posture to prepare all things for a Battle.  But they were prevented by the King of Sweden who on the 27th in the morning very early posted the defiles with his whole army and attacked the horse with such fury that he obliged them to retire from their redoubts towards the trenches, after brave resistance, where drawing up again they returned to the charge and routed the Swedes right wing, taking Major General Schlippenbach prisoner.
In the meantime, Prince Menschikoff and General Renkel had been sent with a Detachment of horse and foot towards Pultawa , to intercept any new succor, and to attack such of the enemy as might be lelft in the Trenches:  On the way they met with reserve of about three thousand men, most whereof, after a short fight were either killed or taken Prisoners;  on which the Prince returned to the Main Army, but General Renkel continuing his march obliged Maj. General Roos who was left in the Trenches with three Regiments to surrender on discretion after a small resistance. While this past, the Enemy's horse had retreated to their foot, and ranged themselves in order of Battle about a quarter of a mile from the Muscovite Camp, on which his Tsarish Majesty drew out two lines of his foot, leaving the third to guard the trenches, and posted his horse on both wings. General Rönke having been wounded in the first action, General Bauer commanded the Right, Prince Menschikoff the left (where the chief action was expected) and his Tsarish Majesty the Main Body. About nine the fight began on both sides and in half an hour the Swedes both horse and foot were entirely routed; nor could the foot ever come to rally again, the muscovites driving them with sword in hand to a wood, where first Major general Shulenberg and soon after General Hamilton, Field Marshall Rheinschild, the Prince of Wirtemberg, several colonels and their other officers, and some thousand common soldiers were taken prisoners. Three miles round Pultawa was all covered with dead Bodys, so that they reckon to have killed eight or ten thousand Swedes with very little loss on their side. His Tsarish Majesty gave all possible proofs of a brave general and wise prince, his hat was shot through with a musket ball and prince Menshikoff had three horses wounded under him.

                The first line of muscovite host (or foot), about ten thousand strong won the Victory the second never coming to charges; the King of Sweden 's litter was found shot to pieces, and general Gallirin and Bauer were sent after the Enemy with the Guards and two other Regiments of foot and ten of dragoons; On the 28th they were followed by Prince Menshickoff with more foot and they had news that their troops were almost got up with the enemy who continued his flight with all possible diligence  and had already abandoned about three thousand of his Baggage wagons.  Count Piper, Mons. Cederholm, and Secretary Daben finding as means of escaping went into Pultawa of their own accord. 

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Prague, Heinrich, and Itzenplitz

Carl Roechling's re-imagining of Itzenplitz and Heinrich
Dear Reader,

Anniversaries matter. Today is the 260th anniversary of the Battle of Prague, one of the early battles of the Seven Years' War in Europe. Far from giving a history of the battle, this post focuses on how Prinz Heinrich (often rendered Henri or Henry) of Prussia, and the Regiment von Itzenplitz gained noteriety as a result of their role in this combat.  After the battle, both the man and the unit became household names in Prussia. This post attempts to examine why.

This map shows the Prussian plan at Prague: to outflank Austrian positions by traversing the marshy ground east of the city

Although technically a Prussian victory, the day at Prague did not go well for the Prussian army. Fighting against a competent Austrian opponent (Ulysses Maximilian von Browne) as well as the nature of the swampy terrain around Prague, the Prussian advance stuttered and stalled most of the day. The first line of Prussian infantry was shattered in the initial attack, and Feldmarschal Schwerin, probably the most experienced general in the Prussian army, was killed while attempting to rally his regiment.

The Grosser-Generalstab Map of Prague, with Heinrich's progression highlighted
Seeing the difficulty of the Prussian advance, Prinz Henri, Ferdinand of Brunswick and General Christian Hermann von Manstein began an attack on their own initiative. Mannstein noticed a lightly defended gap at the northern end of the Austrian defensive line, just north of the Kejer-Teich (Kejer Pond). Manstein himself commanded the attack on an Austrian redoubt holding this position, while Prinz Heinrich subsequently led the Itzenplitz Regiment and the Manteuffel Regiment across the Roketnitzer-Bach in order storm a battery of cannons. 

Gunter Dorn's re-imagining of this famous scene
Legend has it that the diminutive Heinrich jumped into the river, and was swallowed up by the currents. The musketeers of Itzenpltiz grabbed the prince, raised him on their shoulders, and waded across the stream. Upon crossing the stream, Heinrich led the Itzenplitz and Manteuffel regiments in an attack on a battery of Austrian cannons on the northern edge of the Tabor-Berg. Having taken the battery, and protected the crossing of Manstein and Ferdinand's troops, the Prussians turned the Austrian cannons and bombarded the Austrian positions across the valley in the direction of Prague. By the end of the day, the Prussians had trapped the Austrians within Prague, but had lost a fearful toll of their best infantry. 

Prinz Heinrich
Although Friedrich II and Heinrich had already been the closest of the various Hohenzollern brothers, Prague cemented their relationship, just as it cemented Heinrich's position within the Prussian army. Heinrich's older brother, August Wilhelm, wrote of Prague: "My brother did wonders. The officers admire him, and the common soldiers swear by him. Heaven be praised that he was preserved, it is a miracle."(Aus der zeit des siebenjährigen krieges, 297.) 

The case of Heinrich and Regiment von Itzenplitz at Prague show that the Kabinettskriege era possessed capable junior commanders who were capable of efficiently taking initiative without orders, and decisively seizing ground which could impact the outcome of battles.