Monday, July 31, 2017

How Religious were Eighteenth-Century Soldiers?


A group of men from the 7th, 8th, and 17th Regiments of the British Army

Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to look at a question very near and dear to my heart. At a reenactment last weekend, sitting around the camp fire, I heard a reenactor loudly proclaim that he would not go to church parade, (a military formation/church service held on Sunday mornings) regardless of what the practice was in the eighteenth century. This post does not intend to get into modern religious debates: indeed, nor am I trying to force anyone to do anything against their conscience. However, with that statement rolling around in my head, I decided to give a cursory glance at the sources, with the following question in mind: How religious was the average soldier of European armies in the eighteenth century?

Although I cannot hope to answer this question in the statistical detail of my "average" soldier posts, I still thought that it might be worth a crack, as there is certainly some information regarding this topic available.  In answering the question, I am indebted, as usual, to the fine work of Christopher Duffy, as well as the writings of Michael Snape, Charles Royster, Caroline Cox, and Richard Gawthrop. Once again, I am truly standing on the shoulders of giants.

The only anecdotes of military-religious fatalism even approaching those of the Swedish and Russian armies, come oddly enough, from an army supposed by many in North America to be irreligious: the British Army. The rise of Methodism, described by Michael Snape in The Redcoat and Religion, created a swell of religious feeling in the British army during the War of Austrian Succession. The French military of the eighteenth century did not have an official chaplaincy, as a result of the Louis XIV's unwillingness to submit to papal authority. Rather, regimental commanders appointed their own chaplains, and were responsible for their pay. By contrast, Phillip V of Spain appointed a vicariate general of armies, who supervised the chaplaincy in 1705. Jean-Paul Bertaud asserts that in both cases, "Chaplains were not able to halt the de-Christianization of the armies."[15]


Would period soldiers have engaged in such debauchery?
With the caveat that religiosity and belief varied greatly from army to army, we can safely say that European and North American armies of the eighteenth century were incredibly religious, much more religious than society today. The remainder of the post will compare religious views across different armies, and attempt to "take the pulse," of religion in these armies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, soldiers in the earlier part of this era display fanatic levels of religious devotion, so we will start there.



A 19th Century depiction of Swedish Karoliner at prayer, by Gustaf Cederstrom

The Armies of the Great Northern War: Sweden and Russia

Both Swedish and Russian soldiers were fiercely religious in the early eighteenth century and directly applied their religious beliefs to their job as soldiers. A writer accompanying the Swedish army in Livonia during the Great Northern War noted that at the outset of an engagement, the Swedish commander:
“Count Lewenhaupt then addressing himself to the Lord of hosts and victories, ordered the prayers usual upon the like occasions; the cavalry alighting, and the whole two lines kneeling upon the field. The prayer ended with a verse taken from a hymn, which was echo'd by the whole army, and then the signal was given: with the help of God, and in the name of Jesus.”[1] 
Such sentiments were still clearly being expressed by men such as Leopold von Anhalt Dessau thirty years later. The religiosity of Swedish army did not apply only to the high command. If you peruse the enormous collection of Great Northern War era Swedish soldiers' writings published in 1913, letters such as the following are common:
“It was a great sorrow to behold the poor men, who were frozen by means of the slow march. Indeed, many a cavalrymen and dragoon sat frozen to death still on their horses. The day after, which was the 24th of December, the companies were surveyed, and each had 25 or 26 men found frozen, and regrettably, this forced the amputation of hands, legs and feet. There was more sorrow and sadness than one could believe. ...Blessed be the Lord my God, who has brought me warmly through so many dangers. Blessed be my God, in both good and bad times, in all times. Indeed, Eternal glory , thanks, and praise to my God, full of grace, goodness and mercy. To me, the proof is now evident that the day of my death is swift approaching. So, I ask you, my God, with a humble heart, full of grace, send your peace and blessing to me, remain with me, and allow me to abide with you forever. Oh my Lord God, hear and grant me this, for the sake of Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Amen, Amen.”[2]
Such displays of military-religious fatalism were common in the Swedish army, but matched by the Russian army of the same era. From the writing of European observers, and the few diaries of the lower rank men who could write, we can see that military-religious myths arose in Russia, such as the belief that a man killed in battle would be brought to life again three days later in his native village.[3]

An Orthodox Priest blesses Russian soldiers in the Napoleonic Era


The Russian military planners often disregarded the dietary requirements of Eastern Orthodox soldiers, leading one western military observer to note that there were, “religious fanatics who preferred to die rather than take a meat broth.”[4] Peter I’s response was to make the religious soldiers eat by threat of force, whereas other generals obtained permission from the Holy Synod for their soldiers to abstain from the dietary requirements. This would seem to indicate that the religious nature of Russian military life came from inside the army, and was not forced on it by the state in hopes of creating a fearless body of soldiers.

These ideas remained in place in the Russian army for much of the century. Charles Immanuel Warnery, a Prussian cavalry officer, described the battle of Kunersdorf, where the Russian Corps of Observation was caught in a heavy artillery crossfire: “This respectable Corps, did not defend themselves, but instead lay on the ground, and allowed themselves to be massacred by thrusts of the bayonet, in the honor of St. Nicholas. “[5] In both the Swedish and Russian armies, then, observers noted an acceptance of the will of God, which applied to military affairs.



This British soldier, painted by Morier in the 1740s, was likely not a Methodist

Religion in Anglophone Armies: British and American Piety

British soldiers such as John Haime converted to the Methodism of John Wesley, and recorded intense bouts of religious emotion on the battlefield. At the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745, Haime recalled:


"The spring following, we took the field again : and on Mayllth,.l745, we had a full trial of our faith at Fontenoy. Some days before, one of our brethren, standing at his tent-door, broke out into raptures of joy, knowing his departure was at hand ; and, when he went into the field of battle, declared, 'I am going to rest in the bosom of Jesus.' Indeed, this day God was pleased to prove our little flock, and to show them His mighty power. They showed such courage and boldness in the fight as made the officers, as well as soldiers, amazed. When wounded, some cried out,  'I am going to my Beloved.[Christ]' Others, 'Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!' And many that were not wounded earnestly desired  'to be dissolved and to be with Christ.' When W. Clements had his arm broken by a musket-ball, they would have carried him out of the battle ; but he said,  'No ; I have an arm left to hold my sword : I will not go yet.' When a second shot broke his other arm, he said, 'I am as happy as I can be out of paradise.' John Evans, having both his legs taken off by a cannon- ball, was laid across a cannon to die : where, as long as he could speak, he was praising God with joyful lips."[6]
From the perspective of 2017, such words might seem almost haunting, and some readers may doubt the sincerity of the men who wrote them. However, far from being the outlier, these types of sentiments abound in the writings of British soldiers who had joined Methodist societies. We cannot know with certainty how much of the army joined these societies, but indicators in the letters and memoirs consistently make Methodists out to be a sizeable minority. Methodist preacher John Wesley received a letter from soldiers at the front, describing the same battle, which expressed similar sentiments:
But we were all endued with strength and courage from God, so that the fear of death was taken away from us. We left our brother Mark Bend in the field; whether he be alive or dead we cannot tell; but the last of our brothers that spoke to him, after he was wounded, found him quite resigned to the will of God. We that he has spared a little longer, desire you to return thanks to God for all his mercies to us."[7]
Methodism would remain a force within the British army until 1815 and after; during the Peninsular War, Wellington expressed fears that Methodism was again on the rise, and requested Anglican chaplains to combat this sentiment.[8]Despite this, we should not assume that ALL British soldiers held these views, in fact, some commentators observe that the British were less religious than other eighteenth-century soldiers. A German Subsidientruppen from Ansbach-Bayreuth, Johann Dölha serving alongside the British army in the era of the American Revolution, recalled,"
The common English soldier is swift, marches easily...[w]hen they go against an enemy, they are fresh, optimistic, and do not worry about their life... The English keep their clothing very clean and have only the vices of cussing, swearing, drinking, whoring, and stealing, and these more so than other people.[9]


It would also seem that the British Soldier of the era got into some trouble
When specifically describing the British navy, Dölha informed his reader,  On the other hand, the seamen are a thieving, happy, whoring, drunken lot and much inclined to swearing and cursing people. They can hardly say three words without their curses ‘God damn my soul, God damn me…’ toward us they are rather rough, impolite, and rude."[10]

The British army, then, seems to have been a contradiction, with both fervently religious and more profane elements. This should not surprise us, it is quite likely that the British were simply more expressive of this contradiction, existed in most eighteenth century armies. Another Anglophone army of the era, the Continental Army, was deeply religious, but perhaps less fatalistic than the Swedish, Russians, or Methodist Britons.


George Washington in prayer at Valley Forge, a later artist's reimagining
Charles Royster argues that religious language was one of the primary ways through which Continental Army soldiers understood the world.[11] Preachers followed the Continental Army, and frequently distributed religious literature to soldiers, who eagerly lapped up any insights from the gospel on their current situation. British army officers believed that religious thinking had led the colonies to war in the first place.[12] Especially during the early war, religion mattered a great deal to the Continental Army. Even army officers from supposedly more secular areas of North America, such as the Chesapeake region, frequently used religious injunctions in their orders.[13] Coming out of the harsh winter at Valley Forge, George Washington ordered May 6th to be a day of thanksgiving for providential protection.[14]


French Soldiers of the Seven Years' War Era, Don Troiani

Armies of the Catholic Powers: Austria, Spain, and France


The Austrian army possessed an official chaplaincy, and as a result of the work of Christopher Duffy, we know a good deal more than we otherwise might. In the mid-century, the average Austrian chaplain was 39 years old, with five years of service under his belt.[16] The Austrian chaplains "exercised a considerable moral authority over officer and man alike." [17]

Considering the Austrian Empire's  status as a polyglot religious state, we should not be surprised that many Austrian soldiers were openly Eastern Orthodox or secretly Protestant. Only a chaplaincy for Catholics existed, but the army regulations indicate that: "Religion is something you should never speak about. Rather it is something you should strive to live by. Upon pain of severe and unfailing punishment, we forbid any behaviour which may create ill-feeling between those of different faiths."[18] The Austrian army managed to keep its soldiers fighting together, despite the religious, ethnic and politic divisions holding them apart. Such an achievement is truly remarkable. 


Menzel's Reimagining of a Prussian Infantry Chaplain

The German Protestants: Prussia and the Western German States

There were deep, heartfelt religious motivations among many of the common soldiers and officers fighting in German Protestant armies in the eighteenth century. In places as diverse as modern Poland and upstate New York, soldiers in Protestant German armies could be heard singing hymns as they marched into battle.[19] Most of these armies also contained numerous Feld-Predigers, or chaplains, who ministered to the men, and occasionally made rousing speeches on the day of battle.

Hessian soldiers such as Dölha complained about the lack of religious feeling in British soldiers and even deployed religious complaints about slavery in North America. August von Dinklage, a Lt. Colonel of a Hessian grenadier battalion,  he thought that the whites used religion to mistreat African slaves. Dinklage believed that the animal-like treatment of the blacks was, "to the shame of so-called Christians." He went on to say, "it is a sad sight when one views these people, who in their capacities and the quality of their intelligence yield nothing to the whites, sold like cattle in the market to the highest bidder."[20] The Hessians brought their chaplains with them to North America, and many of those chaplains recorded their thoughts on the young United States. Unlike many eighteenth-century armies, the Prussian army contained ministers of Catholic, Calvinist, and Orthodox faiths, in addition to the official state sanctioned Lutheranism. [21] The Lt. Colonel of the Brunswick Prinz Friedrich Regiment, Christian Julius Prätorius, allowed his Catholic soldiers to attend mass separately from the rest of his men.[22]

Many men of an earlier generation, such as Leopold von Anhalt Dessau, were rough Christian soldiers of a simple, childlike faith. Though Leopold was an effeciency-minded reformer, he nonetheless possessed a firm, gruff sense of religion. His order to attack at the Battle of Kesselsdorf was a simple, "In Jesus Nahmen marsch!" (In Jesus name, forwards!).[23] He and men like him were consistently in conflict with the more intellectual officers of the Prussian army, and both added a necessary ingredient in Prussian success.


Richard Knötel's depiction of  Leopold von Anhalt Dessau at Kesselsdorf
So, for most eighteenth-century Protestant German soldiers, religion was a moderating force, which provided cohesion, stability, and occasionally empathy. An observer noted of a Prussian regiment at prayer:
"you could imagine nothing more elevating than to see this band of heoes, who make provinces and kingdoms tremble, bow down before the Almighty. The generals, the officers, and the rank and file stand in a circle around the preacher, who makes his altar out of two drums, and they all pray to Lord with bowed heads."[24]
Frederick II was a deist, not an atheist 

Non-belief in Eighteenth-Century Armies

As better and more famous historians than I have noted, measuring non-belief before the twentieth century is indeed a difficult proposition.[25] What we can say with certainty is that members of the upper classes expressed Deistic ideas. Frederick II, himself a deist, was not afraid to resort to theistic language in order to inspire his troops. At one point, he and General Seydlitz were listening to one of these religious speeches, and Frederick commented on the religious language: "That's just for the baggage drivers!"[26]

In the Austrian service, despite the incredibly high level of religious devotion among the rank and file, many officers were less devout.  Describing a particular brand of young Austrian officer, a commentator noted that, "few of them have religious beliefs, and they scorn those who harbour them..."[27] Still- despite the efforts on modern atheists (such as Christopher Hitchens on Thomas Jefferson) to read back atheist into the eighteenth century, real atheism was quite rare, if not unheard of. Frederick II strongly defended the deist position against atheism in the later years of his reign.[28]

In summary: despite being "the age of reason," in a military context, the European eighteenth century was a highly religious place. Although the highest echelons of society may have espoused deism, most ordinary soldiers remained extremely devout. Although Christian religious belief in Europe was quite diverse, most states still divided their official military-religious ceremonies along sectarian lines. A few North German states such as Prussian and Brunswick were making small strides in the areas of military-religious freedom.

Please feel free to share with anyone you think might be interested.


Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns




[1]Gustavas Adlerfeld, The Military History of Charles XII, Vol 2, 138.
[2]August Quennerstedt, Karolinska Krigares Dagböcker Jämte Andra Samtida Skrifter., Vol 3, 232.
[3] Christopher Duffy, Russia's Military Way to the West, 135.
[4]C. J. Ligne, Oeurves Choisies (Paris, 1890), 73.
[5]Charles-Emmanuel De Warnery, Campagnes De Frédéric II, Roi De Prusse: De 1756 à 1762 (1788), 312.
[6] Thomas Jackson eds, The Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers, Vol 4, 137.
[7] John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, Vol 2, 37.
[8] Richard Holmes, Redcoat, 117. 
[9] Dölha, A Hessian Diary, 71-2
[10] Ibid, 15. 
[11] Charles Royster, A Revolutionary People at War, 18. 
[12] Ibid, 19. 
[13]P. Benson de Lany, "Biographical Sketch of Robt. Kirkwood," Graham's Magazine, vol 28, pg 104.
[14] Royster, A Revolutionary People, 250-4. 
[15] Michel Delon eds, Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment, 1247. 
[16] Christopher Duffy, Instrument of War, 344. 
[17] Duffy, Army of Maria Theresa, 133. 
[18] Reglement für die sämmentlich-kaiserlich-königliche Infanterie, (1769), 60. (Duffy's Translation.) 
[19] Alexander Burns, Honor, Religion, and Reputation, MA Thesis, Ball State University, 25. 
[20]Landesbibliothek Kassel, 4̊ Ms. hass. 186, Tagebuch des Obrist Lieutenants von Dinklage 1776-84. fol 202.
[21] Duffy, The Army of Frederick the Great, 208.
[22]Lt. Colonel Christian Prätorius to Karl I of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, NdsStA Wf, 38 B (Alt 237), Acta Militaria.
[23] Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 245. 
[24] Ibid, quoted on page 207. 
[25] Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith, 20. 
[26] Kalckreuth, 'Kalckreuth zu seinem Leben und zu seiner Zeit' , Minerva, Vol IV, 144. 
[27] Duffy, Instrument of War, quoted on page 187. 
[28] Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 207. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"He was a Blue and Bloody Man!": The Von Bose Regiment (No. 8)


A reenactor portraying a soldier of Regiment von Bose
Photo Credit: Andrew Shook

Dear Reader,

Despite the harsh criticism of Regiment Prinz Friedrich by Riedesel, the "German" forces who served alongside the British in the American War of Independence were not inferior to their Anglo counterparts. Despite several notable defeats, Germanic Subsidientruppen were capable of fighting as well as their British allies and American foes. Today, we are going to examine one of the best regiments in the American War of Independence- the von Trümbach/von Bose Regiment.

The regimental name change indicates a change in the regimental Chef, or colonel-proprietor. Raised in 1701, the regiment had a long history of serving as British allies. In 1746, the regiment served alongside Hanoverian forces in Scotland, during the suppression of the Jacobite rebellion. Though not serving at Culloden, the regiment was involved in combat operations, and blocked the movement of the Jacobite army. Around this time there was a small confrontation between Jacobite forces and Hessians. This small action received a mention in Jacobite Dougal Graham's lyric history of the rebellion, in which the Jacobites beat a hasty retreat after the Hessian battalion guns opened fire:

"Their grenadiers had caps of brass,
Thus order'd were the men of Hesse
Who' camp'd for some time near Dunkel'
And kept that pass, till they heard tell...
How at Culloden all were broke
And they had never fought a stroke,
Except one cannonading 'bout.
The Clans afar came on a scout,
To view their camp from a hill-top
Who soon retir'd when they drew up;
Whene'er their cannon began to play,
They skilled [scattered] like rams and ran away:
Described the Hessians even as they can,
Said, 'He was a blue and bloody man!'"[1]

Later, on October 11th 1746, at the Battle of Rocoux, the regiment (at this point in the time, called the Mansbach Regiment) served with distinction. Christopher Duffy described the scene: "Frederick, [the future landgrave of Hessen-Kassel], with tears in his eyes, succeed in rallying his battered troops, and at the end of the battle the regiment of Mansbach... stood its ground to cover the allied retreat and was almost wiped out."[2] Likewise, The Gentleman's Magazine for 1746 reports that the Mansbach regiment, "stood their ground to the last, and refused quarter, so that few of them escaped."[3]

Hessian Troops at the Battle of Krefeld (Richard Knötel)

During the course of the Seven Years' War in Europe, the regiment served with Prinz Ferdinand of Brunswick in the western European theater. In the course of this war, the regiment served in a number battles, such as Krefeld, Minden, Bergen, Emsdorf,  Vellinghausen, and Wilhelmsthal. It served directly alongside Prussian troops at the combat of Langensalza. Although not performing poorly in any of these engagements, the regiment also failed to win great distinction and fame in the course of the Seven Years' War. Rather, they provided good, solid service.

For much of the American War of Independence, the Trümbach Regiment was not heavily engaged. The regiment took part in the New York and New Jersey campaign of 1776, but failed to accompany the main British army on campaign around Philadelphia in 1777.  Clinton utilized it in the abortive move to assist Burgoyne.  In 1780, the British transferred the newly renamed Von Bose Regiment to the Southern theater of war. Some authors claim that they fought in other battles of the Southern theater, such as Eutaw Springs. If so, it is likely that this means a company sized force or smaller, since the main regiment stayed with Cornwallis, or that the author is refering to the Von Rall/Von Trumbach regiment, rather than the Von Trümbach/Von Bose Regiment.


Two soldiers of varying ages in Regiment von Bose 
During the Southern Campaign in 1781, the average age in the regiment was 33, compared with the American age of 23, and the British age of 28.[5] As a result, experienced men such as Sargeant Berthold Koch were prevalent in the regiment. Koch was born in 1742, (not recruited into the army that year, as Rodney Atwood claims), and joined the (then) Mansbach Regiment at 15, at the onset of the Seven Years' War. During this time, he served in battles such as Bergen.[6] The commander of the regiment in the Southern campaign, Johann Christian du Buy, had joined the military at 14, and was now in his mid-forties. He was a veteran of 13 major battles in the European Seven Years' War.[7]

Von Bose at Guilford in miniature
However, the regiment fought its most famous action on March 15th, 1781, at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. In the course of this battle, the Von Bose Regiment, together with the 1st battalion of British Guards, broke through two lines of American defenders. Circumstantial evidence suggests that by this point, the regiment had adopted the British standard style of advance during the War of Independence. Sargeant Berthold Koch noted that the regiment moved with a high degree of speed in this engagement.[8]Johann Christian du Buy reported the following to Knyphausen:
"After quickly laying aside our tornisters and everything that could impede a soldier, the 71st and von Bose recieved orders to more forward and attack the enemy... We had not advanced more than 300 yards when we found a deep ditch in front of us, with tall banks and full of water. After crossing it with difficulty, we then came to a fenced wheat field; on the other side of this field 1500 continentals and militia were deployed in line... I formed the battalion into line with the greatest of speed and we ran to meet the enemy in tolerable order."[9] 
A Soldier of the Von Bose Regiment, reimagined by Don Troiani


It was then, together with the 1st Guards, drawn into a running firefight in the woods. Major du Buy, and Major von Scheer first fought the Regiment back-to-back, and then led the regiment in two parts against the colonial enemy.  Bertold Koch, a sergeant with Von Bose, recalled,
"before we knew it, the enemy attacked us again in the rear. The regiment, therefore, had to divide into two parts. The second, command by Major Scheer, had to attack toward the rear, against the enemy who were behind us, and forced them once again to take flight... during this time, Colonel du Buy advanced with the first part of the regiment, and Major Scheer returned with the second part of the regiment and rejoined the first..."[10]  
It may seem a bit odd that Koch refers to du Buy as a Lt. Colonel, most sources from the battle indicate his rank as major. It is likely that Koch is simply remembering things in the wrong order, du Buy's April 18th after-action report indicates that he was a Lt. Colonel at that time. Whatever the case, in his own after-action report, British General Cornwallis reported that, "the 1st Battalion of Guards and Regiment von Bose were warmly engaged, in front, flank, and rear."[11]

After this battle drew to a close, the regiment continued with Cornwallis to Wilmington, and then to Virginia and finally Yorktown. At the close of the siege, the Von Bose regiment went into captivity, alongside some of the best regiments in the British army, including the 23rd Regiment of Foot. So, with their eighteenth-century service briefly described, let us turn to the other criteria, aside from service on campaign, that were outlined in the series introduction.

A soldier of von Bose in the wilds of North America
The Von Bose Regiment won the praise of its army commander. In the aftermath of the Battle of Guilford Court House, Cornwallis praised Von Bose, and listed them directly behind the Guards in his dispatches. Cornwallis believed, "The Hessian Regiment von Bose deserves my warmest praises for its discipline, alacrity, and Courage, and does honour to Major Du Buy who commands it, and who is an Officer of superior merit."[12]

On that note, let us turn to evaluations of the regimental commander in the field: Major du Buy. Aside of the praise of Cornwallis, du Buy was praised as an astute soldier by his commanders and fellow officers. Reichsfreiherr Wilhelm von Knyphausen the commander of the Hessians in North America for much of the war, suggest that du Buy was a, "most capable, gallant, and meritorious man."[13] John Graves Simcoe, observed du Buy's conduct of the surprise attack on Paramus in 1780. According to Simcoe, du Buy directed the attack with great skill, "The plan of this expedition was well laid, and as well executed: Major Du Buy seemed to be the master of the country through which he had to pass... the major was particularly attentive..."[14]

Reenactors portraying Von Bose perform drill at the Guilford Court House 

Finally, a point of analysis might be helpful in understanding the adaptability of the regiment to conditions in North America. It seems possible, if not concretely proven, that Major du Buy had a knack for knowing when British or Hessian practice was superior. There was a problem with the two-rank open order system adopted by the British in the American War of Independence: it failed to produce the volume of fire that troops with closed ranks might. This is not new information, Stephen Brumwell clearly points to this as the cause of the British defeat at Sainte-Foy in 1760.[15] Likewise, Matthew Spring indicates that a reliance on open-order bayonet charges may have become detrimental to the British by the end of the war.[16]

By contrast, at the Battle of Guilford Court House, du Buy led the regiment at great speed, speed which matched the standard British style of advance. His statements that von Bose, "ran to meet the enemy" taken together with Koch's assertion that the regiment moved, "at the double," indicates a departure from normal Hessian practice.[17] Although it is possible that these commands came directly from Campbell or Cornwallis, the relative amount of independence (especially at Guilford Court House) displayed by regiment commanders indicates that these orders were du Buy's ideas, especially considering his astute attention to terrain.

An image of Von Bose circa 1785
At this juncture,  having rambled on a bit, it may be helpful to condense my points. I believe that the Hessian Regiment Mansbach/Trümbach/Von Bose deserves to be considered as one the best regiments in the American War of Independence (and perhaps the whole of the eighteenth century), for the following reasons:

1) The regiment possessed a tradition of admirable service, from Rocoux to Guilford.
2) The praise of its fellow/superior/army officers, even when serving with allied forces. 
3) The great depth of military experience present in the regiment by 1781.
4) The reputation and skill set of the man commanding it: Johann Christian du Buy. 
5) The tradition AND adaptability present in the regiment. 

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

Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns







[1] Dougal Graham, An Impartial History, 64.
[2] Christopher Duffy, The Best of Enemies, 150.
[3] The Gentleman's Magazine, (1746), 541.
[4] Babits and Howard, Long, Obstinate, and Bloody, 89.
[5] Rodney Atwood, The Hessians, 41. The source Atwood cites makes a different claim: K. Rogge-Ludwig, Mitteilungen an die mitglierder des Vereins für Hessische Geschichte und Landeskunde, 1876, 1-2.
[6] Atwood, The Hessians, 138.
[7]Berthold Koch, The Battle of Guilford Courthouse and the Siege and Surrender at Yorktown, 8.
[8]Du Buy, Raports vom Oberst Lieut. du Buy Regts v. Bose zu der General Lieutenant v. Knyphausen, Staatsarchiv Marburg, Best. 4h Nr. 3101.
[9]Berthold Koch, The Battle of Guilford Courthouse and the Siege and Surrender at Yorktown, 9.
[10] British National Archives, CO 5/184 112.
[11] British National Archives, CO 5/184 114-5
[12]Staatsarchiv Marburg, quoted in Atwood, The Hessians, 138.
[13]John Simcoe, Simcoe's Military Journal, A History of the Operations..., 142, 140.
[14]Stephen Brumwell, Redcoats, 261
[15]Matthew Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, 244.
[16] Koch, The Battle of Guilford Court House, 9, Matthew Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only, 146-149

Monday, July 24, 2017

"In what a bad condition I found the Regiment Prinz Friedrich!": A Worst Regiment



Staff and volunteers at Ft. Ticonderoga doing a phenomenal portrayal of Prinz Friedrich .


Dear Reader,

Having examined one of the best units in the eighteenth century, the Delaware Regiment, we will now turn to examining one of the worst: Brunwick Regiment Prinz Friedrich. Some reenactors portray this unit quite well, particularly when displaying its garrison duty at Fort Ticonderoga. This post is not intended to be a hit-job on anyone's favorite unit, or reenacting career.

Despite all of that, I have to assert that Regiment Prinz Friedrich was one of the worst regular infantry units in Revolutionary era North America. This pains me to say, as the regimental commander, Christian Julius Prätorius, is one of my favorite figures from the revolutionary era. I have worked with his records a number of times, in the course of writing my masters thesis, as well as an article I wrote for the Seven Years' War Association Journal.[1]


Members of the recreated Regiment Prinz Friedrich enjoy garrison service at Fort Ticonderoga
The regiment hailed from the small state of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel in the latter half of the eighteenth century. It served in the Seven Years' War in Europe, before being sent to Canada during the American War of Independence. The main evidence against Regiment Prinz Friedrich comes from the second and third factors of our criteria: performance on campaign and opinions of its army commander. In the other three areas, we are left with a relatively slim pile of evidence, Prinz Friedrich was certainly mentioned by the diarists of the Burgoyne campaign, but only in passing, Christian Julius Prätorius had a rather normal reputation, and historians have been relatively silent on individual qualities of the regiment, preferring to examine Burgoyne's Brunswickers as a whole. Finally, in a rather unique case, the reputation of the regiment suffered as a result of a scandal involving a regimental chaplain.

In the course of its tour to North America, Regiment Prinz Friedrich was usually utilized as a garrison force. Excepting the advance to Fort Ticonderoga, and a minor role in the Battle of Hubbardton, the regiment spent most of the war in garrison service. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, its very role as a garrison prevented the regiment from being captured at the debacle of Saratoga. In John Brown's raid on Fort Ticonderoga, Regiment Prinz Friedrich performed very well, certainly outshining the efforts of the British 53rd Regiment of Foot. So, if it performed adequately, if not exceptionally under fire, why might we think it was a poor regiment?

First of all, garrison regiments did not enjoy a high reputation in Germanic military circles and were often referred to as Mauerscheisser, a less than polite term intentionally calling out their status as low-quality fortress soldiers.[2] Thus, by choosing to leave Regiment Prinz Friedrich behind, Brunswick General Riedesel indicated it was the least trustworthy of the regiments he had available. In an ironic twist, the American rebels captured Riedesel and his regiments in the Burgoyne campaign. However, since the Regiment Prinz Friedrich stayed at Fort Ticonderoga, they remained in British service, out of American hands. At times, it paid to be a poor soldier.

However, being relegated to a minor, garrison role did not necessarily mean that that the men of Regiment Prinz Friedrich were poor soldiers. What possible reason could Riedesel have had for placing them in the garrison at Fort Ticonderoga? Why did he choose Prinz Friedrich, rather any of his other five regiments?

A detachment of Prinz Friedrich, looking much better than they did on August 27th, 1776

It is possible that Riedesel's reasoning dates to an inspection in the late summer of 1776. In a report to headquarters on August 27th, 1776, Riedesel notes, "But as regards the Prinz Friedrich Regiment, I regret to say that I did not find it in the condition I desired, and which I had hoped for after the assurances given me by Lieutenant-Colonel Prätorius."[3] Riedesel unpacked his objections even further in a subsequent letter to Praetorius: "In what a bad condition I found the Regiment Prinz Friedrich! I am convinced that as long as the regiment has existed, it has never drilled so badly as on the day I saw it."[4] Riedesel included a number of specific complaints, which read like a litany of poor soldiering:
"Most of the men rest their heads on the right shoulder, consequently the left point on their hats is in a line with their guns. There is no life in their manual exercises, and their running fire lasts a quarter of an hour. After each exercise the men move their hands, knees and feet, touch their faces or grasp their hats, and even look to the left. The regiment is never in step when advancing, the line wavers constantly, the men bend their knees and stick out their heads, and they load their guns so slowly that not one of them has it resting firmly on his shoulder at 30 [seconds]. The platoons do not fire at the same time when advancing, and after the men have loaded they run back to the battalion line just as unevenly. The officers have no method when issuing commands, they give orders every moment and are not certain about anything, and when advancing they waver quite as much as the privates. In short, there are faults to find with everything, and that lies in the fact that the men have not been properly drilled in companies."[5]
The man dishing out the pain: Friedrich Adolph, Freiherr von Riedesel

 Ouch! It may seem from the following litany of complaints that Riedesel was a drill-square, by the book, soldier, but there is much evidence to suggest that he adapted to fighting in North America quite well. Context is everything, the proper drill-square performance was an invaluable part of the life of an eighteenth-century soldier, even if it usually did not match up with combat experience. You can see some of Riedesel's own thoughts on the importance of adapting to wilderness warfare in this post.

So, don't read the following to suggest that Riedesel was a drill-square tyrant (indeed, he was a dashing hussar officer in the Seven Years' War). Rather this is a display of his keen knowledge that drill-square perfection was an important indication of the quality and determination of the men performing it. Perhaps the most telling part of his indictment is that he saves his criticism at the speed of loading for the last, most important critique. So, how could Regiment Prinz Friedrich remedy the situation?

Riedesel sadly noted, “You will have to commence again from the beginning, first in files and then in companies, to march, do manual exercises, load, and repeat this until all the companies are equally well drilled.” He exhorts Prätorius to, “make the maladroit and the ignorant stop forward every time,” for punishment. The letter made clear that Riedesel no longer trusted Prätorius. Riedesel appointed another Lt. Colonel, Baum of the Braunschweig Dragoon Regiment, to oversee the drilling of Regiment Prinz Friedrich. “Baum… has received orders from me to see them drill frequently, and to tell you when he finds the companies so far advanced that you can draw the battalion together, and then you will unite all the companies[.]” By placing the decision making power in the hands of Baum, rather than Prätorius, Riedesel showed his lack of faith in Prätorius’ judgment. [6]

Riedesel continued,

"as soon as Lieutenant-Colonel Baum finds that the regiment drills well and reports it to me, you can cease drilling when [Baum] has given you permission, and then only drill once a week, so that the men do not forget what they have been taught. But until the regiment gets into proper condition, you must drill 4 times a week, and leave 2 days for resting." [7]

Riedesel closed his letter on a rather hopeful note, indicating that Prätorius would be able to achieve the outlined requirements. Regiment Prinz Friedrich did indeed join the invasion south into the rebellious colonies, even if Riedesel assigned them to a garrison role after the fall of Ticonderoga.

Finally, it is possible that the reputation of the regiment suffered in another way. The regimental chaplain (Feldprediger) Friedrich Fügerer, was brought up on charges of ill-conduct, which according to the morals of the time, included censure for homosexual relations. Regimental Auditor P.G. Wolpers worried that, "“not only everyone in the regiment, but the Canadian nation itself has been scandalized by him [Fügerer].” Wolpers indicated that the Prinz Friedrich Regiment's chaplain, as well as his perceived indiscretions, had become "the general talk at parties."[8]

Sketches of the Brunswick Infantry Regiments drawn by Ensign von Hille

A member of another Braunschweig infantry regiment, Lieutenant von Papet of the Rhetz regiment, recorded his views on Fügerer in his diary. On January 15th, 1779, Papet records that the commander of the Rhetz regiment received a letter of apology from Fügerer. According to von Papet, in this letter Fügerer, “cloaked all of his infamous actions under the influence of drunkenness.” Thus, according to Papet, Fügerer had much to hide. He also informs his reader that the letter, “will be put aside as future proof that he cared as little for us spiritually as bodily.” Thus, it is apparent that Fügerer had indeed created a bad name with the other regiments in Canada.[9]

It is certainly unfair to imply that this scandal impacted the military readiness of Regiment Prinz Friedrich, but it may have impacted the perception of the regiment, both among other regiments, and internally. As a result of their garrison assignments, censure from the army commander, and scandal marring the regimental reputation, it appears as though Regiment Prinz Friedrich may have had a low status during their deployment to North America.

Therefore, without demeaning the sacrifice of the soldiers, it may not be out of the realm of probability to suggest that Regiment Prinz Friedrich was one of the worst units in the American War of Independence. While the regiment's performance under fire was not necessarily poor, it drew censure from its army commander, and as a result, was placed in low-status garrison service. Oddly enough, this meant that Regiment Prinz Friedrich would escape capture with Burgoyne's army at Saratoga. Regiment Prinz Friedrich was then able to do what it apparently did best: relatively obscure garrison service.


Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns








[1] Alexander Burns, "Honor, Religion, and Reputation: The Worldview of the German Subsidientruppen who fought in the American War of Independence." Ball State University, Masters Thesis, 2014. A portion of this post is taken from my 2016 article, "'A Question of Doing it Quickly:' Essential Qualities of North Germanic Infantrymen, 1756-1783," published in the Journal of the Seven Years' War Association. 
[2] Cathal J. Nolan, Wars of the Age of Louis XIV, 1650-1715: An Encyclopedia of Global Warfare and Civilization, 286.; Duffy, Fire and Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare, 81.
[3] "Correspondence of General Riedesel," in Hessian Documents of the American Revolution (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989), H.Z. 929, microform.
[4] Ibid, H.Z. 930.
[5] Ibid, H.Z. 930-1.
[6] Ibid, H.Z. 932.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Proceedings of the Military Court of the Prinz Friedrich Regiment, October 12, 1778, NdsStA Wf, 38 B (Alt 237), Acta Militaria.
[9] Von Papet and Burgoyne, Canada during the American Revolutionary War, 105.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"They Fight all Day and Dance all Night!": The Delaware Regiment



The 1st Delaware Regiment certainly earned their monument, in front of the Delaware Legislative Hall

Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to look at an exceptional group of men from the state of Delaware. To say that one group of soldiers were the best in a particular army is subjective: but we can certainly say that the 1st Delaware Regiment meets our criteria for being one of the best units in the Continental Army. The regiment fought at most of the major battles of the American War of Independence when the time it was raised under Col. John Haslet on December 9th, 1775, to its final engagement at Combahee River in 1782. It served, famously, at Long Island, White Plains, Trenton, Brandywine, Germantown, Fort Mifflin, Monmouth, Stony Point, Camden, Cowpens, Guilford Court House, Hobkirk’s Hill, the siege of Ninety-Six, Eutaw Springs, and the siege of Yorktown. It was the only major formation of troops from Delaware in the Continental Army, and never numbered more than 550 men on the battlefield. Despite this, it won a reputation that set it apart from the rest of the army.

These troops were often brigaded with soldiers from the state of Maryland, who, like them, forged a reputation as some of the best soldiers in North America. It is quite possible that these Maryland soldiers will receive their own post in a number of months.

Resident's of the State of Delaware often remember these men for inspiring the University of Delaware's mascot: the Blue Hens. According to legend, the men of Captain John Caldwell's company were famous for holding gamecock fights, with a specific breed of chicken called the Kent County Blue Hen. Again, according to the mythology that has surrounded the unit, Capt. Caldwell brought these Blue Hens with him on campaign, which combined with the blue coats of the soldiers, led to a regimental nickname.[1]
A Delaware soldier in 1780, as reimagined by Don Troiani

Returning to the realm of history, rather than legend, the fighting prowess of these soldiers is beyond dispute. Other soldiers and officers frequently praised the unit. Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, praised the unit in his memoirs, saying, "The state of Delaware furnished one regiment only; and certainly no regiment in the army surpassed it in soldiership."[2] These words are echoed in the writings of other officers, who insisted that most continentals believed that these men were a cut above the ordinary soldier.[3]

The service record of the regiment is impressive. The regimental commander, John Haslet, gave a vivid description of the important role the Delaware troops played in the Battle of Long Island.  However, Haslet was tragically killed in action during the Battle of Princeton, leaving the regiment under the command of David Hall. The regiment continued to win fame, and see its numbers' dwindle. In 1780, the Delaware regiment fought together for the last time, under the inspired leadership of Baron De Kalb. At Camden, Robert Kirkwood, desperately trying to keep his men engaged in the fight, waved his sword and shouted, "By the living God, the first man who falters shall receive this weapon in his craven heart!"[4] Kirkwood's word's succeeded in preventing his men from running away, but roughly 50% of the 275 remaining soldiers became casualties. After this disaster, Continental Army leadership decided to split the regiment into independent companies. Captain Peter Jaquett took one company, Captain Robert Kirkwood took the other. Both companies consisted of 96 men.[5]
A older reimganing of Haslet's men in 1776

These men proved their worth once again at the battles of Cowpens and Guilford Court House in 1781.  Both Kirkwood and Jaquett's companies operated with Henry Lee's cavalry forces, so his quote above implies more than a passing familiarity with their work. On the other hand, the Delaware companies were also often used to stiffen the main battle line, such as at Cowpens and Guilford. At Cowpens, Kirkwood's company lost 25% of its men in the firefight and hand-to-hand struggle against the 7th Fuziliers.[6] Kirkwood himself was a veteran of 32 battles by the time the war ended.[7] Without dispute, we can assert that the Delaware troops were some of the most experienced veterans in the Continental Army.

Although often acknowledging it's good service in his writings, George Washington did not go out of his way to heap praise upon the unit. In 1781, General Nathanael Greene called it a "fine" regiment of soldiers and singled it out for praise. A later anecdote states that Greene commented to Robert Kirkwood, the commander of two remaining Delaware companies: "Ha! Your soldiers are singular fellows, they fight all day and dance all night!"[8]

A reimagining of the Delaware troops at different points in the war.

Haslet and Kirkwood have both entered the pantheon of American heroes. Indeed, even within Kirkwood's own lifetime, rumors about his legendary fighting prowess began to circulate, in no small part thanks to Captain Jaquett.[9] One early nineteenth-century historian referred to Kirkwood as the "American Diomed[es]," a reference to a famous Greek hero from the Trojan War.[10] However, the most telling anecdote comes once again from Henry Lee. Lee indicates that Kirkwood, "passed through the war with a high reputation."[11] Kirkwood later fell during Arthur St. Clair's disastrous campaign against Native Americans in the 1790s.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the reputation of the regiment among historians has never been in doubt. Christopher Ward, the author of the most recent regimental history, argues that the regiment, "has received from the historians[,] due praise."[12] He provides a litany of previous historians' praise for the regiment.

So, by all five categories outlined in the series introduction, the Delaware Regiment appears to have been one of the best regiments in the Continental Army, and perhaps one of the best regiments in the whole of the eighteenth century.

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

Thanks for Reading,


Alex Burns











[1] P. Benson de Lany, "Biographical Sketch of Robt. Kirkwood," Graham's Magazine, vol 28, pg 104.
[2] Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States, Vol 1, pg 182-183.
[3] Jared Sparks, The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 4, pg. 517.; William Johnson, Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene, Vol 1, pg 352.
[4] de Lany, "Biographical Sketch," pg 104.
[5] Pension Application of Peter Jaquett, Delaware Archives, RG2545
[6] Babits, Devil of a Whipping, 105.
[7] Babits and Howard, Long, Obstinate, and Bloody, 62.
[8] de Lany, "Biographical Sketch," pg 104.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Johnson, Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene, Vol 1, pg 443.
[11] Lee, Memoirs of the War, Vol 1, pg 183.
[12] Christopher Ward, The Delaware Continentals, 89.

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.