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. Talk of his propensity for desertion has perhaps been overblown. 

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.

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Thanks for reading,

Alex Burns

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


  1. This series of post has been, in a word, fascinating. Thank you!

    Best Regards,


  2. I send the comment by Heinz-Ulrich, and have very much enjoyed the series. Thanks and please continue it.