Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, and the Seven Years' War

Joseph Fiennes portraying Martin Luther in the film , Luther 

Dear Reader,

Today is popularly remembered as the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. If you are a grumpy cat historian like me, you might point out that November 11th, not October 31st, is really 500 years on from October 31st, 1517. On that day in October, Augustinian Friar Martin Luther circulated his 95 Theses, beginning a large and eventually successful movement to change theological understandings concerning Christianity. Luther, a professor of Theology at Wittenberg University, supposedly nailed this document to the doors of the local church, a common practice for circulating ideas. The doors of the schlosskirche, or Castle-Church (often referred to as All Saints Church in English) were much like a bulletin board, and Luther likely did not intend to start anything more than a local conversation. Despite that, he touched off a movement that would irrevocably change the world.

Luther's (rebuilt) church in Wittenberg, as it looks today

To this day, Luther's significance is widely debated. Many Catholics and some historians argue that Luther horribly divided European Christianity, and created the (in their view) horrible pluralistic society we live in today. Many Protestants, both Lutheran and otherwise, view Luther as a hero, who created the theological framework for their religious beliefs. Finally, there is the category I and others fall into: the belief that Luther was a deeply flawed individual, who greatly assisted created the modern Western World, with all of its flaws, foibles, triumphs, and achievements. It is possible to view Luther creator of much of the human freedom which has developed in the west since 1500: freedom of speech and religion being two of the largest consequences of his movement. It is important to note: as a late Medieval man, Luther would have been horrified at many of these developments, but he helped create them nonetheless.
Luther in 1520, by Lukas Cranach the Elder

After Luther's death in 1546, religious conflict devastated Europe for the next century. From 1546 to 1648, the wars of religion, culminating in the Thirty Years' War, caused an intense amount of suffering, particularly in German Central Europe. After the Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years' War in 1648, European statesmen began to realize that wars fought to enforce religious belief were often less than successful. The desire creation of a universal Protestant or Catholic Europe faded, and religious toleration began to grow, in fits and starts. Wars were fought between princes and states, not between fanatic adherents of rival religious groups.  Soldiers could still be incredibly religious: indeed, Swedish troops in the Great Northern War were some of the most devout religious believers in European history. Religous differences as a cause of war, however, became less common.

Hans Karl von Winterfeldt:
A Protestant-Warrior in the Eighteenth Century
By the mid-eighteenth century, warfare began to stoke the tensions of the religious conflict, not the other way around. The British developed an anti-French and anti-Catholic identity, while in German Central Europe, the birthplace of Luther and the Reformation, religious tensions remained. Indeed, the Seven Years' War in Europe may have been caused by Protestant ambitions on the part of one man: Prussian General Hans Karl von Winderfeldt. Winterfeldt, one of Frederick II of Prussia's closest confidantes, dreamed of "the creation of a new Protestant German Empire."[1] Frederick's record of religious toleration was mixed, he certainly sponsored it at times in his life and built Catholic places of worship, even in Berlin. However, he also persecuted disloyal Catholics in the County of Glatz during the Seven Years' War, and executed a Catholic priest. Prussian and Britain governments used religion as a weapon of propaganda in the Seven Years' War, in an attempt to represent the conflict as religious in nature. Frederick enjoyed a high reputation among Protestant and Catholic minor princes in the Holy Roman Empire, and Austrian Minister Kaunitz wrote that "favoured by fanaticism, the tempting prospect of the secularisations, and the strong solidarity which exists among Protestants ... the kings of England and Prussia could become effectively the masters of the whole of Europe."[2]

A Contemporary depiction of the 1760 siege
For their part, the Austrians took steps to solidify their religious position. Fear of defections among Protestant troops within their own armed forces prevented them from using religious propaganda to full effect, and Maria Theresa was warned, "Your Majesty would run the risk of losing a considerable number of generals and officers from Your army, or at least be unable to rely on their loyalty."[3] The greatest event with a legacy to the reformation occurred on the 10th-13th of October 1760. Wittenberg, the sleepy town where Luther had ignited the Protestant Reformation, had been occupied by Prussian forces and was surrounded and besieged by an Austrian Army.  The Austrian bombardment ignited wooden buildings within the town, and fire quickly spread to the schlosskirche, the church where Luther had circulated the 95 Theses. In the course of the fire, the church, and Luther's tomb were burned. According to rumor, the Austrian commander, Grumbach, had wanted to destroy Luther's tomb. This moral victory, and the enterprising work of Austrian light troops who destroyed the locks with kept the town moat secure, quickly allowed the Austrian forces to capture the town.[4]

The rebuilt schlosskirche doors in Wittenberg
In the aftermath of the Seven Years' War, the church was rebuilt, and in the nineteenth century, Frederick II's great-great-great nephew, Frederick William IV, had commemorative doors cast in bronze, to replace the original wooden doors lost to the bombardment. Eventually, a Protestant-led German nation-state was created, but by that time, the fire of Christian religious conflict had faded from Europe. Martin Luther, however, remains a dividing figure.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Christopher Duffy, Frederick the Great: A Military Life, 86.
[2] Quoted in Christopher Duffy, Instrument of War, 349.
[4] Christopher Duffy, By Force of Arms, 280.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How Common was Desertion in the Eighteenth-Century Armies?

Soldiers from Germanic armies often had a reputation for desertion. Was it deserved?

Dear Reader,

I was speaking on the phone with one of my friends a few weeks ago. A veteran reenactor, and living-historian in his own right, he made a peculiar statement. He said that sickness, death in battle, enterprising foes and surprise attacks by the enemy all might be difficult for reenactors to simulate, and indeed, some (like death) should remain impossible to do so. "But desertion," he said, "desertion, I understand." Leading reenactors often feel a slight sense of betrayal at the tendency of unit members not to show up at events.  As a unit commander, he believed that he had a rather good understanding of how a regimental commander might have felt while facing desertion, as his (modern) eighteenth-century soldiers trickled away from his control.

This brings us to another question: how common was desertion in eighteenth-century armies? Like the previous post on sickness, this post is connected to my average soldier series. It may seem at first glance as though desertion was quite common: indeed it was much more common than it is in militaries today. J.A. Houlding quotes Frederick II of Prussia (as so many people do), who supposedly said that, "If my soldiers were to begin to think, not one of them would remain in the army." [1] This is at least as true as Frederick's statement, "Soldiers should be more afraid of their officers than the enemy," that is to say, not at all.[2] Christopher Duffy has shown, from research in Austrian archives, that Prussian prisoners of war often refused to desert their army, and as prisoners frequently preached their thoughts on the positive qualities of their prince.[3] How likely, then, were most soldiers to desert from their armies?

Recaptured deserters would "run the gauntlet" 12, 24, or 36 times, often a death sentence

Much more qualified scholars have spilled a great deal of ink on this subject. For German speakers, Michael Sikora's excellent work, Disziplin und Desertion: Strukturprobleme militärischer Organisation im 18. Jahrhundert, provides an excellent baseline of understanding. Once again, Christopher Duffy is our leading light for Central-European armies, but he is now joined by Ilya Berkovich, whose outstanding new book, Motivation in War, devotes a chapter to this important subject.  André Corvisier has long provided a rough estimate for France, arguing that between 1700 and 1763, approximately 1/5th of all French troops deserted. Berkovich implies that this figure has been taken for an eighteenth-century standard too often.  Sylvia Frey and Glenn Steppler give excellent information for the British Army during the American War of Independence, while James H. Edmonson, Charles Royster, and Mark Lender contribute to this topic with regards to the Continental Army. So, without further adieu, how likely was an eighteenth-century soldier to desert?

Any sort of exact average figure, when dealing with multiple armies, over the course of the eighteenth century, is rather difficult. By way of a rough estimate, perhaps 11% of soldiers deserted, though that figure was much smaller during peacetime, and potentially greater in wartime.  However, it may be possible to venture a more accurate guess when figures are separated by era and army. At times, it is only possible to give a percentage of total losses. Thus, we will begin data from armies over long periods of time, and then move to figures connected with the Seven Years' War era, and move to the American War of Independence. Despite the problems connected with the datasets, it is possible to observe several trends. Ilya Berkovich gives the best summary of trends during this era, which I will quote here:
"[N]ew recruits and foreigners were more likely to desert than veterans and native-born soldiers. There were more deserters in wartime than in peacetime. Units on the march were particularly susceptible to desertion, as were regiments whose soldiers learnt that they were to be send abroad. Not unlike recruitment, desertion rates demonstrate correlations with economic conditions, or even particular months of the year. Finally, armies whose desertion figures were examined over a prolonged period reveal that peacetime desertion rates declined as the century progressed."[4]

The Prussian Army in peacetime
Longterm Desertion (years):

Prussian Army (1713-1740): 3.2% per year.

French Army (1716-1749): 4.4% per year

Saxon Army (1717-1727): 7% per year. 

Average:  4.9%  [5] 

The Battle of Krefeld 

Seven Years' War Era:

Hanoverian (Electorate of Hanover, not British) Army: 14%

Austrian Army: 6-7% per year or 20.49% of total losses  (circa 62,000 men)

Prussian Army: 18% Total
                            28% of total losses   (circa 70,000 men) 
Data from the Hacke Regiment indicates a desertion of  6% of regimental strength per year on average during the Seven Years' War.

French Army (estimate 1700-1763): 20%

Average: 17.3% [6]

Perhaps surprisingly, the British Army had a low rate of desertion 

American War of Independence Era:

British Army: Frey: 4% (circa 3,700 men) 
                       Steppler: 7-8%, with recaptures/reenlistments a net loss of 4.4%
Sylvia Frey: "[D]esertion was apparently not a significant problem."

Hessen-Kassel Army in North America: 11.5%

Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel Army in North America: 11.7% 

Continental Army: 20-25%.

Average: 12% [7]

Continental Army desertion was somewhat higher than this stalwart pose might suggest.

Let us analyze these figures. The Prussian army, oft-maligned as harsh and draconian, had lower figures than some of its competitors. The Continental Army, suffering frequent privations and battlefield reverses, suffered a great deal at the hands of desertion. Perhaps most surprising is the relatively low figures for the British army, and it should be noted, they are not exact. However, Frey and Steppler concur that desertion in the British army was "not the most serious drain on the army's manpower."[8]

In summary, the data seems to imply that desertion was often less common than we have been led to believe. Although, admittedly, desertion in this era was much greater than in the 20th century, when less than .5% of the U.S. army deserted in Vietnam. However, desertion was perhaps less of a problem then has previously been believed. It remained a headache for eighteenth-century commanders, as desertion could skyrocket in adverse circumstances, much like illness. In one campaign in 1744, Frederick II lost 15% of the entire Prussian army to desertion.[9] Rarely, however, do the figures support the longstanding belief that it was normal for more than 20% of an army to be lost to desertion during a campaign.[10] Ilya Berkovich has recently used this more developed figures to argue that lower rates of desertion and higher rates of retention could have implications for the motivations of soldiers in the eighteenth century. Inflated claims regarding desertion have long been a part of the "these soldiers were the scum of the earth" myth, and deserves to be evaluated in greater detail. Desertion was a scourge in the minds of eighteenth-century commanders, but perhaps not totally debilhatating for eighteenth-century armies.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns


[1] J.A. Houlding, Fit for Service, v.
[2] Sascha Möbius, Mehr Angst vor dem Offizier als vor dem Feind?: Eine mentalitätsgeschichtliche Studie zur preußischen Taktik im Siebenjährigen Krieg. 
[3] Christopher Duffy, Instrument of War, 201.
[4] Ilya Berkovich, Motivation in War, 59-60.
[5] Willerd Fann, "Peacetime Attrition in the Army of Frederick William I," 326-327.; quoted in Ilya Berkovich, Motivation in War, 58.
[6] Data comes from: Michael Sikora, Disziplin und Desertion : Strukturprobleme militärischer Organisation im 18. Jahrhundert, 74.;  Berkovich, Motivation in War, 77.; Duffy, Instrument of War, 212.; Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 85.; Daniel Krebs, A Generous and Merciful Enemy, 252.; Bagensky, Regiments Buch des Grenadiers Regiments koenig Friedrich Wilhelm IV., 79.; André Corvisier, L'Armee Francaise, 736-7.
[7] Data comes from: Sylvia Frey, British Soldier in North America, 72.; Glenn Steppler, "The Common Soldier in the Reign of George III," 189.; Daniel Krebs, A Generous and Merciful Enemy, 251-252.; James Edmonson, "Desertion in the American Army during the Revolutionary War," pg. 261.
[8] Steppler, "The Common Soldier," 189.
[9] Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 84.
[10] Willred Fann, "Peacetime Attrition" 323.; Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 172.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

How Sick were Eighteenth-Century Soldiers?

Men from the 7th and 8th Regiments of Foot. Photo Credit: Dr. Will Tatum

Dear Reader,

Today, we are confronted with some rather heavy subject material. At the large Battle of Brandywine reenactment recently, I was fortunate enough to find myself lying on the ground, in a sense of general malaise, having just emptied the contents of my stomach into the grass next to me. I fell prey to one of the classic blunders: don't attempt to fight George Washington in 80-degree heat while suffering from a fever/sinus infection. Against the protests of my significant-other, I allowed the allure of a revolutionary war reenactment potentially numbering over a thousand individuals to draw me away from where I should have been: recuperating.

In the vein of the average-soldier series I embarked on earlier this summer, this post will examine data from a number of eighteenth-century armies, in an effort to establish how frequently sickness played a large role in the life of soldiers. To put it another way, how sick, on average, were eighteenth-century soldiers? How likely was an eighteenth-century soldier to die from disease?

Image result for Military Hospitals 18th century
Camp life in the era of the American War of Independence,
A number of scholars have written on this topic, usually with reference to a particular army and era. As usual, Christopher Duffy provides a window into the experience of armies in Central Europe. Sylvia Frey has written on the British army in the later eighteenth century, while Bill Potter and Piers Mackesy provide interesting supplementary information. Caroline Cox and Ann Becker write on sickness in the Continental Army, with an eye to the experiences of ordinary soldiers. Charles Lesser's work The Sinews of Independence provides a great mass of material on this subject. Those willing to step outside this era should examine Andrew Bamford's excellent book Sickness, Suffering, and the Sword, which examines the Napoleonic Era.  So: how sick were eighteenth-century soldiers, on average?

At first glance, it may appear as though eighteenth-century armies were quite sickly. Legends abound about the notoriously bad hygiene of these soldiers. Certainly, by modern standards, bad hygiene was rampant, although not, perhaps, in the grotesque ways often believed. As the eighteenth-century wore on, more military manuals called for soldiers to bathe frequently, and regimental orders bear this out.[1] Many Americans picture the Continental Army when Washington took command or the months or the hardship at Valley Forge, but these were perhaps outliers in terms of sickness. However, when smallpox, dysentery, and other quickly transmitted diseases could spread rapidly the setting of a military camp, ensuring that if an epidemic broke out, it would quickly incapacitate a large section of the army.

Image result for Prussian Soldiers Marching Menzel
The Prussian Army suffered from the heat on the way to Zorndorf in 1758.

On average, it appears that just less than 10% of any given military formation might be listed sick during the eighteenth century. During epidemics, that number could spike in a worrying way, up to about 1/3 or an army or more. Although there is not clear data for all armies in all situation, a surprising amount of data does exist regarding the levels of sickness in eighteenth-century armies. What is clear is that military forces with a clear framework for treating their sick men had an advantage over armies who were establishing organizations and treatments as war continued. The data for this post breaks down into three broad categories: estimates of army-wide sickness throughout conflicts, numbers of sick men in individuals regiments throughout a conflict, and individual regiment return percentages. Though 10% may seem like a small figure, it could quickly escalate in the face of highly contagious diseases.

In 1757 during the Seven Years' War, the Austrians suffered quite heavily at their defensive camp at Zittau, when 24,000 men fell ill, perhaps around 28% of their army in Silesia. This is an extreme example, usual army totals were likely lower.  In 1751, Austrian army doctor Giovanni Gabavlio estimated that some 28% of peacetime casualties were caused by fever, 18% were caused by scurvy, 15% were caused by infection, and 11% by venereal disease. The remaining 28% were seemingly unknown.[2] The Prussian army acquired "Hungarian fever" from Austrian prisoners after Leuthen in December of 1757, and by April of 1758, 15,000 men, or 27% of the army under Frederick's command, were still suffering from illness.[3]

His Excellency visits unwell soldiers (probably wounded, not sick)

During the American War of Independence, I estimate that the average number of British soldiers sick out of the entire British army, including militia in Britain, was 4.6% of the entire army. The data used to make this estimate runs from 1775-1780.[2] By contrast, I estimate that the average number of sick Continental Army soldiers was about 20%  of the army as a whole.[3] The reason for this extremely high number is that smallpox devastated the continental army in the early years of the conflict, with 31-37% of the army falling ill (not just from smallpox) during this crisis. After 1778 and Washington's program to inoculate the army, the average number of sick men dropped to within much the more normal levels of 13-15%. Perhaps 18,000 in the American military forces died of disease during the War of Independence. By contrast, between 1775-1780, the British lost 6,107 men to disease in North America. Despite this, British regular army losses and American losses are quite different (about 25,000 Americans to 43,000 British) so, as a result, it is possible the British lost heavily from disease in other theaters of war, in addition to battlefield casualties taken in other theaters.[4]

In places like Fort Niagara, the King's Regiment suffered little compared with the Continental Army
Leaving the army level, the post will know examine incidents of disease among individual units.
Thanks to the industrious research of Bill Potter, we have a sense of the level of illness among the King's Regiment during the later years of the American War of Independence. All in all, 7.5% , or around 40 men, of the King's Regiment were sick during the years between 1778 and 1783.[6] The regiment was relatively healthy in 1770 when 2.6% of its soldiers were listed sick, but in the months of 1781, Regiment had fallen prey to disease, when 11.75% (55 men) of the regiment fell ill on average. By the end of the conflict in 1783, the total number of men listed sick had returned to roughly average, around 7%.  Other regiments from this era follow this trend. In May of 1775, around 6.9% of the Royal Highland Regiment was ill, or 24 men out of 346.[7] During the Trenton Campaign, the Rall Regiment had 12.3% of its rank and file listed sick, while the Knyphausen Regiment had just 5.8% of its complement sick.[8]  When large-scale epidemics were not a factor, just less than 10% a regiment seems to have been sick, on average.

How likely was death by disease for an eighteenth-century soldier? Roughly 60% of all deaths in the Continental Army came from disease, meaning a soldier in that army was perhaps twice as likely to die from disease than in combat. Again, however, the Continental Army suffered from greatly from disease. On average, though, it was still more likely that a soldier would perish from illness than combat. Christopher Duffy argues that this trend continued throughout all eighteenth-century armies.[10] Sylvia Frey counters by suggesting that soldiers in the British army were no more likely to die from sickness than civilians, but her figure of 6,107 British soldiers dead of disease from 1775-1780  still outnumbers combat deaths in North America in the same era. Disease, not combat, killed more men in eighteenth-century armies. Soldiers died via disease in large numbers, and their experience involved great sacrifice.

I know this post has been rather heavy, and despite charges of insensitivity, I think it best to end on a humorous note. To the question: "How sick were eighteenth-century soldiers?  I think I can safely answer:  "They were, like, totally sick, man."

Photo Credit: Dr. Will Tatum 
Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns


[1] Sylvia Frey, The British Soldier in North America, 51.
[2] Christopher Duffy, Instrument of War, 338, 341.
[3] Christopher Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, 204.
[4] The data for this estimate comes from: Frey, British Soldier, 52; Piers Mackesy, The  War for America,  523-527.
[5] The data for this estimate comes from: Charles Lesser, The Sinews of Independence; Ann Becker, "Smallpox in Washington's Army," The Journal of Military History, (2004), 392-394, 419-420.
[6] Caroline Cox, A Proper Sense of Honor, 134-5; Frey, British Soldier, 52.
[7] Bill Potter, "Redcoats on the Frontier" MA Thesis, pg. 133-141.
[8] Waterford Inspection, Online Version
[9] David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing, 396.
[10] Christopher Duffy, Military Experience in the Age of Reason, 170.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

"They Have No More Religion Than My Horses[?]": Faith and the British Army After 1748

HM 17th Regiment of Foot leaving for church parade. (Photo Credit: Dr. Will Tatum)

Dear Reader,

Having survived my comprehensive exams, I will attempt to keep Kabinettkriege up and running, although likely at a slower pace than this summer. We recently had a fantastic guest piece, written by Jack Weaver. If you are interested in writing something relating to warfare between 1648-1789, and would like to see it featured on Kabinettskriege, please contact me via the "About the Author" page.

Today, we are going to dig a little deeper into a subject of some controversy. That is: how religious were common soldiers in the British Army during the Seven Years' War and the American War of Independence?  This can be viewed as a follow-up to our earlier discussion of religion in eighteenth-century armies this summer. For some time, scholars (not without reason) appear to have taken the statement of an anonymous MP in 1779 at face value: "What signifies the religion of soldiers? They have no more religion than my horses."[1]

At first glance, it appears that the British soldier may have been less religious in 1754-1783 than they were at mid-century. Part of this, however, is the source material available to historians. Two common soldiers who left vivid records from the War of Austrian Succession era (1740-1748) Sampson Staniforth and John Haime, would later become Methodist ministers. In this same era, British soldiers abroad corresponded with John Wesley, the famous Methodist minister. The number of soldiers who had deeply-held religious convictions was likely small. However, as Michael Snape has suggested in his book, Religion and the Redcoat, it was "small but significant."[2]

John Wesley
Although fewer diarists in the Seven Years' War era show the strong influence of religious sentiments, we should carefully note that this  community of deeply religious British soldiers endured into that era. Methodist minister Samuel Walker created a strong Methodist society within the 58th Regiment of Foot at Truro during the Seven Years' War era. According to the nineteenth-century editor of Walker's papers:
"A great alteration, how ever, took place; punishments soon diminished and order prevailed in the regiment, to a degree never before witnessed, and the commander at length dis covered the excellent cause of this salutary change. Genuine zeal had now its full triumph and its rich reward—the officers waited on Mr. Walker in a body, to acknowledge the good effects of his wise and sedulous exertions, and to thank him for the reformation he had produced in their ranks."[3]
One of the soldiers wrote a letter to Reverend Walker after the 58th Regiment left Truro, confirming this:
"I judge no man: many would desire to die the death of the righteous, that would not desire to live their life; and [I] know that has been my case. Serjeant Moore for ever blesses the day that ever he saw Truro, and we both hope in the Almighty God to see it again, and to hear the glad tidings of salvation as formerly."[4]
British Soldiers in North America during the Seven Years' War
During the Seven Years' War, particularly in Ireland, Methodism continued to spread in the British Army. During a trip to Canterbury in February of 1756, John Wesley noted, "an abundance of soldiers and many officers," came to hear him preach. The next day, he had a meal with a colonel, who said, "No men fight like those who fear God: I had rather command five hundred such , than any regiment in his Majesty's army."[5] Likewise, nearly a year later, in 1757, Wesley noted:
"I went with T. Walsh to Canterbury, where I preached in the evening with great enlargement of spirit; but with greater in the morning, being much refreshed at the sight of so large a number of soldiers. And is not God able to kindle the same fire in the fleet which he has already begun to kindle in the army?"[6]
Indeed, Methodism continued to be such a potent force in the British Army that in 1759, Sir Robert Nugent urged William Pitt to use John Wesley (and George Whitefield) as a recruiting tool for the British Army, since Methodism continued to have influence in the army. [7]
Image result for Captain Thomas Webb
Captain Thomas Webb, Veteran of Louisbourg and Methodist Preacher

Captain Thomas Webb, of the 48th Regiment of Foot, who lost an eye to musket-fire at Louisbourg or the Plains of Abrahman (sources differ), was converted to Methodist in the 1760s.[8] He was famous for preaching in his uniform, and would often lay his sword on the lecturn, as pictured above. Webb is best remembered for establishing Methodists societies in North America, but he maintained a close relationship with John Wesley until Wesley's death in 1791.

During the American War of Independence, soldiers' memoirs not necessarily less religious, on average, than their counterparts from the 1740s to 1760s. John Wesley, taking a contrary view, recorded in October of 1779 that, "The English Soldiers of this age have nothing to do with God!"[9] This assertion seems rather ungrateful, as Wesley had been protected a number of times from mobs in Ireland by the presence of British soldiers.  But what of writing from soldiers themselves? 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a heavier concentration of religious language is present in the speeches of men about to be executed, such as Valentine Duckett and Robert Young. Readers can find excerpts of both of these soldiers' testimony in Don Hagist's excellent book, British Soldiers, American War.

How likely is it that these soldiers are discussing the varieties of religious experience?
(Photo Credit: Dr. Will Tatum) 
But what about soldiers who survived military service? Thomas Watson of the 23rd Regiment of Foot is an obvious outlier, and the religious nature of his memoir sets him apart from many of his comrades.  By clear contrast, Thomas Sullivan of the 49th Regiment fails to mention religion in almost any aspect, except noting the number of churches in towns he marched past. John Randon, a soldier mortally wounded at Bunker Hill in 1775, wrote his wife a letter, describing his religious experience in the army:
"The Almighty Parent of mankind was pleased to draw my heart to him, by the sweet attraction of his grace; and at the same time to enlighten my mind. There was in our regiment a corporal, whose name was Pierce, a pious man; I inquired after him, and we soon contracted a strong friendship. He was pleased to explain to me the amazing love of God, in giving his son Jesus Christ to bleed and die for mankind. He condescended to unfold to me the mystery of salvation by faith, the nature of new birth, and the great necessity of holiness of heart and life. In short, he became my spiritual father..."[10]
Although the provenance of Randon's letter is somewhat questionable, it is still worth sharing. The memoir in which it is recorded was written by Sgt. Roger Lamb. Lamb's memoir is oddly interspersed with religious language. He utilizes religious language in calls for the emancipation of African slaves, and ends a chapter of his book with the admission that some people charge him with too much enthusiasm for Christianity.[11] More than a heartfelt religious observance, Lamb appears to utilize Christianity when it is literately useful for his cause. Shortly after leaving the army, William Burke of the 45th Regiment converted from Roman Catholicism to some form of Evangelical belief.[12]

The diaries of many converted soldiers
contain warnings against this type of behavior.

Thomas Cranfield, who enlisted in 39th Regiment in August of 1777, likewise records a story of religious conversion. Just before being deployed to Gibraltar, Cranfield entered a church on Sunday morning, being, "prompted by curiosity... The word, under the guidance of the Holy Spiritm was brought powerfully home to his mind, so that he became convinced of sin, and of the necessity of salvation through the Redeemer." This conversion experience prompted him to learn to read, and he recorded that he had soon met, "with very good friends, who give me good advice."[13]During the American War of Independence, there was little interest in the work of chaplains, but that "small but significant" minority of devout soldiers continued to minister to the spiritual needs of the British army.

In August of 1782, while preaching in Plymouth, John Wesley was surprised when: "A little before I concluded, the Commanding Officer came into the Square with his regiment; but he immediately stopped the drums, and drew up all his men in order on the high side of the Square. They were all still as night; nor did any of them stir, till I had pronounced the blessing."[14] This points to the idea that not only did Methodism survive in the ranks, but at times could be officially endorsed by officers. Officers had previously ordered soldiers to attend Wesley's sermons in April of 1778. In April of 1775, Wesley noted that his preaching resonated particularly with the officers of the Royal Highland Regiment.

In conclusion: preachers, politicians, officers, and common soldiers hotly contested the nature of religious life in the British army during the second half of the eighteenth century. Often derided as a place for young men full of immorality and wanderlust, the army retained significant religious elements. Though deep religious fervor was not the norm, those seeking religious comfort could find it, in the Seven Years' War era work of Methodist missionaries, and in the American War of Independence era through other soldiers who had been impacted by Methodism. Despite the drunkenness, violence, and immorality prevalent in the army, a "small but significant" religious community was alive and well throughout the British Army in the second half of the eighteenth-century.

I would like to end by including two Methodist hymns of the era. Though the tunes have been re-worked, the words the same as they would have appeared in the eighteenth century. The first is the "The Good Old Way", which was contemporary with Wesley, and mentions soldiers and marching.

The second hymn, often called Idumea, and popularized by the film, "Cold Mountain," was present in the eighteenth century, under the title, "And am I born to Die?" John Wesley mentions being particularly moved by this song in his journal on September 18th, 1770.

Again, both of these tunes are more modern arrangements. The Watersons' version of "The Good Old Way" most likely dates from the 1820s, while Cold Mountain's arrangement of Idumea dates from the 1840s.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Jonas Hanway, The Seamen's Christian Friend, iii.
[2] Michael Snape, Religion and the Redcoat, 67.
[3] Edward Sidney, The Life, Ministry, and Selections from the Remains of the Rev. Samuel Walker, 153
[4] Ibid, 157.
[5] Journal of John Wesley, 24-25th of February, 1756. Online Version
[6] Ibid.
[7] Snape, Religion and the Redcoat, 63.
[8] Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine, 1849, 386-88.
[9] Journal of John Wesley, 7th of October, 1779.
[10] Roger Lamb, An Original and Authentic Journal, 29-30.
[11] Ibid, 415.
[12] Don Hagist, British Soldiers, American War, 263.
[13] Thomas Cranfield,The Useful Christian, 12.
[14] Journal of John Wesley, 21st of August, 1782.