Background: The American War of Independence

A Sergeant of the 62nd Regiment in 1813

A Sergeant of the 62nd Regiment in 1813

Up until 1783, England regarded what we now call the United States as a colony, or rather thirteen colonies, as the country was split into thirteen regions. In the latter half of the eighteenth century the population of America was increasing fast and many of the immigrants had no allegiance to Britain, coming from countries such as Germany, France, Sweden, Ireland and Holland.

England had become the dominant power in North America after a seven year war against the French which culminated in Britain gaining sovereignty of Canada and America. This war had been costly for Britain and taxes were imposed on the Americans to pay for it. The fact that they were subject to British taxes while having no representation in the British Government was strongly objected to by the Americans. This and several other factors led to a revolt in 1775, a revolt which spread in intensity and geographically.

King George III was determined to retain his American colonies and to crush the revolt. In order to do this, huge reinforcements were sent to New York and Quebec. In 1776 an armada of merchant vessels was hired by the Government to transport over twenty thousand soldiers to North America. Seven thousand of these troops went to Quebec and the remainder to New York to serve under General Howe. One of the regiments sent to Quebec was the 62nd Regiment of Foot. This regiment, like many others in the King’s Army, was so short of men that they even recruited criminals, drunks and ruffians. The only limitation was that the recruit had to be at least five foot four inches tall. Even young boys joined the army, though the youngest served as drummer boys. (The video shows a drummer boy and fife player at the reenactment of the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, Saratoga, in 2013).

 

The 62nd Regiment had been serving in Ireland for several years. On 3rd April 1776 almost five hundred men of the Regiment, together with many wives and children, set sail from Cork for Quebec City.

In 1783 a few of the men of the 62nd, perhaps less than fifty, returned to England. My novel, “The Wessex Turncoat”, is a story about what happened to the rest of the Regiment. It is a tale of how a Commander with efficient officers and a well-trained army was abandoned, because of an administrative bungle in London, to face overwhelming numbers of a young nation’s soldiers, determined on self rule.

The British Army’s allies in the American War of Independence.

Over 20,000 German troops fought alongside the British. They were mainly from Hessen- Kassel and Brunswick. 4000 of these soldiers were attached to the British Army in Quebec. The fact that these troops fought in America should be considered against the background that Germans formed by far the largest immigrant minority in the mid-eighteenth century. It is estimated that 10% of the population spoke German. These soldiers were essentially mercenaries. They were hired by the British Government as the country’s own army was too small to provide protection for the various British interests around the world.

Native Americans

A Seneca Indian re-enactor at Saratoga

A Seneca Indian re-enactor at Saratoga

The way in which the British, (and in the previous war, the French), took advantage of the Native Americans was less than honourable. There were around 1,400 Indians supporting the British Army in 1776. Just like the Germans they were paid, though frequently it was partly in rum. Not only were they exploited in this way, but their participation in the war precipitated hostilities between the six Iroquois tribes which had previously been united in one nation.

The Indians were the eyes and ears of the Army. They had the skills to survive and fight in the American wilderness which the Europeans did not. They were exceptionally valuable for gathering intelligence and scouting ahead of the Army’s advance. To Europeans and Americans, their reputation for cruelty to their enemies struck terror into defenders. British Generals lamely tried to persuade the Indians that they should only scalp their enemies when they were already dead, but there is no doubt that many Americans suffered death by scalping at the hands of Indians.

The Loyalists and Provincials

A Royal Provincial Soldier

A Royal Provincial Soldier

It is estimated that only a third of the American population were really concerned about the independence issue, a third were against it and a third did not care. However, it was those who had strong feelings about gaining self determination who were most militant and better organised. Nevertheless, a large number of people rallied to the cause of the King and formed at least 150 “loyalist” units to support the British Army. Around 30,000 American Loyalists fought with the British. Though much overlooked, they were very brave men, for if they were captured they faced extremely cruel treatment from their fellow Americans as well as having their property appropriated or burned.

At the end of the war around 90,000 Loyalists left America. Most settled in Canada, the West Indies and Britain.

Video – “The drummers in the King’s Army

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *