The history of the 8th Light
All information is taken from 'Advice
to the Soldier' by Erik S. Blomquist and Douglas W. DeCroix
[ Introduction ] [ Reenactment
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Joining the 8th Light ]
Once they enlisted,
the daily realities of military life dictated that the private British
soldier was isolated, for the most part, from civilian circles. He
became part of what was, in essence, a reconstructed [military] society,
the central feature of which was the regiment.
was the basic unit of the British army, as well as the basic familial unit
of the British soldier. It was his source of identity and esprit
de corps. Instead of what would in modern parlance be called patriotism,
most soldiers found their loyalties aimed toward their regiment, rather
than holding any overly nationalistic feelings toward King and Country.
regiment was headed up by a colonel. This was usually an administrative
position only; the colonel rarely followed his regiment into the field.
In many cases, the colonel of a particular regiment might also be a general
officer, as these were appointed from the field grade officer pool.
This was the case with the Eighth Regiment, whose Colonel during this period
was Major General Bigoe Armstrong. The day-to-day running of the
regiment was left in the hands of the Lieutenant-Colonel, who was the actual
head of the unit in the field. The last field grade officer of the
British regiment was the major.
In British parlance,
the term regiment was used interchangeably with battalion. There were however,
British regiments with more than one battalion. All of the regiments
of Guards had multiple battalions, and eventually had multiple flank companies
of both sorts. But among the regular regiments of foot, only the
1st (Royal Scots) Regiment of Foot had two battalions.
Below this unit
was, ideally, formed into ten companies, each headed by a captain.
Eight of these companies were known as battalion, or center, companies.
The other two, called flank companies (because of their positions on the
ends of the regiment when drawn up in line of parade or battle), were the
grenadier company and the light infantry company. In 1775, regiments
were allowed to create additional companies for recruting purposes, and
evidence indicates that the Eighth Regiment had an eleventh and even a
twelfth company at one time or another during the Revolutionary years.
Rounding out the company grade officers were the lieutenants of each company,
followed by the lowest officer grade, the ensigns. These two ranks
were collectively referred to as the Subalterns.
Below the officers
but above the enlisted men in each company were two grades of non-commissioned
officers (NCOs). Highest of these were the sergeants, and below them
the corporals. There was an additional non-commissioned rank, but
this was assigned on a regimental basis, not on a company one. The
Regimental Sergeant Major was the highest ranking NCO of all. Below
all officers, commissioned or non-commissioned, each comopany by 1775 usually
contained about fifty-six privates, although the number could vary, and
did go up later in the war.
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The British army did a variety of
things to encourage the enlisted soldier to think of his regiment as his
adopted family. Where in many modern armies brothers or other close
relatives are purposely placed in separate military units, the British
army of the late eighteenth century encouraged family members to enlist
together. Indeed, the practice of recruiting regiments from various
geographic districts often ensured that units would be made up of groups
of friends and neighbors, if not relatives. Even if they were not
acquainted before their entrance into the service, the close proximity
of military life over long terms of enlistment almost guaranteed the formation
of tight bonds of friendship and loyalty between soldiers.
In addition to the people who made
up the unit, each regiment had a series of individual distinctions which
made it a unique entity, worthy of the soldiers loyalty. As mentioned
elsewhere, each regiment had its own distinctive facing color, its own
buttonhole lace pattern (and pattern of buttonholes as well), and its own
regimental buttons. Each regiment had its own motto and marches associated
with it. Some regiments, such as the Eighth, had their own unique
regimental badges. The Eighth was given the honor of having the White
Horse of Hanover as its regimental badge.
Perhaps the most important symbols
to each marching regiment in the British army where the regimental colors.
Each unit had a pair of these. One was known as the Kings Color,
and was the Union flag with the regimental emblem in the center.
The other, known as the Regimental Color, was in the facing color
of the regiment, and was also decorated with the regimental emblem, plus
other items, depending on the unit. Each regiment was presented its
colors, usually through some sort of consecration ceremony, which imbued
these yards of fabric with almost mystical significance. The colors
were the embodiment of the regiment in battle, as long as they were flying
the regiment was still intact and in action. To lose ones colors
was the worst fate which could befakk a British regiment in battle.
of the King's Regiment
The Eighth Regiment
is one of the older regiments in the British army and has had a long and
colorful history. The regiment came into being through a Royal Warrant,
issued by King James II on June 20, 1685. This warrant authorized
Robert, Lord Ferrers of Chartley, to raise a regiment, consisting of ten
companies of pikemen and musketeers, from Hertfordshire, Derbyshire, and
London. Lord Ferrers served as colonel of the new regiment, while
John Beaumont served as Lieutenant Colonel and John Innes as Major.
The new regiment was to be known as The Princess Anne of Denmark's Regiment
of Foot. Posted to the military camp at Hounslow, England it was
trained, uniformed and equipped. The unit was hardly a year old when
several of its officers entered a crisis of major proportions. At
this time, British law held that the army was to be made up only of Protestants.
When King James II, being Roman Catholic, attempted to add non-Protestant
Irish recruits to the regiment, in 1687. Lt. Colonel John Beaumont
and five other captains threatened to resign their commissions if they
were forced to accept these men. These notorious Portsmouth Captains,
as they became known, were cashiered, and many of the rank and file of
the regiment subsequently deserted, rather than serve under James replacement
officers. These were the first in a wave of revolts that would overthrow
the Catholic James during the Glorious Revolution, and replace him with
the Protestant William of Orange and his wife, Mary.
Upon the accession
of William and Mary, the deposed Lt. Colonel Beaumont was returned to his
old regiment as colonel. He commanded the regiment in the Irish campaign,
where it saw action in the Battle of the Boyne and at the sieges of Cork,
Limerick, and Kinsale (all in Ireland).
By now, Queen
Anne had replaced William and Mary as monarch, and so the regiment became
known as The Queens Regiment. While on the continent, under Colonel
John Richmond Webb, it fought with distinction in the European campaigns
of the Duke of Marlborough in the first decade of the eighteenth century.
The Queens Regiment took part in:
the siege of
Venloo, Ruremonde, & Liege (1702), Huy (1703), Menin (1706), Lille
(1709), Tournai (1709), and Aire (1710);
battles of Blenheim (1704), Ramilles (1706), Malplaquet (1709), and Oudenarde
(1708), where it led a bayonet charge against the elite Swiss Guards of
the French army.
Queen Anne died
in August 1714, being succeeded on the throne by the Hanoverian George
I. Upon his accession the regiment was renamed The Kings Regiment.
Later that year, the regiment was sent to Scotland to suppress a Jacobite
rebellion. On November 13, 1714, it took part in
the Battle of Dunblane, where it suffered over 25% casualties. The
Kings Regiment was rewarded for this hard-fought action by King George
I, who confirmed the unit it its title of The Kings Regiment of Foot.
The facings of the regiment were changed from yellow to royal blue and
the unit was presented with The White Horse of Hanover as its badges.
This was the first occasion on which this badge was conferred on a British
unit. Another gift, was permission to use the motto NEC ASPERA TERRANT.
Later used on the caps of all grenadiers, initially it honored only the
The War of the
Austrian Succession gave the Kings Regiment further chances to distinguish
itself, at the battles of Dettingen (1743) and Fontenoy (1745). Lieutenant
General Edward Wolfe became colonel of the regiment in 1745, giving it
the nickname "Wolfe's Boys". Under his leadership, the regiment fought
against "Bonnie Price Charlie's" troops at Falkirk and Culloden during
the Rebellion of 1745-46. Soon after, it was again in the Low Countries
(Netherlands) of Europe fighting at the Battles of Roucoux (1746) and Lauffeld
(1747) and adding to its already good reputation.
In 1751 King
George II regularized the use of a number rather than the name of the colonel
to designate his regiments. As a result, the Kings Regiment, which
was serving in Gibraltar at the time, was renamed The Eighth, or Kings
The Seven Year's
War (1756-63 in Europe) found the 8th Regiment on active service against
the French in Germany. During the later portion of the Seven Years
War, the Eighth saw action in Germany, but was returned to Scotland for
duty in 1763. In 1765, the unit was again returned home to England.
the 8th (King's) Regiment was sent to North America for garrison duty at
the city of Quebec and other St. Lawrence Valley posts. They replaced
the beleaguered 15th Regiment, which had served in America for ten years.
Ironically, it would be seventeen years before the Kings Regiment would
bid farewell to this continent. Just before embarking for Quebec,
the unit numbered thirty-two officers, twenty-seven sergeants, and 407
rank and file. It was nineteen men short of full strength.
Colonel-in-Chief was then Major General Bigoe Armstrong. Direct leadership
of a British regiment was, however, always in the hands of its lieutenant
colonel. In 1772 John Caldwell purchased the lieutenant colonelcy
of the 8th. It was Caldwell who would lead the King's Regiment to
Niagara and the Great Lakes. In 1774, the Eighth was reassigned,
but not to England as hoped for, but further into the depths of North America.
This time the assignment was to replace the Tenth Regiment of Foot as the
unit garrisoning the upper posts on the Great Lakes. The Tenth was
on its way to immortality in a small New England town, known as Lexington.
the authorized complement of a British regiment of foot was 477 officers
and men and up to 60 women (six per company), it was unlikely that as many
as 450 men were available to embark for the West. The 8th was organized
into eight "center" or "battalion" coompanies, one grenadier company and
one light infantry company. The full strength of each company (with
some variations for the grenadiers) was one captain, one lieutenant, one
ensign, two sergeants, three corporals, two drummers and 38 private soldiers.
Although the authorized strength of companies was increased during the
years of the American Revolution, the difficulties of keeping a regiment
at full strength meant that the 8th seldom approached even its authorized
peacetime complement of men.
The unit moved
westward in bateaux full of officers, men, dependents, and baggage.
It was split into two divisions of five coompanies each. The lead
division, under Captains Richard B. Lernoult and Arent S. DePeyster, moved
to stations at Detroit (3 battalion companies) and Michilimackinac
(1 battalion company and the grenadier company). Lernoult took charge
of the former post and DePeyster the latter. The second division
followed a short time later. Captain George Forster and his lift
infantry company were left to garrison Oswegatchie (modern Ogdensburg,
NY). Caldwell took the remaining four companies to the Niagara
August 7, 1774, His Majesty's 8th (King's) Regiment of Foot relieved the
10th Regiment of Foot as the garrison of Fort Niagara.
This marked the beginning of a long
association of the 8th with the post, the Niagara Frontier, and the Great
Lakes region. It would be eleven years before the 8th would itself
be relieved and sent home to England. The 8th (King's) Regiment of
Foot thereby became Fort Niagara's longest-serving British infantry unit.
Three and one-half companies remained at Fort Niagara while the remaining
half-company moved up the river to garrison Fort
Erie under the command of Lieutenant Samual Willoe.
The Eighth reached
Fort Niagara during the final year of peace before the American Revolution
was set in motion by the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April, 1775.
At first, most of the soldier's time was taken up by the normal routine
of maintaining a decaying frontier fortress. Caldwell and his troops
had many tasks to perform to keep up their buildings and walls as well
as to provide firewood and supplies for the garrison. The outbreak
of war, however, meant that the regiment would soon have a much more active
Regiment would spend the remainder of the war guarding the posts of the
Great Lakes and providing secure supply depots for the Iroquois warriors
and Loyalist soldiers who were soon raiding the frontiers of the rebellious
colonies. The lack of frontline action was frustrating to many officers
of the 8th Regiment who saw their opportunities for glory and promotion
ruined by their isolation from the main theaters of the war. Nevertheless,
the service performed by the officers and men of the 8th by holding the
Great Lakes for Britain was a major addition to the war effort and
helped ensure the preservation of Canada during the peace negotiations
is not to say that the men of the 8th were kept entirely from action.
Detachments of the regiment were, in fact, involved in a number of skirmishes
and battles along the western frontiers. One of the most dramatic
occurred in May, 1776. American forces held Montreal and had thereby
cut off the 8th Regiment from the remaining British forces in Canada since
the previous autumn. An attempt by American forces to extend their
control up the St. Lawrence River from Montreal to a place called Les Cedras
("the Cedars") was met by a British counterattack lead by Captain George
Forster and his light infantry company of the 8th from Oswegatchie.
Forster had two officers and 38 men of his company, eleven civilian volunteers
and 160 Mississauga and Iroquois Indians. On May 19, 1776, he and
his heroic little party captured the American fort and 390 enemy soldiers.
The next day they defeated a relief force of over 700 men and bagged another
100 prisoners. Forster lacked the manpower to recapture Montreal,
and it took the efforts of British troops approaching from the east early
in June to reopen the St. Lawrence River.
The men of the
8th saw other action as well. In the summer of 1777 two companies
of the regiment was sent from Fort Niagara to form part of Colonel Barry
St. Leger's expedition against the Mohawk Valley. These troops were
to link up with General John Burgoyne's army at Albany, but the determined
resistance of the American garrison of Fort
Stanwix (Rome, New York) caused the column to retreat to Lake Ontario.
The following year found a company of the 8th moving south from Detroit
to eject American troops from southern Indiana and Illionois. They
gained an initial victory at Vincennes (Indiana) in December but were in
turn defeated and captured by Colonel George Rogers Clark and his Virginian
troops in February, 1779.
the 8th Regiment from Fort Niagara were again in the field during the summer
of 1779. A detachment of 15 men attempted to help their Iroquois
allies stop General John Sullivan's advance at the Battle of Newton (Elmira,
New York) on August 29. The British force was not strong enough to
defeat the American army. Soldiers of the 8th would see other field
action in support of their Indian and Loyalist allies. Expeditions
against the Mohawk Valley and the new settlements of Kentucky in 1780 and
1782 included men of the 8th. Small detachments from Michilimackinac
even faced the threat of Spanish attack against the southern end of Lake
During its time
on the Great Lakes, the 8th Regiment of Foot was commanded by several officers.
Lieutenant Colonel Caldwell died at Fort Niagara on October 31, 1776.
His remains were interred in the garrison chapel, roughly on the modern
site of the three historic flagpoles. Caldwell was replaced in July
of 1777 when Mason Bolton, formerly major of the 9th Regiment, arrived
at Niagara. He had no more than departed the post when, tragically,
heperished aboard the Ontario when the vessel was lost in a storm with
all hands. Alexander Dundas was commissioned as the new lieutenant
colonel of the King's Regiment on November 1, 1780, a rank he held until
the autumn of 1783 when Arent S. DePeyster took command of the regiment.
DePeyster had served the entire war on the Great Lakes, and it was he who
would take the 8th back to England.
was not until 1785 that the men of the 8th Regiment of Foot were finally
released from their long exile on the Great Lakes Lieutenant Colonel
DePeyster received orders to lead his troops to Quebec as soon as they
were relieved by soldiers of the 29th Regiment of Foot. The 8th had
been at the Great Lakes posts for eleven years, and the men were simply
worn out. Many had grown old during their service on the fresh-water
seas. While on their return to Quebec some of the private soldiers
were even disappointed in their long-held hope of returning to England.
As their convoy passed that of the 53rd Regiment of Foot, then heading
to Dentroit and Michilimackinac, a number of the more able-bodied soldiers
were "drafted" to fill the ranks of the 53rd. An officer of the 53rd
described them saying, [they] were rather a Regt of invalids than soldiers;
as our Regt was very weak we were obliged to take some drafts from them
who were no great credit to us, being the worst looking soldiers, and drunkenest
men that ever carried a musket. Thus, some of the men immediately
returned to the Upper Great Lakes for a tour of duty lasting until 1787!
Others were discharged and returned to Englad, and still others chose to
remain in their adopted continent to set up residence. Upon its return
to England, the King's Regiment had spent an incredible seventy-six of
its first 100 years of existence outside of England!
The long service
on the Great Lakes was very hard on the regiment, in fact it all but destroyed
it. In 1783, a return for the regiment numbered the rank and file
at 603. When the regiment returned to England in 1785 it was described
as being made up of 150 very old men! As mentioned above, many of the regiments
numbers were discharged or remained in Canada for one reason or another.
In any case, the 8th was a long time in recovering from its stay in Canada.
When reviewed at Plymouth in 1787, the regiment had managed to recruit
up to a strength of 311 men, but the officer conducting the review noted
that it would take two or three years to get rid of their Old Men, and
to form Non-Commissioned Officers. Indeed, the regiment was not pronouced
fit for service again until 1789.
seventeen years in North American, eleven of them on the Great Lakes, the
men of the King's Regiment witnessed the end of the first British Empire.
They also saw CAnada preserved for the Crown and much additional honor
added to their regiment's already distinguished record.
title has changed several times as units of the British Army have been
consolidated druing the centuries since the American Revolution.
The old Eighth is still in the active service of Queen Elizabeth II, known
today once again as the "King's
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||Robert Lord Ferrars of Chartley
||James Fitz-James, Duke Berwick
||Colonel John Beaumont
||Lt.General John Richmond Webb
||(Lt.Col.Lewis de Ramsey)
||(Lt.Col. Richard Sutton)
||General Henry Morrison
||Sir Charles Hotham, Baronet
||(Lt.Col. George Keightly)
||(Lt.Col. Edmud Martin &
||Lt.Col. George Keightly)
||Lieutenant-General Edward Wolfe
||(Lt.Col. Edmund Martin)
||(Lt.Col. John Lafausille)
||(Lt.Col. John Mompesson)
||The Honourable John Barrington
||Lieutenant-General John Stanwix
||(Lt.Col. Dudley Aukland)
||General Bigoe Armstrong
||(Lt.Col. John Caldwell)
||(Lt.Col. Mason Bolton)
||(Lt.Col. Alexander Dudas)
||(Lt.Col. Arent Shuyler DePeyster)
A careful look
at this list shows that a number of noteworthy personalities commanded
the King's throught he years. James Fitz James for example, was a
'natural son' of King Charles II. Edward Wolfe was the father (and
mentor) of the great hero James Wolfe. While not famous, please not
that Captain John Mampesson was preceeded in the regiment by his father.
Furthermore, John Stanwix was the namesake of that important fort the Eighth
attacked in 1777, when it was known as Fort Schuyler.
[ Back to Index ]
John Barrington requires a special note as the Secretary at War during
the bulk of the revolution, that is the Member of Parliament and cabinet
officer charged with actually running the army.
While a more
diverse group than one might at first think, most officers of the British
army enjoyed a social and economic status far beyond the imagination of
most of the rank and file.
As a general
rule, the officers can roughly be grouped into four fairly diverse backgrounds.
Approximately one quarter of the regimental officer corps, and more than
half of the generals were younger sons of the nobility and landed gentry,
both titled and untitled. The lesser gentry-those families involved
in successful trades, members of the clergy, and some remaining yeomen
farmers-made up the second group and provided the vast majority of officers.
A third group was made up of foreigners and an ever-rising group which
would later be called army families, and spanned several economic classes.
The least-known group, which while it did not provide huge numbers of officers,
probably produced more than generally acknowledged, was made up of the
non-commissioned officers promoted to officer status.
One of the most
conspicuous elements of the British officer corps was the fact that about
2/3 of the commissions were obtained by purchase. In fact, all ranks
from colonel on down were open to sale. The price of each commission
was set by Royal Warrant, and officers were required to sell their commissions
only to those holding the rank immediately beneath their own (i.e. a Major
could only sell to Captains, not Lieutenants or Ensigns). Naturally,
when one purchased their promotion, they got the rank but not the seniority
that went with it. Thus, a newly purchased captaincy would make the
purchaser the most junior captain, and so on. While it was usually
fairly simple for a young, aspiring soldier of means to purchase his first
commission (an ensigncy in the infantry or a cornetcy in the cavalry),
only those with a fair amount of wealth could hope to climb to the higher
ranks. None of the officers could afford to maintain themselves properly
on their army salaries.
not the only way to advance through the officer ranks, however. As
mentioned above, on rare occasions non-commissioned officers might be promoted
to officer status. Likewise, a certain amount of promotions came
through the filling of vacancies. About one-third of all vacancies,
in fact, were filled without purchase. These usually involved the
death of an officer or one who had been cashiered (deprived of his rank).
Being the recipient of such a free commission was not always a good thing,
however. The rules governing commission sales dictated that those
which were not purchased could not be sold. Therefore, such a commission
could become more of a handicap to the officer who received it. In
many cases, however, it was the only way in which men with limited resources
could hope to advance. For officers of the Royal Artillery and Royal
Engineers, vacancies were the only way to advance, as no commission in
these two organizations was open to purchase. Because of this fact,
these individuals tended to be shunned or looked down upon by the officers
of other branches, whose rank was also a reflection of their affluence.
As will be seen, the officers transferred their class-consciousness to
army life and maintained a nearly seperate existence from most of the rank