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The history of the 8th Light

All information is taken from 'Advice to the Soldier' by Erik S. Blomquist and Douglas W. DeCroix 



Index:

    [ Introduction ]   [ Illustrations ]   [ Joining the 8th Light

[ Genealogy ]


Regimental Organization

    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.
    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.
    Each British 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 recruiting 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 company by 1775 usually contained about fifty-six privates, although the number could vary, and did go up later in the war.
    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 befall a British regiment in battle.

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 History 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), the 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 Kings Regiment.
    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 Regiment.
    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.
 In 1768 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.
    The regiment's 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.
 Although 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" companies, 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 companies 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 frontier.
 On 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 military role.
 The King's 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 in 1783.
 This 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 Illinois.  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.
    Soldiers of 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 Michigan.
    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.
 It was not until 1785 that the men of the 8th Regiment of Foot were finally released from their long exile on the Great Lakes when 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 Detroit 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 England, 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 pronounced fit for service again until 1789.
 During 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.
    The regimental title has changed several times as units of the British Army have been consolidated during 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 Regiment."

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Succession of Colonels
 
 

1685-1687

Robert Lord Ferrars of Chartley

(Lt.Col.John Beaumont)

1687-1688

James Fitz-James, Duke Berwick

 

1688-1695

Colonel John Beaumont

(Lt.Col.Ramsey)

1695-1715

Lt.General John Richmond Webb

(Lt.Col.Lewis de Ramsey)

 

 

(Lt.Col. Richard Sutton)

1715-1720

General Henry Morrison

((Lt.Col. Hammer)

1720-1721

Sir Charles Hotham, Baronet

 

1721-1732

John Pocock

(Lt.Col. George Keightly)

1732-1738

Charles Lenoe

 

1738-1745

Richard Onslow

(Lt.Col. Edmud Martin &

 

 

Lt.Col. George Keightly)

1745-1759

Lieutenant-General Edward Wolfe

(Lt.Col. Edmund Martin)

 

 

(Lt.Col. John Lafausille)

 

 

(Lt.Col. John Mompesson)

1759-1764

The Honourable John Barrington

 

1764-1766

Lieutenant-General John Stanwix

 

1766-1772

Daniel Webb

(Lt.Col. Dudley Aukland)

1771-1794

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 through 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 preceded 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.
    The Honorable 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.

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Commissioned Officers
    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.

    Purchase was 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 separate existence from most of the rank and file.

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