Army and Empire: British Soldiers on the American Frontier, 1758-1775

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Overview


The end of the Seven Years’ War found Britain’s professional army in America facing new and unfamiliar responsibilities. In addition to occupying the recently conquered French settlements in Canada, redcoats were ordered into the trans-Appalachian west, into the little-known and much disputed territories that lay between British, French, and Spanish America. There the soldiers found themselves serving as occupiers, police, and diplomats in a vast territory marked by extreme climatic variation—a world decidedly different from Britain or the settled American colonies.

Going beyond the war experience, Army and Empire examines the lives and experiences of British soldiers in the complex, evolving cultural frontiers of the West in British America. From the first appearance of the redcoats in the West until the outbreak of the American Revolution, Michael N. McConnell explores all aspects of peacetime service, including the soldiers’ diet and health, mental well-being, social life, transportation, clothing, and the built environments within which they lived and worked. McConnell looks at the army on the frontier for what it was: a collection of small communities of men, women, and children faced with the challenges of surviving on the far western edge of empire.

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Editorial Reviews

Greenwich Times

"McConnell has done an excellent job in describing the daunting task facing a relative handful of British regular soldiers in defending and policing a huge territory. . . . A fine review of how the western frontiers of our original colonies were guarded."—Greenwich Times

— John Linsenmeyer

Canadian Journal of History

"McConnell opens a fascinating window on the daily lives and experiences of British soldiers along the North American frontier in the mid-eighteenth century. . . . McConnell's achievement is impressive and represents a valuable contribution to the overall understanding of this important, and often overlooked, aspect of the history of Great Britain's Atlantic Empire."—J. Kent McGaughy, Canadian Journal of History

— J. Kent McGaughy

American Historical Review

"McConnell's most significant contribution can be found in the insights he offers into day-to-day life of the post-Seven Years' War army. . . . McConnell's book fits nicely into the social history of the eighteenth-century British Army. Early Americanists, particularly practitioners of the 'new' frontier history, will find this a most useful work."—John Grenier, American Historical Review

— John Grenier

Journal of Military History

"Never adequately discussed by British authorities was the question of what small garrisons stationed at key points in the frontier zone might actually be expected to accomplish. Michael McConnell takes us down to the level of daily life in these garrisons, and by careful research and clear exposition effectively answers the question."—John Shy, Journal of Military History

— John Shy

New York Military Affairs Symposium (NYMAS Newsletter)

"A very useful book for anyone interested in military service and the American frontier in the mid-eighteenth century."—The NYMAS Newsletter
Greenwich Times - John Linsenmeyer

"McConnell has done an excellent job in describing the daunting task facing a relative handful of British regular soldiers in defending and policing a huge territory. . . . A fine review of how the western frontiers of our original colonies were guarded."—Greenwich Times
Canadian Journal of History - J. Kent McGaughy

"McConnell opens a fascinating window on the daily lives and experiences of British soldiers along the North American frontier in the mid-eighteenth century. . . . McConnell's achievement is impressive and represents a valuable contribution to the overall understanding of this important, and often overlooked, aspect of the history of Great Britain's Atlantic Empire."—J. Kent McGaughy, Canadian Journal of History
American Historical Review - John Grenier

"McConnell's most significant contribution can be found in the insights he offers into day-to-day life of the post-Seven Years' War army. . . . McConnell's book fits nicely into the social history of the eighteenth-century British Army. Early Americanists, particularly practitioners of the 'new' frontier history, will find this a most useful work."—John Grenier, American Historical Review
Journal of Military History - John Shy

"Never adequately discussed by British authorities was the question of what small garrisons stationed at key points in the frontier zone might actually be expected to accomplish. Michael McConnell takes us down to the level of daily life in these garrisons, and by careful research and clear exposition effectively answers the question."—John Shy, Journal of Military History
Journal of American History - Daniel P. Barr

"Army and Empire has much to offer, despite its relative brevity."—Journal of American History
Journal of America's Military Past - Frederick C. Gaede

“The author does an excellent job of weaving a story from the many sources, both primary and secondary, available to him. Mr. McConnell accomplishes his goal of showing how ‘British garrisons were yet one more type of community in a complex matrix of peoples and cultures.’ By going beyond the war experience, the author has added to our understanding of the cultural frontiers faced by these early soldiers who served west of the Appalachians.”—Frederick C. Gaede, Journal of America’s Military Past
Itinerario - Victor Enthoven

Army and Empire is an excellent book, and a fine addition to the existing literature on the military in the West.”—Victor Enthoven, Itinerario
Journal of American History

"Army and Empire has much to offer, despite its relative brevity."—Journal of American History

Journal of America's Military Past

“The author does an excellent job of weaving a story from the many sources, both primary and secondary, available to him. Mr. McConnell accomplishes his goal of showing how ‘British garrisons were yet one more type of community in a complex matrix of peoples and cultures.’ By going beyond the war experience, the author has added to our understanding of the cultural frontiers faced by these early soldiers who served west of the Appalachians.”—Frederick C. Gaede, Journal of America’s Military Past

Itinerario

Army and Empire is an excellent book, and a fine addition to the existing literature on the military in the West.”—Victor Enthoven, Itinerario

History: The Journal of the Historical Association

“This valuable addition to the plethora of recent material on the British army in North Amrica in the mid-eighteenth century focuses on the army in the West.”—History: The Journal of the Historical Association

History: The Journal of the Historical Association

“This valuable addition to the plethora of recent material on the British army in North Amrica in the mid-eighteenth century focuses on the army in the West.”—History: The Journal of the Historical Association
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Product Details

Meet the Author


Michael N. McConnell is an associate professor of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is the author of A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and Its People, 1724–1774 (Nebraska 1992).
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Read an Excerpt

Army and Empire

British Soldiers on the American Frontier, 1758-1775
By Michael N. McConnell

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2004 University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.




Chapter One

The British Occupation of the West

The surrender of French forces at Montreal on September 8, 1760, brought the fighting in North America to an end. Nevertheless, for Sir Jeffery Amherst's victorious armies there was still much to do: regiments had to be assigned winter quarters in Canada, provincial troops had to be sent home, and several thousand French and Canadian soldiers had to be disarmed, paroled, or held until they could be sent out of the colony as prisoners of war.

Equally important, news of the capitulation had to be carried to distant French outposts and those forts provided with British garrisons in order to ensure, as Amherst later put it, "a quiet possession of the whole" of Canada. This task fell to Maj. Robert Rogers and his now-famous corps of rangers. With some 200 men, a Canadian guide, Joseph Poupao, dit La Fleur, and engineer Lt. Dietrich Brehm to take soundings and make maps, Rogers was ordered to cross the Great Lakes to Detroit, accept the town's surrender, then occupy as many of the outlying forts as he could.

It was a tall order. Winter came early in the pays d'en haut, and it was a region inhabited by Indian societies that had been French allies and commercial partners for years-they were unlikely to welcome news that their French "father"had been driven from Canada. On November 13 Rogers and his men left Montreal in a flotilla of the light, maneuverable whaleboats rangers favored. Ten days later, having passed through the stunning maze of the Thousand Islands, they landed at Cataraqui and made ready for the first leg of their journey through the inland seas: the trip across Lake Ontario to Fort Niagara.

Crossing the Great Lakes in boats with only a few inches of freeboard was altogether different from the rangers' forays down the narrow Champlain corridor. An officer who crossed Lake Erie a year earlier found the experience "Extreamly Hazardous, and Dangerous" since the "slightest wind" whipping across the shallow water produced high waves. Indeed, the rangers were held up for two days at Cataraqui because of what Rogers called the "tempestuousness of the weather," which brought alternating squalls of snow and rain as well as dense fog. Altogether Rogers's force lost nine days' travel to foul weather during their seventy-two-day passage to Detroit.

When Rogers's men arrived at Fort Niagara on October 2, the garrison there attempted to use draft horses to haul boats and bulk supplies up the Lewiston escarpment-with little success. The animals were so weakened by lack of proper forage that soldiers "were obliged to do the whole," and their labor resulted in ruptures, bruised backs, and exhaustion so severe that men were unable to "do Any one thing for three Days" after duty on the road. The work was still not finished on October 5 when Rogers, fearing that "the winter season was now advancing very fast," left his men to follow as best they could and hurried on with a small party to Fort Pitt, where he was to receive further orders from Gen. Robert Monckton and pick up additional troops to man the new western garrisons.

Following the south shore of Lake Erie, Rogers's party came first to Fort Presque Isle; they then followed the Allegheny Valley to Fort Pitt and General Monckton. Three days later, on October 20, the major was on his way north, up the Allegheny, followed by Capt. Donald Campbell and 100 men of the Royal American Regiment. By the end of October Rogers and Campbell were at Lake Erie, where they found the main body of rangers attempting to repair several boats damaged on the way from Niagara.

Campbell's regulars, though hardened by long service in South Carolina and the Ohio Country, had serious reservations about traveling across the choppy lake, forcing Rogers to "recommend" to them "not to mind the waves of the lake" but "to stick to their oars." Even this was not enough; before leaving Presque Isle Rogers assigned his best steersmen to Campbell's boats.

The final leg of the journey passed without incident, though crossing the cold and rough water must have proven mentally and physically exhausting. Finally, on November 29, Rogers reported that "I drew up my detachment on a field of grass," and with as much pomp and ceremony as dirty, tired troops could muster, he accepted the surrender of Detroit's small French garrison. For Rogers and his rangers their last mission was over; for Campbell's redcoats and those who followed them, life on the far frontiers of empire was just beginning.

The Rogers expedition opened a new phase in the British army's American experience. Before the surrender of Detroit, redcoats had only reached the outer margins of the pays d'en haut, at Fort Niagara and in the upper Ohio Valley. After 1760 a new western frontier of British America developed: at first a wartime expedient, it was given further definition by the 1763 Peace of Paris, which transferred-without the consent of the natives living there-not only Canada but the Floridas and the Illinois Country to British sovereignty.

Occupying this new territory posed immediate challenges for the army. Under the best of circumstances movement to, and through, the West was a physical hardship; at worst it could be hazardous, even life-threatening. Taking post at distant places like Fort Michilimackinac, Fort Chartres, or Mobile required reliable transportation, which only emerged over time as the army gained experience.

Needed, too, was knowledge of the West: its geography, weather, and resources as well as its peoples. Once past Niagara, Rogers and his men entered a region largely unknown to the British. The army gradually filled the blanks on its mental map of the West. With the occasional help of local informants, colonial and Indian, a succession of army engineers-Brehm, Bernard Ratzer, Thomas Hutchins, and Harry Gordon among them-charted the courses of the Niagara, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers and the shores of the Great Lakes while taking note of the resources of the trans-Appalachian region. At the same time the army imposed its own landscape on the West as it moved over the Alleghenies and beyond the Niagara portage. Aided by improvements in transportation and a growing understanding of the region, redcoats built or occupied numerous forts tied together by roads, portages, sailing routes, and naval installations, all of which helped define Britain's armed frontier in America.

The greatest obstacle facing the army as it moved west was the sheer immensity of the territory in its charge. The experiences of James Pitcher and his assistants typify the logistical difficulties in traveling to, and through, the armed frontier. Whenever it could, the army moved men and materials by water, though even this easiest form of travel posed problems. In the late autumn of 1765 Capt. Thomas Stirling's detachment of the 42nd Foot, the Royal Highland Regiment, took forty-seven days to travel the estimated 1,278 miles down the Ohio River from Fort Pitt to Fort Chartres in the Illinois Country. Three years later the 34th Foot, ordered home from the Illinois, spent nine weeks pulling against the Ohio's current before reaching Fort Pitt. Seasonal conditions also influenced travel on the Ohio River. Merchant John Jennings made the passage from Pittsburgh to Fort Chartres in just thirty days in 1766, propelled by spring floods in March and currents that sent him downstream-by his estimation-at anywhere from twenty to sixty miles a day. Later that same year engineer Capt. Harry Gordon spent fifty-three days on the same route. Gordon left Fort Pitt on a swift, deep current easily able to carry boats with seven tons of supplies aboard. Two weeks later, at the mouth of the Scioto River, Gordon's "leasurely Trip" abruptly ended when his convoy encountered the low water typical of midsummer, a problem that continued to the mouth of the Ohio. These same conditions could add days, even weeks, to upriver travel.

Beyond Fort Chartres, the Mississippi River offered challenges of its own. Draining half the continent, its current could carry men downstream at speeds unimaginable on land. John Jennings arrived at New Orleans-a distance estimated at 963 miles-in just fifteen days. Captain Gordon made it downstream in twenty-six days in a current of three to five knots. Upstream, against such force, travel was altogether different. Maj. Arthur Loftus, armed with information on the river and its peoples supplied by French officers at New Orleans, was ordered to occupy the Illinois Country. He left the city with his 22nd Regiment on February 27, 1764. Struggling against the current, suffering the mass desertion of his sick, malnourished men (perhaps bound for the dubious sanctuary of New Orleans or nearby native towns), Loftus was stopped by the Tunicas near "Roche d'Avion." When finally defeated by river and natives, Loftus's force had progressed roughly 200 miles upriver in twenty-three days-fewer than nine miles a day. The following year, Maj. Robert Farmar and the 34th Regiment finally succeeded where Loftus had failed. Referring to the "Hardships and immense Difficulties" of what he termed, with decided understatement, "this tedious passage," Farmar reported his arrival at Fort Chartres on December 2, 1765, after a trip of five months and five days. Farmar's was the last major expedition up the Mississippi; all subsequent troops movements and supply convoys used the longer but faster Ohio River route.

To the north British troops faced equally great distances. While the Great Lakes offered easy access to the interior, travel here, too, was better measured in weeks than in miles. Traveling from Cataraqui at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, it took Rogers's expedition thirty days to reach Detroit, with another month consumed by the major's trip to Fort Pitt. Three weeks seems to have been the average travel time from Niagara to Detroit, including the trek over the Niagara portage, which alone could take anywhere from a couple of days to a week or more. By 1765 it took some forty-eight days to travel from the east end of Lake Ontario as far as Fort Michilimackinac, then the western limit of British occupation. Further, as the rangers discovered, changes in the weather or the seasons could complicate travel across the lakes. Royal Indian Superintendent Sir William Johnson was forced to remain at Fort Niagara during the summer of 1761, awaiting boatloads of supplies needed for an important Indian congress at Detroit. The boats arrived eleven days behind schedule due to storms and adverse winds. "Foul winds" also added to Capt. John Montresor's difficulties in 1763 as he attempted to lead reinforcements to Detroit, then under siege by Pontiac's Indian coalition.

Rogers was able to make his way to Fort Pitt thanks to newly built forts and a well-marked, if not always accessible, system of roads and streams. The main route into the Ohio Country, however, remained Forbes's Road. In early 1762 Col. William Eyre, sent to inspect flood damage at Fort Pitt, made the 200-mile trip from Carlisle to Pittsburgh on horseback in twelve days. Four years later missionary Charles Beatty, heading for the Delaware towns in the Muskingum Valley of Ohio, spent ten days on the road in midsummer. An alternate route from the settlements, using the the upper Potomac River and the old Braddock Road north of Winchester, allowed summer travelers to reach Pittsburgh in fourteen days, roughly the same time necessary to make the journey down Forbes's Road.

By any calculation, the scope of operations in the West was unlike anything in the army's previous experience. In Britain garrisons and patrols were distributed along the coasts to combat smuggling or stationed in the interior of Ireland and Scotland to watch over potentially rebellious peoples. In each case garrisons were, at most, a day or two apart. Even during the Seven Years' War, regiments and companies normally served together or were stationed within easy reach of land-bound or waterborne support. By contrast, Captain Campbell's Royal Americans at Detroit were separated by days of hard travel in poorly charted country and virtually isolated in the depths of winter. Their comrades at Fort Pitt and its tiny outposts were tied to the settlements by a single road, often impossible for wagons or packhorses to travel in winter or in heavy rain. And British troops, perched on the humid banks of the Mississippi, found themselves weeks or months from the nearest help, while downriver on the gulf, redcoats stood guard over windswept beaches devoid of civilians. Under such circumstances, the army's disposition in the West after 1760 took on the aspect not of a well-defined military zone such as existed in Flanders or across the Great Glen in Scotland, but of small enclaves imbedded along a broad arc of land and water stretching from the western Great Lakes to Mobile Bay.

The great distances separating garrisons from each other and from sources of supply complicated the army's occupation of the West; so, too, did the conditions of lakes, rivers, and roads. Over the decade and a half after 1760, however, military travelers enjoyed modest improvements as modes of transportation changed, as civilian settlements along favored routes increased, and as the army learned more about western conditions.

The army's oldest route west, Forbes's Road, continued to be one of the most heavily traveled. Built by British and provincial forces in 1758, the road began at Carlisle and followed older trading paths along the Juniata Valley. Once beyond the headwaters of the Juniata, however, the narrow dirt road snaked its way over a succession of steep, heavily wooded ridges. Engineers tried to follow the best possible route for wagons and gun carriages: cutting switchbacks, corduroying the road through Edmund's Swamp, and building protective redoubts at places where exhausted teams and escorts could turn off for water and rest. Forbes's Road was, in its own way, an engineering marvel-an American version of the military roads built through the Highlands of Scotland a generation earlier.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Army and Empire by Michael N. McConnell Copyright © 2004 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

1 The British occupation of the west 1
2 Frontier fortresses 32
3 Military society on the frontier 53
4 The material lives of frontier soldiers 73
5 The world of work 82
6 Diet and foodways 100
7 Physical and mental health 114
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