Military Subjects:  War of 1812


The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 4: September 2006

War of 1812 Notes and Queries

The editors of the War of 1812 Magazine invite queries but please note that we cannot answer questions relating to genealogy. Those interested in such matters are directed to the many websites that specialize in this type of research. 

1008. Armament of British and American Frigates

In Edward Maclay's book, History of the United States Navy, from 1775 to 1893 (2 vols, New York, 1894), the author advances some interesting theories while comparing the armament of British and American frigates during the War of 1812. These theories are in a lengthy note on pp xii-xiii of Volume 1..

First, Maclay claims that American roundshot was commonly less than its nominal weight, about 7% according to Maclay quoting Theodore Roosevelt.

Second, the author states that the Guerriere and Java, both being captured from the French by the RN, were still armed with French ordnance constructed on the French calibre which is 1.1 lbs to the English/American lb. Maclay claims that, when they fought USN warships, both British frigates were armed with French 18-pdrs which fired a shot weighing 19.5 British/American lbs. which compared well with the American 24-pdr. which, allowing 7% underweight as Maclay does in all his frigate vs. frigate calculation fired a shot weighing only 22.5 lbs

I have some problems with these statements. Given the manufacturing tolerances of the time, particularly in the USA which did not have the strict inspection rules of the Board of Ordnance in Britain, there might have been some variation in actual shot weights but I doubt that it can be said that there was a consistent 7% underweight in American roundshot.

To claim that British vessels were armed with larger French guns strikes me as utterly ridiculous, given the problems in ammunition re-supply. In addition, French calibres did not include an 18-pdr gun, their system was 4, 8, 12, 16 and 26-pdrs.

Any comment on these claims?

Donald E. Graves

1009. Fencible Regiments

Would someone explain to me exactly what a "fencible regiment" is?

Joe Kavanagh

Answer to Question 1009.

The term 'fencible" is derived from the term "defence." During the Napoleonic period, fencible regiments were units of the British army raised for limited or local service as opposed to universal or global service. Most of the fencible units created in Britain in the 1790s were disbanded by 1803 but, in the colonies, they continued in existence. Other than the limitation of service, fencible regiments were exactly the same as regular regiments, with the same pay, training, uinforms, weapons and equipment.

    Seven fencible regiments and a small unit served in British North America during the War of 1812: the Canadian Fencibles, the Newfoudland Fencible, the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles, the Nova Scotia Fencibles and the New Brunswick Fencibles. Although nominally raised in each colony (the Canadian Fencibles being originally recruited in Lower Canada and the Glengarry Light Infantry in Upper Canada) they later took their recruits where they could find them.

    In 1809, the New Brunswick Fencibles volunteered for "general service" and were brought onto the establishment of the infantry of the the 104th Regiment of Foot. They were replaced by a new unit termed the New Brunswick Fencibles. The 104th, however, never served outside North America.

    The Michigan Fencibles were a small unit raised in the American northwest and upper Great Lakes area during the war. They never achieved regimental strength.

    It should be noted that the Canadian Voltigeurs, although they are often mistakenly described as such, were not a fencible regiment.

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