Military Subjects:  War of 1812


 

The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 13: June 2010

Articles

 

The 41st Regiment of Foot:  A Brief History of its Early Service Including the War of 1812 and an Overview of the Re-Created Military Living History Group

By: Tom Fournier, Chairman and Officer Commanding, 41st Regiment of Foot MLHG

Today the famous British regiment from the War of 1812, the 41st Regiment of Foot is represented in the modern British Army Establishment by the Royal Welsh.

The 41st Regiment of Foot Military Living History Group (MLHG) also seeks to represent and honour the memory of those in the 41st Regiment who served in Canada from 1799 to 1815.

http://www.fortyfirst.org/images/siteuse/41statFtGeorge.jpg

The 41st Regiment MLHG at Fort Meigs, Perrysburg, Ohio

What is Living History?  It is a way to learn about history in a participative or experiential fashion.  Instead of learning from books or lectures, the learning comes from living and doing in much the same fashion as it was originally done.  Certainly some concessions are made for personal health, safety and comfort; but the uniforms, clothing, equipage, weaponry and tents are all recreated and used as close as possible to the originals. Considerable care and effort go into learning and conducting the military drill and tactics associated with the time period.

Before looking at the 41st Regiment of Foot MLHG it is best to look at the history of the 41st Regiment of Foot itself.

Its origins were certainly most humble.

By letters patent under the Great Seal dated 22nd December, 1681; His Majesty King Charles II announced his intention to erect a hospital for the relief of such land soldiers who were or might become lame or infirm in the service of the Crown, and endow it with suitable revenue.  This scheme resulted in the building of Chelsea Hospital and was also the forerunner to the founding of the 41st Regiment.[1]

Associated with the early Chelsea Hospital were out-pensioners who were no longer suitable for or capable of regular service but who could still serve a useful role as garrison troops.  Regiments of “Invalids” were raised from the out-pensioners.  In 1719, Colonel Edmund Fielding’s Regiment of Invalids was founded.  The 41st Regiment was born.[2]

Typically the history of an Invalid Regiment is rather sedate and quiet; all the same, here are a few highlights from the Regiment’s early years primarily in the Portsmouth area:

- In 1758 it was renamed the 41st Regiment of Invalids[3]


- In 1759, it suffers casualties at the mysterious explosion at Southsea Castle[4]
- In 1759, it receives and escorts the remains of General Wolfe[5]
- In 1783, it is called out to quell a rioting Highland Regiment in Portsmouth that had returned from America and was being immediately redeployed to the East Indies[6]

The encounter with the mutinous Highlanders was known within the Regiment as the “Battle of Portsmouth”.  It was immortalized in the form of a poem by a resident of Portsmouth with prose such as:

Their leader bold was captive caught,
For quarter forced to beg, |
In vain upon escape he'd thought,
For he'd a wooden leg.[7]

On the 25th December, 1787 it was declared that the 41st Regiment could cast off its Invalid character and become a full marching regiment.[8]

With its new distinction the 41st Regiment’s first actions included:

In 1793 the 41st had a brush with Irish Defenderism at Drumkeerin[9]
Also in 1793 the flank companies sailed to the West Indies and were involved in the capture of St. Lucia, Martinique and Guadaloupe[10]
In 1794, the battalion companies arrived in the West Indies and the 41st was involved with the Capture of Fort Bizotton at Port-au-Prince, San Domingo.[11]

In 1796, battered by illness, the 41st Regiment drafted its private soldiers into the 17th Regiment and returned to England with only its Officers, Staff, Non-Commissioned Officers and three Privates.  The 41st were sent to Cork, Ireland to recruit and rebuild. Regimental lore had the number of deaths due to fever in the West Indies at 1,500 men.[12]

After a brief period of regeneration, it was time to deploy overseas once again. On 17th August, 1799, the 41st Regiment embarked on board the transport ship Asia and sailed to Quebec arriving on the 24th October, 1799.[13]

A serious fever broke out on board the transport ship.  This fever followed the 41st ashore to Quebec and also along its transfer to Montreal.  Overall 85 all ranks died of the fever.  An under strength 41st Regiment immediately took two drafts totaling 124 men from the 2nd Battalion 60th Regiment.[14]

On 25th August, 1812 based on a surge of volunteering from Militia regiments in England, the 41st Regiment was ordered to form a second battalion.  By late September the second battalion’s strength was already at 600 men.[15]

At the outbreak of the conflict in 1812 the 41st were stationed at Fort George (headquarters), York, Queenstown, Chippewa, Fort Erie and Amherstburg.[16] Upper Canada was defended by only 1,200 British regulars, the majority of which were the 41st Regiment of Foot.[17]  

The 41st Regiment was to wage its war in Upper Canada and the parts of the United States in close proximity to Upper Canada. They were involved in many actions both major and minor.  This article will focus on some of the highlights.

The 41st stationed in the area of Amherstburg were involved in some of the earliest actions of the war: an opposed American crossing at the River aux Canard which immortalized Privates Hancock and Dean, an ambush of an American column at Maguaga on the American side of the Detroit River and then the capture of Detroit on the 16th August, 1812.

General Brock returned to the Niagara area with the reinforcements from the 41st Regiment that had been stationed in the Niagara.  The remaining 41st in the Amherstburg area went about consolidating their positions and gathering up American stores from the River Raisin and the rapids on the Miami River.

Also, the 41st were involved in an expedition to Fort Wayne, Indiana where the Natives had the fort invested in a siege.  The expedition under Captain Muir traveled a little beyond the site of the ruins of Fort Defiance deep in the Ohio Territory.  There they discovered that the garrison of Fort Wayne had been relieved and a large army under General James Winchester was moving in their direction.  Muir skillfully withdrew his entire force and all of their armaments back to Amherstburg, a distance of over 160 kilometres.

On the 13th October, 1812 a large American force crossed the Niagara River at Queenston.  The Americans gained and held the heights above the town at the expense of General Brock’s life.  The 41st were the major part of the force that General Sheaffe gathered in response and utilized to push the Americans off of the heights.

Early in the winter of 1813, General Henry Procter was alerted to the presence of an American force virtually across the Detroit River at Frenchtown (River Raisin).  Procter gathered up all the forces at his disposal to counter this threat and attacked at dawn on the morning of the 22nd January, 1813.  Largely due to the assistance of the Native warriors in their force, the British prevailed.  Alarmed at rumours that the American General William Henry Harrison was approaching with his own army, Procter quickly evacuated the River Raisin area leaving behind a number of wounded prisoners under a light guard.  That night the Natives attacked and killed a number of the prisoners. Outrage over this incident was to inspire the Kentucky battle cry “Remember the Raisin!”

Later that spring, it became apparent that the Americans were gathering stores and troops at the rapids on the Miami River in preparation for an attempt to recapture Detroit.  Procter thought he could once again deliver a preemptive strike at the Americans and in doing so hamper their efforts.  An expedition was mounted and Fort Meigs was soon laid under siege.  A stalemate was reached as the Americans dug earthen traverses within the fort to absorb the British cannon shot.  The area exploded into action on the 5th of May, 1813 when an American relief column was directed by Harrison to capture and disable the batteries on the British side of the river while a sortie from the fort took out the battery on the American side of the river.  Initially the American tactics were quite successful but those on the British side of the river lingered too long at the batteries and some of their numbers were drawn into the woods in pursuit of the Natives.  A counter attack ensued and the Americans absorbed frightful losses.  After this action, the Natives began returning to their villages to showcase their trophies.  The Canadian militia, anxious about being away from their farms at a critical planting time also began to filter away.  With a rapidly dissolving force, Procter had no choice but to call off the siege and return to Amherstburg.

Through the remainder of the spring and into the summer of 1813, large numbers of Natives continued to gather in the Detroit River area close to Amherstburg.  Anxious to placate the Natives and their desire to strike at the Americans, Procter was persuaded to return to the Ohio territory and mount a second expedition to Fort Meigs.  The second siege (also known as Tecumseh’s sham battle) could not draw out the American forces from within the fort nor did it draw any other American forces to the relief of Fort Meigs.  A decision was made to move onto Fort Stephenson on the Sandusky River which was said to be lightly defended.  On the 2nd August, 1813 Procter sent in columns of attack with no ladders and only dull axes to attempt to break through the palisade.  The assault was a horrible failure leaving behind a number of dead of the 41st Regiment including Brevet Lieutenant Colonel William Shortt and Lieutenant J. George Gordon. The Battle of Fort Stephenson forever immortalized the lone American gun “Old Betsy” and the American commander, Major George Croghan.

As the summer of 1813 was winding down, the Americans successfully launched two new ships on Lake Erie, the Lawrence and Niagara.  The balance of naval power on Lake Erie seemed to be shifting to the Americans and with that the risk of isolation of the British Right Division from its supplies (the road route being too long and difficult).  After conferencing together, General Procter and Commander Robert Heriot Barclay of the Royal Navy decided that control of Lake Erie had to be regained.  On the 10th September, 1813 Barclay sailed forth with his fleet utilizing soldiers from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the 41st Regiment of Foot to make up for a profound shortage of experienced sailors to man his fleet.  A desperate and vigorous battle was fought with the result being that Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry and his American fleet captured the entire British fleet.

With the fleet and use of Lake Erie lost, General Procter felt he had no choice left but to retreat up the Thames River valley towards the British Centre Division.  A confused and sluggish retreat was conducted with Procter finally choosing to make a stand on the 5th October, 1813 just before the Moravian village of Fairfield against the pursuing American forces under General William Henry Harrison.  The 41st’s ranks were sorely depleted through losses sustained at Fort Stephenson, the Battle of Lake Erie and captures in the boats along the route of retreat.  Those left to make the stand were tired, hungry and dispirited.  Their defensive position on the battlefield was an unorthodox arrangement of two distinct lines in a forested area with the soldiers in a widely dispersed open order.  The Americans responded with a charge of mounted riflemen, quickly breaching the British lines and gathering up large numbers of captives.  General Procter, his staff and a handful of soldiers escaped.  The aftermath of this battle saw the majority of the 41st Regiment’s 1st Battalion in captivity and the Native leader Tecumseh dead.

The remnants of the 41st Regiment’s 1st Battalion were combined with the 2nd Battalion to form a reconstituted 41st Regiment.  The flank companies were soon pressed into action with the capture of Fort Niagara on the 19th December, 1813 and they also participated in the actions along the American side of the Niagara River which culminated in the burning of Buffalo on the 30th December, 1813. These acts of retaliation were for the American burning of Newark earlier that month when the Americans abandoned Fort George.

A spell of relative quiet for the 41st Regiment led up to the summer of 1814, which saw the 41st Regiment garrisoning both Fort George and Fort Niagara.  On 25th July, 1814 the light company was moved up the river to help check American forces moving down the Niagara River.  The resulting Battle of Lundy’s Lane saw the light company in the heart of the action, at one time recapturing the British battery that had fallen into American hands.

The Americans retreated to the protection of Fort Erie.  In the early stages of the British siege of Fort Erie, the 41st were involved in a diversionary attack on the American side in a badly botched effort at Conjocta Creek (Black Rock) on the 3rd August, 1814.  The flank companies were soon employed in the night assault on Fort Erie on the 15th August, 1814 in the column commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William Drummond of the 104th Regiment.  This column did gain entry into the fort but was subsequently shattered by a massive explosion in the fort.  Of the 140 rank & file of the 41st who went in with the column, 76 were killed, wounded or missing after the action.[18]

After over two years of hard service in Upper Canada, it was time to withdraw the 41st Regiment.  In November of 1814 they were moved to Kingston and then began the transfer down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec.  In March of 1815 they were boarded on the transport ship Lord Cathcart for Europe.  The 41st Regiment then formed part of the army of occupation in Paris in the summer of 1815.[19]

In November of 1815, the 41st Regiment at long last returned home after being deployed since 1799.[20]

For their outstanding and hard service in Canada during the War of 1812, the 41st Regiment was rewarded with four Battle Honours:

Detroit
Queenstown
Miami
Niagara

The bicentennial year of 2012 will not only mark 200 years since the start of the War of 1812, it will also represent 25 years since the formation of the 41st Regiment of Foot Military Living History Group.  The group was founded in 1987 at Fort Malden in Amherstburg to help lend interpretative values to the historic site.  Since that time it has moved on beyond the Essex County area to boast membership throughout much of Southern Ontario and also Michigan.  The core areas of membership for the 41st Regiment MLHG are the Windsor/Detroit area and the areas around Kitchener/Waterloo and Hamilton.

Recreating the 41st Regiment at reenactments of historic events associated with the War of 1812 is a core activity of the 41st Regiment MLHG but not its sole pursuit.  Considerable pride is held for activity around supporting museums, historic sites and schools with talks and demonstrations teaching about the 41st Regiment and the War of 1812.

Captain Hobbs showcasing his lads!

Education Day at Wellington County Museum

Furthering its goal of promoting education around the War of 1812, the 41st Regiment MLHG twice a year hosts a lecture series devoted to studies associated with the War of 1812.  It is now in its sixth year having featured such notable historians as Robert Malcomson, Victor Suthren, Dr. T.R. Hobbs, Dr. Wesley Turner and Robert Henderson.

The 41st Regiment MLHG is also proud of its links to the Royal Welsh Regiment, Firing Line (the Regimental Museum at Cardiff Castle in Wales) and the United Kingdom based 41st Foot Re-Enactment Unit.

Potential new recruits are always welcome to discuss their interest in joining the 41st Regiment MLHG.  Information is gladly shared around the time commitment, the financial investment, participating in a trial event and options for loaner gear and managing the initial expense of joining.

Safety of the recruit, other members of the 41st Regiment MLHG, other re-enactors and the public who view demonstrations are of paramount importance.  Ideally a new recruit is trained through the winter off season at monthly drill sessions on the drill and movements associated with the British Army of this era and also the safe handling and firing of a musket.  The winter period is also an ideal time to begin accumulating the kit from approved suppliers.

Got them in our sights!

The 41st Regiment at a Recreation of Crysler's Farm

Participating in or viewing a reenactment and an event weekend are a wonderful opportunity to give honour to those from the Regiment who first served in Canada.  It is also a means to participate in and experience history in fashion quite unlike reading a book or watching a movie.  The smells, sounds, vibrations and feelings associated with a battle recreation give an experience that will never be forgotten.

More information on the 41st Regiment of Foot MLHG including instruction on how to contact the unit can be found at www.fortyfirst.org

Notes:

[1] Lomax, D.A.N.  A History of the Services of the 41st (the Welch) Regiment, From its Formation, in 1719 to 1895. Devonport, Hiorns & Miller, Army Printers and Stationers and “Ye Caxton Press”, 1899, p. 1.

[2] Ibid, p. 1

[3] Ibid, p. 13

[4] Ibid, p. 14

[5] Ibid, p. 14

[6] Ibid, p. 22

[7] Yaworsky, Jim. The Invalids in Action: The Battle of Portsmouth, 1783. October 28, 2003, Website of Forty-First Regiment of Foot Military Living History Group, www.fortyfirst.org

[8] Lomax, p. 25

[9] Ibid, p. 34

[10] Ibid, p. 35

[11] Ibid, p. 37

[12] Ibid, p. 40

[13] Ibid, p. 42

[14] Ibid, p. 42-43

[15] Ibid, p. 49-50

[16] Ibid, p. 49

[17] Hitsman, J. MacKay. The Incredible War of 1812. Toronto, Robin Bass Studio. Updated by Donald E. Graves, 1999, p.32.

[19] Ibid, p. 115

[20] Ibid, p. 116-117

 



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