A Summer Encampment, 1777.
By Kim R. Stacy
The officers and men of the Royal Highland Emigrants spent most of the temperate
months in the field. Field life was well regulated and as comfortable as was
possible under primitive conditions. The encampment was designed to train the officers and men in camp life, drill, tactics, and construction skills needed for future combat assignments and to weld them into a regimental family. In late June of 1777, orders were issued for the second battalion (Young Royal Highlanders) to move from the barracks in Halifax to the Highland camp outside Fort Needham. The Quarter Master General and the pioneers were to mark and clear the ground for the placement of tents. All the men not on specific duty were issued full field kit (knapsacks, canteens, camp kettles, haversacks, a blanket, a pair linen sheets) from store and to make ready to parade in full uniform and to march to the encampment when ordered:
“The officers and men in the different companies of this Battalion at present in garrison here will be in readiness to take the field as soon as the ground allotted for the encampment is cleared and fit for the necessary number of tents being pitched thereon. The pioneers the companies colour men (one of each being appointed to the several companies) and all the men off-duty will be constantly employed under the inspection of the Quarter Master till this preparatory service is completed ... the Surgent (surgeon) and Quarter Master will take such measures in respect to the water to be used as needed as the situation and mood of encamping as may be most conducive to recover and preserve the health of the troops. These advantageous effects are to be expected from the temperature of the season and climate and from the General goodness in ordering the tents to be floored and lined with spruce and hemlock boughs.”
The water found in the area was reasonably pure; however, the men were warned against drinking any:
“The most pernicious consequences [illegible] effects being apprehended from drinking any of the water surrounding the encampment the men are positively and on pain of sever punishment forbid to use it unless thoroughly boiled in cooking their
victuals. The sufficiency of spruce beer allowed them... to perseverance [of] health and prevent sickness.”
All non-company men were put to work setting up the tentage:
“All of the men off duty including the #taylors, artificers and as many of the officers’ servants as can possibly be spared to be employed at the encamping ground till it is rendered fit for the reception of the tents and until those of the officers as well as men can be pitched.”
The tents were floored with wooden planking and then covered with evergreens which
was changed every week. They slept on stuffed mattresses which were covered by a
rug. Each man was assigned to a tent from the front of the company street to the
rear by alphabetical order, and in groups of five to a tent. This was to facilitate
easy location for guard duty. Two sergeants shared a private’s tent at the head of
the company row. A senior sergeant would most likely be billeted
individually. Corporals were housed together. The officers were assigned according to rank. Junior officers shared a medium-sized tent. Senior officers had a single occupancy in a large tent or marque.
Each camp had 24-hour security in the form of pickets and guards. The guard detail, under the command of a junior officer, were billeted together. The detail marched to its postings, made relief, and had an emergency detachment always on duty. The amount of time a guard spent on his individual post was set down in regulation.
The relief of sentries to take place every hour during the night and at every two hours in the day time the former to be considered as patrols, all parties with arms whether rounds, patrols or relief to be challenged by the centennials and the countersign demanded by and given to them by the officers or noncommissioned officer performing this duty.
The camp was set up, and on July 6th, marching orders were given:
“The Battalion to march this afternoon to camp, the men on duty not being early relieved, the officers and men in complete
uniform with belted plaids the grenadiers with caps the noncommissioned officers and privates with their canteens and haversacks the former after being well rinsed to be filled with spruce beer a quantity of which sufficient for two days...”
When the marching orders were received, the Regiment sent its 200-odd wives and children to new consolidated quarters while the men were in the field:
“General Massey having being pleased to offer the barracks at the Eastern Battery as a quarter and recepticlular for the women belonging to the different companies ... the Quarter Master will frequently and the captains of the week attentiveness visit the quarters occupied by the women and correct every sort of [illegible] discovered in their conduct.”
Once in the field, each soldier was ordered to use only the necessaries when easing
nature. Each necessary (latrine) was dug to a uniform depth of four feet and
back-filled daily. The necessary was also dug downstream whenever possible. This greatly reduced flies, disease and made the tea taste better. “Necessary houses which are to be covered with earth by the pioneers every morning being prepared in the rear of the encampment. The men to be acquainted they are on no account of easing nature anywhere else. The subaltern on duty at the quarter guard will also be officer of the day; he will constantly after reveille and tattoo beating visit every part of the environs of the camp sufficiently observing and reporting every tranquility and in attention to orders, particularly the necessary houses being covered as directed that no filth or nuisance belonging stench remain unremoved.
Life in camp was filled from sunup to sunset with drill and work details. The skilled men were sent off to their craft and the other soldiers were put to work on labor-intensive details such as earth moving, construction, wood cutting and general maintenance. The men on fatigue were allowed to work undressed, and the men on guard duty were allowed to do duty without their waistcoats but were to have powdered hair.
“The men on all duties or fatigues to leave their Regimental coats in their tents and to wear the course Osenburg shirts over their dress. When for guard and daily duties they are to wear their uniforms as heretofore directed their hair tied and powdered and as clean and decently dressed as possible.”
Musicians were given ample time to train and practice away from the men to minimize hostility. Young men normally (aged 12-15) years were employed as fifers# or drummers. The drummer was the public address system of the day. All time and details were beat by the drummer. Reveille and tattoo woke the men up and released them from duty for the night. Chow, water and wood call, as well as other details, were ordered by the beat of the drum. During drill, each evolution had its own drum beat that could be heard over the crash of battle.
“Drum Major and drummer Robert Ross of the Grenadier Company (appointed to assist him as Fife Major to instruct the boys intended for fifer) as well as the Regimental pipers will attend alternatively for practice and playing near the men employed at camp duties or fatigue. The drummers to practice at some distance during the interval the men are unemployed.”
Time was sounded by the drummers beginning at sunrise with reveille followed by the Pioneers’ March for work:
“The Pioneers March will be the signal for the working parties to parade, the officer of the day will direct the drummer on the guard to beat for that purpose at sunrise from which time the men will work till seven o’clock; at nine the drum again beats and the work will continue till noon and at three afternoon the party will on the same signal assemble and leave off work at six in the evening.”
“The men that leave off work at six in the evening will immediately clean themselves and the whole battalion pioneer’s camp colour men artificers and officers servants included (those only on guard and attending the sick excepted) to be under arms at seven parading first by companies in their respective streets where the rolls are to be called their arms and accoutrements examined but the officers, absentees if any reported, and if orders are to be read or punishment inflicted the companies moving first by files to the head of their streets the Battalion and circle will be formed at gun firing as usually practiced when the days shorten the hours of parade will be course be changed and when the weather proves unfavorable the men will parade without their arms.”
The troops had standing orders and meticulously practiced turning out all hours in case the camp was attacked. When the call to arms sounded, the men:
“Will with all alertness and promptitude but coolly and with out confusion instantly take their arms the battalion will be formed the guard will face outward covering the front of the encampment the officers of the piquet will have particular directions and a post assigned to him and the whole will wait the Generals orders to receive which an officer with the utmost dispatch be sent to attend him.”
Divine service was beat every Sunday and all unemployed troops were to attend. Even in the field, the men were marched to church service in full uniform – Halifax, August, 1777:
“All officers and men not on indispensable duty will therefore parade in their full uniform in front of the encampment at one o’clock this afternoon to attend divine service.”
A nondenominational service was given by a Protestant chaplain. This was to accommodate
the “unofficial” Catholics in the Regiment. The length of service was strictly limited
to one hour to protect the troops from overzealous ministers, who were known to preach
for hours on end.
The officers were always concerned with the men’s health. They often gave advice and occasionally orders to preserve their troops’ health, especially for prostitutes who invariably followed the men into the field:
“Sleeping or laying on the grass is at all times (and particularly during the heavy days and dog days) deemed very pernicious to health and therefor positively forbid. The bad consequence from intercourse with lewd and disorderly women is too obvious not to call for the severest reprehension and prohibition. The man who in time of war will wantonly ruin the [illegible] of disabling himself for active service by infective venereal disorders is guilty of a crime that disgraces the honourable character of a brave and good soldier any women therefor with the appearance of such foul diseased wretches are not to be permitted approaching the camp and or detention will be shamefully drummed away.
While in the field, the men practiced their marksmanship with live ball and practiced their evolutions with blanks. In addition to their infantry skills, the men were also taught basic use of artillery:
“Placing a mortar on the beach near Captain Pitcaine’s quarters, for the purpose of throwing some shells and grape shot across the channel of the river. The bombardier with the detachment of the Royal Artillery landed from the Milford, will attend at the place pitched on for the practice, and
assist implacing and preparing the bed of the mortar etc. The troops will this afternoon practice firing at mark, at the time and different places fixed on by the commanding officer of the corps for that purpose.”
The men trained well and were soon sent on raids and detached duty all over the Maritime and to the south with the Grand Army. By early October, the men were decamped and returned to winter quarters in the barracks around Halifax.
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