The History of the Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery’s Involvement During the American War for Independence
by David Dooks
The Royal Irish Artillery’s involvement in the American War for Independence, although brief, was a part of the largest Artillery campaign to-date in North America. The Royal Irish Artillery was not brought to North America as a distinct unit, but as drafts for the British Royal Artillery during Lt. General John Burgoyne’s New York campaign of 17771. As far as my research has shown about this campaign, the Royal Irish Artillery was integrated into a force of 411 Royal Artillerists, which included 154 recruits from the 33rdRegiment of Foot detailed to the Artillery2.
The Royal Irish Artillery was created in 1755. For twenty-two years, the Royal Irish Artillery remained in Ireland at their barracks at Chapel Izod, or on duty around Ireland. On 25 February 1777 Commandant Lt. Col. John Straton received an order to provide at “His Majesty’s pleasure” 70 drafts to be incorporated into the British Artillery for immediate march to Cork, where they were to be received by a Royal Artillery Officer from Great Britain and then to embark for North America (Crooks, p.186). On 3 March 1777, the Dublin Journal reported:
“A Draft of 70 Mattrosses, from the Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery, young, able, active fellows, marched off the parade at Chapel-Izod for Cork there to embark on His Majesty’s service for America. They all went off in high spirits and expressed the warmest ardour to face the Enemies of their King and Country. So laudable an emulation prevailed through the whole Corps, that many more than the number wanting gallantly offered themselves Volunteers on the occasion.” (Crooks, p.186)
Having been received in Cork by Captain Thomas Jones, RA, the 70 Mattrosses departed for North America on 12 April 1777 aboard the Royal George. As soon as the drafts boarded the Royal George, they began to be paid as Artillerists of the British Royal Artillery instead of the Royal Irish Artillery.
I have not yet found the exact date on which the Royal George arrived in Quebec; however, they were there in time to depart with rest of Burgoyne’s Army for the expedition to Albany. Why exactly Burgoyne wanted to go to Albany, and what he would do once he got there, is unclear. Burgoyne went back to London during the winter of 1776, disappointed with Gen. Carlton’s unwillingness to continue from Crown Point to Ticonderoga in the fall of 1776. He convinced Lord Germain in the Ministry to allow him to raise an army to march to Ticonderoga, retake the fort, and then continue to Albany, where he would meet up with a force commanded by General Howe sent up along the Hudson from New York City. Unfortunately for Burgoyne, the order sent to General Howe told him to meet Burgoyne in Albany after Howe finished his campaign to take Philadelphia. Another part of Burgoyne’s plan was to have Lt. Col. Barry St. Leger march a diversionary force from Fort Oswego to Albany. On 13 June 1777, Lt. General Burgoyne – with an Army of British and German forces, Canadian Loyalists, and Indians totaling 9,078 – left Quebec for Fort Ticonderoga. The combined British and Hesse-Hanau ordinance totaled 42 pieces divided equally among them.
Instead of recounting the everyday aspects of the expedition in detail, I will attempt to summarize the major events. Burgoyne’s expedition reached Fort Ticonderoga and fortified Mount Defiance on 4 July 1777. The American garrison at Ft. Ticonderoga, under the command of Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair, quietly withdrew from the fort. The American Forces split up, some under the command of St Clair Took a route towards Skensboro that lead through Hubbardton and Castleton, while the supplies and the remainder of the American Army under the command of Col. Long, would take Lake Champlain to Skenesboro. Burgoyne sent a detachment of approximately 900 troops in pursuit of St Clair under Brigadier General Frazer and Brigadier General Riedesel. On 7 July, when St Clair’s exhausted American forces rested for a night (and forgot to post sentries), the British and German forces caught up with them. The results of this day’s battle forced the American troops into a chaotic, scattered retreat, (American Col. Seth Warner ordered to his troops to, “scatter and meet me at Manchester”). St. Clair’s forces suffered casualties of 324 out of 600 troops. The British/German forces suffered 35 killed and 148 wounded.
While Frazer and Riedesel pursued St. Clair, Burgoyne and Brig. Gen. Hamilton pursued the American Supply Flotilla under the command of Col. Long, south towards Skenesboro. After a brief half-hour engagement between the two forces, Col. Long, unable to fortify Skenesboro and losing most, if not all, of the supply flotilla, continued retreating further south by land to fortify Fort Edward. He arrived there on 12 July. Once there, Long was met by St. Clair and by the Commander of the Continental Army’s Northern Department, Gen. Schuyler. They were shortly then joined other reinforcements and Gen. Benedict Arnold who had been sent to assist Schuyler.
Burgoyne held up at Skenesboro to wait for Frazer and Riedesel to join the Army. In his haste to pursue the fleeing Americans, Burgoyne chose to pursue them over land instead of backtracking to Lake George and sailing to Fort Edward. This choice created problems for his supply line. The land route between Skenesboro and Fort Edward was 22 miles of New York forest. To hinder Burgoyne’s progress and to buy himself some time, General Schuyler sent out a detachment of men to fell trees, divert tributaries and dam up streams. This slowed Burgoyne’s pursuit drastically, he arrived at the now-abandoned Fort Edward on July 29, 1777, twenty days after he left Skenesboro!3
Burgoyne was in desperate need of supplies. General Riedesel suggested that Burgoyne send out a foraging party of approximately 900 Germans, “savages”, a small band of Frazer’s Rangers, and two 3-pound cannon under the command of the German Col. Baum. This force was under orders to march to Manchester, and along the way, they were to gather as much information as possible about the enemy, recruit Tory sympathizers for his Army, and retrieve horses, saddles and bridles to outfit the Regiment of Dragoons. (Along with Burgoyne’s force were 250 dismounted Brunswick Dragoons. These Dragoons were outfitted for riding, including massive riding boots in which they had just marched 22 miles. As Burgoyne was a Cavalryman, he understood the hardship that the Dragoons were dealing with, and knew that his Dragoons needed horses. This force got as far as Bennington, VT. Lt. Col. Breymann’s (another German) companies were sent out as reinforcements to Baum’s force but, due to rain the day after the first engagement in Bennington, Breymann’s force was slowed down and they arrived in Bennington a day too late to be of any help to Baum, who died in the first Battle.
On August 16, at the Battle of Bennington, Burgoyne lost one tenth of his army including four German cannon and all of his Dragoons.
At this point, Burgoyne’s expedition which had started so successfully, took a turn for the worse. His supply line had been over extended; he lost the majority of his natives through desertion because of the McCrea incident4; he had received word that Gen. Howe was headed for Philadelphia and would be of no assistance to him; his troops were demoralized; and at Bennington, he had lost 900 troops. His only hope at this time was to meet up with Lt. Col. Barry St. Leger’s force, which was marching from Fort Oswego.
When the Americans abandoned Fort Edward, they headed south and fortified an area known as Bemis Heights. An American column under the command of Benedict Arnold, headed from this new fortification towards Ft. Stanwix and St Leger’s troops. As the column approached Stanwix, and started to close in on St. Leger’s force, Arnold sent word to the Indians with St. Leger that Arnold had super natural powers. The Indians, who were already demoralized, abandoned St. Leger. Now outnumbered by the American forces, St Leger retreated back to Canada. On, August 24, Arnold fortified Ft. Stanwix and headed back to Bemis Heights where the American forces awaited Burgoyne’s advance.
Burgoyne’s expedition was now crumbling. Without his Indians, Burgoyne had no reliable information about what lay ahead of him. Yet, he continued south towards Saratoga. On September 16, the sound of the American reveille alerted Burgoyne to the proximity of the American Army. The next day, a British foraging party collecting potatoes in a field was attacked by a band of American scouts who inflicted many wounds and took 20 prisoners. This incident forced Burgoyne to issue a strong order to his army that ANYONE found ahead of the sentries would be executed immediately by hanging. He also reprovisioned his troops to minimize the need for foraging.
On September 19, Burgoyne – now aware of his enemy’s location – advanced in three columns towards the enemy. Brig. Gen. Frazer commanded the right wing consisting of Light Infantry, Grenadiers, loyalists, sharpshooters and Artillery (4 six-pounders and 4 three-pounders). Brig. Gen. Hamilton (with Burgoyne) commanded the center column with the Battalion Companies of five regiments, and Artillery (including the Royal Irish with 3 six-pounders and 3 three-pounders) under the command of Capt. Jones. The left wing is commanded by Mjr. General von Riedesel and includes the majority of the Germans, and Artillery (6 six-pounders and 2 three-pounders) under the command of Capt. Pausch of the Hesse Hanau Artillery.
Daniel Morgan’s Riflemen engaged the center column at Freeman’s Farm.
Lt. Hadden who was a lieutenant under Capt. Jones, and kept the orderly book for the Royal Artillery, described the Battle thus:
“The Enemy being in possession of the wood almost immediately attacked the Corps which took post behind two log huts on Freemans Farm. Capt. Jones’s Brigade was hasten’d to their support, I was advanced with two Guns to the left of the 62nd Regt and ye5 two left companies being formed en potence I took post in the angle. Lieut. Reid who remained with Capt. Jones and the other two was posted between the 9th & 21st Regt:
In this situation we sustained a heavy tho. intermitting fire for near three hours, and Gen’l Frazers Corps being also attacked, tho. partially, Five companies of the 24th Regt. were advanced into the wood in their front, and being repulsed a second attempt was made with the whole Regiment, in which they succeeded with the loss of about fifty Men.
The Enemy continuing the heat of their attack on the flank (and occasionally the rear) of the 62nd Regt., that Corps suffer’d very much, and having lost in killed or wounded Nineteen out Twenty two Artillery attached to my two Guns Posted in the Angle, I applied to Brig’r Hamilton for a supply of infantry, and (while speaking to him my cap was shot thro. in the front) not being able to obtain relief was reffer’d to Gen’l Phillips who was with Gen’l Burgoyne just beyond one of the two log Huts.
On making known my situation Capt. Jones was ordered to let me have all the Men from one of Lt. Reids Guns with a view I believe to retire mine a little, Capt. Jones was order’d to accompany me himself.
The Enemy being reinforced and advancing closer since the fire of the flank Guns were silenced I found on my return that the 62ndRegiment had made an unsuccessful effort to force them, by which that Regt. lost 25 Prisoners, and being worn down had begun to get into confusion, in which situation I found them. Capt. Jones immediately began firing, but being himself very soon wounded as were also the whole of men we brought up, I was desired to endeavour to effect the Retreat of my Guns, but before I cou’d accomplish it, the 62nd Regt. having lost 187 Killed or Wounded and 25 Prisoners (out of between 3 & 4 hundred of which the Batt’n consisted) were forced to abandon the Hill & on it my Guns. Having supported Capt. Jones in my arms for some time I carried him into one of the Huts which was filled wounded and being sometime before I cou’d find a place to lay him in, the whole of the Troops had quitted the height and it was with difficulty I got within our own line which was advancing under Gen’l. Phillips, and at that time not more than a hundred yards from the Enemy, who were following the retreating troops.
As the attack was so much on the left the 9th Regt. not being useful in their original situation, was retired across the Bridge and continued as a Corps of reserve, ’till the retreat of the 62nd Regt. when Gen’l. Phillips arriving with more guns under Col. Williams advanced the head of the British Line (with two German Regiments) repossessed the height and my Guns. The Grenadiers under Gen’l. Frazer moving forward on the right at the same time a very heavy fire commenced, the Rebels thus pressed retreated on all sides and being driven across the field made the best of their way to their works. By this time it being nearly dark no further pursuit was attempted” (Hadden, 164-6)
It is interesting to point out that Hadden refers to General Phillips arriving with two guns under Col. Williams. There seems to be some animosity between the British and Hessian Artillery. Captain Georg Pausch of the Hesse Hanau Artillery kept a wonderful diary of his experience in the Burgoyne Campaign. His Journal entries speak of a British Artillery who greets them with open arms when they first arrive in Canada in 1776. But over that winter, the British Artillery’s warm feelings begin to fade as the Germans prove repeatedly during firing exercises that they are more proficient with their guns than the British. The two guns that retake the hill that afternoon are actually under the command of Capt. Pausch of the Hesse Hanau Artillery, not Col. Williams. Capt. Pausch’s narrative of the action provides a very vivid account of the aftermath of the afternoon’s fighting.
“… I was to go the right wing of the 21st English regiment.
My wagon-master, who was now well mounted, was sent ahead to find a way through a cornfield, that we might avoid ditches and swamps and not get stuck in them.
Under a shower of the enemy’s bullets, I safely reached the hill just as the 21st and the 9th Regiments were about to abandon it. Nevertheless, I continued to drag my two cannon up the hill, while Gen. Phillips exhorted the English Regiments, and the officers their men, to face the enemy. English Captains and other officers and privates and also the Brunswick Chasseurs, which happened to be detailed here, grasped the ropes. The entire line of these regiments faced about, and by this faithful assistance, my cannon were soon on the top of the hill. I had shells brought up and placed by the side of the cannon; and as soon as I got the range, I fired twelve or fourteen shots in quick succession into the foe who were in good pistol shot distance.
The firing from muskets was at once renewed, and assumed lively proportions particularly the platoon fire from the left wing of Riedesel. Presently the enemy’s fire, though very lively at one time, suddenly ceased. I advanced about sixty paces and sending a few shells after the flying enemy, and firing twelve to fifteen shots more into the woods into which they had retreated. Everything became quiet: and in about fifteen minutes afterwards darkness set in. I now replaced my ammunition from that of the English wagons at the foot of the hill. The loss of the Royal Artillery in today’s action was very severe. One Capt. Johns [Jones] was mortally wounded and died the next morning.”
Brigade Maj. Bloomfield received a shot through the cheek under the tongue. Nearly all the rest of Gen. Phillips adjutants were wounded; also some of Gen. Burgoyne’s adjutants. Over thirty men of the Royal Artillery are either dead or wounded (among them not one under 10 inches,6) all of them fine looking men. A number of them, also, died on the field of battle, who measured 11 to 12 inches. Some are still alive; others dead.” (Pausch, 137-40)
After this engagement, both sides took status their armies. The next day, Burgoyne got word that Clinton was moving up the Hudson towards Saratoga. With his supplies dangerously low, Burgoyne choose to stay and wait for Clinton. Both sides began to build fortifications. On October 7, a second battle occured. This battle ended with two (of three) redoubts occupied by the British Army taken by the Colonial Army. Burgoyne chose the next day to retreat back north. However, the Colonial Army surrounded Burgoyne and forced a surrender.
As for the Royal Irish Artillery, little is spoken about them in Histories of this campaign. This is due to primarily the fact that they were apart of the British Royal Artillery, and not organized as a separate entity. Col. John Elting, author of one of the most reputed histories on this campaign, claims that Royal Irish stayed under the command of Capt. Jones as a unit. If this was the case, it’s interesting to compare Capt. Pausch’s account as to the size of the dead British Artillerists of Jones’ battery at Freeman’s farm to the recruiting notice in the Dublin Gazette. A way to verify this claim is to find the record of the names of the RIA drafts that were sent with Jones, and compare them to either the muster rolls of Jones’ Battery, and/or payrolls for the Royal artillery with Burgoyne, (and through these payrolls find out when they died).
The Royal Irish Artillery served in an exemplary fashion. They were commended by their superiors, and fought their guns to the nearly the very last man. In such a fire storm as at the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, an undisciplined unit would not have stood and fired their guns until the last.
The following letter was submitted to Chapel-Izod by Lord Townsend: Master of British Ordinance.
Townsend’s letter reads:
23rd December, 1777
By Lieutenant Slack who this evening arrived from Quebec, and who has related to me many transactions of the late unfortunate campaign in that part of America, I am informed, that non behaved more nobly than the drafts from the Irish Artillery, who now being exchanged, are to return. I am sorry they have suffered so much, but it is the lot of brave men who, so situated, prefer a glorious discharge of their duty to an unavailing desertion of it. Be assured, Sir, I have a sincere and grateful pleasure in doing justice to part of that Corps whose zeal for His Majesty’s service, and ambition to distinguish themselves, I have doubted, would be equal to any whatever.
The following is an extract from the letter to Lord Townsend and Amherst from Gen’l Phillips:
“I to report to you, my Lords, that the Corps of Artillery which I commanded has acted during the Campaign with the greatest spirit, and has receiver the entire approbation of Gen. Burgoyne, and the applause of the entire Army. In the action of the 19thSeptember the Artillery was of infinite use; and a brigade commanded by Capt. Jones, with Lieutenants Hadden and Reid, was particularly engaged, and maintained their post to the last, although in doing it every man, except five, was either killed or wounded. Captain Jones was killed.
…I cannot sufficiently commend the activity, zeal, and spirit of the officers. The same gallant spirit survived to the last day when the Convention was signed. I had the honour to deliver a message to the Lieutenant-General [Burgoyne] from the Corps of Artillery that they were ready as ever to undergo any hardships, or to undertake any difficulties, for the King’s service.” (Crooks, pp. 192-3)
This last excerpt is taken from the History of the Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery by J.J Crooks. The book is a record of the daily occurrences at the Barracks of the Royal Irish Artillery at Chapel Izod. The letter printed above from Lord Townsend arrived at Chapel Izod just before the new year (1778).
“6 January 1778: A few days prior, 150 Men of the RIA waited upon the Lord Lieutenant at the Castle requesting that his Excellency obtain His Majesty’s permission to be sent to America for the present War. (194)
This request was never granted, and in March of 1778, orders were received to disperse the majority of the Royal Irish Artillery to the various forts along the Irish coastline.
1 August 16, 1775: 47 men of the RIA volunteered themselves [along with 14 privates of the regiment of the Blue Horse] to serve in the Royal American Army under Gen. Gage. (Crooks p.117).
If these volunteers made it to Boston, they would not have played any role in the actions in Massachusetts in 1775. What becomes of these volunteers is at this time unclear. However, this might explain how a RIA button was unearthed at Fort George in Maine. The garrison for at Fort George was dispatched from Halifax, NS, which is where Howe’s army in Boston evacuated to in March of 1776. The other possible explanation for this RIA button found in Maine, is a survivor of the Burgoyne campaign did make it back to Quebec, (either from the evacuation of Fort Ticonderoga after the surrender, or escaping from the Convention Army), became part of another company that wound up stationed at Fort George.
2 This figure doesn’t include the 105 Hesse-Hanau Artillerists who were also a part of Burgoyne’s Expedition.
3 Why it took him so long has been a focus of great interest among many historians. In addition to having to cut his way through this passage, he also had to build a causeway to get his massive artillery train through. And, despite his orders to his officers to only carry with them the barest of necessities, Burgoyne had a MASSIVE train of wagons for his own personal gear, which carried every possible luxury for his own whim and comfort.
4 Jane McCrea was the fiancée of a British officer who was brutally murdered by Indians who were under orders not to harm loyalists. OOPS
5 In the 18th Century the “y” of the word “ye” had a “th,” sound so in essence, “ye” would be pronounced “the”.
6 i.e. 5 feet, 10 inches. (Pausch, 140) The size of the artillerists seems to surprise Pausch.
The men sent to America from the Royal Irish Artillery needed to be replaced in Ireland. It’s interesting to note the height and age requirement for being a recruit for the RIA. 6 days after Jones and his charges were embarked from Cork, and advertisement was posted in the Dublin Gazette: “Whereas the few vacancies in the Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery are ordered to be filled up immediately. This is to give Notice, that if any Man not under the size of 5 feet 9 inches nor above 6 feet, nor under 18 Years of Age, or exceeding 25, being strong and well made, and are willing to serve in said Regiment, they may repair to Lieutenant Barber at Chapel-Izod, or to the Ordnance Office in the Lower Castle Yard.” (Crooks, 188)
Billias, George ed., George Washington’s Generals and Opponents. Da Capo Press, New York: 1994
Boatner, Mark M. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA: 1994
Crooks, J.J. The History of the Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery. Browne and Nolan, Dublin: 1914
Elting, John. The Battles of Saratoga. Philip Freneau Press, Monmouth Beach, NJ: 1977
Hadden, James. A Journal Kept in Canada and Upon Burgoyne’s Campaign and Orderly Book. Books for Libraries Press, Freeport, New York: 1970
Ketchum, Richard. Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War. Henry Holt and Company, New York: 1997
National Park Service Document. “Primary Sources for Drawing No NHP-SAR 2013 (2 sheets) dated 12/11/50: “Troop Movements: Battles of September 19, 1777″ and Primary Sources for Drawing No NHP-SAR 2015 (1 sheets): Troop Movements – Battle of October 7, 1777″”. 1950
Pausch, Georg, The Journals of Captain Pausch. Ayer Company Publishers, Inc., North Stratford, NH: 1995