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The 41st Regiment and the War of 1812
by Jim Yaworsky

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Regimental Colour of the 41st

The First “41st

At the end of the wars against the French in the first part of the 18th century, the British army was greatly reduced in size as a cost-saving measure. It was also decided to raise garrison companies of ‘veterans’ to garrison key positions in the United Kingdom, thus freeing up ‘regular’ regiments for field service. These companies were gathered together for administrative purposes in 1719 and became ‘Colonel Fielding’s Regiment of Invalids’. In 1751, the Regiment was given the number “41”. 

Contrary to what the modern reader might expect from the “invalid” title, the original members of the Regiment were well-trained veterans of Marlborough’s campaigns and were a respectable force.  An “invalid” was simply a pensioner, whether disabled or not.  But as the century progressed, the personnel of the 41st apparently degenerated in to men of whom the term “invalid” increasingly had its current meaning, and the unit became unfit even for garrison duties. 

The decision was therefore taken to turn the 41st in to a “marching” regiment in late 1787.   In a very real sense, the Regiment was reborn, the “invalids” were all pensioned off and new men recruited. 

The 41st: Incarnation #2

The men who formed the Regiment after its change to “marching” status in 1787 inherited the Regimental Number “41”, but no history of proud achievements by their predecessors.  They were, to all intents and purposes, starting afresh.  Because the “Invalid” regiment had recruited all across the U.K., the ‘new’ 41st also did: it received no title or county affiliation until the 1820’s, when the 41st became the Welch Regiment.  At the time of the War of 1812, the 41st had as its designation solely its number – and it continued to recruit its men from anywhere in Britain and Ireland.

The first field service of the 41st was in the West Indies.  From 1793 to 1796, the Regiment saw action at Martinique, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, and San Domingo – but it was sickness, not enemy action, that decimated its ranks.   When the 41st was pulled back to Portsmouth in October of 1796, only the surviving officers and NCO’s were taken – the few remaining (presumably well-acclimatized) privates were transferred in to the 17th Foot.

The 41st: Incarnation #3 

After its hellacious spell of duty in the West Indies, the Regiment recruited itself up to strength again in Britain and Ireland, before being sent off to Canada in August of 1799.  Only a few of its personnel had operational experience gained in the West Indies. In effect, it was “incarnation #3” of the Regiment that would see duty in the War of 1812.  It remained a unit without a single earned Battle Honour on its Colours.

In the years before the outbreak of the War of 1812, the 41st had its ups and downs as it was shifted frequently between Lower and Upper Canada, performing garrison duties.  Upper Canada was a particularly hard station for a Regiment to keep itself sharp in, as individual companies and even smaller elements of the Regiment would be detached to garrison a number of posts strung out along the long frontier.  Each return to Lower Canada saw efforts made to again increase the combat readiness of the reunited Regiment.

Reinforcements and new equipment were sent out periodically as well.  In 1809, a major reinforcement was received, that included Private Shadrach Byfield, perhaps the best-known member of the Regiment during the War of 1812, as he authored the only extended “ranker” account of the War currently known to exist.

On the eve of the War, the Regiment was in good shape.  Its men were all fairly young and healthy, their equipment in acceptable condition.  In fact, the Regiment had been about to be withdrawn to Europe, where it probably would have ended up in Wellington’s forces in Spain.  However, the impending outbreak of the War of 1812 led to the decision to keep the 41st in Upper Canada.  Not only was it up to strength, it was fully acclimatized to Canadian conditions, which must have been an important factor in what was to follow.

 

Services of the 41st in the War of 1812

1812 Campaigns

At the outbreak of the War, the 41st was the only full British regiment in Upper Canada and as such would bear the principal burden – and earn the glory – of repelling the initial American attacks.

Simply stated, General Brock, in command in Upper Canada, faced a strategic dilemma: large American forces were gathering to invade on both the Niagara and Detroit Rivers.  His solution to this problem was to shift most of his men to the Detroit frontier, capture Detroit, then shift his strength back to the Niagara front.  Sounds simple, sounds obvious – yet any student of the Detroit campaign must be aghast at the sheer bravado displayed by Brock, and the magnitude of the risks he ran.  But desperate times make for desperate measures.  Luckily for Canada, Brock’s gamble paid off.

The 41st formed the main element in the Anglo-Canadian forces that captured Detroit in August of 1812, with the assistance of native allies in a coalition the dominant personality of which was Tecumseh.  The strength of the 41st was then shifted back to the Niagara front and formed the main element of the force that crushed the subsequent American invasion at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October. The Regiment had earned its first two Battle Honours – “Detroit” and “Queenstown”.

However, the picture at the end of 1812 was not all rosy.  While some reinforcements had arrived in Upper Canada, the talented Brock had been killed at Queenston Heights, and the Americans were making preparations to redeem their earlier mistakes.  The 41st found itself split, its companies attempting to guard both the Niagara and Detroit frontiers, with the Regiment’s Colonel, Henry Procter, in command of the “Right Division” on the Detroit frontier. 

A major element and consideration in all operations on the Detroit front involved the western native allies, but Procter would prove unable to forge as productive a relationship with Tecumseh as Brock had.  It appears that the average soldier of the 41st also had more fear than affection for his native comrade in arms.

1813 Campaigns

The first American counter-attack occurred on the Detroit frontier.  A January offensive by General Henry Harrison led to an aggressive counter-punch by Procter at Winchester’s isolated and exposed American command at Frenchtown (now Monroe, Michigan) on January 22, 1813.  Although Procter achieved strategic and tactical surprise, his resulting battle tactics threw the advantage away, and in the desperate fighting which resulted, the companies of the 41st present suffered over 50% casualties.  Luckily, the native allies managed to break and overrun the American right flank and the result of the battle was the destruction of Winchester’s force, thus crippling Harrison’s overall “winter-campaign” strategy.  Unfortunately, Procter, in his desire to get his mauled forces back to the security of the Detroit River forts (Amherstburg and Detroit) abandoned American wounded to the not-so-tender mercies of the native allies.  The resulting “River Raisin Massacre” would form a rallying cry for Americans for the rest of the War.

Harrison concentrated his remaining forces on the Maumee River near what is now Toledo, Ohio, and commenced construction of Fort Meigs to act as a base for his next offensive.  The Americans had set in play a shipbuilding program on both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and the isolated position of the Right Division on the Detroit front deteriorated steadily as the year 1813 progressed.

Although the need to reinforce Procter’s Right Division was recognized by the “High Command” in Montreal and orders were sent to the Centre Division to forward the remaining companies of the 41st to Procter, events on the Niagara front precluded this possibility.

Thus, companies of the 41st were present when the Americans attacked and captured Fort George in May of 1813, and these companies formed the garrison of Burlington Heights when the rest of the Centre Division made their successful night attack on the American camp at Stoney Creek on June 6.  Although the Centre Division in effect disobeyed orders to send the 41st companies on to Procter, they at least were kept as an emergency reserve and thus did not get shot up in either of these major confrontations.  Individual officers of the 41st were involved in both actions.

Meanwhile, Procter had decided to use the Right Division for a spoiling attack on Fort Meigs.  The first siege, in late April/early May, resulted in the destruction of a large force of American reinforcements in ‘Dudley’s Defeat’, and some hard fighting as the Americans attacked the siege batteries – but it proved impossible for the smaller Right Division to actually capture the American fort given its commanding position and very large garrison. There was another ugly incident involving American prisoners being maltreated by some of the native allies, in which an infantryman of the 41st attempting to protect the Americans was himself “chopped”.  Fortunately Tecumseh arrived in time to stop a major massacre. 

Despite the overall disappointing results from this operation, the 41st earned the Battle Honour “Miami” (the Maumee River was also called the “Miami” at this time).

As progress on what would become Commodore Perry’s U.S. Lake Erie squadron relentlessly continued, and reports of the forces Harrison was gathering came in, Procter became more and more despondent. 

In July, at the insistence of the Indian Allies, Procter again led the Right Division out in a spoiling attack against Fort Meigs.  The “Second Siege” (July 21-26 1813) accomplished even less than the first, and Procter decided to attack Fort Stephenson (Fremont, Ohio), basically a fortified supply depot, which he thought would be “easy pickings”.  On August 2, 1813, Procter ordered an attempt to escalade the American fort, but the unexpected presence of an American artillery piece, plus the unwillingness of the American garrison to surrender (natural enough, given the several ‘massacres’ that had already occurred when Procter proved unable to protect his prisoners), led to a bloody repulse of the attack columns and a precipitate retreat back to the Detroit forts.  And, the bottoming-out of the 41st’s faith in their commander’s battlefield skills.

As the completed American Squadron on Lake Erie took dominance of the Lake, Procter sat in the Detroit River forts, receiving only limited reinforcements from the Centre Division (most of the 1st Battalion eventually reached him).  He waited for the completion of the new British flagship for the Lake Erie squadron, H.M.S. Detroit, and watched his food stocks deplete at an alarming rate.

Finally, the “Detroit” was as complete as resources at Amherstburg could make her, the food was almost gone, and the only honourable choice left was to go out and try and win back command of Lake Erie.  Procter placed 150 men of the 41st on Barclay’s squadron as marines, and on September 10, 1813, the two squadrons hammered it out off Put-In-Bay.  The result was the destruction and capture of the British squadron, the loss of all its manpower, and the knowledge that Perry’s fleet could now with impunity ferry Harrison’s large army to anywhere on the north shore of Lake Erie, thereby cutting Procter’s communications with the Centre Division.

Procter’s decision to retreat to a position on the lower Thames was ineptly carried out and in the early afternoon of October 5, 1813, what was left of the 1/41st found itself just west of Moraviantown strung out in an overly-extended formation in light woods, facing overwhelming numbers of Americans.  The 41st’s “battle” lasted about 10 minutes, as a column of American mounted infantry charged and overran the left flank of 41st line on a narrow frontage, then turned left and neatly rolled it up. 

Indians on the right flank posed a more serious threat to the Americans, until Tecumseh was killed.  Indian resistance meant some men on the right of the 41st’s line managed to escape the disaster.  Only 6 subalterns, 9 sergeants, 6 drummers, and 159 rank and file of the 41st made it to the Center Division at Burlington Heights – and not all of these men had been present at the battle. 

The Second Battalion

Only the fact the 41st’s 2nd battalion had arrived in Canada in the spring of 1813 enabled the Regiment to reorganize as a single battalion, and carry on operations as a viable force.

The Second Battalion, with a strength of 500 men, had sailed from Ireland on 20 March 1813, and arrived at Quebec City May 15, 1813.  At that point, 400 men were to be “sent on” to Upper Canada, 100 “boys” were retained in the Quebec City garrison.  By June 24 1813, 100 men of the 2nd Battalion were being formally transferred in to the 1st Battalion and forwarded to Procter.  The balance of the 2nd Battalion spent the summer and early fall of 1813 as part of the Left Division, garrisoning the St. Lawrence River posts; its personnel were involved in a number of small actions with the Americans.

By August 22 1813, Prevost was writing to inform Procter that he had ordered the balance of the 2nd battalion to Amherstburg and on that date, it in fact received orders to move from Prescott to Kingston. By 1 October 1813, 160 men of the 2nd  Battalion had reached Burlington Heights.  They were still there when the remains of the 1st Battalion marched in.

In 1813, men of the Regiment’s two battalions had been stationed spread out from Montreal to Fort Malden - and Captain Richard Bullock of the Grenadier Company commanded the garrison at Mackinac from September 13, 1813, to May 18, 1814!   The Regiment had seen much hard service on all fronts.

The Unified Battalion – Incarnation #3.1… – December 1813, 1814 Campaigns

Given the small size of the 2nd battalion and the small number of survivors from the 1st, the decision was taken to combine them in to one unit.  This combined ‘1st/2nd’ battalion was what conducted the 41st’s operations for the balance of the War.  It was a somewhat uneven, ad hoc unit in that it was composed partly of tough, experienced, and battle-hardened veterans of the 1st battalion, and partly of the relatively new and inexperienced recruits of the 2nd.  It appears that the best men were put in to the flank companies and continued to see heavy action, while the regular line companies were utilised mainly in support roles.

By December 19 1813, the combined battalion supplied flank companies for the assault on Fort Niagara, while the line companies helped capture Lewiston.  On December 30 1813, an attack was launched on Black Rock & Buffalo, with 250 men of the 41st participating, suffering casualties of 2 killed, 5 wounded, and 3 missing.

On 9 January 1814, Drummond ordered the 41st ordered to York; on February 8, they were ordered from York to Kingston.  The 41st found itself back on the Niagara Peninsula in time to help repel the last major American offensive of the War.   At the Battle of Lundy’s Lane in July 1814, the Light Company of the 41st under Captain Glew managed to distinguish itself.

In Drummond’s subsequent operations in pursuit of the retreating Americans, Colonel Tucker (with most of the 41st under his command) managed to bungle an attack on Black Rock. This was a relatively unremarkable occasion except that Shadrach Byfield was wounded, losing an arm, and started on his long journey back to his Wiltshire home.

The Regiment participated in the siege of Fort Erie, with the flank companies taking heavy casualties in the failed night assault of August 15.  At that point, the Regiment was pulled back to form part of the garrison of “the forts” at the mouth of the Niagara River: Fort Niagara, Fort George, and Fort Mississauga.  It was found that the 41st was the most useful unit to garrison Fort Niagara, as other units placed there suffered from excessive desertion rates.

Eventually, the Regiment was withdrawn to York, then Kingston.  It had earned its 4th Battle Honour in the War of 1812: “Niagara”, for its participation in the 1814 Niagara Peninsula campaign.

After the War

In the spring of 1815, with its men who had been American prisoners repatriated, the Regiment embarked for Britain, with approximately 1,200 men of the unified battalion on the transport.  The Regiment was diverted to Belgium, arriving just too late for Waterloo, but in time to help occupy Paris.  The contrast between conditions in the backwoods of Upper Canada and the French capital, must have seemed surreal to the average infantryman of the Regiment.

Distinguishing Features of the 41stUniform

The 41st’s “facing colour” (i.e. the colour of the collar, cuffs, and shoulder straps of its redcoat) was red; its regimental lace, white with a centered black line, set on in bastion looping of the ‘jew’s harp’ design.  

Because of its “red on red” uniform, the 41st displayed some out of the norm attributes in terms of its Regimental Colours (standards) and in the uniforms of its musicians.  The Regimental Colour resembled a Royal Naval White Ensign, but “squared” to a 6 foot by 6 foot size.  The King’s Colour conformed to normal regulations.  During the War, the Regiment’s Colours of course had no Battle Honours – new Colours issued in 1816 proudly bore “Detroit”, “Queenstown”, “Miami”, and “Niagara”.

Since 41st musicians could not utilise the army’s normal ‘reversed’ colour pattern (i.e. main body of coat the facing colour, faced with red) to set them apart from the regular infantrymen, they instead had white coats, faced red, with an elaborate special lace applied, much more liberally than on a regular infantryman’s redcoat (as on all regiments’ musician coats).

The 1st battalion started the War with pre-1812 pattern “stove-pipe” shakos and might never have been reequipped until returning to Europe.  Officer’s uniforms had silver buttons and silver lace with a black line centered, applied in the same bastion loop pattern as the enlisted men.

The 2nd battalion almost undoubtedly arrived in Canada with the new 1812 (or “Belgic”) shako, although the infantryman’s red coat would have been the same as that of a member of the 1st battalion.  Officers of the 2nd battalion had gold buttons and gold lace applied in square-ended loops; officers of the 1st battalion and then the amalgamated battalion were also ordered to adopt this pattern.

Summary

The 41st Regiment of Foot and its successor, The Royal Regiment of Wales (24th/41st Foot), has never been stationed in Canada again. But its links with Canada can never be broken.

During its extended stay (1799 to 1815), and especially during the War, it left its dead scattered across most of the garrisons and fighting fronts in the Canadas. 

Equally important, many men of the Regiment, when they received their discharges in the years after the War of 1812, returned to Canada - but this time, as settlers, taking up land grants earned by their services in defence of the colonies.

The men of the 41st played a vital role in the defence of Canada in the War of 1812; their numerous descendants have helped build the country ever since.


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