By Tom Fournier
Scrolling through microforms you are never quite sure what might catch your eye. I came across a table detailing a return of regimental court martials for the time period of 22nd April to 1st October, 1812 for the 103rd Regiment of Foot.
The 103rd Regiment was formed from the 9th Garrison Regiment in 1809 and arrived in Canada in 1812. Its character was that of being predominantly young recruits. The 103rd Regiment, largely due to its youthful and inexperienced character did not have an active war. By 1814 they were moved to Upper Canada. They are noted for having marched a lengthy distance to the sound of the guns (much of it at the double) to help shore up the British line at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. They were next in action at the night assault on Fort Erie and were in the column that attacked along the water to the Douglas Battery. American guns loaded with canister decimated the column with the 103rd Regiment’s commanding officer, Hercules Scott[i] amongst the dead.
For their service in these two actions, the 103rd Regiment earned the Battle Honour “Niagara”.
The table of court martials gives us an opportunity to learn more about discipline in the British Army during the War of 1812.
The system of Court Martials within the British Army was set out in the Articles of War.
There were four degrees of Court Martials (as laid out in the Standing Orders and Regulations for the 85th Light Infantry, London, 1813. Pages 135 – 139)
1st Degree: confinement to quarters
2nd Degree: confinement to quarters with disgrace (coat is turned and the letter “C” is sewn on the right sleeve in a distinguishing cloth.
3rd Degree: confinement to the black hole (undress coat is turned, the letter “C” is sewn on the right sleeve in black cloth. All prisoners are to be fed only bread and water. They must be taken out for drill but lodged again immediately after.
4th Degree: Corporal Punishment.
We can turn to an article by John Grodzinski for more on Corporal Punishment:
A court martial is a body convened to try an offence against military discipline, or against the ordinary law, committed by a person in one of the armed services. There were three types, each with different composition and scales of punishment.
A regimental court martial was composed of three to five officers, preferably an odd number, headed by a captain with lieutenants as the other members. It had no authority to try capital offenses or officers. Sentences were confirmed by the commanding officer.
The garrison court martial had similar composition and authority, but its members came from various regiments. The governor or garrison commander approved its decisions.
Lastly, the general court martial was composed of not less than 13 members. It was headed by a judge advocate and could impose capital punishment or try an officer. Judgements of death had to have the concurrence of nine of the 13 members of the court, or a two-thirds majority when more members were present.
Canadian Military History, Volume 16, Issue 4, Article 3, 4-26-2012, “Bloody Provost”: Discipline During the War of 1812, John R Grodzinski, Royal Military College of Canada
A good example of a general court martial is the trial of Benoit Bender discussed in a recent blog.
From: RG 8, C Series, Volume 165, Page 56
We have the court martial return. I have chosen to just list the offences and have also taken the liberty of aggregating and sorting them.
Return of the Regimental Courts Martial held in the 103rd Regiment of Foot from 22 April to 1st October 1812 Inclusive
On Suspicion of Theft (8)
Accused of Theft
Having in his possession articles stated to be the property of others
Selling or making away with part of his necessaries
Having necessaries in his possession/the property of others and damaging the same
Losing through neglect or making away with part of his necessaries (2)
1st. Knocking down a Sentry of the 8th Reg.t
2nd. Suspicion of Theft
Insolence to a Non-Commissioned Officer (2)
Disrespect to a Non-Commissioned Officer
Grossly insulting a Non-Commissioned Officer
Insolence to a Non-Commissioned Officer & rioting in his Bk. Room
Drunk on Parade and Disrespect to a Non-Commissioned Officer
Disobedience of orders and getting drunk
Disobedience of orders
Drunk on Duty
Drunk and absent from Parade
Drunk on Guard
Drunk and absent from his Guard
Unsoldierlike Conduct (4)
Absenting Himself from his Regiment without leave
Absenting Himself from the Ship without leave
Absented himself from duties and tatoo
Suspicion for maiming a Pig in a most brutal manner
Of the 36 charges, 6 were acquitted.
The total sentences were for 5,425 lashes. 1,546 lashes were inflicted.
The most severe charges had 300 lashes as the punishment. Seldom was the full sentence inflicted. The one instance where the full 300 lashes was inflicted was for the individual with the two charges (knocking down a sentry and suspicion of theft).
Without having other examples, it is hard to determine if this was typical or atypical.
Keep in mind, these are the severe charges that were to be presided over by a panel of Officers with corporal punishment (flogging) as a result. There would also have been much in the way of company court martials that would have resulted in confinement or stoppages.
And after all of that, I find myself wondering, “what on earth did he do to that Pig?”
I came across more on the 103rd Regiment in a book[ii] compilation of excerpts from the Montreal Herald. This was from 1814:
March 12 – Reprinted from the Quebec Mercury: “It is with deep regret that we announce to the public that last week eight privates of the 103rd Regiment who had marched from this garrison for Couteau du Lac, were brought back for disorderly, outrageous and atrocious conduct, on the road. To robberies they added murder having killed a woman, wounded one man dangerously and one or two others slightly.”
It seems that the 103rd Regiment were far more than a holding battalion of “boys”. Maybe it came with life in the army surrounded by hard characters, or the origins and upbringing of these soldiers or just soldiers jaded and twisted by hazardous and difficult service but these certainly seemed to be menaces that one would do well to stay clear!
[i] From His Majesty’s Gentlemen by Stuart Sutherland:
SCOTT, HERCULES: ensign 42nd Foot 17 July 1793, lieutenant 78th Foot 22 August 1794, captain 78th Foot 12 September 1794, captain 3rd West India Regiment 23 August 1799, major 78th Foot 9 May 1800, brevet lieutenant-colonel 1 January 1805, lieutenant-colonel 103rd Foot 12 May 1808, killed in action 15 August 1814 at Fort Erie, Upper Canada.
Present: July 1812-August 1814.
Actions: Lundy's Lane; Fort Erie siege, Fort Erie assault.
Staff appointments: lieutenant-colonel Volunteer Militia Infantry Battalion, May 1813.
[ii] This Was Montreal in 1814, 1815, 1816 & 1817 by Lawrence M. Wilson. Page 3
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These articles are written and compiled by members of the 41st Regiment Living History Group.