Fusiliers by Mark Urban

By Mark Urban

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Little by little the search of obscure archives began turning up letters – documents more useful in many ways than journals since they are more immediate and less dry. I discovered some prolific letter-writers like the lieutenant colonel who commanded the 23rd for most of the war, or a captain who ran its recruiting operation in Britain. Many of these messages were dull or businesslike of course, but some gave vital insight into the hopes and fears of the men I wished to write about. As one find grew upon another, the Duke of Northumberland’s papers yielded a string of letters from a young officer on service with the 23rd keen to do his duty, while the National Archive at Kew yielded up a correspondence with a disillusioned old Fusilier equally determined to avoid it.

A visitor gazing around the table that evening at ruddy-cheeked officers imbibing so diligently for their country could have been forgiven for thinking that the gentlemen of the Royal Welch Fusiliers were a picture of contentment. But beneath the superficial cheer, all was not well. Indeed, these officers were, for the most part, desperate to quit their stations as soon as possible. Some of them had grown old in their lowly ranks and yearned for promotion, hoping that they would gain it in the American war they now all expected.

Pitcairn signalled his soldiers to move forward and disarm the locals. The sight though of the Americans lowering their weapons and moving off touched some nerve of contempt among the British soldiers. For months the local people had abused and taunted them. Where was their courage now, when it came to a fight? Instead of a deliberate, orderly walk forward, many redcoats started shouting and cheering, running towards the Americans with fixed bayonets. Facing this onslaught, one or two of those villagers opened fire.

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