Anatomy of a Light Infantry Company
by David M. Grabitske
The basis of this article is the second volume of the Connecticut Adjutant General's Office Record of Service of Connecticut Men in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Mexican War. The object is to determine where and when Connecticut men enlisted, and what can be drawn from that. Unfortunately the record is incomplete in so far as what age the recruits were, and under what terms they enlisted. Surmising from the date of discharge (or desertion), some enlisted for five years, and some for the war. The actual number of five year men may be a bit higher than what will be reported. A high number of the men have no further record after enlistment, in other words no date of separation from the service.
Other problems are that the records indicate where the man is either residing, or the place at which he enlisted. For the purposes of the article it will be assumed that all such places are the place of enlistment, and not necessarily where the man lived. One known example is Francis Bliss who enlisted on March 14, 1814. His town is recorded as Hartford. However, Bliss was from the Springfield-Chicopee, Massachusetts area. The regiment assigned to his state in 1814 was the Ninth, which was recruiting out of Pittsfield. Pittsfield is in excess of forty miles overland from Springfield, whereas Hartford is only twenty miles by a comparatively easy water-borne journey. Just how many men there were like Bliss who decided to take an easier trip and wound up enlisting in Connecticut rather than in their home areas, is not known.1
Furthermore, the record does not indicate if the wounded, who died later, died as a result of their wounds or of the complications of camp life, accident, etc. Therefore no effort to differentiate these will be taken. The soldiers who were unfortunate enough to both have been wounded and died are simply left as such: they did both. Additionally, for those who were listed as having died, the record does not elaborate on the cause. Lastly, the record does not mention the officers, nor will this article. At the moment the company officers are unknown, beyond the Captain's name (though he may, or may not have served with that formation). Also from the record, it seems as though Capt. Ketchum's Company existed prior to June of 1812, thus the officers may have already been appointed.
Daniel Ketchum's Company of the Twenty-Fifth Infantry played a noticeable role in the Niagara Campaign of 1814. The campaign itself essentially stretched from July through October. The Twenty-Fifth Regiment was authorized by Congress on June 26, 1812, in preparation for war with Great Britain. Presumably, Ketchum's Company was already in operation as the authorization bill also reorganized the army establishment. The army had previously been authorized 17 regiments of two battalions each, and now in June each regiment was to have a single battalion.2
The Twenty-Fifth was assigned to Connecticut as its recruitment base. To assist in understanding recruitment trends, Connecticut will be divided into four logical areas: Thames River (Groton, New London, Norwich, Preston and Windham), Connecticut River (Haddam, Hartford, Middletown, Stafford, and Windsor), Housatonic River (Cheshire, Hamden, Litchfield, New Haven, Newtown, Washington, Woodbridge, and Woodbury), and the Panhandle (Greenwich, Norwalk, and Weston). These seem to be the major geographic areas.
Of the 196 men enrolled in Ketchum's during the war, the majority (122) were from the Connecticut River area, or 62.2%. 28 hailed from the Thames (14.3%), 36 from the Housatonic (18.4%), and 9 from the Panhandle (5%).3 93 soldiers alone enlisted from Hartford, the single largest contributor. Nearby to the north, Windsor came in a distant second with 26, followed by Norwich with 24 and New Haven with 23 (in the Thames and Housatonic, respectively). The rest of the towns enrolled only one or two men, except Litchfield and Norwalk, each with 5.
As well, the recruitment is divided into four periods. The Early Period begins with the war in June 1812 and lasts all of 1813. The Flint Hill Period concerns the three most intensive months, February through April, 1814. The Summer of 1814 comprises May through November, 1814. Last, the Late Period consists of December 1814 through February, 1815. 1814 as a whole brought in 119 of the 196 recruits.
Most interestingly, the record indicates that there were only 16 recruited for the early period. The Company, however, was present at Stony Creek on June 6, 1813, for two of its members (one recruited in January, the other in March, 1813) were captured. Both were exchanged in May, 1814. The Company also participated at Chrysler's Field in November, 1813. Thus there must have been a number of men who were not enlisted in Connecticut, possibly enrolled at its creation. The January 11, 1812 act authorized 17 (or ten new) regiments of two battalions each. An act later that same year, June 26, authorized 25 regiments of one battalion each. The Twenty-Fifth may have been created out of another unit already forming in another state, perhaps one of the seventeen's second battalions.4 Its origin among Connecticut men seems to be in the Housatonic River area and Hartford. Even the Panhandle towns contributed, but none came from the Thames.
During the Early Period, the highest percentage of 5 year enlistments was achieved, 10 of the 16. One of these even re-enlisted in 1814, prior to the time of his original enlistment expiring, for the war. Only one of the 5 year men deserted after the conclusion of the war. 5 were wounded, and all recovered. 5 recruits were promoted to corporals and sergeants. One deserted after the Niagara Campaign and died during the Niagara Campaign (apparently of disease.) That leaves 13 who were discharged eventually from the service.
The Flint Hill group of recruits, which includes later Minnesota pioneer Francis Bliss, is the most numerous set. 94 were recruited from Hartford, Norwich, and New Haven, the centers of the three river basins. Perhaps the recruiters' success in these areas reflects two possible reasons. One, the time of year was advantageous as it is the lean time of year in both agriculture and fishing, and these unemployed laborers had nothing else going for them. As a result of the blockade no being extended to New England, keeping body and soul together was becoming more difficult. The second possibility is that these idle men were swayed with the fantastic notion of being enrolled in a "special" formation, a light infantry company.4 In the Panhandle, only Weston contributed during Flint Hill. Of the total from this period, 51 were discharged, 11 deserted, 20 died, 8 were wounded, 1 was killed and 1 was captured. This period is the most amazing, for in three months more recruits were found in more towns than at any other time. More importantly, the Thames River basin was finally exploited bringing a fairly steady number of recruits for the remainder of the war.
Desertions, not surprisingly, were highest among this group, at 12%. Notably 7 of the 11 deserted even before the campaign began. This may suggest the strictness of the training at Flint Hill under Winfield Scott. (Or conversely the relatively lax attention or inadequate numbers of detachments assigned to bring in the recruits.) Ketchum was also strict and his unit was an elite one, specially trained, and hopefully with higher morale. In exchange for the novelty, discipline needed to be observed. Of the other four, one deserted during the campaign, the other three after it, but before the war's conclusion. There appears to be one 5 year enlistment, and he deserted after the war.5
The Summer of 1814 recruits were sparse, only 12, all of whom were from Norwich and Hartford. This was a very well behaved group with only one desertion, and only one was captured.6 Because the recruits came from only two towns, perhaps there may have only been one small recruiting party, thus maximizing active numbers for the Niagara Campaign. Also, the agricultural season is in full swing, eating up as many laborers as there may be. The Late Period of recruiting in the final three months presents another picture of frnezied activity to replace those lost on the Niagara. Incredibly, 7 of the 75 enlisted for 5 years, 4 of whom deserted after the war. 3 others deserted before the war was known to be over. One died, and one committed suicide.7 But, the most telling statistic is the 21 soldiers for whom there was no further record after their enlistments. 9 occur in February, 1815 suggesting that once the war was over, several things occurred. One, the privates may simply have been told to go home, the nearly non-existent inspectors general being far too over burdened.8 Two, since a "peace" had been signed two months earlier, these officers may have regarded any subsequent enlistments as unnecessary, and again sent the men home. Of course given the head strong democratic tendencies of the day, the men may have insisted on the later and went home. Or, in the confusion of the moment, a good number of records may have been lost.9
18 of the 196 enrolled from Connecticut were promoted. The highest percentage naturally came from Early Period men, some 31.5% (5 for 16). Flint Hill and the Late Periods resulted in nearly the same percentages, 9 and 10% respectively. The Summer of 1814 saw no promotions.
2 of the 5 promotions in the Early Period went to the wounded Samuel Ames and James Cross, both of whom were made sergeants. Two others were wounded were also promoted, Francis Bliss to Corporal and James Dow to Musician. Curiously, most of the promotions occurred in the Winter of 1814-1815 or later. This suggests that those who were enrolled in the unit prior to June 1812, filled all of the available posts, and that during the push to retool and refit the company during that winter, newer men were tapped to fill vacancies. This also lends credence to Ketchum's being part of another unit prior to the act creating 25 single battalion regiments.
While most men enlisted as privates and then rose to higher rank, some enlisted directly as non-commissioned officers. Thomas H. Glazier of Hartford mustered as a Musician (probably from ability). Erastus Moses of Middletown enlisted as a sergeant, "for the war." Nathan Story enlisted as a Corporal from Preston. But those are the exceptions.
Estimate for Service on the Niagara.
Exactly how many were on the Niagara Campaign at any given battle may never be solved to satisfaction. The campaign itself lasted from July 3 to October 24, 1814. Major General Jacob Brown estimated from a muster of July 23, 1814, that there were 2,800 effectives once deductions were made for garrisons, detached assignments, etc.10 Assuming that none of Ketchum's Company were detailed for such activities,11 this unit may have had (conservatively) 79 rank and file available from the start of the campaign. If this is the case, then Ketchum's formed a substantial portion of the 380 that Graves estimated for the Twenty-Fifth at Lundy's Lane. This figure was arrived at from all total enlistments in the first two periods who were later discharged (64), plus all who did not desert until after the campaign (4), and those who died on the campaign (7), those wounded and later died (3), and Private Dyer Armstrong who was killed at chippewa.
It is assumed that those recruited during the campaign did not join the company until later. And, those who deserted prior and during the campaign (9), those who died prior (14), those for whom there is no further record (9), and the unknown number of non-Connecticut men who enlisted prior to June 1812, were not included. Therefore the figure of 79 is conservative, and may be increased by more than 20 men, if those who deserted during the time of campaign were added. Lastly, Graves estimated that Major Thomas Evans had 275 men in his five companies of the Eighth Foot. Graves wrote that Ketchum faced "three times his numbers" at chippewa. That being the case, Ketchum had 90 men in his command, further lending credence to a higher number.12 Whatever the case, the minimum in Ketchum's Company was 79.
As mentioned, only Dyer Armstrong of Norwich was killed. There were five wounded at chippewa, all lived: Francis Bliss, John Conley, James Cross,13 Jacob Dexter, and Anson Lilley. Of the others wounded on the campaign: William Lockhart at Williamsville on July 26; Seth Edwards, Niram Hard, and John Riley at Ft. Erie; James Dow and Charles Miner presumably at Ft. Erie. Edwards, Hard and Miner died during August; the others lived.
It is interesting that the two major recruiting efforts happened during the winter in a war which featured commanders who liked to campaign during that season. It is less surprising perhaps that enlistments fall off during the summer and fall months. During May through November for all years (twenty of thirty-three months), the total enlisted into Ketchum's was only 13 soldiers.14 For it is during these months that most of the work in most occupations was done, not just in agriculture. Of course the reason so many actions in the War of 1812 occurred in the Winter might be accounted for by the various expeditions against Indian nations, which was meant to deprive them of food and a base of operation against the United States.
Just what this survey tells us is that the ordinary light infantry man in Ketchum's Company was recruited in early 1814. Apart from his markings, he may very well have not been any different from his brother soldiers in "line" companies. Ketchum's was unique in another way, though. Its size was remarkably larger than most other companies, close to authorized strength. Obviously, the role of light infantry companies needs to be studied further. Other questions need to be addressed, such as the difference between them and "line" companies for desertions, deaths, wounded, killed, etc. which may indicate a level of morale; what sort of drill manual used by looking at ones published prior to the War of 1812 and working forward, rather than the reverse; in which units were such light companies authorized; did these occur in western regiments such as the Seventh, or were such attempts there just irregular fighting; were most light companies larger than other regular companies; much etc. The challenge will be for War of 1812 students to expand on this and find more answers.
1. For a biography of Francis and Nancy Bliss, who moved to Minnesota in the 1850s, see Mudduck of July 1997 (Vol. 1, No. 5).