Thursday, January 9, 2014

An American soldier gets promoted by a British officer

Troops of a US Regiment of Rifles in 1814. At the height of the war there were four of these light infantry regiments, including one recruited in Kentucky and Ohio.

Another letter to (future) Ohio governor Thomas Worthington. At this time, he was an influential Senator representing the state in Washington.  Late in 1814 he defeated incumbent Othniel Looker to become governor. Throughout the War of 1812 officers and politicians from Ohio wrote to him for advice and influence-- including his old friend and associate from Chillicothe, Brigadier General Duncan McArthur. 

The British Army and naval officers captured during the Battles of Lake Erie and the Thames had been marched south through Ohio. At least some of the officers wound up imprisoned in the state capital. Late in 1813 Great Britain initiated a hostage crisis when the government threatened to execute British subjects found bearing arms in the United States armed forces. Mostly, these were Irishmen who had immigrated to America, especially after the harsh crackdown following the 1798 Irish Rebellion. The British government, of course, held that "once an Englishman, always an Englishman". In retaliation, the American government ordered an equal number of British officer POWs held "in close confinement" and threatened the possibility of executions. Eventually both sides saw the folly of this crisis and backed down-- although the Americans did hang one man they captured serving with the British 41st Regiment at the Thames, whom someone recognized as a US Army deserter. 

One of the British prisoners at Chillicothe recommended an American sergeant for promotion to commissioned rank. The soldier, Sergeant William Green Camp, was a Virginian who enlisted with Brigadier General Joel Leftwhich's brigade in 1812, and marched to Fort Meigs in the hard winter of 1813. Instead of going home when the brigade's six month enlistments expired, he stayed and enlisted in the 19th United States Infantry, and eventually was made an orderly sergeant. Partly on the basis of an anonymous British officer, he was appointed as an Ensign in the 2nd Regiment of Rifles, an elite infantry outfit. Camp stayed in the regular army after the war, rising to 2nd Lieutenant in the much smaller postwar force and transferring to the 5th Infantry. He was disbanded on 1 June 1821 according to an Army register.

Chillicothe Dec 17th 1813
Dear Sir
You have herewith enclosed a letter from Lt David L. Carney stationed here in the recruiting service, recommending to public favor sargeant Wm. Green Camp
He is a young man who from General report has filled his station with propriety and has acquired a reputation in Consequence of his fidelity and activity in the service. He is a young Virginian of respectable Connections, He volunteered his services last fall was as year [for a?] and Came out with Genl Leftwich and from a natural turn for the Military he enlisted and procured the appointment of an orderly sargeant after having proved his regular tour in the volunteer corps --
A British officer who had been confined and Camp had the Command of the Guard observed to me the other day "if half your superior officers were as well acquainted with their duty as that orderly sargeant we would have much more to fear." and permit me to add my opinion on this score, that if half our Major Generals and Brigadiers had learned the distuc[?] of our orderly sargeant, we would not have had our country so often disgraced by shameful disasters -- Promotions from the Ranks where it is really merited must without Doubt be the life of the Army of the Republic - I have uniformly been of opinion from the Commencement of the present war, that our principal officers of distinction were either subalterns or in the Ranks, and it will take our government some time yet to find them out -
a few more disasters may ultimately remove those who stand in the way of the promotions of those more deserving I requested Mr. John Hutt to write to you on this subject, as he was the first person who spoke to me respecting young Camp and was well acquainted with his family and Connections -- He observed that he certainly had the most military turn, aid took more delight in a soldiers life than any young man he had ever seen -- After making particular inquiry if you find this young man worthy Will you Sir please to interpose your good offices to serve him and get him promoted
With great respect I am Dr Sir yours &c.
Thos S. Hinde

Thomas S. Hinde (1785-1846) himself was an interesting character. Son of a physician who treated General Wolfe when that commander was mortally wounded at the Battle of Quebec (and who later served Patrick Henry), Hinde was  a businessman and editor of the Chillicothe Fredonian from 1806-1808. Converting to Methodism from Deism, he became a circuit rider and minister. A noted abolitionist, he had moved to Ohio from his native Kentucky to escape the slave society there. After the war he kept moving west, eventually founding the town of Mt. Carmel, Ill.