Daily Life of Soldiers and Officers



Inspection of British Army recruits, circa 1780

Caption: Inspection of British Army recruits, circa 1780

Soldiers were generally recruited in the British Isles and most recruits were of English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish descent. The number of Irish was increasing, and by the mid-nineteenth century they represented one third of the army, with the English and Welsh accounting for half and the Scots for the rest. Regular British troops were also occasionally recruited in North America. Three line regiments were raised in Canada: the 84th during the American Revolution, the 104th during the War of 1812 and the 100th in 1858. Colonial corps were added to the regular troops in times of war.

The Recruiting Party generally consisted of an officer accompanied by a sergeant, a drummer and two soldiers from the regiment for which the recruiting was being carried out. After announcing in the public square that they were seeking young "heroes" to thrash the enemies of the King and to take booty, they would say, "...if any prentices have severe masters, any children have undutiful parents; if any servants have too little wages, or any husband too much wife; let them repair to the Noble Sergeant ..." 73 at the tavern. In wartime, when recruiting could not do the job, the team became a "press gang," which forcibly enlisted "vagabonds" who were not necessarily really vagabonds, thus practising a form of legalized abduction. Sometimes prisoners were recruited, their sentences cut short in exchange for the life of a soldier. The recruiters could be helped by "crimps," intermediaries who found recruits (often kidnapped adolescents) and "exchanged" them for a share of the bounty money. In Canada, particularly from 1840 to 1860, some crimps even encouraged British soldiers to desert and join the American army!

A soldier could sign up for a limited period or for life. The latter was more common until the mid-nineteenth century. Beginning in 1847, men were recruited for a period of 12 years, which was shortened to 10 years in 1867.