The history of the Provincial Corps of Pennsylvania Loyalists is presented in 7 parts. Click below to skip to:
Part 1 - Introduction & The Philadelphia Campaign, 1777
|A History of the Provincial Corps of Pennsylvania Loyalists - Part 4 of 7|
War with Spain & The United Corps
The year 1779 was passed quietly enough in garrison. In general the corps remained fairly unchanged from when it was on Long Island, with the exception of Lieutenant John YOUNG, who became an ensign in the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment on 3 August 1778.46 More than a few Provincial officers shunned service in the Loyalist regiments for the long term security of being a regular British officer.
The quietness of the Gulf of Mexico quickly changed for the worse when a packet ship arrived from England 8 September 1779 announcing Spain had declared war on England. Unfortunately for the British, news had reached New Orleans well in advance and Don Galvez, the governor and commanding officer of the Spanish forces, quickly put forward plans to conquer British West Florida.
Within weeks the garrisons of Baton Rouge, Manchac and most everywhere else west of Mobile fell to the Spanish. The British forces in West Florida, which only consisted of parts of two British regiments, some locally raised Loyalists, Indians and the three regiments arrived from New York, lost over 480 officers and men within five weeks of hostilities commencing.
While the Waldeckers had suffered many losses, the Pennsylvanians and Marylanders had yet to see battle. Since arriving at Pensacola, ALLEN's corps had lost twelve men dead from illness, but remarkably not one desertion. The losses, though, could not be replaced so far from home, and they had maintained no recruiting parties in the North as other Provincial corps had done.
Brigadier General CAMPBELL, wishing to consolidate his available forces and make them more serviceable, proposed to Sir Henry CLINTON that the Maryland and Pennsylvania Loyalists be combined into one corps with a strength of about 350 men. This new corps would benefit the Pennsylvania officers most, as they were mostly senior to the Marylanders. All officers not needed for the new corps would be retired upon half pay, which would include Lt. Col. James CHALMERS, the commanding officer of the Maryland Loyalists.
Sir Henry CLINTON, though, would have none of the idea. As much as he encouraged the combining of under-strength regiments, he could not approve of William ALLEN commanding a corps in place of James CHALMERS.47
The disapproving letter though was either never received or ignored. CAMPBELL, with the assistance of Deputy Muster Master General Hugh Mackay GORDON, combined the two corps into one new regiment, named the United Corps of Maryland and Pennsylvania Loyalists.
This consolidation took place sometime between 12 December 1779 and 1 January 1780 when the new corps was mustered. On 17 February 1780, GORDON (a Boston Loyalist and officer in the Regulars) wrote to Colonel Alexander INNES, the Inspector General of Provincial Forces and informed him of the move, which he considered temporary "untill his Excellency the Commander in Chief's Pleasure is Known…"48
The new corps consisted of six companies, including one of light infantry and one of "invalids," with the whole commanded by William ALLEN. Two of the companies were commanded by Pennsylvanians and four by Marylanders, while most of the officers "seconded" (that is to say put on half pay and put off active duty) were from Lt. Col. CHALMERS' Battalion and only one, Captain Joseph SWIFT, from ALLEN's.49
This new arrangement drew a very unfavorable reaction from Sir Henry CLINTON and Colonel INNES. The letter reached Sir Henry's eyes sooner than normal, for by that time the commander in chief was laying siege to the City of Charlestown, South Carolina.
GORDON's letter of 17 February reached INNES in South Carolina by 14 April 1780, when he immediately requested it be brought to Sir Henry's attention. There was one other interested party present who eagerly wished details of the new arrangement, and that was Lt. Col. James CHALMERS.
For reasons unknown, CHALMERS received leave from (then) Brig. General CAMPBELL to return to New York within two months of his arrival at Pensacola, with a leave of absence for six months.50 Six months came and went and CHALMERS still had not returned to Pensacola, but rather found himself on the Charlestown expedition, in which city he still was on 31 May 1780.51
The displaced Maryland Loyalist found an ally in INNES, who took up his cause with the commander in chief:
"It will…be my duty to represent to His Excellency the apparent hardship of this arrangement of M. Genl. CAMPBELL's to Lt. Col. CHALMERS who was suffering in the cause of Government when Mr. ALLEN commanded a rebel Battalion before Quebec…"52Communication between CLINTON and Pensacola was spotty at best, and the orders to return the officers and men to their former distinct corps did not arrive until after the turn of the new year, 1781.
The war got no better for the British in West Florida. After their successes at Baton Rouge and elsewhere, the Spanish turned their attention to Mobile, where Don Galvez and his invasion fleet arrived off the bar of Mobile Bay on 9 February 1780.
The post, defended by just over 300 men, was commanded by Lieutenant Governor Elias DURNFORD, an officer in the British Corps of Engineers. Galvez's initial force consisted of just over 700 regulars, militia, blacks and even a few Americans, but swelled to three times that number with reinforcements from Havana.
DURNFORD and his garrison, which may have included some men from the United Corps, bravely held out for over a month. Pensacola was well aware of what was happening and now Major General CAMPBELL set out to relieve the garrison.
Taking with him 413 Regulars, Germans and men from the United Corps, plus over 100 Indians and West Florida militiamen, the force set out starting on 6 March 1780. Each man was issued with five days rum and bread and orders only to take their blankets, officers included, carried slung on themselves. Pack horses would carry extra supplies.
The distance between the two posts was estimated at 120 miles, but in between was nothing but wilderness and the river Perdido to cross. To make matters worse, heavy rains set in immediately.53 Despite these incredible hardships, the Pennsylvanians and others struggled through until they arrived at the village of Tansa on the 10th.
By constructing rafts and canoes, CAMPBELL was then able to bring his force close to Mobile, where they had the mortification to witness the garrison surrender, unaware of their close proximity. The dejected column arrived back at Pensacola on the 18th of March, having lost four men drowned and three deserted, including one of the United Corps, a Marylander.54
In addition, thirteen men of the United Corps were now prisoners with the Spanish, many taken aboard a vessel, the Charlotte. Eight of the thirteen were Pennsylvanians. Their first taste of warfare in the wilds of the American Deep South was most unpleasant.
It would get much, much worse.
46 "The Memorial of Ensn. John Young of the 42d or Royal Highland Regiment, Camp before Charles
Town, 30th April 1780." CL, Sir Henry Clinton Papers, 95:44. See also General Orders, New York,
August 15th 1778, New-York Historical Society, Orderly Book of the Brigade of Guards.
Click here for ---> Regimental History Main Page
PA Loyalists' History:
The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies