Royal Irish Regiment of Foot

History of the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot

The Royal Irish Regiment was formed in Ireland April 1, 1684 under the command of Arthur Earl of Granard. Prior to this date the regiment consisted of independent companies of pikemen and musketeers from which the regiment was formed. The actual formation of the Royal Regiment of Ireland dates back to 1660 when King Charles II formed the “Royal Regiment of Ireland” as a regiment of foot guards. The regiment arrived in England in June 1685 where it participated in the overthrow of the rebel army at Sedgemoor. They were honored with the title "Royal Irish Regiment" for their performance at the Siege of Namur in 1695.

Siege of Namur
Siege of Namur, 1695

In 1713, the rank of the Royal Irish Regiment was set at 18th, taken from the date of its arrival in England in 1688, not its earlier 1685 date. In fact, the Royal Irish was older than all but the most senior seven regiments, but since they had not originally served in England, they were reduced in comparative seniority.

Philadelphia Barracks
Philadelphia Barracks, ca 1778

They were in Ireland when called to North America in January 1767. The regiment left Irish soil on May 19, 1767. The Royal Irish Foot arrived in Philadelphia on July 11, 1767. The surgeon’s mate, Edward Hand noted his arrival on the evening of the 11th and the muster rolls date the arrival of the Regiment as July 11, 1767. They were quartered in the Second Street Barracks upon their arrival.

A cadre of officers and non-commissioned officers were sent to Fort Pitt in late 1767 under Captain Edmonstone with a company of recruits for the 34th. The Royal Irish was given order to relieve the 34th Regiment of Foot in the far western garrisons on May 21, 1768.

Seven companies of the Royal Irish began a journey from Philadelphia to Fort Chartres on the Mississippi River under Lieut. Colonel John Wilkins. Hostile frontiersmen who hid their horses and carts from the soldiers would mark the trip to Fort Pitt. Some of the teamsters who did hire out to the Royal Irish were still appealing to the Pennsylvania Colonial Assembly several years later to receive the wages due them for this trip. Upon arrival at Fort Pitt, five companies of the Royal Irish prepared to descend the Ohio for the 1000-mile trip to Fort Chartres. The five companies departed on July 20, 1768 leaving two companies in garrison at Fort Pitt under the command of Captain Charles Edmonstone, the Royal Irish’s senior captain. Newly promoted Major Hamilton remained at Philadelphia with his company and Capt. Stainforth’s. The five companies fought nature, inexperience, and hostile Indians before arriving at Fort Chartres. The strong current of the Mississippi forced Wilkins to send to Fort Chartres for empty “battoes” to help lighten the load of the boats going up stream. It appears that many of the officers gave up fighting the Mississippi’s current at Kaskaskia and hired calashes from Bayton, Wharton, & Morgan to make the trip from Kaskaskia to Fort Chartres.  The companies arrived at the once French fort on September 5, 1768. The Royal Irish formally relieved the 34th Foot on September 7, 1768.

Immediately, the Royal Irish commenced fighting the unforgiving enemy of disease. Fever struck the garrison at Chartres in late September 1768. By the end of October, three officers, twenty-five men, twelve women, and fifteen children had died. At one point, the garrison could only produce a corporal and six privates for guard duty. By February 1769, fifteen more men, “Almost all of the Women and thirty Seven Children” were buried in Illinois. In January 1770, Gage wrote to Hillsborough that the troops at Fort Chartres were again under the plague of illness though only one officer had died this year according to Gage. The Indians had also taken the opportunity of a weakened garrison to cross to the eastern bank of the Mississippi and alarm the English settlers.

Gage wrote to Hillsborough that another company, Stainforth’s, of the Royal Irish arrived safely at Fort Chartres in August 1770. The regiment was also facing a growing hostility among the Indians. A band of warriors killed three whites near Cahokia, requiring Wilkins to dispatch a detachment from Chartres to that village. Mischief among the Indians continued. The Kickapoo’s killed three or four more whites in Illinois followed by the destruction of a plantation within six miles of Fort Chartres where two men, one white and one black were murdered. Another white man was taken prisoner. A grenadier was killed in March 1772 within sight of the detachment at Cahokia.

The Spanish also posed a threat to the remote garrison at Fort Chartres. The British command ordered the Royal Irish’s companies in Illinois to train to fight in the woods in preparation of a Spanish attack. The Spanish commander at St. Louis was rumored to be bringing 300 Spanish soldiers up river from New Orleans. Don Piernas, the Spanish commander at St. Louis, visited Fort Chartres on 5 June 1771 as Lieut. Col. Wilkins’s guest. He was saluted with 28 pounds of powder by the garrison.

The Royal Irish Foot’s establishment was altered on 3 September 1771 when the regiment was authorized to raise a company of light infantry. The company was to consist of a captain and two lieutenants, two sergeants, one drummer, three corporals, and thirty-eight privates in common with the other companies of the regiment. The regimental agent paid the War Office one pound one shilling on 31 May 1771 for the warrant to raise the light company. This company arrived in Illinois in the spring of 1772 under the command of Captain Hugh Lord. At the same time, the regiment was given orders to evacuate Fort Chartres and leave only a small temporary garrison at Kaskaskia.

The majority of the regiment arrived at Fort Pitt in August 1772 under the direction of Major Hamilton. Major Edmonstone, commanding the Royal Irish’s companies at Fort Pitt was also ordered to abandon his post at that time. Edmonstone’s companies arrived in Philadelphia in December 1772 after abandoning Fort Pitt. This left eight companies of the Royal Irish in garrison in Philadelphia together with the Royal Artillery and portions of the 47th Foot. A small detachment of the Royal Irish was left at Fort Pitt to assist in communicating with Kaskaskia. This detachment appears to have remained well into 1775.

In October 1774, five understrength companies from Philadelphia were marched through New Jersey to New York City to replace the 23rd Foot and three full strength companies including the Grenadier Coy were ordered to Boston. December 1, 1774 saw the regiment posted as follows: five companies in New York under Major Hamilton, three companies under Cpt. Shee in Boston, and two companies under Cpt. Lord at Kaskaskia.

In Boston, the three companies under Cpt. Shee were ordered into the Third Brigade under General Valentine Jones. The Grenadier Coy being present at Boston participated in the march to Lexington and Concord. During this engagement, the grenadiers lost one man killed, four wounded, and one captured. The grenadiers also fought at Bunker Hill losing three rank and file killed, Lieut. Richardson and seven rank and file wounded.The New York companies were finalled embarked for Boston in June 1775.

A portion of the Royal Irish were sent to Penobscot Harbor to cut wood for the garrison in the fall of 1775 and the eight companies in Boston were drafted in December 1775. The remains of the those companies returned to England in February 1776.

The Illinois garrison remained until ordered to reenforce Detroit in May 1776. They arrived in June 1776 and those men were drafted into the 8th (King's) Regiment of Foot in July 1776. The officers and a few men returning to England via Ft. Niagara.

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