This almost sounds like a quote from Jack Kerouac:
Of all the situations of life, that of having no pursuit is the worst . . . time hangs heavy and I scarcely know how to spin out the day. I generally lay till ten, go to breakfast and then down to the town to play billiards or pick up the news. Here I find a number of stupid beings as dull as myself — yawning and sauntering from room to room and cursing their ill stars for keeping them in such a vile hole.
But that is a British Army officer talking about his life as a prisoner of war during the American Revolution. Officers were not confined but were compelled not to escape by a sense of honor. They could not work, unlike rank and file prisoners who worked on local farms, so they spent their days bored and waiting for their release.
The quote comes from Fusiliers: The Saga of a British Redcoat Regiment in the American Revolution by Mark Urban, a superb history that follows a British infantry regiment throughout the American Revolution. The Royal Welch Fusiliers, also known as the 23rd Regiment, took part in many of the big battles of the war from Lexington & Concord to Bunker Hill to Guilford Courthouse to Yorktown.
I also enjoyed this section, in which Urban describes my Scots-Irish ancestors, who fought against the British in South Carolina:
Charleston’s immediate hinterland, stretching about 100 miles inland, was a swampy, unhealthy terrain crossed by several major rivers. This lowland was also the most economically productive part of the province, with its large plantations. Beyond the coastal strip, there was a distinct change, a rolling landscape of sand hills, the so-called piedmont, began; and beyond that, a further 100 miles or so from the sea, were the Appalachian mountains. . . .
In many of the piedmont settlements, Britain’s most hard-bitten adversaries were Irish immigrants or those of so-called Scots-Irish descent. The latter type came from the ranks of Scottish Presbyterian settlers in Ireland who, having lived one or two generations on that island, had left for America, many after losing their livelihoods when the British raised taxes on imported linen.
[T]he Hibernian strain that had planted itself in the hills between Camden and the North Carolina border was to prove well-nigh irreconcilable. The meagre existence scraped from the sandy soil of the uplands created a tough, self-reliant patchwork of communities that greatly resented outside interference, be it from redcoats, the Charleston merchant elite, or even tithe-gathering churchmen. One office of the British Legion called these backcountry settlers “Crackers”, recoiling at both their miserable existence and their lax morals, saying they were “more savage than the Indians, and possess every one of their vices, but none of their virtues.”
Settlements of Scots who had not lived in Ireland, by contrast, were often loyalist.
Disclaimer: I also have at least one ancestor who was a Loyalist.
Overall, I took two lessons from this book.
First, as my genealogical research had begun to teach me, the southern campaigns were a much bigger part of the Revolution than is usually recognized. We hear mostly about the war in New England but we also wore down the British Army in a series of battles in the south. Not only that, but the fighting between American Whigs and Tories was incredibly brutal and included the mass killing of prisoners. It seems like this is true of all wars, as extreme incidents of brutality tend to be forgotten over time because nobody wants to remember them.
Second, the popular image of the Revolution is of tight lines of redcoats being shot to pieces by American troops hiding behind rocks and trees. And this is how the war began in Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill. But the British soon adapted and began beating us at our own game with the use of light infantry that moved more quickly and safely through the terrain. In fact, Urban argues that the lessons the British learned in the Revolution eventually led to the tactics that beat Napoleon.
In the Revolution, the British kept winning battles but American armies would melt away and then reassemble, while it was much harder for the British to find replacements for the men they lost. In a final accounting of the regiment’s manpower, Urban says that out of the approximately 1,250 men who served in the 23rd Regiment during the war, 75 were killed on the battlefield while 400 died of illness. Another 193 men deserted, many to run away with American women. Urban points out that American daughters may have actually done more damage to the British Army than American sons.