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Regimental History - 19th Century

The King's Own and the War in the United States of America, 1814-15

The Battle of Godley Wood

On approaching Godley Wood, where the peninsula along which the army was advancing is reduced to a neck a thousand yards in width, the English found themselves opposed by about five thousand Americans, strongly posted with six guns. Both flanks were protected by water, the whole position was well wooded, the front of the line was covered by high palings similar to those at Bladensburg and, since the water on the left of the position was fordable, a battalion was thrown back to guard the left flank. Brooke sent the Light Brigade forward in skirmishing order extended across the whole of the American front. The 44th Regiment, the seamen, and the marines formed in line in rear of the Light Brigade, the 21st Regiment was held in reserve, while the King’s Own, moving off to the right, advanced along some hollow ways and woodlands and gained a thicket on the enemy’s left flank. When all was ready the charge was sounded and taken up by every bugle. The two lines of redcoats which had been lying under fire patiently awaiting this signal immediately rose to their feet and moved on in a cool and orderly manner. They were received with grape from the enemy cannon which caused some casualties, but as yet not a musket had been fired nor a word spoken on either side. When the British troops were about a hundred yards from the American line the latter raised a shout, fired a volley from right to left, and thenceforward kept up a rapid and ceaseless discharge of musketry. Giving them back both their shout and their volley the British troops pressed on. When the King’s Own suddenly revealed itself within twenty yards of the American left the whole line fell back, but by the time that a shallow part of the water had been found, and the Regiment enabled to pass, the Americans had escaped, their whole army having fallen into confusion as soon as the left wing gave way. Once again no effective pursuit was possible, for the thick woods quickly screened the fugitives from view. The British army remained on the battle-field, where it bivouacked for the night.

In Colonel Brooke’s official dispatch Major Jones and Major Faunce were particularly commended, the former for ‘the active and skilful dispositions by which he covered all the movements of the enemy’ and the latter for ‘the manner in which he gained and turned the enemy’s left as well as for the ‘excellent discipline’ maintained in the Regiment.

About midnight it came on to rain heavily and the men were roused to take precautions to prevent their firelocks being rendered useless by the wet. Those who were fortunate enough to possess leathern cases had nothing to do but to wrap them round the lock and sleep on undisturbed, but the remainder had to hold their weapons as best they could with the locks under their elbows. At last dawn broke. The blankets were left behind under guard, and the men continued on their way carrying nothing but their ammunition and their almost empty knapsacks. It was indeed fortunate that they were so little encumbered, for the march before them was arduous, trees having been felled all along the road to stop their progress. Eventually they came in sight of the American position, which was strongly entrenched and defended by fifteen thousand men.

Colonel Brooke decided to wait until the ships came up the river and he could have the assistance of the guns of the fleet and of the darkness of night. Fires were lighted and provisions cooked, but no shelter could be found from the driving rain and the men had not even their blankets with which to make gipsy tents. When a message was received from the navy that the entrance to the harbour was entirely blocked by sunken ships there was nothing to do but to retire.

About three hours after midnight the troops were formed up on the road, and the retreat began. The rain had ceased and the moon shone brightly. Once more they retraced their steps; once more they marched over a field of battle where the dead were as yet unburied, but the bodies had not been stripped and every man lay has he had fallen. After picking up their blankets the men marched on to a favourable piece of ground where they passed the night under tents made of blankets and ramrods. Early next morning they set out again and were soon back on board the ships.

For some time the fleet lay at anchor in various parts of Chesapeake Bay. Parties were sent on shore to dig wells from which the ships could be watered, cattle and sheep were purchased from the inhabitants, some captured flour was converted into biscuit, and every preparation was made for a long voyage.

Text from 'The King's Own The Story of a Royal Regiment' Volume Two, by Colonel L I Cowper, published in 1939.

We recommend The King's Own The Story of a Royal Regiment Volume 2 1814-1914 by Colonel Lionel I Cowper - the best history of the King's Own.  On a CD-rom, viewable through a computer.  Price including UK postage £12.75

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