Private Isaac Woolner – British Army

Isaac Woolner (1792 – 1860)  was born at Beckles, St Andrews, Suffolk, England, UK on 1 August 1792.  His parents were John Woolner and Ann (Salter) Woolner.   Isaac would in 1832 move to British Canada with his family and begin a new life.  But long before that emigration, Isaac would go to war.

Enlistment.   Bristol, England – 4th of May 1812 (date of attestation) (a recruit described a 20-years old laborer with brown hair and hazel eyes standing 5’9″ from Suffolk, BecclesIssac Woolner entered military service with the British Army.  Corporal Thomas enlisted young Isaac for seven years of service.

Isaac’s life intertwined with British military history once he entered the service.   While his life’s events are largely lost to time, his military unit’s history is well documented.  British archives have payroll records and unit reports but absent those documents we can look to the regiment as a whole.

Issac Woolner British Army
British Army – Private Woolner was assigned to the 43rd “Monmouthshire” Light Infantry Regiment.  Also see featured picture.

The 43rd Regiment of Foot, as it was called before 1803, was stationed in the 13 colonies for almost the entire American Revolution (1774 – 1781).  It fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill and Lexington and was at the British Yorktown surrender. It is a popular unit for reenactments because of this service history. Pennsylvania reenactments.  But all this was before Isaac’s birth in 1792.

Renamed in 1803, Recruit Isaac Woolner was assigned to the 43rd “Monmouthshire” Light Infantry Regiment which was combined with the 52nd Foot and 95th Rifles to become the First Corps of Light Infantry which formed the Light Brigade at Shorncliffe, Kent commanded by Sir John Moore.  They were very active in the war against Napoleon.

Death of Sir John Moore 1809
Death of Sir John Moore 1809

The 95th Rifle* wore a new dark green uniform.  The 43rd and 52nd wore the traditional red. In 1808, France advance toward Lisbon, Portugal and the Light Brigade was crucial in the Battle of Vimiera and to driving the French back to Spain.  The army withdrew after the French rallied and counterattacked.  Sir John Moore was killed in battle.  

The 43rd had two battalions in 1812.  I have not determined which one Pvt. Woolner was attached to, however, he was in all likelihood deployed with the 1st Battalion.  Attention to battalion history makes this a fair assumption.

In the war against Napoleon. the two battalions fought together through 1808.  Military command later deployed the 1st Battalion back to the Iberian Peninsula, but they redeployed the 2nd Battalion (raised for this escalating war in 1804) to the Netherlands as part of the Walcheren Expedition (1809).  This expedition failed horribly as many thousands of soldiers perished of disease, the 2nd Battalion soon withdrew and remained in England until disbandment in 1817.   When Pvt. Woolner enlisted by 1812, 1st Battalion was the principal active unit.

As a general matter, a British battalion should have about 1,000 men in 10 companies but that was an ideal only.  The 1st Battalion was usually primary and received reinforcements from the 2nd.  Most of the army still always suffered for men and supplies.  Battalions were named after areas where troops were raised, but once mustered, battalions often fought in different conflict areas.  A healthy recruit would not sit in England during war but would fortify the combat unit.

As noted, the 1st Battalion returned to the Iberian Peninsula and fought in Portugal and Spain during Pvt. Woolner’s enlistment period.  The 43rd fought in many battles during that time.  Here are the key battles the new recruit might have seen:

  • Battle of Salamanca (July 1812)
  • Siege of Burgos (Sep/Oct 1812)
  • Battle of Vitoria (June 1813)
  • Battles of Bidassoa and Nivelle (1813)

In 1814, the 43rd Light Infantry Regiment returned to England from the Iberian Peninsula and the Light Brigade was disbanded.  (An aside, pay lists and muster records for the 1st Battalion would confirm Pvt. Woolner’s location during these events but I still need to obtain them from The National Archives in Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU.)

In 1814, the military redeployed the 43rd “Monmouthshire” Foot Regiment back to America.  The unit fought against General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. While the 43rd was generally held in reserve, British forces took heavy losses. The irony being, The Treat of Ghent was already signed December 24, 1814, but the news had not yet traveled to the Gulf Coast.  Any British gains would be irrelevant and reversed.

Issac Woolner petitions for 100 acres land.

In 1815, after the Battle of New Orleans, the 43rd Regiment quickly redeployed to fight a resurgent Napoleon at Waterloo, but the regiment arrived too late to take part in the battle of June 18, 1815. They remained to occupy France until November 1818.  The regiment was sent to Ireland from 1819 to 1823.  It was in Belfast, Ireland in 1819 that the British discharged Pvt. Woolner after seven years of service.

On December 3, 1819, Isaac Woolner married Sarah Hembling born 11 Jul 1797 in Ilketshall St Andrew, Suffolk, England and they soon started a family.

In 1832, Private Isaac Woolner would move his family to Canada and begin a new life.   Because the Crown awarded land to discharged military veterans, Isaac Woolner would later petition the Governor of Upper Canada for land in this manner.  But this was not then end of Isaac’s struggles.

*(The 95th Rifle is also Richard Sharpe’s regiment, a very popular fictional character created by author Bernard Cornwell.  Sean Bean played Sharpe.  Picture is as seen on the TV adaptation.)

Richard Sharpe - 95th Rifle Greens
Richard Sharpe – 95th Rifle Greens

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