Gage's Light Infantry

         In 1758, the 80th Regiment of Light Armed Foot, otherwise known as Gage's Light Infantry became the British army's first light infantry regiment.  They were unique in the fact that the soldiers of the 80th were issued brown uniforms instead of the traditional madder red worn by all of the British regiments at the time.  The headgear of Gage's Light Infantry was different from the cocked hat or "tricorn" hat that most regiments of foot wore, the men of Gage's were given caps or helmets of leather, and they would receive their nickname from their distinctive headgear - "the leathercaps."   

       Gage's Light Infantry figure into the history of Green Bay and Wisconsin as one hundred and twenty soldiers in Gage's Light Infantry were part of the expedition that left James Gorrell and his detachment to garrison the fort at Green Bay.  The expedition then went down the shoreline of Lake Michigan, no doubt stopping at various places in Wisconsin along the way.  This expedition was to be under the command of the 80th's Major Henry Gladwin, however when he fell ill Captain Henry Balfour took command in his stead.

A Brief History of Gage's Light Infantry.

Early on in the French and Indian War, it became evident to British officers that there was a need for "Light Troops" to fight the French and in particular their Indian allies in their manner.  The defeat of General Braddock's army at the Monongahela in 1755 was a grim lesson.  The British at first attempted to attract their own Native allies, failing to gain many they turned to American colonists like Robert Rogers, Israel Putnam, and others to form Ranging companies.  Many of these Ranging companies were of particular use, however many were not.  Often times these rangers were unreliable in their operations and discipline.  Lord Loudoun, commander in chief in North America in 1757 was urged to create light troops from among the regulars.  In the fall of 1757, he ordered Major Robert Rogers to from and train a "Cadet Company" of volunteers to be trained in the manner of bush fighting.  Those officers and volunteers could then be returned to their regiments and in turn train soldiers in the tactics of the ranging service.  Lord Loudoun had also planned to create light infantry companies in each regiment, but he changed his mind when Thomas Gage, a Lieut. Col. in the 44th Regiment and veteran of Braddock's Defeat offered to raise a regiment of light infantry.

"Lieut. Colonel Gage made an offer, of raising and cloathing, at his own Expence, (a) Regiment of 500 Rangers, at the same Pay with the Troops, if His Majesty should be graciously pleased, to appoint him Colonel of that Corp. As by this Plan, I should both, make so great a Saving to the Publick, in reducing the Pay of the Rangers, from Seventeen Pence halfpenny Sterling, to Sixpence, and their Cloathing; and at the same time, have Officers at their head on whom I can depend, which, except a very few, is not the Case at present; And as by this Plan, if it Succeeded, I should be Independent of the Rangers, and from thence be able to reduce their Expence, besides which, as I am obliged to encrease the Rangers, it is necessary to have an Officer at their head, by whom I can communicate the Orders to them, and to be answerable for their being Executed.  On this view of things, I have so far accepted of the plan, as to set him about raising them; . . . As I could not propose, that Lieut. Colonel Gage should raise his own Men, for carrying this plan into Execution, till his Majesty had signified His pleasure upon it, I have for the reason, advanced the Money for the Cloathing and raising this Regiment, on Lieut. Colonel Gage's Security to repay it directly, in case His Majesty approves of the Plan.

I have likewise given him a draft of Ninety Six Men out of the Troops, for Sergeants and Corporals, and to make a beginning, for which he is to pay, the respective Regiments, on the same footing as the Drafts are paid for; and they are now going on Successfully in recruiting, many People having enlisted with them, that could not be brought be brought to enlist with the Regular troops." 
- Lord Loudoun to William Pitt, 14th of February 1758.

Despite the fact that Gage had little if any experience in light infantry tactics, Lord Loudoun approved of his plan.  Most believe that Gage's true motivation for creating this regiment was not in his belief the light infantry concept, but more in his quest for promotion.  

The officers chosen to lead this new regiment of "light armed foot" were like Gage looking for promotion, they found that the la petit guerre or bush fighting as it was termed in America was the perfect avenue for their advancement.  Some of the new officers of the 80th were veterans of Braddock's Defeat such as Quintin Kennedy who was an ensign in that battle.  Some were in Robert Rogers' Cadet Company. 

Gage was given a draft of one hundred men from several British regiments, most of the remaining men would be recruited from among the American colonies.  Many men were led to believe that they were joining the Rangers, which were paid a higher wage then the British Regular.  Much to the new recruits dismay, they were not joining the Rangers and would be paid on the same scale as was the British Regular.

The new light infantrymen were given brown uniforms, to help them bend in with the wooded country they would be fighting in.  Coats were cut shorter, much like the hunting coats worn by sportsmen, to make movement easier.  They wore leather caps in place of the clumsy tricorn or cocked hat, this new cap was more practical in the forest and afforded more protection against blows to the head.  The light infantrymen's firelocks (muskets) were cut short and the barrels browned.  The following year they were issued carbines of .66 caliber with a 42" barrel, these too were browned to retard any glare off of the barrel.  The men wore leggings to protect their legs from thorns and underbrush, deserter reports suggest the leggings were blue in color.  Rather than a short sword, the light infantry were furnished with tomahawks for their protection.  All in all, these men had little resemblance to the stereotype Redcoat.

In 1758, "Gage's" saw action in the opening skirmish of the attack on Fort Ticonderoga. Though they routed the French in this opening skirmish, Lord Howe (the army's energetic and charismatic second-in-command) was killed, effectively crushing the spirit of the army, for he was the heart of soul of it. Later that summer, the 80th was involved in the battle of old Fort Anne. The following year, the 80th again was part of the Lake George / Champlain army, now under the command of General Jeffrey Amherst, assigned to attack Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point. It was several men of Gage's Light Infantry that were first on hand to take the abandoned fort at Crown Point.  Later in the year several men of "Gage's" were sent on several reconnaissance missions, as well as a mission to travel via the Ausable Chasm to La Gallette (present day Ogdensburg) to pass communications to General Gage from General Amherst. In the fall, a number of the light infantrymen accompanied Robert Rogers on his raid of the Abenaki village of St. Francis, a daunting task with disastrous results for many in the detachment; however the raid effectively ended Abenaki attacks on New England. In 1760, the 80th Regiment was again part of General Amherst's army, this time with Montreal as its objective. The army first defeated the French at La Gallette, and then Fort Levis. Montreal surrendered in September after being surrounded by three British armies.

After the surrender of Canada, "Gage's" was ordered to garrison the French Fort Levis, which was renamed Fort William Augustus, as well as several other western forts. In 1761 Captain Henry Balfour led an expedition of men from the 80th and 60th Royal American Regiment, to garrison the posts of Fort Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, MI), Fort Edward Augustus (Green Bay, WI) and Fort St. Joseph (Niles, MI).

During Pontiac's Rebellion the men of the 80th were involved in relief of Fort Detroit and the Battle of Bloody Run.  In New York,  two companies of the 80th responding to an ambush,  were themselves ambushed by the Seneca on the Niagara Portage.  This battle is known as the Devil's Hole Massacre.

Though the regiment was supposed to replace the American rangers, it never did and British commanders continued to rely on Rogers as well as other Colonials to lead the many ranger companies. As far as being more disciplined than the rangers, the men of Gage's Light Infantry are frequently mentioned in court martial proceedings and desertion advertisements.

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