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The Invalid Corps

July 13, 2019

When most people think of the Revolutionary War, groups such as the militia, the Continental Army, and yes even the Minute Men come to mind.  However, few people might have heard of the Invalid Corps.  The Invalid Corps only served from 1777 to 1783.  It was comprised of older and invalid veterans who could still provide limited military service.

 

This was not a new innovation. The formation and use of invalid companies have been used throughout history.  For the most part it was used as means to save money.   As early as 1688, Great Britain has utilized pensioners and invalids to perform limited military service.  Primarily, they served as garrison troops.  A newsletter of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea dated October 6, 1688 notes recruiting efforts at the hospital.

 

The raising of New Forces here goes on vigorously.  His Majesty hath viewed the Petitioners of Chelsey Hospital, and such other Officers and Soldiers who are layd (sic) aside because Advanced in Age, and One or two Companies will be formed out of them; in particular 50 of them under the command of Captain Cowy are to march to Windsor Castle, and the soldiers from thence to come and joyn (sic) their proper Regiment. {1}

 

Several companies were raised during the brief reign of James II.  Documentation shows such companies served at Windsor, Hampton Court, and Tynemouth.  Eventually these invalid companies were disbanded by William III {2}

 

During the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714) Great Britain needed troops for service abroad.   English law prohibited persons who were Catholics, lame, tubercular, apprentices, and indentured servants from serving in the military.  Despite this prohibition the British army accepted recruits who were crippled or lame as long as they reached a minimum height of five feet six inches.  Also, after a soldier’s enlistment period ended, those who served abroad were given the choice of staying or returning home.  Those who chose to stay would receive land grants and those who were wounded or crippled could serve in an invalid corps.  These two groups could potentially defend the colonial population. {3}

 

On August 26, 1776, the first pension legislation for the American colonies as a group was enacted. A resolution of the Continental Congress provided half pay for officers and enlisted men, including those on warships and armed vessels, who were disabled in the service of the United States and who were incapable of earning a living. The half pay was to continue for the duration of the disability.  {4}

Provisions for this pensions included the inability to earn a living, and payments were made in proportion to the disability.  However, there was an additional provision.  If the serviceman was unable to perform any military duty he received pension payments. However, if the serviceman was able to perform at least limited military duties he was required to remain on duty as a member of the Invalid Corps and receive full military pay.  (5)

 

The following was published in The Pennsylvania Gazette on September 4, 1776 {6}

 

Provided, that all such officers and soldiers that may be entitled to the aforesaid pension, and are found to be capable of doing guard or garrison duty, shall be formed in a corps of invalids, and subject to the said duty and all officers, marines and seamen of the navy who shall be entitled to the pension aforesaid, and shall be found capable of doing any duty on board the navy, or any department thereof, shall be liable to be so employed: Ordered, That the above be published {7}. 

 

Earlier that same year a man named Lewis Nicola submitted a proposal to the Continental Congress to utilize older and invalid veterans to serve in garrisons and as guards in various locations.  This would then enable more able-bodied soldiers to serve in the field.

The City Guards at present consists of inhabitants, mostly old men, unused to arms & every thing military which renders it very difficult to govern them properly & oblige them to perform their duty regularly. {8}

Nicola continued his proposal and concluded with the recommendation to establish an invalid corps with him as the commanding officer and disband the City Guard.  {9}

 

The Continental Congress decided to accept Nicola’s proposal:

 

Congress took into consideration the report of the Board of War of the 21 of April last: Whereupon, Resolved, That a corps of invalids be formed, consisting of eight companies, each company to have one captain, two lieutenants, two ensigns, five serjeants (sic), six corporals, two drummers, two fifers, and one hundred men. This corps to be employed in garrisons, and for guards in cities and other places, where magazines or arsenals, or hospitals are placed; as also to serve as a military school for young gentlemen, previous to their being appointed to marching regiments; for which purpose, all the sub-altern (sic) officers, when off duty, shall be obliged to attend a mathematical school, appointed for the purpose, to learn geometry, arithmetic, vulgar and decimal fractions, and the extraction of roots; and that the officers of this corps shall be obliged to contribute one day's pay in every month, and stoppages shall be made of it accordingly, for the purpose of purchasing a regimental library of the most approved authors on tactics and the petite guerre: That some officers from this corps be constantly employed in the recruiting service in the neighbourhood (sic) of the places they shall be stationed in; that all recruits so raised, shall be brought into the corps and drilled, and afterwards draughted (sic) into other regiments as occasion shall require.  Congress proceeded to the election of a colonel of the said corps of invalids; and, the ballots being taken,

 

Lewis Nicola, Esqr. was elected.

 

Resolved, That Colonel Lewis Nicola be directed to take immediate measures for carrying into execution the foregoing resolve. {10}

 

 On August 7, 1777, The Philadelphia Evening Post printed the following:

 

Wanted in the regiment of invalids, a drill sergeant and corporal. Any persons well qualified to fill those offices, and that are willing to engage, may apply to the subscriber in Front Street, Philadelphia, four doors below the London Coffee-House.

Lewis Nicola, Colonel. {11}

 

Lewis Nicola was the Barracks Master and mayor of Philadelphia which consequently placed him in charge of the city guards. {12} He was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1717.  He had been a commissioned officer in the British Army.  He and his wife and family moved to Philadelphia in 1766.  He was later appointed mayor in 1776.  By 1776 Nicola would have been about 58 years of age and considered too old to serve in the field.  However, having been a veteran of the British Army he possessed military knowledge that could be useful. He provided his military expertise to inspect the defenses along the Delaware River and provided a plan for a powder magazine. {13}

 

The Invalid Corps served primarily in and around Philadelphia providing garrison duties as well as  guarding stores and supplies.  Military correspondence between George Washington, other officers and officials show that units served at Fort Mifflin, Allentown, Bordentown, NJ, Trenton, NJ, Easton, PA, and Boston, Their final assignment was at West Point. {14}

 

The Invalid Corps began to serve outside the city of Philadelphia as early as September, 1777.  A letter dated September 29, 1777 from George Washington to Colonel Lewis Nicola mention a request for the Corps to obtain munitions for Fort Mifflin. {15} However, as early as December 1777, Nicola was already reporting difficulties within the Invalid Corps.   In a letter to Washington from Trenton, NJ dated December 6, 1777, Nicola reported problems with discipline within the regiment and made a request for officers the men knew well. {16} Difficulties continued when the Invalid Corps was stationed in Easton, PA.  In a letter dated April 12, 1778, Nicola reported a number of robberies being committed since the corps arrived. (17} Similar problems were reported in Easton in June of 1778. {18}

 

On June 13, 1781, a resolution of Congress sent the Invalid Corps to West Point. {19} Nicola faced difficulties before leaving for West Point.  The men had not been paid for ten months and were in need of supplies.  As a compromise, Congress promised the Corps three months’ pay. {20}  By August of 1781, Nicola wrote to Washington about the difficulties he anticipated procuring water and fire wood for the winter due to the conditions at West Point and the Invalid Corps physical capabilities. {21}

 

By May 1782, Nicola began to complain about the lack of men in the Invalid Corps citing the difference between the manner men would be chosen for the Corps as set forth by Congress and the manner that they were currently being chosen. {22}{23} In October of 1782, General Benjamin Lincoln asked that the Invalid Corps be dissolved.  His reasoning was the expense and that it failed to fulfill the benefits that its formation had promised. {24} Eventually the Corps as well as other Continental Army units was disbanded in 1783.

 

Post Script

 

A woman named Margaret Corbin is listed on a return of soldiers in the Invalid Corps in April 1783. {25}

The Executive Supreme Council of Pennsylvania petitioned the Board of War for her to receive a pension.

 

And in favor of Margaret Corbin, for Thirty Dollars, to relieve her present necessities, she having been wounded and utterly disabled by three Grape shott (sic), while she filled with distinguished  Bravery the post of her Husband who was Killed by her side,  serving a piece of Artillery at Fort Washington.  Ordered, that the case of Margaret Corbin, who was wounded and utterly disabled at Fort Washington, while she heroically filled the post of her husband, who was killed by her side serving a piece of Artillery, be recommended to a further consideration of the Board of War, This Council being of opinion, that notwithstanding the rations which have been allowed her, she is not Provided for as her helpless situation requires. {26}

 

The Continental Congress granted her a pension on July 6, 1779. {27}

Notes

 

 

  1. British Museum Add. MSS 3, 929 as cited in Mann, Michael, The Corps of Invalids, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research vo. 66. No. 265 pp. 5-19

  2. The Corps of Invalids by Captain C.G.T Dean, RUSI Journal Vo. 89, August 1944 as cited in Mann, Michael, The Corps of Invalids, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research vo. 66. No. 265 pp. 5-19

  3. Nolan, Cathal J. Wars of the Age of Louis XIV, 1650-1715: An Encyclopedia of Global Warfare and Civilization Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport Connecticut, 2008 p.62

  4. Journals of the Continental Congress volume V page 702

  5. Whelan, Dennis Waiting for Justice: Federal Compensation for Service Connected Disability in America 1776-1876   GoodReads  2013  Introduction

  6. Library of Congress website American Memory – memory.loc.gov.8081/ammen/index.html Journals of the Continental Congress Volume V, August 26, 1776  pp.705 note 1

  7. Ibid: pp. 705

  8. Nicola to Congress, March 1777, Life in Letters (American Autograph Shop) 2 (4) July 1939: 149-51 as cited in Haggard

  9. Haggard pp. 148

  10. Library of Congress website America\Memory - memory.loc.gov.8081/ammen/index.html Journals of the Continental Congress Volume VIII, Friday June 20, 1777 pp.485

  11. Pennsylvania evening Post August – September 1777 as cited in Marraro

  12. Google Books  books.google.com Colonial Records of Pennsylvania: Minutes of the Supreme executive council. Volume XI pp. 38

  13. Haggard, Robert (June 2002). "The Nicola Affair: Lewis Nicola, George Washington, and American Military Discontent during the Revolutionary War" Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society vol. 146   pages 139-169 found on pages pp. 143-146

  14. Papers of George Washington accessed through the National Archives founders.archives.gov

George Washington to Lewis Nicola September 29, 1777, December 6, 1777, October 19, 1779

Lewis Nicola to George Washington October 6, 1777, December 6, 1777 April 12, 1778 November 6, 1780

Colonel Michael DeKowats to George Washington June 26, 1778

  1. Ibid. George Washington to Lewis Nicola September 29, 1777

  2. Ibid. Lewis Nicola to George Washington December 6, 1777

  3. Ibid. Lewis Nicola to George Washington April 12, 1778

  4. Ibid. Colonel Michael DeKowats to George Washington June 26, 1778

  5. Ibid. George Washington to Lewis Nicola June 26, 1781

  6. Ibid. Lewis Nicola to George Washington July 24, 1781

  7. Ibid. Lewis Nicola to George Washington August 4, 1781

  8. Ibid. Lewis Nicola to George Washington May 28, 1782

  9. Ibid. Lewis Nicola to George Washington June 3, 1782

  10. Ibid. Lewis Nicola to George Washington November 20, 1782

  11. Google Books  books.google.com Pennsylvania Archives Fifth Series, Volume 4 pp. 90

  12. Ibid. Minutes of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania,  June 29, 1779

  13. Library of Congress website America\Memory - memory.loc.gov.8081/ammen/index.html Journals of the Continental Congress Volume XIV page 805

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Google Books  books.google.com

 

Haggard, Robert (June 2002). "The Nicola Affair: Lewis Nicola, George Washington, and American Military Discontent during the Revolutionary War" Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society vol. 146   pages 139-169

 

Library of Congress website American Memory – memory.loc.gov.8081/ammen/index.html

 

Mann, Michael  “The Corps of Invalids” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research  vol. 66 no. 264 pp. 5-19

 

Marraro, Howard R.  Unpublished Letters of Colonel Nicola, Revolutionary Soldier pp. 274 -282 Penn State University Libraries Open Publishing  https://journals.psu.edu/phj/article/viewFile/21623/21392

 

National Archives website  founders.archives.gov

 

Nolan, Cathal J., “ Wars of the Age of Louis XIV: 1650-1715” An Encyclopedia of Global Warfare and Civilization. Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, Connecticut, 2008. Pp.62

 

Whelan, Dennis  Waiting for Justice: Federal Compensation for Service Connected Disability in America 1776-1876   GoodReads  2013 

 

 

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