HISTORY OF THE DeMEURON REGIMENT
Marianne Purdy, intrepid member of the “Bezona Bunch”, spent many hours researching any possible link to Jean Baptiste BEZONA (BISOGLIO). She shared a comprehensive historical account of the DeMeuron Regiment. Jean Baptiste BEZONA (BISOGLIO) (dubbed JBB by the “Bezona Bunch”) likely came to the USA through service with the DeMeuron Regiment. Fred Kenneth Bowen, another dedicated family history researcher, and Marianne Purdy discuss the details that may connect JBB to the DeMeuron Regiment. (Click here for a link to JBB’s history in America.)
JBB came to the USA after some complicated and changing allegiances during wars of his time. JBB told family members that he was conscripted into Napoleon’s army at the age of 15. Napoleon’s campaign in the Piedmont area of Italy occurred in 1796, which would have made JBB 11 years of age, if his correct birth year was 1785. After conquering Piedmont, Napoleon conscripted Piedmontese into his service and went onto Spain. Many deserted his army there. The DeMeuron Regiment while in service to the British Army fought in Spain was garrisoned in Malta and traveled to Canada to support Britain’s fight against the uppity Americans. Strong likelihood can be drawn that JBB came into the service of DeMeuron and found himself fighting with the British in Canada against the Americans.
A Jean Baptiste BISOGNO (Click here for history) was enlisted from 1813 to 1815 in the DeMeuron Regiment. After the battle at Plattsburg, soldiers from the DeMeuron Regiment deserted. The custom during wars of JBB’s era was for defeated soldiers to join the winning army. Not far from the Plattsburg battlefields, JBB settled in Moreau Township, Saratoga County, New York. Testimony of two Americans comrades at arms verified JBB’s service with them in the American Army. Their testimony assisted Anna Maria Lown, JBB’s wife receive an American Government pensions.
The brief history of the DeMeuron Regiment is interesting and puts a perspective on the time that JBB was born into. It’s up to the reader to decide whether the story proves to be a credible connection to JBB.
HISTORY OF THE DeMEURON REGIMENT
Compiled by Marianne Purdy
Charles-Daniel of Meuron formed a regiment of mercenaries, the Regiment of Meuron, in 1781 which was put in service with the Dutch East India Company in Ceylon [Sri Lanka] to protect the Dutch colony. In August 1795, the British invaded Ceylon capturing two companies of the DeMeuron Regiment. The Dutch surrendered and in the tradition of the time, the regiment entered into service of the English.
The following excerpt is from a research report by Donna Brink Worth filed in 1982 with the Old Fort William Library. Additional research excerpted in this account was done by current DeMeuron Re-enactment Corp members, David Else and Joe Winterburn who compiled the most complete references over the past 21 years of the group’s existence:
“In 1806, the [DeMeuron] regiment was brought to the Mediterranean to garrison Malta. Its strength was greatly depleted by the loss of soldiers in battles and others by their enlistment ending…
“Owing to this reduced strength, the DeMeuron regiment was primarily assigned to garrison duties in the Mediterranean. The DeMeurons were sent from Malta to England, 35 Officers and 132 other ranks. In England, they were stationed on the Isle of Wight, and at Lymington, where their Regimental Depot was established. The DeMeuron companies had been decimated in the Eastern Wars. In England, they were restructured as a line regiment, rebuilt and re-equipped. They did not remain in England for long.
“In 1809 they were sent back to the Mediterranean to join two other Swiss regiments, DeRoll and DeWatteville. Based in Gibraltar and later again in Malta, the regiment was swollen by the addition of 500 recruits. They were mostly Swiss and German soldiers, conscripted into Napoleon’s army, who deserted at the first opportunity to join the British. There is no doubt that there were also some Italians who joined the DeMeuron ranks.
“The DeMeuron Regiment fought in the Peninsular War, in Spain. [The Spanish knew this as the War of Independence.] They were once again under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley. He had been knighted, given the title Duke of Wellington, and now commanded the British forces in the Mediterranean. Wellesley was to become one of history’s few unbeaten generals. The DeMeurons were sent to fight wherever Wellesley thought they were needed most. They were in Spain, Sicily, and Italy.
“While in Malta, in 1813, a number of new recruits, fleeing from Napoleon, were added to the ranks. Of the more than 2,000 DeMeurons in the British Army, in 1813, about 800 of them were Swiss, at least 500 were German, 300 were Dutch, and 200 were Alsatians. The rest were largely Italians and Poles, but included Austrians, Spanish, and every other nationality from Europe. Most had joined the DeMeuron Regiment to fight against Napoleon, instead of being drafted by conscription to fight for him.”
SWISS DE MEURON REGIMENT IN NORTH AMERICA, 1813-1815 Records: In 1813 the regiment departed for Canada on the 5th of May, aboard the transports HMS Melpemone, Regulus, and Dover. Their numbers consisted of 1 major, 6 captains, 20 lieutenants and ensigns, 54 sergeants, 22 drummers and 1001 rank and file.
“Leaving Gibraltar on June fourth at four in the morning, the regiment crosses the ocean on the last episode of this story. We are going to reinforce the British army in Canada, “ces quelques arpents de neige” according to Voltaire, to protect his possessions from the pushy American. We crossed under the protection of the English frigates. The Dover advances to the front position and the Regulus, heavier, has trouble following; in the heavy mist the Melpemene touches bottom in the vicinity of Newfoundland, but can depart the following day, June 25, by high tide. After a short stay, from the sixth until the tenth of July, at Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, the convoy arrives on August 5th in Quebec, at the mouth of the Saint Lawrence Estuary; on a rocky headland that dominates the river, the city puts on its majestic allure as the old capital of Canada.” The entire province of Quebec has “kept something precious and unique: a French perfume that is not an imitation of anything known”
Muster Report of the Regiment, at Chambly, May 29, 1814:
Major-General George Townsend Walker (Colonel-in-Chief)
Lieutenant-Colonel Francois-Henry de Meuron-Bayard
Majors T. Fane and C. E. de May
10 Captains; 18 Lieutenants; 6 Ensigns; 1 Pay-Master; 1 Quarter-Master; 1 Surgeon
64 Sergeants; 59 Corporals; 21 Drummers; 852 Privates; 92 Wives and 42 Children
During the winter of 1813-14, the De Meuron companies rotated to Montreal.
“Leaving minimum garrisons in place, the troops got a chance to enjoy a time in Canada’s largest city. After twenty years in the tropics and the Mediterranean, the Regiment spends Christmas in a land not too unlike their home. On the 23rd of December, seven musicians from the regiment played at Notre Dame in Montreal and received three Louis and ten Shillings for their labour.
“The winter rest was interrupted by an urgent alarm. The Regiment quickly marches across the frozen Saint Lawrence. Blocked by the mountains of ice, the men must cut themselves a path with axes, it is piercing cold. When the regiment arrives again at Chambly, they learn that the Americans intend to make a move north, once more. Fortunately, the Americans are plagued by the same brand of incompetence as the British. The American General Staff hesitate, and loose the advantage. They are afraid of repeating the same blunder as the second battle of la Colle, last October. The campaign becomes a game of chess. Marches and countermarches from one village to another, each side trying to gain the advantage over the other.
“This is the type of campaign the de Meuron [regiment] knows about, as it is the favourite strategy of their former commander, Arthur Wellesley, now the Duke of Wellington. However, to the Canadians it is monotonous and tiring. [General] Prevost becomes impatient, and perhaps he senses his lack of skill for this type of European war. Some of his soldiers dessert, and perhaps he fears he will loose his army and his reputation. During the month of July, the Americans decided to try and consolidate their positions at Niagara and around Lake Erie. The time is right for the Canadians to attack on Lake Champlain.
“Prevost has at his disposal a force of 30,000 men in Upper and Lower Canada. This time, the Americans will be outnumbered. The moment appears favourable for the British-Canadians to launch an offensive. A sea borne raid is planned on Washington in August. This will draw every American soldier in New England south, to defend the capitol.
“Prevost puts in motion an army of 11,000 men between August 31st and the first days of September. On two parallel roads they marched along the river west of Lake Champlain. In the left column marches the DeMeuron Regiment with the Canadian Regiment Voltigeurs de Quebec, as the second brigade with Brigade Major G. Campbell. On the Fourth of September the army reaches the village of Chazy. From here the roads are covered by cut trees and the bridges have been destroyed by the retreating Americans. The vanguard is engaged several times, by American light infantry.
“By the sixth of September, the two columns are in the proximity of Plattsburg. The right column is the first to reach Plattsburg, the left a little behind. Before superior numbers of British-Canadian troops, the Americans who have been harassing the column (militia and volunteers) under General Alexander Macomb (about 330 men) refuse to do battle. They destroy the Saranac Bridge, which divides the village in two, and retire to the Plattsburg Citadel, in reality three blockhouses and three strong fortlets, of Moreau, Scott and Brown. [In pension applications, JBB stated he swam across the Saranac river and surrendered to the American Army.]
“The regiment DeMeuron does not follow the way taken by the main army, but went to the left, expecting the cannon of Plattsburg in that direction to fall on the main route on the shore of Lake Ontario (in reality, the Lake Champlain), which was occupied by the American fleet.”
Charles de Goumoens, Lieutenant, HM Regiment de Meuron, Lt. Graffenried recounts the story,
“It be the first occasion that I have been firing, in passing along the shore of the bay, we receive the grapeshot from the fleet and we do lose some men. Arriving on the outskirts, we (the four companies DeMeuron) establish ourselves; they are in whole retreat, the inhabitants have taken flight as we loudly approach. They have dropped their provisions and good homes the tables are set for diner and excellent cigars I discover and I am served by this invitation! The rest of the army be camped some distance to the rear of the forest, to shelter from the Fort’s and the fleet’s cannon. We continue to maintain fire with a rather lively counterpart till next day. They do not save their houses, but riddle them with ball and grapeshot, we have great sadness. One gunboat we inconvenience without destroying, the Colonel sent a messenger to the Lt.-General on his good horse, to request one cannon to promptly take the escaping gunboat. On passing along in front of the Fort, I serve the Yankee target with balls, but the horseman not ready with the cannon…”
Five Battalion companies, under the orders of Major Wauchope, participate in the attack, of the lower part of the village. Charles de Goumoens, Lieutenant, HM Regiment DeMeuron reported:
“The village of Plattsburg, be divided in two parts by a brook [and] one wooden bridge connects these two parts. The regiment locates in the part of the village which we have the bridge of wood has been destroyed, that obstacle must be passed to the other part of the village that contain the citadel. We loose 18 men; we guard this position during 6 days while the Americans set fire to house after house and when we left, all this part of the village was burnt. When the regiment does leave the village, Colonial DeMeuron does demand of General Prevost what should he do? The general responses “Since you be there, rest!” We remain 6 days, shooting day and night, afterward go construct the batteries…”
In his report to the Minister of the War, American General Macomb talked of the de Meuron light infantry that gave him such a hard time:
[DeMeuron Regiment] “firing without stop at the windows and the balconies, always searching to take possession of the bridge.” In desperation, Macomb had ordered hot shot fired to put the houses on fire, hoping to force the DeMeurons back. He was unsuccessful.
“The Anglo-Canadian troops prepare for a combined attack. Prevost orders the British fleet to attack the harbour. However, with no north wind, the Royal Navy is severally disadvantaged. For 4 more days, the DeMeurons sit under enemy fire from the citadel. The majority of this is born by the flank companies, who are waiting to lead the land attack. Finally, on the morning of the 11th of September, 1 frigate, 3 smaller ships and a dozen gunboats of the Royal Navy attempt to enter Cumberland Bay. It is a disaster. The Royal Navy commander, Downie, is killed in the first few minutes of the attack. The British fleet, with poor wind must manoeuvre through a narrow entrance, unable to bring their guns to bear until they clear into the harbour”.
The American boats are moored in a half moon; all guns aimed at the entrance. For two and one-half hours, the Royal Navy tries in vain to enter the harbour.
“Sunday 12 September arrives the English fleet coming to attack the American fleet, they form half moon line to wait… After a two-hour combat, the English fleet gives back and prepares their colours it is scattered. This action passes in front of the eyes of the Regiment DeMeuron that will mount a frontal assault pending the naval combat that is not finished. The order to wait comes from the General Prevost, who commits a grave error, because the Swiss wait to take possession of the Citadel, to stop the cannon of the American Fleet and stop the hindrance taking the assembled English fleet…
“Charles de Goumoens, Lieutenant, HM Regiment DeMeuron. Meuron-Bayard sees the advantage, and wants to order his regiment forward. All the guns in the American forts are pointed into the harbour. Prevost hesitates, and holds him back. He wants the navy to enter the harbour first. It is obvious to even a most junior officer, like Charles de Goumoens, that this is a fatal mistake. Finally, too late, Prevost gives orders to break through the defences of the American citadel. The fleet is ruined and the fortress guns turn back on their targets for the previous week. He has little possibility, now, for gaining control on Lake Champlain. He lacks energy and spirit of rapid decision. By limiting his experienced Swiss officers, he has lost the campaign. There is much criticism later, about his failure to beat Macomb and attack Macdonough in Albany afterwards.
“Again, fearing rumours of American re-enforcement’s arriving, Prevost changes his orders. He commences a costly retreat. This begins in the night of the 11th-12th September. The American cannon are all turned on the troops holding the taken base of the village and the immediate area. This is the position held by the DeMeuron Regiment. On the 12 and 13th, the artillery is withdrawn. Without counter battery fire, the DeMeurons are now totally at the mercy of the American gunners in the citadel. The rest of the Anglo-Canadian Army leaves, abandoning large quantities of munitions and supplies, as well [as] the casualties and the sick. On the night of the 13th-14th, the last British unit, His Majesties Regiment, DeMeuron, are the sole occupants of the town of Plattsburg.
“Captain Frederic Matthey is told to defend the town to permit the army to retire, and ordered to command the difficult operations of the rearguard during the retreat. Under a terrible rain, the soaked army marches back along the muddy road that a week before, they had taken so easily. The majority of the army are tired and discontented as a result of the campaign. What’s, more, the American boats, now free of the Royal Navy, leave their harbour, and bombard the retreating Canadians along the road. The Regiment looses twenty-two men on this retreat.”
The Plattsburg campaign stopped the British advance in the direction of New York. General Prevost never resumed the attack. This was the last major battle of the eastern campaign. It was the sole important engagement of the Regiment in the war of 1812. This marks as well, the finish of the career of the Regiment.