Jerry writes "The earliest ancestor of the McCrohans in England that we know of, was born long after the time of the breakup of the MacCriomhthainn sept. He was Daniel McCrohan, born in Ardfert, near Tralee, in County Kerry, about fifty kilometres north of the old lands of the sept. His birth was in 1788, and he was the first McCrohan of his line to leave Ireland and go to England.
Daniel grew up amid great poverty and hardship. He had little education, and from his early teens he worked, when he could find work, as a jobbing labourer. The years during which he grew up were times of crisis for Ireland. The American and the French Revolutions had stimulated Irish Nationalist movements, and the culmination was the rebellion of the United Irishmen in 1798, when Daniel was ten. After the rebellion was crushed, the Government in England reacted by passing an Act of Union, making London the seat of government of both countries, and further damaging the Irish economy.
The Industrial Revolution in England had dealt Ireland a cruel blow. Her cottage industries such as spinning and weaving had been wiped out, as in England, by the factories of Yorkshire and Lancashire, but unlike England, the few towns and cities of Ireland were unable to absorb surplus rural population, as they had no large industry themselves. Even the land was so poorly managed there was little work available for agricultural labour. The land of Ireland was for the most part owned by absentee landlords, and farmed at subsistence level by innumerable tenants, each renting a tiny plot barely large enough to feed their own family. The main crop was the potato, and no attempt was made to improve production or diversity. The majority of houses in the countryside were hovels - mud huts with earth floors.
Tomas O'Crohan's book graphically depicts the destitution of the remote southwest of Ireland. Such circumstances had gone on for centuries, and the only solution most Irish people could see was to leave the country of their birth by whatever means they could. Other McCrohans had gone to Spain to seek their fortunes, and in the next decades the gates were to be opened for countless Irish to emigrate to the New World. Daniel decided to try and improve his circumstances by joining the British Army. In taking this step he was following in the footsteps of enormous numbers of his countrymen. Poverty in Ireland made it a very fertile recruiting ground for the British Army, and at this time the majority of Army privates were Irishmen.
Thus in late 1808, Daniel, 20 years old, a dark-complexioned man of medium height, 1.73 metres, with brown hair and grey eyes, said farewell to his family and made his way to Cork, the nearest recruitment centre. It was a journey of some 120 kilometres. On arrival in the town he found the place was full of young men like himself, who had travelled from all over southern Ireland to enlist. The army was taking on recruits by the thousands, for this was the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Daniel signed on with the 73rd Regiment of Foot.
After initial training and drills, the regiment was garrisoned at various places in Ireland, and it was at Galway that Daniel met a young woman, Mary Coffee, whom he married on the 21st of May, 1810. Mary also came from a poor background, and was only too willing to go with Daniel wherever his travels in the army took him. Her name Coffee was an Anglicised form of the Irish name Cobhthaigh, which means "victorious".
Later in 1810, the 73rd Regiment was posted to England, and Mary, now awaiting her first child, and Daniel were soon on a ship crossing the Irish sea. In England, the regiment was quartered in a succession of barracks in the south, and Daniel and his fellow soldiers could only sit and listen to news about the great battles being fought on the continent of Europe. Daniel was to find that his life in the army was to be that familiar condition for troops throughout history: long days or even years of waiting, broken up by very short periods of action.
While stationed at Ashford, in Kent, their child was born, a girl, whom they named Ellen. Meanwhile, the power of Napoleon Bonaparte, self-styled Emperor of the French, was waning. At one time he had held all of Europe except Britain in his Empire, but after his disastrous retreat from Moscow in 1812 it was only a matter of time before the final blow would be delivered. In 1813 a combined force of British, Prussian, Russian and Austrian armies defeated Napoleon at Leipzig, and the following year he abdicated and was exiled to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean.
The 73rd Regiment on Campaign
In October 1814 the British Government decided to send the 2nd Battalion of the 73rd to the continent as part of an Anglo-Dutch army to be stationed around Brussels, as a precaution against any resurgence of the French. Daniel, who had now been promoted to Sergeant, was among those who sailed from Harwich to Ostend and marched inland to camp at Courtrai, on the river Lys, in West Flanders (later part of Belgium), around 50 kilometres west of Brussels. The army consisted of about 40,000 men, of which 14,000 were British. It was under the command of the Prince of Orange, son of the King of the Netherlands.
Daniel's wife Mary was left at the regimental barracks in Colchester, and soon Daniel heard some marvellous news from her: she was pregnant with their second child, due the following June.
Throughout the Napoleonic Wars, the 73rd Regiment had seen no action. It had never been necessary to use such inexperienced troops up to this time. However, this was soon to change. In March 1815 the news came that Napoleon had escaped from Elba, was marching across France, and thousands of Frenchmen were rallying to his flag. On the 29th the Duke of Wellington left his post at the Congress of Vienna to travel to Brussels and take up command of the Anglo-Dutch army.
The Duke found his new troops in poor shape. Discipline was lax, morale was low, training was poor. Wellington completely reorganised the forces during April, and discipline and morale were greatly improved by training, target practice and drills. The troops were rapidly augmented to around 90,000 by men from the recently ended war with the United States of America, and Hanoverians who had been about to be demobilised.
The young Prince of Orange, only 23 years old, had no experience commanding such a large body of men, and his future position was something of a problem for the Duke. The Prince had to be kept in a high position in order not to offend his father, the King of the Netherlands, on whose lands the army was stationed. But not surprisingly, none of Wellington's older and highly experienced commanders wanted to be under the Prince's command. Eventually Wellington left him in charge of a corps of 26,000 men, about a third of the army, including Daniel's battalion.
In May Wellington started to move his forces towards the French border in anticipation of an attack by Napoleon. The 73rd marched to Soignies, 40 kilometres south-west of Brussels. Men were billeted in villages over the whole surrounding area, sleeping in barns and other available buildings. They were ready to mobilise and concentrate at designated points within hours, once intelligence of an attack by Napoleon was received.
Now came several weeks of waiting, and a gradual build up of tension among the troops, as they knew that Napoleon was assembling a vast army and would soon be marching towards them. It was obvious that great battles would take place, in a conflict that might decide the future of Europe for decades to come. But there was a fierce resolution against Napoleon, who had suddenly plunged Europe back into war, when everyone had been looking forward to a time of peace and recovery after twenty years of fighting.
The Battle of Quatre Bras
On the 15th of June distant gunfire could be heard from where Daniel was quartered. The front lines of the forces had at last clashed, at Charleroi, 25 kilometres to the south-east. Orders were late in coming, but in the evening all troops were told to move to their divisional assembly points, which for the 73rd was at Soignies. From there, they were ordered to march eastwards, towards Nivelles and Quatre Bras.
The 30 kilometre march from Soignies to Quatre Bras took most of the night and the following day, the 16th of June, with rest periods, and delays due to the thousands of troops converging on the battlefield. There was great apprehension among the lads of the 73rd. Despite their extensive training, this was, after all, to be their first combat experience, and they would be confronting Napoleon's renowned and battle-hardened soldiers.
By the time they reached Quatre Bras a great battle was in progress, Wellington in overall command of the allies, and Marshal Ney commanding the French. The 73rd was part of a brigade of four battalions commanded by Sir Colin Halkett, and they were urgently needed in battle as soon as they arrived, around six o'clock in the evening. Wellington left it to one of his most able commanders, Sir Thomas Picton, to deploy Halkett's brigade. Picton ordered them into square formation against the French cavalry, who were about to charge the British positions.
Daniel and his fellow soldiers formed squares, as they had been drilled to do for so many years. Then they saw the Prince of Orange ride up to Halkett. The Prince was obviously resentful that Picton had deployed these battalions, when they were supposed to be under his own command. Halkett and the Prince were seen to exchange heated words; and then Picton's orders were countermanded. The Prince rearranged the four battalions into straight lines, the worst formation, as the men well knew from their training, to hold against charging cavalry. Halkett angrily fell back and obeyed.
The French cavalry saw their chance and immediately attacked, breaking through the lines, riding in among the men, slashing them with their sabres, and riding them down as they scattered. One of the four battalions, the 69th, was completely smashed. The 32nd and the 73rd broke and ran for nearby woods. The 30th had time to reform into square, and survived the first charge, then ran for the woods. It was a humiliating start to Daniel's battle experience.
Wellington's method of command in battle was to ride about the battlefield, taking personal control of units where necessary. On arrival among the disorganised troops of the Prince of Orange, he rode among them, speaking to the individual men, and soon had their morale restored so that they were able to regroup, take up proper formations, and hold their positions. The troops directed a murderous crossfire at the French cavalry, and as more Allied reinforcements poured onto the battlefield, the French were driven back and the battle of Quatre Bras was won.
Meanwhile, 10 kilometres to the east at Ligny, the allied Prussian army, under Field Marshal Blucher, had fought Napoleon's main forces. The battle was indecisive, and the Prussians suffered severe losses, but were able to regroup and march northwards. Wellington decided to withdraw his own forces northwards also. However, he allowed the troops to rest at Quatre Bras overnight, and to cook and eat a meal in the morning, while the front line engaged in minor skirmishes with the French. Then an orderly retreat began.
It is not difficult to guess the thoughts of Daniel and his fellow soldiers as they were ordered to retreat, and yield to the French the land they had fought to hold the previous day. But in war only the Commander and his staff have the full picture, and Wellington knew it would leave his flanks dangerously exposed if he did not pull back parallel with the Prussian withdrawal.
At eleven on the 17th, the 73rd started to march north, away from the French forces. Three and a half hours later there was a violent thunderstorm, and heavy rain started falling. The rain was to fall continuously all that day and night, and the roads rapidly became churned into thick mud.
Nevertheless, by evening all Wellington's troops had reached the new position he had decided to hold; some 13 kilometres north of Quatre Bras, in the shelter of a ridge near the village of Waterloo. Everyone was aware that the French had followed, had been joined by Napoleon's forces from Ligny, and were taking up position in the valley just south of the ridge. Flashes of lightning occasionally revealed their bivouacs to forward patrols. The men ate, and settled down for the night as best they could. Those who were near the few buildings in the area, notably the chateau of Hougoumont, and the farm of La Haye Sainte, were able to get shelter, but thousands of troops, Daniel McCrohan among them, had to stay all night in the pouring rain and the mud. There were two hundred thousand men on the field of Waterloo that night.
The Battle of Waterloo
Dawn, on Sunday the 18th of June, 1815, was at three thirty, but neither side showed any inclination to attack at this early hour. As the rain eased off, the men cooked, cleaned their weapons, and replenished their ammunition. Wellington had carefully reorganised the command and location of units so that the Prince of Orange no longer had exclusive command of over a quarter of the army. Wellington intended to handle as many units personally as he could.
There was no respite from the high tension, particularly as Napoleon laid on a review of his troops only 350 metres away. 128,000 Frenchmen in their blue and white uniforms formed up in line on the other side of the valley. Their drums and bands could be heard, with enthusiastic shouts of "Vive l'Empereur!" In contrast, Wellington discouraged such panoply in his armies, and his 106,000 men merely waited quietly.
It came as a relief when the first sound of gunfire was heard, ten minutes before midday; it was the French artillery, and was followed by attacks on the chateau of Hougoumont which the allies were holding, 700 metres in front and to the right of the 73rd's position. Hougoumont was succesfully defended by the allies throughout the day. At half past one the French launched an attack on La Haye Sainte, which was also held by the allies as a strongpoint in front of the main line of troops. All this time Daniel and his fellow soldiers, stationed in a long line two deep behind a hedge along the lane behind the ridge, could only listen to the gunfire and wait. They couldn't see anything. The allied artillery, positioned in front of the lines, returned fire, and shortly a pall of smoke began to drift across the battlefield.
At about three o'clock the cry went up, "Here they come!" Napoleon's cavalry were charging, to try and break the allied lines. "Form square" came the order, and immediately the men moved into the position which had been found to be the best for repulsing cavalry. Squares of men, twenty metres on a side, four rows deep, and bristling with bayonets. No horse would go near such a formation; they shied or wheeled aside. Large spaces left between adjacent squares invited the cavalry to swerve, and charge on past, whereas a continous line of men would leave them no choice but to risk impalement on the bayonets, but in so doing, to break the line, as they had at Quatre Bras.
Over and over the cavalry turned and charged; again and again they were driven back. The allied heavy cannon, or artillery pieces, were abandoned during such cavalry charges; the gunners leaving them where they stood and taking shelter within the squares, then returning to their artillery pieces when again possible. The artillery took a terrible toll on the French cavalry; whole ranks of horses were brought down at a time, the following horses stumbling over the carnage.
Around five o'clock the sound of battle could be heard to the east. Then the news was passed among the men, Blucher's Prussian troops were arriving. The French would soon be vastly outnumbered, and the news was a tremendous morale booster to the allies. The French cavalry charges, which had been going on for nearly three hours, were having little effect any longer. Ten thousand horsemen had been deployed in all, but no horse had succeeded in penetrating any square, and they were becoming exhausted. The whole ridge was covered with dead men and horses, and it was no longer possible to ride over it.
Napoleon had made a fateful mistake in not ordering his foot soldiers to move up in support of the cavalry, and in not bringing in men with spiking equipment to sabotage the Allied guns. At ten to six there was a final effort by the French cavalry at the 73rd's position, which was easily driven off.
A few minutes later the farmhouse of La Haye Sainte was taken by the French, after being stoutly defended all day. The French now had a strongpoint very close to the allied lines, and French foot skirmishers (tirailleurs) could approach within 50 metres of the 73rd's position and fire on them. The 73rd & 30th Regiment 2nd Battalion were now together in a square at the east end of Halkett's Brigade and under heavy artillery & tirailleur fire. The brigade had suffered very heavy casualties; it was depleted by two-thirds and getting low on ammunition. Halkett requested relief, but Wellington replied,
"Tell him, what he asks is impossible; he and I, and every Englishman on the field, must die on the spot which we now occupy."
However, the centre of the Allied lines was thinning out dangerously, and at around six forty-five Wellington did bring in some reserves to this area: Hanoverian infantry & cavalry. Halkett's brigade rallied, formed lines and exchanged fire at close range with the French tirailleurs. At one point the lines broke and retreated; then were restored again. More ammunition was brought up from the rear.
At seven there was a lull in the fighting. The 73rd was sent slightly forward of the ridge to eliminate French skirmishers, then withdrawn again to the lane behind the ridge. The valley below was now thick with smoke.
At seven thirty Napoleon made his final effort to break the allied lines; his renowned Imperial Guard infantry were ordered to advance towards the ridge. But the allied troops, after standing against the French onslaughts all day, were not dismayed even by the sight of the Imperial Guard, who hitherto had always heralded the victorious end of a battle for the French. The 73rd had become experienced and battle-hardened in the course of only a few hours. They were now positioned with the 30th in a four-deep line. Gunfire broke out as the French climbed the ridge, through the mud and the carnage, and into range. The whole centre of Wellington's forces were firing, closing in on the Imperial Guard on three sides. Wellington was riding up and down the lines encouraging the troops, and it seemed incredible to the men that he escaped being shot.
At eight, a second echelon of the Imperial Guard managed to advance right up to the lines of the 73rd & 30th and engage their few remaining troops in hand-to-hand combat. The men fell back a short distance, and Halkett, their brigade commander, was badly wounded while rallying them. Then the British Brigade of Guards, which Wellington had been holding in reserve to the right, rose from behind the hedge and fired rolling volleys at the French, who fled down the hill. The French broke and retired with heavy losses, almost fifty per cent. This was the first time the Imperial Guard had ever been beaten. French morale was completely broken, and a stream of fugitives could be seen moving south from the French lines.
Ten minutes later the sun broke through the clouds for the first time that day. At the same time Wellington took off his hat and with it motioned the troops to pursue the French down the ridge. The exhausted but jubilant men moved forward, but Daniel was not among them. He had fallen, wounded in the head by a musket ball. He was one of 44,000 dead and wounded on the battlefield: 14,000 allied, and 30,000 French.
At nine it started to get dark, and the sound of gunfire died down. The battlefield was a scene of horror - the thousands of corpses, and lying among them those still alive, groaning in agony. In the gathering dusk, scavengers flitted from body to body like ghouls, looking for anything of value. Horse drawn wagons moved slowly among the dead, picking up the wounded. Daniel was taken to a field hospital near Brussels. He had been very lucky. The bullet had hit his skull and shattered a portion of it, and he had lost a lot of blood. By rights he should be dead. But Daniel found he could talk, eat, and after a few more days of rest, even walk a little. He heard how Napoleon had been captured, and this time was to be exiled far enough away to make certain he could never again be a threat. And at last in early July, he received news from England. On the 27th of June, nine days after the battle, Mary had been delivered of a healthy baby son. From that moment onwards Daniel's recovery was swift; and he was able to accompany the regiment when it was transferred back across the channel via Calais and Ramsgate to a new barracks at Nottingham. Mary and Daniel had their son christened John McCrohan.
Almost all the troops, officers and men alike, received high praise from Wellington after the battle. To Wellington, troops who misbehaved or showed cowardice were "the s***** of the earth", but after Waterloo his only criticism was reserved for certain Belgian troops with divided loyalties, who had refused to face the French enemy. These he called "the most infamous army I ever commanded". But the numerous battalions which stood firm against terrible enemy onslaughts throughout the day, were "the best of all instruments, the British infantry", as he wrote in a letter to his brother the day after the battle.
As for the 73rd Regiment, it had regained its reputation, and could now add one of the great battles of history to its colours. And every person at Waterloo had the credit of two years extra service added to their record.
Mary and Daniel had four other children: Catherine, Mary, James and Johanna, all born in different places as the regiment moved around; sometimes stationed in England, sometimes in Ireland. Everything seemed fine; the children were growing up healthy; Daniel, like all those who were present at Waterloo, received his Waterloo medal. As the great armies demobilised at the end of more than twenty years of war, he was transferred to the 17th Regiment. And then the problems started. He began to suffer from occasional fits. The wound had affected his brain, and although most of the time he was fine, he never knew when the next attack would come.
On the 30th of August, 1824, while at Hull, Daniel's son John McCrohan enlisted in the 17th Regiment as an apprentice drummer boy. He, like his brothers and sisters, had spent his childhood in the army barracks with the other children of serving men. These children were known as "Barrack Rats" when very young. A basic education was provided for them by the regiment, and most of them thought only of how they would join the regiment themselves when old enough.
The regulation age for entering the army was thirteen, but boys enlisted at as young an age as the colonel would permit. Apprentice drummers in particular were started as young as possible, while their wrist muscles were still supple. John was enlisted at the age of nine, but was put down as "aged 13" in his enlistment record.
We know that the regiment kept Daniel on lighter duties for some years, but eventually it was decided to give him an honourable discharge. Daniel was discharged from the army in 1827 at Galway, and he and Mary decided to settle back at Ardfert, the home of his parents.
Note: (Researched and contributed by Mike McCrohan of Eastbourne, England. Daniel's record can be found in the McCrohan genealogical database at this link)"