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An account of soldiering and of one soldier, by D. Weighan.
[Editor's note: this account focuses on a soldier whose name happens to be Anders. There is no connection between this Anders and Anders Anderson Fasth, bu it is a detailed look at the life of a soldier in Sweden. It was downloaded from a now forgotten website, and I do not know who D. Wieghan is, but he appears to have accumulated a great deal of information about the Swedish solider of the 17th through 19th Centuries.]
Army records found to this date show that Anders enlisted in the Swedish army as a grenadier, but not much personal information is included in the muster rolls found, except that he was six feet tall, married, and was present for roll calls. September 16, 1842, shows him to be at Hångers, Ljungby Parish, Kronobergs län. A man by the name of Göran Molin obtained his “interim release“ (pension) on March 30, 1842, and it was on September 16 of that year that Anders took over the soldier spot.
It is interesting to read the names of Anders’ sponsors. Those listed on the first record were: County Official Torneskjelm, Nils Swansson, Länsman Rundberg, and Länsman Manberg. After five years the first three names remain the same except that the second spelling has been altered to Nils Svensson. Apparently things had gone well for the third of the original sponsors, for Rundberg was now designated as Royal Sherriff Länsman Rundberg!
Six and one-half years after Anders’ enlistment his sponsors were Håkan Swensson, Bengt Eriksson, Kapitan Porath and Pehr Israelsson. After eight and three-fourth years they were Nils Swensson, Bengt Eriksson, Kapitan Porath, and Per Israelsson.
At the time Anders enlisted the Swedish army was uniquely Swedish with none other like it in the world. In 1682 King Charles XI instituted the allotment system, which existed for over two centuries until 1901. Under this arrangement each province was to raise one regiment of 1,200 soldiers, farmers to do the recruiting and to support the recruits in peacetime. The men could come from any geographic location, and recruiting farmers were then exempt from being drafted for the army. Shelter -- customarily in the form of a croft -- clothing, and some remuneration were all part of the bargain. The man usually had two full uniforms, one for parade and exercises (sponsors often kept that one under lock in the ward chest) and a worn parade uniform to be used at less solemn occasions. Finally, worn-out clothing with the insignia removed was given the soldier for his daily work
Support was achieved by dividing the province into 1,200 wards, or “rotes”, consisting of from two to fifteen farms depending upon the size of the farms, each one employing and maintaining one soldier. Farm owners within the rote became sponsors for the soldier, and their names were included in the roster records. The soldier was tied to the land through this system, the ward furnishing him with a croft (torp, soldattorp), and a few acres of tillable land and meadow, on which he lived and worked while not on active duty. Thus the allotment army was a standing one, always ready for mobilization within hours, with the soldier being both.warrior and small farmer (Peasant or crofter) at the same time.
A soldier usually was discharged after about thirty years of service when he was between fifty and sixty years old. The rote position was often even a legacy of sorts for a son who took over when the father retired The man received a small pension and many times received some help from his ward sponsors in starting his retirement life. Sometimes he was permitted to cut timber from their forests to use for a new cottage. Even the retired soldier was honored by a military funeral.
The croft was built on rocks with the plan and size according to regulations, and there was also to be an animal barn, a shed, and a hay barn with a loft. Buildings were inspected for major repairs about every thirty years. Until about 1860 croft roofs were covered with birchbark and peat, and moss filled spaces between the log walls (our log cabins were patterned after these early Swedish dwellings). Later the outer walls were covered with boards. There was an open fireplace and occasionally an iron stove. Often little furniture was needed because crofts many times had the bed(s), table and benches fastened to the wall. A special sign bearing the soldier’s company and number (Anders’ regiment number at *Kvenneberga was 60) hung over the croft door.
Anders must have been a promising young man. The crown demanded that “esteemed and tall men” be contracted (people of the rotes seemed to think that, as the soldier was their protector, he should stand head and shoulders above the congregation in church), strong, with no visible deformities, healthy and erect with straight legs and commendable mental abi1ities.. They must also have hair and at least the beginning of a beard. The uniform and the service helped the soldier stand out as a special type of man, but the stringent selection requirements probably played the biggest role. The rote’s contract with the soldier had to be approved by the regimental commander and the governor of the province. It was very
difficult to rise above one’s roots in Sweden at the time, and it was the enterprising and bold young man in top mental and physical condition who applied for the army while the more careful, less dynamic and physically or mentally impaired stayed on the home farm. .
A grenadier (grenadjar) was an elite infantryman, one of a grenadier regiment The so1dier’s natural abilities were developed during the annual training weeks at the regimental grounds. He learned to keep himself, his uniform and his equipment in the best of shape, and he had to meet special intellectual requirements. Prior to the compulsory grade schools in Sweden (1842) he was sometimes the only person in the parish other than the parish priest and parish clerk who could read and write efficiently, and regular re1igeus services during the regimental exercises prepared him well in the catechism. Sometimes he even was paid by the parish for minor assignments such as serving as the parish clerk, leading the singing in church, teaching children to read and write or being a caretaker and gravedigger. Soldiers had a reputation for being happy, easygoing and thrifty men, and many became the parish jack-of-all trades.
Beginning in the middle of the 1700s instructions to the soldier were printed in a handbook which he had to carry and to commit to memory. Instructions were divided into four parts:
(1) admonitions to fear God, honor the king and serve faithfully; (2) moral demands; (3) body care and personal hygiene; and (4) instructions on equipment care, etc. On the whole soldiers were law abiding with punishments rare. Only about three percent of the men were ever guilty of behavior severe enough for sentencing. Church service attendance was a duty in the 1800s, and soldiers in the parish were ordered to appear neat and orderly. Sometimes after the service there was an inspection which took place in the cemetery surrounding the church.
Naturally the young unmarried soldier was a favorite among the nubile maidens of the parish, and Anders must have been considered quite a catch for Martha. A soldier could offer his wife a home that would be theirs perhaps twenty or thirty years, as long as his health and strength would allow him to serve the ward. He had a potato patch, a barn, summer grazing and winter food for his animals, and sometimes he was furnished a cow, some sheep or perhaps a pig. If he had manual skills he could make furniture, and if his bride had some woolen and linen cloth the future would seem rosy indeed. They would never become rich, but their living was comparatively assured.
Until at least 1880 it was the law that “if a
soldier intends to enter into matrimony, he shall report it to his
captain.” The captain
used his prerogative to check on marriages within his company; he
wanted to know about the bride’s past, and sometimes she had to be
introduced to him. In
any case, the so1dier had to submit a written request for
permission to marry, and permission was also sought from the
parish priest. An industrious wife was an asset for the whole
company, for a well kept croft meant a soldier well cared for so
that he did not misuse liquor or take up other bad habits. ‘The
wife’s practical ability and moral character was important in the
family’s economic situation and standing in the community. Martha
seemed to fit these criteria.
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