British Army of the Napoleonic Wars
1805 - 1815
The English Channel has often enough proved to be British army's salvation.
Against England there was no broder just to be marched across.
Isolation gave the opportunity to enter wars selectively.
Wellington raised the reputation of the British army
to a level unknown since Marlborough.

1. Great Britain, Politics, Military Expenditure.
- - - Napoleon's invasion of Britain. >
- - - Great Britain's military expenditure. >
- - - Britain and the coalitions against France. >
- - - Building the empire. >

2. The British Army.
- - - King George III. >
- - - Duke of York. >
- - - Duke of Wellington. >
- - - Privates and Officers. >
- - - Strength and Deployment. >
- - - Training and Quality. >
- - - Discipline. >
- - - Deserters and Lost Colors. >

3. British Infantry "The Redcoats".
- - - Organization
- - - Uniforms.
- - - Foot Guard
- - - Light Infantry
- - - Scots
- - - Irish


British Foot Guards, 
by Dmitrii Zgonnik.
Picture: British Foot Guards, by Dmitrii Zgonnik of Ukraine.

At the siege of Cuidad Rodrigo, in 1812 Gen. Picton
gave this particular address to the 88th Regiment
"It is not my intention to expend any powder
this evening. We'll do this business with the
cold iron."

The French were surprised by the rigid class lines that divided
the British soldiers from their officers. There is a record
of Wellington coming upon aristocratic officers
making their men carry them over a river.
The Duke ordered the soldiers to drop them on the spot.

Great Britain was the dominant financial
and maritime power of the 19th century.

Great Britain
“They are a nation of shopkeepers,
their glory is in their wealth”.
- Napoleon

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the
Battle of Hastings and the
events leading to it. "The history of England is similar to the history of Britain before the arrival of the Saxons. It begins in the prehistoric during which time Stonehenge was erected. At the height of the Roman Empire Britannia and Wales was under the rule of the Romans. ... In 1066, the Normans (Normandy is a region in northern France) invaded and conquered England. (Battle of Hastings -->)
There was much civil war and battles with other nations throughout the Middle Ages. ... England had conquered Wales in the 12th century and was then united with Scotland in the early 18th century to form Great Britain. ... The Act of Union of 1800 formally assimilated Ireland within the British political process and from 1801 created a new state called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland .... The English capital of London was adopted as the capital of the Union. ... After the Industrial Revolution, Great Britain ruled a worldwide empire but this has largely gone." (-

Naval battle. For centuries there was a rivalry between England and Spain, and between England and France. The role of England in Iberia was coloured by the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance, under which the independence of Portugal was guaranteed. Relations with Portugal always have been closer than those with Spain, and Spain and the United Kingdom have gone to war twice over Portugal's independence. At the start of the Napoleonic Wars, Spain found itself allied with France, and again found itself outgunned at sea, notably at Trafalgar. British attempts to capture parts of the Spanish colonial empire were less successful and included failures at Buenos Aires, Puerto Rico, and the Canary Islands.

When Napoleon invaded Iberia, the British and (most) Spanish ended up on the same side, united against French invasion. A united British-Spanish-Portuguese army, under the command of Wellington, eventually forced the French out of Spain, in what the Spanish came to call their War of Independence.

Great Britain was the dominant financial and maritime power of the 19th century. Trade was Britain’s lifeblood and for this reason Napoleon used to say “They are a nation of shopkeepers, their glory is in their wealth”.
While the massive armies of Europe were exhausting themselves and their states in direct bloody actions, small detachments from England were turning this situation to advantage by acquiring the British Empire all around the world. The French wanted to do the same but their navy was not strong enough to challenge the British on the high seas. France was not an island and was forced to spent huge amount of money on land forces to fight against the aggressive Prussian and Russian armies.

Napoleon's Invasion of England.
It has been the greatest alarm
ever known in the city of London.

William Pitt and the 
Royal Navy looking for the
French invaders. Picture: cartoon of Prime Minister of Great Britain, William Pitt, and Royal Navy expecting the French invasion.

Although Britain had the largest navy in the world and was separated from the French by water the threat of French invasion was greeted in England with horror. Several times during the Revolution France had tried to invade Great Britain, once in Ireland and once in Wales. When the Irish foray coincided with local rebellion, it created great anxiety. Napoleon's capture of Belgium and the great port of Antwerp represented even more serious danger than the Irish invasion.

The goverment built an alternative capital at Weedon in Northamptonshire, complete with army barracks and a pavilon for the royal family. There were more than 410,000 recruits.

Napoleon at Boulogne camp The English newspapers were full of articles and caricatures about "Buonaparte", to cheer up the people. It has been the greatest alarm ever known in the city of London and an intense invasion panic in the entire country. Major-General William Napier writes: "The uninterrupted success that, for so many years, attended the arms of Napoleon, gave him a moral influence doubling his actual force. Exciting at once terror, admiration, and hatred, he absorbed the whole attention of an astonished world, and, openly or secretly, all men acknowledged the power of his genius; the continent bowed before him, and in England an increasing number of absurd and virulent libels on his person and character indicated the growth of secret fear." (Napier - “History of the War in Peninsula 1807-1814” p 101)

Napoleon was demonised and British mothers would tell their children at night, 'If you don't say your prayers, Boney will come and get you.' There was considerable relief, then, when Admiral Nelson defeated the Spanish and French navy at Trafalgar. The threat of invasion however still existed and the British government ordered the Royal Navy to attack fleets of third countries (Dutch fleet in the Texel in 1805, and the Danish fleet in Copenhagen in 1807) against the possibility that the Emperor with his swiftness, might gain control of them.

Military Expenditure.
Despite smaller populace Great Britain outspent France
by a ratio of 3 : 1 in military expenditure.
Great Britain was the biggest military spender in the world.

British infantrymen.
Picture by ? The struggle between Great Britain and France was not David versus Goliath as some English authors suggest. Great Britain was a strong, very wealthy country. In a period between the 1770s and 1820s, Britain experienced an accelerated process of economic change that transformed a largely agrarian economy into the world's first industrial economy. This phenomenon is known as the "industrial revolution", since the changes were all embracing and permanent. The wool trade was one of the major industries and the country exported wool to Europe. By the 17th century England was a leader in textile production. British factories processed the colonial goods and sold them on in both the quickly growing domestic market or abroad. London was, and still is, major financial district of Britain, and one of the world's leading financial centres.
Some have stressed the importance of natural or financial resources that Britain received from its many overseas colonies or that profits from the British slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean helped fuel industrial investment. It has been pointed out, however, that slave trade and the West Indian ( plantations provided less than 5% of the British national income during the years of the Industrial Revolution

Britain was a very populous country. In 1811 the total population of Great Britain was 18.5 million (incl. England, Ireland & Scotland). In comparison Prussia had 9,7 millions, and USA only 6 mln. Despite smaller populace Great Britain outspent France by a ratio of 3 : 1 in military expenditure. Great Britain was the biggest military spender in the world.


Denmark - 1 million
Saxony - 1,1 millions
Lombardy - 2 millions
Papal State - 2,3 millions
Sweden - 2,3 millions
Portugal - 3 millions
Poland Duché de Varsovie - 4,3 millions
Naples - 5 millions
USA - 6 millions
Holland & Belgium - 6,2 millions
Prussia - 9,7 millions (in 1806 reduced to 4,9 millions)
Spain - 11 millions
Great Britain - 18,5 millions (England, Ireland, Scotland)
Austria - 21 millions (with Hungary)
France - 30 millions
Russia - 40 (with annexed territories)

[Sources: European State Finance Data Base, "Report of the House of Commons - Inflation: 1750-1998"]

Britain (subsidies to allies + the Royal Navy + army, artillery, militia in pounds sterlings (millions)
{* - an average for each 5-year increment}
1805 3.3+15.0+22.6=40.9
1806 2.7+18.9+24.9*=46.5
1807 3.9+17.4+24.9*=46.2
1808 9.3+18.1+24.9*=52.3
1809 8.4+19.6+24.9*=52.9
1810 9.8+19.0+24.9*=53.7
1811 14.2+19.8+41.1*=75.1
1812 18.9+19.3+41.1*=79.3
1813 27.4+20.1+41.1*=88.6
TOTAL 535.5 millions

France total for army and navy in pounds (millions)
1805 16.0
1806 19.9
1807 17.1
1808 17.7
1809 17.9
1810 18.2
1811 24.4
1812 26.9
1813 29.8
TOTAL 187.9 millions

Britain and the coalitions against France.
The flow of money was such that Mr. Nicholls
said in speech in British Parliament
"...even our allies had said that the English
covered Germany with blood and gold."
In Europe was born saying:
"England will fight against Napoleon
to the last drop of Prussian, Austrian
and Russian blood".

Britain and France were political and economical rivals for centuries, often antagonistic with each other and had reached another "boiling point" around 1800-1805. The two countries had become locked in a self-perpetuating duel. "With her control of the seas, Britain could cripple French trade and support resistance anywhere on the European mainland ... It was one of the fundamental French beliefs that Britain's wealth came not from herself but from her colonies, which supplied commodities she could sell on to Europe at vast profit. Every conflict between Britain and France over the past century included a tariff war ..." (Zamoyski - "Moscow 1812" pp 14-15)

As there was widespread commercial jealousy of Britain, Napoleon's continental system and banning all British trade from the Continent was a popular policy. At least in the beginning. Napoleon dreamed about crushing the economical power of Britain. Before the invasion of Russia in 1812 he wrote: "Imagine Moscow taken - Russia crushed - the Tsar reconciled or dead in some palace conspiracy ... And tell me whether we a great army of Frenchmen and auxiliaries from Tiflis would have to do more than touch the Ganges River with a French sword for the whole scafolding of Britain's mercantile greatness to collapse." (Austin - "1812: The March on Moscow" p 31)

British prime minister Pitt announced on 31 January 1793 that Britain was involved in a 'war of extermination' with France. Already in the beginning of the conflict Britain supported the uprisings in Vendee (ext. link), led the rebellion in Toulon, etc. Britain had been sending aid to France's enemies in the form of money, subsidies, arms and uniforms. While only very small numbers of British troops ever took part in the main struggle against Napoleon. The Allies generals saw no British troops in the main theater of war facing the French Emperor. Wellington's corps in Spain was viewed by some Allies as of little importance.

First Coalition Austria,
and Britain
The French won.
Second Coalition
(formed in 1798)
Ottoman Empire,
Papal States,
and Britain
The French won.
Third Coalition
(formed in 1805)
and Britain.
The French won.
(The French navy however
was defeated at Trafalgar.)
Fourth Coalition
(formed in 1806)
and Britain
The French won.
(The Treaty of Tilsit in 1807
between France and Russia
resulted in the Anglo-Russian War
Fifth Coalition
(formed in 1809)
and Britain
The French won.
(The War of the 5th Coalition ended with
the Treaty of Schonbrunn.
In 1810 the French Empire
reached its greatest extent.)
Sixth Coalition
(formed in 1812)
number of German states,
and Britain
The French were defeated.
Of the 500,000 men that Napoleon
had organized for his invasion of Russia,
barely 100,000 remained.
"I have no army anymore !" - Napoleon
His new army was crushed in 1813-14
(massive defeats at Dennewitz, Katzbach,
Kulm, Leipzig, Laon and Paris.)
Seventh Coalition
(formed in 1815)
number of German states
The French were defeated.

Whenever Britain's allies were beaten by France, Britain would shelter all French emigrants who were opposed to Napoleon, helped plots to assassinate him (Artois and Cadoudal,) supplied the terrorists with arms, offered financial support.

Despite the fact that Great Britain was the paymaster of the coalition and gave a strong political support, almost all of the coalition members were suspicious of British motives in fanning the flames of conflict on the continent to distract France while refusing to commit own forces in large numbers. The flow of money was such that in July 1800 Mr. Nicholls said in speech in British Parliament "...even our allies had said that the English covered Germany with blood and gold." England could have never won against Napoleonic France without the Russian, Prussian and Austrian armies, and Spanish guerillas.

The coalitions however were not deeply rooted. Britain's Foreign Secretary had envoys at the Russian, Austrian, and Prussian headquarters. Their reports showed that Britain's allies had its own aims, which is not surprising at all. Castlereagh was taken aback to find that Russia, Austria and Prussia had little interest in Britain and her part in the conflict, save for her huge financial backing. (In 1813 Austria had offered Napoleon a negotiation peace about which Castlereagh had not been consulted.)

Third parties suffered as much as anyone from the economic warfare between France and Britain. After Britain adopted the policy of seizing goods carried by the ships of neutral nations if they were destined for a harbour under blockade Russia, Sweden and Denmark formed in 1800 a League of Armed Neutrality. They declared the Baltic ports out of bounds to British ships. The embargo was strengthened when the Danes seize Hamburg, the main harbour for British trade with the German states. Britain responded by sending a fleet into the Baltic. Nelson destroyed many of the ships in Copenhagen and damaged the shore defences. His victory prompted Denmark, Sweden and Russia to make peace.

The conversations between British and Allies generals,
were held in French language, the international language
of the time, even though it was the enemy's language too.

Building the empire.
"We are all British gentlemen
engaged in the magnificent work
of governing an inferior race." - Lord Mayo

British wealth comes from India. History proves that although she declaimed so loudly against France's grasping spirit, she has since acquired more territory than she ever charged him with conquering. British forces invaded Cape Cod, plans were drafted to capture the Spanish province of Chile and link up with Argentine and Sir Wellesey "was to be asked to invade Spanish held Mexico". It seems like the continuous wars benefited Britain very well:
1751-1763 Conquest of India
1756-1763 War in West Indies
1762 Philippines
1767-1771 First Mysore War
1775-1783 American War of Independence
1778-1783 War with France and Spain
1776-1782 First Mahratta War
1793-1799 and 1813-1814 Netherlands Campaigns
1795 and 1806 Cape of Good Hope
1793-1800 Mediterranean Campaigns
1795-1796 and 1814-1818 Ceylon
1798 Irish Rebellion
1801 and 1807 Denmark
1801 and 1807 Egypt Campaign
1803-1805 and 1809-1815 West Indies Campaign
1806-1812 Italy and Mediterranean
1806-1807 South American War (Argentine, Chile)
1808-1814 War in Spain and Portugal
1809 Walcheren
1809 and 1819-1821 Arabia
1814-1816 Nepal Campaign

For Britain the most important colony was India. It was the "Jewel in the Crown." In 1661 King Charles II of Britain married the Portuguese princess Catherine and received Bombay, an island along India's west coast, as part of the dowry. Later, the King rented Bombay to the British East India Company. Soon after, the British East India Company already had several trading establishments in India, at Surat, Masulipattam and Fort St.George (Madras). King Charles also gave the Company the right to issue currency, erect forts, exercise jurisdiction over English subjects and declare war/peace with natives. The British civil servants who ran India were enthralled with their domain and detached from it. One viceroy, Lord Mayo, declared, "We are all British gentlemen engaged in the magnificent work of governing an inferior race." India stagnated for two centuries, at a time when British living standards more than quadrupled.

British and French colonies 19th/20th century. French colonial empire was the second largest in the world. (The story of France's colonial empire truly began in 1605 and its peak was between 1919 and 1939).

The Sun Never Set on the British Empire. The "British Empire" was not a de jure entity (like the German Empire or Russian Empire), since Britain itself was a kingdom (the "United Kingdom" of Great Britain and Northern Ireland).
One British possession, however, was an empire, namely India.
Queen Victoria became "Empress of India" in 1876.



"... the English army was absurdly under-rated in foreign countries
and absolutely despised in its own ...the ill-success of the expeditions
in 1794 and 1799 appeared to justify the general prejudice. "
England, both at home and abroad, was in 1808
scorned as a military power ..."
Napier - “History of the
War in Peninsula 1807-1814” p 21

The British Army
Strength, Deployment, Training and Quality.

Battle of Salamanca.
Many consider Salamanca
as Wellington's greatest victory. The British army came into being with the merger of the Scottish Army and the English Army, following the unification of the two countries' parliaments and the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. Under Oliver Cromwell, the army had been active in the re-conquest, settlement and suppressing revolts in Ireland. The army and navy, in building the Empire, fought Netherlands, Spain, France, and United States for supremacy in North America, Africa and West Indies. It also battled many native tribes.

During the Napoleonic Wars Great Britain had a powerful navy but relatively small army. One of the barriers to recruitment was the army's fearsome reputation for loss of life. For example the failing campaigns in Caribbean in 1790s caused thousands of redcoats to perish through disease. Britain distrusted and disliked the armed forces, considering them to be the weapons in the hand of the King. Before Wellington the British army was not regarded as equal to some continental armies. In England the idea of British army fighting alongside the Russians in 1807 was ridiculed.

The structure of the British Army was complex, due to the different origins of its various constituent parts. The king was the nominal commander of the British army.
There was no chief of staff system in the British army at the time. At Waterloo there were approx. 150 British and KGL officers listed as being part of Wellington's staff, and 33 of them were actually present at the battle. Wellington had been highly critical of the competence and lack of experience of many of his staff. Various departments were commanded by officers. Wellington could not have worked with a chief of staff who was also his second in command. The Duke made his own decisions and rarely shared his plans.
Sir Oman put it: "He [Wellington] did not wish to have a Gneisenau or Moltke at his side: he only wanted zealous and competent chief clerks.' He himself was de facto head of each staff department. Prussian General Gneiseanu and French Marshal Soult could, and would, assume an independent command of their armies if necessary. (Mark Adkin - "Waterloo Companion")

King George III
George III attacked George and tried
to "smash his head against the wall"
and "foam was coming from the king's mouth".
King's eyes "were so bloodshot they looked
like currant jelly."

England enters the war.
The center figure bears a strong resemblance
to the 'mad king' George III The king was the nominal commander of the British army. The coming of George III to the throne brought the first British born king for 50 years. His predecessor, King George I, was a German who did not speak a word of English, but was Protestant. So he started the rule of the House of Hanover, under whom Britain achieved wealth.

George III, by the Grace of God the King of Britain, suffered from deteriorating mental health. He is also known for the Brits as "The King Who Lost America" and for the Americans as "The Man Who Fought Against Freedom and Democracy." (In 1994 was filmed "The Madness of the King George". Some of the actors were nominated to Oscars.)
The dumb George was having trouble with his eldest son, also George. In 1788, George III attacked George and tried to "smash his head against the wall" and "foam was coming from the king's mouth". King's eyes "were so bloodshot they looked like currant jelly."

By the way, the next king was also George, but with the number IV. He kept going "on laudanum and prodigious quantities of cherry brandy." When war broke out with France there was no true commander of the British army.

Duke of York
When he was sixteen the King sent him to Berlin
to study the art of war under the famous Frederick the Great.

The Duke of York was born in London in 1763. When he was six months old, his father secured his election as Prince-Bishop of Osnabruck in Lower Saxony. He received this title because the prince-electors of Hanover (which included his father) were entitled to select every other holder of this title, and the King apparently decided to ensure the title remained in the family for as long as possible. At only 196 days of age he is therefore listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest bishop in history. He was invested as Knight of the Most Honourable Order of Bath in 1767 and as a Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1771. When he was sixteen the King sent him to Berlin to study the art of war under the famous Frederick the Great.

Duke of York was more administrator and reformer than commander in the field. For example he restored the discipline and morale in the British officer corps, manual exercises were revised, medical services were improved, he reduced the number of infantry regiments but made the battalions of uniform strength, formed depot companies etc. etc.

In 1809 due to indiscretions by his mistress who had been corruptly selling commissions, the Duke of York was forced to resign. He was replaced with Sir David Dundas, who was old and much less effective in office than the Duke. The Duke was reinstated in 1811. (Haythorntwaite - "Wellington's Infantry (1)" p 9)

Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington
Wellington raised the reputation of the British
to a level unknown since Marlborough.

General Wellington, 
Field Marshal at Waterloo. The Duke of Wellington has rather a mixed reputation in his home country of Ireland, where he is generally seen as being British instead of being Irish. He was a member of The Ascendancy, the Anglo-Irish - and largely Protestant - aristocracy of Ireland which was generally hated by the Irish Catholic majority. Wellington came from a titled English Protestant family long settled in Ireland. His father was the Earl of Mornington. Until his early 20s, Arthur showed no signs of distinction. His mother placed him in the army, saying "What can I do with my Arthur?" He became a nobleman playboy, carousing and gambling.

In 1787 his mother and his brother Richard purchased for Arthur a commission in the 73rd Regiment. After receiving military training in Britain, he attended the Military Academy of Angers in France.. (Arthur also learned fluent French there.) He campaigned in India, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and France. Wellington rose to prominence eventually reaching the rank of field marshal. He raised the reputation of the British to a level unknown since Marlborough. Wellington won over French marshals at Talavera, Salamanca and Vittoria. Several times however he was forced to full retreat, and some of his sieges failed.

Wellington was the almost perfect response to the aggressive French strategy and tactics. The Duke, nicknamed Fabius Cunctator (the Delayer), took a very long term view and never lost sight of that. He evaded the enemy by manoeuvre, wearing them down, avoided battles until certain of a desisive victory. Wellington has often been portrayed as a defensive general, even though many of his battles were offensive (Oporto, Salamanca, Toulouse, Vitoria). The Iberian peninsula however "provides some of the best defensive ground in the world, and he was not slow to take advantage of it." (- Jan 2008)

Under Wellington the British army was one of the most successful armies of the Napoleonic Wars. It was especially efficient when fed properly (to keep the discipline) and deployed on a strong defensive position.

Wellington was the most successful British general of the period. Majority of the other British commanders (with only 1 or 2 exceptions) were failures in independent command. Even General Moore lost. He was driven into the sea by the French, then killed, and his troops fled to Britain.
As a general Wellington is often compared to the Marlborough, with whom he shared many characteristics, chiefly a transition to politics after a highly successful military career. He served as the Tory Prime Minister on two separate occasions, and was one of the leading figures in the House of Lords until his retirement in 1846.

Privates and Officers.
The French were surprised by the rigid class lines
that divided the British soldiers from their officers.
There is a record of Wellington coming upon aristocratic officers
making their men carry them over a river.
Wellington ordered the soldiers to drop them on the spot.

Officer of the 9th Foot 
on Martinique in 1793.  
Source: Philip Haythorntwaite. British infantry officers
in 1815. Picture by Knotel. Left: Officer of the 9th Foot on Martinique in 1793. Source: Philip Haythorntwaite.

Right: officers of British infantry in 1815. Picture by Knotel.

The soldierly profession, badly paid and subject to the harshest discipline, was not greatly appreciated in England - was, in fact, a decidedly proletarian vocation. It was no accident that a high percentage of those who enlidsted were Irish since Ireland, overpopulated as it was with a deeply impoverished peasantry, had always been one of the major providers of cannon fodder to His Majesty's army. Irishmen generally made up between 20 % and 40 % of the infantry that Wellington marshaled at Waterloo.
The French were surprised by the rigid class lines that divided the soldiers from their officers and generals. Majority of the officers were all upper-class, some were sons of clerks or shopkeepers, and the soldiers, who were from the working class, obeyed them without question. (Barbero - "The Battle" p 22)

According to Philip Haythorntwaite there is a record of Wellington coming upon aristocratic officers making their men carry them over a river. Wellington ordered the soldiers to drop them on the spot.
Picture: Officer of the 9th Foot on Martinique in 1793. Source: Philip Haythorntwaite

The vast majority of soldiers came from the ranks of the otherwise unemployed, men who had not found another way to earn a living. Half of the troops had been farm laborers and the rest textile workers or apprentice tradesmen.

British infantryman. In England, the proletarian origins of the soldiers opened a chasm between them and their officers and generals. It is no surprising that Wellington said that the army was recruited from among "the scum of the earth". He laso made remark on the significant difference between the composition of a French army (based on conscription) and that of a British one: "The conscription calls out a share of every class - no matter whether your son or my son - all must march."
Costello described his comrades: "Our men, during the war, might be said to have been composed of 3 classes. One was zealous and brave to absolute devotion, but who, apart from their 'fighting duties', considered some little indulgance as a right; the other class barely did their duty when under the eye of their superior; while the third, and I am happy to say, by far the smallest in number, were skulkers and poltroons - their excuse was weakness from want of rations; they would crawl to the rear, and were seldom seen until after a battle had been fought ..." (Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" p 121)

The soldiers of Moore's army were described as "They were all, however, volunteers … The average age of the soldiers was 23, and their average height 5'6". Most had been farm labourers, many from impoverished villages of Ireland and Scotland. They were paid 1 shilling per day, and led by an officer corps of aristocrats and gentlemen, many of whom had simply bought their commissions" (Summerville - "March of Death" p 26)

During campaign the emotions of British soldiers were divided between the hatred and contempt officially directed at the French and Buonaparte" by British newspapers and public opinion and the admiration they felt for the French emperor in their hearts, almost in spite of themselves. Captain Mercer of the Royal Artillery admitted that deep down he "had often longed to see Napoleon, that mighty man of war - that astonishing genius who had filled the world with his renown."

Strength and Deployment of the British army.
The dilemma for military planners was how to use
the forces for three different purposes:
home defence against possible invasion from France,
garrisoning and defence of the empire,
and rapid deployment of an expeditionary force.

In 1790s the British army consisted of the following troops:
- 30 regiments of cavalry (3+7 guard, 6 dragoons and 14 light dragoons)
- 88 infantry battalions (7 guard and 81 infantry)
- 4 foot artillery battalions and 1 Invalid Battalion (all 10 companies each)
(There were also 2 companies in India, and 1 Company of Cadets.
Two troops of the Royal Horse Artillery were in the process of organizing.
There were also 6 field and 1 invalid companies of the Royal Irish Artillery.)

In January 1805 the British army consisted of 161,800 regulars:
- 124,500 Infantry
- 17,000 Artillery and Engineers
- 20,300 Cavalry

The dilemma for military planners was how to use the forces for three different purposes: home defence against possible invasion from France, garrisoning and defence of the empire, and rapid deployment of an expeditionary force for any continental European war.

In January 1805 the British troops were deployed as follow:
- 66,000 stationed in England
- 34,000 in Ireland
- 22,500 in East Indies and Ceylon
- 15,300 in West Indies and Jamaica
- 6,500 on Malta (ext. link)
- 4,500 in Gibraltar (ext. link)
- 4,200 in Canada

According to Adjutant-General's returns, in the military force of Great Britain in 1808 was as follow:
- 170,000 infantry and 6,000 Foot Guards
- 30,000 cavalry
- 14,000 artillery
According to William Napier, of these, approx. 55,000 were employed in India,
the reminder were disposable, "because from 80 to 100,000 militia, differing from
the regular troops in nothing but the name, were sufficient for the home duties."

Training and Quality of the British army.
"The glory of the British army is based principally
upon its excellent discipline,
and upon the cool and sturdy courage of the people.
Indeed we know of no other troops as well disciplined."
- General Foy

Training of the British troops was on high level. The rank and file were mainly volunteers. In contrast the French were mainly recruits and hastily trained. "Unlike the British trooper who received a minimum of 6 months' training most French troopers received after 1805 a bare 2 to 3 weeks, being lucky if they were taught basic horsemanship and drill." (P.J.C. Elliot-Wright)

France was not separated by water from her enemies and was forced to have massive land armies and have it quick. War followed war with little time in between for training. In contrast the British could simply embark their troops and leave, and this is what they did so many times.

Britain was the wealthiest country in the world with relatively small army. They could afford high ratio of practice rounds per soldier in life fire training:
1. British 'Rifles' - 60 rounds and 60 blanks per man
2. Prussian jägers and Schützen - 60 rounds per man (in 1811-1812)
3. British light infantry - 50 rounds and 60 blanks
4. Prussian fusiliers (light infantry in line regiments) - 30 rounds
5. British line infantry - 30 rounds
6. Austrian line infantry - 10 rounds (in 1809)
7. Austrian line infantry - 6 rounds (in 1805)
8. Russian infantry - 6 and less rounds

The British army was based on the well tried and tested regimental system. The esprit de corps of the regimental system was maintained in the names and titles of regiments handed down through history, with a tradition of courage and tenacity in battle. Their discipline and bravery on the battlefield were well known.
Let me give you an example: "Though hotly engaged at the time, I determined to watch their movements. The 88th Foot [Irish] next deployed into line, advancing all the time towards their opponents, who seemed to wait very coolly for them. When they had approached to within 300 or 400 yards, the French poured in a volley or I should say a running fire from right to left. As soon as the British regiment had recovered the first shock, and closed their fles on the gap it had made, they commenced advancing at double time until within 50 yards nearer to the enemy, when they halted and in turn gave a running fire from their whole line, and without a moment's pause cheered and charged up the hill against them. The French meanwhile were attempting to reload. But being hard pressed by the Briish, who allowed them no time to give a second volley, came immediately to the right about, making the best of their way to the village." (Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" p 125)

The British army was an excellent army but far from the most successful in overall terms. The only British overall military success of the period was in Spain. Most other British operation were a failure: Flanders in 1793-94; Holland in 1799; Buenos Aires twice; Holland in 1809; the Dardenelles in 1807; Egypt in 1806; Spain and Sweden in 1808; Naples and Hanover in 1805; Spain and Italy in 1800.

The redcoats went against Washington and won at Bladensburg and North Point but suffered heavier losses to US forces made up largely of militia. The British at New Orleans had six excellent Peninsular regiments (4th, 7th, 43d, 44th, 85th, and 95th Rifles) and failed spectacularly against the Americans. The outcome of New Orleans is good evidence of a good army being led badly.

In 1793-1794 the British troops in Holland received "scathing criticism from foreign military observers and Allied commanders. There were damning comments on the appalling behaviour of officers, their lack of care for their men and their generally drunken demeanour. The Army as a whole showed up badly in the field. The drill manuals were out of date, the battalions were of poor quality ..." (Haythornthwaite - "Wellington's Infantry (1)" p 6)

The war in Spain was also not a litghtining campaign. In 1809 the British corps under general Moore fled before Napoleon to the sea. "The track was littered for mile after mile with discarded equipment and knapsacks, and the forlorn dead and dying." (Haythorntwaite - "Wellington's Infantry (1)" p 36)
According to popular author, Jac Weller, none of Wellington's battles in Spain can be called "great." At Salamanca he failed to exploit his success and the enemy quickly recovered. The battle of Fuentes de Onoro and especially at Talavera were near disasters. According to Weller the Battle of Busaco was "a technical defeat although claimed as victory" and the allignement of troops at Talavera was not very well thought.
Weller wrote that "if Talavera was a victory because the French withdrew then Busaco was a defeat because the British were forced to withdraw." For the French the Battle of Corunna is a victory, for the British this is also a victory, but the Spanish considered this battle as a definite French victory (They called it the Battle of Elvina). Of all the bigger battles only Salamanca was the one where Wellington not deliberately set out to fight "at that place and at that time." Majority of the sieges were failures for Wellington. The siege of Burgos was a very costly defeat.

Source: Nafziger - 
Imperial Bayonets The French commanders had a good opinion about Wellington's troops. General Maximilien Foy (1775-1825) wrote: "Their skill and intrepidity in braving the dangers of the ocean have always been unrivalled. Their restless disposition, and fondness for travelling fit them for the wandering life of the soldier; and they possess that most valuable of all qualities in the field of battle - coolness in their strife. The glory of the British army is based principally upon its excellent discipline, and upon the cool and sturdy courage of the people. Indeed we know of no other troops as well disciplined.... In conclusion it may be said, that the English army surpasses other nations in discipline, and in some particulars of internal management ..."

But also in the same time the British army was one of the slower armies in Europe (except the Light Division and cavalry). French General Thiebault writes that the scattered state of the French army in Spain rendered its situation desperate, and that the slowness of Sir Arthur Wellesley saved it several times. The French troops were known for their skills of extracting provisions locally - much to the annoyance of local population.
Wellington writes: "It is certainly astonishing that the enemy [French] have been able to remain in this country so long; and it is extraordinary instance of what a French army can do. ... With all our money and having in our favour the good inclinations of the country, I assure you that I could not maintain one division in the district in which they have maintained not less than 60,000 men and 20,000 animals for more than two months."

Peninsula in 1808 Gates writes: "In contrast, the Allies, particularly the British, seem to have been peculiarly inept at surviving without plenty of supplies. Even in times of minor food shortages, indiscipline erupted on a vast scale. The British divisions went to pieces in the lean days after Talavera for example - and as late as the Waterloo campaign of 1815, we find Wellington commenting to his Prussian friends that 'I cannot separate from my tents and supplies. My troops must be well kept and well supplied in camp ..."

In the very end of the battle of Waterloo, Wellington and Blucher decided together that the Prussians alone would continue the pursuit. This decision is usually explained by citing the exhausted condition of Wellington's infantry, but Blucher's were surely no less tired. More likely the choice reflected the plodding management and slowness of movement that characterized British troops. [Professor A. Barbero]
In the beginning of the 1815-Campaign the Prussians got 3/4 of their men to the right place at the right time, Wellington only miserable 1/3 of his total forces. Prussian officer Müffling asked Wellington why the Brits advance so slowly and Wellington explained: "Do not press me on this, for I tell you, it cannot be done. If you knew the composition of the British Army and its habits better, then you would not talk to me about that. I cannot leave my tents and supplies behind. I have to keep my men together in their camp and supply them well to keep order and discipline." [Peter Hofscshroer] (The Irishmen however could live on little nourishment, they outmarched the English who had the habits "of good eating and plenty of it too.")

John Mills of British Regiment of 'Coldstream Guard' wrote: "Their (French) movements compared with ours are as mail coaches to dung carts. In all weathers and at all times the French are accustomed to march, when our men would fall sick by hundreds ..." The Spaniards reproached the British for the tardiness of their marches.
"Clumsy, unintelligent, and helpless as the British soldier is when thrown upon his own resources, or when called upon to do the duty of light troops, nobody surpasses him in a pitched battle where he acts in masses... The fire of British infantry is delivered with such a coolness, even in the most critical position, that it surpasses, in effect, that of any other troops. ... This solidity and tenacity in attack and defense, form the great redeeming quality of the British army, and have alone saved it from many a defeat, well-merited and all but intentionally prepared by the incapacity of its officers, the absurdity of its administration, and the clumsiness of its movements." ("The Armies of Europe" in Putnam's Monthly, No. XXXII, published in 1855)

Discipline in the British Army.
Some French deserters who joined
the British Army in the Peninsula
promptly deserted from it because
they found discipline too severe.

According to French veterans the English soldiers obeyed blindly, if they commited a fault, they were punished with the whip. England was still the country where a person could be sentenced to death for any one of more than 60 different crimes, and where women were hanged every day for the theft of a piece of fruit. (Barbero - "The Battle" p 23)
In the weeks before Waterloo, several sentences of this type were carried out in public, to the disgust of the Belgian citizenry.

For the British soldier himself discipline was invariably harsh and enlistement was for long time. Some French deserters who joined the British Army in the Peninsula promptly deserted from it because they found discipline too severe. Some punishments included ‘riding the wooded horse’ a sharp-backed frame on which the offender sat astride, sometimes with weights attached to his feet to increase discomfort.

Flogging. Generally offenders were flogged on the bare back for a variety of offences, and shot or hanged for more serious ones.

According to Wellington flogging was absolutely essential to control "the scum of the earth." He defended the harsh discipline, arguing that the army contained a proportion of blackguards who could not be kept in line in any other way, while reformers maintained that it dishonoured both the victim and the army in which he served. Discipline in the Russian army was also harsh.

During march the discipline in the British army was strict, the soldiers were only allowed to quit the ranks if they were ill or if they needed to relieve themselves. Before doing so they had to obtain a ticket or certificate from the sergeant on approval of their company commander. Officers and senior NCOs of light infantry carried whistles suspended on chains on the fronts of their shoulder belts.

Edward Costello gives some colorful descriptions of the punishment.
"The men being from different regiments, and under the command of a foreigner, some availed themselves of what they considered a fair opportunity of pilfering from the country people as we pursued our march, and I am sorry to say that drunkenness and robbery were not unfrequent. The German officer, as is usual under such circumstances, experienced great difficulty in keeping the skulkers and disorderly from lingering in the rear. ... I was in the act of taking the jug of wine from my lips, when a party of the 16th Light Dragoons rode up and made us prisoners; the peasant, from whom the wine had been taken, having made his complaint at headquarters. We were imprisoned, nine of us in number, in Viseu.
The second day, the Hon. Captain Pakenham, of the Adjutant-General's department, paid us a visit, and told us he had great difficulty in saving us from being hanged. Although this was probably said to frighten, still it was not altogether a joke, as a man of the name Maguire of the 27th Foot Regiment, who had been with me in hospital, was hung for stopping and robbing a Portuguese of a few vintems.
As it was, the German officer in charge of the detachment received orders, on leaving Viseu, to see that we received two dozen each from the Provost-Marshal every morning, until we rejoined our regiments. ... The following day, the 8 culprits and myself were summoned during a halt, to appear before the German, expecting to be punished. We were, however, agreeably deceived by the officer addressing us as follows, to the best of my recollecton, in broken English: 'I have been told to have you mens flogged, for a crime dat is very bad and disgraceful to de soldier - robbing de people you come paid to fight for.
But we do not flog people in my country, so I shall not flog you, it not being the manner of my people; I shall give you all to your Colonels; if they like to flog you , they may.' Being thus relieved, each of us saluted the kind German and retired. From that moment, I have always entertained a high respect for our Germans ..."
(Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" pp 23-24)

Costello also described the punishment of the popular Tom Plunket. "Although Tom was a general favorite, and his conduct had resulted from the madness of intoxication, his insubordination was too glaring to stand a chance of being passed over. He was brought to a regimental court-martial, found guilty, and sentenced to be reduced to the ranks, and to receive 300 lashes. Poor Plunket, when he had recovered his reason, after the commission of his crime, had experienced and expressed the most unfeigned contrition, so that when sentence became known, there was a general sorrow felt for him throughout the regiment, particularly on account of the corporal punishment...
The square was formed for punishment: there was a tree in the centre to which the culprit was to be tied, and close to which he stood with folded arms and downcast eyes, in front of his guard. ... The sentence was read by the adjutant in a loud voice. Poor Tom, who had the commiseration of the whole regiment, looked deadly pale... Happily this wretched scene was destined to a brief termination: at the 35th lash, the Colonel ordered punishment to cease, and the prisoner taken down." (- Costello, pp 12-14)

British soldiers.
Picture by ? After the Napoleonic Wars was published an article about the punishment in the British army. "There is one institution in the British army which is perfectly sufficient to characterize the class from which the British soldier is recruited. It is the punishment of flogging. Corporal punishment does not exist in the French, the Prussian, and several of the minor armies. Even in Austria, where the greater part of the recruits consist of semi-barbarians, there is an evident desire to do away with it; thus the punishment of running the gauntlet has recently been struck out from the Austrian military code.
In England, on the contrary, the cat-o'-nine-tails is maintained in its full efficiency - an instrument of torture fully equal to the Russian knout in its most palmy time. Strange to say, whenever a reform of the military code has been mooted in Parliament, the old martinets have stuck up for the cat, and nobody more zealously than old Wellington himself. To them, an unflogged soldier was a monstrously misplaced being...
This explains two very curious facts: first, the great number of English deserters before Sebastopol. In winter, when the British soldiers had to make superhuman exertions to guard the trenches, those who could not keep awake for forty-eight or sixty hours together, were flogged ! The idea of flogging such heroes as the British soldiers had proved themselves in the trenches before Sebastopol, and in winning the day of Inkermann in spite of their generals ! " ("The Armies of Europe" in Putnam's Monthly, No. XXXII, published in 1855)

Deserters and Lost Colors.
One return stated that during 1807-1809
the army suffered a high figure of 17.237 deserters.

The troops under Wellington were one of the best Britain ever had. Wellington's victories in Peninsula brought a measure of prestige to the British army, and increased reputation in the eyes of Europeans. The British troops however were not super-humans, they - for example - were not immune to deserterion, incl. even the most prestigious units.

In 1813 1,336 men were serving in this regiment and almost 10 % of them deserted. This is estimated that 1/9 of those called into the Army of the Reserve and 1/5 of those enlisted deserted. One return stated that during 1807-1809 the army suffered a high figure of 17.237 deserters. Mind you, the British soldiers were mostly volunteers, not conscripts, like the French.
The British troops under Moore however were run out of Spain, discipline was lost, there was looting and straggling, as well as dead and intoxicated bodies marking their line or retreat. The only thing that held firm and showed a bold front during the retreat was the rear guard. So a British army did fall apart in the field during the period.

Below: English deserters during the Napoleonic wars (source: Charles Dupin):
1805 - 6.497
1806 - 4.466
1807 - 5.021
1808 - 5.059
1809 - 4.186
1810 - 3.994
1811 - 4.060
1812 - 4.353
1813 - 5.822
1814 - 8.857

To the English deserters (given above) can be also added those who deserted from the foreign troops serving in the British army; Brunswickers, Hannoverians, Spaniards and others, increasing the total number. Sometimes the Spanish guerillas caught the deserters from British and German units and brought them back. "At the time I speak of we had a man in our regiment [95th Rfles] of the name of Stratton, who, after robbing several of his comrades of trifling articles, took it into his head to desert to the enemy, and was detected in the act, in a wood that leads from Rodrigo to Salamanca, by the vigilant Guerillas, and brought back prisoner to our cantonments. He was tried by a regimental court-martial, and sentenced to receive 400 lashes." (- Costello p 118)

Edward Costello of 95th Rifles described what sometimes happened when the deserters were caught. "I now have to relate one of those melancholy incidents peculiar to a soldier's life, that occurred while we remained at El Bodon. On taking Rodrigo we had captured, among others, 10 men who had deserted from our division. These were condemned to be shot. The place of execution was on a plain near Ituera, where our division was drawn up, forming three sides of a square; the culprits, as usual, being placed in front of a trench, dug for a grave, on the vacant side.
Two of the deserters, the one man of the same company as myslef [of 95th Rifles], named Hudson ... had been persuaded into the rash step, were pardoned on the ground. The other, a corporal, named Cummins, of the 52nd Regiment, and who had been mainly instrumental, I believe, in getting the others to desert with him, was placed on the fatal ground in a wounded state. ... This man was pardoned also. Why he was pardoned I cannot say. ... A large trench had been dug as a grave for the wretched men who were to suffer. Along the summit of the little heap of mould that had been thrown up from the pit, the deserters were placed in a row, with their eyes bandaged ... Some of the pooor fellows, from debility, were unable to kneel, and lay at their length, or crouched up into an attitude of despair, upon the loose earth.
The signal to the firing party was given by a motion of the provost's cane, when the culprits were all hurried together into eternity, with the exception of one man of the 52nd Foot, who strange to say, remained standing and untouched. His countenance, that before had been deadly pale, now exhibited a bright flush. Perhaps he might have imagined himself pardoned; if so however, he was doomed to be miserably deceived, as the following minute two men of the reserve came up and fired their pieces into his bosom, when giving a loud scream, that had a very horrible effect upon those near, he sprang forward into his grave." (Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" p 86)

British color
captured by the French
cavalry in 1815. The French captured several colors of Wellington's infantry.
In Spain the King's Color of II/48th Regiment of Foot was captured by French NCO Dion d'Aumont from the 10th Hussar Regiment. The regimental color of the 48th Northamptonshire was also claimed by the French. The II/66th Foot Regiment lost 2 Colors captured by the French.
At Talavera NCO Legout-Duplesis of 5th Dragoon Regiment took 4 British colors.
One British color was captured by the French at Almeida.
Battle of Albuera.
Vistula Uhlans with captured
British Colors. At Albuera Polish ulans and French hussars captured 6 British colors.
At Salamanca French Ltn. Gullinat of the 118th Line Regiment captured British color.
In 1814 the French took 4 British Colors at Bergen op Zoom. These were from the I/4th Foot King’s Own and the II/69th South Lincolnshire.
American historian John Elting writes: "Amazingly, at Waterloo the French had lost only 2 eagles, and those early in the battle to English cavalry." By contrast, they had taken either 4 or 6 colors - the number naturally is much disputed - from Wellington's army."
There are known at least names of three troopers who captured these Colors:
- one seized by Marechal de Logis Gauthier (Gautier) of the 10th Cuirassier Regiment
- one by Fourier Palau of the 9th Cuirassier Regiment
- one by unknown cuirassier of the 8th Cuirassier Regiment [He captured the Color of the British 69th Foot Regiment, GdD Kellermann to MdE Davout, 24th June 1815, Arch.Serv.Hist.]
General Delort mentions an English Color captured by an NCO of the 9th Cuirassier Regiment
- one by Capitaine Klein de Kleinenberg from the Chasseurs of the Guard [he captured one Color of the KGL, GdD Leefebvre-Desnouettes to Drouot, 23rd June 1815, Arch. Serv.Hist.]
During battle the captured colors were brought to and deposited in the farm of Le Caillou, farmhouse Napoleon had been using for his headquarters. Unfortunately during the retreat after battle the trophies were left there.



"The infantry is the best portion of the British army..."
- French General Foy
"The result of a hundred battles and the united testimony
of impartial writers of different nations have given
the first place amongst the European infantry to the British;
but in a comparison between the troops of France and England,
it would be unjust not to admit that the cavalry of the former
stands higher in the estimation of the world."
Napier - Vol II, p 367

British Infantry of the Napoleonic Wars
"The Redcoats"

"Well posted, as Wellington knows how to post it,
and attacked from the front, I consider the English infantry
to be impregnable ..." - French General Reille

Picture by Keith Rocco 
- The Lincolnshires Picture: the Lincolnshires in combat, by Keith Rocco.

The history of the British army spans over 350 years and numerous European and colonial wars. Great Britain was one of the greatest imperial powers in the world, and although this dominance was principally achieved through the strength of the Royal Navy, the army played a significant role. The best part of the British Army was the infantry.

The age of British infantrymen of the Napoleonic Wars was between 15 and 45:
- 50 % were between 18 and 29
- 17 % were younger
- 33 % were 30 or older.

The height of British infantrymen was as follow:
- 3 % were 5'10" and taller
- 16 % were between 5'7" and 5'9"
- 60 % were between 5'4" and 5'7"
- 21 % were shorter

In the ranks of British infantry served many Scots and Irishmen. Virtually every single regiment was a mixture of Englishmen, Irishmen and Scots. Some regiments considered as Scottish had also Irishmen and English in their ranks. The same with the so-called Irish and English regiments. See diagram below:

Regiment English Scots Irish Germans
and others
42nd Foot Regiment
"Black Watch" Highlanders
4 %
87 %
9 %
0 %
Ist,IInd Btn./88th Foot Regiment
"Connaught Rangers"
Ist,IInd Btn./52nd Foot Regiment
"Oxfordshire" - Light Infantry
part of the famous Light Division
65 %
2.5 %
31 %

Picture: British infantry storming Badajoz, by Mark Churms.

French Genaral Foy writes: "The infantry is the best portion of the British army. ... The infantry, when in active service, is distributed into brigades of 2, 3 and even 4 regiments, according to the number and strength of the battalions. The grenadiers are not distinguished among the other soldiers for the eclat and pre-eminence so striking in the French and Hungarian grenadiers; and it is not customary to unite them into separate corps, in order to attempt bold strokes.
The light companies of different regiments are sometimes formed into provisional battalions, - a practice directly in opposition to the purpose for which that species of troops was originally intended.
Several regiments of the line, such as the 43rd, the 51st, the 52nd etc., are called light infantry regiments. These corps, as well as the light companies of the battalions, have nothing light about them but the name; for they are armed and with some slight change in the decorations, clothed like the rest of the infantry.
It was considered that the English soldier did not possess sufficient intelligence and address to combine with the regular duty of the line the service of inspiration of the sharpshooter. When the necessity of a specialist light infantry began to be felt, the best marksmen of different corps were at first selected; but it was afterwards found expedient to devote exclusively to the office of sharpshooters the 8 battalions of the 60th, the 3 of the 95th Rifles, and some of the foreign corps.
The English, the Scotch, and the Irish are usually mixed together in the regiments.
Ireland supplies more soldiers, in proportion to its population, than the other two kingdoms.
Four Highland regiments, consisting of 9 battalions, are, however, recruited almost exclusively from the mountains of Scotland, and their officers are selected in preference from the natives of that country. The Highlanders wear their national kilt instead of small clothes; this neither harmonizes with the rest of their dress nor is it convenient for war; but this is of little moment compared with the moral advantages gained by adopting the national costume; a distinction which has its source in popular feeling and custom, generally imposes the performance of additional duty: there are no troops in the British service more steady in battle than the Scotch regiments. ...
The English infantry does not hesitate to charge with the bayonet; the leader, however, who would wish to employ British infantry to advantage, should move it seldom and cautiously, and reckon more upon its fire than its manoeuvres."

The British recruits were instructed to march 75 steps per min. Each step of 30 inches. But 108 steps /min. were used during filing of companies into column, or from column into line. This pace was also used by battalions manoeuvering as columns. It was not used by large bodies of men in movement on account of fatigue. (- Philip Haythorntwaite)

The British military was broken into 2 schools of thought, the 'American' and the 'German'.

  • The 'American' school was characterised by open formations and light infantry tactics well suited to the broken terrain and vast woods of North America where enemy had little or no cavalry and artillery. The 'American' school of thought favored infantry formed on 2-ranks and the use of light infantry armed with rifles.
  • The 'German' school of thought was characterised by disciplined, close order drill well suited to the open plains of Central Europe where the enemy had thousands of cavalrymen and hundreds of cannons. This school of thought favored infantry formed on 3-ranks.

    British infantry muskets.
Source: Nosworthy's - With Musket, 
Cannon, and Sword. Picture: British infantry muskets. Source: Brent Nosworthy - "With Musket, Cannon, and Sword."
    Large number of British muskets were supplied to the Prussian and Russian infantry. "The rapid expansion of the [Prussian] army at this time created problems of major significance. Of prime importance was a general shortage of fire arms. The British Government supplied 113,000 muskets..." (Nash - "The Prussian Army 1808-1815" p 12)

    Although officially during the Napoleonic Wars the British were formed on 3 ranks, Wellinton's troops in the mountainous Spain used the 2-rank deep formation with great success. General Order issued in August 1808 directs the British troops in Spain to use two ranks. Few years earlier the Duke of York allowed for infantry regiments to pass inspection using two ranks regardless of strength.

    In 1815 at Quatre Bras several British battalions were badly chopped by French lancers, cuirassiers and chasseurs. At Waterloo they used far more cautious formation, the 4-rank deep. This heavy line was deeper than the French line. The fear of French cavalry was such that as Ensign Macready wrote "no power on Earth could have formed a line of any kind of us but that of a line 4 deep."

    Another reason for 4-ranks was a limited space.In all probability Alten's and Picton's divisions at Waterloo were also formed on 4-ranks.

  • ~


    The English historians often emphasize how much
    Wellington's battalions were understrength at Waterloo.
    This is correct. But this is not the whole picture.
    Although understrength, the average British battalion
    was stronger than the Prussian unit and much stronger
    (by 145 muskets on average) than the French battalion.

    Organization of Infantry.
    In March 1806 the strength of the British infantry
    was approx. 160,000 men.

    In March 1806 the strength of the infantry was approx. 160,000 men , including the "prestigious King's German Legion." (Haythorntwaite - "Wellington's Infantry (1)" p 11) In this number were included field units, depots, and garrisons. By 1815 there were 104 infantry regiments, numbered strictly in accordance with seniority - the date of formation. Infantry regiment was not a tactical unit, it was an administrative formation that never took the field.

    The strength of infantry regiment varied. At the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens (1803) virtually all regiments had only 1 battalion. But very soon it changed. For example in 1809 :
    - the elite 60th Foot, the Royal Americans (actually they were mostly Germans), armed with rifles,
    had 5,000 men in 7 battalions
    - the 1st Foot, the Royal Scots, had 4,900 men in 4 battalions
    - the 1st Foot Guards had 4,600 men in 3 battalions
    - the 42nd Foot (later known as Black Watch) had 2,000 men in 2 battalions
    - the 88th Foot, the Devil's Own, had 2,000 men (mostly Irishmen) in 2 battalions
    - the 101st Foot had 900 men in 1 battalion
    - the 103rd Foot only 500 men in 1 battalion.

    Wellington's infantry in Autumn 1813 in Spain:
    1st Division (Gen. Howard) - 3,700 men in 4 Guard btns. and 3,200 men in 5 KGL btns.
    2nd Division (Gen. Stewart) - 5,800 men in 9 btns. and 2,700 men in 5 Portuguese btns.
    3rd Division (Gen. Colville) - 5,000 men in 8 btns. and 2,500 men in 5 Portuguese btns.
    4th Division (Gen. Cole) - 4,000 men in 7 btns. and 2,500 men in 5 Portuguese btns.
    5th Division (Gen. Hay) - 3,000 men in 6 btns. and 1,500 men in 5 Portuguese btns.
    6th Division (Gen. Clinton) - 4,700 men in 7 btns. and 2,000 men in 5 Portuguese btns.
    7th Division (Gen. Le Cor) - 3,500 men in 7 btns. and 2,500 men in 5 Portuguese btns.
    Light Division (Gen. von Alten) - 3,300 men in 5 btns. and 1,600 men in 4 Portuguese btns.
    Division (Gen. Hamilton) - 5,000 men in 9 Portuguese btns.

    Staff of Battalion:
    1 Ltn-Col., 2 Mjr., 1 Adjutant
    Quartermaster (sergeant-mjr)
    Paymaster (staff sergeant)
    Armourer (sergeant)
    Noncombatants: surgeons, band of music
    Pioneers (1 corporal and 10 privates)
    The pioneers often wore squat bearskins with brass plate.

    L e f t - W i n g . . . . . . . . . . . . . . R i g h t - W i n g

    . Light . . . . . . 8 . . . . . . . 7 . . . . . . . 6 . . . . . . . 5 . . . . . . . 4 . . . . . . . 3 . . . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . 1 . . . . . Grenadiers


    Below: battalion formed in quarter distance column
    (To form a square frorm this column was very easy.
    The Grenadier and Light Company closed up on the 1st and 8th.
    The 2nd-7th Companies, divided at the join of their two sub-divisions and wheeled
    up by sections, left and right, to form the flanks 4-men deep.
    The front and rear of the square was 20 m wide, the sides 65 m long.)


    The English historians emphasize how Wellington's battalions were understrength at Waterloo. This is correct but this is not the whole picture. Although understrength, the British battalion was much stronger formation than the Prussian or French battalion.
    - British battalion 665 men (KGL battalion 520 men)
    - Prussian battalion 610 men
    - French battalion 520 men
    The British unit had 145 muskets more than the French one.

    Each of the eight center companies was divided into 2 half-companies.
    Theoretically the company consisted of:
    - 3 officers (incl. 1 captain)
    - 5 NCOs (2 sergeants and 3 corporals)
    - 1 drummer (and sometimes 1 fifer)
    - 85-100 privates (in Foot Guard more).

    The British field battalion had ten companies: one light, one grenadier and eight centre. The Light and Grenadier Company drummers formed behind their own company, but their battalion company comrades were grouped behind the 2nd and 7th Companies. The battalion Colors were placed between the 4th and 5th Company.

    British infantry battalion
formed in column, line.
Spain and Waterloo. The British batalion column was always formed with a frontage of one company. With a column at open distance the gaps between the rear rank of the leading company and the rear rank of the next one was the same as the company frontage; say 20-25 m.

    A column at half distance had gaps of 10-12.5 m, at quarter distance 5 m and in the close column the men were virtually treading on each other's heels. Majority of British eyewitness accounts from Waterloo confirm that the infantry massed on the high ground beyond Hougoumont came under French artillery fire from the very first moment and suffered a steady attrition that gradually began to wear on the men's nerves.

    The column of companies, the formation in which most of Wellington's battalions were deployed, waiting to enter into contact with the enemy, was a deep formation, with all 10 companies lined up one behind the other, like rungs on a ladder. It was the best formation for waiting troops, but it certainly wasn't suitable for withstanding artillery fire. (Barbero - "The Battle" p 92)

    "Here come the Grenadiers, my boys,
    who know no doubts or fears !
    Then sing tow, row, row, row,
    the British Grenadiers."
    - British army song from the Revolution

    The Grenadiers were normally distinguished in the following way: red 'wings' with white fringes, white shako-plumes, officers wore chain or laced 'wings.'
    The light and grenadier companies were called flank companies and were numbered separately. Few flank battalions were formed in 1811 for the Barrosa Campaign. One of these battalions consisted of the grenadier and light companies taken from the following units: II/9th, I/28th and II/82nd.

    The Light and Grenadier Companies were supposedly elite units. "The Light Copany was frequently detached to form a skirmish line some 200 m in front of the battalion... If not sent out skirmishing, the Light Company would be at the rear (of the battalion column) with the Grenadiers in the lead." (Adkin - "The Watreloo Companion" pp 169-171)
    In Aug 1812, the grenadiers of the 1st Foot Guards stormed and captured a bridge in Seville.

    It was rare for the British to detach the grenadiers and form entire battalions of grenadiers. We know about one such case, in 1793 the grenadier companies were detached from their parent battalions and were formed in 3 grenadier battalions.



    In the USA, 'Redcoat' is particularly associated
    with those British soldiers who fought against
    the colonists during the American Revolution.

    Uniforms of the Infantry.
    The extensive use of red colour by British,
    over a period of nearly 300 years made red uniform
    a virtual icon of the British Empire.

    Reenactors, British infantry. Red coat is a term often used to refer to British infantryman, because of the colour of the uniforms formerly worn by the majority of regiments. In 1645, the Parliament passed the New Model Army ordinance. The infantry regiments wore coats of Venetian red with white facings. ("There is no basis for the historical myth that red coats were favoured because they did not show blood stains. Blood does in fact show on red clothing as a black stain." -

    In the USA, 'Redcoat' is particularly associated with those British soldiers who fought against the colonists during the American Revolution. It does not appear to have been a contemporary expression - accounts of the time usually refer to "regulars" or "the King's men". Abusive nicknames included 'bloody backs' (in a reference to both the colour of their coats and the use of flogging as a means of punishment for military offences) and "lobsters" or "lobsterbacks" (most notably in Boston around the time of the Boston Massacre. (

    Red and white made an easy target. "... the English are the only nation who have maintained in their army the red coat, the "proud red coat" as Napier calls it. This coat, which makes their soldiers look like dressed-up monkeys, is supposed by its brilliancy to strike terror into the enemy ... The Danes and Hanoverians used to wear the red coat, but they dropped it very soon. The first campaign in Schleswig proved to the Danes what a capital mark to the enemy is offered by a red coat and white cross-belts ..." ("The Armies of Europe" in Putnam's Monthly, No. XXXII, published in 1855)
    Sir John Moore "Despite the best efforts of Sir John Moore, when it came to choosing a new uniform in which to fight, conservativeness won the day. While the 95th Rifles were permitted to adopt the green clothing and black leather equipment of the German regiments in British service, the Light Infantry regiments were ordered to conform to the regulations for light companies - retaining red jackets." (-

    During the Napoleonic Wars with the exception of only three units (60th and 95th and the King's German Legion) the British infantry wore red jacket. The cloth was dull red for rank and file and bright scarlet for senior NCOs and officers. The companies of grenadiers and light infantry wore wings of red cloth at the shoulders. Officers jackets were double-breasted, well tailored and often padded to exaggerate the outline.

    Regimental facings:

    White - 17th, 32nd, 43rd, 47th, 59th, 65th, 74th,
    Pale Yellow - 9th, 10th, 12th, 20th, 26th, 30th, 46th, 57th, 67th, 82nd, 83rd, 84th, 91st,
    Yellow - 13th, 15th, 16th, 28th, 29th, 34th, 37th, 38th, 44th, 75th, 77th, 80th, 85th, 86th, 88th, 93rd,
    Deep Yellow - 6th, 25th, 72nd,
    Yellow Green - 5th, 36th, 54th, 66th,
    Light Green - 39th,
    Blue Green - 11th, 19th, 24th, 45th, 49th, 51st, 55th, 63rd, 68th, 69th, 73rd, 79th, 87th, 94th
    Pale Buff - 27th,
    Buff - 3rd, 14th, 22nd, 31st, 48th, 52nd, 61st, 62nd, 71st, 78th, 81st, 96th
    Deep Buff - 40th, 90th,
    Orange - 35th,
    Red - 33rd, 41st, 53rd, 76th,
    Purple - 56th,
    Blue - 1st, 2nd, 3rd Foot Guards, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 7th, 8th, 18th, 21st, 23rd, 42nd, 60th,
    Black - 50th, 58th, 64th, 70th, 89th

    Plumes of line infantry:

    white for grenadier company
    green for light company
    red over white for center companies
    (only in 42nd the center companies had red plumes,
    light company had red over green plume
    grenadier company had red over white plume)

    Plumes of light infantry (& rifles):

    green for grenadier company
    green for light company
    green for center companies

    For parade during peacetime the infantrymen wore white breeches and black gaiters. During campaign they wore white (in summer) or grey-blue (in winter) comfortable trousers. At Waterloo however all wore grey trousers.

    With the exception of the 71st-75th regiments, all Highland units wore kilts. But at Waterloo only three regiments wore them; the 42nd, 79th and 92nd. (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" in note on the cover painting)

    In 1802 the chevrons replaced epaulettes and shoulder knots as rank distinctions for sergeants and corporals:
    - sergeant-majors and staff sergeants wore 4 silver bars
    - sergeants wore 3 of white silk
    - corporals wore 2 of regimental lace
    - aspiring NCOs and 'chosen men' wore 1 chevron
    (During Peninsular war was introduced a new rank, Color Sergeant, for gallantry in the field. Its badge was a single chevron of regimental lace below a Union Flag below the Royal Crown, with silver swords crossed over the flag staff. It was worn on the right upper arm only.)

    The queues had been abolished in 1808 and the soldiers hair were cut close to the head.
    The grenadiers did not wear the bearskin caps on campaign. (Haythorntwaite - "Wellington's Infantry (1)" p 28)
    In 1806 the heavy and uncommfortable leather shako was replaced by the felt shako. But in 1811 a report stated that the existing shako was unsatisfactory because of its easily damaged form, unsteadiness on the head and lack of protection against bad weather. So new shako was designed and approved in 1812. The new shako was "Basically identical in shape to the Portuguese infantry's berretina, it is generally termed the 'Belgic' of 'Waterloo' shako. It was of felt for the rank and file, coarse beaver for sergeants and officers." During campaign in bad weather the shako was covered with black oilskin.

    The British "Waterloo" shako was authorised for use in December 1811. It was made of black felt, 8.5 inches high in the front and stepped down to 6 inches at the back. A red and white plume was worn on the left side, emerging from behind a black cloth rosette. The caplines (cords) were of white worsted plaited cords, with tassels hanging down on the right side. The peak was of black leather. The design on the plate was the Royal cipher GR with the regimental number underneath. Often the British felt shako was protected with oilskin foul weather cover. (Wilkinson-Latham - "Infantry Uniforms" publ. 1969-70, p 148)

    The shako cords were (in 1815) as follow:
    - gold-crimson for officers
    - white for NCOs, grenadiers and fusiliers
    - green for light infantry.

    The privates of the legendary 42nd Black Watch wore the hummel bonnet. It was of blue cloth with black ostrich feathers on the left side, which were drooped over on to the right side, giving the appearance of an all-feather bonnet. The headband consisted of 3 bands of red, white and green diced cloth. On the left side was a black cockade with a regimental-pattern button into which was attached the white-over-red plume. The chinstraps were of black leather.

    British inter uniforms, 1814. Picture by Knotel, Germany.
    In foreground: officer of infantry and private of 1st Foot Guards
    In background, mounted: light dragoon and heavy dragoon


    Most monarchies have at least one regiment of guards,
    part of whose duties is to guard the royal family.

    The Foot Guard.
    The flower of British infantry.

    British Foot Guards. 
Picture by Knotel, Germany The 1st Foot Guards. 
Picture by de Beaufort, France Left: British Foot Guards in 1815, by Knotel. From left to right:
    - grenadier of 1st Foot Guards (parade uniform)
    - grenadier of 2nd Foot Guards (parade unifom)
    - grenadier of 3rd Foot Guards (parade uniform)
    - fusilier of 1st Foot Guards

    Right: British 1st Foot Guards (campaign dress). Picture by de Beaufort.

    Many nations have regiments of guards in their armies, as the term 'guards' is an honorific to mark out the best soldiers. Most monarchies have at least one regiment of guards, part of whose duties is to guard the royal family. During the Napoleonic Wars the British Foot Guard consisted of three regiments, 1st, 2nd and 3rd, each of 1-3 battalions. The Foot Guard was elite unit that recruited the biggest and best volunteers. They had high reputation for discipline. The guardsmen were uniformed like the line infantry but with regimental distinctions.

    In 1815 there were 7 battalions of Foot Guard, 4 of them were at Quatre Bras and Waterloo. Maitland's brigade suffered very heavy losses in this campaign (over 60 % !).

    - the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards is the most senior regiment of the Guards, and, as such, is the most senior regiment of infantry. It is not, however, the most senior regiment of the Army, this position being attributed to the Life Guards. (The Coldstream Guards were organized before the Grenadier Guards, but their regiment is reckoned after the Grenadiers in seniority.) As a result of their heroic actions in fighting off the French grenadiers [or rather chasseurs] at Waterloo, the 1st Guards were renamed as the Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards, thus becoming the only regiment in the British Army to be named for its actions in battle.

    - the 2nd Regiment of Foot Guards, the Coldstream Guards, is the oldest regiment in the British Army in continuous active service, originating on the Scottish border in 1650. It is one of two regiments of the Guards that can trace its lineage to the Cromwell's New Model Army. The Coldstream Regiment saw service in the Napoleonic Wars (Egypt, Cpenhagen in 1807, Portugal, walcheren Expedition, Waterloo). It later was part of the allied occupation forces of Paris until 1816.

    - the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards, the Scots Guards, can trace their origins back to an army that was raised by Archibald 1st Marquess of Argyll, in 1642. After the union of the two kingdoms, it became the third-ranking regiment of foot guards.

    The British and Russian Guards were one of the best troops Allies had. General Sir Charles Stewart, writes: "It is impossible by any description to give an exaggerated idea of the perfect state of these troops; [Russian Guards] their appearance and equipment were admirable." An eyewitness wrote in 1814: "The Prussians are excellent troops, but after seeing the Russian foot guard I cannot look at them."



    "The English do not skirmish so well as the Germans or the French;
    and it is really hard work to make them preserve their
    proper extended order, cover themselves,
    and not throw away their fire ..."
    - Moyle Sherer of the British 34th Foot

    The Light Infantry.
    "The English do not skirmish so well as the Germans or the French;
    and it is really hard work to make them preserve their proper extended order,
    cover themselves, and not throw away their fire" - M. Sherer of 34th Foot
    (Muir- "Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon")

    71st Light Regiment The British well-drilled regulars were humiliated by American farmers, militia and Indians fighting in lose order. The american experience made a profound impact and resulted in tactical and organizational changes in the British army. But still the quality of the British skirmishers (except the 60th and 95th Regiment) was below their French counterparts.
    French Gen. Foy writes: "Several regiments of the line, such as the [British] 43rd, the 51st, the 52nd etc., are called light infantry regiments. These corps, as well as the light companies of the battalions, have nothing light about them but the name; for they are armed and with some slight change in the decorations, clothed like the rest of the infantry. It was considered that the English soldier did not possess sufficient intelligence and address to combine with the regular duty of the line the service of inspiration of the sharpshooter."

    The only exception were three superb units: 60th, 95th and KGL light btns., all armed with rifles. The Light Division was arguably one of the best light troops in Europe. In September 1813 the French commander in Spain, Marshal Soult, wrote to the Minister of War that British sharpshooters were killing the French officers in a fast rate: "the losses of officers are so out of proportion with the losses in soldiers".
    A Royal Scots officer wrote after Waterloo that generally the French skirmishers were better trained, and on the whole much more effective in this type of fighting than the British skirmishers. (Barbero - "The Battle" p 255)

    Moyle Sherer of the 34th Foot wrote on the British skirmishers: "Not a soul….was in the village, but a wood a few hundred yards to its left, and the ravines above it, were filled with French light infantry. I, with my company, was soon engaged in smart skirmishing among the ravines, and lost about eleven men, killed and wounded, out of thirty-eight. The English do not skirmish so well as the Germans or the French; and it is really hard work to make them preserve their proper extended order, cover themselves, and not throw away their fire; and in the performance of this duty, an officer is, I think, far more exposed that in line fighting." (Rory Muir- "Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon")

    The 43rd and 52nd, received specialist training under Sir John Moore and formed the renowned Light Division in Wellington's Army in Spain and Portugal. There was also the 71st Highland Light Regiment and two rifle outfits, the 60th and 95th. These units (and some foreign) were Britain's light infantry. They were more often in combat than other units. Edward Costello of 95th Rifles writes: "... we were greatly harassed, our picquets and the French were constantly in the habit of firing at each other, and scarce a day passed without some of the men being brought in, either killed or wounded. (Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" p 28)

    The light infantry - if necessary - was transported on horses (the Russians did it in 1812 and 1813 with their jagers). Costello writes "... my company had been hurried forward by the cavalry, each dragoon mounting a rifleman behind him on horse - a method of riding peculiarly galling to the infantry, but which we frequently had to experience during the war. (- Costello p 50)

    The Rifle.
    The rifles were more accurate weapons
    than the smoothbore muskets.

    Baker Rifle In the end of 1797 the parliament authorised the formation of a 5th battalion of the 60th Foot to be recruited from German exiles familiar with the use of rifles. These Germans were armed with rifles designed primarily for hunting, were slow loading and required cleaning every few shots.
    Ezekiel Baker, a London gunsmith, designed a new rifle that aimed at military rather than hunting requirements. The British rifle had similar accuracy as the German rifle, but greatly reduced the rate of fouling allowing more shots between cleaning. A well-trained rifleman could fire it at a rate of approx. 1 shot per minute. For this reason the rifles were far more suited for skirmishers than line troops, as accuracy not speed of fire was the nature of skirmish duty, and the riflemen were deadly proficient at their task.

    The rifles were more accurate weapons than the muskets. According to E. G. Prühs (Pruhs - "Die Schlacht bei Waterloo" publ. 1983) in 1815 at Waterloo the Hannovarian jägers of Graf von Kielmannsegge's brigade fought against French skirmishers. The French suffered 40 killed and wounded, while the jägers had only 20 casualties. The English Baker rifle was probably the most accurate of all firearms during the Napoleonic Wars. On the training ground and under perfect conditions 100 % hits were recorded at 100 paces. However some of the claims about superiority and universality of rifles make little sense. If they were so superior then why the musket, not the rifle, remained the weapon of British infantry for decades after Napoleonic wars ?

    The weaknesses of rifles were:
    - they needed long time to load (very unpopular with troops fighting in open field)
    - needed good clean before it could be fired again
    - they easily became fouled

    The rifles were far more suited for skirmishers than line troops, as accuracy not speed of fire was the nature of skirmish duty, and the riflemen were deadly proficient at their task. At Waterloo approx. 4.000 men were armed with Baker rifles:
    - 2 light btns. and 3 light companies of line btns. of King German Legion - armed with Baker rifles
    - 2 btns. and 2 companies of British 95th 'Rifles' Regiment - armed with Baker rifles
    - 1 btn. of Brunswick Advance Guard - armed with a type of hunting rifle and a non-standard weapons
    - 4 jager companies (2 of Orange-Nassau and 2 of 1st Hannoverian Brigade) - armed with a type of hunting rifle and a non-standard weapons
    - 2 light companies of Hannoverian btns. (1 of Luneburg and 1 of Grubenhagen)- armed with a type of hunting rifle and a non-standard weapons

    The riflemen also used a long bayonet ("sword bayonet") designed to make the rifle and sword-bayonet the same length as the musket and bayonet. But the sword-bayonet was not an effective weapon in hand-to-hand combat.

    The 95th Rifles.
    "The Grasshoppers."

    Left: baby-faced captain of 95th Rifles.

    Right: British riflemen in 1813, picture by Knotel. From left to right:
    - officer of 95th Rifles
    - private of 95th Rifles
    - private of 60th Royal Americans

    The 95th 'Rifles' earned the nickname "The Grasshoppers" for their dark green uniforms and agility. "As part of the famous Light Division they had been Wellington's eyes and ears, scouting and screening ahead of every advance and covering every retreat. ... they usually fought dispersed, they carried no Colors, and reacted to whistle blasts or bugle calls rather than the beating of drums." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" pp 178-179)

    The 95th Regiment of Foot was formed due to the demonstrated marksmanship of American militia during the American War of Independence. After a period of intensive training of soldiers drawn from many different infantry regiments the new riflemen first action was in August 1800. It was a failed amphibious assault on Ferrol in Spain.
    The regiment also participated in the battle of Copenhagen, and have suffered many casualties. In 1806 the Rifles participated in the attack on the city of Buenos Aires (today Argentine), and suffered 'a very severe loss in both officers and men'.

    The Rifles suffered badly during Moore's dramatic retreat to Corunna. Edward Costello writes: "The Rifle regiment, it is well known, had distinguished itself, and had suffered severely, especially in the retreat to Corunna under the gallant Moore. From thence, they had embarked for England, where, on their landing they presented a most deplorable sight. The appearance of the men was squalid and miserable in the extreme." (Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" p 5)

    In Peninsula the 95th Rifles participated in numerous skirmishes and combats. They distinguished themselves in several battles, incl. Salamanca.

    In the battle of Quatre Bras in 1815, the 95th Rifles were unable to retake the village defended by Bachelu's infantrymen. Prince of Orange sent several companies of Dutch 27th Jagers to assist the British, but language proved a barrier to useful co-operation. Sir Andrew tried to encourage the Dutch to march forward in line with his men, but the Dutch tried to explain that the French are in too great numbers to attack frontally. The French were in tall crop and unseen to Sir Andrew's men. Sir Andrew insisted and his riflemen went forward unaccompanied, only to be repulsed at once by a massive volley.



    "...Scottish troops were the best in the army in situations
    calling for coolness, steadiness and obedience to orders ..."
    Barbero - "The Battle"

    The Scots: Lowlanders and Highlanders.
    They made extraordinary defensive soldiers.
    Tomkinson of 16th Light Dragoons however
    "thought them less valuable in skirmishes."

    Picture: British infantry by Knotel of Germany.
    From left to right:
    - private of 6th Foot
    - private of 42nd Highland
    - private of 92nd Highland
    - NCO of 87th Foot (Irish)

    The relations between the English and the Scots were often unfriendly. There were wars and battles, and Oliver Cromwell even sold Scots into slavery. They were transported to America, sold and were used to build up the wealth of English colonists. The investors in London complained that "the Scots were having too much spent on their food - about 5s a week. The Londoners thought 3s should be enough." There were also so-called 'Highland Clearances'' where tens of thousands of Scots were evicted, often very violently, from their lands to make way for large scale sheep farming for the English. Bayonet, truncheon and fire were used to drive them from their homes.

    In the 1700's there were two distinct societies in Scotland. In the lowlands, the people were a mixture of all the races that had invaded England and the Isles. Lowlanders spoke a version of English and lived in a society based on the emerging mercantile economy. The Highlanders on the other hand, were largely Celtic in ancestry with a sprinkling of Viking and a few other races. The Highlanders spoke Gaelic, and lived in a largely feudal society based on loyalty and power, not money. Source:

    The Lowlanders wore uniform of English line infantry, while the Highlanders wore kilts (ext. link) The only exceptions were: 71st, 72nd, 73rd, 74th and 75th, they were no kilts.

    The 42nd is the oldest and the most famous of units of Scotland. The regimental motto is 'No one attacks me with impunity'. The first companies of the Black Watch were raised as a militia in 1725 . The regiment's name, Black watch, comes from the very dark tartan (a cloth having a crisscross design, tartan that they wear). 'Black Watch' was originally just a nickname for the 42nd (Royal Highland) but was used more and more so that in 1881 when the 42nd amalgamated with the 73rd the new regiment was named 'The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders). In World War One the kilted Highlanders were known as 'The Ladies from Hell'. ;-)

    Scottish regiments in 1808:
    - 3rd Foot Guards 'Scots Guards' (Lowlanders)
    - 1st Foot 'Royal Scots' (Lowlanders)
    - 21st Foot (Lowlanders)
    - 25th Foot (Lowlanders)
    - 26th Foot (Lowlanders)
    - 42nd Royal Highlanders 'Black Watch'
    - 70th Foot (Lowlanders)
    - 71st Highlanders/light infantry
    - 72nd Highlanders
    - 73rd Highlanders
    - 74th Highlanders
    - 75th Highlanders
    - 76th Highlanders ?
    - 77th Highlanders ?
    - 78th Highlanders
    - 79th Cameron Highlanders
    - 84th Highlanders
    - 89th Gordon Highlanders
    - 90th Highlanders
    - 91st Highlanders
    - 92nd Gordon Highlanders
    - 93rd Highlanders
    - 94th Highlanders

    In April 1809, an order was issued, stating that as the population of the Highlands of Scotland was found to be insufficient to supply soldiers for the whole of the Highland Corps, and as some of these corps , by laying aside their distinguishing dress, which was objectionable to the natives of South Britain, would induce the men of the English Militia to enter, the 72nd, 73rd, 74th, 75th and 94th Foot were ordered to discontinue wearing the Highland dress for the future.
    In addition to the above, the 91st also discontinued it in 1809. The 71st, on being made Light Infantry in 1809, substituted the tartan trews for the kilt. (Source:

    "The limbs of the Highlander are strong and sinewy, the frame hardy, and of great physical power, in proportion to size. He endures cold, hunger, and fatigue with patience..." (Source:

    Picture: the Highlanders, by Dmitrii Zgonnik of Ukraine.

    The highlanders were one of the toughest foot soldiers in Europe. Even the aloof English officers least inclined to appreciate the northern barbarians had to admit that they made extraordinary defensive soldiers. "Tomkinson of the 16th Light Dragoons, for example, believed that Scottish troops were the best in the army in situations calling for coolness, steadiness and obedience to orders; he thought them less valuable in skirmishes, or more generally, in any kind of combat where quickness of reaction was called for." A Royal Scots officer wrote after Waterloo that the French skirmishers were better armed and trained, and on the whole much more effective in this type of fighting. (Barbero - "The Battle" pp 133, 255)

    Costello of 95th Rifles writes: "The 79th Highlanders had suffered very severely here, as the place was strewn about with their bodies. Poor fellows ! they had not been used to skirmishing, and instead of occupying the houses in the neighborhood, and firing from the windows, they had, as I heard, exposed themselves, by firing in sections." [fight near the banks of the River Dos Casas]



    "It is not my intention to expend any powder this evening.
    We'll do this business with the cold iron."
    General Picton to the Irish infantry

    The Irish.
    It was estimated that by 1860 some two thirds of the British Army
    including the English country regiments was
    constituted by Irishmen or their descendants.

    According to "From before the arrival of Saint Patrick to the present day Ireland has had a history that could never be called quiet." The Crown of England did not gain full control over Ireland until the 16th and 17th centuries, when the whole island had been subjected to numerous military campaigns in the period 1534–1691, and was colonised by English and Scottish Protestant settlers. In 1798 the English repression of the Irish rebellion resulted in "30,000 victims in 3 1/2 month - a similar number to the Terror in France, but over a shorter period and from a population barely 1/6 the size." [Source: William Doyle - "Oxford History of the French Revolution." p.343]

    The British Army had always used Irishmen, in fact it is has been said "the British Empire was won by the Irish, administered by the Scots and Welsh and the profits went to the English". In recent years the last line was amended to read "lost by the English." Most of the Irish Regiments were raised in the mid-1680's. It was estimated that by 1860 some two thirds of the British Army including the English country regiments was constituted by Irishmen or their descendants. (Source:

    During the Napoleonic Wars there were several Irish regiments:
    - 18th Foot 'Royal Irish'
    - 27th Foot 'Inniskilling'
    - 83rd Foot
    - 86th Foot
    - 87th Foot
    - 88th Foot 'Connaught Rangers'
    - 89th Foot
    - 99th Foot
    - 100th Foot
    - 101st Foot
    - 103rd Foot

    The most Irish of all was the 88th Regiment of Foot. The 88th was established in 1793. Wellington himself later described them as "that most astonishing infantry". According to Sir Oman the 88th was "the most Irish of all Irish regiments". The 88th enjoyed a reputation for plundering and hard fighting.. General Picton gave them the infamous nickname of "The Devil's Own".

    At Bussaco 1810 the 88th "saved the situation" by acting with great promptitude. Wellington himself witnessed the action and shouted : "I never witnessed a more gallant charge than that just now made by this regiment." At the siege of Cuidad Rodrigo, 19th January 1812 General Picton gave this particular address to the 88th: "It is not my intention to expend any powder this evening. We'll do this business with the cold iron." In 1814 the 88th proceeded to Canada and in 1815 arrived too late to take part at Waterloo.

    Sources and Links.
    Recommended Reading.

    Haythorntwaite - "Wellington's Infantry (1)"
    Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion"
    Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns"
    Muir - "Salamanca, 1812"
    Fortescue - "A History of the British Army"
    Hofschroer - "Waterloo - the German Victory"
    Hofschroer - "Wellington and His German Allies"
    Chartrand - "British Army in North America 1793-1815"
    Judd - "Someone Has Blundered: Calamities of the British Army"
    Summerville - "March of Death"
    Nosworthy - "With Musket, Cannon, and Sword."
    William Pitt the Younger.
    Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh.
    Letters on British Politics Captured by the French in January 1804.
    British Poetry and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
    Spanish Recruits in the British Army 1812 - 1813.
    Imperial Nostalgia - by Vinay Lal.
    The Colonial Legacy - Myths and Popular Beliefs.
    The Epic History and Heritage of the Irish.
    Ireland - History Forum.
    Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington
    General Sir Thomas Picton
    History of the Royal Arsenal
    The Redcoat.
    The British Army Museums

    Russian Army. ~ Austrian Army. ~ Prussian Army

    Napoleon, His Army and Enemies