Napoleon Series Archive 2012

Rifle-armed infantry in the Peninsular War

In the Peninsular War, the following units in Wellington's army were rifle armed:

All three battalions of the 95th were rifle armed. Rather than being parcelled out amongst other divisions, these battalions formed part of the Light Division.

The 5th battalion of the 60th regiment were armed with rifles and it was this unit that was attached by company to the various brigades. The headquarters and 3 companies formed part of the 3rd division.

Three companies of the Brunswick Oels Jagers are thought to have been armed with rifles and these were attached in a similar manner to the 5/60th. This provided nearly every brigade of British troops with a company of riflemen.

The sharpshooters of the Kings German Legion line battalions were armed with rifles. Initially there were 10 rifle-armed sharpshooters in every company.

An ever increasing proportion of the two Kings German Legion light infantry battalions were armed with rifles. At the end of the war the proportion was 392 rifles to 253 muskets in each battalion.

A proportion of the Portuguese cacadores were also rifle-armed. Applications were made for 2,000 rifles for the Portuguese army, but it is not clear how they were distributed. Perhaps the company of the 5th Cacadores commanded by John Dobbs was typical, who were armed half with rifles and half with muskets.

Initially the troops armed with rifles were issued with two types of ammunition. Loose balls with separate greased patches and loose powder in a flask for sharpshooting, and unpatched ball cartridge for speedy loading when accuracy was not of primary concern. At some point during the war, the loose ammunition seems to have been dropped from service. An 1826 letter from Horse Guards to a Rifles officer, reproduced in De Witt Bailey's 'British Military Flintlock Rifles', seems to explain the reasons.

The Rifle officer had suggested that the loose ammunition should be reinstated to ensure the maximum accuracy with the rifles, but his request was turned down for two reasons; Firstly, the powder flasks had been withdrawn from service during the war because of their tendency to blow up in action. Loading directly from a flask is always a risky undertaking, as any embers left in the barrel can ignite the whole of the contents. Secondly, difficulty was experienced with forcing the very tightly fitting ball down the barrel after a few shots. All ammunition was therefore supplied in cartridge form.

Two types of cartridges were used, both made up in paper like a musket cartridge. The first contained an unpatched 20 bore ball and the second a 22 bore ball pre-wrapped in a waxed cloth patch. Opinion seems to have been divided on which type of cartridge was best, with some battalions preferring the unpatched larger ball and others preferring the smaller ball with the patch. An artillery report written in 1819 suggests that experiments should be carried out and rifle officers consulted to determine which cartridge offered the most advantages to ease the logistical problem posed by having two types of rifle ammunition.

Resorting to cartridge ammunition did sacrifice some accuracy when compared to the tightly fitting loose balls, but the letter from Horse Guards states that they "cannot concur in the notion generally and erroneously entertained, that in such a case, a Rifle is no more effective for accuracy of firing than a common musket." This must be balanced against the ease of loading and sustained fire offered by cartridge ammunition. Loading a Baker rifle with ammunition such as this, particulary the patched 22 bore ball, is a relatively easy and rapid operation and it is possible to fire many rounds before fouling becomes a real issue.

Regards

Mark

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Drill, Line and light infantry.
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Carabines rayées in 1796
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Gassendi on the carabines de versailles
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Duhesme *LINK*
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I don't think we are in disagreement on this :-)
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Right :-)
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Belhomme, t. 3, p. 490
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"infiniment plus difficile"
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Rifle-armed infantry in the Peninsular War
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URL of prior Topic - Un Carabinier vs the Rifleman
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Indeed.
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ooops :D
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Re: Drill, Line and light infantry.
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quick note on lancers
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Real lancers on film (non-period)
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