The Corps of Embodied Detachments, 1809
The need to find sufficient manpower for the Walcheren Expedition
of 1809, representing as it did the largest single deployment of British
troops during the Napoleonic Wars, necessitated a number of measures
not normally countenanced by the rigid application of the regimental
system. In this way, for example, battalions such as the 2/8th and
2/23rd embarked with
The first recorded mention of the battalion comes in a message from Horse Guards to Castlereagh’s office (the exact recipient’s name is illegible) dated July 3rd 1809 and marked “Immediate”. The relevant passage reads:
I am writing to acquaint you, for the information of Lord Castlereagh, that a Corps of Eight Hundred Rank and File with a proper proportion of officers and non commissioned officers, having been embodied from the Detachments at the Army Depot, for the purpose of embarking with the troops under order for service, it became necessary to apply to the Secretary at War with respect for accoutrements being furnished for this corps at the public expense.
The officer appointed to command the battalion was Lt. Colonel Cochrane
of the 36th Foot, and a full complement of company and battalion staff
officers were assigned. All officers were drawn from regiments either
By July 7th the Corps of Embodied Detachments had been
assigned to Major General Thomas Picton’s Brigade of Lt. General
Alexander Mackenzie Fraser’s Third Division, with which it served
for the duration of the campaign, as part of the forces landed on
October 25th found the battalion at Porchester Barracks
where, out of 712 rank and file only 267 were fit for service; of
the remainder 153 were sick in quarters, and 291 sick in hospital.
Rank and file strength had dropped by eighty-eight men since August,
of whom thirty had died in the previous month; the remaining discrepancy
is presumably represented by casualties between August 25th and
September 25th, but there is no September return extant
for the battalion to give a breakdown of these losses. The last return
for the unit, that of October 25th, catches it in the process
of disbandment, back at the Army Depot on the
No records have been found detailing the composition of the Corps of Embodied Detachments prior to its embarkation for Walcheren, but filed with the returns cited above for October and November 1809 are breakdowns by parent-unit of the officers and men present after the battalion’s return to England, and these are reproduced here. Obviously they cannot tell us the origin of those men who had already become casualties, but they allow a reasonable idea of the proportional composition of the battalion.
“Return showing the different Regiments which the officers, non-commissioned officers and rank and file belong who are serving with the Corps of Embodied Detachments” 24th October 1809.
The officers comprised; Lt. Colonel Cochrane commanding, two Majors, eight Captains, eight Lieutenants, nine Ensigns, Paymaster, Adjutant, Quartermaster, Surgeon and Assistant Surgeon, the additional man not represented in the table being the Paymaster, Armstrong. The rank and file from the 78th Highlanders are, in the original, divided such that one man is from the second battalion and the remainder from the first; since the officers are not distinguished by battalion the rank and file figures are also combined here.
“Return showing the different Regiments which the officers, non-commissioned officers and rank and file belong who are serving with the Corps of Embodied Detachments” 25th November 1809.
Officers are as before, but that there are now nine Lieutenants and no Surgeon.
The creation of the Corps of Embodied Detachments represented the
first and only formation of such a unit from men at home and, whilst
not unsuccessful as such, it flew directly in the face of all the
strictures of the regimental system. All those regiments contributing
rank and file to the battalion had at least one of their own battalions
on active service abroad, and the redirection of men who would have
formed drafts for these units could only have had a detrimental effect
upon their effectiveness. To consider the most extreme example, the
78th Highlanders had at this time its first battalion in
 “State of Force to Proceed on Foreign Service”, dated Horse Guards, June 22nd 1809, in House of Commons Parliamentary Papers of 1810, Vol. X, pp.160-161.
 Dispatch bound with correspondence (“Secretary -at-War, Secretary of State for War, and Commander-in-Chief, In-letters and Miscellaneous Papers”) in National Archives, WO1/641, pp.221-224.
“List of the several corps, General
and Staff Officers, comprising a large Division of His Majesty’s
Army, to be employed upon a Particular service”, dated Horse
Guards 7th July 1809, in House of Commons Parliamentary
Papers of 1810, Vol. X, pp.165-168. See also Gordon C. Bond, The
Grand Expedition. The British Invasion of
Data from Return for
See “Return of the several Corps to remain in the Island of Walcheren”, dated Middlebourg [sic.], 7th September 1809, and reproduced in HMSO, British Minor Expeditions 1746-1814, Compiled in the Intelligence Branch of the Quartermaster General’s Department (London, 1884), p.78.
 Returns of the Corps of Embodied Detachments, October and November 1809, filed with monthly returns in National Archives, WO17/234.
See James MacVeigh, The Historical Records
of the 78th Highlanders or Ross-shire Buffs (
Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2007
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