King George’s Martinien: Losses and Senior Officer Casualties in the British Army 1793 to 1815
By Steve Brown
Aristide Martinien’s “Tableaux par Corps et par Batailles des Officiers tues et blesse pendant les guerres de l'Empire 1805-1815” is considered an indispensible guide to French officer casualties by date and regiment. With the exception of John Hall’s “British Officers Killed and Wounded 1808-1814” no such similarly detailed guide exists (to my knowledge), especially for spheres outside Europe.
Much of the following information has been extracted from statistics published in the London Gazette on a regular basis from 1793 to 1815. This has been supplemented by information from other sources, notable Digby Smith and C.B. Norman. The Gazette provided wonderfully detailed reports, but also had a wonderful way of making disasters sound like strategic withdrawals - with attendant less detail to be found.
This article summarises (as well as is possible) casualties on all major actions involving the British Army during the period that the Victorians called the ‘Great War’. Their grandchildren had forgotten this description by 1914, so used the name to describe a later, but no less wide-ranging conflict. I recall reading somewhere that the British Army lost a higher percentage of men in this conflict (proportional to population) than in 1914-1918. That would only hold true if deaths through sickness were included, which were usually several multiples of battle deaths – especially in the West Indies.
Included within are actions from Mexico to Borneo, Denmark to South Africa; no continent is untouched. I nearly included the Irish Insurrection in New South Wales in 1804; however the troops of the New South Wales Corps involved suffered no casualties.
Senior officer casualties (Major and above) have been shown. It is worth noting that typically many officers did not report minor wounds, so the totals shown may not always be representative. These figures are at best a snapshot in time, usually taken shortly after an action; missing men could subsequently re-appear, wounded men might die days later. So at best, these figures are all approximation.
Because this article is concerned with the activities of the British Army on campaign, officers have been shown as their (brevet) army rank rather than regiment rank. Honorific titles (Sir, Hon., Lord, etc.) have been left out purely to save space. For consistency, I have taken the liberty of correcting names in line with the spelling used in Army Lists wherever necessary; likewise, it has been required to occasionally correct rank status as per Army Lists, as the Assistant Adjutant-General’s after-action reports didn’t always get them right.
This is a list of casualties, not an order of battle. Units which were present at an action but suffered no losses may not be shown.
This listing has been confined to those units which were officially part of the British Army and were listed in the annual Army Lists. This in no way belittles the contribution of other allied troops (particularly the many fine Portuguese regiments in the Peninsula, or Indian regiments in the service of the HEIC) but was done in order to focus the study as a companion piece to the British Regiments and The Men Who Led Them series.
For the statistically minded, the following might prove interesting;
INFANTRY REGIMENTS WHICH PARTICIPATED IN MOST ACTIONS
37 - 52nd Oxfordshire Light
INFANTRY BATTALIONS WITH MOST LOSSES IN A SINGLE ACTION
This list excludes actions where battalions lost a high percentage of men POW in comparison to overall losses.
CAVALRY REGIMENTS WHICH PARTICIPATED IN MOST ACTIONS
CAVALRY REGIMENTS WITH MOST BATTLE CASUALTIES IN THE PERIOD (approximate, since some data is incomplete)
CAVALRY REGIMENTS WITH MOST LOSSES IN A SINGLE ACTION
ACTIONS WITH HIGHEST LOSSES (KW&M) IN THE PERIOD
Approximately 45,000 British soldiers died of disease in the West Indies in the period, an average of 2,000 per year – more than all the above battles combined. Over 40,000 men were discharged from the Army as ‘unfit for further service’ due to disease and wounds in 1795 and 1796 alone.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2010
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