Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

British Cavalry Regiments and the Men Who Led Them 1793-1815

By Steve Brown

9th Light Dragoons in 1812
By Charles Hamilton Smith.
From the collection of Tony Broughton.

This series aims to shine a light on those colonels, lieutenant-colonels, majors (and occasionally even captains) who commanded the British Army’s most mercurial arm in the period 1793 to 1815 – the cavalry regiments. Often outstanding, frequently misguided, it was Napier who said "... 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."

I have chosen to cover the entire period from 1793 until 1815 (and beyond, until 1818 in some cases) as this is the generally accepted range of the ‘Napoleonic Wars’. This name is, of course, a misnomer, since Napoleon was a mere junior officer at the start of it all. The combats and stations of the British regiments chronicled will demonstrate that the period was, in reality, the true First World War; European troops fought and died in North America, South America, Egypt, India, Java, Mauritius, the West Indies. The insular pre-radio society of the time was unable to envisage, let alone understand, the bigger picture.

The continental view at the time was that Britain would rather spend gold rather than lives to counter the Corsican Ogre; a whiff of accusation that the British Army never truly ‘put in’ to the same extent as the Austrians, Russians or Prussians. However a reading of the service records in this series will show that the British Army was in fact the busiest army in the world in the period. Regiments routinely bounced between distant postings; some units spent 20 years away from home. If there were few regiments on the continent, it was because there were few regiments readily available.

Formal battle honours are shown in BOLD; the capriciousness of the War Office meant that some regiments did not get honours that were deserved, whilst others received them for being mere spectators. I have steered away from adding information about regimental nicknames, mottos, badges, goats etc. as this information is widely available from a number of other sources;  the books by Chichester & Burges-Short, Sutcliffe and McKenna as excellent examples.

For brevity I have generally started biographies from the point that the individual reached field officer rank, usually major. It was from this point that the officer in question might have found himself in command of a cavalry regiment. For some selected officers, biographies commence from captain. Biographies show officers at the highest regimental rank they achieved in the period, rather than in army (brevet) rank or later elevation to general rank. Step-ups in rank achieved through transfer are shown as ‘on transfer from...’

These biographies will show the regimental system in action, officers routinely transferring between regiments for advancement or opportunity, captains who were also (brevet) colonels, many who retired early, some who stayed the distance to become Major-Generals and beyond.

 

 

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2009 - August 2017

 

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