Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Heroes and Villains: Death and Desertion in the British Army 1811 to 1813

By Steve Brown

The following information has been extracted from statistics published in Parliamentary Papers tabled in 1814. In each instance, I have summarised the ‘top ten’ battalions which suffered the highest rates of either death or desertion for the calendar year.

Unfortunately it is not possible to differentiate between deaths from enemy action and deaths from disease; wherever possible, I have added comments which might enlighten as to the likely major cause of losses.

Deaths in Regular Army Regiments, 1811

Regiment

Deaths

Desertions

Stations

Commanding Officer

Comments

1/3rd ( East Kent) Regiment of Foot (Buffs)

283

3

Portugal

Lt. Col. Stewart

216 killed at Albuera

1/7th Regiment of Foot (Royal Fuzileers)

272

7

Portugal

Major Nooth

65 killed at Albuera

1/23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welsh Fusiliers)

251

4

Portugal

Lt. Col. Ellis

76 killed at Albuera

1/14th (Bedfordshire) Regiment of Foot

241

1

Madras & Java

Lt. Col. Watson

Expedition to Java

1/57th ( West Middlesex) Regiment of Foot

215

2

Portugal

Col. Inglis

89 killed at Albuera

2/11th ( North Devonshire) Regiment of Foot

211

6

Gibraltar

Col. Griffiths

Fever

1/40th (2nd Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot

196

0

Portugal

Lt. Col. Harcourt

 

Royal West India Rangers

184

17

Leeward Islands

Lt. Col. Stewart

Fever

1/34th ( Cumberland) Regiment of Foot

171

2

Portugal

Lt. Col. MacDonnell

33 killed at Albuera

29th (Worcestershire) Regiment of Foot

169

9

Portugal

Lt. Col. Way

80 killed at Albuera

Desertions in Regular Army Regiments, 1811

Regiment

Deaths

Desertions

Stations

Commanding Officer

Comments

37th (North Hampshire) Regiment of Foot

21

173

Ireland

Lt. Col. Spread

Recruited in Ireland on return from WI in 1810

Chasseurs Brittanique

91

139

Portugal & Cadiz

Lt. Col. Eustace

Recruited from French émigrés and others

4/1st (Royal) Regiment of Foot

40

138

Scotland

Lt. Col. Macleod

In barracks in Scotland since formation in 1803

Greek Light Infantry

16

118

Sicily

Lt. Col. Church

Barracks duty in Mediterranean

2/90th Regiment of Foot (Perthshire Volunteers) (Light Infantry)

14

115

Ireland

Col. Steele

Long period of barracks duty in Ireland

2/84th (York and Lancaster) Regiment of Foot

23

101

Ireland

Lt. Col. Lloyd

At Walcheren 1809; to Spain 1813

2/59th (2nd Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot

8

97

Ireland

Lt. Col. Fane

At Walcheren 1809; to Cadiz 1812

3/27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot

124

92

Portugal

Lt. Col. Maclean

In Peninsula since 1808

Brunswick Infantry

101

89

Portugal

Lt. Col. de Bernewitz

Recruited partly from mixed POWs

2nd Light Battalion, King’s German Legion

53

89

Portugal

Lt. Col. Halkett

Recruited partly from German POWs

Observations for 1811:

The spectre of Albuera hangs over those units recording most deaths for the year – six out of the ten above were present in either the Colborne or Fusilier brigades.

It will be noted that most of the regiments with the highest number of desertions at home were 2nd or later Battalions, stationed in Ireland (mainly) having had at least 2 years of sedentary barracks duty. Others with high desertion rates were recipients of men from foreign sources with dubious loyalty.

Deaths in Regular Army Regiments, 1812

Regiment

Deaths

Desertions

Stations

Commanding Officer

Comments

1/7th Regiment of Foot (Royal Fuzileers)

439

2

Spain

Lt. Col. Blakeney

55 killed at Badajoz

1/40th (2nd Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot

377

2

Spain

Lt. Col. Harcourt

85 killed at Badajoz

Royal African Corps

250

16

Senegal , Goree etc.

Lt. Col. Maxwell

Fever

1/43rd (Monmouthshire) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry)

249

11

Spain

Lt. Col. Hearn

77 killed at Badajoz

1/11th ( North Devonshire) Regiment of Foot

240

2

Spain

Lt. Col. Cuyler

45 killed at Salamanca

1/Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards

232

0

Spain

Lt. Col. Philipps

57 killed at siege of Burgos

1/23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welsh Fusiliers)

231

2

Spain

Lt. Col. Ellis

34 killed at Badajoz

1/52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry)

229

7

Spain

Lt. Col. Colborne

71 killed at Badajoz

74th ( Highland) Regiment of Foot

228

31

Spain

Lt. Col. Hon. R. Trench

22 killed at Badajoz

1/88th Regiment of Foot ( Connaught Rangers)

219

7

Spain

Lt. Col. Wallace

60 killed at Badajoz

Desertions in Regular Army Regiments, 1812

Regiment

Deaths

Desertions

Stations

Commanding Officer

Comments

1st Greek Light Infantry

15

215

Sicily

Lt. Col. Church

Barracks duty in Mediterranean

4/1st (Royal) Regiment of Foot

16

202

Scotland

Major Nixon

In barracks in Scotland since formation in 1803

Chasseurs Brittanique

76

171

Spain

Lt. Col. Eustace

Recruited from French émigrés and others

3/27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot

221

139

Spain

Lt. Col. Maclean

4th Division – heavy losses at Badajoz

2/84th (York and Lancaster) Regiment of Foot

20

113

Ireland

Lt. Col. Lloyd

At Walcheren 1809; to Spain 1813

Dillon’s Regiment

14

101

Sicily & Spain

Lt. Col. Watson

Recruited from numerous foreign sources

2/91st (Argyllshire Highlanders) Regiment of Foot

2

99

Scotland

Lt. Col. Ottley

In barracks in Scotland since formation in 1804

Glengarry Fencibles

29

94

Canada

Lt. Col. Battersby

Newly raised from settlers

Royal York Rangers

80

93

Leeward Islands

Lt. Col. Mahon

In West Indies since 1809

29th (Worcestershire) Regiment of Foot

26

91

England

Lt. Col. Way

Home to recruit after Albuera

Observations for 1812:

In terms of deaths, we see a pattern emerging – one that should not surprise us; the troops of the Light Division, Picton’s Fighting Third, and the Fusilier Brigade all feature prominently, in a year that saw the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, and the Battle of Salamanca.

The Inniskillings could have also appeared in the deaths summary – I decided to show them in the desertions summary as they leaked men into the countryside for a second year running. As indeed so did the 4th Battalion of the Royals, in their ninth consecutive year of barracks duty in Scotland ; something the 2/91st also shared in common.

Deaths in Regular Army Regiments, 1813

Regiment

Deaths

Desertions

Stations

Commanding Officer

Comments

1/1st Regiment of Foot Guards

570

0

Spain

Col. Griffith

548 died of fever January to July

1/4th (King's Own) Regiment of Foot

464

7

Spain

Lt. Col. Brooke

122 killed at siege of San Sebastian

3/1st (Royal) Regiment of Foot

423

12

Spain

Lt. Col. Barnes

126 killed at siege of San Sebastian

1/5th (Northumberland) Regiment of Foot

349

2

Spain

Lt. Col. Pratt

 

1/38th (1st Staffordshire) Regiment of Foot

318

4

Spain

Col. Hon. C. Greville

38 killed at siege of San Sebastian

1/82nd Regiment of Foot (Prince of Wales's Volunteers)

283

7

Spain

Col. Grant

 

2/47th ( Lancashire) Regiment of Foot

282

23

Spain

Major Kelly

113 killed at siege of San Sebastian

1/Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards

257

3

Spain

Lt. Col. Woodford

 

1/9th ( East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot

255

6

Spain

Lt. Col. Cameron

68 killed at siege of San Sebastian

3/1st Regiment of Foot Guards

248

0

Spain

Col. Lord Proby

Nearly all fever deaths January to July

1/7th Regiment of Foot (Royal Fuzileers)

247

4

Spain

Lt. Col. Blakeney

53 killed in Pyrenees July - August

3/27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot

241

50

Spain

Lt. Col. Maclean

61 killed in Pyrenees July - August

Desertions in Regular Army Regiments, 1813

Regiment

Deaths

Desertions

Stations

Commanding Officer

Comments

Chasseurs Britanniques

124

224

Spain

Lt. Col. Eustace

Recruited from French émigrés and others

1st Greek Light Infantry

16

162

Sicily

Lt. Col. Oswald

Barracks duty in Mediterranean

2nd Italian Regiment

33

137

Spain

Lt. Col. Grant

Raised from Italian POWs

4/1st (Royal) Regiment of Foot

24

126

Scotland

Lt. Col. Muller

In barracks in Scotland since formation in 1803

Dillon’s Regiment

41

126

Sicily & Spain

Lt. Col. Watson

Recruited from numerous foreign sources

Royal York Rangers

74

109

Leeward Islands

Lt. Col. Mahon

 

Glengarry Fencibles

65

106

Canada

Lt. Col. Battersby

Recruited from settlers

5/60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot (Rifles)

72

102

Spain

Col. Keane

Recruited from German POWs

33rd (1st Yorkshire West Riding) Regiment of Foot

9

90

England & Germany

Col. Gore

Recruited heavily on return from India in 1811

2/73rd ( Highland) Regiment of Foot

8

76

England & Germany

Lt. Col. Harris

In barracks since 1809

Observations for 1813:

I expanded the deaths listing to twelve – so I could fit in those heroic rapscallions of the 27th!

Note that the 7th (Royal Fuzileers) feature for all three years – a total of 958 deaths (for an establishment of 1015 men!) – but only 15 desertions.

The 1st Foot Guards experienced a horrific fever plague whilst stationed in Oporto during the first half of the year.

The Chasseurs Britanniques appear high on the list of deserters all three years, thus proving their historical reputation in this area. One can only assume that Lt. Col. Eustace was bald by late 1813! 534 deserters in 3 years was nearly half its establishment.

The 33rd was the Duke of Wellington’s old regiment; the 2/73rd was another regiment that had languished in barracks at home for some years. Both of these regiments went on to serve with distinction at Waterloo.

Total Deaths and Desertions for the Period

Total figures for deaths and desertions for the period were as follows;

Year

Total Army Establishment

Deaths (% Establishment)

Desertions (% Establishment)

1811

234,594

13,476 (5.75%)

5,072 (2.16%)

1812

243,885

16,409 (6.73%)

6,001 (2.46%)

1813

255,876

18,015 (7.05%)

6,284 (2.45%)

Therefore on average the British Army could expect to lose one man in forty to desertion; one man in fifteen died.

Sources:

House of Commons; Parliamentary Papers. London; 1814.

Burnham, Robert. The British Army in the Napoleonic Wars: Manpower Stretched to the Limits? Napoleon Series.

Norman, C.B. Battle Honours of the British Army. Devon: David & Charles; 1971.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2009

 



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