Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

 

A Computation of the Number of British Troops Deployed to the Peninsular Theatre, 1808-1814[1]

By Andrew Bamford

This study seeks to use the data contained in the Monthly Returns of British forces overseas in order to come to a total figure for manpower deployments during the Peninsular War. These Returns are contained in The National Archives, Series WO17 (Office of the Commander in Chief: Monthly Returns to the Adjutant General 1754-1866):[2] they comprise a breakdown of the forces in question to regiment/battalion level, and detail effective and total strengths of all units, numbers of troops sick and detached, and totals of deaths, desertions, and men sent home during the previous month. All figures relate to rank and file strengths, that is, corporals and private soldiers only: NCOs, musicians, and commissioned officers are not included, and need allowing for as discussed below. As detailed below, there are some elements of assumption involved in this analysis, and the rounded representative figures are to be preferred overall to the precise totals. Where figures are exact, this has been made clear in the text.

The calculations for the main body of the army have been derived from the figures relating to the troops coming directly under the commander of the main field army, and the attached garrison troops at Cadiz which formed an integral part of the main force and which frequently exchanged component units with it. The garrison at Gibraltar has not been counted, since this commitment was a permanent one and did not materially alter as a result of the Peninsular War beyond the fact that the quality of the garrison troops deteriorated somewhat due to the fittest regiments being transferred to the active army: numerically, the commitment remained fairly constant. The force operating on the East Coast of Spain has been counted separately, partly because data is less complete for it but also because it did not form part of the same unified command. Whilst foreign regiments in British pay are included – as representing an integral part of the British Army – Portuguese, Spanish, and Sicilian troops operating in the theatre under British command are not.

As a starting point, when the war ended in April 1814 the total strength of the British element of the Peninsular Army deployed in southern France around Toulouse, Bayonne, and Bordeaux stood at 61,535 men, with a further 1,038 at Cadiz. Also included in the April return but without figures are the three battalions of the Provisional Militia Brigade newly arrived from England. By taking the figures for this formation when it re-embarked for home the following month, and adding those rank and file noted in the same document as having been left in France, we can fill this blank and add a further 2,464 men.[3] Total strength in April 1814 therefore comes out as 65,037 men. By totalling the figures in the monthly returns since the start of the war, we find that the main army lost 41,268 dead and 4,143 deserted, and sent a further 12,295 home independently of their regiments; the equivalent figures for Cadiz come out at 785, 276, and 408 respectively. Additionally, in February 1814 Wellington ordered all missing men who could not be accounted for to be struck of the roles as dead in the following month’s returns:[4] this adds a further 1,815 men to give a total figure for wastage of 60,990 men. It should be noted that a record of men sent home was only begun in June 1810, and that this figure is therefore a little low; conversely, a proportion of the men listed as deserters subsequently returned to the colours, and this figure may therefore be a little high. Since these may be assumed to roughly cancel each other out, the total cannot be far off the truth but should not be taken as exact.

However, significant numbers of troops left the theatre prior to the end of the war as part of organised units, and also need to be accounted for. Firstly, we have the troops forming Sir John Moore’s army in the campaign that culminated in the evacuation of the survivors from Corunna and Vigo in January 1809. The last return for this force, of December 1st 1808, gives a total strength of 37,340 men, all of who were subsequently either lost or evacuated. In addition, figures for desertions and deaths in this force during October and November total a further 161 dead and eighty-three deserters: a total wastage of 244. Secondly, we have the case of individual units transferred away from the theatre, there being thirty-one such instances when this took place. In some cases, a departing unit drafted off a portion of its manpower into another battalion of the same regiment, and where necessary this difference has been computed by referring to the increment to the battalion concerned and deducting this from the last figure for the departing battalion: otherwise the total strength from the last Return in which the unit appears has been used. These unit transfers total 10,102 men. Finally, upon the formation of the Second through Fourth Provisional Battalions in December 1812, the six units concerned each sent home skeleton cadres of six companies, totalling some 165 men, these figures, except for the 2/58th Foot where the distribution is specified in the return, being calculated by the difference between the four remaining companies and the previous month’s total for the complete battalion.

To compute a final figure, we therefore have:

Total Strength April 1814: 65,037
Plus
Wastage September 1808-April 1814: 60,990
Plus
Moore’s Army, including its wastage: 37,584
Plus
Men in units transferred elsewhere: 10,267
Equals
Main Army Total: 173,878

As noted above, however, a second British force also operated on the Eastern Coast of Spain from 1812 to 1814, and in April 1814 it numbered 11,241 men. However, returns only exist for the period April 1813 to April 1814, with no details of the time between then and the arrival of the first units in June 1812. Whilst wastage figures for the period for which we do have records total 1,383, breaking down as 669 dead, 369 deserted, and 345 sent home, these are evidently incomplete in that they make no account of losses during the ten months for which there is no data. What is more, three battalions left this army prior to the period detailed in the Returns used, but we know from Embarkation Returns that these totalled 2,547 men when they arrived in Spain.[5] If we add these figures to those totalled above, and also add in the sixty-six dead at the battles of Castalla and Biar, which represent our only concrete knowledge of wastage prior to April 25th 1813, we get a total figure for the East Coast Army of 15,237 men deployed to that theatre:[6] this is, however, too low as a total by several hundred men due to incomplete wastage data.

In working out a total for the whole war, we first need to alter the figure for the main army slightly, since the 524 men of the 2/67th Foot are counted as having left it in March 1813, but did so to join the East Coast force. The main army figure therefore needs adjusting down by that amount, so that to calculate the Grand Total we have:

Main Army Total, less departure strength of 2/67th: 173,354
Plus
East Coast Total: 15,237
Equals
Grand Total: 188,591

Finally, as noted, these above figures are for rank and file only: whilst those for officers, NCOs, and musicians are recorded elsewhere in the Returns, as are figures for the Staff, these were not studied. Oman, when working up regimental figures from rank and file data was wont to add ten percent to reflect these additional men, and this has remained a general rule of thumb, but since we are dealing with a large army the higher figure of twelve percent has been used as a modifier in order to reflect the presence of additional officers serving in Staff and Commissary posts, as well as the number of Royal Engineer officers present, whose numbers are in no way proportionate to the small numbers of sappers and miners representing the rank and file of that corps. Applying this modifier, and rounding to the nearest thousand, we therefore get the following representative figures:

For the Main Army only: 195,000 men.
For the East Coast Army: 17,000 men.
Combined Grand Total: 211,000 men

It should be noted, in final qualification, that these figures do not necessarily imply that 211,000 individuals served in the Peninsular War as part of the British Army, as a number of regiments served two separate tours of duty in the theatre and at least a portion of the manpower deployed on the second occasion may have had prior service in the theatre. It would be better, therefore, to say that there were 211,000 soldier deployments to the Peninsula theatre by the British Army.  When one considers in addition the naval and Royal Marine forces deployed in and around the theatre, the significance of this conflict as a drain on manpower is apparent.

Bibliography

Adjutant General’s Office, General Regulations and Orders for the Army. (London, 1811).

Colonel Gurwood (ed.), The Dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, During his Various Campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, The Low Countries, and France. (Eight Vols. London, 1844).

Sir Charles Oman, A History of the Peninsular War. (Seven Vols. Oxford, 1902-1930).

Sir Charles Oman, Wellington’s Army. (London, 1912).

Notes:

[1] The impetus for these calculations came from a conversation at the September 2008 “Men at Arms” Conference, held at the University of Northampton, and they make use of data which had already been collated as part of a larger ongoing project (this being the reason that only rank and file figures have been used, and the gross totals extrapolated from this). I must thank Catriona Kennedy (University of York), and Gavin Daly (University of Tasmania), for asking the question in the first place, and Kevin Linch (University of Leeds) for volunteering me to answer it.

[2] Specifically, WO17/2464, /2465 and /2467-2476 inclusive for the main body of the army successively under Dalrymple, Moore, Cradock, and Wellington; WO17/1486-1488 inclusive for the detached command based at Cadiz under Graham, Cooke, and Capel; and WO17/2478 for the forces operating on the East Coast under Murray, Bentinck and Clinton.

[3] See “Embarkation Return of the Provisional Battalions of Militia under the Command of Major General Bayley at Pouillac on the 22nd and 23rd days of May 1814”, in WO17/2476.

[4] See “Return of the number of men belonging to Corps in the Peninsula who could not be found in the General Hospitals, and who have been struck off as Dead” dated 25th March 1814 in WO17/2475: authorisation comes from a Circular signed by Edward Pakenham, dated Adjutant General’s Office, St Jean de Luz, 22nd February 1814, also in WO17/2475, which includes information regarding arrangements for the reclaiming of funds issued to companies to pay men subsequently thus struck off.

[5] Provisional Light and Grenadier Battalions; 6th KGL Line Battalion. Data from Sir Charles Oman, A History of the Peninsular War (Seven Vols. Oxford, 1902-1930), Vol.V, p.609-610.

[6] Ibid, Vol.VI, p.750, deducting losses of those units which left the theatre prior to the April 25th Return and which have been counted at their arrival strength.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2008

 

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