Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Nicknames of the Divisions

Cavalry Regiments

Infantry Regiments

Miscellaneous

Bibliography

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Nicknames of British Units during the Napoleonic Wars

By John Cook and Robert Burnham, FINS

Most military units throughout the world have a nickname that they are often called in an informal setting. Sometimes these nicknames are given out of respect for some heroic deed, but more often they were given to the unit by people outside of the unit to make fun of it. The reasons why units received these negative nicknames varied from misconduct on the field to the color of their uniforms to their pretensions.

Unfortunately over the years, even though the nickname has stuck, the reasons why they were given have been lost,. The British Army is rich in tradition and in many cases not only have the nicknames survived, but the reason why they received it has also. Interestingly, in a sampling of 60 British memoirs and diaries from the Napoleonic Wars, very few of the writers referred to their own units by their nicknames, which would re-inforce the negative side of the nickname.

The nicknames listed below are from a variety of sources. In some cases we were able to pinpoint exactly when the nickname came into use (such as the "Die Hards" for the 57th Foot). In others, the nicknames were in use prior to the Napoleonic Wars. Although the nickname may have been earned 50 - 75 years earlier, the regiment was still referred to by the nickname ( such as the "Slashers" for the 28th Foot.) In other cases, the nickname was earned earlier and was recorded in the regiment's official history, but it is difficult to determine whether they were still used.

Nicknames of the Divisions

During the Peninsula War, the British Army was organized into eight infantry divisions. Each division had a nickname, usually based upon some action they had participated in.

Division

Nickname

Reason for Nickname

1st Division

Gentlemen Sons

It had the Guards Brigade assigned to it.

2nd Division

Observing Division

It was often on detached duty in Estremadura and missed most of the battles between 1810 & 1813

Surprisers

For its action taking the French by surprise at Arroyo Molinos & Almaraz

3rd Division

Fighting Division

Was always in the middle of the hardest fighting

4th Division

Supporting Division

Supported the 2nd Division in Estremadura in 1810 & 1811

Enthusiastics

For its conduct in the battle of the Pyrenees

5th Division

Pioneers

Unknown; possibly involved in road building

6th Division

Marching Division

Was in many of the campaigns of 1810 - 1812, but until Salamanca did not see much action

7th Division

Mongrels

It was a mixed division, with very few British regiments in it

Light Division

"The Division"

Name given by the members of this division to it, because its reputation as a fighting force

Light Bobs

Traditional name for any light infantry force

Cavalry Regiments

Regiment

Nickname

First Used

Reason for Nickname

Household Cavalry

Unfortunate Gentlemen

Unknown

Unknown

The Life Guards

The Cheeses

1788

After a reduction in social qualifications for recruiting officers, the members of the regiment declared that they were 'no longer gentlemen but cheesemongers' ie 'tradesmen'

The Cheesemongers

1815

Same as above

The Piccadilly Butchers

1810

Were used to quell the Burdett riots during which one rioter was killed

Roast and Boil

Peninsula

Because they were part of the Guard & thought to be better fed than the Line

Royal Horse Guards

The Blues

1660

Color of uniform

1st Dragoon Guards

The Trades Union

1800s

Used to quell trade riots

The Royals

1800s

Regimental Name

2nd Dragoon Guards

The Bays

1600s/1700s

Color of Horses

Rusty Buckles

1700s

Because of a less than spectacular parade in Ireland

3rd Dragoon Guards

The Old Canaries

1600s/1700s

Color of facings

4th Dragoon Guards

The Blue Horse

1746

Color of facings

5th Dragoon Guards

The Green Horse

1700s

Color of facings

The Green Dragoons

1700s

Color of facings

The Old Farmers

1700s/1800s

Due to 80 years spent in Ireland

7th Dragoon Guards

The Black Horse

1700s

Color of facings

The Virgin Mary's Bodyguard

1700s/1800s

Sent by George II to assist Maria Theresa, of Austria.

1st Dragoons

The Bird Catchers

1815

Captured an Eagle at Waterloo

2nd Dragoons

The Greys

1700s/1800s

Color of uniforms when first raised. Also color of horses.

The Bird Catchers

1815

Captured an Eagle at Waterloo

6th Dragoons

The Old Inniskillings

1750s

Regimental Badge had Inniskilling Castle on it.

The Skillingers

1700s/1800s

Slang for Inniskilling

The Inniskillings

Peninsula

From Badge

7th Hussars

The Saucy Seventh

1809

Because of high uniform standards

11th Light Dragoons

The Cherry Pickers

1811

Detachment captured by French whilst picking cherries and had to fight dismounted

12th Light Dragoons

The Supple Twelfth

1812

Because of high standards of training that led to their superb performance at Salamanca

13th Light Dragoons

The Lily-Whites

1784

Due to white stripe on overalls.

The Ragged Brigade

Peninsula

Due to worn out equipment and clothing

14th Light Dragoons

Hawks

1812

Eagle on shako plate resembled a hawk

The Emperor's Chambermaids

1813

Captured King Joseph's chamberpot at Vitoria

15th Light Dragoons/Hussars

Eliott's Light Horse

1759

Reference to George Augustus Eliott, Lord Heathfield who raised them to help quell a strike by journeymen tailors - see next nickname.

The Tabs

1759

Reference to number recruits who joined the regiment when it was raised who were formerly journeymen tailors by trade; a Tab was a nickname for a journeyman (one who was employed by another) tailor and a reference to the small piece of cloth that the tailor used to incorporate into clothing to identify his work.

17th Light Dragoons

The Horse Marines

1795

Because a detachment served on the HMS Hermione

18th Light Dragoons

Drogheda Light Horse

1759

Originally from Ireland

Light Dragoons

Young Eyes

Peninsula

Given to them by Foot Guards

Infantry Regiments

Regiment

Nickname

First Used

Reason for Nickname

Foot Guards

Old Eyes

Peninsula

Given to them by Light Dragoons

1st Foot Guards

The Tow-Rows

Unknown

From the regimental march

The Coalers

1600s

The regiment's officers once hired the men out to 'heave' coal to raise money to refurbish the officers' mess at St James' Palace.

2nd (Coldstream) Foot Guards

Coldstreamers

1600s

Recruited from Coldstream, Scotland

1st Foot

Pontius Pilate's Bodyguards

1630s

It is the oldest regiment in the British army. Originally Régiment de Douglas; when in French service, the story goes that at a regimental 'function', to which officers of the Régiment Picardy had been invited, a dispute arose concerning which regiment was the oldest. An officer from the Régiment Picardy claimed that his regiment was the oldest in any army, anywhere, and that the Régiment Picardy had been on duty on the night following the Crucifixion. He then promptly passed out. An officer of the Douglas' replied that the Picardies must have been asleep at their posts, and that if the Régiment de Douglas had been on duty Christ would not have been crucified. Now, the flawed logic of this will not have escaped you, since on the night following the Crucifixion the deed was already done and, as a result they received the nickname.

2nd Foot

Kirke's Lamb

1682

Regimental badge is the Paschal Lamb and they were commanded by a Colonel Kirke

3rd Foot

The Buffs

1700s/1800s

Because of their facing color

The Resurrectionists

1810

Because of the large number of wounded men and those who escaped from the French who returned after Albuera

Resurrection Men

1810

Same as above

4th Foot

The Lions

1685

Regimental badge had a lion

5th Foot

The Fighting Fifth

Peninsula

Wellington's comment "The ever fighting, often tried, but never failing fifth."

Wellington's Bodyguard

Peninsula

Often served as the Army HQ guard

The Old and Bold

c1808

Because of service at Rolica

6th Foot

Saucy 6th

1790s

Because of high recruiting standards

7th Foot

The Elegant Extracts

1685

When the regiment was raised, the officers came from many different regiments

8th Foot

The Leather Hats

c1780

Used civilian hats during American War of Independence

9th Foot

The Fighting Ninth

c1808

Unknown

The Holy Boys

Peninsula

Spanish thought the figure of Britannia on their shako plate was the Virgin Mary

10th Foot

The Yellow Bellies

1700s/1800s

After the Yellow Belly frog that lives in the Lincolnshire Fens

The Springers

1776

Was used as light infantry during the American War of Independence

11th Foot

Bloody Eleventh

1812

Due to heavy casualties at Salamanca (340 of 412)

12th Foot

The Old Twelfth

1700s

Number of Regiment

The Old Dozen

1700s

Number of Regiment

14th Foot

Calvert's Entire

c1806

Colonel was Sir Harry Calvert and had three battalions from 1806 to 1824

15th Foot

The Snappers

1777

At the Battle of Brandywine the regiment ran short of ball which was distributed to the best shots, whilst the remainder 'snapped' powder charges only.

16th Foot

The Old Bucks

1700s/1800s

From Buckinghamshire and senior to the 85th Regiment

17th Foot

The Tigers

c1804

For service in India; its regimental badge was the Bengal Tiger.

18th Foot

Paddy's Blackguards

1684

Was an Irish Regiment

The Namurs

1695

For service at Namur

19th Foot

The Green Howards

1740

Because of facing color and their colonel was named Howard

20th Foot

Kingsley's Stand

1759

Having been stood-down by the Duke of Brunswick and placed in reserve due to casualties after Minden, Major General Kingsley, also Colonel of the regiment, declined to obey the order with the words "Kingsley's Regiment, at its own request will resume its portion of duty in the line."

The Two Tens

1700s/1800s

Because their regimental number was always shown in Roman numerals thus XX

The Minden Boys

1700s/1800s

Service at Minden

  Young Fusiliers 1800s Possibly because they joined the Fusilier Brigade in 1812

21st Foot

Grey Breeks

1600s/1700s

When first raised, wore grey trousers

22nd Foot

The Red Knights

1795

Uniform was entirely red: coat, waistcoat and trousers

The Two Twos

1800s

Because of regimental number

23rd Foot

Nanny Goats

1800s

Mascot was a goat

Royal Goats

1800s

Mascot was a goat

24th Foot

Howard's Greens

1737

To prevent confusion with 19th Foot, who also had green facings and a colonel called Howard

27th Foot

The Skins

c1800

Corruption of Inniskilling, from where they were recruited

28th Foot

The Slashers

1775

At the Battle of White Plains, the regiment had to leave its muskets behind to climb a cliff and drove the rebels from their positions with their short swords. Alternatively, soldiers of 28th are alleged to have cut off the ear of an anti-British magistrate in Montreal in 1764.

The Silver Tailed Dandies

Peninsula

Officers' coat-tails were apparently longer than regulation and had ornate silver decorations on them

29th Foot

The Firms

Peninsula

For standing Firm at Albuera

30th Foot

The Three Tens

1700s/1800s

Because of regimental number

31st Foot

The Young Buffs

c1760

Because of facing color they were mistaken by George II for 3rd Foot who greeted them with "Bravo Buffs" at Dettingen. On being told that they were not the 'Old Buffs' but the 31st Foot, he replied "then bravo Young Buffs."

33rd Foot

Havercake Lads

1700s/1800s

A havercake is an oat pancake very popular in the West of Yorkshire, which was (and is) the main recruiting area for the 33rd Foot, later Duke of Wellington's and now the Yorkshire Regiment.

34th Foot

Cumberland Gentlemen

Peninsula

Large officers from Cumberland

35th Foot

Prince of Orange's Own

1700s/1800s

William III (of Orange) gave them their orange regimental distinctives

36th Foot

The Grasshoppers

1700s/1800s

Facing color was grass green

39th Foot

The Green Linnets

1700s

Possibly because of facing color

40th Foot

Fighting Fortieth

1700

Unknown

The Exellers

1700s/1800s

The regimental number in Roman numerals was XL

41st Foot

The Invalids

1787

Was originally raised as an invalid regiment

42nd Foot

The Forty-twa

1700s/1800s

Because of regimental number

44th Foot

Little Fighting Fours

Peninsula

Because the regiment had a large number of short men

45th Foot

Old Stubborns

c1809

Because of service at Talavera

46th Foot

The Red Feathers

1777

At Brandywine Creek, the regiment's light company defeated a group of rebels who swore revenge. In order that they not be confused with another regiment the 46th stained their plumes red

47th Foot

The Cauliflowers

c1740

White facings

Wolfe's Own

1700s

Served under Wolfe at Quebec

50th Foot

The Dirty Half-Hundred

1700s/1800s

Because black facings ran after they got wet

The Blind Half-Hundred

1801

Because of large number of ophthalmia cases while serving in Egypt

53rd Foot

The Old Five and Threepennies

1700s/1800s.

Because of regimental number

The Red Regiment

1820

Name given by Napoleon to then when they guarded him on St. Helena

54th Foot

The Popinjays

1700s/1800s

Green shade of their facings

The Flamers

1781

Burned 12 privateers at New London

55th Foot

The Cattle Reavers

1700s/1800s

Recruited from border region of England and Scotland; reavers were cattle thieves

The Two Fives

1700s

Because of regimental number

56th Foot

The Pompadours

1755

Because of their purple facings

57th Foot

The Steelbacks

c1760

Had a reputation for being a flogging regiment

The Diehards

1811

Cry to men of regimental commander who laid serious wounded at Albuera

58th Foot

The Honeysuckers

1813

Were caught stealing beehives by Wellington and were flogged.

The Steelbacks

1813

Were caught stealing beehives by Wellington and were flogged.

59th Foot

The Lilywhites

1700s/1800s

Because of facing color

60th Foot

Jaggers

Peninsula

Regiment was mostly Germans; corruption of jaegers.

61st Foot

The Flowers of Toulouse

1814

Regiment's heavy casualties at Toulouse were very apparent due to new uniform coats on the dead

62nd Foot

The Springers

1776

Were used as light infantry to pursue rebels at Trois Rivières in Canada

62nd Foot

The Splashers

1758

Regiment had to use their buttons for ammunition when they ran out of ball at the defence of Carrickfergus; their buttons thereafter had a dent or 'splash' in them in commemoration

The Moonrakers

1700s/1800s

Moonrakers is a nickname of people from the county of Wiltshire in south-west England. Legend says that two smugglers were caught by excise officers retrieving kegs of brandy they had hidden in a pond and told the officers that they were attempting to retrieve a cheese, the reflection of the moon in the water (hence raking the moon).

63rd Foot.

The Bloodsuckers

1808

The Fleur-de-lys shako badge bore a similarity in appearance to the blood-sucking insects in the West Indies that spread the disease which virtually wiped out the regiment

64th Foot

The Black Knots

c1760

Had black facing color and regimental badge had heraldic device of Lord Stafford -- a knot

69th Foot

The Ups and Downs

1700s/1800

Because of regimental number

The Old Agamemnons

c1790

Served as marines on the HMS Agamemnon; nickname supposedly given to them by Admiral Nelson

71st Foot

The Assaye Regiment

1803

For service at Assaye where all 17 officers and 384 men out of 550 were casualties; the remnant being command by a sergeant-major

72nd Foot

The Wild Macraes

c1780

Originally recruited from the Clan Macrae

76th Foot

The Old Imortals

c1790

Because of high casualties during Lake's campaigns in India. The Seven and Sixpennies 1700s/1800s: after the number - seven shillings and a sixpence in pre-decimal currency.

The Seven and Sixpennies

1700s/1800s

Because of its number - seven shillings and a sixpence

77th Foot

The Pot Hooks

1700s/1800s

Their number '7' looked like a pot-hook

78th Foot

The King's Men

c1793

Because the regimental motto 'Cuidich'n Righ' means 'Help to the King'.

83rd Foot

Fitch's Grenadiers

c1795

Raised by Lieutenant Colonel Fitch

85th Foot

The Young Bucks

1700s/1800s

From Buckinghamshire, but junior to the 16th Foot which was also from that county

The Elegant Extracts

1811

A large number of officers were court-martialed and had to be replaced by officers from other regiments.

86th Foot

Royal County Downs

1792

An Irish Regiment

87th Foot

Blayney's Bloodhounds

1798

Hunted rebels in Ireland under Lord Blaney

The Faughs

1700s/1800s

From their motto "Faugh-a-Ballagh" (Clear the Way)

Aigle Catchers

1811

Captured an Eagle at Barosa

The Aiglers

1811

Captured an Eagle at Barosa

88th Foot

Devil's Own

1700s/1800s

Unknown

92nd Foot

Gay Gordon's

1790s

Unknown

95th Foot:

The Rifles

1800s

Becaused they carried a rifle.

Manningham's Sharpshooters

1800

When the unit was formed it did not have a regimental number.

The Sweeps

c.1802

The uniform was such a dark green they resembled chimney sweeps.

The Grasshoppers

Peninsula

Because of their green uniform

96th Foot

The Ups and Downs

1803

Because of their regimental number

97th Foot

The Celestials

1798

Because of blue facings

99th Foot

The Nines

1700s/1800s

Hence the expression 'dressed up to the nines'. The officers of regiment were considered particularly sartorial).

Brunswick Oels

Death or Glory Men

Peninsula

Death Head Skull on Shako

Owls

Peninsula

Corruption of Oels

Kings German Legion Light Battalions

Halkett's Green Germans

Peninsula

Halkett was brigade commander

Miscellaneous

Royal Horse Artillery

Right of the Line

Unknown

Galloping Gunners

Unknown

Because they rode horses

Corps of Drivers, Artilley

Wee Gees

Peninsula

Sound made to turn horses

Commissariat Train

Newgate Blues

1795

Uniforms were blue and they recruited from the Newgate area where there was a prison. (The train drivers were considered to be thieves.)

Highland Soldiers

Rories

Peninsula

Unknown

Bibliography

Brett-James, Anthony. Life in Wellington's Army London : Tom Donovan Publishing; 1994.

Carew, Tim. How the Regiments got their Nicknames London : Leo Cooper; 1974.

Dalton, Charles. The Waterloo Rollcall New York : Hippocrene Books; 1971.

Fortescue, John. The History of the British Army London : MacMillan; 1910.

Fosten, Bryan. Wellington's Infantry Volume 1; London : Osprey; 1981.

Fraser, Edward. The Soldiers whom Wellington Led London : Methuen; 1913.

Haythornhwaite, Philip J. The Armies of Wellington London : Arms and Armour Press; 1994.

Oman, Charles. Wellington's Army, 1809-1814 London : Greenhill Books; 1993.

Siborne, H.T. Waterloo Letters London : Greenhill Books; 1993.

Swinson, Arthur. A Register of the Regiments and Corps of the British Army London : Archive Press; 1972.

Acknowledgments

Once again we wish to thank the numerous people who helped us our research: Ron McGuigan, Rory Muir, Lewis Orans, Radford Polinsky, John White of the Association of Friends of the Waterloo Committee, and the re-enactors of the 93rd Sutherland Highland Regiment.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2000; updated June 2013

 

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