Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics



"We Have an Immediate Opening:" The Seniority of Brigade Commanders in the Peninsular Army, 1812

By Donald Graves

The following investigation arose out of a lengthy discussion in the Napoleon Series Forum about the senority of brigade commanders in the Peninsular army. It was speculated by one participant that, "by custom of the service," brigade commanders in the Peninsular army were assigned by seniority -- the senior officer taking over the 1st Brigade in a division, the next senior the 2nd and so on. The author of this investigation disputes that assertion and feels that brigades were assigned to officers not by seniority but as vacancies needed to be filled and, although sometimes the senior officer would have command of the senior brigade, more times he did not.

To substantiate the author's belief, a survey was made, using the Army List for 1812, of the seniority of the 30 officers who, based on lists compiled by CT Atkinson and published in 1913 in Charles Oman's Wellington's Army, 1809-1814, commanded the 16 brigades in the seven infantry divisions of the Peninsular army in the year 1812. It is generally (but not completely), accepted that Atkinson's grading of A, B and C in his lists refers to the seniority of the brigade -- 1st, 2nd or 3rd -- within a division. The Light Division was not included in this survey because it was a small and specialist formation and experienced fewer turnovers in brigade command. The result is as follows.

The dates in brackets behind each major-general's name refer, before the vertical slash, to his seniority as a major-general, and after to his seniority as a colonel. The dates in brackets behind colonels and lieutenant-colonels is their seniority in their rank.

1st Division

At the beginning of 1812, IA (1st Brigade) was commanded by Major-General H. Campbell (25 Apr 08/1 Jan 01). IB (2nd Brigade) by Lieutenant Colonel Blantyre (19 Dec 04), holding it for Major-General Edward Stopford (4 Jun 11/25 Oct 09). IC was commanded by Major-General S. Low (25 Jul 10/20 Jul 04). Thus, on 1 January 1812, the senior officer was commanding the 1st Brigade, the 2nd Brigade was commanded by a lieutenant-colonel who was holding it for a major-general who had less seniority than the commander of the 3rd Brigade.

During the course of the year, IA was taken over permanently by Colonel Thomas Fermor (25 Jul 10) who was junior to the other brigade commanders. IB was taken over by Major-General William Wheatley (1 Jun 12/25 Oct 09), who was junior to the commander of the 2nd Brigade but senior to the commander of the 1st Brigade, and then by Major-General Stirling (25 Oct 09/29 Apr 02) who was senior to the other two brigade commanders.

At the beginning of the year, the senior was commanding the 1st Brigade, the next junior officer the 3nd, and and the least junior officer the 2nd. It is clear, therefore, is that, in the 1st Division in 1812, senior officers were not necessarily assigned to IA or the 1st Brigade.

2nd Division

On 1 January 1812, 2A was commanded by Major-General K.A. Howard (25 Jul 10/1 Jan 05), 2B by Colonel J. Byng (25 Jul 10) and 2C by Major-General J. Wilson (4 Jun 11/25 Apr 08). Therefore the senior officer was commanding the 1st Brigade, the next senior officer the 3rd Brigade and the junior officer the 3rd Brigade.

During the course of the year, 2A was taken over by Lieutenant-Colonel Cadogan (22 Jan 05) and this seems to have been a permanent appointment.

At the beginning of the year, the senior officer was commanding the 1st Brigade, the next junior officer the 3rd, and the least junior officer the 2nd. It is clear, therefore, is that, in the 2nd Division in 1812, senior officers were not necessarily assigned to 2A or the 1st Brigade.

3rd Division

On 1 January 1812, 3A was commanded by Major-General Mackinnon (1 Jan 1812/25 Oct 09) and 3B by an officer holding it for Major-General C. Colville (25 Jul 10/1 Jan 05). Therefore the senior officer was commanding the 2nd Brigade and a junior officer the 1st Brigade.

During the course of the year, 3A was taken over permanently by Major-General J. Kempt (1 Jan 12/9 Mar 09) and then, it appears temporarily, by Lieutenant-Colonel A. Wallace (28 Aug 04). For its part, 3B was taken over by Major-General E. Pakenham (1 Jan 12/25 Oct 09).

In this division, it appears that the 1st Brigade was commanded by the senior of the two brigade commanders.

4th Division

On 1 January 1812, 4A or the 1st Brigade was commanded by Major-General J. Kemmis (4 Jun 11/25 Apr 08) while 4B was commanded by Major-General E. Pakenham (1 Jan 12/25 Oct 09). Thus the senior commanded the 1st Brigade.

During the course of the year 4A was taken over by Major-General W. Anson (25 Jul 10/30 Oct 09) while 4B was commanded by Major-General B. Bowes (25 Jul 10/1 Jan 05) and then Colonel J. Skerrett (25 Jul 1810). Briefly, therefore, the commander of the 2nd Brigade was senior to the commander of the 1st Brigade but was later replaced by an officer who was junior.

In this division, the year started with the senior officer commanding the 1st Brigade but replacements during the year seemed to have been assigned as a vacancy occurred, regardless of seniority.

5th Division

On 1 January 1812, 5A or the 1st Brigade was commanded by Major-General A. Hay (4 Jun 11/25 Apr 08) while 5B was commanded by Major-General G. Walker (4 Jun 1811/25 Apr 08). As both officers had the same dates of seniority as major-generals and colonels, their seniority within the division would, according to the Regulations and Orders for the Army, 1811) have been based on "a retrospect ... to former Commissions." This means a reference to their commissions as lieutenant-colonels which were 19 March 1807 for Hay's commission as a lieutenant-colonel in the 1st Foot and 6 September 1798 for Walker's commission as a lieutenant-colonel in the 50th Foot. Walker was therefore senior but was commanding the 2nd Brigade in the division.

During the course of the year, Hay of 5A was replaced permanently by Major-General R. Hulse (1 Jan 12/25 Oct 09) and Walker was replaced permanently by Major-General Pringle (1 Jan 08/25 Oct 09). Therefore at the end of the year, the junior officer was commanding the 1st Brigade.

In this division a junior officer commanded the 1st Brigade at the beginning of the year and replacements appear not to have been based on seniority as a junior officer was still commanding the 1st Brigade at the end of the year despite a complete turnover in brigade commanders.

6th Division

On 1 January 1812, Major-General R. Hulse (1 Jan 12/25 Oct 09) commanded 6A and Major-General R. Burne (4 Jun 11/25 Apr 08). Thus the junior officer was commanding the 1st Brigade.

In the course of the year the 2nd Brigade was taken over by Major-General Bernard Bowes (1 Jan 12/24 Sep 12), junior to Hulse, and then by Colonel S. Hinde (4 Jun 1811).

In this division, a junior officer commanded the 1st Brigade at the beginning of the year. Officers junior to him were placed in command of the 2nd Brigade during the year but their appointment can not be stated as being based on seniority.

7th Division

On 1 January 1812, Colonel Colin Halkett (1 Jan 12) was holding 7A for Major-General C. Alten (25 Jul 1810/21 Jul 04) while 7B was commanded by Major-General CH de Bernewitz (1 Jan 12/24 Sep 12). Thus, the senior officer, although absent, was commanding the 1st Brigade.

There are no changes of command recorded for the brigades of this division during the year by Atkinson.

In this division, the senior officer commanded the 1st Brigade and there were no changes during the year which might indicate that it was policy in the division or simply accidental.

Conclusions

Based on this survey of the seniority of the 30 officers who commanded 16 brigades of infantry in the seven numbered divisions in the Peninsular army in 1812, I conclude the following:

1. In five of seven divisions, the senior officer commanded the 1st Brigade in a division at the beginning of 1812. However, in two of those five divisions, the next senior officer did not command the 1st but the 3rd Brigades while in another case the senior officer was actually holding the 1st Brigade for an officer junior to the 2nd Brigade commander in that division.

2. Even in those divisions in which the senior officer commanded the 1st Brigade at the beginning of the year, the seniority of replacements appointed during the course of the next twelve months demonstrate no correlation between seniority and brigade appointment. In other words sometimes senior officers were appointed to the 1st Brigade but more often they were not.

3. As a result, the inescapable conclusion is that appointment to a brigade command in the Peninsular army was based, not on seniority, but on a need to fill  a vacancy. This being the case, the 1st Brigade can only be regarded as the "senior" brigade in the division if it was commanded by the senior brigade commander -- and more often than not, it was commanded by a junior officer.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2005

 

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