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The Napoleon Series > Military Information > Organization, Strategy & Tactics


British Regiments and the Men Who Led Them 1793-1815

By Steve Brown

British Army at Corunna
The British Army at Corunna
By Dionisio Álvarez Cueto

The lives of the Generals who led the British Army in the Napoleonic Era, especially those who served in the Peninsula war,  are generally well documented. But what about the field officers beneath them, the men with drawn swords at the heads of their squadrons or battalions?

This series aims to shine a light on those colonels, lieutenant-colonels, majors (and occasionally even captains) who commanded the British Army’s many battalions, regiments and artillery brigades in the period 1793 to 1815. Their 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.

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 battalions spent 15 years away from home. If there were few battalions on the continent, it was because there were few battalions readily available.

The series will also show how the county titles were (for most part) a façade; many regiments did not visit their ‘home’ county in the entire period. Most regiments tended to be stationed in an arc from Winchester to Kent - close to embarkation ports such as Dover and Portsmouth - or in Ireland . Battalions took recruits wherever they could find them; some Scots regiments dropped their ‘ Highland’ titles after their ranks became predominantly Sassenach.

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 Westlake, 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 an infantry battalion or cavalry regiment. For some selected officers, and most artillery 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. After all, this series is about that cornerstone of the British military - the regiment.

Editor's Note: The author only researches field officers for British army regiments in the period 1793-1815 and is not in a position to help individuals with their ancestors. He does not have access to the National Archives at Kew, which is the pre-eminent source for such material. As such he regrets he is unable to assist with enquiries about individual soldiers or other eras.




Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2009 - January 2019


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