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The British Army: 1 February 1793

By Ron McGuigan

How prepared was Great Britain to fight on land when war was declared 1 February, 1793? As the following will show, not as well prepared as it might have thought it was. This then is a short look at Britain's� Army on the eve of� war.

With the situation in Revolutionary France still unsettled and the continent at war, it was only a matter of time before Great Britain would be drawn into the conflict as it was becoming apparent that either Great Britain or France would shortly be declaring war on one another. The King of England was also the Elector of Hanover and under Hanover's obligation to the Holy Roman Empire, the contingent force of the Electorate was already mobilized and preparing to march in January 1793 to join the Imperial Army of Austria.

The British Army had no designated Commander-in-Chief in peacetime, with the Secretary at War [a civilian appointment answerable to the Sovereign and Parliament] officiating as the de facto commander-in-chief. In fact, it had had no commander-in-chief since 1784. At the start of 1793, Great Britain was divided into the military commands of North Britain [i. e. Scotland] and South Britain. North Britain had two general officers, the commanding officer and a subordinate on the staff. There were no general officers assigned to command in South Britain, with the two senior staff officers, the Adjutant General and the Quarter Master General, exercising the command there. There was a General Officer who was paid to act as the Inspector General of Recruiting. Other General Officers were paid to review the regiments during the course of each year, but they� were not placed upon the permanent staff of South Britain. The Governors and Lieutenant Governors of the larger garrison cities were general officers and were supposed to command there; however, in peacetime residency was not mandatory and very few, if any, were actually in residence. Many of these appointments were nothing more than sinecures, as they carried a salary, granted as a reward for service or to pay a deserving officer who had no private means [general officers were not paid a salary as such unless appointed on the staff]. There was no permanent nor even ad hoc division or brigade structure and no large camps of instruction formed since about the end of the American Revolution. One small camp had been established for about a month in the summer of 1792 [16 July to 8 August] to introduce the new Prussian Drill. The component parts of the army itself were controlled by different authorities, with any designated army commander-in-chief exercising control only over the line cavalry and line infantry. The Sovereign was responsible for the Household Troops.

The Board of Ordnance through the Master General of the Ordnance controlled the Engineers and Artillery, the Treasury Department controlled that of the commissary and the Government, through the Home Office, controlled the militia using the Lord Lieutenants of the Counties. Any land transport required had to be hired from civilian sources, even during time of war. All movement by sea had to be arranged through the Transport Board, an offshoot of the Admiralty.

Ireland at this time had its own establishment. It was ruled by a Lord Lieutenant, had a Commander-in-Chief, a War Office, an Adjutant General, a Quarter Master General, an Inspector of Recruits and a Board of Ordnance. Ireland had five general officers on the staff. While general officers, cavalry and infantry regiments were transferred there from the army overall, Ireland also had a separate Artillery and Engineer establishment.

In the colonies, there were two general officers in the Canadas [the Governor as Commander-in-Chief and one subordinate on the staff with two Brigadier Generals in the Maritimes] and two general officers in the West Indies [one for Jamaica and one for the Leeward Islands and one Brigadier General]. Gibraltar had two general officers [Governor and Lieutenant Governor] stationed there. India had at least three general officers of the British Army as Commander-in-Chief and commanding in the Bengal and Madras Presidencies [the Bombay Presidency, at the time, only rated a Colonel].

It was only on 25 January 1793 that General Lord Amherst, coming out of retirement, received the appointment as a General on the Staff to command the army in Great Britain, but the appointment did not designated him as its Commander-in-Chief. At the same time, about fifteen Generals� were immediately placed upon the staff of South Britain and plans were made to divide South Britain into military districts under their command. Many were not yet established in their commands when war was declared and others were only just recently appointed and taking up command in March. The General Officers who commanded the districts were the men of the Seven Years War and French and Indian War 1754 -1763 and the American Revolution 1775-1783.

The army consisted of 30 regiments of cavalry [two Household Cavalry, Royal Horse Guards, seven of Dragoon Guards, six of Dragoons and fourteen of Light Dragoons], seven battalions in three Foot Guard Regiments and 81 battalions in 77 numbered regiments of line infantry with two colonial corps. Its artillery had 40 companies in four battalions of Foot Artillery, 10 companies in the Invalid Battalion, two independent companies in India, Company of Cadets and two new troops of the Royal Horse Artillery just organizing. The remainder of the British Army was made up of 36 Independent Companies of Invalids, known by their Captain's name, scattered in garrisons and forts across Great Britain. It had the Corps of Royal Engineers, Invalid Corps of Royal Engineers and a Corps of Royal Military Artificers of six companies with another two Independent Companies. There were also the Royal Irish Artillery of six companies with an Invalid Company and the Corps of Royal Engineers in Ireland. It had to provide garrisons at Home and for The Channel Islands, Ireland, British North America [i. e. Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, St. John's Island, Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland], Australia, Gibraltar, the West Indies and India. At this time, British North America and the West Indies were still being referred to as the Plantations.

It had reduced its peace establishment to the bare requirement. In fact, regiments on the Irish Establishment had been previously sent to do garrison duty in the colonies. The English and Welsh Militia had just recently begun to be ordered embodied for internal security. First call-outs were 1 December and 15 December 1792 for those counties nearest the coast, with further orders for embodiment of more county regiments, and many notices for their call-out, only being published in January� and February 1793. The final order for embodiment of the last of the� Welsh militia was 24 February 1793. None of these regiments had been last fully embodied since 1783; although for the most part, the militia had been training one month [28 to 31 consecutive days] per year since at least 1787. In late January, the militia had 7,680 assembled, 6,410 ordered embodied, 14,900 English and 1,849 Welsh not yet ordered, for a grand total of about 30,839 militiamen. The Channel Island Militia was put on standby. Neither Ireland nor Scotland had such a force to speak of. The Irish militia was only ordered organized and embodied in late April 1793 and the militia for Scotland not until 1797.��

Even with the continent at war during 1792, Great Britain, at first, did not plan to materially expand its army for 1793, as a comparison between the establishments set for 1792 and 1793 reveal. Different parliamentary reports give different totals for the same categories in some cases, but the numbers are close enough for comparison purposes.

For 1792, the total British Establishment authorized, estimated on paper for the period of 25 December 1791 to 24 June 1792, was 17,013 in Great Britain, 17,323 in the colonies [including 3,283 of the Irish Establishment], 10,700 in India [with an extra 224 men both for the cavalry regiment and in nine recruiting companies in England] with approximately another 4,530 in the Ordnance Corps [3,730 of artillery and about 800 of artificers]. The grand total was about 49,790 men. Even this estimate was to be reduced by the Government for the last six months of 1792. In Great Britain for the period of 25 June 1792 to December 24, 1792, the establishment of many of the regiments was reduced and the total at home was to be only 15,701 rank and file with another 13,277 in the colonies [including now only 1,995 of the Irish Establishment]. The new grand total including India was about 44,432. The true effective strength, at home was only 13,092 including 1,513 in the invalid companies, 441 recruits for overseas regiments and 75 recruits for India, for the colonies 13,818 and for India 9,647. For 1792 there was a total shortfall of about 7,160 rank and file between the authorized strength of about 43,717 on the British Establishment and the� actual effective of 36,557.� By comparison, in 1791, the establishment had been 44,867 and the effective for the year only 38,171. For 1793, the total British Establishment authorized, estimated on paper 25 December 1792, was to be 17,344 at home, 18,194 [including 2,495 of the Irish establishment] abroad in the colonies, 10,700 in India [with an extra 224 men both for the cavalry regiment and in nine recruiting companies in England] with another 3,730 in the artillery and about 800 in the Military Artificers. The grand total was approximately 50,992 men.

The authorized establishment for 1793 was to increase by an augmentation of� 60 men per regiment for the cavalry and 100 men per regiment for the infantry over the establishment set for the latter part of 1792. Yet even then, not all of the units were affected by this augmentation, the Household Cavalry Regiments, those serving in India, the colonial corps and the invalid companies not being further augmented. In reality, all Parliament did was to restore the original 1792 establishment with only a slight increase for 1793.

The Irish Establishment was set by The Augmentation Act of 1769 which mandated that the garrison of Ireland be 15,328, with the act allowing that a maximum 4,000 of this figure could serve abroad in the colonies. For 1792 the number was 11,859 in Ireland with another 3,283 of the Irish establishment serving in the colonies. For 1793, the establishment was estimated at 12,000 in Ireland with another 2,495 to serve in the colonies. For January 1793, there were only 9,644 actual effectives in Ireland.

However, with going to war looking more like a certainty in January, Parliament was now debating both a further augmentation of its regular army, as well as, the establishment of� a militia force for both Scotland and Ireland. The Board of Ordnance authorized the creation of the two new Troops of Royal Horse Artillery and an augmentation for the foot artillery. This added 215 officers and men of the Horse Artillery and 440 men to the foot artillery. The first War Office plan to expand the army was through raising 100 independent companies of 109 men each and then drafting them into existing regiments. The first notice of this plan went out around 12 January 1793. This scheme was only presented to Parliament for approval on 11 February 1793.

On 24 January 1793, the War Office planned a further augmentation of the army on the British Establishment by some 16,000 additional men. Existing regiments would see the number of men per troop and company again increased. This affected only the Household Cavalry, Royal Regiment of Horse Guards, 13 regiments of cavalry, three regiment of Foot Guards, 49 line regiments and the independent companies of invalids. This augmentation scheme, too, was only presented to Parliament for approval on 11 February 1793. Surprisingly, on 20 February 1793, the Secretary at War only moved in Parliament a request to fund an additional 9,945 men to be employed for army service in 1793, exclusive of the 100 independent companies.�

An augmentation for the regiments on the Irish Establishment was also planned, adding an additional 5,000 more men to the regiments stationed there. Each regiment was to increase the number of men per troop or company. Also, independent companies were to be formed. In practice, regiments could hardly reach their authorized strengths let alone try to raise the additional men granted in any augmentation [for example, the 14th Regiment of Foot ordered on active service 1 March 1793 was still 186 men short of its then establishment]. I have included the authorized establishment of each regular regiment originally planned for 1793, before the January augmentation scheme,� in the listing below. The locations are those known for January/February 1793; however, some regiments� were under orders to move to a new station and others were in transit on the day that war was declared.�




Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2003

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