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Yes, it’s a truly baffling subject and took quite a lot of research at the time we were planning the game! Essentially the main groupings were:
County Militia Regiments were raised by each county by conscripting men based on a ballot system. The number of men conscripted was based on the population and relative wealth of each county. Once a man’s name was drawn in the ballot, they would serve in the Militia for five years. This wasn’t too bad in peacetime, as the terms of service were similar to today’s Army Reserve – one drill-session per week and an annual summer training camp. These part-time units were known as the ‘Disembodied Militia’. However, they could also be called out to suppress civil unrest, which was all-too common during times of bad harvests and subsequent hunger. In wartime however, Militia service was A LOT more onerous, as they instantly became full-time soldiers (‘Embodied Militia’). These were frequently deployed to the far end of the country, manning forts, coastal batteries and garrison towns, as well as suppressing civil dissent, which became even more prevalent as war-austerity hit. Thus, wartime service in the Militia was deeply unpopular.
However, magistrates were allowed to exempt conscripts from Militia service where they were the family’s sole bread-winner or where their trade provided a vital and irreplaceable service to the local community. Conscripted men were also permitted to find a replacement and large sums of money would change hands in order to persuade others to serve on their behalf. This of course was open to abuse and stories abound of ‘replacements’ doing a midnight flit, leaving the conscript’s family penniless and with that man still having to serve in the Militia!
Officers were all volunteers and were generally drawn from the ‘merchant’ and ‘land-owning’ classes, as well as local gentry. Service as a Militia officer meant that that man’s name was removed from the Militia Ballot. Consequently, many young gentlemen volunteered to serve in the despised Militia as a commissioned officer in order to avoid the risk of having to serve in the ranks. As the Napoleonic Wars drew on, the links between Militia and regular county regiments became stronger and the Militia was increasingly seen as an acceptable route for an aspiring young officer to gain a regular commission in the local regiment.
Uniforms were based on the regular Line Infantry Regiments and were generally indistinguishable from the regulars, with red coats, coloured facings, buttonhole lace and equipment exactly the same as the regulars. However, it seems that where a county already had a regular county Infantry Regiment, the Militia would either not have lace at all, or would edge the facings in lace instead of having buttonhole lace ‘bars’. In the case of Wales, there were no county regiments, so all Welsh Militia regiments had buttonhole lace. However, some regiments were equipped and trained as Light Infantry, wearing short jackets, black belts and black leather caps with horsehair manes. One of the Yorkshire Militia regiments even had a few companies clothed in green and armed with ‘fuzees’ (rifles), while the Merionethshire Militia was trained as artillery and had privately-purchased short blue jackets to wear while serving the guns.
These oddities seem to have largely disappeared by 1800, though a number of Militia regiments (including the Cardiganshire Militia) were converted to Light Infantry around 1808/1809, being then dressed and equipped the same as the regular red-coated Light Infantry regiments, with drums replaced by hunting-horns. Some (such as the Pembrokeshire Militia and Carmarthenshire Militia) even became ‘Fuzileer Militia’ (affiliated to the 23rd (Royal Welch) Fusiliers), complete with fur caps!
In 1812, five Militia regiments were converted to Rifles, with the Royal Pembrokeshire (Fuzileer) Militia and Royal Cardiganshire (Light Infantry) Militia being two of these. The Royal Pembrokeshire (Rifles) Militia was affiliated to the 95th Rifles and wore the same uniforms, while the Royal Cardiganshire (Rifles) Militia were affiliated to the 60th Rifles and again wore that uniform.
Some Militia regiments additionally had regimental bands and even artillery detachments. These were generally paid for by extremely wealthy Colonels – the Royal Buckinghamshire Militia and Royal Staffordshire Militia were particularly lavishly-equipped and gained the honorific ‘King’s Own’ as a result of their performance on parades and royal reviews. Regimental gunners generally wore the standard red coats, though would be supervised and trained by attached RA personnel or ‘Invalid Gunners’ (also known as ‘Woolwich Invalids’). Invalid Gunners wore the usual red-faced, blue RA uniform, though without yellow lace.
In terms of organisation, Militia Regiments were frequently very small, depending on the population size and wealth of the county. In Wales during the 1790s, the ‘regiments’ were typically 80-250 men strong, typically organised into 1 to 4 companies. For example, the Pembrokeshire Militia had a strength of 160 men, organised into four companies. This had remained unchanged since the Seven Years War. The Supplementary Militia Act of 1796 increased the regiment’s strength to 331 men (number of companies unknown). The Cardiganshire Militia had a strength of 120 men, organised into four companies. The Supplementary Militia Act increased this in late 1796 to 474 men (number of companies unknown). The Carmarthenshire Miltia had 226 men, organised into three companies. During the AWI they had numbered 360 men. Following the passing of the Supplementary Militia Act, the strength of the Carmarthenshire Militia was increased to a whopping 790 men, organised in ten companies. However, it seems that only 263 of these new men actually served full-time with the regiment (from 1798). The rest were trained and put on ‘furlough’. I’ll discuss ‘Supplementary Militia’ below.
While most Militia regiments were initially too small to have designated Grenadier and Light Companies, the best men in each company were designated as such, would be awarded the appropriate uniform distinctions and would stand on the flanks of the line.
When ‘Embodied’, these tiny Militia ‘regiments’ were typically brigaded together into brigades of half a dozen or so regiments, totalling 1,000-1.500 men. A very common posting for these brigades was guarding the south and east coasts of England. They were not permitted to be sent abroad – not even to Ireland or the Channel Islands.
I should also mention that Scotland was not permitted to raise Militia regiments. This was a throwback to the days of the Jacobite Rebellion. Curiously, Ireland, while no slouches in the rebellion department, was permitted to raise Militia…
As mentioned above, county Militia regiments, when ‘Embodied’ for wartime service, frequently found themselves serving at the opposite end of the country, leaving their home counties largely undefended. As a consequence, Pitt the Younger’s government passed the Supplementary Militia Act in 1796, which called for the raising of an additional ‘Disembodied Militia’ for local defence during wartime. This was somewhat prophetic, as Pembrokeshire was practically undefended when the French landed in February 1797. The Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire Supplementary Militia were only just in the process of being raised and it was only by sheer luck that the Cardiganshire Militia was in the area at the time.
When the Supplementary Militia was initially raised, they roughly doubled or tripled the strength of existing Militia regiments. In most cases they padded each regiment out to a full battalion of ten companies. During the early 1800s these became re-named as ‘Reserve Militia’.
In England, Wales and Ireland, the Fencibles were full-time cavalry regiments, organised and equipped as Light Dragoons. They were known variously as ‘Fencible Light Dragoons’ or ‘Fencible Cavalry’. Scotland also had Fencible Infantry regiments to make up for the lack of Scottish Militia regiments. There were also ‘Sea-Fencibles’ supporting the Royal Navy, but I don’t know much about them.
Fencible regiments were raised for defence of the British Isles during wartime and as such were full-time troops. Unlike the Militia, Volunteers, Yeomanry, etc, they were permitted by act of Parliament to be sent to Ireland or the Channel Islands. The Fencibles were disbanded in 1803.
Just like the Yeomanry, Fencible Cavalry uniforms were typically of Light Dragoon pattern (short jacket and Tarleton helmet), though frequently lacked the ‘hussar braid’ of the regulars. Instead they would just have the rows of buttons, sometimes with a ‘box’ of lace framing the buttons. Officers frequently purchased pelisses for full dress. Jackets were usually red, though many eventually adopted blue jackets (this was allegedly an honour for serving in Ireland).
In terms of organisation, these regiments were frequently very small, with just a few Troops. For example, the New Romney Fencible Cavalry, who marched to Fishguard and took responsibility for the PoWs, only numbered four Troops – probably about 16o men.
The Provisional Cavalry regiments were a brief experiment, only lasting from 1796-1802 (or thereabouts). They were intended to be a mounted version of the county Militia, though instead of being raised by ballot, were instead raised as a ‘tax’ on the landowners, whereby each gentleman owning land/wealth above a certain threshold was required to provide the county Provisional Cavalry regiment with a man and a horse.
Only a few counties raised such regiments and there were none in Wales. Needless to say, the landowners utterly opposed this additional financial burden and they rarely managed to raise more than a few dozen men for each regiment. The idea was then strangled, with Provisional Cavalry regiments briefly becoming Fencible regiments before they too were disbanded.
Uniforms are essentially unknown, but are believed to have been identical to Fencible/Yeomanry-style Light Dragoon uniforms.
The first county Yeomanry Cavalry regiments were raised in 1793, in concert with Volunteer Infantry regiments. These units were to be part-time volunteer cavalry units for defence of their own county and the neighbouring counties. However, as time went on they eventually took on more of a full-time role, sometimes operating at the far end of the country for months at a time, largely taking on the role of the disbanded Fencibles (though never abroad or in other islands of the UK). Each man was meant to provide his own uniform and horse, which initially limited membership to the land-owning classes or ‘Yeomen’. The government would then provide the weaponry and cavalry equipment. However, wealthy landowners (such as Lord Cawdor) would frequently supply the horses and uniforms, with volunteers coming from their estate-workers and tenant-farmers, as well as the ‘Yeomen’ more typically associated with the Yeomanry.
In addition to local defence, the Yeomanry were frequently called out to suppress civil disorder – either by threat (e.g. parading in the market square on market-day) or by direct action (such as the notorious Peterloo Massacre). Consequently, the Yeomanry were frequently unpopular members of society. However, a member of the Yeomanry who gave six months’ good service would have their name removed from the hated Militia Ballot, so there was rarely a shortage of recruits.
The Yeomanry were disbanded along with the Fencibles and Volunteers with the Peace of Amiens, but (unlike the Fencibles) were re-formed following the resumption of hostilities in 1805.
As with the Yeomanry, the ‘Volunteer Corps’ were raised by act of Parliament from 1793 and were part-time units for defence of their home locality and the surrounding area (iirc, the official limit to service was something like two days’ march from home, though many units marched far further than that in an attempt to meet the French landing at Fishguard). Unlike the Yeomanry, there had actually been Volunteer Corps raised for previous wars such as the Seven Years War and American War of Independence and in some cases (such as the Pembroke Volunteers), these units were simply re-formed with many of the same men. As for the Yeomanry, six months’ good service as a Volunteer would exempt a man from the Militia Ballot.
The vast majority of Volunteer Corps were infantry (often light infantry) units, though some were mixed, having mounted and even artillery sections (usually at the colonel’s own expense). For example, the Fishguard & Newport Volunteers were tasked with manning the three guns of Fishguard Fort (assisted by three Invalid Gunners), while the Towyn Volunteers north of Aberystwyth had a small detachment of ‘Dragoons’ and an artillery detachment with a 2-pounder ‘grasshopper gun’ that the CO bought out of his own pocket for ‘crowd control’… Until it blew up…!
Prior to Fishguard, Volunteer Corps were fairly thin on the ground nationwide, being fairly unpopular due to their typical crowd-control duties and ‘bully-boy’ tactics. The newspapers and cartoonists of the day vilified them for being little more than armed drinking clubs. Wales had only half a dozen or so such corps (most of which actually seem to have been well-led, disciplined and well-trained), but they absolutely exploded in number during the patriotism/panic that followed the French landing at Fishguard.
By 1803 the Volunteers had become a gigantic, expensive monster of extremely limited military value and it was with some relief that they were disbanded with the Peace of Amiens. However, they returned with a vengeance in 1805, becoming even more unruly and useless than before! Finally, the Army and the government had had enough and decided to bring them under the far better-regulated county Militia system.
Uniforms and organisation for these units were unimaginably varied and in many cases, unrecorded. It’s worth having a google for the dozens of prints of London Volunteer Corps held by the Anne S K Brown Collection in order to see the bewildering array of uniform colours and styles. The majority of uniforms were red, but blue, brown and green are also recorded, with cocked hats, slouched hats, round hats, crested round hats, Corsican hats, Tarletons, mirlitons, jockey caps, chain caps, fur caps, shakos and even busbies all being used.
With the second disbandment of the Volunteer Corps in 1808(ish), the more respectable/useful volunteers were invited to join new Local Militia Battalions, which would form the junior battalions of the county Militia regiments. In Wales, the Embodied Militia and the Reserve Militia typically formed the 1st Battalion, while the Volunteers formed the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc (Local Militia) Battalions. These battalions would then be uniformed, equipped, trained and organised to a common standard. This pattern was probably typical nationwide.
This standardisation of training, equipment and discipline produced massive results and the regular Army quickly began using the Local Militia along with the Embodied Militia as a source of experienced recruits – particularly for officers.
Anyway that’s about it! Simple! 🙂
I think I should probably cut and paste that as a new blog article…
- This reply was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by Jemima Fawr.
- This reply was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by Jemima Fawr.
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