British Line Infantry Organisation

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Introduction

This article depicts the organisation of the regiments of foot of the British Army to the exception of the guard regiments who were organised differently.

There were two primary arms of the British Army - the British Establishment, headquartered at Whitehall in London, and the Irish Establishment, based out of Dublin Castle. Under the British Establishment, a "typical" foot regiment of a single battalion had an authorized strength of 814 and an annual budget of 15,217 pounds (Steward, 2015; Page 168). Under the Irish Establishment, a regiment of a single battalion was only authorized to a strength of 374 with an annual budget of 8,847 pounds (1755). The three foot guard regiments would be manned and budgeted differently, being much more costly. Scottish regiments were administered by the British Establishment.

But in wartime, changes were made to those infantry regiments that were deployed to a campaign theatre. On paper, regiments under the British Establishment saw an increase in strength of 30% -- Rank & File increased to 1,040 men (Corporals plus Privates). More significantly, the Irish regiments being sent overseas were then authorized to match the strength of those regiments being sent overseas under the British Establishment. At least in part, this was done by transferring those Irish regiments to the British Establishment, as was done for the 35th in 1756. This was largely an accounting issue of who was to pay for the deployment - the British Parliament or the Irish Parliament plus some legal limits on the strength of Irish regiments. Regardless, this represented a huge gain in strength and numbers for an Irish regiment, more than doubling the strength of the regiment. Drafts were taken from other regiments remaining in Ireland to reach at least 525 men before being deployed outside of Ireland. Irish regiments could be sent directly overseas or first moved to England for additional recruiting. Impressment of the unemployed into the Army was authorized in 1756 and 1757, but not after 1757 (Brunwell, 2002, Page 64).

Role of the Colonel

It was much more common for a regiment to have only a single battalion attached, but a small number of regiments fielded multiple battalions. Even under multiple battalions, there would only be a single Colonel to a regiment. The role of the Colonel was both very fluid and inconsistent. The practice of dual ranks among the highest ranking officers often muddles the picture - a British Army Rank and a Regimental Rank. Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, lead the British Army with the rank of Captain-General. At the same time, he was also the Colonel of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards. The practice of dual ranks was not at all unusual and is better characterized as a common practice. The confusion associated with dual ranks only starts at the army rank of Major General and higher --- a Major General of the Army, but also Colonel of a specific regiment. Dual ranks and temporary ranks are different issues.

A regimental colonel might be little more than an administrative figurehead and never leave the British Isles. Charles Otway was the Colonel of the 35th and remained in Ireland when the 35th Regiment shipped to North America. Otway was Colonel of the 35th for 47 years from 1717-1764. Otway's Army rank was Lieutenant General (May 28, 1745). At the same time, a Colonel could be actively leading the regiment and be deployed overseas in that role. When holding a higher army rank but still active in the field, the Colonel might well be detached from his regiment for extended periods. In 1756 and 1757, Lord Loudoun, John Campbell, was a Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of North America, He was also Colonel of the four battalions 60th Regiment (Royal Americans). In 1757, the 60th was widely dispersed with battalion elements in New York, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas and Nova Scotia. Even when deployed overseas in the same theatre, the Colonel and his regiment might not be in the field together. In 1759, Jeffrey Amherst was the Colonel of the 15th Regiment of Foot. While Amherst was leading the expedition to capture Fort Carillon and Fort Saint Frédéric on Lake Champlain, his own 15th Regiment was deployed on the St. Lawrence at the Siege of Québec. Often the Lieutenant Colonel would be the functional head of a regiment in the field, but this was not a rule and the true Colonel might actually be deployed with his regiment - 44th with Halkett and 48th with Dunbar at the Monongahela in 1755. Without knowing the peerage and army rank, the exact role of the Colonel within any specific regiment is near impossible to predict.

As it regards North America, the presence of colonial provincial and militias forced unusual adjustments in rank that would only be valid in North America. This was done to avoid having a Colonel of Provincial Troops outranking the lead officer of a regular British Regiment. As such, Lieutenant Colonels under the British Establishment had their local theatre rank raised to Colonel. As rule, a Colonel of Regulars would outrank any Colonel of Provincials. When Daniel Webb was shipped to North America, his "North American" rank was raised to Major General, but his British Army rank remained as Colonel.

Number and Role of Officers

In order to lower "costs" of the Army, various solutions were formally adopted or practised. In peacetime, the first practice was to restrict the number of officers actively serving in a regiment, 9 fewer lieutenants per battalion then on campaign. The number of Rank & File would be allowed to drop considerably below authorized levels. Equipment and uniforms were allowed to badly age. Even during a campaign, officers would be required to perform double duties. The commitment to double duties can be discerned from the War Office's Printed Annual Army Lists (WO 65/#), but not from the standardized Monthly Returns which are very misleading in this regard. A lieutenant would be assigned as Regimental Adjutant and Subaltern (either a lieutenant or ensign) would typically be assigned as Regimental Quartermaster, these were not additional officer slots. Rarely, a sergeant could hold the Regimental Quartermaster position. One of the company captains would serve as the Regimental Paymaster, again not an additional officer slot.

Composition and Organisation

Peacetime Organisation

In 1755, a typical battalion would be organized into ten companies, 1 grenadier and 9 battalion companies ("tricorner hat" companies). In 1755, light infantry companies had not been adopted yet.

In peacetime, under the British Establishment

  • the typical battalion company would be organised as:
    • 1 "Company Captain" (company officer)
    • 1 lieutenant (subaltern officers)
    • 1 ensign (subaltern officer)
    • 3 sergeants (NCOs)
    • 3 corporals
    • 2 drummers (NCOs)
    • 70 privates
  • the typical grenadier company would be organised as:
    • 1 "Company Captain"
    • 2 lieutenants (subaltern officers)
    • 3 sergeants (NCOs)
    • 3 corporals
    • 2 drummers (NCOs)
    • 70 privates

In peacetime, under the Irish Establishment

  • the battalion companies would be organised as:
    • 1 "Company Captain" (company officer)
    • 1 lieutenant (subaltern officers)
    • 1 ensign (subaltern officer)
    • 2 sergeants (NCOs)
    • 2 corporals
    • 1 drummer (NCO)
    • 29 privates
  • the grenadier company would be organised as:
    • 1 "Company Captain"
    • 2 lieutenants (subaltern officers)
    • 2 sergeants (NCOs)
    • 2 corporals
    • 1 drummer (NCO)
    • 29 privates

Wartime Organisation

Once called up, the Irish regiments had a great deal of work to do in a short period of time to reach the strength of the regiments under the British Establishment. Indeed, for campaign, both the British and Irish Foot Regiments assumed a single model. Assuming only a single battalion in a regiment, the standard battalion organization for a Regiment of Foot under the British Establishment and for all Regiment of Foot under the Irish Establishment deployed for an active campaign - Paper Strength:

  • staff officers
    • 1 colonel (field officer, may or may not be with the Regiment)
    • 1 lieutenant colonel (field officer, also acted as captain of his company)
    • 1 major (field officer, also acted as captain of his company)
    • 1 surgeon (staff officer)
    • 1 or 2 surgeon mates (staff officers)
    • 1 chaplain (staff officer, chaplains were notoriously absent)
  • the typical battalion company would be organised as:
    • 1 "Company Captain" (company officer, note: 7 companies were commanded by full captains, however the colonel's company was commanded by a captain lieutenant, the lieutenant colonel's company, by the lieutenant colonel and the major's company, by the major)
    • 2 lieutenants (subaltern officers)
    • 1 ensign ((subaltern officer)
    • 4 sergeants (NCOs)
    • 4 corporals
    • 2 drummers (NCOs)
    • 100 privates
  • the typical grenadier company would be organised as:
    • 1 "Company Captain"
    • 2 lieutenants (subaltern officers)
    • 4 sergeants (NCOs)
    • 4 corporals
    • 2 drummers (NCOs)
    • 100 privates

British and Irish regiments had distinct problems in reaching this goal and Parliament authorized the impressment of the unemployed in 1756 and 1757. Scottish regiments did not have trouble reaching the recruitment quotas.

The charges of Regimental Adjutant, Regimental Quartermaster and the Regimental Paymaster were assigned to officers in the above listing, not additional individuals. With all the secondary assignments and duties required in a campaign setting, functioning with only two subaltern officers per company does not appear to be excessively burdensome and a very common condition.

Grenadier Companies often appear to be larger than those of the other battalion companies, but this is somewhat a false image. Grenadier Companies would be established very early in the Campaign Season or the previous winter, but in anticipation of future recruitments and drafts. If a regiment was currently at 700 men, but was anticipating 200 new drafts into the regiment, the grenadier company would be organized at 90 men with the other 9 companies splitting up any future recruits and drafts that would actually arrive. In 1757, despite having only 20 lieutenants assigned to the 35th, three lieutenants were consistently assigned to the grenadier company (LO 6751).

Many regiments did not have anywhere near these numbers of Rank & File before being shipped overseas. In North America, each regiment would continue to recruit. It was simply the desired number of men. Although authorized to 104 Rank & File per company (including corporals), companies remained combat effective at much lower numbers. A company of 50 Rank & File would not be unusual and would be readily placed into the field. When below 40 Rank & File per company, the thought was that the effectiveness of musket volley fire would be much reduced.

The Captain Lieutenant in a foot regiment would be paid as a lieutenant, but when he reached "full" Captain, his seniority would be based on the date when he was appointed Captain Lieutenant, not Captain. In most circumstances, the Captain Lieutenant would be treated and addressed as Captain, but the lowest ranking Captain in his battalion. The Royal Artillery had a different protocol for the rank of Captain Lieutenant and it was a standard stepping stone in advancement within the Artillery. Despite this desire to contain costs for the Army, hundreds of officers were placed on Half-Pay in case of war with little or no responsibility until formally called into service.

References

Brumwell, Stephen. 2002. Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755 - 1763. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Loudoun Papers, (LO). Loudoun Papers, Huntington Library Manuscript. Call Number: mssLO 1-12893. Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

Steward, Nicholas 2015. A List of the Officers of the British Army to August 1755. Steward Archives, Salem, Massachusetts.

War Office, Printed Annual Army Lists (on-line and viewable)

Acknowledgment

Kenneth P. Dunne for the initial version of this article