I'm currently writing a paper on Wellington's battalions of light companies in the Peninsula. (NOT the Light Division). I've read a few sources that try and estimate the relative strength of the French and British skirmisher screens. But they all seem critically flawed. Nominally 1 in 6 of any French infantry formation were voltiguers - but all companies were trained to skirmish so a French commander could opt to deploy all or some of his voltigeurs, or reinforce them with additional companies. A British commander could deploy his light companies (1 in 10 of his men), 5/60th, Brunswickers, Caçadores etc. But crucially it was common practice for both sets of skirmishers to have substantial reserves of up to 50% - so the numbers actually skirmishing are unknown. Also battles were seldom so neat as to have one British division, for instance, fighting one French one - attacks would often span more than one formation or just part of it. Given all this is it not very hard to make any generalisation of relative skirmisher numbers, or even to be that certain of any one instance, given that the accounts are often vague about such things?
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Zack, I am interested in the Bloomfield letters volume that you mention. Could you provide more details please? Thanks.
Rob, a few minutes ago I began reading the letters of Lt Thomas Valentine Blomfield of the 2/48th in the Second Division and in the very first letter I came across this:
‘We have lately had a new General join us. He is a terrible fellow. His name is the Hon. W. Stewart, who was once Colonel of the 95thRegt., and as the country here is very much adapted for light troops he has formed another light company from each battalion, so that now each battalion has two light companies. I am appointed to the one in our regiment, but we do not wear the light bob’s dress, but merely distinguished by a piece of lace round the right arm above the elbow. I have now plenty of work – four hours drill every day, running up and down of immense hills.’ (Blomfield to his brother-in-law J. Edwards, Camp near Sarzades, 17 August 1810 Observations of Peninsula[r] War Sieges and Battles edited by Jason Blomfield p 1-2 - privately published transcripts of his letters - Zack can give you more details of the publication and how to get a copy, I think).
I have no idea whether this practice lasted or whether it spread to other parts of the army, but it does show that there was some scope for variation.
One good way to determine how many British light companies were involved in any given battle after 1811 is to check to see who received an Army Gold Cross. If a lieutenant colonel and a major (or two majors but not a lieutenant colonel ) from the same battalion received an Army Gold Cross it usually meant the major was commanding the composite light battalion (i.e. three or four companies) of this brigade. To be awarded the Army Gold Cross the individual had to be commanding a unit larger than a company and that unit had to be under fire. . . not just artillery fire.
As you are probably aware, I covered this in an article on my website:
Hans-Karl quotes two of Wellington’s orders in respect of these converged light battalions. There was a third earlier one in August 1808, in other words every time Wellington took over command of an Army, he issued such an order.
My article identifies many of the officers who commanded these converged light battalions, thus demonstrating the semi-permanent nature of those appointments.
seemingly my mail disappeared, here again -
Also there is a very good chapter by Arthur Harmann : They decide not, nor are they chiefly relied upon in battle - British Rifles and Light infantry in the Peninsular War pp. 265
In A History of the Peninsular War - Volume IX - Modern Studies of the War in Spain and Portugal, 1808 - 1814 - Edited by Paddy Griffith