Some of you may remember that I recently posted a query about musket injuries: https://www.thenapoleonicwars.net/forum/peninsular-war/musket-injury-information-needed
As you were all so very helpful, your reward is to be bothered again with what will seem to you a very simplistic question. But as I have no military background at all in my family (we're brewers and butchers - both handy in their own way), I hope you will forgive me.
In short, I am writing a series of books whose narrator has a background as a groom/servant in the Peninsular Wars (with the 48th Northamptonshire). He goes from England to Gibraltar, Spain, India and Australia with them, all the while working for "his officer" as a groom. He eventually accompanies "his officer" home to Cambridge, where the officer dies of syphilis and my narrator starts his life as, well, the narrator of a series of books set in Cambridge (and an ostler - always with the horses).
Sorry - that wasn't very short, was it!
My question is this: what rank would "his officer" have had? To fit my plot requirements, the officer is aged 22 in 1809 in Spain, aged 24 at the Battle of Albuera (where my narrator gets the injury mentioned in the other forum post), and returns home to Cambridge to die in 1824, aged 37.
Ideally, I actually have three questions:
What rank would the officer have had at the Battle of Albuera (1811)?
Would he have been promoted in the following years - i.e. 1811 to 1824, when he was invalided home?
What would my narrator have referred to him as? Captain [or whatever] Name? The officer? My officer?
Thank you all so much - I am determined to get as much of this right as I can.
Hello. Quite a dense ‘back story’ On one hand, your hand is quite free in a period when commissions were obtained by purchase. Ensigns (the junior rank in an infantry regiment) could enter the army at fourteen or fifteen, even earlier, and 24-year-old lieutenant-colonels could command a battalions (for instance, one Hon. Arthur Wesley commanding the 33rd in 1794.)
Therefore what rank an 22-year-old officer might hold in his regiment would depend on a number of circumstances, principally how long he had been in the army and what financial means he has at his disposal.
Looking forward for a moment, the fact that in 1824 an officer had remained in the same regiment for fifteen years might suggest he wasn’t particularly wealthy, given that a officer with money may well have chosen to sell his commission and exchange out of a regiment about to depart for Australia.
One detail that might contradict the above is the officer having the services of a personal servant in the form of a groom, which suggests a certain level of financial comfort. A soldier servant on the regimental rolls might be more plausible. I suggest that you read some Peninsula memoirs to get a feel of what infantry officers enjoyed in that regard.
An officer could also gain promotion without purchase in wartime, when openings were created by losses as a result of casualties in battle and from disease, provided he had the favour of the Colonel of the regiment and recommendation of his battalion commanding officer.
An impecunious officer of the 48th might therefore see opportunities open for him after the costly battles of Talavera and Albuhera, and indeed during the rest of the regiment’s service in the Peninsular campaign: Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Orthes, Toulouse. After that, at war’s end his promotion may have stalled, with the regiment sailing for Australia shortly afterwards. There was no automatic assumption that having served in a regiment for fifteen year there would be an automatic process of promotion through the ranks. Perhaps he got to major and stuck. It is less likely he made lieutenant colonel, but the posting to Australia makes selling out by those senior to him more of a possibility.
Aside from questions of financial resources, does the fact that your officer dies of syphilis suggest he led something of a dissolute life- or was he just unlucky? This might also reflect on his rate of promotion.
Another way of looking at the question would be to consider what job you see your man doing at the various points in the narrative that you mention. Subalterns- (Ensigns and Lieutenants) generally are at the beck and call of more senior officers. Ensigns, of course- as their name suggests- carry the colours in battle and have a short life expectancy, but if they do well and survive, they can catch the eye of their seniors. Lieutenants have survived that dangerous bottom rung of the ladder to become ‘dogsbodies’ of the battalion. Carrying out routine duties in camp and in the field. Depending on opportunities they can remain lieutenant for some time, many carrying out the responsibilities of more senior ranks when battalions in the field run short of officers. Of considerable significance would be the point at which an officer ‘gains his captaincy’ and command of a company, a significant rise in rank: administratively responsible, financially advantageous, and an important command in battle. At that rank he can also resign his commission and “take half pay”- effectively collect a pension. If not by purchase, promotion to captain might be the result of a high casualty rate, it could involve intrinsic merit, or be by dint of accumulated experience. You’re the novelist.
As for terms of address, if addressing the officer for the first time in a conversation or in company, a soldier would use his rank, “Captain Simpson, sir, the Major offers his compliments and asks...” (etc). (Subalterns are addressed as “Mr,” by the way) Thereafter, “Sir,” might suffice- “Sir, shall I pour your coffee now, sir?” Alternatively, the third person need not be as formal as it sounds. “Would the Captain like me to pour his coffee, now?” To a certain extent the degree of cordiality between individuals would play a role, and the personalities involved. If a servant has remained in attendance on the same officer for fifteen years, particularly after considerable time on active service, one might assume a degree of warmth and trust.
All off the top of my head. I hope that is of help
Have you seen this?
THE JOURNAL OF EDWARD HEELEY: Servant to Lieutenant-Colonel Sir George Scovell, K.C.B. Assistant Quartermaster General to the British Army in the Campaign of 1815 (Continued)
Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, Vol. 64, No. 259 (Autumn 1986), pp. 129-142