The Rifle Brigade



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      An officer and Rifleman of the 95th - my poor scanning fails to show this to advantage, however the uniform is a dark green and the facings black - they stood out from the other soldiers of Wellington's army who dressed mostly in red. The French called them the 'grasshoppers'.
      The 95th had a proud tradition of service for Britain, in Wellington's army they excelled so much they were honoured by being taken out of the 'line' and given the title 'Rifle Brigade' after Waterloo.

      At least one battalion of the regiment was present at every major battle on the Peninsula except Albuera. They also acted as both a forward force when in advance, and as a covering force when in retreat as they were part of the elite "light Division' until Craufurd which was formed on 22 February 1810.

      The light Division, and the 95th were the sharp shooters, skirmishers and information gatherers of the army. Their skill at shooting meant they were given the new 'baker' rifles to use. The rifling in the barrel improved shooting accuracy allowing riflemen to pick their targets rather than relying on shooting en masse at large en masse targets to make a difference.

      So accurate were some of these shooters that William Surtees in his autobiography describes at least two riflemen who would hold up targets for one another to shoot at, at a distance of 150 yards.

      The light division was not looked on by the rest of the army with universal goodwill though. Perhaps because they were not in clear sight during battles as the rest of the army were. Army tactics up to this time relied mostly on set moves and large bodies of men moving in unison, the light brigade and the 95th did not rely on these manouvres often skirmishing from behind cover. This from Jonathon Leach in his "Rough Sketches of an Old Soldier"

        Amongst a certain number (I hope a few only) of malcontents in the army, the very name of the 'Light Division', or the 'outposts', was sufficient to turn their ration wine into vinegar, and to spoil their appetitite for that day's allowance of ration beef also....Those invidious barkers and growlers, whether in the subaltern or in the higher ranks, in whose mouths was every uppermost - 'Ah!' The Light Division! What is the Light Division more than any other?' - should have been briefly answered thus - The Light Division never did affect to place itself on a pedastal, as being superior to its comrades in arms; nor on the other hand when the most honourable, dangerous, harrassing, and reponsible post was allotted to it, and it was pushed across the Coa in the very teeth of Massena's numerous legions, and extensive line of country, whilst the other divisions of the army were in cantonments behind the Coa, as perfectly at their ease, and as safe from surprise, as if they had been in a garrison in England, - could it have calculated on having its prominent services called in question by men, many of whom sarcely ever saw the Light Division in their lives, and were ignorant of the manner in which it was constantly employed in every successive campaign.

      The French might have called them "grasshoppers" for their green uniform, but it was not what Wellington's army referred to them as. This from the Edward Costello's 'Adventure's of a Soldier':

        The Rifles, from the dark colour of their uniforms, and the total absence of all ornament, had gained the nick-name of'sweeps, an appellation, which, nevertheless, held out a kind of temptation to the 'wide awake' of the squads.

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      References

      Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns - Edward Costello (edited by Antony Brett-James) Longmans, 1967
      The Autobiography of Sir Harry Smith - (Edited by Moore-Smith) 1902
      Adventures in the Rifle Brigade - Captain Sir John Kincaid An Encyclpaedia of Napoleon's Europe - Alan Palmer. 1984
      The Napoleonic Source Book - Philip J. Haythornthwaite, 1990
      Adventures of a Riflemen - Edward Costello, 1857

      links

      The Autobiography of Sir Harry Smith

      Short barrels and long bumpers - Sue Law's Sharpe & 95th Page

      A page to 'Black Bob' Crauford's history.



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