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Riflemen of the 95th Regiment ( Rifles ) at Corunna 1808-1809
by Keith Raynor


60th and 95th Riflemen by C. Hamilton Smith (by permission of Parks Canada- copyright)

How to load and fire a Baker Rifle click here.

Twenty years as a reenactor, Mr Raynor is an experienced and thorough researcher in England and contributes articles regularly to Magazines such as First Empire and the Age of Napoleon. Mr Raynor assists the Discriminating General considerably in unearthing key documents and artifacts that allow us to more accurately manufacture of our products.

Both the first and second battalions of the 95th Rifle Regiment took part in the Corunna retreat. The 1st/95th formed part of Pagets reserve division and stayed with the main army under Moore. The 2nd/95th formed part of Robert Craufurds 1st Light Brigade. At Astorga, during the retreat, the light brigades were detached from the main body of the army and sent to Vigo. This was in part to safe-guard the army from attack on its southern flank, and to ease the strain on the commissariats resources.

The men of both battalions suffered severe privations on the retreat from lack of food and shelter, from the cold and the constant exhausting marching in mountainous terrain. Riflemen's uniforms and accoutrements suffered accordingly. William Green and John Harris both of the 95th later recalled many incidents of the retreat which illustrated how the uniforms and equipment gradually degenerated in appearence or were lost as the retreat progressed.

Green on his way to Corunna noted how he was ordered by his Colonel,"...to throw away our knapsack, but keep either the great coat, or blanket, which we chose. We did not mind parting with our kits, our orders must be obeyed, so we left them by the road side. But we had enough to carry; fifty round of ball cartridge, thirty lose balls in our waist belt, and a flask, and a horn of powder, and rifle and sword, the two weighing 14 pounds. These were plenty for us to carry..."

In contrast to Green, Rifleman Harris, who marched, staggered, fell and eventually stumbled to Vigo, cursed his knapsack, having been given no order to abandon it. "Our knapsacks too, were a bitter enemy...many a man died, I am convinced, who would have borne up well to the end of the retreat but for the infernal load we carried on our backs...The knapsacks in my opinion, should have been abandoned at the very commencement of the retrograde...by such loss, we could have saved the poor fellows, who, as it was, died strapped to them on the road".

While Harris struggled under the weight of his knapsack, Green dealt with an uniquely different mishap, he had the misfortune to fall down a well. This accident resulted in the lose of his,"...hat, cap, and forage cap, and the lock cap of my rifle, and my sword was broke in the scabbard by the fall".(1) After being rescued he saw,"...a glazed hat tied on one of the mules, I asked my comrade to lend me his knife, when I cut the string and put the hat on, but it was so large it came over my eyes, I padded it with some grass, and it did very well". Green was not the only person with non regulation headgear, Harris remarked on,"Sir Dudley Hill passing on a mule...He wore a spanish straw-hat..", whilst many others were,"...bare headed...some with their heads tied up in old rags and fragments of handkerchiefs".

Both Green and Harris complained about the lack of shoes, and both men ended up barefoot at one point. Greens experience left him particularly resentful of shoemakers. He had,"...passed a cart drawn by a yoke of oxen, which was laden with English stores, and some boots and shoes. The oxen were knocked up, they could get no further, so the cargo was distributed amoung us. I got a pair of boots, put them on and throw my old ones away, but before I had walked four miles the bottom of one boot dropped off, the upper leather remaining laced round my ankle. Going three or four miles further the other boot bottom dropped off, and I had to walk barefoot, as my stocking feet were soon cut all to pieces. I was not alone in this predicament...These boots were manufactured in England...the sides and heels had been glued or pegged on, as there could not have been any wax or hemp used, and the person who contracted with the government ought to have been tried by court-martial, and to have been rewarded with a good flogging with a Cat-O'-nine-tails, and I for one should like to have given them 200 lashes each for their tricking tricks!".

By the time both of them had reached their respective embarkation points, they and their comrades were none too good for wear. "Our beards were long and ragged, almost all were without shoes and stockings,many had their clothes and accoutrements in fragments, with their heads swarthed in old rags, and our weapons were covered in rust", recollected Harris. Green and his party of riflemen had time at Corunna to try and clean themselves and sponge out their rifles. Their clothes were vermin ridden and,"As knapsacks and razors and kit, were all thrown away some of the older men had beards like Jews, not having been shaved since the commencement of the retreat".

If the experience of Harris and Green can be seen as typical of Riflemen during the Corunna retreat. Then it is no small wonder that the descriptions of the 95ths uniforms and equipment speak of its ragged, torn and dilapidated state, upon the regiments return to Britain. Thats if such items survived at all. The uniform worn by the 95th in that winter of 1808 was basically that which had been proscibed by regulations in 1801 and 1802, with only a few minor alterations.

By the time of the Corunna retreat, Riflemen would be wearing the second pattern stovepipe shako introduced in 1806. This shako was made of blocked felt, with a linen liner, leather "sweatband" and leather peak, there was no back flap, though the rear portion of the leather "sweatband" could be pulled out of the cap to form one. There appears to be no known records to suggest that this was official practice. The caps were,"...to be made of sufficient size to come completely on the head. To be worn straight and even and brought well forward over the eyes. The felt cap and the tuft is to be supplied annually. The leather part, brass plate and leather cockade (2) once in every two years...The whole to wear the button of their respective regiments in the centre of the cockade..." The rank and file wore a green tuft on their shakos, similar to the Light Infantry. While the Sergeants and Buglers were to have green feathers instead.

The 95th however were never issued the brass (universal) shako plate. The 1802 regulations state that Officers were to wear on their helmets,"...a silver crown and bugle engraved on the right side of the helmet". For "Other ranks", the same regulations state, " The Rifle corps not to wear the brass fronting on their caps, but in lieu to have a bugle and crown with a green cord round the cap". By the time of the Corunna Campaign though,"Other Ranks" were most probably wearing a plain bugle horn badge, while Officers wore a Silver bugle horn badge.(3)

Around his neck the Rifleman would wear a black leather stock as proscibed by regulations, this being held in place by a brass or alloy stock clasp. (4). The Jackets for privates were made of,"...Dark green cloth, inferior in quality to the sergeants, but in formation, colour of the collar, cuffs, and shoulder straps and in the buttons, etc, etc,, exactly similar to the sergeants". The regulations of 1802 stated that the jacket was to be,"...without lining, except the sleeves, but the inside of the fronts are to be faced with green cloth". This was ammended in 1803 when the jacket was to be,"... lined, but not laced, with sleeves unlined".

Regulations further added that the jacket was to be,"Rather short skirted and turned back, but cut to slope off behind. No lappells and made to button over the body down to the waist. Standing collar (5) which with the cuffs are to be of black cloth and feathered with white. Three rows of buttons on the fronts of the jackets and 12 in each row, two rows on one side and one row and holes on the other".

The buttons were to be,"...set on at equal distances but the rows 7 1/2 inches apart at the top, and reduced gradually to 2 1/2 at the bottom. The cuffs 2 1/2 inches in breadth and pointed, opening at the hand with 4 buttons. The pockets pretty high on the fronts of the jackets and the welts set on sloping. A button on each hip and the back skirts made to fold well over. The buttons small throughout, being very much raised, with a bugle horn and crown over it engraved".(6)

As a departure from the usual practice (7) with the British infantry, the 95th were issued with pantaloons, "...in lieu of breeches, in a similar manner and form as directed for sergeants". The pantaloons were to be made of green cloth,"...similar in quality and colour to their coats. They are to be made to come down to the ankles". However, the pantaloons cost more due to the extra amount of cloth used, and riflemen were,"...to be stopped the extra-ordinary charge of two shillings and three pence on their clothing in consequence of receiving pantaloons instead of breeches". Prints of Riflemen C1804 from the former Sumner collection show trousers being worn; Either that, or the pantaloons are being worn over the gaiters. (8)

Riflemen were to,"...wear black woollen cloth short gaiters, with small white metal buttons and to come up sufficiently high above the ankles to prevent any opening from appearing between them and the pantaloons". Finally, Riflemen were given two pairs of shoes annually, these would be made straight lasted, ie. no left or right foot. But the shoes would be soon bedded into one foot or the other despite the advice of some military authors who recommended the shoes be changed, day in, day out.

Regarding the accoutrements and arms issued to a Rifleman, he was to be equiped with a pouch belt,"...of black leather 2 1/2 inches in breadth and fastened to the pouch by straps and buckles similar to the line". They were also,"...to have a powder horn laying nearly on the outside of the top of the pouch,(9) which is suspended by a green cord that passes over the belt and across the left shoulder...likewise a small powder flask on the breast and suspended from the neck by a green cord".(10)

The original ammunition pouch issued to the 95th had,"...a wooden box boxed for 12 rounds and another of tin capable of holding 24 rounds". These pouches were replaced by one holding 50 cartridges (11). The pouch flap was to be"...without ornaments and rounded at the corners and fastened underneath with a strap and button". This button being made of leather.

A sword belt was,"...to be worn round the waist and over the jacket to which the carriage for the sword bayonet is fixed, as also a ball bag which hangs nearly in the front of the body". The sword belt was made of,"...black leather and the same breadth as the pouch belt", and fastened by a crude brass snake clasp. A picker and brush hung by a brass chain from the waist-belt.

The ball bag contained 30 loose rifle balls which were to be used in conjunction with the greased leather patches, these being usually carried in the patch box of the rifle. If time permitted, the patched rifle balls were used to give more controlled and accurate rifle fire, however if time was pressing then the ready made cartridges were used for speedier loading. As the rifle balls were a tight fit in the barrel, a mallet was issued to riflemen to knock the ball down into the barrel. These mallets were found to be not needed and soon discarded.(12)

By 1809 Riflemen were armed with the "third" pattern Baker Rifle introduced in 1806, which became the standard pattern for the Baker until 1823. The rifles furniture was made of brass which included a pistol grip trigger guard and patch box with a plain rounded front. The lock plate was flat with steeped down tail, raised semi-water proof pan, and flat ring neck cock. Dove-tailed into the barrel 7 inches from the break off breech was a backsight, consisting of a block with a "V" notch cut in its upper edge, ahead of which was a hinged single leaf also notched. The rifle was sighted upto 200 yards and by the folding sight to 300 yards. The barrel was of 0.625 inch calibre, being just over 30 inches in length and browned. Fastened to the rifle was a sling, regulations in 1802 ordering it to be made "...of black leather and 1 3/4 inches in breadth".

Finally, a sword bayonet was issued being of the 2nd model or 1801 pattern with a 23 inch long blade and brass handle. This bayonet was a hinderance when moving fast or kneeling and laying down. The author of Scloppetaria wrote of this bayonet, "For it seldom happens, that the former can be of any real utility, and yet is a serious annoyance while running, as it by sometimes twisting and catching between the legs, trips up the person wearing it". It also weighed the rifle barrel down when fixed preventing accurate rifle fire. It was however good for toasting bread and cutting firewood.

Notes

1. If Green was to break his sword bayonet, then Harris was to go one better and lose his. As Harris climbed aboard a ship at Vigo he lost his grip and would have,"...fallen into the sea had it not been for two of the crew. These men grasped me as I was falling, and drew me into the port hole like a bundle of foul clothes, tearing away my belt and bayonet in the effort, which fell into the sea".

2. Besides the black leather cockade which was part of the Shako furniture. Riflemen were entitled to wear other cockades as reward for markmenship. "Any Riflemen who puts four shots into the round target, or three in the body of 73  the man in the canvas one, out of six...for two days practice out of three...will be ranked in the class of marksmen, and wear the green cockade. Any Rifleman who puts in two shots in the round target, or two in the body of the man, at the 2nd range and upwards, out of six, for two days firing out of three...(will) wear the small white cockade". There appears to be no evidence that these cockades were ever worn on campaign.

3. Regarding the inclusion of the numeral "95" into the bugle horn badge. This was sanctioned by General Order 28th Dec. 1814. There is no known evidence that "Other Ranks" 95th wore a "95" bugle horn badge before this date. Thus the only campaign on which a "95" badge could have been worn was that of Waterloo; And then only if the 95th had been supplied with new badges of this description between December 1814 and June 1815.

4. In contrast to the "Other Ranks" leather stock. The stock for Officers is described in the regulations for the Rifle Corps 1801 as "...black polished leather, high necked and bound with velvet, or black silk plaited". Regulations in 1802 ordered that,"Black silk stocks to be worn by all Officers either of Infantry, Rifle or Staff Corps".

5. Regulations in 1802 ordered the height of collars for infantry to be 3 inches in height. However in 1808 a circular letter dated Horse Guards 5th August, ordered that,"...the collars of the Regimental Jackets should be made highier in the neck so as to entirely cover the clasp of the stock". As the clothing worn by the 95th during the Corunna retreat was probably that issued in December 1807, it is likely that the 95th still had the shorter collars on their Jackets instead of requisite new ones.

6. That evidence for the 95th having a design on their buttons can be deduced from the memoirs of William Green,"One of our men an habitual drunkard, could not march, he was so full of red port. So our Colonel bid the Bugle-Major cut all the buttons off his jacket, that the french might not know what an honourable regiment he belonged to". This incident took place during the Corunna retreat. If there was no regimental design on the buttons, why cut them off?

7. Pantaloons had been issued to some of the Infantry previous to this date. The 5/60th were ordered to have blue pantaloons in 1801 for instance. However the majority of the Infantry wore wool breeches.

8. Trying to keep pantaloons inside the black wool gaiters would have been difficult on "active" service. Green commenting on the 95th in action,"...lying down, or kneeling to fire was our general mode in action". This type of activity would sooner or later cause the pantaloons to work themselves loose of the gaiters and cause them to hang down outside them. Besides which it is more comfortable and practical to wear pantaloons outside the gaiters.

9. A leather case containing the forage cap was originally worn on top of the ammunition pouch, as per the regulations for the Rifle Corps 1801. This practice however gradually died out, and by 1808/9 the forage cap was most probably kept in the knapsack or inside the shako.

10. For a good illustration of the small flask and the pocket it was kept in; See George Walkers print of a Riflemen of the North Yorks Militia C1814.

11. As already quoted in this article, Green stated he carried 50 cartridges in his ammunition pouch. Costello in his memoirs mentions this figure also,"...a powder flask filled, a ball bag containing thirty loose balls, a small wooden mallet used to hammer the ball into the muzzle of our rifles, belt and pouch, the latter containing fifty rounds of ammunition...".

12. Ezekiel Baker quoted on the issue of mallets to the 95th, "I do not mean that the ball should fit so tight as to require a wooden mallet to drive it in the nose end of the barrel. When the 95th Rifle Regiment was raised by the government...I supplied them with a few hundreds of small wooden mallets to drive in the ball, but they found them very inconvenient, and very soon dispensed with them". Steady manual pressure on the ramrod replaced the mallets.

Principal Sources

Report of the Board of Claims WO 26/41 P.R.O.Kew Memorandum (Loss of camp equipage) WO 26/41 P.R.O.Kew General Orders, Regulations and Circular letters, Authors Collection. William Green,"Where Duty Calls Me". The Recollections of Rifleman Harris. Porter,"Letters from Portugal and Spain". John Macfarlane,"A Peninsula Private". A Soldier of the 71st. Edward Costello,"Adventures of a Soldier". Robert Blakeney,"A Boy in the Peninsula". Capt.Henry Beaufroy,"Scloppetaria". Regulations for the Rifle Corps 1801. D.W.Bailey, The Baker Rifle, Guns Review.


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