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View Full Version : Rank of Regency Era Officer at the Battle of Salamanca in 1812?



Sapphire135
09-10-2015, 03:13 AM
Hi everyone,

In my current WIP, I have a 2nd son of an earl who has returned to England in 1812 badly scarred after the Battle of Salamanca. He is 31 years old (I could make him a year or two younger) and had been a cavalry officer. I am trying to figure out what his rank might have been. I prefer Captain, but it seems too low. If he bought his commission sometime after he came down from Oxford, he would have been in the army for some years. What rank would it be reasonable for him to have been - and yet still have seen enough action in order to get injured?

Does anyone with knowledge of the military in this era have any suggestions?

Thanks!

Calder
09-10-2015, 08:38 AM
During the Napoleonic Wars it was quite common for high-ranking officers, even generals, to actually lead their troops into battle. Major-General John Le Marchant, in command of the British brigade of Heavy Cavalry, was killed leading his brigade at Salamanca and his successor, William Ponsonby, also a Major-General, was killed in action at Waterloo. So, the part of your question about rank "seeing action" is a bit irrelevant.

As far as what rank your second-son to an Earl would attain by the age of 31, I'd put him somewhere in the Lieutenant Colonel, or Colonel area. As a Lieutenant Colonel, or Colonel, he would command a regiment and lead it into battle, alongside his subordinate officers, with plenty of opportunity to get wounded. Don't forget, commissions up to and including Colonelcies were subject to purchase. Career officers, without the financial means to purchase promotions, very often languished as Captains for most of their careers and often saw the next step up the promotion ladder (to Major) snatched away from them by someone who stepped in and bought the rank.

If your character has money, I'd go for Colonel. If not, you could always keep him as a Captain, but would need to find a reason why his father, the Earl, hadn't helped him to pay for a higher rank.

Hope this helps.

Deb Kinnard
09-10-2015, 05:37 PM
Calder's advice is consistent with information I've read in a superb romance series set around the battles of Eylau and Austerlitz. The main character is a baronet's son and hasn't been in the Army as long as Calder's hypothetical character, so his rank is Captain. He was an ADC to a succession of generals.

Sapphire135
09-10-2015, 10:10 PM
During the Napoleonic Wars it was quite common for high-ranking officers, even generals, to actually lead their troops into battle. Major-General John Le Marchant, in command of the British brigade of Heavy Cavalry, was killed leading his brigade at Salamanca and his successor, William Ponsonby, also a Major-General, was killed in action at Waterloo. So, the part of your question about rank "seeing action" is a bit irrelevant.

As far as what rank your second-son to an Earl would attain by the age of 31, I'd put him somewhere in the Lieutenant Colonel, or Colonel area. As a Lieutenant Colonel, or Colonel, he would command a regiment and lead it into battle, alongside his subordinate officers, with plenty of opportunity to get wounded. Don't forget, commissions up to and including Colonelcies were subject to purchase. Career officers, without the financial means to purchase promotions, very often languished as Captains for most of their careers and often saw the next step up the promotion ladder (to Major) snatched away from them by someone who stepped in and bought the rank.

If your character has money, I'd go for Colonel. If not, you could always keep him as a Captain, but would need to find a reason why his father, the Earl, hadn't helped him to pay for a higher rank.

Hope this helps.


Thanks Calder and Deb! Colonel sounds good to me. I was led to believe that there was less chance of seeing a great deal of action the higher up one advanced. Thanks for the examples of senior officers who fought alongside their men.

Deb Kinnard
09-16-2015, 08:34 PM
P.S., the series in question is Roberta Gellis' "Heiress" series, and IIRC the book in question is "The Kent Heiress." It's a few years old but still available via the 'Zon.

Jack Judah
09-17-2015, 07:26 AM
Lieutenant Colonel/Colonel would be about right for a son of an earl in his early thirties. In 1812, Wellington himself was barely past forty. Considering the kind of casualties British forces tended to take in the Peninsula, brevet promotions could have factored into the equation, not just purchased commissions. So you might even get away with making him a brigadier. Especially if your young officer is the swashbuckling sort.

As far as seeing action goes, in Wellington's army especially, officers were expected to lead from the front. Like Calder said, just at Waterloo, there were several general officers killed, including at least one Major General. So promotion did not mean safety. Even if you were a staff officer. Wellington's aides did not have the greatest long term prospects! Another thing to keep in mind is that your MC is a cavalry officer. Not to pun intentionally, but they were famously cavalier in their attitudes towards danger. Reckless bravery was almost expected in most cavalry units. The result was usually inspirational, in a tragic sort of way.