A comparison of British and French Military Identity and Organization during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars Timothy Paul Candlish Phd university of York History March 2012



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Experiences

The training that Thomas describes, as shown in chapter one, appears to be the traditional ‘square bashing’ generally associated with the British army in the period. On this basis, it can be safely assumed that the training of the Highland regiments was not much different to that of other British regiments, even bearing in mind that a standardized system of training was as yet in its infancy. This suggests that, despite the perceived importance of clanship, any sense of Highland particularism that existed was not necessarily applied to training. The Highlands were, after all, not the only part of the British Isles to have a military tradition as the concept is usually understood. The Scottish and Welsh ‘marches’, referring to the former frontier regions, had their own traditions of military involvement going back many centuries, and for much the same reasons as the Highlanders. The Irish too, if a history of conflict is sufficient, would have ample reason to regard themselves as having a warrior tradition. Despite this, their recruitment and training practices were in no way substantially different to those of other regions.0 The impression that arises is that the British army wanted reasonably willing and healthy recruits that it could mould into useful soldiers by its own means, not the products of largely mythical ‘warrior cultures’.


This same attitude can be seen in Innes Munro’s account of operations in India between 1780 and 1784, in which the British recruited Indian men as Sepoys with little or no consideration of the caste-based military culture that still existed to some extent in Mughal India:
The Indians are said formerly to have rigidly adhered to the different religious ceremonies of their tribes; but since their intercourse with the Europeans they have become more relaxed in those duties, particularly the military crafts. The great inconvenience attending such absurd ideas in the field induced the Company’s officers to labour at a reformation, and eradicate from the minds of their sepoys their superstitious principles. Formerly none but Rajahpoots (sic), Moormen, and Pitans, were permitted to carry arms; but the Europeans have since shewn (sic) that rigid discipline will make a soldier of a Pariar (sic), the lowest of all casts (sic); and now men of every tribe are indiscriminately enlisted for sepoys in the Company’s service.0
The idea that the Highlanders were possessed of some kind of unique and preferred way of warfare, exemplified by the ‘Highland charge’, itself does not stand up to scrutiny. Though such a tendency may have existed earlier, recruitment practices by the end of the eighteenth century were unlikely to draw upon it in any meaningful way. The Highland charge as a battle tactic did exist, but has been widely misunderstood and misrepresented, held up as the romantic power of emotion and raw courage triumphing over the cold mechanism of ‘modern’ warfare. Before the first recorded incident of a Highland charge, on February 11 1642, the Highlanders did not have any particular approach to warfare associated with them, beyond a sense that they were generally good at it. The incident itself was an obscure engagement in County Antrim, sometimes called the Battle of Bendooragh, between the forces of Alasdair Macdonald and Archibald Stewart of Ballintoy. Macdonald’s troops fired a single musket volley before charging, thus tricking Stewart’s troops into returning fire too soon, giving them insufficient time to reload or fix their plug bayonets before the charge reached them. This first instance of a Highland charge was not a wild rampage after all, but a well-thought out tactic based on an understanding of contemporary warfare.0 This tactic was used to great effect in subsequent conflicts, notably the 1745 rebellion. General Hawley, having witnessed a Highland charge at the Battle of Falkirk, explains the problem:
If the fire is given at a distance you will probably be broke, for you will never get time to load a second cartridge; and if you give way, you may give your foot [up] for dead, for they [the Highlanders],being without a firelock or any load, no man with his arms, accoutrements, etc., can escape them, and they give no Quarter…
The Highland charge saw its practical and symbolic defeat at Culloden, in part due to the convenience of the ring bayonet and plentiful field artillery, but also because Hanoverian infantry possessed the training and discipline necessary to hold their fire until the charge was as little as twelve metres away.0 After such a victory, the British army was unlikely to be interested in appropriating any ‘Highland way of war’ for their use, and the collapse of the clan social structure would have made this very difficult in any case. Even the iconic broadsword had fallen into disuse by the end of the Seven Years War.0 David Stewart criticized this development in his Sketches;
But, on that service, the broadsword, far from being complained of as an encumbrance, was, on many occasions, of the greatest efficacy, when a decisive blow was to be struck, and the enemy were to be overpowered by an attack hand to hand. I have been told by several old officers and soldiers who bore a part in these attacks, that an enemy who stood for many hours the fire of musketry invariably gave way when an advance was made sword in hand. It is to be regretted that a weapon which the Highlanders could use so well, should, together with the pistol, which is peculiarly serviceable in close woody countries, have been taken from the soldiers, and, after the expense of purchase had been incurred, sent to rust and spoil in a store…It has been said that the broadsword is not a weapon to contend with the bayonet. Certainly, to all appearance, it is not, yet facts do not warrant the superiority of the latter weapon. From the battle of Culloden, when a body of undisciplined Highlanders, shepherds and herdsmen, with their broadswords, cut their way thought some of the best disciplined and most approved regiments in the British army, (drawn up, too, on a field extremely favourable for regular troops ,) down till the time when the swords were taken from the Highlanders, the bayonet was in every instance overcome by the sword.0
Someone perhaps should have pointed out the relatively low casualties suffered by the British troops at Culloden, along with the failure of the Jacobites to break through the first line in sufficient strength to make a difference.

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