A recruiting sergeant of the 33rd Foot

The British Army consists of three main arms: The infantry, the cavalry and the artillery. Show the Colours concentrates on the Second Division and for game purposes, this consists of:

The 33rd Foot

The 2nd Guards (also known as the Coldstream Guards)

A company of the 60th Rifles

The 15th Hussars

Fraser's Troop (Royal Horse Artillery)

The Army did not have the same requirements as the Royal Navy – it was not a professional career in the same way. A young man joining the Army would buy a commission as Ensign (in a foot regiment; the cavalry equivalent was cornet) at anything from the age of fourteen upwards. This placed him automatically at a higher rank than a Navy midshipman, who did not hold a commission.

Army officers learned 'on the job': There were no formal qualifications for holding a commission. An officer had to know how to read and write, and in the late 18th century and into the early years of the Regency, the majority of officers were from the upper classes, the gentry and aristocracy. By the end of the Peninsular War in 1814, this was no longer the case. Approximately 20% of officers were promoted from the ranks and more had gained their commissions by merit rather than purchase – several young men, unable to afford the purchase price, had been able to join as 'gentlemen volunteers', messing with the officers but doing the duties of a private soldier until a vacancy occurred that they could fill.

This was one of the few ways that a man with ambition could make the leap to becoming a gentleman, despite the risks.

Army OrganisationEdit

There were three main groupings within the British Army: Horse, Foot and Artillery (or, more properly, Cavalry, Infantry and Artillery)

The CavalryEdit

There were three main types of cavalry: Household, Heavy and Light.

The Household Cavalry were heavy cavalry. Their main task being that of guarding the Royal Household (hence the name) meant that they did not go on active service abroad until 1812. There were (and still are) two main Household Cavalry regiments, the Life Guards. The third Household Cavalry regiment, the Blues, was not confirmed as such until 1820.

The Heavy Cavalry comprised the Heavy Dragoons, who were the shock troops of the day.

The Light Cavalry (either Light Dragoons or Hussars) were the scouting experts.

A cavalry regiment was made up of a number of squadrons, usually about six, each made up of two troops, and numbered about 300 men when at full strength. A squadron was commanded by a Captain, and each troop was under the command of a Lieutenant, with a Cornet to assist him.

The InfantryEdit

The British army of the time was structured around the regiment. Each Regiment had a number and in the Napoleonic Wars, the regiments were beginning to be associated with particular areas, such as the 33rd's association with the West Riding of Yorkshire. This area would be where they drew (or tried to draw) the majority of their recruits, and the regimental depot (headquarters and training camp) would be located.

Most regiments, but by no means all, had two battalions. The First Battalion, the more senior one, would be the one on campaign while the Second Battalion remained at home, acting as the recruiting and training centre for the Regiment.

Within each battalion were ten Companies, each (when at full strength) with 100 men, including NCOs (non-commissioned officers). A Company was under the command of a Captain, and he had a Lieutenant and an Ensign under him. A battalion would have eight 'centre' or 'battalion' companies and two 'flank' companies. When in line, the Grenadier Company, made up of the tallest, strongest soldiers, stood on the right, and the Light Company, made up of the quickest and nimblest men, was on the left, with the Colours in the middle of the line.

The Colours were two big flags, made of silk, 6 feet by 6 feet 6 inches, on a nine-feet pole. One, the Regimental Colour, was the Regimental 'facing' colour and the other, the King's Colour was a Union flag. These two flags marked the presence of the Regiment. It was a great disgrace to lose the Colours and at the Battle of Albuera, the two Ensigns ended up tearing the silk from the poles and wrapping it around them to protect them.

By the end of the Peninsular War, very few Regiments were at anything like full strength; there were regiments who stood in the line of battle with as few as 500 men. The Guards Regiments were almost the only exceptions to this, as they were the elite.

The Rifle Regiments did not carry Colours.

The ArtilleryEdit

The Artillery came under the control of the Board of Ordnance, and its officers were drawn mainly from the middle class. They attended the academy at Woolwich to learn the science of their trade. Promotion was by seniority alone.

Rank StructureEdit

The rank structure of the Army was simpler than that of the Navy. Broadly speaking, there were two classes: Officers and men. The Other Ranks were:

Private (or equivalent, such as Guardsman or Fusilier)
Lance Corporal

The ranks of Colour Sergeant and Sergeant Major did not come into existance before 1813, although the positions existed. A Colour Sergeant, before 1813, was merely a sergeant who was tasked with protecting the Colours. The Sergeant Major was what is now known as the Regimental Sergeant Major, and was the senior NCO of a regiment.

Officers' ranks were:

Ensign (or Cornet, in the cavalry. The Rifles' equivalent was 2nd Lieutenant.)
Captain (usually in charge of a Company of 100 men)
Major (there were two Majors with a battalion)
Lieutenant Colonel (the officer in charge of a battalion of 1000 men, at full strength) </br>Colonel
Major General
Lieutenant General

Purchasing a CommissionEdit

On joining the Army as an officer, a young man would purchase his initial commission (as Ensign) in a regiment. This was also referred to as 'buying ones Colours', the Colours being the two six feet square silk flags that marked a Regiment's position in battle. These flags were generally carried by the two junior ensigns of the Regiment, and protected by a group of senior NCOs, Colour Sergeants, who carried halberds or half-pikes.

The cost of an Ensigncy varied greatly depending on how fashionable the regiment he was joining was - a commission in the Guards cost a great deal more than the same rank in a line regiment such as the 50th Foot. Once he had served for a year or so, the Ensign could then purchase a promotion to Lieutenant by paying the difference between the value of the Ensigncy and the Lieutenancy, but he had to have served a minimum of a year as Ensign.

He could purchase a Captaincy in the same way, after a minimum of three years as Lieutenant. After a further two years, he could purchase his way up to Major, and thence to Lieutenant Colonel, then Colonel. Any promotions after that depended wholly upon his position in the Army List – the senior Colonels would be promoted to General as vacancies became available. Although the rank of Field Marshal existed, there was not a Field Marshall in the British Army at this time until 1814, when the Prince Regent promoted Wellington to that rank after the Battle of Vittoria.

It was common to purchase a promotion into a different regiment where there was a vacancy, rather than waiting for a vacancy to occur in the regiment an officer was currently serving in. Such transactions would be handled by regimental agents, who knew and could deal with all the intricacies involved. It was also a frequent occurrence for one officer to arrange to exchange with another (usually poorer) officer of the same rank if his regiment was going to be posted abroad – for example, to the West Indies, which was an extremely unhealthy posting in the days before vaccinations.

An officer did not have to purchase every promotion; after a major battle there were usually vacancies that meant surviving officers were promoted. An officer could also be gazetted to a more senior rank. This was basically a field promotion, but had to be ratified by Horse Guards (the Army equivalent of the Admiralty). It was also common for a man to hold a rank within the army as a whole that he did not hold within his regiment. This meant that a Captain could act with the authority of a Major (and would actually be addressed as Major) while on detached service away from his regiment, but would revert to Captain when back with his regiment.


When an officer of the rank of Colonel or below wished to retire, he could 'sell out' which meant selling his commission for its full price, creating a vacancy so that more junior officers could move up the ranks. He might choose instead to transfer to the half-pay list instead. This was a list of retired or invalided officers who did not wish, or could not, serve in the field. They received half-pay, which was a sort of pension, paid every quarter or so. The actual income was not actually half the pay they would receive as serving officers.

A Naval Lieutenant was the equivalent of an Army Captain. A Naval Captain was the equivalent of an Army Lieutenant Colonel

Other RanksEdit

Officially, all soldiers were volunteers. Each regiment would send out several recruiting parties to places such as hiring fairs, to find young men in search of employment, and give them the King's Shilling as a token of their joining the Army.

Rates of PayEdit

Army Pay per diem
Cavalry Infantry
Colonel 32s 10d 22s 6d
Lt. Colonel 23s 23s
Major 23s 23s
Captain 14s7d 9s 5d
Lieutenant 9s 4s 8d
Cornet/Ensign 8s 3s 8d
Adjutant 5s 4s
Paymaster 15s 15s
Paymaster Sergeant 2s 11d 1s 6 3/4d
Quartermaster - 4s 8d
Surgeon 11s 4d 9s 5d
Assistant Surgeon 5s 5s
Surgeon's mate 3s 6d 3s 6d
Veterinary Surgeon 8s -
Sergeant 2s 11d 1s 6 3/4d
Corporal 2s 4 1/2d 1s 2 1/4d
Trumpeter 2s 4d -
Drummer - 1s 1 3/4d
Fifer - 1s 1 3/4d
Private 2s 1s