Tuesday, August 2, 2011

95th Rifles

The British 95th Rifle Brigade is one of the most famous units of the entire Napoleonic period. In 1800 they were formed as an “Experimental Corps of Riflemen.” In 1802 they received their official designation as the 95th Regiment of Foot. Three years later in 1805 a second battalion was raised to increase their numbers.

The 95th have received such interest because of their revolutionary change in weaponry and tactics. They were armed with the Baker Rifle and sword bayonet. The difference between a rifle and Brown Bess musket are groves inside the barrel. Called rifling, this allows the ball to spin as it leaves the barrel allowing greater accuracy at a farther range. The disadvantage however, was reload time. Because the musket ball needed to catch the groves within the rifle barrel to get its spin, it had to have a tighter fit. This led to a longer reloading period.

Not only armed differently, the 95th was also clothed in revolutionary green jackets. These jackets provided early camouflage, something that the English Redcoats lacked. Because of their accuracy and desire to operate differently than line battalions the 95th were taught new tactics. They were instructed to think with more independence and operated in open order skirmish tactics rather than in closed ranks. Officers were freer with their men and the harsh corporal punishment such as flogging that so widely exhibited in the regular army was scaled back. They used bugles to aid in mobility and did not advance into the field with colors. They were wielded in a manner quite unlike the line battalions they fought alongside.

The Battle of Nivelle is a prime example of the riflemen being fully used in their capacity as skirmishers. In September of 1813 Wellington took the fortress of San Sebastian in northern Spain and began to drive Marshal Soult back towards France. Soult decided to take a stand by holding redoubts in front of the River Nivelle on a series of ridges and hills. The Greater Rhune, a mountain of 3,000 feet high, dominated the French position. Wellington knew he had to overrun Soult’s position.

The battle began as the light division pressed forward. It was formed from men of the 43rd, 52nd, and infamous 95th. All three battalions were drilled in light infantry tactics though it was only the 95th armed with the Baker Rifles and their sword bayonets of 23 inches of pure steel. The swiftness and surprise of the British attack sent the French troops fleeing for other forts on the nearby hills.

Despite their extreme exhaustion the 52nd was ordered to assault a star-shaped fort that held the French line. The 95th was ordered to support.  The French were so surprised at the light infantry’s appearance on their front that they fled leaving the Light Division in command of the fort and trenchworks without a single fatal casualty.

The 95th Rifles went on to fight in many more campaigns and win greater glory as the tactics they pioneered eventually were adopted by the entire army. The 95th Regiment of Foot continues today as the 3rd Battalion in the Royal Green Jackets.

These miniatures are all Perry Bros. They are a mix of mostly metal from the Command and Skirmishing sets as well as a couple plastic figures which blend in seamlessly from the British Line Infantry box. 

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