"I write for Riflemen, at the desire of Riflemen and to preserve the memory of the deeds of Riflemen ... Nothing will be considered trivial, nothing out of place in a history of the Regiment which records the valour, the acts, the sufferings or preserves an anecdote of any (of whatever rank) of the members of that brotherhood."
SIR WILLIAM COPE
From: The History of The Rifle Brigade (The 95th) by Sir William Cope published in 1877.
Towards the close of the last century Colonel Coote Manningham and Lieutenant-Colonel the Honourable William Stewart addressed a representation to the Government, pointing out the importance of having a corps furnished with arms of precision, and the advantage of training such a corps in the special duties of Riflemen. It would have been interesting to preserve the text of this document; but I regret that it does not now exist. Every search has been made in the records of the War Department, by the kindness of Mr. Denham Robinson, of the War Office, but, I regret to say, without success; and it has been suggested that it may probably have been transferred to the Small Arms Department, and may have perished with the records of that office in the fire at the Tower of London in 1841.
However, in consequence of the suggestions it contained, the following Circular was issued to the commanding officers of fourteen regiments of infantry:
Horse Guards: January 17, 1800.
Addressed to Officers Commanding; the 2nd Battalion Royals, the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th, 29th, 49th, 55th, 69th, 71st, 72nd, 79th, 85th, and 92nd Regiments.
Sir, I have the honour to inform you that it is His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief's intention to form a corps of detachments from the different regiments of the line for the purpose of its being instructed in the use of the rifle, and in the system of exercise adopted by soldiers so armed. It is His Royal Highness's pleasure that you shall select from the regiment under your command 2 sergeants, 2 corporals, and 30 private men for this duty, all of them being such men as appear most capable of receiving the above instructions, and most competent to the performance of the duty of Riflemen. These non-commissioned officers and privates are not to be considered as being drafted from their regiments, but merely as detached for the purpose above recited; they will continue to be borne on the strength of their regiments, and will be clothed by their respective colonels.
His Royal Highness desires you will recommend. 1 captain, 1 lieutenant, and 1 ensign of the regiment under your command, who volunteer to serve in this corps of Riflemen, in order that His Royal Highness may select from the officers recommended from the regiments which furnish their quota on this occasion a sufficient number of officers for the Rifle Corps. These officers are to be considered as detached on duty from their respective regiments, and will share in all the promotion that occurs in them during their absence.
Eight drummers will be required to act as bugle-horns, and I request you will acquaint me, for the information of His Royal Highness, whether you have any in the Regiment qualified to act as such, or of a capacity to be easily instructed.
Thus we see that the Regiment was formed as a corps d'elite; and as regards the officers there was a double selection, eight of each rank of company officers being selected from the fourteen originally recommended.
The detachments so selected assembled at Horsham, in Sussex, in March 1800, and their first parade as An Experimental Corps of Riflemen' took place there on April 1 in that year; Lieutenant-Colonel the Honourable William Stewart being apparently in command.
Note: His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief was Frederick, Duke of York.
The following is the Return of the state and strength of the Corps on this its first formation:
The corps being now formed marched to a camp of exercise at Swinley in Windsor Forest in May, and proceeded actively with their training as Riflemen. They are mentioned with great approbation by Mr. W. H. Fremantle in a letter, dated July 15, 1800, to the Marquis of Buckingham, as being `good, and much more useful.' than some other regiments then in that camp.' The camp broke up at the end of July, and at the request of Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart three companies of the corps (Captains Traver’s, Hamilton's, and Gardner's) were ordered to embark, under his command, with the expedition against the north coast of Spain, under Lieutenant-
General Sir James Pulteney, Bart., and Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, K.B.
The expedition arrived before the harbour of Ferrol on August 25, and immediately commenced its disembarkation. This was effected without opposition in a small bay near Cape Priorino; but on the troops proceeding to occupy a ridge of hills adjoining the bay, the Rifle Corps, which covered the advance, just as they gained the summit fell in with a party of the enemy which they drove back. In this skirmish Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart was dangerously wounded through the body. On the next morning, at daybreak, the position was attacked by a considerable body of the enemy, who were repulsed with much loss, and the English troops remained in complete possession of the heights. But in this action Captains Travers and Hamilton, and Lieutenant Edmonston, attached to the Rifle Corps, and eight rank and file were wounded. Sir James Pulteney being, however, of opinion that Ferrol could not be taken, or the ground he occupied be held, re-embarked the troops.' It was subsequently stated in the House of Lords that at the very moment he did so the proper officer was on his way with the keys of the place, to surrender it. And Mr. Ford affirms that ` had the expedition sailed boldly up to the Ferrol, the Gallicians were only waiting to surrender, being, as usual, absolutely without means of defence.' He attributes the failure to the combined indecision of the leaders.'
Of this, the first affair in which the Regiment was engaged, it may be observed that it has the high honour of having shed its first blood before its actual embodiment, and while it consisted only of detachments experimentally assembled for instruction. It was the only corps engaged on the day of disembarkation, and (with the exception of one officer of the 52nd) the only officers wounded were attached to it. August 25, the day on which it was first engaged, was the date of the commissions of its first officers when it was formally embodied.
The expedition then proceeded to Malta; and an order was issued by the Commander-in-Chief for all officers and men of the Rifle Corps, whose regiments formed part of the expedition, to rejoin them, and for those whose regiments were not so employed to be attached to corps serving with the expedition. Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart, Captain Travers, and Lieutenant Edmonston returned to England.
The Rifle Corps was immediately re-formed, principally from detachments of fencible regiments serving in Ireland, and I presume also, on the return of the expedition, from the men originally selected as Riflemen. These detachments began to assemble at Blatchington in Sussex, near Lewes, about the end of August, and continued to join during the autumn. The whole of the officers who had been attached to the experimental corps were appointed to it; their commissions being ante-dated, as I have observed, to August 25, the anniversary of which has been since observed as the foundation day of the Regiment. A second lieutenant colonel and two majors were appointed, and some others were added to complete the Corps to eight companies, with a captain and two subalterns to each.
The establishment was, therefore, on December 25, returned as follows:
The officers on its formation were:
The Honourable William Stewart. Alexander Houston.
George Callander. Hamlet Wade.
Alexander D. Cameron.
Blois Lynch, J.A. Grant, John Stuart, Peter O’Hare, Thomas Sterling Edmonston, Robert Duncan, Alexander
Clarke, Neil Campbell, John Ross, Edward Bedwell Law, Henry Powell, William Cotter, John Cameron,
? Douglas, L.H. Bennet.
Henry Goode, James Macdonald, Thomas Brereton, Loftus Gray, John Jenkins, Patrick Turner, Samuel
Mitchell, George Elder, James Prendergast, John Burton.
The Regiment, as it has existed since, and as it has won lasting renown in so many fields, as ' a Corps of Riflemen,' the Rifle Corps,' ` the 95th,' and the Rifle Brigade,' was then and thus organised under Lieutenant-
Colonel Stewart. For though Manningham was the colonel, and justly shares the honour of its formation, he seems seldom to have been present with it; for he was equerry to George III., and often at Court.
William Stewart was the fourth son of John, seventh Earl of Galloway, and, at the early age of thirteen was appointed Ensign in the 42nd Regiment; but subsequently served in the 22nd and 67th, and with the former had seen service at the capture of the French West India Islands in 1793. We have seen that it was owing to Manningham's and his suggestions that the Rifle Corps was formed; and after its embodiment he also addressed a long letter to the Adjutant-General on the discipline and internal economy of such a corps.
His recommendations (which were adopted) were: that it should first be formed of volunteers from infantry battalions which best could spare them, and by men from the undrafted part of the Irish militia; and he added the (rather singular) opinion that Irishmen were preferable for Riflemen, as `perhaps from being, less spoiled and more hardy than British soldiers, better calculated for light troops.'
He now set himself vigorously to organise and discipline the Corps thus formed at his suggestions. The standing orders of the Regiment, which, though issued of course in Manningham's name, were probably principally compiled by Stewart, testify not only to his capability for organising and disciplining it, but in a most remarkable way to his pre-eminence above and beyond the military ideas of his time.. The germs, if not, indeed, the actual existence of most of the late improvements for the training and advantage of the soldier are found in these orders. The good-conduct medal; the medals for acts of valour in the field ; the attention given and the methods adopted to secure accurate shooting, dividing men into classes according to their practice at the target, and instituting a class of Marksmen; the rules for a regimental school , and for periodical examination of its scholars ; the institution of a library ; the provision for lectures on military subjects, tactics and outpost duties ; the encouragement of athletic exercises ; these and many other plans, carried out in the British army only after the middle of the nineteenth century, are inculcated in the original standing orders, and were adopted in the Regiment from its formation.'
Sir Charles Napier, who was appointed to a lieutenancy in the Rifle Corps, December 25, 1800, and joined it at Blatchington, in his letters to his family, bears high testimony to Stewart's ability in organising the Corps; though he seems not to have liked him, and eventually to have quarrelled with him, Stewart makes it a rule to strike at the heads. With him the field-officers must first be steady, and then he goes downwards: hence the privates say: "We had better look sharp if he is so strict with the officers."
This the target used by the Ordnance Board in assessing the accuracy of the Baker Rifle at 100 yards prior to its issue to the Experimental Corps of Riflemen in 1800. Although slower to load than the Musket they were much more accurate.