The 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles): The first of all Services in the British Army

“In this distinguished Service, you will carry a Rifle no heavier than a Fowling-Piece. You will knock down your Enemy at Five Hundred Yards, instead of missing him at Fifty.

On Service, your Post is always the Post of Honour, and your Quarters the best in the Army; for you have the first of everything; and at Home you are sure of Respect—because a BRITISH RIFLEMAN always makes himself Respectable.

GOD SAVE the KING! and his Rifle Regiment!

Wellington’s Rifles: Six Years to Waterloo with England’s Legendary Sharpshooters by Mark Urban

95th Rifles at Battle of Pyranees 1813Ah, the Wounded Warrior. By now you’re all aware of my great affection for such heroes, particularly in Regencies. But who are they? What did they do? Here’s a little background on one of my favorite historical regiments.

I was first introduced to the 95th Rifles in Mary Jo Putney’s book The Bargain, where the hero was a wounded officer from that regiment.  (Bernard Cornwell also uses them in his Richard Sharpe series.)  I wouldn’t have thought anything else about it except that she included an author’s note and explained why she picked the 95th.  I’m one of those souls who thinks history is a whole lot of fun, so I went straight from the book to the computer and starting poking around the Napoleonic Wars and the 95th Rifle Regiment.  It turns out they were quite different from the rest of their infantry brethren.

The first thing I noticed was that the men and officers of the Rifles wore green uniforms rather than the familiar red.  Not a huge revelation if one is familiar with the British Army, but a small surprise for me—American school children learn about Redcoats not Greencoats.  Their belts and trim were black instead of the white of the other regiments.  Recruitment advertisements touted these darker uniforms as more comfortable and easier to care for.  In practice, they drew the ridicule of other units (at least in the beginning—once the Rifle Brigade had proved its value, the taunting slowed considerably).

Also, while most officers of the time were still purchasing their commissions and promotions, the majority of officers of the 95th were commissioned or promoted based on merit or seniority.  “Soldiers of fortune” they called themselves, neither nobility nor gentry for the most part.  Perhaps because of this, the Rifles were known as a more egalitarian outfit than their musket-bearing counterparts.

The biggest difference between the Rifles and the rest of the infantry, of course, was their weapon.  While everyone else carried Baker_riflemuskets, the 95th carried the Baker rifle which had grooves inside the barrel to spin the bullet as it was fired (you CSI fans and gun enthusiasts will recognize this as the “rifling”).  The spinning increased accuracy immensely—like spiraling a football—allowing these soldiers to fight differently.  Riflemen did not stand shoulder to shoulder and fire into a block of the enemy.  Instead, they could fire individually and from standing, sitting, and kneeling positions, or even laying down, and were trained accordingly.  They were, in fact, founded to emulate the sharpshooters of Continental Army and militias during the American Revolution.  (There’s irony for you!)

The 95th Rifles went on to become wildly famous for their actions during the Peninsular War, being awarded regimental battle honors for Ciudad Rodrigo, Salamanca, Vittoria, The Pyrenees, Toulouse, and Waterloo, among others.  Curiously, they were rarely awarded individual medals and recognition, though other soldiers in other units were regularly honored.

Okay readers, now it’s your turn. Do you have a favorite Wounded Warrior? Do you like naval heroes or soldiers? Cavalry officers or grenadiers? Historical riflemen or contemporary SEALs? Sound off!

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9 thoughts on “The 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles): The first of all Services in the British Army

  1. This is a fabulous post. I’ve read a lot of that history and the conditions were horrible. So you’d think I’d like my wounded warriors in historicals? Not as much as contemporaries. It might have something to do with my youngest heading off to the Air Force next month, but I’m enjoying the navy seal stories or the soldier stories. I’m working my way through most of them right now. — Amy

  2. My fav wounded warrior? Prisoner of War stories where the hero is fresh returned from surviving some horrible torture. It’s crazy. I have no idea why. Maybe the magnitude of what they suffered and survived is what does it for me. Great mini history lesson, Cora. Thanks!

  3. I’ve loved the 95th Rifles since I read the Sharpe’s books years ago. They reminded me of the Amy Special Forces (Green Berets) who are much better than SEALS. I tweeted. I’ve never read Mary Jo’s book, but I’m on my way to get it now.

    • I haven’t read any of the Sharpe’s books yet, but I may binge on Bernard Cornwell over the summer after school gets out (after my Katherine Bone marathon, of course :-). The brother of my current hero serves with the 95th…and what an intriguing part of history!

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