Friday, April 29, 2011

The Legendary 95th Rifles
by Ginny McBlain

Every army has its legendary units and Wellington’s was no exception. Among them were the 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles), nicknamed the Green Jackets by the British and Grasshoppers by the French.

I was first introduced to the 95th in a made for TV movie, Sharpe’s Waterloo, based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell. Later I viewed Sharpe’s Rifles, the first of the film series. I was intrigued.

As I began thinking about writing a story set during the Regency, I realized much of my success has been in writing contemporary stories with a military background. Why not translate that “expertise” into a story with the backdrop of the Peninsular War?

I began studying the history of the Peninsular campaign and reading various novels set during the war. The more web sites I looked at, the more often I found reference to the Sharpe series for their accurate detail, especially in the uniforms. My husband bought the entire Sharpe series, all fifteen episodes. I’ve seen them at least four times each and noticed something new each time. As my study went on, I realized my hero had to be a rifleman.

Why, you ask? Because he is a duke’s second son, raised in that rarified atmosphere of wealth and deference to the nobility. I needed a scenario that would make him a tad less arrogant, more accessible and compassionate without making him less noble. The Rifles were so different from other units that being a rifleman would change his character enough to make him the kind of hero I envisioned.

The 95th were the sharpshooters, organized by Colonel Coote Manningham in 1800. They were unique in many ways from the rest of the army. Most visible was their uniform, a dark green and with black accessories, rather than the bright red and white of other regiments. The colors were an early version of camouflage. Instead of standard issue Brown Bess muskets, the 95th used the Baker rifle, a far more accurate weapon.

The rifles came into their own when Sir Arthur Wellesley reorganized his forces in 1809. Among his innovations, he attached at least one company of riflemen to each brigade.

(photo credit: by Jakednb Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free documentation License )

The men of the 95th were the first on the field of battle and last out. Their tactics, adapted from lessons learned fighting in North America, called for taking cover behind rocks, trees or whatever was available and catching the enemy unaware. They picked off the officers and sergeants to create confusion in the ranks of the enemy. The men were trained to think for themselves, to work in groups of twos, threes or even alone. The officers mingled with the enlisted troops more than was tradition. This not only built esprit de corps, but allowed the officers to know each man’s strengths and weaknesses and use him to best advantage.

During the Peninsular War the 95th served as part of the Light Division. This force saw action in many of the important battles during the entire six years of the campaign.

As victory was declared and Napoleon exiled to Elba, many of the battle hardened veterans were assigned posts in North America during the War of 1812. Some of those veterans were still in the army in 1815. The Green Jackets participated in the final defeat of Bonaparte at Waterloo. The 2/95th led Wellington’s Army in their triumphant march into Paris on the seventh of July 1815.

The 95th became legend, due, in part, to the memoirs of soldiers who served in the regiment. Among those were Harry Smith, later to distinguish himself as a Lieutenant General in the Victorian army, John Kincade, Jonathan Leach and Ned Costello.

Recommended for further study:
Mark Urban, Wellington’s Rifles
Georgette Heyer, The Spanish Bride (based on the true story of Harry Smith and his 14 year-old-bride, Juana)
Sir John Kincade, Random Shots from a Rifleman
Sir John Kincade, Adventures in the Rifle Brigade
Lt. Colonel Jonathan Leach, Rough Sketches of an Old Soldier
Edward Costello, The True Story of a Peninsular Rifleman
Lt. General Sir Harry Smith, Autobiography, available free online
Bernard Cornwell, the Sharpe novels
Sharpe series DVDs
The Royal Green Jacket Museum, Winchester, England
The Sharpe Compendium

Ginny McBlain is an author of contemporary romance. At present she is meeting a new challenge—writing a historical set in the wonderful world of the Regency. Her work-in-progress, Honor Bound, is set against the backdrop of the Peninsular War.

Ginny is a pioneer in the field of electronic publishing. Her first e-book, Heart Broken, Heart Whole, was released in 1996. Both Bear Hugs and Faith, Hope and Charity were finalists in the EPPIE contest. She has served in writing organizations in many capacities, including first President of EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Connection and the first EPIC conference chair.

Ginny’s books are available from Awe-Struck Publishing, and Uncial Press,  in a variety of electronic formats. Visit her web site,


Shannon said...

I loved that series. I used to watch them with my mother. I didn't know they were so historically accurate. You have given me the perfect excuse to go watch them again.

Moon_Pie said...

I love this time period and wish I could have lived back then!