The Men, who fought with Wellington
(Painting by F.Philippoteaux)
Eightheenth-century England distrusted and disliked its Armed Forces. It was considered to be the last effective weapon in the hand of the King and Overlord, the surviving threat of a crowned head of state to the achievements of the Glorious Revolution born from the bloddy Civil War and the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. Parliamentary demand for control of the military forces of the realm of England had been one of the causes of the Civil War!
Nevertheless, at the Restauration, command over the Armed Forces was restored to the King, who now suddenly dsiposed of a professional corps. It was but a small force, little more than a guard of the Tower and a bodyguard for himself and perhaps a garrison of two for some far away place, but it was a standing army and England was never again able to rid herself of theses 'Redcoats'.
Throughout the XVIII.century the more liberaly minded members of Parliament and principaly the Whigs, spoke up against the danger to the liberties of the realm which a standed armed body of professionals presented to the Constitution. They also pested energetically against the costs for maintaining -even in times of peace - a soldiery! But somehow they learned to live with this factor; certainly with the worst possible grace and with the lowest esteem for the men in the king's Uniform!
Here lay the reasons, why the British Isles so rarely gave birth to great generals, although they obviously where a nursery for great admirals: Apart Wellington, only the Duke of Marlborough comes to my mind when I think of Great British Commanders. But Marlborough had for a sufficiently long timespan the advantage of effectively controlling both his country's civil government and her Armed Forces. Wellington never had such enormous influence and power in his hands! To understand fully his achivements it is usefull to know something of the system within which he had to work.
Although the command of the Army lay in the hands of King George III., who would finish his days as poor old Knobbs -the mad King- Parliament took extensive care that effective control over the fighting men was in their hands: Discipline was maintained by annualy passing the 'Mutiny Act' and the funds needed by the military had to be authorised annually by vote of the MPs.
Far more effective then this laborious rituals was the fragmentation of the command and administration of King George's Army: This organisation was so confusing that it was not only uterly impossible to have some kind of 'Night of the Generals' or military coup d'état, but it also made it all but impossible for the everage commander to carry out a somehow coherent military operation agains an external enemy!
Any operation of war required the sanction of a Minister (Secretary of State): Was the operation undertaken abroad? The responsibility fell upon the Foreign Affairs! Was it a colony or India? The Colonial Secretary must make his choice8 An invasion threatens the shores of Britain! This is a case for the Home Secretary. Worse than this confusion between ministers were the occassions when two of the gentlemen had to cooperate and to work together to send forth a Redcoat, Brown Bess in hand: Thus, if the Secretary of Foreign Affairs initiates an attack against a seaborn facility of a foreign country, it could become necessary to secure assistance at Colonial Affairs if a garrison in a colony not far from the target would be essential to the operation's success. Since most Redcoats where then stationned in trublesome Ireland, the Lord-Lieutenant at Dublin would be also in the loop. He would have to agree to a reduction of his garisons, etc.
In 1794 William Pitt appointed for the first time a Secretary of State for War, as he desperately wanted to fight the Armies of the French Revolution with some hope of sucess ( In paralell he started quite a secret service operation to undermine his neighbour's political system by creating counterrevolutionary efforts in Vendee, Brittany and Normandy. But this is another story !) Unfortunatelly the potential value of this appointment was undermined by the appointee, his background and his advanced age: Henry Dundas was not the man of the hour!
On any case, the new Secretary at War's part in directing operations went little further the to selecting the Theatre of War and giving a vague outline of England's intention and war aims. He then tried to recommend some suitable officer to hold command to the Crown. The Secretary had no connection with the War Office, which was presided over by a junior minister, who bureaucratically speaking - administered the Army, prepared replies to Parliament concerning military administration and did some budgeting.
Nevertheless, this post which started so modestly in the days of the great Pitt, became overtime more important, as men of another calibre occupied the post: Robert Castlereagh, before becoming Secretary of Foreign Affairs held it and also Lord Bathurst, a pragmatic and enlighted man. The two of them would be of great assistance to General Sir Arthur Wellesley and later on to His Grace the Duke of Wellington, as well !
Julius Ceasar said: "Divide et Impera!" and this could have been also the 'crie de guerre' of Old England, when it came to its Armed Forces. Having given you some insight into the obscure job of Secretary of State for War, now a hint on the Secretary at War: His name historically really means, what is written down here; the office was a relic from those times, when a king still personally led his Army into battle and therefore needed a Secretary AT War to dispatch his military day-to-day business. SOmewhere along the road from the Middle Ages into the Modern Times a reformer by the name of Burke made a political figure of a clerk: The new man was mainly in charge of seeing to it, that the Army spent as little money as possible and this in a cumbersome and most inefficient manner. He also worked in close cooperation with the most blockheaded civil servants from the Treasury, to ensure that the Army really suffered! This dodgery went on until 1809: In 1809 Lord Palmerston, a most energetic and brilliant junior politician, who would have his hours of glory later on under Queen Victoria as Prime Minister of Great Britain, was appointed and held on for 19 long years!
It was no concern of the War Office of what the Army did. Still less it was concerned with questions of strategy, tactics, drill or discipline! These where the concerns of the Commander in Chief with his office , the Horse Guards ( institution on which you can learn even more by simply clicking my link to 'Favorite Adversaries' !)
Usually - in times of Peace - the job of CiC was left vacant for reasons of economy. His powers of appointing to commissions and commands where temporarily transfered to the Secretary at War, who filled in. All his other military duties were dispatched by default to those who were inclined or tempted to add some work to their already existing duties. If nobody could be found, nobody did it! It was so simple until the outbreak of the Wars of Revolution and Pitt's wish to fight it out. Once again the great man, trying to do good, did wrong and appointed another relic of the past: During the Seven Years War Lord Amherst had done very distinguished service for England! But in 1794 the noble gentleman was already 76 years of age.........and in failing health!
Lord Amherst's military staff at the time of his appointment consisted of twelve, at the head of whom stood the Adjutant-General ( a bright youngster of 65, who had seen his first shoot fired on the Field of Culloden Moor against Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Stuart Pretender!)
By 1795 everybody who had two eyes and a bit of brains realized that this composition whould do no good against the beating drums of Moreau, Pichegru, Bernadotte, Brune and the others and never ever a clean trashing could be administered wherever to the insolent Tricolore! So the Duke of York took over............and from this moment on the Horse Guards became increasingly efficient. Although York was not a bright and gifted field commander ( fact that may have created some of the tension that existed always between the son of King George III. and Arthur Wellesley, the social climber of doubtful nobility and Sepoy General, who carried as a bane his ambitious and much to glamourous eldest brother, Richar Lord Mornington!) he was abou the best qualified staff and administrative officer a country with the officers' training facilities of England would get in those days.
At this place it is sufficient just to say, that as far as it was in his power, he made the army into an efficient fighting machine, in time to win victories in the hand of the first-class commander, Wellington was!
Unfortunately, York's powers were limited and his command extended only to the Army ( meaning regiments of infantry and regiments of cavalry, but no engineers and no artillery).
Artillery and Engineers depended of the Master-General of the Ordonances, who was - in addition to this job - also government's top advisor on military affairs and had a seat in the Cabinet. This office dated back to the late XV.Century and as one of the great Offices of State had not been held by a commoner since 1682 and the Glorious Revolution. Most of the Master-Generals of the Ordonances have been soldiers of enormous distinction, men like Ligonier and Marlborough amongst them. But none of them had a real experience with Artillery or Battlefield Engineering!
The departement of the Master General had responsibility also for providing all kinds of military impedimenta, ranging from muskets to tin kettles to the Army and producing canonry for both Army and Navy. It also supplied maps (which were usually of excellent quality!)
The Master-General also presided the Board of Ordonance, which consisted of the Lieutenant-General with his direct responsibility for the Artillery and Engineers ( a military appointee), the Surveyor-General (a civilian), the Clerk of the Ordonance (another civilian), the Storekeeper (the next civilian) and the Clerk of Deliveries (the fourth non-military member of the team). Relations between military and civilians in those days were as uneasy and difficult, as they are today. This personal management problem - as we'd call it in modern language of business and affairs - often interfered with the Board of Ordonance's missions and made things slow and as difficult as can be.
The Engineers Ordonance Corps and the Artillery Ordonance Corps were organised in a way calculated to cause maximum chaos with minimum convenience and userfriendlyness: The Roayal Artillery had only officers and gunners but depended on a separate corps of drivers for moving around the brass! Anomaly, this superbe organisational scheme was never applied to the Royal Horse Artillery (which in consequence functionned much better!) In the Engineers , the officers belonged to a different corps from the other ranks!
Nevertheless, the Ordonances - to their credit - possessed in those days the onliest military education facility of all England with the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. This fact must have been for something, when it came to the quality of Wellingtons Engineers during the sieges in the Peninsula.
Logistics and the supply of an Army on a Theatre of War were no concern of the War Office, the CiC or the Ordonances, but 'la chasse gardé' of the Treasury (When it comes to money, all countries are without pity for their soldiery! ) The theaory was simple: A force landing on its Theatre of War would be accompanied by devoted civil servants from the Treasury. Those micro- or macroeconomic wizards whould then contract local suppliers and pay them in Treasury Bonds, payable with a London bank. In such well-develloped countries like the netherlands, this theory would work well, but what about the distant shores of an inhospitable and underdeveloped country you'd hardly find on a map? Well - the Army went hungry! It was a hell of a job to be a commissary of the Treasury to an expeditionary force and those gentlemen had quite some reputation.............for filling their own pockets! Wellington spend a lot of time and breath, spitting fire and hell on them. And most often old Arthur was right!
This responsibility fell to the Paymaster-General, who depended of the Exchequer, also money was a preserve of the Treasury: The Paymaster-General had his seat in Parliament and answered all questions connected with salaries to officers, NCOs and soldiers. The estimates upon which the salaries were based emanated nevertheless form the Secretary at War................It was all a bureaucratic turmoil which nobody really understood from one end to another: To this were added the influence of the Home Secretary, when it came to military matters within Britain (Militia, Yeomanry, Volunteers and Fencibles) and until the Act of Union of 1802 Ireland had a military structure of its own, copying all the chaos from London and multiplying difficulties and misunderstandings.
Leaving aside the Judge Advocate-General, a profesional lawyer and political appointee, the remaining players concerned with the functioning of the Army owed shadowy allegiance via unclear command structures to one or another body already mentionned above: The most confusing entity was probably the Medical Board, consisting of a Physician-General, a Surgeon-General, an Inspector-General of the Hospitals. The Board was controlled joinly by the Horse Guards and the War Office and it appointed doctors and surgeons to regiments and held some responsibility for supply of stores to hospitals and medicines. This supply however lay with the Purveyor-General and the Apothecary-General respectively. Both posts were hereditary.........and so effective that the Army went often without drugs, bandages and other necessities, when affronting the perspective of an enemy bullet through a limb! The Ordonances ( meaning Engineers and Artillery) naturally had their own medical arangements and did everything the other way round.
The Transport Board staffed by the Royal Navy saw to sealift of forces, the Barrackmaster-General built barracks, a Board supervised quality control for clothing, the Commissioners of the Chelsea Hospital made provisions for soldiers disabled on His Majesty's Service. The Commissary-General for Muster recruited new Redcoats and there was also an Inspector-General of Recruiting.....who naturally depended neither of the War Office nor of the Horse Guards (This would have been to easy an arrangement!)
And despite all this elaborate bureaucratic overhead there was - at the outbreak of war in 1793 - a chronic shortage of................soldiers!