Time to get back to the 18th century.
The Passage to Flanders.
Lord –more’s regiment of foot, its ranks swelled by new recruits, arrived in the seat of war like every other battalion. Pouring off requisitioned merchant ships or crowded men of war, jelly legged, looking sick and grey faced. Be thankful if your passage was but short, some battalions can be at sea for 14 days and longer if they are going anywhere past the pillars of Hercules.
Your stint in the dank hell of a ship’s hold is ended now, and for the first time men like our good grenadier Joseph Fleet, and yourself, are going to experience some real soldiering. Though in honesty it is debatable whether you give a curse who sits on the Spanish throne. The war of the Spanish Succession is one year old in 1704, and the Duke of Marlborough is massing his army at Cologne, persuading the Dutch to join him in a daring march to the Danube to link up with Prince Eugene of Savoy’s Imperial army, and protect Vienna from falling to the French, at the same time he hopes to knock Bavaria out of the war.
A soldier on campaign gets through each day by falling back on the routine of camp discipline that he has learned at home. Far from home and family you are comforted by the presence of your comrades in your company, and the reassuring rote of army tradition.
To begin with, as soon as the camp has been set, the colours are uncased, trooped and set up at the head of the parade ground, to fix a regimental rallying point in the men’s minds. A well ordered camp means a well ordered regiment, and each time it is set up it is similar to the last.
The camp was laid out in a box shape, with the quarter guard at the head of the camp in front of the parade, then there are the musicians tents and those of the colour party’s. The NCO’s and private sentinels lay out their tents in six double rows behind them in front of each was an arms bell. A stand of piled muskets under a bell tent. Behind the men came the subalterns tents, and then the Captain’s, followed by the senior officers in a slightly separate area, if it was a cavalry regiment then the horse lines were situated at the back with the sutlers and wagons which the infantry had too. Artillery drew up their guns in the direction a likely attack.
The tents show a marked diversity in size, beginning with simple triangular three man affairs, to the larger subaltern’s ones and the marquee sized habitations of the field officers.
When the campaigning season was over troops went into winter quarters which followed the same basic rules of town billeting and campsites at home, and most probably would include the building of hut barracks, once the preserve of cavalrymen. Except troops stationed in one place for a long time on campaign would invariably be more vulnerable to disease.
You and everyone else from low to high will follow a routine which went like this. At orderly time all general officers waited on the Duke of Marlborough. Orders were issued to the major general of the day and the Adjutant General was responsible for recording these. At reveille, the drummers beat the General at the head of the battalion streets, soldiers got up and tidied their tents for inspection, the previous days guards were relieved at 8am and 9am, the chaplain said prayers at the head of the camp. Drill and fatigues followed, every day tents had to be aired and arms inspected twice weekly on pay days. Officers were responsible for ensuing their men had 24 rounds of pouch ammunition and that the cartridges were well made. Houses of office or latrines were old ones had to be filled in and new ones dug every six days, officers were instructed to make sure Sutlers buried their filth. When all duties were performed men could go to the sutlers tents for drink and whatever, they had to be in their tents by 9pm though when the tattoo was beaten. The Major would make an inspection to see that the sutlers tents had no soldiers in them, and likely make a cursory check to make sure the soldiers tents only contained soldiers. The word tattoo is a corruption of the Dutch “doe ten tap toe” meaning shut off the tap.
Women do all the washing and probably most of the cooking and mending, so make sure you get in good with a married man whose wife you can pay to take care of your things, but soldiers wives were not the only women following the drum. The female compliment also included the “necessary” women who were prevented from riding on the carts. And when an army has been quartered for an extended period of time, don’t be surprised if some of the better swordsmen decide to augment their pay by becoming pimps on the side.
Lord –mores regiment marches with 4 wagons, the Duke’s standing orders for the 1704 campaign forbid any battalion to use more. At least 2,000 draught horses are needed to haul the wagons and guns 250 miles from Flanders to Bavaria, and by 1707 he was assigning 50 wagons per 10,000 men. Officer’s sometimes had their own wagons, you will curse them for it and in 1708 Marlborough restricted Lieutenant and Major General Officers to two wagons and one coach apiece.
Rules regarding sutlers and other “necessaries” were strict and they were restricted to
the rear, any found in advance are free to be plundered. Delays are common but no regiment was to send back detachments to hasten by force their own baggage.
Supply trains were costly beasts, and you will curse when they don’t catch up. By 1703 the wagon train and support costs in Flanders, was costing in the neighbourhood of £18,259 for the bread wagons and £39,822 for 40,000 men in pay. You being simple Christian soldiers might have no care of the sheer logistical feat that Marlborough is undertaking. An army of 60,000 men need 90,000 food rations a day, most armies needed to calculate rations an a scale a third greater than the nominal strength of the army. An army of 60,000 also might have 40,000 horses that would require 10,000 quintals of fodder a day. Such quantities would need 1,000 carts.
For this campaign Marlborough’s army took 1,700 supply wagons pulled by 5,000 horses from the Netherlands to Bavaria to link up with Prince Eugene of Savoy’s army. Forage for animals and men was a great concern but due to the problem of cutting down desertion you couldn’t just go out when you liked, dire penalties were threatened for men caught outside the camp without permission and forage parties were regulated. No unit will be allowed to cut more forage than the number of horses on the establishment and only one ration per animal per forage, water parties had to be accompanied by a sergeant, the night before a large forage a general officer sent out a strong detachment, sometimes of 1,000 foot and 800 horse, to keep the foragers in bounds to prevent them harassing the locals and cover them from the enemy,
You may count yourself lucky to have Marlborough in charge of the army. During the 1704 campaign commissars were appointed to provide supplies for men and horses. These were to deliver their goods to quartermasters at pre selected camp grounds ahead of the army’s route of march, so you soldiers can immediately pitch tents, boil kettles and rest. Marlborough’s quartermasters pay in English gold for good and prompt supply and will manage to attract locals whereas most natives would avoid armies like the plague. If you survive to the 1707 campaign Marlborough will issue his men with hand mills so they won’t have to rely on the Spanish, or Dutch Jewish bread contractors. Sutlers and contractors are vital for the army as you soldiers are not provided with fresh meat, so you buy it with funds from your subsistence allowance, by these many and varied ways an army survives.
On the March
Marlborough’s armies would march three days then rest on the fourth, make no mistake you will be marching for most of your military life. You begin at 3AM or 4AM The drummers beat the General, upon which they were all to dress and prepare to move out, then assembly was sounded and the tents were struck and baggage packed and outposts called in to stand to arms. Regiments then stood to arms facing front on the order march they moved into a column and moved out to the beat of the drums an hour later, each battalion provided a rearguard of a subaltern and 24 men to watch for stragglers. This officer in turn detached a sergeant and 13 men to watch for ambushes behind him. You will likely march 13-14 miles and reach the pre selected camp ground at 9AM before the heat of the day.
The Quartermaster General, the indispensable William Cadogan, rides half a days march ahead of the army with the brigade majors to select suitable camp grounds ahead of the main force, this could be very dangerous work as it could put them in reach of prowling enemy dragoons. The brigade majors then briefed the quartermasters of the regiment’s in their brigade, who set to work billeting the men, within their sector.
Rain made things miserable it could take four hours to make half a mile officers and cavalry might be 30 hours on horseback, don’t be shy to pull down wooden structures for firewood, just be sure there isn’t an officer inside before you start. The infantry will
usually march in the wake of the cavalry and it is tough. the artillery slog it out behind the infantry. You will march through near knee deep wet clay and dung churned by the horses hooves and you will curse them with each sucking step, at the end of marches like this some regiments were reduced to knots of 100 men as stragglers would continue to arrive all through the day. Cavalry will be out in front of the army columns, and escorts posted on the flank roads meant that the army often had to march in a single winding column, an endless trudging snake slithering through the little towns and villages of Flanders and Bavaria, each man weighed down with 50lbs of loose equipment, your mess of three uses a communal cooking mess pot, a large, heavy belly sized black iron pot with a handle, which was carried on the march slung over the barrel of a musket or by attachment to the waist belt, you have a variety of knapsacks in use, from well-constructed ones slung over the right shoulder to little more than bags tied similarly with rope or a strap, probably depended on the wealth and interest of the colonel. The colour of your uniforms will take a beating, after hundreds of miles marching red coats would be discoloured and splattered, How bright an officers scarlet and silk would look next to a private’s bruised rose and sleazy.
Now and again volunteers might be called on to go out into the countryside to obtain enemy prisoners. They would be paid a bounty for each one they caught, you will get a double share if you lead it. Plunder of course played a large part in any campaign, so make sure and take advantage of opportunities as they come.
More than likely soldiers will be called on to dig trenches in a siege. They would also have to build fortifications, instructed and overseen by the engineers. The making of siege equipment, like gabions and fascines would not be out of the question either. Be warned, if you can’t take it and are caught deserting, such crime in the face of the enemy is punishable by death.
This then was the real reality check for the new recruits. As if the realities of army life weren’t enough, the realities of war and living on campaign will have kicked the remaining elements of glory and romance out of your Johnny newcome’s scull. But there is still that final test which will be sure to end all preconceived fantasies about soldiering, you all might be of a violent age, but few farmhands, runaways or apprentices will be prepared for the true reason you redcoats are marching through foreign fields, over the hills and far away, to face the enemy, kill him and chase him from the field in open battle.
I hope you will look kindly on my humble writing, and if fortune be kind I shall see you again for another Adventure in Historyland.
Blenheim Preparation, David Chandler.
Blenheim Battle for Europe, Charles Spencer.
Blenheim the Duke of Marlborough’s masterpiece, John Tincey.
Weapons & equipment of the Marlborough wars, Anthony Kempt
Marlborough England’s fragile genius, Richard Holmes.
Marlborough’s army 1702-1711, Michael Barthorp.
Marlborough’s Sieges, James Falkner.
Marlborough, Corelli Barnett.
Diary of Colonel John Blackadder.
The complete art of self defence by McBane via Highland swordsmanship, Mark Rector.
English army lists & commission registers, 1661 – 1714, Charles Dalton.
The life and adventures of Matthew Bishop of Deddington in Oxfordshire.
Marlborough, Angus Konstam.
Marlborough his life & times vol 2, Sir Winston Churchill.