Change for change’s sake: Sir John Moore on the 95th Rifles

I am currently on a train returning from Cambridge, having presented a paper on duelling, honour, and military law at an eighteenth-century graduate seminar yesterday afternoon. I stayed over with a friend last night and consulted a few Napoleonic-era collections this morning at the Cambridge University Library.

Besides a few welcome anecdotes of duelling officers and military musicians, I chanced on a set of December 1803 inspection reports written by Major-General John Moore, including one for the iconic 95th Rifles. I am not an expert on Moore’s Shorncliffe system or the early years of the 95th, but found the report intriguing as it casts this revered and supposedly revolutionary regiment in a rather unflattering light. Moore took a dim view of most of the officers, decrying their willingness to indulge in ill-considered innovations simply to differentiate themselves from the rest of the army. According to Moore, these ‘eternal changes’ resulted in inconsistent practices and unpolished manoeuvres.

“The five companies of the 95th (Rifle) Regt. are a very active, stout body of men, perhaps the best for service in the Brigade…there is a good military spirit in the corps, to do their duty & to distinguish themselves. A desire to form something quite different from the rest of the Army, without having sufficiently considered, or previously determined in what the difference was to consist, has prevented the Regt. from being formed upon any one system. The eternal changes which have been made, have occasioned inaccuracy in drill, & uncertainty in movement. Lt-Col Beckwith is not an intelligent officer, nor is he calculated to command a light corps, nor are the other field officers I have seen good exercising officers, or expert with their men in the field. Thus, good materials have not been made the most of – but still there are some good officers in the 95th. The non-commissioned officers and men are intelligent, and it is a corps which will be useful, & do its duty upon service.” [signed] Major-General John Moore

Source: Cambridge University Library, Sir John Moore Papers, MS Add.9340/1, Major-General J. Moore to General Sir D. Dundas, 30 December 1803, pp.39-40.

Bugler 95th c 1809 by the square peak.jpg


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