The Designers Corner - Andrew Bamford

Today we begin a new series of posts that will focus on various team members who contribute to the development of our games. Not sure of the frequency of these posts, or the total amount that will be forthcoming - but our initial one is specially timed as it closely relates to this weeks Game of the Week post. So, without further ado, lets get into the content.

Representing Redcoats: Applying Academic Research to the Orders of Battle in Wellington’s Peninsular War

Andrew Bamford

I first encountered John Tiller’s games as a teenager the best part of 30 years ago, back in the days of Talonsoft. The Napoleonic games, along with the Sharpe TV series and books that I first encountered around the same time, all helped send me down the track that would eventually lead to a doctorate in military history that focused on the British Army in the era of the Peninsular War (the American Civil War games, along with Ken Burns’ documentary, also helped kick off an interest in that conflict, which, however, I have managed to contain as ‘just’ a hobby). As time went on, I did a certain amount of playing about with the various user-created mods and add-ons from the likes of the Napoleon in Russia Project and gained at least a limited idea of what went on ‘under the bonnet’, but my actual involvement with the development team came about largely by chance.

My doctorate had looked in particular at the way the British Army managed its manpower resources in the wars against Napoleon. Unlike the continental powers, Britain never had a system of conscription for her regular army (although the Militia, raised for home defense, did have a ballot system); furthermore, the army had to compete with the Royal Navy for such volunteers as were available. Because recruitment was carried out at a regimental level, this meant that there was a great deal of fluctuation and individuality at this organizational echelon – something that was emphasized by the British system treating the battalion, rather than the multi-battalion regiment, as the main organizational and tactical unit. A key part of my work, therefore, was to create a series of spreadsheets that tracked the strength of the various infantry battalions and cavalry regiments through the course of the wars, all this data being laboriously transcribed from the strength returns that were compiled every month and submitted to the army’s London headquarters at Horse Guards. These returns now survive in The National Archives at Kew, each of them signed off by the commander of the theatre in question – and I still recall the thrill of realizing that I was looking at original signatures of the Duke of Wellington, Sir John Moore, or Sir Thomas Graham.

In terms of my doctorate, the point of the exercise was that I could use all this data to make comparisons between different units or groups of units, and between units serving in different theatres of war. Did the Foot Guards have fewer deserters than the infantry of the line? Was sickness more prevalent in Canada or Flanders? Did the heavy cavalry need more replacement horses than the light? Once I had picked out the trends in the data, I could then use other sources to analyze and explain them, and if anyone is interested in the conclusions that I came to then my thesis was subsequently developed into a book, published in 2013 by the University of Oklahoma Press as Sickness, Suffering and the Sword and more recently re-released as a paperback:

However, it should also be apparent to anyone reading the above that what I had created was also a great resource for anyone looking to wargame the British Army’s campaigns in this era, and when I discovered that HPS Simulations – as it then was – was developing a Peninsular War title I suggested that they might find my data useful (it has also since been made available for free via the Napoleon Series website).

That invitation was gratefully accepted, and followed up with a request that I look over the order of battle files being created for the game in question and provide my feedback. I did so, one thing led to another, and I ended up joining the design team to help complete Bonaparte’s Peninsular War and then set out to create all the orders of battle that Richard White used to create the scenarios in Wellington’s Peninsular War, the second title that completed the Peninsular coverage. Working on the full run of the orders of battle meant that I needed to do a lot of work to get up to speed on the details of the French, Spanish, and Portuguese forces involved in the war – for more on which, see the discussion of sources and methodology in the historical notes accompanying the game package – but it also enabled me to translate into game terms a lot of the findings from my doctorate with respect to the British.

The theory of the British regimental system for the infantry was that a regiment would have two battalions. The first battalion would be an active unit, available to be deployed overseas as part of an expeditionary force or to serve in garrison around the empire. The second battalion, meanwhile, would serve as a feeder and training unit, processing drafts that would go to the first battalion while also helping fulfil a home-defense role. If it should happen that the second battalion reached a state of effectiveness such that it too was fit for active service then it could also be deployed for that purpose, but the first battalion would retain priority for manpower; this was fine when both battalions were serving in the same theatre, as if the second became too weak to operate it could hand over its fit men to the first and then return to Britain, but more awkward if, say, the first battalion was in India or Canada and the second had been sent to the Peninsula. The situation was further complicated because some regiments had never been able to raise a second battalion – remember, the regiments were each responsible for their own recruiting – in which case the single active battalion would have only a depot company back home to support it and provide replacement manpower. Equally, regiments that could recruit successfully could muster more than two battalions – in an extreme case, the 95th Rifles, after winning renown in the early Peninsular battles, raised a new third battalion extremely swiftly in 1809, but the 1st Foot had four battalions, the 27th had three, and the 14th and 56th both acquired a third by the end of the war. The 60th (Royal American) Regiment was a special case, and ended up with eight battalions, but the four junior battalions of rifles and light infantry, recruited from foreigners, had only a limited connection to the four senior redcoat battalions which mostly remained in their traditional role of garrison duty in the West Indies.

So, in game terms, it was necessary to know a lot about a battalion before assigning it a quality rating in the game (strength, thanks to the data that I’d gathered and the other returns and morning states included in histories like Sir Charles Oman’s seven-volume epic History of the Peninsular War, was a lot easier). It might be reasonable to assume that the first battalion of Regiment X would be full of experienced men and the second battalion of Regiment Y less experienced, but that would not be a given if the X was fresh out from home and Y had been in the Peninsula for a couple of years and seen much service. Then again, something that often happened in the middle years of the war was that a regiment’s first battalion would arrive in the Peninsula where its second battalion was already serving, and promptly absorb all the effective manpower of the latter, leaving a cadre of the second battalion to go home and recruit. Such an influx of experienced men – acclimatized not just to the experience of campaigning but to the local weather, cuisine, and water – would be a real asset to a battalion, and in game terms ought to be enough to negate the quality penalty that might otherwise be applied to a newly-arrived unit. All these sorts of transfers needed to be tracked through the appearance and disappearance of battalions in the monthly returns, backed up with the detailed appendix of organizational comings and goings in the back of Oman’s Wellington’s Army, the companion volume to his history. One of the main contentions in my doctoral work had been that not only did the Peninsular army as a whole go through a learning curve, but so too did each regiment or battalion as it began its service in the theatre: insofar as is possible when working with a 1-9 scale for quality ratings, this was reflected in the game files.

There were other differences between regiments, though, that were less obvious from the data. Another of the contentions from my doctorate was that a lot could depend on the quality – or otherwise – of a commanding officer (historian Steve Brown has since written much more on this in his book Fit to Command) and this again needed to be reflected for good or for ill. Some of this sort of detail can be gleaned from histories of the campaigns, other snippets come from the contemporary inspections that were, in theory, carried out of all units of the British Army and the reports of which, sent back to Horse Guards, formed another major source for my doctoral work.

So, for example, Robert Ross, later famous for his capture of Washington in the War of 1812, started the Peninsular War as a lieutenant colonel commanding the 20th Foot, and, although this was a regular line regiment, Ross put them all through light infantry training. Accordingly, the 20th gets light infantry attributes for this era. Alternatively, the 85th in 1811 under Lieutenant Colonel Cuyler, and the unfortunate 2nd under a trio of poor-quality commanding officers in succession, stood out for poor leadership and receive qualitative penalties to reflect this. In the case of the 85th, things got so bad that the battalion was sent home and Cuyler and all his officers replaced; when the unit came back to the Peninsula just under two years later, everything had been put right and the 85th served with distinction for the remainder of the war (and subsequently in the War of 1812), reflected in the game in much-improved quality ratings. The case of the 85th was extreme, but served as a good example ‘pour encourager les autres’ – it took the threat of a similar fate to make the poorly-disciplined 18th Hussars get themselves in order after the regiment incurred Wellington’s anger in the Vitoria campaign. In this instance the problem was inexperience rather than negligence or incompetence, but it will be seen in the game that the 18th initially has a lower quality rating than the other hussar regiments.

It would be possible to go on and give further examples, as with the soul-searching that went on with respect to how best to represent units that suffered with high rates of sickness either from having served on the infamous Walcheren Expedition of 1809 or as a result of the Peninsular fever epidemics during the winters of 1809-1810 and 1812-1813 (in the end, reduced numbers were largely left to speak for themselves), but hopefully the above explains why the sort of ‘cookie-cutter’ approach that one might take to representing a mass conscript-raised army cannot be applied to the British in this era. In fairness, it would be true to say that for the closing months of the war it became necessary to apply a similar approach to the French, so that regiments at Orthez or Toulouse might have one battalion representing the whittled-down core of veterans who had slogged through years of war in Spain and another composed of conscripts fresh from the depot and lacking anything more than the most rudimentary training and uniform. In attempting to apply up-to-date research and replicate these nuances, it is hoped that the most authentic representation possible has been made of the very different armies that fought in the Peninsular War. It is hoped, too, that the process demonstrates that the academic military history community on the one hand and the world of wargaming on the other – notwithstanding a certain amount of suspicion that I have encountered on both sides of the divide – can in reality both learn and benefit from each other. Meanwhile, after going off on various other research tangents, I have recently returned to some of the concepts that I looked at back in my PhD days and have been looking at how these systems originated during the wars of the eighteenth century and how the British Army was organized for those campaigns: again, some of that work is helping inform game design as I work on a new title for the Musket and Pike series.

If you would like to get your hands on the game with the OOB's discussed here you can do so at sale pricing - now through March 10th, 2024 - as Wellington's Peninsular War is our game of the week!


  • Olaf

    Great read. Thx alot!

  • Paul Sanders

    I enjoyed reading this. Having an accurate OOB is important to me and I’m pretty sure to several other readers of this article.

  • Alex

    The WDS Nseries nails the details, and understanding the high-caliber academic research behind it adds a whole new level of credibility. British OOBs and general organization have been a mystery to me, and now it’s starting to make sense. I enjoyed the article and look forward to more!

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