While the Royal Navy has been active around the world in the wars against France since 1792, the smaller and less prestigious British Army has seen action in only sporadic campaigns in recent years: the First Mahratta War in India from 1775 to 1782, the Irish rebellion if 1798, the Holland War of 1799, and the Second Mahratta War from 1803 to 1805. In mid-1808 the bulk of the British Army was sent to Sweden to help fight the French on the Continent, but a falling-out between the Government and King Gustavus meant they never disembarked and were shipped instead to Spain.
Irish Rebellion: The Battle of Foulksmills
Ireland, June 1798: One of many battles of the Irish rebellion, most noteworthy for our purposes by the major role played by John Moore and the recently-formed fifth battalion of the 60th Royal American Regiment. Moore led about 1,500 British and Hessian soldiers to defeat Philip Roche’s 5,000 United Irishmen. In a campaign noted for its atrocities and massacres, Moore stood out for his restraint and his refusal to allow his men to abuse prisoners or civilians.
Casualties: The British lost about 100 dead. The Irish lost about 500 dead.
India: The Battle of Assaye
Cental India, September 1803: The Mahratta Confederacy opposed the principalities that were allied with the British East India Company. Colonel (acting Major General) Arthur Wellesley, a veteran of British wars in India, with 6,500 British and Indian troops (HM 19th Light Dragoons, two Highlands infantry regiments, and eight regiments of Indian horse and foot) and 20 guns defeats the Mahratta army of at least 40,000 men and over 100 guns.
*Casualties: *Mahratta casualties are said to have been around 5,000. The Anglo-Indian force suffered 22 officers and 386 men killed and 57 officers and 1,526 men wounded. The 74th suffered around 400 casualties out of a strength of 500. It is said that every one of the 74th’s officers became casualties in the battle, 11 being killed.
Anecdotes: In later life the Duke of Wellington, when asked which was his hardest fought battle, said “Assaye.” Colonel Wellesley had two horses killed under him in the battle and his orderly, riding at this side, was decapitated by a cannon shot. Every officer on his staff lost one or two horses.
The Peninsular War: The Battle of Vimeiro
Portugal, August 1808: The British Army landed in Portugal in a new alliance with Spain, intending to support the Spanish war against the invasion of its longtime French allies. A few days after arriving in Portugal, the British took up positions to await the French army that was marching from Lisbon to intercept them. British and Portuguese forces of 20,000 infantry, 500 cavalry and 18 guns under Maj. General Sir Arthur Wellesley defeated a French army of 14,000 men and 23 light guns under General Junot in and around the village of Vimeiro. At the point when Wellesley was ready to swing his unengaged right flank around and encircle the embattled French, perhaps forcing the complete surrender of an entire French army, his more cautious superiors Sir Harry Burard and Sir Hew Dalrymple assumed command. They offered Junot the chance to surrender with honor, and take his army and guns intact back to France with the Royal Navy as transports.
Casualties: 720 British killed and wounded. The French casualties were around 2,000 including several hundred prisoners. 13 French guns were captured.
Aftermath: Burrard, Dalrymple and Wellesley were summoned to England to answer to an outraged Parliament, and Sir John Moore was given command of the British army in the Peninsula.