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"Promotion by purchase better than promotion by "merit"? " Topic


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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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4th Cuirassier04 Jul 2018 4:06 a.m. PST

It has always seemed to me interesting that you can make a good case for the purchase of commissions producing, in the British army, officers no worse – and in the case of general officers, arguably better – than through the later practice of promotion on merit.

Purchase gave us Marlborough, Wolfe, Clive and Wellington; merit gave us…er…Slim, eventually. None of the first four would have got past lieutenant in a merit system.

Moreover, the British army of the era had an enviable record of consistent tactical success; its politicians often managed to lose campaigns and even wars, but its soldiers lost battles much less frequently.

Merit, of course, is actually not an objective concept at all, but a deeply nebulous one. A precondition of promotion by merit is that you are politically sound to begin with, before the question of your merit is even considered. So a professed royalist would have got nowhere in a French revolutionary army (or indeed any revolutionary army anywhere) regardless of merit. To get ahead on merit you have always had to be ideologically on-message – which is why Napoleon felt he had to write Le Souper de Beaucaire. Merit promotion systems promote only those who make all the right noises and ignore those those who don't, whatever their merit. While the same can be said of purchase systems, the fact that the same can be said of both goes some way to establishing that their results – as in, those promoted – are heavily filtered on a factor unrelated to merit.

Next, merit typically means merit in the present rank. You can't be sure someone will actually function in the next grade up, even if that is expressly what promotion by merit is said in your army to mean. Equally, you can't be sure someone who's an indifferent lieutenant won't turn out to be an excellent general. So merit looks at what there is, and essentially enshrines the Peter Principle.

In this connection one thinks of all those undoubtedly brave WW1 officers who made mediocre WW2 generals. In the Napoleonic era one thinks of all those duff marshals. Suchet, Lannes, and Davout were pretty good. But Jourdan? Ney? Murat? Bernadotte? Soult? How were these people not over-promoted?

Artilleryman04 Jul 2018 6:07 a.m. PST

I may come back to this, but I know of at least one corps in one modern army who would not promote an officer to the next rank unless they thought him suitable for the rank above that. This could lead to some frustration amongst individual officers but it did help maintain ability higher up and was a sort of antidote to the Peter Principle.

Brechtel19804 Jul 2018 6:28 a.m. PST

Suchet, Lannes, and Davout were pretty good.

Pretty good? They were some of the best generals of the period. Berthier was the premier chief of staff of the period, and Soult, Bessieres, and others were excellent commanders and that's just the marshals. Many of the French generals were better soldiers than some of the marshals, such as Prince Eugene, Vandamme, Rapp, Mouton, Drouot, Senarmont, and many others. In point of fact, Napoleon probably commanded the greatest collection of military talent ever assembled in one army.

If you would like to talk about mediocre generals, we can start with a listing of British generals of the period, such as Beresford, Drummond, Riall, Packenham, Dalrymple, Graham, Murray, Cathcart, Chatham, Prevost.


Merit is better than purchase, and it should be noted that everywhere Wellington was not, the British army didn't do too well.

Artilleryman04 Jul 2018 6:52 a.m. PST

The purchase system also gave us Braddock, Clinton, Burgoyne, the 2nd Earl of Chatham, Black Jack Slade, Raglan, Cardigan and Chelmsford to name a few. Even many of those gentlemen who won their campaigns did so because of Tommy Atkins rather than their own generalship. During this time, merit could be rewarded by a brevet or even ‘promotion without purchase' allowing the talented to rise, especially during ‘a bloody campaign or a sickly season'. Indeed, merit at the top would sponsor merit further down to some extent allowing for societal pressures and ‘customs of the service'. (After all, Wellington was a terrible snob and preferred ‘yes men' because the talented at the higher level were rare thanks to purchase.) However, purchase was a curse in peacetime letting the talented linger below while the rich and entitled proceeded. Even when out of the ‘purchase band' as a major general and above, connections meant more than talent.

Imagine if Captain Nolan had progressed by talent and was commanding the Light Brigade at Balaklava!

Progression by talent is by no means perfect and depends on a number of factors. The perception of the senior ranks counts for a lot. Men tend to sponsor and support those they see as similar to themselves. A sharp young officer with new ideas may not chime with a senior one with years of emotional investment in older ways and means. Also, the talents required to prosper in peacetime can be rather different from those required in war. I think it significant that the British Army has rarely finished a war with the same set of senior commanders with which it started (in comparison, for example, with the Germans).

As far as merit systems in the British Army are concerned, apart from Slim (a brilliant general and an admirable character), there are plenty of others some of whom prospered for a while and were done down by circumstance and politics. There was Rawlinson, Monash (okay Australian but he counts), Allenby, Gort, Alanbrooke, Montgomery (for all his faults), Auchinleck, Hobart, Gale, Briggs, Templar, Thompson and Moore. There are many others. There were many who failed because of the Peter Principle and the war/peace divide, but all in all I think that Tommy no longer has to be quite so prepared to win his battles despite his generals.

As for Napoleon's marshalate, so much depended on the Emperor himself. Many marshals were appointed because of politics and others because they were imperial ‘yes men.' They fitted a system which saw Napoleon at the top and the marshals as being direct support. Without his presence, few could function with the same success and those who did were treated badly or with suspicion (Davout at Auerstadt?). Few could prosper away from the imperial shadow. For every Suchet or Lannes there was a MacDonald or a Junot. Despite the baton in every giberne, the marshalate was not produced by merit. It was a production of the Emperor himself. That there were so many talented individuals was almost more luck than design

So overall, I prefer the merit system over purchase (and influence though that will never go away). The common soldier (though he is usually most uncommon) would rather believe that his leaders got there by ability rather than by money or knowing the right … hand to kiss.

Brechtel19804 Jul 2018 7:07 a.m. PST

Frederick the Great once stated that there were few 'offensive' generals, meaning those capable of independent command. There are few of those in any time period.

Junot was not a marshal, though some careless English-language authors tend to make him one, along with Duroc.

The political appointees among the marshalate were so in order to bring the army together in order to get past old loyalties as well as the different armies of the Revolution. All in all, it was a smart move.

And you can include less-than-stellar generals in the Prussian, Russian, and Austrian armies as well. Every army has them-it is how you use what you have that matters.

Lascaris04 Jul 2018 7:44 a.m. PST

While I believe merit is better than purchase I also believe merit promotions are vastly more effective when the merit is displayed in combat, not in peacetime paper shuffling.

Edwulf04 Jul 2018 8:01 a.m. PST

Away from Wellington the Brits did fine.

Caribbean – no Wellington. Wins all round.
Italy/Sicily – Win.
Egypt – Win.
East coast of Spain – mostly Wins…. Fuengirola aside.
Africa- Victorious.
Ireland – the militia doesn't do well but the army wins.
USA- all American acts of aggression repulsed and paid back. Win the war.
India- victorious.
Walcheren – Beat the French. Lost to disease.
Gibbs in Holland/Germany- no defeats. Win at Merxam.
Nepal – Win.
1793-4 Low Countries – Duke of York won a few.

Only Bad Spots
1798-99 Low Countries. – not bad generalship.
Bergan Op Zoom- disaster.
South America- Whitelock was a bumbler.

All that said, purchase was not as good a system as merit. Though your looking too high up the ladder as as far as I know you couldn't purchase a rank above battalion commander. So… the problem was that purchase meant you had lots of company, wing and battalion commanders who were not fit for purpose. Campaigns would weed them out but they could still hamper a units effectiveness. I don't think comparing it to World War Two helps. With merit Wellington would still have made general…. he might have spent longer as company commander… though. But it's not the Wellingtons and Whitelocks that condemn purchase but the "son of a low mechanic … saw himself at the head of a troop of horse, which he had neither the courage nor the ability to lead" or the 17 year old Lord Craven who had the command of the 84th foot in the 1793-94 Netherlands. Major Camac of the lifeguards… unable to perform even the most basic drill. Christ even the dandy Beau Brummell was a troop commander of the 10th Light Dragoons! And he didn't even know which troop he commanded.
And a report made at the same time said of the 41 Regiments in the Netherlands 21 were commanded by either young boys or idiots… while brave and competent leaders like young George Dyer wasted his career stuck as an Ensign in a regiment on garrison duty…

So I'd have to say merit overall is a better system.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2018 8:05 a.m. PST

It has always seemed to me interesting that you can make a good case for the purchase of commissions producing, in the British army, officers no worse – and in the case of general officers, arguably better – than through the later practice of promotion on merit.

If the purchase system was so stellar, you wouldn't have had Wellington complaining about the crap officers he was getting or the one-man command system he had to use because of it.

The issues were severe going into the Revolutionary wars, the purchase system in transition, which is why York in 1795 placed restrictive experience levels on promotion--any promotion. Thomas Graham is a good example of one of the men caught in this transition, even though he raised two battalions of the 90th with his own money in 1798. He remained a 'temporary lt. colonel' [no seniority] for eight years because he didn't have the eight years experience to have a permanent army rank and seniority.

During the Napoleonic wars, only 30% of all commissions were purchase, and most of those were in the Guards and cavalry regiments.

The purchase system was political: Officers were part of the upper class, the ones most interested in defending and maintaining the status quo.

It was financial: It was a money-maker for the colonel of the regiment… Which is where officer commissions emanated from and applied to.

When the need for officers outstripped the number of the upper class, commissions became 'free' and a pension system instituted. Big changes for the British army during the Napoleonic wars. Even so, purchased commissions weren't ended until the 1870s for Britain.

The purchase system wasn't a stand-alone… it was part of a greater system, one that saw the social class structure recreated. The club was replaced with 'The officers' Mess, valets with 'Batmen'. The middle class with the NCOs and the lower class--the privates.

An officer could leave his post and go home any time he wanted to…for 'personal reasons', or simply 'sell out.'

Wellington wrote many letters to York and his secretary Torrens, complaining about this. Wellington would have any officer leaving the army to go home in his officer for a long set down, but he had to let them go in the end.

The average officer's day stationed in England is well illustrated by an extract from a letter by a new Cornet in the Royal Dragoons to his mother in 1806:

"At about nine o'clock the trumpets sound for foot parade when the different troops formed…then the sergeant's guard mounts, and the officers leave the regiment; their business being done; then the sergeant-major exercises the regiment, with which we have nothing to do. At ten o'clock I breakfast…At eleven all the subaltern officers are to go to the riding school but, if you don't go, no notice is taken of it, except perhaps if you were to away for weeks together. At twelve the subaltern officers have to attend the foot drill, and then your business is done for the day…Our officers are not teased with the petty minutiae of the service. They are, and live like gentlemen… Regimental duty does not take up above two hours when there is a field day, and half an hour when there is a foot parade. The rest of the time we have quite to ourselves occupied in reading, drawing, music, etc."

In another letter he writes: "Our sergeants drill the men, etc., etc., and do the greater part of the duty of a German officer [Kings German Legion officers did drill their men.] We only attend on parades, they last about a quarter of an hour."

This attitude towards the role of an officer became controversial during the wars, so much so that men such as Charles James in his Military Dictionary spends several pages under the heading 'officer' to rail against those officers who believe they need to know nothing about the professional aspects of their rank because it is too much like 'trade', lower class work--the kind that German officers do…

The Continental attitudes were very much the same, only more so.

So much in the French army, ostensibly based on merit, was gaining the attention of an officer's superiors, so many officers were 'glory hounds.' It is one reason that the French suffered six or more officer casualties for every three or four British.

The military systems found during the Napoleonic wars were unique to the period and unlike our army systems/expectations today.

42flanker04 Jul 2018 8:18 a.m. PST

The common soldier (though he is usually most uncommon) would rather believe that his leaders got there by ability rather than by money or knowing the right … hand to kiss.

An interesting topic. It seems that in the British army of the Peninsular war period, soldiers preferred to be commanded at regimental level by officers of the gentry rather than by men promoted, say, from the ranks.


Marlborough, Wolfe, Clive and Wellington …would have got past lieutenant in a merit system.
That's quite a broad generalisation. Were they all such unpromising material as subalterns?

The list of mediocre British generals is also a litle sweeping. Perhaps we should distinguish between those who were perfectly effective leaders of brigades or divisions but who were less effective as force commanders operating independently.

With regard to brave British officers with good WW1 records who survived to command in WW2, Anthony Beevor, discussing Lt. Gen. Bernard Freyberg V.C. and his subordinate officers in command on Crete in 1941, made a telling comment: "All of them were brave men but not one of them was bold any more."

All were possessed of physical courage but unfamiliar tactics and the prospect of heavy losses paralysed their thought processes. As one brigadier confided to another officer, "I don't know what lies ahead. I know only in me that it produces in me a sensation I never knew in the last war. It isn't fear. It's something quite different, which I can only decribe as dread." (Crete: The Battle and the Resistance, 1991)

Comicbook Hero04 Jul 2018 8:41 a.m. PST

An interesting question.

Some years back I was having a discussion with some gaming buddies whilst we were playing a WW2 game. One of them suggested that the reason that WW2 saw a plethora of small specialist SF type units in the British Army was because the dynamic junior leaders couldn't get promoted in the early War Army due to merit. He argued that Pre war there was no way of gaining merit other than by being sponsored by someone of higher rank and that this didn't allow for those dynamic forward thinking officers to get promoted other than by seniority.

Officers like Stirling, Mad Jack Churchill, Peter Young, Calvert and a host of others would have made ideal leaders he argued.

However, I believe the truth is not so black and white. During most Wars the British Army seems to have a habit of taking its time to get into gear and weeding out those officers that were unsuitable and ineffective. And sometimes they didn't.

Also, the army had a massive increase in numbers and there were correspondingly more officer posts to fill allowing for more chance of advancement.

Maybe the issue is more around the high command not being comfortable with young forward thinking officers who were different from them. This could explain why these types of officers gravitated to those more unconventional units like the Commandos and Airborne.

Another point is if you consider that, regardless of some modern opinions and Hollywood, the British Army in WW2 had its fair share of good officers (Sim, Montgomery, Horrocks, Gale, Dempsey and numerous more at Brigade and Battalion level) and as has been proven, wealth and the ability to purchase a rank is no guarantee of tactical brilliance.

Like I said, it's an interesting question. Yes over history there have been plenty of ineffective British Generals. But, there have also been plenty of really good ones and I'm not convinced it was better under purchase.

CBH

42flanker04 Jul 2018 8:59 a.m. PST

"..it's not the Wellingtons and Whitelocks that condemn purchase but the "son of a low mechanic … saw himself at the head of a troop of horse, which he had neither the courage nor the ability to lead" or the 17 year old Lord Craven who had the command of the 84th foot in the 1793-94 Netherlands. Major Camac of the lifeguards… unable to perform even the most basic drill. Christ even the dandy Beau Brummell was a troop commander of the 10th Light Dragoons! And he didn't even know which troop he commanded.
And a report made at the same time said of the 41 Regiments in the Netherlands 21 were commanded by either young boys or idiots… while brave and competent leaders like young George Dyer wasted his career stuck as an Ensign in a regiment on garrison duty…


One cannot deny that the disdain for any hint of professionalism on the part of most British officers was absurd, and that a system of selection based on merit followed by professional training has to be the preferred way to provide suitable effective officers.

The start of the French Rev Wars found the British army in a state of prolonged decline following the AWI: underfunded; undermanned; badly uniformed; poorly equipped. One of the consequences of the rapid expansion required to send expeditionary forces out was the granting of commissions to men contingent on their undertaking to provide recruits according to set quantities, or indeed forming entire regiments. These in turn would resort to unscrupulous 'crimps' who enlisted any form of male biped- boys and old men, infirm or criminal, to fulfill recruiting obligations and these were sent out in canvas 'slop' jackets and breeches and precious little more, untrained, without weapons or equipment. Many of the newly commissioned officers, their valuable asset secured, would not even join their regiment, which was undoubtedly a blessing.

Meanwhile, young men of aristocratic background commanding battalions as a result of purchase, like the Paget brothers (28th & 80th) and Arthur Wesly (33rd), guided by experienced subordinates, put up a creditable showing against the much larger and highly motivated French army. Lord Paget and the future Lord Uxbridge were enthusiastic amateurs but Wesley was already applying a professional eye to the task in hand, although he was both in bad health and homesick.


The Foot Guards, too, were (eventually) awarded a number of battle honours for actions against the French in 1793-94, as were a number of cavalry regiments, and the regiments of the Old Brigade (14th, 37th, 54th). Much of their success in the field was essentially down to the character and sheer courage of the officers and men, helped by a few stalwart 'old America hands.'

It was, of course, no way to run an army, however.

42flanker04 Jul 2018 9:28 a.m. PST

Of course purchase of commissions ended in 1873

Stirling, Mad Jack Churchill, Peter Young, Mike Calvert may have been charismatic and effective field commanders of raiding and long range penetration operations. Whether they would have been good commanders is another matter. Calvert's epithet was 'Mad' as well- and let us not forget Orde Wingate himself. Many of those men would not have thrived in the world of conventional soldiering anyway, where conformity is a valued trait.

Some officers never evolve beyond being good 'regimental' officers, whose qualities suit the training and leading of soldiers in battle, rather than sending men to their death by battalion if necessary, for the benefit of the greater operation.

It was argued that for comparitively little cost the special forces operations were a way of taking the fight to the enemy while we readied ourselves for hitting back with full strength (and a little help from our allies).

There is also the argument that the sort of operations we are talking about were simply a way of sending groups of exceptional men, expensively trained (or not), on operations where most risked being killed for negligible gains, thereby depriving 'the Line' of that quality material where they would have done more good, if for less glory. For every Bruneval, there was a raid on Rommel's HQ. Stirling's early operations in Libya were a fiasco. Many early commando operations in the Mediterranean met with little success and heavy casualties.

'Who dares Wins' is all very well, but "A bridge too far" leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

4th Cuirassier04 Jul 2018 9:51 a.m. PST

@ Artilleryman
There was Rawlinson…
But there was also Gott, Cunningham, Percival, Freyberg, Beresford-Peirse, Ritchie…

@edwulf
purchase meant you had lots of company, wing and battalion commanders who were not fit for purpose.
Although the junior leaders appear in the main to have been pretty good, despite a lot having purchased commissions.

@ McLaddie
If the purchase system was so stellar, you wouldn't have had Wellington complaining about the crap officers he was getting
We don't know what he'd have said of those he got through any different system, of course.

@ Brechtel
Many of the French generals were better soldiers than some of the marshals
Well, quite!

if you would like to talk about mediocre generals, we can start with a listing of British generals of the period, such as Beresford, Drummond, Riall, Packenham, Dalrymple, Graham, Murray, Cathcart, Chatham, Prevost.
I'll see them and I'll raise you Dupont, Junot, Vandamme, Ney, Murat, Bernadotte, Marmont, Mortier, Brune, Grouchy, and whichever twit it was who blew up the bridge at Leipzig. :-)

attilathepun4704 Jul 2018 9:56 a.m. PST

The trouble with the concept of merit promotion is that no system can guarantee the emergence of brilliant leaders. About the best that can be hoped for is a consistent level of mediocrity. This is because of factors already cited by others above, such as the tendency of really intelligent, forward-thinking young officers to irritate their superiors, who consequently will downplay their merits in official evaluations.

On the other hand, there is a tendency towards a form of reverse discrimination in modern thought towards those who were able to rise through the purchase system. Just because a man came from the social elite, and a background of wealth and ease, did not mean he was necessarily stupid, indolent, or careless, though it may have been unfashionable to appear too keenly devoted to routine duties. In the field, when it really counted, a certain proportion of such officers proved themselves quite effective. And let us not forget that there was a factor of self selection involved. Those who were really lazy or cowardly are not likely to have purchased commissions on their own initiative (but it may have been done for them by their families).

Perhaps the most pernicious system of promotion is one that rigidly adheres to strict seniority. While that may guarantee officers who at least have appropriate experience, it also guarantees that a man will be past his prime by the time that he reaches high command. There are a few men who retain their "fire" into advanced age, but generally the levels of physical energy and inclination to take risks drops off steadily and with increasing steepness as the years accumulate.

cosmicbank04 Jul 2018 11:22 a.m. PST

It helps keep the army lead by the right kind of Chap

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2018 12:29 p.m. PST

Didn't the purchase of commissions stop at Lt Col?
Cardigan didn't purchase the Light Brigade command. He purchased command of the 11th Hussars. How he got command of the Light Brugade had more to do with politics than purchase.
And politics throws another factor into the "purchase vs merit" argument. Burgoyne didn't purchase command at Saratoga. Neither did Cornwallis purchase his Major Generalship, but he was darned good. I would think each achieved his command based on perceived merit.
How did Wellington get his army command? Merit. Perceived political merit. grin

And choosing higher command is no science either. The dirty little secret of the Peter Principle is that you just don't know. Not knowing anything about Chancellorsville, would you hesitate to put Hooker in command?
Getting back to British generals in the "merit era", look at North Africa in WWII. Although one could make a strong case for Churchill being a Peter Principle example too.

42flanker04 Jul 2018 1:52 p.m. PST

Didn't the purchase of commissions stop at Lt Col?

Indeed.

I suppose we might consider that one could not be promoted to Colonel and onto Major General etc., until one had bought oneself a lieutenant colonelcy.

Lion in the Stars04 Jul 2018 3:15 p.m. PST

Even in the modern US Navy, in the Submarine Force, which means you really need to know your stuff, you can find people promoted beyond their capability on 'merit'.

I've known several Chiefs that could not lead (and one of the requirements to get to the Selection Board is 'sustained superior performance at sea'!), and I know one E6 (Staff Sergeant equivalent) that was only promoted because he could pass the tests every time and eventually got enough Passed, not Advanced points to be promoted despite his lack of competence.

Brechtel19804 Jul 2018 4:30 p.m. PST

Caribbean – no Wellington. Wins all round.
Italy/Sicily – Win.
Egypt – Win.
East coast of Spain – mostly Wins…. Fuengirola aside.
Africa- Victorious.
Ireland – the militia doesn't do well but the army wins.
USA- all American acts of aggression repulsed and paid back. Win the war.
India- victorious.
Walcheren – Beat the French. Lost to disease.
Gibbs in Holland/Germany- no defeats. Win at Merxam.
Nepal – Win.
1793-4 Low Countries – Duke of York won a few.
Only Bad Spots
1798-99 Low Countries. – not bad generalship.
Bergan Op Zoom- disaster.
South America- Whitelock was a bumbler.


The listing is just a little short.


-In the Caribbean in 1805 Missiessey had a successful campaign before returning to France.
-Flanders in 1793-1794 was a failure.
-Holland in 1799 was a failure.
-Spain and Italy in 1800 were failures.
-Naples and Hanover in 1805-1806 were failures.
-Buenos Aires was a failure.
-The Dardenelles and Egypt in 1806-1807 were failures.
-Spain and Sweden in 1808 were failures.
-Holland in 1809 was a failure.
-Eastern Spain was a failure against Suchet.
-Holland again in 1814 was a failure.
-The Niagara campaign in 1814 was a draw-with two defeats and a drawn battle.
-Plattsburg in 1814 was a failure.
-Baltimore in 1814 was a failure.
-Thames in 1813 was a failure.
-New Orleans in 1814-1815 was a failure.

Brechtel19804 Jul 2018 4:33 p.m. PST

Moreover, the British army of the era had an enviable record of consistent tactical success; its politicians often managed to lose campaigns and even wars, but its soldiers lost battles much less frequently.

Battles won by themselves with either no follow-up or failing to take advantage of a tactical victory end up as losing campaigns such as Eastern Spain and Naples. The same thing happened to the British in the Carolinas during the War of the American Revolution. General Greene never won a tactical victory, but strategically he drove the British back to Charleston and the protection of the Royal Navy. In short, he drove the British out of the Carolinas and won the campaign.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP04 Jul 2018 9:28 p.m. PST

Didn't the purchase of commissions stop at Lt Col?

Yep, but then, you didn't become a colonel without a commission of a lower rank… Look at Graham.

Cardigan didn't purchase the Light Brigade command. He purchased command of the 11th Hussars. How he got command of the Light Brugade had more to do with politics than purchase.

Cardigan couldn't purchase the command of the 11th Hussars. A lt. colonel could command a regiment in the field, but not as a full colonel. That was an appointment.

I would think each achieved his command based on perceived merit. How did Wellington get his army command? Merit. Perceived political merit.

It was the seniority system for generals… Wellington had to work with some real idiots for that reason. Wellington got his commands as much because of his older brother's rank and government positions as his own merit.

It is not clear whether Wellington would have risen as quickly as he did without purchasing up the ranks and having a politically well-positioned family member. Wellington gained a Lt. Colonel's rank before York stuck a military experience requirement on it in 1795.

Edwulf05 Jul 2018 3:50 a.m. PST

Sorry Kevin. I can't do the quote thing. Never in…. 13 years maybe or more have I ever got it to work.

Anyway. Your list is padded out…. you've turned the War of 1812 which they won without Wellington into 3 separate entries! So if my list is short yours is desperately trying to make something meaty out of bare bones.

War of 1812- WIN. Yanks defeated and all American invasions repulsed by Canadian militia and 2nd tier British units.

But let's look a little closer. Europe first. All battles without Nosey.
1793
1793 Famars WIN
1793 Valenciennes WIN
1793 Caesar's Camp WIN
1793 Lincelles WIN
1793 Rosendeal WIN (Austrian commander)
1793 Dunkirk LOST (failed seige)
1793 Lannoy WIN
1793 Niueport WIN
1793 Toulon LOST
1794
1794 Catillion WIN
1794 Willems WIN
1794 Baisaux WIN
1794 Courtray LOST
1794 Tourcoing LOST
1794 Tournay WIN
1794 Vry Bosh WIN
1794 Hooglade LOST
1794 Nijmegen LOST
1794 Tiel WIN
1798 Ostend LOST
1798 Castlebar LOST (all militia bar 1 company)
1798 Balinamauk WIN
1799 Naples WIN (mainly navy but since Royal Narines were landed)
1799 Groet Keeten WIN
1799 Zypher Sluis WIN
1799 Bergan LOST
1799 Egmond An Zee WIN
1799 Castricum WIN
1801 Aboukir WIN
1801 Lake Mareoutis WIN
1801 Alexandria WIN
1801 Cairo WIN
1801 seige of Alexandria WIN
1806 Maida WIN
1806 Monteleone WIN
1806 Reggio WIN
1806 Scilla WIN
1806 Cotrone WIN
1807 Kioge WIN
1807 Copenhagen WIN
1808 Rueda WIN
1808 Sahagun WIN
1808 Benevebte WIN
1809 Cacabellos WIN
1809 Lugo WIN
1809 Coruna WIN
1809 Veere Win
1809 Flushing WIN
1810 Santa Maura WIN
1810 Coa River WIN
1810 Sicily WIN
1810 Feungirola LOST
1810 Sobral WIN
1811 Barrossa WIN
1811 Pombal DRAW
1811 Casal Novo LOST
1811 Campo Mayor WIN
1811 Sabugal WIN
1811 Usagre WIN
1811 Elvas LOST
1811 Carpio WIN
1811 El Bodon WIN
1811 Aldea de Ponte LOST
1811 Arroyo dos Molinos WIN
1811 Fuente Del Marstre WIN
1811 Albuera WIN
1812 Tarifa WIN
1812 Villa Harcia WIN
1812 Almaraz WIN
1812 Maguila LOST
1812 Garcia Hernandez WIN
1812 Las Rosas DRAW
1812 Sevilla WIN
1812 Cadiz WIN
1812 Venta del Poza DRAW
1812 Tajuna WIN
1812 Alba de Tormes WIN
1812 Matilla WIN
1813 Castalla WIN
1813 Morales WIN
1813 Tarronga LOST (failed seige)
1813 Osma DRAW
1813 San Milan WIN
1813 Tolosa WIN
1813 Roncevalles WIN
1813 Maya WIN
1813 San Sebastián (first) LOST
1813 Yanzi WIN
1813 Echlar WIN
1813 Ordal LOST
1813 Ghorde WIN (Russian command)
1813 Trieste WIN
1813 Merxam WIN
1814 Garris WIN
1814 Aire sur Ladore – WIN
1814 Bergen Op Zoom – LOST
1814 Bayonne WON (the sortie)
1814 Bayonne LOST (the blockade)

Edwulf05 Jul 2018 3:52 a.m. PST

I make that 73 victories without Wellington, 20 Losses and 3 inconclusive battles in Europe/ Mediterranean …. suggesting the could win with out him.

4th Cuirassier05 Jul 2018 5:53 a.m. PST

Which is fascinating, but does it prove or does it undermine the initial hypothesis that, when commission purchase was a thing, the quality of officers – as expressed in tactical success – was actually better?

It's not at all clear to me that the British army's performance against quality opposition over the last 150 years has been demonstrably better than it was over the 150 before that. Nor, when the later all-meritocratic army did win, does it necessarily follow that this was because it was more meritocratic and hence better-led. Often, the more obvious explanation is that it had decisive superiority in something else, such as technology, or numbers, or artillery strength, or something. Unless one wants to argue that those advantages were themselves the products of meritocracy (which is tough to do given that rifles weren't invented by army officers), it's not really clear how the meritocratic army was objectively better.

An alternative hypothesis is that promotion by merit versus promotion by purchase were fundamentally just two iterations of the same thing, namely an innate aversion to change and an institutional desire to keep things the same.

That is, in the same way that those promoted at work tend to be the people who most closely resemble those who do the promoting, both the purchase and the merit approaches ensure that the people arriving in the officer corps would be much the same as those already there. This would be either those inclined to buy a commission, or those perceived as having merit by the criteria du jour, which may not actually recognise merit correctly.

If you look at pictures and photographs of late Victorian British army officers, it's immediately obvious that they had a lot more in common, and visibly so, than "merit". For one thing, they all had hipster beards avant la lettre (ACW same thing). Was it possible to be promoted on merit but without a hipster beard? I suspect not, because the stupid beard was all part of looking meritorious. Hence the late Victorian army was, in part at least, a pogonocracy.

An interesting essay on this is this one by Malcolm Gladwell
link
in which, in passing, he debunks the effectiveness of the US Navy's "meritocratic" star system, and argues that "The talent myth assumes that people make organizations smart. More often than not, it's the other way around."

Edwulf05 Jul 2018 5:57 a.m. PST

No that was more responding to the silly idea that they were worse with out Wellington.

42flanker05 Jul 2018 8:09 a.m. PST

I think it is a considerable leap from the abolition of the purchase system to saying that the British Army thereafter was a meritocratic. The officer corps continued to be recruited from the gentry and upper middle class, or its latter day equivalents. Only inconvenient aberrations such as world wars produced a deviation from that norm and the officers from more modest backgrounds were tolerated only for the 'duration.'

42flanker05 Jul 2018 9:16 a.m. PST

But let's look a little closer. Europe first. All battles without Nosey…1793…1793

To be fair we ought to accept that the British in the Low Countries 1793-94 were fighting as very much junior partner to the Austrians, although in the Duke of York's part of the field his men regularly fought with valour and considerable success against the French, often with numerically inferior forces. Many of the actions named now adorn the colours of the Guards and the descendants of the 14th 37th and 54th, not to mention numerous dragoon regiments.

York was conscientious and personally brave but as Fortescue wrote, "after allowance is made for the extreme difficulty of his position, the Duke did not shine in the field"
('British campaigns in Flanders' p.285).

However, the ultimate debacle in the Low Countries was not the result of bad British generalship, but was created by confused strategy and abysmal military planning in Whitehall, vacillation and duplicity in Vienna, and by inflexible Austrian generalship in Flanders.

Once the Austrians gave up on holding Flanders and Brabant, the British, by honouring their committment to defend the Netherlands were on a losing wicket. With their flank uncovered they had no option but to withdraw behind the Waal and wait for winter, manning an overextended line, outnumbered three to one, protecting an unpopular government, whose army did not want to fight and whose people did not want to be defended. During a cold, stormy autumn, the troops began to sicken, and then the rivers started to freeze. What Wellington would have done in a similar situation is an interesting question.

By the way you omitted from your list 'Boxtel, Sept 1794', where the saintly Abercromby did not exactly shine, allowing York to be bounced back across the Maas. Supposedly Wellington's first battle in command of troops (but possibly not).

And I do wish folk would not write "Tiel" for Tuil. Two different places 18km apart. They have been doing it for 200 years or more and it really is time they stopped. The dispatches are perfectly clear. Appropriate emoticon.

Brechtel19805 Jul 2018 10:18 a.m. PST

…War of 1812- WIN. Yanks defeated and all American invasions repulsed by Canadian militia and 2nd tier British units.

Nice try. The War of 1812 was a draw. You might want to take a look at what Wellington said about it. Further, few Canadian units were in combat. Canada was defended by British regulars and I don't agree that they were '2d tier' units.

And when some of 'Wellington's Invincibles' arrived, they didn't do too well, especially at New Orleans where they were shot down by the hundreds.


Even at Bladensburg the American militia inflicted more casualties than they incurred, and the same thing happened at North Point where General Ross was killed.


As for you listing, winning battles and then losing the campaign means that you lost. And that certainly happened not only in North America.


And regarding statistics, everyone should remember that there are statistics, then damned statistics, and then damned lies. :-)

42flanker05 Jul 2018 11:01 a.m. PST

'Wellington's Invincibles'

– do you have a reference for that?

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP05 Jul 2018 12:57 p.m. PST

I think that judging the effectiveness of the purchase system by the number of wins versus when it was abolished is sort of like judging the effectiveness of the US Draft army in WWII to the all volunteer army of Desert Storm and after today.

Too many things are different.

One is that the purchase system had been in place since the mercenary companies and proprietors of the 1500s. A second thing is that the British upper class leaders were supported by the NCOs, who did the real work of the army.
Another is that the British purchase system underwent a huge change during the twenty years of the Napoleonic wars. As I said, only 30% of the commissions were purchased, and if most of the generals had purchased their commissions before York's reforms and the serious need for more officers, over 100 of those general officers never saw action and weren't in command anywhere.

Another issue is that the British army after the American Revolution shrunk to 43,000 men total. Lots of officers left the service. It grew to nearly 8 times as large in a very short time.

attilathepun4705 Jul 2018 1:39 p.m. PST

I do not wish to hijack this thread, but I agree with Brechtel that the War of 1812 was essentially a draw. It is true that all American attempts to hold territory in Canada ultimately failed. But conversely all British attempts to invade the United States, with some minor exceptions, also failed. The capture of Washington, D.C. was merely a spectacular raid, and the British had no chance of holding territory in that quarter. Detroit and much surrounding territory was captured and held for over a year, but British forces were finally driven out, and then badly defeated on their own territory at the Battle of the Thames. The remote, but strategically important Michilimackinac Island was captured by surprise (before the U.S. garrison there knew they were at war) and held to the end of the war. The Royal Navy seized Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay and established a base there for its campaign of amphibious raids. And a considerable area of Maine was captured in 1814 and held until the end of the war, though of little strategic significance.

42flanker05 Jul 2018 3:33 p.m. PST

Was acquiring US territory a British war aim in 1812-14?

Edwulf05 Jul 2018 7:37 p.m. PST

You've tried that one before. No peninsula veterans lost "hundreds" at New Orleans. The heaviest casualties were all in the leading units…. the 21st, 93rd and 44th.

And most of the units on garrison in Canada were poor …. lax discipline and little experience.

Looking at British in the America's now… which is not as easy as Europe.

Tobago 1793 WIN
Cap Tiburon 1794 LOST
Martinique 1794 WIN
Fort L,Acul 1794 WIN
Invasion of Guadeloupe 1794 WIN
Defence of Guadeloupe 1794 LOST
Fort Bizoten 1794 WIN
2nd Maroon War Jamaica 1795 WIN
Carib Uprising St Vincent 1796-7 WIN
1796 Fedons Rebellion Grenada WIN
Trinidad 1797 WIN
Raid on Mexico 1797 WIN
San Juan 1797 LOST
St Bartolemew 1801 WIN
St Martin 1801 WIN
St Lucia 1803 WIN
Surinam 1804 WIN
Dominica 1805 WIN
Buenos Airies 1806 LOST
Maldonado 1806 WIN
Montevideo 1806 WIN
Buenos Airies 1807 LOST
Morne Brunau 1807 WIN
Surrirey 1807 WIN
Fort Royal 1807 WIN
The Saints 1807 WIN
Guadeloupe 1807 WIN
Fort Detroit 1812 WIN
Queenston Heights 1812 WIN
Frenchtown 1812 WIN
Ogdensburg 1813 WIN
York 1813 LOST
The Miami 1813 WIN
Fort Miegs 1813 LOST
Fort George 1813 LOST
Sackets Harbour 1813 LOST
Stoney Creek 1813 WON
Craney Island 1813 LOST
Hampton 1813 WON
Black Rock 1813 WON
Thames 1813 LOST
Chateguay 1813 WON
Chrysler's Farm 1813 WON
Fort Niagara 1813 WON
Lacolle Mills 1813 WON
Oswego 1814 WON
Chippewa 1814 LOST
Lundys Lane 1814 WON
Fort Eirie 1814 LOST
Bladensburg 1814 LOST
Penobscot Expedition 1814 WON
Plattsburg 1814 LOST
North Point 1814 WON
Villiries Plantation 1814 WON
Action outside New Orleans 1815 WON
New Orleans 1815 LOST
Fort Bowyer 1815 WON
Guadeloupe 1815 WON

Which I make 42 wins to 16 defeats. Granted I combined some small campaigns into one "battle" as they amounted to a series of skirmishes.

Lion in the Stars05 Jul 2018 7:39 p.m. PST

Was acquiring US territory a British war aim in 1812-14?

Unlikely.

From what was taken, it seems to be more 'strategically important points', things that controlled access to important targets.

I think just about any war that ends up as return to lands/status ante bellum counts as a draw. IIRC the only US War Aim that was achieved was the stopping of impressment at sea.

nsolomon9905 Jul 2018 8:36 p.m. PST

Guys, I think we're getting off the track again. This is not a pissing contest between the British army and the French Army. The question is about systems for selecting and promoting officers.

Yes, 4th Cuirassier cites some British army references but the actual question he poses is not nationality specific. It is however very time specific, he's posted it only to the Napoleonic Boards so discussion about the Seven Years War or the Age of Marlborough are not relevant since all the European armies used the same system during those timeframes.

The main armies fighting the French in the Napoleonic period spoke dialects of German or Russian (and a smattering of Hungarian), not English and so with the greatest respect to the British Army can I suggest we look at how the Austrian, Prussian and Russian armies, and their officers, fared against the French system?

What is our collective wisdom, what do we know about the officer selection and promotion methods in the Austrian, Prussian and Russian armies? And how successful were they vs the French system of promotion by merit (mixed with a dash of political influence and lobbying)?

Edwulf05 Jul 2018 11:21 p.m. PST

Asia
1793 Pondicherry WIN
1795 Ceylon WIN
1799 Seedaseer WIN
1799 Malavelly WIN
1799 Seringapatam WIN
1800 Arrakchera LOSS
1801 Panjalmoorchy WIN
1801 Coliarcoil WIN
1801 Ternakul Fort WIN
1803 Ahmedneghur WIN
1803 Allyghur WIN
Delhi 1803 WIN
1803 Barrabutti WIN
1803 Leswari WIN
1803 Senkadagala LOSS
1803 Makahali River LOSS
1803 Hanevella WIN
1804 Deig WIN
1804 Farakahabad WIN
1805 Bhurtpore LOSS
1806 Vellore WIN
1809 Quilon WIN
1809 Cochin WIN
1809 Killianore WIN
1809 Mallia WIN
1809 Ben Boo Alli WIN
1810 st Denis WIN
1810 Bourbon WIN
1810 Isle De France WIN
1811 Java WIN
1811 Jattee Allee WIN
1812 Kalinjar WIN
1814 Nahan WIN
1814 Fort Kalunga WIN
1814 Jaithak LOSS
1814 Nalapani WIN
1814 Jitgadh LOSS
1815 2nd Jitgadh WIN
1815 Hariharpur Gadhi WIN
1815 Kandy WIN.

attilathepun4705 Jul 2018 11:21 p.m. PST

@Lion in the Stars,

For the record, the British had no war aims to begin with, since they did not deliberately seek a war with the United States--they just blundered into it by a series of arrogant and short-sighted provocations over the course of many years. However, once war began, they did formulate a war aim of creating an Indian buffer state in the territory now known as the "Old Northwest," comprising the area west of Pennsylvania and north of the Ohio River. That would have involved the United States surrendering a vast area already recognized as U.S. territory, and including the entire state of Ohio. This goal was dropped as a negotiating point in the final peace agreement on the advice of the Duke of Wellington, who said the military situation in North America (in late 1814)did not justify making any territorial demands on the United States. So yes, the war ended in stalemate with no clear advantage to either side. However, the British never formally agreed to end impressment from American ships; it just became a moot point with the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Edwulf05 Jul 2018 11:39 p.m. PST

Nsolomon …. indeed it is not. The French army doesn't even factor into it. A rather simple and highly inaccurate statement was made. "The British didn't do so well away from Wellington". I'm simply showing that with out Wellington in command they still had a lopsided level of success.

149 victories with out him.

Regarding the war of 1812. Yes. US failed in its war aims. Britain succeeded in its main ones… defending its borders and not having its navy dictated too.

Regarding the OP.
Both systems have flaws … obviously purchase allows talented rich people to get ahead. But it also allows untalented/lazy/cowards with money to take positions they don't belong in.
Merit of course promotes talent… but it also promotes the untalented too. Plenty of mediocre officers got promoted for being brave in battle. Some above their natural level.
Both systems "worked" and both were exploited. I do feel that on balance though merit is better.

4th Cuirassier06 Jul 2018 2:06 a.m. PST

One of the arguments for hereditary monarchs making better heads of state is that they think on inter-generational scales and certainly beyond the 4- or 5-year elections cycle horizons that elected heads of state do.

The same can be said of army officers. If promotion is on "merit" however defined then you will get individuals pursuing promotion and personal glory by exhibiting merit, ahead of what is useful towards the overall goal. If it's based on your having a personal stake in an institution you may be less inclined to jeopardise it.

Examples of merit-incentivised misapplication of effort can easily be found from the bottom of armies to the top, eg German fighter pilots wanting huge personal scores and so ignoring squadron development and the right targets; Bernadotte persistently avoiding battle in 1806; Mark Clark capturing Rome in 1944; and so on.

These are all consequences of merit being interpreted in a certain way and of careerist individuals wanting to be seen to evidence merit. But to paraphrase Gladwell, if merit doesn't lead to better decisions, what use is it?

42flanker06 Jul 2018 2:51 a.m. PST

untalented/lazy/cowards with money

I don't think many of those made it to serve with their regiments and those who did, the lazy and the cowardly would not last long. The opportunists found a reason not to join their battalion and waited to sell their commission on and take their profit.

The untalented and the ticket punchers we shall always have with us.

sidley06 Jul 2018 4:20 a.m. PST

I believe that everybody has missed the point about the purchase system (now that's an opening sentence to rile the readers). The point of purchase was not to have an effective army but to have a stable state. The system commences in 1683 under Charles II. After the civil war, now that the king was back in power he had no intention of losing control again. The purchase system ensured that the army was under the control of those with a vested interest in the state. When Parliament passed the self denying ordnance and created the New Model Army, promotion was by merit and the army dominated the country. The rule of the major generals from 1655-1657 who imposed military rule and Puritan religious zeal left a bitter feeling to the army which was felt up to modern times. Even now we have a Royal Navy and Royal Airforce but not a Royal Army. So although in modern eyes merit seems a no brainier to the world of 200 years ago, it made no sense. Plus it was genuinely believed that better breeding made for a better man, and for Britain it worked. No revoluoutions even in the dark days of 1848, no military coup, no more civil wars. It also meant officers would have independent means of income so would be less likely to loot or indulge in profiteering. On retirement, by selling the commission, it provided a lump sum for your retirement. Finally it was a form of protection against gross negligence or incompetence as officers be cashiered, lose their rank without reimbursement.

Brechtel19806 Jul 2018 4:32 a.m. PST

149 victories with out him.

Now count campaigns, including the four that I listed for the War of 1812. Your count will change, and not in favor of the British.

And how many times in Spain and Portugal did Wellington have to withdraw because of either being outmaneuvered or defeated, such as at Burgos?

Edwulf06 Jul 2018 5:42 a.m. PST

Let's see. But rather Deleted by Moderator put it with the victories.

Victories
War of 1812
1798 Irish Rebellion
Ghurka War 1814-15
2nd Kandy War
Denmark
3rd Mysore War
West Indies Campaign 1794-6
Carib and Maroon Rebellions.
Ceylon Campaign
4th Anglo Mysore Campaign.
Egypt 1801
2nd Anglo Marahata War
West Indies Campaign 1804-10
Scicilan Campaign 1806
Cape of Good Hope Campaign
Peninsular War
Mauritius Campaign 1809-11
Java Campaign 1811
Hundred Days Campaign …
Which makes 19, 3 of which the Duke was the only main commander

Losses or Failures.
River Plate Campaign
1807 Egypt Campaign
Walcheren 1809 (disease- won all battles)
1793 Flanders campaign (with the Austrians)
1799 Flanders campaign (With the Russians)
1796 Haiti campaign.
1st Kandy War.

…. 7 of which 1 was brought down by disease.

So not radically different.

Edwulf06 Jul 2018 6:00 a.m. PST

Sidley.

Fine points. But… purchase was not the only way to gain rank. It was one way. You could also gain rank through merit or raising a certain number of recruits. So while the theory/origin of the system might be sound it was no longer the case by the 1790s I think.

While it COULD provide a nice little lump some for retirement, it probably wouldn't last long unless it was a very high ranking commission. Also I'm not sure how effective it was at protecting against idiots, negliegience, lethargy or cowardice as their seems to have been a fair few of them… and cashiering does not seem to have been the preferred punishment for stupidity …. maybe pressured into selling, but cashiering seems to have been reserved for traitors, generals who embarrassed the nation, the odd criminals or total cowards.

Consider Erskine …. he blundered about for 3? 4? years and was only cashiered after officially being declared insane DESPITE everyone knowing him to be a mad man. If anything I'd say purchase made it harder to move/fire these types as if they were sacked all the time people wouldn't buy them (risky investment)…

42flanker06 Jul 2018 7:10 a.m. PST

Erskine, poor fellow, was a general officer so his rank did not depend on his holding a commission, which would have been sold, but probably more on the fact that his late father, the wholly estimable Sir William Erskine, had been a friend of the Duke of York.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP06 Jul 2018 7:45 a.m. PST

Erskine, poor fellow, was a general officer so his rank did not depend on his holding a commission, which would have been sold, but probably more on the fact that his late father, the wholly estimable Sir William Erskine, had been a friend of the Duke of York.

It did depend on his holding a commission. First, he couldn't be a general if he didn't have a commission to some regiment, and second, whether he could be a general at all depended on army seniority. You weren't going to be a general if there was someone in line with more seniority if a general position 'opened up.' After the rank of Lt. Colonel, promotion was by seniority.

That is why Wellington had little say in who were appointed general officers to his army. Of the 85 general officers who served with him major general and above, only eight were specific requests by him…and that he got:

Beresford, Hill, Picton, Craufurd, Graham, Houston, Leith and Nightingall.

As the war progressed, seniority was a real obstacle that was manipulated to get the 'right' people promoted.

There was no limit on how many could be promoted to general. There were over two hundred when Wellington became a Field Marshall, down considerably from the start of the war when the average age for those generals was 65. [ Wellington leap-frogged over 140 generals to become a Field Marshal.]

Because of seniority, in 1811 three major generals became Lt. Generals without having seen any service since the AWI.

When General Sir Willam Erskine was appointed to Wellington's army by Colonel Torrens, Wellington complained as he did with a number of generals he was saddled with. In Erskine's case, Wellington had heard that he was mad. Torrens replied:

No doubt he is sometimes a little mad, but in his lucid intervals he is an uncommonly clever fellow; I trust he will have no fit during campaign, though he looked a little wild as he embarked.

It is no wonder that Wellington wrote: "Really, when I reflect upon the character and attainments of some of the General officers of this army, I tremble.".

In 1813, 81 colonels were promoted to major general in order that the 82nd in seniority could be appointed to a major-general's command in the field. In 1814, 91 Lt. Generals and Major Generals were promoted to the next rank, so that Major General Charles Stewart could be advanced to Lt. general.

The saving grace of this silly system was that there was no limit to the number of generals the army could have and that there was no requirement to employ them. Most were not. However, if there was a need in the Peninsular army for a major-general, if a man of that rank wanted a command and had seniority, he got to go regardless of merit. Hence the likes of Erskine.

Many times, Wellington would plead with his officers, such as Craufurd and Marchant, not to go home on leave because Torrens would send a replacement and Wellington couldn't promise that the position would be available when they returned. In Marchant's case, even though his wife had died, leaving eight children without a mother, Marchant agreed to not take personal leave and stay. He died at Salamanca without ever going home.

42flanker06 Jul 2018 8:13 a.m. PST

The highest rank one might attain through the commission system was that of lieutenant colonel and the trade in commissions, as with all ranks junior to that, was controlled regimentally via the Colonel of the regiment with the King's approval. While Lieutenant Colonels could serve as local Major Generals, they would each still be a substantive Lieutenant Colonel in the XXth Mudshires, even if they never served with the regiment again.

To rise beyond the rank of Lieutenant Colonel a man had to sell his commission to the incoming holder of that rank in that regiment. After that he advanced onto the staff list where one had no regimental affiliation per se. One did not become a Colonel by purchase but by appointment where promotion was indeed by seniority and that was true of the senior ranks above. It frequently happened on a given date when, for instance, a batch of contemporaries would all be gazetted as Major General on the same day.

The appointment to the Colonelcy of a regiment was of course a different matter. It was a effectively the granting of a franchise with a financial value and was a way of providing senior officers with some income since they received no pay after Lieutenant Colonel- not that official pay was sufficient to meet the costs of being an officer. Mark Urban's 'Rifles' illustrates well the hardships faced by officers whose did not have the advantage of a private source of income, even in a fighting regiment.

attilathepun4706 Jul 2018 10:26 a.m. PST

I think nsolomon99 made a good point that everyone is ignoring the major Continental powers apart from France. Frankly, I simply do not know anything about the promotion systems in Prussia, Russia, or Austria. I'm sure the officer corps of each was dominated by nobles, but exactly how they obtained commissions and then advanced through the grades is the real question. There must be some TMP members who know about this, so let's hear from you.

42flanker06 Jul 2018 10:50 a.m. PST

To be fair, 4th Cuirassier's OP did relate to:

"the purchase of commissions producing, in the British army, officers no worse – and in the case of general officers, arguably better – than through the later practice of promotion on merit."

Brechtel19806 Jul 2018 12:07 p.m. PST

This is a much more realistic listing. Too many of those you listed were outside of the Napoleonic perspective, and had no effect on the major conflict in Europe. Padding the list doesn't help with any common sense analysis.

And the War of 1812 because of the winning campaigns by the Americans during 1814 as previously listed.

Successes:

1798 Irish Rebellion
Denmark
West Indies Campaign 1794-6
Egypt 1801
West Indies Campaign 1804-10
Cape of Good Hope Campaign
Peninsular War
Mauritius Campaign 1809-11
Hundred Days Campaign.

Losses or Failures:

River Plate Campaign
1807 Egypt Campaign
Walcheren 1809 (disease- won all battles)
1793 Flanders campaign (with the Austrians)
1799 Flanders campaign (With the Russians)
1796 Haiti campaign.
-Spain and Italy in 1800 were failures.
-Naples and Hanover in 1805-1806 were failures.
-The Dardenelles and Egypt in 1806-1807 were failures.
-Spain and Sweden in 1808 were failures.
-Eastern Spain was a failure against Suchet.
-Holland again in 1814 was a failure.

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