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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

Fencibles and their role?

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Re: Fencibles and their role?

Postby jf42 » October 24th, 2013, 9:08 am

The officers of the Fencible Regiments are listed here
List of the officers of the several regiments and corps of fencible cavalry of 1797

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=R_EN ... &q&f=false
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Re: Fencibles and their role?

Postby pelican » October 25th, 2013, 3:26 pm

Many thanks for the link to that Army List jf42 ,I am researching a couple of these units in preparation for publishing a book on this very subject.
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Re: Fencibles and their role?

Postby jf42 » October 25th, 2013, 8:20 pm

Glad to be of help. One of my forbears returned to the colours as a Fife Fencible.
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Re: Fencibles and their role?

Postby terry1956 » October 25th, 2013, 9:09 pm

The 69th foot was a line regiment.the second battalion was not made up of members of any home bound units.even in times of need only 1 man in 10 could be called up into service outside of the uk.the reason for line regiments having to send 2nd battalion's to waterloo was mainly due to the american war, the disbanding of many of the infantry battalions in 1814. The short notice at which the 100 campaign started forced the british army to send what ever they had to hand.it took a royal degree to take men from the home defence regiments to serve overseas.there just was not time in 1815 to do this.michael
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Re: Fencibles and their role?

Postby BingandNelsonFan » March 17th, 2014, 11:03 pm

Hi! I was so thrilled to see a post about fencibles, as I have only just heard of them. I have been researching a gentleman who was an M.P., and I have just found a reference to him being commissioned as a Major in the Cornwall Regiment Fencibles on 14 Apr 1795. His name was Edward James Eliot. He was a Commisioner of the Board of Control, King's Remembrancer of the Exchequer, a Lord of the Treasury and M.P. for Liskeard. By 1795 he was already suffering from a stomach ailment, and he died at the age of 39 in 1797. A letter from a friend is surprised to hear that he had joined the fencibles.

So, my question is . . . would he have had to "drill" or report for some kind of duty? Would he have been admitted from the start as a Major, or am I missing an earlier commission? Would he have had to have a fighting or fencing skill in order to join?

Thanks so much!
Regards,
Sarah
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Re: Fencibles and their role?

Postby jf42 » March 18th, 2014, 3:09 pm

Sarah, if you click on the link I posted earlier in this thread and scroll down to page 10 you will find the list of officers for the Cornwall Regiment of Fencible cavalry where 'Hon Edw. James Eliot' is listed as Major in the Regiment.

Fencible Regiments were raised as an emergency measure after the outbreak of war with France in 1793. Unlike militia and volunteer corps, Fencible regiments were intended to function as regular army regiments; trained, equipped and disciplined as regulars, but only to serve within the borders of the kingdom and for the duration of the war. Their primary role was national defence and to deter social unrest, thereby freeing the regular regiments of the line for service abroad.

However, since Fencibles were raised and recruited on a county basis by local worthies and officered by their friends and neighbours, there could at times be something of the patriotic gentleman's club about these regiments. Some Fencibles nonetheless became efficient units and saw action in the Irish rebellion of 1798, having volunteered to serve 'abroad'.

As far as martial skills were concerned, all that might have been required of Edward James Eliot in the Fencible Cavalry was that he could sit a horse well. All gentlemen could ride and most would have had some fencing lessons. Recruited from local volunteers, most Fencibles, officers and men alike were expected to learn their soldiering on the job, aided by former soldiers returning to the colours.

Given that Eliot was both from a prominent local family and a distinguished politician at the national level, his appointment as Major might be seen as simply as an honorary post, intended to add to the kudos of the Cornwall Fencibles and perhaps to help recruiting.

However, on paper the Major, (there was only one per regiment in those days) had an important role to play in the training and discipline of the regiment. He was effectively what today is called the Executive Officer in US terms, so the appointment of a man without military experience, who had responsibilities elsewhere and was already in bad health is, on the face of it, surprising. A more experienced junior officer was presumably assigned carried out his daily duties.

How much time Eliot spent at the family home at St German between 1794 and his death there in 1797, you may know better than I. Perhaps, he had been prescribed a change of air and a period of camp life with the Fencibles- not very onerous for a Fencible officer a short ride from his stately family seat- was intended to be good for his health. If so, unfortunately for him, it didn't do the trick. As and when the Cornwall Fencible Cavalry marched to take up a station elsewhere in the country, Eliot presumably didn't accompany them

My 4x great-grandfather, rejoined the colours in 1794 as an officer in the Fife Fencible Cavalry. Although an infantry captain on half pay following seven years service in the American War of Independence, he was commissioned as a Cornet, the lowest commissioned rank in the cavalry ( When 17 he had run away to join the 15th Light Dragoons but was soon sent home). Men of a higher social position filled more senior ranks. An experienced staff officer, he served as Regimental Adjutant and Paymaster and was speedily promoted until as captain he was given his own troop in 1797.

However, like Eliot he had health problems, possibly malaria contracted in America, and was posted on sick leave for much of 1798 before he died in June 1799. He was at home in Scotland although still technically in command of his troop in Essex.

A man similar to my ancestor, of modest origins but with greater experience, may have enabled Eliot to hold the rank of Major in the Cornwall Fencibles while absent or incapacitated. There was a dissolute Baronet in the Fifeshire Fencibles who also needed to be 'carried' by his brother officers. He too died on service in 1799 and was buried in the churchyard of the Kentish village where the Fifeshire Regiment were on invasion watch.
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Re: Fencibles and their role?

Postby BingandNelsonFan » March 19th, 2014, 2:15 pm

jf42: I am blown away by all that fabulous info. Wow! After sitting here reading your post, I have been trying to find what else mentions EJ Eliot in the Cornwall Fencible Cavalry. Not much seems to be there, but it appears (according to a Peerage and some political lists) that he joined as Captain of the Fencibles in 1794, so he must have been promoted to Major the next year. He had resigned as a Lord of the Treasury in 1793, so maybe he did have some time at home to participate in the Fencibles.

When Eliot died in 1797 his friends were a bit surprised, because they had all heard that he was feeling better and had joined the Fencibles. One letter states that "he had entered from motives of patriotism, and greatly against the grain so far as comfort went." I do know that he rode, but the idea of fencing is fun! I had never thought of that! Interestingly, a few years later, Eliot's younger brother would be a Captain in the same regiment. Another younger brother was a Lieutenant in 1793. Sadly, the matching list of officers (to the book you posted above) that was published in 1795 has no officers listed in the Cornwall Regiment --- save for the Colonel.

My sister and I have been talking through all of this, and we're wondering if these fencibles would have worn a uniform?

You mention the "period of camp life". How often would the Fencibles have been had those periods? Would they have "drilled", or whatever is the correct term, on a weekly basis?

I enjoyed hearing about your grandfather and his service in the Fencibles! As far as his service in the Revolution, well, I suppose I'll have to forgive him that. Fighting on American soil . . . we have a different view of "redcoats" in that war, over here. ;) It is too bad that he may have gotten malaria from our beautiful shores. That must be because he did not make it to the beautiful air in Ohio! :)

Thanks again for all of this info. You've given me a lot to think about.
Regards,
Sarah
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Re: Fencibles and their role?

Postby jf42 » March 19th, 2014, 10:06 pm

Sarah, to answer your questions regarding the Cornwall Fencible cavalry's time in camp, when the Regiment was raised, the purpose was to supply within three months a light cavalry unit "fit for active and immediate duty", drilled and trained as regular troops under standard military discipline. In theory, once men had enlisted their movements would have been strictly controlled with harsh penalties for absence without leave or desertion. There were sorry incidents of Fencibles who questioned their terms of service and, having got caught up in violent protest, were then court-martialled for mutiny and shot. Certainly, when the Regiment marched to whatever part of the kingdom it was sent, officers and men were on active service. This was wartime.

Of course, for officers matters were rather freer but nonetheless, leave of absence from their duties with the Regiment had to be requested from the Commanding Officer. The reality was that an officer had considerable freedom of movement and, as I mentioned earlier, in a Fencible Regiment composed of local men and mustering in the home district (I assume this was the case with the Cornwall Fencible Cavalry) there may have been quite lot of to-ing and fro-ing.

Moreover, an encampment of young men in smart new cavalry uniforms would have been the focus of much local excitement. If you are a reader of Jane Austen, it is generally assumed that the young officers who caused such a stir in the Bennet family in 'Pride and Prejudice'- Messrs Wickham et al, were from a Fencible Regiment that arrived to join a grand encampment on the South Coast in 1798, IIRC.

As for uniforms, the Fencible Cavalry were kitted out as Light Dragoons (as light cavalry of the day was known) but wore red coats to differentiate them from the regulars who wore blue. Their uniform consisted of a short red jacket and waistcoat, with white buckskin breeches and light boots, all topped off by a smart, leather 'helmet-cap' with a bearskin crest (this is sometimes referred to as a 'Tarleton' cap). It appears that some Fencible Cavalry kitted themselves out in blue, perhaps to prove they were as good as the Regulars, and had to be ordered to comply with regulations. Fencible Cavalry that agreed to serve in Ireland during the 1798 rebellion were granted the privilege of wearing blue uniforms in recognition of their service.

First Fencibles ca 1794 copy.jpg
First Fencibles ca 1794 copy.jpg (125.27 KiB) Viewed 724 times


Yeomanry 'Tarleton'.png
Yeomanry 'Tarleton'.png (435.08 KiB) Viewed 724 times


Thank you for being so understanding of my ancestor's presence bearing arms in American soil (although, of course at that date it was- well, never mind). Actually I don't think he did much bearing of arms of any kind. He spent most of his time as a Quartermaster or on the Staff. He did make it as far west as the city of Brotherly Love, not that there was a lot of that commodity in Philadelphia in the winter of 1777-78. However, if he did die of malaria, he is more likely to have met the pesky 'skeeter that did for him in Charleston, SCA- which I gather is delightful, if humid.
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Re: Fencibles and their role?

Postby BingandNelsonFan » March 21st, 2014, 12:52 pm

Hello, again! Wow! My sister and I talked about this all last evening. Absolutely, we are great fans of Pride & Prejudice, so a description of Wickham et al was perfect. I'm just glad that Eliot is of a better character. ;) The engraving of the uniform (and the photo of the hat) are most inspiring. My sister and I are contemplating making a miniature wool doll in this uniform!

If I am not too much of a pest, here is another question. What kind of salary or remuneration was received as a Fencible? Were the men entitled to be called by the rank only while they were actively serving in the Fencible regiment, or were they entitled to a rank like the military. Does that make any sense?? :?

And . . . on the note of your ancestor being a quartermaster, how fun! My sister is in the middle of researching our great-uncle who was in the quartermaster corps in Germany (as part of the occupying force after WWII). As to South Carolina, it is delightful. But it is super humid! We went there once when we were little, and I can still remember how hot it was!

Regards,
Sarah
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Re: Fencibles and their role?

Postby jf42 » March 21st, 2014, 7:38 pm

Sarah, in brief answer to your last question, the terms of service of Fencible regiments only differed from Regular military units in that their men had enlisted for the duration of the war with France rather than for life, could not be sent to serve outside Great Britain and could not be drafted to other regiments without their agreement. They were uniformed and equipped similarly to the line regiments and paid at the same rates and like the line soldier the Fencible received an enlistment bounty, which for Fencibles was three guineas (a guinea was worth 21 shillings or just over one pound sterling).

Fencible officers received the King's Commission but this was not open to purchase or sale like a Regular officer's commission. and unlike Regular officers, when Fencibles resigned their commissions, with rare exceptions they were not eligible to take the pension known as 'half-pay.'

I couldn't say for sure but I don't see why Fencible officers would not have retained their ranks as a courtesy title at the end of their service. Other members may be able provide more informed comment.

I hope that helps.
Last edited by jf42 on November 25th, 2015, 11:08 am, edited 2 times in total.
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