Lieutenant-Colonel Norcott and The Equipment of the Regiment, 1816
By Ben Townsend
In July 1816, just over a year after Waterloo, Colonel Amos Norcott of the newly re-named Rifle Brigade submitted a memorandum to Horse Guards containing his views on the equipment of the 95th Rifles over the war years, and suggesting some improvements to be made. The Adjutant General forwarded this memo to Colonel Sir AF Barnard of the Rifle Brigade for consideration and comments. Neither the original memo or Barnard’s response has yet been found, but a typewritten copy taken from Barnard’s papers was made for the use of the Rifle Brigade in the 1930s. Two versions of this typewritten copy still exist in theWinchester museum of the Rifles. The first, slightly abridged version was reproduced in the 1933 Rifle Brigade Chronicle and has been available there ever since, although very little of its information has been properly used by historians. The longer version contains more minute detail on equipment that might have been thought of little interest to non-specialists, but is of paramount interest to us. It also contains several snippets of information that were left out in the 1930s as being perhaps detrimental to the traditions of the Regiment, but which I believe are not so.
It would appear that Horse Guards did not action Norcott’s suggested changes, as the usual post-war economies were already in progress, and the reduction of the establishment meant that new issues of equipment were unlikely, however well-considered they might be. DeWitt Bailey provides evidence that the Rifles were still asking for the re-introduction of the flask in the 1820s 1.The primary interest of this document today lies in the record of what equipment and accoutrements the 95th Rifles used in the Peninsula and how they used it. As we will see, Norcott’s observations, borne of experience, are sometimes at odds with the cherished portrayal of the 95th Rifleman. The misapprehension that the horn magazine was used to load with when using loose ball is demolished, in fact he makes it clear that the Rifles ceased to carry the horn following the Campaign of Sir John Moore in Spain of 1809. Norcott also disproves the myth of the first British Infantry Rifle as some kind of super weapon, recording instead, that as used post 1809 with cartridge rather than loose patched ball, it was actually inferior to Brown Bess.
Description of Norcott’s service2.
In 1816 Lieutenant-Colonel Norcott, the future Major-General Norcott, was already looking back on a distinguished service career. He had served with the 33rd Foot in the Low Countries, 1794-5, the capture of the Dutch fleet at Saldanha Bay, Expedition to Manila, 1797, and transferred to the Rifle Corps in 1802, serving with them at Buenos Ayres, 1807, Sweden, 1809, and the Corunna Campaign, the Walcheren Expedition, Peninsula and Waterloo.
Norcott was in an excellent position to comment on the equipment of the regiment, having served as Brigade-Major to Major-General Ramsey virtually since its inception. He led the assault on Buenos Ayres on July 5th 1807, commanding the advance guard of General Craufurd’s column of attack and was made prisoner with Craufurd. He returned to England in 1808, and sailed with the force under Sir John Moore, serving throughout that campaign and at the Battle of Corunna. He commanded part of the 95th in the expedition to the Schedlt, and served during the siege of Flushing in 1809. In 1810 he received the brevet of Lt-Colonel. He embarked with the remnants of the 2nd Battalion for Cadiz in 1810 and remained there ‘til the siege was raised in 1812, commanding part of the Rifles in the battle of Barrosa, before re-joining the reconstituted other elements of the 2/95th with Wellington’s army at Madrid. He commanded the 2/95th through all the operations on the Nive and before Bayonne in 1813. He was seriously wounded at Tarbes in March, 1814, but rejoined the Regiment near Toulouse two months later. He commanded the 2/95th at Waterloo where he was carried from the field badly wounded, but again re-joined swiftly in September and continued in command of the 95th until the army evacuated Paris in November 1815. It should be noted that according to Colonel Smith, brother of Sir Harry Smith, the 2/95th held the place of honour leading the army intoParis for the occupation of 1815.
As can be seen, Norcott was with the Regiment from its formation and was on active service with the 95th throughout the ensuing campaigns of the Napoleonic period. His information can be expected to be accurate. Where he describes alterations or exceptions to kit he states clearly whether these were adopted at Company, Battalion or Regimental level.
Norcott and the Powder Horn.
Norcott describes the horn used upon the establishment of the Corps, for a complete description, see the transcription at the end of this article. He describes the method of discharge (by spring), and the size of the horns (fifty to sixty rounds). He notes that the Sergeants were equipped with smaller horns and pouches than the men.
Norcott makes it clear that the powder horn was a magazine and that it was not intended for the men to load from the horn, but from the flask. The horn was used to replenish the flask as necessary. There was presumably no separate measuring cup as is sometimes postulated. More likely it had no measure fitted to it as Norcott does not describe any separate charge measuring device and the purpose of the horn does not appear to require it. In 1809 the 5/60th, another Rifle armed unit, were complaining to Horse Guards that their horns were useless, “having no measure fitted to them” 3.
Powder chargers were issued as part of the box implements equipment with the musket bore Infantry Rifles from 1810, according to DeWitt Bailey4. Since these rifles went to militia or volunteer units and not the 95th in thePeninsula, where it appears the carbine bore was preferred, we need not consider them here.
It appears that the 5/60th was still using the powder horn to load with at this time. In June 1809, after the 95th Rifles had stopped carrying the powder horn altogether, they were asking Horse guards for, “Powder-flasks of same description as those in possession of the 95th regiment” 5.
Norcott goes on to say that the powder horn proved a liability on active service, and that following the campaign in Spain under Sir John Moore, “it was found advisable to discontinue their use”. He regrets the decision to adopt solely cartridge as opposed to using mainly the horn, but he repeatedly urges the re-introduction of the horn, making it clear than up until the point he is writing (1816), the horn has not been re-introduced. Pointedly he remarks that an Infantry Rifle using cartridge is less effective than an ordinary musket, a statement that goes some way towards re-assessing the ‘super weapon’ status of the ‘Baker’ rifle.
When suggesting the horn be again adopted, he relates some alterations made to the horn by the, “greater part of the second battalion’ in 1808-09. Apparently the all too commonly failing mouthpiece and spring were replaced with a cork on a piece of waxed string, and the entirety was closely clad in leather.
Supporting evidence for the lack of a horn post-1809 comes from accoutrement returns that indicate the flask was retained where possible, but, unlike in the earlier returns, the horn makes no appearance. An inspection return of 8th April 1806 for the 2/95th at Hailsham6 shows 820 rifles with:
Pouches and belts
Lock caps (804)
Powder horns (691)
Powder flasks (880)
Tin and wood boxes (819)
Ball bags (825)
Bullet moulds (882)
From 1807 a printed return form is used for Arms and Accoutrements throughout the army, and no provision is made for listing the special accoutrements of the Rifle regiments; although a few handwritten reports7 from the field exist in which the powder horn is conspicuous by its absence eg.
Alameda 3 Feb 1813, 1/95th:
643 rifles, Powder flasks 239 good, 99 bad, 104 wanting.
Ospeya, 6 Feb, 1813 3/95th:
382 rifles, Powder Flasks 191 good, 15 bad, 176 wanting; lock covers 305.
Further corroboration can be found in 95th memoirs. Compare for example the account by William Green on the Corunna retreat, (1808-9) “But we then had enough to carry; fifty round of ball cartridge; thirty loose balls in our waist belt; and a flask, and a horn of powder; and rifle, and sword; the two weighing 14 pounds” 8, with that of Edward Costello who describes the regulation `heavy marching order` kit carried by Riflemen at the time of the forced march on Talavera (1809). I expect everyone is familiar with this list that appears in every secondary source history of the rifles. He describes all accoutrements and impedimenta, viz: ball-bag, cartridge pouch and powder flask, but not a powder horn9.
Indeed, the in-utility of these horns was not a new phenomenon, in Don Troiani's Soldiers in America 1754-1865, Stackpole 1998, he notes that, `The horn was frequently left in store during the Revolutionary War by seasoned light troops, being viewed as an inconvenience, and its issue was rescinded in 1784."10
Norcott and the Powder Flask.
At some point between the inception of the Corps and 1803, when it appears on returns, the Riflemen started to carry a small copper flask for the purpose of loading. The first inspection return for the Rifle Corps11 so far located (Shorncliffe, 23rd Dec. 1803) describes the accoutrements then held by rank and file as:
Pouches and belts
Lock caps (340)
Powder horns (336)
Powder flasks (329)
Ball bags (330)
Norcott describes the flask and notes that it held 30 rounds. In the letter of the 5/60th mentioned above, they say 40 rounds. It was carried in “ a pocket made on the left breast of the jacket, or “in the breast”. He suggests that if the Rifle were ever to adopt the powder horn for use again, “the copper flask is absolutely necessary for the Soldier to load with”. He then suggests various improvements to be made to the flask and the method of carrying it, noting that the companies under his command at Cadiz (two composite companies of the 2/95th being all those fit for service post-Walcheren) 12 were equipped with a leather carrying case similar to the ball bag and carried on the left side of the bayonet belt. These were issued and paid for at company level. He recommends them and we can infer from his remarks that these companies continued to wear them after Cadiz.
The flask may have been covered in leather like those issued to the Percy Tenantry, or in uncovered copper, as seen in the British Army’s Warminster Small Arms Collection.
It appears from the accoutrement returns reproduced above, that, where it was serviceable, the copper flask was retained after the magazine horn was discarded. As late as 1820, flasks were being ordered for Tower stores, presumably for militia13. This may have been owing to its usefulness for renewing priming after a flash in the pan. It is occasionally stated that the flask was a vehicle for priming powder, however priming powder as a separate form of powder for infantry in the early C19th did not exist. The common use of priming horns and finer granulations of powder for priming were developments of the mid to late 19th century. 14
Norcott on Cartridge pouches.
Norcott records two types of cartridge pouch successively used by the 95th Rifles. The first carried twelve cartridges in a wooden frame, “for use on the outposts at night, in the event of attack in dark, or bad weather”, and a tin compartment in two parts to carry loose ball in greased rags- presumably about 30 balls to supplement the thirty in the ball bag, the intention being to use the pouch as a magazine and the ball bag for expenditure The spare flints, and tools were carried, “in a small leather bag with a running string” attached to the body of the pouch. Norcott comments that this pouch is well adapted for the (discontinued) practice of loading from loose powder and ball.
The second pouch, “presently in use” when he writes (1816) is similar but inferior, holding a mere fifty-two rounds of cartridge which he considers too little. In suggesting improvements he makes some interesting critical remarks on the packages in which cartridge was dispensed, and the manner in which these packages were accessed by the Rifle Men,
“when cartridges are made up, and placed in packages, as now done, much time is lost, and ammunition wasted, for when the Soldier goes into action, he has to take one of these parcels out of his Pouch, unfasten it, and then replace the Cartridges from whence he took it; it generally occurs afterwards when they are all together in this manner, that he pulls out two or three at a time in place of one when going to load; and this is often done without his knowing it; even if he did, they would not be pick’d up. I have frequently seen the men after untying the parcels of ammunition, place them on the ground, in order to have them more at hand than when in the pouch, and I have as often seen them obliged to quit their station, and in so doing the ammunition has been lost”.
Norcott on Ball bags.
Norcott describes the Ball bag and recommends no changes. His description tallies with those preserved at Alnwick castle and described as being issued to the Percy Tenantry Rifle volunteers. Two reproductions of the Ball bag described by Norcott are shown below, one by the noted accoutrementist Sean Phillips and one by Paul Durrant of the 2/95th re-enactment group.
Norcott on the Sword Bayonet.
Norcott notes that the bayonet, “has been lately substituted to fix on the Rifle in place of the Sword” (for the Waterloo campaign where some elements of the 95th carried both, although presumably not the two companies of the 3/95th who were ragged not having had a kit re-issue for two years according to Thomas Knight) 15. He suggests it be abolished as surplus to requirements, and cumbersome. Norcott and the men under him appear to consider the sword more a camp implement than a weapon, and inferior for that purpose to the felling axes carried by the 95th, “in preference to either sword or bill-hook”.
Norcott on Lock Covers.
Two lock covers are mentioned, but only loosely described. The ‘Green book’ or Regulations of the Rifle Corps, Egerton, 1801 mentions lock caps several times with no more information, for instance,
Part 1, article 10
Lists of arms and appointments of the Rifle Man.
" His arms will be, Rifle, sword, accoutrements including rifle-sling, picker, turnkey, worm-screw, lock-cap, muzzle-stopper, and oiled rag". 16
And, hinting at the method of attachment,
Part One, Article 50
".. his rifle to be fixed in the stand, barrel outwards, cock let down, and lock cap always on, loosely tied”. 17
Norcott says that the new issue lock cap is inferior to the old, and is perhaps referring to this innovation, from a General order to the army dated Quinta, 11 June 1811,
"The C-in-C having sent to this country a new invented cover for musket and rifle locks, of which he has directed the experiment might be tried by the troops in this country, ten of them will be delivered to each of the following regiments upon application to the comissary general; and the adjutant General will send to those regiments a paper describing the mode in which the soldier will be able to prime and fire his musket when it may be desirable to keep the lock covered from the weather.
List of Regiments: Coldstream Guards, 3rd Guards, 92d, 95th for rifles, 43d, 45th 40th, 61st, Chasseurs Britannique". 18
And again from The Times, 18 October 1811 (as quoted in 'In Times gone by', The Adjutant, Oct 2007)
"A musket-lock cover has been invented by an Officer of the Royal Marines, which affords a complete preservation of the priming for many hours under the heaviest rain: and possesses other advantages superior to any contrivance of the kind hitherto adopted. It has met with the approbation of all the Officers who have seen it tried, and 4000 are now preparing, at the expense of the Government, to be sent out to Portugal, for the use of the light troops of Lord Wellington's army".19
The lock covers may have resembled one pictured on the ground in front of a Rifleman in the frontispiece of Scloppetaria, 20
Which is similar to this example,
"A leather boot (with bottom ties) to protect the lock from bad weather".21 Collection of William H. Guthman
Colonel Norcott left an invaluable record of some of the accoutrements and methods of Riflemen of the 95th. His detailed information, sometimes pedantically thorough, sometimes leaving tantalising gaps, sheds much needed light on these heroes of the immortal Light Division, and if his remarks on Ezekiel Baker’s Rifle show that this excellent weapon was partially disabled by the exigencies of the service; then this shows only to highlight more clearly that the exploits of the men of the 95th were due to their training at the hands of McKenzie and his ilk, and to the splendid spirit of the Officers and men themselves.
Thank you especially to Christine Pullen and Major Gray of the Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum, without whose assistance and vigilance none of this article would have been possible, and to the members of the 2nd Bn. 95th who had a hand in clarifying various points to me, and whose excellent reproductions continue to inspire.
1 p.148 British Military Flintlock Rifles 1740-1840, De Witt Bailey, Andrew Mowbray, 2002
2 pp. 82-85 Rifle Brigade Chronicle 1892. Further information from Rifle Green in the Peninsula, vol 1,Caldwelland Cooper, Bugle Horn Publications, 1998
3 p.37 Swift and Bold, Rigaud, Leonaur 2008
4 p.149 British Military Flintlock Rifles 1740-1840, De Witt Bailey, Andrew Mowbray, 2002
5 p.38 Swift and Bold, Rigaud, Leonaur 2008
6 p.146 British Military Flintlock Rifles 1740-1840, De Witt Bailey, Andrew Mowbray, 2002
7 p.146 ibid
8 p. 14 Where Duty calls me, The experiences of William Green in the Napoleonic Wars, ed J and D Teague, Synjon 1975
9 Costello in July 1809, Portugal.
"Knapsack and straps, two shirts, two pairs of stockings, one pair of shoes, ditto soles and heels, three brushes, box of blacking, razor, soap-box and strap, and also at the time an extra pair of trousers; a mess-tin, centre-tin and lid, haversack and canteen, greatcoat and blanket, a powder-flask filled, a ball-bag containing thirty loose balls, a small wooden mallet used to hammer the ball into the muzzle of our rifles; belt and pouch, the latter containing fifty rounds of ammunition, sword belt and rifle, besides other odds and ends that at all times are required for a service soldier. Each squad had also to carry four bill-hooks that weighed six pounds each, so that every other day, each man had to carry it; thus we were equipped with from 70 to 80 pounds weight.."
10 p.45 Don Troiani's Soldiers inAmerica1754-1865, Stackpole 1998
11 WO 27/87
12 p.132 Rifle Green in the Peninsula, vol 2,Caldwelland Cooper, Bugle Horn Publications, 2006
13 p.148 British Military Flintlock Rifles 1740-1840, De Witt Bailey, Andrew Mowbray, 2002
14 For more information on priming powder see http://www.flintriflesmith.com/Wr...ch/Published/priming_horns_mb.htm
15 p.25-26 The Reminiscences of Thomas Knight of the 95th, Leonaur, 2007
16 The ‘Green book’ or Regulations of the Rifle Corps, Egerton, 1801, reproduced in The Rifle Brigade Chronicles
18 p.109 General orders,SpainandPortugalJan 1st-Dec31st 1811, vol III, Egerton, 1812
19 (as quoted in 'In Times gone by', The Adjutant, Oct 2007)
20 Scloppetaria, A Corporal of Riflemen,RichmondPublishing 1971
21 p.235, Collectors' Illustrated Encyclopaedia of The American Revolution, Neumann and Kravic, Castle Books, 1977