Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers

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Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers
Royal artillery drivers 1812.jpg
Men of the corps depicted by Charles Hamilton Smith in his Costumes of the Army of the British Empire, according to the last regulations 1812
CountryFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
BranchFlag of the British Army.svg  British Army
Type Artillery
SizeCirca 7,400 men
Engagements French Revolutionary Wars
Napoleonic Wars

The Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers was a British Army corps founded in 1793 and disbanded in 1822. It was established to provide trained and disciplined drivers for the Royal Artillery, a service that had previously relied upon civilian contractors. By 1814 the corps numbered more than 7,400 men and fielded more than 2,600 men at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. The unit was reduced in size after the end of the Napoleonic Wars and disbanded in 1822 by the Duke of Wellington.


Foundation and service

The Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers was founded in 1793 by Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond who, as Master-General of the Ordnance, had responsibility for the British Army's artillery, engineers and logistics. [1] Prior to this time the artillery guns, ammunition and other supplies had been transported by civilian contractors. [2] These contractors supplied the necessary men, wagons and horses, but there were sometimes problems when these men some untrained abandoned their task in battle. [1] [2] [3]

The men of the new corps were uniformed army personnel trained in managing guns, wagons and horses. The use of the corps allowed for quicker movement of the artillery; and, as provision was made for the gunners to travel on the gun limbers and wagons, reduced time for the guns to be brought into action. [1] By 1810 the corps had 78 officers, 4,860 other ranks and 7,000 horses; sufficient for the needs of the entire British field artillery. [1] By 1814 the corps had grown to 88 officers and 7,352 other ranks; at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo more than half of the 5,300 artillery men present were from the corps of drivers. [2] [4]


Following the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars seven troops of the corps were disbanded, leaving it with five troops and 1,336 men – a measure that saved £14,570 per annum. [5] [6] The officers of the corps were retired and replaced by officers made available from the Horse Artillery, which had lost three troops. This provided a means for the Board of Ordnance to retain experienced gunnery officers. [6] The officers made redundant from the Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers were granted retirement on full pay (half-pay was the usual allowance for retired officers) due to the unusual circumstances; this cost the board some £1,600 per year in pensions. [5]

The corps was disbanded in 1822 by the Duke of Wellington, who was then Master-General of the Ordnance. [4] [7] The Royal Artillery thereafter took responsibility for its own transport, with the artillerymen in the field batteries functioning as drivers and gunners. [8] Major-General Sir Alex Dixon stated in 1838 that the system provided for better economic and efficient use of men, with 5,000 artillerymen able to do the work previously carried out by the 7,000-strong Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers. Dixon stated that the corps had unnecessarily tied up several thousand men in logistics duty during the Peninsular War. The new system, which was to be maintained even in times of war, was said to be particularly suited to the British Army, which needed units to be made ready at short notice for foreign or colonial service. [4]

Structure and organisation

A depiction of the uniform of a sergeant of the corps in 1812 Royal artillery drivers 1812 (cropped).jpg
A depiction of the uniform of a sergeant of the corps in 1812

Though closely associated with the Royal Regiment of Artillery the corps was listed separately from it in the London Gazette until at least 1815. After 1817 it is listed as the "Corps of Artillery Drivers in the Royal Regiment of Artillery". [9] [10] The corps' officers had ranks similar to those of the rest of the British Army. Being closely associated with the artillery they followed their practice of using the ranks of first and second lieutenant. [11] Until 1810 all officer ranks were suffixed with "commissary" (eg "first lieutenant-commissary" or "captain-commissary") but this was dropped the following year. [11] [12] The uniform was similar to that of the Horse Artillery, particularly with regards to the wearing of the light dragoon-style Tarleton helmet. [7]

Officers of the Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers had no right of field command, all line officers outranked them and could issue commands to higher ranking corps officers on the battlefield. [5] There was some controversy during the Napoleonic Wars as to whether officers in the corps should be allowed to freely transfer into the line infantry. It was commonplace, for example, for officers of the Royal Waggon Train to be promoted into line infantry regiments once they had accumulated sufficient years of service in their rank. A notable exception was a first lieutenant-commissary of the Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers who was granted special permission to become adjutant of the Ceylon Regiment in 1810. [13]

By 1810 the corps comprised a colonel-commandant, three lieutenant-colonels, a major, nine captains, 54 subalterns, 2 adjutants, 8 veterinary surgeons, 45 staff sergeants, 405 other non-commissioned officers, 360 artificers, 45 trumpeters, 4,050 drivers and 7,000 horses. [1] The sole major of the corps was in charge of the purchase of horses. [14]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 James, Charles (1810). A New and Enlarged Military Dictionary: In French and English; in which are Explained the Principal Terms ... of All the Sciences that are ... Necessary for an Officer and Engineer. T. Egerton. p. 89.
  2. 1 2 3 "Royal Artillery Drivers, 1812". National Army Museum. Retrieved 10 October 2019.
  3. Franklin, Carl (2005). British Rockets of the Napoleonic and Colonial Wars 1805–1901. Spellmount. p. 235.
  4. 1 2 3 Journal of the Royal Artillery. Royal Artillery Institution. 1858. p. 175.
  5. 1 2 3 Parliament, Great Britain (1816). The Parliamentary Debates from the Year 1803 to the Present Time. p. 1039.
  6. 1 2 Parliament, Great Britain (1816). The Parliamentary Debates from the Year 1803 to the Present Time. p. 1038.
  7. 1 2 Uniforms of the Royal Artillery, 1716–1966. Evelyn. 1966. p. 1825.
  8. Journal of the Royal Artillery. Royal Artillery Institution. 1858. p. 174.
  9. "No. 17084". The London Gazette . 25 November 1815. p. 2352.
  10. "No. 17235". The London Gazette . 29 March 1817. p. 787.
  11. 1 2 "No. 16359". The London Gazette . 7 April 1810. p. 528.
  12. "No. 16457". The London Gazette . 19 February 1811. p. 335.
  13. James, Charles (1811). The Regimental Companion: Containing the Pay, Allowances and Relative Duties of Every Officer in the British Service. T. Egerton. pp. 475–476.
  14. James, Charles (1811). The Regimental Companion: Containing the Pay, Allowances and Relative Duties of Every Officer in the British Service. T. Egerton. p. 503.