Wellington: The Great Military Leader Who Led His Armies To Victory Against Napoleon

Waterloo” – Painting by Denis Dighton: British Hussars of Viviene’s Brigade. Photo Credit


Discipline was much harder to enforce among the officers.

Officer ranks were bought and sold. The men occupying them were almost universally from the British upper class. They regarded their commissions as property. No court-martial was likely to deprive a man of his rank, no matter how poorly he performed.

Those men had access to the best education money could buy. Some were smart, gifted, and courageous. Others were undisciplined, unintelligent liabilities that Wellington could not get rid of.

The Regimental System

Officers bought their way up the ranks, moving from one regiment to another as the chance for promotion arose. Privates and NCOs, on the other hand, nearly always stayed where they were.

It became one of the great strengths of the British regimental system. By fighting and training together, men learned to work well in their small groups. Not wanting to shame themselves in front of friends and comrades helped in maintaining discipline.

Wellington might have called them the scum of the earth, but he relied on those men and knew their great value once trained and experienced.

Light Troops and Grenadiers

The elite troops of each infantry company were the flanking divisions – one the grenadiers and one light infantry.

The grenadiers were recruited from among the most powerfully built of the experienced soldiers. Their role was no longer primarily to throw grenades. Instead, they were the hardiest fighters and shock troops.

The light infantry were also veterans. Nimble sharpshooters trained in open order fighting, they were often equipped with rifles. Those weapons let them fight as skirmishers and more accurately target specific enemies.


The British cavalry was generally equipped with high-quality horses. Like the flanking companies, they divided into two types.

Heavy cavalry were big men on large mounts. They were shock troops, trained to charge straight into enemy lines and break them open.

The light cavalry had smaller horses. Their main roles were reconnaissance, screening, and the pursuit of a broken enemy.


Wellington never had as much artillery as he would have liked. It had a relatively short range by modern standards, reaching an extreme of 1,000 yards. It was fielded close to the fray and could strike the enemy at a greater distance than any other weapon. As well as being used to break fortifications in sieges, it was used to break up formations and turn flanks before a battlefield assault.

A Mixed Army

Wellington’s army was very mixed. Drunk officers led criminal recruits next to hardened veterans and smart strategists. Cavalry, artillery and specialist infantry supported the main lines.

Through drill, discipline, and the regimental system, Wellington coordinated the unruly bunch and achieved victory.


David Chandler and Ian Beckett (Eds) (1994), The Oxford History of the British Army

John Keegan and Richard Holmes (1985), Soldiers

John Keegan (1987), The Mask of Command