Light Infantry of the Regiments - Organization


Of the Organization of Light Infantry of the Regiments;


And in particular that of the 55th Regiment.

By Richard F.C. Seidemann Jr.


In 1759, light infantry companies were introduced into all the British foot regiments serving in North America, by order of Major General Jeffrey Amherst. At the time of the Seven Years War a British Regiment of Foot usually had one battalion, though there were regiments with more than one, however, the Royal American Regiment or 60th Regiment and the Royal Highland or 42nd Regiment were the only regiments with more than one battalion serving in North America.  Most battalions consisted of around 700 men, but some regiments there were 1,000 men.  The 55th Regiment was organized as a standard regiment of around 700 men.1  

Each battalion was organized into ten companies.  Those ten companies consisted of one grenadier and nine battalion or “hat” companies.2  The introduction of the light infantry company forced the regimental organization to be changed a little.  It was ordered that:

            “Every regiment is to form immediately a company of light infantry, in proportion to the number of the said regiment:  this company will always be   drawn up on the

left of the battalion, and will consist of a tenth of the corps; the grenadiers being

on the right, the eight remaining companies will form eight subdivisions….”3

This order proves that the light infantry company was not an additional or eleventh company, as some may have thought.  It was made up from the soldiers of the regiment and was one of the ten companies.


Concerning the organization of a company, in Humphrey Bland’s A Treatise of Military Discipline. of 1759 it is written:

“A Company is here supposed to consist of no more than seventy private men,

with two Subalterns, three Serjeants, three Corporals, and two Drummers, which

is the fixed establishment for British infantry:  And although the number has been

augmented to a hundred, since the commencement of the present war, together

with an additional Lieutenant, Serjeant, and Corporal….”4

Since, the 55th Regiment had approximately 700 men while serving in America, the companies of the regiment would have conformed to the description of the former.


            John Knox, who was a lieutenant at the time of the French and Indian War serving in Nova Scotia, wrote in his journal how the light infantry company of the 43rd Regiment was organized.  He wrote the orders for the day of April 14, 1759: 

“By order of his Excellency General Amherst, the 43rd regiment is to furnish one

Captain, one Lieutenant, one Ensign, three Serjeants, one Drummer, and seventy

rank and file, to form a company of light infantry; the Commanding Officer to

chuse the men and Officers who are to be appointed.”5

A letter from Amherst to Lord Ligioner confirms that this was the standard for all regiments of 700 men. Amherst also noted; “1 Capt. 2 Lts. 1 Ensign 4 Sergeants, 1 drummer and 100 Rank and file in the Battalions that have 1000 men.”  The company of his own regiment, the 15th “being of different numbers furnishes 88 for the light infantry.”6 The company of light infantry of the 55th Regiment was organized along the parameters set for the 700 man regiment.  This is easily confirmed by the order for the 55th to receive 73 “Carbines without Bayonets, from the Storekeeper at Albany, for their Light Infantry, the Serjts, inclusively…” on May 6, 1759.   In that same entry, the 1000 man strong regiments in New York were given 104 carbines, confirming their strength of one hundred rank and file and four sergeants.7  These companies because of their special duties were “to be always complete.”8


Though there was no mention of corporals or none listed in the above light infantry company guidelines, they were included in the light infantry companies. The term “rank and file” in the 18th century was used to denote privates and corporals.  Commissary Wilson’s journal and orderly book proves that they were a part of the company, when he recorded on October 25, 1759 at Crown Point; “Lieut. Small [Royal Highland Regiment] with a Serjeant and 20 Men of Gages, a Corporall and 10 Men of the Light Infantry, a Serjeant and 10 Rangers to parade….”9*


A deviation from the normal company structure was that the light infantry company had only one drummer, however this really was no deviation at all.  General Amherst found that there was really no need for more than one drummer per company. In May of 1759, he consequently ordered that there be “one Drummer per company; the remaining Drummers to be put into the ranks.”10   


During the campaigns the light infantry companies did not field with their respective regiment, though they did serve in the same theater or area.  Just as the grenadier companies of the several regiments serving in the campaign were traditionally incorporated into a battalion of their own, so too were the light infantry.  Orders given on May 5, 1759 at Albany state, “the grenadiers and light infantry of all the battalions will be formed in corps a-part during the campaign.”11   Whether it was in General Amherst’s, General Wolfe’s, or General Prideaux’s army the light infantry companies formed their own corps.  This order extended to 1760’s campaign as well.  In 1759, General Wolfe even had two corps of light infantry.12  In one instance the light infantry companies and grenadier companies of the 17th and 27th regiments formed a battalion together in the Lake Champlain area in 1760.13


The light infantry battalions were usually commanded by a Major or a Lieutenant Colonel.  In 1759, Amherst’s light infantry battalion was commanded by Captain James Holmes of the Inniskillling or 27th Regiment.  He was appointed to be  major of the light infantry battalion for the campaign.14  In Wolfe’s army, the light infantry was commanded by Major Dalling and Lieutenant Colonel William Howe .  In 1760, General Amherst chose to place his younger brother Colonel William Amherst as the commander of the light infantry battalion.  William Amherst wrote this in his journal about the appointment, “The General appointed me to command the Light Infantry.”15  He later said this about the light infantry he commanded:

            “I took the opportunity of our laying here to practise my Corps to march and form

                in the woods.  We lost our way & did not reach the Camp till after dark, through

                swamps & the thickest wood we could meet with.  I was glad of it, as it shewed the

                temper of the Corps, expecting to lay out all night, without any covering or anything

to eat or drink.  The bon Volonte  and cheerfulness I had before met with amongst

them still subsisted, & I conceive they know no difficulties.  It is a pleasure serving

with such a Corps.”16

As the 55th Regiment was with General Amherst’s army in both 1759 and 1760, their battalion commanders would have been Major Holmes and then Lieutenant Colonel Amherst.  The light infantry company of the 55th were among the  same men William Amherst spoke of.   The combined light infantry and grenadier battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Darby.17


            There were other important positions in the light infantry battalions that needed to be filled as well.   These included surgeon’s mate.  It seems that the regiments rotated providing the surgeon’s mate for the battalion, at least in General Amherst’s army.  Commissary Wilson recorded on June 20, 1759 at Fort Edward; “a Surgeons Mate from Montgomerys to attend the Light Infantry.”  Again on July 20, 1759 at the Lake George Camp he wrote; “Mr. Stewart, Surgeons Mate of the Hospital, is to attend the Light Infantry of Regiments; Mr. Peebles, Surgeons Mate of Collo. Montgomerys is to return and do Duty with the Regiment.”18 An “Officer of those [light infantry of regiments and grenadier] corps to do Duty of Adjutant….”19  An officer to assist the battalion commander.  The battalion needed quartermasters to take care of equipment, stores, and provisions.  In an orderly book it was written; “The Quarter Masters of the Grenadiers and Light Infantry will immediately Draw three Days salt provisions….”  The duty of quartermaster was given to a sergeant, Commissary Wilson wrote, “a Serjeant may do that of Quarter-Master.”20  An orderly sergeant was needed by the battalion as well.  Major John Hawks in his orderly book recorded; “The Grenadiers and Light Infentry each to appoint a Serjt. To attend for orders and keep details for Corps.”21


Though the companies of light infantry from the regiments were formed into a battalion for campaign, they often were made use of in detachments.  Often these detachments contained a small amount of men from the several light infantry companies.  It also, was not unusual for these detachments to be made of not only light infantry of the regiments, but, a combination of one or more of the following; grenadiers, Gage’s light infantry, Rangers, Indians, and soldiers of the battalion companies, many times volunteers for a “particular service.”  On June 14, 1759 at Fort Edward there were orders for a detachment of “Predeaux [55th Regiment] Light Infantry and Montgomerys [77th Highland Regiment] Grenadiers and Light Infantry” to parade.22  Later that week another detachment was formed to guard cattle.  The following units were to provide for this detachment:

“Gagges Regiment will furnish one Captain 2 Subalterns, Non Commissioned

Officers in Proportion, and 100 men; Light Infantry, the Royall one Subaltern and

30 Light Infantry, of the Royal Highlanders one Sub. and 30 Men; Prideaux one

Sub. and 24 Men; Montgomerys 1 Sub. and 30 Men; Royal Grenadiers 1 Subn and

30 Men; Royal Highlanders one Subn and 30 Men; Predeaux one Subn and 24 Men;

Mongomerys one Sub. and 30 men….”23

These are fairly common orders pertaining to detachments with light infantry of the regiments.  In a letter to William Pitt, General Wolfe wrote; “the four new Companies of Rangers are so very bad, that I expect no Service from them, unless mixed with Light Infantry….”24  Amherst as well mixed detachments of rangers with light infantry on a regular basis, a typical entry in his journal; “at day break a party of 200 Rangers, 100 Gages, a Company of light Infantry, and one of Grenadiers assembled under Lt. Col Darby.”25  General Wolfe gave the reason why the light infantry and Rangers were “mixed” together on detachments, General Amherst did not.  However the fact is, when formed as a detachment for a service, light infantry were often mixed with Gage’s light infantry, grenadiers, Rangers, Indians, and volunteers of the line or “hat” companies.


When the regiments went into winter quarters it would seem that the light infantry company reformed with their respective regiment.  This is evidenced at both Quebec and in New York in the winter of 1759.  In Quebec, on September 22nd General Murray ordered; “The Corps of light infantry, under command of Colonel Howe, to join their respective regiments.”26 In the Royal Highland Regiment’s orderly book on November 22nd, of the same year, it was written; “The Light Infantry Company of each battalion when ordered to join their corps is to remain as a company of the battalion.”27 


Sometimes it would seem that they might not be together with the whole regiment for winter quarters, especially if the regiment was garrisoning several small posts on the frontier.  This was the case for the light infantry company of Abercromby’s (46th) regiment in the winter of 1759-1760.  General Jeffery Amherst in his journal wrote; “Capt. Dunbar arrived with the Light Infantry Company of Abercrombys from the west end of Oneida Lake where he had been garrisoned in the winter.”28  However in this instance the 46th Regiment could have been assigned to garrison several small, frontier posts.


            To get the maximum potential of the light infantry companies, instead of being used within their own regiment, they formed a battalion as can be seen.  By doing so they helped in aiding to the success of the British army in defeating the French in North America.  In most respects they were organized just as a line company was, and during the winter months, went back to serving with their respective regiments.


*A clarification may be needed here, in journals and orderly books from 1759 on, there is always a distinction between Gage’s light infantry and light infantry of the regiments.  Gage’s is always referred to as such, whereas light infantry of the regiments may be called just that or plainly light infantry.  The term “light troops” and “irregulars” many times means a combination of rangers, Gage’s, and or light infantry.

1 Knox, John. An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760.  Volume I.  Greenwood Press, Publishers:  New York, 1968.  Page 22.

2 Bland, Humphrey.  Edited by W. Faucitt.  Page 3.

3 Knox, John. An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North America for the Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760.  Volume II.  Greenwood Press, Publishers:  New York, 1968.  Page 281.

4 Bland.  Page 3.

5 Knox.  Vol. I.  Page 303.

6 Amherst, Jeffery.  Letter to Lord Ligioner, January 18, 1759.  Extract courtesy of Barton Redmon via e-mail.

7 Moneypenny, Alexander. Alexander Moneypenny Orderly Book.  The Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum.  Vol. XII.  No. 2. June 1971.  Pages 188-189.

8 Knox.  Vol. I.  Page 459.

9 Wilson.  Commissary Wilson’s Orderly Book.  Expedition of the British and Provincial Army, under Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Amherst, against Ticonderoga and Crown Point, 1759.  J. Munsell, Albany, NY, 1857.  Page 196.

10 Knox. Vol. I.  Page 460.

11 Ibid.  Page 459.

12  Mante, Thomas.  The History of the Late War in North America, and the Islands of the West Indies.  Research Reprints,  NY, 1970.  Page 237.

13 Knox.  Vol. II.  Page 525.  In 1764 during John Bradstreet’s expedition to Detroit the 55th Regiment had its grenadier company and light infantry company incorporated into the expeditions light infantry battalion.  See Scull, G.D. (ed.).  “The Montresor Journals.”  Collections of the New-York Historical Society, for the Year 1881, Vol. 14.  New York Historical Society:  Albany, NY.  1881.   P. 276. and Bremner, John.  The John Bremner Journal.  Microfilm.  New York Historical Society.  P. 172.         

14 Wilson.  Page 37.

15 Webster, John Clarence (ed.).  Journal of William Amherst in America, 1758-1760.  Privately Published, 1927.  Page 60.

16 Ibid.  Page 63.

17 Knox.  Vol. II.  Page 525.

18 Wilson.  Pages 36, 90, & 91.

19 Ibid.  Page 37.

20 Idem.  Pages 129 & 37.

21 Hawks, John. Orderly Book and Journal of Major John Hawks on the Ticonderoga-Crown Point Campaign, under General Jeffrey Amherst, 1759-1760.  The Society of Colonial Wars in the State of New York, NY, 1911.  Page 80.

22 Wilson.  Page 25.

23 Ibid.  Pages 33-34.

24 Kimball, Gertrude Selwyn (ed.).  The Correspondance of William Pitt, Vol. II.  Kraus Reprint Company, NY, 1969.  Pages 118-119

25 Webster,  John Clarence (ed.).  The Journals of Jeffery Amherst.  The Ryerson Press:  Toronto, 1931.  Page 154.

26 Knox.  Vol. II.  Page 137.

27 Stewart, James.  Royal Highland Regiment, Copy of Order Book of Capt. James Stewart’s Coy, 1759.   Transcribed by John Neitz: 2001.  Page 30.

28 Webster.  Journals of Jeffery Amherst.  Pages 223-224.

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