British Forces at Fishguard, 1797 (Part 1)

This is the British order of battle, as organised for a wargame using ‘British Grenadier!’ rules, at a ratio of 1:5 (1 figure representing 5 men). The troop quality ratings also conform to ‘British Grenadier!’, where ‘Elite’ is the best rating, followed by ‘Line’, ‘2nd Line’, ‘Militia’ and ‘Levy’. Generals are rated ‘Good’, ‘Average’ and ‘Poor’.

British Order of Battle

C-in-C: Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell, Lord Cawdor, Pembroke Yeomanry Cavalry [Average]

ADC: Captain William Lloyd Davies (ex 38th Foot)
ADC: Captain, The Honourable William Edwardes (Pembrokeshire Militia)

Directly Under Lord Cawdor’s Command
Castlemartin Troop, Pembroke Yeomanry Cavalry – Major Dudley Ackland 9 Figures      Militia

Fishguard and Newport Volunteer Infantry – Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knox [Average]
Fishguard Division – Captain Essex Bowen                                           20 Figures     Militia
Newport Division – Major William Bowen                                             12 Figures     Militia
Skirmishers – Captain Thomas Nisbett (ex 5th Foot)                           8 Figures      Militia

Militia & Volunteers – Lieutenant Colonel John Colby, Pembrokeshire Militia [Average]
Cardiganshire Militia – Lieutenant-Adjutant Edward L Cole             20 Figures     2nd Line
Pembroke Volunteer Infantry – Captain James Ackland                     20 Figures     Militia
Local Volunteer Auxiliaries                                                                          18 Figures     Levy

Royal Naval Party – Captain Stephen Longcroft [Average]
Royal Navy Crews & Press-Gangs – Lieutenant William Dobbins      20 Figures     Line
Royal Navy Skirmishers – Lieutenant Hopkins                                      6 Figures        Line
Royal Navy Artillery (9 pdrs) – Lieutenant Meakes                               2 Guns            Line

Solva & St David’s Volunteers (Optional) – Mr Henry Whiteside [Poor]
Solva Volunteers (Skirmishers)                                                                   6 Figures       Militia
St David’s Volunteers (Skirmishers)                                                           6 Figures       Militia

Loyal Haverfordwest Volunteer Infantry – Major Joshua Roch [Poor]
Company of Captain William Bowen                                                          16 Figures     Levy
Company of Captain George Roch                                                               16 Figures     Levy
Company of Captain-Lieutenant Richard Foley (Skirmishers)              12 Figures    Militia


1. While the full list of officers is known for each contingent present, in some cases it is not recorded exactly which sub-unit they commanded.  I have therefore arbitrarily assigned them to units for a bit of ‘local colour’ in the game.

2. The actual organisation of the Fishguard & Newport Volunteers was four companies – two each from Fishguard and Newport, with a total strength of 270 men (54 figures).  However, Newport only managed to immediately muster enough men for one company (most of the men being from isolated hill farms who probably hadn’t heard the news), while other men had to be detached to various tasks such as spreading the alarm, scouting and garrisoning Fishguard Fort. Nevertheless, most of the remainder drifted in as news spread, so increase the Newport Division to 20 figures by the start of play on 24th February.

3. The Newport Division of the Fishguard and Newport Volunteers may alternatively be deployed as additional skirmishers.

4. Due to the strong antipathy existing between Cawdor and Knox, apply a -1 modifier whenever Lord Cawdor attempts to change Knox’s orders. However, Knox will not suffer a penalty when attempting to change his own brigade orders.

5. The Cardiganshire Militia are the most experienced line infantry unit present. Although the description of ‘Militia’ suggests part-time soldiers, these men had actually served as (conscripted) full-time soldiers for several years. Therefore, this is the only unit that may claim the ‘British in Line’ firing and mêlée bonuses.

6. It is noted in several accounts that although they were not regular infantry, the Royal Navy men present were all tough veterans of innumerable naval engagements and were probably the best men in Lord Cawdor’s force. Consequently, only the Naval Infantry may operate in Open Order.

7. The naval 9 pdrs have the range of 12 pdrs in ‘British Grenadier’, but the grapeshot firepower effect of 6 pdrs.  Due to their naval gun-carriages and hay-cart transports, they are moved as 12 pdrs and may not be manhandled.

8. Mr Henry Whiteside was a fascinating character – a maker of musical instruments from Liverpool, he had won a competition held by Trinity House to design an offshore lighthouse for the Smalls Rocks (a dangerous reef, 20 miles out into St George’s Channel, between Pembrokeshire and Ireland).  Whiteside then became the first man to successfully send a message in a bottle when he and his party became stranded while building the lighthouse in 1776!  Whiteside and the Volunteers are included here merely to add a bit of fun to the scenario and can be left out if desired.

9. Although we only include two ADCs here for game purposes, there were three other ADCs in the historical order of the battle – Captain Joseph Adams of the Castlemartin Troop of the Pembroke Yeomanry and Captains Owen Philipps and John Philipps of the Dungleddy Troop of the Pembroke Yeomanry.  Lieutenant Colonel James, Commanding Officer of the Cardiganshire Militia also turned up at some point and was present at the signing of the surrender document.

10. The unit of ‘Local Volunteer Auxiliaries’ represents the eighty or so armed men that Cawdor recorded as joining the column during its march to Fishguard.  This unit could also include the fearsome armed Welsh women of legend!

11. The Loyal Haverfordwest Volunteer Infantry were unit of approximately 200 volunteers, frantically formed in that town during the panic of 22nd-23rd February.  We know from the diary of a volunteer that they marched for Fishguard a day behind Cawdor’s column, so can be added to Cawdor’s order of battle from the start of play on 24th February.

The British Commanders

Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell, 1st Baron Cawdor

John Campbell of Stackpole Court was aged 43 when the French landed in 1797. The richest and best-known of Pembrokeshire landowners, he had extensive estates in Scotland, Cardiganshire and south Pembrokeshire and had served as the Member of Parliament for Nairnshire and Cardiganshire before being raised to the Peerage in 1796 as the ‘1st Baron Cawdor of Castlemartin in the County of Pembroke’.

The energetic Lord Cawdor was indefatigable in his efforts to improve his estates and succeeded in turning south Pembrokeshire into a model of agricultural efficiency – a legacy that still survives today. He even had a hand in creating the famous ‘Welsh Black’ breed of cattle. Perhaps surprisingly, he had no real experience as a military commander. He had not served in the Army or Royal Navy and his only military experience was gained through the Pembroke Yeomanry; to which he was appointed, as Officer Commanding the Castlemartin Troop, in 1794.

Nevertheless, his social rank seemed to trump virtually any military rank when the French invaded. Upon arrival with his column at Lord Milford’s headquarters in the Castle Inn, Haverfordwest, Cawdor found himself outranked by at least three other officers – Lord Milford, Lieutenant Colonel Colby of the Militia and Captain Longcroft of the Royal Navy. Nevertheless, Lord Milford granted Cawdor the brevet rank of Lieutenant Colonel and appointed him as commander of all military forces in the county.

However, there was a deep enmity between Cawdor and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knox of the Fishguard & Newport Volunteer Infantry. The feud went back some years: Knox’s father, William Knox, was a wealthy and powerful man, having been Under-Secretary of State for the American Colonies 1770-82, and was a powerful supporter for the raising of Yeomanry and Volunteers within Pembrokeshire in 1793-94. However, in a piece of classic nepotism, Knox then attempted to appoint his son Thomas to command the Pembrokeshire Yeomanry, but was strongly opposed by the county’s ‘Old Money’. The bad feeling this created led to a schism in the embryonic regiment, resulting in John Campbell (soon to be appointed Lord Cawdor) forming the Pembroke Yeomanry from the county’s disgruntled gentlemen and Knox ending up with the ‘consolation prize’ of the Fishguard & Newport Volunteers.

This feud bubbled over during the Fishguard campaign, when Knox attempted to ‘pull rank’ on Cawdor. However he was slapped down and Cawdor unfairly accused Knox of cowardice in the face of the enemy. This matter eventually resulted in a duel between the two men a few months later, followed by a political scandal over the affair and the resignation of Knox.

Our model of Cawdor was converted by Mr Small from a Perry Miniatures plastic French Hussar figure and painted by Jemima Fawr. Somewhat annoyingly, the Perries have since brought out perfectly suitable plastic British Light Dragoon figures.

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knox, Commanding Officer of The Fishguard & Newport Volunteer Infantry

In 1794, the young Pembrokeshire gentleman Thomas Knox, still in his twenties and with no regular military experience, was appointed as Lieutenant Colonel of the newly-raised Fishguard & Newport Volunteer Infantry. As discussed above, the bad-feeling among Pembrokeshire ‘Society’ caused by this appointment was to have serious and long-lasting repercussions in 1797. Nevertheless, under Knox’s command, the Fishguard & Newport Volunteers became one of the largest volunteer units in Wales and were generally well-regarded.

When invasion came in 1797, the young Lieutenant Colonel Knox was not found wanting; most of his regiment swiftly answered the call and were soon out, scouting the French positions. However, Knox made the fatal error of boasting to the visiting Lieutenant Colonel Colby that his regiment would attack the French at dawn. Colby advised caution, but Knox was insistent that he would attack. It therefore came as a great shock in the morning, when Knox discovered that he was outnumbered at odds of 8 to 1! With his tail between his legs, Knox abandoned Fishguard to its fate and withdrew down the turnpike road to Treffgarne, where Lord Cawdor greeted him with the utmost contempt (even though this move had actually been in accordance with Colby’s advice and was a sound military move).

After the French surrender, dark rumours of Knox’s ‘cowardice’ began to spread, eventually forcing Knox’s resignation as Commanding Officer. Knox and Cawdor even ‘fought’ a duel over the matter, though both men appear to have survived unscathed ad there is no record of what actually transpired at the ‘duel’.

I used the Wellington figure from Redoubt’s ‘Wellington in India’ range for Knox. The figure is modelled with a chivalric sash, but I filed it flat to make a cross-belt. The uniform for this regiment is only known from a single surviving officer’s coat and a rather vague eye-witness’ description, so this figure is fairly conjectural, though it adheres to the known details – white facings and silver metal. The musician’s uniform is also conjectural, though the white coat, red breeches and red waistcoat represent the regulation uniform for a regiment with white facings.

Lieutenant Colonel John Colby, Commanding Officer of the Pembrokeshire Militia

When the French invasion came in 1797, the Pembrokeshire Militia was stationed in Norfolk, manning the Landguard Fort, near Harwich (ironically defending that stretch of coast against French invasion). However, Lieutenant Colonel John Colby, the highly-respected and long-serving Commanding Officer of the Pembrokeshire Militia, had recently returned to Haverfordwest in order to supervise the training of the Supplementary Militia (an additional draft of militia which had been raised following Pitt’s Supplementary Militia Act of 1796).

As soon as the alarm was raised, Colby realised that his newly-raised Supplementary Militia were not remotely ready to face the enemy in battle. At once and without orders, he dispatched the Pembrokeshire Supplementary Militia to relieve the Cardiganshire Militia at Golden Prison. In so doing, he freed the most experienced infantry in the county to join the fight against the French invaders.

Having taken this decisive action, Colby and his aide, the Honourable Captain William Edwardes, mounted their horses and galloped through the darkness to Fishguard. Thankfully avoiding French marauders, they arrived at Fishguard Fort and then met with Lieutenant Colonel Knox and advised him that if he faced a superior force, he should retire toward Haverfordwest, in order to meet the force that would be marching from there. Following this conference, Colby and Edwardes then galloped back to Haverfordwest, arriving back at Lord Milford’s headquarters at the Castle Inn at 5am, just as Cawdor’s forces were arriving from Pembroke.

One of the great questions of the events of 1797 is why Lord Milford did not appoint this extremely experienced and talented officer (by far the most experienced senior officer present) to command the column instead of Cawdor.

The Honourable Captain William Edwardes was the 19 year-old son and heir of Lord William Edwardes, 1st Baron Kensington and MP for Haverfordwest. The younger Edwardes was renowned for being a boorish drunk since his early teens, but nevertheless succeeded his father as 2nd Baron Kensington in 1801 and became a somewhat unpopular MP in 1802, before being supplanted as MP by General Sir Thomas Picton.

The models used for Colby and Edwardes are metal figures by Redoubt Miniatures, painted by Jemima Fawr. They wear the Pembrokeshire Militia uniform of scarlet coat, bright blue facings and gold buttons, epaulettes and lace.

Captain Stephen Longcroft RN, Regulating Captain for Haverfordwest & Milford Haven

Although there was no large-scale Royal Navy presence in Milford Haven and Haverfordwest in 1797, naval vessels would regularly call for replenishment of food, water and ammunition. Additionally, armed Revenue Service cutters, who operated closely with the Navy, were constantly patrolling the smuggler-infested waters around Pembrokeshire and were based in Milford Haven. The Royal Navy also had the right to use ‘Press-Gangs’, who would prowl the inns of coastal towns, looking for sailors who would then be ‘pressed’ into the Royal Navy. All this naval activity required a naval senior officer to co-ordinate and command the naval personnel in the county, as well as to liaise with the civil authorities and local Army units. These senior officers assigned to ports were known as ‘Regulating Captains’; there were two such Regulating Captains in south Wales – one covering Milford Haven and Haverfordwest and the other based in Swansea.

Captain Stephen Longcroft RN was the Regulating Captain for Haverfordwest and Milford Haven. As the most senior regular military officer in the county, he played a pivotal part in the story and was directly responsible for mobilising a considerable force of infantry and artillery from naval crews and press-gangs.

Our model of Captain Longroft was heavily converted by Mr Small from a Perry Miniatures plastic French Hussar figure. The other sailor figures were converted from Perry Miniatures plastic American Civil War figures. All were painted by Mr Small.

Captain William Lloyd Davies, ex-38th Foot, Aide-de-Camp to Lord Cawdor

Captain William Lloyd Davies was commissioned into the 38th Foot in 1775 and served in the American War of Independence, including the Battle of Bunker Hill and many other major engagements. Having long-since left the Army and retired to his estate at Cwm House, in the village of Llangynog, near Carmarthen, he was nevertheless still in the Army Reserve as a ‘Half-Pay Captain’.

When the alarm came, Captain Davies was on the spot in Haverfordwest and immediately volunteered his services to the assembling force. As the only combat veteran on his staff, Cawdor greatly valued Captain Davies’ sound military advice and even asked him to deploy the force at Fishguard so as to convince the French that they faced a superior force; which Cawdor recorded that “he did to great effect”.

It seems highly probable therefore, that Captain Davies’ actions were the original germ of truth that grew into the legend of Jemima Nicholas and the Welsh women ‘marching round the hill’ to fool the French that they were faced by a superior force of Redcoats.

Our model of Captain Davies is a metal figure by Redoubt Miniatures, painted by Jemima Fawr. The uniform of scarlet coat, with yellow facings and silver buttons, epaulettes and lace, is that of the 38th Foot. However, it is possible that Captain Davies was simply dressed in civilian clothes.

Captain Thomas Nisbett, ex-5th Foot, Commanding the Fishguard Volunteers’ Scouts

Another unsung hero of 1797 was Captain Thomas Nisbett. Nisbett was a ‘Half-Pay’ (i.e. retired reservist) light infantry officer with the 5th Regiment of Foot. A veteran of the American War of Independence, it is said that he was in Fishguard awaiting passage to Ireland when the invasion alarm came on the night of 21st February 1797. Nisbett immediately offered his services to Lt Col Knox of the Fishguard & Newport Volunteers and clearly impressed the young colonel, as Knox immediately placed him in command of the Volunteers’ scouts.

Within a few hours, Nisbett had established a screen of scouts between the French landing-site and the town of Fishguard and quickly succeeded in accurately identifying the strength of the invading force. Nisbett’s biggest success however, was in successfully sniffing out an attempted ambush by the French grenadiers on the evening of the 22nd. Had Nisbett not detected the ambush, Cawdor’s column, advancing rashly in the gathering dark along the narrow, high-hedged Trefwrgi Lane, would have been slaughtered by close-range fire and hand-grenades.

It seems that Nisbett never did find passage to Ireland. After the invasion he was put in charge of recovering discarded French weapons and ammunition and also conducted various visiting bigwigs around the scene of the invasion and finally settled in the area.

Nisbett is a metal figure by The Foundry, painted in the uniform of the 5th Foot – red coat with ‘gosling green’ (a horrible light greenish-khaki) and silver metalwork. This depiction is conjectural, as like Captain Davies, he was probably actually in civilian clothes on the day. The Fishguard & Newport Volunteer Infantry are American War of Independence metal figures by Perry Miniatures. All painted by Jemima Fawr.

In Part 2 we will take a detailed look at each British unit engaged at Fishguard, as well as ‘Jemima Fawr’ and her friends…

This entry was posted in 28mm Figures, British Grenadier! Rules (AWI), Fishguard 1797, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units, Scenarios. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to British Forces at Fishguard, 1797 (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: 225 Years Ago This Week: The ‘Battle’ of Fishguard 1797 | Jemima Fawr's Miniature Wargames Blog

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