Thursday, June 15, 2017

How many Major Battles did the Average Mid-Eighteenth Century Soldier fight in?

Reenactors portraying the men of Prusisan IR 4 and IR 12 anticipate the enemy

Dear Readers,

As a companion to my previous post on soldiers' ages, I would like to examine once again the quote that drew my attention so strongly:

"One old [British] veteran I observ'd (that was shot through both legs and not able to walk) very coolly and deliberately loading his piece and cleaneing it from the blood. I was surprised at the sight and asked him his reasons for it. He, with a look of contempt, said, to be ready in case any of the Yankeys came that way again." [1] 
In the previous post, we examined what an old soldier might look like, but what did it mean to be a veteran? Or, to ask the question with a slightly different set of criteria, how many major battles was the average soldier in during the Seven Years' War era (1754-1763)?

There has been relatively little research on this topic because the movements of individual soldiers are so hard to track down. A soldier might be with his regiment for one battle, in hospital for another, and transferred to a different regiment for a third. For the purposes of this data, it is assumed that soldiers remain with their regiments throughout the war. That is a big assumption, again, but one that allows us to see some interesting data patterns. On the other hand, when regiments took such heavy losses that they needed to be re-raised, I account for the idea that most the men in the original regiment were "new" men.

25th Regiment of Foot at Minorca, 1771, Cecil C. P. Lawson
What does this data look like? In order to answer this question, I compiled the service records of 100 infantry regiments, from five different nations in the Seven Years' War. In order to achieve a relatively balanced sample, I simply chose the twenty regiments by precedence from each major nation of the Seven Years' War. These Austrians, British, French, Prussian, and Russian regiments performed much of the major fighting of the Seven Years' War, and so might be a good benchmark to establish how many battles an "average" soldier went through. In this case, a battle means a large field engagement with over 15,000 men involved. Skirmishes, sieges, and combats were certainly deadly, and worth examining in their own right, but for the purposes of this post, we are going to look at major field battles.

So how many major battles did an average soldier go through in the Seven Years' War era?

The Assault at Hochkirck, La Pegna

As it turns out, between 3 and 4 major battles was quite average for the 100 regiments examined for the study. If you examine the memoirs of soldiers at the time, many of them describe a similar number of engagements. So, let's break this down by nation, and then by regiment, from lowest to highest.

British Grenadiers, Morier

British Army Average:  .85
Once again, this does not include the numerous sieges and assaults performed by British forces around the globe. Many regiments of British veteran troops had never been in a major field battle, but performed between 4-6 sieges or amphibious descents by the end of the Seven Years' War. Many more troops were on garrison duty in the home islands.

Notable Regiments
20th Regiment of Foot: 4 Battles (Minden, Klosterkampen, Vellinghausen, Wilhelmsthal)
8th Regiment of Foot: 3 Battles (Warburg, Klosterkampen, Vellinghausen [grenadiers only])
6th Regiment of Foot: 0 Battles (Gibraltar Garrison)

An artist's reimagining of two Russian officers in the Seven Years' War
Russian Army Average: 2.5 
The Russians fought quite well in the Seven Years' War, but only committed their forces to a relatively small number of battles, which impacted their total.

Notable Regiments
Novgorodskiy: 4 Battles (Gross-Jaegersdorf, Zorndorf, Paltzig, Kunersdorf)
Kazanskiy: 4 Battles (Gross-Jaegersdorf, Zorndorf, Paltzig, Kunersdorf)
Ingermlandskiy: 0 Battles (Garrison duty in Russia)

French troops on the long march in the era of the Seven Years' War

French Army Average: 3.5

Much of the French army was deployed for garrison duty in coastal fortresses around France. However, a larger portion of their army (compared with the British) fought in the western German theater of the Seven Years' War.

Notable Regiments: 
Touraine: 7 Battles (Rossbach, Krefeld, Lutterburg, Minden, Warburg, Vellinghausen, Wilhelmsthal)
Champagne: 6 Battles (Hastenbeck, Krefeld, Bergen, Minden, Vellinghausen, Wilhelmsthal)
Eu: 1 Battle (Hastenbeck [The regiment suffered a horrible friendly-fire incident in this battle, and was placed on garrison service the rest of the war.])

Morier, Austrian Grenadiers in the late 1740s 

Austrian Army Average: 5.6
The Austrian Army was concentrated in a number of battles against Frederick II's Prussian forces in the central European theater of war.

Notable Regiments:
Baden-Durlach: 9 Battles (Lobositz, Reichenberg, Prague, Breslau, Leuthen, Hochkirch, Maxen, Torgau, Burkersdorg)
Botta: 7 Battles (Kolin, Breslau, Leuthen, Hochkirch, Maxen, Torgau, Reichenbach)
Kaiser: 4 Battles (Prague, Leuthen, Hochkirch, Torgau)

Prussian Troops, 1735

Prussian Army Average: 5.75
The Prussians were fighting on between two to four fronts at any time during the Seven Years' War. As a result, their totals are slightly higher than the Austrians.

Notable Regiments:
Prinz von Preussen: 9 Battles (Reichenberg, Prague, Breslau, Leuthen, Zorndorf, Hochkirch, Liegnitz, Torgau, Burkersdorf)
Itzenplitz: 8 Battles (Lobositz, Prague, Rossbach, Leuthen, Hochkirch, Liegnitz, Torgau, Burkersdorf)
Below: 3 Battles (Gross-Jaegersdorf, Zorndorf, Maxen [The poor Below regiment had the misfortune to be in two battles against the Russians, and also assigned to Finck's corps at Maxen. It ceased to exist as an effective fighting force.)]

So, as you can see, the average soldier from the Seven Years' War would have been a veteran of three or four major field battles, although much higher and lower totals existed.

Feel free to share if you know individuals who might be interested in these numbers.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

[1] Creswell,  A Man Apart, 171.


  1. Well, this explains Tristram Shandy's Uncle Toby, who was wounded in the groin in one battle, and spent the remainder of his life regaling visitors with his large garden diorama of the battle.

  2. Also explains somewhat your last post about average age, given the time span to be involved in such endevors.