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Friday, March 8, 2013

Nicknames of British Units during the Napoleonic Wars

Taken from http://www.napoleon-series.org/military/organization/c_nickname.html

By John Cook and Robert Burnham, FINS
Most military units throughout the world have a nickname that they are often called in an informal setting. Sometimes these nicknames are given out of respect for some heroic deed, but more often they were given to the unit by people outside of the unit to make fun of it. The reasons why units received these negative nicknames varied from misconduct on the field to the color of their uniforms to their pretensions.
Unfortunately over the years, even though the nickname has stuck, the reasons why they were given have been lost,. The British Army is rich in tradition and in many cases not only have the nicknames survived, but the reason why they received it has also. Interestingly, in a sampling of 60 British memoirs and diaries from the Napoleonic Wars, very few of the writers referred to their own units by their nicknames, which would re-inforce the negative side of the nickname.
The nicknames listed below are from a variety of sources. In some cases we were able to pinpoint exactly when the nickname came into use (such as the "Die Hards" for the 57th Foot). In others, the nicknames were in use prior to the Napoleonic Wars. Although the nickname may have been earned 50 - 75 years earlier, the regiment was still referred to by the nickname ( such as the "Slashers" for the 28th Foot.) In other cases, the nickname was earned earlier and was recorded in the regiment's official history, but it is difficult to determine whether they were still used.

Nicknames of the Divisions

During the Peninsula War, the British Army was organized into eight infantry divisions. Each division had a nickname, usually based upon some action they had participated in.
DivisionNicknameReason for Nickname
1st DivisionGentlemen SonsIt had the Guards Brigade assigned to it.
2nd DivisionObserving DivisionIt was often on detached duty in Estremadura and missed most of the battles between 1810 & 1813
SurprisersFor its action taking the French by surprise at Arroyo Molinos & Almaraz
3rd DivisionFighting DivisionWas always in the middle of the hardest fighting
4th DivisionSupporting DivisionSupported the 2nd Division in Estremadura in 1810 & 1811
EnthusiasticsFor its conduct in the battle of the Pyrenees
5th DivisionPioneersUnknown; possibly involved in road building
6th DivisionMarching DivisionWas in many of the campaigns of 1810 - 1812, but until Salamanca did not see much action
7th DivisionMongrelsIt was a mixed division, with very few British regiments in it
Light Division"The Division"Name given by the members of this division to it, because its reputation as a fighting force
Light BobsTraditional name for any light infantry force

Cavalry Regiments

RegimentNicknameFirst UsedReason for Nickname
Household CavalryUnfortunate GentlemenUnknownUnknown
The Life GuardsThe Cheeses1788After a reduction in social qualifications for recruiting officers, the members of the regiment declared that they were 'no longer gentlemen but cheesemongers' ie 'tradesmen'
The Cheesemongers1815Same as above
The Piccadilly Butchers1810Were used to quell the Burdett riots during which one rioter was killed
Roast and BoilPeninsulaBecause they were part of the Guard & thought to be better fed than the Line
Royal Horse GuardsThe Blues1660Color of uniform
1st Dragoon GuardsThe Trades Union1800sUsed to quell trade riots
The Royals1800sRegimental Name
2nd Dragoon GuardsThe Bays1600s/1700sColor of Horses
Rusty Buckles1700sBecause of a less than spectacular parade in Ireland
3rd Dragoon GuardsThe Old Canaries1600s/1700sColor of facings
4th Dragoon GuardsThe Blue Horse1746Color of facings
5th Dragoon GuardsThe Green Horse1700sColor of facings
The Green Dragoons1700sColor of facings
The Old Farmers1700s/1800sDue to 80 years spent in Ireland
7th Dragoon GuardsThe Black Horse1700sColor of facings
The Virgin Mary's Bodyguard1700s/1800sSent by George II to assist Maria Theresa, of Austria.
1st DragoonsThe Bird Catchers1815Captured an Eagle at Waterloo
2nd DragoonsThe Greys1700s/1800sColor of uniforms when first raised. Also color of horses.
The Bird Catchers1815Captured an Eagle at Waterloo
6th DragoonsThe Old Inniskillings1750sRegimental Badge had Inniskilling Castle on it.
The Skillingers1700s/1800sSlang for Inniskilling
The InniskillingsPeninsulaFrom Badge
7th HussarsThe Saucy Seventh1809Because of high uniform standards
11th Light DragoonsThe Cherry Pickers1811Detachment captured by French whilst picking cherries and had to fight dismounted
12th Light DragoonsThe Supple Twelfth1812Because of high standards of training that led to their superb performance at Salamanca
13th Light DragoonsThe Lily-Whites1784Due to white stripe on overalls.
The Ragged BrigadePeninsulaDue to worn out equipment and clothing
14th Light DragoonsHawks1812Eagle on shako plate resembled a hawk
The Emperor's Chambermaids1813Captured King Joseph's chamberpot at Vitoria
15th Light Dragoons/HussarsEliott's Light Horse1759Reference to George Augustus Eliott, Lord Heathfield who raised them to help quell a strike by journeymen tailors - see next nickname.
The Tabs1759Reference to number recruits who joined the regiment when it was raised who were formerly journeymen tailors by trade; a Tab was a nickname for a journeyman (one who was employed by another) tailor and a reference to the small piece of cloth that the tailor used to incorporate into clothing to identify his work.
17th Light DragoonsThe Horse Marines1795Because a detachment served on the HMS Hermione
18th Light DragoonsDrogheda Light Horse1759Originally from Ireland
Light DragoonsYoung EyesPeninsulaGiven to them by Foot Guards

Infantry Regiments

RegimentNicknameFirst UsedReason for Nickname
Foot GuardsOld EyesPeninsulaGiven to them by Light Dragoons
1st Foot GuardsThe Tow-RowsUnknownFrom the regimental march
The Coalers1600sThe regiment's officers once hired the men out to 'heave' coal to raise money to refurbish the officers' mess at St James' Palace.
2nd (Coldstream) Foot GuardsColdstreamers1600sRecruited from Coldstream, Scotland
1st FootPontius Pilate's Bodyguards1630sIt is the oldest regiment in the British army. Originally Régiment de Douglas; when in French service, the story goes that at a regimental 'function', to which officers of the Régiment Picardy had been invited, a dispute arose concerning which regiment was the oldest. An officer from the Régiment Picardy claimed that his regiment was the oldest in any army, anywhere, and that the Régiment Picardy had been on duty on the night following the Crucifixion. He then promptly passed out. An officer of the Douglas' replied that the Picardies must have been asleep at their posts, and that if the Régiment de Douglas had been on duty Christ would not have been crucified. Now, the flawed logic of this will not have escaped you, since on the night following the Crucifixion the deed was already done and, as a result they received the nickname.
2nd FootKirke's Lamb1682Regimental badge is the Paschal Lamb and they were commanded by a Colonel Kirke
3rd FootThe Buffs1700s/1800sBecause of their facing color
The Resurrectionists1810Because of the large number of wounded men and those who escaped from the French who returned after Albuera
Resurrection Men1810Same as above
4th FootThe Lions1685Regimental badge had a lion
5th FootThe Fighting FifthPeninsulaWellington's comment "The ever fighting, often tried, but never failing fifth."
Wellington's BodyguardPeninsulaOften served as the Army HQ guard
The Old and Boldc1808Because of service at Rolica
6th FootSaucy 6th1790sBecause of high recruiting standards
7th FootThe Elegant Extracts1685When the regiment was raised, the officers came from many different regiments
8th FootThe Leather Hatsc1780Used civilian hats during American War of Independence
9th FootThe Fighting Ninthc1808Unknown
The Holy BoysPeninsulaSpanish thought the figure of Britannia on their shako plate was the Virgin Mary
10th FootThe Yellow Bellies1700s/1800sAfter the Yellow Belly frog that lives in the Lincolnshire Fens
The Springers1776Was used as light infantry during the American War of Independence
11th FootBloody Eleventh1812Due to heavy casualties at Salamanca (340 of 412)
12th FootThe Old Twelfth1700sNumber of Regiment
The Old Dozen1700sNumber of Regiment
14th FootCalvert's Entirec1806Colonel was Sir Harry Calvert and had three battalions from 1806 to 1824
15th FootThe Snappers1777At the Battle of Brandywine the regiment ran short of ball which was distributed to the best shots, whilst the remainder 'snapped' powder charges only.
16th FootThe Old Bucks1700s/1800sFrom Buckinghamshire and senior to the 85th Regiment
17th FootThe Tigersc1804For service in India; its regimental badge was the Bengal Tiger.
18th FootPaddy's Blackguards1684Was an Irish Regiment
The Namurs1695For service at Namur
19th FootThe Green Howards1740Because of facing color and their colonel was named Howard
20th FootKingsley's Stand1759Having been stood-down by the Duke of Brunswick and placed in reserve due to casualties after Minden, Major General Kingsley, also Colonel of the regiment, declined to obey the order with the words "Kingsley's Regiment, at its own request will resume its portion of duty in the line."
The Two Tens1700s/1800sBecause their regimental number was always shown in Roman numerals thus XX
The Minden Boys1700s/1800sService at Minden
21st FootGrey Breeks1600s/1700sWhen first raised, wore grey trousers
22nd FootThe Red Knights1795Uniform was entirely red: coat, waistcoat and trousers
The Two Twos1800sBecause of regimental number
23rd FootNanny Goats1800sMascot was a goat
Royal Goats1800sMascot was a goat
24th FootHoward's Greens1737To prevent confusion with 19th Foot, who also had green facings and a colonel called Howard
27th FootThe Skinsc1800Corruption of Inniskilling, from where they were recruited
28th FootThe Slashers1775At the Battle of White Plains, the regiment had to leave its muskets behind to climb a cliff and drove the rebels from their positions with their short swords. Alternatively, soldiers of 28th are alleged to have cut off the ear of an anti-British magistrate in Montreal in 1764.
The Silver Tailed DandiesPeninsulaOfficers' coat-tails were apparently longer than regulation and had ornate silver decorations on them
29th FootThe FirmsPeninsulaFor standing Firm at Albuera
30th FootThe Three Tens1700s/1800sBecause of regimental number
31st FootThe Young Buffsc1760Because of facing color they were mistaken by George II for 3rd Foot who greeted them with "Bravo Buffs" at Dettingen. On being told that they were not the 'Old Buffs' but the 31st Foot, he replied "then bravo Young Buffs."
33rd FootHavercake Lads1700s/1800sCorruption of 'have a cake lad'. Recruiting sergeants using the promise of oatcake to tempt recruits (apparently a great delicacy for those whose diet was somewhat limited)
34th FootCumberland GentlemenPeninsulaLarge officers from Cumberland
35th FootPrince of Orange's Own1700s/1800sWilliam III (of Orange) gave them their orange regimental distinctives
36th FootThe Grasshoppers1700s/1800sFacing color was grass green
39th FootThe Green Linnets1700sPossibly because of facing color
40th FootFighting Fortieth1700Unknown
The Exellers1700s/1800sThe regimental number in Roman numerals was XL
41st FootThe Invalids1787Was originally raised as an invalid regiment
42nd FootThe Forty-twa1700s/1800sBecause of regimental number
44th FootLittle Fighting FoursPeninsulaBecause the regiment had a large number of short men
45th FootOld Stubbornsc1809Because of service at Talavera
46th FootThe Red Feathers1777At Brandywine Creek, the regiment's light company defeated a group of rebels who swore revenge. In order that they not be confused with another regiment the 46th stained their plumes red
47th FootThe Cauliflowersc1740White facings
Wolfe's Own1700sServed under Wolfe at Quebec
50th FootThe Dirty Half-Hundred1700s/1800sBecause black facings ran after they got wet
The Blind Half-Hundred1801Because of large number of ophthalmia cases while serving in Egypt
53rd FootThe Old Five and Threepennies1700s/1800s.Because of regimental number
The Red Regiment1820Name given by Napoleon to then when they guarded him on St. Helena
54th FootThe Popinjays1700s/1800sGreen shade of their facings
The Flamers1781Burned 12 privateers at New London
55th FootThe Cattle Reavers1700s/1800sRecruited from border region of England and Scotland; reavers were cattle thieves
The Two Fives1700sBecause of regimental number
56th FootThe Pompadours1755Because of their purple facings
57th FootThe Steelbacksc1760Had a reputation for being a flogging regiment
The Diehards1811Cry to men of regimental commander who laid serious wounded at Albuera
58th FootThe Honeysuckers1813Were caught stealing beehives by Wellington and were flogged.
The Steelbacks1813Were caught stealing beehives by Wellington and were flogged.
59th FootThe Lilywhites1700s/1800sBecause of facing color
60th FootJaggersPeninsulaRegiment was mostly Germans; corruption of jaegers.
61st FootThe Flowers of Toulouse1814Regiment's heavy casualties at Toulouse were very apparent due to new uniform coats on the dead
62nd FootThe Springers1776Were used as light infantry to pursue rebels at Trois Rivières in Canada
62nd FootThe Splashers1758Regiment had to use their buttons for ammunition when they ran out of ball at the defence of Carrickfergus; their buttons thereafter had a dent or 'splash' in them in commemoration
The Moonrakers1700s/1800sMoonrakers is a nickname of people from the county of Wiltshire in south-west England. Legend says that two smugglers were caught by excise officers retrieving kegs of brandy they had hidden in a pond and told the officers that they were attempting to retrieve a cheese, the reflection of the moon in the water (hence raking the moon).
63rd Foot.The Bloodsuckers1808The Fleur-de-lys shako badge bore a similarity in appearance to the blood-sucking insects in the West Indies that spread the disease which virtually wiped out the regiment
64th FootThe Black Knotsc1760Had black facing color and regimental badge had heraldic device of Lord Stafford -- a knot
69th FootThe Ups and Downs1700s/1800Because of regimental number
The Old Agamemnonsc1790Served as marines on the HMS Agamemnon; nickname supposedly given to them by Admiral Nelson
71st FootThe Assaye Regiment1803For service at Assaye where all 17 officers and 384 men out of 550 were casualties; the remnant being command by a sergeant-major
72nd FootThe Wild Macraesc1780Originally recruited from the Clan Macrae
76th FootThe Old Imortalsc1790Because of high casualties during Lake's campaigns in India. The Seven and Sixpennies 1700s/1800s: after the number - seven shillings and a sixpence in pre-decimal currency.
The Seven and Sixpennies1700s/1800sBecause of its number - seven shillings and a sixpence
77th FootThe Pot Hooks1700s/1800sTheir number '7' looked like a pot-hook
78th FootThe King's Menc1793Because the regimental motto 'Cuidich'n Righ' means 'Help to the King'.
83rd FootFitch's Grenadiersc1795Raised by Lieutenant Colonel Fitch
85th FootThe Young Bucks1700s/1800sFrom Buckinghamshire, but junior to the 16th Foot which was also from that county
The Elegant Extracts1811A large number of officers were court-martialed and had to be replaced by officers from other regiments.
86th FootRoyal County Downs1792An Irish Regiment
87th FootBlayney's Bloodhounds1798Hunted rebels in Ireland under Lord Blaney
The Faughs1700s/1800sFrom their motto "Faugh-a-Ballagh" (Clear the Way)
Aigle Catchers1811Captured an Eagle at Barosa
The Aiglers1811Captured an Eagle at Barosa
88th FootDevil's Own1700s/1800sUnknown
92nd FootGay Gordon's1790sUnknown
95th Foot:The Rifles1800sBecaused they carried a rifle.
Manningham's Sharpshooters1800When the unit was formed it did not have a regimental number.
The Sweepsc.1802The uniform was such a dark green they resembled chimney sweeps.
The GrasshoppersPeninsulaBecause of their green uniform
96th FootThe Ups and Downs1803Because of their regimental number
97th FootThe Celestials1798Because of blue facings
99th FootThe Nines1700s/1800sHence the expression 'dressed up to the nines'. The officers of regiment were considered particularly sartorial).
Brunswick OelsDeath or Glory MenPeninsulaDeath Head Skull on Shako
OwlsPeninsulaCorruption of Oels
Kings German Legion Light BattalionsHalkett's Green GermansPeninsulaHalkett was brigade commander


Royal Horse ArtilleryRight of the LineUnknown
Galloping GunnersUnknownBecause they rode horses
Corps of Drivers, ArtilleyWee GeesPeninsulaSound made to turn horses
Commissariat TrainNewgate Blues1795Uniforms were blue and they recruited from the Newgate area where there was a prison. (The train drivers were considered to be thieves.)
Highland SoldiersRoriesPeninsulaUnknown


Brett-James, Anthony. Life in Wellington's Army London : Tom Donovan Publishing; 1994.
Carew, Tim. How the Regiments got their Nicknames London : Leo Cooper; 1974.
Dalton, Charles. The Waterloo Rollcall New York : Hippocrene Books; 1971.
Fortescue, John. The History of the British Army London : MacMillan; 1910.
Fosten, Bryan. Wellington's Infantry Volume 1; London : Osprey; 1981.
Fraser, Edward. The Soldiers whom Wellington Led London : Methuen; 1913.
Haythornhwaite, Philip J. The Armies of Wellington London : Arms and Armour Press; 1994.
Oman, Charles. Wellington's Army, 1809-1814 London : Greenhill Books; 1993.
Siborne, H.T. Waterloo Letters London : Greenhill Books; 1993.
Swinson, Arthur. A Register of the Regiments and Corps of the British Army London : Archive Press; 1972.


Once again we wish to thank the numerous people who helped us our research: Ron McGuigan, Rory Muir, Lewis Orans, John White of the Association of Friends of the Waterloo Committee, and the re-enactors of the 93rd Sutherland Highland Regiment.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2000.


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Edgar Cavaco said...

Cara Sara,

Estive a rever as cartas de Junot a Napoleão e, relativamente à questão que me colocou, a informação mais tardia que encontro é a seguinte, extraída de uma carta datada de 29 de Março de 1808:
"Para guardar Cascais, o forte de S. Julião e os fortes da margem direita [=norte] do Tejo até à torre de Belém, tenho o batalhão do 47.º de linha, o batalhão do 66.º e a legião hanoveriana, que mandei render a bordo dos navios de Guerra por um batalhão do 70.º de linha; formei um pequeno acampamento, composto por 1500 homens retirados destes três corpos e que, colocados numa posição vantajosa entre S. Julião e Cascais, defenderiam bem estes dois fortes contra um eventual desembarque naquela enseada, que nos poderia inquietar se, de conluio com os habitantes, o inimigo se disseminasse na serra de Sintra; em caso de necessidade, as tropas desse acampamento podem estar facilmente nos respectivos fores em duas horas. [in Jean-Andoche Junot, Diário da I Invasão Francesa, Lisboa, Livros Horizonte, 2008, pp. 157-158].

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Um bem haja!

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Sara Seydak said...

Thank you for your nice comment.

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I love your site! You will be in our prayers and thoughts! Nice and informative post
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