Bircorn - The ties of Blood Peninsular War Novels
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The Hardest Fight
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Even To The Knife
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Take, Burn or Destroy
A Dozen Bakers
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> Glossary
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Napoleonic Days



Here are some words you might find in the books, with a brief layman’s explanation to their meaning:

We've added quite a few engineering terms which crop up in the passages about sieges


Abbatis                     Barricade made of tree with braches pointing towards enemy

ADC                          Aide de Camp - officer on general's staff

Afrancesado            Spanish sympathiser for French cause

Banquette                 Firing step behind parapet

Bastion                      Work with two faces pushing out from fortress wall to provide flanking fire 

Battalion                    The unit of a regiment in active service. Usually another battalion would be at the regiment’s home base. Some regiments raised several battalions.

Battery                        Group of cannon, usually six or eight

Billet                           Accommodation indoors

Bivouac                     Soldier’s camp in the field - outside        

Brigade                      A group of battalions, typically three in the British army

Brown Bess              Nickname for standard British musket

Caisson                     Ammunition wagon

Canister                     Artillery round – a tin containing lead balls

Carbine                      Short-barrelled rifle used by cavalry

Cerro                          Spanish for hill 

CO                              Commanding  Officer

Company                   Unit within a battalion (often 10, numbering up to 100 men)

Cornet                        2nd lieutenant in British cavalry

Corps                         A large force capable of independent action. The classic French unit, although Wellington did give occasional corps commands to Hill, Beresford or Graham

Counterscarp            Vertical face of ditch on outer side

Cunette                      A flooded trench dug in bottom of fortress's ditch 

Demi-lune                  Half-moon-shaped ravelin, or exterior fortification 

Division                     A group of several battalions, often broken into two brigades

Dragoon                    Cavalry – often used for patrols, escorts etc

Embrasure                Gap in parapet for cannon to fire

Enceinte                    The whole perimeter of the fortress

Enfilade                     Fire across the enemy's front - crossfire

Ensign                       2nd lieutenant in British infantry

Fascine                      Bundle of brushwood used for protection

Fausse-braie             Earthen banking at base of rampart

Forlorn Hope             Volunteers to be first into breech at siege. Low chance of surviving, but usually well rewarded 

Fougasse                  Land mine   

Gabion                       Basket filled with earth, used for protection

Galloper                     Message-carrier      

Glacis                         Slope leading up to fortress walls

Gorge                        The rear of an outwork - sometimes vulnerable

Grenadier                  Elite infantrymen

Guerrilla                     The “small war” – Spanish patriots fighting outside field armies (guerrilleros)

Handspike                 Used to manoeuvre cannon into position

Hidalgo                      Spanish nobleman

Howitzer                    Short-barrelled cannon for “lobbing”

Hussar                       Light cavalry  

Junta                          Spanish government body or committee 

Lodgement                Advanced position taken from the enemy

Lunette                      Triangular outwork

Materiel                     Miliary equipment

Mortar                        Short-barrelled artillery for firing over small distances 

NCO                          Non-commissioned Officer (eg corporal, sergeant)

Ordenanza                Portuguese patriots, similar to Spanish guerrilleros

Ordnance                  Cannon, powder etc. Master General of Ordnance in charge of artillery and engineers, independent of general army

Palisade                    Fence used to close gaps in fortress outworks

Parapet                      "Wall" at front of trench or rampart 

Picket                         (or picquet) guard-outpost or stake for tying horses

Portfire                       Holder for slow-match

Rampart                     Main defence platform of fortress

Redan                        Arrow shaped fortification

Redoubt                     Detached fortress or strongpoint

Retrenchment            New defence built within the breach

Rifle                            Spiralled groove in barrel made it more accurate, but slower to load than musket

Spike                          Disabling cannon by hammering nail into touch-hole

Teniente                     Spanish lieutenant

Tio Pepe/Copas       Spanish nicknames for King Joseph

Tiraillleur                    French skirmisher

Troop                         Cavalry unit, similar to infantry company

Vedette                      Cavalry scout

Vent                            Touch-hole on cannon

Voltigeur                    French skirmisher, literally “vaulter” operating with cavalry 

Zouave                       French infantry, originally colonial troops from Africa


© Peter Youds 2018