Page images

command of the troops (both regulars and militia) of the district; a regular captain has the colonial rank of lieutenant-colonel, and so with the other ranks in proportion. All this is highly necessary A militia general, who has never made military tactics his particular study, nor has seen other service than that of the parade, though he might make a tolerable shift to wade through the duty of a field day or review, would prove but an awkward leader on the day of battle. A captain of regulars would certainly be à more desirable one. A small mistake in the evolutions of a battalion may be easily rectified by a little consultation on the parade ; but, in the field of battle, it is not quite so trifling an affair. The soldier will always follow, with alacrity and confidence, the officer who, he knows, will lead him with skill and promptitude : when headed by one who knows his duty but by halves, he feels neither confidence in him nor in himself, conscious that his mistakes, his demurs, and delays, must produce inevitable discomfiture and disgrace. Very lately Sir Eyre Coote (the present governor of Jamaica) placed a brigadier-general in each of the three counties, for the purpose of inspecting and directing the militia : these officers be brought out with him in his suit, with this view. Lieutenant-General Nugent (now Sir George Nugent), this officer's predecessor in the government, is much to be thanked and com

mended for his zealous attention to the militia of this island, He certainly took more personal pains to improve it in discipline than any of his predecessors had ever done. Few of them had taken the trouble of making periodical tours through thie island, for the purpose of seeing, with their own eyes, the state of discipline of the respective corps. Even the simple circumstance of his thus reviewing them in person had the effect of inspiring a spirit of emulation, and a wish to excel. He also, no doubt, added something to the esprit du corps of the militia martinets, by giving them a handsome uniform (scarlet with blue and gold), and a hat (chapeau bras) and feather quite a la milituire. Perhaps, however, a round hat would have suited the climate better; and as a proof that this was his cxcellency's private opinion, he always wore one.

During the visit of the combined fleet of the enemy, under Admirals Villeneuve and Gravina, to these seas, an attack on Jamaica was expected. On this occasion the commander-in-chief here laid on martial law, and ordered the militia on permanent duty. But the gallant Nelson (lamented hero! to whose memory every Briton must pay the homage of a sigh) soon relieved these apprehensions, and compelled the enemy to re-measure his steps ' with quicker precipitation than he had advanced. · When a body of men; who are only: occa

sionally soldiers, are thus called out to do regular duty, it were always to be wished, that both officers and men would endeavour to unite the manners and deportment of gentlemen with the requisite attention of the soldier to discipline and duty. But it too frequently happens, that the conduct of both forms a marked contrast to the order and regularity of a well disciplined regular regiment. Though this remark is not universally applicable to our irregular corps, it certainly is so at times. It would, methinks, be commendable in the officers of such corps, when thus called out, to set proper examples to the privates of sobriety, decency, and a strict and impartial performance of duty; joined to a mild and gentlemanly, yet firm and steady, behaviour towards these men, many of whom are no way inferior in respectability to themselves. . Surely discipline may be enforced in such a corps, without the aid of harsh unmannerly language, and a contemptuous rudeness, which nothing but ignorance can excuse, and this temporary authority protect. They should endure the hardships and inconve. niences incidental to a military life with patience and cheerfulness; and, above all, they should be rigidly disinterested, and disdain to bring to punishment that inattention, self-indulgence, and irregularity which they themselves may have set an example of. The gentleman, who quits his profession, his family, and his home, to act as a soldier in defence of his country, whether he carry a musķet or wield a sword, performs an equally honourable duty. The ignorant con, ceited coạcomb, who fancies himself highly exalted above his fellow subjects by being dubbed a yolunteer officer, and is fond of shewing his au, thority, would do well to ponder on the words of a liberal and enlightened officer of high rank and illustrious birth. At the commencement of the volunteer system, that great man and consummate soldier said, “ give me a musket, and I will do my duty as a volunteer in the ranks, with as much pride and alacrity as if you were to put me at the head of the corps ; in performing that subordinate duty, my station, I should conceive, was equally honourable with that of the officer who led me.” On the other hand, it would appear as if many of the privates, on such occa, sions, were of opinion that the putting on of a red coat was a sort of licence for all manner of dissipation, disorder, and blackguardism; such behaviour, in short, as was disgraceful to them both as gentlemen and soldiers.

One great evil that was long complained of in the Jamaica militia was the grossly partial and indiscriminate distribution of commissions to whoever had favour, interest, or influence with the colonels of the different regiments. In consequence of this, raw, inexperienced youth, the sons of men of wealth, influence, and family-con

[ocr errors]

nection, were often made officers, at the age of fifteen or sixteen, in preference to men who had done the duty of privates in the regiment for fifteen, twenty, or more years, and who, of course, were more eligible in many points of view, This operated as might be expected. Such officers were necessarily ignorant of their duty, and the bulk of the privates, seeing themselves thus contemptuously superseded by boys, who had hardly or never served in the ranks at all, naturally felt themselves discouraged, if not insulted, by this shameful and glaring injustice. It is not surprising that they should feel little respect for such officers, who, in addition to their ignorance of duty, were sometimes arbitrary and supercilious. However, men may, consider such subjects abstractedly, there are few whose feelings do not revolt at a systematic and settled neglect. Without meaning to say, that there are not other qualifications, besides seniority, necessary to entitle a private to promotion, it will doubtless be allowed that when these are not disputed, long services and good conduct ought to take place of untried conduct and no services at all, Any one, who was a relation of the colonel, or a relation of the colonel's wife; who was in favour with this gentleman, of in favour with any of his friends, required no other merit or pretension to preferment in the militia; he recommended the individual to the commander-in-chief, and the

« PreviousContinue »