James Kochan Fine Art & Antiques

Specializing in American and British art, manuscripts, imprints, maritime and martial artifacts, 1700-1850

Arms & Militaria

Officer's Saber of the 43rd Light Infantry

           In 1803, a few British infantry regiments were converted to light infantry and put into special training at Shorncliffe under Sir John Moore, in order to provide the British Army with specialist troops capable of dealing with the voltigeurs  of Napoleon's army.  Instead of adopting the light infantry variant of the 1803 saber for all of their officers, the colonels of the first two regiments, the 52nd Foot and the 43rd or 'Monmouthshire" Regiment, instead determined to fix upon regimental pattern swords or sabers completely different from those dictated by army regulations.  An newly-joined officer in the 52nd, writing in 1805, commented that he had to purchase "a regimental sabre (different pattern to the Line)" at the rather hefty sum of four guineas.  The swords of the 52nd and 43rd share the same, unfullered, slightly curved blade, double-edged for the last ten inches to the 'spear' point.  They both had similar stirrup-hilt forms, the 43rd's with a reverse-P guard with lion-head pommel.  43rd officers wore gold trimmings to their uniform and the mountings to the hilt are similarly of gilt-brass (the 52nd, wearing silver trim, adopted a steel hilt (as with the 85th Foot light infantry sword, seen earlier in this catalog).  The grip is wrapped in fishskin, with three gilt, decorative studs mounted on each side.  The crossguard bears circular langets, upon which are mounted the light infantry bugle horn in relief.  On the blade are etched the royal arms on the right or obverse face, with a crown surmounting a strung bugle over the regimental number, XLIII.
            Part of the reinforcements sent to America in 1814, the transports bearing the 1st Battalion of the 43rd Foot Light Infantry Regiment arrived off the mouth of the Mississippi River on 31 December 1814, joining the veterans of the Chesapeake campaign earlier that summer in an attempt on New Orleans.  In the assault against Jackson's lines at Chalmette on 8 January 1815, Major General Sir Edward Pakenham pushed forward three strong assault columns in the pre-light of early morning.  Although the main assault column was intended to force the American left, critical to the plan was taking the forward redoubt on the right of Jackson’s line. To crack this tough nut, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rennie of the 21st Regiment led a small column of elite light infantry companies drawn from crack regiments.  In the lead were the men of the 43rd Light Infantry, followed by the light companies drawn from the other regiments. Rennie and his men raced towards the redoubt with such speed that the waiting Americans were only able to fire a few rounds from the cannon before the British troops were already in the ditch and madly pawing and clambering their way up the walls and through the embrasures, the only troops to take their objective--but it was short-lived.  A withering fire now erupted from the American lines, killing Rennie and a score of his men.  Those fortunate few still alive—most wounded--were forced out of the redoubt and into the ditch, flattening themselves against the outer walls or feigning death, until they were able to slip back along the levee to the safety of the British camp.  Elsewhere on the battlefield, the story was very much the same.  The valiant, but futile final attack had been broken and New Orleans was saved.

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