The Royal Marines during the War of 1812


General History

Notes on the Formation, Deployment, and Dispersal of the Royal Marine Battalions



General History

With a need to free troops for service in the Peninsula, the Admiralty in 1810 created a battalion of marines and sent them to be a part of the garrison in Lisbon. This was done by combining men from each of the four marine divisions. In 1812, this unit served aboard Admiral Popham's fleet off the North Coast of Spain where they were joined by a second battalion. Together, by being landed here and there, they managed to disrupt coastal traffic and supplies, capture several towns and ports and pin down the northern division of the French Army.

Wishing to pursue the war with America, the two battalions were recalled to England, re-equipped and then sent to the Chesapeake Bay. They arrived in June 1813. With the Navy and several other units, they proceeded to roam at will up and down the bay creating chaos wherever they landed. Both battalions were withdrawn in September and sent to aid in the defense of Canada. By May of 1814, the 2nd was used to augment Commodore Yeo's ships on Lake Ontario and the remainder were merged with the 1st. In July, the 1st was also "disposed for Naval Service".

In 1814, with the demise of Napoleon, Britain decided to send a larger force to America and the Chesapeake. Along with regiments from the Peninsular army, a third battalion of Royal Marines was organized from detachments in Holland and again from the divisions in England and added to the force. Upon reaching the region, this battalion was renumbered the 2nd and was combined with the 21st Foot to create General Ross' 3rd Brigade and served as such at Bladensburg and North Point. A new 3rd battalion was created by Admiral Cockburn by joining three companies of Royal Marines and three companies of Colonial Marines.

In addition to the above battalions, Marines from the ships in the Chesapeake were used as landing forces and raiding parties throughout the campaign. Frequently, provisional battalions were formed from these Marines, and sometimes with sailors, and were used to reinforce the regular units. This occurred at North Point. Another provisional battalion was thrown together for the assault on New Orleans and along with the 85th, managed to breach the American line on the south side of the Mississippi. A company sized detachment operated independently out of Pensacola among the Creek Indians in the southeast.

As can be seen, the Royal Marines served throughout the War of 1812 (and the Napoleonic Wars) in every capacity and every theater of operations. By 1814, there were approximately 30,000 Marines in service throughout the world.


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Notes from Historical Record of the Royal Marine Forces
by Paul Harris Nicolas, Thomas & Boone, London 1845

1st Battalion:

Originally composed of 6 companies of 80 men each – embarked at Plymouth on 29 Nov 1810 – arrived at Lisbon on 8 Dec 1810 under the command of Major Richard Williams – Quartered at St. Georges Castle – departed Lisbon 17 Feb 1812. 

 Letter of Thanks on pg 237.

Returned to England – strengthened – 2 Majors; 9 Captains; 14 1st Lieutenants; 4 2nd Lieutenants; 1 Paymaster; 1 Adjutant; 1 Quarter Master; 1 Surgeon; 1 Asst-Surgeon; 5 Staff-Sergeants; 39 Sergeants; 41 Corporals; 17 Drummers and 559 Privates – sent back to North Coast of Spain with Admiral Popham’s squadron.

2nd Battalion arrives August 1812 – on 21 Dec 1812 both battalions sail from Santander – arrive at Spithead on 12 Jan 1813.

Both Battalions are increased to following:

1 Major Commanding; 1 Major; 8 Captains; 16 Lieutenants; 1 Paymaster; 1 Adjutant; 1 Quarter Master; 1 Surgeon; 1 Asst-Surgeon; 2 Staff-Sergeants; 40 Sergeants; 40 Corporals; 16 Drummers and 672 Privates.

Each Battalion also includes 1 Captain of Artillery; 4 Lieutenants of Artillery; 4 Sgt Art; 4 Cpl Art; 6 Bombardiers; 2 Drummers and 60 Gunners.

Artillery attached to battalions: 4 - Light 6 Pounders; 2 - Light 5 ¼ Howitzers; 2 -10 inch mortars; 2 - brass 8 inch howitzers.

1st Battalion also includes 50 gunners under Lt. Balchild trained as Rocket Corp.

On 10 February, Major Williams was promoted to the brevet rank of Lt. Col. In order to give him the precedence of Major Malcolm in case their becoming brigaded with the Army, the latter having senior Army rank.

On 30 March, troops embarked; sailed 7 April 1813.  Arrived at Bermuda on 23 May; landed, trained, re-embarked and sailed on 8 June; arriving in the Chesapeake on 18 June.  Combined with Army units into two brigades under the command of Beckwith.

Both battalions landed on June 22nd in co-ordination of attack on Craney Island - actual assault is carried out by three companies of Marines drawn from HMS San Domingo, Marlborough and Plantagenet under command of Capt. Sterling.  Both battalions landed in assault on Hampton on June 25th.

3 Companies from each battalion taken by Admiral Cockburn on 3 July for attack on North Carolina.  Cockburn attacks Ocracoke and Portsmouth and capture schooner Atlas and brig Anaconda on 13 July.

Warren with rest of battalions moves up the Potomac chasing USS Adams - Off St. Georges Island on 14 July; over to Wicomico and then Hollis' March west side of Nominy Bay by 20 July.

Brigades landed on Kent Island on 7 August; embarked 22 August.  On 26 Aug, troops landed in Talbot County.

2nd Battalion is sent to Canada on 24 September.  1st Battalion sails on 9 October on request from Gov-Gen. Proctor based on information of defeat of Barclay on Lake Erie.  Battalions sailed to Quebec and moved toward the Great Lakes/Lake Champlain - Some troops sailed upriver to Montreal "on the steam boat".  (1812 List members have identified the vessel as the "Swiftsure" owned by a Mr. Molson!)

2nd Battalion is ordered by the Admiralty on 5 May 1814 to be broken up and dispersed among the Great Lake squadrons after making up the deficiencies of the 1st Battalion (bring the 1st up to full strength).  2nd Battalion is able to participate in assault on Ft. Oswego before the break-up takes effect.  Lt. Col. Malcolm and staff report to the Chesapeake.

1st Battalion is ordered by the Admiralty on 13 July 1814 to be placed at the disposal of Commodore Yeo.  The distribution was as follows and to be effective on 24 August:

Lake Ontario - 3 - Capt., 2 - 1st Lt., 2 - 2nd Lt., 6 - Sgt., 5 - Cpl., 3 Drummers and 310 Privates.
Lake Champlain - 1 - Capt., 3 - 1st Lt., 8 - Sgt., 8 - Cpl., 2 Drummers and 160 Privates.

Remnants of 1st Battalion with Col. Williams to proceed to Bermuda - leave Quebec on 9 Nov - arrive at Halifax on 25 Nov.

Consists of Lt. Col. Williams, 1 - Major, 1 - Capt., 3 - 1st Lt., 2 - 2nd Lt., 1 - Adjutant, 1 - Quarter Master, 1- Brigade major (a 1st Lt.), 1 - Paymaster, 26 - Sgt., 22 - Cpl., 11 -Drummers and 46 Privates.

3rd Battalion:   

In 1813, with Napoleon’s armies being pushed back on all fronts, the Dutch started an uprising against the French occupation forces.  Britain gathered what forces were available and sent them to the Netherlands.  All available Marines and a small battalion of the Guards – preceded the Prince of Orange who was then hailed as Sovereign.   The Marines were under the command of a Major Lewis.

Withdrawn from the Netherlands and brigaded at Portsmouth with other Marine detachments into 3rd Battalion.  Sailed 7 April and arrived in Bermuda on 9 June 1814.

Strength: 1 - Major, 4 - Capt., 10 - 1st Lt., 11 - 2nd Lt., 1 - Adjutant, 1 - Quarter Master, 10 Companies of 100 men each.  Attached one company of RM Artillery under Capt. Harrison with 1st Lt. Moore and 2nd Lt. Lewis.

Arrives in the Chesapeake on 16 July 1814.

                Occupies Leonardtown – 19 July
                Nominy River - 20 July
                St. Clements Bay – 23 July
                Machodic Creek – 26 July
                Chaptico – 30 July
                Yocomico River – 3 August (Kinsale)
                Caan River – 7 August

Lt. Col. Malcolm and 2nd Battalion staff arrive – 3rd Battalion becomes the new 2nd Battalion

                St Marys Creek -  12 August

New 2nd Battalion is part of Ross’s force that attacks Washington

4 September – Orders from Cochrane for creation of new 3rd Battalion – 3 companies of Royal Marines and 3 companies of Colonial Marines – to be commanded by Major Lewis (ex-commander of 2nd).

Part of 3rd battalion is with 2nd Battalion during attack on Baltimore.  Major Lewis returns to England due to poor health and Capt. Clements assumes command.

2nd and 3rd Battalions both leave the Chesapeake in November 1814 and rendezvous with 1st Battalion at Cumberland Island, GA.- 6 January – 2nd is commanded by Capt. Cole.

Colonial battalion has only 120 white men; blacks are wretchedly equipped; some without blankets; others with Greatcoats and scarcely a ‘havresac’ or canteen among them and many without shoes.


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Time Line 


1st Battalion

2nd Battalion

3rd Battalion

December, 1810 

Arrives in Lisbon

February, 1812

Leaves Lisbon and goes back to England

Summer 1812

Operates off North Coast Spain

August, 1812  

Arrives North Coast Spain

January, 1813

Arrives back in England

Arrives back in England

June, 1813

Arrives in Chesapeake

Arrives in Chesapeake

September, 1813


Leaves for Canada

October, 1813

Leaves for Canada


March, 1814



Organized and sent to Holland

May, 1814


Dispersed except for staff


July, 1814



Arrives in Chesapeake

August, 1814

Dispersed except for Staff and 100 men

Staff takes over 3rd Batt. & renames it 2nd Batt.
Battle of Bladensburg

Taken over by staff of former 2nd Battalion

September, 1814


Takes part in attack on Baltimore


November, 1814

Remnants are
En route to Bermuda

December, 1814


Leaves Chesapeake

Leaves Chesapeake

January, 1815

At Cumberland Island

At Cumberland Island

At Cumberland Island


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