Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Hamilton Smith is best known in military history circles for this Costume of the Army of the British Empire, produced towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It is an accurate and important depiction of contemporary British uniform.
In this Guide, Ray Westlake has drawn together a full set of Hamilton Smith’s scarce and extremely difficult-to-find colour military costume plates. As well as the British Army, a number of lesser-painted formations have been featured, such as the West India Regiment, King’s German Legion, Duke of Brunswick Oels’s Corps, the York Light Infantry Volunteers, Royal Military Asylum and native troops of the East India Company. For some 30 of them, he has included copies of Hamilton Smith’s original drawings used for the work. Also useful are the six colour charts showing facing and lace colours. With a total of 60 informative colour plates, this Guide will prove to be a welcome addition to the library of all those interested in military uniform. They form an important and permanent record of the British Army at the height of its successes during the Peninsular War, during the reign of King George IV, a monarch whose interest in militaria was very wide-ranging – as well as illustrations of tactics and of the latest in military technology, he was also fascinated by, and very knowledgeable in, military uniforms, standards and colours.
Hamilton Smith’s military career began in 1787, when he studied at the Austrian academy for artillery and engineers at Mechelen and Leuven in Belgium. Although his military service, which ended in 1820 and included the Napoleonic Wars, had him travel extensively (including the West Indies, Canada and the United States), much of his time was spent at a desk job in Britain. One of his noteworthy achievements was an 1800 experiment to determine which colour should be used for military uniforms. The increasing accuracy of firearms, especially rifles, brought advantages to shades which offer a less distinctive target – by testing the accuracy of a rifle company against grey, green and red targets, he showed scientifically the advantages of grey (and, to a lesser extent, green) uniforms over red ones common at the time, and recommended that grey be adopted for riflemen and light infantry. The British Army did not heed his advice, with green becoming the colour associated with light infantry.