The logic behind the Forlorn Hope was pretty much a question of time. A musket typically took 20-30 secs to reload. So did a cannon. The Forlorn Hope was a small group of men sent ahead to trigger the defenders initial volley. This would (theoretically) give the main storming party 20+ seconds to climb the breach before the defenders were able to fire again. Very few men survived a forlorn hope. To do so was to be guaranteed promotion.
The officer leading the forlorn hope was usually a fairly junior lieutenant. While purchase and influence still had a major influence on promotion, restrictions had been placed on them by the Horse Guards (under the much maligned Duke of York). Under the new regulations, the commission of an officer who died on active service went to the senior lieutenant in the battalion.
Harry Smith asked to lead the forlorn hope at Ciudad Rodrigo. At the time he had effectively been commanding a brigade for some time, but was still only a regimental lieutenant. (Regimental rank determined his pay and position when not on active service or upon retirement.) Being intelligent and ambitious, he was impatient for promotion. The officer in charge refused his request on the grounds that:
As it turned out, one of Harry's close friends, Captain Uniacke, was killed and Harry took over his company, but was too distraught to celebrate.
Like Harry Smith, Sharpe's request to lead a forlorn hope at Badajoz was turned down and for pretty much the same reasons. Like Harry Smith, Sharpe was a "Captain by morning" but (given Sharpe's anomalous position) whether this was a regimental or field rank is open to question.
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Last update 13/2/03