Thomas Plunket

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Thomas Plunkett
Born 1785
Newtown, Wexford, Ireland
Died 1839
Colchester, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1805-1817,
Rank Corporal

95th Rifles

41st (Welch) Regiment of Foot

Anglo-Spanish War (1796–1808)

Peninsular War

War of the Seventh Coalition

Thomas Plunket (1785–1839) was an Irish soldier in the British Army's 95th Rifles regiment. He served throughout the Peninsular War and later in the Waterloo Campaign of 1815. He is remembered for killing a French general, during the Peninsular War, by hitting him with an extremely long range shot.

Early life and Army Career[edit]

Thomas Plunket was born in 1785 in Newtown, Wexford, Ireland. He joined the 95th Rifles in May 1805. In 1807, he took part in the British invasions of the River Plate (1806-1807). During the 2nd Battle of Buenes Aires, the 95th Rifles were heavily engaged in street-fighting during which Plunket killed around 20 Spanish troops while sniping from a rooftop with others from his unit. They retreated when Spanish artillery bombarded their position with grapeshot. Plunket also shot a Spanish officer, who was waving a white handkerchief with the possible intention of inviting a truce. This resulted in further Spanish artillery bombardment which ended with the British surrender.[1]

Plunket is mainly remembered for a feat at the Battle of Cacabelos during Moore's retreat to Corunna in 1809. Here Plunket shot the French Général de Brigade Auguste-Marie-François Colbert at a range of around 600 metres (2,000 ft) using a Baker rifle.[2][3]

Plunket had run forward to make this shot. Before returning to his own lines he reloaded and shot down Colbert's aide-de-camp, Latour-Maubourg, who had rushed to the aid of the fallen general, which showed that the first shot had not been a fluke; the deaths were sufficient to throw the pending French attack into disarray.[2][4] The shots were at a sufficiently long distance to impress others in the 95th Rifles, whose marksmanship (with the Baker rifle) was far better than the ordinary British soldiers who were armed with a Brown Bess musket and only trained to shoot into a body of men at 50 metres (160 ft) with volley fire.[5]

Later life[edit]

In 1817, Plunket was discharged from the 95th after recovering from the head wound he received at the Battle of Waterloo. Awarded a pension of 6d a day, he soon enlisted back into the army in a line regiment, 41st Foot.[1] The regiment was being inspected by his former commanding officer, General Sir Thomas Sydney Beckwith when the general recognised Plunket and inquired into what had happened to him. He was invited to the officers mess that night and the next day was promoted to corporal, and soon also had his pension raised to one shilling a day with Beckwith's influence.[6] He later renounced his pension in exchange for four years' pay and land in Canada, but he returned to England after a year, considering the land unsuitable.

Plunket and his wife returned to the United Kingdom and, nearly destitute, made a small living as itinerant traders. Plunket died suddenly at Colchester in 1839. Several retired officers in the town heard about the death and recognized his name; as a result, they took up a collection for his widow and paid for his funeral and gravestone.[7][1]


  1. ^ a b c Glover, David. "Thomas Plunkett: A Pattern for the Battalion". 2nd Bn. 95th Rifles, Battle Re-enactment and Living History Society. Retrieved 25 September 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Hadaway, Stuart. Rifleman Thomas Plunkett: 'A Pattern for the Battalion.'
  3. ^ Costello, Edward - 'Rifleman Costello' ISBN 1-84677-000-9 First published in 1841 entitled "The Adventures of a Soldier". Costello served with Plunkett and can both cite personally witnessed experiences and the legend he already was at the time.
  4. ^ Oman, Charles (1902). A History of the Peninsular War: 1807–1809. 1. Oxford. p. 569. OCLC 1539767. 
  5. ^ The Weapons Collection: Technical Notes - Introduction, REME Museum of Technology. See paragraph six in the section "Development of the lock"
  6. ^ Holmes, Richard (2001). Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket Page 416, Harper and Collins
  7. ^ Hadaway, Stuart. Rifleman Thomas Plunkett: 'A Pattern for the Battalion'. Published by the Napoleon Series. October 2000.

Further reading[edit]

  • Costello, Edward (1839). "Memoirs of Edward Costello, K.S.F"". The United Service Journal, Part 1. H. Colburn. p. 64.  —"Colonel Beckwith [,the 95th CO,] broke the silence, by calling out, 'Private Thomas Plunket, step into the square!' All eyes, it is needless to say, were eagerly fixed upon Plunket, as he halted, with his rifle shouldered, in the finest position of military attention, within a few paces of his Colonel. 'Here, men,' exclaimed the commanding officer, pointing to Plunket, 'here stands a pattern for the battalion!'"
  • Rutherford-Moore, Richard. "Plunket's Shot". Archived from the original on 11 October 2012.