Thomas Plunket

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Thomas Plunkett
Born1785
Newtown, Wexford, Ireland
Died1839
Colchester, England
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1805-1817,
RankCorporal
Unit95th Rifles 41st (Welch) Regiment of Foot
Battles/warsAnglo-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, making him the world's first sniper.

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. Plunket ran forward about 90 metres (100 yd) lay down in a supine position in the snow and shot the French Général de Brigade Auguste-Marie-François Colbert with his Baker rifle.[2][3] 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. Plunket only just made it back to his own lines before being charged down by a dozen cavalry troopers, but the deaths of the two officers were sufficient to throw the pending French attack into disarray.[3][2][4] The shots were "from a range that seemed extraordinary to the" men of the 95th Rifles,[5] who were trained to shoot targets with a Baker Rifle at 180 metres (200 yd) and whose marksmanship 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 (55 yd) with volley fire.[2][3][6]

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.[7] 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.[2][1]

References[edit]

  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 c d Hadaway, Stuart. Rifleman Thomas Plunkett: 'A Pattern for the Battalion.'
  3. ^ a b c Costello, Edward (1852). The adventures of a soldier; or, Memoirs of Edward Costello, narratives of ... p. 12.
  4. ^ Oman, Charles (1902). A History of the Peninsular War: 1807–1809. 1. Oxford. p. 569. OCLC 1539767.
  5. ^ "He was shot by Tom Plunket, a noted character in the 95th from a range that seemed extraordinary to the riflemen of that day" (Oman 1902, p. 569)
  6. ^ "The Weapons Collection: Technical Notes - Introduction". REME Museum of Technology. Archived from the original on 28 August 2008.. See paragraph six in the section "Development of the lock"
  7. ^ Holmes, Richard (2001). Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket Page 416, Harper and Collins

Further reading[edit]

  • Costello, Edward (1852). The adventures of a soldier; or, Memoirs of Edward Costello, narratives of ... p. 9. —"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.