Edward Cardwell was Secretary of State for War between 1870 and 1874; he embarked on a much-needed reform of the British army which continued after he left political life, exhausted by his struggle with the army. The Crimean War (1854-6) had highlighted the shortcomings of the Commissariat and supply departments; it had also demonstrated that reforms were essential. The Indian Mutiny (1857) reinforced the fact that the army was inefficient despite the bravery of the soldiers.

Also, it was Liberal policy to attack privilege and inefficiency so Cardwell's reforms implemented two of Gladstone's political principles. The reform of the army was made more urgent by the victories of the Prussian army over Austria in the Seven Weeks' War (1866) and over the French in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). It was clear that Bismarck had created a new, very professional and effective military power in Europe.

Cardwell undertook the task of modernising the army through a series of measures.

  • the War Office Act reorganised the War Office. The various sections of the War Department were all combined in the same building; the Horse Guards were included under the jurisdiction of the War Office
  • the Commander-in-Chief was made subordinate to the Secretary for War
  • the Army Enlistment Act fixed the term of enlistment to 12 years, part on active service, part on reserve. Prior to this, enlistment was for 'life'.
  • the length of service overseas was limited to six years followed by six years in the reserve.
  • the Martini-Henry breech-loading rifle was introduced as the main weapon of the infantry
  • the purchase of Commissions was abolished; the selection and promotion of officers was to be by merit rather than money and influence
  • flogging in peacetime in the Royal Navy was suspended
  • the regimental structure was reorganised on the basis of two 'linked' battalions, one serving overseas and one serving at home.
  • Britain was divided into 69 districts, each with its own county regiment and were called by that name (for example, the York & Lancs, the Warwickshires)
  • regiments were given a local attachment for recruitment purposes
  • flogging in war time was suspended in the Royal Navy
  • flogging in the army was abolished
  • the regular and milita battalions of the arnmy were amalgamated into territorial regiments with local names and local depots

Last modified 8 August 2002