It is 1813. The First Battalion of the South Essex Regiment has suffered terrible losses in the fighting in Spain and the entire regiment is in danger of being disbanded as a result. Major Sharpe (Sean Bean) and Sergeant Major Harper (Daragh O'Malley) are sent back to England to find out why replacements have not been sent. Sharpe is told that the Second Battalion of the South Essex is drawing pay for over 700 soldiers, but when he arrives at the Second Battalion's barracks, he finds only eleven men, even though there is regular recruiting for the regiment. Sharpe senses something is amiss and is determined to get to the bottom of things.