Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns


Albuera 1811 – The Electronic Archives: The Bravery of Ensign Thomas 3rd Foot

Edited by Guy Dempsey


Fifteen year old Ensign Edward Thomas of the Buffs lost his life at Albuera defending the regimental colour of his unit.  His courageous behavior was so impressive that it was discussed in Parliament in connection with the vote of thanks to Marshal Beresford and his army for the victory.  Unfortunately, the members of Parliament had some of their facts wrong, so the utterance “I will surrender it [the colour] only with my life” was incorrectly attributed to him even though those words were actually spoken by Lt. Matthew Latham, the officer who defended the King’s colour of the regiment.  The last moments of Ensign Price’s short life are captured in a letter written by Captain Stevens, his company commander, to Price’s aunt, Mrs. E. Matthews, who subsequently communicated the details to Lord Londonderry in a letter dated September 14, 1828:

“. . . . The subject to which I allude is the notice your Lordship has been pleased to particularly take of the gallant conduct of my nephew, Ensign Thomas of the Buffs, who fell in that battle bravely defending a colour of his regiment.  The little hero was born in Jamaica, and being an orphan, was committed to my care at the age of four years, and was educated and provided for by my husband Doctor Matthews, who was then the surgeon of the same regiment . . . .

“He had, previously to his regiment’s being broken by the French cavalry, taken the command of Captain Steven’s company, there being no other subaltern officer but himself attached to the company, and the captain being wounded at the commencement of the battle.  The circumstances are detailed by Captain Steven’s in a letter he wrote to Dr. Matthews from Olivenza four days after the action, which letter I now have before me, and I beg leave to transcribe an extract for your Lordship’s information . . . .

“The extract [from Captain Steven’s letter] runs thus: ‘I cannot refrain from tears, while I relate the determined bravery of your gallant little subaltern, who fell on the 16th instant, covered with glory; and it must in some measure alleviate the grief I know you will feel at his loss, to know he fell like a hero.  He rallied my company after I was wounded and taken prisoner, crying out, ‘Rally on me, men, I will be your pivot.’ Such glorious conduct must surely meet its reward in that world where all troubles cease, and all grief is at an end.  He was buried with all care possible by a sergeant and a private, the only two survivors out of my company, which consisted of sixty-three men when taken into action.’

‘The colours he died in protecting, it appears he took possession of at the moment the officer who held them was killed, his company being dispersed.  This gallant little fellow was not sixteen years of age when he so bravely sacrificed his life for the honour of King and country.  His loss was, and still is most painfully felt by me, for he was as truly amiable in his private life as he was gallant and brave in performing his duty to King and country as a soldier. . . .“


Charles William Vane, Marquis of Londonderry, Narrative of the Peninsular War from 1808-1813. (3rd Edition, 2 vols., London 1829) Vol. 2, p. 317-319


Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2008


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