Notes on Wellington’s Cavalry in the Peninsula: 10th Hussars (The Prince of Wales Own)
By Ray Foster
10th November 1808 [landed at Corunna with Lieutenant
General David Baird]
Together with 7th and 15th Hussars they, led by Lieutenant Colonel George Leigh follow up Baird via Astorga but well in his rear, they will all become parts of Lieutenant General Henry Paget’s Cavalry Division and after several false starts will be engaged deep in Spain against their French opposite numbers.By 21st December they have joined the main army under Lieutenant General John Moore and have discovered cavalry of Marshal Nicholas Soult’s Corps by Sahagun however, fatefully they have the infamous Brevet Colonel John Slade in Brigade command. Paget, taking with him 15th Hussars is to round the town whilst Slade flushes out General Debelle’s troopers so that 15th Hussars can fall upon them as they emerge into more open space.
Leaving the exploits of Paget’s detachments to their own history 10th Hussars under the semi-dysfunctional Slade quite simply misses its chance; their commander [the master of prevarication] prevaricates. Being a child-of-privilege Slade escapes just punishment while on 23rd December two squadrons of 10th led by Lieutenant Colonel George Quentin have reconnoitered the enemy’s lines about Saldana without incident, two days later at Mayorga it is Leigh that comes on with a single squadron to support the charge there hardly making contact so that all that remains is to fall back to begin rearguard duty.
Moore by now has ordered a swift retreat and this to be all the way back to meet his transport fleet scheduled to dock at Corunna to maintain a continuation of that flight, all precipitated by discovery of Emperor Napoleon revealed to be no more than 25 miles distant and with a very large army. By now 10th Hussars will be down in number to 514 men and horses but with a small hint of action to come as they retire over the bridge at Castro Gonzalo with Benevente a little way back, it is 29th December and once more they will come up to the action somewhat late.
Paget already has 18th Hussars and half of 3rd Light Dragoons KGL up against no less a worthy opponent than Chasseurs of the Guard; showing figures about 450 sabres strong 10th Hussars get up no better than close support, predictably too slow to have a share of the casualties as the thing calms down for rearguard duties to be resumed.
Going back westward all the way to Corunna it is the lot of all of the cavalry [and artillery] units to divest themselves of their mounts, it is reported that in the case of 10th Hussars they turn over to 309 horses to the army’s commissariat only a handful of the best chargers, thirty in number to be saved, the rest to be shot and dumped in the sea. Adding to this depressing tale Captain Frederick Darby and seventeen troopers have already died of ‘exhaustion’ as have sixty more of the horses.
Having taken no part in the defensive battle being fought as the transports finally came to portside 10th Hussars will have collected a good number of non-combatant men and walking sick to count heads on their return to England at;
22nd January 1809 [landed at ports in England]
It will be a full four years before this Regiment returns to the western theatre of the Peninsula, it is known that their efforts to restore horse numbers had been fulfilled by April of 1810 but other matters must have kept them from embarking.
Mid February 1813 [landed at Lisbon]
Times have changed since their departure; the fortunes of war have swung heavily against the Grande Armee of Emperor Napoleon and in Spain the news of the catastrophe of the rout from Russia is being brought home to every Corps, Division and garrison in the country where the defensive now rules.
Wellington will have succeeded in having his masters at Horse Guards reinforce his army, as the winter turns to spring two of their old acquaintances’ from the Corunna evacuation, 15th and 18th Hussars will have come ashore so that coming out of their cantonments about Belem during April these three regiments find themselves under the command of Brigadier Lieutenant Colonel Colquhoun Grant of 15th Hussars.
25th May 1813 [the Vittoria campaign]
This is an average taken from the brigade figures.
On 22nd May 1813 they had entered the field, moving up to the Douro where as they cross that major river have three horses washed downstream, Sergeant Major Kirkie swims after them and succeeds in bringing them ashore to safety, the journey has begun. Next notice is after the crossing of the Elsa, it is 2nd June and eventually coming up to a rearguard of the enemy dragoons under General Digeon about Morales an opportunity arises to get a little action, Major George Robarts with an element of surprise appearing calls the charge bringing on a short sharp clash of arms. As many as 212 of these enemy dragoons and ten horses are cut off and captured, the cost, one trooper and four of their own horses killed, Lieutenant John Cottin dead too, having been first sabred and then shot, with Captain James Lloyd bursting much too far forward has been wounded/captured along with regimental QM Cowley who must have been carried away in the excitement. Seemingly their brigadier Grant, never backward in these affairs also registers a wound before all subsides.
As a postscript to all of this we see that Captain Lloyd, much too damaged to move on gives his parole, a short time passes and as a result of a mutual exchange of prisoners back he comes as does that QM Cowley who merely ‘turns-up-left-behind’ as the enemy blows up the castle at Burgos continuing their steady retreat northwards.
Uneventfully the pursuit continues all the way up to the field before Vittoria Grant’s Brigade coming up the valley by way of the Grande Chaussèe and in rear of 4th Division with no way to get ahead, the battle on 21st June 1813 goes on without them until a steady retirement by the enemy has developed beyond the point of recovery. Little by little a space appears to the right of the advancing infantry becoming sufficient as the enemy is turning to retreat where Grant now can find enough open ground to deploy his troopers and have a first sight of the enemy, a mass of men of all arms actively seeking hurried disengagement. 10th Hussars will be in rear of the others of the Brigade but Captain Charles Wyndham is able to bring forward enough of his men to mount a charge, this on the reluctant men of a baggage guard who nevertheless resist enough to see six troopers and eight horses killed, a sergeant, two corporals, six troopers, a trumpeter and seven horses wounded with five more actually captured in this confused flurry of deadly action. Their comrades up ahead are entering history in the serious fight over King Joseph Bonaparte and his very attractive coach plus it’s even more attractive contents. It is eminently possible that a few of those casualties incurred in this encounter by 10th Hussars while ‘in support’ came from the determined defence being mounted by King Joseph’s very able bodyguard, the follow-up would tend to make memory fade before the wealth of booty now lying all about them just waiting for new owners.
21st June 1813 [after the battle at Vittoria]
This has to be an estimate only
Grant’s men were given little time to enjoy their new found wealth, their Brigadier shouldering the disapproval of the CIC regarding some of the less than ‘regular’ antics credited to his charges. They are sent off in search of the rapidly disappearing remnants of King Joseph’s army and that Corps under General Clausel that had missed the battle but were known to be out there to the north, as they appear close by the strongly held fortress of Pampluna Lieutenant Colonel George Quentin of 10th Hussars will join his regiment from England about this time, no sight of an enemy out in the field however. Time passes as more and more units of all arms and of the Spanish army come up to formally blockade this provincial centre while Grant’s Brigade moves into the lower Bastan; over the border in France a re-constituted army is being brought together under the care and attention of a returned Marshal Nicholas Soult who is not long in bringing this force back on the offensive.
So it is that on 28th July 1813 Wellington has hurriedly returned inland from the San Sebastian siege to defend the approaches to the great fortress town of Pampluna about Sorauren and the hill of Oricain, Grant’s Brigade, [less his own 15th Hussars, sent off on a Corps Cavalry role], is positioned to the far right and in front of elements of Picton’s 3rd Infantry Division completing that flank.
General Maximilien Foy has light cavalry feeling forward to discover his opposition, it will be a squadron of 10th Hussars led on by Captain Benjamin Harding who crosses the River Egues and does enough to get himself severely wounded here while Lieutenant Horace Seymour has his mount shot under him, one trooper is wounded and captured while two more horses are wounded so, a short sharp contact that soon saw them re-cross the river thrown back in retirement. Only as far however as their solidly supporting comrades of Grant’s Brigade who stand well enough to discourage any more of this, [see Oman Vol 7 P678] having seen his opposition firmly across his path Foy draws off to spend the rest of this day ‘observing’ while far away to his right Marshal Soult and his main body are having what they would often term ‘ill-success’. All hereabouts comes to naught followed on a couple of days later by a beating that sees the French thrown back so decisively that those being faced by Grant’s/Somerset’s troopers vanish at such a rate and direction that not even their own Corps commanders see them again for some time.
By 31st July Grant will make his progress with just two squadrons up to Roncesvalles searching in vain only to rest at the head of the Pass then return down to the blockade area about Pampluna.
We see that on 7th August 1813 a party of 10th Hussars led by a sergeant came across a detachment of French infantry from the garrison at St Jean Pied de Port these in sufficient number to find themselves taken in rear, charging through to clear this envelopment Sergeant Gander was able to report that the only casualties were one trooper and his horse shot, this man thus taken prisoner and another escapee wounded in bringing them off successfully.
Three days after this brief brush with the enemy the regiment is pulled back to Zubiri going back again to the environs of Pampluna until on 18th August they will welcome a detachment of 28 troopers with as many as 50 re-mounts meanwhile being at rest the Pampluna garrison on 1st November surrenders so that they are at liberty to move away, about Lizasso they discover that forage is too scarce and must fall back about Ororvia where they remain into the middle of December.
Beginning to move again crossing the Bidassoa by a pontoon bridge near Tolosa we hear of the arrival of Major, the Honorable Frederick Howard as late as 22nd December 1813 when they have gone further crossing the Nive at Cambo he goes forth on a forward patrol for a week in January of the New Year but without incident.
During this extended Autumn period there has been a few changes of command with Major General Edward Somerset gazetted to pick up the Hussar Brigade as far back as 6th September that includes the old comrades of 1809 the 7th Hussars, 10th Hussars and 15th Hussars whose Colonel, Colquhoun Grant has finally been ‘dealt with’ and no longer stands at their head.
Winter exerts its influence so that it will be mid February before this regiment is seen again out in the field; it is up to Hasparren on 14th February 1814 on Lieutenant General Hill’s right flank, it will cross, return and re-cross the Gave de Pau on 25th February but on 28th of that month as the army confronts Marshal Soult’s array in his defence of Orthez will only take a peripheral part in the proceedings having but one man reported wounded by long range shellfire. In the French retreat from that battlefield Lieutenant Colonel Charles Palmer leading a skirmishing troop comes upon mixed units of the enemy heading for the crossing of the Adour on the St Sever road, charging amongst them some 34 men and 8 horses are captured from a Dragoon regiment the engagement coming to an end where the bridge is seen to have been broken.
Crossing the next day by a discovered ford off they go again but only taking ground abandoned until 13th March a forward patrol, led by Captain George Fitzclarence is involved in a protracted retire-advance duel with hardly a man touched on both sides. All of this movement taking them by 20th March up to Tarbes on the Roussillon road, just two days later up come a welcome full squadron of remounts to restore numbers, little occurs in the steady push on towards Toulouse except to mention that on 8th April
At Labouder Lieutenant Charles Wyndham and one trooper are wounded up by the River Garonne [Challis records 4th April at Espinasse].
Only two days later the set piece battle at Toulouse is fought out 10th Hussars are out ahead of 4th Division heading down the low wet fields bordered by the river Ers and Mont Rave, they will receive flank fire from the artillery batteries positioned upon that high right flank, this accounts for the demise of Captain Charles Gordon and 4 men, Captain Fitzclarence and 6 men are wounded as are several horses.
This will be their final encounter with war in the Peninsula cheerfully sending off their heavy baggage to Bordeaux and taking a pleasant trot through France to embark at Boulogne for England, mission accomplished.
10th April 1814 [after the battle at Toulouse]
[This is an entirely arbitrary total, with little or no guidance from Mr. C or Mrs M Oman after the entry into France of Wellington’s army, occasional mention of the addition of re-mounts up to the strength of a whole squadron suggests that any figure must be conjectural]
At Waterloo this Regiment, from a PUA of 390 men lost ‘only’ 94 of all ranks, an easy day then when put alongside some of their other mounted comrades.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2011
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