Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Cavalry in the Peninsula: 16th Light Dragoons (Queen's)

By Ray Foster                                          

Facings: Scarlet
Lace: Silver

13th April 1809 [landed Lisbon]

Becoming closely associated with the previously recorded 14th Light Dragoons these two cavalry regiments, destined to be amongst the longest continuously serving had, by way of a bewildering set of Brigade changes quite different experiences from time to time, this regiment being led at the time of landing by Major the Hon’ Lincoln Stanhope  will have amongst its junior officer ranks one newly promoted 18 year old Lieutenant William Tomkinson whose journals will inevitably feature from time to time, so in today’s terms, well represented by the ‘media’ of his time.

Coming together as they did on 23rd April as a part of Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley’s force at Coimbra these two will begin their careers in the field under Major General Stapleton Cotton and by the first week of May start that short campaign to evict Marshal Nicholas Soult from Portugal.

6th May 1809 [on the march from Coimbra]
PUA 710

Four days later by Albergarvia Nova there is a ‘show-of-strength’ as the French are retiring north at which 16th Light Dragoons attend, its Major receiving a sabre wound, it will be the next day before the small town of Grijon however where their first real flurry of action is brought on, this by the Adjutant General Charles Stewart who orders a squadron of 14th Light Dragoons to charge in on the steadily retiring enemy. Although 16th Light Dragoons are supposedly there as support only they certainly catch some casualties one being Captain Clement Swetenham and  the thoroughly judgmental Lieutenant Tomkinson who is so seriously wounded here that he should go home for recovery of his injuries blaming the Adjutant for overly precipitate action.  It is quite likely that although there is to be no breakdown of casualties 16th Light Dragoons could be credited with 20 of those taken from a composite total of altogether 106 cavalrymen killed, wounded and taken prisoner.

Crossing the Douro by the ferry at Barca d’ Avintas on 12th May they will get up in support of 14th Light Dragoons again who the same day attack the retiring French furiously and suffer significant casualties thereby,

12th May 1809 [after the combats on the Douro]
PAB 688

With Tomkinson now gone, only to return by April of 1810, we get little more of the doings of Queens Light Dragoons except to note that the pursuit of Soult’s rapidly vanishing men can only be carried on into the hills to the north as far as Montelegre until Wellesley calls a halt to return down country, re-group, take stock, then prepare for a serious venture into central Spain.

Down at Abrantes all is re-organised and prepared for this, no less than an attempt at cooperation with a large Spanish force of all arms led by Captain General Gregorio Cuesta, they are to press the French forces under Marshal Victor lying about the valley of the Tagus River in an offensive to threaten enemy occupied Madrid. Numbers will have come down appreciably as the army generally is becoming accustomed to campaigning under a CIC who demands ‘regularity’ implying a minimum of ‘hangers-on’ and the maximum of ‘effectives’. So it is that as Wellesley gets his men drawn up for a serious pitched battle in the area before Talavera de la Riena on the Tagus 16th Light Dragoons, still led by Major Stanhope and brigaded under Cotton with 14th Light Dragoons will stand at:

27th July 1809 [at Talavera]
PUA 525

Standing in rear of Kemmis’ Brigade of 4th Division on 28th July it will be well into the day before they are called to action, before them to their right those men have already repulsed an attack from across the Portina but off to their left Campbell’s Brigade of Guard’s have exceeded themselves after a charge of bayonets leaving an ever increasing gap in the defensive line.

Cotton must draw his troopers out into an extended line in rear of a rapidly extemporized line of infantry hurried in from 3rd Division. They are to check any possibility of those now retreating guardsmen from leaving the field, not it seems a difficult task, all is stabilised while up ahead serious killing is being meted out by both sides, this must come close enough for six troopers to be killed and five more wounded, Lieutenant Henry Bence is also injured and two men so far advanced as being recorded as missing. Far enough forward then to have received a share of the action in this violent counter-attack, when all is done they will stand down at:

28th July 1809 [after the battle at Talavera]
PAB 511

There follows the few days of uncertainty as this battle won at such a high cost turns to a necessary abandonment of the shelter grudgingly afforded in the town of Talavera del Reina and after a short retirement down the right bank of the Tagus the whole army is forced to transfer across this river and make its way south-westward down rough hill roads and paths to Truxillo.

It is high summer the pathways dry and the terrain barren, competition for any sort of rations is fierce leaving horses as badly cared for as the rest. We hear nothing of this or of their further travels even so far as Badajoz on the Guadiana River, it will be as late as 31st October 1809 when an Adjutant General Order is issued at that place whereby 16th Light Dragoons are to receive 81 horses surrendered by 23rd Light Dragoons Regiment who are to leave the country forthwith. These mounts it appears are to be found at Vila Viçosa some distance west of Badajoz before Estremoz, at which place it is to be noted a great number of the regiment , including as many as 16 of its officers lay sick with Guadiana fever. At the same time by the same ‘Order 16th Light Dragoons is to be brigaded under Major General George Anson with 1st Hussars KGL who it must be noted had been present with 23rd Light Dragoons at Talavera under that same brigadier when the latter as a fighting unit had been half destroyed.

Wintering in billets in Abrantes it will be a period of rest and re-organisation for the army generally, so much so that in the case of the cavalry arm we have to follow the doings of Light infantry commander Major General Robert Craufurd as frontier guard down by the Agueda and later the Azava, he of course is putting as many of the light cavalry units as he can lay hands on to good work. For some time it will be 1st Hussars KGL that get first mention as being into the field but we will have had a head-count early in March of 1810 for 16th Light Dragoons that will have shown:

March 1810 [in Portuguese cantonments]
PUA 512

By 27th April there will be a forward movement that brings all of the available light dragoon regiments out of quarters up via the Mondego and ‘behind Almeida’ where little more is heard of them as summer approaches, as late as 2nd /3rd July however Wellington will ride up to take a view of the situation close to Cuidad Rodrigo bringing forward 16th Light Dragoons, he leaves just two squadrons hereabouts to come under Robert Craufurd for front line duties. It will be while under the hand of that Light Division’s commander  that they are to be seen at the ‘Affair’ at Barquilla [called Sexmiro by those who were there], this is where Colonel Talbot of 14th Light Dragoons is killed, all happening on 10th July the part played by 16th Light Dragoons is indeed light if much at all. Coming upon an infantry detachment of foragers escorted by two troops of French Dragoons one squadron of 16th Light Dragoons with one of 1st Hussars KGL begin the usual charge, the foragers finding rising ground form square with alacrity so that the mounted enemy troopers sweep off drawing away the attackers who thus get into a chase that results in the capture of 31 of the enemy leaving the infantry square to make of it what they can. The other squadron of 16th Light Dragoons seemingly has no part in any of this but may well have, at some point, with others been mistaken for an enemy force that causes confusion after Talbot and his men of 14th Light Dragoons have written their own chapter into the pages of the history of the ‘affair’, no casualties to record for the Queens Light Dragoons this day then.  

Just a fortnight later there they are in front of the River Coa alongside the fortress of Almeida as the French Marshal Ney with the whole of his 6th Corps of all arms comes up, once again Craufurd is commanding here.

The troopers of 16th Light Dragoons and 1st Hussars KGL are unable to play a part in the hurried defence and enforced retirement their task being to escort the horse artillery down the winding path and across the Coa as soon as possible, we are told that vehicles are jammed for a while and perhaps it is at that time that there is some contact with the enemy, without splitting the casualties here to the units involved it is recorded that between them they had one man killed, an un-named officer and three men wounded and two more captured.  The official AGO history of the regiment [Richard Cannon] is not able to find casualties here and perhaps Lieutenant Tomkinson having returned to the theatre is yet to join so, all must fall to 1st Hussars KGL.

On 28th August during the retirement Captain the Hon’ Henry Lygon receives a serious sabre wound at Freixedas while part of the rearguard, further still falling back by Mortagoa on 25th September Captain George Murray and Cornet George Keating are wounded and in all of this there would be casualties amongst the accompanying troopers. Anson’s Brigade along with all the cavalry excepting for two squadrons of 4th Dragoons fall back behind the Busaco ridge but in their case to rest near Mealhada while Wellington’s infantry and artillery await the arrival of the enemy, 16th Light Dragoons, now led by Major Clement Archer will stand at:

27th September 1810 [near Mealhada]
PUA 463

The French Marshal Massena’s force meanwhile will have then gone on to first violently threaten on the slopes of the ridge at Busaco then merely opposed the tightly composed allied defences that retired south and coalesced about the Lines of Torres Vedras until the spring of 1811would make field movement possible, it is during this time that Anson absents himself allowing the utterly reliable Brevet Colonel Friederiche von Arentschildt of 1st Hussars KGL to command the brigade. During this retreat and settlement by the Lines of Torres Vedras and indeed the months of patrols in the no-man’s-land between the opposing forces 16th Light Dragoons would be continually active, we hear of various officers being wounded, Captains G Murray and C Swetenham at Leyria on 5th October while skirmishes on 9th-10th October gather in a few prisoners. In November a confrontation that seemingly involved no officers at all did see a number of sergeants of 16th Light Dragoons surprise a detachment of the enemy, overcome them for the loss of just one unfortunate [and un-named] trooper killed and bring in an enemy officer, and 41 of his men.  It transpires that during all of his an appreciable number of horses were captured, soon to be sold and the regiment to receive $985, its share of the total $2111 gained from this sale. It was Sergeants Baxter, Blood, Biggs and Liddle that engineered this financially driven coup and were recorded with pride. 

The winter of 1810-11 whilst Massena’s men stood frustrated by the unassailable barrier of the ‘Lines’ 16th Light Dragoons no less than others of the Allied light cavalry continued to be engaged in patrols and minor sweeps of the disputed un-occupied areas with little of note [Tomkinson had returned for duty and on 18th January 1811 did return a record of a slight injury thereby] until the enemy begins to ease its way back in steady retirement.  As Marshal Massena’s men abandon their stay based on Santarem to begin the retirement out of Portugal we hear that on 12th March there they are in the re-capture of Pombal, yet again on 26th March 1811 Lieutenant William Persse of 16th Light Dragoons leads on his men to capture an officer and 37 troopers of enemy cavalry complete with much baggage for which he gets his ‘mentioned-in-dispatches’.   Keeping well up to the vanguard they will show themselves about Sabugal on 3rd April moving off swiftly towards Fort Concepcion to give mounted support to a Portuguese movement led by Colonel Trant, it is here that Lieutenant William Lockhart distinguishes himself’ and on 7th April while a combined cavalry force captures, kills or injures 300 men of the French retiree’s, a single squadron of 16th Light Dragoons under Captain George Murray ‘cut-down’ and captured one officer and 56 troopers. So it is that when the army has moved continually forward through the Mondego valley, up to Sabugal, the gallop to Fort Concepcion then for a few short weeks 16th Light Dragoons joining a blockade of the fortress of Almeida seeing this as a rest period there they are once more out to the Portuguese frontier it will be von Arentschildt that leads them up to battle positions based on Fuentes d Onoro, they will stand at:

1st May 1811 [at Fuentes d Onoro]

PUA 362

With nothing recorded for that first confrontation on 3rd May they will, like every other cavalry unit have a busy day on 5th May, coming forward in defence of infantry of 7th Division retiring from Poço Velha village the action hereabouts becomes general with all arms involved, confusion reigns but as the dust settles we at least are given details of casualties incurred.

Captain John Belli has instigated a charge that led to him being both wounded and captured, Lieutenant John Blake has been mortally wounded here to die two days later, Lieutenant Richard Weyland although ‘run-through’ survives to fight again while of the troopers seven are killed and seventeen wounded, one of these a sergeant he being captured with Belli.  Lieutenant Colonel Clement Archer as leader of 16th Light Dragoons in all of this receives on their behalf his gold medal and life goes on.

Interestingly just four horses have been killed here and five wounded and at the reckoning all stand down at:

5th May 1811 [after the battle at Fuente d Onoro]
PAB 335

Retiring back into the hills they take up cantonments for almost three months about Espeja in Portugal to receive a mention as to the make- up of the Brigade, 1st KGL Hussars is gone to be replaced by 13th Light Dragoons on 19th July and seemingly Major General George Anson back in charge. Only a fortnight later gone is 13th Light Dragoons and we see 14th Light Dragoons taking its place, the army moves forward to take extended positions observing the countryside behind the Agueda and on the Azava river until there is sign of movement from the enemy about Cuidad Rodrigo, we are also given a strength of all units in this widespread chain of advanced posts, so:

15th September 1811 [about Carpio]
PUA 373

Ten days later large enemy units of cavalry are seen coming up from Cuidad Rodrigo to push across the Azava valley, as they approach it is seen that those ahead are the Lancers of Berg, two squadrons of 16th Light Dragoons with one of 14th Light Dragoons move up to oppose these men going on to mount a charge, driven back the lancers rally to come on again but are assailed from the cover of woods by light-infantry fire, disordered and forced back away they go down to the Azava and across to their starting positions. While Captains James Hay and Edward Cocks are ‘recommended’ here only nine troopers are injured by all of this, one of whom had been taken prisoner. It is also here that the diarist Lieutenant William Tomkinson formed his opinion as to the value of the lance, fine for a first contact but no-contest once fully engaged.

25th September 1811 [after the combat at Carpio]
PAB 364    

Autumn turns to winter and it will be the first days of 1812 when the men of Anson’s Brigade now led by Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Ponsonby of 12th Light Dragoons as Anson having ‘gone-off’ are brought forward to cover the blockade, siege and storm of Cuidad Rodrigo, this accomplished there is no more work until after the taking of Badajoz on 6th April 1812 when both the Army of Portugal, Marshal Auguste Marmont and the Army of the South and Marshal Nicholas Soult must react and begin to stir themselves.

While Marmont has been prevented from intervening on behalf of the first-besieged-now-surrendered garrison those under the control of Soult already entering the theatre as close as Villafranca upon hearing of the fall of that fortress begin to fall back and it is all slow moving work. The rearguard when contacted down the road trending south towards Llerena and attacked will see a brief mention for 16th Light Dragoons.

It is 10th April 1812, the road Villa Franca/Usagre four cavalry regiments, 5th Dragoon Guards with 12th, 14th and 16th Light Dragoons all led by Lieutenant General Stapleton Cotton with 3rd and 4th Dragoons in support will be far too much for the French Dragoons who are soon retreating south towards Llerena and the chase is on, Captain George Murray has the Queens’ in hand and while his men suffer but one horse killed and two wounded with only one trooper recorded as injured Captain The Honourable Edward Cocks is again ‘mentioned’. A full defensive array of French infantry at Llerena however puts a stop to any more action and the excitement hereabouts settles down as the CIC is left to react to news that Marmont is once more to be expected on the scene northward.

Returning westward the French, now looking decidedly aggressive will herald the opening of what becomes the Salamanca campaign, George Anson is returned to once more lead the Brigade so that by 24th April 1812 there they are along with Major General John Le Marchant’s heavy Brigade, 14th Light Dragoons is shortly to be replaced by 11th Light Dragoons thus with 12th Light Dragoons they are still a brigade of three regiments. By mid-June we see them about the Forts of Salamanca with no action to report, it will be 18th July when a contact is made, it will be about Castrejon where a succession of faulty commands requires them to counter enemy cavalry at disadvantage, this results in three troopers and 5 horses being killed, Lieutenant George Baker and 8 men and 2 horses wounded whilst in the confused fighting 3 men and 4 horses are captured.  Having no figures to work on at this time we can at least expect that after this sharp contact they would stand at:

18th July 1812 [after the fight at Castrejon]
PAB 275

A week later they are on the Arapiles in full order for action in rear of the centrally placed Infantry Divisions when Marshal Marmont allows his own opposing infantry and supporting guns to stretch out well beyond good military practice, they are given a harsh lesson, driven from the field in echelon fashion while D’ Urban’s Portuguese Dragoons, Arentschildt’s light cavalry and most especially Le Marchant’s broadswords wreak havoc amongst the great majority of the French Army of Portugal. What then of 16th Light Dragoons in this?  They, we are told, follow up the developing rout clouded in dust to lose not one man or horse and can only presume that their role would be to sweep in prisoners as the battle went on before them into lightly wooded country and early evening.     This day it appears Captain George Murray once again had them in hand.

Following up the next day they will witness the great charges mounted by Major General George von Bock’s KGL heavy cavalry against squares of the retiring French infantry survivors making a few dashes themselves but to record no casualties from this. When Wellington takes most of his victors down to Madrid 16th Light Dragoons and Anson’s Brigade are left with Major General Henry Clinton’s much battered 6th Division and other weak units that shift up slowly onto the Douro in observation of the remnants of the French now held by General Clausel and retiring ever northward.

At Valladolid the Brigade settled down for a respite but have an awakening on 18th August when Clausel has come back to discover the sort of enemy that is ‘on-his-tail’, at Tudela he brings on a superior force  that has Anson’s troopers turning back over the Douro until reinforcements can get them back on the move again. It is about this time that the afore mentioned Sergeant Major Blood has done some mission far behind enemy lines and of enough note for the CIC, Wellington himself to not only recommend him for officer promotion but to reward him with $100.  There was no record of any promotion being enacted however.

Once Wellington has returned with his choice of men to push far to the north off they go again, it will be mid September when 16th Light Dragoons meet up with the enemy by Torquemada where a squadron led by Captain John Buchanan who is recommended thereby takes a number of them prisoner. Six days later they arrive before the Castle of Burgos that stands above the bridge over the Arlanzon river and as that place is well garrisoned and they, led by a stern Governor a siege must eventuate, Anson’s Brigade are set the task of outpost guard at and about Monasterio where we see Lieutenant Colonel James Hay pick up the command of 16th Light Dragoons. Their duty stay here takes them into an autumn that makes this kind of work more miserable however, with the eventual entry of enemy troops brought down from the north by General Joseph Souham things warm up somewhat, the bridge at Monasterio must be held and in doing so Captain William Persse and his men engage in a see-saw struggle both he and several of his troopers being wounded, this on 13th October 1812 as winter began to announce itself. The siege is abandoned and the whole force there drawn back with Anson’s Brigade set to join the rearguard, on 23rd October we again see Captain Persse and his squadron fighting an action on the bridge over the Hormoza stream, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Pelly has recently returned for duty as they fall back further on Venta del Poza the combat here bringing into action all of the rearguard cavalry available as the French amass much greater numbers with hopes of destroying Stapleton Cotton’s and Major General Eberhardt Bock’s much harassed units. This encounter turns serious with 16th Light Dragoons having to fight already disordered by a mob of Spanish guerillero’s chased by more enemy cavalry coming in on their flank.

Mainly engaged against large numbers of Chasseurs and Lancers they break, but when Brevet Colonel Colin Halkett has 1/2/KGL Light infantry form square, stand firm repulsing this dash, they are able to then re-form and withstand more charges, Colonel Pelly’s horse is shot dead, he falls and is captured, Lieutenant William Lockhart goes down fatally wounded, Captain George Murray at the head of his squadron receives one more of his regular wounds, Lieutenant George Baker also hit and disarmed is caught and made prisoner along with ten men and five horses while two sergeants, six men and as many as thirty eight horses are killed here. Four more sergeants count amongst the wounded as do thirty-five men and twenty-four horses we are already told that going into this fight squadron numbers would be ‘low’.  It will come as no surprise that Sergeant Major Blood, Baxter and Grindrod were distinguished and to show as part of the mounts killed Lieutenant Richard Beauchamp had two shot under him!      

23rd October 1812 [after the combat at Venta del Poza]
PAB 180

This figure is mainly conjectural, however, with sixty-seven horses killed, disabled or lost on this day alone and the understanding that the squadrons were already well below strength it must be the case that 16th Light Dragoons after this action must be ‘nurtured’ if it is to remain operational at all during this retirement that we are well aware became a nightmare for all involved.  Little or nothing can be extracted from the figures presented following the distressing retreat back behind the Portuguese frontier, we are at least given to understand in mitigation that the Peninsular campaigning year of 1812 had been long and hard, the French had retired from the whole of Southern Spain as a direct result of the army’s successes and by comparison the Emperor’s Grand Armee of  France had been delivered a blow that, when sat alongside that utter rout/defeat at the hands of the Russians may well be fatal. 1813thus held out great promise.

In the time in quarters about Aveiro as the year was coming to a close we see that 16th Light Dragoons receive as much as  $1071 as part of a general share-out of monies received [presumably from the three brigade regiments] from the sale of captured horses. By a General Order of 13th March 1813 resultant in part on the receipt of horses from 11th Light Dragoons who were to be sent home there is a complex fractional division involving KGL Dragoons, 12th and 16th Light Dragoons that would expect a transfer of 22% of their mounts so: with an unknown number, no more certainly than 325 horses available 16th Light Dragoons could have received 75 of them for immediate field service.  Otherwise it will be a full five months before there is a call to action, as with the rest of the army the optimism present in the allied cause has brought about a huge renewal of numbers, it is to be expected that as the cavalry comes to readiness at the beginning of May 1813 16th Light Dragoons would stand at:

1st May 1813 [standing to arms in Portugal]
PUA 410

It cannot be otherwise than that the great majority of these, both man and horse, would be new recruits, no matter, by now 11th Light Dragoons have gone from Anson Brigade they having left to go home in mid March of 1813 leaving behind their troop horses. Still being partnered with 12th Light Dragoons however their brigadier Major General George Anson has shown enough questionable ability to come under close scrutiny as to his performance with a ‘must-do-better’ against his name.  At the opening of this campaign all of the mounted arm will be combined as a single Division led for a time by Major General George von Bock.

Off they go northward as a part of the column led by Lieutenant General Thomas Graham moving still inside the Portuguese border via the Tras-os-Montes to cross the River Douro and soon the Esla, things were happening quickly, the French, becoming regularly turned on this their right flank were compelled to retire from the lateral river lines into the Basque country on this western theatre. Coming up before Burgos the pace is maintained as this bastion on the Arlanzon River is destroyed in a massive explosion, on they go with no mention as to contacts with the foe until pulling up on the Zaddora River before Vittoria, still with Graham’s left flank Corps they would continue their flank movement almost independent of the central and right flanking forces that on 21st June brought on the fight at Vittoria. With the army having conducted this campaign to this point in good health and Anson’s Brigade having no reported enemy contacts it can be supposed that on this day their figures of troopers under arms would have remained very near that early May number. We are told that Graham exercised much caution during the conflict begun well away to his south east on the Pueblo Heights and taken up in the centre almost ‘by-chance’ by Lieutenant Thomas Picton it was to be only in the latter stages of this fight that Anson Brigade was able to get forward into action.

While Hay’s and Robinson’s infantry brigades were battering at the fiercely defended bridge through Gamarra Mayor to the north of Vittoria City Anson’s troopers were almost hesitantly allowed to come forward by the hamlet of Abechuco almost a mile to the right of 5th Division’s fight to contest the enemy at the bridge over the Zadorra below there. Little is revealed of this combat but we know that there had been isolated enemy units of both infantry and cavalry making their way from the right bank of the Zaddora to gain the other side by way of the bridge here, certainly there was a considerable clash of arms here, with Lieutenant Colonel Hay in charge 16th Light Dragoons would record its Adjutant Lieutenant Joseph Barra and Lieutenant Robert Arnold both wounded as were two Sergeants, ten troopers and eleven horses, seven men and eleven more horses had been killed here whilst an ‘attached’ officer of 11th  Light Dragoons Lieutenant George Thelluson [his regiment it will be remembered already sent home] is added to those dead, so:

21st June 1813 [after the combat at the Abechuco/Zaddora Bridge Vittoria]       
PAB 385

The very next day they are to accompany a force set to move up the Grandè Chausee in pursuit of enemy units retiring by that route and shortly under the hand of General Maximilien Foy, others get ahead into the Biscay area by Guipuscoa to a brief contact at Villafranca where cavalry is unable to operate so that after a few more days ‘moving up’ another check at Tolosa then to arrive in the region close to the French border by Saint Sebastian and the River Bidassoa. Being engaged in communications duty during that time when Graham’s Corps is sat before Saint Sebastian and Wellington busily struggling to combat Marshal Soult’s dash through the mountains in an attempt to relieve Pampluna there will be nothing of a combative nature to report on behalf of 16th Light Dragoons.  However, their long time Brigadier Major General George Anson has been removed from command, on 2nd July a superior officer Major General John Vandeleur picks up the reins to lead 12th and 16th Light Dragoons to the end of hostilities in the Peninsula.

This by chance sees them somewhat un-occupied until at Saint Jean de Luz during the crossing of the River Nivelle a full month after entering France over the Bidassoa there is a mention of one Sergeant Maloney with a vanguard detachment of troopers of 16th Light Dragoons having seen the retreating French setting fire to the Nivelle river bridge there, gallop forward dispersing the arsonists to prevent this from being destroyed, , enough saved it seems to maintain the crossing through their speedy action, this near the end of the day on 10th November.

Winter is upon the army next time we see them in action, they will be engaged in those multiple clashes about the River Nive in the second week of December 1813, it has to be ‘presumed’ that Vandeleur’s Brigade had moved ahead of infantry of 5th Division on the far left of those exploratory attacks in the general direction of the great bastioned city of Bayonne. It will be 9th December and what we are sure of is that a detachment of 16th Light Dragoons under Captain William Persse while exploring forward comes up against enough opposition in that open terrain near Anglet for him and his charges to be hit, he receives a musket shot in the arm, his trumpeter is wounded, Lieutenant William Nepean besides, and seven troopers and six horses wounded so opposition indeed.

At this stage of the advances on both sides of the Nive this extreme left flank had been so lightly defended as to allow British army engineers to get up as far as sand hills and woods approaching the Ardour Estuary so, perhaps an unlucky encounter for Persse and his men.   While there is to be four more days of confused but heavy fighting ‘on the Nive’ there is no more for cavalry and it must be that winter quarters will come on as a pleasant relief from exposure in the field, and that very soon for all sides.  It will be February of 1814 before there is more to be done, winter has turned icy so that such roads as could be of any use were at least hard frozen. With historians prepared to refer to the cavalry arm thin on the ground it has to be calculated that Vandeleur’s Brigade would ease their way up to the southern banks of the Ardour along with the engineers, infantry and artillery units set to cross this obstacle as and when their ordinarily optimistic Corps CIC Lieutenant General Sir John Hope thought fit. He has them on the move by 2nd February and when considering the task at hand must be said to have achieved his object rather well when we hear that men of 16th Light Dragoons began to arrive on the north bank on 23rd February, first by way of boats, then rafts drawn over by hawsers and eventually by 27th February all the rest to pass by the great rope bridge.

Nothing more is to be heard of this regiment as to action against an enemy and indeed all we have is a grand summary of their losses over the six year period with a nice postscript that mentions those ‘NCO’s and ‘other ranks’ that drew to themselves enough notice as to receive a “distinguished’ accolade, these were;

Sergeant Majors 


All proceed to Calais and England by July 1814 having lost throughout the ‘period’ some 309 men and significantly 1416 horses, it is well known that Wellington called the Peninsula the graveyard of horses.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2011


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