Notes on Wellington’s Cavalry in the Peninsula: 1st Light Dragoons / Hussars King's German Legion (KGL)
By Ray Foster
Landed at Lisbon [late May-early June 1809]
Coming ashore in company with 23rd Light Dragoons these Regiments would miss the Oporto campaign but have sufficient time to establish them before moving off on what would become the Talavera campaign in full mid-summer. Wellesley has committed his army to combine with Captain General Gregorio Cuesta and his force of all arms for a strike at Madrid itself; in the capable hands of Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich von Arentschilde the regiment, originally Brigaded under Major General Erskine would soon be taken up by Brigadier Major General George Anson as the former fell sick. It would be in his hands that they would appear on the field on 22nd July with a detachment going so far forward on the left of their advance as for them to cross the Alberche stream as the enemy gave back, they soon retired to the right bank of that watercourse however as cannon fire began to find them losing thereby three horses killed and three more wounded. With the Spanish deciding on having a ‘day-off’ the movements faltered but this small detachment of 1st KGL Hussars under Captain Ernst von Linsingen again ventured forward reconnoitering by which they captured a few prisoners while next day two squadrons under Major Otto von Grute probing forward up to St Olalla ran up against the French rearguard, returning with that news.
25th July 1809 [at the Alberche stream beyond
Talavera de la Reyna]
After Cuesta’s men had surged forward and just as quickly come back when seriously confronted on 26th July both armies then fell into a retirement that would see them able to present a defensive position at and about Talavera de la Reyna. Retiring and covering infantry formations by the Alberche stream on 27th July two squadrons under Captains von Linsingen and George Krauchenberg undertook this duty, the former of these was met while in the stream by enemy cavalry units that came on to contact a company of troopers under Cornet Gottleib von Heimbruch he being seriously wounded while two of his men and nine horses were killed and three more wounded and this short but deadly flurry of activity would cause some embarrassment enlarged by the surprise onset of a massed French skirmisher attack there, their services beyond this clash would come to little more than a rear support for others as they were all forced back, it will be the next day however that serious full-on action comes their way.
Brigadier Anson has them positioned well to the rear of the army close by Talavera de la Reyna then taken around the back of the Medellin Hill on the far left flank while a general action takes place building to some intensity away beyond their sight to the right of this hill.
It is mid afternoon of the 28th July when before them at some distance a large enemy force, General Eugene Villate’s 3rd Division of Marshal Victor’s 1st Corps with, in the rear and barely visible, cavalry support is approaching along this valley floor.
Von Arentschilde’s troopers are to the left of 23rd Light Dragoons all at the ready as action appears inevitable, sure enough as a courier has descended from the hill up to their right, passed on a message and the Brigadier’s trumpeters sounded the charge their war in the Peninsula begins. Coming on at a steady trot it is likely that they would see that the most forward of the enemy infantry had begun to rapidly form square, these dead ahead of the troopers of 23rd Light Dragoons on their right, others to their own front gathering to do likewise to fill this rather flat but dry tall grassed valley, as the trot increases pace it is seen that their brigade comrades have begun to falter, horses and men are tumbling into a hitherto hidden but sunken dry water course some to pick themselves up and carry on while confusion builds.
This same obstacle is seen by Von Arentschilde who must be some way ahead, he immediately has his men called to a halt, some of course must find this broad declivity too close to avoid but for the greater number of 1st KGL Hussars the charge is over, it is perhaps those men most to the right who would be caught up in the doings of their brigade partners, we see that whilst only one man died here both Lieutenant Ernst Poten and Cornet Bernhard Tueto were seriously injured, also thirty two troopers were injured and two more lost to become prisoners. Events on this flank subsided into a stand-off, the ‘main event’ on the other side of the Medellin having run its course it brought proceedings to a gradual halt for all concerned, all that remained was to count heads, so:
28th July 1809 [after the battle at Talavera]
Although the forces of King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jourdan with Marshal Victor had retired on Madrid the victors, having buried or burned their dead but still attending to the desperate needs of a large number of wounded survivors were soon on the move retiring west close by the Tagus River, no less than three full Corps of the enemy were approaching from the north and sufficiently westward to threaten to cut off this movement unless both the British, its KGL units and a disappointing mass of Spanish troops trailing on behind put the Tagus between them and a rapidly approaching foe.
With information as to the fortunes of 1st KGL Hussars coming by way of monthly returns we see that the withdrawal across to the left bank of the river then on a steady trudge westward on dust dry hill paths in the heat of mid-summer to reach Truxillo both man and horse are severely tried for want of food or shelter. During August 100 horses are lost to these conditions while sickness and wounds have reduced those capable of standing to arms by 100 also. Arriving in the valley of the Guadiana River by early September the army has to suffer the diseases regularly found there at this time of the seasons but inching their way a little westward gradually to only be heard of at the end of October when a General Order comes down to them whereby they are to receive as many as 58 horses from their erstwhile brigade comrades who by the same Order are to give up all of their 283 field worthy mounts and return to England. It is to be noted that these horses will be turned over [after a little ‘horse-trading’ at Villa Viçosa] while at the same time Brigadier Anson will receive 16th Light Dragoons a regiment having received even more of the unfortunate share-out of 23rd Light Dragoon’s war horses, and already showing signs of promise for the future.
As the New Year opens we find Anson’s Brigade cantoned well behind the Portuguese frontier by Celorico Guarda and Pinhel with only one of Captain Aly’s troops closed up by Escarijo near the River Agueda, they keep watch to the east towards Cuidad Rodrigo where during February enemy troops appear. Marshal Michel Ney begins to build up activity and by mid-March 1st KGL Hussars find themselves joined to the operations of Major General Robert Craufurd and his Light Division stretching all along this river line with posts from Barbe de Puerco to Fuente Guinaldo.
Mid-March 1810 [on the Agueda]
There is a slow build-up of Ney’s 6th Corps troops of all arms on the eastern side of the Agueda until by June of 1810 Cuidad Rodrigo is invested and bridges are built across the river thereby bringing forward inevitable confrontations, on 21st June Captain George Bergmann with a troop of 1st KGL Hussars becomes engaged with a large foraging party, manœuvres before them to eventually see them off, the enemy having lost 11 men and wounded horses thereby. Regular skirmishing back now on the Azava River sees Corporal Christoph Rangenier deprived of two horses shot under him on 25th June and General Anson’s Brigade is forced behind that river whilst others of Craufurd’s overall command take their turn on defence as the army generally begins to fall back.
It is during this reluctant retirement that one Hussar Schroeder is picked out by the immediate enemy as a fierce fighter of 1st KGL Hussars, by the enemy no less whom, under a flag of truce wished to honour his valour, he will be noted by others as the war goes on. At Gallegos on 4th July a hurried retreat saw a squadron under Captain George Krauchenberg drawn up to receive the enemy who with several regiments up were seeking to enlarge their success, a charge was called, modified to draw his troopers into a line of sharpshooters stopping all in their tracks and thus enabling the rest to retire whilst 1st KGL Hussars counted four men and two horses wounded and one horse dead. Cornet Ernst Cordemann found his name recorded ‘in admiration’ as did Sergeant Major Louis Engel for capturing an enemy officer, similarly Corporal Almstedt who during the early confusion had beaten off attempts by the enemy to capture Captain Bergmann who had been un-horsed, all as a part of this flurry of excitement.
By 10th July 1810 we see Krauchenberg’s squadron marginally involved in that unfortunate affair where Colonel Talbot of 14th Light Dragoons met his death, it is about Sexmiro [also called Barquilla], Light Division commander Craufurd was on hand and this squadron being first up was ordered to charge a small square of previously foraging enemy infantrymen, sheering off at contact eleven men and eight horses were wounded and two horses killed, luckily Craufurd ordered a charge on a small troop of the French cavalry supports hovering by, this pursuit was taken up to the point of capturing them whole, two officers and 33 men with no further contacts that day. Eleven days later there they are with their backs to the River Coa and just three days later up comes almost the whole of Ney’s 6th Corps to exact a little punishment for Craufurd’s overconfidence, with such an overpowering attack coming upon them that for Krauchenberg’s troopers there was nothing to be done but to get down to the bridge along with the retreating artillerymen.
Saved by his junior officers Craufurd was able to keep his reputation while the men of 1st KGL Hussars scrambled either across the narrow crooked bridge, or in the main, found a way across the river swimming their mounts to the other side, an un-advised number of horses wounded, killed or drowned.
Late July 1810 [behind the Coa]
Backing down all the way to Celorico we see Corporal Schrell rescuing his troop leader Lieutenant Georg von der Decken who was down on the ground and surrounded by enemy cavalrymen, by bursting in on them. By 16th September 1st KGL Hussars are to be seen on rearguard duty, Captain Wilhelm Aly has his squadron in hand with Von der Decken’s troopers skirmishing, at Cortiçao these men ‘chancing their lives’ came forward in attack only for Cornet Bernhard Teuto, who had only a few weeks earlier been saved from capture by Corporal Rangenier, to be killed, von der Decken himself and four of his troopers wounded and two horses wounded and one left dead. At this time Marshal Massena by good fortune took the upland road via Viseu leaving the cavalry rearguards able to continue down the Alva, the Mondego and take post in rear of the Busaco ridge by Mortagoa.
After the battle on the heights by the Busaco convent one squadron of 1st KGL Hussars along with men of Light Division was given the task of observing the movements of Massena’s Army of Portugal, shortly Captain von Linsingen is sent to investigate a scene below where Frenchmen, badly wounded were being set upon by Portuguese peasants, these are soon delivered up to the convent to be cared for and back to the job in hand.
Their outposts by Fornos came under attack with the ever present Captain Krauchenberg and a handful of men wounded with nothing more then reported until reaching the Mondego below Coimbra where once more the enemy closed on the rearguard.
It is 1st October and Colonel Arentschilde was there in command this day and the Mondego thereabouts to be crossed by a ford and, being quite wide was not to be easy to defend, friend and enemy became intermixed, horses fell and riders drowned, one it seems saved by the camp dog, [as Wellington just might have observed, a small man and a large dog], those that gained the farther banks rapidly formed up and gave fire to the attackers who returned it with interest, Krauchenberg was again wounded this time seriously along with Lieutenant Gustav Schaumann and thirteen men and eight horses, four men had been killed as were six horses with a further three men captured and four horses too.
Here it was that Corporal Deeke and three comrades had been surrounded, nothing daunted they laid spurs to their mounts, burst through and galloped off pursued in a race for freedom, with one man killed and the rest wounded…. but the rest gone, meanwhile Hussar Gothard, himself captured originally took a chance while his captors busily rifled through abandoned baggage, gave his horse its head and although receiving, it is said, 34 ‘passing’ sword cuts on his journey escaped to live another day, his reputation as a skilled horseman further enhanced.
1st October 1810 [after the combat on the Mondego]
Steadily retiring towards the prepared Lines of Torres Vedras 1st KGL Hussars, so often close to the enemy see them at Alcoentre
where Captain von Linsingen and his picket is left there while other members of Anson’s Brigade form a reserve before Quinta de Torre. On 9th October up come the enemy cavalry in superior number, Linsingen has men hidden there and on favourable high ground above a stream crossed by a bridge, rain is falling discouraging gunfire there but slowly horsemen begin to cross, the KGL commander allows just enough to pass for him to take the offensive driving them back to take more than 30 of them prisoner.
A ford not too far away has been found however so that Linsingen has to call a rapid retreat allowing most of his prisoners to flee so, the race was on, Cornet Hieronimus von der Wisch with his tiny delaying troop sprang forward only to quickly join the retreat, several men and horses are captured until a solid reserve comes into view, this putting a temporary end to the chase. In this chase Cornet Wisch had been wounded along with his horse, a Corporal Henry Thiele swiftly threw him onto his own horse and just as rapidly…… ran off on foot…. to escape himself, one Corporal Gerlach had a remarkable escape of his own, well not just him but the tale, worthy of the Brothers Grimm, tells all, he was taken with fourteen other prisoners to a convent up onto its fourth floor, a man of enviable imagination he fashioned a rope from fabrics found there long enough to reach the ground, slid down unseen followed by his compatriots taking more than a week to safely catch up with their regiment.
As to the more ordinary ‘butchers bill’ two men and two horses dead, a sergeant, eight troopers and seven horses wounded, amongst these our valiant Captain von Linsingen who deigned to disregard his own injury, losses as prisoners inevitably were left to the imagination.
Not to allow this day to pass without a postscript the retirement carried on until both contesting parties arrived before yet another confrontation, Captain Aly with not just his own squadron but two more of the British 1st Dragoons ended the day for all concerned with a firm defeat for the now rather fagged and unsupported Frenchmen. Captain Aly himself being the only one there to record a ‘slight’ wound.
Once in behind the heavily constructed ‘Lines’ in mid-October they are dispersed along the centre-right by Mafra, with the French probing forward to discover the strength of this defensive string of forts and earthworks, Massena understands that from here there is to be no way through without serious combat, sits down and the watch-and-wait begins. Patrolling forward on 22nd October a troop of 1st KGL Hussars under Corporal Christoph Meyer ran into enemy infantry and cavalry foraging, dashing them back they secured an officer and 30 men to bring them in as prisoners for which their leader became, on the next day, Sergeant Meyer.
1st November 1810 [patrolling before the ‘Lines’]
This shows the 1st KGL Hussars at their lowest for numbers for well over another full year of activity, largely brought about on account of losses to their mounts that in the last month alone had been reduced by more than 50 horses while many of the rest were losing ‘condition’. After a month of this ‘stand-off’ before the ‘Lines’ Massena is forced to retire but only as far as Santarem and the two sides remain in constant watch; beginning in the early morning of 22nd November by the bridge of Celariçe Lieutenant Ernest Poten and his patrol spent some long time skirmishing with opposing forces to be outnumbered, attacked and driven back only to be saved by his well placed ten man reserve under Sergeant Bergmann who in the fighting retirement had his horse shot under him only to hold off the enemy on foot while encouraging his little troop sufficiently for all to get back over the bridge and safety losing but one man and his own horse. We are told that on 19th January 1811 the French General Junot in forcing his way up against these obstacles was shot in the face, this by a carbine wielding Hussar Dröge of 1st KGL Hussars, the incident convincing them to retire their line well out of range.
During this extended period of ‘confrontation’ a welcome draft of 56 horses come in to bolster numbers while one Sergeant Westermann and more than once Cornet Anthony Strenuwitz distinguished themselves out on patrol as did all in the act of feeling out the enemy lines and securing prisoners; these always useful in seeking information, one capture an ADC to General Clausel himself.
By 5th March Marshal Massena has had enough, taking advantage of poor visibility his front line men masked the movements of the army then fell back themselves to begin the long withdrawal that would take them out of Portugal altogether. When the French, rather than carrying on their retreat held a position before Pombal the British/KGL cavalry vanguard soon came upon them at the charge in this encounter it would be Captains Georg Bergmann and Georg Krauchenberg of Captain Moritz von Müller’s squadron forcing the enemy column through a narrow defile and taking an officer, 11 of his men and horses prisoner, not without loss however, a sergeant, 5 men and 8 horses killed or wounded needed to balance the account.
In the change of direction that Massena sent his troops off by the right up to Guarda and beyond as far as Sabugal there is little of Arentschilde’s Brigade to report except that when Major General William Erskine takes the Light Division up that route they will accompany him in rear of Drummond’s Brigade and a small action taken by troopers under Captain Wilhelm Aly will overcome retreating transport vehicles to capture the baggage of both Generals Reynier and Pierre Soult; all of this on 3rd April 1811.
Little more is heard of 1st KGL Hussars in the final follow-up of Massena’s crossing of the Portuguese frontier so that it will be on the old 1810 outpost lines before the Agueda where they reappear, crossing that river only to halt close before Cuidad Rodrigo, take a handful of casualties under the fire of the garrison then by 2nd May retire behind the Dos Casas. Fortunately yet another draft of 51 new mounts has helped to bolster numbers with a comforting number of troopers ‘on command’ always ready to bring forward a few more ‘sabres’.
3-5th May 1811 [at Fuentes de Onoro]
Standing at the ready for a set piece battle before, in and about Fuentes de Onoro Wellington will contest the relief of Almeida; Massena now on the offensive has a furious face-to-face fight in the village on 3rd May while 1st KGL Hussars, still brigaded with 16th Light Dragoons but, as George Anson, absent since 1st March 1811is still not-up it will be their own Colonel von Arentschilde that has the brigade in hand. While not being engaged on the 3rd May it appears that Captain Krauchenberg with a few others was hit by enemy skirmisher fire towards the end of the day, there is a re-positioning the next day for both attacker and defender so that on 5th May there will be work a-plenty for Arentschilde’s troopers. Massena has shifted a force of all arms well to his left and will come on by Nava d’Aver in an attempt to outflank the new line out there composed of units of Major General William Houston’s 7th Division that occupied the hamlet of Poço Velha.
Led by an overwhelming number of Montbrun’s cavalry the combined efforts of Arentschilde’s and John Slade’s light cavalry brigades see them forced back while Houston’s wholly light infantry battalions make what they can of a fighting retreat: with enemy infantry and artillery units soon following up combat about here becomes general, confusion reigns as men of Light Division and RHA units enter the fight. It is not possible to create a pattern of events in all of this great dust cloud but we are aware that Captains Philip von Gruben and the ever present Krauchenberg are wounded, the latter on this occasion seriously, Sergeant Christoph Meyer sent out early on by Captain von Müller gets a mention for capturing prisoners while Hussar Ludolphus Krauel, an old soldier right in the midst of things is commended for his steadying influence and bravery as Gruben goes down to be rescued by Hussar Frederick Meyer who cuts down Gruben’s attacker, snatches his horse to carry on the fight his Captain being then replaced by Lieutenant Adolphus von Ilten in the great melee. In the end just two men and five horses had been killed but 40 men and 20 horses wounded that day to see them stand down at:
5th May 1811 [after the battle at Fuentes d Onoro]
With the removal of Marshal Massena and the entry of Marshal Marmont there is to be a period of re-organisation allowing Wellington to do likewise to some degree, in the case of 1st KGL Hussars this comes down to a shift to the country before Cuidad Rodrigo and a spell of outpost duty, only until the end of May when we see that Major General Anson has returned for duty with a move to be then made to quarters at Portalegre, this by 23rd June still brigaded with 16th Light Dragoons. New cavalry regiments are entering the theatre from Lisbon so all of this changes and by 19th July a new brigadier Major General Victor von Alten enters the scene to get a new brigade composed of 1st KGL Hussars and 11th Light Dragoons. They are to be part of 1st Cavalry Division under Major General Stapleton Cotton where they have been sat about the marshy valley of the Caya for some short time, moving off on 21st July to soon cross the Tagus in the direction of Cuidad Rodrigo.
Arriving before the Agueda line they would be put to outpost duty yet again where on 15th August a mixed patrol of 11th Light Dragoons and 1st KGL Hussars about St Martin de Trebejo is surprised and some captured until Hussar Nebel using a wounded 11th Light Dragoon sergeant as a shield forced his way free taking half of his comrades with him to safety [11th Light Dragoons, new to the Peninsula had already acquired a less than enviable reputation for capture].
A monthly return showing figures for 1st KGL Hussars sees them at:
15th September 1811 [on the Beira frontier]
It certainly appears that remounts and a steady return to duty keeps this regiment numbers quite stable, this however is not allowed to last, just ten days later there they are at El Bodon with Montbrun’s massed cavalry coming over the Agueda, Von Alten’s Brigade is out in front of General Picton’s 3rd Division and two Portuguese artillery batteries under Major Victor von Arentschildt ostensibly merely on watch. First contacted by the enemy is a squadron under Captain Ernst Poten that, waiting its best chance, sounds a charge, forces the lead column to retire then is accompanied by Captain Georg Bergmann’s squadron whereby the French cavalry before them is forced some distance further back. To their right Captain von Gruben’s squadron becomes engaged with more of Montbrun’s cavalry forces who despite being met by a hail of canister had got up to Arentschildt’s guns and were hewing at the Portuguese gunners while capturing their pieces.
One of Picton’s 3rd Division battalions 5th Foot close to the rear brought up by their Major Ridge poured in a fierce fire at close range that saw an end to this enterprise seeing the surviving gunners able to re-secure their guns. By this time the action had become general, 11th Light Dragoons were playing their part but with such an overwhelming number of enemy cavalry able to deploy it came down to a repeated charge and withdraw until Picton was able to pull back his infantry defenders entirely in squares as late arriving reinforcements were seen to be coming onto the field. Of casualties in this protracted affair Captain Bergmann had received a mortal wound that would see him die three weeks later, Captain Poten had suffered a wound that saw him lose his sword arm, five troopers had been killed thirty two troopers had been wounded and no less than fifty two horses taken out of action, five more men had been captured in the struggle that would see them stand down at:
25th September 1811 [after the combat at El Bodon]
As other combats along Wellington’s over-extended front had forced a withdrawal onto Fuentes Guinaldo it is just two days later that cavalry commander Major General Stapleton Cotton in seeking information as to his opponent’s intentions takes a patrol of 1st KGL Hussars too far forward in a heavy fog and is sprung upon, surrounded and in eminent danger of capture but for an instant reaction, bounding forward at speed, rapidly followed by his ADC Lieutenant Georg von der Decken and Sergeant Frederick Westermann was scooped out of a ditch when un horsed then carried to safety, Westermann himself being captured after being cut from his horse, not to be lost entirely however. When Cuidad Rodrigo fell less than four months later there he was, abandoned, to be restored to his previous situation.
For the greater part of the last months of 1811 there would be little or no activity to report excepting that due to the illness of its Brigadier Von Alten that command would fall to Lieutenant Colonel Henry Cumming of 11th Light Dragoons, [a troublesome commander if his junior officers were to be believed] himself slightly wounded at El Bodon but available nevertheless. Since Marshal Marmont’s forces had fallen back behind the Agueda it seemed natural that Cumming’s Brigade would resume their old observation line along its left banks, not for long, by 22nd October on account of a general sickness [they themselves reporting no less than 128 men sick] back they went into more comfortable quarters in the Zezere valley to remain so until the first major action of the New Year of 1812 had been acted out.
With Victor von Alten back at the helm the brigade on 5th March it is left with only 1st KGL Hussars in hand to cover the newly acquired fortress while the rest of the army takes its chance against Badajoz, we are told that at this time this regiment would have but 300 of their 442 horses fit for duty [Beamish Vol.2. P. 42] so:
Mid March 1812 [by Cuidad Rodrigo]
Being ordered to give an impression of strength about this fortress area Von Alten sent out detachments of 1st KGL Hussars one under Lieutenant Hieronimus von Wisch to ‘show themselves’ well forward by the sierra passes but when challenged by superior forces back they came so much so that by the end of March he had retired from Cuidad Rodrigo all but a Captain and 50 Hussars who were left to observe only. All too soon Alten pulled these few out altogether, the regiment, going by El Bodon and Alfayates Von Alten will be criticized ‘by-return-post’ for absconding with too much haste getting across the Tagus at Vilha Velha by 8th April but then, on peremptory orders from the CIC re-crossing on 11th April to move up to Castello Branco where the enemy under General Clausel had briefly sent in a raiding party. With the original task seen as to assist units of Portuguese militia under General le Cor as they fell back to safety by Sarnades events had overcome orders. Badajoz had fallen several days earlier, the word was out, so that any enemy presence hereabouts would very soon evaporate, and so it was, on 13th April 1st KGL Hussars, Alten’s command already somewhat precipitately handled Wellington would insist, entered an evacuated Castello Branco holding that place until relieved by army units on 16th April.
13th April 1812 [entering Castello Branco]
Even while still in and about Castello Branco there would, on 8th May be a clash of arms where Cornet Georg Leonhardt receives a wound by some contact largely un-reported, this regiment when in the field is never far from the enemy it seems.
With remounts coming forward during May to the tune of 58 horses and another 100 having recovered sufficiently to be deemed fit for duty the complement soon came back to its earlier strength and indeed up to figures not seen since 1810, none too soon, the summer campaign that thus opened would provide all with work a plenty. On the move using Von Alten’s brigade as vanguard we see them cross the Agueda on 13th June as the thrust towards Salamanca begins, three days later, perhaps following the enemy too closely Cornets Heinrich Behrens, Georg Leonhardt and Friedrich Holtzermann are wounded as also several troopers so:
Mid-June 1812 [on the march up to Salamanca]
Much more is to come, on 20th June Alten’s men remaining in contact with enemy units are forced back suffering a few casualties from artillery fire, the next day in holding a position near Morisco they are involved in a skirmish that sees them lose six more men and thirteen horses. Marshal Auguste Marmont has by 22nd June left behind his Salamanca Forts garrison to prepare his army for the complex movements that will develop in the rolling plains behind that provincial centre, Von Alten’s troopers still to the fore feeling out these manœuvres where on the next day they see that the enemy has found high ground some way beyond Aldea Rubia, it is to be a day of move and counter move.
On 24th June enemy units begin to cross the River Tormes looking to be in serious intent but at news of the fall of the Forts at Salamanca they drew off, those before Alten’s Brigade giving up 33 prisoners, it would be a full week before more is heard of them in action. Close by Rueda on 2nd July a column of French infantry and two regiments of cavalry are assailed by some accurate cannon fire, put to a retreat and attacked by 1st KGL Hussars losing over 60 men as prisoners for a loss of just one hussar wounded but five horses killed. The contending armies tended to pull apart for a while each keeping a close watch on the other; during this comparative lull the 11th Light Dragoons were shifted to another Brigade and old friends 14th Light Dragoons joined Victor Alten’s Brigade, Marmont meanwhile had received some reinforcement and the contestants began to concentrate.
By 18th July a shift of the opposing forces saw Von Alten’s Brigade and 3rd Dragoons from Le Marchant’s Brigade with three of the Fighting Divisions of infantry on high ground by Canazal in direct confrontation with Boyer’s cavalry Division and a single battalion of infantry coming at them across the river Guarena, swiftly covering the distance apart while deploying into line the charge was called and upon contact a stand-up sabre contest prevailed, both sides damaging each other greatly. Being well advanced of their main support and enemy infantry closing Von Alten drew off his men until 3rd Dragoons hove into view and others of both sides having done their business the fighting subsided.
1st KGL Hussars had lost seven hussars killed and forty five wounded, Major Krauchenberg, Captains Aly and Müller and Lieutenant von der Wisch wounded but in the aftermath had managed to capture 240 prisoners later the same day one of whom was the French Brigadier General Carriè disarmed by Hussar Henry Becker.
18th July 1812 [after the combat at Canizal]
Detaching a squadron of 1st KGL Hussars under Major von Gruben along with another of 14th Light Dragoons these men in response to further shifts by the enemy crossed the Tormes to come onto Calvarasso de abaxo the parallel marching continued, the French by 21st July were across the Tormes and the fatal day was to be measured in hours. That night Von Alten and his men settled down still close to their enemy as a thunderstorm broke out causing a great disturbance with horses breaking loose, but eventually to settle down and the dawn to arrive clear and bright. Victor von Alten moving forward along with the skirmisher screen around 8 o’clock that day ventured too far and was shot by a trooper receiving a bullet in the thigh deep enough to skim past the bone, he was thus taken out of the game having to be carried off all the way back to Salamanca and a dressing station.
Lieutenant Colonel Frederick von Arentschildt assumed command of the Brigade, Major von Gruben picking up 1st KGL Hussars in like manner as the brigade came away from the skirmish lines to depart to the far right of the line, the marches of both contestants came down to a securing of the two heights known as the Arapiles.
A newly promoted Lieutenant Carl Bobers with just 20 Hussars and left behind amongst others covering the rear was caused to counter the increasing number of the enemy being able after a fight to bring off his own charges and several prisoners, it was going to be a long day. The real work did not begin until after three o’clock in the afternoon, Thomieres Division had extended off across the Greater Arapile so much as to become militarily disconnected from the rest of Marmont’s array, duly noted by Wellington’s sharp eyed staff and with hardly a moment wasted off went the CIC at the gallop leaving a string of commands that would bring his fighting Divisions to offensive action.
Arentschildt received his orders to take the brigade as far as the covering woods where the 3rd Division was already advancing to the down slope at the end of the Greater Arapile where Thomieres Division would soon appear, arriving in good order; the squadrons held by Colonel Benjamin D Urban had already closed onto the right flank of the infantry and would, along with the rapidly closing 1/45th The Nottingham’s be first to strike the French. With 1st KGL Hussars to the fore Major von Gruben needs no further instructions, in they go negotiating some narrowing of the terrain here, hacking forward to come out in full support of D Urban’s Portuguese troopers they both taking this far left of a soon to disintegrate French right flank. Arentschildt himself along with Lieutenant Colonel Felton Hervey the indomitable one armed leader of 14th Light Dragoons bringing in support to the attack here destroying all mounted opposition before them to be able to run continually down this right and rear of Marmont’s crumbling Divisions in classic echelon style.
Sergeant George Kahrmann is recognized for his enterprise in that first contact bursting through the so-called ravine of the Zurguen to clear a way for all to follow, there had been at the end of an exhausting day just six men killed, twenty six wounded of whom were Major Moritz von Müller, Captain Frederick von der Decken, Lieutenants Ernest Cordemann, Henry Behrens and Bernhard Tueto this one it seems, seriously. Of horses sixteen had been killed and twenty wounded in this furious afternoon, still a good number available however as re-mounts for the victors.
22nd July 1812 [after the battle on the Arapiles]
The follow-up of what we must now call Clausel’s remnants of the Army of Portugal sees Arentschildt’s men close up to some of these rearguard men, on 25th July at Arevalo it is revealed that King Joseph has struck out from Madrid with a significant force and may be even now on another road some way in rear of the Brigade. A halt is called while small troops are sent out to gather more information, one under Cornet Frederick Blumenhagen goes ahead, discovers men of this rearguard and brings in thirty prisoners, as the day goes on this haul reaches sixty as a tiny patrol of just five men and a corporal aiming towards the reported force of King Joseph’s gets to Blasco-Sancho and through some enterprising work by hussar Kastorff seizes a vedette of chasseurs going on to disarm and capture two officers and twenty three men with their horses, the whole to be brought in for examination. Wellington himself was so impressed that Kastorff was, by special order made a corporal.
Two days later Clausel’s men cross the Douro while the force coming up from Madrid with some knowledge that all was not well up ahead began to retire, Arentschildt Brigade would come up to the Douro and await further orders. With little or no information coming in it must be the case that this brigade would fall back on Madrid when Wellington took his chance against the garrison at Burgos Castle, being free of enemy contact had no great effect, numbers of men sick actually increased through those quiet few months out of action men ‘on-command’ doubled while horse numbers slowly returned to a more healthy state.
25th September 1812 [at Madrid]
Victor von Alten returns for duty and as late as 20th October the three squadrons of 2nd KGL Hussars so long acting in the south of the country joined the Brigade as the balance of military power in the region swings in favour of the French who are able to use the full force of Marshal Soult’s ex Army of the South. It will come as no surprise as Lieutenant General Rowland Hill begins the retirement from the Madrid region that Von Alten’s brigade will take up rearguard duties, going over the Guadarrama Pass on 3rd November and just the next day we see Lieutenant George Baring and his squadron warding off an advance party of French cavalrymen at a bridge by Villacastin.
It will for some time however be the turn of 2nd KGL Hussars to hold the rear and only when the Madrid army has been combined with those from Burgos, stood its ground at the Arapiles, turned about and began the retreat on Cuidad Rodrigo that Von Alten Brigade returns to rearguard duty. With a single squadron left at Matilla Alten arranges outpost lines as the enemy come forward in overwhelming numbers, falling back his whole brigade is forced to retire until a squadron of 1st KGL Hussars held in reserve drives back the most forward of the enemy cavalry, the action ends with a loss of ten men wounded the rest escaping. Not so however for a member of the British Staff one Colonel Waters he lying sick in a hamlet close by, Captain Wilhelm Aly seeing the danger of this valued officer [spy actually] falling into enemy hands directs Hussar Christian Ellierott to attempt to rescue him, Waters, ordinarily a tough character, is by no means fit but under the attention of his resourceful helper manages to hang on to his horse, swim it across a river, hide up in an exhausted state, take a day or so to re-consider the consequences then struggle on to reach friendly hands, all of this together during this well known retreat in foul weather and with absolutely no logistical sustenance, Ellierott remains an Hussar.
Crossing the Portuguese frontier by 19th November it remained that 1st KGL Hussars rather than go into quarters should stand in the field in their old haunts by Cuidad Rodrigo and the Agueda/Azava river valleys, quite undisturbed by the enemy however so that a long period of rest and recovery would take place. During all of this winter and spring going into 1813 that other regiment of KGL Hussars the 2nd is sent home, complex re-arrangements are made whereby a few of these troopers, 24 in numbers are allowed to join 1st’ along with their horses, also the total horse numbers in 1st KGL Hussars is to be brought up by 63, effective trooper numbers by the end of March 1813 to reach;
25th March 1813 [on the frontier by Cuidad Rodrigo]
It will be two months more of waiting before the CIC can begin what becomes the Vittoria campaign but by then the Adjutant can proclaim this regiment of his first line corps cavalry at:
25th May 1813 [on the march north out of Portugal]
Of some interest the horse numbers stand at an excellent 490 so confidence will stand high, moving off attached to Lieutenant General Hill’s columns of march they aim at Salamanca losing just one man there before driving General Villate’s Division back then after a short pause on they go all the way up the Grande Chaussee to the narrow entry into the valley of the Zadorra River as it opens up in front of Vittoria itself. Although retiring units of the enemy under General Maucune have been contacted it will be others that deal with that encounter and indeed when the great battle before them is fought on 21st June they play no part in the proceeds at all being jammed in the tight terrain leading on to the Bridge of Nanclares. They will have brought to the field that day numbers little different to those of the previous month so will follow up as the fighting dies down and not a word as to how they view the vast pile of loot that inevitably ‘interests’ the army generally.
Two days later they are sent forward with their old companions of Light Division on the roads and pathways towards Pampluna in search of a Corps of the enemy under General Clausel that had missed the Vittoria fight and was expected to be not far away.
That commander whilst slow in discovering the disaster that had overtaken King Joseph’s armies was certainly not hesitant once the news came his way, he soon made himself and his charges scarce heading off into France through the Pyrenean Passes and totally untouched. Lieutenant Gustav Schaumann’s squadron of 1st KGL Hussars well supported by a battalion of 95th Rifles on this first day of advance came upon a rearguard of about a division of infantry with the one remaining gun and a howitzer still in the hands of the enemy standing in defence across the road, up came the main body of the Light Division. This obstacle being removed by others and ex-King Joseph being deprived of his last artillery pieces there is nothing to report other than the close liaison long sustained between Light Division and 1st KGL Hussars as we move into July.
Victor von Alten receives 18th Light Dragoons in exchange for 14th Light Dragoons and the brigade will take up the role of communication between the hills and valleys falling out of the Spanish side of the lower Pyrenees Ranges, all of this on behalf of the infantry Divisions otherwise geographically disconnected. On the French side of the Pyrenees the enemy has received a new [old] commander, it is Marshal Nicholas Soult who rapidly re-organises his men, the combined residue of the Armies of Portugal, the South and the Centre, and they will at least be formidable for numbers. Light Division with 1st KGL Hussars, the latter now acting as a single regiment in close contact in the regular way of Corps Cavalry take up a role as communication centred on the Bidassoa by Vera between the far left under Lieutenant General Thomas Graham and Wellington who, when things develop has to go to the far right in defence of the blockade of Pampluna.
Soult has his forces now on attack through the Passes along this western end of the mountainous frontier; we are very near the end of July when on the 28th a squadron under Lieutenant Ernst Cordemann has one of his pickets, out on the road between Lizasso and Erasum contacted by what seems to be enemy infantry. The terrain is heavily wooded hereabouts and night is well advanced, strange voices come out of the darkness with random firing of muskets creating some confusion until it is discovered that a battalion of Portuguese Caçadores, the 2nd led at this time by Major George Zuhlke, an old 5/60th officer, had become detached from Dalhousie’s 7th Division and stumbled into their path having a fight with French outpost skirmishers on the way. The next day, having all fallen back from this immediate area onto Lizasso the enemy, now in some number come at them, Cordemann has his squadron retire having a few horses wounded here but upon reaching the houses of the town Zuhlke’s Caçadores, who had prepared barricades and loopholes here fought them off in determined fashion ending that brief confrontation.
Confusion of a different kind reigns two days later as large numbers of enemy infantry retreating from a lost battle at Sorauren cut across a part of Light Division’s supposed communication line, they, unfortunately had been retired back and actually lost to the army as a fighting force as couriers trotted west and east through the switchback hills and valleys on their front urgently seeking to have them cut off these beaten men before they could reach the Bridge at Yantzi. 1st KGL Hussars it seems could be of no help here, the episode being noticeably missing from their recorded history.
Nothing more is heard of 1st KGL Hussars until as late as November as the army concentrates to break the Line of the Nivelle, there they are on the 10th November 1813 standing no less than;
October-November 1813 [at the Nivelle]
Victor von Alten’s Brigade on the Nivelle has been brought up in the field from its quarters with the intention to use it when or if a breakthrough was effected, whilst to some extent this did become a chance it was not taken advantage of but at least 1st KGL Hussars were close enough at Sare to take possession of a battalion of French infantry, the 1/88th, that had been surrounded at the Signals Redoubt and been compelled to surrender, no casualties that day then.
By the second week of December they are heard of again during those five days when Marshal Soult tries to take advantage of terrain features combined with the effect of steady winter rains that fill the low lying valleys with sodden, impassable obstacles stopping crossing east-west reinforcing by Wellington’s Divisional commanders. In the field again their task is to get forward to discover the likely objectives of the enemy advances, this, as events unfold they are entirely unable to do, repeatedly the enemy infantry is able to surprise its opposite numbers so that along the left half of the field Lieutenant General John Hope’s Divisions are thrown back into a flurry of defensive action before stability is restored.
The fighting known as the Battles of the Nive between 9th and 13th December are played out with not a word mentioned as to action by light cavalry of either side.
Settling down to winter quarters and the constant cold rains it is time to take stock, Wellington by reason of his steady elevation in all matters military has been given the opportunity to make serious changes in the way he appoints leaders at the higher end of his command structure. For 1st KGL Hussars this sees long serving Brigadier Major General Victor von Alten dismissed and sent off home by 25th December and for this regiment Major Philipp von Gruben becomes its leader, they continue to be brigaded with 18th Hussars and will remain so to the end of hostilities.
The winter rains turn to hail, sleet and eventually it becomes cold enough to frost harden the ground, with a little clear weather the army stirs itself and the 1814 campaign begins, it is 12th February, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hussey Vivian has the brigade in hand so perhaps it will be best to see numbers as they concentrate for a formal engagement;
25th February 1814 [closing on Orthez]
Positioned on the far left of the attack there is no opportunity for Vivian to bring his men into action throughout the proceedings to stand down after that victory for others without coming into contact with the enemy at all, there is much riding to be done however in poor early Spring weather conditions resulting in a dramatic rise in men recorded as being unavailable for duty, no less than 196 men counted off as either merely sick or principally ‘on-command’ by the end of March. The journey ever eastward towards Toulouse can only be described as having been ‘trying’, especially when the brigade had to turn about to go north, 7th Division infantry with Lieutenant General George Ramsey, Earl Dalhousie in command has been ordered to head for the Provincial City of Bordeaux where it is expected that this place will declare for the Monarchy on arrival.
Lowry Cole’s 4th Division was to accompany them and the whole must make good time, this they all did, Vivian’s troopers were at Bordeaux by 12th March and while 4th Division had already dropped off at Langon they must remain about the city for another three days before re-tracing their mud churned path to re-join the main army. Off once more in wind and rain they picked up 4th Division and marched at their best pace so that by 19th March there they were at Plaisance and, naturally much worse for wear, as if this was not sufficient the army, now on its way down to Tarbes has them take the vanguard position just two more days on.
Fortunately Vivian’s men in the combats that follow about Tarbes are not used other than to provide flank guard support and the fighting there subsides, it will be a fortnight later, on 4th April that along with many others they cross the Garonne River by way of pontoons laid at La Capellete well to the north of Toulouse, so, with the enemy already getting set for a fight within the defences there and Marshal Beresford seconded to force a way down on the east side by the Mont Rave serious work looms.
Using 18th Hussars ahead Brigadier Hussey Vivian takes them down as far as the bridge across the River Ers at Croix d Orade where he brings his troopers forward at the charge against the French light cavalry there, he is well in front making an ideal target and pays the price, down he goes lucky to be only shot in the arm while his Major, James Hughes takes up the charge driving back the defenders to secure this crossing.
It is 18th April 1814 and the last battle is only two days away, the Brigade has gone to Major Philipp von Gruben while the one armed Captain Ernst Poten holds the regiment, their task is to pass down the eastern side of the Ers to discover any bridges that might enable them to cross to the left bank to get ahead of the infantry coming down by that way. Captain Gustav Schaumann heads this venture with his squadron making steady headway against opposition from units of Berton’s light cavalry but always too late to prevent those men from destroying each bridge going south before they are able to be prevented. Schaumann reports having crossed a ‘small-wooden-bridge’ probably over an eastern tributary of the Ers, being cannonaded and having a serious fight to emerge from this capture with his one squadron against several of the enemy’s, a determined charge is mounted however and from the confusion emerge to see the enemy retire before them.
From scant evidence it seems that this fight took place a little way above the bridge at Pont de Lasbordese which gave the retirees the chance to get off by yet again blowing up a bridge thus denying their tormentors from gaining the left bank of the Ers.
Lieutenant Conrad Poten had been wounded here and several killed by gunfire in the first approaches, there is more yet; free now to go further down south they reach the bridge of Montaudran and are reinforced by Captain Ernst Poten and the rest of 1st KGL Hussars, 22nd Chasseurs, of Vial’s Brigade had barricaded this crossing using earth filled casks and stood to arms ready.
It will be troopers of Schaumann’s squadron that, on seeing these obstacles, rapidly dismount run forward and start to heave these barrels over the side into the Ers. Captain Poten leads on his hussars, they gain some ground and, as luck would have it are met by men of 4th Division infantry who are coming down that way, 1st KGL Hussars thus having met their intended partners can now come under more senior orders fanning out with cavalry of Somerset’s Brigade to draw towards the Languedoc Canal and the all important bridge of the Pont des Demoiselles.
By now however the day has seen enough fighting, Soult has withdrawn most of his defenders into the walls of Toulouse and it is time to count casualties, we know that the various scattered engagements reduced numbers by just 16 men, with no less than five men dead it can only be that 11 had been wounded Lieutenant Poten amongst them, this should have seen the end of the war for these troopers, not so, the morrow would have them so placed that they had to follow up the defenders as they left Toulouse on the road down to Carcassone.
Colonel Frederich von Arentschilde had returned to take the regiment, down they went, Lieutenant Gottfried Blumenhagen leading a detachment came across a picket of gens d’ armes thirty strong and promptly took them prisoner, next day on they went again Captain Poten surprising this time retiring cavalry, put them to the charge and captured 27 men and 25 horses all by the village of Ville Nouvelle where it must be said that for 1st KGL Hussars their war came to an end.
By the near end of April they would stand at:
25th April 1814 [stood down below Toulouse]
Author’s note: The history of this regiment speaks for itself, what more could be said?
Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2012
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