Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Cavalry in the Peninsula: 3rd Dragoon Guards (Prince of Wales)

By Ray Foster 

Facings: White
Lace:      Gold

27th April 1809 [landed at Lisbon no more than]
PUA 704

Under the hand of Lieutenant Colonel Granby Calcroft they are brigaded with another regiment 4th Dragoons that came ashore during that same week in late April that began Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley’s 1809 Oporto campaign.

The brigade commanded by Major General Henry Fane an officer of whom we shall see a great deal more, he having already served in the campaigns of Vimeiro and Corunna, more notably as an infantry brigadier. When the CIC takes the army northward to the Douro Fane’s Brigade will be absent but we are again to receive numbers at this time, so:

6th May 1809 [still possibly about the Lisbon environs]                                                                                         
PUA 723

With no action for the ‘heavies’ in Wellesley’s ejection of the French under Marshal Nicholas Soult from Portugal it will be the long hungry march into Spain where we first see this regiment in action. Still with 4th Dragoons Fane’s troopers will endure the journey up to the fighting ground of Talavera showing no more than:

25th July 1809 [before the battle at Talavera]                                                                                                    
PUA 525

Not having been engaged in that combat by the Alberche stream on 27th July beyond a supporting defensive presence and only briefly the following day we are only made aware that Captain George Brice and one trooper had been wounded in all of that day’s tumultuous bloody fighting while one other man had been lost, made a prisoner by the enemy. Fane’s position on the field had been in immediate rear support of Anson’s Brigade and the ill-fated 23rd Light Dragoons that we are told plunged into that hidden watercourse in the far-left flank valley, it can be conjectured that on this day Captain Brice and a handful of his men ventured forward only to be hit by penetrating cannon fire and not involved in the wild melee well beyond this dry creek.

28th July 1809 [after the battle at Talavera]                                                                                                       
PAB 522

It will be a sad and sorry trudge down the left bank of the Tagus to return the army down to the valley of the Guadiana.

We do hear of significant losses by way of the Guadiana fevers whilst by Badajoz from the end of August 1809 before the move out of Spain and eventually into the valley of the Mondego at the end of October of that year. It is at this time that they will receive a handful of horses from 23rd Light Dragoons to be picked up from about Villa Viçosa as this regiment leaves for home, some way into the spring of 1810 they will stand at:

March 1810 [in quarters in Portugal]
PUA 414

More time will pass before The Prince of Wales 3rd Dragoon Guards are heard from again, they are still in Portugal and this reference only to show that on 3rd May 1810 they receive a few more men and re-mounts to the tune of 35 troopers and 35 horses .

About now Fane will shift to allow Major General George De Grey to pick up the Brigade command.

With no action to be had they are, by  late September 1810 at Mealhada well to the rear of the range of hills east of Oporto forming the Busaco Ridge from where they will move down country after the fight on that fine military defensive position, they stand at:

27th September 1810 [at Mealhada]                                                                                                                   
PUA 410

Settling into the Lines of Torres Vedras by November brigade figures suggest that 3rd Dragoon Guards will stand at:

1st November 1810 [in the “Lines”]                                                                                                                     
PUA 397

Lying dormant for yet another six months it is only after De Grey’s Brigade is transferred to the “southern” army, [nominally Major General Rowland Hill’s responsibility but gathered up by Marshal William Carr Beresford as the former is incapacitated by a malarial fever], that things begin to warm up. Marshal Soult during the late spring of 1811 has come north from Andalusia to the relief of a besieged Badajoz; he has Beresford and his men across his path at Albuera so if he is to persist a fight must occur.

De Grey’s Brigade previously gazetted under Major General Robert Ballard Long, found wanting by Beresford, comes under overall command of the Infantry Major General William Lumley who on the day will prove to be “the right man in the right place at the right time”.

It must be here explained that Lumley had started his military career in the cavalry arm of the service and had for a considerable time commanded troopers of the mounted arm in earlier foreign services.

16th May 1811 [at the field of Albuera]                                                                                                               
PUA 378

A great deal of infantry killing has gone on before the Polish Lancers and French sabrers of Soult’s array inflict their own type of murder, all on the “Spanish Hill”, Lumley will be called forward to stabilise a very open British right flank his main task to protect the advancing march of the Fusiliers of 4th Division. This along with others he does admirably, 4th Dragoons of course are still a solid part of De Grey’s troopers and all will come on showing a defiant broad line with an infantry square of Portuguese on their far right.  As 3rd Dragoon Guards close with their opposite numbers the field to their left has become a veritable slaughterhouse; their own efforts while providing a sure defence against the enemy cavalry there paling into insignificance by comparison, Lieutenant Arthur Fox and nine of his men are killed nine more wounded [strongly indicating that cannon fire had been the main culprit here] and one other not to be found, but all serious enough while it lasted. 4th Dragoons have suffered the greater number but at the end the enemy cries off leaving matters elsewhere to die off through sheer exhaustion, a pyrrhic victory if ever there was one!

16th May 1811 [after the battle at Albuera]                                                                                                       
PAB 358

De Grey does what he can rather anonymously to hold his cavalry together whilst Lumley and a few other commanders go through the motions of presenting a force of all arms able at least to defend themselves while sorting the dead from the living. Much of this is ‘on-paper’ or ‘off-record’ as we very soon see Wellington appear on the scene and Lumley being sent off at the head of the full Southern 2nd Division of Cavalry pushing slowly south to keep a watch on the French rearguard, this latter body of 3000 sabres cavalry led by Latour Maubourg soon turns about to discourage them.

This commander finding first only Spanish cavalry under Penne Villemur in his path pursues these men from Villa Garcia meeting with little resistance from them until reaching Usagre, by 25th May. He goes well enough through the main street of that place until coming to the bridge across a full-flowing stream here, Penne Villemur’s troopers having disappeared and with no sure indication of what lies ahead he sends out a full regiment of troopers to discover any fords downstream while trotting his most forward regiment across the bridge to take up ground to left and right.  Warned by the retiring Penne Villemur that these Frenchmen are in great number Lumley at the head of 2200 sabres himself seizes the opportunity to take advantage of Maubourg’s rather slow deployment so, with his regiments already ranged out of sight behind rising ground he so distributes and times his force to come over the brow before the French can get anywhere near enough troopers past the bridge to make any serious stand.  Down they come, British, Portuguese, and even some of Penne Villemur’s men, 4th Dragoons leading with their quite normal furious charge, 3rd Dragoon Guards led this day by Major Arthur Weston supporting close behind, with Madden’s Portuguese Dragoons to their left and the Spanish taking the right, no particular tactic was required.  Slaughter it certainly was, pressed in onto the stream bed behind and totally outflanked on both sides it merely came down to who would be believed when the head count came up for calculation, we know that only 20 troopers of the whole 2nd Division Cavalry was counted off as casualties, of these, four men recorded wounded in 3rd Dragoon Guards while just 78 men of those French Dragoons under General Lallemand could be allowed for the sum of prisoners, for the rest the various claims can only be set down as ‘unconfirmed’.

Lumley it seems was no flashy sabre-rattling braggart, making no claim at all for numbers of the enemy killed and injured it is left to others to fill in those spaces, it can be accepted that quite apart from those men captured there would be certainly no less than 80 of the injured that must have been able to have ‘retired’ but several commentators were prepared to suggest [Napier and D’Urban included] well in excess of 100 those troopers left for dead on the ‘wrong’ side of the stream or down there in it. Certainly once back on the southern side of the bridge this body of men under the overall command of General Latour Maubourg melted away to no longer rate a mention beyond that previous rearguard retirement role.    

Seemingly our Major General William Lumley also melts away; it is strange that such an obviously capable leader of the mounted arm should be passed over and, with so very little notice or credit given by the historians of this period.

Wellington having entered the southern scene by now for some time a re-building exercise begins, unfortunately this brings into the command structure the often recorded, quite radically deranged Major General William Erskine and almost as uselessly returns the ever hesitant Major General Robert Ballard Long into the reckoning. Fortunately by mid July Brigadier De Grey still holds 3rd Dragoon Guards and 4th Dragoons and better yet that officer will ultimately [Erskine being rapidly superseded] hold  overall command, the whole southern component being still designated 2nd Cavalry Division all to remain operational as part of Hill’s command. The two parts of Wellington’s overall command come together in the dank low-lying Caya valley about Elvas as a result of a heavy concentration before them of the French in support of the Badajoz garrison.

De Grey Brigade no less than others will merely endure an unpleasant few weeks hereabouts before dispersing to, what for them will be rear reserve areas in higher country within the Portuguese frontier until 11th September when they are brought forward in response to a threat well ahead.

15th September 1811 [on the Beira front]                                                                                                          
PUA 369

While others are brought to action at El Bodon/Carpio and Aldea Ponte 3rd Dragoon Guards get no great distance forward before the threat dissipates and all are retired into the hills of Portugal and winter quarters.  During this end-of-season period there are to be a number of changes to the composition of the cavalry brigaded units, more regiments are arriving at Lisbon as are potential commanders.  One such of the latter is Major General John Le Marchant accompanied by three Dragoon regiments; by late January 1812 this will see 3rd Dragoon Guards shift to the northern 1st Division Cavalry and lose De Grey who it seems went home nursing a dislocated shoulder, most importantly the Prince of Wales 3rd Dragoon Guards receive 4th Dragoon Guards, who have been on land in a back area since the end of August 1811, into their brigade at least on paper and 1st Dragoons, landed at Lisbon on 1st January 1812, so that by way of seniority they come to be led [if that’s the right word] by the utterly inadequate but now Major General, John Slade.

Meanwhile, to understand the full import of all of this we see [with hindsight] that 4th Dragoon Guards under the unhelpful hand of their Lieutenant Colonel Francis Sherlock are destined to never raise a broadsword in anger in this theatre of the war and ultimately will go home in disgrace leaving their mounts to others, [all well down the track but a sure indication of their non-performance while ashore in the Peninsula].

The year 1812 brought forward huge events for this northern/major part of the Army directly under the hand of Wellington but not so for 3rd Dragoon Guards, lying back and still in winter quarters, Slade’s Brigade lie dormant until there is yet another transfer back to the 2nd Division Cavalry group.

It is 14th April 1812 and the 2nd Division Cavalry commander will be non-other than Major General William Erskine [the generally admitted madman], he to hold Slade [the shiftless] Brigade and Ballard Long [the indecisive] Brigade in his hand, we cannot, with the best will in the world expect great deeds from men led by such as these commanders!      

And so it is, while Cuidad Rodrigo and Badajoz are being reduced and captured and the initiative then taken to face the Army of Portugal in the field the corps under Hill is set the task of keeping the French about the country south of the Guadiana occupied. For 3rd Dragoon Guards this entails much patrolling deep in the southern Estremadura sierra’s, where during June we see Hill shifting forward as far as Zafra to test the resolve of his opposite enemy General Drouet D Erlon.  By 11th June Spanish cavalry under Penne Villemur and troopers of Slade Brigade probe further, the latter from Llera onto Maguilla threatening D Erlon’s base at Fuente Ovejuna , there he meets Lumley’s previous foe of the Usagre fight Lallemand, whose brigade of dragoons is quite equal for numbers to his own.  Lallemand at first falls back a little but then, when almost back at Maguilla turns about to answer the challenge; with 1st Dragoons at the head the charge is sounded and in they go with 3rd Dragoon Guards led in by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Clifton [here Oman wrongly calls him Clinton] in close support.

Almost inevitably The Royals break the line sweeping in a large number of men to be taken prisoner, over 100 of these we are told, however, not content with seeing the rest of Lallemand’s men in full flight Slade fatefully allowed or even encouraged his victorious troopers to dash into this mass forcing a galloping rout that lost all pattern or purpose other than to wield the bludgeoning broadsword. Going back well past Maguilla the cautious and certainly far more professional Lallemand has kept a reserve, not large but certainly adequate as it turned out, appearing from a hidden flank out they come in tight formation completely to turn the tables, the gallop goes into a swirling dust laden confusion with those still able to maintain obedience from their mounts reversing the process.  The taking of prisoners now became the privilege of the French who at the same time were able to release those of their own previously captured comrades still horsed, the whole affair subsided due to nothing more than sheer exhaustion on both sides, the losses only to be discovered as the dust settled.

Standing some short miles in front of Llera Slade has lost overall killed, wounded, or prisoners 166 troopers and 147 horses, we are shown the casualty lists for the 3rd Dragoon Guards at 13 men killed, 67 men and 85 horses captured  and Lieutenant Edward Homewood brought down wounded and captured as a result so:

11th June 1812 [after the combat at Maguilla]                                                                                                   
PAB 220 [estimated]

In mitigation of this disastrous reduction it is told that the next day 12th June a large detachment led by Lieutenant Anthony Strenuwitz of 1st Hussars KGL [an ADC to Erskine] and ably supported by their sergeant major M’ Clelland discovered a foraging party of the enemy cavalry, the charge was sounded as a result a number of men and horses captured able thereby to be bartered in exchange for the same number of their own captured on the 11th June.  How much this may have restored their figures we are not told, however having retired back onto Albuera they were met by a reinforcement of 44 men and 60 horses which surely must have gone some way towards bringing them back to ‘regularity’.

It will be of some interest to note that about this time overall Cavalry Commander Lieutenant General Stapleton Cotton is in correspondence with Lieutenant Colonel Francis Sherlock of 4th Dragoon Guards [gazetted for some time it will be remembered into Slade’s Brigade] whose men are languishing away back at Ponte de Sor many miles in the rear in the Alemtejo desiring their presence at the front, an on-going story to be described in its own time.

On 1st July a picquet under Captain Edmond Storey is attacked and driven back as far as to fall in with a squadron led by Captain George Watts whose troopers immediately return the compliment to the French cavalrymen, capturing men and horses and relieving those of their own previously taken. This exploit was celebrated in style with the issue of a double ration of rum.  Lieutenant James Ellis, a sergeant, a trumpeter and two troopers had been killed here while Captain Watts had been seriously injured having to go home to recover, he will return.

Remaining with 2nd Division Cavalry and operating with Hill usually south of the Tagus 3rd Dragoon Guards will, along with this whole Southern Corps of all Arms shift onto the northern banks to take the Madrid road when the results of the smashing of Marshal Marmont’s Army of Portugal take full effect.  With nothing of an offensive nature to confront them the summer passes quietly enough about Madrid but when Marshals Soult and Jourdan/King Joseph advance from Valencia it is time to begin that retirement back that will take them all the way back to the Portuguese frontier.

First seen behind the Rio Manzanarus at the Ponte Largo bridge a number are set to make a defence there having dismounted to take cover, little comes of that while others carry on there, back they go off beyond the Guadaramma Pass where they find awaiting them 46 remounts 24 men and 4 officers it is little comfort that the retirement has to continue becoming a retreat during foul November weather and sparse attendance from the commissariat before able to turn about in a measure of safety behind the Agueda, where a further reinforcement by way of 50 horses, 59 men and two officers await them.

Figures are near to impossible to decipher from Oman’s mish-mash of Divisional PUA’s, since there has been no direct enemy engagements for our particular regiment under examination however it is at least possible to make a calculation that could show 3rd Dragoon Guards upon turning about in Portugal close by Cuidad Rodrigo at:

29th November 1812 [behind the Portuguese frontier]
PUA 280

Going into the New Year the balance of military capabilities changes dramatically, the Empire has received a mortal blow in Russia and expectations of a sure victory for the Monarchists of Europe will see great numbers of men and materiel coming to the Peninsula.  It is about now that this regiment receives its new headgear, brass helmets and also a new facing colour for its clothing, Blue in exchange for White, they will be sat about in quarters in Portugal well away from any thoughts of action.

Already in mid February of 1813 Erskine has spectacularly ended his career by the well practised fall from an upper-storey window at Brozas [most latter day historians say at Lisbon but this town’s position and the event, quoted by Oman, just south of Alcantara on the Tagus at least allows that sad commander to have died ‘on-station’ thus to have his command lie vacant as commanders more to the liking of the CIC Wellington come into the theatre.  Cavalry Regiments considered to be poorly performing or indeed not performing at all lose their horses and get sent off home.  The 2nd Cavalry Division is dissolved during April and Major General Henry Fane who commanded the Prince of Wales 3rd Dragoon Guards as much as four years earlier returns to hold them, still brigaded with 1st Dragoons while with Major General John Slade being dispensed of by 23rd April 1813, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Clifton will be left to hold that regiment.

With the entire Cavalry arm now together they come under Major General George von Bock of KGL until Stapleton Cotton can return recovered from his Salamanca wound, the campaign to expel the French from the western Peninsula can now begin.

That previously gazetted regiment 4th Dragoon Guards has been removed from the reckoning as early as 13th March of 1813 and sent home leaving its mounts to others and 94 of these going to 3rd Dragoon Guards, so that as the army moves north, its cavalry arm firmly in the hands of von Bock we have only brigade figures to estimate a strength at,

25th May 1813 [marching north on Vittoria]
PUA 420

Fane’s troopers are attached to Hill’s Column taking the most easterly line of advance and an early start to reach the Salamanca area to cross the Tormes and dislodge small units of General Digeon’s Dragoons by Aldea Lengua, little is shown of their progress northwards other than to see them with Hill and passing through Valladolid ever north until all the forces merge into a general mass, these are compelled to separate and once more chose different routes with Hill’s corps appearing finally coming up the Nanclares/Grand Chausee heading for Vittoria.   

Fane’s troopers have come to no great harm in the long looping marches that had continued to out-flank the French who are making as much pace as their ever increasing train of men, materiel, baggage, afrancesado’s and accumulated loot will allow, abandoning their occupation of Spain.

Coming into the valley of the Zadorra River we lose sight of Fane’s Brigade as battle is joined on 21st June, it is to be expected that such action as was seen by 3rd Dragoon Guards, led this day by Lieutenant Colonel George Holmes would come late in the proceedings, room for cavalry deployment would be hard to find and our only clue comes by way of the casualty counts after the enemy have fled the field. One officer Lieutenant William Stewart [Stuart] has been seriously wounded along with two of his troopers, four others and six horses having been killed.  This suggesting that with no mention of an enemy contact incoming cannon fire would have been the cause, it was well reported that many of those troops entering the field from the Nanclares road were met by this unwelcome introduction while attempting to take ground forward.

21st June 1813 [after the battle at Vittoria]
PAB 413

Four days later Stapleton Cotton resumes overall command of the army’s Cavalry his priority task to discover the whereabouts of General Bertrand Clausel’s Corps that is still ‘on the loose’ somewhere ahead in the Bastan region.

Finding that the ‘horse has bolted’ it remains for those regiments of the heavy cavalry to ease back and gradually find for themselves a little comfort.  This situation continues for Fane’s Brigade for the rest of the year but at Milagros on 17th September up comes  the returning Captain Watts, now made up to Major along with two more officers, 26 troopers and 55 re-mounts, the rest period goes on and indeed for the first three months of 1814, it will only be at late as mid March of this final year’s campaigning that 3rd Dragoon Guards will re-take the field, they have taken possession of 54 more horses brought up from St Jean de Luz by three officers and 13 troopers.  Fane by now has taken up another Brigade, this of light cavalry which will for him be his main concern. So it is that his ‘Heavies’ are to be picked up by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Clifton of 1st Dragoons and such information as comes to light is under his command title.

The battle at Orthez has long been settled Clifton’s troopers come up to the army by early in March and for some time are to be found to be in company with Major General Henry Clinton’s 6th Division on the left [northern] flank of the general advance against Soult’s retiring army.

We see again on 14th March however Clifton’s cavalry at Garlin some short distance south of Aire as that latter place comes under attack, nothing for them there to do, the tactical shifts about Tarbes and the final slow advance to Toulouse has them picking up straggling prisoners while merely following up and even at the final encounter there on 14th April 1814 finds them un-used behind Hill’s Corps to thus end their service without further incident. No doubt the troopers of 3rd Dragoon Guards would be brought back through central France under their Lieutenant Colonel George Holmes to cross the Channel at Calais on 20th July 1814 after a pleasant trot well pleased with their Peninsular experiences.

Note:  This Regiment would not be present at Waterloo.


Placed on the Napoleon Series:February 2012


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