Notes on Wellington’s Cavalry in the Peninsula: 3rd Light Dragoons / Hussars King's German Legion (KGL)
By Ray Foster
25th-30th August 1808 [landed at ports north
This corps arriving as they did at that time shortly after the defeat of General Andoche Junot’s forces found themselves attached to that detachment of horse and foot joined to the artillery of Lieutenant General John Moore’s army destined to march and endure what developed into the Corunna Campaign. Moving under Lieutenant General John Hope in early October they go to Elvas, Badajoz and by degrees up to Salamanca experiencing the steady change of weather through autumn and into winter. Marching ever northward they join Moore then eventually Lieutenant General David Baird [coming in from Corunna] to become re-organised joining 18th Light Dragoons under Brigadier Lieutenant General Charles Stewart with figures at:
19th December 1808 [at Mayorga]
Late this same day they come upon a squadron of their comrades of 18th Light Dragoons who have had the good fortune to fall upon a small corps of Franceschi’s troopers escorting the Intendent of Valladolid who, whilst retiring towards safer country, was carrying £3000.00 worth of Spanish Reals. It would be unrealistic to expect other than that these fine English comrades would do any more than mention this stroke of luck to their brigade partners, the money having been up-lifted never found its way into recorded history [not even the history of that rather cavalier cavalry regiment]. After much prevarication Moore opts to retire [Napoleon at the head of a large army is in the offing] this retirement, probably partially due to the onset of winter snow developed into a retreat of some disorder, the cavalry however, being given the task of rearguard very soon found its work; enemy mounted units were appearing from the south, east and north.
First mention of 3rd KGL Hussars is on 25th December falling back on Valderas a patrol near Carrion captured 30 men while easing back towards the enemy advance, by late afternoon of the 27th they are by the bridge at Castro Gonzalo where on the following day they are close enough to the steadily advancing vanguard cavalry of the Guard Chasseurs to take two of their officers prisoner.
In the first hour of 29th December they, having retired behind the river Elsa see that crossing destroyed, this promising a slight respite Cornet von der Hellen and 19 troopers were set to remain alert for any enemy movements hereabouts, at daybreak there the enemy were seen to be assessing their chances where eventually they began to cross swimming their mounts over. Raising the alarm it is only by way of drawing together several other pickets of other regiments that any opposition could be mounted, messages went to the rear while the French improved their number to well over 500 sabres coming close to Benevente, assorted picket troopers of 7th, 10th Hussars and 18th Light Dragoons stalled this advance but were still no real opposition here. The alarm thus mounted however saw 3rd KGL Hussars soon assembled with troops under Captain Kerssenbruch and Lieutenant Jansen and Lieutenant General Brigadier Charles Stewart at their head this mixed band came on at the charge, heavily outnumbered they were forced to give back until more appeared to make a greater contribution, Major Ernest Burgwedel with the rest of the regiment and more especially Lieutenant General Edward Paget himself saw the scales begin to tip the other way.
Back to the river the enemy was driven to return to the opposite bank much reduced in number, it was during this fight that
an 18 year old hussar Bergmann had confronted a senior Guard officer, disarmed him and declared him his prisoner that a trooper of the 10th Hussars one sergeant major Grisdale took his bridle and began to steer him away, yet another trooper corporal Lomax of 7th Hussars forwarded his own claim to have made the arrest but in the confusion the young 3rd KGL Hussars Bergmann merely carried on his grisly work against the men of the Guard Chasseurs, the prisoner of course was General Lefebvre.
A count of heads showed that 3rd KGL Hussars had, in this fight lost three men killed and forty three wounded, of these last one was Major Burgwedel another, Cornet Brüggemann with 22 horses dead and 47 wounded.
29th December 1808 [after the combat at Benevente]
Continuing rearguard duties now with a small party under Lieutenant Heise it was only two days later that they were brought in to re-join the regiment, all falling back as far as Caçabellos but not to be molested at the bridge fight there where Thomas Plunket famously claimed the life of the French General Colbert.
When Moore decided to turn and face down Soult’s men at Lugo a regimental count of available horses still fit for service was taken, there were just 220 fit horses left, others still able to move were sent off to Corunna to await events there.
By 14th January 1809 their collective fates were sealed, it is recorded that this day 290 horses were shot by which time only half had been seen as field worthy! There is nothing more for Stewart’s Brigade to do but to await the arrival of the evacuation fleet’s transports, Marshal Nicholas Soult’s attack and Moore’s reply at that battlefield is only to be observed as the transports are being loaded
Obviously the provision of horse transports to evacuate their mounts came down to only the preservation of a token number of the very best of officers mounts and by late January 1809 the survivors will land in England, they come ashore counting:
27th January 1809 [at ports in England]
In the case of this Regiment its record for 1809 is destined to be brief, when Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley returns to Lisbon on 22nd April 1809 he finds that there is a small detachment of 3rd Light Dragoons KGL under Captain Meyer that had come ashore attached to Colonel Talbot’s 14th Light Dragoons also those two remaining squadrons of 20th Light Dragoons, these KGL troopers will show a small number ready for service in the field so:
3rd May 1809 [starting the Oporto campaign]
This single part squadron whilst being listed as present with Wellesley’s cavalry in the drive to rid Portugal of Soult’s forces can only have been in rear support at best and this fragment is not seen to be used in the new Spanish campaign and by the end of July of that year both of these part regiments are gone elsewhere.
This regiment takes no further part in military affairs on the western side of the Peninsula.
At Waterloo 3rd Light Dragoons KGL under Colonel Frederick Arentschilde lost 44 men killed and 86 wounded from a PUA 622, a modest tally then on that murderous day.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2011; updated March 2012
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