Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Cavalry in the Peninsula: 4th Dragoon Guards

By Ray Foster

4th Dragoon Guards

Entered thePortuguese theatre on

30th August 1811[most likely at Lisbon]

PUA 409

There is little to be said on behalf of this regiment of heavy cavalry led at the time by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Sherlock, they first recorded at that time as many as 473 mounts so……no shortage then of either man or horse, within a month’s time their sick count had risen from 71 to 122 and from there rose to its highest figure of 176 during its troublesome stay.

Troublesome indeed since for the whole of its time in a theatre of war this regiment struck not a blow in anger….well certainly not at a recognized enemy.

Its movements are not easy to follow; however, we do know that it was immediately brigaded with 3rd Dragoons that had landed at the same time, both to come under the overall hand of Major General John Le Marchant a commander who has received plaudits for his ability to handle cavalry ‘scientifically’…….we shall see.

It has to be conceded that they did come, unfortunately under an intermediate superior officer, the somewhat lack-lustre Brigadier John Slade by which, unsurprisingly on their one and only possible entry into the field during the late spring of 1812 they non-arrived and much  too late to come into action, their Lieutenant Colonel however gaining a personal mention for the action about Llerena on 11th April while his cavalry as late as 11th May was reported [WD] as being at Ponte da Sor some 200 miles away in Portugal awaiting its mule train.

Worse still we shall not see, they vanish from the normal day-to-day adventures of men of  Stapleton Cotton’s 1st Cavalry Division ultimately under the overall command of the CIC Lord Wellingtonalthoughwe have them un-dated lying at Niza [modern Nisa] in the lower part ofthe Tagus for much of their time.

Perhaps it will be best to cut-to-the-chase and quote Wellington’s final  letter, Dispatches Vol 10th   p 202;

To Lieut. Colonel Sherlock, 4th Dragoon Guards.

My Dear Sir,                                                                                                                                              Freneda 17th March 1813

   ‘I have received this morning your letter of the 16th instant which I confess has surprised me not a little, as I thought I had explained sufficiently in that the General Order for drafting the regiments of cavalry, that the arrangements had been made much against my inclination.   It is useless to say more, than to assure you that I have contended against it to the utmost extent, and, till it was positively ordered, I did not carry it into execution.

    ‘I assure you that I have not served so long without knowing the difference between soldiers who have served, and those who have not; and as the Commander of the army, I should certainly prefer to take the horses from the latter to taking them from the former; but if my superiors are of a different opinion, or prefer a different course; it is my duty to obey.

    ‘I am responsible for the selection I have made of the regiments whose services are to be “rejected”, not by me, but by the orders of my superiors; and I hope that I have selected those regiments, the loss of whose services in the Peninsula will be the least disadvantageous here, and to whom a return to England is most necessary.

  ‘If I have erred in my judgment I am sorry for it; but I must say that I am responsible to no person in this country and to none but my superiors for what I have done on this occasion.

‘Believe me &c


Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2014


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