Notes on Wellington’s Cavalry in the Peninsula: 7th Hussars (Queens Own)
By Ray Foster
7th-15th November 1808 [landed with Lieutenant
General David Baird at Corunna]|
Together with 10th and 15th Hussars they follow up Baird some way in his rear, altogether they become part of Lieutenant General Henry Paget’s Division. By late December Baird has met Lieutenant General John Moore deep in Northern Spain and on 21st December these men will be at Sahagun. There is no record of them meeting the enemy here while 10th and 15th Light Dragoons do indeed, we see that their numbers have gone down however and now muster 497 PUA with the long retreat to come. Paget has the task of covering the rear as the retreat enters the snow-covered up-lands going back westward all the way to Corunna, this is accomplished in vigorous style giving blow for blow to the advancing French cavalry vanguard. With the far-less-than-useful Major General John Slade as Brigadier 7th Hussars will find themselves deprived of glory [as their part of Paget’s vigorous initiative] when this brigadier “muffs” his orders at Benevente.
7th Queen’s Own Hussars like the rest of the mounted units has lost horses to the rigours of the winter climate and the rugged terrain, of men also attrition has taken its toll, arriving at Corunna and a battle being forced on Moore there is no work however for defending cavalry.
The men of 7th Hussars finding almost no availability of horse transport vessels are given no alternative but that they must destroy the greater number of their horses before embarking for home shores, with a considerable increase of trooper numbers by way of walking sick and men “on-command” they board with 631of all ranks. Of horses it can be estimated that no more than 50 [officers chargers & re-mounts no doubt] made the full journey to safety. The transport vessel Dispatch sank in contrary seas taking down 56 troopers of 7th Hussars, their comrades would re-assemble ashore, all ranks and in all conditions at;
21st January 1809 [Landed at ports in England]
It will be more than four years before this regiment will return.
Times have changed since 1808 many lessons have been learned at all levels of ‘the-game’, this will be their part of the final chapter.
7th Hussars returns as late as September 1813 and will join the “Hussars Brigade” by 21st October at least in the practical sense; it will be more than another month before this is confirmed in “Orders of the Day”, so;
24th November 1813 [standing in quarters]
Brigaded under Major General Edward Somerset with 10th and 15th Hussars this being the period when winter has already made its presence felt, all movement of troops and especially cavalry is difficult so that Somerset’s Brigade must, of necessity, be held in back area quarters. Thus it is that as the battles on the Nivelle and Nive Rivers are played out the men of 7th Hussars will do no more than get themselves familiar with the functions of a firmly regulated army well accustomed to continuous success.
It would be mid February of 1814 before Somerset’s Brigade found itself on the move; they were to advance on the left flank of the army as it forced Soult’s men ever eastward away from the Biscay theatre, it is possible that at this time 7th Hussars would mount 540 sabres PUA as they pressed the French back onto the Gave de Pau. By 18th February this forward flank-guard was on that river at Peyrehorade awaiting the movements of their right wing as the regional city of Orthez beckoned, this would eventually bring them to the ground where Soult had decided for a defensive stand.
However, we see that a week later Somerset’s Brigade has transferred some way south into Lieutenant General Rowland Hill’s command area of influence, they are on the Gave d'Oloron ahead of Lieutenant General Thomas Picton’s 3rd Division, that commander having bade them seek out a ford above the town of Sauveterre on February 24th and, while they did find a rather poor one it was only to be used by infantry of Colonel John Keane’s Brigade to mount an attack across the river.
The cavalry took no part other than to discover this passage, merely merging back until the general movement of the army onto the Orthez position took place. It is interesting to note that Oman has Somerset and his troopers variously swinging down towards Hill’s area and then returning northward into Marshal William Carr Beresford’s command area during this broad advance, more of this supposed repeated 20-30mile lateral marching will take place as the whole of Wellington’s force reach the day of battle.
So it is that on the morning of 27th February 1814 there they are closed up alongside Picton’s flanks [Oman rather obviously has done the transfers on behalf, but only with his pen]. Before them lay pure infantry terrain, a narrow path forward with hollow lower space to either side and a well positioned lateral defensive line across this way forward, with this situation plainly obvious Somerset shifted his position further south and onto the Bayonne-Orthez highway where at least some open country beckoned.
The fighting becoming general and hard-fought had largely subsided into a French retirement before 7th Hussars were given their chance, in the lead they came upon units of General Harispe’s Division that was backing off somewhat loosely.
Major William Thornhill leading the charge swept up as many as a full battalion of these unfortunate men after what must have been at least a token defence. Of 7th Hussars three troopers were killed and nine wounded while Major Thornhill, Captain Peter Heyliger and Lieutenant Robert Douglas were also wounded before the battle subsided leaving Wellington’s men in possession of the field.
27th February 1814 [after the battle at Orthez]
With Soult’s men now well committed to using the free space to their east there follows a period of manœuvre as Wellington exercised his use of superior numbers to dislodge every defensive position that the enemy commander might hopefully see for that purpose. This takes Somerset’s Brigade mostly south for a while going down as far as Tarbes where the CIC misses a chance to bottle up his foe near Bagnères de Bigorre with only the Pyrenees at his back this opportunity gone it remains that Somerset must take his troopers on the Castelnau road sweeping in an ever widening arc directed on the great fortress/supply base of Toulouse. Arriving before that bastion of the south the travels of 7th Hussars had come to little more than an occasional brush with troopers of Pierre Soult’s cavalry, no casualties being reported so that as the CIC finally sorted out his line of attack Somerset Brigade would be given the task of preceding that main thrust under Beresford that would see them circumvent the Mount Rave position to give their protection to the infantry brigades of Lieutenant General Lowry Cole’s 4th Division. By the time that this Division had begun its right turn to start the climb onto that dominating ridge Somerset had managed to form his squadrons into a strong flank guard to their left but obviously still down in the flat area south of Mount Rave. We are not told how they were received by the enemy defending about there only that this part of the field was held and, somewhat indirectly that casualties were minimal.
The battle for Toulouse taking place as Napoleon was already deposed this was the end of the war for 7th Hussars, they had brought to the field probably as many as 537 PUA and recorded no losses whatsoever on that day bringing them to rest somewhere down on the road to Carcassonne where Soult on 17th April 1814 finally admitted that the game was up.
A little over a year later in the three-day Quatre Bras/Waterloo Campaign 7th Hussars sustained more than 50% casualties from their 380 PUA, quite a seriously different affair that one!
Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2011
© Copyright 1995-2012, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.