Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 23rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers)

By Ray Foster

Facings: Dark Blue
Lace: Gold          

2/23rd

26th October-1st November 1808 (landed at Corunna)                                                                                             
PUA 590                                

This battalion arrives with Sir David Baird and is put in march coming up to Sahagun as autumn turns to an early winter; they will have lost already 94 men so:

19th December (at Sahagun)                                                                                                                                             >
PUA 496                                                                      

During the retreat back to Corunna this is yet another of those battalions sent down the wrong road at Lugo on 5th January to make a useless 20ml counter-march that bleak winter day. They are with Beresford and in the battle fought at Corunna are not engaged being able to load aboard the transports their sick and injured they can only return to England showing;

22nd January 1809 (at ports in England)                                                                                                       
Disembarked 418                                     

This battalion appears to have had 4 companies of men landed at Walcheren on 29th July 1809 with a strength of 400 but, all are reported sick just a week later, they will not return to the Peninsula.

1/23rd

12th November 1810 (landed at Lisbon from Halifax, Nova Scotia)                                                                        
PUA 650                                            

Wintering over in the lines at Torres Vedras they will be brigaded with 1/2/7th and a company of Brunswick Oels in 4th Division Pakenham's Brigade, this "utility" brigadier being replaced by Houston who himself is also replaced this time by Myers. Operating down in the Alemtejo-Estremadura theatre under Lowry Cole it is their misfortune to be present on the field at Albuera in May of 1811; their numbers have increased appreciably so that they will show;

16th May 1811 (at Albuera)                                                                                                                                               
PUA 733                                                                           

This fine battalion is put in when things are deteriorating badly up ahead, they march into a hail of lead (and cast iron) to check the enemy who are steadily destroying comrades of 2nd Division, Myers Brigade is similarly mistreated so that 1/23rd will become a part of that event so theatrically written up by William Napier but certainly without the histrionics.  Their casualties are huge losing nearly half their numbers but upon close inspection perhaps much less fatal than the figures suggest. 

Killed are Captain Montague, Lieutenant Hall and 74 of their men, no amount of close inspection will reduce the finality of that figure.  Wounded however are 257 of all ranks, of these there are 12 officers, Lieutenant Colonel Ellis, Captains Hurford, Macdonald, and Stainforth with Lieutenants Enoch, Castle, Ledwith, Maclellan, Thorpe and Treeve each of which record only slight wounds, of the rest Lieutenants Booker and Harris are seriously injured and 6 men unaccounted for.   A truly pyrrhic victory if ever there was one!

17th May (after the battle at Albuera)                                                                                                             
PAB 394                                                             

There is a period after this debacle when all of the able men would be gravediggers and hospital mates.

There are very few officers to pull things together until Wellington comes down to the scene, he quickly cobbles together a new corps whilst 23rd Regiment will rely on their internal organisation to bring back into line as many of the lightly wounded as possible and call up drafts from their depots in order to restore their numbers.  Myers is dead 1/2/7th have to be amalgamated and a new battalion, 1/48th is brought in to the brigade briefly led by Stopford from 1st Division, then by the ever ready Pakenham. Cole's place, he having been being wounded at Albuera would be picked up by the senior brigadier Colonel Kemmis of 1/40th.  4th Division will during the full summer go along with the army behind the frontier in the defensive position in the Caya river valley which falls into the Guadiana basin, it is pestilent with mosquito borne maladies. It was usual at these times to lose significant numbers of men to sickness however, by the time that the "northern" part of the army had moved out of this area and shifted more towards Cuidad Rodrigo 1/23rd had done its best to fill its ranks with returned and new men so that by;

15th September 1811 (at Fuente Guinaldo)                                                                                                                   
PUA 554                                                                                    

Having no contact up to this time with the enemy Pakenham's Brigade will get a little wake up call at Aldea Ponte some twelve days later, Marmont has sent out exploring mass cavalry sweeps to discover the strength of Wellington's front lines they are engaged at this village in a see-saw struggle to hold the buildings 1/23rd losing mainly light-infantrymen in the fight, of these Major [Brevet] Lieutenant Colonel Pearson and Light company Captain Payne are badly wounded so:

27th September (at the skirmish at Aldea Ponte)                                                                                                        
PAB 535                               

There follows a three month rest behind the frontier but, when the winter is well into its usual cold sleet and snow the CIC seizes the opportunity to make a rapid siege of Cuidad Rodrigo, it is the first day of 1812 when the brigade, its command officially lying vacant, sets off on this enterprise, with others. Not being called upon to partake in the storm a little over a fortnight later their loss of numbers will only come from the usual attrition caused by being exposed to sniper fire and occasional shellfire from the defenders whilst going about the trench digging and guard duty, always a job hated by men who considered themselves set out for less menial tasks!

When the army does a repeat performance on the siege and storm stage it is to be at Badajoz, and still very much winter weather, by now Colville has the Division and Bowes the Brigade. There is the usual trench work to begin with during which Colonel, Ellis and Captain Potter of 1/23rd are hit, the latter to die of his wounds before the stormOn the 6th April the breaches are pronounced ready and in they go.  It could be argued that 1/23rd got off lightly, Brigade Bowes is amongst the 106 men injured, 5 men only are recorded as being killed but, there are no less than 20 men who are listed as missing. In a successful storm where the victor holds the ground this can only mean that these 20 unfortunate men where so mutilated as to be unrecognisable, it is known that when the great mine in the breach was exploded by the enemy 1/23rd were very close by, many would just be blown to pieces! Captain Maw and Lieutenant Collins are dead, Major Leaky, Captains Hawtyn and Stainforth, Lieutenants Brown, Holmes, Johnson, Llewelyn, Tucker, Walker, Walley and Wingate all amongst the wounded.

Adding that handful of men brought down during the siege work the resulting figures could not be far from;

6th April 1812 (after the storm of Badajoz)                                                                                                                   
PAB 369                                        

Here we are then, not even summer yet and 1/23rd are once more set the task of finding men to augment their weak numbers, Colonel Ellis recovers to not only lead his regiment but also the brigade, the army has a short rest before drawing up to commence the Salamanca campaign.  This, as is well recorded, evolved into a rapid marching contest about the rolling countryside near that large city before which we can expect that 1/23rd had restored to some extent its numerical strength. The Brigade is at Castrejon as a part of a rearguard to the manœuvring army at this place when they have a brief brush with the enemy, four men, yet again most likely of the Light company are lost here but it will be only four days later when Marmont makes his fatal error of judgment at the Arapiles.

22nd July 1812 (at the Arapiles)                                                                                                                                        
PUA 442                                                       

It is well into the afternoon when Ellis' Brigade are ordered forward into the serious work, the conflict has already developed into a great general action on their right, there is much smoke and dust with deafening cannon fire on that flank but, when Ellis and his men begin to march forward in their usual steady lines they are met by a persistent cannonade themselves, the light-infantrymen of the brigade, already well forward do what they can to pick off the enemy artillerymen and skirmishers, not entirely successfully it seems before the formations begin to close.

Cole has the Division and the attack is pressed home, gradually and all slightly uphill, Ellis has the Portuguese Brigade of Stubbs on his left where there is a stretch of open ground beyond. The enemy is driven back by superior firepower but, after advancing only a short way are held up, their line is much reduced and, when the enemy bring forward a new mass of men on the left Stubb's and Ellis too are thrown back in disorder.  So much so it seems that they are compelled to form large multi-battalion squares to protect themselves when an enemy cavalry brigade appears on this open left flank.  The situation is saved in the first instance by Spry's Portuguese brought on by Beresford, who gets himself shot in the chest for his trouble, Cole has already been brought down wounded and it is fortunate that Clinton's 6th Division is not too far in the rear.

They of course save the day hereabouts whilst the men of Ellis' Brigade are then able to dust themselves down, recover, reform and support the final rout of the enemy as dusk falls. While 1/23rd, beginning in the centre of the brigade's line were not so hard hit as some of their comrades the fighting had taken place over an extended period and so scattered at times that Major Offley, severely wounded, had been left out on the field unseen to be finished off by a camp scavenger when all was over. Once more Lieutenant Colonel Ellis had been wounded along with Major Dalmer, Lieutenants Clyde, Enoch, Fryer, Griffiths and Macdonald, this last to die the next day; in the ranks 9 men had died and 90 were wounded, so:                                               

22nd July 1812 (after the battle on the Arapiles)                                                                                                          
PAB 336                                                     

It is becoming a regular source of annoyance for this battalion that its numbers are forever in need of restoration, back at Horse Guards in England there was much concern over "weak" regiments and this one was certainly beginning to look like one of those!  Matters are not made any better when the army goes first to Madrid for a little wine, women and song, and, in the case of 4th Division, are left about this area for almost three months before being forced to first retire and then retreat westwards all the way back to Portugal.

Hill has the responsibility of caring for the "Madrid" army and is able to execute the retreat much less disastrously than the "Burgos" army coming down from the north. Towards the end of this dismal chapter of misfortune Skerrett takes over from Ellis and when heads are counted behind the Agueda on the Portuguese frontier 1/23rd will be at a very fragile;

29th November (at Cuidad Rodrigo)                                                                                                                               
PUA 307                                                                        

During the long period from this time until the army began to stir itself ready to push the French out of the Peninsula altogether, a full six months, those who made important decisions back in England poured men and materials into the theatre with some hope that the military might of the Napoleonic Empire was on the way to defeat.  Cole has returned to take up the Division as long ago as late October, and 1/48th has been transferred to the 1st Brigade of 4th Division and been replaced by 20th Regiment so that Skerrett's Brigade acquires a strong new component part.  Whilst figures for this great reinforcement are sketchy at battalion level we are made aware that in the first days of spring 1813 1/23rd was still struggling to bring up its numbers standing at:

26th April 1813 (cantoned in Portugal)                                                                                                                           
PUA 376                                                             

Eventually, like so many others, by the time that the army moved onto the offensive there would be a doubling of numbers, so:

25th May 1813 (on the march up to Vittoria)                                                                                                                
PUA 610                                                     

Journeying up the country with the central force towards the battlefield there must have been some brief contact with the retiring enemy between 12-19th June showing Lieutenant Sidley of 1/23rd as having been seriously injured at this time. Vittoria is reached with 4th Division standing more or less in a long column down the main Chausée, when they are finally called forward it is their Portuguese Brigade which deploys first on the field. By the time that Skerrett's Brigade has got up the battle has been decided and this unit is so far from the action that all they receive are odd cannonballs as they pass through, casualties, four.

21st June (after Vittoria)                                                                                                                                                    
PAB 606                                                 

When the army can be dragged away from the abandoned loot left around Vittoria it is left to Skerrett's Brigade to go off marching with some haste in search of Clausel's little Corps up in the foothills of the Pyrenees, it is about this time that Skerrett transfers elsewhere and the brigade is taken over by Ross of 20th E Devon's (who by now is a Major General). Clausel is gone and 4th Division come up to the blockade of Pamplona shortly afterwards. A full month passes by with the French now under their new commander Marshal Soult and back on the offensive.

It is only when Lowry Cole sends Ross' Brigade climbing away in the dark to mount the wooded hills of the Linduz that we next sight 1/23rd, they will be bringing up the rear of a long winding column threading its way to the ridge path by which the enemy is attempting to outflank the Pass of Roncesvalles. Others of the brigade are well ahead and settled in before contact is made, 1/23rd will be able to pass forward its Light Company to assist with the early skirmishing but the other companies are to be kept in reserve by Ross until the combat has come down to a long protracted fire-fight. The enemy seem to be content to maintain this mode of attack for some hours so that: as the front line soldiers run out of ammunition the companies of 1/23rd are put in piecemeal.

This it seems does the trick, the enemy gradually reducing their fire and, as the mist begins to roll into the adjoining valleys, cease altogether.

Not however before Lieutenant Ledwith has been mortally wounded and Lieutenants Browne, O'Flaherty and one other un-named officer also hit, amongst the men 1/23rd have 6 killed and 32 wounded so:

25th July 1813 (after the combat on the Linduz)                                                                                                           
PAB 564                                    

Cole, in default of his orders takes his charges off the Passes drawing them down to Sorauren where they are put into line on the hill of Oricain on the right of that place facing north. Wellington appears on the scene in the late part of 27th July so that when next day the army of Soult come to contest his dispositions there is some serious fighting to be endured.  It is the lot of 1/23rd to be placed to the left of Ross's ground with the village of Sorauren just a little to their left again and down at the base of the hill.  When the enemy columns come climbing up, the main clashes appear to have been more to the right of 1/23rd position however, as the struggle becomes general and this right is forced to give ground backwards the battalion has to do some bayonet charging to restore stability to the situation, this is short-lived when a new wave of the enemy comes on later.

Ross's Brigade on the right has to be saved by others but, will eventually recover and hold its original position when the enemy finally gives up the game.

In this see-saw fight Captains Stainforth and Walker, Vol' Bassett and 16 men have been killed with Lieutenants Brice, Harris, Nevill and Lieutenant/Adj' Maclellan wounded along with 59 of their men, 1/23rd nevertheless can count itself luckier than the rest of the Brigade, so:

28th July (after the first battle of Sorauren)                                                                                                                  
PAB 483                                       

The brigade is not engaged at the second battle of Sorauren but is a part of the pursuing force which hustles the now defeated army of Soult across the Bastan until they reach Echalar where the much battered remnants of this army make an attempt to stand and beat off Wellington's vanguard Divisions. Although Ross's Brigade are a part of those who are detailed to make a thrust at this defence on 2nd August the whole assembly before them crumbles at the first touch going off yet again in total confusion. Two days earlier a small contingent of volunteers have left to join the storm of San Sebastian it is likely that a handful of these including Lieutenant Griffiths will not return immediately to the ranks of 1/23rd but this cannot have brought the numbers down any lower than:

2nd August (at Echalar)                                                                                                                                                      
PAB 472                                               

There follows a stand down of the army about now for more than two months so that 1/23rd have the opportunity to bring back some of their convalescents and, by November a significant draft of new men.

Our next figures are accurate by each battalion, (a rare luxury!) we are at the Nivelle it is;

10th November 1813 (at the Nivelle crossing)                                                                                                              
PUA 647                                 

The brigade is hardly touched this day and indeed, when the army next sets itself to fight on the Nive in December 4th Division finds that there is no employment there either. It will be January 1814 before we see figures and disconcertingly as low as:

16th January 1814 (cantoned below Bayonne)                                                                                                             
PUA 441                               

By February before Ross's men are brought before the enemy in combat again, they will have crossed the Gave River, somehow almost completely restoring their numbers and come up to the enemy positions to the north of Orthez so:

27th February 1814 (at Orthez)                                                                                                                                        
PUA 631                                          

The story is well told elsewhere of the advance through the village at St Boes and how Ross' Brigade are brought to a standstill taking cover in the ruins of this place eventually after coming up against a fierce defence across a shot, shell and bullet strewn open space. When the enemy has been driven off by others 1/23rd will count its losses, Captains Jolliffe and Wynne, Lieutenants Harris and Lillie with 69 men are wounded, 16 men are dead, one missing and a surprising 2 officers dead, 2 more wounded and 1 missing, all of which are un-named so:

27th February (after the combat at St Boes)                                                                                                                 
PAB 543                                   

Although the weather is decidedly wintry 4th Division is diverted from the pursuit of Soult ever decreasing army to march up to Bordeaux in driving sleet and rain, mud everywhere, until they reach Langon when the CIC sends orders to counter-march back again this time via Castelnau and all the way to Toulouse. This can hardly do anything for number restoration so that as they march around the base of the hill beyond that fortress city along with others of Beresford's Corps they will be happy to find that whilst all about them are being dashed to their deaths 1/23rd will go through it all with a charmed life, a mere eight casualties to record.

10th April 1814 (after the battle at Toulouse)                                                                                                               
PAB 498                                      

That brings their war in the Peninsula to a close it remains that they will gently march back to the western seaboard to embark for England.

PS; It appears that the home depots are just satisfied to forward enough men to keep the Duke of York from withdrawing this battalion its numbers always being restored but never over-subscribed. 

This battalion will be found at Waterloo with Brigade Mitchell away by Merbe Braine on the far right bringing 549 men to the field and losing just 40 of these killed and wounded.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2010

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