Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 27th Regiment of Foot (The Enniskillings)               

By Ray Foster

3rd Battalion 27th Regiment of Foot

Facings: Buff
Lace: Gold


November 1808 (landed at Lisbon after being diverted from Corunna earlier)

Note: Being aware that this Regiment eventually maintains no less than 1600 men in arms through its 1st and 2nd battalions alone in the East Coast Army it is unique in the British Army of the Peninsula period in putting three fully functioning battalions at the disposal of its military commanders.  Whilst 95th Rifles employed three battalions by designation it was rare indeed that at any time any one of them was in full number working as they did so often in company fragments.

We are not given numbers at this time since this battalion, which comes under Lieut’ Gen’ John Cradock for a while is sent off by sea again down to Cadiz under Major General James Mackenzie, they return to Lisbon having been refused permission to land by the Spanish authorities there, all by late March of 1809.

When Wellesley arrives back in Portugal 3/27th is still brigaded under Mackenzie along with this time, 2/24th, 2/31st and 1/45th.   They are transported up the Tagus to Abrantes, where they join a predominantly Portuguese corps under Beresford, they will be at:

5th May 1809 (at Abrantes)                                                                                                                  
PUA 726                                                 

Not at all bad for a 3rd battalion although we do know that these are a scrambled-together unit of young raw recruits, however, when the Oporto campaign is concluded 3/27th has come to the notice of the CIC on account of its obvious irregularity and is sent down to Lisbon to (as we might have said in the late 20th Century), get its act together!

By this they miss the campaign to Talavera, no bad thing, they are able to scoop up a few more men too so that over a year later, having been brigaded into Major General Galbraith Lowry-Cole’s 4th Division, 2nd Brigade under Colonel James Kemmis of 1/40th by 1st January 1810 they will be found at the far left of the ridge at Busaco with;

27th September 1810 (on the Busaco ridge)                                                                                         
PUA 819                                

The Division has no work that day and will march off down to Torres Vedras at its leisure arriving there to pick up even more men and be counted at:

1st November 1810 (at Torres Vedras)                                                                                                              
PUA 861                                   

Cole's men come out of the "Lines" as Marshal Andre Massena goes off out of the country, following for a short time the Division is ordered to go down to Estremadura to join Beresford who is himself on-route to put Badajoz under siege.  This is the first real taste of enemy contact for 3/27th and not very pleasant either, they are to join in the general trench digging and guard duties and some frantic fighting against sorties from the garrison. Fortunately these raw recruits of 1809 have had more than 2years of toughening up behind them. In the general rostered trench digging and siege work several men each night of duty would be injured, Lieutenant Philip Gordon being one of these.

On 10th May the Governor mounts a great sortie to disrupt the threatening siege works, for a time this successfully sweeps off the trench guards and diggers even going so far as to steal their tools and partially fill in some of the trenches. Fighting back there is to be a ding-dong battle-royal with 3/27th heavily engaged, Lieutenant Colonel John Maclean and Captain John Pring are seriously injured, Major John Birmingham receives a mortal wound dying the next day, Captain John Smith is killed, Ensign James McCoard mortally wounded with Lieutenant Charles Levinge and Ensigns William Boyle and Fethuston Hanby also hit. In the ranks 154 men have been either killed or wounded, this over the full period of their time in front of the walls of Badajoz, so:

11th May 1811 (after the sortie at Badajoz)                                                                                                      
PAB 698                                                          

When Marshal Nicholas Soult brings his army forward a few days later the Light Company of 3/27th is on the south side of the Guadiana and is rushed off down to Albuera with Beresford to ward off this threat.

Kemmis has the rest of the brigade, (other than all its light companies) on the north side of the river which, has risen beyond fording at the usual places. While the gory battle at Albuera is being played out the rest of the brigade is marching down to Juramenha where it is finally possible to ford the Guadiana. The Light Company of 3/27th lose only 3 men so that when the rest of the brigade does turn up there will be plenty of men to do the grave digging. This exposure to the aftermath of wholesale slaughter remained with the witnesses for many a long year but, meanwhile down comes Wellington to re-organise this shattered army.

Kemmis' Brigade  having had only ordinary losses is not changed, at least during the campaigning season, there is much manœuvring about still to be done, first a defensive stand in the Caya Valley to the north of Elvas and then when the Army of the South splits up with the Army of Portugal, now in Marshal Auguste Marmont's care, the CIC takes his "northern army" close up to Cuidad Rodrigo.  The 4th Division is with this army now and we shall see them digging more earthworks, this time in front of Fuente Guinaldo to create a strong defensive position, Marmont has been reinforced by men of the Army of the North sending out a large cavalry scouting force to test Wellington's strength.

For Kemmis' Brigade  this amounts to very little excepting that on 15th September they will be in the line at this position awaiting a battle "if the enemy wants one".

15th September 1811 (at Fuente Guinaldo)                                                                                                      
PUA 770                                  

Obviously 3/27th has little difficulty bringing up numbers and the enemy didn't want a battle so everyone goes off towards their rear to settle down for the winter. One of the Brigade's battalions, the  97th, being a single battalion regiment has fallen off for numbers and early in October is sent home to recruit and by the end of the year Cole has gone home sick to be replaced by Major General Charles Colville. This leaves Kemmis with just two, very strong battalions and a company of 5/60th as his Brigade.

When the new year opens there they are down in the trench roster at Cuidad Rodrigo, 3/27th will only have the normal attrition losses attributed to those who dig in the face of the enemy and stand trench guard, it is left to others to do the deed on the night of the storm so:

19th January 1812 (after the storm at Cuidad Rodrigo)                                                                  
PAB 755                           

In late March they are at it again, this time it is Badajoz and yes, they will be lined up for the storm, this is set for the night of 6th April, Kemmis is no longer with the brigade, it is to be Lieutenant Colonel Charles Harcourt of 40th Regiment who will lead them into the great breach. As is well known the attack although put in with great vigour and sustained for as long as men could stand such slaughter was a failure, however, so furious had been the struggle and so one sided that the enemy had failed to keep sufficiently good watch at other places by which the storm, almost by default, succeeded. Brevet Lieutenant Colonel William Erskine had been severely injured but Captain Thomas Jones, Lieutenants Charles Levinge, Francis Simcoe and Michael White are dead in the breach, Lieutenant Alexis Thompson and Ensign J Warrington both to die later of their wounds.    Also wounded here were Lieutenant/Adjutant James Davison, Lieutenants Hanby, Thomas Moore, Carlisle Pollock and William Weir and Ensign Robert Phillips plus three more un-named officers.  In the ranks 37 men had been killed and 132 wounded a reduction throughout of 185 of all ranks, so:

6th April 1812 (after the storm at Badajoz)                                                                                                       
PAB 570                                       

When the dust had settled Major General William Anson was given the Brigade , Colville, having been amongst the wounded left the Division vacant excepting that Anson would have done this work also. The battalion must now attempt to restore its numbers going into the summer campaigning season.  This year it will be centred on Salamanca, 3/27th have by the time of the great counter-marching exercise pulled back about 60+ men so that when they are brought to action as a part of the rearguard at Castrejon they will commence this fight at:

18th July (at Castrejon)                                                                                                                                         
PUA 633                                                    

The struggle this day commenced as a result of a lapse of communication between Wellington and his cavalry commander  Lieutenant Gen’ Stapleton Cotton, the latter not being entirely free to manœuvre both his own troopers and the infantrymen who composed the rearguard. Before the CIC could fully make his intentions known the French had seized the opportunity to outmarch and outflank 4th Division and embarrass Cotton's protecting horsemen.

In the very confused movements which followed, the Headquarters staff including Beresford and Wellington himself were compelled to draw swords in their own personal defence all the while Anson's Brigade being closely harassed by the enemy Horse Artillery and occasionally threatening light cavalrymen.  The retirement onto the main army near Castrillo having been achieved it then fell to Anson's Brigade, being still closest to the enemy to put in a stout stand against further intrusions by which they are finally left to count the cost.

Their Light Company will have taken the brunt of the casualties at this messy encounter, Lieutenant/Adjutant Davison and one other officer being killed, one wounded and no less than 11 of the men to die and another 58 to be wounded. A serious encounter it would appear, all up it leaves them with:

18th July (after crossing the Guarena)                                                                                                
PAB 561                                      

Cole has returned to take up the Division just a few days earlier so that it is he who will have the 4th Division in hand four days later at the Arapiles.  Very early in the day 3/27th is ordered up to the top of the Lesser Hermanito (Arapile) and assist in the hauling up of two artillery pieces of the 4th Division battery which are set in place to answer the fire coming in from the other side of the valley.  When the enemy gunners discover KGL Artillery Captain Frederick Sympher's ordnance the return fire becomes so intense that 3/27th is forced to take cover and to drag these two pieces down behind the hill. All of this takes place well before Marshal Auguste Marmont has made his "mistake" or Wellington set the army into its attacks.

Much later, when the battle has become general two light pieces of Captain Robert Macdonald’s Royal Horse Artillery are lifted up onto the Hermanito, it is with one of these that the British gunners inflict the wounds on Marmont and members of his staff (the writer has no doubt that this would be a common shell from a 5.5" Lieutenant Howitzer).

It is well recorded that throughout all of the fierce fights which went on to the right-front of this small hill 3/27th stayed by its summit, taking shelter when hostile fire came their way but otherwise would have a grandstand view without an enemy soldier laying a hand on them all day!

Casualties such as they were would come from long distance shellfire and mostly at the beginning of the day, Lieutenant Philip Gordon receiving a slight wound here.

22nd July 1812 (on the Lesser Hermanito)                                                                                                        
PAB 553                                                      

After the battle William Anson has the work of leading the Division as well as the Brigade , Cole having been shot by a Portuguese sentry at the end of the great struggle that 3/27th missed. Off they go down to Madrid on a victory march and, when Wellington goes north to Burgos 4th Division is left about the Madrid perimeter until dislodged by the autumn advance of Soult’s army coming via Valencia. Hill has a large Corps in hand ably assisted by Major General Charles von  Alten so that when this retirement, going back first to Salamanca and then to Cuidad Rodrigo, has been endured the battalion will have lost about 50 men by whatever reason.

29th November (behind the Agueda)                                                                                                                 
PUA 501                                    

There follows now a long period of rest and recuperation, the whole army receives large drafts of men to swell the ranks and it is not until the spring grass is beginning to sprout that this new army comes to life also.  We are made aware that by late April while still in cantonments 3/27th would stand at:

26th April 1813 (cantoned in Portugal)                                                                                               
PUA 653                                         

Later figures only being given by brigade strength it will, for some time be difficult to be sure of our battalion numbers, Anson's Brigade  has received two other battalions into the fold, they are 1/48th  (Northants) and 2nd Provisional Battalionan amalgamation of 2nd and 2/53rd, each of which contain some fragments of very hardy veterans.  As near as possible then;

25th May 1813 (on the march north to Vittoria)                                                                                               
PUA 765                                   

On the day of the battle before Vittoria we can expect that 3/27th were able to debouch onto the field from the main Chausee and get into the advancing formation not too far behind the Divisions Portuguese, in coming forward they collected 42 killed and wounded principally it would appear from artillery fire, the enemy fleeing off well before the infantry could close on them in this part of the field. Lieutenant Gordon, so often in the casualty lists gets his final wound dying two months after the battle, Lieutenant Joseph Hill loses a leg from cannon fire and Lieutenant William Weir is also hit.

21st June (after the battle at Vittoria)                                                                                                  
PAB 723                                             

The Division is put in march to pursue Clausel's corps who are hurriedly attempting to get back into France before it is too late, having managed to do this 4th Division and others are to be satisfied with putting Pamplona under a blockade.

There is little to worry Anson's Brigade until the latter end of July when Marshal Soult has taken command of the whole of the French forces at the western end of the Pyrenees, he soon puts them to the task of relieving the blockade of Pamplona bringing large columns of men through the Passes. When others of 4th Division are involved in the fights to stop the enemy from achieving their goal 3/27th are in rear support up by Roncesvalles with the rest of Anson's Brigade , it is only after Cole has abandoned the Passes to the French that we shall see them again in the line of fire.

It is 26th July and we are at Linzoain Anson's Brigade  has the rearguard duty which comes down to a serious skirmishing duel all the while withdrawing in as good an order as possible, Lieutenant Colonel Maclean is wounded as are Lieutenant Arthur Byrne and Lieutenant Charles Crawford, the latter to die next day.  It may be that this is where Lieutenant John Drewe has an arm shot off as something like 40 of the rank and file are killed and wounded, so:

26th July (after the skirmish at Linzoain)                                                                                           
PAB 679                                         

Cole and Picton having decided between them to face the enemy close by Sorauren. Anson's Brigade is drawn out onto a hill position in the path of the enemy advance, above and to the right of that village; they are by 28th July, attacked.

Wellington has managed to bring to bear enough of his previously scattered Divisions to make a fair fight of it and as far as 3/27th are concerned we should look to the hill of Oricain for their doings.  The battalion may have had sufficient time for some of its convalescents to rejoin so:

28th July 1813 (at the first battle at Sorauren)                                                                                                                      
PUA 710                                     

When Gen’ Maucune's men come up the steep hill to their front 3/27th are in line with 1/48th to their left, 1/40th is some way across to the right on a knoll which disconnects their continuity, however, this has no bad effect.  As the enemy close they are treated to some withering volleys made the more effective by being able to wrap around their left flanks, the columns are so reduced in number and order by this that they tumble back down the hill and cannot be brought to face their enemy again. This having left a gap, 3/27th and their comrades of 1/48th are sent across the hill edge to put more of the same into another column to their left with the same good result. It is not to be expected that all of this was to be achieved without significant loss and, since the attackers had come on in the first instance with some vigour we see that 3/27th would count no less than 43 men killed 204 wounded and 7 men taken prisoner, so, at some stage these attackers must have been in the ascendancy, we are not informed as to how this came about. We do know  that within those figures Captain Thomas Whyte and Ensign/Adj' Henry Burn had been killed, Captain Thomas Hamilton, Lieutenants Frederick Crewe and Carlisle Pollock five Ensigns, Boyle, Richard Clunes, Hanby, John Ovens and Thomas Radcliffe all injured, their Surgeon William Wray also being hit.

28th July (after the fight on the hill of Oricain)                                                                                                
PAB 456                                         

The Brigade is not used two days later in the second battle at Sorauren but does follow up the French rout as they go off more to the west than north, in the various contacts with these much demoralised troops experienced by others Anson's men have virtually no involvement and even when they are drawn out to face another enemy initiative about San Marcial in support of a Spanish Corps, on the last day of August have just one man wounded. It is recorded that when a small volunteer unit of 3/27th go to the storm of San Sebastian the same day more than a handful of these glory hunters will not return. Lieutenant Frederick Harding and two Volunteers John Crawston and George Kennion are killed in the breach and even the ubiquitous Ensign Boyle made a claim to having been wounded there. There follows a two month period of comparative rest during which 3/27th must have received yet again some, in fact large, numbers of returnees and drafts because when they next appear in fighting order they are at the crossing of the Nivelle with;

10th November (at the Nivelle)                                                                                                                     
PUA 631                                             

For Anson's Brigade  this is to be a direct attack on a succession of redoubts and prepared earthworks the first being the St'Barbe redoubt which was being "softened up" by plying it with a barrage of shrapnel fire, this seemed to work well, as the infantry closed in the tiny garrison of a single battalion left at the first contact. The next in rear line was the village of Sare where much work had been done to fortify the place however, as others began to outflank this post off they went again leaving Anson's Brigade  in possession as early as 8.00 a.m. Having taken some time to recover their order it will be a few hours before they come up against the next objective, the Louis XIV Redoubt a work made more difficult by the presence of flanking artillery batteries, which as the Brigade come on yet again are to lay down a punishing fire. It would be here that 3/27th caught its greater part of casualties this day, as they enter the work there is a see-saw struggle during which the enemy commander Gen’ Maransin is captured and then lost before the post is cleared of resistance. The fight dies down with Anson's men getting ahead beyond the works at Louis XIV and out onto the western heights beyond, Major Thomas Johnstone and nine of his men have been killed, Lieutenant William Phibbs, Ensigns John Galbraith and Samuel Ireland with 51 men wounded and one other missing so:

10th November 1813 (after the fights at the Nivelle)                                                                                      
PAB 566                                    

There follows a period of comparative quiet for the brigade, they are badly positioned to have any part in those combats on 9-10-11th December known as the Battles of the Nive so that as the winter comes and the campaign has turned into a stop-start affair due to the weather conditions it will be only a matter of taking shelter for a while, scrunching along over icy mud roads with several crossings of cold river fords until, when passing Bidache 2nd Prov's are dropped off as a guard at this road junction and bridge. The brigade carries on up to the field about Orthez where Soult has put his army into a defensive posture inviting an attack, on 27th February 1814 Wellington obliges, Cole's 4th Division being sent in early along a ridge coming onto the church and village of St' Boes where his other brigade, that of Major General Robert Ross is first in being supported by Vasconcello's Portuguese.

This leaves Anson's Brigade as reserve and, when the attack bogs down into a skirmish fight at a safe range the CIC has to re-think his tactics. When the next assault takes shape Cole has held back Anson Brigade  who only perhaps have minimal casualties amongst their Lieutenant Companies certainly Lieutenant Alexander Nixon has caught a slight wound. Over the previous three months of calm 3/27th have managed to bring back to the colours over 100 returnees or small drafts, the battle at Orthez only costs them six casualties so:

27th February 1814 (after the battle at Orthez)                                                                                               
PAB 665                                     

The 4th Division is well known for its ability to keep "regular" whilst on the march so perhaps it is for this reason that we see them very shortly turned back to go north by west tramping away from the main army, on the road towards Bordeaux. The elders of this city have indicated a desire to declare for the monarchy and in response off go 4th & 7th Divisions to show the flag, Dalhousie's men when getting close are deemed to be sufficient for the job so Cole is ordered back to the main army having got as far as Langon. In returning through rain and sleet and icy mud they pick up 2nd Provisioal's who are no longer needed back at Bidache and all march in misery upon Castelnau gaining the rest of Wellington's army at that place and then going straight along in slow pursuit of the enemy who, by this time have made themselves very scarce and are already well on the way to Toulouse.

The whole area north of the Pyrenean foothills is saturated with rain and of course has many rivers and streams intersecting the roads and pathways, which Wellington would like to use in his tactical approach to Toulouse.

There is much marching about in this soggy area but having gradually come to terms with what is possible the army is at last able to mount its final battle of this war. Having very little in the way of detailed figures to go on it is expected that on this day in April of 1814 3/27th will have come down in number, like a great deal of the others, through having to continue this marching winter/spring campaign and, will only show an estimated:

10th April 1814 (at the battle for Toulouse)                                                                                                      
PUA 571                                       

The day begins for 4th Division with a long march, they are, with others of 6th Division all under Marshal Beresford and are to go on a great circle about the northern side of the city coming down on its eastern side with a two mile long hill between them and the city itself.  The march takes them on an ever-narrowing corridor between the base of the hill and the river Ers on their left. It is no comfort for 3/27th who are first in company column on the right to see themselves closing nearer and nearer under the range of the enemy batteries placed along this hill, in enfilade on their right shoulder. Reaching a point well down towards the southern end of the valley Beresford orders his columns to swing to the right and up onto the Mont Rave hill, by means of the manœuvre used to complete this 3/27th in coming up this hill will not be met by any solid body of the enemy, its Light Company would be still deployed out a little ahead so that when the great clash of the advancing line and the downhill charging French columns occurred 3/27th would only be called upon to deliver a few flanking volleys alongside its comrades of 2nd Provisional’s. We are told elsewhere how the enemy were thrown back up the hill and indeed were pushed as far as to descend its other side before the impetus of the British attack faded out.

There followed a two hour rest period during which 3/27th would find itself overlooking the new position of the enemy now placed well away towards the city of Toulouse and its inner defences. It may well be that the only task performed by the battalion after this was by its Light Company keeping up a long skirmish fire until its ammunition was about exhausted. When this last battle was over 3/27th would count 106 casualties the greater part of these during the march down the valley and the first sharp fire fight on the hill. Lieutenant Colonel Maclean has once more been wounded, Captain Francis Bignall, Lieutenant Hugh Gough and 23 of their men are dead, Captain John Geddes, Lieutenants Robert Bakewell, John Harnett, Ensign John Armit and one un-named officer with 76 of the men are wounded so:

10th April 1814 (after the combat on Mont Rave, Toulouse)                                                                         
PAB 465                        

By this time 3/27th had formed a very close association with its Brigade partner 1/40th so that as this war ends and another begins these two will remain together to share a common fate.

PS; Only a 3rd battalion but how well the Enniskillings kept up their numbers, a solid fighting unit, able to march anywhere and do anything as all of 4th Divisions regular infantry were wont to do. Sent across the Atlantic to partake in the War in America this battalion would return to Europe in the nick of time to stand on the field at Waterloo where almost 500 of its members were killed and wounded principally as a result of cannon-fire! Its comrades of 2nd Somerset’s 1/40th would share the same fate.

Neither 1/ nor 2/27th were present at Waterloo.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2010

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