Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 29th Regiment of Foot (The Worcesters)                

By Ray Foster

Facings: Buff
Lace: Gold                            

29th (single battalion)

5th August 1808 (landed at Mondego Bay from Andalusia)                                                                               
PUA 806

Having been brought up from Andalusia with Major General Brent Spencer this battalion is brigaded with 1/82nd under Colonel Miles Nightingall and within twelve days of landing is in action on the field at Roliça, the story is well told how their own Lieutenant Colonel George Lake leads them up a narrow hollow between two hills to attack the enemy at the top. Whilst the day is well won by others who by this had been made to support his rash initiative Lake himself is killed and of his battalion Captains Walter Birmingham, Ambrose Newbold and Lieutenant St John Lucas are wounded and captured along with three more un-named officers.   Also wounded are both Majors, Thomas Egerton and Gregory Way with Captains Peter Hodge, George Todd, Andrew Patison, Lieutenants Robert Birmingham and Robert Stannus wounded, of the rest 30 men had been taken prisoner and 149 more men are lost in this little killing ground.

A sobering start to the Peninsula adventures of the Worcester's, so:

17th August (after the battle at Roliça)                                                                                                    
PAB 616

Just four days later Nightingall's men are to be found at Vimeiro but fortunately for 29th' they have little to do that day losing only 20 men killed and wounded, so:

21st August (after the battle of Vimeiro)                                                                                                 
PAB 596

When Lieutenant General John Moore gathers his brigades together to go off on his Spanish adventure 29th is left behind at Lisbon coming under Major General John “Beau" Cradock with a number of other battalions; this General distributes his charges about the strong points within the Portuguese frontier so that we shall see 29th marching via Abrantes to Almeida along with 2/9th during the autumn of the year. By February 1809 however Cradock has had a more pessimistic change of heart and brought all but one of his battalions back to the environs of the Capital.

When a civil authority considers that troops might be best used to strengthen the Spanish hold on Cadiz we see 29th along with 3/27th and 2/9th put aboard transports and shipped off to that great southern seaport-fortress, under Brigadier Major General James  Mackenzie.  This move was not very well received by the Spanish Junta down at Cadiz none of these, nor others being allowed to land there, so it was that back they went to Lisbon landing there again during March. All of this was for the good since by this time the Government in England had been persuaded to send Wellesley back to Portugal to restore some credibility to British promises of aid to that country. For 29th this meant having a short month's rest before being brigaded with a battalion of mixed companies of men from scattered detachments of different battalions plus a single Portuguese line battalion the 1/16th of Lisbon, all under Major General Richard Stewart, this by the first week of May.

3rd May 1809 (on the march to Oporto)                                                                                                                
PUA 622

When Major General Edward Paget has got others across the river upstream of the city and created a panic amongst the enemy troops which should have been defending the downstream river banks Stewart is able to ferry some of his brigade over to the northern side, 29th are amongst them being first into the city itself capturing a battery of enemy guns by the brutal but otherwise simple expedient of shooting all of their draft horses. Marshal Nicholas Soult's men having gone off at the run it seems that on this day 29th would lose no more than perhaps seven men so:

12th May (after the capture of Oporto)                                                                                                    
PAB 615

Having seen off Soult's army it is left to Wellesley's men to return down country to prepare for a Spanish adventure which, as it turned out was not much better than that other effort on behalf of Spain by General Moore! By the time that Wellesley is set to march into Spain he has drawn together the various brigades making up his army by Divisions, 29th' still under R Stewart and with that 1st Battalion of Detachments is to receive a replacement for the Portuguese troops who have dropped back in an effort to become more able to establish reliable logistics, it will be 1/48th but, they are only just arrived from Gibraltar as the army moves off inland. They will be a part of 2nd Division under Major General Rowland Hill marching out of Portugal and into Spain by the Tagus watershed and finally meeting up with an army led by Captain General Gregorio Cuesta, going on to Talavera on the northern banks of the Tagus.  By now 1/48th has caught up with them so that when Hill has them up on high ground close to that city 29th will count;

25th July 1809 (at Talavera de la Reina)                                                                                                               
PUA 598

During the night of 26th July they are attacked by General Ruffin's Division and after a confused struggle along the top of the Cerro de Medellin regain the position but, not before they have lost Lieutenant Thomas Popham and 54 men killed, wounded and prisoners, so:

27th July (after the fight on the Medellin)                                                                                               
PAB 543

The next day the enemy mount a full scale attack along the whole of the British sector of the line but yet again Stewart's men are able to maintain their hold on the high ground not however without being seriously engaged so that when the enemy finally withdraws 29th will be even more diminished. Captain Samuel Gauntlett has a fatal wound which sees him expire two days later, Captain Ambrose Newbold, Lieutenants Charles Leslie, Elmes Nicholson, Robert Stannus and Charles Stanhope all wounded the latter to be made prisoner and see out the war in captivity.   Of the men 26 are dead, 98 wounded and two missing so:

28th July (after the second fight on the Medellin)                                                                                                
PAB 411

The story of the retreat away down the Tagus by its southern watershed is no less tragic than Moore's had been to Corruna and it might be argued, worse, since the Spanish on this occasion were in close contact, saw the need and, by their gross inability did nothing. When the army had retired back as far as the valley of the Guadiana about Badajoz it was time to count heads and re-organise, we see by WD that 29th was in dire straits for numbers and because it was a single battalion Regiment had no great capacity to bring up drafts from home. In corresponding with Castlereagh in England Wellington as he now called himself made mention of 29th as the best in the army in an effort to gain his interest in keeping up its numbers. It will be a full year before we see the results of this request, not, it seems, very well forwarded!

On the ridge at Busaco in September 1810 there they are, having still got 1/48th as comrades in R Stewart's Brigade that Brigadier however having been said by some to have gone home ill did in fact fall from a balcony in Lisbon [the handrail having been previously tampered with!].  His place is taken by Colonel William Inglis of 1/57th this battalion having joined to replace that mixed Battalion of Detachments [now dissolved] and still all a part of Hill's 2nd Division so:

27th September 1810 (at the Busaco ridge)                                                                                                          
PUA 461

There is no action for Inglis' men in the battle that day so they only have to march off down country to the lines at Torres Vedras where it seems that 29th are able to hold their numbers intact and even, during the winter and spring of early 1811 increase them marginally.  As early as 8th October Inglis steps down and Major General Daniel Hoghton gets the Brigade. When next we see them Hill has been invalided with malaria Marshal William Carr Beresford has the command of the Corps and they are down at Badajoz engaged in a blockade of that fortress which never really gets as far as a serious siege before Marshal Nicholas Soult brings up from Andalusia a force to break this blockade.

They do battle at the infamous field of Albuera coming into line at;

16th May 1811(at Albuera)                                                                                                                                      
PUA 507

Hoghton's Brigade are brought up to what has been called "the Spanish hill" in rear of a Spanish Corps which has already been under fire for some time, these men are suffering steady losses, and, it must be said, are doing the same to the enemy, but, as things have gone badly on the right Hoghton in bringing his men to the brow of this slight rise is unable to distinguish through the smoke and confusion, which is friend and which is foe. The 29th are first up and put out a great volley on everyone ahead bringing down Spaniard and Frenchman alike until their error is discovered.

Having formed up and come through the now rather scattered remnants of the Spanish line the Brigade is met with heavy and constant musket fire through the haze ahead. This whole brigade takes on its task fighting to the very end to not only hold its position but to move forward, shortening the range so that whilst their rapidly falling numbers have an ever shortening line, that line is able to put down ever more devastating fire until sheer exhaustion brings this slaughter to an end. Hoghton is dead and most of the lesser officers are killed and wounded before the struggle is taken over by others so that when it is possible to count the cost 29th will have but 14 officers and 157 men able to stand to arms;

Lieutenant Colonel Daniel White has a series of wounds which will give him but three weeks to suffer before being buried alongside Brigadier Hoghton, Captain John Humphrey has died hard of a dreadful cannonball wound, Ensign Richard Vance fallen protecting the Colour dying with that symbol of honour stuffed in his jacket but not before fellow Ensigns Edward Furnace and Francis King have likewise met their end in the same cause. Lieutenant William Duguid and no less than 75 of the men are also killed, Major Way, Captains Peter Hodge, Eugene Nestor and Todd, Lieutenants Thomas Biggs, James Brooke, Popham, Myles Sandys, Stannus, Lieutenant/Adjutant Benjamin Wilde and Ensigns Thomas Hamilton, Edward Kearney and John Lovelock all wounded with 233 of their men, a further 11 men captured leaving an un-wounded Lieutenant Charles Leslie to command the remnants as the cannons cease to roar.

16th May 1811 (after the battle at Albuera)                                                                                                           
PAB 171

The whole Brigade of course has been reduced in size to that of a small battalion so that once the burial parties have done their work there is to be a complete re-organisation of the whole 2nd Division. This is left to Wellington himself when he arrives on the scene some days later, the sad remains of 29th are brought together with seven other part battalions to make up a Provisional Brig' under Major General William Lumley who merely holds them together ‘on paper’ until drafts and returnees start to re-fill the ranks.  Captain Hodge, as soon as he can stand is promoted to Major and will have the command of the three companies which constitute 29th Foot for a short while.

By early August 1811 Inglis has returned to duty from his many wounds and picks up a Brigade made of "survivors" and new drafts etc.' amongst whom will be a Provisional Battalion composed of those 3 companies of 29th, 4 companies of 2/31st and 3 companies of 2/66th who then are immediately marched off up country to Castello Branco which at this time in the war could be seen as a safe rear staging post. Only seven weeks later 29th, having shown (mainly due to its being a single battalion unit) no sure capacity to be able to increase its numbers to full battalion status was ordered down to Lisbon and on 3rd October 1811 under its new Lieutenant Colonel [previously Major] Way it is sent off to England to recruit.

Note; The combination of being of single battalion status and then, while at only moderate strength exposed to full-on contact with a determined enemy at the Albuera killing grounds saw this Regiment off.

Better by far that those survivors of such slaughter should be relieved of further suffering than endure more of the same elsewhere. It is significant in following the careers of all of the senior officers engaged at Albuera to see the long term effect of that experience, almost all of them that had survived taking extended leave to recover from what was recognised later as shell-shock, or that later still twentieth century term ‘battle-fatigue’.

29th Regiment was not present at the Waterloo campaign.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2010

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