Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 2nd Battalion of Detachments (Mixed Companies)

By Ray Foster

Facings and Lace as for regimental companies

Mid December 1808  
No figures available

As in the case of 1st/Detachments this corps has been brought together from several detachments of infantrymen of regiments left scattered about in Portugal when Moore set out into the Spanish countryside on his sad adventures. By the end of January 1809 they come into view as a distinct battalion ready to take the field under their overall commander Lieutenant General John Cradock, they will be very strong for numbers at the outset. Various military historians mention the two "Detachment Battalions" as being close to a thousand men each however, it transpires that at least in the case of 2nd/Detachments a significant proportion of these will show as "sick" and remain so for some time ahead. This battalion during the time of Cradock's command may well have been able to put as many as 980 men into the field but nowhere do we see this being the confirmed case. When Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley comes ashore for the second time to take over from Cradock we shall have a complete breakdown that produces a confirmed position:

6th May 1809 (at and around Lisbon)                                                                                                               
PUA 822

Besides these fit men there are no less than 221 sick men with a further 16 who can be said to hold "command" places in Lisbon for logistical purposes, Wellesley has the rest brigaded with 97th, a company of 5/60th,  2/16th Portuguese Line, all under Brigadier Colonel John Sontag.          

This brigade although a part of the force taken up country to evict Marshal Nicholas Soult and his Corps from Portugal have no role to play other than to march up beyond the Douro and then back down to concentrate at Abrantes and await the call to advance into Spain in concert with Captain General Gregorio Cuesta's Spanish army. By the time that the combined Spanish/British army has arrived at the environs of Talavera and come into contact with enemy units it is late July, they have marched through country devoid of regular sustenance all in high summer conditions the consequence of which is to have dropped off a great number of their weaker men, in the case of 2nd/Detachments, as many as 200 men so:

25th July 1809 (at Talavera de la Reina)                                                                                                          
PUA 625

By now the army has been formed into distinct Divisional status bringing 2nd/Detachments into Major General Alexander Campbell's 4th Division with 1/40th and 97th in Colonel James Kemmis' Brigade, they are not to be involved in any of the preliminary fighting which took place on 27th July. Being placed well to the rear of the British line of defence and at its extreme right flank Kemmis Brigade will see no action in its own quarter until quite late in the fateful day. Others of course have been fighting for their lives since daybreak but all of this beginning away on the left side of the field. When finally the action before them becomes serious it falls to their senior brigade to face the onslaught, beat it off and then, when 1/40th are called up to put in a crashing volley followed up by a sharp charge of bayonets 2nd/Detachments will only have to support this effort and so see their enemy fall back heavily to complete the day's efforts. Needless to say 2nd/Detachments have not had a great loss, 7 men have been killed, 13 wounded and one gone missing, perhaps following up the retreating enemy a little too closely, so:

18th July 1809 (after the battle at Talavera)                                                                                                                   
PAB 604

They will be called upon to do some solid grave-digging and corpse burning after the moveable wounded have been carried into the sheltering shade of the Talavera streets all to be followed up by a long dreary march down the left banks of the Tagus then across desolate hills to come to rest at Truxillo before continuing towards the valley of the Guadiana and finally come to a stop nearby the great fortress town of Badajoz.

It can be expected that numbers will have fallen off considerably by the time that autumn arrives, Wellington (as he now signs himself) decides to break off his connections with Spanish armies taking his remaining, sorely tried troops back into the comparative safety of the Portuguese frontier, off they go as the year ends. We are told variously that the Battalions of Detachments are already broken up, some say to return to their parent regiments already in Portugal, others to England to their depots, this then is the end of a unit that must be said to have merely been there to make up the numbers.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2011

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