Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 2nd Foot Guards (The Coldstreams)
By Ray Foster
Landed Lisbon first week of April 1809
This battalion in company with 1/3rd Foot Guard [The Royal Scots Fusilier Guard] and a company of 5/60th are rapidly brigaded together under Brigadier General Henry Campbell and set in motion to the rear of an already advancing body of all arms northward towards the Douro and the Provincial centre Oporto.
By 12th April they are to be seen standing to arms in the streets and lanes of its transpontine suburb Villa Nova awaiting orders. "The Buffs" have made their crucial crossing of the Douro some way upstream so that, as Soult's surprised force in that town is about to debouch some of the more daring townspeople begin to cross in boats to ferry the liberators to the right banks. Following behind Brigadier General Richard Stewart's Brigade Campbell's men will make their way over at some leisure mildly assisting the fleeing enemy who, in fact puts up no real fight at this seaward end of the river. Having been un-molested up to now it will fall to the Brigade of Guard to take up the pursuit using their three Light companies as vanguard. These men will come up to their opponents on 17th April at the river crossing of the Cavado near Ponte Nova but only to see them escape after being tumbled across this waterway. Pausing they then spend some idle hours fishing abandoned valuables out of the stream with their bayonets suitably bent to form dredging hooks, very enterprising of course. Going back down-country to Abrantes the army is re-collected to make ready for an adventure deep into Spanish territory, the Guard Brigade with the rest shedding an appreciable number of its men before moving off on 28th June to meet a large force of Spanish infantry and cavalry under its Captain General Gregorio Cuesta. The intention is for this combination to bring on a battle against the French under King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jourdan but first to test Marshal Claud Victor's resolve, all of this in the valley of the Tagus and with the Capital Madrid as the prize for the victor.
Victor is far too astute to stand and fight, he goes back up the road eastward towards Madrid, leaving Talavera del Reina to the allied enemy. When Joseph and Victor meet behind the Alberche stream there is a day or so of indecision by both sides, some head counting by these potential contestants and finally, on 26th July back they come, the now equal numbers of Frenchmen, to commence what they expect to be a nicely judged win. For Campbell's 1st Brigade of 1st Division all of this will see them take up positions on the night of 27-28th July on largely flat ground behind a brackish stream, the Portina Brook which meanders down from behind a long hill to their left rear, the Cerro de Medellin, passes through Talavera township emptying into the Tagus. Their place in the line of defence has 1/2nd Guard with 1/3rd Guard to its left and units of 4th Division to its right, we can say that here, on this night they will stand at:
27th July 1809 (on the field at Talavera de la Reina)
During the night Victor sees fit to disturb the peace by attacking the defenders on the Cerro de Medellin, whilst this attack is eventually repulsed by others 1/2ndGuard will, for some unknown reason, receive casualties, just two guardsmen wounded and Lieutenant George Bryan brought down with a wound which turned mortal, seeing him off two months later. The next morning however there is much more to be suffered and, by the whole battalion. Dawn breaks to a concerted artillery barrage spread over the northern half of Wellesley's and Cuesta's lines, [this left half being the British component of the allies front] Whilst enduring this cannonade with little serious opportunity to respond and, all in open ground it would not be long before drifting smoke would obscure the red coated targets, casualties from this early onslaught small compared to what was to follow later in the day. This discomfiture was to die down while serious matters were being attended to elsewhere, it not being until about 2pm before the Guard Brigade would feel the real fire, this in the form first of another artillery cannonade of perhaps an hour's duration and then a major advance of infantry columns appearing through the smoke from across the Portina stream.
Holding fire until these men were at 50yds distance, no mean feat when the 'safe-distance' is rapidly diminishing, Campbell's men on the command let off a single crashing volley of muskets then, as the effect shows disorder in the enemy ranks, down bayonets and into a charge. All of this no doubt is very stirring stuff but, men are falling everywhere, as they reach the first heaps of dead and wounded enemy there is this grisly obstacle to leap through and over, then, at the Portina itself, with its tormentors showing their backs, on they go again. At this point the Guard Brigade become no more than a mob of wild tribesmen each chasing his own victim, Campbell unable or unwilling to halt what to them seems like a total rout of the French army.
Note: At some undisclosed point in this charge or its aftermath Major General Henry Campbell may well have been rendered hors de combat.
Such an eventuality whilst mentioned briefly by Wellesley, CT Atkinson and Fortesque, finds no place in JA Hall's compilations or in Oman's narrative, and certainly not as a reason for a total loss of control.
For some distance across the stream the chase is pursued with vigour but as these masses of men come up close to the standing reserves both directly ahead and to each flank, retribution is at hand. All three arms of the military might of the French army are brought to bear on the disordered mob of guardsmen who had lead the pursuit, first the guns on one flank, next the sabres of cavalrymen on the other and lastly the well formed columns of infantry waiting there to deal to these almost helpless 'victors'. We are expected to believe that in this recoil, retirement and the utter retreat/rout that followed not a single guardsman was left behind on the field, sorry, not possible. At least 330 men in 1st Division had been killed, a massive 1626 men wounded and 225 men captured, certainly more than 1:3. Ask anyone who has had to carry a human body in absolute calm conditions how to do this in a mad retreat whilst in mortal danger of death themselves, no, sorry, absolute rank regimental garbage! In the Coldstream Guard 293 men of all ranks are recorded as being killed and wounded[actually 295] leaving 675 men to do the rescuing of their comrades?
We must move on.
Wellesley having seen the charge turning to a mad race at the far side of the Portina had brought down off the side of the Cerro' Major General John Mackenzie's Brigade of 3rd Division, it was they [and particularly a 2nd Battalion of regular Line infantry, 2/24th] that saved the day hereabouts. The great pursuit and recoil of 1st Division had left a gap in the line half a mile wide which had to be plugged off. Mackenzie and 64 of his men were killed doing just that and more than 500 wounded so, when 1/2nd Guard pulled up well to the rear of 3rd Division with those supposed whoops of joy it can be imagined with what joy these tough young 2nd Battalion veterans would welcome the safe return of these sons of gentlemen!!
Let us examine the gory details, in 1/2nd Guard Captain John Ross of its Grenadier company was dead as was Ensign Harry Parker, Lieutenant Richard Beckett although only wounded had been left out on the field and was one of those unfortunates that died when the long grasses burned along the whole front late in the day. Thirty three in the ranks were dead whilst Captains William Sheridan and Thomas Stibbert, Lieutenants George Collier, Edward Jenkinson, Francis Millman, Thomas Wood and Charles Christie with Ensign Patrick Sandilands all wounded, Christie it seems yet another officer left behind on the field and captured, 251 of the rankers had also been wounded leaving, at the end of a very busy day;
28th July 1809 (after the Battle of Talavera de la Reina)
It cannot be otherwise than that the Coldstreams would leave behind in the walls of Talavera a number of its most seriously wounded men from the 250 or so recorded rank &file, those lesser injured might well have started the journey of retirement either on foot, [the only option for rankers], or on horseback or in carts for those seven unlucky officers.
Not being asked to provide men for the rearguard it would remain then for this battalion to make its painful way along the hot dusty pathways behind the Tagus River all the time closed up at the head of the column.
No figures are available to give losses by attrition sustained during the period of retirement in the valley of the Guadiana they would finally come to rest remaining thereabouts until December. With Campbell gone for whatever reason his place at the head of the brigade is taken up by the 43 year old Colonel Edward Stopford of 3rd Guard.
When the newly styled General Wellington had made his decision to break off military relations with his Spanish allies off went the remnants of his army of 1809 to the comparative safety of the Portuguese frontier. For 1/2nd Guard this meant a steady march beginning on 8th December north-westward going via Portalegre to settle down around the hillside town of Vizeu by early January of 1810. Once settled in they would start to draw men back into the ranks but, still no real figures to work from. It is only when the French Marshal Andre Massena begins to bring forward large numbers of men to threaten the defences of the frontier posts that any action for 1st Division can be looked for.
It turns out to be very mild in nature, mostly consisting of changing camps as the two contestants feel out each other's strengths and weaknesses. Between late April when 1st Division is at Celorico until the set piece battle at Busaco at the end of September it is only by this marching from one town to another, principally about the Mondego valley and as far west as Coimbra that any mention is made of this Guards Brigade. Using just a little hindsight it is possible to mention that during the time spent between leaving the valley of the Guadiana in December 1809 and re-appearing ready for action near the end of September 1810, almost nine months, 1/2nd Guard will have gained just 139 men of all ranks.
Finally up they come from Mealhada to take their position on the Busaco ridge in the late morning of 26th September a fine central part of the line at its highest point having a great view of not only the enemy to the east but the whole sweep of the country behind them. They will stand at:
27th September 1810 (on the Busaco ridge)
The events of the day and the attempt by Massena to bludgeon his way up and over this very substantial military obstacle belong to other than Stopford's Brigade of 1st Division, whilst we are told that a number of Light companies of this Division were sent down into the forward skirmish line it appears that those who came to serious blows with their opposite numbers belonged to Colonel Edward Packenham's Brigade of the Division and to a lesser extent the KGL of Major General Siegesmund Löwe's Brigade. The figures for the Coldstream’s then will remain as before, without loss, until re-examined very much later.
Their march of retirement into the lines of Torres Vedras passed without incident so that they were well able to turn about and face their enemy at the rather forward positions based on Sobral. Others in 1st Division eventually were called upon to oppose the advance of Massena's probing vanguard force at this place it being on 14th October that the French Marshal made his celebrated appearance here to see for himself the formidable defence works for the first time.
A full month later the enemy begin to move back onto Santarem leaving the Guard Brigade to remain in comfortable quarters at Sobral for the whole of the "stand-off'” period of the winter of 1810-11. Three days after Massena's half starved army began its retirement out of Portugal 1st Division and its Guard Brigade started out in slow pursuit, we can hold them conveniently in that small pocket of time while we look at a handful of Coldstream’s being engaged in serious combat elsewhere in the Peninsula. For this small episode we travel down to the south, the theatre of operations the siege of Cadiz.
5th March 1811
2/2nd Guard [two Companies] (With Lieutenant General
Thomas Graham at Barrosa)
These two companies of 2/2nd Guard have gone along with a good number of 1/1st Guard under Brigadier/Colonel Thomas Dilkes on that journey to finish up behind the Cerro del Puerco at Barrosa on the sea coast road almost back at Cadiz from where they began. It is as a result of some peculiar reasoning on the part of the Spanish Captain General La Pena that Graham's men are brought to action almost at-the-double and in some disarray to rectify a rapidly worsening situation developing on their flank and rear. For this tiny two company corps it comes down to a rapid advance through a wood, during which by reason of their marching order they are separated from Dilkes and merge with men of Major General William Wheatley's Brigade to come out of the fringes to the left of what will be the fighting lines. As the enemy appear before them they will have deployed to the right of 1/28th who will hold this left end of their position.
The combat such as it is, happening in disjointed places, is well into its phases, a closed up battalion of Victor's infantry presents a good target for the men of 1/28th and this 2company unit of 2/2nd Coldstream's. A furious fire fight ensues, both sides being heavily engaged; elsewhere the combats are going in favour of Graham's men with the retiring Frenchmen falling back to the rear of all of this. With the attackers enduring such a steadily deteriorating state of affairs the fire fight was broken off leaving the men of Wheatley's left wing to count the cost of this encounter.
Noticeably only Ensigns of 2/2nd Guard feature in their officer casualty list, Ensign Michael Watts has been killed with eight of his men, Ensigns Charles Bentinck and John Talbot [the notorious founder of The Guards Club and wino extraordinaire] are slightly injured and 47 of the ranks also wounded to leave of this two company unit:
5th March 1811 (after the fire fight at Barrosa)
After Victor's troops had melted away, returning to Chiclana and the rear of his siege works sure that he would be further embarrassed thereabouts, no such threat developed. La Pena judged that he had done enough having been signally successful in driving off the French whilst Graham was so disgusted with the whole affair that he marched off his survivors via the bridge of boats onto the Isla de Leon and so back to Cadiz. As for the much reduced two companies of 2/2nd Guard we must leave them to bury their dead and tend to their wounded comrades, events in the Beira Alta Province of Portugal are warming up. We shall not hear from these men again in any Peninsula affair.
Picking up the movements of 1st Division Guard Brigade their march following up Massena's retreat shows at first a slow start, they come up in rear of the "fighting" Divisions for a while but then, on 18th March are so far advanced as to be able to make a crossing of the Alva river above Ponte de Murcella at Pombeiro threatening to cut the French movement along the road to Celorico. Succeeding in passing this river unscathed 1st Division’s incursion on this flank causes the enemy to accelerate its pace ever faster up into the hill country and the Portuguese frontier away to the east.
This appearance on the scene should have placed 1st Division at the head of the vanguard and, of course close to Marshal Michel Ney's rearguard troops. Not so, this Division halted at the first town, Moita, sitting there for five days whilst others continued the harassment of the tail-end of the enemy retreat. With the French retirement continuing up to Guarda and then swinging south into the rough hill paths towards Sabugal there is a brief reference to Stopford's Brigade having moved along the westerly road in the direction of Freixadas, however, this seems hardly credible as we next see them quietly following up the "Fighting Divisions" which are escorting Massena's exhausted troops off the rolling hills by Sabugal, down into the Coa valley and from thence to safety behind the Agueda at and about Cuidad Rodrigo.
By 15th April 1811 1st Division are to be found in the Fuentes D Onoro area on the raised ground between the Dos Casas and Turon streams, they will rest here until the return of the French, still under the hand of Marshal Massena, this time on attack. It is 3rd May a day of battle for possession of the village of Fuentes D Onoro and here we have already been given battalion numbers a couple of days earlier:
1st May 1811 (at Fuentes De Onoro)
Clearly there has been, since their time in the Torres Vedras lines, a full replenishment of men fit for service in this unit, how then are they to be used at Fuentes'? Not at all on the first day, they have remained behind the high ground beyond the village while others get on with the business of close combat in the cluster of buildings, walls, gravestones and narrow lanes. Having had all their attempts driven back here the enemy draw off, spend a full day in re-arranging their options and come on again on 5th May this time using cavalry and infantry to sweep around Wellington's very much extended right flank appearing before Poço Velho village where units of 7th Division are in possession of this tiny hamlet. The Guard Brigade still commanded by Stopford is well to the rear of this forward and isolated position holding the far right almost refused flank of a continuous line stretching from Fuentes' village across the high ground and trending down into the depression of the Turon stream. The Light companies of both 1/2nd and 1/3rd Guard are out in extended order with a number of riflemen for company. Whilst Oman suggests that these latter are a part of Lieutenant General Robert Craufurd's Light Brigade it is far more likely that they are in fact riflemen of 5/60th and 3/95th ordinarily attached to 1st Division, no matter.
When the battalions of Major General William Houston's 7th Division have been ousted from Poço Velho, fallen back on their supports and briefly stood another attack, units of enemy light cavalry are able to push them back again and come upon these 1st Division light infantrymen in the Turon depression. We know that Captain George Hill of 1/3rd Guard has command here, he rapidly brings his men into what must be a tiny clubbed/square, but, a seemingly safe one, repulses the first shock charge and, is so satisfied with the result that he allows his skirmishing companies to resume their previous open formation. The French cavalry commander hereabouts, General Fournier seizes his golden opportunity, brings in another formed unit from the flank and catches his prey now out in open array. The inevitable result of this incautious action on the part of Captain Hill is to have 21 of his men captured, [himself amongst them] 10 more killed and no less than 104 wounded, of these there are in 1/2nd Coldstreams, Lieutenant Edward Harvey and an un-named officer with 49 of their men wounded, 4 men killed and another un-named officer [this could have been the hapless Captain Hill in command, this whole unfortunate episode has been “suppressed” by historians of the period] and 7 men captured. For the rest of the battalion standing in line some way back and well uphill of all of this there is little to do excepting to observe events and hold this flank secure. Captain Hill having been lost the unlucky skirmishing band will undoubtable come under another officer of 1/3rd Guard Captain William Guise who, with a large portion of 7th Division survivors must be able to restore order and take up a place extending the 1st Division flank up the other side of the Turon depression and bringing affairs here down to a bickering tiraillade principally involving riflemen of 95th, 5/60th and against enemy voltigeurs, so:
5th May 1811 (after the combat in the Turon depression)
As much as three days pass before the frustrated enemy are seen to be steadily withdrawing from the Fuentes' area, Massena is called back to France, Marshal Auguste Marmont begins to take charge of the Army of Portugal, his first task to restore some optimism amongst his officers, re-organise and re-equip his Divisions and then examine his options. All of this allows some time for Wellington to ride off south to see how that part of his army under Beresford is handling affairs down around Badajoz. He leaves Lieutenant General Brent Spencer in charge of the Divisions at Fuentes d Onoro and off he goes. Marmont, now as an almost independent commander of an Army Corps is not long before he decides for a bit of forward action for his charges. By the first week of June he sets in motion aggressive tactical movement, the result of which is to induce Spencer to begin to withdraw southward, his withdrawal so precipitate as to have the much abused fortress of Almeida again blown up with this whole area now left to whoever might desire to occupy it. The men of 1st Division will cross the Tagus at Villa Velha on 15th June to fetch up in the valley of the Caya River by 23rd June they will be close to the great bastioned fortress of Elvas at Santa Ollaya. Here Major General Henry Campbell will have returned to take up the Guard Brigade, Spencer will go and Graham will get 1st Division having arrived up from Cadiz, all during that period of standing in defence before the combined armies of Marmont and Soult. Seemingly this time regardless of having been spent in the malarial swampy Caya valley will not have been too difficult for the men of the Coldstream Guard; later figures will suggest that their numbers are well maintained here. Moving off once more, this time into the healthier high ground about Fuente Guinaldo where other units are to be violently disturbed by cavalry sweeps of their grounds there is to be no contact for these guardsmen at either El Bodon or Aldea Ponte during September.
We do however get a solid check for numbers, so:
15th September 1811 (about Fuente Guinaldo)
From here 1/2nd Guard and their comrades will see the year out by marching off westward into the Portuguese winter quarters, in their case at and about Guarda. With 1812 barely begun and the weather decidedly very wintry orders come to break camp and head east towards the Agueda at Cuidad Rodrigo, after three days of hard slog through snow and sleet and bitter winds they get to Gallegos, have a short rest then off again to arrive before the bastioned fortress destined to be put under immediate siege. By 9th January then we see the 1st Coldstream's wading across the freezing waters of the Agueda, making an attempt to warm up by huge bonfires then working forward into the 'parallels', trenches already commenced by others. Digging away at the frozen soil for a 6hr shift keeps them moderately warm while receiving attention from their besieged opponents high above at the parapets. With just two more shifts on 13th and 17th January that completes their direct involvement in affairs. The storm of Cuidad Rodrigo takes place two nights later with the members of the Guard Brigade as mere spectators the only recorded casualty being Colonel Mackinnon of 1/2nd Guard who had been acting as Commander 3rd Division and got himself blown to bits in the breach.
The only activity 1/2nd Guard will see between this success and the next siege [at Badajoz] will be to march down to Abrantes in cold, wet and windy conditions to pick up new equipment and uniforms so that they can go south-east to this more bastioned fortress on the Guadiana River. On the investment of Badajoz 1st Division will be taken away from this area, led by Graham and with others form a moderately large force to contain any enemy troops which might otherwise interfere with Wellington's plans to reduce and subdue that strongpoint, all in the direction of Andalusia.
From mid-March until 2nd April all they have to endure is tactical marching when we shall find them about Almendralejo and Villafranca finally coming to rest at Albuera. On 7th April Badajoz is violently and bloodily stormed at huge cost by others which, when all has calmed down will once more have 1st Division on the march this time to quietly support moves against Marmont's men and show at Losa on 22nd April. Not very inspiring stuff and even settling down for a 'reStat Castello Branco a well established rear staging post. Summer comes and with it the campaign to confront the Army of Portugal led by Marshal Marmont, a battle of wits played out in relatively flat country nearby Salamanca, that place being occupied during June with much time spent by others fighting for the Forts at the Tormes river. The weather of course is hot and the marching dust dry, July comes and with it a change of command, Henry Campbell gets the 1st Division and Brigadier Thomas Fermor the 1st Brigade all on 7th July, they are on the Zapardiel River at Medina del Campo 10 miles however in rear of the main force.
Noticeably the CIC keeps his Premier Division very much as a reserve unit and no serious action since those heady days at Talavera! The trend continues, when Marmont makes his fatal mistake on the hills of the Arapiles to the south of Salamanca 1st Division will on the previous day have been at the head of a marching column which has allowed the enemy to draw ahead and have enough space to cross the Tormes virtually un-molested.
22nd July 1812 (at the Arapiles)
1st Division is, on 22nd July brought to rest whilst the main column continues to march, we are told that some men of their Light companies are taken on and inserted into the buildings forming the village of Arapiles along with more light infantrymen of 4th Division. Whilst movement errors of the French columns elsewhere are in early development General Maucune's voltigeurs put up a spirited fire fight against these occupants at the village, some buildings change hands whilst at various stages they have received occasional cannon fire. We are aware that in this combat Ensign Beaumont Hotham is wounded, we know that 7 men are killed, 22 wounded and 8 taken prisoner, this minor affair then has been well joined and the honours shared with casualties in 1/2nd Guard Light company perhaps as high as 40%.
Meanwhile the battle takes on its inevitable pattern a crushing annihilation of Marmont's right wing followed by successive defeats in echelon all the way past the front of the Arapiles village to end at a dense wooded area where 6th Division and General Ferey's Division are locked in a fight to the death.
What of 1st Division then and the remaining 9 companies of the Coldstream’s?
They stand to the far left of the battlefield untouched and unharmed, Major General Henry Campbell is ordered to advance to the left rear of Ferey's embattled corps to roll up this tenacious last stand. Nothing happens, evening draws nigh and Campbell [as a senior general officer] it appears is merely seen to have been a bit slow, there is no reprimand, no enquiry as to gross dereliction of duty and we have to move on to further events it seems.
22nd July 1812 (after the light infantry fight at the
Two months will pass by before 1/2nd Guard finally get into real combative service, effectively it will have been more than three years since the full battalion have been exposed to danger at the hands of the enemy, even now we shall only see selections by no more than two company strengths. It will make a change from marching, but first there is some of that to be done. On 29th July 1st Division have moved far enough in gentle pursuit of General Bertrand Clausel's shattered forces to arrive before the Douro at or near Puente Douro and Tudela yet another rest then down south to Cuellar, another rest of over a week then follow in rear of the main column to occupy Madrid. At last on 19th September 1812 the Coldstream Guard 1st Battalion will come up to Burgos where its castle is being held by a small but resourceful garrison effectively barring further progress northward. Others having already arrived and put the place under siege it is up to 1st Division to get on with the task of testing the defences. On the night of 21-22nd September there is to be an attempt at an escalade of the outer enceinte of the castle walls themselves, this with minimal preparation, maybe surprise was to be the key! In the narrative it is explained that volunteers were called from the whole of 1st Divisions three Brigade, 400 being the figure required. No breakdown is given but, at least we know that when these affairs were to be launched there was always strict apportioning of the 'honour' so, with that in mind 1st Coldstreams would only be able to take up 60 men or so of the total. As it transpired the escalade was a dismal failure not a man reaching the objective so, by using a percentage rationale it may be that some 38 men would be lost K&W, of these perhaps Lieutenant Charles Fraser might have been one he being recorded as losing a leg during operations 20th-26th September. Operations take on the regular means by way of trench digging and rigging of gun platforms with trench guard duty all of which expose the besiegers to sniping from above. On 7th October Ensign John Buckeridge is killed perhaps in this way but as Wellington begins to understand that his options are coming to an end another escalade is organised, this to occur on the night of 18th October. Rationalising once more from the overall figures supplied no more than 150 men of 1/2nd Guard would be able to join this 'last chance' effort. This time better progress is made, at least the scaling ladders are reared in place and a brief entry forced. When counter-attacked the survivors of this small success are not only thrust back but are driven off the walls to finish up back where they first began.
Lieutenant Edward Harvey and Ensign Burgess are killed Lieutenant John Walpole wounded along with Lieutenant William Crofton yet again some 38 of the guardsmen are either killed or wounded. The next day Fermor's Brigade of Guard is withdrawn to reinforce those others who have been continually protecting the perimeter country from incursion.
The enemy by this time has sufficient men themselves to make their offensive presence felt so that only two days later Wellington has to face the evidence before him and order an abandonment of the siege. These operations of this last month have caused casualties to Fermor's Brigade well in proportion to those others so exposed but, since we only have overall estimations to work on it must come down to a compromise firmed up to 169 men of 1/2nd Guard, so:
22nd October 1812 (after the siege of Burgos)
This is at the optimistic end of the calculations and there is much more uncertainty to follow.
The retreat all the way back down country in gradually worsening autumnal weather was accomplished by Fermor's Brigade without enemy inspired incident and with the minimum of discomfort, their place in the columns so regularly at the head. A stand at the old Salamanca/Arapiles positions soon let them see that whilst the combined armies of King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Soult would only press them when the terrain suited it would be of no use to stand fast on firm defensive ground as the severity of winter slowly made itself felt. The retreat had to be completed which meant all the way back to Portugal, Spain itself had been regularly proved to be an unsafe haven, so off again. By now 1st Division had acquired a new senior Brigade of Guard, 1/3/1st Guard all the way from Corunna [guardsmen if nothing else could certainly do the marching thing], it will be rather academic however as this new brigade falls on hard times later! We can only pick up the story when all have struggled back to the line of the Agueda, it is 29th November and we are treated to as confusing a mish-mash of figures as could be designed to defy interpretation. By delving into the sparse figures available via Oman and Supplementary Dispatches it appears more than likely that at the time of coming to a halt about Cuidad Rodrigo 1/2nd Guard might be seen at:
29th November 1812 (behind the Agueda)
There is to be a pause of almost six months before Wellington's new 1813 campaign can get under way, meanwhile Fermor will take his charges deep into the Portuguese hills as far as Celorico and Mangualde, they will pass the whole winter thereabouts first losing an appreciable number of men, going down dramatically then recovering slowly, standing at 546 O&rank and file on 15th April then, only a week later:
26th April 1813 (cantoned in Portugal)
We can expect that as the new campaign got under way 1/2nd Guard would stand at:
25th May 1813 (commencing the Vittoria campaign)
Brigadier Fermor has disappeared and been replaced by Major General Edward Stopford once more, this is the only titbit of news that we shall need to follow the progress of this 1st Division brigade as it goes through the motions of being a part of Wellington's army its actions not surprisingly will all be of the marching kind. Taking no part in the Vittoria battle of 21st June it will be only at the final storm of San Sebastian that we see once more yet another fragment of Coldstreams in action. Volunteers are called for to storm this stubborn obstacle to progress it is 31st August so it is only by estimating from a two brigade figure that we can guess at the number of 1/2nd Guard present.
It is possible that 1/2nd Guard were permitted to contribute only as many as 50 men to the list of 1st Division stormers, their turn to go up the breach that day early enough to be hit by the defenders in full cry. They would most likely be close enough to witness the artillery barrage going over their heads which cleared the parapets of sharpshooters who had for so long kept the rim of the breach safe. This will not however have saved them from suffering heavily, there is after all a tradition to be upheld the result being that yet another Ensign, Thomas Chaplin is wounded as are 20 of his men, 5 lost in the chaos and not to be found and another 3 men dead. All of these figures taken by way of Steve Brown’s records. Nothing more is to be heard of the battalion other than of its presence close to the Biscay coastline both during the San Marcial battle of the same day and over five weeks later at the passage of the Bidassoa.
Seemingly the brigade has come under the direct hand of Major General Kenneth Howard who will pass it across the lower end of the estuary, it is plain that the Coldstreams get near enough to the very sparse enemy facing them just downstream of the burnt out bridge at Behobie to collect a few casualties, two men are killed and eight wounded before the opposition flees the area leaving the Brigade to come to rest before the Croix des Bouquets.
At some time not disclosed 1/2nd Guard between the commencement of the 1813 campaign and the beginning of November must receive a reinforcement of about 200 men [for a Guard battalion this would be 2 companies] because when the offensive operations at the river Nivelle open they are to be able to put up no less than:
10th November 1813 (on the Nivelle)
Stopford is back in charge, probably he had continued to do the work anyway, he has his men facing an earthwork Bons Secours at the beginning of the day, obviously this is not a good title, the defence here is virtually nil. As the battle develops inland to their far right it is only necessary to inch forward when the enemy abandons his own seaward right flank. There will be only enough work to do for the inevitable wounding of another Ensign, this time Windham Anstruther with nine of his men, the Coldstreams will rest on the Nivelle at StJean De Luz with very healthy figures at:
10th November 1813 (after the battle on the Nivelle)
Lieutenant General John Hope has held command of a Western Corps including 1st Division since mid October and it is this leader who, on Wellington's orders brings his charges along the western coastline in the second week of December. He has 5th Division and several Portuguese infantry brigades well forward but, apparently some of the Light companies of all of his forces probing the French defences in the direction of Bayonne itself. On 9th December we know that the Light company of the Coldstreams is right up there with this 'cloud of skirmishers', pressing ever nearer to the solid outworks of the city they get as far as Anglet. They have during the day edged four miles up the St Jean de Luz/Bayonne road recording, with their brigade partners 33 casualties, no officer in either party has been hit so that we have no way of splitting the cost of this exploration between 1/2nd and 1/3rd G'd so, perhaps 2-3 men killed each [a toss of the coin here] and 28 wounded to share, nowhere near satisfactory but, all we have. Hope is ultra protective of his Guard component leaving them back the whole distance at St Jean de Luz on the next day, they are disconnected from hostile operations on the 10th and 11th December when the rest of his Western Corps are being violently attacked around the Chateau of Barrouillet. On 12th December 1st Division are realistically the only fresh troops that Hope has to work with as Marshal Soult continues to batter away at this section of the line. There is first a ten mile march to arrive at the points of contact, a long and protracted defensive fire fight by both sides as the numbers on each side are quite equally divided then as we examine the officer content of casualties amongst the four Guard battalions we see that 1/2nd Guard suffered none at all while 1/3/1st and 1/3rd Guard counted all eight of those recorded between them. It may well be harsh to suggest that 1/2nd Guard were not even engaged in this all day affair but, as Steve Brown shows 4 men are indeed wounded , a very minor engagement then all round. Following on in the same vein it could be suggested that this slight-engagement would be as near as the Coldstreams would get to the enemy until the war was over.
Winter is upon the army, cold rain, sleet, mud and all of the discomforts of life in the field at this time of year would bring hostile action to an abrupt halt. Finally the new year has advanced almost two months when it falls to Stopford's Brigade to lead an adventurous march directly north through the sand-hills and pinewoods beyond the tiny village of Biarritz to pull up at the southern bank of the Adour Estuary all in preparation for a crossing to its northern side, this on the night of 22nd-23rd February 1814. Whilst this initiative could well have involved 1/2nd Guard in some desperate fighting at the right banks this did not occur, sure enough, after some slight delays due to the non-arrival of substantial boats they are ferried over in small boats and pontoons, remarkably without any interference from a small picket off to the right by Le Boucau. Being of a noticeably optimistic nature Hope continues to feed over more infantry hardly able to believe his good luck. It is only on 25th February having by then assembled a formidable force on the northern side of the river that the enemy chooses to make a challenge, symbolic only as it happened. A battery of Congreve Rocketeers has made the crossing and is extremely anxious to prove its worth [this. a fairly rare chance], on this occasion everything just continues to maintain that lucky streak. The rockets tear off to meet the oncoming column of Frenchmen who, receiving casualties from such a fearsomely strange weapon and the promise of more to come turn about and abscond at pace. Having secured a fine bridgehead with so few casualties it then remains for the great cable bridge to be drawn across the estuary, no doubt the rank and file of the Guards brigades would put their backs into some of the work here but General Hope is quickly onto his orders from above to set up a ring of investment about the suburbs of Bayonne.
On 27th February 1814 1st Division Stopford Brigade comes forward as support for the KGL Brigade as they drive a stubborn opposition out of St Etienne to take up this place as a prominent forward post. It is likely that in this action 1/2nd Guard would collect about 25 casualties, no officers hit however. Nothing much is done by either side as March comes and goes, the countryside is full of rumour as to the way events are developing around Paris, it is known that all is not well for the Imperial cause, Bordeaux to the north has already ceded to the white cockade and must be spreading at least a climate of 'de-militarisation', desertion being its natural result amongst both the war-weary and the newly recruited militias.
Hope, reading the signs of all of this can hardly be blamed for relaxing his investment at Bayonne, Wellington, hunting down Soult's Corps away to the east has sent orders which have expected him to at least set up breaching batteries but with the enemy Governor appearing to see the whole thing out quietly merely bides his time outside of the walls.
Sure enough on 10th April Hope receives notice that the Emperor has passed on all military authority to others and that effectively the war is at an end. Governor Thouvenot in Bayonne must have been aware of this terminal state of affairs through the many sources of communication well established at the picket lines, he has gathered about him some very disappointed junior commanders, over a period of the next four days he develops a quite different attitude to his previous passivity. Showing what can only be described as pure Gallic arrogance he, along with his subordinates decides for a last grand show of force, and, what better than to direct it at those men of King George's Guards and German Legion Brigades?!
In order that we should be able to gauge the strength of 1/2nd Guard before the final curtain falls we must seek out some figures to work with. By Supplementary Dispatches of 16th January 1814 we see that they stood at 767 rank and file, an addition of 28 officers [their regular ratio of 1:27] bringing them to 795 PUA at that time. On 27th February they count a loss of about 25 rank and file reducing them to 770, then a month of quiet that could return them 10 men so with the war now technically at an end, we can reckon the numbers to rest on;
14th April 1814 (at and about St Etienne)
It is 2.45am on a dark moonless night, General Abbe's men with 6 years of fighting and marching from Irun to Cadiz and back, very moderate losses and many victories behind them come storming out of the walls of the fortress they are supported by another six battalions of volunteers eager to show their worth. In three columns their intention is to converge on St Etienne which to some extent they do, fully in their path stands Stopford's Brigade on this night closely supported by units of 5th Division infantry and, in charge here none other than Major General Andrew Hay. The first clash of arms sees easily the whole of 1/2nd Guard Light company overcome with 84 men taken prisoner, in the scrambling retreat Hay is killed, Hope himself rides furiously forward, not alone we hope but soon to be brought down, both man and horse shot and wounded, he too easily taken prisoner and the fight becomes general. Stopford is wounded so that it is eventually left to Howard and 1st Guard to come to the rescue, meanwhile the Coldstreams are putting up a disordered struggle against an increasingly and equally disordered enemy the result of which sees 32 of the men dead, 122 wounded whilst of the officers Captain Henry Sullivan and Lieutenant William Crofton are killed on the spot, Lieutenants William Burroughs and George Collier are mortally wounded as are Ensigns William Pitt and Frederick Vachell with Brigade Major Henry Dawkins and Lieutenant James Harvey just slightly wounded. With the surviving attackers thrust back behind the walls of the Bayonne fortress this will bring their war to an end standing down at:
14th April 1814 (after the sortie at St Etienne)
This battalion would not be present at the Waterloo campaign.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2012
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