Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 34th Regiment of Foot(The Cumberlands)
By Ray Foster
Mid-July 1809 (landed at Lisbon)
With hindsight this battalion although only one of those 2nds full of young, new recruits may well have landed with an excess of 700 men, they have arrived too late to take part in the Talavera campaign and having stayed at Lisbon just long enough to be made "regular" are marched off up to Zarza la Mayor on the Portuguese border north of Alcantara, this by 12th August so, they are brigaded under Colonel James Catlin Craufurd with 2/28th and 2/39th all under the overall command of Marshal William Carr Beresford. When the main army has returned from its Spanish adventure and gathered about the Guadiana valley we see C Craufurd's Brigade brought in to that large 2nd Division commanded for most of its war period by Major General Rowland Hill, they will be its 3rd Brigade, all of this by mid-September 1809. Wellington has so soon in this war become thoroughly disenchanted with all things Spanish and, in Portugal there is much to be done to bring the country and its soldiers up to a full war footing. This gives the army a whole year of rest before Marshal Andre Massena applies himself to his orders to chase the "Leopard" into the sea.
Hill's Corps has already started to adopt that semi-independent role which in later times will see them as the defenders of the southern sector of the army's perimeter about the Alemtejo and Estremadura. As the summer begins to wane in 1810 Massena comes on strongly against Almeida so that Hill's Corps is brought up north marching to concentrate on a long high hill just north of the River Mondego. We shall see C Craufurd's Brigade up on this hill, the ridge of Busaco, excepting that Craufurd himself has just died at Abrantes and Lieutenant Colonel George Wilson of 2/39th has had to take over, also the brigade has been given a company of 5/60th for light infantry duties, 2/34th will stand this day at:
27th September 1810 (on the ridge at Busaco)
Very good numbers for a 2nd battalion however having had no casualties on the day of the battle there the Brigade is marched off south into the lines at Torres Vedras and in that short time to lose no less than 70 men by whatever means, so:
1st November 1810 (in the Torres Vedras lines)
Hanging about the lower Tagus area of the army's defences during Massena's long stay before the "Lines" the Major General William Lumley takes over the Brigade from Wilson before Hill goes off home with a bad bout of malaria (picked up no doubt from his time in Walcheren), as a result it is Beresford who takes the Corps down to the Guadiana area to put Badajoz under a rather frail siege before Marshal Nicholas Soult brings an army up from Andalusia to challenge this initiative. It is during these field work operations that Lieutenant W Thomas Masterman acting with the engineers is seriously wounded, he will return. Fatefully 2/34th soon finds itself a part of that army which has to endure the battle at Albuera. Lumley has been transferred to take charge of all of Beresford's cavalry so that Colonel Alexander Abercromby of 2/28th gets the Brigade but only on the battle day and what a day it turns out to be, 2/34th come to the field showing:
16th May 1811 (at Albuera)
Soult has already begun to turn the flank of the Spanish out on Beresford's right field they are on a low rolling hill attempting to bring round their right but largely failing due to the usual difficulty they had of not being able to manœuvre under fire. By the time that Abercromby's Brigade gets up to where the real action is Colborne's men have been decimated and Hoghton's are about to be, Abercromby is to their left amongst the stronger part of the Spanish resistance, they will come through this line and only be able to apply real pressure of fire on the enemy when the greater part of those two other 2nd Division's Brigades have paid the ultimate price. This will not prevent 2/34th from suffering; the fierce musketry duel on this hill combined with some deadly short range cannon-fire is at such a wildly confused stage that anyone up on that hill is going to suffer. When the French finally give up the game and everyone on the "Spanish hill" sinks down with exhaustion 2/34th will have lost 128 men, clearly then they always maintained their position in line and "only" having 21% casualties had a comparatively good day! Captain George Gibbons and Lieutenant Castle with 30 of their men are killed Ensign J Sarsfield dies a day later of a fatal wound while Captains George Widdrington, John Wyatt, Lieutenants John Hay, Lawrence Walsh and 91 men are wounded.
16th May 1811 (after the fight on the Spanish hill by
Abercromby is one of the lucky survivors and it is to be expected that he, along with Lumley who briefly returns from his cavalry job (a task very well executed) will hold together the battered remnants of 2nd Division until Wellington comes down to try and make some sense out of it all.This he does and we shall see 2/34th as the nucleus along with the shattered parts of seven other battalion survivors drawn together nominally under Lumley [who is rapidly sent off however for more cavalry action by the CIC] until their numbers can be restored. We shall have no exact figures for this battalion for more than two years ahead but, by some calculated judgment and sifting through the text (Oman) a fair idea of numbers might emerge.
By 21st August 1811 Lumley has gone home sick (like so many other of the great Albuera experience, he probably had a bad case of delayed "battle-fatigue") Wilson returning to the command three weeks later will have 1/2/28th, 2/34th and 2/39th and a company of 5/60th in hand. Hill had returned as early as 6th June so, once normality returned to this Corps we shall see Wilson's Brigade going down along the Guadiana in an attempt to trap one of General Drouet D'Erlon's roving brigades, that of General Jean-Baptiste Girard, this they do at Arroya dos Molinos late in October on a very wet day. Having had over four months to recover numbers I estimate that on this day they would stand at:
28th October 1811 (at Arroyo dos Molinos)
The part of 2/34th in this running fight and capture of so many men was minimal losing only 5 men in total, they are quickly brought back to safety in the Caya valley headwaters by a false message sent by Major General William Erskine and only find employment in some short winter marches about their defensive area, these become a little longer in the spring and by summer of 1812 really long as Hill takes his whole Corps deep inland up the Tagus valley marching on Madrid. Marshal Marmont and his Army of Portugal has been defeated resoundingly on the Arapiles and all of the French forces in central Spain are on the defensive, Wilson still has 3rd Brigade of 2nd Division and the composition of that brigade has remained constant. Having arrived about Madrid in September the Divisions at that place, all nominally under Hill are compelled to depart when the French have pulled together a large army, from both north and south east to come back on the offensive. It only remains to say that Hill's charges in retiring all the way back into Portugal suffered much less from attrition than its more northern corps under Wellington's hand, make of that what you will. Having stood down behind the Agueda in November we have a somewhat bewildering mess of figures from which to draw any conclusion as to battalion strengths however, having done the exercise I estimate 2/34th at:
29th November 1812 (on the Portuguese frontier)
By January of 1813 Wilson, (another Albuera officer) dies so that the work is taken up by Lieutenant Colonel Robert O'Callaghan of 39th, the Brigade being used during the winter to stand in a forward position out in the sierras along the frontier posts. It seems that this does not prevent this battalion from increasing its numbers dramatically so, even though we have here a 2nd battalion, most of whom were notorious for losing numbers this one may well have a reasonably full complement as early as:
26th April 1813 (in forward posts on the frontier)
To use one of Oman's own favourite words of criticism it is "tiresome" that his compiler of appendices has, by the end of the sixth volume resorted to only brigade and divisional figures, however it is quite easy to estimate 2/34th then at:
25th May 1813 (beginning the march on Vittoria)
Having arrived at the battle site chosen by King Joseph and his advisers, very close to Vittoria but behind the river Zadorra, Hill is sent out on the far right of this field going up steep hills known as the Pueblo Heights, he is to start the proceedings with a strong diversionary attack on what is the French left flank. O'Callaghan's Brigade come up this hill, or to be more exact several hills which in their front show a shallow ravine ahead leading to the village of Subijana de Alava, this is where most of their fighting will be done this day. As is usual the Light companies are first in closely supported by the rest, the whole brigade has a fight on its hands as the enemy is only slowly evicted, counter-attacking, both sides getting thrust back and forth for some hours. Having finally got firm possession of this place it is not easy then to debouch forwards from here, there being only an open space before them, however, when things start to go badly for the enemy elsewhere the whole of this opposition retires off and as they go back further still take to their heels in the general rout at the end of the day. The part played by 2/34th in this house-to-house combat must have been to bring up occasional support during the Brigade's defensive periods, 10 men have been killed, 66 injured, Lieutenants Thomas Ball, Allan Cairnes and James Mogridge amongst them to finish the day with just 12% casualties, so:
21st June 1813 (after the fight on the Pueblo Heights)
Once having dragged his army away from the acres of loot left by the routed army of Joseph we see O'Callaghan's Brigade marching into the hills of the Bastan where Lieutenant W. Thomas Masterman is struck by lightning and killed. On 5th July there is a brief brush with the enemy rearguard near Aniz, brief because the enemy retreat at speed when the first troops begin to engage them not however until Lieutenant Ball has again been wounded. The next real engagement is much more serious indeed, in the month since Vittoria a few of the lightly injured plus a handful of ex-looters will have come back to the battalion, perhaps as many as 25 so:
25th July 1813 (at the Maya Pass)
Major General William Pringle has come up to take the Brigade so that O'Callaghan will revert to leading his 39th Reg't, all are quietly camped up in the Pass excepting for the whole of the Light companies of the brigade who are on watch well forward some two miles distant on a knoll looking northwards towards a worn path by which an enemy must approach to disturb the peace!
This hilltop is variously known as either the Gorospil or the Rock of Aretesque, no matter it is a good lookout point, unfortunately two miles in the rear is too far away to guarantee any good support! Pringle is projected by Oman as being new to overall command in every sense of the word! Not so, see 28th Regiment’s history. Marshal Nicholas Soult has re-energised his army, having just taken it over from the much chastised Joseph and is sending a very large number of them up this very path thousands that is!
The story is well told in the history of the 1/28th suffice it to say that 2/34th in getting up this hill from a closer position than its comrades and, maybe, with more sense of urgency did get there in time to have a brief contact with those who were dragging off the sorry remnants of the Brigade’s Light companies, all to no avail however as more and more enemy troops were debouching into the open ground at the brow of a long hill which overlooked Pringle's Brigade camps.
Having clambered up the hill under heavy fire led by Lieutenant Colonel William Fenwick and Captain John Wyatt of the Grenadier company the battalion was forced to go back downhill fighting all the way Fenwick to lose a leg and Wyatt shot through the head, 21 of the men died here, Lieutenant Adjutant John Day lying wounded like so many others was picked up only to die a prisoner, captured also were no less than five other officers, 82 of the men also counted off as surrendering, Lieutenants Peter Barron, Maud Simmons Ensigns John Norman, Andrew Orrell, Sampson Pickett and 54 men being wounded.
In all, counting all its light company captured, 2/34th this day lost 168 men, so:
25th July (after the fight on the Gorospil)
Only five days later at Buenza [that loose cannon now newly promoted Lieutenant] General William Stewart has Pringle's men in line yet again in defensive mode, this battalion, looking quite fragile for numbers has sufficient contact with the enemy to lose 31 more of its precious "bayonets", then, the next day has 16 more to count at Donna Maria, they are at that danger level where something has to be done;
31st July 1813 (after the fight at Donna Maria)
Fortunately there is to be a three month period without real attention from the enemy, the down side is that they remain in this lofty area of the Pyrenees long enough to greet the first snows of winter. So it is that no less than 114 men in this period are brought back into the ranks and, when the 2nd Division is brought over more to the west 2/34th can show at the crossing of the Nivelle figures which will keep them robustly "regular".
10th November (on the Nivelle)
We have no individual figures for this battle, what we do know is that 2/34th were hardly touched at all so its figures can remain, at least until the 2nd Division is to cross the Nive in December, a simple enough task as it turns out. A pontoon bridge is swung across this river from west to east using a convenient island in the middle, it is only when the Brigade, still under Pringle come down-stream to Villefranque that they are put to any real fighting, yet again casualties are referred to by brigade but, using their all new Light companies this we expect is where the body of the 76 men lost will come from and, fairly evenly. This would compute to 13 men from 2/34th so that we can estimate:
9th December (after the combat at Villefranque)
Over the next few days the complexion of this campaign rapidly changes from offence to defence, Pringle has his men at the northern end of a hill spur looking north towards the great enemy fortified camps in front of Bayonne, they have occupied a chateau at this vantage point and put it into a state of defence it is the Chateau Larralde and, in due course they will receive an enemy attack. It is the same day that others of Hill's Corps are being furiously engaged near St Pierre d Irrube Soult will send a force under General Daricau to keep Pringle busy but not, it seems until fairly late in the day's proceedings. Casualty figures this day tell us that 1/28th of this brigade did all the work 2/34th having only 5 men go down, we perhaps need to record numbers at this time as it will be months before any more is seen of 2/34th so:
13th December 1813 (after the combat at the Chateau
For some time now the battalion has been in dire need of re-equipping, as of course were many others, the campaign which had started in May had seen them march the length of Spain from the Sierra da Gata to Bayonne with a long stay up in the Pyrenean foothills, rained on and, occasionally snowed on, and having lost a good deal when leaving their camps behind up in the Maya Pass in late July, need we say more? An entry in Supplementary Dispatches reveals that on;
16th January 1814 (in cantonments by the Biscay
The shoes, uniforms and equipment finally arrived at St Jean d Luz during February and 2/34th would need to march down to that seaport to receive them. The rest of Wellington's main force had by now started on the march that would bring them up to the battleground about Orthez, which 2/34th would miss. In their absence Pringle has got himself wounded and very early in the piece as the 2nd Division is beginning its long but steady outflanking marches against the French left. O'Callaghan returns to pick up the Brigade and, on they go, all we know of 2/34th is that they were present at that final battle at Toulouse so, must have had a long hard march eastward through the same foul weather and ruined pathways experienced by the rest of the army as winter turned to spring. Hill's Corps, having spent some time floundering back and forth across the rivers to the south of Toulouse eventually came up in front of the western defences at St Cyprien and on the day of the battle, 10th April 1814 would have to make a demonstration before these works whilst the real fight was developed elsewhere. Figures per battalion in 2nd Division are hidden in a single three brigade total, not an easy task then to get at those of 2/34th. Numbers have gone down rather badly throughout the whole Division's and, in the case of 2/34th they will have had that very long march of something like two hundred miles from the Bay of Biscay to even get there at all, so
10th April 1814 (at the St Cyprien outworks before Toulouse)
O'Callaghan's Brigade go in early, before dawn it seems to attack some flimsy defences which formed a wide perimeter in front of the walls at St Cyprien, their comrades of 1/28th are in the lead so that it is mainly support work for 2/34th, their objectives go no further than to get within long range musketry fire so, having come up into a ring of sheltering buildings spent the rest of the day in sporadic skirmish action, this turned out to be a gentle way to end their war, not so unfortunately for Major James Baker, he is hit badly enough to die next day, so:
10th April (outside the Gates at St Cyprien)
No doubt a reasonable number of their stragglers and convalescents could be picked up on the way back to the western seaports when the army finally left the country.
PS; The 2/34th Cumberland’s a battalion originally of raw recruits turned out to be able to take care of itself going-the-distance as well as any ‘regular’ 1st battalion. Its final figures in that last campaign terminating at Toulouse can be seen to be more as a result of the very doubtful leadership displayed at Brigade and Divisional level up on the Gorospil in the Pyrenees than of an internal organisational inability to return men to the ranks; one of the best of those much-tried 2nd battalions.
This Regiment was not present at Waterloo.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2011
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