Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 38th Regiment of Foot (Staffordshire)                

By Ray Foster

Facings: Yellow                                                            
Lace: Silver

1/38th 

2nd August 1808 (landed at Mondego Bay from Cork)                                                                                            
PUA 957

Having arrived with Wellesley this large battalion is first brigaded under Major General Rowland Hill with 1/5th and 1/9th; they come to the field at Vimiero having shed four men from the above total but, are not engaged that day, 21st August. Remaining about Lisbon until Lieutenant General John Moore gets his army ready to take the field we shall see them by late October coming under Major General Henry Fane with 1/79th and four companies of 2/95th, by now they are down to:

26th October 1808 (on the march to Salamanca)                                                                                                      
PUA 900

By the time they reach Sahagun and are joined by Lieutenant General David Baird's Corps from Corunna more men are left by the wayside, they are still to be in Fane's Brigade but 2/95th have been exchanged for 1/82nd, it is December already and they stand at:

19th December (at Sahagun)                                                                                                                                         
PUA 823

Retreating onto Corunna in the worst of winter conditions this battalion is no more able to hold its numbers than the rest so having had no part to play in the battle of 16th January they will be loaded aboard transports with any of their sick and injured able to make the journey coming home with;

21-22nd January 1809 (at ports in England)                                                                                               
Disembarked 757

In late July of 1809 this battalion will go to Walcheren and share the malodorous delights of that mosquito ridden swamp, we shall eventually see some of the survivors again.

2/38th

The Regiment's 2nd battalion meanwhile will be sent to the Peninsula by:

1-8th April 1810 (landed at Lisbon)                                                                                                          
No figures available

Landing in parts they will be made ready for the field at Abrantes having been shipped there up the Tagus River to come under Lieutenant Colonel James S Barnes of 3/1st with 1/9th as a part of a new 5th Division led by Major General James Leith, all of this by 15th July. First figures will be available when the army is concentrated on the ridge at Busaco, lying in wait for Marshal Andre Massena's army to attempt the taking of this formidable obstacle across its path, so:

27th September 1810 (on the ridge at Busaco)                                                                                                          
PUA 496

When the battle is well developed Leith's men are brought along the back side of the ridge to fill a gap at the end of Major General Thomas Picton's array, it is Baron Eben's Portuguese which come up to the danger area first and the French column, which was at the brow of the hill already, engaged and shook these units sending them scattering back. It fell to 1/9th to form across the ridge and repel this dangerous advance, 2/38th in close support at their back, having stopped the enemy with volleys of fire they are then bustled off the hilltop and back the way they came. Having only a supporting role to play 2/38th suffered but 23 casualties in this fight one of which is Lieutenant John Miller, so:

27th September 1810 (after the fight on the Busaco ridge)                                                                                     
PAB 473

The army finding itself outflanked to the north has to retire from the ridge the next day going all the way down to the Lisbon environs during October. By November they are all settled into their various positions along the Lines of Torres Vedras and 2/38th will have picked up a good number of strays and returnees to show:

1st November 1810 (at the lines of Torres Vedras)                                                                                                   
PUA 528

The winter stay in this concentrated line of defence is less kind to some than others, it may be argued (and certainly was by Wellington) that this was merely a reflection on each brigade's ability to keep "regular".  This battalion lost more than 100 valuable "bayonets" during this period of rest, the brigade had, in January come under one of the army's most publicly hated commanders Major General Andrew Hay [a number of others would be hated more, privately]. Next figures only appear as the Brigade come up to the position on the field at Fuentes d Onoro where they will stand at:

1st May 1811 (at Fuentes d Onoro)                                                                                                                              
PUA 402

There is no work for them at this battlefield but when the army stands its ground again in the Caya valley it is obvious that this unit becomes much afflicted by the Guadiana fevers, it being the height of summer during the stay in that swampy atmosphere, by the time the army has moved away from here and are up towards Cuidad Rodrigo, yet again in a defensive stance 2/38th are looking decidedly flimsy at:

15th September 1811 (at Fuente Guinaldo)                                                                                                               
PUA 263

This tiny portion of Hay's Brigade will bear watching, however they are seen as being sufficiently capable of field service to be present almost six months later at the siege and storm of Badajoz, and, are down in number even further yet, it is 6th April 1812 and the storm is on. Whilst the rest of Hay's 1st Brigade only stand in reserve 2/38th under Lieutenant Colonel John Nugent are to come on close up to their 2nd Brigade led this night by Major General George T Walker of 1/50th.    We are told that on this night 2/38th had but;

6th April 1812 (at the storm of Badajoz)                                                                                                                     
PUA 230

Someone must have had great faith in these men, who knows? Walker has already managed to find a place by the San Vincente Bastion where his men have scaled the walls and advanced some way along its parapets, 2/38th climb the ladders and are put into the best order possible by Nugent and stand ready to hold and defend this escalade point. It is just as well that they were there and well set to do the job, up ahead on the parapets there is a great tussle going on as Walker's Brigade meets a counter-attack, these men coming back onto Nugent's at the rush and Walker himself badly wounded amongst them, 2/38th hold their position stoutly fighting off the enemy who by now are much disordered, beating them back and, when 2nd Brigade have recovered their composure all go forward sweeping the opposition aside so that they gain entry into the town itself contributing largely to the success of the whole adventure. Not, however without loss, Ensign Edward Evans has been killed as have 12 of the men, Captain Charles Barnard, Lieutenants W Lawrence [Senior], John Magill, Ensign Robert Read and 26 men wounded, so:

6th April 1812 (after the storm at Badajoz)                                                                                                                 
PAB 188

The next three months will be crucial to the survivors of 2/38th, let us see. The army, having now secured the offensive will build up its figures generally as best it can before entering into the summer campaign that will see it marching in counter-manœuvre to that of the enemy under Marshal Auguste Marmont. Our tiny little corps of 1st Stafford's will be able to remain viable in its own right even when joined by its senior battalion 1/38th under Lieutenant Colonel James Greville, this on 8th June 1812. It is perhaps best to mention here that members of 1/38th left behind in Portugal in 1808-9 who had done service as part of 1st Battalion of Detachments in the Talavera campaign would have been re-united with their premier battalion or perhaps, since we have no way of knowing for sure, stood with 2/38th for some little time yet. For some reason at this time Hay has gone so that Greville takes over the Brigade but his 1/38th are only seen as "attached".

1/38th

First week in June 1812 (landed at Lisbon)                                                                                                
No figures available 

It is more than likely that Greville preceded his 1st battalion he having got up to the army by the 8th of the month, much too soon for his men to have been equipped with all the paraphernalia required to make them ready to take the field, they however were able to join 5th Division in time to be in line on the Arapiles;

22nd July 1812 (on the Arapiles)                                                                                                                                   
PUA 800

2/38th

These lads, by now hardened veterans had, just a week earlier been counted as having recouped to a great extent their figures of the previous year standing at:

15th July 1812 (about the Salamanca plains)                                                                                                              
PUA 301

Having only come together at 4.00am in the morning of the great battle these two battalions could only play their own parts semi independently when under Lieth's orders Greville however leads out the Brigade and into a heavy cannonade full ahead. he being up front as tradition would have it and on horseback was an obvious target for the enemy skirmishers and, so it was that he was "taken out" early, so of course were the 1/2/38th, most of their casualties coming from that first barrage of cannon fire combined with some spirited skirmisher opposition.

The story of the battle is well told in many places, 5th Division, also losing its commander Lieth wounded kept up its advance regardless of its losses the enemy before them rapidly turning about into a confused mass which then only required that they be kept moving. This was never to be as simple as some chroniclers would have us believe, to advance in the face of artillery fire and aimed skirmisher musketry however briefly and perhaps shots from its column front has to be deadly. In 1/38th, who, being by far the most numerous, would take the greater blows, Captain James Taylor, Lieutenant Joseph Broomfield and 14 men were killed, Lieutenant William Laws fatally wounded died 4 days later, Captain Archibald Fullerton [a veteran of Talavera] had a leg shot off, Lieutenant John Peddie lost an arm, Major Edward Miles, Captains John Gallee, John Willshire, Lieutenant William Ince, Ensigns Edward Byam, George Freer, Maurice Magee, John Wheatley, Robert Willcocks and 115 men, all wounded. Their 2nd Battalion suffering proportionally, had 9 men killed, Lieutenant John McPherson, Ensign John Anderson and 40 men wounded, one other being lost without trace. It being dusk before the various widely scattered formed units of the enemy were able to break off the action, the army only then stood down; when heads were counted 38th would show;

22nd July (after the battle on the Arapiles)

1/38th                                                                                                                                                                                 

PAB 657

2/38th                                                                                                                                                                                 

PAB 249

When Wellington takes the greater part of his victorious army on the march to Madrid 1/38th as a still marginally "irregular" unit is seen to be in need of gentle care and are dropped off to go quietly northward with Major General Henry Clinton's 6th Division and several other "weakly battalions" ostensibly to push General Bertrand Clausel's beaten army away and over the Douro. The 2nd battalion perhaps had some attraction we might term as "regular toughness" which forgave their small numbers so, off they went down to Madrid for a jolly good time! This was not to last very long as the CIC shortly did an about turn bringing half of the contingent back north, picking up Clinton's Corps and continuing up to Burgos. 1st and 2nd 38th are still to remain separate for a while yet. Their mission is to act as perimeter guard with many others whilst the besieging troops are being thrown at the walls of this tiny fortress, seemingly however on the night of 4th October one of these attacks has amongst its assailants men of 38th Regiment. It is here, at the taking of an outer wall of the defences that Lieutenant/Brevet Captain McPherson is mortally wounded and Ensigns William Lawrence [Junior], Thomas Twigg and an unknown number of their men killed and wounded. All to no effect in the end, so that by late October the whole sorry adventure is given up, everyone involved thoroughly dispirited. This northern part of the army manœuvred back down country in the late autumn-winter weather all the way to Salamanca, joined briefly with Lieutenant General Rowland Hill's Corps then, having turned to face the enemy were forced to retire once more onto their logistical support bases in Portugal. It is not possible to discover figures for the two battalions separately as they came together early in the retirement at Villa Muriel in an action which saw perhaps as many as 100 men of the Regiment killed, wounded, and prisoners, certainly Captain Andrew Todd was killed and Ensign Thomas Oliver wounded that day. Losses by attrition also would bring them down further so that it is only an estimate that on;

29th November 1812 1/2/38th (at Cuidad Rodrigo)                                                                                                 
PUA 692

At Villa Muriel in late October the brigade had received a new commander Colonel Edward Barnes of 46>th Regiment, (not to be confused with JS Barnes of 3/1st) he however soon moved on and by 6th December not only does Greville return but 2/38th is drafted in to its premier battalion and its cadre of officers sent home to recruit. It seems that at this time Lieutenant Colonel Miles has the 1/38th in hand, what is more the battalion must lose the equivalent of all its 2nd battalion for numbers so:

6th December 1812 (about Cuidad Rodrigo)                                                                                                              
PUA 601

This 1st battalion appears to have little of the toughness and cohesion of its fighting 2nd battalion, on 2nd February 1813 [Wellington’s Dispatches] says that 1/38th is a poor battalion with little idea of service in the field we have numbers for the period of rest in Portugal at:

26th April 1813 (in cantonments in Portugal)                                                                                                             
PUA 495

When the roll is called for the opening of the Vittoria campaign late in May, rather than the norm, where most units increase their numbers dramatically this one make little progress, so:

25th May 1813 (commencing the Vittoria campaign)                                                                                               
PUA 550

Having marched all the way up to the banks of the Zadorra and arrived at the battleground of Vittoria it will be Major General Andrew Hay who has the Brigade in hand they are at Gamarra Mayor but in reserve all day so, a mere 8 casualties including Lieutenant Magill and Ensign John Curran only perhaps through stray cannonballs, another 8 men have also dropped off from attrition;

21st June 1813 (after the battle at Vittoria)                                                                                                                

PAB 534

Marching up the Grande Chausée the Division very soon arrives before that strong seaport fortress of San Sebastian, it has to be subdued and it is to be 5th Division who do the subduing! Major General John Oswald has the Division in hand and Lieutenant General Thomas Graham the overall command of the Corps on this western flank, Hay's Brigade is soon in action and it is noticeable that 1/38th is used as reserve when the San Bartolome outwork is stormed on 17th July and Hay has his men as far forward as the San Martin district just outside of the main defence walls. A week later a breach has been battered in these walls and an assault is prepared, Hay's men again to the fore, the battalion would stand at:

25th July 1813 (at the walls of San Sebastian)                                                                                                            
PUA 540

It is their brigade comrades of 3/1st who receive the brunt of this poorly co-ordinated attack, going in well before sunrise and floundering in the dark over slimy seaweed covered rocks through pools and then at a breach which has the enemy waiting with cannons at the crossfire positions. Even though 1/38th have only a supporting role they nevertheless pick up 53 casualties killed and wounded, Lieutenant Magill [ex 2/38>th] is already "missing" from siege work duties, Captain Willshire, Lieutenant/Adjutant William Hopper, Lieutenant Roderick Macleod all  fatally injured, Ensign Theodore Walsh amongst the wounded.  Naturally the whole thing is a gory failure so that by the time that the sun has risen they stand down at:

25th July (after the repulse at the breach at San Sebastian)                                                                                  
PAB 486

There is to be a period of rest while military matters elsewhere have to take precedence, it is only a little over a month but, during that time 1/38th will gain a few returnees to augment its not too generous figures;

31st August 1813 (at the second storm of San Sebastian)                                                                                       
PUA 515

Leith their original 5th Division commander has returned only that day, Oswald in standing down offers his voluntary services and Hay is there too so, no shortage of senior commanders it seems, the job is still fraught with danger, little has changed from the first experience excepting that, when the first onslaught has failed Graham, on a request from his artillery gunners allows them to put up a barrage aimed at the tops of the parapets. This is a huge success wiping out for a short time all of the sniping, bombing and cannonading that had hitherto been the cause of the failures. The moment that this barrage stopped up went Hay's surviving troops and mastered the dazed opposition, on this occasion 1/38th were in the thick of it collecting 135 casualties whilst Leith and Oswald would both be wounded, one in the chest and the other about the head and Hay would lead his men over the battlements into the town where mad vengeance and mayhem would develop! A success it may well have been but in 1/38th Captain John Werge, Lieutenant Charles McGuchin, Ensigns Lawrence [Junior], Wheatley and 32 men are dead, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Miles, Captain George Hussey, Lieutenants Richard Cross, E Hopper, Lawrence [Senior], Frederick Sandwith, Ensigns George Freer, Robert Macalpine, Charles Roddy and 86 men are wounded, 3 more cannot be found amongst the gory litter of the breach.

31st August 1813 (after the storm of San Sebastian)                                                                                                
PAB 380

Only five weeks later 1/38th will have managed to bring back to the colours whether by draft or returning convalescents almost 70 men so that when they are drawn up for the crossing of the Bidassoa in early October there will be no less than;

7th October (crossing the Bidassoa)                                                                                                                             
PUA 449

These are still not figures that a 1st battalion should be proud of but, it could be that those old fevers from Walcheren would always be with them. No matter Greville has the Brigade and the river crossing is completed without much interference from the enemy, only twenty men coming to grief this day;

7th October (after the crossing of the Bidassoa)                                                                                                        
PAB 429

A month goes by during which 5th Division now back under Hay gets well up along the western flank of the army advance which is where we find them for the crossing of the Nivelle, they have received into the brigade a new battalion, 2/47th which had come up from Cadiz with Major General John Skerrett during late 1812 and had been with their 2nd Brigade for some time since then, so:

10th November (on the Nivelle)                                                                                                                                    
PUA 443

They have great difficulty getting near enough to the enemy to be in harms way losing only five men, but both Lieutenant Thomas Oliver and the brigade Assistant Surgeon have managed to suffer slight wounds so:

10th November (after the crossing of the Nivelle)                                                                                                     
PAB 436

Lieutenant General John Hope has the Corps on the western flank close to the sea when the next confrontation takes place, it is to be a series of combats to be fought out for 1/38th along ground to the south of Biarritz in country broken up by small woods, swampy lakes, hollows and hills covered here and there with low shrub, ideal for skirmishers and as it turned out for ambushers too. The battalion perhaps is beginning to master the art of keeping up its numbers, when these fights begin it is likely that they stood at:

9th December 1813 (on the Chausée by Lake Mouriscot)                                                                                      
PUA 473

Advancing up this road 1/38th are in touch with 2/59th of their 2nd Brigade when the enemy who previously had been retiring before them were heavily reinforced and came back upon them. Whilst 1/38th is not reported on as to their part in the proceedings we are told that 2/59th had men captured as they fought their way back out of an ambush.   Although 1/38th had no one taken this day they did lose 50 men killed and wounded, Captain W Taylor, Lieutenants George Freer, Hopper, Ensign Willcocks all wounded so, must have had serious work to do here:

9th December (after the fight south of Biarritz)                                                                                                         
PAB 423

The next day Hope has made the mistake of leaving his pickets some three miles ahead of the main supports when once more the enemy come down on them at a great rate. The Brigade is as far back as Guethary well to the rear when the alarm is given, Greville's men come up this time on the right of a confused melee with troops everywhere fighting their own little fights, it is the turn of 1/9th to be cut off and having to break out and this day 1/38th will not have been greatly compromised, losing not one officer, just 43 men more;

10th December (after the fight by Barrouillet)                                                                                                           
PAB 380

On the last day of these fragmented tussles 1/38th manages to steer clear of the real work, this going to 1/9th yet again with 3/1st taking its share too, almost a quiet day then at:

11th December 1813 (after the second fight at Barrouillet)                                                                                    
PAB 367

Figures available going into January 1814 suggest that this battalion will return a handful of its lightly wounded or, more likely, recovered sick men we see them standing at:

16th January 1814 (about the defences of Bayonne)                                                                                                
PUA 383

For this unit the above figures are the last sure numbers we shall have, Hay has returned to take the Brigade by the end of the year and when Hope is ordered to lay the bridge across the mouth of the Ardour River Hay's Brigade remains on the southern side until the "official" war is over. This is not however the end just yet, on the day prior to Governor Thouvenot's sortie Hay is ordered over to the northern side to man the trenches and strong points about St'Ettiene and buildings close to the Jewish cemetery outside that place. It so happens that we discover a small section of 1/38th under Capt Matthew Forster in one of these fortified buildings when the French attack has swept away the pickets and is cutting up one of the Guards Brigades, Hay, who all agreed was a miserable wretch for a commander was certainly no coward, he pressed forward into the fray and was killed outright for his courage, his last order was that the defences should be fought to the last. Forster's men must have had a very strong position hereabouts because theirs was the sole house still occupied by friendly troops when the successful counter-attack once more restored the positions, their casualties only 9 men which include Major John Deane and Lieutenant Robert Dighton [neither of these had been in this building it seems] lightly injured from the whole battalion. We can expect that over the four months since the Barrouillet combats many of the wounded would have returned to the ranks however, with this particular battalion nothing is sure.

What is certain is that this was the end of their war and off they would go back home.

PS: What a mixture we have here, to begin with 1st battalion is seriously weakened by its malarial contacts at the Walcheren campaign coming back to receive harsh words from its CIC. The 2nd battalion, beginning as raw young lads becomes so reliable that they are held in place until well after their numbers have gone down beyond recovery. Back in England drumming up company drafts their officers only had limited success, in the end the fine work done by 2nd at the walls of Badajoz and by 1st at the storming of San Sebastian must allow that the 1st Staffordshire’s for all the doubts in other areas could, when put to it, do the business. 

They were not present at Waterloo.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2010

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