Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 1st Battalion 3rd Regiment of Foot (East Kent) [The Buffs]
Landed at Maciera Bay 25th-30th August 1808 under Moore, although we have no figures at this time we do know that this was a strong battalion. As Junot's defeated corps was being shipped out of the country there was much shuffling of command however, it is not long before we see this unit being sent up to the Portuguese frontier post at Almeida, another British battalion the 1/6th which is there already is relieved of the job and 1/3rd remain until late October. As Moore brings his army to the frontier a little to the south this garrison comes out and may well have followed up the army a short way but, having got only as far as Cuidad Rodrigo perhaps are then re-directed back on the road to Lisbon escorting a motley group of what Moore considered were men so sickly or, to use that military term, 'irregular', that they would be unlikely to be able to withstand what was in all honesty going to be a tricky campaign.
Having once got back to Lisbon 1/3rd would come under the command of General Beau Cradock at least, nominally. They remain at Lisbon long enough to become a little involved in those efforts being mounted to re-organise the Portuguese infantry on British lines. A number of sergeants from the 'Buffs' transferred to the native service as the New Year began and by April 1809 a new commander entered the arena. Arthur Wellesley very soon had things moving, and when 1/3rd is brigaded into Hill's command we see our first detailed figures;
3rd May 1809 (on the march from Lisbon)
Having moved somewhat fitfully up the western edge of the country to the Douro our battalion is next to be seen on 12th May being rowed across this river by sections in several wine barges to its right, or northern bank. This side of the river is supposed to be in the hands of Soult’s men, not, it seems very securely. It is 1/3rd that occupies and mans the walls of the well-documented seminary, and as they say, the rest is history. We should remember though that some 50 men are brought down in the contest amongst them Lieutenant Monaghan, whilst many more of the troops are gaining a hold on the right bank;
12th May (at Oporto)
When Soult’s army has been evicted from the Portuguese frontier the army comes back down country and in the main passes through Abrantes where they make ready to march deep inland for a 'joint venture' with that archetypal Spanish General Cuesta. The 'Buffs' have obviously used their time at Lisbon earlier to good advantage, when the army marches off once more we see that by the time 1/3rd arrive on the field about Talavera their numbers have returned back almost to a man.
25th July (at Talavera)
Brigaded with Tilson, still in Hill's Division the battalion has a few adventures and surprises against an enemy under the overall joint command of King Joseph and Marshal Jourdan. They are positioned on top of the highest piece of land on the fighting ground but for reasons of poor picket craft are surprised in a night attack, eventually getting the best of it they go on next day to a classic line versus column engagement yet again doing rather well, hard fighting nevertheless and as the battle draws to its end they will stand at:
28th July (at Talavera)
Incredibly of the one hundred and forty-two casualties sustained by 1/3rd this day only two came from the officer complement and, only one of these recorded, he being the Lieutenant Colonel Muter himself!
Events take an ugly turn when the army is forced to retire from the Talavera region, the enemy has returned from the north with reinforcements while Joseph and Jourdan are still in the neighbourhood, the real threat however comes more from the Spanish than elsewhere.
No organisation has been put in place for supplying either army of this 'alliance' with anything like the most basic needs. All are compelled to transfer to the south bank of the Tagus carrying their own sick and injured as best they can, leaving many behind in Talavera to the mercy of the enemy. Food can only be got by scavenging and taking from each other, it is by this means that the British get back in half starved condition to the comparative safety of Truxillo.
Slowly the army goes back again this time into the valley of the Guadiana from Merida down to Badajoz where at last the commissary is able to procure some sustenance for the survivors.
It is still summer for a time and the 'Guadiana fever' takes its toll before the whole army divests itself of Spanish affairs and returns to Portugal. When next we see 1/3rd they are still with Hill and 2nd Division but have a new Brigadier, one William Stewart, a good deal of time has passed, the campaign of 1809 but a memory and this time it is against Massena that Wellington will do battle. We are on the Busaco ridge, a long high hill blocking the enemy's route into the Portuguese coastal area and the battalion stands at:
27th September 1810 (at Busaco)
This regiment the absolute epitome of regularity really knows how to keep its numbers up.
Not being engaged in the combats of that day the Division will retire back down to the fortifications known as the Lines of Torres Vedras and take up winter residence while Massena's men have a turn at starving! During the early part of all of this we are given brigade numbers, which suggest that 1/3rd may have thereabouts;
1st November (at Torres Vedras)
In early March of 1811 the Division commander Hill [who by chance had been present at Walcheren] took ill of malaria and was unable to shake it off, so much so that he stepped down in favour of the next in seniority William Stewart, this while the Division was about Abrantes. Wellington had it in his plans to send off into Estremadura a composite force with 2nd Division as its nucleus so that it fell to Stewart to lead this corps. Stewart in a very short time found himself unable to bear the responsibility of such a large and semi-independent command, some very pointed correspondence passing between himself and his CIC on the subject of military initiatives. It thus came about that Beresford the Marshal of the Portuguese army was put into that command. He was still expected to perform those overall duties to the native army whilst taking his new charges down into Estremadura. The brigade, having lost Stewart who reverted back to Division, command fell to Colborne of 2/66th. It is necessary to understand all of these changes as time takes us forward onto the battleground of Albuera.
16th May 1811 (at Albuera)
The course of this battle is so well known that perhaps it is only necessary to observe that the combination of all of those command changes, the sad mix of orders, field positions and many other reasons which historians have thrown in did in fact contribute to the annihilation of the East Kent's, 1/3rd, the Buffs. On this occasion the Lancers of the Vistula made sure that officers would fall and, fall they did. Of the two hundred and sixteen killed however in this battalion only four would be of the officer class, Captain Burke, Lieutenant Herbert, and two Ensigns, Thomas & Chadwick [it was the 16yr old Thomas who sacrificed his life at the 'Colour], of the known wounded of two hundred and forty-eight just fourteen officers named, Captain s Cameron, Stephens, Gordon, Marlay, Lieutenants Houghton, Latham [a hero by any standards], O Donnell, R Woods, Hooper, Juxon, Shepherd, Tetlow & Wright, LieutenantHill had gone missing along with one hundred and seventy-seven of the 'other ranks'. When someone was found to count heads they mustered but;
17th May (at Albuera)
For the first few days after this disaster the fit men of all of the battalions engaged would become burial parties and hospital mates. It seems that Lumley who had done so well with the cavalry took charge, most probably assisted by Abercromby, the only other brigadier to remain at his post. Between them they had no less than eight of the wrecked battalions using them as a mixed force until Wellington arrived on the scene to make some sense of it all, off goes Lumley to do his best with the 2nd Division Cavalry and Hill meanwhile has recovered sufficiently to return to office by 3rd June, but what of 1/3rd? Once more the resilience of this regiment came to the fore, any other battalion would have immediately been sent down to Lisbon and home to recruit, it is obvious however that word of the disaster was urgently carried back to their base HQ because we are informed that a very large draft of men came up to join and by 7th August this unit thus was allowed to once more stand alone.
When Lumley goes home there are more command changes, Colborne has conveniently disappeared, Colonel Inglis the tough survivor from 1/57th gets the brigade for a while only to be superseded by Byng in September by which time they are to be found in some isolation at Castello Branco ostensibly as a link between Hill and Wellington . The brigade is eventually reunited with Hill's main corps but we see them only as a marching unit in the Estremaduran tactical area. Even when the whole of Hill's force moves out of this space as a result of the great battle at the Arapiles and marches on Madrid a year later there is no fighting for 1/3rd.
Consequently, no figures, it is only when the whole army retreats back into Portugal that we are given a mish-mash of figures, Divisional at that to work on. When the two main armies have come together at Salamanca we can expect 1/3rd to be at:
15th November 1812 (at Salamanca)
During the next fortnight the final part of the retreat takes place in foul winter weather along crowded roads, with little or no commissary service numbers fall off dramatically so that when the heads are counted again they can have no more than;
29th November (at Cuidad Rodrigo)
Yet again the 'Buffs recover, perhaps this time as a result of a new confidence at home since the French Grande Armee is no more, assistance comes freely for a change the army being built up to a strength never before achieved, all of this during the late winter and spring of 1813. A count taken during late April will show;
26th April 1813 (cantoned in the Portuguese uplands)
When the army finally moves off on its northern march there is yet another improvement to record;
25th May 1813 (at the Tormes)
Byng has the brigade, Hill a very large Division and all are put in motion to sweep a much weakened enemy as far out of the country as they will go. It must be remembered that the 'Buffs' that will be swinging along the roads on this great march will contain very few of those survivors of the Albuera massacre. At the city of Vittoria the enemy turns about and offers battle they are hampered by the slow progress of their train of looted treasure, which goes ahead but slowly. We shall see that it stops here and acquires new owners!
On 21st June Byng's brigade is to be seen up on the Pueblo Heights early in the day amongst the little villages along these hills, they have a long hard day and it is only when the local enemy commander Gazan calls on his men to save themselves that they get any rest, 1/3rd have lost one hundred and ten men in all killed and wounded seven of which were officers but, very strangely the consistently accurate JA Hall records not a single one hit this day, after the battle then;
21st June 1813 (after the fight on the Pueblo Ht’s
A little over a month later we see them up in the Bastan coming to the foothills of the Pyrenees the Light company has a strong position at Leicaratheca in front or Roncesvalles, they are attacked here on 25th July losing Lieutenant Monaghan and some 11 men from the company however, as numbers had, during the month been increasing they would show, after this skirmish;
25th July 1813 (at Leicaratheca)
Just three days later at Sorauren the enemy comes on, but not directly in their front, the work is done by others that day but, two days later in the village itself there is a sharp engagement whereby Captain E Walsh is killed and LieutenantColclough injured so that over this period they will have lost just 32 men, so:
30th July (at the second battle of Sorauren)
Going out of the summer into winter 2nd Division are to remain in the lower Pyrenees watching the enemy and will not move until November, this as part of an extended string of combats we know as the battles on the Nivelle.
10th November (at the Nivelle)
They get very little fighting out on the right flanks excepting that Captain Cameron is wounded with a handful of others and the battalion will finish the day at:
10th November (at the Nivelle)
It is with these men, now led by their Colonel Bunbury that we shall find them, on 13th December in a defensive stance at the forward end of a long hill looking north towards Bayonne.
To their backs is the village of Partouhiria and in their front a bridge which spans the Ibarbide stream, the light company led by Lieutenant Gillman is extended up to this watercourse in company with the other Light company s of the brigade all under L'Estrange of 2/31st.
These skirmishers in total would perhaps number about 175 men. The enemy, led by Chasse attack with four weak battalions driving L'Estrange and his men back from the bridge, keeping up the movement they also dislodge Bunbury's whole battalion into and through the village whereupon, Bunbury, fearing this assault by double his own numbers panicked and fled, drawing the battalion back along the ridge of the hill for more than a mile. It is recorded that even when they reached the next village, Mouguerre the retreat continued so it was only when they approached the rest of Byng's brigade, the men of 1/57th and 1st Provisional that they finally turned and held their ground.
This new position was so far in the rear of Hill's St Pierre d Arrube fighting ground that Chasse, with Foy's whole Division at his back was in danger of breaking into the rear of the whole position onto the Horlopo Hill. With Byng's brigade now combined and well set on a rising ground which looked down onto a wet hollow the attack coming from Chasse was abruptly halted. In the desperate attacks and counterattacks which had been going on in the centre of Hill's position, in front of St Pierre d Arrube the local brigadier Barnes, had come to the end of his own reserves so that when he was forced to call on Byng for support, 1/57th and 1st Provisional were taken to mount a charge elsewhere while 1/3rd and L'Estrange’s light companies were left to their own devices to defend where they stood. To their great credit this they did, holding back Chasse and his men until a brigade of Portuguese under Buchan came up to relieve the situation. Similarly events in the centre were stabilised and the battle slowly subsided with the enemy giving back towards Bayonne.
Surprisingly 1/3rd on this day had but 3 men killed although a further 83 were wounded, and, it seems the junior officers had been in the thick of it, Captains Thorn, Cameron [again] and Hamilton [this one mortally] Lieutenants Blake, Fielding, Gillman, Twigg, W Woods, Morphy, Houghton and Wright with Ensigns Home and Evernden all wounded had fought a purely defensive action retiring out of lethal danger before their final stand.
As for Bunbury we see that by 2nd January 1814 he had left the regiment, the service, and had ignominiously put his commission 'on the market';
After the battle then:
13th December 1813 (at the Hill of Horlopo)
The new year brought some rest for 1/3rd but as soon as the roads showed signs of being viable the army was once more on the move, Byng's brigade with the Division and those others of Hill's extended corps were to follow the enemy as he fell back to the east across the many streams and rivers which fall out of the lower Pyrenees on the French side. It was only when Soult’s men stopped about Orthez and gave battle that Byng's brigade came even close to any action. As it turned out their task was to make one of their regular flank marches always on the right of the army and, on this occasion over a mile above the bridge at Orthez.
Not being at the front of this movement they were able to cross the Gave de Pau at fords about Souars unmolested always moving in right support as others were engaged in serious fighting.
When the enemy finally retired off the field 1/3rd could only find 2 men wounded so that having consideration for the evidence given for mid January 1814 of much reduced numbers an estimate at this time is not realistic. It is as well not to expect that often seen ease with which this battalion replenished its ranks we should only expect steady increases in numbers whenever they come to rest for any time, steady flank marches across the French Pyrenean watershed does not allow this.
Byng's brigade, even at the battle for Toulouse on 10th April had no real action, the 2nd Division was to demonstrate about the outworks of St Cyprien whilst the battle was being won in other places, however the Division was perhaps the last to make a march against Soult’s men as that Marshal went off down the road to Carcassone where he finally accepted that his war was over.
All that was left for 1/3rd and their comrades was to turn about and in leisurely fashion march to Bordeaux on the western coast to do duty elsewhere.
PS: This Regiment, the oldest field service corps in the British Army constantly re-supplied its ranks with men, recruits rather than returning veterans it has to be understood but, certainly kept its numbers up. Its adjutants and, if tradition is to be believed, its whole organization had a rather laid-back attitude, often being accused of being indecisive! The officers that is, the rank and file as in all the battalions did their duty and perhaps got away with as much as the commanders would allow. Very ordinary then, the internal command structure ponderous but superbly regular. They were not to be found on the field at Waterloo.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2009
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