Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 3rd Provisional Battalion  2/24th [2nd Warwick’s] & 2/58th [Rutland’s]           

By Ray Foster                                

Facings and Lace as previously                

3rd Provisionals [2/24th 2nd Warwick's & 2/58th Rutland's]

Coming together as they do as a result of an order issued by Wellington after their long weary retirement all the way from Burgos these companies when combined will stand at:

6th December 1812 (Behind the line of the Agueda) 
PUA 610

Previously members of 1st Division 2nd Brigade under Colonel James Sterling they will, having been a part of the illustrious 1st Division, have had pride of place well forward in the column of retreat, this maybe is why we see them already in good heart, at least for numbers. They are in for quite a reduction of status, a transfer takes them into Major General George Ramsey Earl Dalhousie's 7th Division but at least under that firebrand Brigadier Major General Edward Barnes being brigaded with a newcomer to the Peninsula 1/6th [1st Warwick’s] and, some very old stagers the Brunswick Oels Regiment. These last like their individual scattered companies are Light Infantry but have a nine coy assembly of men holding the HQ organisation on behalf of those others elsewhere and similarly employed to those other Germans of 5/60th.

There will be a long wait for their first campaign as a Provisional Battalion, a full five months during which time they will in all likelihood swell their numbers principally from convalescent returnees to a fully officered:

25th May 1813 (on the march out of Portugal)
PUA 645

Half of this Division's infantry battalions are designated Light; under the control of Dalhousie this mix could easily go un-noticed, his Brigadiers having to make up for some obvious failings at the top!  The campaign culminating in the battle at Vittoria was a complete non-event for Barnes' Brigade who never even turned up when needed, in fact not even several hours after being needed. In a major military operation such as Wellington had put together arriving late is not to be excused. Not arriving at all however is nothing short of gross incompetence, we must move on.

After the abortive chase of General Bertrand Clausel's Corps in the plains below the Pyrenees Dalhousie is sent to control operations about Pamplona, his brigades to be a small part of the blockading force on its perimeter; as more troops come up to this bastioned city Dalhousie is left to continue his command thereabouts while Barnes, the senior Brigadier who obviously can be expected to make a better fist of it takes 7th Division off to hunt down the remains of King Joseph Bonaparte’s   battered army and 'assist' them to return to France. For Barnes own brigade this comes down to merely taking ground and then settling down, in their case at Echalar in the Bastan, it is 7th July. 3rd Provisionals and their comrades will have had a little over a fortnight before things begin to stir, Marshal Nicholas Soult having by this time inherited the old Army of Spain and under strict orders from his Emperor to get on to the offensive back into Spain. As large units of the enemy attack positions in the Pass of Maya a call for urgent assistance draws 1/6th and Brunswick Oels from their quarters at Echalar and, presumably leaving 3rd Provisionals still back there, [there is no information as to their having moved at all] off goes Barnes to arrive "at the Pass" in the most heroic style in the nick of time. Seemingly this brigade then gets back together rapidly as the British force here is driven down into the lower foothills. We know that Dalhousie will return to pick up his command during this retreat and, as a result of Wellington's attempts to concentrate his Divisions close to Sorauren 7th Division will need to cross several lateral paths through hill-and-dale and doing this in a night march, in the teeth of a heavy rainstorm. Once more this task proves too much for his soldierly abilities and he is too late for that battle too which became known as the 1st Battle of Sorauren on 28th July. Two days later, when it is the turn of Wellington to go on the offensive we shall see Dalhousie's 7th Div' make a rather light touch at the Second Sorauren battle. Having finally arrived on the scene they are to impose themselves on the right side of a ridge top facing down into a hollow road whereby the unfortunate Clausel is hurrying his retiring Corps away from Sorauren village.

The action here is almost bloodless for Barnes' Brigade and for 3rd Provisionals a little gentle musketry practice, they record one man killed and two wounded, [noticeably no less than 14 of Brunswick Oels light infantry men do a runner at this exercise]. By the use of hindsight we can expect that following on after the retreating foe in the direction of Echalar 3rd Provisionals would have:

30th July 1813 (after the 2nd battle at Sorauren)                                                                                                             
PAB 641

Things are about to change, in the ensuing pursuit Barnes manages to get his men so much forward that they are brought to a halt by the enemy rearguard close by Echalar. Dalhousie is feeling in a daring mood [always dangerous for the rank & file], it is noted that this rearguard have not had time to set themselves ready to receive an attack so, although for numbers they are more than adequate and, have a good position, Dalhousie conjectures that a bold dash amongst them will more than compensate for any time that might be lost waiting for his own reinforcements. The order is given for Barnes' Brigade to engage, that Brigadier, never a one to miss an opportunity to close with his enemy, gets them on the run. The approach is uphill, open and rough going it is while making this advance that the majority of casualties occur there being no other way to go at it.  Figures show us that 1/6th and 3rd Provisionals played an equal part here while their comrades of Brunswick Oels 'followed-up'.  Having at last approached within good musket range a few volleys from those still sufficiently disciplined did enough to convince their slightly shaken foes that a swift retreat would be preferable to a face-to-face fire-fight.

Although this little conflict was blessed with success those two battalions of Barnes Brigade would count a heavy cost.        In 3rd Provisionals Lieutenant Colonel William Kelly [2/24th], Lieutenant Colonel Francis Campbell [2/58th], Captains James Brickell and James Lepper [2/24th], Captain Lionel Westropp [2/58th], Lieutenants Thomas Hayton and Patrick Shea [2/58th] Ensign/Adjutant Hugh Fleming [2/24th] and Ensign Edward Baylee [2/58th] are all wounded as are no less than 115 of their gallant men, fifteen more are dead and two missing; a high price to pay for the saving of a little time.

2nd August 1813 (after the combat at Echalar)                                                                                                                 
PAB 500

This encounter fortunately brings to a close 7th Division’s part in the ejection of Soult's much battered army yet again from Spanish soil, they will settle down about Echalar and apart from a shift in early October as reserve support during the passage of the Bidassoa by others of Wellington's army they will virtually disappear from view for three whole months. It is not to say that this rest will much increase numbers for 3rd Provisionals but at least they might receive a few returns of convalescents and even have time to get ready for another winter in the field. It is during this period of inactivity that Dalhousie decides that he must go home to England for a while leaving 7th Division this time in the hands of the Portuguese Major General Le Cor, [there may well be a story unfolding here with Barnes as the principle subject matter].  When next we see 3rd Provisionals they will be assembled with the rest of the army facing north on the line of the Nivelle river and, when we have taken off the small number of non-combatants can be sure of numbers at last, so:

10th November 1813 (on the line of the Nivelle)                                                                                                            
PUA 523

Here, we see 7th Division assembled fairly centrally in the line of attack designed to push Soult's men off the Nivelle defences towards Bayonne. Their task in front of this position, the taking of the Granade Redoubt and subsequent strong points that they may encounter to its rear; all of this is in conjunction with attacks in force to either flank. Barnes Brigade is to come on in second line supporting Inglis' Brigade which, as it turns out does so well that these three battalions 'bringing up the rear' are barely touched, all objectives being gained so that only the companies of 2/24th in 3rd Provisionals seem to suffer casualties, these are slight, Captain Brickell and Ensign Robert Marsh along with a handful of their men are wounded, so few as not to be discovered by battalion. A week goes by during which Le Cor relinquishes his command to be superseded by Major General George T Walker, previously a brigadier of 2nd Division, Barnes, who more than likely had expected to move up to take the Division was moved sideways instead picking up Walker's Brigade of  2nd Division. All of this makes a space to be filled by Brigadier Lieutenant Colonel John Gardiner who will lead 1/6th, 3rd Prov's and Brunswick Oels to the end of the war. Once more 7th Division will be out of contact with the enemy for a considerable time, they miss the conflicts which take place about the Nive in early December so that when the winter rains close down offensive operations it will be January 1814 when we next see figures for 3rd Provisionals these are for all-ranks:

16th January 1814 (cantoned about the Nive valley)                                                                                                 
PUA 510                 

Then with frosts hardening the ground Wellington develops his advances against Soult's men to the east of Bayonne 7th Division will be in rear of that part of his force which has come up to and crosses the Gave north of Orthez, it is almost the end of February when an attack is mounted, 3rd Provisionals quite creditably to stand at:

27th February 1814 (at the battle of Orthez)                                                                                                                    
PUA 552

With Cole's 4th Division engaging to their front up a ridge rising to the French defensive line the first blows struck here succeed in taking the village of St Boes but, from here on the path is narrow and swept by direct short range cannon fire with even some enfilade fire from the flanks.  Cole's men go to ground as casualties build up. Elsewhere checks to the general advance require the attacking CIC to bring up his first reserves and throw in a more concerted assault. This is where Gardiner's Brigade come in, the going is no easier than it was for 4th Division at least for a while, however, as the new wave of men have entered the fray on a more extensive front the resistance can only be maintained for a short while.  Gradually the fire is reduced allowing the attackers to close with their tormentors and overwhelm them. Not before 3rd Provisionals have suffered a loss of 66 men of all ranks, four men only are dead, but, of the 62 wounded we see amongst them Captains John Ingram [2/24th], William Le Mesurier [2/24th], Horatio Broke [2/58th] and James Wood [2/58th], Lieutenant George Stack & Ensigns Charles McDonald and Nesbett Wood [2/58th].

27th February 1814 (after the battle of Orthez)                                                                                                               
PAB 486

Note; it may be a good time here to mention that this composite battalion throughout its currency showed a much higher proportion of upper officer casualties than any of the ordinary line battalions in this army. It could only be that when first constituted there was a strong desire by the senior officers to remain on active service rather than return to England and the more mundane recruiting scene! Certainly they seem to have had Captains to spare.

When Soult's Corps has turned from retreat to a disordered rout and the victors have settled down to have a short rest before the next move who do we see cantering up the road but the Earl of Dalhousie conveniently returned to pick up 'his' 7th Division, somewhat just as conveniently Major General Walker has received enough of a wound in the Orthez action to set him aside gently. In almost no time at all 7th Division is diverted from the general advance against the Emperor's army and set off towards the great regional capital of Bordeaux to the north there to assist the local Governor to cede from the Empire and take up the cause of the Royalists. Apart from the discomforts of late winter marches with constant rain and seas of mud Gardiner's Brigade will arrive at this city on 12th March to a rapturous welcome [at least from the city elders and its 'business' people]. It is almost the end of their war, far better than forever chasing after Soult's men and, already at the western seaport from where they will eventually embark for adventures elsewhere.

There is yet however a short episode to be run through, with units of the British navy anxious to have access to the city up the Gironde estuary there were still several units of French infantry about this area to be reckoned with. It is sufficient to say that Gardiner's Brigade, by now a well knit fighting corps moving with confidence against several under strength part militia battalions met and destroyed these part-timers at Etauliers on 2nd April, this just 40 miles north of Bordeaux and a loss for 3rd Provisionals of certainly no more than seven men wounded. With rumours of an end to hostilities at the capital Paris the whole countryside was more than ready to call it a day so it was that at Etauliers Gardiner's men would end their fighting going back to Bordeaux to carry on the festivities. Let us say then that 3rd Provisionals would stand down finally at:

14th April 1814 (at Bordeaux)                                                                                                                                            
PUA 470

Neither of these battalions once reconstituted was to be found at Waterloo.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2011

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