Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 43rd Regiment of Foot (The Monmouth Light)

By Ray Foster

Facings: White                                                              
Lace: Silver

1/2/43rd

2/43rd

19th August 1808 (landed at the mouth of the Maceira from Ramsgate)                                                           
PUA 721

This 2nd battalion arriving with three other 2nd battalions is hurriedly put together in a brigade under Major General Robert Anstruther and marched from the beach into action only two days after landing, it is perhaps of some interest to note that these men had the company of 2/52nd on this introduction to the Peninsula, a regiment with whose military association they would be linked for the next six years. At the battle of Vimiero Anstruther has, besides these two units 2/9th and 2/97th, 2/43rd were held in reserve as the first attacks by the enemy came on, it was only when General Francois Kellerman sought to make a flank move as his frontal attack was failing that 2/43rd were brought forward to occupy the Vimiero cemetery and it was in and about this place where serious close quarter fighting eventuated as Grenadiers of Kellerman's coy’ columns attempted to force a way through the streets of the town. Any musketry fire was at ranges from 5yds to muzzle point and from there on it was all hand-to-hand bayonet work, not pretty and very lethal. Having the benefit of the defensive gave 2/43rd just sufficient advantage to defeat this fierce challenge but when the survivors parted and the French fell back 2/43rd would count 40 men killed and 79 wounded, of these we see Major Daniel Hearn, Captains Saumarez Brock, James Fergusson, John Haverfield and Ensign Wilson amongst the wounded, that it seems was to be the end of their part in this battle so:

21st August 1808 (after the battle at Vimiero)                                                                                                         
PAB 602

It would be two months before the army sorted out its problems of command and objectives but once Lieutenant General John Moore was firmly in control off they would go into Spain and the great unknown!  The battalion has managed only to hold to its after battle figures and is now in a new brigade this time under Marshal William Carr Beresford, 2/9th has been changed for 1/9th and 2/97th, although gazetted to remain with the Moore contingent failed to join for whatever reason, 2/52nd made up the brigade as they set out on the march for Salamanca and the north.

16th October 1808 (on the march from Lisbon)                                                                                                      
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By the time that Moore's men arrived at Sahagun in the north winter was playing its part to bring down numbers, 2/43rd it seems had by now lost 187 men from its ranks, this figure looks very ominous but may well be explained if perhaps a few companies had been put "on command", all conjecture of course.

19th December 1808 (at Sahagun)                                                                                                                             
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1/43rd

27th October - 1st November 1808 (landed at Corunna with Lieutenant General David Baird)                                                                    
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This 1st battalion marches east in a brigade under Colonel Robert Craufurd with 1/95th and 4 companies of 2/95th, they will meet Moore's army at Sahagun having already dropped off 78 men by the wayside, so:

19th December 1808 (at Sahagun)                                                                                                                             
PUA 817

It is as well to deal with this unit first before returning to the fortunes of its 2nd Battalion, the army having been re-cast at Sahagun to accommodate Baird's reinforcements we now see that Craufurd receives 2/52nd from Beresford who gets 2/23rd and 1/6th keeping 2/43rd of course.  Craufurd's Brigade now has 1/43rd, 2/52nd and 2/95th, this brigade will only have the usual trials of a retreat through high country in mid-winter to contend with eventually leaving Moore's army at Ponferrada going to Vigo on the western coastline and so, to England where they will arrive:

During January 1809 (at ports in England)                                                                                                 
Disembarked 810

2/43rd

Not so lucky for this 2nd battalion who are with Beresford, in the miserable retreat to Corunna this brigade is one of those which is sent down the road towards Lugo in error then re-called back onto the main route all on 5th January 1809, 20miles of freezing cold marching to finish the day exactly where they set off from. Fortunately they are not called upon in the defence of the positions ringing Corunna on 16th January so are able to board the naval transports loading their sick and any injured who were capable of moving and off they go back to English shores;

21st-22nd January 1809 (landed at ports in England)                                                                             
Disembarked 368

This battalion is unfortunate to be sent to the Walcheren campaign and to receive its share of malarial diseases by this.

1/43rd returns

28th June -2nd July 1809 (landed in parts at Lisbon)                                                                                 
No figures given

The battalion landing by companies in bits is made ready for the field alongside 1/52nd and 1/95th, Colonel Robert Craufurd then can be said to have under his hand a Light Brigade which, once having collected enough mules and provisions will march inland to join Wellesley who is busy going up the Tagus valley in company with a large Spanish force under Cuesta. A great deal of nonsense has been made of Craufurd's march to the battlefield at Talavera in this month of July 1809. In an attempt to inject some realism into this flood of rhodomontade I shall digress a little here so, here we have a Brigadier who is busy in Lisbon enlisting the logistical support so necessary to travel with any corps which intends to maintain "regularity" of service.  All of his soldiers have landed by 2nd July, there are several examples of units having landed and moved off into the field within only a few days however here we see Craufurd's much-vaunted Light Brigade held up for a full fortnight before they get under way. Naturally Craufurd, who is not a man to mince matters will be "fizzing at the bung", his delay at Lisbon seen by him as a failure no matter who is to be blamed. It has to be taken into account that this brigade assembly included a full Horse Battery of guns, [Ross HA] that had to find transport for all of the paraphernalia of wheeled transport, mule train and fodder, spare horses and the like.  The obvious thing then to a man of Craufurd’s character is to thrash his Light Brigade on at ridiculous pace to make up for this perfectly excusable delay, this is all there is to it, not a pretty scenario and certainly not the way to manage good troops who, to their great credit took the thrashing and paid the price leaving good willing men falling in their wake. There is no way of getting at the figures of any of the battalions of Craufurd's Brigade at this time excepting perhaps to look very well ahead, It can be easily imagined that upon landing, these fine 1st battalions would number well in excess of 1000 men each so, the resident senior officer responsible for raising a mule train fully supplied for the use of a brigade would be somewhat taken aback. No matter, off they go into Spain arriving a day late for the battle at Talavera but, very welcome nevertheless. Craufurd is given command of 3rd Division, its previous commander Major General John Mackenzie being dead, this takes 1/43rd straight into a fighting unit and in short order they have the rearguard position when the army retreats west behind the Tagus. The remnants of Wellington's army struggle back westward into more friendly country as Marshal Nicholas Soult brings a force down from the north and Craufurd's men are called upon to defend the river crossings in the Tagus valley.
Once down by Truxillo the army has a short stay, which does nothing to improve their situation. The Spanish have been less than helpful, not even being able to help themselves, Craufurd's iron discipline and the resourcefulness of his junior officers would be well tested in keeping up his numbers in all of this.  When Wellington is able to break off his association with the Spaniards the remnants of his exhausted army retire out of the Guadiana basin into Portugal to come closer to their supply lines.  By 22nd February 1810 the army is re-constituted so that 1/43rd are now a part of an independent Division of totally Light Infantry, Craufurd has them all in hand as they come together in stages onto his original nucleus. To be called Light Division they first, on 25th of March receive 1st & 2nd Caçadores from the Portuguese army then, on 18th April receive 3rd Caçadores.  So far there is no formal brigading done but unofficially 1/43rd is seen as the senior battalion of what will become 1st Brigade and 1/52nd the senior battalion in 2nd Brigade, all in the near future.

By 17th June Craufurd has succeeded in convincing Wellington that 2nd Caçadores are surplus to his needs going so far as to complain that they are all young boys and, poorly led! During June-July Light Division come under the notice of the enemy, they are on the Agueda close to Cuidad Rodrigo when Marshal Andre Massena brings into the theatre that redoubtable Marshal, Michel Ney with his 6th Corps, that moderate sized fortress town is put under siege and Light Division reluctantly forced back behind the Azava stream. When the enemy has taken Cuidad Rodrigo and advances on Wellington's men in some strength we shall see Craufurd standing in defensive line to the right of the fortress town of Almeida, they have the river Coa to their rear in a deep ravine. Wellington is very much on the defensive and retires westward into the hills on the Portuguese border, leaving Light Division to observe the enemy vanguard but not to expose itself to the risk of a combat on the wrong side of the narrow and crooked river bridge.   Craufurd, having received just sufficient discretion to hold his men in a strong position for defence albeit very much "on the wrong side of the river" is attacked, on this day it can be judged that 1/43rd would stand at:

24th July 1810 (at the bridge on the Coa)                                                                                                                  
PUA 975

When the first enemy columns come up against Craufurd's array 1/43rd are out in line with several companies of 1/95th in skirmish order to their left trending towards a windmill some way in front of the fortress walls and guns at Almeida some half a mile or more to the left rear, they have at their head Major Charles McLeod and to their right are more companies of 1/95th yet again in skirmish order and forming a link to 3rd Caçadores who are standing in line formation. To all intents this completes a brigade commanded this day by Colonel Thomas Beckwith of 1/95th, the other half of the Division continues the line along raised ground with a lightly wooded knoll to the rear, the River Coa lies behind and below all, Colonel Robert Barclay of 1/52nd has this second brigade in hand, there is also the support of some light cavalry and Captain Hew Ross’ battery of Horse Artillery. This whole area is a part of the outer suburbs of Almeida and has many stone walls intersecting the field position, this factor perhaps encouraged Craufurd to remain on his chosen ground even when he was able to see ahead very large infantry columns behind a light screen of light cavalry.
This cavalry veered off the front towards the windmill flank and the columns came on with much waving of swords and flags, drums beating and the usual cries of Vive le Emperor!  Whilst this attack was being met with crashing volleys of musketry the cavalry to the left of that wing of 1/95th skirmishers got between the windmill and this flank and charged in on the nearest of these men. O'Hare's company of 1/95th was destroyed all but 10 men ridden down and captured, this was only a beginning, the rest of this wing of skirmishers leaping over walls and clubbing together behind 1/43rd exposed this flank to the victorious troopers of 3rd French Hussars who proceeded to sweep along behind their line throwing all into disorder.

It would be during this first onslaught that Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hull of 1/43rd would be brought down to die almost instantly at the head of his men.  The presence of the stone walls it must be conjectured prevented the enemy cavalry from rolling up the whole brigade, however, the walls were all a part of the defensive line and so, were used to ward off this assault which soon became a disordered hunt.  At one point a number of companies of 1/43rd were cornered in one of these cul-de-sacs so that it was only when they were able to push over a dry stone wall behind them that they would live to fight on. Craufurd by now was only able to exercise command of those men close to hand not directly in face of the enemy, he ordered his artillery and small cavalry units to get down to the bridge as also the 1st and 3rd Caçadores who had previously been in the centre of his line, the road down to the bridge was a twisting path so designed as to take the least steep way to the river.

Whilst the combined efforts of Beckwith's and Barclay's British units were being expended in holding off a massively superior enemy the rest filed down the hill by this road having to right an ammunition wagon overturned in their haste at the hairpin bend by the river bank.   Up on the hill the defence had come down to a totally mixed mob of light infantrymen being led by whoever was still standing and able, it seems that McLeod was able to grasp the fact that whilst his men had almost got themselves back down the hill towards safety his opposite number Major Henry Ridewood had a half of 1/52nd stranded down by the river bank when their comrades had been pushed off the wooded knoll which overlooked the river. Rallying a little corps of 43rd and 95th companies he led them back up to this knoll with such force as to dislodge the enemy long enough to relieve the danger then, all retired back at some pace for the bridge. By this time Ross had his horse artillery well set to sweep this crooked twin arched structure so that the moment that the pursued were over the pursuers received a withering salute, this was not all, Craufurd had by now managed to array the Caçadores [far more likely that it was Lieutenant Colonel George Elder of 3rd Caçadores that did this] behind walls rising away from the river from which they were able to put down a murderous fire with virtually no risk to themselves.

When Ney had sent in his best men to force the bridge and had them shot to pieces the Light Division was able to hold this position just long enough to satisfy history that no great harm had become them then away they went to join the general retirement. It is left to show that history satisfied or not quite some harm had actually befallen 119 particular members of 1/43rd, Lieutenant Colonel Hull, Captain Ewen Cameron Lieutenant John Nason and 15 men had been killed, Captains Peter Deshon, James Hull, Lieutenants Roger Frederick, Horatio Hancot, John Hopkins, James Shaw and John Stephenson with 88 of their men all wounded while in the early confused fighting 15 men had been captured so:

24th July 1810 (after the fight at the Coa)                                                                                                                 
PAB 846

As the army moved steadily back down the watershed of the Mondego river it seems that 4th and 6th Caçadores had become attached to Light Division for perhaps as little as three weeks and at last, by 14th August 1810 we see that Division now officially gazetted with its 1st Brigade under Beckwith having 1/43rd, 4companies of 1/95th and 1st Caçadores, Barclay's 2nd Brigade has 1/52nd, 4companies of 1/95th and 3rd Caçadores.   The two surplus Caçadores battalions going to newly constituted Independent Portuguese Brigades, all in preparation for the confrontation with Massena', that Marshal of the Empire obliging by marching into wild country via Viseu and emerging before the ridge at Busaco in late September. Nothing could have suited Wellington more, if a battle must be fought, 1/43rd would stand at:

27th September 1810 (on the ridge at Busaco)                                                                                                       
PUA 844

Whilst others of Light Division became well involved in skirmisher fighting down below the ridge and suffered as a result it must be said that 1/43rd had an almost bloodless day losing only 8 men wounded and these picked up in ones and twos from several isolated brushes with the enemy's skirmishers rather than at William Napier’s much dramatised "great volley" onto Simon's column. Hardly worth deducting then when we are to consider that the whole of Wellington's army having won the day was compelled to retire off the hill as Massena's guides discovered a route by which they could work around the northern flanks. When Beckwith gets his brigade down country to the Torres Vedras defensive lines he receives, at Arruda on 10th October a new company of "Rifles" who have marched up from Lisbon having arrived there from Cadiz, these belong to 2/95th giving him now 5companies of riflemen.  Figures recorded for this brigade on 1st November 1810 within the "lines" suggest that 1/43rd will have recovered also by way of convalescents most of its losses from the actions on the Coa and at Busaco so:

1st November 1810 (in the lines at Torres Vedras)                                                                                                  
PUA 905

By now the late autumn rains had set in which meant that since the main function of Light Division in these early days was to perform front line picket and observation duties they would be almost as uncomfortable as the enemy they were set to watch. However, the stay at Arruda only lasted three weeks by which time Massena was forced to move his army back into a space, which might show a better opportunity for food gathering. This allowed Light Division to move forward almost before Santarem and, those who could commandeer shelter in the village of Valle and other small hamlets close by would at least take their turn at occupying some dry spot between picket duties. As the New Year progressed into February and the enemy still persisted in maintaining its ground Craufurd sought and was given compassionate leave to visit his wife in England, this left his beloved Division in the hands of none other than Major General William Erskine of whom we have no good tales to tell. It is only after Wellington's men have been sat watching Massena's movements for three months that quite suddenly on a day of heavy mist as March begins they discover that their enemy has turned into straw-stuffed dummies at the sentry-posts and stolen a day's march off to the north. Erskine's Light Division is ordered to go forward into Santarem entering that town on 6th March, it can be reasonably estimated that this day 1/43rd would muster;

6th March 1811 (at Santarem)                                                                                                                                    
PUA 825

It is safe to take the doings of Beckwith's Brigade on to at least 14th March, only 8 days but, almost all marching, coming up to Ney's rearguard, a little manœuvring mixed with brief encounters with the foe. At Casal Nova early in the morning in a heavy shroud of mist Erskine orders his vanguard forward, ignoring a scouting report that this village is still very much in enemy hands. Sure enough first contact comes through the haze in the form of a barrage of cannon fire forcing all to take whatever cover can be found, the mist thins and well set enemy infantry lays down a complete blanket of fire against which nothing can be achieved. The impasse is broken only when others begin to outflank the whole village so that the men of Light Division are able to raise their heads, count the cost and move up once more. Captain Robert Dalzell and Ensign Richard Carroll have been hit amongst the probable 25 men killed and wounded all told in 1/43th. None of this is regarded as being particularly hard on 1/43rd; its officers become accustomed to Erskine's bumbling tactics and would need to be equally as wary of this officer as they were of the enemy.

Along the way as the French are escorted out of Portugal Lieutenant John Creighton picks up a mortal wound, by the time that Massena's men had cleared out of the Mondego valley as far as Celorico 1/43rd would have dropped off only 20 more men wounded in these short contacts with the rear-guard and maybe as many by way of attrition, the going being hard and too much to expect of their commissary carts trailing along in the rear. No battalion figures are given at the time that Massena decides on a rash plan, that of re-entering the offensive by taking his men up into the highlands which might lead them on a path south-westward aiming back into Portugal by very rough country rather than taking them down to the easy safety of the frontier by Cuidad Rodrigo. Erskine still holds the Light Division in hand and, in late March of 1811 the weather in these high places is still wintry.

On 3rd April he has the Division close up to the enemy to the south of Sabugal, Beckwith's Brigade having begun to cross the Coa at a ford beyond General Jean Louis Reynier Corps left flank are thus committed to a fight when they swing to their left towards what is imagined to be exposed units of the enemy.
Visibility is poor due to a heavy mist which persists in the Coa river valley, no matter, Erskine has his troops moving uphill at a brisk rate having delivered the order via an aide whilst he himself being nowhere present. We are told that on this day 1/43rd had up in line;        

3rd April 1811 (at Sabugal)                                                                                                                                           
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The skirmish line of Beckwith's Brigade riflemen and Caçadores run into enemy skirmishers almost at the river banks but push them back up the hill, coming up to several formed columns well positioned and, very shortly put in motion against them. Back they go down by the river but by now Beckwith has 1/43rd across the ford and in line order, so, putting in a counter-attack it is the turn of the enemy to retire again. All of this is being enacted in the fog with neither side able to see more than those contestants immediately before them. At this stage Beckwith is still in the majority for numbers so, the columns are forced back in some haste and confusion but not for long it seems. Having arrived near the summit of this rising ground 1/43rd and their brigade comrades find arranged before them no less than seven battalions of General Merle's Division ready to take up the fight, not only that but, a heavy shower of driving rain puts a stop to any thoughts of a controlled fire fight. Once more they are forced back but only as far as some scattered cover in the shape of stone walls enclosing small-holdings, the rain ceases as quickly as it came on allowing a fair defence of these obstacles eventually putting the Frenchmen on to the defensive and ultimately seeing them off in disorder. At this stage Beckwith may well have been satisfied with his actions, he now knew only too well that he was heavily outnumbered and had been lucky to save a tricky situation.

Visibility was still insufficient to see exactly what was fully against him and, just as importantly where his own support might be. Hazarding his men unnecessarily he had them advance yet again up to the brow of the hill where they discovered Merle's Divisional artillery battery, chased off its crew and guns capturing a lone howitzer. This rash initiative was immediately countered by a charge of enemy infantry from his left that had been able to outflank his very forward position, cavalry appeared on his right so that his men were left with little alternative but to scamper off back to the earlier defended walled enclosures below the hill.  It seems that these walls formed a safe haven because the contest came down to an exchange of musketry interspersed with dashes at the now marooned howitzer in attempts by both sides to secure it for themselves. The rain and mist which still prevailed could be said to be the only factor which saved Beckwith's men during all of this, no-one was sure still as to the true numbers opposed to each other here.

Meanwhile Light Division’s 2nd Brigade led at this time by Colonel George Drummond had been making its way some distance to Beckwith's right so that, having heard the commotion caused by the clash of arms the 2nd Brigade, [contrary to Erskine's express orders] turned to its left feeling its way through the fog directed only by sound. When Drummond's men came upon the scene this introduced three and a half fresh battalions into the struggle and from this time on it would fall to these men to take over thereby allowing 1/43rd and their comrades to recover from what by now had devolved into total disorder with Beckwith himself cutting a theatrical figure, still mounted, head swathed in a bloody bandage and running on pure adrenalin! The sudden change in fortunes was too much for the enemy who began to give back and until a short time later when the fog cleared off revealing the presence of fast moving flanking columns of two more British Divisions the whole French defensive lines dissolved making off to the rear with some haste. The Light Division was left with a lone howitzer as prize and 1/43rd with 80 men killed and wounded of which Major Christopher Patrickson, Lieutenants William Freer and Thomas Rylance had been wounded so:

3rd April 1811 (after the fight at Sabugal)                                                                                                                 
PAB 670

The fresh Divisions kept up a slow pursuit of the French who then retired all the way back in stages to the line of the Agueda with Cuidad Rodrigo as their centre of resistance. Wellington's army by this time had also had enough of marching/fighting during this very early spring with only the sustenance that their commissary organisation could glean from a devastated countryside. It was time for a rest. Light Division came to rest ahead of Fort Concepcion on the frontier along the Yeltes stream some way in front of Almeida which was still held by the enemy, so, cut off and put under blockade. A little more than a fortnight later we see that the Division is at the Agueda observing the enemy who are able to re-victual Cuidad Rodrigo whilst being so watched, Erskine having no spirit to molest this initiative. His tenure of command however ends here as Craufurd returns and, using a little hindsight must also bring with him numbers of convalescents and/or drafts, by the first week of May 1/43rd will have restored its pre-Sabugal strength in total and when Massena returns to the offensive just a few days into May the battalion will stand at:

5th May 1811 (at Fuentes d Onoro)                                                                                                                           
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Remarkably the military events which occurred on the two separate days of battle on this field barely touched 1/43rd, certainly they were involved in the so-called rescue of Major General William Houston's 7th Division on the second day but, lost a mere 9 men in that close encounter across the open plain on Wellington's extreme right, Craufurd of course was in charge so, luckily they had only the enemy to contend with but, an easy day.  Although the campaign season had only really started there had been a dramatic change of command at the top of the French "Army of Portugal" Marshal Auguste Marmont had replaced Massena and at that side of the contest there was to be much re-casting of strategy. For 1/43rd this came down to more summer marching and a spell in the lower Guadiana watershed up the valley of the Caya.  Whilst other battalions were losing men through the various swamp fevers 1/43rd must not merely have held its numbers but also received some large drafts because, when next figures are presented we see this unit at:

15th September 1811 (at Fuente Guinaldo)                                                                                                           
PUA 1005

The fighting season by now is spent, others have had risky contacts with the enemy, most notably at El Bodon just a few days earlier but, Craufurd has brought his men to the concentration point in good heart and certainly in good number. Having bluffed the enemy into making a withdrawal from his defensive posture at Fuente Guinaldo it now remained only for Wellington to distribute his Divisions into winter quarters, Light Division being placed beyond the Agueda some twelve miles south of Cuidad Rodrigo at and about Martiago to observe that fortress which had been held under blockade now for some long time. The army comes to life as the new year opens, on 1st January 1812 in snow and later, sleet storms, those Divisions given the task of putting Cuidad Rodrigo under siege closed up for the work of trench digging and trench guard duties while selected companies of Light Division were assembled to subdue and capture the outwork of Redoubt Renaud, this on the night of 8th January. The plan was to mount an escalade using only a string of skirmishers sharpshooting down the defenders who showed their heads as the main body rushed in with its ladders. It seems that 1/43rd had two companies of men involved and, when the time came for the assault all went according to plan but no figures of casualties was forthcoming, only that 25 men of the whole of the selected companies were killed or wounded. The next day was spent in clearing a good covered way to this new vantage point and leaving it all in shape for 1st Brigade companies to take over, the next nine days were spent in three rest spells and two days of trench work for 1/43rd before the set time for the storm. It can be expected that as this event occurred 1/43rd would muster numbers close to:

19th January 1812 (at the storm of Cuidad Rodrigo)                                                                                               
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The story of how General Craufurd lost his life at the breach in this assault is well told in many places, the fight put up by the opposition might be said to have been only "adequate" when Light Division fought its way up the lesser breach, Major General John Vandeleur's Brigade [ex Barclay/Drummond] to the fore. Coming up in the rear Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Barnard (95th) who had had the Brigade since Beckwith had gone home ill in August of the previous year, brought his men across the breach veering right so that they came up to the rim as the defenders were already being ejected by men of 3rd Division from the great breach. All was over before 1/43rd were seriously attacked although assaulting a breach could never be said to be easy and thus they lost 7 men killed and Captain James Fergusson, Lieutenants Cooke Patterson and John Bramwell [mortally it seems] and 31 men wounded, so:

19th January 1812 (after the storm at Cuidad Rodrigo)                                                                                          
PAB 944

Barnard would take over command of the Division in the absence of its mortally wounded leader General Craufurd whilst also retaining his own brigade and so it is that the next siege and storm would be mounted well to the south before Badajoz. It is still winter and Light Division has been resting at Fuente Guinaldo for a short time however, on 16th March we see them crossing the Guadiana via a pontoon bridge in company with other Divisions to invest the fortress Badajoz. Having been delayed for some four days by heavy rain it was only by 24th March that an assault could be put in on the Picurina strong-point, a job for a mixed detachment of men from 3rd & Light Divisions numbering 500 men or more.  This attack turned out to be a desperate affair with a loss to the victors of more than 60%, it is not possible to discover how many of these 319 men killed and wounded would be volunteers from 1/43rd so we must just move on to the laborious work of trenching and guard duties.  It is sad to have to relate the events of the night of 6th April 1812 as Light Division with 4th Division on its right shoulder came up the main breach at Badajoz. The slope and rim were a perfect killing ground as prepared by the defenders into which these ridiculously gallant fighting men met every kind of opposing fire, wave after wave being blasted down until human endeavour could no longer stand the impossible odds. Although the fortress was eventually taken by others this night and declared an heroic victory no less than 77 men of 1/43rd, including their leader Lieutenant Colonel Charles McLeod, Lieutenants Horatio Harvest and Charles Taggert were killed outright whilst Captains James Fergusson, Thomas Strode, Lieutenants Mackay Baillie, Thomas Capel, James Considine, John Cooke, Wyndham Madden, John O’Connell, Henry Oglander, Samuel Pollock, George Ridout and another 253 were wounded many of these like Lieutenant Augustus Hodgson to die later or be invalided out with missing limbs and sorrowful memories. Allowing for the inevitable siege work casualties already suffered this would bring numbers down to probably:

7th April 1812 (after the storm at Badajoz)                                                                                                               
PAB 568

Barnard has survived sufficiently to still hold both the Division and the Brigade so it will fall to him to nurture his numbers as the army comes to terms with this pyrrhic victory it is worthy of note that 1/43rd from this time on was only able to bring up its former strength after the passage of a further year and a half. A month later the Light Division gets a new commander, the Hanoverian Major General Charles Von Alten a long time commander of KGL infantry units. During this time it is not to be discovered if Barnard still held the 1st Brigade of the Division, from time to time when the CIC happened to mention this brigade he was wont to describe it as "Beckwith's" however that officer was long gone and for some time this brigade was officially leaderless and it would only be on those occasions when they came up to the enemy and had a fight of some note that temporary brigade leaders names were mentioned officially. This was not to be but the battalion received back into its ranks many of the men whose wounds had healed after the slaughter on the breach at Badajoz as also no doubt a steady influx of drafts from the recruiting teams.

The great summer campaign of 1812 which brought on the battle at the Arapiles in late July saw Light Division only lightly engaged so that we can go straight to this confrontation with, as it happens good confirmable figures:

15th July 1812 (during the Salamanca campaign)                                                                                                    
PUA 748   

The tumultuous battle at the Arapiles found Light Division out on the far left field almost in a position of observation of Marmont's right reserve, this somewhat unusual task gave little room for glory that day being wholly spent in desultory skirmishing which came down to 16 men being wounded Lieutenant Ridout yet again to be one of them so:

22nd July 1812 (after the battle at the Arapiles)                                                                                                      
PAB 732

The main part of the army having marched on Madrid, secured the place and then being split into two parts we see Von Alten now commanding that part which hung about the environs of the Capital, Light Division being arrayed in a perimeter curve about its eastern edges.  There was to be little action of note during the period as Lieutenant General Hill brought up his contingent from the south-west to swell the containing force. During August and September 1/43rd numbers will fall away just slightly and can be estimated at:

31st August 1812 (at and about Madrid)                                                                                                                   
PUA 712

Even as late as the end of October Light Division is mentioned as being at Arganda some 16 miles south-east of Madrid but, at that time the enemy begins to make his presence felt. Moving behind the Henares River they, quite suddenly receive the order to depart and, with some haste as events elsewhere force the whole army to begin its fallback to the Portuguese frontier. Passing through the Guadarrama Pass they fall back onto the old Arapiles position by 15th November, hold there a short while in the face of the enemy who refuses a battle and then as the winter rains begin to make life out in the field intolerable off the army goes on that infamous march to the banks of the Agueda. During the retreat 3 companies of 1/43rd are engaged against enemy cavalry interspersed with voltigeurs at the crossing of the Huebra River, it is not possible to get at precise casualties in all of this action as on the same day there was a loss of stragglers to the enemy in the same area. We are made aware though that Lieutenant Baillie is wounded here and Lieutenant Ridout who has featured more than once in casualty lists will do so no more he getting a fatal wound this day while in a square warding off the cavalry. All of this period and until the early spring of the following year we have no exact battalion numbers to work on but only some "ball-park" figures by Divisions and those, confused by odd increases to brigade compositions!  Having studied this time almost with crystal ball in hand I judge that 1/43rd might stand at:

17th November 1812 (after the crossing of the Huebra)                                                                                        
PAB 676

It could be that during this period of the retreat the 1st Brigade would have been without a brigadier but, acting as a part of the rearguard with cavalry and artillery they would come under whoever was senior at the time regardless of which branch of the service they normally commanded. A Regiment of Portuguese Line infantry [20th] had attached itself for the purposes of logistical support but since this item was hardly to be of any use as the army floundered along its rain soaked way this unit soon fell away for numbers. Not so 1/43rd however who seems to have kept together better than most in this uncomfortable slog, we can expect that, as the army came to rest based on Cuidad Rodrigo they would stand at, or about:

29th November (at the Agueda/Portuguese border)                                                                                              
PUA 640

There now follows that period of rest and recovery of numbers that lifted the strength of the whole army as it awaited the first good growth of spring fodder in 1813.  Major General James Kempt took over the 1st Brigade on 23rd March 1813 and by late April we see that there had been an apparent increase by as much as three full companies;

26th April 1813 (cantoned about the Agueda)                                                                                                           
PUA 895

This figure cannot be sustained so that 1/43rd could only show numbers well below that by the time the army was ready to go on the offensive late in May it is very likely that this battalion could only achieve;

25th May 1813 (about to march on the Vittoria campaign)                                                                                   
PUA 724

There is little real contact with the ever retreating enemy, now led by King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean Baptiste Jourdan until that army turns about to defend a long drawn out position behind the Zadorra river to the south and west of Vittoria.  On 21st June Kempt's Brigade has been drawn up by the river and is able to cross in an un-coordinated attack by the bridge of Tres Puentes, 1/43rd appear to have only the task of occupying ground fought over by their comrades as 3rd Division come up on their left to outflank the enemy, this rather mild involvement sees them, by the end of proceedings to lose just 2 men dead and Captain John Duffey and Lieutenant George Houlton and 27 men injured, so:

21st June 1813 (after the battle at Vittoria)                                                                                                              
PAB 693

Only the next day after this battle Light Division was on the move following up the retreating French so that by 25th June their infantry had come up to the fringes of that northern fortress city Pamplona where a strong garrison had been left to defend its walls.  In response to the news that Clausel had his Corps loose in the area Light Division immediately left to march at pace on the Tudela road towards Tafalla in an attempt to cut this part of the enemy force off from its natural route back to the safety of the French frontier. All in vain, Clausel had no thoughts of loitering about to be attacked by anyone and absconded by his shortest path before Light Division could get anywhere near. It will not be until 2nd July that the Division returns to take up the ground before Pamplona left a week earlier, to stay but three days before moving off yet again this time into the Bastan basin to clear it of enemy remnants. Being at the rear of a four Divisional column they saw no action whilst those up ahead had little hard work to do either. Marching by Santesteban Von Alten was able to join in the action by 8th July, which, as it transpired was only enough to see the enemy once more disappear into French territory, the Division fell back onto Santesteban and set up quarters after seventeen days of continuous marching and counter-marching.

Less than a week goes by before they are to occupy the little town of Vera with its bridge over the Bidassoa, so it was then that when Lieutenant General Thomas Graham's men were making their first serious assault on the walls of San Sebastian and others were fighting a rearguard action up in the Pyrenean Passes against Marshal Nicholas Soult's men Light Division would be "between the devil and the deep" and, worse still without any clear notion as to where the immediate enemy might be. All that could be done was to have them put on alert and ready to move as and when some news might break. When orders finally came next day it was to retire behind the Bidassoa, holding there in readiness once again until a firm idea of the enemy's intentions were deduced. Tentative orders came to move on to Zubieta but still nothing offensive, except perhaps the order to clear all baggage to the rear.  Finally on 30th July Alten receives an order to move via Lecumberri to Yrurzun which instruction was marred by the fact that Light Division was given a route which led them off on a night march away rather than towards the enemy, who by now were on the retreat having been already defeated twice about Sorauren.  Next day they are sent back to Zubieta, it must be observed that ever since Badajoz this Division hardly appears to have been used in the manner so widely trumpeted by "Light" journal keepers as a quivering web of ever alert pickets reporting every enemy move!

Things do not improve, sending a long-winded message to Alten the CIC gives a number of options as to Light Division’s new moves, he is hampered by the fact that he no longer is sure of where the Division has come to, and it is lost! The enemy is retreating by now along paths also unknown and since Light Division is in an entirely different position than previously thought, at dawn on 1st August off they go, they are only four miles down the road when they get information that they will miss the enemy in that direction so a new change and into the mountains on paths like rocky stream beds, on reaching the summit of the Santa Cruz mountain there, across a wide gulf is the enemy.  The only point at which a contact might be made is by the bridge at Yanzi some seven miles distant. Setting out once more the 2nd Brigade soon falters and is left in the rear, 1/43rd several companies of 95th and 1st Caçadores struggle on to Yanzi and the banks of the Bidassoa. Forming up along a hilltop 1/43rd is able to overlook the enemy and pour into the mob below a telling succession of volleys virtually without reply.

It is to be expected then that casualties would be well exceeded by stragglers left along the way there are no figures other than by Division [16 K&W] so that it is left to the imagination as to how the confusion of the last few days will have reduced them.

1st August 1813 (at the bridge at Yanzi)                                                                                                                     
PAB 650

There follows a month of inaction during which men will no doubt return to the ranks recovered from all of the dire results of the high country hard marching in full summer conditions, we have no figures to show how this might come about but with hindsight are made aware that over the next two months or so there is a significant rise in numbers.  Soult's army at the end of August make a dash at the line of the Bidassoa in an attempt to come to the relief of the San Sebastian garrison, 1/43rd with Kempt’ Brigade at the time are well out on the right flank near Vera as the French main attack develops about San Marcial where Spanish troops hold the line, this fight goes to the defenders whilst 1/43rd are so far out of the action that on this day they count but one casualty and that, an un-named officer.  On the same day a small number of volunteers from 1/43rd are in an action of a much more violent type, at the storm of San Sebastian, it might be that of these some seven or eight might not return, certainly neither Lieutenants O’Connell nor George Folliett would, they lay dead in the breach.  Taking the view that there has been a reasonable increase in numbers before these actions above mentioned we can surmise that on:

31st August 1813 (after the battles of San Marcial and San Sebastian)                                                               
PAB 745

Staying about Vera for the next month or so Kempt's Brigade are next to be seen on the attack, this time directly north to force the enemy from various entrenched positions along hilltops about the Puerto de Vera as a part of the action known as the crossing of the Bidassoa. It can be expected that yet again numbers will be on the rise so that having advanced and taken the first obstacle, the knoll of Alzate Real, rushed a series of trenches and even pursued the routed enemy for up to three miles picking up 19 casualties, figures will very likely show:

7th October 1813 (after the combat at the Puerto de Vera)                                                                                  
PAB 830

It is to be another month again before the Light Division see significant action and, on this occasion, it will be the battle at the river Nivelle, they are, as usual, well provided with those avid recorders of its own deeds and, as usual it is the pen which perhaps is shown to be far mightier than the sword! For the first time for some years we are given exact battalion figures so:

10th November 1813 (at the crossing of the Nivelle)                                                                                              
PUA 924

Lieutenant Colonel William Napier is at the head of several companies of 1/43rd, Kempt has the brigade and Alten the Division as the troops are set in motion at the very early hour of 2.00am, at this time of year it is not only pitch dark but damn cold too!  It seems that this move was to place the men as close up to their objectives as possible at a time when discovery would be at its lowest chance, all went well but of course there were some hours yet before dawn and all that could be done was to lie still in whatever cover there might be and cover oneself with a blanket on what was a rock strewn hillside. At first light the signal went out, blankets would be stowed away aching bones massaged and the advance to the enemy begun, a strongpoint named the "Place d Armes" to be taken by escalade, the enemy fight well enough while safe behind their stone walls and able to fire down on the disordered attackers but as these men came up and over the top their resolve melted away, Napier, rather ignominiously being hoisted over these walls by two lusty companions after he failed at the first attempt, wisely held his men back from attacking the next objective having seen his Brigadier bringing up other companies of 1/43rd and 17th Portuguese Line from 2nd Brigade to effectively outflank that place, the "Magpie's Nest".  Kempt is wounded, carries on, gets another one and has to subside a little whilst 1/43rd are now able to combine and drive out the defenders of the 'Nest bringing the contest to a close having reached their goals.  All of this has cost them just 77 killed and wounded but, of these no less than 11 officers have been hit, Ensign Edward Freer is dead as are 7 of the men, Captain Robert Murchison and Lieutenant John Angrove fatally injured, Lieutenants James Considine, Edward D'Arcy, John Maclean, Wyndham Madden, John Meyricke, Alexander Steele, Ensigns Benjamin Edwards, John Miles and a further 59 men wounded and Kempt, the Brigadier it seems quite badly, so:

10th November 1813 (after the battle of the Nivelle)                                                                                             
PAB 847

By now the principal enemy is the weather, the onset of heavy rains fills the streams and ruins the roads so that movement stops and the army has to take shelter, however, less than a fortnight later on 23rd November in front of Arcangues on the Bassussary plateau a company of 1/43rd under Captain Samuel Hobkirk is involved in another of those escapades which suggest that the officers of Light Division can no longer be compared with those under Black Bob Craufurd. They have pushed forward amongst the enemy piquets to such a degree that they enter their prepared defence works well in advance of their objective in a now very unequal struggle the whole company is overcome. Lieutenant Baillie is killed, Lieutenant Steele wounded and as many as 16 men are captured, wounded or not, amongst them Hobkirk himself, a dandy of such proportions that he is regarded by his captors to be at least a senior General Officer by his resplendent appearance.  While Oman allows that about 80 men of Kempt's Brigade were casualties of this indiscretion we see that William Napier, present with the rest of 1/43rd admits that all of these were his own men, so:

23rd November 1813 (after the skirmish on the Bassussary plateau)                                                                  
PAB 767

As conditions improve and the skies clear Soult brings out his men to attack the various points along his southern perimeter, on 9th December one of these offensive moves finds Light Division too far forward yet again about Bassussary.  Losses this day are only to be seen by full Division however, they are forced back 1/43rd probably losing about 5 men in the retirement. The next day, almost by now predictably, the enemy are able to surprise the whole line of Light Division’s pickets in an assault which had gone undetected, obviously their command at this stage of the war is no more than might be found in any ordinary fighting Line Division.  Seventy-two men are captured by this and of these, 21 are from 1/43rd, the brigade manages to scramble back to a defendable position at Arcangues where a mixed collection of companies of riflemen and musketeers of 1/43rd stand behind the walls and further back in the local church where their combined long range volley's keep the enemy at bay, so much so that a gun battery is brought up to batter them.  This has no good effect since the peculiarities of the ground and the volume of small arms fire picks off the artillerymen so well that in the end the assault falters and the enemy retire. It could be argued that from this time on 1/43rd would have finished its war in the Peninsula it having no more recorded actions against the enemy.  Figures produced for this battalion early in the New Year will show,

16th January 1814 (stood down about Passages)                                                                                                    
PUA 760

The winter had set in with bleak conditions prevailing once more and the armies unable to keep the field, when in mid February 1814 the rain relented and the ground hardened the main army struck eastward following Soult's men but 1/43rd and some others were held back by the necessity of procuring new uniforms and equipment long promised but also held up by the weather at sea.  As Wellington and the eastern army were fighting the French at Orthez 1/43rd would be still down at Passages being fitted out and perhaps receiving back into the ranks a few returning convalescents.   When the re-equipment is achieved there is little doubt but that this battalion along with several more would make whatever pace they could to re-join the army then pursuing the French towards Toulouse, we are merely told that Light Division is back to its full compliment when the battle for that place is fought on 10th April. There has been a general decline in numbers throughout the Division brought about as much by the foul weather and marching as the occasional brushes with the enemy experienced by those battalions which had been at Orthez and later small contacts.  All of these losses are taken into account as Alten's men stand to arms at the far northern part of the Toulouse battleground, 1/43rd are held in reserve all day losing not one man so that it can only be estimated that as their war came to a close they would have a strength around:

10th April 1814 (after the battle for Toulouse)                                                                                                         
PAB 768

PS: For all of the trumpeting of Light Division journalists it must be seen that 43rd displayed no magic powers whatsoever, good faithful followers however of their often misguided superiors the whole Regiment could seldom present itself through its deeds as special in any way, its journalists of course were another matter altogether.  Once the tyrannical Black Bob was gone and they had gloriously failed that impossible task at Badajoz there was little to distinguish them from any other very ordinary regular fighting unit.  It is perhaps heresy to suggest that those quite inflated AGO figures presented on behalf of 1/43rd and to some extent the army generally for 26th April 1813 were an implant to cover some misfeasance perpetrated to obscure a situation that may now never come to light, they are far too high to stand close inspection!

This regiment was not present at Waterloo.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2010

 

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