Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 44th Regiment of Foot (The East Essex)

By Ray Foster

Facings: Yellow                                                               
Lace:
Silver

2/44th

October 1810 (landed at Lisbon from Cadiz)                                                                                 

Numbers not recorded

This was one of those 2nd Battalions brought up to the army to swell numbers with little regard to composition and experience in the field, they have come up from Cadiz where they had been since 4th April 1810 landing there at 526 PUA, they are to be held ready to make up a brigade in a new 5th Division to be given to Major General James Leith.  By the opening of the New Year 1811 we see them brigaded with 1/4th, 2/30th and a coy' of Brunswick Oels Light all under Brig’ Dunlop. At this time the army is cantoned about Lisbon and Santarem under blockade by that of Massena who eventually gives up the game and retires back to the Spanish frontier, 2/44th, a rather green unit has no action to speak of until assembled at Fuentes d Onoro in May of 1811, first figures then show:

1st May 1811 (at Fuentes d Onoro)                                                                                                                          
PUA 437

Losing but 4 men on the days of battle there they have a low profile excepting that their leader Lieutenant Colonel Charles Egerton holds the command of the Brigade when Major General James Dunlop stands in for an absent Leith. By the end of the 1811 campaign year we see this already small unit reduced in size even further, probably as a result of being encamped in the Caya valley during the high summer season. At the defensive stand of mid September up country behind the frontier by Cuidad Rodrigo they are down to:

15th September 1811 (at Fuente Guinaldo)                                                                                                            
PUA 392

The year ends quietly enough Leith has returned so that Dunlop comes back to take the Brigade and Egerton has only his battalion to command. The new year 1812 starts with a rush and a roar when Wellington attacks the fortress of Cuidad Rodrigo, not that this concerns 2/44th to any great degree, however when the next strongpoint at Badajoz is put under siege and eventually is stormed it is Major General George Walker of 50th who has the brigade and a diversionary role in the assault of this well defended place. Walker's task is to skirt around the walls to a remote part of the defences well to the left of the main breaches he gets his ladder carrying parties up to a part of the walls which is free of defenders just long enough for a solid party of men to climb in. Led by Lieutenant Colonel George Carleton 2/44th fight along the parapets until an alarm of bursting shells sends them back almost to their start point, they are reinforced, come on again and this time break out into the town itself thereby shaking the resolve of the garrison and largely causing the defence to collapse. Captain Francis Jervoise has been mortally wounded, Lieutenants Matthew Argent and William Unthank are dead as are 37 of their men, Carleton, Captains John Berwick, Adam Brugh, Lieutenants William Meade, Temple Sinclair and Ensign John O'Reilly with 88 of the men are wounded. This is the moment of glory for 2/44th whose survivors no doubt enter into the pillage which follows and follows for some considerable time, having lost 134 of their number they will stand, when heads are counted, at no more than:

6th April 1812 (after the storm of Badajoz)                                                                                                             
PAB 258

This tiny little corps is hanging on by the skin of its teeth, they will have been noticed of course for their valour but their days are numbered! They are to be held together during the Salamanca campaign, Walker having been wounded at Badajoz the brigade command lies vacant until Major General William Pringle arrives on the scene and the brigade is "beefed up" by the inclusion of 2/4th just in time for the great battle at the Arapiles. The three-month period since the storm of Badajoz has not helped to increase numbers so that when this battalion is next seen in the field a week before the battle they will only stand at:

15th July 1812 (during the Salamanca campaign)                                                                                                  
PUA 251

Pringle has the Brigade in hand and the Division is led by Leith on the big day, but when 5th Division is called upon to advance at the enemy positions 2/44th are conveniently in second line and, to the left of the array in least danger, they collect only 29 casualties all day Captain Berwick and Ensign William Standley however being amongst the dead.

Any loss from such small beginnings can only bring them closer to dissolution; they are now down to:

22nd July 1812 (after the battle at the Arapiles)                                                                                                    
PAB 222

The CIC is sufficiently happy with their "regularity" [and perhaps the understanding that it was these men that won him Badajoz] however and, with the rest of the main force they march onto Madrid for a short period of celebration then, as Wellington's mind turns to more warlike things they turn about to march north, this time all the way up to Burgos where the enemy have left a stubborn garrison in the town castle. It would be too much to expect them to play a fighting role here and so it is that they are used as a part of the covering force about the perimeter of the siege operations. There are complex changes to the overall command of 5th Division, Leith is still recovering from a wound received at the Arapiles, a new commander Major General Richard Hulse falls ill almost immediately and Pringle has to step in so that Lieutenant Colonel Francis Brooke of 4th Regiment has the work of the Brigade until Pringle returns. Brooke will hold the brigade as it begins the retirement from Burgos in late October and it is sad to say that as this fragile unit negotiates the crossing of the river Carrion at Villa Muriel as a part of the rearguard the enemy make a dash at the river crossings resulting in a fight where a precious few of their number are lost, amongst them Lieutenant William Lennon, killed, Ensigns Henry Elwin and Michael Smith both to die of their wounds and Major George Harding slightly injured. The retreat carries on going all the way back to the Portuguese frontier before they can say that safety is reached. Figures for this period are non-existent by battalion but, it is almost sure that 2/44th by now would be down to a maximum of:

29th November 1812 (at or about Cuidad Rodrigo)                                                                                              
PUA 166

It is clear that this unit tough as its survivors might be, by now must go, in an effort to thwart the masters back at "Horse Guards" who have been using every argument to bring such troops back to England; the CIC has this fragment amalgamated with another from the same brigade, 2/30th to form the 4th Provisional Battalion. All of this is in vain, 2/30th are just as weak for numbers and, during the winter when other battalions are receiving drafts and convalescents to swell their ranks this new 4th Provisionals actually goes down to the point where during April of 1813 the combined numbers are less than 300 PUA.

So it is then that by an order of 10th May 1813 4th Provisional Battalion is broken up and its survivors are marched off down to Lisbon to be shipped off to England to recruit.

This ends their involvement in Peninsula affairs.

PS; What can one say? A 2nd battalion with numbers so small, even at the outset was always going to struggle, it says a great deal for the East Essex that they were able to do-the-business on the walls at Badajoz carrying on even so far as to attend the dreadful Burgos campaign and actually return at all; ten out of ten for effort.

They are to be found at the Waterloo campaign with Sir Denis Pack in the Highlanders Brigade it can be expected that they would suffer heavily at Quatre Bras and on the Mont St Jean rise on the 18th June in such company.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2010

 

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