Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 47th Regiment of Foot  (The Lancashires)

By Ray Foster

Facings: White                                                                 


This 2nd battalion first appears as being "at Cadiz" in May 1810, going into October of that year it will show;

2nd October 1810 (at Cadiz)
PUA 690

On 5th March 1811 they will have two flank companies at the field of Barrosa with Lieutenant General Thomas Graham, it is very likely that there are also a number of centre company’s flankiers since the numbers shown are too full to represent only two companies so:                                                                                                         

5th March 1811 (at the battle of Barrosa)                                                                                                                   
PUA 215                                                                                                                                                              

As a part of a small corps made up of 3/95th(4companies) and their own 2-plus companies they are led up by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Barnard however, in coming on they fall behind becoming mixed with a large battery of guns led by Major Alexander Duncan RA, they attach themselves to this impressive force and for a while stand to their rear as "artillery guard" to the right of Barnard's scattered line of skirmishers.  All of this is very fortunate for 2/47th flank companies who are able to give valuable assistance to Duncan's gunners when their comrades to the left are pushed back, we are told that in fact they remain with Duncan for the rest of the fighting which in other places is desperate in the extreme.  Eventually when the enemy had been beaten off Duncan brought his guns forward to a new position to batter the now rather fragile and rapidly receding opposition while 2/47th flankers accompanied them, there is much contradictory number crunching [in Oman's text] with confused references to 3/95th casualties and very little notice of those of 2/47th who must have suffered almost as much if the figures in his appendix are to be reconciledWe are made aware that Ensign Nicholas Delacheois was killed and Captain Francis Fetherstone was wounded but can only make an estimate that the rest of the casualties were 11 men killed and 34 wounded so:                                                                                                                                                     

5th March 1811 (after the battle of Barrosa)                                                                                                                
PAB 169   

When Graham disassociates himself from Captain General La Pena and all things Spanish these companies of 2/47th will go off to re-join the small garrison at Tarifa coming under Colonel John Skerritt, [not at all a wholesome character], when General Campbell the Governor at Gibraltar sends him and the rest of the 2/47th to that place.  It is to come under siege from Marshal Claud Victor's army as they go into the winter.  By now we can hazard a total for the battalion but it is split still into those original parts as to its overall command.                     

December 1811 (at Tarifa)                                                                                                                                               
PUA 739

 The small battalion of detachments which had fought at Barrosa had as its chief one Major Henry King a one-legged officer of 82nd Regt' who stuck to his original "brief" as will be revealed, those others from Gibraltar seem to have been more under Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Gough of 87th Regt' than Skerritt, none of this would be of any consequence excepting that when the siege became imminent Skerritt was of an opinion that the whole defensive position at Tarifa was too weak for the forces available to make any sort of good result. The local senior engineer one Captain Charles Smith RE was firmly of the view that with ordinary skill and the services of the garrison they could expect to give a good account of themselves. King and Gough agreed using the honour of British arms as enough reason in itself and went so far as to send a message to their senior officer Campbell in Gibraltar for his support. Skerritt seeing his authority flouted sent to Major General George Cooke in Cadiz to have all of this countermanded but Campbell in Gibraltar, always the better tactician put an end to this posturing negativity by taking away the fleet of military transports from Tarifa so that no one was going anywhere without his order! Thus it was that the task of defending this old walled town could now be taken seriously, its walls although 8ft thick were much decayed so that when Victor's siege guns were able to come into action holes began to appear almost at once. It is the dead of winter however, chilling rain falls from 26th to the 28th of December inclusive flooding all of the enemy's trench works and companion ways, the communications back to supply are broken down, the gunpowder is spoiled, food cannot be cooked, shelter becomes impossible so that the men on the spot are keen to get the thing done regardless of how. So, on the last day of the year an assault is launched, Captain Charles Livesey has 100 men of 2/47th up on a bastion overlooking and enfilading the approach to a long sloping breach up which the attack comes, the rest of the battalion are on the south walls which are not even under threat. Chosen flank companies of Victor's regiments come on through a slough of mud and rivulets into a storm of concentrated musketry, [the garrison not having any guns of note to use] they flounder to a halt, make a half hearted effort to return fire, plunge on, take more casualties then, having done their duty retreat off to a safe distance. Reluctantly Victor calls the whole thing off and four days later departs the scene. Skerritt is delivered of a victory despite all of his previous protestations, Lieutenant Richard Hall has been killed, Lieutenant John De Burgh and Ensign Edward Vaughan wounded, and perhaps as few as 25 others killed and wounded, Captain John O'Donaghue who was slightly wounded also carried the dispatch to Cadiz and onward to be made up to Major in the way of military affairs of the day.

31st December 1811 (after the siege at Tarifa)                                                                                                           
PAB 700

We are told that 2/47th with some others go almost immediately to Cadiz and will come under Cooke where they will stay without incident well into the next year, indeed, until Marshal Auguste Marmont's army has been routed and Soult has been persuaded by events to leave Andalusia. By 27th August Skerritt takes a force of all arms to Seville to secure that important city leaving 2/47th to gather together a mule train for "necessaries" before taking to the field. This cannot have been long because only a week later there they are with the mixed force all under Skerritt heading north-east after Hill's Corps who themselves are making for Madrid.  When they come within Hill's influence Skerritt and his little corps come to rest not too far south of Madrid in the Aranjuez area where they stay until the enemy, an amalgam of armies under Joseph and Jourdan with Soult begin to advance from Valencia. It is 30th October and Skerritt's men are told off to defend the bridge across the Jarama River the Puente Larga, this is a long one, 16 arches stone built and, as it turns out too strong to blow out even one arch. An abatis is hastily constructed and placed across the northern end of the bridge, where there are placed the sharpshooters of 2/47th and 2 companies of 95th Regiment well protected by stone walls and balustrades with stone seats to crouch behind. When the enemy arrive they opt for a long range voltigeur musketry duel which goes on until the local commander sends in a party of "volunteers" these are all shot down as are those who follow until, having seen the futility of the exercise the white flag of truce is raised, agreed to and the casualties are cleared away ending proceedings. None of this has been as near fatal for the defenders and 2/47th only show Ensign Vaughan wounded again and perhaps 39 others killed and wounded, so:

30th October 1812 (after the combat at Puente Larga)
PAB 660

Now comes the retirement back, first into Madrid then on to Salamanca and finally all the way to Portugal behind the Agueda.

There are no actions against the enemy to report and it seems that 2/47th travelled attached to 4th Division for logistical support which, we know was rather dismally mismanaged by all and sundry although it must be said that the southernmost component of the army did get the least of the foul road conditions. Very soon after the return to Portugal the army was re-organised, Skerritt's little corps was now broken up and its parts distributed singly 2/47th going to 5th Division, 2nd Brigade under Major General William Pringle, this brigade had previously had 1/2/4th acting together but, in the change the 2nd batt' was drafted into its 1st and the cadre going home, thus 1/4th had became a numerically strong unit as early as the beginning of December.

Two other battalions 2/30th and 2/44th had been worn down to the degree that the CIC put them together as the 4th Provisional Battalion, there remained a single company’s of Brunswick Oels Light Infantry, all of this while the Division command was also under change.  Major General John Oswald stood down at the end of the year so that Major General Andrew Hay was obliged to take over, this only until April of 1813 when Oswald returned, Hay going back as Brigadier of 1st Brigade. By this time Pringle had gone and Colonel Frederick Robinson of 91st Regt' took up 2nd Brigade and, as the year progressed the 4th Provisional Battalion had gone home to be replaced by 2/59th a battalion which came up from Cadiz garrison. During all of this time 2/47th whose numbers must have gone down by attrition during the dismal winter march from Aranjuez to Cuidad Rodrigo was struggling to survive. We have figures as Oswald returned to show::

26th April 1813 (cantoned in Portugal)                                                                                                                           
PUA 426

They would go about the business of gleaning convalescent returnees and occasional drafts and, as the spring campaign opened could show reasonable figures at:

25th May 1813 (on the march out of Portugal)                                                                                                           
PUA 625

Robinson gets his Major General appellation, his brigade and 5th Division marching north with Lieutenant General Thomas Graham's Corps crossing the major rivers the Douro and the Ebro then coming in north-easterly into the great plain before Vittoria, less than a month has passed by and battalion numbers would remain about the same as above. On 21st June the French army under Joseph and Jourdan has turned about to defend the line of the Zadorra river having choked the line of retreat into France with a huge train of loot, baggage, military paraphernalia and a mass of camp followers, all of which had come to a halt in the narrow byways of this large regional city. Graham's Corps have the most northerly position in the attacks which take place in three quite distinct uncoordinated actions; his orders are to cut in on the Grande Chaussee the high road to France and to get over the Zadorra where he may, the road being on the far bank. When Oswald's men are sent forward to do battle they are to force through a village, Gamarra Mayor behind which a bridge crosses the Zadorra, so, there is street fighting which Robinson's men take on first then, coming to the bridge they are met with a withering cannonade from the other side. There is nothing to be done here, they go to ground and eventually leave this task to Hay's men who also become pinned down in an equal struggle which is only overcome as the main battle across the river draws ever closer towards the enemy rear. Lieutenants Harley and George Hill are killed, Captain William Yates is seriously wounded along with Captain Henry Parsons and Lieutenant Thomas Shortt, slightly wounded, 18 more are killed and 89 wounded from the rest so that when all is over 2/47th would stand down at:

22nd June 1813 (after the battle for Vittoria)                                                                                                               
PAB 513

Robinson's Brigade only come away from Vittoria after a few days having been left to guard the place from the possibility of the arrival of Clausel's Corps which for a short while was free and roaming. This eventuality soon passes and so they are sent up the Chaussee in rear of the force which has been in contact with General Maucune's men further north, for 2nd Brigade 5th Division none of this comes to anything and so they will arrive before the great walled fortress of San Sebastian where Foy has installed the Governor General Rey with ample materials and men for a stubborn resistance. It is left to others in the Division to mount attacks as the siege works are drawn nearer and batteries established to batter the walls, a serious assault on the main breach is planned and goes in on 25th July, Robinson's men, not being involved are spared the bloody repulse and, as events further inland take precedent there is a period of reorganisation, more guns are brought up although the plan remains the same, to rush in on the same tricky approaches over slimy seaweed covered rocks and sand just washed by a receding tide and this time in full daylight. Since the battle at Vittoria it seems that 2/47th gradually improved its numbers most likely from the return of the men only slightly wounded and those who had previously straggled behind as the army marched north in the early summer so that when Robinson's men are called upon to answer the call they may well stand at:

31st August 1813 (at the storm of San Sebastian)                                                                                                       
PUA 585

It is the last day of August and 2nd Brigade 5th Division have the front position leaping out of the forward trenches at 11.00am with 1/4th and 2/47th to the fore and 2/59th in close support, the Jaegers of Brunswick Oels laying down what sharpshooting fire they can. The enemy have had more than a month to give the breach extra fire power, cannon on both sides are able to play on the slope in a deadly crossfire so that as each new mass of attackers come up they are clinically dispensed with, the close range canister and ball scything through in enfilade while a line of sharpshooters on the inner defensive walls bring down those who survive these cannonades. As it becomes clear that men are being sacrificed for no reward the remnants of Robinson's Brigade are called off, a plea from the artillerymen that have been pounding these very defences for so long that they should be allowed to open fire at high trajectory on these tormentors was sanctioned. The first great blast of shot from every gun that could be brought to bear smashed down these men as they still held their partially unprotected positions, bodies flung everywhere, 2/59th and the pathetic remains of 1/4th and 2/47th once more scrambled up the breach fighting their way onto the side embrasures which held the guns of enfilade, the gunners now lying limp and their pieces disabled, gaining a foothold from which they and others who followed got into the town. Brigadier Robinson had been shot in the face Oswald too, Major Robert Kelly who had led in the battalion was dead, Senior Captain Charles Livesey who took over had only lasted a few minutes before he was badly wounded Captain William Hodges, Lieutenants Shortt and George Norris are killed as are Ensign Thomas Bennett and John Campbell whilst the one armed Captain Oglander, Lieutenants Thomas Power, John Nason, William Kendall, Robert Cochrane, Ensigns Edward Agar , Stephen Burke and William Johnson are all wounded. Of the rest a further 89 are killed and 128 are wounded a total of 232killed and wounded so:

1st September 1813 (after the storm of San Sebastian)                                                                                             
PAB 353

The rest of Robinson's Brigade is no better for this pyrrhic experience than 2/47th but after some "first aid" treatment at least the Major General soldiers on doing his best to shelter his charges from any more stress, this he manages to do so that as the army continues to take ground up to and beyond the Bidassoa this brigade has a relatively easy time although having the advantage of sure figures when they approach the crossing of the Nivelle river in November we see that it is too early to expect any rise in numbers of returnees;

10th November 1813 (at the crossing of the Nivelle)                                                                                                 
PUA 345

A new battalion has joined the Brigade to bolster its sagging numbers it is 2/84th which has transferred from Major General Matthew Aylmer's Brigade attached to 1st Division, with 754 PUA they are all newly recruited ex-militia men, young lads who have been in the country but a few months. The Nivelle crossing for 2/47th came down to a long stand before marshland with a series of redoubts to the rear where the enemy had only very few men but were encouraged to keep them there overly long so that when the inland attack came on they had to retreat at speed to prevent capture, Robinson's men had merely to take up this ground as it was forfeited so, a bloodless day. By December Lieutenant General John Hope had taken a Corps composed principally of 1st and 5th Divisions with two Independent Portuguese Brigades and had the left wing of the army in his charge, his conduct in using these troops during the three days of conflict termed the battle of the Nive was what one would expect of a commander who had never owned a field force before, not good!

9th December 1813 (at and about Anglet)                                                                                                                   
PUA 378         

Marshal Nicholas Soult's men on the first day, 9th December were to start on the defensive as the brigades of 5th Division probed along the coast road towards the great city of Bayonne, Robinson's Brigade going forward for some three or so miles, but, 2/47th perhaps well to the rear. When the enemy began to resent this intrusion and send out a strong counterstroke all are pushed back to where they began, 2/47th it seems without loss.

Hope keeps the 5th Division Light companies as far forward as possible when the day is over but sends the main body well down the road "out of harm's way", this skirmisher screen is none to strong for the ground it has to cover. Next morning Soult, a far more battle tested commander sends against this flimsy cover large numbers of his own Light companies backed up by his formed columns; they soon discover that there is nothing of substance behind this screen. With little or no warning on they come sweeping up the extended pickets breaking through easily and gathering many prisoners, the rest can only run or be caught and of Robinson's Brigade it is 2/47th being most forward who come off worst in all of this losing 50 men and Ensign Randolph Macdonnell taken captive. In the confused fighting which took place as Hope managed, far too late, to scramble forward a few solid bodies of troops 2/47th lost a further 62 men killed and wounded with Lieutenant Anthony Mahon and Ensign James Ewing wounded so:

10th December 1813 (after the combats of Barrouillet)                                                                                              
PAB 247

The next day there is more of the same but for 2/47th that has been pulled out of the line, no action at all. Robinson's Brigade and indeed the whole 5th Division, including its Portuguese Brigades have been very much reduced from only small beginnings so all are withdrawn from the front with 1st Division being sent through to maintain the position. For the next few winter months the Brigade rather passively occupies its time on the south side of the Adour estuary, last sure figures come to us [via Supplementary Dispatches] early in January:

16th January 1814 (south of Bayonne on the Adour)                                                                                                 
PUA 269

When Hope has drawn his men in a ring about both sides of the river to hold Bayonne under blockade Robinson's men will pass over the great cable bridge slung across the Adour mouth and take up forward picket duty to observe the enemy garrison. Luck is not with them when, even though the war is officially over, the Governor General Thouvenout has a sortie mounted to make a show of defiance against the victors. On 14th April 1814 at 3.00am in the morning the picket line of 2/47th is suddenly attacked by a huge rush of picked men from the garrison issuing from the fortress gates. Ten men are cut off and captured being bundled into the city walls whilst the rest are put to flight Captain John Doyle, Lieutenants Kendall and John De Burgh and Ensign Leonard Cooper are all wounded, 3 men killed and 11 more injured before the attack is stemmed, driven back and eventually defeated. No doubt the battalion at this time in the proceedings would have recovered some of its numbers by returned convalescents before this unsought event, probably by as many as the 28 men lost this night, the ten men taken captive would, no doubt be released on 26th April when the Governor finally surrendered the city, we can safely estimate then that 2/47th at the end of their war would show similar figures to those last produced.

PS: This 2nd battalion, started out quietly in Gibraltar garrison, suffering the contemptible Skerritt then went on to become a fully fledged fighting unit with as good a record as any other of the line battalions in Wellington’s army, well done the Lancashire’s.  

This Regiment will not be found at Waterloo.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2010


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