Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 4th Regiment of Foot (King's Own)

By Ray Foster

Facings: Dark Blue
Lace: Gold 


Landed at Maciera Bay 25th-30th August 1808 under Moore, when that General was ready to move on the offensive first figures will show;

16th October 1808 (at Lisbon)  
PUA 889

Ten days later they march off, brigaded with 1/28th, 1/42nd and four companies  5/60th under Bentinck, north east to Salamanca, continuing on they will reach Sahagun having shed no less than 145 men so that:

19th December (at Sahagun)
PUA 754

From here and with some tricky re-organising Bentink moves onwards, or to be more exact, backwards, he now has 1/4th, 1/42nd and 1/50th under his hand. It was to be principally a matter of getting along the highways as steadily as possible in order to arrive at Corunna for embarkation to England thereby escaping Napoleon's clutches.  Having made the journey with comparatively few losses they find that there are no troop transports in the harbour and Moore has to decide for a general engagement with Soult’s men as they come up on 16th January 1809.  Whilst the battle is in progress the transports arrive so that the sick and injured of the army start to get aboard.  Bentinck has been given the task of holding an area facing down onto the village of Elvina with 1/4th at the right of his line looking out onto an open flank, when Soult puts in an attack hereabouts General Wynch has to re-align his front swinging the right back to present a formed flank here while 1/42nd and 1/50th deal with a frontal drive by the enemy, this is repulsed in fine style whilst 1/4th have to face down a mixed force which never really come to serious blows.

It is recorded however that Wynch, along with Captains Williamson & Wilson and Lieutenant Hunt are all wounded here, perhaps by a well positioned enemy artillery battery firing across the valley but, 1/4th having eventually disengaged, retired to the wharves and cleared the harbour this battalion bringing home, fit or otherwise;

21st-22nd January 1809 (at ports in England) 
Disembarked 740

Yet again we discover that this is one of those unfortunate regiments, which found itself a part of that ill-fated army that went to Walcheren during the summer of 1809  They will of course bring back with them the malarial fevers common to this army when they return to the Peninsula.

This they do over a year later as they land in Lisbon to join 5th Division 2nd Brigade with 2/30th, 2/44th and a company of Brunswick Oels Jagers;

15th November 1810 (at Lisbon) 
PUA 650 

It is recorded that 1/4th had more than its fair share of sick men during the early period when Wellington's men were sitting out the enemy blockade about Torres Vedras, luckily, as the New year turned to spring and the army came out of the 'Lines' to shepherd Massena's men out of the country we see 5th Division under Erskine, its 2nd Brigade under Dunlop and 1/4th still a part of that brigade having marched via Ponte Murcella and Celorico holding on to their numbers so that as they come up to Fuentes d Onoro they will stand at:

1st May 1811 (at Fuentes d Onoro) 
PUA 612

The battle which took place here on 3rd-5th May cost 1/4th not one man but, leaving this field to march off into the environs of the Guadiana watershed in the Caya Valley the fevers returned bringing numbers down just as effectively as any battle might have done.  When next we see them stand to be counted they are at:

15th September (at Fuente Guinaldo)
PUA 525

Settling down for the winter in cantonments in Portugal the battalion was able to restore some of its numbers, and, having no great involvement in the siege and storm of Cuidad Rodrigo we can expect that by the end of March 1812 they would muster no less than;

End of March 1812 (at Badajoz) 
PUA 585

By now the brigade was in the hands of Lieutneant Volunteer George Walker of 1/50th, and on the night of the storm of the fortress was given a diversionary task, to attempt an escalade of a bastion well away from the main breach, San Vincente close by the river on the north-western wall.  Lieutenant Volunteer Faunce of 4th Regiment leading up the ladder party had some delay in getting them forward being wounded on the way but, once having them reared the men of 1/4th set to with a will beating back a small enemy unit along the walls.  A counter attack caught them in some disorder sweeping them back again, the fighting was all of a confused nature and in the struggle for possession of the walls 230 men of 1/4th had been brought down by the end of this night.  It remained for others to save the situation, driving the enemy back once more until all fled, the combat having been won here the parts of the Division following up gained entry into the town taking the still held breaches in the rear.

For the survivors of 1/4th there would be only the plundering to indulge themselves in and next day the battalion would count the cost, Captain Bellingham & Lieutenant Taveley were dead along with forty of the ranks, Lieutenants  Dane & Sheppard died later of their wounds while Lieutenant Volunteer Faunce, Captains Anwyll, Burke, Williamson & Wilson, Lieutenants Alley, Boyd, Browne, Conroy, Craster, & Salvin, Ensigns Arnold & Rawling and Volunteer McCrohan would be counted amongst the 188 wounded.

Obviously the taking of the walls at Badajoz had been a desperate business.

7th April 1812 (after the storm at Badajoz)
PAB 355 

It is about this time that the 2nd battalion of 4th Regiment comes into the Portuguese theatre, having had adventures of its own already.

2/4th Regiment

These men are first to be noticed aboard transports, some of which are driven ashore in a gale in the Gibraltar Straits in early March of 1810, as a result no less than 130 men are captured by the enemy!  The rest of this battalion were to land at Cuete on the African side of the 'Straits, here they remained until called up to Lisbon during April of 1812.

It is recorded that Wellington upon seeing these men said of them that he had not seen as poor a unit for service in the field before. Great!…….. As the campaign season gets into full stride 2/4th are called up to join 5th Division, 2nd Brigade now led by Major Gen’ Pringle in Walker's absence and eventually arrive on the battlefield at the Arapiles. 

2/4th Regiment (at Salamanca) 
PUA 654 

Meanwhile, their premier battalion since the victory at Badajoz has been able to receive drafts and/or convalescents, which will enable them to muster on that day;

1/4th Regiment

15th July 1812 (at Salamanca) 
PUA 457

On the big day at the Arapiles both of these battalions have an easy time of it being used in the main to follow up an already successful advance that as we all know, became a rout of some proportions for the enemy.

When the roll is called the regiment will stand at:

23rd July (on the field at the Arapiles)

1/4th Regiment PAB 439
2/4th “  PAB 623

Having already been noted as a battalion somewhat 'irregular' in its organisation the 2/4th is dropped off when Wellington goes down to Madrid, they are expected to improve their performance while brought under Clinton whose task is to gather his own much depleted 6th Division together and with other units of a similar ilk to 2/4th follow the enemy under Clausel up to the banks of the Douro river at and about Cuellar.

After only a very short stay in Madrid 1/4th with several Divisions return up north re-joining Clinton with the intention of pushing Clausel's men as far up country as they would go.  This allowed 2/4th to re-join and together with their Volunteer, Brooke would have the job of patrolling on the perimeter about the town of Burgos when that place was put under siege during September of 1812.  It is only when the siege is called off and the army is in retreat that we see them again, they have a detachment of men along with others of the brigade, most likely, all Light companies  in a rearguard screening move.  On being attacked some are cut off, surrounded and captured, it is only possible to deduce that of the detachment some 20 men of 4th Regiment were taken in this way, we are made aware that Brevet Lieutenant Volunteer Piper and Captain  Edgell escaped with wounds, all about Villa Muriel on 25th October.  Throughout the period of the retreat from Burgos until the army returned to the safety of the border country about Cuidad Rodrigo we have no figures other than Divisional and these much convoluted ones at that.  The army fell into a very poorly executed retreat, on crowded mud-churned roads, no service from the commissary and of course the weather had turned to bitter cold rain.  The final segment although only 50 miles or so was fatal to the army, in coming to a final count it can only be expected that the regiment would muster;

29th November 1812 (at Cuidad Rodrigo)
1/4th Regiment  PUA 337
2/4th “  PUA 500

A week later 2nd battalion was drafted into 1st and a cadre of officers with, perhaps a goodly number of its more 'irregular' other ranks was sent off down to Lisbon and its remainder to recruit in England.  It is almost five months before figures are brought forward, and these accurate to a fault, it does suggest that this regiment was unable to capitalise on the amalgamation so far as numerical strength was concerned.

26th April 1813 (in cantonments in Portugal) 
PUA 613

As the 1813 campaign opened we can only expect 1/4th to show;

25th May 1813 (at Outeiro)
PUA 690 

The brigade is now under Robinson and Oswald has the Division which is a part of the Corps under Graham. A long march ensues north by east all the way up to Vittoria on the Grand Chaussee, the road to France. The enemy decides on a stand to give battle and so it is, the battalion, like the army generally will have held its numbers together throughout this great flank march of almost a month. On 21st June 5th Division are sent forward to assail a crossing of the Zadorra river away to the north of the main battle area, the intention, to break into the rear of Joseph’s force and to cut the road to France.  The bridge over this river which is their objective has before it a village, Gammora Mayor, it is only when the main conflict well to the south has become general that Robinson's men attack the village.  When it becomes the turn of 1/4th there is a street fight to be dealt with, having succeeded here the battalion goes forward to the bridge itself where they are met with a furious cannonade from the other side and find it impossible to make any further headway.  This it seems is as far as 1/4th go on the day, the battle is won in other places and we are told that 5th Division rather than go on to enjoy the spoils of victory bed down for the night on regular rations.

Lieutenants  Barker & Thorne are dead as are twelve of their men, Captains Edgell, Kipping & Williamson, Lieutenants  Hopkins & Warde and Ensigns Arnold & McCrohan with seventy-two others are all wounded leaving this unit at:

22nd June (after the battle of Vittoria) 
PAB 599 

Oswald's 5th Division are soon to be put in pursuit of Foy's men who were not present at the battle but are somewhere on the 'Chaussee to the north, they come upon them only as they approach the great frontier fortress of San Sebastian where Foy has already passed through leaving there a garrison to “hold the fort” and commander worthy of the task. Robinson's brigade is given no recorded task but their other brigade Hay's has all the work during mid to late July. The fortress remains firmly with the enemy throughout August but when the engineers are satisfied with their battering of the main walls it comes to their lot to make the forlorn hope and its first full on assault on the morning of 31st August 1813.  Lieutenant Maguire of 1/4th leads the charge and is first to fall, very dead, the ever present Captain  Williamson takes over and soon he is shot down, Captain  Jones rallies forward those still ready and able before he too is brought to his knees, it is left to Lieutenant Le Blanc of 1/4th Light coy' to lead, if that is the term we should use, all is smoke, flame and confusion, the breach is swept continually by heavy canister at very short range with musket fire at a hot pace as re-loaders pass forward charged pieces to those at the parapets.  The battalion this day will lose 119 of all ranks killed outright, amongst them, Lieutenants  Maguire, Jameson, Fawson & Carroll, the 159 wounded include Lieutenant Volunteer Piper, Captains Williamson & Fletcher, Lieutenants  Clarke, Heywood, Hyde, & Le Blanc, and Volunteer Benwell and a further three men whose remains just cannot be found!  Meanwhile Brigade Robinson has been shot in the face as has Gen' Oswald, the latter only present as a volunteer since Leith returned to pick up the Division, that General receives several hits from shell fragments breaking his left arm in two places.  Not a healthy place for anyone on 31st August 1813, so:

31st August 1813 (after the storm at San Sebastian)
PAB 264 

It is apparent that 1/4th had lost a few men prior to all of this but if brigade figures are to be taken into account the above PAB must be close to the mark.  The fortress was entered first by others but it is hardly possible to expect other than that some of these shell-shocked survivors would join in the pillage of the town that followed with great intensity.

The brigade and indeed the whole of 5th Division was in need of a period of quiet and restoration, which common sense granted, they are only to be used very gently when the army crosses the Bidassoa onto French soil in the first week of October, 1/4th having but six men wounded, one of whom was their Surgeon Gordon.  By some means the battalion, and the brigade generally begin to recover their losses as time passes, so much so that by the 10th November we see what is, for the first time in years a factual battalion by battalion 'Order of the Day' for all who are assembled at that long-strung out battlefield known as the 'Nivelle', on that day 1/4th stands at:

10th November 1813 (at the Nivelle)
PUA 482

In recording the casualties this day Oman's appendix Vol 7 P542 when referring to Robinson's brigade has what he often described as 'a tiresome error' when catching others out in his research, it is refreshing to know that even he, is not infallible!  Fortunately the brigade is so far from serious action that they take but three casualties one of whom is LieutneantSalvin, just one month later however they are back having to put up some very serious stuff themselves. Their Division has come under the overall command of Sir John Hope, the all new 2/ IC of the army, he has been told off to bring his men (several Divisions) up by the Biscay coast towards Bayonne a fortified city of great importance. On 9th December 5th Division go forward by the left of the coast road towards Anglet along rolling hillsides and up to that place where they are met by the enemy and eventually take and hold it.  Sir John decides against standing so far forward with his corps leaving only a screen of pickets out in front he has his men retire back several miles to the rear. With some calculation we can expect that 1/4th this day commenced wit ;

9th December 1813 (at Anglet) 
PUA 485 

Out of an estimated twenty casualties on 9th December 1/4th would lose Lieutneant  Fraser, mortally wounded and Brevet MajorAnwyll injured.  The next day the line of forward pickets were attacked in force by the enemy running them back some distance onto the solid supports which came up rather late it seems, a confused combat took place about the Chateaux Barrouillet where 1/4th lost a further 56 men, including Captain  Jones and Lieutenants  Gichard & Hyde all wounded;

10th December (at Barrouillet) 
PUA 465
PAB 409

This whole affair became very messy the following day there seems to have been no great organisation by either local or overall command, what we today would call 'a soldiers battle' ensued, and at the end of it all 1/4th would have lost another 100 men, Lieutenant VolunteerPiper, Lieutenants  Clarke, Farrington, & Sutherland, Ensigns Gardiner & Rawling wounded as a part of that total so: 

11th December (at Barrouillet) 
PAB 309 

The rest of 5th Division having been similarly diminished it was clear that this unit should be stood down and allowed some restoration time.  On the 12th December, the enemy, still having aggressive intentions others of Hope's command took over the work whilst 5th Division retired back to its cantonments prior to this three day engagement. For Robinson's brigade this was to be practically the end of their war. Other than to make a few tactical moves about the Bayonne perimeter as the new year passed into late February the 1/4th would, no doubt attempt to recover its numbers while attending to its day to day duties, so it is that we close this chapter in the Peninsula. We are made aware that in mid January while at rest in cantonments this battalion would stand, all ranks at:

16th January 1814 (cantoned south of Bayonne on the Biscay coast)
PUA 390

PS; Already this is the third “Royal” regiment to be examined certainly establishing the view that these monarchial titles carry no weight when considering fighting qualities on the field.  King’s Own, another of those Walcheren battalions remains affected by the fevers found there this factor perhaps explaining how it is that their real entry as front line troops is delayed until Gen’ Walker puts them up and over the walls at Badajoz.  Their capacity to recover from serious losses in battle see them used often enough and, at times quite brutally.  It speaks well of their internal organization that they would be always regarded as being “regular”.  From the viewpoint of the CIC no better recommendation was required of his men.

They would assemble on the field for the Waterloo campaign over a year later with 669 men of all ranks PUA.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2009


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