Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 50th Regiment of Foot (West Kent)
5th August 1808 (landed at Mondego Bay from Andalusia)
In keeping with so many other of these early entrants into the Peninsular theatre this came in as a fine 1st battalion with strong numbers ready to give a good account of itself, we shall see for ourselves how well it is to be used.
A little over a fortnight passes before they come into line at the battle of Vimiero, they have only lost three men from their landed figures but already they have gone from Brigadier General Catlin Craufurd's care to come under Major General Henry Fane alongside the full battalion of 5/60th Rifles and 4 companies of 2/95th Rifles and all are very temporarily under that junior Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley. Fane's Brigade has a central position on a hill in front of the town, the riflemen being deployed down the slope in a heavy skirmish order led by Major Charles Hill of 1/50th, they give a good account of themselves when the enemy columns come within range but are pressed back up through the line formed by 1/50th and a few of the rifle companies able to extend to their flanks.
Succeeding volleys of musketry at ever closing range put a stop to the advance while the column's flanks are assailed with cannon fire but the Major has been severely wounded early in the piece Captain Arthur Coote is killed and Lieutenants Robert Ray, John Kent and John Wilson are wounded, it can be expected that of the rest some 35 or so are killed and wounded during this short but serious attack but, there will be no more to do for 1/50th standing down at probably:
21st August 1808 (after the battle at Vimiero)
There is to be a long period of uncertainty as to the tactics to be employed when the Lieutenant Generals Harry Burrard and Hew Dalrymple took over from Wellesley, the French knew that they were well beaten especially as more troops were being landed under Moore so, the outcome for 1/50th was that they became disconnected from Fane's care to take up possession of an undisclosed strongpoint somewhere in the area north of the Tagus; so little is known of their "garrison" duties that it is only when Lieutenant General John Moore has become heir to the command of the army in Portugal and has set it in motion into Spain that they will re-appear.
Late October 1808 (on the march into Spain)
October has gone and Moore's men have marched out of Portugal leaving 1/50th and some other isolated battalions strung out in the rear along the roads going up to Salamanca and then on again as far as Mayorga.
There we see that Lieutenant General David Baird has combined with Moore and the army is re-cast, 1/50th, having caught up to this concentration are brigaded under Lieutenant General William Bentinck with 1/4th and 1/42nd, men falling off as this march goes into wintry conditions so that by:
19th December 1808 (at Sahagun)
The ensuing retreat onto the far western coast at Corunna appears to do no great harm to the strength of 1/50th accepting perhaps that of these a good many would be walking sick and injured and some few more carried by whatever means. It remains then to turn about at a defensive line above Corunna to hold off Marshal Nicholas Soult's men while the evacuating fleet is able to make port and begin to take off the non-combatants with their attendant baggage. Bentinck's Brigade is to hold a position to seaward of the village of Elvina with a number of its Light companies within its shelter while the battalion lines are formed up on rising ground behind. As the battle got under way these lines receive steady attention from a well placed enemy battery which is able to fire across the hollow ground where Elvina sits picking off men here and there until they put in an attack towards the village which, having ejected the Light companies then progresses uphill until there is but a long low stone wall between the two adversaries.
Major Charles Napier is encouraged to charge at and over this wall to engage at close quarters, this is done and, done so well that 1/50th go into Elvina taking the place and going some way further yet into the open ground beyond. It is here that the Major is severely wounded, his second in command Major Charles Stanhope is already dead and the remnants of this over-confident fragment are either taken prisoner or put to flight. It falls to others to stabilise the situation but by now the enemy has no more desire to test its chances and all falls into a bickering musketry, the CIC Moore has been mortally wounded and Baird lost an arm, of 1/50th Lieutenant John Wilson and Ensign William Stewart are dead, Ensign Robert Moore has been fatally wounded and Captains George Armstrong and William Clunes, Lieutenants John McCarthy and John McDonald and Ensign William Watson all wounded and of the rest 175 are killed and wounded. As night falls the army is able to continue to pass its walking wounded and paraphernalia aboard the waiting transports at the wharves and next day all who are able have gone, some will die aboard ship, others at home, we do however know that when landed ashore in England 1/50th would bring back its survivors of this 1808 campaign at:
22nd January 1809 (landed back in England)
Sadly this is one of those battalions that are sent on the expedition to take Antwerp going into the low-country marshes in mid-summer; it would carry the germs of Walcheren for many a long day and all to no effect!
Return they will and sooner than most others who endured the Scheldt Estuary campaign.
October 1810 (landed at Lisbon)
No figures available
Joining the army as it settles back behind the defence works of "The Lines" about Lisbon 1/50th are brigaded with 1/71st, 1/92nd and a company of 3/95th all under Major General William Erskine in the 1st Division. There is little activity in the Lines until March of 1811 when Marshal Andre Massena takes his half-starved army off northwards and eventually east out of Portugal. During this winter period it is quite likely that a number of the arrivals at Lisbon would become hospitalised or be held "on command" in that place for logistical purposes however, when the army moves up to escort Massena out of the country Erskine has gone elsewhere, his place being taken by Major General Kenneth Howard who brings his Brigade up to the field at Fuentes d Onoro in May 1/50th standing at:
1st May 1811 (at Fuentes d Onoro)
They are not used on the first day of fighting on the 3rd May excepting that Lieutenant William Grant and Lieutenant Mark Rudkin and three men are wounded at the end of the day, they only get a slight contact with the enemy on the 5th May which brings down a further 23 men wounded, 2 killed and Lieutenant Thomas Ryan taken prisoner so, when all is over;
5th May 1811 (after the combats at Fuentes d Onoro)
Down in Estremadura Beresford is grappling with a Corps under Soult, there is a huge toe to toe battle at Albuera with traumatic losses for 2nd Division and as a result Howard's Brigade is transferred into 2nd Division whole by an order of 6th June. As it turns out this is no bad thing for 1/50th, certainly they will miss some glory being detached from the "main army" but under the careful gaze of their new CIC Major General Rowland Hill will be out of the limelight for some time to come. The single company of 3/95th leaves Howard's Brigade and is replaced by a coy of 5/60th during August to complete their reorganisation.
Men will return to the colours and perhaps a company or so of recruits will also replenish the numbers, we have no certain figures to use but by 2nd July Wellington’s Dispatches says that a detachment of 1/50th are landed at Lisbon and require equipment to enable them to take the field. Hill's action at Arroyo dos Molinos does not involve 1/50th so that apart from normal marching and day to day duties there is nothing to expect until the end of 1811 when they are set in march to manœuvre against General Jean Baptiste Drouet D’Erlon’s men down by Almendralejo coming back again a fortnight later and settling down as far as Portalegre, still no action to report.
It will be some four months later as spring turns to summer that Hill takes the initiative marching on the defensive works about the bridge over the Tagus at Almaraz and here 1/50th will earn some glory.
It is estimated that they will come to this place at:
19th May 1812 (at the bridge at Almaraz)
The bridge here is a part of Marshal Auguste Marmont's responsibility having left it to General Maximilien Foy to guard; there is a well found string of pontoons defended at each end by works close by the water. On the southern side a hill which overlooks the banks has upon it a strong fort with a double trench perimeter, the inside one palisaded it is impressively named Fort Napoleon. It is armed with a few cannons so, will be no pushover, the country to its south from where the attack is to be mounted is corrugated at an angle by a series of small stream valleys which fall into the Tagus, the hills between are not high but, almost all are covered in rough scrub and brushwood. The normal road to the bridge is securely protected by a permanent fort /castle on top of the most prominent high ground, a minor peak the approach to which can be swept by cannon fire and its walls only penetrated after a formal siege.
Hill has had his exploring officers seeking out an alternative route to the bridge for some time before a local man is found who is able to take them all along a goat track weaving its way to a small village in the general direction of the bridge and circumventing the Miravete castle back on the peak. Howard's Brigade are put in motion soon to be extended to single file along this track, 1/50th are at its head with 1/71st behind and 1/92nd at the rear.
This Indian file "column" must be at least a mile long but does get on well enough, undisturbed to the tiny village of Romangorda where it is likely that ladders are made for the escalade, from here they are able to advance quietly on virtually unseen, but by now, not unknown to the garrison who are, in the main, members of the Regiment de Prusse. Breaking into the clear at 300yds the enemy artillery is now able to do its work picking off men at each salvo, 1/50th and the right wing of 1/71st gather themselves up and go at the palisades and walls at the rush, it is perhaps at this period of the attack when most casualties are caused, however, the escalade cannot go on until a defect in the defences is found. The ladders are short but skirting along the berm a raised broad flat area is discovered where the ladders can be reared to reach the tops easily and up goes Captain Robert Candler of 1/50th first in and first killed inside. Other ladders have been placed and the combined rush at the tops is too much for the enemy who suddenly give up the struggle allowing a mass of men to enter. There is so much panic and so little control that the enemy run out of the rear entrance down to the river with a mob of 1/50th and 1/71st at their heels, the works at the bridge are abandoned and the flight is followed onto the bridge itself where the centre pontoons collapse and the bridge is broken. It is not over yet it seems, the defenders on the northern banks also run off leaving both sides defenceless so that eventually Howard's men are able to destroy all of the works, using the store of gunpowder to blow up the difficult parts, of course this fight was not without serious loss for those involved 1/50th lost their Captain Candler killed, Lieutenant Robert Sandys lingered with a mortal wound to die some six months later while Lieutenants Edward Richardson, William Hemsworth, William Patterson and Ensigns George Goddard, William Crofton and John Godfrey were all wounded, of the rest 26 were killed and 93 wounded so:
19th May 1812 (after the escalade at Fort Napoleon
When Hill has taken his men back all the way to Merida via Truxillo into the Guadiana basin it seems that little of consequence was to occur to 2nd Division until the great battle at the Arapiles fought by others changed the "balance of power" in central Spain. We shall only hear of Hill's charges as he brings a mixed force up from the south marching on Madrid, others under Major General Charles Von Alten are already doing duty about the capital city so that as this force comes up Hill will have them stationed at the south western fringes of the defensive ring. Howard's Brigade maintains the same structure even as the whole army in the autumn is forced to retire westward onto the old battlefield area at the Arapiles, no figures are available for unit numbers so that it is only after the army has retired back yet again, this time into Portugal that there is any chance of making an estimate as to battalion strength. Because Hill's men have had the better of the marching and logistical support during the retreat on the Agueda it is up to them to stay out on forward picket duty at and about Bejar, by this time it is estimated that 1/50th would stand at:
29th November 1812 (at Bejar)
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Stewart of 1/50th has already succumbed to illness at Coria and it is Colonel Harrison who has the battalion in hand. Brigadier Howard has been gone since mid November and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Cadogan of 1/71st has taken over. On 20th February 1813, while still on forward duty, Foy sends a raiding party into 1/50th picket lines at Coria, this incident only causes loss to the attackers who are easily shot down from safe positions. The winter is spent in restoring numbers by returning convalescents and very large drafts from home, there is no hurry as the enemy are now in fully defensive mode since the destruction of the Grande Armee in Russia and the spring is slow to generate good feed for the cavalry horses. We are given figures during this restoration period showing a steady improvement for the West Kent’s:
26th April 1813 (in the forward lines about
By late May things begin to warm up in many ways, the whole of Wellington's army is put on the move, its right nudging the enemy before it while the left, in very heavy numbers marches ever northward on the enemy's far right flank turning it continually as far as the valley of the Zadorra before Vittoria where King Joseph and Marshal Jourdan have to turn about if only to defend their ill gotten gains amassed in a huge baggage train of Spanish loot. It is Hill's task to make a strong feint on the right up into the Pueblo Hills to excite the attention of the enemy, all of this in late June, so, with no firm figures we can but estimate 1/50th at:
21st June 1813 (at the battle at Vittoria)
The Light company of 1/50th is detached early to augment the skirmish screen as the Division climbs to the high ground, 1/71st is ahead of the line troops meeting determined resistance after Joseph and Jourdan are persuaded to send a powerful reinforcement up onto this flank, 1/50th get much fighting both in and around the village of Subijana de Alava as the two opposing combatants meet on equal terms. The Brigadier Cadogan is mortally wounded here and his own battalion roughly handled before 1/50th and others can restore the situation, the fighting on these hills went on from early morning up until the time of the mass retreat of the enemy having been mostly in and around buildings of one sort or another. At the end of it all just 27 men of 1/50th were dead but, of the 77 wounded Major William Gordon, Captain James Gardiner, Lieutenants William Turner and William Bower and Ensigns Alexander Reid and John Williams were all recorded, so:
21st June 1813 (after the battle at Vittoria)
There followed much marching and occasional pauses to discover the intentions of the enemy as the CIC having occupied most of the Bastan, found before him a series of Pyrenean Passes all leading into France. It is as well to go forward a little over a month to find the Brigade, led by Lieutenant Colonel John Cameron of 92nd Regiment since the demise of Cadogan, up in the Maya Pass, the enemy, now reorganised and led by Marshal Soult was about to take the offensive. On 25th July 1/50th, with numbers probably very slightly above the last count, had a secure position close by the Col de Maya looking north down the valley towards Urdax where large concentrations of enemy troops could be seen in the far distance, their position, along with 1/71st and 1/92nd straddled the road by which these men would come on the attack. Things however were to turn out rather badly in other places before this assault on their position would develop, to the right of 1/50th the ground rose up to a long ridge across which a minor road the Chemin des Anglais meandered into another valley which was guarded by only a token force of Light companies. These men were attacked early about the Gorospil Knoll being overrun and many captured, the Brigade commander here sought help from Cameron who responded by sending his nearest battalion 1/50th off along the pathway to their extreme right. This move brought them into a totally different conflict, the enemy had already had success and was opening out their many battalions onto the easier rolling terrain on the ridge top, 1/50th came on entirely isolated but now representing a left flank in what we must call the combat at the Gorospil. The single battalion was to be no match against troops able to overlap and continually reinforce their strength so, it was to be a furious defensive fire fight for a short while and then a fighting withdrawal back by the Chemin pathway, some time passed in the resulting slaughter before a wing of 1/92nd came up to do what it could here. All were forced to give ground continually even passing their original position in the Maya Pass, the other half of Cameron's Brigade by now had been attacked by a hugely overwhelming force and were also retiring their battered remnants. The enemy were able to overrun the brigade camps and some baggage taking time to loot whatever took their fancy which gave Lieutenant General William Stewart the Divisional commander arriving all too late the chance to discover and defend a position down the road towards Elizondo, so it was that as the day ran out the attacks faltered, both sides deciding that enough had been done, for 1/50th and the brigade this meant a further retirement during the night before the casualty count could be taken.
All in all 1/50th had lost 249 men of which Lieutenants Hugh Birchall and William Deighton and Ensign Robert White had been killed as had 21 others, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hill, Captains Charles Grant and Roger North, Lieutenants John Myles, Duncan McDonald, William Nowlan, Richard Jones, Charles Collins, John Patterson and Ensign Samuel Bateman were wounded as were 158 others and Captain Mark Rudkin with 56 more men taken prisoner most likely as a result of serious wounds, so:
25th July 1813 (after the combats about the Pass
There is more to come in only a few days when the CIC gets to hear of this lost battle, the army is very much on the defensive with Soult bringing his columns through difficult country down upon the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. Just five days after the defeat at the Maya most of 2nd Division are at Buenza once more on defence, Cameron has been one of the Maya casualties so the brigade is led by Lieutenant Colonel John Fitzgerald of 5/60th and, once more they are faced by a force double their numbers. 1/50th and 1/92nd have the left flank and when the enemy close are able to send them back with well directed musketry, however they are dealing with General Abbe's Division, the best the French have and eventually these men are able to work around the open flank turning the position. Going back as much as a mile to the rear a new position with reinforcements ends the fighting with 1/50th losing Lieutenant William Sawkins wounded and made prisoner along with 10 others whilst 3 men were killed and Lieutenant Myles and another 15 are wounded, clearly the fighting this day was all at long distance and whilst giving ground, so:
30th July 1813 (after the combat at Buenza)
Meanwhile Soult's main force has suffered a crushing defeat at Sorauren which throws D'Erlon's men, those attacking Hill, back on the defensive and next day the nominal commander of 2nd Division that total incompetent Stewart throws Fitzgerald's weary Brigade into a cruelly fierce attack on Abbe's men as a part of an offensive move, this brigade showing remarkable courage meet the enemy full on but, being heavily out-numbered are thrown back once again suffering, this time needlessly just to satisfy the bloodlust of an idiot.
31st July 1813 (after the fight at Donna Maria)
Fitzgerald has been wounded and captured as have 14 more of 1/50th, 6 men dead and 26 others wounded completes the butcher's bill! By now the campaign of 1813 has cost 1/50th a half of its strength, others in this brigade even more so it is no surprise that a long rest of sorts will come their way, the Division is kept up in the Pyrenean Passes guarding Wellington's right flank while there is a period of attack and counter-attack about the Bidassoa, all by others. With the brigade leaderless once more it falls to Major General George T Walker of 50th Regiment who had been in service in 5th Division to pick up the command, his Brigade is able to restore numbers to some extent during this quiet period and so, when we see them next it will be as late as November on the Nivelle as that river line is to be forced so:
10th November 1813 (on the Nivelle)
These figures will remain intact since Walker's Brigade is not brought to action this day, but it is farewell to Walker already and hello to Major General Edward Barnes of 46th Regiment a fire-eater as ever was, his brigade will have received back into its ranks many of the men wounded previously in the Maya and at Buenza and perhaps we should come to terms with the very sparse information as to numbers going into the battles about the Nive in December.
9th December 1813 (on the Nive)
There is nothing of consequence to do on the first day of the passage of the Nive however, at St'Pierre d Arrube on the 13th December they will again meet an old and worthy enemy, General Abbe's Division and fight a contest which will bring both sides to a standstill, utterly worn out, bereft of ammunition but, for 2nd Division, or at least its remnants still holding its ground. The Division at the beginning was well forward of a hill spur looking towards Bayonne with its Light companies in the many farm buildings and in behind enclosure walls at Hiriberry where cover could be found, these men being supported by Colonel [Brigadier General] Charles Ashworth's Portuguese, 1/50th back at the hilltop in reserve, there was to be a long period of fighting here before the enemy finally ejected the Portuguese, others came forward to contest the progress of Abbe's men up the hill towards the central positions. Artillery fire was constant on both sides before coming to close quarters each side gaining and losing an advantage as the contesting commanders fed in reinforcements. It was in this way that 1/50th came into the tussle piecemeal, in all of this confused fighting they would have little idea of any tactical objective it would be simply to hold the position at all odds. It was up to Stewart yet again to control this area, Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Peacock of 1/71st panicked when Ashworth's men had been "used up" and their remnants retired onto his position, Peacock absconded to the rear leaving his battalion to fend for itself so that for a while a hole began to develop to the left of 1/50th. Colonel Bunbury of 3rd Regiment had already done the same away to the far right and things were looking grim but, this was a situation where the impetuous firebrand Stewart was perhaps the ideal man to be on the spot, he ordered a last resort bayonet charge at this danger area and this tipped the scales of fortune in his favour, everyone hereabouts was exhausted by now and as it turned out this last effort had formed the crisis of the battle. Barnes had been seriously wounded and in 1/50th so had Captain North, Lieutenants Robert Keddle, William Nowlan and Patrick Plunkett and Ensigns William Freebairn and Hugh Johnstone, amongst other officers wounded were Captain William Bower, Lieutenants Charles Brown and Richard Jones, of the rest 20 men were dead, 93 wounded and 8 taken prisoner, so:
13th December 1813 (after the battle of St'Pierre
For Barnes's Brigade and the army generally there is now an enforced rest period while the winter rains lash down turning roads into seas of mud and the various waterways into torrents. During the next few weeks numbers will fall away as the army generally competes for dry billets, 1/50th perhaps having little luck here:
16th January 1814 (cantoned on the Nive)
With hindsight it must be the case that 1/50th receive a large draft of men from home as also an appreciable number of convalescent returnees so that when the army is able to move again in mid February we can estimate that 1/50th would stand at:
12th February 1814 (leaving winter quarters in front
The doings of Barnes's Brigade in these early flanking marches to the right of the army is not well documented but using officer casualties recorded in JA Hall we see that there must have been close contact with the enemy, especially for the Light companies as they drove across the rivers and streams falling out of the Pyrenees. Between 14th and 17th February inclusive 1/50th had no less than 5 officers hit in minor engagements, these were its Lieutenant Colonel William Gordon and Lieutenants Charles Brown, Arthur Browne [Light company], Richard Jones and the unfortunate Adjutant John Myles who died from his wounds a month later. Oman takes great pains to rationalise officer casualties to those in the ranks, using the same technique and the known ratio in 1/50th we can say that no less than 70 other ranks would be accounted for in these four days and, all about Hasparren, St Palais and as far as the Saisson at Arriverayte. During the next week Hill takes 2nd Division up to the Gave d Orolon which thus brings us to the general action before Orthez, it can be estimated that 1/50th would come into line at:
27th February (at the battle of Orthez)
Hill's task this day is to threaten the French left flank at the Orthez Road Bridge and further south feeling for the end of Soult's array. The fords at Souars a mile beyond and up stream of the bridge are crossed with only token resistance from the enemy so that once in open ground 2nd Division is able to turn this flank with ease. Thus, coming under serious threat of envelopment the enemy force has to retire at a good pace which turns into rout leaving Hill's men well forward and ready yet again to advance eastward as soon as the CIC can re-assemble his troops further to the left who really have had a hard day of it. Casualties to 1/50th amount to no more than 14 all told of which one man is dead and Ensign James Sweeney injured with 12 others, so:
27th February 1814 (after the battle at Orthez)
Only three days later Barnes's Brigade is in action again coming upon an enemy force standing on defence across high ground to the west and south of Aire, they attack its right flank late in the day, General Villate's men here give way immediately going back behind the hill to Aire itself which lies behind a tributary of the Adour, 1/50th and 1/92nd pursue, cross the stream and commence a fight into the town's streets. Others of Hill's Corps are having mixed success but the outcome is never in doubt, Villate receives some support from his rear but, as the main French force is being driven away southwards all have to make a dash for it as the day comes to a close, 1/50th will have lost Lieutenant Duncan McDonald killed, Captain Verney Lovett, Lieutenants Henry Jauncey and Holman Custance wounded and perhaps some 42 men killed and wounded so that:
2nd March 1814 (after the combat at Aire)
Although the war was coming to a close 2nd Division would hardly know it, this next month would be spent in dreary marches in late winter rains until they come to the environs of Toulouse. They are, as to be expected at the southern end flank of Wellington's main force their job to place the pontoon bridge across the Garonne at Portet about seven miles south of Toulouse, the river here has already received several large tributaries and, as the rains continued was very full, however, the pontoon equipment when laid out proved to be some 80ft short of the opposite banks. Taking all up and moving south to where the river had yet to be swollen by these streams Hill was able to at least get his men across the Garonne but of course the tributaries were still to be crossed, all of this about Pinsaguel, the first pontoons had to remain in place to provide a link to their supports so, with no more bridging material to hand the whole project came to nought. Everywhere was utterly waterlogged Hill's Corps between the "devil and the deep" so that after a little soul searching Hill was ordered away from this area and his pontoons taken off to find better opportunities downstream. By 10th April the CIC had managed to gather his available forces around Toulouse by the northern perimeter, Hill's men still being on the right but now in position before the main city entrance at St'Cyprien. This bastioned gateway was also defended by a series of trenches in a semicircle with occasional strong points and it was at these trenches that Hill's men were directed when the action commenced. There is no way to get at exact figures for 1/50th the only ones available being by Division but it might be expected that they would have been reduced only a little since the combat at Aire so:
10th April 1814 (at the battle of Toulouse)
With Lieutenant Colonel Robert O’Callaghan's Brigade taking the first rush at the defenders in the trench works and Barnes's Brigade merely following up there was to be no serious fighting here, the men in the trenches soon gave up their places to O’Callaghan and it was left to Barnes's men to merely occupy this convenient sheltered ring spending the rest of the day in exchanging fire against the enemy on the city ramparts. This then was to be the last action for 1/50th, Captain John Henderson and Ensign William Jull are seriously injured as is Lieutenant Sawkins who loses a leg, in the ranks 2 men are killed and 8 more wounded so that our final expectations come down to:
10th April (after the battle at Toulouse)
There would be quite a party for the survivors two days later when the gates were opened and the town raised the flag of the Bourbon's, all would later march in easy stages back westward to the Biscay coast to sail away to adventures elsewhere.
This Regiment was not present at Waterloo.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2010
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