Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 52nd Regiment of Foot (Oxfordshire Light)
19th August 1808 (landed at Maceira Bay from Ramsgate)
This battalion had but two days to disembark then march directly to the battlefield at Vimiero they will be brigaded with two other 2nd battalions, 2/9th, 2/43rd and 97th a single battalion regiment all under Brigadier Major General Robert Anstruther, taking up a position on the right of the defensive perimeter ahead of Vimiero village on high ground but sheltered from direct view having before it a hollow approach with a mix of vines and scrub containing riflemen of another brigade to break up this path. The enemy coming on in the time honoured way of skirmishers and column to follow, the riflemen gave back until the range was lethal then forward stepped 2/52nd and 97th to deliver a crashing volley. As the shattered enemy shrank back 97th were ordered to charge while 2/52nd extended around their flank and gave them a second resounding volley that seemed to do the trick, away they went down the hill at speed with others in pursuit.
When all of this had settled down a second attack was mounted with a new corps, two battalions of combined grenadier at the same spot but with even worse results, there being a battery loaded with shrapnel waiting to try out this relatively new missile, the assault never looked to have had a chance with repeat volleys just as effective as before and a hail of shrapnel bullets as an introduction. Nothing more could be done here so 2/52nd would stand down well pleased with their day's work brief though it was. Casualties to the battalion were not known, Oman in his text (p 261 v1 note 4) encourages us to seek these figures in the Appendix but, in her first real test to get it right his "ever-loving" compiler failed to deliver, they are however now to be seen [in a ‘casualties’ presentation by Steve Brown] and so, with 3 men killed 33 wounded, 2 missing we do also know that Captain John Ewart and Lieutenant John Bell are injured [via JA Hall] so perhaps;
21st August 1808 (after the battle at Vimeiro)
25-30th August 1808 (landed at Maceira Bay with Moore)
No figures recorded
This battalion comes ashore and, because the army and its multiple commanders have to a great extent lost any strategic direction becomes difficult to trace, we do know that for a short while it went by Elvas on the frontier of Portugal but, by the end of October when Lieutenant General John Moore was set to march into Spain it had come under Brigadier Anstruther with 20th Regiment and just 2 coy's of 1/95th.
Meanwhile, this battalion is also lost sight of but, as Moore organises his Corps to enter Spain there they are, still with 2/43rd but having exchanged 2/9th for 1/9th and all come under Major General William Carr Beresford as brigadier, so:
1/52nd 16th October 1808 (starting out for Salamanca)
2/52nd 16th October 1808 (starting out for Salamanca)
These two battalions of Oxford Light have distinctly different experiences over the next three months and indeed over the next two years so, must be dealt with accordingly whilst under Moore. That General is beset with all sorts of problems not the least of which is a proposed concentration with another Corps under Lieutenant General David Baird coming from Corunna in the far north-west.
This occurs at Mayorga and, on 20th December at that place the army is reorganised so that 1/52nd remaining under Anstruther has 1/95th made up to a full battalion and of course has 20th also as brigade comrades, numbers have gone down on this winter campaign to;
19th December 1808 (at Mayorga)
Whilst the 2nd battalion of 52nd are now to be brigaded under Major General Robert Craufurd they receive 1/43rd and 2/95th [a full battalion] but, by some means have over 50% of their strength "missing", these are not entirely out of the game, as we shall see later but certainly detached at this time, so:
19th December 1808 (at Mayorga)
It will be as well to deal with the doings of 2/52nd first, when the army is turned about they, with Craufurd are to march back in the general direction of Corunna retreating with the rest of the army but only as far as Ponferrada where Moore, rather strangely orders Craufurd to go off down the south-west fork there to head for the coast at Vigo. Somewhere along the way to this seaport at least a full coy’ of those missing personnel will re-join because our next figures show the men landed back in England as;
Mid January 1809 (landed at ports in England)
While acting under Lieutenant General Henry Paget in a rearguard action at Caçabellos [Anstruther is presently wracked with dysentery] 1/52nd are brought to battle at the bridge crossing and in a sharp fire fight against the enemy voltigeurs are estimated to lose 60 men killed and wounded so perhaps;
3rd January 1809 (after the combat at Caçabellos)
When Moore's men stand at bay above Corunna Anstruther has succumbed to his malady and Paget has a position in reserve in a protected hollow. As the enemy make an attempt to turn the British right flank Paget's men are brought out of the rear lines across farm enclosures and walls where the enemy cavalry is unable to effectively charge in upon them. Their infantry also is held up and bogged down here in a scattered fire fight which does little to harm 1/52nd, Lieutenant James Ormsby is the only officer recorded as being hit but 5 men are killed and another 34 wounded. From here it is simply a matter of loading as many of their walking wounded and sick as can be thrown aboard the navy transports and for all to sail off to England so:
22nd January 1809 (landed at ports in England)
Some time in the spring of 1809 Brigadier Craufurd is given the opportunity to draw out from his own and Anstruther's old brigades the 1st battalions of what are to become the army's early Light Brigade, 2/52nd will draw a short straw and later join the abortive Walcheren Expedition while Craufurd will re-fit his new Brigade ready for the return to the Peninsula so:
28th June - 2nd July 1809 (landed at Lisbon)
This is a difficult time for the Brigadier, he is aware that the army has marched some time ago into Spain to try its luck with their Spanish allies under Cuesta in a general action, commissaries and general courier messengers will have given out information that this combined group are looking for a fight and intend to penetrate as far as Madrid if necessary. For Craufurd all of this is seen as his golden opportunity to show his worth at the head of his new brigade but, infuriatingly, like all others who land at ports from navy transports his men must first be kitted out with basic field equipment and muleteers and mules to carry these "necessaries", spare horses are to be found and bought, a Brigade/Regiment/ HQ has to be established to deal with the day to day communications, logistics, etc. A full battery of artillery [Ross RHA] has to be attached and put in march so that as his window of opportunity begins to close on him he can only seek to force his men into a destructively hurried march to join the main force. The closer he gets to the action the more military personnel he meets coming the other way, some, when the distance is tantalisingly short tell of a great battle already in full cry!
None of this is good for 1/43rd, 1/52nd or 1/95th whose men are marching, almost trotting it seems in an effort to satisfy their chief, we are told by the various officer scribes of how valiantly the Light Brigade stood this test, these worthy journalists of course all rode on horses, it is no great stretch of the imagination to calculate the level of "concern" in the rank and file as they carried their 60lbs of personal equipment in the full heat of a Spanish summer. It is well known that Light Brigade arrived on the scene at Talavera only one day late and having got there were then given such delightfully satisfying work as to collect the dead and bury/burn the corpses before the army turned about and re-traced its steps down the Tagus, first by its northern banks and then, when a new enemy threatened, crossing to the southern side with Light Brigade now as a part of 3rd Division taking up the role of rearguard and, as they came along, the defence of various potential river crossings. The journey down country first to Truxillo and then via the Guadiana to Merida and Badajoz would be a continual tale of hardship for the rearguard men with the walking wounded and the weaker men of the army falling behind until exhausted and then left to the enemy as prisoners or, to die. There are no figures for this period and indeed none for a full year afterwards but this 1809 campaign certain would do no favours to 1/52nd or to their numbers.
When 1810 began the army had retired back into Portuguese quarters to reorganise it is not until the beginning of March that we see changes to Craufurd's Brigade, at this time it begins to expand being un-officially dubbed Light Division and receiving into its ranks 1st and 2nd Caçadores that month. They are followed by 3rd Caçadores in April and by 24th July 1810 2nd Caçadores are shown as having been rejected, Craufurd complaining that these men are being "too young and poorly officered". It is likely that the Light Division had already divested itself of this battalion much sooner than this time because, on that very day Craufurd has his men in a compromising position as a rearguard at the Coa river bridge crossing below Almeida with no sign of 2nd Caçadores being present. Marshal Andre Massena has a large army advancing in measured style against Wellington, Marshal Michel Ney has massed his Corps in front of Almeida having crossed the Agueda at Cuidad Rodrigo and been brought up against this smallest of British Divisions some way short of the Coa River bridge. Craufurd has "bent" his instructions to the limit by standing on the wrong side of this ravine with his back to steeply falling ground and a narrow crooked bridge that is totally overlooked from the ground by which an enemy would approach.
It says a great deal of his light infantry and his Company officers that when Ney launched his attack here they used every ounce of their training and skill to extricate themselves when Craufurd himself physically isolated could no longer control the man-on-man events. The story is well told elsewhere how the French cavalry were able to get in behind the left of Craufurd's array giving coy's of 1/95th a hard time before that part of the line was able to fall back into the protection of walled enclosures.
Meanwhile 1/52nd with Major Henry Ridewood in command was becoming isolated out on the right as more of the enemy penetrated the centre, the right wing of 1/43rd coming to the rescue in an uphill charge which relieved the situation just long enough for all to fall back down the hill onto the bridge where a defensive line of sharpshooters had aligned themselves behind the river. For 1/52nd this combat was more of an embarrassment than a defeat losing only 22 men in total of which Ridewood and Captain Robert Campbell were wounded, the story is told that one Lieutenant Henry Dawson who had a half company of 52nd close by that far left turned flank was able to go to ground while the combat raged on only to rejoin the regiment with his men untouched under cover of night, their comrades of 43rd Regiment of course having taken the major losses, so:
24th July 1810 (after the combat at the Coa)
27th September 1810 (on the ridge at Busaco)
In terms of casualties this day 1/52nd could be said to have had virtually nothing to do, however, that great raconteur Captain William Napier, telling the story of his brother George who enters the wounded list here, typically enlarges the doings of the battalion, let the figures tell the story. When an enemy column comes up the pathway towards the Busaco seminary and church they are led into a good old hidden ambush, 1/52nd waiting until the range is lethal rise out of hiding to deliver a crashing short range volley into their flank and front. The surprising suddenness of this action and its resulting effects send back the survivors with hardly any reply so that the total loss incurred by 1/52nd here is 16 men of which Captain George Napier is certainly one, joined by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Barclay who gets a wound from which he will not recover [dying in England some 8 months later] and Lieutenant Charles Wood, of the rest, 3 men are killed and 10 wounded, so:
27th September 1810 (after the battle at Busaco)
1st November 1810 (in the Lines of Torres Vedras)
By now Lieutenant Colonel James Wynch of 4th Regt' has picked up the Brigade since the departure of Barclay and within a couple of weeks 9 coy's of Brunswick Oels are attached, this does not go down well with Craufurd who remonstrates loudly as to their inclination to desert to the enemy when put out on screening duties. This unit lasts but 10 weeks and off they go elsewhere, Wynch dies of typhus about now so that Colonel George Drummond of 1/52nd picks up the Brigade, Craufurd now goes on compassionate leave to England as navy transports are about to embark from that place carrying 2/52nd back to Lisbon. This good news is countered by the entry of Major General William Erskine who picks up command of Light Division, all by 7th March 1811 at the same time that 2/52nd have landed at Lisbon. Whilst all of these changes have been taking place Massena's army has been hanging about Santarem in front of Light Division's picket lines but have reached the end of their capacity to survive a winter of short rations and cold quarters. As this army begins to quietly pull back we can estimate that 52nd Regiment will show:
11th March 1811 (coming out of the Lines at Santarem)
4-6th March 1811 (landed at Lisbon)
The figures shown for this battalion whilst mentioned as such in Oman's text [V4 p134] will soon fall back, probably as a result of the usual dropping off of administrative men and junior officers in Lisbon to act as a command clearing depot, it is as well to follow up the doings of its premier battalion for a little while yet.
The pursuit of Massena's army out of Portugal begins as a series of combats and manœuvres to dislodge rearguard defensive stands by Ney's Corps and could be said to represent the first really serious work faced by 1/52nd as truly trained light infantrymen. It is unfortunate that this had to be done under the overall command of Erskine whose thoughtless antics began now to earn him an unenviable place in Peninsula history. The first of these stands by Ney's men came at Redinha on 12th March 1811 after a light brush with the enemy at Pombal the day before. The fighting on the 12th with 52nd led in by Lieutenant Colonel John Ross came down to a series of minor sniping incidents in amongst the tightly packed houses of the town and a push towards the little river bridge where the resistance remained until the whole position was in danger of being turned at the flanks. The Adjutant of 1/52nd, Lieutenant John Winterbottom and Lieutenant John Cross were both wounded and Ensign Richard Lifford caught a wound that would soon end his life, 2 of the men were killed and 21 more wounded before being able to advance again.
12th March 1811 (after the combat at Reninha)
14th March (after the fight at Caçal Nova)
1st April 1811 (joining the army before Sabugal)
1st April 1811 (before Sabugal)
On 3rd April it is a heavy ground mist which plays a major part again in the drama, as at Foz do Arouce, this time leading Erskine to give peremptory orders for Beckwith's Brigade to cross the river and attack a virtually invisible enemy. Drummond Brigade is sent on a right flanking march taking a wide sweep before advancing on a parallel course. Beckwith though has run into deep trouble, his immediate enemy has been pushed back but only onto a large reinforcement to heavily outnumber the brigade.Drummond ignores an order to continue his flank march when he hears the sound of heavy action to his far left. Marching half blind onto the sound only, his brigade are in time to join a battle already half won so that their contact as the mist rises and the enemy sees himself being yet again turned by others, causes few casualties here. Two un-named officers are wounded, 3 men killed and 18 more wounded so:
3rd April (after the battle at Sabugal)
1st May 1811 (concentrated about Fuentes d Onoro)
When battle is joined on 3rd May Beckwith's men are not used other than to change position slightly at the end of the day. By the next day Craufurd has made his appearance and takes up the Division much to the relief of all concerned. The enemy are content to shift their un-used Divisions onto an extension of their left flank this day but, as 5th May dawns come on once more and, for Light Division it is this flank force that will take their attention whilst Fuentes' village is attacked, and defended quite out of the notice of the two battalions of 52nd. Much has been made of the involvement of Craufurd's Light Division in the "bringing in" of Houston's 7th Division, which had been placed by Wellington out on his far right in a very dodgy position much too far away from its next infantry supports when Massena developed his sweeping flank attack; however this may be, it is best to look at the hard facts rather than the sabre-rattling journalese of such as Napier and the Light Division disciples. Certainly, when Craufurd was called upon to march his men out onto this isolated flank there was already a highly disordered fight going on involving all arms on both sides but, it has to be observed, only a few battalions of Houston's infantry in real trouble and the brunt of the fighting being borne by the light cavalry.
Drummond's Brigade in their long march down to the contested area and then back again, occasionally in square, but often in open column, cost them no more than 45 men in total, (including 3rd Caçadores) all day, hardly then the result of desperate work from a brigade of 2184 bayonets! It is the less experienced 2nd battalion of 52nd that loses the most men here but, even they, with only 14 wounded, hardly worth mentioning. The 1st battalion had a mere seven men wounded and of the Regiment, not an officer touched, so:
5th May 1811 (after the battles at Fuentes d Onoro)
The summer campaign of 1811 then became influenced to a great degree by the re-call of Marshal Massena back to France and the entry of Marshal Auguste Marmont only two days after the Fuentes' battles. This General commenced a rapid re-organisation of the Army of Portugal and, with the co-operation of the wily Marshal Soult combined to force Wellington to adopt a defensive stance in the Caya valley for long enough for his troops to be exposed to the malarial mosquito swamps in that low lying region.
It is during this re-alignment that Lieutenant General Brent Spencer orders Light Division to make almost a "panic retreat" from their forward positions in order to get south of the Tagus [12th June] losing many good men by forcing the pace in the high summer heat and rough pathways. Arriving on the Caya river 2/52nd was no less vulnerable to the swamp fevers than any other of the post-Walcheren battalions so that when we next see them, out of this area and once more operating west of Cuidad Rodrigo the whole regiment has lost around 150 men to sickness and, no doubt some odd malignant wounds. It is during this time that the enigmatic Lieutenant Colonel John Colborne appears to pick up command of 52nd Regt', this is the officer who was a Brigadier and Lieutenant Colonel of the 2/66th Regt' at Albuera and, with Stewart was present with that battalion when it, along with the greater majority of his brigade was "wiped out" by the Visula Lancers and the flashing sabres of the French light cavalry. He had emerged unscathed [but un-sung, at least in Wellington’s eyes] from that experience to pass over Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Arbuthnott who had been promised the vacant Colonelcy of 52nd by none less than Wellington himself but, as is always the case where superior patronage rules, missed his mark. Obviously Colborne had been busy doing some intense lobbying of his own back at Horse Guards.
15th September 1811 (on the line of the Agueda)
Unfortunately Drummond had died already from the fevers of the Caya and Major General John Vandeleur was to take up command of 2nd Brigade by the end of the month. Having been stationed on the eastern banks of the Agueda when Marmont made a sharp cavalry sweep of Wellington's picket lines about El Bodon, Light Division was compelled to make a long flank retirement in order to come back to the appointed concentration area about Fuente Guinaldo only arriving when the dangers were over and receiving a curt rebuke from the CIC who in fact was more himself to blame than his Divisional Generals. No matter, this was to be the last flurry of a year of much manœuvre and action so that by the time that Vandeleur picked up the command of the brigade they would be settled down to the normal work of forward observation of the enemy all about the Agueda, still. The next year was to be full of action from its very opening on 1st January getting off to a brisk start with the CIC putting Cuidad Rodrigo under siege and Light Division being on the spot for some rostered trench work.
On 8th January a party of 1/52nd set to storm an outwork, the San Francisco fort which they accomplish in workman-like manner capturing the small garrison but, not before the loss of 20 men, 6 of them killed and 14 wounded amongst which were Captain Mein and Lieutenant John Woodgate. Just eleven days later the main breach is declared practicable and the storm is mounted. It appears that in this speedy attack the most senior officers present put themselves to more than normal hazard, we all know that Craufurd himself climbed far too close to the action to receive a mortal wound, Brigadier Vandeleur also was severely wounded as was the new Lieutenant Colonel Colborne, Captain Dobbs was killed and George Napier ever a good target lost his right arm while the "sharp fellow" Lieutenant John Gurwood who was only wounded slightly, going on to engineer the surrender of the main garrison after Lieutenant William Mackie of 88th had done the real business. Of the rest 1/52nd had 2 men killed and 23 wounded whilst 2/52nd fared even more lightly losing a mere 7 men wounded and 1 only killed, so, with no hard and fast figures to go on it can only be estimated that, when the storm subsided and order returned we might see:
19th January 1812 (after the storm at Cuidad Rodrigo)
With the temporary loss of its more senior officers at Cuidad Rodrigo it is the turn of Major Edward Gibbs of 1/52nd to pick up the command of the Brigade, whilst Colonel Andrew Barnard stood in as Divisional Commander and the regiment began to look for an amalgamation of its two parts, this being actioned on 23rd February from which time on we shall only need to consider a single battalion here, a significant cadre of officers and ineffectives going home to recruit. Although winter still holds the fighting grounds in its grip the CIC decides to move south to capture the more formidable fortress of Badajoz. It can be reasonably expected that by the beginning of March of the New Year 1/52nd would look like this:
1st March 1812 (on the march to Badajoz)
The siege and subsequent storm of Badajoz turned out to be a much more serious affair than the taking of Cuidad Rodrigo, the enemy commander was made of much sterner stuff and his defences and men far better organised, when the time came for the full on assault the defenders had cleared a space behind the main breach to present a sheer drop of more than 20ft and erected a maze of obstacles on the crest of the entry slopes. His mines were well laid and artillery pieces positioned to aim canister cross-fire into this killing ground from side embrasures at each end of the breach. On the night of 5-6th April Light and 4th Divisions charged into this impossible objective hurling attack after attack onto a slope which soon filled with shattered bodies amongst masonry, water filled craters, upturned swords, burning timber and always a hail of canister and musketry balls, shells and fireballs. When others had won the storm elsewhere it remained to count the cost, not one man had entered the town alive at this breach and, of 1/52nd 321 men all told had been killed and wounded. Once again the officers present had placed themselves at the head of affairs and suffered accordingly. Of the total 59 men killed six were officers, Captains William Madden, Augustus Merry, Clement Poole and ‘Jack’ Jones and Lieutenants Charles Booth and Job Royle. Of the 262 wounded, 14 officers, Major [Brevet Lieutenant Colonel] Gibbs lost an eye, severely wounded were Captains Robert Campbell and Mein, Lieutenants George Barlow, Robert Blackwood and Henry Dawson, also wounded were Captain Ewart, Lieutenants Francis Davies, Charles Kinlock, James McNair, William Royds, Winterbottom and Charles Yorke and Ensign George Gawler. In the ranks 53 men were killed and 248 wounded, a sorry price to pay for a useless attempt against an invulnerable position, so:
6th April 1812 (after the storm at Badajoz)
This is a figure present bearing in mind all of the losses endured by the army in the period of siege works prior to the final action, which had already amounted overall to almost 1000 men amongst whom were certainly Ensigns George Hall and William Nixon, however, it is not to be over-long before convalescents and occasional drafts come to the aid of 52nd. We see that in the two months of spring and early summer returnees etc' swell the ranks by probably well in excess of one hundred.
15th July 1812 (on the march in the Salamanca campaign)
Although this campaign included some extended marches and counter-marches across the plains and over various major and minor rivers, when the final battle was brought on about the Arapiles on 22nd July the only notable consideration is to see that Vandeleur has returned from convalescence to pick up the Brigade and its new Divisional Commander is Major General Charles Von Alten. Casualties on the day of battle reflect the amount of involvement for Vandeleur's men, six only being injured or "captured" in long range skirmisher/sharpshooting out on the British far left flank. It would be mere speculation to attempt to put a number on those men present under arms for the period going all the way to Madrid after the great victory at the Arapiles and indeed going further yet to the time spent out on the eastern perimeter of the covering force left to protect the Spanish Capital during the late summer and early autumn of 1812.
Nowhere are to be found reliable figures for the retirement from Madrid to Salamanca, we do however see that during the last phase of the final dismal march back to the line of the Agueda at the crossing of the Huebra River 17th November 1812 the pursuing enemy put down a barrage of cannon fire here, some 30 men were wounded, two more killed and eight went missing/captured, Captain Henry Dawson was killed and Captains James Currie and Thomas Fuller wounded that day before the final un-molested retreat finished the 1812 campaign. Vandeleur's Brigade was so little engaged in its rearguard duties as to escape notice, other than that "attachment" of 20th Portuguese Line during the final retirement and its rapidly melting numbers that tended to mask true numbers from those brigade figures presented. It is reasonable to say however that upon turning about into a defensive stance once safe on the Portuguese border 1/52nd could stand no better than:
29th November 1812 (on the line of the Agueda)
Having reached this low point as to numbers the regiment takes up its usual role of forward screening but this time watching an enemy who is totally on the defensive, the winter is passed in a virtual hands-off stance well apart whilst the full effects of both of the 1812 campaigns are realised. The Imperial Forces of France are close to exhaustion whilst the British on the other hand can at last see that a final victory is there for the taking. Wellington's army receives reinforcement of men and material whilst the spring is slow to turn into favourable campaigning weather; meanwhile 1/52nd will have an influx of drafts and returnees that during April will show them about;
26th April 1813 (cantoned in Portugal)
By the commencement of the Vittoria campaign they are still being reinforced, so:
25th May 1813 (on the march north out of Portugal)
It is worthy of note here that a Portuguese Line regiment, 1/2/17th PL has joined the Brigade, this complete departure from the Light Division "all light infantry" principle never being explained by the contemporary Light Division journalists or even later historians. The history of this regiment may be found in "The Portuguese Army" as a part of "A Game of Soldiers" [by the same author]. The enemy, now under King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean Baptiste Jourdan are herded ever northward until they are forced to make a stand behind the River Zadorra before Vittoria, the brigade is under the hand of Vandeleur still and presumably Lieutenant Colonel Colborne has the regiment with Brevet Major Mein up at the sharp end when the action begins. Light Division on 21st June are brought forward well after others elsewhere have been fighting seriously for some time, Vandeleur's Brigade crossing the Zadorra by an undefended bridge to come to the aid of men of Lieutenant Colonel William Grant's Brigade of 7th Division who are bogged down at the village of Hermandad, the attack in line swarming over the defence to such effect that only 23 men of 1/52nd are lost for the whole day's work, Captain Currie has paid the ultimate price and Lieutenant Edward Northey is amongst the wounded, so:
21st June 1813 (after the battle at Vittoria)
There is to be little rest or time for any quiet looting by Light Division after the rout of Joseph's army, they are sent north by east coming up to the defences about Pamplona by 25th June and very quickly are sent off at the march to attempt to intercept General Bertrand Clausel's Corps which is loose in the area. This General is too illusive to be caught, escaping into France by his shortest route so that they return back around Pamplona again by 2nd June but, no real rest for this corps; they are once more on the move marching into the Bastan just a few days later. By the time that they are seen again on 8th July Vandeleur has secured a posting to command cavalry and 2nd Brigade have received a commander of very dubious quality, Major General John Skerrett, this period also marks a time when Light Division would play no great part in proceedings as the army’s natural vanguard/scouting corps. For several reasons Alten's men would find themselves disconnected from the enemy so much so that this article would be nowhere found and indeed Light Division itself would rarely be able to be found by the CIC or his ADC’s when it was most needed! It can only be said by way of defence that in the difficult hills and valleys of the upper Bastan there was a good deal of confusion at Staff level.
History tells us that on 8th July Light Division were at Santesteban and six days later on the Bidassoa at Vera. For a little over a month it will settle down here and presumably will recoup numbers marginally by way of returning convalescents taking it well beyond its best 1813 figures so far, maybe a few drafts have also joined too. The men of 1/52nd play no real part in the events of 31st August losing but one man wounded, however, being close at hand near the Bridge at Vera they will witness the sacrifice of two coy's of 2/95th under Captain Daniel Cadoux from their own Brigade as Skerrett prevaricates over their dangerous plight.
31st August 1813 (San Marcial and the Bridge at Vera)
It seems that Brigadier Skerrett, as a direct result of this final act of dereliction of duty [not the first by any means] loses the confidence of not only the Brigade but the whole Light Division, amongst its officers he is no longer seen to be deserving of charge and having been "cut" by his contemporaries quits the command leaving it open for Colborne to step up, take the Brigade and begin to carve out his own niche in Light Division history. Colborne's Brigade are brought to action a little over a month later as a part of those combats to clear the Line of the Bidassoa, numbers will have improved at a steady rate the Brigade having held its position now for some time.
7th October (at the Bidassoa Line)
They are still at and about the Vera Bridge and are to attack a series of entrenched positions up towards the Bayonette Spur, their own point of attack being at a Star Fort, St' Benoit. With their comrades of 2/95th going on first and being thrown onto the defensive 1/52nd come through taking casualties under heavy fire so that Colborne sees that he must call for an all-out determined push, going in and over stone walls and trenches at bayonet point. Having judged the opposition to a nice degree this effort is rewarded by the enemy flinching and running off to the rear but not before twelve men are killed and sixty-eight wounded amongst whom are Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Mein, Brevet Major Patrick Campbell, Captain John Douglas, Captain John Sheddon, Lieutenant William Hunter and Ensign Alexander Fraser, this last one to die of his wounds a fortnight later, so:
7th October 1813 (after the assault at the Star Fort St
Sharp as this last engagement was there was to be much more serious fighting yet another month later on the Nivelle River. It is as well then that the battalion has been able to restore its numbers throughout these last few months, they will come to their positions for this battle standing at;
10th November 1813 (at the Nivelle)
The French defences at this river were all to the south side, many of them being enclosed redoubts built on high ground with Fleches both earthwork and masonry, all with well placed artillery batteries able to provide crossfire but, unfortunately for the defenders, covering far too much frontage for the troops available. Alten's Light Division was to attack in the centre from the area of the Great Rhune directly north at a number of redoubts, Colborne's Brigade however being presented with a soft part of the front at least at the outset. Whilst others were busy winkling out the garrisons of these somewhat isolated strong points 1/52nd and their comrades of 2/95th were able to make ground with minimal casualties. The short autumn day was progressing and the general plan of attack taking full advantage of the ability to outflank the various works, which would otherwise have been difficult to overcome, when a Staff Officer, [rumoured to be Charles Beckwith a 24yr old nephew of the well known Colonel of the 95th] came up to Colborne and passed on an order for 1/52nd to assault the next redoubt ahead. The place had already been by-passed by General Giron's Spaniards but, in obedience to this seemingly fatuous command the battalion was set in motion to storm the Signals Redoubt first attempting to cross a deep ditch against well-protected musketry fire. Casualties here soon mounted but, as is easily seen the more senior officers in charge held back whilst the men sacrificed themselves attempting to achieve the impossible. Colborne himself, in company with the requisite bugler was able to stop the slaughter by the use of the flag of truce and a well presented expression of logic, he negotiated surrender from the garrison chief on the grounds of his having been well outflanked and cut off from all escape. Of the 40 or so officers of 1/52nd present Captain William Rentall and Lieutenants Matthew Anderson and George Barlow were seriously wounded and Lieutenants Matthew Agnew, Charles Kenny and Charles Yorke received slight wounds whilst of the men, 32 were killed outright and 202 wounded, nothing more needs to be said;
10th November 1813 (after the assault of the Signals Redoubt)
Just a month passed by before Light Division was in action again, this time in what has been termed the battles of the Nive. Tactically difficult because of the several long hilly spurs interspersed with soggy valleys, dammed streams and coppices, Alten's Division was to advance with its forward pickets well into the open country before the Aritzague stream. The brigadiers seemingly unaware of the real strength of the enemy hereabouts left this screen rather poorly posted. On 10th December in front of Arcangues the Light Division picket line was taken by surprise [an unheard of event under Robert Craufurd] and as many as 72 men captured, of which only six were from 1/52nd itself. When the enemy however came up against better prepared opposition the battalion, led once more by Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Mein was able to hold a line some way left of the Basque Church which was already well held by others, the left extension of their line falling away steeply into a ravine.
Most enemy attention fell to attacking the defenders of the church and its surrounding walls although, on the day 1/52nd managed to pick up a further 20 casualties of which its Lieutenant Colonel was one receiving a serious wound through the neck whilst Captain John Douglas died a fortnight afterwards from a mortal wound and Ensign Frederick Radford another to be seriously injured and Lieutenant William Hunter slightly wounded also. With two men killed and 15 wounded and those first 6 made prisoner then the "bill" for that day stood at 26. Resorting to equate figures we can confidently expect that 1/52nd after this combat would stand at:
10th December 1813 (after the battle of Arcangues, at the
There followed a stand down for over two months whilst the winter rains held the ground completely waterlogged. This would give 1/52nd and many others the opportunity to re-fill its empty spaces in the ranks, so much so that by the time we see them in action again in 1814 numbers will have returned almost up to their November total. In the marches to keep Soult's army on the move eastward Light Division has left behind most of its premier brigade [re-fitting equipment and uniforms] so that as the enemy turns to fight at Orthez on 27th February 1/52nd will only have two small battalions of 2/3/95th as company along with 1st & 3rd Caçadores and 1/2/17th PL. It is likely that they will have:
27th February 1814 (at Orthez)
The preliminary manœuvring prior to the battle saw the truncated Light Division come in at the left centre of Wellington's main array having crossed the Gave de Pau by pontoon bridge near Berenx only at dawn on the day of combat. They were directed to occupy a prominent knoll known as the Roman Camp out of sight on its western shoulder where they stood for some two hours whilst others went on the attack to their left front. First of the Division to move up to face enemy fire was 1st Caçadores who were to assist a much troubled 4th Division close by the St'Boes lane, shortly after, as the 4th Division initiative had faltered it was up to 1/52nd led by Colborne to make something of a renewed general assault which included new troops from other Divisions. Trudging through shallow marshes they were able to come up to the French defensive line a good part of the way in dead ground and latterly into his flank taking incoming fire and being able to return it with sufficient effect as to break down all resistance in their part of the front.
All of this cost the battalion 89 casualties from which Captains Yorke and Charles March, Lieutenant John Leaf and Ensign William Nixon were all severely wounded, Major Patrick Campbell and Lieutenant James Holford slightly wounded and 7 of the men killed and 76 wounded, so:
27th February 1814 (after the battle at Orthez)
During March Light Division took on the extreme left of the army's line as the enemy continued to fall back eastwards onto their final resting place at Toulouse. The day to day movements in late-winter early-spring, crossing successive rivers and streams all in cold wet conditions would do little to improve battalion figures and in fact none are forthcoming. This "end of war" period was noted to be very much short on detail where Order of the Day was concerned whilst in Light Division, Oman's Appendices chronicler is always at pains to avoid placing the two Caçadore battalions, or 1/2/17th Portuguese Line in either 1st or 2nd Brigades preferring to show them as merely "the Portuguese" of Light Division. It fell to Light Division to stand in reserve for almost the whole day at the battle at Toulouse on 10th April although 1/3/95th were called on to advance into the skirmish line and suffered accordingly. Colborne's Brigade would have held the left of the Division’s position and it would be here that just five of the rank and file were wounded, stray shots most likely aimed in the direction of their Spanish allies to their further left who had a very busy day indeed. Whilst individual figures are not available it can be expected that when this last affair of the war died away 1/52nd would stand close to;
10th April 1814 (after the battle at Toulouse)
This battalion put in an appearance at Waterloo being saved throughout the whole day's events until the advance of the Imperial Guard; they stood at full strength having over 1000 men PUA on the field. Only in later years the crushing defeat of the assault mounted by the 'Guard has been largely credited to this unit which, still commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Colborne [reduced it seems from Brigadier], brought its full capacity of musketry to bear on this illustrious corps greatly assisting the breaking their morale and precipitating the rout of the army of Napoleon.
For this distinction the battalion paid in kind, practically two hundred men killed or wounded!
Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2010
© Copyright 1995-2015, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.