Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 57th Regiment of Foot (West Middlesex)

By Ray Foster

Facings: Yellow


October 1809 (landed at Lisbon from Gibraltar)                                                                                    

No figures available

This strong 1st battalion is brigaded into 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division as soon as it clears Lisbon coming under Brigadier Major General Richard Stewart, it has replaced a Battalion of Detachments and will sit with 1/48th and 29th, all of course under Major General Rowland Hill. It is the late autumn/winter when Wellington is reshaping his army after the retreat from Talavera so that there will be plenty of time for this unit to become "regular", they will go into winter quarters during which time a coy' of 5/60th is joined to the brigade but all will only appear, with a new Brigadier, their own Lieutenant Colonel William Inglis, in the moves which see them assembled at the south end of the ridge at Busaco in late September of 1810.

Stewart has departed under strange circumstances CT Atkinson says that he went home ill as late as 10th October that year however, JA Hall is quite sure that he met with an "accident" in Lisbon in that same month falling from a balcony whose banisters had been removed and is entered in the list of dead.

Certainly Inglis had the brigade at Busaco, then, just 10 days later Major General Daniel Hoghton of 8th Regiment took over, there is a story here waiting to be dug out as Richard Stewart had been a man of some influence at Horse Guards.

By this time 1/57th had been in the country almost a year and first figures will show:

27th September 1810 (on the ridge at Busaco)                                                                                                          
PUA 755

Being well south of the action when Marshal Andre Massena sends his men up the ridge the whole of 2nd Division has a bloodless day and are able to move off the position at leisure going back down to the prepared lines at Torres Vedras and into quarters for a little while. By November it seems that this battalion will not have faired too well losing almost a hundred men by various forms of attrition, not an unusual thing for many others during this settling down period, so:

1st November 1810 (in the lines about Torres Vedras)                                                                                            
PUA 658

When the French army retires out of Portugal 2nd Division will be sent in a different direction going south-east into Estremadura, Hill has had a return of malaria, a legacy of his brief time at Walcheren, this has left Major General William Stewart at the head of the Division and Marshal William Carr Beresford has the Corps. Hoghton takes his Brigade along and all are concentrated on high ground to the south of the village of Albuera when Marshal Nicholas Soult brings up a force to disturb the siege taking place at Badajoz, the critical date will be 16th May 1811. Inglis has his men drawn up in line standing at:

16th May 1811 (on the field at Albuera)                                                                                                                     
PUA 647

The story is well told elsewhere how the brigade came up to the "Spanish Hill" to hold the line against an enemy vastly superior in number but massively clubbed together.  With over a thousand casualties from just three battalions, plus those of the enemy, who, we are told were even more, the scene on this low rise, when the fighting died away and the rain dispersed the smoke would reveal a scattered remnant of a brigade. Brigadier Hoghton was dead as was Major J McKenzie Scott and Captain Ralph Fawcett, Inglis [famous for his legendary instructions to his men that day to Die Hard] lay seriously wounded as did Captains George Kirby, John Jermyn and Lieutenant Edward Sheridan all of these last three to die later of their wounds, Ensigns James Jackson and James Veitch lay wounded, both having held the King's Colour in the thick of the action and Lieutenants Donald McLachlan and Leeson Paterson also were seriously wounded.

In the ranks 87 men lay dead and a huge 318 had been wounded whilst a further 13 officers surprisingly admitted to only having received slight wounds these being, Major William Spring, Captains Price Hely, Walter McGibbon, Thomas Shadforth and John Stainforth, Lieutenants George Baxter, Thomas Dix, J H Evatt, John Hughes, Peter Macdougall, George McFarlane and John Myers and Ensign Robert Torren.  Of those left standing there could have been few who would have the stomach for fighting for a very long time, in fact, if ever again, the battalion could only muster:

16th May 1811 (after the battle of Albuera)                                                                                                               
PAB 219

The immediate period following this hard won victory was one of makeshift arrangements, Major General William Lumley who had led Beresford's cavalry with some distinction on the day of the battle had survived the trauma better than most so it fell to him [on paper only it seems] to take up the role of caring for the tumbledown remains of 2nd Division. He had, under hand, eight battalions, or fragments as it transpired, 1/57th with perhaps the newly promoted Major Thomas Shadforth at their head and now forever to be known as The Diehards had only sufficient officers left operational to make up three or four companies whilst others ranged from two to seven companies each. No matter, their task for a while would be to collect wounded and pile up the dead for disposal, such organisation as was possible would be directed towards logistical care for all who still lived, however precariously. The viability of the 1st Battalion West Middlesex was assured around early August as a large draft of men had been sent up to the army as soon as the sad news of their losses had been digested by their base HQ.

These men may well have been the major part of its 2nd battalion, whatever the composition it enabled 1/57th to once more take the field as a "regular" unit. Lumley, having done his duty was sent off by Wellington with the whole of 2nd Division Cavalry to do what he did best then enabled to take a well-earned rest, he went home "sick" whilst Lieutenant Colonel Inglis returned from convalescence to pick up a brigade now made up of 1/3rd, 1/57th and a composite Battalion still containing remnants of three surviving battalions having the requisite ten companies between them.

There is no way of getting at the battalion's strength at this time only to suggest perhaps that it might show, by the time that Major General  John Byng took over command:          

21st September 1811 (at Castello Branco)                                                                                                            
PUA +/- 650

Inglis had been directed to take his brigade up to Castello Branco as soon as he was able and shortly after Byng took over, one of the Albuera units which had made up the composite Battalion, 29th Regiment, went home to recruit, this left 2/31st and 2/66th as the now official 1st Provisional's and later, to complete the brigade, a coy' of 5/60th was re-attached. Byng's Brigade eventually, having become more able to take the field return down towards the traditional operational area of Estremadura to come under the care of  Hill although they are not given any amount of action against an enemy, remaining as reserve well in to the next year. It is only when Wellington's main army has captured the two frontier fortresses of Cuidad Rodrigo and Badajoz and then gone on to drive Marshal Auguste Marmont out of the military history of the Peninsula at the Arapiles that Hill's Corps are to re-enter the "main game". All of their energies are to be put into marching about the country, firstly to bring all of the available British/Portuguese and allied troops up to the Madrid theatre to join those already there under Major General Charles Von Alten, this to protect the right flank of the CIC's much extended area of operation which he had already committed to a vain initiative to capture the tiny castle at Burgos away to the north.

When this poorly mounted and conducted affair collapsed and Wellington was forced to give ground to a much reinforced northern enemy Hill received orders to prepare to depart the Madrid positions, made not a little more urgent by the movements of King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Soult advancing from Valencia. Marching off again then to concentrate onto the old hill positions south of Salamanca by mid November the whole combined British army with an early winter upon them and a collapsed commissary supply had to return to the more friendly Portuguese frontier, not greatly pursued by the enemy however, who themselves were in not much better order. The adversaries left each other to make what they could of the breaking of contact and the atrocious weather although it must be said that when it came to sweeping in the great quantity of stragglers it was the French that profited with only a token effort from the cavalry rearguard by the British.

Adjutants were not keeping record of their charges or, if they were these records were not to be found when the historian's numbers game began.  Suffice it to say that Byng's Brigade would have regained the frontier in as good an order as any other, the more southerly columns being favoured by lesser numbers and perhaps a still slightly recognisable commissary support.

Using the much generalised figures available 1/57th could well have still mustered:

29th November 1812 (at the Portuguese frontier posts)                                                                                        
PUA 523

Keeping the forward picketing screen manned proved no problem during the winter of 1812-13 to Hill's Corps and like the majority of the army steady drafts and returned convalescents would swell the ranks considerably to show excellent figures once the 1813 campaign season began. An early return taken from Supplementary dispatches already shows:

15th April 1813 (forward screening in Portugal)
PUA 699

It can be reasonable judged that in late May when the army left its spring quarters to march ever northwards 1/57th would stand at:

25th May 1813 (marching north through central Spain)                                                                                          
PUA 743

A little under a month goes by, all marching, until King Joseph and Marshal Jourdan turn at Vittoria to do battle, Hill's Corps has the far right flank, a range of hills which overlooks the rest of the battlefield. Starting off first to create a strong diversion Hill puts his force up into the Pueblo Heights at pace although it must be said that Byng's Brigade are not engaged at this stage, they will get into matters later but when the time comes it is other than 1/57th in the brigade who will be most forward.

The enemy in this quarter is in the hands of General Honore Gazan who has gradually made this part of the field a serious general action, so much so that when Wellington commits his decisive thrust down in the central part of the field crossing the Zadorra River in several places there will be insufficient French troops to maintain the defence. Whilst Hill's Corps has been engaged for a great part of the day in a well matched contest the end comes in spite of Gazan's strong defence of the 'Heights as the main force in the centre gives way, Byng's Brigade would experience a sudden end to opposition as the order to retreat was passed along the line by his immediate opponents. Casualties in 1/57th would amount to only five killed and twenty-three injured all day of which, Lieutenants Dix and George Francis are only slightly wounded leaving the battalion able to leave the field at:

21st June 1813 (after the combats on the Pueblo Heights, Vittoria)                                                                      
PAB 715

It will another month before we see any sure sign of 1/57th, Byng still has the brigade assisted by a Spanish Division under Major General Pablo Morillo up in the Pyrenean foothills guarding the Pass of Roncesvalles and on the day when they are attacked by two converging forces under Generals Honore Reille and Bertrand Clausel, West Middlesex and a brigade of Spanish infantry are to be found betwixt and between the two Corps [34,000 infantry] down in the Val Carlos overlooking a watercourse, the Nive d'Arneguy and the village of Val Carlos. Reille's Corps to their left are making heavy going along a single file ridge track high above them but completely blocked by 20th Regiment of 4th Division.   On their right Clausel's men are doing much the same along the narrow high mountain paths traversing the successive crests of the ridge to the east, that is, until they reach a string of British, Spanish and Portuguese Caçadores Light companies from all but 1/57th, which, well placed, held them up.

The two French columns fighting on impossibly short fronts made almost no progress but, those on the right of 1/57th [but away, up in the air, as it were] did make enough headway to make Byng bring back his Light companies to a position on yet another ridge, the Ibaneta, and as a result must have drawn back 1/57th who otherwise must have been uncovered, although quite late in the day when a heavy mist was beginning to develop.  By night time 4th Division CIC Major General Galbraith Lowry Cole had decided for a tactical retirement from the Pass' and so it was that 1/57th would have absolutely no contact with the enemy on 25th July although they had been all about them all day. The march down the hills towards Pamplona was uneventful and luckily Wellington was being made aware of the enemy's movements and strengths as Soult kept them on the move ever nearer to the relief of that large provincial fortress.  Cole, with Picton close at hand had already decided on a final hill position only about four miles from Pamplona and was busy making his dispositions when the CIC arrived on the scene.

Byng's Brigade being now well and truly separated from its parent 2nd Division was placed on the safest spot on the whole battlefront, nicely tucked away behind the most dominant feature of the terrain, the Heights of Oricain overlooking the river valley of the Ulzama with the tiny village of Sorauren to its left front. It is 28th July and the general action here became known as the 1st battle of Sorauren, 1/57th would stand to arms at:

28th July 1813 (at the Heights of Oricain, Sorauren)                                                                                                 
PUA 720

It is natural enough that they would stand on reserve to support 4th Division that had the front line across the face of the hill; it also follows that when the enemy columns attacked, were repulsed and attacked again it would be from Byng's Brigade that help would be expected. By the time that they were called upon there had been several furious combats on the slopes ahead.

It seems that Byng in coming forward was expected to fill a weak spot between Ross and the Portuguese Brigade of Campbell [Hamilton's Division] whose men had been disordered and were retiring, others had been put in motion elsewhere by the CIC so that a general charge of infantry took place across the whole hill front and by the time that Byng could get his men into close contact only 1/57th was able to face an enemy still bent on keeping up any sort of an offensive posture. The clash was quite brief as the enemy initiative ground to a halt and rapidly became a retreat to abandon the action hereabouts for the rest of the day. Lieutenants Rice Price and Andrew Robinson were seriously wounded as was Volunteer Donald Campbell and Captain John Burrows, slightly wounded, in the ranks two men were killed and 59 wounded to finish the day at:

28th July 1813 (at the 1st battle of Sorauren)                                                                                                             
PAB 655

Only two days go by and the CIC decides for the offensive, Soult having presented him with a fine chance of an easy victory by committing the unpardonable sin of passing his troops across the front of his line of battle. Sorauren village is to be the key to the assault as the enemy are forced to keep this place occupied while whole Divisions of infantry are expected to be able to travel from east to west in rear of this road junction. First light brings on a "turkey shoot" with the General Maucune’s Frenchmen in the village the turkeys! Wellington has been able to bring up sufficient artillery to put the place under a continuous barrage whilst making sure that each flank is also made most uncomfortable. This steady destruction of Maucune's Division in the village must have gone on for a considerable time because we are told that as one of the corps to finally outflank and surround the place, Byng's men are seen on the eastern side having come off the left shoulder of the Oricain hill only about noon. For these men most of the work will fall to 1st Provisionals but 1/57th will be close up behind and also take an active part in following up the defeated enemy as the day wears on, so much so that on the next day Byng's Light and Grenadier companies are to be seen at Elizondo capturing a convoy of bread and biscuit but, as the General ordered captured casks of brandy to be smashed up the real booty ran down the gutters as the frustrated infantrymen lay there lapping up the dregs, what an ugly war!

Casualties in the 2nd battle of Sorauren on the 30th July had been slight for 1/57th with two men killed and thirty-five injured so that the men who took up the chase of the routing Frenchmen would count:

31st July 1813 (in pursuit of the enemy at Elizondo)                                                                                                 
PAB 618

This now brings us to the period where the CIC makes his strategic decision not to follow up the totally demoralised enemy troops to invade France but stands in the Pyrenean Passes and occupies the line of the Bidassoa while something may yet be done about capturing San Sebastian on the coast. For Byng's Brigade this means a long occupation of the Pyrenean Passes quite pleasant in the late summer and going into autumn but decidedly unpleasant as winter comes on. Hill has reassembled his full Corps and for the most part we can expect Byng's Brigade to be up at that place where in July the 1/57th had sat all day with the enemy high on each side up on the mountain tracks, the Linduz and the Altobiscar peaks. Hill has been out of the actions, which have taken place to the west around the Bidassoa so we can confidently see an increase in battalion strengths during this time.  When this Corps is finally called on to come west out of the high country, which has had snow already, it is November and Wellington is manœuvring his troops ready to attack the line of the Nivelle. This will be the first occasion to quote figures with accuracy [although it is as well to note that Oman's Appendix chronicler on this occasion includes the full establishment including all of those non-combatants carried on the payroll] all before being taken from brigade or Divisional totals, 1/57th will be present at:

10th November 1813 (at the battle of the Nivelle)                                                                                                   
PUA 678

Note: For the purist [this includes the author] it is necessary to deduct 2% from the Nivelle figures to get at proper PUA's when bringing this army to the "games board".

So the real 664 PUA of 1/57th are to come into action passing the Foundry of Urdax on their left by-passing the redoubt at Ainhoue crossing a small tributary of the upper Nivelle and putting in an assault on the enclosed works of Finodetta.

Troops of Abbe's Division are present here so they are assured of a stern fight, with 1st Provisionals storming the strong walled place 1/57th had its own fight at the supporting entrenchments led by Major Dudley Ackland while 1/3rd were some way back in support and the ever present coy' of 5/60th up in everything picking off enemy officers simply as part of their trade. The events of the day followed the same general pattern all along the much extended line all the way to the coast.

As each strongpoint saw itself outflanked its garrison would retreat off leaving its neighbour to do the same in a chain reaction and so it was with Abbe's men, the alternative of course being to fight on and surrender once completely surrounded.

This was not to be here and Byng's Brigade had little trouble fulfilling their objectives for the day, so with 62 casualties to record we see that Major Ackland and Lieutenant George Knox were both killed Lieutenant Colonel McDonald, Brevet Major John Burrows, Captain Hector Maclaine, Lieutenants John Hughes and Robert Ross were all severely wounded whilst five of the ranks were killed and fifty wounded, so:

10th November 1813 (after the battle of the Nivelle)                                                                                               
PAB 602

Moving up closer to the great supply base of Bayonne to the north Wellington's army is faced with the problem of apportioning its Divisions across a front which is split into several waterlogged valley's and hills facing towards the north and each tapering off as spurs looking directly onto Soult's heavily defended outworks on the Bayonne perimeter. What this means for Byng's Brigade is that they will follow up in rear of Hill's other Brigades to cross the Nive on 9th December missing the short combats experienced by those ahead, coming to rest along a hill crest to the far right of Wellington's array. Byng has 1/3rd under Lieutenant Colonel William Bunbury well advanced at the very tip of this spur and 1/57th with 1st Provisionals about two miles back at Vieux Mouguerre village, all of the Light companies of the brigade have been positioned with 1/3rd under Lieutenant George L'Estrange of 2/31st and the happenings of this unfortunate little corps [as a result of Bunbury's cowardice] is related elsewhere. On 13th December then when the enemy attack onto this piece of long running hill 1/57th and 1st Provisionals will encounter 1/3rd running back towards them at pace pursued by the enemy until their friends have filtered through the defensive line at which these now disordered pursuers are greeted with a great volley of musketry stopping them dead, literally. The ground favours the defenders who exact some revenge for the embarrassment to 1/3rd holding this part of the defences with ease. Events are approaching climactic proportions to their left where a titanic struggle has been going on around the next spur end uphill from the farm of Hiriberry, Colonel Charles Ashworth's Portuguese and Major General Edward Barnes' Brigade are fought out and almost out of ammunition so it is that Byng is urged to bring to his left whatever men he can muster to put in yet another counter-attack on Barnes' right.

By now 1/3rd have regained their composure and are able to carry on in defence of the Vieux Mouguerre position leaving Byng the opportunity to take off 1/57th and 1st Provisionals to the aid of Barnes. Byng leads a spirited charge at the flank of the French infantry who, by now have had as much of a struggle as their opponents; they give way and once more are driven off. This is not the end of matters yet 1/3rd had been pushed back by superior forces and the rear of the whole position threatened, Byng gathered up his two victorious battalions and re-traced his steps onto the right end spur, supported by a fresh brigade of Portuguese the position was retaken picking up L'Estrange's Light companies as he drove on carrying the 2/31st King's Colour taken from a very ‘insulted’ Ensign of that half battalion of 1st Provisionals.  Hustling the enemy back whence it had come the day was won, Buchan's Portuguese finishing the business on this hill. This had been a very busy day then for 1/57th and figures of casualties would bear that out, of the 128 K&W we see that Lieutenant Andrew Sankey and Ensigns William Johnston and John Pode were killed as were eight of the ranks, Lieutenant John Myers died of his wounds six weeks later, Lieutenants Dix, Francis Keogh, Ensign William Bartlett and amongst the ranks, Volunteer William Baxter and another 112 wounded, so:                         

13th December 1813 (after the battle at the Nive)                                                                                                   
PAB 474

Although the battalion had yet to see out the cold wet winter and experience the long marches of early 1814 there will be very little contact with the enemy for these men in the future. We do know that as they went into 1814, still encamped against the weather they would count:

16th January 1814 (cantoned about the Nive valley)                                                                                                 
PUA 460

It was Hill's task to keep close to the foothills of the Pyrenees on the French side of those ranges crossing interminable tributary streams and occasional major rivers as they turned Soult's right flank back onto the large town of Orthez where a battle was fought on 27th February 1814 with Byng's men hardly able to get into contact, they would have numbered this day:

27th February 1814 (at Orthez)                                                                                                                                     
PUA 485

From here it is the same as before, only the weather is against them as they close onto Toulouse where yet again there is no work for 1/57th, they will finish their war on a slow show of force taking the road down towards Carcassonne before Soult finally surrenders having been shown proof absolute that the Imperial cause was lost and Napoleon deposed.

This Regiment was not on the field at Waterloo.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2010


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