Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 59th Regiment of Foot (2nd Nottingham)

By Ray Foster

Facings: White                            
Lace:
Gold                                                                               

2/59th

27th October-4th November 1808 (landed at Corunna with Lieutenant General David Baird)                                                  
PUA 640                          

This well found 2nd battalion having been brigaded with 51st and 76th Regiments under Lieutenant General James Leith have problems in taking the field when they come ashore so that they, and indeed the whole brigade are left behind by Baird when he sets out to march inland and to meet Lieutenant General John Moore coming up from the south. Between 29th November and 13th December they receive orders that see them march and counter-march on the road that Baird has taken. By late December 2/59th will have had a loss of 83 men through these marches in winter weather so:

19th December 1808 (on the road to Astorga)                                                                                     
PUA 557                                      

It will be 6th January 1809 before they meet up with their comrades in arms, Moore is in full retreat onto Corunna but, in consequence of their rather leisurely too and fro marching are in good enough condition to take over some of the rearguard duties. At Lugo on the 8th January they stave off an attack by General Merle's vanguard infantry columns at the point of the bayonet, hold their position until next day to slip away during a teeming, freezing rainstorm to keep up the pace and mingle with the disordered horde of Moore's retreating men. A week later there they are acting in a support role again but this time hardly engaged in the backs-to-the-sea fight at Corunna, thus they are able next day to bundle aboard onto the naval transports their sick and wounded and set sail for England bringing home:

22nd January 1809 (landing at ports in England) 
Disembarked 497

This unit will, in late July of 1809 sail to the malarial swamps of Walcheren their survivors to return to England a few months later full of those malignant fevers for years to come. It is however a full three years before this battalion returns to the Peninsula and only to appear down at Cadiz where it will remain after Major General John Skerrett has departed with his disposable force to march on Madrid in rear of Lieutenant General Rowland Hill's Corps. In response to orders from the CIC they will set sail again during March of 1813 for Lisbon and a rapid dis -embarkment will see them up with the army by 12th April and by chance we have a full set of figures just a fortnight later, so:

26th April 1813 (behind the Portuguese frontier)                                                         
PUA 759

They are well in time for the summer campaign that will take them ever northward until they reach Vittoria. Clearly there has been a weeding out of those unlikely to survive an active campaign, Brigadier Major General Frederick Robinson has them in his brigade of 5th Division with 1/4th and 2/47th we can only estimate numbers at this time but they should look like:

21st June 1813 (at the battle of Vittoria)                                           
PUA 648

By any standards this unit can only be described as "well travelled but very green" nevertheless there they are at the far northern end of the field under the overall command of Lieutenant General Thomas Graham who has 5th Division attacking the village and bridge crossing of the Zadorra River at Gamarra Mayor, when Robinson puts his men to the task here they are able to clear the enemy out of the village but the bridge crossing proves too much with a full battery of artillery trained on the bridgehead and skirmishers manning flanking walls by the banks. Major General Andrew Hay's Brigade are similarly repulsed and the tussle here comes down to a spreading out of sharpshooters who take cover wherever available until the battle further downstream has begun to show signs of becoming a lost cause for King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean Baptiste Jourdan.

The opposition melts away and Robinson's Brigade will cross the bridge only to settle down for the night and count the cost. In 2/59th this amounts to 149 men of whom the Lieutenant Colonel Charles Fane is dead and his Major John Weir mortally wounded to die 13 days later, Lieutenant George Walker is killed as are eleven of the men in the ranks, Lieutenants Roger Langley, James McGregor, Alexander Macpherson, and William Mayne are severely wounded and Ensign James Pyne is slightly wounded with 130 wounded in the ranks, so:

21st June 1813 (after the combat at Gamarra Mayor, Vittoria)                                                                                
PAB 499

Having lost both their Colonel and the senior Major it seems that the Senior Captain Francis Scott would have become Acting Major as the brigade marched north towards its second violent encounter before San Sebastian, a strongly defended fortress lying at the end of a short isthmus by its seaport town near the French border.

There is a two month period broken into two parts during which the walls are battered by artillery fire, interspersed with abortive attempts to storm the place until the "main event" is mounted on 31st August when Robinson's Brigade will be called upon to put in a determined effort to storm its great breach. In the last two months it can be expected that a moderate number of the wounded of the Vittoria fighting will have returned to the ranks so that when 2/59th is brought into the forward trenches to do their duty they might have present: 

31st August 1813 (at the storm of San Sebastian)    
PUA 548

Leading the charge out of the trenches at 11am the Forlorn Hope goes up the rocky rubble of the slope Lieutenant Lewis Carmichael perhaps lucky enough to receive a first slight wound here at the beginning of the slaughter, Ensign Thomas Crawley has also been fortunate to pick up a severe wound six days earlier so he also misses altogether the butchery about to commence.  Acting Major Scott takes 2/59th along some way in the rear of the first rush which brings down men by the score as soon as they reach the target area, going up as third wave they keep at the task although men are falling everywhere about them until Robinson is disabled from a shot in the face, Scott is killed, his place taken by Captain Abraham Pilkington, artillery crossfire and musketry fire from the castellated secondary defensive walls force the remnants of his men to go to ground in whatever cover they can find until, in the ensuing pause the British artillery commander is permitted to allow his gunners to fire a barrage of high trajectory shot directly into the face of these battlements and their tormentors. The result is decisive, as soon as this barrage is lifted in goes Pilkington with his men, the fire of the opposition has lost its intensity and, climbing through and over hundreds of bodies the survivors of 2/59th are through the ends of the breach to take its walls. Losses in 2/59th exceed those of any other battalion present, of the 352 K&W recorded no less than 118 are killed outright! Of the latter there is Captain, acting Major Scott, Lieutenants Fane and William Pery, five Ensigns, Marcus O Hara, Robert Parke, James Pyne, Charles Vevers and Lawrence Watson, Captain John Fothergill dies next day of a mortal wound and Lieutenant George Freeze goes five days later by the same, Captain Pilkington, Lieutenants Archibald Campbell, Henry Hartford, Nicholas Hovenden and Ensign Wright Edwards are all severely wounded and Lieutenants Henry Brown, Carmichael [already mentioned as being in the forlorn hope], Samuel Stuart and Ensign Peter Robertson slightly wounded. So, in the ranks no less than 110 men had been killed and a further 222 wounded which would leave 2/59th looking decidedly fragile at:

1st September 1813 (after the storm of San Sebastian)                                                                                             
PAB 196   

Robinson recovers quickly enough to retain his position as Brigadier and so, it seems do a large number of men of 2/59th, it is strange that the horrendous casualty list of the storming of San Sebastian with its 64% injury count for this battalion should then allow so many men to return to the ranks within the short space of 2 months. Once again it is those statistics of the Battle of the Nivelle which always appear to maximise numbers, Oman's appendix allows 2/59th to stand that day at PUA 475 a turn-around of 279 men, 47 more than were actually wounded on the day!  This in a 2nd battalion whose chances of receiving any substantial number of drafts at such a fortuitous time is hard to imagine and yet, not possible to resolve by any other eventuality other than the suspicion that something is radically wrong with Appendix VI,Vol VII,etc,. I am left to reduce the recorded total by its 2% of non-combatants and show 2/59th at:

10th November 1813 (at the Battle of the Nivelle)                                                                             
PUA 465

5th Division in its entirety is regarded by the CIC to be too fragile to put to any serious work at the Nivelle crossings so is given a position hard against the coastline with a long swamp in its front and orders to merely demonstrate and show a presence to hold the enemy there as long as possible.  Robinson's whole Brigade will suffer but 3 wounded all day and only move up when the enemy has departed the scene.  Heavy rain heralds the start of winter and will become a major consideration in dealing with the military manoeuvres for the rest of the war, just a month goes by and all the streams and rivers are full whilst the level plains and valleys have become waterlogged.  Wellington however has his own agenda that requires that his army keep the field at every slight opportunity, so it is that they are sent up close to the environs of the main western supply base of Bayonne.

The approaches to this great bastion walled fortress city are best understood as to represent the fingers of a hand with its tips pointing toward Bayonne, each finger a hill spur with soggy fields and occasional small streams dammed up to form long narrow lakes between.  The large River Nive separates two of these spurs from the rest giving Soult and his concentrated Divisions the opportunity to attack at any point knowing that his enemy will have difficulty passing reinforcements laterally from one assembly area to another. A new unit, 2/84th coming from Major General Matthew Aylmer's Independent Brigade had been added to Robinson's Brigade and will be a most welcome although a quite "green" addition to this rather battered brigade. The ensuing four days of tactical manoeuvre and combat from 9th-13th December became known as the Battles of the Nive and we cannot expect 2/59th to come to the field at any strength better than those last shown figures, so:

9th December 1813 (at the beginning of the Battles of the Nive)                                                      
PUA 465

Lieutenant General John Hope is in charge of the whole left wing of the army close to the sea and it is here that Soult will direct his first offensive strike, Hope has allowed his most forward troops to probe as far as Anglet a village on the road just a mile short of the armed camp at Beyris, a part of the forward entrenchments of the perimeter defences of Bayonne. The first reaction of the French pickets here is to retire into Anglet where some serious street fighting took place but the village being finally won and occupied by men of Robinson's Brigade.   It is possible to draw out casualties to 2/59th with some surety, certainly Lieutenants  John Brohier, Carmichael,  O'Hara and Stuart and Ensign William Hill were all seriously wounded and it is highly likely that of the ranks six men were killed and 36 wounded, so:

9th December 1813 (after the fighting at Anglet)                                                                                                        
PAB 418

This is just the first brush with an enemy who has been waiting to see the full intentions of the British CIC before making his real offensive move. During the night of 9th December Hope draws back his brigades leaving only the Light Companys of each battalion of Robinson's Brigade out in a finely strung out picket line still about Anglet while the rest marched, in pouring rain, five miles to the rear and settled down in Bidart.  The French troops had had similar night marches in the rain but, by 9.30am on the 10th December were massed sufficiently enough in front of this flimsy picket screen, and un-announced, to burst through it with ease as a result of which 2/59th Light Company had ten men taken prisoner almost before the day's events had begun.

Those most able to run clear had no thought of stopping to make a stand although the enemy onslaught was checked by others, mainly units of Campbell's Independent 'Portuguese, these men falling back onto Robinson's main force which had hurriedly scrambled itself together and marched up to attempt to stabilise the situation. Fighting became severe around the chateau of Barrouillet where the Brigade stood its ground, not an easy thing when the area about here was all humps and hollows with wooded country with cover enough for clumps of infantry to appear and to then disappear making confusion the rule of this day's combats. With a total loss of 74 men 2/59th would have had six men in the ranks killed, fifty-six wounded and those early ten made prisoner, Major Fredrick Hoystead had been severely wounded as had Captain William Wilkinson and Volunteer John Blood counted amongst the rank and file wounded, so:

10th December 1813 (after the combats at the Barrouillet)                                                                                     
PAB 344

Even now there is more to come, remarkably Hope has made the same error as on the previous day yet again leaving his skirmisher screen unprotected to its rear, this time, on the morning of 11th December the enemy infantry is able to break into several of the Chateaux outbuildings but, having done so became bogged down in fighting 'corps a corps' with no forward movement from there. Withdrawing from the fray then this left 2/59th grievously low in numbers yet again having suffered another 79 casualties here, only Captain Francis Fuller and Lieutenant Aeneas Macpherson of the officers are wounded leaving perhaps five men killed and seventy-two wounded in the ranks, so:

11th December 1813 (after the last fight at the Barrouillet)                                                                                     
PAB 265

With the rest of the brigade as badly off for numbers this little corps had clearly run its race and must be sent off to the rear and put into quarters for a while. There is a final head count in mid January while the army is at rest:

16th January 1814 (cantoned by the Biscay coast)                                                                              
PUA 281

For 2/59th this was the end of their active participation in the war, Hope, when the army went into its general quarters for the winter was given the task of keeping Bayonne under blockade and also  the opportunity to put it under close siege.

This was done in a rather leisurely way with no work for Robinson's men other than to keep close up in rear support whilst others did the work, so ended their war in the Peninsula.

This battalion although present with Wellington's army at Waterloo never saw any action being left at Hals all day out on the far right under Major General Johnstone.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2010

 

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