Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 68th Regiment of Foot (Durham Light)

By Ray Foster

Facings: Bottle Green                                                      
Lace:
Silver

2/68th

Whilst many references to this Regiment suggest that it had but a single battalion it is well documented in contemporary accounts that the battalion which we are to follow here was in fact a 2nd one. Note; This battalion was landed in the marsh country of the river Scheldt [Walcheren] on 29th July 1809 with an excess of 800 PUA, the survivors numbers are not known!

On 15th July 1811 they came ashore at Lisbon here again there is doubt, CT Atkinson has it that they came up and joined the army in the Caya valley by 19th July, the march alone from Lisbon would take a new unit about a week even when well established and 'regular'.

15th July 1811 (landed at Lisbon)                                                                                                                                     
PUA 645

Within two months life in the field with the Peninsular army had brought them face to face with reality and drastically revised figures, they stand as a part of Major General John Sontag's [late Major General William Houston's] 7th Division under Major General Bernewitz of Brunswick Oels in what, at least on paper, was a second Light Division, now at:

15th September 1811 (about Fuente Guinaldo)                                                                                                          
PUA 412

This last figure is, of course, entirely in keeping with 2nd Battalion characteristics. The army, going into winter quarters and then, 7th Division being sent off into Estremadura early in 1812, there is little but camp life and some vigorous marching to be done until we see 2/68th, still with 7th Division 2nd Brigade Bernewitz, in the village of Castellanos de Morisco some way out from Salamanca.   It is 21st June already and in the evening a large detachment of Marshal Auguste Marmont's Frenchmen attack the place so that this battalion receives its baptism of fire fighting an action full of violent attack and counter-attack until the CIC ordered a retirement when night had fallen.  For 2/68th this meant the loss of five officers and 46 men KW&P. JA Hall records that Captain John Hawkins was one of these and that Captain William Mackay was pierced by bayonets no less than ten times and left, an extremely wounded prisoner. The next day on the Heights of Villares after a rush up the hill to storm this position 2/68th lost a further two men killed and six wounded so that, having perhaps begun these adventures at somewhere about 410 PUA they would end this two day encounter at:

22nd June 1812 (after the combats at Morisco )                                                                                                         
PAB 351

By the time that 7th Division have been brought to the fighting ground close to the Arapiles this tiny battalion will be down to:

15th July 1812 (about the Arapiles)                                                                                                                                
PUA 338

Not an impressive corps to be going into battle with, and so it is that on the 22nd July they will, when others are doing great deeds, have a quiet day suffering just a loss of 20 men, mostly as a result of fragmented skirmisher actions. Of these Lieutenant Frederick Finucane has been cut down and killed by a cannonball, Captain James Millar has received a mortal wound dying just three weeks later and William North is yet another Captain to be wounded, certainly, in this battalion the Company Captains seem to lead from the front!

22nd July 1812 (after the battle on the Arapiles)                                                                                                         
PAB 318

A little more than three weeks later they will have marched down to Madrid with the victorious army and, in fact have found work with 1/51st in a mild attack on the Retiro and its Arsenal, there they are to be found beating in the gate with hardly a man lost, in all likelihood they will procure a set of new shoes each from the mass of stores and equipment in the magazines. All very well but, it is not too long before Bernewitz' Brigade is on the march north testing out their newly acquired equipment on the roads up to the Douro and on, arriving at that fateful little castle at Burgos, their numbers will have only gone down slightly, hovering about the 300 PUA when they are set to be a small part of the covering force deployed around the defensive perimeter whilst others will use up their energies in futile attacks, principally coming down to setting off tunnelled mines followed up by desperate escalades. All to no avail, the enemy return in large numbers by the beginning of the autumn and Wellington is forced to depart by 22nd October, Bernewitz has only a tiny brigade Chasseurs Britanniques making up half of his numbers, the retreat back towards Salamanca was to be just a measured retirement but not so the later 'plunge' through the mud & mire from that place to Cuidad Rodrigo and the line of the Agueda. By the River Huebra Bernewitz Brigade had to stand by San Muñoz and share a sample of enemy cannonading, not too serious as it turned out, the ground being so water-logged that the missiles merely sank into the mud and stayed there 2/68th getting off scot-free.

This same day, 17th November there was to be a significant number of stragglers captured, we are expected to count many of these amongst Chasseurs Britanniques but there is little doubt but that a good few of the Durham Light would have succumbed to the plentiful new wine available and the ceaseless rain all along this part of the retirement route to rest and recover just too long and be swept up. Figures for losses in this period are hidden amongst a mish-mash of Divisional reductions but we may be sure that 2/68th would be down to 'bare bones' and certainly no more than:

29th November 1812 (behind the Agueda)                                                                                                                  
PUA 235

Fragile indeed so that it is lucky for this unit that they are able to go into comparatively comfortable winter quarters and indeed extend their recovery time well into the spring of 1813, figures during April show:

26th April 1813 (cantoned in Portugal)                                                                                                                           
PUA 440

Somehow drafts and convalescent returnees will totally re-fill the ranks and they will be ready for service in the field when the call comes at:

25th May 1813 (on the march out of Portugal by the north)                                                                                    
PUA 620

They now have an extra battalion in this brigade, 1/82nd who joined early behind the Agueda but Brigadier General William Inglis has taken over from Bernewitz in the early spring and from time to time Lieutenant Colonel William Grant of 1/82nd will command here. At Almendra they ford the Elsa, somewhat precariously it seems, 2/68th managing to hang on to the stirrups of their cavalry escorts, this on the last day of May, by now Grant has the brigade and keeps it until they approach the fighting ground on the banks of the Zadorra on 21st June, 7th Division have had a wide detour well to the north and have had to draw in through rough hill paths to reach their appointed place at the battlefield. Much is made of Picton's flamboyant gesture to fight without Lieutenant General George Ramsay Earl Dalhousie's support but, in fairness the men of 7th Division did have a struggle to make an appearance at all. They cross the Zadorra in rear of 3rd Division [Grant's Brigade only] led by their Lieutenant Colonel William Johnston to be greeted with a furious cannonade, this time the balls did bounce, they are pinned down in front of the village of La Hermandad going to ground in a low ditch only rising to go on again when others on their flank dash at the enemy here.  There will be much confused fighting yet to be endured but it will have been the artillery fire that did most of the damage to 2/68th, Captain Henry Anderson and Ensign John Parvin are dead amongst 23 of the rankers whilst Johnston, Captain William Gough, Lieutenant/Adjutant John Hinds, and Ensigns John Fowke, William Stretton and Robert Ball are severely wounded, Captain John Reed, Lieutenants Honeyman Mackay and  David Skene  receive light wounds and 91 light infantrymen wounded make up the total for this day, so:

21st June 1813 (after the battle at Vittoria)                                                                                                                  
PAB 484

Grant has been badly wounded so that Inglis will return for a while to hold the brigade and in fact will have it for a considerable time onward. There is much marching and counter-marching about the foothills of the Pyrenees in the Bastan Region during the next month ending with a night march in teeming rain to come up to the concentration of the army about Sorauren, for a while during all of this Inglis will be in charge of the whole of 7th Division but, when the CIC decides for the offensive on 30th July Dalhousie is back in command ready to send Inglis and his men forward and down into the Ulzama valley just west of Sorauren village, they meet General Vandermaesen's  men who put up a stout resistance trading volley for volley in a sustained fire-fight which is only broken off when Soult's men are streaming off in rear of these others who effectively become a rearguard as the whole enemy array attempts to disengage, going off to the rear at some pace. The Major of 2/68th one George Crespigny is shot through the throat and killed during the pursuit, a great relief it seems to most of his junior officers and men who saw him as a martinet, Captain Henry Irwin and Ensign John Connell fell seriously wounded and Lieutenant James Leith lightly so, of the men, three died and another sixteen were injured so that:

30th July 1813 (after the second battle at Sorauren)                                                                                                  
PAB 461

The fighting is by no means over, the next day having retraced their steps along the rain-soaked paths of the Puerto de Arraiz Inglis' Brigade is brought up to the enemy standing before that 'gallant fellow' Lieutenant General William Stewart at Donna Maria, he is in the act of throwing at them a very worn out and much reduced brigade of 2nd Division, it is General Abbe's Brigade of the French who they are up against, hardly the men to be taken lightly, however when Inglis' Brigade come at them obliquely up a rough slope they give way and the day is won, Volunteer Thomas Browning counted amongst the 25 men wounded whilst a further 5 were killed here, so:

31st July 1813 (after the combat at Donna Maria)                                                                                                                
PAB 431

For a short time Inglis and his men will take up ground about Echalar so that when the enemy is brought back by Soult on the offensive across the Bidassoa attacking what will be in the main a Spanish led force, 2/68th will be standing in a position a good way to the right of their allies, on the Heights of Salain, a month has passed by with perhaps some small chance of a slight improvement of numbers, we have no surety of this however but, there they are, with the full brigade and some way ahead a brigade of Portuguese Infantry under Lieutenant Colonel James Miller, a part of 4th Division previously under Stubbs.

These two little corps then will be waiting to be attacked by a force composed of two of General Bertrand Clausel's Divisions, under Generals Taupin and Darmagnac who as the early haze clears are easy to see climbing up the slopes before them, Miller is engaged, his Portuguese brigade doing the work in the first stages until pushed back towards where Inglis' Brigade stands.

Whilst their fighting line is reasonably strong there is a prolonged fire-fight, which gradually goes against the defenders who have to retire onto another good position to resume the contest. With the enemy always able to bring on extra men this second stand can only be maintained until in danger of being yet again outflanked. A third place is found to the rear, the ground always backing uphill and at it they go again, it is fortunate that the battle is beginning to go badly for the enemy in other places so that this fight, which had been going on now for some three hours can be brought to a conclusion. Both Miller's and Inglis' brigades have suffered in this unequal contest 2/68th standing down minus 72 of their numbers, Ensign John Gibson and one other un-named officer are wounded and no less than 61 light infantrymen with them with 9 others dead, a 'soldiers' battle then it seems;

31st August 1813 (after the fight on the Heights of Salain)                                                                                       
PAB 365

It is perhaps of some interest to know that down in the valley of the Bidassoa as the night falls Vandermaesen has terminated his life fighting to get his men across the bridge at Vera, rain has been falling for the latter part of the night and the river has become un-fordable. For the Durham Light there is to be a period of rest and recuperation, not being used in the line when the Bidassoa is crossed by Wellington's men in early October and having until well into November before being brought once more against the enemy. It is at the forcing of the river line of the Nivelle that we shall see them and at somewhere close to their normal strength, they are facing a strong earthwork the Granade Redoubt with 4th Division on their left and 3rd Division to the right, a tributary of the Nivelle the Harrane stream runs behind the Redoubt and off they go at:

10th November (at the crossing of the Nivelle)                                                                                                           
PUA 426

The senior Portuguese General Le Cor has the Division in the absence of Dalhousie and the fight is on, going in after a barrage of shrapnel shells 2/68th are able to keep casualties to a minimum at this stage however, when the small garrison in the Granade Redoubt have re-established themselves at a 'work behind the Harrane watercourse at Sare they must push on again, the force before them is always outnumbered and in danger of being encircled so it is no great matter to keep them on the move from one strongpoint to the next until at the Louis XIV Redoubt they meet heavy canister fire, 2/68th it seems may have been better protected from this than others of their brigade perhaps gliding past this place at a weak part of the defences. They get well forward maybe as far as St Pierre on the right bank of the Nivelle as the fighting dies down, Captain Irwin, Lieutenant Roger Stopford and Ensign Arthur Johnston are all dead as are six of the men, Captains Henry Archdall and Nathaniel Gledstones, Lieutenants Robert Clark and William Mendham, Ensigns Gibson and Browning [that late Volunteer] have been wounded with 34 of the men so that they will stand down at:

10th November 1813 (after the battle at the Nivelle)                                                                                                 
PAB 378

There will be no work yet again for Inglis' Brigade when the CIC attacks and Soult counter-attacks at the battles of the Nive in December they are not brought to action again in 1813 and only briefly in 1814.   Having gone into winter quarters in late December and only moved into the field during mid-February of 1814 one would expect that there might be an increase in numbers from returning convalescents, sadly this is not to be, in mid January we see:

16th January 1814 (camped about the Nive valley)                                                                                                      
PUA 250

The Office of the Duke of York at Horse Guards is informed about this time that the Durham Light have but 24 men at their depot awaiting return so, not much chance of improvement here. We have little to go on for figures other than that for the combined brigade, which appears at Orthez at the end of February. This total is given with the proviso that 51st Regiment is missing without the information which would tell us whether its numbers have or have not been deleted nevertheless, before we can consider that small problem in Inglis' Brigade there is a much more mystifying event to work through. JA Hall's compilation shows us that on 23rd February as the brigade was advancing towards Peyrehorade 2/68th was involved in a sharp contact with the enemy at a place recorded as being named 'Agarve', two Lieutenants gave up their lives here whilst clearing troops from an entrenched camp at this village. Nowhere does Oman mention this occurrence excepting to place 7th Division in front of the first mentioned large town on the Adour where 51st Reg't is to be dropped off to take up the role of garrison for a short while [more likely they stopped to recover their numbers having also become dangerously near to 'irregularity']. In the time honoured way, using Oman's own formula for undiscovered losses [in the French army] via Martinien’s blessés we can expect that 2/68th would, by its loss of Lieutenant Leith killed on the spot and Lieutenant Stapleton mortally wounded, dying three days later, show a loss amongst the ranks of at least 20 men, and this very conservatively, so, with the expectation that 2/68th must have had time previously to considerably improved their numbers;

24th February 1814 (after the combat at Agarve)                                                                                                       
PAB 388

Four days later Inglis' Brigade is up with 7th Division at the battleground about Orthez Major General George Walker has the Division with Dalhousie unremarkably away yet again, their task to back up Cole's 4th Division as it makes a thrust at the French defensive line behind the Orthez-Dax road.  This part of the attack has only a narrow field of deployment coming on along a low ridge following the St'Boes pathway up to form a junction at the French positions. As before mentioned 51st is missing so the brigade is even lower for numbers than usual, Cole's men having made an attempt to storm forward have met concentrated fire which has brought them to ground in the now much battered buildings of St'Boes, the battle has begun to bog down so that the CIC must regroup and come on again with fresh troops.  This next attack is better coordinated going forward all along the line with Inglis' Brigade doing its work at pace, losses are small, just 3 men killed and 28 wounded, amongst these, just one junior officer Ensign Thomas Sheddon, leaving 2/68th to show:

27th February 1814 (after the battle at Orthez)                                                                                                           
PAB 357

It is with these figures that we shall leave this tiny Light battalion, they are soon to be taken off by Dalhousie, who comes and goes from the army at his whim, it seems, for 7th Division, picking up 51st on their way to take up a supporting role at the large regional city of Bordeaux to the north, where the Governor has declared for the Monarchy and wears the White Cockade. No doubt there will be much celebrating both in the city and in Inglis' Brigade for a war not only ended but ended victoriously!

The Durham Light Infantry is not to be found at the battlefield of Waterloo.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2010

 

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