Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 74th Regiment of Foot Highland

By Ray Foster

Facings: White

74th Regiment of Foot

Whilst various sources, London Gazette, Records Office etc' show a 1st/Battalion it is widely owned that this was a single battalion Regiment, however, the rate by which replacements came forward and the average internal 'regularity' saw figures hold steady only slowly diminishing, they seem little different from many of the 1st battalions of the two battalion Regiments.

2nd February 1810 landed at Lisbon 
No figures available

This is the period when the CIC is coming to terms with the after-shocks of fighting alongside his Spanish allies, there is much to be done to make Portugal secure as a long term base for military operations if he is going to make the most of his potential as the instrument of British aspirations in the Peninsula. For 74th Regiment this means a quiet settling in time which conveniently coincides with the appearance of Major General Thomas Picton amongst the General Staff, that fiery leader, high in rank has to be given a Divisional command, it is 3rd Division and 74th will team up with 1/45th and 1/88th to form its 1st Brigade under Henry Mackinnon a Colonel of the Coldstream Guards. They will maintain this brigading without change throughout the whole of their campaigning all the way to Toulouse with only the addition of odd coy's of 5/60th [and this Regiment's HQ] as and when needed. From the very beginning then they are to be a part of the 'Fighting Third'.

As Marshal Andre Massena begins to threaten the borders of Portugal with constantly increasing numbers of men in the summer of 1810 Mackinnon's Brigade will be brought up to the Coa as Light Division is pressed backwards, they fall back down the valley of the Mondego to end up in a fine hilltop position well to the right of the convent at Busaco. Making a stand all along this ridge Wellington is brought to battle when the enemy attacks in two or three places hereabouts, the summer is now well advanced and 74th will be at:

27th September 1810 (on the ridge at Busaco)                                                                                                          
PUA 494

Mackinnon's Brigade is covering an extended area on the back side of the ridge, so much so that there is probably a full mile of front to guard but, with a full battery of Portuguese artillery on the right and two Portuguese Line battalions in rear they are expected to be able to have plenty of time to react and move tactically as the enemy toil away in the climb up to their appointed firing ground. By a chance of placement here 74th will have a comparatively quiet day.  The mist lies heavily in the valley at the outset so that Picton sends down along his front a line of skirmishing Light coy's from all of his battalions, for 74th this would probably be about 45 men and, it is these men who will do the early fighting for the battalion this day. The actions of 1/45th and 1/88th when the enemy intentions are discovered are well described elsewhere they having a very different part to play which involved much rapid marching and some violent confrontations before all is decided. Down in the misty valley the Light Companyof 74th is soon engaged with enemy voltigeurs and, reluctant to give way, not only start to incur casualties but, as the more gravely wounded men are left on the ground, begin to have the odd one or two captured.  When the head of the enemy column comes up to the hill’s crest 74th are well settled and ready. A few murderous volleys are poured into their ranks effectively stopping any offensive drive here.   With only scattered return fire from an enemy soon to go off backwards their part of the battle can be said to be done, however, Lieutenant William Cargill is seriously wounded and Ensign John Williams killed as the main body of the French columns came upon them, also leaving 6 men dead, 2 captured and 21 injured to complete the total, so:

27th September 1810 (after the battle on the ridge at Busaco)                                                                                
PAB 463

When the army retires off this position on the next day Mackinnon's Brigade will march down country only coming to rest within the so-called Lines of Torres Vedras nearby that town on the left banks of the Zizandre River where they settle in for the winter, brigade figures suggest that this battalion will have a welcome increase in its numbers during the early part of the winter going up to no less than:

1st November 1810 (in the Lines at Torres Vedras)                                                                                                   
PUA 521

With winter only slowly turning to spring Massena is compelled to take his half-starved army out of the country towards the Spanish border, Picton's Division follow up taking ground thus forfeited with any loss up to this time coming from normal attrition but at Foz d' Arouce they are checked by an enemy rearguard action.  This turns out to be a very minor affair but, not for Lieutenant Eyre Crabbe who is wounded and perhaps as few as three of his men. As the French retreat completely out of Portugal we shall lose sight of 74th until they are drawn up at the small town of Fuentes d Onoro at the beginning of May, they are counted out as:

1st May 1811 (before the two days of battle at Fuentes d Onoro)                                                                         
PUA 485

On 3rd May Massena is back on the offensive sending a Division of men against Fuentes' village as the first stage of an attack designed to bring relief to General Antoine Brennier's besieged garrison at Almeida. The Light Company of the 74th is amongst many others defending this long uphill group of buildings and, from the lightness of its casualty count that day must have been well up towards the top end, there is a great deal of attack and counter-attack with the enemy, in the end thrust back to his starting point. For 74th this comes down to a loss of only one man killed and Lieutenant Hugh Johnson mortally wounded [to die five days later] and nine more wounded, more is yet to come however.

Two days later battle is joined again, same place and eventually after a few swings or fortune the enemy is able to reach clear ground at the top of the village, Mackinnon has 74th and 1/88th drawn up in reserve [excepting for the Light coy who have already done their duty down in the now rather battered remains of Fuentes']. Seeing the danger of a breakthrough here Lieutenant Colonel Edward Packenham, standing in for the absent Picton has gained permission to send forward Mackinnon's battalions, off they go at the charge sweeping all before them, 74th taking a flank route forcing the previously victorious enemy reeling back to the bottom of the hill in and out of the walls and buildings to the edge of the river where this part of the battle subsided into a sharpshooting contest and some hostile cannonading. Captains Donald McQueen and William Moore, Ensign/Adjutant Henry White and 54 of the men had been wounded but just 2 men killed so that when all was over;

5th May 1811 (after the battle of Fuentes d Onoro)                                                                                                   
PAB 426

This had been Massena's last chance to snatch at glory in the Peninsula, Foy perhaps had said enough to convince Napoleon that he needed a fresh commander to lead the Army of Portugal it was to be immediately after this latest conflict and along came Marshal Auguste Marmont to chance his reputation against the 'Sepoy General'. Having rapidly come to an arrangement with his senior Marshal, Soult to combine against these impudent foes they are able to force them back down into the valley of the Guadiana to make a stand in the marshes of the Caya, a very unhealthy place in the height of summer. Mackinnon falls ill here so that Lieutenant Colonel John Wallace of 1/88th gets the Brigade for the next four months, we only get figures via a regular return in mid-September, 74th it seems has not only held on to its post-Fuentes' numbers but has managed to return to what is beginning to look like its establishment strength at:

15th September 1811 (at and about Fuente Guinaldo)                                                                                              
PUA 519

Ten days later around El Bodon 3rd Division is exposed to a wide ranging enemy cavalry sweep while strung out in extended order over a broad front facing towards the Agueda across from Cuidad Rodrigo. For 74th this flurry of activity does not develop into any more than an ordered concentration and steady march off to the rear where better positions are found close to Fuente Guinaldo itself. No casualties are recorded here although the rest of the brigade still led by Wallace do have to put up a defensive fight while they too retire back from this massive cavalry incursion. 

This marks the end of the active campaigning for 1811, Mackinnon returns by the beginning of November to find his brigade settled in winter quarters with the CIC watching closely the shifting of the enemy's units behind the Agueda. Satisfied that he has a few weeks of undisturbed offensive capacity he, on 1st January 1812 puts the army into action, it is mid-winter but perhaps a rapidly mounted attack on the fortress of Cuidad Rodrigo might just succeed if he can complete the thing during the short mid-winter days of the dry frozen period.  Picton's men are obvious choices where trench work is concerned and are soon engaged in that thankless task, certainly doing turns on a set roster, we learn that the accumulated losses during this hazardous work cost those involved almost as many casualties as the storm itself, Lieutenant Benjamin Ramadge was one of these and very likely 74th would be thinned by some 20-30 men before 19th January when the battering was declared sufficient to carry out an assault. The largest breach was given to Picton's Division and we see Major Russell Manners of 74th at the head of the main body here, Mackinnon somewhat behind ensuring that the forward drive was maintained.  There is little to tell of the contribution of the Highland battalion in the frantic charge into the hail of shot, shell and musketry fire, their companions 1/45th and 1/88th receiving the most notice, we do know however that while Major Manners had a charmed life his brigadier Mackinnon, with many others was blown to fragments by a set mine late in the proceedings, also injured were Captains Bassett Collins and George Langlands, Lieutenant William Tew and 13 of the men, 4 more having been killed before all resistance ceased and the 'storm fever' had died down.

20th January 1812 (after the storm of Cuidad Rodrigo)                                                                                             
PAB 470

Having succeeded within the three weeks he had predicted it was then only a matter of re-organising his 'strike-force' waiting for the winter to relent a little then shifting south to apply the same treatment to that great frontier fortress at Badajoz. This one was to be a much harder nut to crack, Colonel James Kempt of 1/81st, newly made up to Major General had taken up the brigade and it would be he who yet again put his men to trench and picket guard duties.

It is mid-March and the weather is no better for being further south, no matter, the siege is established although rain falls incessantly 3rd Division being put to work close by the Picurina Fort. When the task of digging parallels and battery sites was well advanced the Governor of Badajoz sent out a sortie to at least delay this progress, it was less than a success being driven off with great loss but not before a quantity of trenching tools had been snatched away, this hardly slowed the work, the rain was by far the biggest problem here and even this was eventually overcome. On the night of 25th March a large contingent of 3rd Division and Light Division volunteers was assembled to assault this outwork overlooking the main bastions, its defence works and garrison by now being well sought into, we are not to discover in what strength the men of 74th were represented when the attack went in, the weather was at least fine and the defence well conducted, we are aware that Kempt was present and that Captain Collins and Lieutenant Ramadge were killed this night along with an estimated 319 men K&W of  these combined volunteers with perhaps no less than 45 men of 74th being brought down. Brevet Major Matthew Shawe had been so prominent in this enterprise that his exploits found their way into Wellington's dispatches [although we have no way of knowing if this helped his career], he did receive serious wounds which would keep him out of the main event, the infamous storm on the night of 6-7th April.

Last figures quoted above will have changed somewhat due to perhaps a few convalescent returnees and even the possibility of a small incoming draft, unfortunately we have to allow for men put out of contention through the day to day drudgery of siege work, the contest early on to repel the sortie and then the taking of the Picurina Fort plus a few more in those last 12 days before the final assault, I estimate:

6th April 1812 (at the start of the storm of Badajoz)                                                                                                  
PUA 440

Whilst we are treated to a blow by blow description of the events of this titanic struggle with so much to record as to the remorseless destruction of 4th and Light Divisions battlers at the breaches and even the 3rd Division attack on the castle walls by escalade we hear very little of the Highlanders in all of this. Certainly Lieutenant Colonel Richard Trench was close enough to the action to take a wound as was Picton and Kempt, but the battalion must have provided that part of the reserve, which came up the scaling ladders when entry had been already won. There is no doubt but that the officers did their duty and more, besides Trench, Captains Thomas Lyster and Alexander Thomson, Lieutenants John Alves, George Ironside, Charles King, George Langlands and Alexander Pattison and Ensign Abraham Atkinson were all wounded, 12 of the men were killed and 33 wounded with two others just not to be found, so:

7th April 1812 (after the storm of Badajoz)                                                                                                                    
PAB 384

After this rather pyrrhic victory the CIC sees the need for a short period of restoration while the enemy has to come to terms with the loss of both of the strong-points which formally had secured for them the frontier 'gateways'.  Packenham will take over Picton's duties at the head of 3rd Division and Wallace once more steps back as brigadier while Kempt recovers, spring turns into full summer and Wallace's Brigade will receive some very welcome infantry reinforcements, this will see 74th entering the late stages of the Salamanca campaign its regularity intact at:

15th July (in the plains about Salamanca)                                                                                                                     
PUA 443

When the enemy has made his fatal error on the hills beyond the Arapiles and Wellington has issued his 'cultured' order for Packenham to move on Thomieres to destroy him we once more see 74th in a soft part of the attack, they are to the left of Wallace's array as it closes up to the French columns on rising ground ahead. They will take their share of cannon-fire certainly and some desultory musketry from the voltigeurs before giving their own destructive volleys, which are performed always as they shorten range coming forward until the whole mass of the enemy collapses in retreat. From here on it is simply a case of keeping them moving and picking up prisoners, Captain Thomson and Lieutenant Daniel Ewing are wounded along with 40 of the men 3 more being killed and strangely 4 men go missing, so when the enemy has cleared the field in confusion and Wallace has his men at rest they will stand at:

22nd July 1812 (after the battle at the Arapiles)                                                                                                                    
PAB 394

It only remains for the 3rd Division, in company with the major part of the army to march on the Capital Madrid where they are able to take their ease for a short spell receiving the adulatory attentions of the local population, they stay in the environs of Madrid and later take up post as part of a large 'perimeter' guard about the Capital until autumn creeps in. King Joseph Bonaparte and Soult have combined on the east coast and are marching in great numbers to contest this occupation of 'their city', Lieutenant General Hill has nominal command of the army hereabouts but soon receives orders from Wellington [who is entangled in the protracted siege of Burgos] to retire back westward and effect a concentration on the old battleground of the Arapiles.  It is October and the autumn rains are upon them making retirement a misery pludging along in mud and mire, Packenham has gone, his place taken by Major  General Charles Colville, the retirement sees them back by Salamanca in November, an early portent of winter has made the rains colder of course and, on the final trek to safety and the Portuguese frontier on the Agueda Wallace is taken ill and goes home, numbers fall dramatically as the commissary men fail to keep good contact, there is much marauding as they fall back through the lightly wooded countryside, a little drunkenness too it seems as they come across the new vintage here and there. Adjutants are not keeping count of their charges very well if at all but it can be reasonably expected that when 74th came across the Agueda and settled into its winter quarters it would stand no better than;

29th November 1812 (behind the Agueda about Cuidad Rodrigo)                                                                          
PUA 330

The fortunes of war are such that another army, in Russia has melted away ruining Napoleon's aspirations of Empire, as news of this disaster filters through to the military leaders of both sides in the Peninsula the whole strategic aspect is changed, the French will sit out the winter awaiting orders from Paris expecting a much reduced line of defence to be assigned to their various army Corps.  Wellington will expect his masters at Horse Guards to feed him maximum men and materiel in order to administer at least a coup de main if not a coup de grace. He is not to be disappointed a huge reinforcement of all arms of the service begins to flow in during early spring, figures near the end of April show:

26th April 1813 (cantoned in Portugal)                                                                                                                         
PUA 455

Many more are to join and, for 74th this means well over a 100% addition to those numbers after the winter retreat, strange what a hint of victory will achieve! When the campaign to eject the French out of Spain is finally put in motion Picton once more has the Division, the brigade, vacant until the end of March, is now in the hands of Colonel Thomas Brisbane who [soon to be promoted to Major General] will keep it until the end, 74th must stand at no less than:

25th May 1813 (on the march north out of Portugal)                                                                                                
PUA 780

The march north develops into a victory in its own right, constant overlapping flanking movements force Joseph, Jourdan and General Honore Gazan [who has inherited Soult's Army of the South] ever back towards the western Pyrenees going past all of the natural river defensive lines until King Joe' has to make a stand if only to prevent his huge baggage train of looted treasure from being captured. The bottleneck created by the sheer weight of numbers of retreating afrancesado's in the streets of Vittoria decide the Generals on just where to throw out their defensive line, it is imperfect to say the least.  By the time that 3rd Division come up to the fighting ground on 21st June they will have been hearing the sounds of a full pitched battle ahead for the last miles of their journey on a country road which brings them to the Zadorra River.  Units of Light Division have been in action to their right but Picton only has a supposed subordinate role coming under the latest addition to the command of 7th Division, a brand new Lieutenant General George Ramsay, Lord Dalhousie, perhaps a not entirely incompetent man but certainly nowhere near Picton's class of fighting man. It appears that Dalhousie with 7th Division should have been present and getting into action for Picton's men to support, he is not and the fiery commander of 3rd Division can see that across the river there is a need of a strike into the enemy flank if the fight is to be won decisively. With a few well chosen words flung at whoever could hear them above the general racket he could wait no longer and launched his men across the Mendoza bridge at a couple of villages and scattered buildings where a half expectant enemy had quickly formed a defence ready to sell themselves dearly.

It came to 74th to storm the little hamlet of Arinez directly in their path, they, it seems, had no chronicler to sing their praises most of the plaudits going to the usual Light Division’s men their almost professional journalists hard at work scribbling while 74th was hard at work actually doing the fighting, the combat here was crucial as a breakthrough at this point would put King Joseph's hastily re-formed defence at risk of an envelopment. To use a modern day phrase the defeat here had a domino effect made more serious as several new brigades of men took up the contest on behalf of the potential victors, 74th would need to re-form then tend to follow up an enemy now set on retreating as far as it was necessary to break off the engagement. It had been a hard day for Ensigns in 74th, three of these low ranking subalterns, Henry Hamilton, Loughlan McPherson and Thomas Shore were badly wounded as was Adjutant/Lieutenant Henry White, Captains Donald McQueen and John Ovens, and 66 of the ranks were wounded too while just 13 had been killed outright, the battalion being of such size however there would still be a great crowd of Highlanders to descend on the abandoned treasure trove in the plain before Vittoria, they would number:

21st June 1813 (after the battle at Vittoria)                                                                                                                 
PAB 695

For quite some time following this decisive battle we lose sight of PUA figures on a battalion basis, there is a strong suggestion coming from no less a personage than the CIC himself that appreciable numbers of men have quit their regiments taking full advantage of the available gold and silver precious metal to change their lifestyles, and some, to do so permanently.  In Brisbane's Brigade this is a likely outcome which to some extent must be considered.

There is little else for Picton's 3rd Division to do for over a month, it is high summer and their immediate task is to march north-east taking up a position close to Pamplona as other Divisions came and went only pausing to do occasional guard duty about that place until a Spanish force large enough replaced them all keeping the enemy garrison under a tight blockade.

When Lieutenant General Galbraith Lowry Cole’s 4th Division had stood in the Pyrenean Passes, received overwhelming attacks from a re-invigorated enemy once more led by Marshal Soult, been forced back, and retired dangerously close to the Pamplona blockaders it is to Picton that he would first turn for advice as to his next move.

Luckily Wellington is able to get up to conduct affairs before too much can occur as a result of Picton's proposed faulty arrangements 3rd Division itself being left out of the battle which took place at Sorauren on 28th July to guard the most eastern flank from any depredations coming from that wily rapid flank marcher General Maximilien Foy. It is not until another two days that Brisbane's Brigade will encounter any sort of solid enemy force and then, only an enemy who has given up the game and is attempting to clear off back to France with as much speed as possible.

On 30th July then we see that 74th will have the opportunity to give close support to the brigade Light coy's including perhaps the whole of those three coy's of 5/60th when they discover that they are close enough to do them some damage, all of this in the broken hills between the Zubiri road and Esain a small village near the road to the Col de Vilate. The battalion must have been well within range of retaliatory fire since their day closed with Captain William Whitting and six of his men killed whilst Lieutenant Colonel Trench, Brevet Major/Captain Moore, Lieutenants Francis Duncombe, Pattison and Tew with another 38 men are wounded.  We are compelled to use hindsight to get at a likely PAB figure as 74th stand down; they cannot have been very far from:

30th July 1813 (after the pursuit on the Zubiri/Col de Vilate hills)                                                                           
PAB 625

After the expulsion of Soult's army from the Passes of the western Pyrenees 3rd Division will have a quiet time and the opportunity to draw back into the ranks perhaps a tiny few of those 'Vittoria recalcitrants' or more likely ordinary returning convalescents etc, Picton himself goes off sick and is replaced by Major General Charles Colville [originally a Colonel of 1/13th Somerset's] but, like Packenham a sort of 'utility commander' who fitted into a bewildering succession of command positions.  They only come into action again on the field at the crossing of the River Nivelle, it is late autumn and we are given fulsome figures to even include Paymasters & Surgeons but, of those who would enter the fray there are no less than;

10th November (at the crossing of the Nivelle)                                                                                                           
PUA 636

Brisbane's Brigade have only a supporting role to play in this long string of engagements, the main work for the 3rd Division going to their other brigades, there are no definite casualty figures given as their own brigade backs up Major General John Keane's Brigade and the Portuguese of Manley Power, what little injury there is in 74th will be confined to the ever present Light Company,  just a handful and no officers recorded in the butchers bill. As it transpires the year fades into an early winter of cold wet marches, Picton returning to command by 25th December  and, as chance would have it no action for 3rd Division until the frosts of 1814 have hardened the ground sufficiently for the CIC to get his final Peninsular campaign under way.

During mid-January there will be an accurate counting of heads that shows a poor result, presumably much sickness in the ranks so:

26th January 1814 (cantoned about the Nive valley)                                                                                                  
PUA 460

Using hindsight it must be the case that the Highlanders will be heavily reinforced during early February ready for the last campaign, this time it will be conducted in the country of the enemy, on the French side of the Pyrenees 3rd Division setting out with the rest in mid-February 1814 to force Soult's ever shrinking army eastward away from Bayonne.  First action comes as the Division arrives in front of the Gave D'Oloron close by Sauveterre where, after some precipitate over-enthusiasm they are able to cross the repaired town bridge, this on 25th February. Being re-directed onto Berenx they are able to cross the next major river the Gave de Pau well downstream from Orthez where Soult has decided for a stand, thus it is that on 27th February we see them drawn up in the field and standing at an estimated;

27th February 1814 (at the battle of Orthez)                                                                                                               
PUA 715

Clearly there has been some work done to assemble as many able-bodies as possible over those three months of quietude, but, as seems to occur regularly 74th find themselves again in a 'soft' part of the battle. Certainly they are well up with the rest of Brisbane's Brigade when the attack on Foy's men is mounted [Soult has managed to get this quicksilver flank-marching General into a static part of his defensive array for once], both 1/45th and 1/88th have a hard day of it and there is little doubt that this will include the Light Company of the 74th too but as the brigade is taken forward in stages from ditch to ditch in and out of cover from the cannonading and the musketry Lieutenant Daniel Ewing is mortally wounded dying three days later whilst eight of his men are killed. Captain Thomas Lyster, Lieutenant George Ironside, Ensigns Jonathan Luttrell and Thomas Shore and 21 of the men are wounded so that having seen off the enemy as a result of a great rush of new men from 6th Division they can stand down at:

27th February 1814 (after the battle at Orthez)                                                                                                                     
PAB 681

Three weeks later as the army pursues the enemy along the watershed of the French Pyrenees we shall see Brisbane's Brigade in distant support of a sharp action about Vic Biggore going on to Tarbes two days later, there is no record of how 74th faired, there were two separate rear-guard stands but how the Highlanders became involved is obscure, we know that Ensign Ross Flood was severely wounded on the 19th March which should have placed him somewhere between the two towns mentioned and Lieutenant Abraham Atkinson on the 20th at Tarbes itself. It could only be that these men were a part of the hard working iight companies which would rove around forward of the line battalions, other casualties amongst the ranks are not to be anywhere discovered. The cold pludging marches to bring them to Toulouse would take their toll of numbers amongst all of the battalions 74th no less than the others, having very flimsy figures to work with it must be that they will only be able to muster;

10th April (at the battle at Toulouse)                                                                                                                             
PUA 567

Irascibility is a strong part of Picton's character and during this final battle of the war he is tested and found wanting.

Having the task of conducting a diversionary demonstration at an almost invulnerable part of the enemy's defences he, when there seems to be no real progress being made in other parts eventually gives way to his impetuous streak and allows his 'fighting rascals' to make an assault against the outworks at the Ponts Jumeaux, on this last opportunity it will be 74th who are most to the fore, in front of them is the Royal Canal and a bridge blocked with palisades and fortified buildings on each flank. 

With an enemy so well protected there was no getting forward, it only came down to how long Brisbane's men could stand the slaughter, a good while it seems, Captain Thomas  Andrews was killed on the spot as were 32 of the men, Ensign John  Parkinson, mortally wounded died next day and Captain William Tew died of his wounds after six days, Captains Eyre Crabbe and Donald McQueen, Lieutenants William Graham and Jason Hassard, Ensign Loughlan  McPherson and 72 of the men including an un-found and un-named officer wounded here before retiring out of range soundly beaten, Brisbane himself amongst the casualties, so:

10th April 1814 (after the combat at the Ponts Jumeaux Toulouse)                                                                        
PAB 454

So it was that 74th would enter the town two days later after Soult had absconded only to learn that the war had been decided a week earlier with Napoleon admitting defeat in Paris.

This battalion is not to be found at the Waterloo campaign the following year.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2011


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