Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 76th Regiment of Foot
By Ray Foster
76th [a single battalion Regiment]
27th October- 1st November 1808 landed
at Corunna with Lieutenant General David Baird
Somewhat inauspiciously these men are left behind at Corunna when Baird eventually set out eastwards to meet up with Lieutenant General John Moore's army, teaming up with 51st Light' and 2/59th they are subjected to several changes of orders which see them all marching and counter-marching east and west as autumn turns to winter.
By mid-December they come to a halt on the road to Astorga and are counted off at:
19th December 1808 (on
the Astorga road)
Already then they have lost 130 men by some means, not against anything worse than internal re-organisation, the weather and the terrain it seems. It is another 18 days before Moore's men meet them, by now all retreating on Lugo where they see the enemy for the first time, quite violently, in a counter-bayonet charge which has enough success for them to once more re-commence their retreat with only teeming rain, sleet and the freezing, ice caked mud and winter gloom to contend with.
Being a part of Major General James Leith's Brigade under Lieutenant General John Hope they have little to do as the army stands to fight at Corunna on 16th January but must wait their turn to embark during that night and the following morning, it is only a matter of avoiding long range cannonades and then loading aboard their sick and infirm before setting sail for England where they arrive much the worse for wear, no figures from the Adjutant here, but, perhaps no more than:
22nd January 1809 (at
ports in England)
It is the sorry lot of this unit to become a part of that army which drew into the marshy inlets of the Scheldt in late July of 1809 to suffer the huge losses to malarial fevers about Walcheren.
It will be a full 4 years before we see these men [or their successors] return to the fighting grounds of the Peninsula, the war is all but won already, Wellington's army is moving about the Bastan area at will and 76th Regiment only receive orders to join Major General Matthew Lord Aylmer's Brigade on 23rd July 1813.
They cannot take the field in fighting order until August of that year and, under Aylmer they are not to find employment that could enhance their military aspirations, [his are the men I dub the chocolate soldiers]. For some time they are intended to take up the siege of Santona on the Biscay coast, this turns out to be an, on-again-off-again venture with maybe a tricky story of some kind hidden here just waiting to be exposed. [The French garrison at that port never being put at risk and surrendering at its own terms in mid-April 1814 when the war was well and truly over!]
When the CIC pulls together his whole army to force the line of the Nivelle in November we at last see 76th with sure figures, they are still with Aylmer, a loosely assembled brigade which may have included 2/84th and 85th Regiment [it is worth looking at the history of that latter one to see the sort of company they have come down to], at least they have good numbers at:
10th November 1813 (at
the crossing of the Nivelle)
There is a possibility that Aylmer saw fit to expose two of the Light coy's of his brigade to action this day, certainly they had a cumulative casualty roll of 22 men as they engaged the enemy at a prepared earthwork at Urrogne, it is almost certain that none of 76th Regiment’s men were even used at all so, it is off north we go, keeping close to the Biscay coastline along with 1st & 5th Divisions.
This brigade during late October to the end of November 1813 has a few rather bewildering changes of composition with gazetted transfers not quite meeting actual 'in the field' shifts of battalions. The best unit 2/84th has already gone [on paper] in mid-October but in fact remains up-until the confused battles about to be played out close to Barrouillet on the western coastal paths towards Bayonne. A very new battalion of young lads 2/62nd show as a part of Aylmer's Brigade but are very slow to become 'regular' and do not feature at Barouillet, 85th stay as they were and, finally up come 77th a unit which has been garrisoned at Lisbon ever since their involvement at the storm of Badajoz away back in early 1812, they too show no sign of being present at Barrouillet in December, so, what of this rather delicately composed brigade?
On 9th December 1813 Aylmer has his men close to the seaport of St'Jean de Luz in deep reserve to 1st Division with 5th Division up ahead, all under Lieutenant General John Hope, the next day Marshal Nicholas Soult attacks this force in strength to such effect that the brigade is ordered to march up the coast road in an attempt to get into action before 5th Division is driven out of it. Having a march exceeding 4 hours in duration, [Aylmer's Brigade is not noted for its marching prowess], they do arrive just in time to come in through woods onto the flank of General Maximilien Foy's troops who, although up until now successful have reached that state of prolonged and close confused combat where they have run out of offensive drive. The emergence of this new attack is sufficient to turn them back onto the defensive and there develops a series of minor tirraillades which fade away to nothing in the late afternoon. The
76th has been sufficiently engaged however to have had one man killed and 15 injured so that they may well only muster on:
10th December 1813 (after
the skirmish at Barrouillet)
Although there are four months of war to endure before the end 76th and their comrades will only have one final brush with the enemy in this theatre of operations. A little over a month before this contact we shall see a count of heads to confirm:
16th January 1814 (cantoned
on the Biscay coast)
It is on 23rd February 1814 that the brigade is used in a demonstration against those forces left on the southern side of the Bayonne defences whilst others set out to cross the Ardour and establish a bridgehead in preparation for the building of the cable bridge to span that estuary at its seaward end. So successful is this tactic that Aylmer's Brigade suffer not one casualty amongst them and, to all intents this is the end of their active participation in the war, just a few days before the end however they are joined by yet another stray battalion, this the 1/37th joining from Gibraltar only a fortnight before word is passed around of Napoleon's submission in Paris.
76th Regiment are not to be found on the field at Waterloo.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2011
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