Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 77th Regiment of Foot ( East Middlesex )
By Ray Foster
Note; History shows a 1/77th batt' having taken part in the Walcheren campaign during the summer of 1809 landing there on 29th July at PUA 580 the un-numbered remnants returning to England by October of that year.
5th July 1811 landed at Lisbon.
This unit appears before us as a single battalion/regiment and, through Wellington’s Dispatches we soon see that many of its men have that typical long-term sickness so apparent amongst ex-Walcheren troops, even at landing there is a reference to them owning 300 of their number already sick. Going on then we also gather that whilst this battalion has 'arrived' in the country it has, after nearly eight weeks still not marched up to join the army, this must be borne in mind when looking at its so-called PUA figures. They are, for all of this, brigaded into a fighting Division as soon as they do join, perhaps we can be lenient and give them:
15th August 1811 (upon joining Major General Charles
Colville's Brigade of 3rd Division)
A little over a month later they come into sight strung out with their comrades in a loosely scattered line encamped forward of the main force whilst the CIC is keeping the enemy occupied border fortress of Cuidad Rodrigo under surveillance from behind the Agueda River. In late September Marshal Auguste Marmont has managed to draw about him large reinforcements, so much so that he is encouraged to throw out a huge cavalry contingent sweeping across the front of the Allied lines and swiftly probing those scattered weak pockets one of which the whole of 3rd Division appeared to be.
At El Bodon on 25th September after a tedious struggle thrusting back some courageous but weak cavalry resistance who should they discover but Colville's men and 77th led by Lieutenant Colonel John Bromhead with 2/5th nearby and 21st Portuguese Line some way behind in support and, rather fortunately several Portuguese guns straddling the roadway itself. So, having been with the Peninsula army for hardly any time at all Bromhead found himself ordered to hold his position [with that most dreaded of all requests], at all costs! Under the eye of the CIC himself who later paid them a small compliment for their conduct they and Major Henry Ridge's 2/5th did just that, the artillery pieces were over-run and had to be retaken in a counter-attack by Ridge's men but after some considerable exposure to massed cavalry lunges all were forced to give ground.
With the arrival of 21 Portuguese Line, 77th and 2/5th were able to form up into a square, strangely we are told here by Oman that 77th had but 450 men at this juncture whilst Wellington’s Dispatches says as few as 250. With Major General Thomas Picton on the spot to keep things steady all were able to retire to safety, albeit under a constant fire from the enemy horse artillery, but only after trudging along some six miles or so onto friendly heavy cavalry support.
All of this excitement must have been more imagined than real because when the casualty count was taken East Middlesex had lost but 4 men killed, 14 wounded and a further 5 taken prisoner by the milling crowds of enemy cavalry troopers.
If we are to take the best figure of 450 as our start point Lieutenant Colonel Bromhead would stand down with no more, certainly, than:
25th September 1811 (after the combat at El Bodon)
Although this battalion did remain in the Peninsula right up to the end we never see sure figures again, as will be shown their presence was always to be rather peripheral excepting for the episode just past and their very next violent contact.
This was to be at no less than a full-on siege and storm at Cuidad Rodrigo, time has passed on to January of 1812 so that we could hope for a good few convalescent returnees to swell the ranks, I judge their commencing numbers here to be around:
1st January 1812 (before the siege and storm of Cuidad
Taking turns with other Divisions 3rd do their duty in the digging and guarding of trenches in freezing conditions taking occasional casualties from snipers and shellfire, by now the brigade has gone to Lieutenant Colonel James Campbell of 94th Regiment who will lead in his men at the storm, siege work will have reduced numbers in 77th only by 5 men wounded so, not to prevent them from playing their allotted part when the rush goes in. On the night of 19th January the stage is set, 3rd Division is split into its British Brigades with 2nd taking the task of making their way through the ditch and fausse braye to enter the main breach on its right flanks. Unsurprisingly it falls to 77th to provide Campbell with his first reserve the brigade is to set out from the cover of the Santa Cruz convent with 2/5th and 94th leading off to right and left. At no point in the accounts of the storm are we to discover the actions of 77th, others who feature prominently suffered less casualties but without doubt Campbell's men lost by far the greater numbers of any involved, Captain Patrick Baird and Lieutenant Smith were severely wounded the latter dying a fortnight later, the Adjutant/Lieutenant Edward Jones fell to a bad wound as did Captain Murdoch McLaine who lost a leg, Captain Peter McLachlan and Ensign James Fitzgerald also received wounds whilst in the ranks no less than 14 men were killed and 31 wounded, obviously the coy' Captains led on their men and as is always the case paid the price for gallantry, so, with numbers already reduced by regular siege work and attrition due to the bitter cold conditions we cannot expect East Middlesex to come away from this affair at any better than:
20th January 1812 (after the storm at Cuidad Rodrigo)
When the looting and burning ceased and the dead and wounded had been attended to it remained to return to more comfortable surroundings but with the CIC well pleased with the outcome of this latest initiative he soon became keen to follow it up with an un-hurried shift down across the Tagus to do the same at Badajoz. As is well known this did not turn out to be anywhere near as easy a task, winter was still upon them with much to do to get his fighting Divisions down to the Guadiana basin. Certainly, if he was to reduce losses due to attrition in that malarial area what better than to get it done before the land heated up, much more to the point however was that the enemy was still in some disarray for numbers and had afforded him perhaps just enough time to do the business without molestation. The enemy commander at Badajoz Governor General Armand Phillipon was to prove a valiant leader who instilled in his men the will to resist to the end, for 77th however we can cut to the chase and say that this episode harmed them but little.
There are sufficient accounts of the difficulties of the investment, siege and final storm with all the horrors of body strewn breaches but for 77th it really came down, firstly to the taking of the outwork Fort Picurina and then a mere supporting role 'on the night'.
25th March 1812 (at the taking of the Fort Picurina)
Even here there is no direct mention of the exploits of 77th, there is mention however that Brigadier Kempt of 3rd Division’s 1st Brigade called for volunteers to capture this outwork and took 500 men of 3rd Division, we know via JA Hall that Major John Rudd of 77th took a prominent part amongst these hardy men being severely wounded, 64% of this force was either killed or wounded so that however many were from East Middlesex less than half of the whole would survive free of injury, it was normal for a whole coy' to step forward to these affairs so perhaps something like 45 men PUA and no doubt 28 PAB, there is absolutely no other way of divining numbers, it was we know, a very bloody affair, so:
26th March 1812 (after the assault on Fort Picurina)
The storm followed in another 11 days where elements of 3rd Division famously escaladed the Castle walls having first to suffer the dash to the base of this obstacle under concentrated shell and canister fire then endure a rain of missiles and one-on-one bayonet duels at the top of swaying ladders, very little of which could have come the way of a battalion which, on the night lost but 11 men wounded and only Lieutenant St’ John Clerke severely hit whilst Lieutenant Colonel John Dunkin and Lieutenant Richard Pennefather and the unfortunate Adjutant/ Lieutenant Jones received slight injuries, so, perhaps:
7th April (after the storm of Badajoz)
It may well be that this total of able men is too generous because as the CIC took stock of his infantry resources he decided that this battalion, which must always have given an indication that it might do better did in fact need to be taken out of the line, much in the way of so many of those irregular 2nd battalions in 1810-11. So it was that 77th was ordered to march down to Lisbon to rest and recuperate being used for garrison duties, we know that when the great campaign of 1813 began to eject King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean Baptiste Jourdan out of Spain this battalion was judged too weak to return to the field and stayed behind to occasionally guard French Prisoners of War. When the war was at the point of leaving Portugal behind orders did come for 77th to prepare to re-join so that as the year came to a close up they came but sadly, only to join Lord Aylmer's Brigade of “chocolate soldiers”, too late for general action during the Nivelle/Nive battles and not to be counted off for strength in the field. However in that DAG Return of mid-January 1814 we see that this battalion can only show a fragment of men ready for service in the field:
16th January 1814 (cantoned on the Biscay coast)
They would of course be called upon to do a little gentle marching and suffer the winter and early spring conditions in the field in the last three months of the war around the southern banks of the Ardour estuary but would survive unmolested to the end.
This battalion was nowhere near Waterloo in 1815.
Could it be however that their Lieutenant Colonel Bromhead was of that family that was much later to produce a Lieutenant Bromhead that won the Victoria Cross at Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu Wars?
Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2011
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