Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 79th Regiment of Foot (Cameron Highlanders)

By Ray Foster

Facings: Dark Green
Lace: Gold


25th-30th August 1808 landed at Maceira Bay with Lieutenant General John Moore                                                                        

No figures given

Having arrived too late to play a part in the defeat of the enemy under Junot there is little to do until after the Cintra Convention but, as Moore is given command of the forces left in the area and is expected to take the fight into Spain we shall see 1/79th join with 1/38th and four companies of 2/95th Rifles to become a small brigade under Major General Henry Fane, the Cameron's are at this time excellent for numbers:

15th October 1808 (at and about Lisbon)                                                                                                                     
PUA 932

The next day they march off via Coimbra and Almeida for the Spanish frontier, the weather has already turned foul and winter conditions will prevail for the whole of this campaign. By late December the army has done little but gone through Salamanca, waited for its heavy train and baggage to arrive then pushed on to Sahagun in the north to concentrate with that other force under Lieutenant General John Baird coming in from Corunna. Thus it was to be that as Baird came up the whole mass was re-organised into new Divisions and Brigades with 1/79th, still led by Fane, losing its riflemen and receiving 1/82nd in its place, by this time the wear and tear of winter marching and the dropping off of sickly men and others 'on command' had brought numbers down by almost a hundred to:

19th December 1808 (at Sahagun)                                                                                                                                 
PUA 838

The sorry tale of march and counter-march as Moore discovered the close proximity of the Emperor Napoleon with massive troop numbers unfolded along the road to Corunna with all kinds of disheartening events under harsh winter weather, Fane's Brigade managing to lose well over 500 men between them before taking to the friendly transports as they drew into Corunna harbour. They had taken little or no part in the rearguard action against Marshal Nicholas Soult's men on the last hills before the port so would be able to bring off their sick and infirm comrades to land back in England much bedraggled at:

22nd January 1809 (at ports in England)                                                                                                       

Disembarked 777

By the beginning of August of 1809 1/79th are to be seen as a part of that army which was sent to the malarial swamps and sandbanks of the Walcheren campaign, in what numbers we are not informed, no doubt there would be very few sound men returning from that experience during October of the same year. With very little time given to recover from all of that 1/79th return to the Peninsula arriving at Lisbon at the end of January 1810, there they have virtually no breathing space before being re-embarked for Cadiz by an order of 5th February being brigaded into a large six-battalion force under the mercurial Major General William Stewart. This journey takes but a few short winter days landing at Cadiz in total by 15th of that month, it is not too long before they are in action marching along the sand-spit to the San Petrie inlet to attack enemy outposts across this narrow waterway, just 4 companies we are told and led by Major William Sullivan, it seems that the Adjutant/Lieutenant Kenneth Cameron led in the Light company as his regular role demanded. Their stay down in Cadiz ends when Wellington is seeking good strong battalions that have at least had a little time exposed to the hot climate of a Peninsula summer and of course are nominally under his hand. So it is that 1/79th will sail into Lisbon harbour in time to join the army as it retires back into the hills of the Beira, they will join with 1/7th Fusiliers coming under Colonel Edward Packenham as a small extra brigade of 1st Division.  When numbers are counted off on top of the ridge at Busaco the battalion will stand at a fine;

27th September 1810 (on the ridge at Busaco)                                                                                                           
PUA 923

It is not unlikely that the Adjutant K Cameron had charge of his Light company down below the slopes in front of the army's defensive array hidden behind this long ridge, certainly Captain Neil Douglas was also present when the enemy voltigeurs came upon them each side giving a good account of themselves in the early misty conditions. In being driven back up the hill a large group of these light-infantry men became surrounded and, of 79th, one un-named officer with six men captured, Douglas although severely wounded was brought off but this drawn out skirmishing engagement cost the battalion another 41 men injured and seven killed before reaching the safety of 1st Division’s reserve position well away from subsequent attacks, so:

27th September 1810 (after the combat on the ridge at Busaco)                                                                            
PAB 867

As soon as the army had retired down country into the safety of the 'Lines of Torres Vedras' the CIC began to re-shape his brigades as more men were coming into the country and had become available. The Camerons, still in 1st Division moved up to Major General Alan Cameron's 2nd Brigade now to be with two small veteran battalions, 2/24th and 2/42nd and a company of 5/60th, it can be estimated that their numbers would have fallen considerably to:

1st November 1810 (in the' Lines of Torres Vedras')                                                                                                  
PUA 790

There is a rapid change of command of this brigade at year end, Brigadier Alan Cameron is a sick man and is compelled to return home in late November, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blantyre, a sort of utility Brigadier takes over for a couple of months only to step down when Major General Miles Nightingall gets the brigade at the end of January 1811. When Massena's army has done its time halted before Lisbon and later at Santarem its near starvation finally allows Wellington to have a comparatively bloodless victory shepherding them out of the country all the way to the Agueda by Cuidad Rodrigo. In all of this at Foz d Arouce on 15th March Nightingall's Brigade had managed to get close to the retreating enemy, sufficiently so to have had 1 man killed and 13 injured with 1/79th collecting 7 of these.  It is not too long before the enemy return re-victualled, re-clothed and re-armed, Marshal Andre Massena really does need a good win and comes on with his first goal the releasing of General Antoine Brennier and his garrison at Almeida. He gets his chance for a general action when Wellington stands on defence at and about Fuentes d Onoro, 1/79th now back to its former strength is destined to play a major role and stands in line at:

1st May 1811 (At Fuentes d Onoro)                                                                                                                               
PUA 922

On the first day of fighting it is only the Light company of 1/79th that has the work, they are in the village buildings with a large number of other Light companies and, considering the violent attacks and counter-attacks mounted up and down this straggling stone-built place they must have found reasonably safe cover, it is only as the day's action is coming to a close that they are seriously challenged, four men are killed and 18 wounded whilst Captain William Imlach and Ensign Charles Brown are hit, the latter losing a leg and the former killed outright, Lieutenant James Calder picks up a wound which appears to be but slight only to die a whole year later as a result, so:

3rd May 1811 (after the first street-fight in Fuentes d Onoro)                                                                                  
PAB 897

This first attempt to force the streets and alleys up through the village having come to nought, Massena sees that Wellington has extended his right flank into very vulnerable ground and takes a whole day re-aligning his forces to get the best advantage from this. All that this achieves for 1/79th is a spare day of rest to be ready for the inevitable struggle ahead, on 5th May their CIC has put the battalion and 1/71st of 1st Division’s 3rd Brigade fully into the already rather battered buildings, walls and enclosures still in his possession and, for these units there is now a great fight ahead. The sun was well up when General Ferey's Division came on crossing the Dos Casas stream at the bottom of the village at the rush so much so that two whole companies of 1/79th and a good number of men of 1/71st were cut off, fighting on until forced to surrender thereby losing no less than 94 men so early in the day! The main body were able to stabilise at the top of the village as 2/24th came down to reinforce them pushing the enemy infantry back almost to their starting point where both sides were compelled to take stock and attempt to regain some order. A mass of French Grenadier companies then took up the fight which devolved into bitter man-on-man combats over stone walls and through gaping holes, barricaded pathways and house-to-house clearances with the CIC only feeding in his reserves piecemeal, once again the enemy cleared the way to the top of the village and by a great effort, helped in this by yet more supporting battalions this time got out into clear ground beyond the church. At this time the two Highland battalions and 2/24th were still to be seen, scurrying around tombstones in the churchyard, well down in numbers but fighting on, until Colonel Henry Mackinnon's Brigade of 3rd Division saved the day mounting a crashing charge on a much confused mass of the enemy here. All went tumbling down through the village, this time for good the battered remnants of the early defenders joining the newcomers to totally crush all opposition on this side of the stream. It was at this point that Lieutenant Colonel Philip Cameron received a mortal wound dying 8 days later, Captain Sinclair Davidson also had been fatally injured to die after two days, 27 of the ranks had been killed and 126 wounded along with Captains Andrew Brown and Malcolm Fraser, Lieutenants Alexander Cameron, Samuel Robinson, John Webb and Archibald Fraser, the latter to die a lingering death four months later, Ensign Ewen Cameron [Senior] also recorded a slight wound. Counting those early losses of captured men 1/79th would thus stand down this day at:

5th May 1811 (after the end of the battle at Fuentes d Onoro)                                                                                
PAB 640

When Marshal Auguste Marmont takes over the 'Army of Portugal from Massena he is able to gather up sufficient drafts and convalescents to march again on the offensive as summer wears on but only so much as to force Wellington's men back into the Caya valley while his men and a large part of Soult's field army come up from the south to re-victual the fortress town of Badajoz. For 1/79th and many another ex-Walcheren unit this has the effect of exposing them to the swamp fevers so devastating to their weakest comrades, their brigadier Nightingall resigns and goes off to India his place taken by Major General Edward Stopford in late July and, when next they are counted off it will be in mid-September however we are made aware that this battalion has had during the summer on the Caya has recorded as many as 250 sick men and as a consequence it may not be surprising to see that at this time they can only muster;

15th September 1811 (at Fuente Guinaldo)                                                                                                                 
PUA 374    

Fortunately there is now to be a period of rest and recuperation for most of the army going into winter quarters just long enough for the New Year to begin. As January opens Wellington busies himself putting first Cuidad Rodrigo to siege and storm and then Badajoz itself. All that 1/79th would need to do in this was to do their part of the rostered trench digging and guard duty before Cuidad Rodrigo seemingly without a single casualty here and then go south-east with Graham whilst the CIC got on with the Badajoz business.   There is sufficient evidence to judge that the battalion had received during the previous months substantial drafts from home to bring up its numbers whilst having the occasional march about the country well south-east of the Guadiana although mostly in wintry conditions. This cannot have been too difficult because when next we see them they will have recovered back to very presentable figures.  They have returned to the northern army with all manœuvring about the plains in front of Salamanca, still a part of 1st Division but having received a new brigadier Major General William Wheatley a 1st Guard's officer, there have been several changes within the brigade too, 2/42nd has been absorbed into 1/42nd, recently joined whilst a rather transient 1/26th [the Cameronian's] has come and gone and 2/58th, a small, largely unused battalion has joined from Lisbon. It is full summer and Marmont is about to make his fatal error in the Arapiles hills, when the great blow is struck 1st Division has already sent several Light companies into the village of that name, it is as well to record here that 1/79th will have stood at:

15th July 1812 (in the plains about Salamanca)                                                                                                           
PUA 694

The battle about to unfold is a week later but numbers will have changed only marginally so that it can be expected that Captain  William Marshall would have his substantially 'new' Light company in the village with orders to hold this position, the rest of the battalion appears to have been held in reserve all day and when orders were issued to join in the latter part of the battle their Divisional head Major General Henry Campbell, another 1st Guard's officer, failed to respond thus depriving their CIC of an even more emphatic victory than the one he achieved that day. So, for 1/79th the great fight on the Arapiles came down to just one Light infantryman wounded but three captured in the little Arapiles street fight early in the day, so:

22nd July 1812 (after the battle at the Arapiles)                                                                                                          
PAB 690

Marching on down to Madrid to receive the adulations of the Spanish in the Capital city the Cameron's only managed to have two weeks of 'wine-women’ and the rest before Wellington chooses to head off north to see how far he can push the remnants of the Army of Portugal now under General Bertrand Clausel out of the country, as it turns out it is at Burgos that he is halted and at the castle walls and outer defences 1/79th with others will spent a very dreary autumn. Wheatley has been left behind at Madrid with a terminal case of typhus, he will die within the month so, it turns to Colonel James Sterling of 1/42nd to take up the Brigade, with a pathetically inadequate siege train to assault this place.   It comes down to a series of ill-managed escalades one of which on 19th September sees the Light company of 1/79th, some 50 men or so, well to the fore. They are set the task with other Light companies of mounting a false attack while a much larger force assaults the hilltop outwork of San Miguel a strong horn-work covering the Castle some 200yds away. The main escalade goes in elsewhere, totally without any 'softening-up' whatever and fails miserably whilst the diversion being led by the newly appointed Major Edward Somers Cocks is turned into a full on fight, the enemy defenders, low in number at the point of his attack were not prepared for serious work as Cocks had his men hack down the palisades and take those victorious enemies who had just repulsed the main assault, in the rear.

As a result of this surprise reverse the whole of the garrison made off down the communication way escaping to the Castle, it would be at this juncture that 1/79th Light company would receive its greater number of casualties as a handful of these men had been left by Cocks to prevent such an escape, they were over-run, trampled down and beaten to the ground by the fleeing mass. Lieutenants Hugh Grant and Angus Macdonald both mortally wounded, 5 men killed, Captain Marshall and a further 32 men injured would almost see the demise of the Light company of 1/79th that night so:

19-20th September 1812 (after the capture of the San Miguel Hornwork)                                                            
PAB 640

This is only the beginning of a series of faltering attempts to break down the resistance of Governor Dubreton and his doughty comrades at the Burgos Castle, Oman retails Wellington's own excuses as to the how and why of the failure by the gallant and much prized 1st Division to take this tiny fortification, but for 1/79th at least there can be no shame hereabouts. In the day to day struggle to master the place men were steadily put out of action, on 22nd September Major Andrew Lawrie is killed leading in a large band of volunteers of 1st Division on another bald-headed escalade, on 4th October Lieutenant Kevan Leslie is severely wounded leading the wrecks of his Light company as 2/24th had made some progress after firing a mine. On the night of 8th October down goes Major Somers Cocks killed while trying to stave off a sortie from the Castle so that when the siege is finally raised on the night of 21-22nd October it is very likely that 1/79th would stand at no better than:

22nd October 1812 (leaving Burgos Castle)                                                                                                                  
PUA 552

The retreat down country harassed along the way by brigades of enemy cavalry and then later by the mere fact of continual exposure to bitter autumn winds and sweeping rain would not affect the privileged 1st Division as much as those who followed in their mud-churned footsteps, certainly food was at a premium for many days but it does seem that 1/79th would come to rest behind the Agueda about Cuidad Rodrigo able to stand down at:

29th November 1812 (after the retreat from Burgos)                                                                                                
PUA 515

The Camerons would, during the rest in winter quarters, receive very substantial drafts from home as did most of the rest of the army, a newly made-up Lieutenant Colonel Neil Douglas would re-appear during this period to lead the battalion and Sterling's Brigade not only changes its component parts but is transferred complete out of 1st Division to become the 1st Brigade of 6th Division a corps which had lost so heavily in the final tussle with Ferey's men at the Arapiles. During the early part of the year we see that 1/79th would already be on the way to better numbers;

26th April 1813 (cantoned in Portugal)                                                                                                                           
PUA 632

Sterling retains the brigadier role but the tiny unit 2/24th goes elsewhere and a new Scottish battalion 1/91st joins, this one having had quite a long march during that late autumn coming into the country at Corunna in company with the 1/3/1st Guards and travelling all the way down to Cuidad Rodrigo arriving there well after the main army had settled in for the winter. This last member of Sterling's Brigade was yet another of those malarial ex-Walcheren battalions, however, as the spring turned to campaign weather 1/79th would in all likelihood have risen to;

25th May 1813 (setting out on the 'Vittoria' campaign)                                                                                            
PUA 800

Major General Edward Packenham has picked up this Division and as the guard of the baggage train is to be left out of the consideration when the CIC calculates his needs in the battle in front of Vittoria in late June of that year. Sir Edward is soon relieved of his divisional role the habitual leader Major General Henry Clinton having returned as the army moves into the Bastan to attempt to corner Clausel's corps, for 6th Division this comes down to a late departure from Vittoria and some shady dealings over the captured loot before arriving before Pamplona.  Sterling in superseded by Major General Denis Pack at the head of the brigade and in no time at all Clinton goes off ill leaving Pack to take his place, Sterling returns once more and whilst all of this is going on the Division is being shifted left and right over hill and dale in response to a new offensive led by Marshal Nicholas Soult coming back through the lower slopes of the French Pyrenees. In their absence there are several defensive combats in these hills before Pack is able to manœuvre his charges into position for a strike at the enemy, they have struggled through torrents of rain in wasteful night marches losing their way, sitting in the mud on the wooded hill paths then, more by luck than good management are able to come up a road to the south of Sorauren just in time to form a battle line to block General Conroux's men emerging from this cluster of buildings, it is already past midday on 28th July and will be a small part of what has become known as the First Battle of Sorauren. For 6th Division this confrontation appears to have been across a stretch of entirely open ground where only an expensive determined effort on the part of one or the other would have achieved any good result, both sides settle down to some hard skirmishing nothing being decided excepting that it may be best for all concerned not to get too serious here. A few cannons are brought up and enough done to bring events in this area to a stand off, Pack has exposed himself sufficiently late in the proceedings to have received a glancing musket-ball wound to the head and, as the day draws to a close we see the ever available Packenham back in charge of the Division. With no officer casualties’ 1/79th will have had four men killed and thirty-one wounded, one of these last being Volunteer Kynock  so, perhaps, with such a long period since heads were counted we can only say that they would stand down at:

28th July 1813 (after the first combat at Sorauren)                                                                                                     
PAB 758

A full day goes by with Packenham able to bring more cannons to bear on the unfortunate village defenders and on 30th July Wellington's army now goes on the offensive throughout the whole battlefront, Sterling's men this day are relieved by their 2nd Brigade and will be able to witness the pounding of Conroux's men in the village, the place is under attack early from almost three sides until the occupiers are forced to give ground if any are to survive, few are as it turns out with all of 6th Division now engaged in a pursuit, the day finishing with 1/79th losing just one man killed and seventeen injured, so:

30th July (after the second combat at Sorauren)                                                                                                         
PAB 740

Lagging behind this pursuit for a few days the Division will come to rest in the valley of the Alduides having lost all contact with the fleeing foe, they are looking down from ridges overlooking St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the foothills.

Packenham gives up his command to another 'utility' commander Major General Charles Colville, briefly as it seems and when Sir Denis Pack returns for duty he can only take over 1st Brigade while Colonel Sterling, perhaps by now unhappy with his very fragile periods of command [and no promotion] goes home to retire from all things military. Pack's Brigade is not to be seen in action against an enemy for a period of some three months during which 1/79th will fall away a little for numbers, they come into line for the crossing of the Nivelle with sure figures, albeit swollen to include all of their supernumerary's standing, fully at:

10th November 1813 (at the crossing of the Nivelle)                                                                                                 
PUA 711

Yet again Clinton has returned and this time appears to be fully recovered from his periodic illnesses, Pack also holding his position as brigadier to the end. When the CIC puts his array to the river crossing 6th Division who are away to the right well back from the bridge at Amotz are to be only used in a reserve capacity to such ends that we only discover casualties by brigade with 1/79th perhaps collecting no more than one man killed and a handful wounded, we are made aware however that Ensign John Thompson was amongst the latter. The days are short and down come the winter rains so that for a month the army is forced to hold its ground and await better conditions. By a week into December 6th Division are put to the task with others of finding and securing a crossing of the Nive up to the north, they are able to throw a pontoon across the river nearby Ustaritz the men of 6th Division getting over by various fords and pushing on to Villefranque. It is 9th December and unsurprisingly rain falls persistently, they are no sooner established on the right banks than they are ordered to return to the left side as the enemy manœuvres up ahead. Yet another bridge is needed to be built, rain still falling and much counter-marching to be done, this situation carries on while several furious battles are being fought by others to the north on various parts of the higher grounds while Clinton's men seem to do little else but mud-march from one place to another only coming up to a final destination when all the fighting has died out. In all of the battles on the Nive Pack's 1st Brigade of 6th Division have only been engaged during the river crossing and the saturating trudge on to Villefranque, Lieutenant Alexander Robertson is recorded as being severely wounded during all of this and probably some 24 of his men are brought down with him, no matter, the army is once more compelled to go into winter quarters while the worst of the weather abates. There will be little to report of the warlike doings of 1/79th for some long time ahead, but at least we will see sure figures while stood down during the worst of the weather:

16th January 1814 (in quarters about the Nive)                                                                                                            
PUA 624

During February they come out of the line and are sent down to a coastal depot to receive new equipment and uniforms, long overdue but, a welcome respite as the army goes forward and east to push Soult's ever reducing Corps back across the French watershed of the Pyrenees. They will thereby miss the battle for Orthez and those other encounters along the way to Toulouse where Soult is to make his final stand forced to do so as Wellington continues to play the war-game relentlessly. The Camerons now well shod and protected as well as the commissariat allows, will tramp eastward following the sodden trails of the army to come up in sufficient time to join the last violent clash of arms of this war. For reasons not explained 1/79th will have lost numbers rather dramatically since that last engagement on the Nive, the weather of course has not helped them as they had their lonely trudge back to re-join, however we are informed quite specifically as to the strength of this particular little corps;

On the day of battle the battalion would stand at:                                                         

10th April 1814   (at the battle for Toulouse)                                                                                                               
PUA 484

This last day of hostilities is to be full of incident for 1/79th as also their whole 6th Division, they are to march off very early in the day north by east so that Marshal William Carr Beresford can bring them with 4th Division down the eastern side of Mont Rave a long heavily fortified hill which will loom on their right hand as they keep as close to the unfordable but small river Ers as their formations will allow. Lieutenant Colonel Neil Douglas has his battalion at the very rear and most left of a large column which sloshes its way down through rain sodden fields to find the least defended way of climbing this hump while being plied with long range shot and shell from the hilltop's string of positional batteries. By the time that this column has gone around two miles a steady even slope presents itself with the added benefit of no apparent artillery defences. The column is swung sharp right and due to some complex movement 1/79th becomes the most northerly unit of Pack's Brigade but still to the rear of one each of Major General John Lambert and Colonel James Douglas' Portuguese battalions. Brigadier Pack sees many squadrons of enemy light cavalry at the hilltop so 1/79th are brought into square before moving on up this right flank end of the formation.

While others ahead deal with an infantry charge the Camerons will be fortunate to suffer almost no loss at this stage. The charge downhill by General Taupin's men is shot to a standstill, their commander killed and Beresford's advance is able to not only continue but to reach the summit and clear a large enough space for the recovery and realignment of both 4th and 6th Divisions somewhat disordered infantrymen. Now there is a long wait until guns can be brought up to the summit in support of the next attack, when this is mounted 1/79th will still be on the extreme right with Lambert's Brigade echeloned off to their left front, ahead is a sunken road which, as they advance provides them with a convenient safe haven until the rest have brought up their left flanks. From here on the battle will become very serious with all types of entrenched works, a large redoubt and yet another sunken road, each side contests every defendable obstacle with attack and counter-attack sweeping back and forth until both sides are almost fought out, Pack is wounded twice but remains to keep charge while Colonel Douglas seems to have a charmed life, all hereabouts are forced to go to ground as the continual mayhem produces no good result, the second sunken road now full of the remnants of Pack's Brigade, dead, wounded and the uninjured littered about with the latter hugging such dead-ground as can be found.  Lambert's Brigade is used to press the exhausted enemy further back while the other, Douglas' Portuguese come on in support, all subsides into sporadic skirmisher fire and the more humane task of relieving the plight of the wounded of both sides. Captains John Cameron and Patrick Purves are dead as is Lieutenant Duncan Cameron, Ensign Ewen Cameron [Junior] and Lieutenant William McBarnett are to die of mortal wounds while Lieutenant/Adjutant K Cameron, Lieutenants Donald and Ewen Cameron [Senior] and Captains James Campbell, William Marshall, Thomas Mylne and Peter Innes, Lieutenants James Fraser, John Kynock, Duncan McPherson, Charles McArthur, Allan McDonell and Ensign Allan Maclean are all wounded, 16 of the men are killed, 179 wounded and one other not to be found. This is a battle won as Soult withdraws his battered units from Mont Rave to abandon Toulouse to its fate, 1/79th will stand down for the last time at about;

10th April 1814 (after the battle for Toulouse)                                                                                                            
PAB 270

This battalion will be present for the Waterloo campaign in Lieutenant General Thomas Picton's 5th Division and Major General James Kempt's Brigade bringing 703 men PUA to the field, they fought at Quatre Bras and Mont St Jean leaving the field at:                                             

PAB 225

Yet another battle won the hard way!


Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2010


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