Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 81st Regiment of Foot
By Ray Foster
27th October-1st November 1808 landed at Corunna with
Lieutenant General David Baird
As soon as it was able to move off into the hinterland this well-found second battalion along with its comrades of Major General Coote Manningham's Brigade, 3/1st & 1/26th marched into steadily worsening weather to rendezvous with a large force under Lieutenant General John Moore coming up from the south. This concentration takes place at Mayorga and has seen them on the road for only a little over a month, they have dropped off already an excess of 100 men so:
19th December 1808 (at or around Sahagun)
The retreat back to Corunna is endured with no further loss it seems, there is a likelihood that during this return journey, still brigaded under Manningham they will have compensated for that natural attrition seen in the army as a whole, by picking up some of those early stragglers previously left along the way, however, once back at their start point Manningham Brigade will do some serious fighting. It is 16th January and the brigade centrally positioned in the defensive line has for a while little to do except observe events mainly taking place to their right front, the village of Elvina is being contested for and vigorously at that, however for 2/81st and their other two battalions the day goes along for some long time before they are called upon to take an active part in proceedings. When Elvina has been yet again won by the enemy and things are deteriorating for Major General William Bentinck's Brigade in that area Manningham is ordered forward sending 2/81st against the exposed flank of the advancing infantry attempting to envelope the remnants of Bentinck's opposition. The clash of arms here comes down to a protracted musketry duel with reinforcements being fed in from both sides as casualties mount, this is so intense for 2/81st that they completely run out of ammunition and must be replaced here, they have done the hard work it seems because very soon afterwards the fighting dies down and dusk follows while the contestants only engage in light skirmish fire and the withdrawal of their wounded.
Of the 150 men recorded as lost by 2/81st hereabouts Major Charles Crigan has been mortally wounded, as has Ensign Thomas Griffin, Captain Robert Digby and Ensign Thomas Hanmer are dead and Major Henry Milling, Captain Adam Downing, Lieutenants Bartholomew Derenzy, Josiah Hort, Lawrence McCartney, George Pearson, and Adjutant John Lutman, Ensigns David Fair, Thomas Manning and Thomas Serjeant and Volunteer John Lutman all wounded as is Major William Williams, the latter being that officer who was to become Lieutenant Colonel of 5/60th and feature in many a later Peninsula battle. Clearly this had been no picnic but when the battalion was able to embark the next day and bring its survivors back to Plymouth in England it is recorded that they would have:
22nd January 1809 (at ports in England)
This battalion will be a part of that unfortunate expedition to Scheldt estuary the Walcheren campaign and suffer accordingly landing there on 29th July with 680 men of all ranks, they will not return to the Peninsula. It may be of interest to see that a significant number of the officers of this battalion lived in Ireland also that two of its officers took senior places in Caçadores battalions whilst three others found work as officers on General Staff.
2/81st were to be found at the Waterloo campaign under John Lambert in Lowry Cole's 6th Division this whole brigade suffered continuous cannonading leading up to the crisis of the battle and indeed 1/4th, 1/40 and 3/27th who were all part of this brigade are constantly mentioned as suffering hugely here, but, of the exploits of the seemingly unfashionable 2/81st, nothing!
Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2010
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