Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 91st Regiment of Foot

By Ray Foster                                                                                                                                                            

Facings: Yellow
Lace: Silver


2nd August 1808 Landed at Mondego Bay                                                                                                                 
PUA 917

This large 1st battalion of principally Scots/Irish infantrymen was a part of that force brought to the Peninsula under Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley from Cork Ireland, upon landing they were joined with the West Kent’s, 1/50th another strong battalion to make up a brigade under Major General James Catlin Craufurd. However, after the brush with the enemy at Roliça the CIC shifted 1/50th elsewhere and joined 1/45th, yet another well found battalion, all of this before the army came into line for the battle at Vimiero. Still with Craufurd this little brigade on 21st August was sent out well to the left to cover Wellesley's flank where they were so disconnected from the day's fighting that they suffered not one casualty even though towards the end of affairs they had been brought up to the front just as the enemy began to flee the field.With the settling of the surrender of its Portuguese occupation the French departed and it was only when Lieutenant General John Moore took up the army here that we would again see 1/91st, interestingly their numbers have gone down dramatically to:

16th October 1808 (on the march into Spain)                                                                                                            
PUA 746

By December on the march to Sahagun they will have come under Brigadier Colonel Moore Disney and have 1/28th as companions, the army is re-cast and begins to retreat out of the country with Disney's brigade coming under Major General Edward Paget as rearguard they are to be counted off hereabouts at:

19th December 1808 (about Sahagun)                                                                                                                        
PUA 698

Clearly winter campaigning is having its effect on this unit, no less than any other. The retreat is punctuated with short stands against the enemy where it is 1/28th that takes most of the hard work whilst steady attrition attends to the decline of numbers on this bitterly cold and miserable retreat. At the battle of Corunna on 16th January Disney's brigade is set down in reserve at the village of Eiris where they are eventually called up to repulse a charge of cavalry, this turns out to be a simple task of delivering a few massive volleys and a sweeping up of wounded prisoners before the whole thing subsides into a stand-off and the fighting stops. The embarkation is allowed to go ahead with much long-range desultory cannon fire making the loading of sick and wounded men an uncomfortable experience, when the worn-out remnants of Moore's army sets foot back on English soil 1/91st will show a loss of 383 men for their 5 months of campaigning to record:

22nd January 1809 (landed in England)
Disembarked 534

This battalion is amongst those unfortunate men who are sent to their doom in the marshes of Walcheren during July-September 1809, their survivors to forever carry the diseases found there. It will be a little under four years before we see 1/91st again in the Peninsula, they will land at Corunna on 8th October 1812 in company with a regiment of Guard infantry to make a long lonely winter march down country to meet Wellington's army. This march has been found necessary because that General has been forced to give up his siege at Burgos and retire back into Portugal about Cuidad Rodrigo, all of this in very poor early winter weather. We have no figures for the battalion at this time but injecting a little hindsight can presume that they will hold their numbers remarkably well by the time they come to rest behind the Portuguese frontier and report for duty.

At the end of April we see them at:

26th April 1813 (cantoned in Portugal)                                                                                                                         
PUA 894

It will be a very late spring of 1813 before they are called upon to take up arms and march after a retiring enemy that is reluctantly leaving Spain behind. They have been joined into a fully Scottish brigade with 1/42nd the Black Watch and 1/79th the Cameron Highlanders with a coy' of 5/60th rifles for good measure, we have only brigade figures at this juncture but can expect 1/91st to stand at:

25th May 1813 (on the march out of Portugal)                                                                                                          
PUA 750

Their leader is Brigadier Colonel James Sterling of 1/42nd and they are a part of 6th Division which, when they reach the environs of Vittoria during mid-June are given the task of caring for the army's heavy baggage and train well to the rear of the fighting Divisions, Major General Edward Packenham has the Division in hand as Major General Henry Clinton, its regular leader is off sick. With little or no solid information to rely on we can only surmise that this Division; which was one of those given the job of guarding the amassed loot not stolen by the fighting Divisions was the one that earned the wrath of the CIC for neglecting its duty and engaging in riotous behaviour amongst the accumulated wealth and dodgy female company thus assembled. Wellington had of course counted on running his own hands through this fortune it is no surprise that this story will forever be lost to history! Clinton has returned in late June to replace Packenham as 6th Division commander and by 2nd July Sterling is replaced at the head of 1st Brigade by Major General Denis Pack [who for so long had been the commander of an Independent Portuguese brigade] it is under Pack that we next see 1/91st in action. Not however as Brigadier but leading the Division and at Sorauren on 28th July, Clinton has once more gone sick [up-coming battles, it would appear, have a bad effect on this General]  Sterling of course moves back to hold the Brigade whilst 6th Division are drawn up south of the village having done some pretty counter-marching for the last few days and nights. By noon this day battle is joined, General Conroux's men have come through the village buildings and are about to debouch into open ground when Sterling's infantrymen, set back some way across an open hollow put down a serious succession of musketry volleys. This is returned and a prolonged fire-fight ensues neither side prepared to drop into the lower ground to advance on the other, meanwhile in other parts of the line the fighting has come down to a stand-off too so that when Pack has managed to bring up artillery to cannonade the southern end of Sorauren village action hereabouts fades away into counter-battery fire until all cease fire for the day. Of 1/91st Captain Robert Lowrie has received a mortal wound to die 2 months later, Lieutenant Allen Maclean will die 5 months after from his wound whilst 12 of the rank and file are killed, Lieutenants Peter Macfarlane, John Marshall, Robert Stewart and Ensign John Ormiston and 92 men are wounded whilst two men are listed as missing, having had no sure figures for this battalion from its return to the Peninsula we can perhaps do best by looking ahead to expect them at this time to stand down about:

28th July 1813 (after the 1st battle at Sorauren)                                                                                                        
PAB 643

Sir Denis has managed to get himself struck, or just grazed, by a shot in the head which puts him out of action during this fight and it is no surprise to see the "Utility General" Edward Packenham back in charge of 6th Division ready to do his CIC's bidding two days afterwards when they will go on the offensive. For Sterling's Brigade this becomes another attack on the much battered village but with far greater artillery support and a holding action to keep Conroux in place, the French being assailed on three sides and prevented from departing by the questionable tactics of Soult who has been steadily changing his front across the face of his enemy.  In Sorauren this has the sad effect of destroying Conroux's Division, 1/91st will only act as mildly involved spectators as the shattered remnants of the enemy are bundled out of the area and followed at a brisk pace by a combination of several Divisions of British and Portuguese troops. Casualty’s amount to only nine men all day, one dead and eight injured with Major Donald Macneill amongst the latter so:

30th July 1813 (after the 2nd battle at Sorauren)                                                                                                      
PAB 634

With the enemy on the run out of the Spanish Pyrenees and all contact lost with them 6th Division will come to rest in the high country above St Jean Pied de Port, Packenham having handed over command to Major General Charles Colville and Pack, recovered from his knock on the head takes over 1st Brigade, it can be imagined that Colonel Sterling has had about as much of this shuffling of command as he can rightly be expected to take. He resigns his position, still a colonel and leaves for home to retire from all things military. There is no action for Pack's men for some months ahead merely moving up to the line of the Nivelle as the autumn begins to turn to winter, there we are treated to sure figures although slightly inflated by the inclusion of a handful of supernumeries, for 1/91st, they will stand at:

10th November 1813 (at the crossing of the Nivelle)                                                                                               
PUA 636

Colville has gone and Clinton returned to handle his men in a supporting role as others do the hard yards, casualties will be small with only Captain David McIntyre recorded as killed amongst 1/91st and perhaps only a handful of men wounded.

The series of battles on the Nive in December are missed by 6th Division that does a good deal of marching and countermarching in the rear, all on roads awash with early winter rains. Those figures presented in Supplementary Dispatches for mid-January show:

16th January 1814 (cantoned in the valley of the Nive)                                                                                             
PUA 481

It will be February of 1814 before Pack's Brigade is seen in action again it is on the road, now hard and dry through frosty countryside on the French side of the Pyrenees. Principally following 3rd Division Clinton's men will come up to the large provincial town of Orthez and a defensive stance by Soult's much reduced army to the north on high ground along the Dax road. With little or no chance to discover the truly exact figures it can only be estimated that when battle is joined here 1/91st will present:

27th February 1814 (at the battle of Orthez)                                                                                                             
PUA 595

When 3rd Division have gone forward and done their work along the low spur leading up to the defensive line held by General Maximilien Foy's Division it is Pack's Brigade that will follow through to expand and complete the breakthrough achieved principally by 1/88th, 1/42nd will be caught by the enemy cavalry charge which so disrupted parts of that battalion whilst 1/91st, its officers well to the fore, merely supported the final thrusts, Captain William Gun, Lieutenants Alexander Campbell and Marshall, Ensign John Taylor and just 8 of the ranks were wounded to finish their day at:

27th February 1814 (after the battle at Orthez)                                                                                                                   
PAB 583

The whole of March is spent in marching after a rapidly retiring enemy whose sole concern is to arrive at Toulouse to pick up such sustenance as that city can afford. Roads are a quagmire of churned-up mud, the weather is still wintry and the commissaries have an ever extending line of communication to deal with, the army generally will lose numbers by all of this until they reach Toulouse where an uncomfortable amount of time is spent before the CIC can arrange his available troops around the waterlogged perimeter and be confident of assailing this place successfully.

10th April 1814 (at the battle of Toulouse)                                                                                                                 
PUA 521

It falls to 6th Division, still led by Clinton, to be taken as a part of Marshal William Carr Beresford's Corps [with 4th Division] away round the eastern side of the city to mount what will be the main attack, this is directed against a long hill the Mont Rave which totally dominates the walled defences to the west of its summit. Pack's Brigade in the initial march through very wet low ground will occupy the safest positions to the left rear 1/91st being placed behind 1/42nd and in front of 1/79th so, they will be hardly affected by the cannonade being rained down upon this multi-battalion column. As the march brings them to the southern end of Mont Rave all will be brought into line of brigades with 6th Division coming on at the right presenting Major General John Lambert's 2nd Brigade first in line, Douglas' Portuguese closed up behind and Pack's bringing up the rear with 1/91st in its centre, 1/79th to its right and 1/42nd to the left.  Climbing the hill it will be left to others to fight off General Taupin's infantry charge then, with all of that settled Beresford will get his Corps onto the hilltop and re-arrange them at some leisure while his artillery support is brought up. At this time it cannot be expected that 1/91st will have had other than minimal loss and all due to random penetration fire. The new configuration sees Pack's Brigade on the right side of the ridge and, since this hilltop is not overly broad closed up to a two battalion front 1/91st taking the centre rear behind its senior partners.

When the serious work starts again Lambert’s two leading battalions will have taken the early brunt of the enemy defence which is fierce in the extreme, there are many strong points and earthworks to overcome and counter-attacks to repulse, the fighting becomes confused and total Lambert's men will be fully engaged and, when 1/91st are eventually brought into the fray they attack and are counter-attacked in the same way as the rest until the fighting subsides into sporadic skirmisher fire. The enemy positions at this end of the hill are now so compromised that Soult is forced to call his men off the high ground to leave the exhausted victors to tend their wounded and seek out their dead, 1/91st will have lost 18 men killed and, of the 93 wounded record Major [Brevet Lieutenant Colonel] Augustus Meade, Captains Alexander Callander and James Walsh, Lieutenants James Hood, John McDougall, and Colin McDougall in this last fight of the war

10th April 1814 (after the battle on Mont Rave Toulouse)                                                                                       
PAB 410

All that remained was for the army to take leisurely marches back to the Biscay coast about Bordeaux before embarking for adventures elsewhere.

This battalion although present at the Waterloo campaign was one of those left out all day at Hal on the extreme right of the battle at Mont St' Jean, so, no action for them!

Note: This regiment having been recruited in the main from men drawn from the Argyll Militia did eventually take the name of that area of Scotland.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2010


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