Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 95th Regiment of Foot (The Rifles)
By Ray Foster
Having no less than three established battalions the story will attempt to move in more or less chronological order, fitting each battalion in where it seems most proper, by far the greater part of their time in the war would be seen in their involvement with the Light Brigade/Division, however, it has to be stressed that at no time was there such a corps as the "Rifle Brigade" a title so much loved by the primary historians William Napier and Charles Oman. Before commencing it will be best also to make an observation or two in clarification of the role of this corps of rifle bearing troops, they are not to be compared with those of 5/60th previously examined that acted for most of their time as virtually independent companies of experienced marksmen/sharpshooters attached to various brigades within the army Divisional structure.
The 95th it will be seen were not only to perform their duty picket screening/skirmishing ahead of a main force of formed infantry while detached as single companies but, within the Light Brigade/Division structure to come together in multiple companies to augment their respective brigades as regular line troops.
The gradual development of Light Infantry as a tactical part of a main striking force, which could equally turn its hand to the emerging role of skirmisher had little or nothing to owe to the weapon carried by 95th Rifles. The Baker muzzle loaded rifle of 1808-1815 was a brutish tool of highly questionable value which only came into its own when there was sufficient time for the user to manage its cumbersome loading and crude aiming evolutions at a safe range and preferably, while in concealment. Its better facility than the Brown Bess musket to occasionally hit a target aimed at has been much overstated by present day amateurs who surely have no concept of how these gunpowder charged weapons had to be handled under serious combat conditions, the least said about its clumsy companion the sword bayonet the better, let the events speak for themselves.
2/95th [4 companies]
5th August 1808 landed at Mondego Bay from Harwich
These four companies were brigaded under Major General Henry Fane with 45th and 5/60th setting out four days later down a coastal road south to test themselves for war in the Peninsula. At the hamlet of Brilos a small French outpost was disturbed, sent back some few miles onto a formed rearguard under General Henri Delaborde and their war began.
With much less caution than experience would later teach them the riflemen of 2/95th came on to their first taste of French musketry which brought down the first British officers lost, one Lieutenant Ralph Bunbury killed and Captain Hercule Packenham wounded, with other casualties merged with men of 5/60th we do however know that 4 more men of the 21 actually captured at this introductory contact were of the ‘rifles. As others came up the French retired and two days later were to be found drawn up about Roliça in a good defensive position, Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley on attack had Fane's Brigade at a centre left of a very formal looking front line. As the attack went in Fane's men fell behind elements of Major General Miles Nightingale's Brigade and trended more left busying themselves with the enemy right flank, while the Colonel of 29th was getting himself and his battalion in all sorts of trouble the riflemen merely kept up the pressure on their wing until the whole French force was compelled to give back through greater weight of numbers. From maybe 190 casualties all told 2/95th would lose this day another 42 killed and wounded of which Captain Jasper Creagh and Lieutenants Thomas Cochrane and Dudley Hill all wounded were included, leaving them to stand down at:
17th August 1808 (after the combat at Roliça)
Having taken the alarm by all of this General Androche Junot the French CIC based at Lisbon hurriedly gathered together what he considered would be sufficient men to ward off this impudent invasion of his "domain", to this end we see that a set-piece battle would soon occur. Wellesley however had meanwhile become beset with problems of command; he had been informed that superior officers would be landing to take over the army, which day by day was concentrating via sea upon this new theatre of operations. It seems that another small detachment of 'Rifles was to land during this build-up of forces, they would be from 1/95th so:
1/95th [2 companies]
20th August 1808 [landed at Maciera Bay from Harwich]
The river-mouth entrance facing the Atlantic rollers unfortunately offered little shelter to disembarking small boats so that whilst no casualties are recorded here for these men their arrival in Portugal was so slow that dusk had fallen and the beach itself was the first resting place for this token force. They came ashore brigaded under Major General Wroth Acland along with 2nd and 20th and, since Junot had taken the offensive would find themselves going into battle the very next day. The disembarkation point had been very well chosen as it was but a march of a mere three miles to reach their appointed ground, a hillside looking down towards the small town of Vimiero, meanwhile the companies of 2/95th had been placed a good half mile across the valley of the Maciera stream extending a line along high ground facing south-east where the enemy were to be expected to appear. It will be as well to understand that this 2nd battalion had been receiving more men in the days after their landing on 5th August, we are not made aware of just exactly how or when this occurred but we do know that on the day of the battle at Vimeiro their numbers had increased by more than 100 to stand to arms at:
2/95th [at Vimeiro on 21st August 1808, very likely
By chance it would be men of this tiny corps that first felt the action, their pickets being driven in by the enemy moving by its right, this move prompting Wellesley to bring forward across the slopes of the Maciera valley units including those men of 1/95th who were however held back somewhat from the immediate threat. It would be Fane's riflemen who joined in the fighting hereabouts the brigadier allowing them to be withdrawn slowly with some few casualties. Once back onto their formed line in close order the enemy was then assailed with rifle, musket and cannon at killing range, which soon had the effect to be expected, a later attack made to take the defender’s flank end on was also thrown back. Acland's brigade by now had felt their first action , sent forward with others to disrupt an attack close to the town buildings and walled enclosures the fight evolved into close range hand-to-hand combat, it is unfortunate that when we are told [Vol. 1 P 261] that Oman's Appendix will contain the casualty list at Vimiero no such list is to be seen [early days for his beloved compiler!] thus it is that we can fall back on a 21st Century compilation [Steve Brown] to see the damage. Of the 3 officers injured [JA Hall] Lieutenants Dudley Hill, Mathias Pratt and John Cox would all be members of 2/95th [see also Challis] whilst 1/95th may not have even come under fire or even contact with Acland, we are aware that of Fane's riflemen some were taken prisoner in their retirement but nothing really solid to help us here on the exploits of 1/95th. We do see that of the riflemen hit 40% were killed, this type of statistic perhaps indicating a willingness to "mix it" with the enemy or is it on account of the sword bayonet being deficient at close quarters? Certainly then in 2/95th we have those 3 officers wounded six men killed and 13 of the riflemen wounded and 3 more captured so:
2/95th [after the battle at Vimeiro]
From now until early October the movements of 95th Reg't come to no more than a scattering about the capital Lisbon, or postings to border garrisons, it may be that 1/95th received a handful of convalescents but certainly there is no suggestion that those men landed and taking part in the Vimiero battle were increased by drafts from home. Lieutenant General John Moore's small corps arriving between 25th and 30th August contained no riflemen so, it is only when that General finally mounts an incursion into Spain that we are treated to any news at all. On 13th October a fleet of troop carriers from England weighed anchor off the north/west tip of Spain by Corunna, with them were a large contingent of 1/95th and 4 companies of 2/95th, it would be November 4th before the Spanish authorities allowed all of these troops, under Lieutenant General David Baird to assemble ashore at that seaport.
4th November 1808 (landed at Corunna)
2/95th [4 companies]
Moore on 18th October had begun his Spanish adventure re-casting his army so that the fragment of 1/95th which had gone on to spend some time at Elvas on the frontier would march with Major General Robert Anstruther joined to 20th and 1/52nd while the companies of 2/95th remained with Fane but now had 1/38th and 1/79th for company. There would be many autumn-winter marches to endure before there is anything to report of value, it may be of interest to note that with Baird Colonel Robert Craufurd held 1/43rd, 1/&2/95th so that there is a reason already to say that a semblance of a Light Brigade was operating in the Peninsula. It will be as late as 20th December and by Sahagun in the north that Baird and Moore come close together, there is a re-composition of the army which sees those elements of 1/&2/95th set together, the larger part of 1/95th transferring to Anstruther and Craufurd receiving the companies of 2/95th from Fane.
At this time sure figures are at last available:
20th December 1808 (at Sahagun)
Simple arithmetic shows us that somewhere along the way 2/95th have shed in excess of 100 men. Four days later after much prevarication Moore turns about and commences the infamous retreat to Corunna, the weather has deteriorated, snow falls regularly and the paths lead into high country where there is no food to be found of consequence and sparse shelter for the rank and file. In the first fortnight of this miserable march Craufurd's men and Anstruther’s with Major General Moore Disney's Brigade bring up the rear of the infantry, they are well covered by the cavalry of Lieutenant General Henry Paget a brilliant commander of that arm of the service so seriously lacking in the years to come. But, strangely after departing from Astorga Moore decided that the Light Brigade should leave his care and take the side road which led to the Atlantic seaport of Vigo, this decision meant that the whole of 2/95th would take no further part in the hostilities in Spain other than to continue a series of harsh winter marches constantly goaded along by the stern hand of "Black Bob". It may be best then to follow the adventures of 1/95th who just three weeks later might meet some of their comrades of 2/95th back on home territory. Anstruther is not a well man he has the first rumblings of dysentery, a condition not helped by having to keep in the saddle for most of the waking hours of the day; he will bear watching!
Having rearguard duty his brigade at Caçabellos were called upon to make a stand long enough for the many stragglers to be swept in and hustled off along the road, quite a number we are told, much the worse for over indulgence at the wine storage vats broken into along the way. A bridge crossing a river, the Cua makes a convenient point to stage an action, half of 1/95th with a squadron of cavalry are left on the enemy side of the bridge "in observation", in the early afternoon up come a brigade of enemy light cavalry whose commander, probably seeing only the single squadron opposing him made ready to charge at them with the hope of securing the crossing intact. All went well enough to begin with, the rearguard troopers turned about and galloped for the bridge, we are left to understand that the 400 or so riflemen, quick to see how things were developing had begun to get to the comparative safety of the further side of the bridge but, horses travelling much the faster they are caught and in the scrambling fight to reach friends leave behind 48 of their fellow riflemen made prisoner. This is where the fickle finger of fate swings to point against the enemy, the defenders of the bridge have six artillery pieces aimed directly on them as also flanking fire from the other half of 1/95th plus the muskets of Light companies of 1/52nd and yet more of 1/28th, it is claimed that the cavalry commander, one much fancied Brigadier Colbert was shot down by rifleman Tom Plunket at some great distance while the much more well known Victor La Tour Maubourg, his ADC also came to grief. This was not the end however the defending infantry eventually discovered that more cavalry was beginning to cross the stream by fords threatening to envelop them. When the engagement died down with the approach of dusk we can estimate that 1/95th had suffered almost 100 men killed wounded or taken captive, of these we have only Captain LH Bennett and perhaps Lieutenant William Eeles to record amongst the officers wounded.
4th January 1809
1/95th (after the rearguard action at Caçabellos)
Two days later retiring back into the provincial town of Lugo they discover that Moore has called for a stand and preparations are made for serious fighting, all of this comes to nothing however as the enemy under Soult refuse to come on choosing to await the slow marching Divisions in his own rear. By 9th January Moore loses his resolve and retires once more all the way back now to Corunna where, a week later he is brought to action in a delaying fight as his transports struggle to handle all of the sick, walking wounded and regimental impedimenta aboard. Anstruther is not one of any of these he has finally succumbed and passed away leaving his brigade to Paget his Divisional General during this most trying winter retreat. The battle at Corunna is fought out with Paget's charges well to the right and almost as a reserve to cover the seaport approaches, as the fighting ebbed and flowed to their front 1/52nd are brought forward to prevent an enemy move to work into this flank. There is a network of walls and shallow ravines hereabouts of which 1/95th are already making good use when the enemy approach, these are cavalry in the main and useless considering the ground to be worked over. They are driven off with moderate loss Lieutenant Charles Noble the only officer amongst the thirty three recorded as wounded and a surprising twelve killed [in excess of 28%] Noble being one of the latter, once more riflemen it seems are very vulnerable to sudden death at close quarters on the field!
16th January 1809 (after the battle at Corunna)
The rest, as they say, is history, the army is able to load most of its sick and wounded aboard the transports although there will be anxious moments towards the end as long range cannon fire gets amongst the small boats leaving the dockside, we are assured that of our doughty riflemen:
22nd January 1809 (landed at ports in England)
Some short while prior to this return Craufurd will have brought home his charges from Vigo to show:
Late January 1809 (landed at ports in England)
This brings to an end the early adventures of Light Brigade in the Peninsula. Six months later as Wellesley is preparing to make his final advance in concert with the Spanish under Captain General Gregorio Cuesta Craufurd will be sailing for Lisbon in company with elements of 95th Reg't as a part of a new Light Brigade. A great deal has been made of this return to the war theatre by early historians notably William Napier of course, steady compilation of this series of almost 120 regimental histories gives this present day writer a measure of circumspection perhaps not available to that rather gallant but over colourful scribe of the 19th Century, be your own judge. Craufurd's Brigade came ashore, as was quite normal in bits starting to land on 28th June and the last recorded on 2nd July 1809, they, like so many others will need to set up a base depot and this for a whole Brigade rather than a single regiment/battalion. They must gather "necessaries" drawn from stores at that city's magazines they will collect their mule train/transport animals, horse artillery company and its guns and equipment. Craufurd will, upon arrival, be well aware that there is to be a major battle far inland with Madrid as the prize, naturally, knowing his character he is fizzing at the bung.
2nd July 1809 (landed at Lisbon)
All to no avail, it takes a full three weeks for his logistics officers to bring together all that he thinks he will need to support his brigade for the march inland setting out hopelessly late for a date with destiny at Talavera. The march itself to the battlefield under any circumstances would have to be executed in very hot dry conditions it is the height of summer after all, many other infantry battalions suffered this way during summer campaigning, these men are just three weeks accustomed to harsh bright sunshine so obviously it is no joyride, the officers of course [who are the ones who do all the writing], actually ride on horses/asses/mules/donkeys, nowhere near as painful as their charges who are humping 60lb packs, perhaps it was conscience that prompted them to praise the efforts of the ranks while they did have quite a pleasant ride! The day that they arrive at Talavera, untouched by enemy action a small detachment of 2/95th will be entering its own hell elsewhere, 2 companies of that battalion will be set down in the marshes of Walcheren; their wanderings will be followed as they occur. Craufurd's Brigade which is composed of 1/43rd, 1/52nd and 1/95th are added to 3rd Division that corps having suffered huge casualties the day before, their first task after recovering from that brutal march will be to help in collecting the dead and burying some but piling up the rest for funeral pyres, Craufurd has command of this Division its previous leader Major General John Mackenzie having been killed. It is a sombre army that collects its walking wounded and retires from the scene of its sad victory to go behind the Tagus river and wend its weary way all the many miles of blazingly hot dusty hill paths to safety about Truxillo, not before 3rd Division have taken up the role of rearguard and fought off a few dispirited probes from an enemy not much better prepared to do battle in these forbidding hills. Those men of 2/95th at Walcheren who survive the malarial swamp fevers will soon return to England to carry those diseases for many a long year. We are given no figures whatsoever during all of the Peninsula army retirement even as the year ends for them in the valley of the Guadiana and Wellington as he now signs himself orders a move into Portugal divorcing himself from all Spanish military aspirations. As the new year opens it falls to Craufurd's Brigade to hold the line of the upper Agueda across the river from the frontier fortress of Cuidad Rodrigo, it was in respect of this time that the Light Brigade was to receive its most effusive accolades from the redoubtable William Napier and others using such emotive phrases as "that quivering web of communication ever sensitive to the moods of the enemy ahead", we shall see!
No doubt the men of 1/95th present here would rapidly come to understand "the game" standing picket duty with the French opposite numbers within sight and sound. The short but bitter winter months would soon accustom them to that peculiar relationship engendered by being constantly at close-quarters to an enemy engaged in exactly the same task.
However, on the night of 19th-20th March 1810 at the Pass of Barba del Puerco it seems that the two man picket of Major Peter O'Hare's company of 1/95th set to guard the bridge crossing the Agueda was so unprepared for an attack there that both were put to the sword and silenced before an alarm could be raised, allowing six companies of General Ferey's voltigeurs to cross and climb the narrow pass before coming upon the next obstacle a whole ten minutes later. This happened to be the main body of O'Hare's company which only had enough time to alert two more companies of 1/95th all now under Lieutenant Colonel Thomas [Sidney] Beckwith who it seems had been given just sufficient time to realise that the enemy was upon them, besides the two original riflemen, one killed at the bridge and the other taken prisoner Lieutenant James Mercer was fatally shot through the head, one more rifleman killed and ten wounded before the situation was got in hand, the assailants eventually being tumbled back across the river, so much for the "quivering web of communication" theory !
Observation of a steady build-up of enemy numbers continued into the spring and early summer with the fortress of Cuidad Rodrigo coming under siege by Marshal Michel Ney's troops and inevitably falling on the night of 9th July.
This event signalled the pulling back of Wellington's defensive line, Craufurd's men going back to Gallegos and gradually retiring towards the valley of the Coa close by Almeida. Our information as to the numerical strength of 1/95th at this time rests on the occasional mention of companies used in minor engagements. It appears that Craufurd in managing his skirmisher/picketing duties expected his individual rifle companies to operate from a strength of no less than 80-90 officers and men, regardless of losses [due to a combination of illness and injury] he tended to maintain these figures whenever the men were brought into action. This it seems was made possible by augmenting "active" units from those stood down and Oman obligingly does mention strengths by numbers of companies engaged now and again. Just fifteen days after the securing of Cuidad Rodrigo we are still only able to estimate figures, so, for all involved in that desperate fight [brought on by Craufurd's reluctance to give ground to a despised enemy until absolutely forced], we can expect:
24th July 1810 (at the combat on the River Coa)
Although we are told that 1/95th were distributed across the whole of Craufurd's line of defence from some way to the south of the Almeida fortress all the way south-west to almost touch the edge of the ravine of the Coa we are compelled by following the events to reason that by far the greater proportion are sited in company with 1/43rd who have the left wing and will share the major troubles of the day. The effective array is all infantry with two battalions of Caçadores filling the centre and 1/52nd on the right. With masses of light cavalry well to the fore the French come on at the charge, they quickly see that the guns of the fortress are deficient at defending the British left flank and sweep around its open end where O'Hare's men are gathered in, falling easy prey to the flashing sabres of 3rd Hussars. This company is destroyed within minutes a mere ten men escaping, of the rest, those not killed being made prisoner, wounded or otherwise, Lieutenant John McCullock one of the latter, [O'Hare himself may not have been present this day he is not mentioned anywhere], the ensuing combat is one of furious retreating defence but, luckily with many stone walls breaking up the enemy horsemen's attempts at rifleman slaughter. As the first units of enemy infantry get within range the deadly work is transferred from sabre to musket ball, Captain Jasper Creagh is shot down and killed as is Lieutenant Donald McLeod, Lieutenants Peter Reilly and Mathias Pratt receive mortal shots while Captain Samuel Mitchell, Lieutenants George Simmons, Thomas Smith and Harry Smith are all hit before escaping across the bridge in the ravine. All in all 1/95th lose 15 of their number killed, 70 wounded and 54 are captured, they will stand down that evening at:
24th July 1810 (after the fight on the Coa)
The retirement back into the Mondego valley and then across hill country via the right bank of the Mondego to the hill position at Busaco while one of regular rearguard contact shows no actions for these surviving riflemen. It will be a full two months before we are shown true figures to work from, the CIC has them scattered at the foot of the eastern face of the ridge in no particular position other than that the Light Division has its skirmishers out most likely all the previous night ready for the onslaught to come, we know that they stand at:
27th September 1810 (at the battle of the Busaco ridge)
Craufurd, interestingly has them organised as parts of two brigades, 4 companies each [strengths at 99 and 93 per company ], shared between Beckwith and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Barclay, there is plenty of cover down in the heavily wooded valley floor so that their contest with the enemy voltigeurs is maintained almost continuously as the main fighting ebbs and flows about them. As the light fails and night draws in all we can say is that 9 men have been fatally dispatched and 32 are wounded, so:
27th September 1810 (after the all-day skirmish at the
The retirement back down-country into the so called Lines of Torres Vedras is full of incident for Light Division, as infantry rearguard they are caught in compromising situations much removed from the impression given previously as to Craufurd's impeccable handling of light infantry. Certainly a good deal of his troubles are brought on by the local peasant population reluctant to leave a "scorched-earth" behind them, then, as the dangers loom, blocking the pathways by which the army has to manœuvre. Inevitably casualties are incurred but, with an enemy more interested in garnering loot than serious fighting it seems that no great harm is done, we are told however that both Captain William Percival and Lieutenant Charles Eeles received wounds during this retreat and, most likely, during another incident exposing Craufurd's weakness when retiring before his contemptible enemy. On 10th October as darkness fell Light Division tardily retiring before a mass of light cavalry missed its way coming in on 1st Division positions, the confusion forced him to counter-march taking an insecure route during which the aforementioned officers were hit, we are not informed as to casualties in the ranks but, for the journalists it is a simple matter to brush over this little incident as they do eventually reach their assigned posts. A significant detachment of 2/95th, recovered convalescents and others, are awaiting their arrival at Arruda so that these renewed numbers will conveniently fill such gaps as these immediate losses have created! With these are a handful of riflemen recently landed at Lisbon from Cadiz.
10th October 1810 (ready for action at Arruda)
2/95th [1 company]
This single company is brigaded into Light Division’s 1st Brigade still under Beckwith, they will in some way bring 1st Brigade numbers up to parity with its 2nd, the latter of course had suffered much less at the Coa back in late July. It may be worth noting that as the hostilities continue to take their toll the various parts of the regiment of rifles whether they be 1/,2/,or 3/ batt's are shifted between the two brigades by companies to balance numbers, it is no small exercise to understand and follow these moves. Working through the figures for Light Division given by brigade strength it is possible to estimate that on:
1st November 1810 (in the lines of Torres Vedras)
1/95th [8 companies]
The early winter months of 1811 were to be spent in a close watch of each other's picket lines as Marshal Andre Massena had moved back a small distance and held a strong defensive position based on Santarem. Significantly the Rifle Regiment was beginning to show an increase of numbers as further companies appeared in "Orders of the Day".
For the first time 3/95th enter the reckoning, not with Wellington however but down in the Cadiz garrison under Lieutenant General Thomas Graham, he also has riflemen of 2/95th present there, it will be best then to follow their adventures into the first months of 1811 as the Spanish forces in that area take the offensive against the besieging French army under Marshal Claud Victor. The Spanish Captain General La Pena has contrived to bring out of the Cadiz garrison a large force of all arms and, with the ever present aid of the British navy landed it close to Tarifa and the Gibraltar Straits, with him is a composite British Division under Graham and those riflemen mentioned, they are:
5th March 1811 (at the battle of Barrosa)
2/95th (2 companies brigaded under Colonel William Dilkes)
[We know that a further 3 companies of 2/95th are back in the Cadiz garrison]
3/95th (4 companies led by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Barnard)
These men had already had a taste of Spanish perversity La Pena having taken the whole array through marshes and shallow lakes on a zigzag course mostly in confusing night marches ending up almost back at the Isle de Leon upon which lay the great Cadiz fortifications. No matter, on 5th March they are quietly filing along the shoreline below a prominent hill to their right bringing up the rear of the Spanish column the sounds of battle away ahead have dissolved into the familiar scattered musketry of the sharp-shooters and there is an alertness creeping in that some elements of the enemy may still be close by and, might still be dangerous. By chance Barnard has his men well forward of Graham's Division when all is revealed, the enemy are indeed close by! They are coming in on this British rear and its right flank, fortunately there is a sheltering wood hereabouts through which Barnard is ordered to take his men with haste and engage the enemy to at least show some line of defence. With 3/95th are two flank companies of 2/47th who soon fall behind and become involved elsewhere whilst the flank companies of 20th Portuguese Line led by Lieutenant Colonel Richard Bushe close up tending right in echelon. Coming up to short range Barnard's men caught the companies of 54eme Ligne in poor formation giving them several punishing volleys before they could recover their composure, this had the desired effect of halting this flank attack and, as Bushe brought on his flankers to join the fray a short but furious fire-fight ensued. It was here that Captain William Knipe was killed and Barnard wounded along with Lieutenant William Campbell. Of the riflemen themselves it seems that whilst Oman by his text quotes 65 killed and wounded the narrative suggests that by its protected position 2/47th [whose casualties are given collectively with 3/95th in his Appendices] would suffer much less than the ridiculous 72 thus remaining from its original 169. I have equated losses by % of numbers engaged and, while good sense would see a far greater loss for 3/95th I certainly cannot allow less than 88 of the rank and file killed and wounded. With Barnard down and Bushe mortally wounded the line of defence had been forced back but only onto a new line rapidly coming through in support, the French, losing men in swathes from Major Alexander Duncan's 10gun RA battery and now meeting this solid line of infantry eventually give ground to fall into retreat when pressed by a spirited charge of bayonets.
The fight in this area thus ended but what of 2/95th and its two companies with Dilkes? Here the riflemen were extended out on the right flank to advance up the hill known locally as the Cerro del Puerco, keeping in step with their comrades to their left they were able to climb some way forward under cover of the brow of the hill while the composite six companies of flankers led by Major John F Brown of 1/28th was being cut down in a murderously unequal fire-fight which nevertheless was won as the 900 men of 1st & 3rd Guards came up in close support. It is more than likely that it was men of 2/95th who captured and secured the enemy howitzer at the top of the Cerro as Victor's men began their retreat, what of their losses here? Six men had been killed Lieutenant John Hope had been severely wounded along with 28 of his men so that at the end of the day at Barrosa the Rifles would stand down at:
5th March 1811 (after the battle of Barrosa)
2/95th 2 companies
3/95th 4 companies
Two days after this traumatic victory Graham takes his much depleted Division back across the boat bridge over the San Petri creek onto the Isle de Leon and Cadiz, this General has formed a very bad opinion as to the Spanish military leadership to shortly end his stewardship here leaving his men in the hands of the resident Officer Commanding Colonel George Cooke.
Meanwhile we must get back to the Torres Vedras/Santarem theatre to see how the stand off between Massena and Wellington is affecting those other men of 95th Regiment in Portugal. By the second week of March 1811 the army under Massena had reached the end of its ability to remain languishing in a position ostensibly threatening Lisbon but in reality on defence against an enemy daily getting stronger and more especially becoming confident of moving onto the offensive.
Consequently a silent abandonment of its frontal positions during a period of damp mist having already started to retire in earnest from its rear signalled the departure of the invaders on their way to a complete evacuation of Portugal. That this was not to be a bloodless removal 95th Regiment was soon to discover. It was natural that Light Division would form a large part of a vanguard once the CIC had confirmed his suspicions as to Massena's intentions and so off we go into the rearguard actions of Marshal Ney and his 6th Corps as they cover the retreat into Spain. Much is made of the change of command at the head of Light Division at this time, Craufurd had gone off to England on compassionate leave as early as 8th February, the command lying vacant until 7th March when the rather rash and mentally afflicted Major General William Erskine took over, he would receive the blame for some fairly basic errors of military judgment during his tenure of office here, a little over six weeks but, all action. On 11th March at Pombal two companies of 1/95th in company with Lieutenant Colonel George Elder's 3rd Caçadores were ordered forward to attempt a forcing of the river bridge there, this they did at the charge going on to confront a ruined castle which dominated the crossing. Ney seeing that his tiny garrison defending this pile were about to be overcome sent in reinforcements who, being thus superior for numbers soon thrust back the attackers with loss and set up barricades in the street setting fire to such houses as lent themselves to burning.
Whilst the day ended with the enemy retiring from all of this and Light Division having come up in force it seems that Lieutenant John Hopwood and four of his men were wounded here and one killed, 3rd Caçadores had taken by far the most of the fighting and suffered accordingly. The next day the enemy are to be found in large numbers about Redinha beyond which the road narrows to a bridge crossing the River Soure, waiting for strong support by way of flanking Divisions Wellington bade his vanguard to hold off until the day was well spent, it would appear that Colonel George Drummond's 2nd Brigade Light Division had most of what action there was at Redinha losing one man captured, Lieutenant Robert Beckwith [no relation to the famous Beckwith family of General officers] and 24 of his men wounded.
Abandoning the possibility of retiring towards Coimbra and remaining in Portugal Massena now directed his movements on the escape route via the upper Mondego, this took the army north-eastward and, for a full day of confused marching and manœuvring, no real contact with his pursuers excepting for a surprise encounter by a small detachment of KGL Hussars with Massena himself accompanied by his mistress Mme Renique and a cavalry escort. The brief opportunity to capture a Marshal of the Empire was lost and the war went on!
Coming up to Casal Nova in the early hours of 14th March Light Division was at the head of affairs with Erskine in forward contact, there was some doubt as to the strength of the enemy at this crossroad village, the place being shrouded in a heavy mist, the highly experienced artillerymen of Captain Hew Ross' attached horse battery were convinced that there was still a heavy enemy artillery presence here which no doubt would imply infantry escorts of some consequence.
Sir William would have none of that insisting that not a soul occupied this little hamlet even as the fog lifted and a 12lber cannon shot came whistling through the ranks of 1/52nd drawn up in column of march. Still persisting in his theory that even this was but a random shot he ordered his men forward to take the position. Although the great majority of casualties incurred as Light Division attacked an enemy well placed and protected came from 1/52nd it fell to the riflemen of 1/95th to give whatever support they were able in this useless sacrifice of good men. Led by Major John Stewart and Lieutenant John Strode who both received mortal wounds the riflemen did what they could their main task presumably to pick off the enemy artillery crews, it cost them a further three men killed and 10 wounded before Wellington could bring up sufficient troops of other Divisions to outflank this rearguard.
The advance on the following day took the vanguard to the Ceira stream where lay Foz Do Arouce, it had already been a hard day's march and the day was well spent so that when the enemy was seen to have settled into a strong hill position there was no great desire to go onto the attack. Wellington however upon arrival decided otherwise, he had noted that the enemy had also begun to adopt an attitude of rest and sent off several companies of 1/95th by the left down a sheltering hollow road to capture the village of Foz meanwhile occupying the now alerted French full ahead by sending the rest of Light Division frontally to keep them busy. All went well so that these few companies of riflemen were able to surprise the few occupants putting them to flight; seeing the danger to the bridge close by Ney put up a battalion of infantrymen to charge into Foz in a spirited counter-attack which sent the recent occupants out and back onto their nearest support 1/52nd. Having thus secured the passage across the stream it remained for Ney's men to quickly allow all to retire at haste as more British reinforcements were seen to be approaching.For 1/95th that ended their involvement in the fighting Lieutenants John McCullock and John Kincaid with 17 of the men having been wounded.
By now the continuous advance punctuated by day-to-day rearguard actions had all but exhausted the ability of Wellington's commissary to keep up its supply of necessary food and ammunition to say nothing of the passing back of wounded men or tending to the desperate plight of the devastated local population met all along the way, the CIC called a halt to the pursuit expecting his logistics officers to make the best of all of these discomforts. In none of these actions during March have we seen that single company of 2/95th, there is no mention even of its presence but, once brigaded in it must be the case that it kept up with the brigade perhaps to be a "handmaiden" for its senior battalion, we shall see it however in the near future. Although the main body of the army had come to rest the CIC kept units of cavalry in close observation of the retreating foe also keeping Light and 3rd Divisions forward sufficiently as to prevent Ney from blocking the passage of scouting patrols.
At the important bridge at the Alva River, the Ponte de Murcella Ross was able to disturb elements of the enemy rearguard with his guns encouraging them to abandon his side of the river but not before the bridge itself was destroyed.
A day later a wooden structure of sorts had been thrown across the Alva and the advance went on, by now the French were committed to full retreat the surrounding country affording no sustenance whatever so that the Light Division found themselves simply taking up ground, attending to their own needs and gathering in, to take prisoner an increasing number of stragglers. There are to be no more combats to disturb the peace as the French slowly wend their way ever backward until reaching Celorico.
It was here that Ney and Massena came to violent disagreement as to the next tactical decision, to either return to a semi-offensive march or continue a tame follow-on of this retreat into Spain. The outcome was the banishment of Ney back to France, his 6th Corps apparently now in the hand [being one-handed he earned the Spanish title Maneta] of General Louis Loison one of his regular Divisional commanders, leaving Celorico the French had left a fragment of rearguard troops at Freixadas maybe in expectation of taking that road directly back to Almeida, this detachment received the attention of 1/95th whose regular task of sweeping in flank units [often marauding foragers] brought them into contact, all we know of this event is that the deeply respected Adjutant Light James Stewart was killed here whilst in the act of taking the local corn mill, his men left to gathering in a quantity of ground grain and some of these men as prisoners.
From here the retiring/advance of the French took them through Guarda and into the steep hill country paths aiming onto Sabugal, by now everyone in this army could see that this new initiative was doomed to failure. Food was non-existent the roads were mere rocky rubble steep and winding and there was no energy left in this great mass of downcast warriors to follow a despised leader who nightly amused himself with his sensual mistress while they starved. Moving as they were on several divergent hill paths the enemy Divisions by now had become quite detached having only Sabugal as a concentration goal whilst each was forced to drop off all sorts of materiel too cumbersome for the wasted draft animals to haul any further, gun caissons and whole squadrons of dismounted cavalry left to plod downhill towards the Spanish/Portuguese frontier leaving principally infantry to carry on Massena's ill-considered plan. In this way we discover that Light Division in approaching Sabugal are directed to confront not their old enemy 6th Corps but a new one General Raynier's 2nd, it is April now, Sir William is still in charge and the weather is similar to that of the day when he had made his unforced errors before Casal Nova. The task, to turn Reynier's flank by a sweeping right hook crossing the river Coa high beyond the enemy left to then have him dislodged by a frontal attack by others, the CIC has asked for an early start which was really asking for trouble, the ground over which they had to pass being totally shrouded in dense fog!
Obviously such a plan would require that all of the elements in this venture might be able to watch the progress of each other if success was to be assured. We shall see, Erskine whilst the whole area before him was a soft grey blanket ordered Beckwith's Brigade containing those 4 companies of 1/95th to get itself across the Coa by a supposed ford ahead, this they did after a short hesitation plunging through the river at the wrong place, much too close to Reynier's positions on the other side albeit in perfect concealment while Drummond's Brigade brought up the rear on the same wrong tack. The crossing being false was also quite deep, armpit depth so the journalists would have us to believe, however after this unsought cold bath they immediately ran in upon pickets of 2nd Corps who gave warning shots and departed. There was still enough time for the drenched Light Division to form up throwing out its heavy skirmishing screen, the fog still prevailing, up the gentle rise they went straight at Reynier's whole Corps, fortunately no-one could see clearly and to make matters more even the French typically had formed up in their traditional columns against Beckwith's mass of sharpshooters in extended order. The result of the first clash therefore was predictable, the enemy receiving far greater concentration of fire than they themselves could bring to bear, back they went with Beckwith's men following up closely, not good really for upon clearing a small wood his men came upon an overwhelming number of foes and, to make things worse a great shower of rain began to pour down on all of them. Drummond's Brigade now entered into the calculations, these men had done much better by coming over the river a good distance to the right well clear of Reynier's masses of columns, the rain and mist were still a factor but, following the sound of heavy musketry 2nd Brigade Light Division were able to come to Beckwith's rescue before he was irretrievably engulfed by sheer weight of numbers. This respite was to be of short duration for Reynier had troops to spare so soon as he could move them to the point of danger, up came more of the same and by now LightDivision was fighting for its existence, quite suddenly however the mist cleared away revealing the true situation. [It is a well know fact however that rain disperses fog/mist extremely rapidly the two being irrevocably unable to exist together] Neither side could take comfort from what they saw, whilst Reynier saw that Light Division dead ahead was at his mercy, far more importantly he could also see that a great force of enemy Divisions was coming his way by his left flank and would certainly swamp him if he stayed another moment. Orders flew in all directions so that before Light Division could be much more molested the whole thing resolved into a rapid disengagement, Reynier's force, several parts somewhat battered, fleeing the field while Beckwith's and Drummond's men fell back to count their losses.
How had 1/95th fared in all of this mayhem?
Beckwith had been a little injured Lieutenant William Haggup more severely while Lieutenant Duncan had been killed, in the ranks one man was killed 12 wounded and one went missing in the fog. It seems that the riflemen had remained in such an extended order as to largely miss the direct volleys of their opponents in the fog, in this engagement we see for the first time that the single company of 2/95th touched the fringes of the fight recording one man killed and two wounded. To all intents and purposes then this was to be the end of Wellington's campaign to rid Portugal of the French invaders.
Note: It is high time that the author explained himself for the lack of day-by-day PUA's and PAB's for these riflemen.
Having had the luxury of researching and recording these days at leisure it seemed that it would be an impossibility to calculate these statistics by way of the two distinct 4 companies in separate brigades whilst covering this twenty-four day period. The numbers present at the beginning would only be conjectural, the losses by attrition only a rough estimate and for this Division the likelihood of drafts or of convalescent returnees such an imponderable exercise that it appeared best to sum up the situation as the fighting ended and to examine figures for the next confrontation thereby giving a measure of hindsight to work from. There were only the figures of 1st November 1810 to compare with those next complete numbers on 1st May 1811, these when matched showed only a deficit of nine men for 1/95th and yet we know that from 11th March to 3rd April this battalion suffered two officers killed outright, two more to die of wounds and six wounded, amongst the ranks five men were killed, sixty-seven wounded and two missing to bring the total to 84 of all ranks.
Seemingly a balance of 75 extra men had been made up during that six-month period. The arithmetic of 95th was never going to be easy!< Suffice it to say that less than a month later as the CIC held a defensive position at Fuentes d Onoro the men of 95th Rifles would stand at:
1st May 1811 (on the field at Fuentes d Onoro)
1/95th [8 companies, 4 each with Beckwith and Drummond]
2/95th [1 company with Beckwith]
Erskine thankfully has gone elsewhere and Craufurd returned to pick up his Division much to the relief of his officers.
When Massena launches his first attacks on 3rd May Light Division has a position of reserve behind the slope of the hill on which stands the tiny village, the day is expended in a furious street fight for possession of this place but at the end it remains with the defenders without Light Division having fired a shot. Two days later and from a different start point Craufurd is directed to take his men on a march across open ground to cover the retirement of elements of Major General William Houston's 7th Division; which had been originally placed too far out on the left flank of Wellington's array.
Seriously hampered in making this retirement the 7th’ eventually reached safety whilst Light Division attracted the attention of large numbers of enemy cavalry which milled about them much like angry hornets only able to allow some horse artillery pieces to get into range occasionally to ply the ranks of the steadily moving squares and close columns with stinging shots. Casualties to members of 95th are sparse and, as is becoming a trifle irritating, not well documented as to which battalion and where. In Oman's text we hear of men of 3/95th having been present in the composite group of Light infantrymen who held the village during the first day of action there, by JA Hall we see that Captain John Uniake, 3/95th is wounded there and that on the 5th May Lieutenant William Westley of 3/95th is killed. A small detachment of riflemen did go down into the depression through which the Turon runs to ward off an attempt by voltigeurs to compromise this far right flank. Were these a part of an undisclosed company of 3/95th? Whatever, all in all eleven men are wounded, unfortunately there is not enough surety to decide from which battalions.
Having repulsed Massena's troops and settled down briefly on the Portuguese border in their usual forward positions, it soon became apparent that the new French commander Marshal Auguste Marmont was eager to make his presence felt.
Light Division during mid June were to retire south beyond the Tagus and into the valley of the Caya part of this movement we know was conducted by Major General Brent Spencer as a forced march attended by fierce summer heat with men falling "in their hundreds". The Caya watershed was also a well known breeding ground at this time of year for the malaria mosquito and no doubt the ague would strike down the weak and unwary all of which had to be endured throughout July before the enemy, who had arrived before them in large numbers broke up and went their various ways.
Moving forward once again onto the line of the Agueda Light Division will miss the actions about El Bodon when Marmont's cavalry engage in a great sweep of the British picket lines and camps, it was only when the CIC had them centred on Fuente Guinaldo ten days earlier that a full reckoning for numbers could be had:
15th September 1811 (at Fuente Guinaldo)
1/95th [4 companies with Barnard‘s 1st Brigade]
2/95th [1 company
with Barnard‘s 1st Brigade]
3/95th [5 part companies with Barnard‘s 1st Brigade]
Beckwith had become ill and gone home to be replaced as leader of 1st Brigade by none other than 3/95th Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Barnard from Cadiz, here we may be sure that the puzzle of 3/95th is solved, this officer had led men of 3/95th down at Barrosa and it seems that a single company of that regiment had joined 1st Brigade 1st Division at some undisclosed time, perhaps as early as the end of April but not gazetted until August. This company then goes into 1st Brigade as had several more company detachments of 3/95th on 21st August also up from Cadiz. Drummond has already died and will be replaced by Major General John Vandeleur on 30th September, Barnard receives a company of 2/95th the next day. As the year closes Barnard will have eleven companies of rifles in his 1st Brigade 4 companies of 1/95, 2 companies of 2/95, and 5 [part] companies of 3/95. Vandeleur in 2nd Brigade has simply 4 companies of 1/95th,
Before commencing the next phases of 95th's involvement on the Portuguese border with Spain we should look south towards those immensely strong twin fortress ports of Cadiz and Gibraltar.
During October of 1811 there is a brief mention of two companies of 2/95th down in that maritime area, so:
2/95th [2 companies with Colonel John Skerrett at Tarifa]
Estimated PUA 150
Under the doubtful care of Skerrett these men appear at the walls of the small seaport fort of Tarifa between the great southern bastions along with a mixture of Line troops called upon to defend that place again Marshal Claud Victor's men as the year's fighting season had, in reality come to an end. Defeated more by the bitter winter weather than Skerrett's weak-kneed defensive plans the enemy by New Year was driven off leaving the tiny garrison to hold the place intact.
We are told that 2/95th had but a single company of 75 men available when the fighting took place, it came down to the mere firing of a few well aimed shots from the parapet walls at a desperate storming party coming on in driving sleet and retiring honourably having "shown intent". The riflemen would only lose numbers from attrition, fear not, they will feature later in the main events to come.
The opening of the fateful year 1812 heralds changes much more dramatic for Craufurd himself and the whole of Light Division from this time on, it is the year in which two frontier fortresses are besieged and stormed, Marmont is humbled, Victor abandons the blockade of Cadiz, Soult leaves Andalusia and the whole British force being finally put to a distressing retreat. Let us begin then at the first week January 1812!
Craufurd has his men across the Agueda ready to begin the investment of the border town and fortress of Cuidad Rodrigo.
The work of putting this minor fortress to full siege would, for the thousand or so riflemen be a case of manning the forward trenches on roster to ply the bastion walls with as much covering fire as possible in the run-up to the storm and then to do the same again when the breaches were assaulted. We are informed that all of this cost 95th dear as Oman so delicately observes, "they suffered heavily". In the early storm of the Renaud Redoubt Lieutenant Rutherford Hawksley of 1/95th was mortally wounded, Captain Uniacke of 3/95th met the same fate during the storm of 19th January whilst Lieutenants Walter Bedell, John Cox and William Hamilton all received serious wounds here. Although casualties amongst the three part battalions of 95th so employed are not given individually over the full period of siege and storm it is reasonable to expect that when all was over the three battalions of ‘Rifle companies would have lost 2 officers killed, 3 more wounded, 6 men killed and 48 wounded, a total of 59 of all ranks to show:
20th January 1812 (after the storm of Cuidad Rodrigo)
1/95th [8 companies] with Barnard
[1 company ] with Barnard
[4 companies] with Vandeleur
For the future handling of the whole of Light Division the most serious casualty would be the mortal wounding of their undisputed leader Major General Robert [Black Bob] Craufurd, an unbending tyrannical taskmaster who had always exacted from his charges absolute discipline and an enviable attention to the detail of front line screening vigilance.
His death following the securing of Cuidad Rodrigo brought forward Andrew Barnard of 3/95th to take his place Vandeleur had been wounded so that Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Edward Gibbs of 1/52nd picked up his brigade. By the time that Wellington had re-assembled his forces for the investment of the more southern border fortress of Badajoz a subtle change had begun to affect Light Division, the iron hand of Craufurd now gone the CIC began to use the 'Division and its sharpshooting arm more in the way of his regular fighting units. At the taking of this cleverly defended bastion there was to be minimal protection afforded to the riflemen of this specialist, highly trained corps. Their work in the forward trenches, always dangerous, produced its crop of pre-storm casualties fortunately specifically recorded in recent times [by Steve Brown] we see Lieutenant Richard Freer wounded in an enemy sortie and Lieutenant James Stokes killed at the taking of the Picurina Fort. On the night of the storm itself they would go into the false breach as ordinary heavy infantry paying the slaughterman's price alongside their comrades of 1/43rd and 1/52nd. It is obvious that the single company of 2/95th were held back even so much as recording no casualties at all in this blood-bath, not so the rest.
Of 1/95th Major O'Hare was killed as was one un-named officer, Lieutenant Donald McPherson mortally wounded Captains William Balvaird and Charles Gray wounded, along with three more un-named and Lieutenants John Fitzmaurice, Jonathan Forster, John Gardiner, Henry Manners and William Johnstone, the latter even before the Forlorn Hope went in. In the ranks 27 men died whilst no less than 154 fell wounded whilst in 3/95th down went Captain Thomas Diggle, Lieutenants William Allix, Arthur Cary, and Christopher Croudace all killed outright, wounded were Lieutenants Walter Firman, Alexander Macdonnell [to die of his wounds 4 months later], Archibald Stewart and Volunteer Samuel Lawson all added to 9 men killed and 49 wounded, for the riflemen involved then a casualty rate exceeding 30% for the night's work.
7th April 1812 (after the storm of Badajoz)
1/95th [8 companies divided between 1st & 2nd Brigades]
3/95th [4 companies Gibbs 2nd Brigade]
Major Gibbs had not only been severely wounded but had lost an eye to be 'out-of-the-game' for some little time to come, fortunately Vandeleur was well enough to resume his place at the head of 2nd Brigade so that we shall see 95th Regiment once more replenished for numbers at the beginning of the Salamanca campaign. 1/95th has been transferred to 2nd Brigade while 2/3/95th come together in 1st Brigade still under Barnard and a new chief of Light Division has stepped forward, it is Major General Charles von Alten of the KGL [Hanoverian Service] who will remain at their head from now until the end at Toulouse.
15th July 1812 (at the Salamanca campaign)
1/95th [8 companies] with Vandeleur 2nd Brigade
2/95th [1 company ] 3/95th ['detachments'] with Barnard 1st Brigade
For Alten's men this campaign led to no more than a series of hard marches, stops and starts then on again, the great battle which settled Marmont's career in the Peninsula and became such a hard fight for those of their comrades of 4th and 6th Divisions and for Colonel Denis Pack's Portuguese Brigade to their right front came down to some very tame unimaginative skirmishing. Total casualties amongst all three part battalions would be as little as might be taken up by a handful of convalescent returnees as the Light Division made its way to Madrid, going on from there to man part of a defensive ring set up to circle the capital city whilst Wellington was away north in front of the castle at Burgos. During this time there was much shuffling of companies of 1/95th before settling into 1st Brigade during late August, we are told that 2 companies of 2/95th had joined from England uniting with those detachments under Barnard but then being all transferred into 2nd Brigade whilst, marching up from Cadiz with Brigadier Colonel John Skerrett, came 2 companies more of 3/95th who it appears must have had some contact with the enemy about Seville as Soult's Army of the South retired slowly eastward upon its way through the southern provinces to link up with Marshal Louis Suchet's forces in Valencia. On 27th August Lieutenant Henry Llewellyn of 3/95th received a wound at that large provisional capital city, beyond that there is little to note of this fragment of the regiment, however we see 6 riflemen of 2/95th wounded here and one more killed.
The protracted retreat from the Madrid environs, first to stand on the old Arapiles position and then to retire off through the early autumn mud and mire to the Line of the Agueda left the army in a shambles, Once again however we see that there was to be a short sharp engagement early in this miserable retirement, this time before Aranjuez on 26th October where Lieutenant John Budgen of 3/95th became a casualty, Light Division, presumably for logistical reasons, took under its wing a full 'orphan' Portuguese Line regiment, the 20th of Campo Mayor, not with any singular success however as its own history will show elsewhere. It remains to allow the riflemen to fall into their winter cantonments with little or no clues as to their respective battalion strengths, at least four companies have joined from the south and from England however, all in all the regiment would have collectively no more than 1116 effectives PUA. From reasonable estimates taken as the army reached the Agueda we can say that:
29th November 1812 (on the Agueda)
1/95th [no number of companies recorded]
2/95th [possibly 6 companies]
3/95th [detachments, companies not recorded]
This sorry state was not to last long, the short days of winter brought news of the collapse of the Grande Armee in Russia and a flood of reinforcements from home accompanied by a flow of military materiel for the expected expulsion of the French invader when the campaign of 1813 should begin. So it is that the component parts of 95th pass the time gaining numbers, Alten remains at the head of Light Division although Colonel Barnard has been set aside to allow Major General James Kempt to take up 1st Brigade while Vandeleur continues to command in 2nd Brigade.
It is during late April of 1813 that the 17th Portuguese Line are joined up to Light Division, there is to be found no explanation as to how a corps of foreign Line infantry with absolutely no history whatever of training in light infantry tactics would find its way into the hallowed ranks of this elite Light Infantry Division. The movements and experiences of 17th Portuguese Line will have to be monitored very closely if we are to discover the real reasons for this attachment!
It may be timely to examine the record of 17th Portuguese Line prior to all of this to set us on our way to a better understanding. Raised at the great Portuguese frontier fortress of Elvas we first see them on 15th September 1809 forming part of the garrison there with 5th Portuguese Line, they have a strong 1st Battalion and a fair number of men in their 2nd, remaining at Elvas until a short period after the battle at Albuera, in the spring of 1811, when they are called upon to join the second siege of Badajoz. Volunteers of their Grenadier companies lost 37 of their number making an abortive assault on the breach in a first attempt to storm the place, 30 men more, including their Major Alexander McGeechy to fall at the next failed try three nights later; when the siege was called off 17th Portuguese Line returned to Elvas, still a well found regiment of two battalions and remained there as garrison until others took Badajoz in early 1812. They then move to that place as a part of its new garrison under Brigadier Colonel Manly Power. Leaving Badajoz after a three-month stay off they went with Gen'Hill manœuvring about Estremadura before setting out for Madrid in September. As Wellington's retirement back out of Spain developed into full retreat it seems that 17th Portuguese Line had already taken on the task of communications in the rear, with others, about Truxillo and Merida thereby saving themselves from the trauma of that event. Unsurprisingly they turn up at Elvas when all is settled at the end of the year, winter over and come out of garrison in time to join Light Division. Rather surreptitiously Oman sets them down alongside 1st & 3rd Caçadores as a separate Brigade in his Appendices [p.752 v.6] without, obviously, giving them a required separate Brigadier commanding. To add to this deception CT Atkinson in his otherwise excellent Appendix 2 as a part of Oman's "Wellington's Army" merely shows them appearing in the "State" but at least gives a date, 26th April 1813 and so it is that we have them eventually brigaded with 1/52nd and 2/95th in 2nd Brigade under Vandeleur.
During the long period of winter-spring “quarters” the CIC, looking for a more acceptable listing of his army’s state of usability had brought forward via the Deputy Adjutant General’s Office figures dated;
26th April 1813 (cantoned behind the Portuguese frontier)
1/95th [all companies Kempt Brigade]
2/95th [maybe 5 companies Vandeleur Brigade]
3/95th [companies not given Kempt Brigade]
It is as late as mid-May before Wellington's army gets on the move in its great flanking marches which continually dislodge King Joseph Bonaparte’s combined Army's of the South, Centre and North from one river line to the next always going northward towards the French frontier. We have only Brigade numbers to work with at this time but can estimate that:
25th May 1813 (leaving Portugal on the march north)
1/95th [with Kempt 1st Brigade]
3/95th [with Kempt 1st Brigade]
2/95th [with Vandeleur 2nd Brigade]
As a part of the marching column designated HQ corps Light Division makes progress upcountry with little or no distinction from their comrades in the other Divisions. It is only as Joseph and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan are no longer able to retreat without seriously compromising their unwieldy "caravan" of baggage, loot and fellow travellers that a real set-piece battle looks likely. On 18th June we hear of Light Division and 95th up as far as the Basque region to the west of one of its larger towns, Vittoria. They are on rough pathways which force them to drop off Captain Hew Ross RHA as they climb hills leading down into the Omecillo valley south of Osma, others are progressing through similar paths to close more by chance than design on a French Division under General Maucune. Vandeleur has 2/95th ahead of his brigade from one direction while Kempt comes at him from another; the fighting such as it is bound to be confused for everyone. The combined actions at Osma and San Millan are not sufficiently described as to separate casualties but, with the aid of Steve Brown’s compilation we see that seemingly the almost trapped enemy infantry give a very good account of themselves resulting in an overall loss to Alten's Division of 180 men of all ranks 30% of whom are registered at Osma and the majority at San Millan. It is here that we see Lieutenant William Haggup of 1/95th injured but no sign of individual battalion figures so that with the knowledge that others of Light Division had been significantly involved in these actions it is only possible to remember this clash of arms and carry forward another three days before an attempt can be made to assess battalion strengths after the Vittoria victory.
In those mid-June days the riflemen of Light Division would continue the concentration that brought the Army to the banks of the Zadorra River below Vittoria, their Division being able to approach the enemy positions on the far banks under the cover of woods and through hollow pathways.
There has been unseasonable cold rain the previous day but 21st June 1813 dawns bright and exceptionally clear, over to their far right the noise of battle, beginning around 8.30am increases in volume continuing for some three hours before Alten's men get the order to engage. At the bridge by Villados 2/95th, with Vandeleur, commence a spirited exchange with Voltigeurs supporting a half battery of French HA that lay in a forward position at a loop of the Zadorra. Whilst this action continues Kempt's brigade has come up to another bridge at Tres Pontes, 1/95th are leading the way and are able to cross without opposition, the bridge being totalled neglected by the enemy. By the time they have reached and occupied a small chapel at Yruna they have been sufficiently noticed as to receive some cannon fire; which however does little to annoy them they being well settled and in good cover. This incursion across the river has, to some extent put those men opposite Vandeleur's riflemen and within the loop at risk. Famously this is when Picton and his 3rd Division take a violent hand in affairs sweeping across the water at the Mendoza bridge in force, Barnard with a part of 1/95th of Kempt's brigade are drawn into this precipitate attack enabling them to discomfort even further those artillerymen opposite Vandeleur's 2/95th Rifles coming in at their rear. Off goes the French HA enabling 2/95th to cross the Villados bridge and merge with Barnard's unit effectively becoming a second line of reinforcement to the main drive of 3rd Division.
Matters only become serious for the combined riflemen upon reaching the hamlet of Arinez where Leval's defending infantry have been able to settle into its walls, with others a couple of companies of 1/95th break into this village only to be thrown out again in a spirited counter-charge. Elsewhere 2/95th in confused fighting is part of another sustained attack at the village of Hermandad, all of which, in support of a general movement against an enemy continually being outnumbered results in the latter hurriedly retreating and, when the whole battlefield engagements begin to show the same domino effect the great rout develops. By now 1/2/3/95th would be well mixed up in the pursuit of their fleeing foe eventually coming to rest amongst the mass of abandoned treasures and defenceless camp followers in and around the city of Vittoria. It could not be imagined that the riflemen of Light Division would be any less involved in the procurement of a goodly share of the spoils to be had this evening nor of the wild celebration of their good fortune throughout the night, the following day would bring the sober listing of casualties and a reluctant return to order.
In 1/95th Major [Brevet Lieutenant Colonel] Alexander Cameron, Lieutenants William Cox, James Gairdner and John Hopwood along with 37 of their men had been wounded and four more killed, 3/95th had Lieutenant Leckie Campbell and seven men also killed with 16 men wounded, 2/95th had got off remarkably lightly with only Captain John Jenkins and 8 of his men injured, however the Captain himself was so poorly attended to that his condition became terminal, he dying just four weeks later. Interestingly 17th Portuguese Line was sufficiently involved as to suffer 28 casualties themselves.
22nd June 1813 (after the Battle of Vittoria)
Note: Obviously these figures suggest losses previous to this battle; it is always the lot of light troops traditionally at the fore of proceedings to collect occasional losses and to have the greatest difficulty in receiving men from the rear for reinforcements. Upon settling about cantonments it would then enable these figures to be improved. This is not to be the case yet however; it is hardly surprising to find elements of 95th probing forward in an attempt to maintain touch with the now fleeing enemy most of whom are quite anxious to put all memory of their occupation of Spain well and truly behind them. At Araquil on the 24th June members of 1/2/95th have a slight clash of arms with parts of D'Erlon's rearguard, this, close to the crossroads at Yrurzun and moving on towards Berrioplano, we are not told of casualties figures hereabouts so that there will be not much to be gained by hazarding any sort of estimate. Suffice it to say that the riflemen and their comrades of Light Division will be dropping off for numbers little by little purely by attrition very shortly in the next month or so, let us see. The 25th June finds them pulling up at the great northern citadel of Pamplona which of course is heavily defended, the only thing available for them being able to take up ground at some part of the perimeter as others come up to invest its defenders. The very next day off they go again, this time to go on a fruitless march towards Tudela on the lookout for Clausel's Corps that is on-the-loose roaming about the skirts of the Pyrenees. By 2nd July back they come empty handed to Pamplona only to halt for a day or two before heading off once more, this time at the rear of a four Divisional column into the Bastan area. Their goal apparently the ejection of troops under Gazan [Villate’s old Army of the South] through the lower mountain passes leading into France. With so many thousands of men, all virtually on the same roads and all up ahead there is no work for Light Division to get excited about, we shall thus find them coming to rest at Santesteban to take up "quarters" on 8th July. This will entail them in shifting tactically forward to take possession of the Pass and bridge at Vera where they stay at least for the better part of the rest of July. Perhaps it will be this rest that will allow their numbers to be restored, we are given no proof that this is the case but 95th have historically shown their ability to fill up the ranks given any reasonable time out of action to do so. Much has happened in other parts of the now very extended front, at San Sebastian the French garrison have fought off a serious attempt to storm its battlements, in the hills to the east the enemy now led into the field solely under Marshal Soult is coming forward on the offensive but for Alten's Light Division at Vera all is peaceful and quiet, they are supposedly holding a position linking Graham at the Biscay coast with Hill high in the Pyrenean Passes. With some research and slight hindsight [200 years worth actually] we are to expect that communication is maintained using Light Division’s traditional old attachments the light cavalrymen of 1st KGL Hussars [not to mention William Napier’s quivering ever-sensitive web] certainly no more than 500 troopers to cover 40mls of zigzag roads and paths in and out of valleys and ridges which in the main run North & South. On 25th July the Pass of Maya has received a fierce assault its defenders being thrust back in bloody fashion and the remnants somewhat between retiring and retreating, this is some 18mls or so to the right front of Light Division’s position but so little does Wellington see this as threatening to Alten that his orders of 26th July merely tell him to be ready to move "on the hour", something that those old scribes of Craufurd's day would say they were always ready to do anyway! Fairly rapidly after this and still in the early hours of 26th Light Division is ordered to pull back from the Bidassoa southward and, ready to move again this time with two options, either across country by Yantzi or by road to Santesteban their original "quarters". All of this movement information is necessary to understand the confusion that developed during the next few days. They in fact moved cross-country to Lesaca approximately five miles that day and a considerable distance from Santesteban of course, but, this had been Wellington's HQ and perhaps to a great extent still was so at least everyone would be aware of their respective positions that day. Although this march cannot have been too much for a Division that in the past prided itself on its mobility tomorrow was to at least stretch their legs more seriously. With almost no knowledge of the whereabouts of their enemy [a strange condition for these elite light infantrymen] they are put in motion on the 27th for Zubieta which place is due south but requires some cross-country marching if its more direct route is to be followed, this would be a solid march well worthy of their reputation. Naturally all of this was accomplished including the sending off of Ross' HA battery elsewhere.
As we know the following day Wellington was rather busy combating Soult's attacks at Sorauren and the hill of Oricain meanwhile Alten's troops sat about Zubieta all that day enduring the cascading rainstorm mentioned by so many others far into the night. It was on the 29th July that everything really began to fall apart for Light Division [or as we say in the antipodes, turned to custard]. Soult, having been violently stopped at Sorauren turned rather injudiciously to his right and began to threaten Hill's front and seemingly that space where Light Division could easily have been if this initiative had been foreseen.
It hadn't, they weren't and the wheels began to come off.
Wellington, perhaps thinking that Hill might be pushed hard back directed Alten to take his Division deeply south yet again in the general direction of Yrurzun, this by taking a road via Leyza over the hills, left by Lecumberri then down a long valley to his destination. This was a very testing march of at least 35mls and seemingly only began as evening drew nigh this day. So, marching in the night Light Division only arrive at Lecumberri by daybreak having done a mere 15 of those miles, at least they avoided the hot conditions normal for this time of the year and became thoroughly acquainted with a path which they were to traverse [in reverse] the next day. On the 30th then here we are high in the hills between two river valleys pretty well "nowhere" whilst Wellington has dealt Soult's army at Sorauren another doughty blow and is in need of extra men to finish them off using Light Division to "cut them off at the Pass" away to the north-west.
He gets off an order, at about noon perhaps, to Alten to get himself back to Zubieta, we know not when this missive arrives at Lecumberri it has after all come through some daunting hill country most likely via Yrurzun but at least by road.
A second order sent in the morning of 31st goes off, presumably by the same route still requesting a return to Zubieta, seemingly falling on deaf ears! A third order this time via a different path and during the afternoon and expecting Light Division to head for the Donna Maria Passes after going through Zubieta eventually falls into Alten's hands some time during the night of 31st-1st August, at last. By now Wellington himself has made considerable progress he is trotting along the road to Irurita towards Santesteban and the light infantrymen are on the move and have been since dawn.
It has been a long-long explanation to get us this far but, it is today's march that all the fuss is about, Oman has us believe that the poor hard-done-to Light Division have been pushed beyond their endurance by a punishing schedule which expected more than man could ask of flesh and blood. But what are the facts?
They leave either Lecumberri or perhaps Leyza heading onto Zubieta with fair knowledge that their task is to cut off a disordered enemy rabble heading back to France via the valley of the Bidassoa. They know the area very well, there are a few high-country cross paths which can take them out of one watercourse into another but the well trodden routes follow the rivers and streams which flow in the general direction of the Biscay coast. The Zubieta road is an easy one taking a gentle down hill grade and only gets tricky after going through that place, orders are to explore ahead, discover the progress points of their quarry and make a beeline to cut off their path. At Elgorriaga they are informed [probably a short while before that even] that they are too late to get in the way at Santesteban so, there is no alterative excepting to peel off left on a little used pathway high on the left shoulder of the Bidassoa watershed. It is whilst travelling on this route that the scribes of Light Division remember all of their trials and tribulations, indeed they had already marched that day either 15mls from Leyza or less likely 21 miles from Lecumberri, the day would be hot but, by now they, at Elgorriaga had very nearly reached the highest part of their route. From here on the minor road to be traversed rocky though it may be trended down to meet the river crossing by Yantzi all the way. It was such a trial for the mounted officers that they were forced to dismount and walk along with their men who of course did this all the time anyway! Kempt's 1st Brigade being in the lead were first to sight the enemy column on the right banks of the Bidassoa probably already so far ahead that from a practical point of view they were going to miss any chance of bottling them up "in the Pass". Skerrett's 2nd Brigade had not a chance being in the rear so: they were allowed to rest up and leave it to Kempt's men. He, with 1/3/95th to the fore went at it for all they were worth, it is not too easy to run with 60lbs of pack on your back [one can well imagine that these men would discard all but their fighting equipment to be picked up by the late comers] nor is it a great exercise for an officer who can only lead his horse over what we are informed were just a jumble of rocks for a pathway. Naturally there were scenes of men staggering to a halt exhausted by this irrational burst of effort in a forlorn attempt to overturn the highly visible common-sense view that the "horse had bolted".
Fragments of 1/43rd and a significant number of the swiftest riflemen of 1/3/95th actually managed to reach the fateful bridge across the Bidassoa at Yantzi to engage the fleeing survivors of Soult's rearguard, so much so that a prolonged fire-fight ensued, one each of 1/ 3/95th were killed here and sharing casualties almost equally 12 in 1/95th were injured, Lieutenant Andrew Pemberton being one of these and 14 in 3/95th. The enemy however in mounting this fight-back made sure that their tail-enders would escape carrying vast numbers of wounded with them. So ended the chase to the Bridge at Yantzi, an opportunity lost already before the day had begun, who could have imagined Black Bob allowing such a situation to develop leaving his beloved Light Division to miss such a golden opportunity to trap half an army into surrender?
No longer could this elite body of men count on the superb reputation gained so arduously back in the early days of the war, there must be a story here waiting for discovery, Alten after all was by now a high ranking Hanoverian General, his own ADC's and junior officers would have infinite knowledge of the ways of their Divisional cavalry companions of 1st KGL Hussars, also Hanoverians, these troopers had the task already of maintaining communications with their adjacent military units but, most importantly should have known at all times exactly where to find their immediate enemy.
We have to observe that this Light Division of 1813 was not remotely the same as that of 1808-12
Finishing the day re-assembling about Yantzi the Light Division is still not known for numbers, it is obvious that after such a march there would be stragglers not in the counts for a short while to come, however the Division does come to a halt hereabouts for the better part of the month of August before once more figuring in violent action. Soult's much tried army after a surprisingly short rest and recovery period back in their own terrain must make a show of assisting their comrades under siege in San Sebastian, this entails a rather complex advance across the Bidassoa in its lower reaches and a holding action higher upstream where several large units of Wellington's force are astride this river. For 1/2/3/95th this only requires that on 31st August we see them placed principally on rising ground to the south of Vera. The enemy has ignored the strategically important bridge across the Bidassoa so much so that a company and a half of riflemen have been able to occupy and fortify the buildings, which dominate that vital crossing. For the rest of the men of 95th Regiment little of note happens on this day, however, the fighting elsewhere, having had mixed results for Soult's various corps in their attacks, begins to peter out as rain began to fall in the Bidassoa watershed. The first signs of action come quite late in the night as a full Corps of the French infantry, under General Vandermaesen appears on the left bank of the river heading upstream.
The weather has turned nasty with heavier rain in the hills now swelling this watercourse to the extent that only the Vera bridge will provide a safe crossing for these men who are on the retreat back to their start point. It is pitch dark and at the bridge a small picket of 2/95th riflemen on the south bank are surprised and overcome before an alarm can be raised, not so the men in the buildings on the right bank who, from within their loopholed safety lay down a veritable barrage of fire on the mass of their drenched assailants. As the attempts to force a passage are intensified so the casualties mount, at one stage Vandermaesen leading an attack is fatally shot down and the Captains Daniel Cadoux and John Hart and their hundred or so men continue to exact an executioner’s role upon the luckless enemy. Cadoux, as his men’s ammunition begins to become dangerously low sends off a messenger to Skerrett who has his Brigade a mere half a mile away uphill to send down reinforcements, his judgment being that the bridge can be held with ease while-ever their fire can be maintained. Nothing is done to assist the fight, the night goes on, rain continues to pour down and as the first light of the pre-dawn starts to show a result the desperate enemy has drained all of the fight from Cadoux's tiny force, cut them down in hand-to-hand combat and broken through the bottleneck. Cadoux himself with 16 of his men is dead, Lieutenants Robert Cochrane and Henry Llewellyn and a further 43 riflemen are wounded whilst Lieutenant John Ridgeway has managed to draw off the remainder, some 30 or more survivors with the help of a single company sent down all too late.
Here then was yet another example of the way in which Light Division had lost its "edge", its men still able craftsmen at their trade but led by senior officers of questionable quality, Skerrett as the senior and immediate commander at this pathetic waste of good men and lost opportunity was treated by his juniors to the time honoured punishment of "being sent to Coventry". He took no further part in the proceedings of his brigade from this time and returned to England in disgrace within a month.
On the same day, far away to the west at San Sebastian the great assault of the breaches had been successful, a handful of volunteer riflemen had played a part in that bloody victory recording one Captain [Brevet Major] William Percival wounded and an undisclosed number of his companions either killed or wounded, quite a day all round! There is now a lull in the warlike proceedings of Light Division and 95th Regiment, they lay about the hamlet of Vera resting for some five weeks, it being natural for this elite little corps to return convalescents to the ranks and receive a trickle of new recruits. Of some significance is the promotion of the Colonel of 52nd Regiment John Colborne to command of 2nd Brigade as Skerrett vacated the position, this was an opportunity for this gentleman to present himself in a more worthy light some two years and five months after choosing to abandon both his brigade and his own battalion, 2/66th in their time of greatest peril at Albuera.
By 7th October Wellington was ready to force the passage of the Bidassoa, at least in its lower reaches, Light Division and others of course had long been astride this frontier watercourse so that whilst the ensuing fight would come under that heading 95th and their comrades would see their action heading into hill country up one of its northern tributaries on the right and along a spur hill commanded by a star fort, all of this only a mile or so beyond Vera itself.
1/3/95th perhaps are best dealt with first, they take the right course following a minor track north towards the Puerto de Vera and a ridge earthwork. As it turns out this is a matter merely of turning out the reluctant defenders who however did manage to stand just long enough to injure Lieutenants Gentle Vickers and John Budgen, kill four and wound another 17 riflemen of 3/95th and also injure 10 men of 1/95th before leaving the field.
For 2/95th this was to be a much more serious day's work. Under the hand of the new Brigadier, Colborne these riflemen took on the role of assault troops attacking the star fort full on and frontally, to no avail, counter-attacked by the occupants they were roughly thrown down until reaching their brigade partners of 1/52nd. It fell to these men to take up the fight whilst the survivors of 2/95th were rallied and sent off by the left flank of this obstacle in far more traditional fashion skirmishing in the steep and rugged hillside. As 1/52nd broke the stern resistance of the redoubt's defence 2/95th again joined the fray to harass their retreating foes to the point of being able to secure a significant number of them as prisoners.
Their own loss was likewise quite significant, Captain George Gibbons and one other un-named officer were dead along with 30 of their men whilst Captain John Hart, Lieutenants John Fry, Edward Madden, John Ridgway, two more officers un-named and no less than 72 riflemen had been wounded, a further one was unaccounted for, missing, so, a total of 111 brought down at the Saint Benoit redoubt. By the text only of Oman's account of this fight we should expect that at the beginning of their advance to engagement 2/95th had stood at no more than perhaps 450 PUA leaving them down at the end of the day to about 340 PAB more or less. Of the strengths of 1/3/95th this day, 7th October 1813, we can only speculate, true numbers only come to us by the passing of the Nivelle River in November.
On 10th November we see it all, Light Division has not moved far forward from its last positions up in the hills on the northern flanks of the Bidassoa watershed, they have however the use of very high ground about the summit of the Great Rhune enabling them to look north yet again into the valley of the Nivelle and its many tributary streams.
Strengths in the three battalions of 95th Regiment on the day of battle stand at:
10th November 1813 (at the crossing of the Nivelle)
1/95th Kempt Brigade
2/95th Colborne Brigade
3/95th Kempt Brigade
How and when these numbers fall into place as we see them above is not given to us, it seems that 1/95th has somehow maintained a steady balance through these last 4 months while 3/95th, never numerically strong, has fallen away by more than 100 bayonets, surprisingly 2/95th have recovered remarkably in the last month if Oman's text [V7 p131] is to be taken at face value. No matter, following the movements of 1st Brigade Kempt, his men are to attack the enemy who are firmly planted in solid stone emplacements on the brow of a line of hills above the source of the Harrane stream, the Lesser Rhune. 1/3/95th is to confront the Mouiz breastworks some distance beyond and to the left of these obstacles thereby to threaten the flank and rear of the main defences. This will entail an exposed advance through rough ground, a period of incoming enfilading fire, but then a seeking out of cover from which to lay down a harassing skirmish fire while others of the Brigade do the serious assault work. Meanwhile 2/95th is out on the extreme right of Light Division’s attacks, advancing down through very broken ground to come upon a rocky strong-point after crossing the Harrane stream, the defenders here being small in number and mindful of the chance of being bypassed quickly retire back to their main body at the Col d'Argaïneco. Here 2/95th is well matched forcing the attack to go to ground exchanging shots to no great effect each side being well covered. For some time there is no forward movement both sides happy to do each other slow but steady damage until the two Light infantry battalions quite separately go into assault mode, for 1/43rd and 1/52nd we must look elsewhere for details, the outcome in both cases however is similar. The enemy is violently ejected, retires back to further defences while the riflemen take ground along a ridge dotted with more earthworks and redoubts and all to receive their attention. With a series of stop-start actions the whole of the fighting in Light Division’s front eventually comes to a full retreat of the enemy, it is during these latter stages that Colonel Barnard of 1/95th is wounded, Kempt has already received an injury so perhaps it is time to see how the rifle battalions have fared when all subsides.
Of 1/95th besides their Colonel, Captain Charles Smyth, Lieutenants Daniel Fensham & Haggup and 42 riflemen have been wounded and six men killed. Their comrades of 3/95th have had much the lesser of the action losing Lieutenants Loftus Jones and James Kirkman and only 8 men, all wounded. Whilst Colborne's own regiment 1/52nd had suffered severely at the Signals Redoubt we see that 2/95th was able to stand down just 34 casualties the lighter, acting Captain/ Lieutenant William Cox, Lieutenants Charles Eaton and Henry Scott with 26 riflemen had been wounded and Light Doyle with one man killed but a further 3 men not to be accounted for.
10th November 1813 (after the combats at the Nivelle River)
1/95th Kempt Brigade
2/95th Colborne Brigade
3/95th Kempt Brigade
With winter approaching rapidly Marshal Soult, having survived yet another beating and been left to make a retreat of his own choosing pulls back his long suffering army close to the environs of Bayonne. This area has long been a major staging post for all the military units entering Spain and Portugal and for the movement of equipment covering all aspects of the war in the Peninsula on its western side. Its defences are massive if quite old in places, the city itself is a provincial centre and through this centre from south to north runs the Nive river falling into the Ardour to its north and rear, this important waterway carrying cargoes of merchandise to and from its commercial centre and its provincial hinterland, altogether a rich prize, well worth defending. Very slowly Wellington's army will establish itself in the several high points on north facing hill spurs to the south of this bastioned fortress, it is natural, being late autumn that rain begins to fall.
The valleys between these hill end vantage points gradually become marshy to waterlogged offering little or no easy contact laterally from east to west; these conditions will play their part in the actions which follow as the year slides to a close. The main natural feature of this new campaign will be the Nive River, that large tributary of the Ardour running from south to north and effectively slicing the country as well as Bayonne into two halves. What of Light Division then and its rifle powered component?
As early as 17th November men of Kempt's Brigade become involved in an affair of opposing piquets on the Bassussary heights, that commander having pushed his men far too close to the enemy defences in more or less scattered formation they are thrown back sufficiently quickly as to have a good many of them overtaken and made prisoner. We are denied exact regimental figures but do know that whilst 1/43rd lost 16 men captured the rest of Kempt's Brigade, 1/3/95th are the only regiment left to pick up the residue of the 80 men lost this day. Simple arithmetic implies a collective reduction of 64 riflemen by whatever means killed, wounded or prisoner and, using that blunt calculating tool we can approximate the figures to fall thus:
17th November 1813 (at the Bassussary position)
1/95th Kempt Brigade
2/95th Colborne Brigade
3/95th Kempt Brigade
We can move ahead to December, the weather, seemingly cold persistent rain almost every day has turned the roads into rivers of mud and the small hill-fed streamlets into real obstacles for any sort of military movement. By 9th December however there has been sufficient of an abatement in the rain to encourage the CIC to send forward Light infantry companies extending down into the soaking valleys to form piquet lines to feel for the enemy opposition. For 95th riflemen this puts them across a flat basin normally drained by the Aritzague river all overlooked by the Bassussary plateau, no sooner are they sent down there than their junior officers suspect that they will meet the same treatment that came their way three weeks earlier. They are not disappointed, once more they have to pull back onto the high ground so briefly left this time again we are not told from which units the 37 [Appendix 34] casualties should be taken it is obvious to the author that the standard of communication in Light Division is not what it should be. By this time Oman’s appendix recorder can perhaps be excused for missing the odd combat or so, the next day however matters become more serious, Kempt is obviously the wrong man to be in charge of light infantry and certainly forward piquets!
On 10th December the day begins with another miscalculation as to the whereabouts and strengths of the immediate enemy, Kempt has held his men in place beyond safety that tiny bit too long [far too long really] which puts all at risk, the French burst out of concealment and, oh dear yet another scramble for the rear and safety. Rather vaguely we are told that some 22 men, a mixed bunch of 1/43rd and 1/95th are captured in this early encounter, it is only at day's end that full figures for both days are available, so. Retreating to a line rapidly prepared at the village of Arcangues our riflemen are able to stand and give a solid defence, the story is well told of the fire-fight centred on the Chateau, its walls and two storey church at this place. 1/95th is to be found at the Chateau and its various outbuildings whilst 3/95th are covered only by a hedgerow extending towards the church and with a unit of Caçadores. In reserve are 2/95th and 17th Portuguese Line some way to the rear. Using regular volleys of rifle and musket fire from behind solid stone walls and the questionable concealment of a hedge in its winter foliage Kempt's men are able to thoroughly discourage any sort of serious attack on their positions, not without loss of course, it will be here that we shall see Lieutenant Hopwood of 1/95th literally lose his head to a passing cannonball while casualties to that battalion mount up for a day's total of himself and 4 men killed, 17 riflemen wounded and one un-named officer and 19 more men captured, we have to include a probable 14 men lost the previous day.
Less affected is 3/95th with just 1 man killed and 22 injured but adding nine more on 9th December.
Meanwhile 2/95th have had by far the easier time of it, adding 14 from yesterday then losing 12 men taken prisoner at the opening of proceedings, being held back un-used, record but a further 3 men wounded.
Operations involving others of the army in these rain-soaked hills and valleys take up the next three days with very little to trouble 1/2/3/95th who remain about the rear of the hill spur at Bassussary until the enemy has been fought to a standstill and returned to the comparative safety of the Bayonne works.
10th December 1813 (after the combats at Bassussary/Arcangues)
1/95th Kempt Brigade
2/95th Colborne Brigade
3/95th Kempt Brigade
The wintry weather takes over in earnest closing down all military movement for some weeks to come, indeed we have to begin a new year 1814 before there is a drying out of the roads and pathways and a check to the flow of the rivers and streams in the campaign area. It is about now that the Office of the DAG comes up with those much-revised numbers demanded by the CIC in mid-January of the New Year, we at last see true figures [Supplementary Despatches], adjusted to include officers.
16th January 1814 (cantoned on the Nive)
1/95th Kempt Brigade
2/95th Colborne Brigade
3/95th Kempt Brigade
In February hard frosts provide a firm footing so that offensive movement can begin again. The Divisions to the right of the previous field of operations are first to move off, Soult has gradually lost strength as a result of his Emperor's demands to send away units to the north as also a reduction in capacity to sustain his men out in the field around the Bayonne district. He has withdrawn inland sufficiently for Wellington to attempt a wedging manœuvre to split him away from this base altogether. So it is that he likewise splits his own forces to affect this possibility, when Lieutenant General John Hope has been left behind to contain the Bayonne area Light Division thus become amongst the last of the westward Divisions to move away to the east. On 16th February we hear of this unit, closely followed by 6th Division marching off after some two months of rest [albeit cold and wet], Kempt's Brigade is reduced to no more than its Caçadore battalion and its companies of 3/95th having left the rest behind on the coast by St' Jean de Luz in anticipation of receiving new uniforms, equipment and gathering in a few convalescents. For 1/43rd and 1/95th there will be a long wait, winter storms in the Bay of Biscay are holding back almost everything from bases in England, our attention will thus fall on 2/3/95th for some while to come.
The first hint of action comes nine days later on 25th February on the left bank of the Gave de Pau river where the Caçadores are engaged in some light skirmishing with their enemy counterparts who are holding the well fortified bridge at D épart, Orthez lies on the right bank. The next day Light Division is moved to the left to join up with those Divisions which are about to put in an attack, Soult has turned to defend a position to the north-west of Orthez where the major part of Wellington's men have already crossed the Gave de Pau.
27th February 1814 (on the field at Orthez)
2/95th Colborne Brigade
3/95th Kempt Brigade
In front of Orthez we shall see 2/3/95th with their brigades held in reserve behind a high ridge known locally as the Roman Camp awaiting their call while others go forward in a full engagement, they are about a mile from the action with a shallow valley in between them and the enemy. Kempt's Caçadores are first to get into the fray after the enemy has put up a solid defence almost everywhere so much so that they become interspersed with other Divisional units and are lost to 1st Brigade. After as much as three hours of serious close quarters combat Colborne's 1/52nd join the counter-attacks leaving both 2/3/95th still in reserve at the Roman Camp and seemingly they remain out of action for the whole day recording not a single casualty throughout, so ended the battle at Orthez. Some time in early March 1/43rd and 1/95th rejoin, presumably well equipped and smartly dressed they will have had a long hard march eastward in weather which is still wintry, crossing the many rivers and streams that issue out of the French Pyrenees watershed and perhaps ruining their new shoes. They are about to experience a combat of some significance, at least for 1/2/3/95th Rifles, which it can be said will be their final real clash with the enemy in this war.
Having been put to considerable marching manoeuvring during this month they come up to the southern town of Tarbes on the higher reaches of the Ardour river, it is 20th March 1814 and their Division chief Alten has them advancing along a low ridge which will converge onto a higher section above where the enemy, General Harispe has his men on either side of a windmill which dominates the position. Alten orders forward all of his riflemen in massed open order, they fight their way up to the brow of the hill only to be vigorously counter-attacked with little quarter given. This fight seems to have been very even neither side willing to concede defeat until the French began to see to their right nd rear more troops [6th Division] threatening their position. Reluctantly falling back to their left rear it was left to others to follow this retirement leaving 1/2/3/95th to count the cost. In 1/95th Lieutenants J Cox and George Simmons had been severely wounded, 2/95th had lost Captain John Duncan killed, Major Amos Norcott, Captain [Brevet Major] George Millar, and Lieutenants Francis Dixon and William Humbley wounded and in 3/95th Lieutenant [Brevet Captain] William Cox and Lieutenants William Farmer and John Ribton wounded. We are only told that of the rank and file the three battalions lost together 81 men killed and wounded, it does appear however that of these 2/95th would be most affected with 3/95th next and 1/95th slightly reinforced and in their bright new uniforms, least affected.
Noticeably there are no PUA-PAB figures available, the war is just about ended and Oman's Appendix compiler [his dutiful wife] is not able to help us at all after that full list of November 1813, the fact that we have three battalions to deal with and perhaps all at less than full 10 company strength it is best to treat our next calculation as a “considered estimate”.
20th March 1814 (after the fight on the Tarbes position)
1/95th Kempt Brigade
2/95th Colborne Brigade
3/95th Kempt Brigade
So it is that the army makes its way across the lower reaches of the French Pyrenees slowly pursuing Soult and his men ever closer to Toulouse and the end of hostilities. The Light Division is involved in that very wet and messy attempt to cross the Garonne and one of its main tributaries upstream of that principle city of the Languedoc, all to no avail when it is seen that the pontoon bridging equipment falls short of the eastern banks, oh dear back they go down-stream to eventually arrive about Seilh in the early morning of 9th April 1814. They will be last to cross the river here and maybe because of this chance their place in the battle lines is almost as a Reserve. On the day of the battle for Toulouse we shall see 1/2/3/95th standing to arms across a stretch of land between the bridges at Minimes and Matabiau both of which crossed the Royal Canal, a very effective wet ditch. It turns out that the only action they will experience will use their skill at skirmishing to hold the enemy across the water in position and prevent him going off as reinforcement elsewhere, this task will fall to only the riflemen of Kempt's Brigade that must have put in a full day at the work since of 1/95th seven men were killed and eleven wounded. In 3/95th just three men died on the day but no less than twenty-nine were counted as wounded, the only officer recorded as injured during this was one Captain Michael Hewan who Oman has in 1/95th, [JA Hall via London Gazette shows him strangely in 2/95th] and so ends the war for the Rifle Regiment.
14th April 1814 (after the battle of Toulouse)
1/95th Kempt Brigade
2/95th Colborne Brigade
3/95th Kempt Brigade
At Waterloo all three battalions were present, 1/95th under Brigadier Kempt and 2/95th with two companies of 3/95th together with Brigadier Adam. Casualties for the Regiment as a whole were just short of 40% at that final battle of the "period".
Placed on the Napoleon Series: July 2011
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