Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: Chasseurs Britanniques (Light Infantry)

By Ray Foster

Facings:  Light Blue                                        
Lace:  Silver

Chasseurs Britanniques

Note: This is a single battalion of principally continental European troops formed at the turn of the century and first appearing in the Mediterranean theatre. With a mix of officers from several countries including France and especially Monarchists it was always going to be a problem engendering esprit d corps; this problem not being resolvable to any great degree when so many of the rank and file and even junior officers continued throughout the war to be recruited from the enemy’s escapees and deserters. We first hear of them through Wellington’s Dispatches as coming from Sicily to Cadiz under a British officer Lieutenant Colonel  William Cornwallis Eustace during very early 1811 and mentioned by Lieutenant General Thomas Graham as arriving in two five coy’ sections.

28th January 1811 (Landed at Lisbon)  

Numbers unknown.

It is most likely that they would soon draw into their battalion sufficient men to be seen as a viable field unit. It is the time when Wellington’s army is well set behind the defences of the Lines of Torres Vedras receiving reinforcements from elsewhere so much so that a new Division of infantry is brought together a little over a month after they landed.

Chasseurs Britanniques will be brigaded in early March of 1811 with 51st Regiment, 85th Regiment and Brunswick Oels Jäeger. Major General Ballard Long held this little corps of Light infantrymen [on paper only] for just 26 days passing them on to Major General John Sontag who will take them along well in the rear of the slow advance that sees Marshal Andre Massena’s army quit Portugal. By the beginning of May Wellington has his army on a line parallel to the Spanish/Portuguese border at Fuentes d Onoro, he is expectant of receiving battle from Massena whose immediate task is to relieve the French held garrison at Almeida well to the left rear of the British defensive line. For the first time since entering the theatre we are given figures for Chasseurs Britanniques, so:

1st May 1811 (on the ridge at Fuentes d Onoro)

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PUA 839

This is an “All Ranks” figure its ratio of officers to men quite low at just 1:26, we shall see how eagerly the officers court danger compared to their “men”! When Massena attacks the village on 3rd May there is nothing to do for Chasseurs Britanniques their Divisional chief Major General William Houston has them in reserve moving the next day far out to the right of a new line of defence in early response to suspected moves by the enemy. On 5th May 7th Division will be seen as having shifted, under orders of course, much too far out with only flimsy connection to their left. The enemy see a good chance of breaking in on this flank with a swift movement of infantry columns covered at first by light cavalry. It will in fact be multiple squadrons of General Louis Montbrun’s dragoons that first encounter opposition hereabouts, just two squadrons of Major General Stapleton Cotton’s light cavalry a very uneven fight develops with the enemy progressively forcing this weak defensive screen back onto reserves. Soon enough the tiny hamlet of Poço Velho comes into the combat area, French infantry columns descend on this place overwhelmingly, out go the survivors who were principally from 85th Regiment and 2nd Caçadores. These men have a hazardous flight mixed amongst horseflesh and sabre suffering accordingly before being able to reach the comparative safety of the rest of their brigades of 7th Division [Sontag’s and Colonel Charles Doyle’s Portuguese] formed up on a rising ground some distance away.

It is here that we shall find Chasseurs Britanniques they are holding a flank position, well placed, so we are told, behind a stone wall.

As the dragoons come upon them, by now much disordered, they are greeted with a concerted close range musket volley that has the effect of completely scattering the surviving troopers. Whilst the text in Oman gives them no further mention it is obvious when the casualty list is examined that something here is missing, no less than 30 men of Chasseurs Britanniques have been killed outright, four officers wounded, 17 more men also brought down and 7 made prisoner. Hardly the result of an action solely conducted from behind a stone wall one would have to say; in no other single battalion of Wellington’s army engaged over the two days of fighting had there been so many recorded dead in the ranks of one battalion. In his battle Despatch to the Secretary of State Earl Liverpool the CIC mentions Colonel Eustace and his battalion particularly as acting in a most steady manner, so with Captains Fridolin de Freuller, Joseph de Tournefort, Lieutenant Blemur and Sergeant John Juliani amongst the 21 men wounded, plus a further 7 men captured [all the signs that this unit had at least briefly been caught ‘out-in-the-open’] we are left only to conjecture:

5th May 1811 (after the fight by Poço Velho)

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PAB 781

Once it was to be seen that Massena had shot his bolt and Wellington’s men, at least for 7th Division had been freed to move in the field off they go, marching down toward Campo Mayor and the valley of the Guadiana River. The task, to once more put the great fortress of Badajoz under close blockade and eventually formal siege.  They will march eastward on the northern banks to threaten the Bastion of San Christobal where we see that battalions of Sontag’s Brigade are soon put to work. There is no mention of Chasseurs Britanniques battalion in any of this, even when the work comes to the first assault at the breach there, however upon trying again, on 9th June the attempt at the so-called breach saw them to the fore, we know that a Chasseurs Britanniques Lieutenant Dufief is at the head of a scaling ladder [not the sort of equipment one would associate with a breaching attack] only to be wounded and “cast down” as the words of history relate. Eight of his men are killed here and 13 wounded so, a serious attempt this day, rather inevitably two men go missing, not an easy thing from an escalading ladder type of assault. No matter we must move on.

10th June 1811 (after the assault on the breach at San Cristobal)

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PAB 757

The very next day Wellington calls off the siege preparing to depart and hold a line of defence as Marshal Auguste Marmont, the new commander of the Army of Portugal combines with large units of Marshal Nicholas Soult’s Corps from the south intent on re-victualling the Badajoz fortress. This sees 7th Division Sontag Brigade marching off into the watershed of the Caya River a western tributary of the Guadiana, they and 3rd Division will hold a left flank position between Ougella and Campo Mayor.  They are to remain about this slightly elevated part of the countryside for some four weeks perhaps a shade less effected by the mosquitos down in the swampy bottoms than most of their comrades.

It is only when the army generally has come out of the Caya valley to occupy healthier ground in the frontier areas behind the Agueda that we shall have figures to show battalion strengths, so:

15th September 1811 (at and about Fuente Guinaldo)

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PUA 671

This fall in numbers whilst significant is, when seen against those for the rest of the army, quite light, much is made of the bad effects of camping out in the Caya region, a number of Regiments having brought into the army those fevers of the ill-conducted Walcheren campaign. The autumn campaign whereby Marmont had advanced into sparsely defended parts of the Portuguese high country, returned at speed and then explored Wellington’s new line facing Cuidad Rodrigo having all come to nought the fighting season closed for 1811. It is as well to mention that down at Cadiz there seems to have always been a small presence for Chasseurs Britanniques two coy’s at least, we know that at the siege of Tarifa mounted by Marshal Claud Victor in the last months of 1811 a few of these men were involved. With virtually nothing but a casualty reference to go on we at least see Lieutenant James Guanter shot in the eye on 29th December in that last attempt to force the defences there and that is all.

The Divisions disperse 7th to set down at Penamacor, their chief Houston goes home and Sontag takes up the Division.

Interestingly when 1st & 2nd KGL Light are brigaded into this Division their own commander Major General Charles von Alten takes up a Brigadier role leaving Sontag at the head of the 7th Division. Both of these men had received their elevation to Major General status in the same month during 1810 and both coming in as KGL officers. The rather shaky 85th Regiment has been sent home and 68th Regiment [Durham Light] has joined, so, still a fully Light Division, Major General John von Bernewitz of Brunswick Oels picking up the mainly “British” brigade of 51st, 68th and Chasseurs Britanniques. Sontag only lasts a short time he going off home before the end of the year leaving the 7th Division to be commanded by Alten, Colonel Colin Halkett picking up the KGL Light Brigade and so we go into 1812.

When Wellington makes the first moves of this eventful year it is at Cuidad Rodrigo which is put under siege, stormed and left so that Badajoz can receive the same treatment. None of this activity involves 7th Division which will have gone south across the Tagus to help discourage any enemy aggressive moves from that quarter. Marching there is plenty of but of action, nothing; things will change going into June, 7th Division having returned up-country are about Fuente Guinaldo when the CIC gathers a large force to enter Spain proper for what will be termed the Salamanca campaign.

By 22nd June Bernewitz Brigade is advancing towards Morisco and being ordered to attack the enemy occupying a knoll, a part of elevated ground known as the Heights of Villares, it is here that their Colonel William Cornwallis Eustace is hit, absolutely no mention however as to the exploits of his battalion  in this combat. It is as well that 7th Division and most of the other Divisions are accustomed to hard marching because they are certainly getting their fair share in the rolling plains to the north-east of Salamanca. All of this continues well into July when they get into the final tight parallel march that delivers Wellington his enemy for slaughter, so:

22nd July 1812 (before the battle on the Arapiles)

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PUA 713

Bernewitz Brigade has moved away from a position very much to the fore at Calvarisa de Ariba on the previous night to an area of high ground known as the Lesser Arapile in rear of 1st and 6th Divisions. During the very early morning Wellington sends forward his flankers of light infantrymen of Bernewitz’ Brigade and Lieutenant Colonel Charles Doyle’s 2nd Caçadores to Nuestra Senora de la Pena to contest the incursions of the enemy voltigeurs thereabouts.

It seems that this somewhat isolated contest carries on well after the main body of 7th Division has been drawn back into that reserve position on the Arapile, these men being then shifted again to their right to support 5th Division as they line up for action. The general action brought on by the rapid extension of the enemy’s march gradually puts 5th and 7th Division into forward motion slowly building momentum until the evening and General Ferey’s ‘last-stand’. It is only those skirmishers of 7th Division, gradually disengaged as the truth of the situation hits the French defenders, that have collected casualties in this slaughter on the Arapiles, all of the enemy survivors will retreat leaving the victors the field and a count of the cost. This had been an ideal opportunity for a few Chasseurs to re-acquaint themselves with old friends from the past. Off go as many as 14 men, missing, in the sharpshooting itself five had been killed and just ten wounded, not one of these an officer, unusual for this little corps, the figures then:

22nd July 1812 (after the skirmish at Nuestra Senora de la Pena)

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PAB 684

To have come out of this battle, and its two months of solid marching prior to that, still holding numbers well in excess of all but about 15 of the strongest British battalions shows that if nothing else their internal ‘regularity’ was well able at this stage to replace those desertions so gleefully mentioned by British historians of the period. With Colonel Eustace wounded it is more than likely that Major A Le Theur Combrement would step up to hold the battalion as it followed up in rear of Halkett’s Brigade of KGL Light and their confrontation at La Rosa village with the French cavalrymen who had so successfully scattered Major General Benjamin D Urban’s Portuguese troopers at Majalahonda on 11th August.

This place in the line of march would, the next day see them amongst the first of Wellington’s victorious infantrymen to enter the capital, Madrid.

There is little doubt but that Chasseurs Britanniques would help themselves to their share of the clothing, shoes and other useful items of equipment abandoned by the French as also the more frivolous delights showered on them by the welcoming Madrilajos. It is to be short lived however the CIC ordering several of his Divisions north with the idea of thrusting General Bertrand Clausel’s battered remnants of the Army of Portugal as far as he was able up the Grande Chausee and ultimately hard back to the Franco-Spanish border. After just a fortnight of victor’s pleasures off go 7th Division with others, north by east marching for firstly the crossing of the Douro then a steady push up the Chausee as far as Burgos. All stops dead right there, the tiny castle dominates the road and bridge over the River Arlanzon and must be subdued before further progress north can be contemplated. Arriving at its stations forming part of the blockading perimeter ring 7th Division will spend a miserable month about this outer defensive line, no action to speak of only to await the order to evacuate falling back on Burgos to begin a full retirement down country by 21st October.

A week later on the Pisuerga River Bernewitz Brigade, standing to arms behind that obstacle are to be cannonaded for several hours across the water with hardly any damage, the ground being saturated with rain. The retirement of course must carry on, very gently, as far as the old fighting positions of the Salamanca campaign nothing looks too serious until Soult gets large units of men across the Tormes threatening to cut Wellington’s line of supply and retreat.  

In pouring rain standing on the Arapiles in line of defence the time of decision comes only too soon. King Joseph Bonaparte and the Marshals Jourdan and Soult make no attempt to fight a set piece battle, the rain continues to fall in sheets and Wellington’s men have no alternative but to fall back and begin the infamous retreat to the Portuguese frontier about Cuidad Rodrigo. It is 14th November and a mere five days and nights of slow movement on roads and paths deep in mud will see 7th Division back to a measure of safety from the elements not before however having to suffer huge loss of men.

On 17th November they had another taste of cannonading while stood this time behind the Huebra River, yet again saved by the mud, no casualties counted, all too busy looking out for themselves. The tale is no different throughout all of those Divisions fated to follow the more northern tracks back to the Agueda, exhausted and bone chilled men falling by the wayside, many in a drunken stupor after passing through places that had stores of the 1812 vintage.  Many more are in absolute fatigue due to the total failure of the commissariat to supply even the very basic rations. Chasseurs Britanniques appear to fare no worse than most of the 7th Division battalions in this retreat, it has to be remembered that 51st and 68th battalions are always weak for numbers at the best of times so that percentage losses will always translate into small real numbers.

Also this is an army of very basic character, the differences of make-up of this ostensibly French Monarchist battalion perhaps only show in the capacity of a great number of the ranks to be able to converse in the same language as their foes when negotiating a painless surrender. No matter, back behind the Agueda we are treated to such a mish-mash of figures that it is virtually impossible to get down to battalion results. It will be reasonable to expect that on 29th November when Wellington has sent off his “morning-states” to England our red coated Mediterranean’s would stand at:

29th November 1812 [behind the Agueda]

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PUA 355

The new year will see 7th Division going west by the hill country of the Beira to come to rest in the valley of the Mondego about Moimento da Serra and Santa Marinha, they will sit here for a considerable time. Our first knowledge of Chasseurs Britanniques in 1813 is to see figures sent out by the DAG office firstly for 15th April but then rapidly revised for 26th April that year, they show all the signs that this battalion was massively taking up new recruits.  A sure sign that the CIC for all his talk of desertions was still willing to persevere with these ‘recycled’ foreigners, they show:

26th April 1813 [in cantonments down the Mondego]

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PUA 864

Bernewitz has just gone and before his brigade comes out of winter quarters it will find itself coming under that hero of Albuera the die-hard Brigadier General William Inglis.  The figures above for all ranks expect that the officer to man ratio here is 1:8, a high one but well substantiated by records. It is best to get on from here into the organisation for the summer campaign known by its culminating battle at Vittoria.

A very dodgy battalion, first emanating from the Gibraltar/Tarifa Cadiz theatre [and having made for itself a black mark in the late retreat from Spain] has joined. It is 1/82nd the Prince of Wales Volunteers, 51st and 68th remain so, whilst the CIC has installed a Line battalion into what was previously a totally Light Division this is no different to his other inclusion of 17th Portuguese Line into that other Light Division! However, within the rest of 7th Division Halkett and his KGL Light have gone and a re-hash here sees 1/6th come in with 3rd Provisionals and the Brunswickers the only old-timers here. Major General George Ramsay Earl Dalhousie has the command of the Division so a quite different corps from previously.   

As the campaign gets under way 7th Division will begin in the far left column under Lieutenant General Thomas Graham going north inside the Portuguese territory until reaching the Douro at Pocinho and rapidly the Elsa at Almendra, this last on 31st May. It may be that a handful of Chasseurs lose their footing to be swept away with those unfortunate Brunswickers already mentioned elsewhere, we are not told. Wellington now reforms his advancing columns taking over 7th Division along with 3rd, 4th and 6th Divisions, these to be seen as a central column with Graham still on the outer left flank. The marching Divisions get along at speed being totally left to it by the enemy units supposingly scouting the perimeter of a continually shifting French line of defence.

The Ebro is passed without incident for 7th Division coming on from there to make the final tactical marches that Wellington fancies will trap King Joseph and Marshal Jourdan’s ever retiring combinations. The central column splits up, 6th Division is dropped off, ostensibly to guard the army’s baggage train, 4th Division holds a central advance up the Chaussee while 3rd and 7th Divisions are put under Dalhousie’s care to march in a left loop designed to see them arrive at a hopeful battlefield on the Zadorra river some way north of the congested main road but still well south of where Graham is sent on a wider loop to cut off this road to France. What of Chasseurs then in all of this? Brigadier Inglis has gone and Lieutenant Colonel William Grant of 1/82nd has the Brigade, while Dalhousie makes heavy weather of his responsibilities Picton with 3rd Division takes a slightly different path over the Mt Arrato to get him up to the Zadorra position on the day of the battle.

Wellington’s plan is already compromised; Lieutenant General Rowland Hill on the Pueblo Heights has been fully engaged for three hours before Picton can bring all of his men forward ready for an attack. Dalhousie’s 7th Division is nowhere to be seen, coming up much later in dribs and drabs, we are aware of Picton’s righteous rage standing to arms for another couple of hours before taking the battle here into his own hands. t will be Grant’s Brigade that finally breasts the Zadorra in mid-afternoon, getting across the river at a ford above the Mendoza bridge, he sets his men forward as quickly as he can, the battle having by now almost reached its crisis. His target is the village to his left a little away from the river, La Hermandad, Major General Charles Colville’s Brigade of 3rd Division has already been checked here by some lethal fire both artillery and musketry as the range shortens. Grant is soon brought down with all of the units of his brigade coming to a long ditch that whilst affording a welcome shelter does nothing for furthering the object to any good resolution. This is left to others coming on the scene from a slightly different angle, men of Light Division sweep all before them leaving the survivors of Grant’s Brigade to heave themselves up and follow an advance which rapidly turns into a rout of all before them.

At some point in the follow up a defending troop of enemy light cavalry force them to go into square to repel a brief charge, not it seems with much loss. The day turns into a chase to the city and, inevitably the discovery of a chaotic scene thereabouts. For Chasseurs Britanniques it is a stern discipline test of all ranks, right there before them are thousands of fugitives of many languages and intentions, rather like themselves. So much so that a blending must take place, all finding excitement amongst the looted treasures of Spain, this is the realisation of the soldiers dream.

Best perhaps to draw the curtain, leave them to it, no amount of imagination could compare with the real thing!

What of the fighting then?  The cannonade greeting endured earlier has taken its toll, along with 1/82nd the Chasseurs Britanniques had been very much to the fore so, 20 men are dead on the field, Lieutenant Lenhart has a wound which will see him off 4 days later, of the rest 112 are wounded, Captain Charles Millius and Ensign John Macausland amongst them. Not one man is recorded as “missing” they will however most certainly stand at no more than;

22nd June 1813 (the morning after the battle at Vittoria)

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PAB 705

Wellington in his Dispatches berates virtually his whole army for its behaviour as to the suspected running off with the heavy-metal money he had somewhat naively expected to have for himself. There can be little doubt that a fair proportion of those “running off” would come from the ranks of the Chasseurs Britanniques and quite a number to be never seen again. Those that remained with the battalion had some hard months ahead we pick them up marching off in search of Clausel’s Corps some way north by east, this effort is abandoned when that force has disappeared over the lower Pyrenean Passes. The battle shy Dalhousie has painlessly returned to pick up the 7th Division but is instead given the task of putting the northern city of Pamplona under a tight blockade, Grant being wounded the brigade falls to the tough Colonel of the “Diehard” 57th Reg’t now Major General Inglis. Predictably Dalhousie is left behind when 7th Division is sent off into the Bastan going north by west, Major General Edward Barnes picking up the command for a spell.

It is 4th July and there is some vigorous work ahead, off they go, crossing the higher course of the Bidassoa at Santesteban then away into the heights by Mount Atchiola. It appears that this Division has some trouble with its scouting supports; from time to time we almost expect to find that they get lost so it is no surprise to find that this is the case here. The enemy who they are chasing gets off scot free the Division coming down to Elizondo by 9th July, it is only left for them to come up to the Pass of Echalar overlooking the slopes into France then halt and call it all off.

Only two weeks later Marshal Nicholas Soult has taken up the French command in this theatre of operations to put his men back on the offensive, back they come, for our lads in 7th Division the first notice of this is seen some 10 miles off to their right front approaching the Maya Pass. Dalhousie has returned yet again, the Division is put in motion to support the men on the Maya but, not in time for Inglis Brigade to get into action. The French have had a victory of sorts with the surviving British troops now retiring generally in the direction of Pamplona, 7th Division being ordered to hold its place at Echalar after a short retirement.

By 26th July Inglis Brigade have orders to work up the Bidassoa to Sumbilla, next day to go on to the Arraiz Pass heading south towards Lizaso, it will be during these last movements that Dalhousie gets his men, during a night march, totally bogged down in a violent rainstorm in the hill paths and misses the first fight at Sorauren on 28th July.

After yet another night march Inglis Brigade gets well down to Ollocarizqueta enabling them to enter the next fighting duels still about Sorauren but this time on attack. On 30th July the Brigade will emerge, coming over a low ridge to the west of this much battered hamlet nicely placed to overlook the road from there that goes to Ostiz. The enemy is already seeking to use this path as a retirement route from a battle that is going badly against them. A well-contested fire-fight begins as General Vandermaesen’s men sacrifice themselves so that troops to their rear can get out of the intended trap. There is a period of equality of fire here both sides well aware of the situation, officers to the front, Chasseurs Britanniques and 1/82nd   keeping up the fight until finally as more men appear from the ridge top and the fight in the village is lost by the enemy a retirement becomes a retreat and the position is taken. Inglis Brigade has a number of casualties to attend to so that their place in the pursuit is well to the rear. There is more action to come next day no figures are available as to PUA’s prior to all of this so, best if we move on until the brigade comes to rest. 

They are following up the retreat of a whole army broadcast from one valley and ridge to the next, at the Donna Maria Pass the enemy has held a fairly strong position with troops that will always give as good as they get.  It is General Abbe’s Division and they are extracting a price for the wild advances instigated by Lieutenant General William Stewart with men of 2nd Division, Inglis brings on his men at the rush, a mountain fog comes down and Abbe’s men are able to melt away having dealt only minor blows to the Chasseurs Britanniques. They will rest at the top of the Arraiz Pass, get on the move next day and have another brief touch with the fugitives at Echalar, this only as supports for Barnes Brigade of their Division. It is here that we must try to pull together some figures to take us on into the rest of the 1813 campaign.

At the fight near Sorauren on 30th July officers have had casualties at a rate of 1:3, showing great willingness, Major Combrement, four of his Captains, Nicolas de Brem, Fridolin de Freuller, Louis de Saulx and Joseph de Tournefort are brought down, the latter fatally, Lieutenants Blemur, Antoine Servias, Pietro St Columbo, Frederick de Sunharry and Pierre Boussingault all wounded. Of their men 12 are dead and just 19 more wounded while four more have “gone missing”. At the Donna Maria Pass there is one un-named officer hit, nine men killed 15 wounded and 8 more “missing”. All of this has now to be taken into account with a strong signal [using hindsight] that probably as many as 100 men failed to rally to the colours after the victory at Vittoria, I estimate that on:

2nd August 1813 (at the Pass of Echalar)

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PAB 527

This year’s campaign is going to endure for another four months yet so what of their fortunes fighting along the border [for so many], of their home country?  We have to allow the passage of a full month before the French Marshal makes his attempt to push his enemy away from the left banks of the Bidassoa, this principally at its seaward end, his object being to come to the relief of the beleaguered garrison of the fortress of San Sebastian. Several Spanish units of significant size are standing in defence on the high ground on the southern banks of this rather minor obstacle, while in its upper reaches Wellington has a corps of men free to move to threaten such an attack. Of these one is 7th Division who have rested up to this period about Echalar, so that on 30th August Inglis Brigade is put under orders to re-cross this river, head for Lesaca and draw close to units of 4th Division who may come under attack. When this eventuates next day it will be a long flank march for Chasseurs Britanniques and their comrades to get into action. Yet again it will be General Vandermaesen’s men with whom they are to do battle, this flank he is able to push back over ever rising ground in the general direction of St’ Antonio. There is no shortage of good defensive positions but with an enemy always superior for numbers it is a constant stand-fire-retire manoeuvre with a steady loss of men. The Lieutenant Colonel Eustace, his Major Charles Hautoy, Captain Rodolphe de Muralt and Lieutenants Silvain de Precorbin, Octavius Choisel and Blemur all fall wounded as do 23 of their men, 15 more chasseurs are left on the ground dead and as many as 28 are lost as prisoners. These last, in an ever-retiring fire-fight could be quite genuine captures, many others of the various battalions engaged here would record significant “missing” too. The battle having been lost by others of Soult’s men lower down the Bidassoa the attack here has to be called off. Rain, slow at first but gathering intensity causes General Vandermaesen’s Division huge problems as the river in their rear rises rapidly. The story that develops from that cause belongs to others engaged that day at the battle of San Marcial, so:

31st August 1813 (after the battle of the Heights of San Marcial)

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PAB 455

Inglis Brigade of 7th Division return to Echalar spend well over a month in that area with the opportunity for convalescents to return and, dare we say another chance for some of the more restive men to abscond, melting into an area of southern France that is showing distinct signs of disaffection for the Imperial cause. By 7th October however the call to arms sees our worthy chasseurs on the march again, Wellington is ready to throw back the enemy from that extended string of redoubts and earthworks behind the Bidassoa to get a solid foothold on French soil. Dalhousie far out on the inland flank is required to merely make demonstrations against Sare and particularly the redoubts at St Barbe and the Grenade. None of this has Inglis Brigade amongst the fighting, attacks downstream have achieved their objectives so, on this short late autumn day that is all they have to do.

Yet another month goes by, Dalhousie has gone off for yet another ‘well earned’ rest away from the field.  His place is taken by the veteran Portuguese General Le Cor and 7th Division has barely moved forward for four months now so, this campaign has entirely lost impetus and winter by 11th November has arrived. Wellington has them still up against the Grenade redoubt but this time in earnest, their task today to take this place as part of a general attack on the enemy positions about the river Nivelle. On this occasion we have sure figures with no rationalisations a rare thing by now, so:

11th November 1813 (at the battle of the Nivelle)

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PUA 417

This is for all-ranks at their usual ratio of officers to men and shows a steady falling away of numbers, it does appear as though with the army now standing on French soil there is to be no more filling of the ranks with monarchist/deserters, these men have merely to blend into the countryside one would expect, so, what of the action here? It is Inglis Brigade that comes up to the Grenade defences, others have already begun to outflank this strongpoint so the small garrison here use their discretion retiring off before it is too late to escape capture. Falling back on the fortified village of Sare General Rey’s Brigade will stand, make a show of defence but, with numbers gathering against them alarmingly make off again onto the Louis X1V redoubt. Here they at least stand a good chance of giving their tormentors as good as they get themselves. Elements of 4th Division have got ahead best and receive the greater part of this standing fire-fight, Chasseurs Britanniques however have been close enough to the action to take a portion of loss. Two Adjutants, Lieutenant Boussinghault and Ensign Macausland along with 14 of their men have been wounded, 2 others killed and an almost inevitable 3 men have gone “missing”, so:

11th November (after the battle on the Nivelle)

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PAB 398

The three days of fighting during early December named the Battles of the Nive will for these chasseurs come down to a deal of tactical positioning and re-positioning, first close up to the front by the Chateaux St Barbe and then marches about the rear swinging off to the east. Like others they are delayed at the Nive Bridge at Herauritz enduring miserable chilling rain and the ever present mud underfoot to miss all of the serious actions to the north stopping ultimately to go into quarters as the weather disallows any movement whatever. The enforced rest does nothing for their restoration of numbers, 51st Regiment will go out of line to await the pick-up of new equipment and uniforms while the chasseurs dwindle down in the ranks.

Early in 1814 we are again treated to sure figures; which show Chasseurs Britanniques down at:

16th January 1814 (in quarters east of the Nive)

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PUA 324 

Whilst these figures certainly look fragile they are in keeping with two others of Inglis Brigade both 51st and 68th Regiments are much less in number relying on 1/82nd to bolster this Brigade’s numerical strength. Already the pathways are hardening with frosts, Major General George Walker takes over from Le Cor and 7th Division moves up slightly in anticipation of a general advance as the freezing conditions once more allow movement. Gone is 51st Regiment down to St Jean de Luz but off go Inglis and his brigade to start the manoeuvres that will culminate in the battle of Orthez.

This entails much marching mainly at the northern end of Wellington’s line of advance constantly swinging eastward and well to the rear.

Devoid of contact until the day of battle we can deduce that 51st Reg’t, having been re-equipped has made haste to re-join only to be stopped at Peyrehorade that important road junction for communication purposes, and to act as baggage guard. Several major river crossings later Walker will get his men up to the battleground chosen by Marshal Soult to stand and fight, it is:

27th February 1814 (at the battle of Orthez)

Chasseurs Britanniques.                                                                                                                                       
PUA 380

Obviously there has been an influx of men into this unit by whatever means, best we just move on. Walker Division is behind 4th Division on a path following along a low ridge that will bring them directly into contact with the enemy but, at right angles, giving their foes the great advantage of a long, well protected line while the attackers must come on by a narrow stretch of land along this ridge. Each side of the St Boes byway falls away into soft low ground so, attackers are going to be much at risk here. This turns out to be the case when 4th Division Ross Brigade gets the order to move forward. Getting up to and slightly beyond the chapel and the last buildings of the hamlet itself Ross Brigade is brought to ground having begun to take losses without gain. Elsewhere the defensive line has held so that the CIC must re-cast his attacking force if any headway is to be made. When the order comes to go-again it will be Inglis Brigade that gets to contest the pathway up from St Boes. Using Chasseurs Britanniques and Portuguese units of Doyle’s Brigade to fall into the hollow to their left in they go, all as a concerted attack now along the whole exposed front. The chasseurs it seems must always put their officers at the head, in they go suffering as a consequence but with complete success.

Here and there the enemy defence flinches, gaps appear and eventually scattered retirements turn to a general retreat of Soult’s men, not before it seems that some isolated groups of these light-infantrymen have had to hive together to deflect sporadic interference from enemy light cavalry attempting to get amongst them. Three Captains have gone down, one Captain Millius killed on the spot two others to die within days of mortal wounds Captains Arnet de Cueille and Joseph de Prevot, Lieutenants Macausland, Mathew Dalton, John Juliani and Charles de Platel with Ensign Aylmer Dalton and 20 of their men wounded, 5 more killed and, for the last time 12 men go “missing”. The daylight hours are short in February so that as the enemy disappear at some pace the army will stop after a few short miles of pursuit, settle down on the cold hard ground and make the best of it.

27th February 1814 (after the battle of Orthez) 

Chasseurs Britanniques                                                                                                                                        
PAB 335

In all of this the 7th Division commander Walker has been wounded, unsurprisingly who should turn up when all has settled down but Dalhousie. Events for 7th Division from now on will suit him down to the ground, he gets orders to turn off from the general advance, take a sharp left going northward to head for Bordeaux where messengers have for some time been exhorting Wellington to make a strong gesture on behalf of the local population of that provincial centre to cast off the Imperial yoke and declare for the Bourbon cause. Dalhousie will take his men by steady marches to come up to that place, pick up 51st Regiment from Peyrehorade on his way to arrive at the gates by the end of March.

For our valiant chasseur officers and their somewhat ambivalent rank and file the war is at an end. No doubt with all of the practice learned on “how to go missing” this capability will be put to very good use, hardly likely then that any of these worthy battlers will show up on the field in the Waterloo campaign of 1815!  

Their battalion had already been disbanded on Christmas Day of 1814.                                     

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2011

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