Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on the Portuguese Infantry of the Peninsular War 1807-1814: 1st Caçadores of Castello de Vide, 3rd Caçadores of Villa Real, and the 17th Regiment of Elvas

By Ray Foster

Attached to Light Brigade/Division

Having already dealt with the rest of the Light Infantry battalions of the Portuguese service as parts of established brigades it becomes now the turn of those two units that came to be integral parts of the brigaded British Light Division.

1st Caçadores came from the border area a little north of Portalegre running up into the hills to the eastern frontier.

3rd Caçadores recruiting area was north of the Douro just east of Amarante.

Neither unit had much trouble raising the required numbers for when Marshal William Carr Beresford presented first figures they were very healthy at:

15th September 1809 [standing to arms unattached]

1st Caçadores
620 PUA

3rd Caçadores
607 PUA

When the original Light Brigade receives these two battalions it also has the use of 2nd 4th & 6th Caçadores all of this when the army began to retire before Massena's advancing army in early 1810. Major General Robert Craufurd soon decides who he will take from all of these, having been given first 2nd Caçadores officially. As early as May that year 1st & 3rd Caçadores are to all intents joined to the British brigades, so that when Craufurd rashly decides to stand before the ravine of the Coa by Almeida the Caçadores are put in the line in a central position. It is now nearly the end of July and the French Marshal Michel Ney is coming on with a force of all arms, the whole of 6th Corps Army of Portugal. The story is well told, in fact over well told by every Light Division propagandist who had a friend present, suffice it to say that on the day:

24th July 1810 [on the Coa at Almeida]

1st Caçadores
562 PUA

3rd Caçadores
685 PUA

Being well protected on either flank they get off with only 16 casualties for 1st Caçadores and 29 for 3rd Caçadores.

Two months later on the ridge at Busaco they will be ready in line with:

27th September 1810 [on the ridge at Busaco]

1st Caçadores
546 PUA

3rd Caçadores
656 PUA

The action for Light Division brings 3rd Caçadores down into the village of Sula where they do battle with the enemy skirmishers being drip fed companies of 1st Caçadores until all are ejected and retire back on the main body. 3rd Caçadores having the most of this work lose 80 men killed and woundedwhilst 1st Caçadores as late comers are only 23 men down when all is over.

28th September 1810 [after the skirmish on the Busaco ridge]

1st Caçadores
523 PAB

3rd Caçadores
576 PAB

The army retires back on the lines of Torres Vedras and in doing so the Portuguese content of Light Division loses a considerable number [over 150 men] so that by the end of October they can only muster;

29th October 1810 [in the Torres Vedras Lines]

1st Caçadores
459 PUA

3rd Caçadores
505 PUA

During the winter stay on the eastern end of the defensive perimeter facing Santarem there is the same great loss of men through poor attention to detail, in Light Division as elsewhere. Our only insight into this period is that entry in WD of 31st Mar'1811 where Wellington is pressing home to the Portuguese "authorities" his disgust for their efforts and, at the same time allowing his own administration to be made aware of what a hard job he has himself! He only at this time mentions Major John Algeo’s 1st Caçadores in his tirade but the figure is significantly down, by 23%, I have applied the same reduction to Major George Elder’s 3rd Caçadores who cannot have fared much better when we understand that the whole service was under some pressure to perform, having but the immediate area about Lisbon to call upon for its logistics;

31st March 1811 [in the Torres Vedras Lines]

1st Caçadores
352 PUA

3rd Caçadores
389 PUA

When Marshal Andre Massena's army leaves the country Light Division is well to the fore having sharp contacts from time to time as Marshal Ney’s rear-guard stands its ground at strong terrain, resists for a while, and then departs again. Passing through Redinha Captain William Chapman of 1st Caçadores is seriously wounded. By the time that the combat at Sabugal is fought, on 3rd April 3rd Caçadores will have lost a further 65 men while 1st Caçadores lose only 33 by the same series of actions. It is only a month later that we see the army assembled on the field at Fuentes d Onoro and rather strangely figures for the Caçadores have been remarkably raised by almost 40%!

Author’s note: It is a part of my ordinary but possibly cynical character to suspect that someone within the system had a vested interest in presenting figures occasionally that would give a boost to that interest, what today we would call "spin doctoring". That someone I suspect was very high up in the system!

I digress, at Fuentes d Onoro then Light Division are called upon to rescue 7th Division on the second day of fighting, the CIC having put that brand new untried light infantry corps far out on his right flank and Massena, having sent against them an overwhelming force. 1st Caçadores manage to do their duty without incurring a single casualty and 3rd Caçadores only lose 24 men by all of the supposed desperate action to bring off Houston's Division.

5th May 1811 [after the rearguard incident at Fuentes de Onoro]

1st Caçadores
450 PAB

3rd Caçadores
423 PAB

In late September 1811 the Light Division is out on the far right of a too thinly spread screen observing Marshal Auguste Marmont's army about Cuidad Rodrigo, 3rd Division is compromised at El Bodon when the enemy cavalry is sent against them in large numbers and this whole, not too finely spun, web of outposts has to rapidly de-camp to re-assemble to the rear at Fuente Guinaldo where we shall have our last figures for 1811:

25th September 1811 [at Fuente Guinaldo]

1st Caçadores
488 PUA

3rd Caçadores
465 PUA

The army is not long into its winter quarters when the CIC decides to go on the offensive; it is in fact only the first week of the New Year. The siege and storm of Cuidad Rodrigo rapidly followed by the same at Badajoz was very hard on all involved, so hard it seems that no one could be found to document any details regarding losses incurred by these events, at least for our interest, the Portuguese infantry. We do know that in 1st Caçadores Captain Donald McDonald has been killed at Badajoz while in 3rd Caçadores Captain William Dobbin has been hit early, down in the trench works, Captain Powell Morphew killed in the breach and Lieutenant Colonel George Elder wounded there so, that is all we have to go on. With absolutely nothing in respect of the rank & file I can only leave this period to the reader's imagination and pass on to the next campaign. Significantly Major General Robert Craufurd their Divisional head is long dead left in the walls of Cuidad Rodrigo and already we are beginning to see a non-too subtle change to this so-called elite corps.

Light Division comes up to the position at the Arapiles and when the battle takes place will be far out on the left flank merely observing its opposite numbers the men of General Maximilien Foy Division, there is some mild skirmishing which results in a loss of 17 men amongst the Caçadores of 1st & 3rd so:

23rd July 1812 [after the skirmish at the Arapiles]

1st Caçadores
537 PAB

3rd Caçadores
512 PAB

Off they go to Madrid and a pleasant victory march which carries on to be a gentle rest period when Wellington takes others away with him up to Burgos, we have some figures for this period so:

1st September 1812 [in the Madrid environs]

1st Caçadores
530 PUA

3rd Caçadores
506 PUA

When the combined armies of King Joseph Bonaparte/Marshals Jourdan and Soult force Hill's Corps to abandon Madrid eventually to retire all the way back to the Agueda frontier area we are treated to a mish-mash of figures which defy ratification. In the case of Light Division now under the command of Major General Charles Von Alten we have changes to its composition whilst the retreat is in progress with no reference to whether or not these changes have been included / excluded in the general totals. It has been mentioned elsewhere that 20th Portuguese Line were included in the figures during the retreat, there were also some companies of riflemen from Colonel John Skerrett’s corps who would have been made a part too. When we consider the chaos of the retreat it is perhaps no-ones fault that the adjutant no less than the men was more interested in saving his skin than keeping accounts, I have made a crystal-ball judgment and expect to see:

29th November 1812 [at rest behind the Agueda]

1st Caçadores
422 PUA

3rd Caçadores
406 PUA

As was normal enough for Light Division they spend the winter and spring out on point duty but not particularly close to the enemy who are at this time digesting the unpalatable details of the disaster which has befallen the Grande Armee in Russia.

During the spring of 1813 an event takes place, which no historian to the best of my knowledge has ventured to rationalise.

It is the inclusion into Light Division of a Portuguese Line Regiment, 17th of Elvas.[1]

In late April of 1813 the Portuguese content then will look like this;

26th April 1813 [cantoned in Portugal prior to the Vittoria campaign]

1st Caçadores
602 PUA

3rd Caçadores
453 PUA

1/17th
520 PUA

2/17th
408 PUA

The march up to and the battle at Vittoria prove to be easy on the Light Division Portuguese component who at the end of that conflict should look like this;

21st June 1813 [after the battle on the Zadorra]

1st Caçadores
596 PAB

3rd Caçadores
439 PAB

1/17th
506 PAB

2/17th
389 PAB

Following this battle there is a great deal of confused marching and counter-marching in the upper Bastan. So much so that Alten actually loses contact completely with both the enemy and his CIC reducing this elite corps to mere spectators at the end of those crushing combats being played out between Soult’s men and Wellington’s about Sorauren and Buenza. Only coming up all too late above the Bridge of Yantzi after some difficult cross-country work of a frustratingly exhausting nature, casualties merge with attrition losses until in early October we have a sure figure to work with.

The Division is beyond the Bidassoa having to assault entrenched works behind and to the north of the hamlet of Vera, for the combined 1st and 3rd Caçadores this involved a serious fight before the Star Fort of St’ Benoit where they lost as many as 111 of all ranks K&W, amongst the former Lieutenant Colonel Algeo of 1st Caçadores is killed, hit also is Lieutenant John Mathison and 20 or so of his men of 17th.

7th October 1813 [after the combats at the Heights of Vera]

1st Caçadores
520 PAB

3rd Caçadores
394 PAB

1/17th
482 PAB

2/17th
388 PAB

Following on from this combat at Vera we run into the same old trouble regarding the keeping of figures in this Division, all is collated by brigade; which of course includes the British content in Light Division unlike the others. It seems when the text is taken as correct that on one particular day in November 17th could only muster 700 bayonets in the field, a sobering thought with the battle on the Nivelle to be dealt with just ten days before this information comes to light. Yet again out comes the crystal ball:

10th November 1813 [on the Nivelle line]

1st Caçadores
429 PAB

3rd Caçadores
452 PAB

1/17th
458 PAB

2/17th
302 PAB

Next figures are very much as a result of casualties, the Light Division is at the oft-celebrated combat at the chapel at Arcangues as a part of the battles on the Nive. Whilst a great deal is made of the long-range duel between British rifles and French cannon it does appear that a high proportion of the work was done through the combined efforts of the Caçadores battalions. After it is all decided 3rd Caçadores have lost Captain Daniel Kirk killed and 25 others killed, wounded, and prisoners, 1st Caçadores lose 49 of all ranks killed, wounded, and prisoners while Lieutenant Colonel Snodgrass gets hit the next day so, all may well stand down at:

11th December 1813 [after the combats at Arcangues]

1st Caçadores
380 PAB

3rd Caçadores
478 PAB

1/17th
443 PAB

2/17th
276 PAB

During an enforced pause in warlike pursuits brought on through the torrential winter rains the Adjutants Office brings forth a full set of figures that will show our men at:

16th January 1814 [cantoned on the Nive south of Bayonne]

1st Caçadores
412 PUA

3rd Caçadores
318 PUA

1/17th
353 PUA

2/17th
258 PUA

When the Division marches east after the French these numbers will have been brought up by some 12% overall, they will come up to the field at Orthez with this slight increase of numbers due no doubt to welcome drafts, the weather is wintry so it cannot be expected that many of these would be returning convalescents.

27th February 1814 [on the field at Orthez]

1st Caçadores
434 PUA

3rd Caçadores
407 PUA

1/17th
413 PUA

2/17th
246 PUA

At this affair 17th is untouched, 3rd Caçadores suffering 26 men killed and wounded a good few less than 1st Caçadores at 47 killed and wounded so that a head count will show:

27th February 1814 [after the battle at Orthez]

1st Caçadores
408 PAB

3rd Caçadores
360 PAB

1/2/17th
As before

In the final run eastwards to Toulouse the army generally have attrition losses; which appear to have had little effect on the hardy men of this tiny corps. When Light Division come up to the field for the assault on Toulouse they are to be only used as a reserve at the northern end of Mont Rave, the position to their front being taken care of by the Spanish main force.

Once more 17th get to just look on incurring only penetration losses it being left to the Caçadore battalions to incur the losses this day;:

10th April 1814 [on the field north of Toulouse]

1st Caçadores
399 PUA

3rd Caçadores
423 PUA

1/17th
410 PUA

2/17th
244 PUA

Last figures then:

11th April 1814 [after the battle for Toulouse]

1st Caçadores
364 PAB

3rd Caçadores
405 PAB

1/17th
405 PAB

2/17th
244 PAB

[1]Author’s Footnote:

We are made very much aware of the exalted nature of the Light Division by all of its promoters both ancient and modern but here we are in the early spring of 1813 about to embark on the expulsion of all of the French armies from Spain with as much speed and alacrity as such an elite corps can muster when quite out of the blue they are lumbered with a Line Regiment, an ex-garrison unit and a “Native” one at that!

Things had certainly changed since the heady days of Robert Craufurd's Generalship, it is well recorded in WD that this Division had the most effective logistics in the army, why then tax them with the inclusion of around 1000 line infantrymen whose history included so much time sitting about as garrison in Elvas and later Badajoz for well over two war years?

Certainly 7th Division the composition of which predominantly contained light infantry battalions had always contained those two Portuguese Line Regiments 7th and 19th in Doyle’s Brigade and by this time had also taken up several British Line battalions.

Possibly then the Horse Guards and the CIC, expecting to be conducting a war of a more aggressive nature in 1813 would be less inclined to put critical value on those special light infantry no-man’s-land defensive front line attributes displayed so prominently in the early years.

When apportioning battalions to brigades Oman and his appendices compiler suddenly fell short of their normal treatment of these Divisional statistics; in the early days 1st and 3rd Caçadores show as integral parts of the two British brigades.

This treatment changes when 17th Line Regiment joins, all then fall into an imaginary Portuguese brigade [significantly no Brigadier however]. For more information on the 17th Line Regiment, see 5th and 17th Regiments of Elvas

Finally it will be of some interest perhaps to see that throughout this presentation no Brigadier’s names appear for these Portuguese elements of Light Division, they will of course be found as part of their British led status thus, for almost the whole period under examination 1st Caçadores dwelt in the 1st Brigade and 3rd Caçadores in 2nd Brigade, upon joining 17th Line Regiment resided in 2nd Brigade also.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2012

 

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