Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on the Portuguese Infantry of the Peninsular War 1807-1814: 2nd Regiment of Algarve (Lagos)and the 14th Regiment of Algarve (Tavira)

By Ray Foster

Fonseca’s Brigade of Hamilton’s Division

Both of these Regiments had recruiting areas deep in the south of the country on the southern coastline of Portugal where the war was slow to have effect, even so they were both able, when the call came, to assemble good numbers in time to join Marshal William Carr Beresford's re-organisation. It was a simple enough task to brigade them together where they remained joined from beginning to end. 2nd Pl had acquired one Major Robert Ray [ex Lieutenant of 50th Reg’t of Foot] who would remain with them throughout hostilities while 14th PL had gained two Lieutenant Colonels, James Oliver and John McDonald [the latter an inveterate “medal collector”]. As with the others their first figures will be seen in September of 1809 when they were being brought into field service at the frontier.

15th Sept 1809 [on the Biera frontier]

1/2nd
770 PUA

2/2nd
531 PUA

1/14th
770 PUA

2/14th
469 PUA

It will be a full year before these men are seen ready for action, they have a brigade commander who will remain with them for a considerable time one Brigadier Fonseca and arrive with Hill's 2nd Division at the southern end of the ridge by Busaco in late September. They are not engaged but Order of the Day shows them to have brought up numbers to virtual full establishment.

27th Sept 1810 [at the battle of Busaco ridge]

1/2nd
770 PUA

2/2nd
547 PUA

1/14th
770 PUA

2/14th
603 PUA

When the army falls back on the defensive line about Torres Vedres this fine brigade loses some of its men, in fact in excess of 270 men for whatever reason. So only one month later down about the Tagus river valley they will stand at;

29th Oct 1810 [in the Tagus valley]

1/2nd
691 PUA

2/2nd
491 PUA

1/14th
691 PUA

2/14th
540 PUA

The brigade has already been brought together with a similar other brigade of Portuguese regular infantry to form a Division under the ageing Major General John Hamilton and in future will always be found close to the British 2nd Division to form that semi independent corps under Major General [Lieutenant General after January 1812] Rowland Hill often acting in the Estremaduran theatre. Hill is brought down with malaria in the winter of early 1811 so that when we next see Fonseca's men they will be with Hamilton, who now acts under Marshal Beresford as overall commander and are at Albuera. It is early May, the infamous battle rages elsewhere while 2nd & 14th Reg'ts have an almost bloodless day of it! We shall in fact see a rise in numbers due to returnees from those lost earlier, well in excess of those ten men lost on a day when so many other good men on all sides went down.

5th May 1811 [after the slaughter at Albuera]

1/2nd
701 PAB

2/2nd

502 PAB

1/14th
701 PAB

2/14th
516 PAB

By the end of May it seems that the brigade has become involved in the re-investment of the fortress Badajoz with its tedious trench work, on 31st May Lieutenant Colonel James Oliver of 14th Regiment is mortally wounded down in the trenches to die six days later. Now follows a strange move, Wellington had visited Albuera a few days after the battle, taken some time to draw together a "solution" to the dilemma created by such massive losses in the Estremaduran Corps and as a part of the plan sends off Fonseca's Brigade to Castello Branco. This only by 8th August, not in isolation however but along with a large number of what can only be described as the wrecks of Beresford/Hill's 2nd Division, (Hill had returned by 3rd June). Other bits and pieces of the Albuera army go too ostensibly to form a link between Wellington's command in the north and Hill's in the south. At this time in the war Castello Branco was a fairly safe staging area for troops coming into field service for the first time so that it can be safely asserted that Fonseca's lads were for a while out of the play. There is a set of figures for this time so:

Mid Oct 1811 [about Castello Branco]

1/2nd
746 PUA

2/2nd

535 PUA

1/14th
747 PUA

2/14th
549 PUA

As the war goes into 1812 there will be much action for the northern part of the army but Fonseca's men are once more drawn back down to re-join Hill's Corps which has the job of keeping the enemy forces south of the Tagus under French General Drouet d Erlon occupied. This takes them on long marches hither and thither about the countryside along the Guadiana valley and eventually when the spring has turned to summer, the battle on the Arapiles fought by the northern army, [seemingly a Major Ralph Wylde of 14th PL is wounded there] and into early autumn events have re-shaped the balance of forces to such an extent that Marshal Nicholas Soult's Corps (and D Erlon's who acted under him) was compelled to leave his "Vice-Royalty" in Andalusia, going by Murcia to Valencia. This left Hill able to march on Madrid, at the beginning of September then, we have figures for that time the brigade still very strong at;

1st Sept 1812 [on the march up the Tagus valley to Madrid]

1/2nd
697 PUA

2/2nd
500 PUA

1/14th
698 PUA

2/14th
503 PUA

A month later the whole army is on the move again, Fonseca is gone so the brigade has a new master Da Costa he soon has a job in action; the brigade is part of a force holding the rearguard position which puts them in contact with the enemy on the Alba de Tormes defensive area, they have about five days of off and on fighting to do but in terms of casualties suffer a loss of only forty four men. From there it is then a matter of getting back to the Portuguese border in as good an order as possible in the early winter rains. This brigade seems to have held together very well considering the sad losses of others on this dismal retreat real figures are hard to come by but cannot be far from:

29th Nov 1812 [on the frontier by Cuidad Rodrigo]

1/2nd
644 PUA

2/2nd
461 PUA

1/14th
644 PUA

2/14th
473 PUA

Winter settles down with the two opponents standing well apart both sides in dire need of repair Hamilton's Division being well found at least for numbers spent this time to the fore out in the field rather than back in safe friendly cantonments. This does not seem to have done them any harm since when the spring is turning to summer of 1813 and the great march towards the French borders begins they look as healthy as any other corps may wish to be.

25th May 1813 [on the march north to Vittoria]

1/2nd
722 PUA

2/2nd
517 PUA

1/14th
722 PUA

2/14th
530 PUA

By now Hamilton who is not a well man has been forced to stand down through illness his place at the head of the Division goes to General Silviera, Da Costa still hold the Brigade [the other commanded by Campbell of course] as off they go on the march up to Vittoria without incident and indeed, on the day of the battle stand in safe reserve, nett result, no casualties. So far then it has been a lucky war for these men, things are about to change as Hill's Corps head for the slopes of the western Pyrenees. In the first instance it is the British/Portuguese army which is doing the chasing until the ridges and passes are cleared of the enemy but, quite soon, this beaten foe is turned about, comes to rest and when Marshal Soult re-enters Peninsula military affairs this time as the CIC of all the forces on this theatre of the war, things for a while become difficult.

Defending the left of the British positions up in the hills Da Costa's men are brought to battle at a place some six or so miles northwest of Sorauren and on 30th July after a good deal of manoeuvring about fight a general action at Buenza. The enemy is "full on" led at this time by their old adversary D Erlon and Da Costa has his brigade split, 1/2/2nd on the right flank of a defensive line while 1/2/14th are away on the far left. General Darmagnac’ Division is first on the scene starting mildly but, having found themselves opposed ‘only’ by Portuguese wind up the action into a serious attempt to gain a victory. Not so, 2nd Regiment although never before having been in the fierce heat of battle acquitted themselves admirably delivering shattering volleys with decisive result, on the far left 14th in concert with the slowly retiring centre was being forced while fighting steadily to give ground by degree. Swinging back to maintain contact with the Hill’s British/Portuguese array 1/2/2nd would lose as many as 21 men taken prisoner, on the far flank 1/2/14th also lost 19 men by this movement. The enemy eventually contented itself by taking up ground and awaiting the arrival of the survivors of the Second Battle at Sorauren, this of course a beaten disintegrating army of utterly disordered men!

It is time to count heads so by the time that things settle down and Hill's force have come to a halt the brigade will have lost some 284 men, 2nd hardest hit with no less than 85 rank & file killed in the musket duel, 81 more wounded and those 21 earlier taken prisoner. In 14th 23 men are dead 36 wounded and those other 19 captured, of officers Major [acting Lieutenant Colonel] Ray and 8 Portuguese officers of 2nd and Captain Thomas Potter and 4 more Portuguese officers of 14thare hit while Captain Dugold McGibbon and two other officers of 2nd have been killed.

30th July 1813 [after the battle at Buenza]

1/2nd
605 PAB

2/2nd
433 PAB

1/14th
673 PAB

2/14th
494 PAB

Silviera holds on to the Division command until Hamilton returns on 5th October, still a little groggy lasting only a month before he is compelled to leave, this time to go home altogether. During this same period it seems that Da Costa also vacates his position when Gen' Buchan has the brigade this does not last long either as we see Da Costa return in time for the fight on the Nivelle. Whilst the brigade will lose 33 men in this combat they have already had an influx of returnees prior to that event so that by the end of that day they are:

10th Nov 1813 [across the Nivelle]

1/2nd
646 PAB

2/2nd
463 PAB

1/14th
719 PAB

2/14th
527 PAB

It is winter when we see the brigade just a month further down the track; they are positioned on a hill spur looking north towards Bayonne, on the defensive as it turns out when Soult, once more on offensive sends his troops forward to assault this position. It is all a part of his initiative to get some advantage from the general terrain, which has compelled Wellington to split his units at the ends of several of these hill spurs. This particular one was named after the hamlet of St Pierre d Arrube and coming up was General Abbe's Division, a worthy foe indeed. Although British accounts of this combat extol the staunch resistance put up by their own good men it is as well to mention that a large, if not the main defence was effected with Hamilton's Division (now in the hands of the Portuguese veteran commander Major General Le Cor) and Brigadier General Charles Ashworth’s brigade a long time third Portuguese component companion of 2nd Division who all fought themselves to a standstill, as did their doughty enemy, almost every unit involved going dangerously close to running out of ammunition before late reinforcements saved the day. For Da Costa Brigade their day began in rear reserve on the left of the hill position looking north and whilst others were fighting to the death there they remained for the better part of the whole day. It was only when Hill fearing a breakthrough himself led them forward to the hill edge, Sir William Stewart that swashbuckling British firebrand was decisively engaged in a last desperate counter-attack that their own weight was to be used. It would be 1/2/14th that took the brunt of the casualties in Da Costa's brigade bursting into the action enough to have 52 men killed and 68 wounded in a very short time, the only British officer recorded as being hit was Lieutenant Daniel Donavan of that regiment while 1/2/2nd in close support would lose 19 men killed and 29 injured. Between them the two regiments lost 13 men taken captive, obviously the fight here was at quite close quarters and for a short time still hanging in the balance. Interestingly as General Abbe’s men fell back in total exhaustion General Darmagnac’s Division coming up into the killing zone took in the scene, saw their opposition and refused to go on, both sides had had their fill of slaughter, gave the defiant sign of warriors well matched and left the field, so:

13th Dec 1813 [after the battle of St’ Pierre d Arrube]

1/2nd
614 PAB

2/2nd
480 PAB

1/14th
642 PAB

2/14th
470 PAB

Their next appearance is less than satisfactory, at least for their commander, it is 2nd March 1814 and the brigade is set to cross a tributary of the Ardour, the Grave, the fight was named the combat of Aire. The men cross the stream well enough but, when they come up against the enemy, well ready and close formed up on the hill beyond the water they receive their fire and, losing over 100 men are thrown back, at this reverse the brigadier by early 19th Century standards sets a poor example by continuing to retreat. It is left to the leader of the 14th Regiment one Colonel Avilles to rally his own men and make a stand, it will be here that Captain Potter is again wounded, however this recovers the situation but when all is over Beresford hearing of this event sends Da Costa off to the Lisbon HQ, to be dismissed the Service, Colonel Joao de Almeida gets the brigade. One cannot help but conjecture that perhaps the recalcitrant ex-leader had already a score or two against his name!

It only remains to march the men up to the great fortress town of Toulouse where, when the battle takes place Brigade Almeida is spared the work that day and will be able to march off back to the Algarve country having last stood to arms with ;

10th April 1814 [on the field at Toulouse]

1/2nd
503 PUA

2/2nd
393 PUA

1/14th
561 PUA

2/14th
413 PUA

Addendum:

It has been mentioned above, in the period about October 1813 that one General Buchan held the Brigade for a short while, and this I believe is in error, brought about as a result of a mistake in Oman's Appendix where his compiler has the two brigades wrongly entered. (V7P539).

Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2012

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