Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on the Portuguese Infantry of the Peninsular War 1807-1814: 3rd Regiment of Olivenza (Beira) and 15th Regiment of Olivenza (Beira), and 8th Caçadores 

By Ray Foster

Spry’s Brigade (Attached to 5th Division)

These two regiments, named for Olivenza on the eastern side of the Guadiana below Badajoz were unable to use that town or its adjacent area for recruiting as it fell variously into the hands of all of the contending parties to the struggle during the period under examination. They were drawn from the Beira district centred on Lamego; however, this was not particularly successful, as first figures will show indeed it continued to be difficult to hold together throughout the period. When first brigaded under Marshal William Carr Beresford's re-organisation it had but two single battalions.

15th Sept 1809 [on the Beira frontier line]

1/3rd
697 PUA

1/15th
577 PUA

Over the next year the brigade was briefly led by Lieutenant Colonel Richard Collins of 83rd Regiment and this as part of 4th Division [February 1810], however numbers are increased sufficiently to be put in line with the newly formed British 5th Division its commander now one Brigadier/Colonel William Spry [late of 77th], and on the Busaco ridge it will stand thus;

27th Sept 1810 [on the field at Busaco]

1/3rd
700 PUA

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                     
434 PUA

1/15th                                                                                                                                                                   
550 PUA

2/15th                                                                                                                                                                   
355 PUA

On the day of the battle they stand in reserve so, suffer no casualties, picking up drafts on the way down to Lisbon and the lines about Torres Vedras.   Using a little hindsight I have put these extra men with 15th Regiment, so:

29th Oct 1810 [in the Torres Vedras defensive lines]

1/3rd
700 PUA

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                     
434 PUA  

1/15th                                                                                                                                                                   
612 PUA                            

2/15th
417 PUA

During the winter stay down at the "Lines" this brigade, like so many other of the Portuguese regulars suffered heavy loss of numbers, it has to be said that competition for shelter and the basic necessities of life was fierce there being so many soldiers and civilians crowded into such a small dense area. Figures seen in WD show a pathetic situation for Spry's Brigade.

31st Mar 1811 [still cantoned in the “Lines”]

1/3rd
371 PUA

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                     
230 PUA

1/15th
274 PUA

2/15th
186 PUA

8th Caçadores                                                                                                                                                         
378 PUA

They have during this spell of disarray received into the brigade a battalion of the old LLL that fine Legion of light infantry raised about Oporto by Sir Robert Wilson and others back in 1808, these men, short on numbers are to be designated in future as 8th Caçadores, at the time however Wellington observed, that "they looked a very sorry bunch". By the time they get up to the field about Fuentes d Onoro in May they could be said to have recovered a little but, still remain very much under-strength at:

1st May 1811 [on the field at Fuentes d Onoro]

1/3rd
442 PUA

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                     
282 PUA

1/15th
333 PUA

2/15th
223 PUA

8th Caçadores                                                                                                                                                         
478 PUA

Only 8th Caçadores who have managed well to drag up their numbers are engaged on the two days of fighting at Fuentes' and they only lose six men all told, the brigade continues to slowly improve its figures over the next four months and, when we next see them they will be standing at Fuente Guinaldo, most likely thus;

15th Sept 1811 [at and about Fuente Guinaldo]

1/3rd
512 PUA

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                     
317 PUA

1/15th
381 PUA 

2/15th
257 PUA 

8th Caçadores                                                                                                                                                         
547 PUA 

In the late autumn and early winter Spry's Brigade of 5th Division continue to make up numbers so that when the Division goes off to put Cuidad Rodrigo and later Badajoz under siege and storm, this component, being principally held in reserve for most of the time, will show an encouraging increase. It is recorded however that Captain Breunig of 8th Caçadores had been killed and Capt’ O’Neal of 15th PL had been severely wounded in the storm of the latter fortress during the successful escalade mounted by Major General George Walker’s 5th Division. Next figures take us to the summer of 1812 and the time of the marching manoeuvres leading up to the battle on the Arapiles so:

12th July 1812 [on the Arapiles south of Salamanca]

1/3rd
540 PUA

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                     
385 PUA 

1/15th                                                                                                                                                                    
480 PUA   

2/15th
340 PUA 

8th Caçadores                                                                                                                                                         
560 PUA 

On the big day on the Arapiles the first amongst Spry's brigade to feel the enemy cannon-fire would be 8th Caçadores being out ahead with the Division’s skirmishers, as things developed however, such casualties as were inflicted came "across the board" as the brigade was thrown out into full five battalion line coming on in support of 3rd Division to their right front and 4th Division on their left rear.   Becoming entangled with the adventures of 4th Division we see Captain Beyrimhof  de Aubrey of 8th Caçadores seriously injured.  The day having been won however, it was time to count heads and so:

23rd July 1812 [after the fight on the Arapiles]

1/3rd
511 PAB

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                      
368 PAB 

1/15th
454 PAB 

2/15th
322 PAB

8th Caçadores                                                                                                                                                         
530 PAB 

After the triumphant march to Madrid they go, along with the rest of 5th Division to the north and the siege of Burgos, not a pretty adventure at all, the CIC gets it all wrong and the troops engaged in this petty struggle are all on a "hiding to nowhere".

In the ensuing retreat 8th Caçadores are briefly seen on the Carrion River crossing on rearguard duty in late October both Captain Charles Western [an old LLL veteran] and Ensign/Adjutant James Leech are wounded hereabouts but, moving on it will be best to pass over the agonising pause on the Arapiles position so that the much distressed troops can once more rest up having got behind the Agueda in the vicinity of Cuidad Rodrigo. Even though this is a brigade attached for logistical support to the British system they are, like most of the rest of the army, reduced to skeletal proportions and, in the absence of detailed figures must be estimated to look very much like this;

29th Nov 1812 [behind the Agueda]

1/3rd
260 PUA

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                     
186 PUA 

1/15th
232 PUA

2/15th
163 PUA

8th Caçadores                                                                                                                                                         
270 PUA

These 1100 survivors upon reaching their HQ at Lamego are given time to bring numbers up to a respectable level so that six months later as the spring is turning to summer we shall expect to see out on the road north a rejuvenated Brigade, still under Spry and still with 5th Division.

25th May 1813 [on the march north out of Portugal]

1/3rd
557 PUA

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                              
400 PUA

1/15th                                                                                                                                                                 
498 PUA 

2/15th                                                                                                                                                                 
351 PUA 

8th   Caçadores                                                                                                                                                       
550 PUA 

On the day at Vittoria Spry's men are thrown out to the extreme left of Graham's northern flank, they find themselves close to Longa and his Spanish Corps at Gamora Mayor, casualties this day come to more than 80 men throughout the brigade, Captain Thomas Smith of 3rd PL, Major Archibald Campbell of 15th PL and Major Dudley Hill of 8th Caçadores are amongst the wounded here. We are made aware elsewhere that attrition on the march up to Vittoria had been slight; we can expect then that the figures would look like this:

21st June 1813 [after the combat on the Grande Chaussee north of Vittoria]

1/3rd
544 PAB

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                      
400 PAB 

1/15th
481 PAB 

2/15th
340 PAB 

8th Caçadores                                                                                                                                                         
510 PAB 

In July 5th Division along with Spry's Brigade are to be found before the sea-coast fortress San Sebastian where 8th Caçadores are told off with others to assault the outer bastian of San Bartoleme, it is not a simple task. They lose some 65 of their number for their efforts only to be followed a few weeks later by another perhaps more traditional form of employment.

They are to lay down a line of sniper fire on the walls before them while a mine under the counterscarp is touched off. Very little goes right with this, also the main event which was supposed to go ahead in conjunction with this died, literally, this day the brigade lose 138 men, there will be more to come. On 27th July the brigade has trench guard duty and the Duty officer Major George O' Halloran of the British 4th Regiment [a part of 5th Division], is surprised by a sudden sortie from the besieged, not only are another 171 men put out of action but, the majority of these have been made prisoner.  So far then the brigade is light by 374 men KW&P and the place is still intact and in the hands of the enemy. It will be as well to have a count of heads about now before the real storm breaks:

27th July 1813 [before the walls at San Sebastian]

1/3rd
426 PAB

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                      
310 PAB 

1/15th
376 PAB 

2/15th
262 PAB

8th Caçadores                                                                                                                                                         
410 PAB 

It is now just a little over a month later the 5th Division officers have demanded that the honour of storming the fortress must remain with them, Oh Dear! Look out lads. On 31st August Spry's men have the great relief to see themselves stand as reserve, it is not too long however before this reserve is sorely needed.  Up into the breach they go and on over the top into the town to create merry hell. Militarily it finishes a long-drawn-out tussle brought expensively to a sanguinary success, the brigade was accumulatively 408 men lighter by this success, in this last storm Major Charles Campbell of 3rd PL had been wounded and his Adjutant Ensign William Hill killed, so:

1st September 1813 [after the storm of San Sebastian]

1/3rd
352 PAB

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                      
256 PAB

1/15th                                                                                                                                                                    
259 PAB

2/15th                                                                                                                                                                    
181 PAB 

8th Caçadores                                                                                                                                                         
327 PAB 

It may be of some interest to learn that when Major General Spry was giving out honours he erroneously mentions Colonel McCrae of 3rd Regiment, this officer was not even present; it was Major Charles Campbell who led on 3rd. For the record it was Colonel de Regoa who led 15th and Lieutenant Colonel Hill who brought up 8th Caçadores. At some point here Spry the long time leader of this brigade disappears from the reckoning falling ill to die during January 1814 his place being taken by De Regoa and it is he who will "pick up the pieces" drawing in from somewhere a good draft of returnees who will partly fill the ranks ready for the next operation which is the crossing of the Bidassoa into France. It is difficult to discover exactly what the casualties were that day, 7th October, but all in all the brigade has increased somewhat by then:

7th October 1813 [on the Bidassoa]

1/3rd
439 PAB

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                      
319 PAB

1/15th
294 PAB

2/15th
255 PAB

8th Caçadores                                                                                                                                                         
408 PAB

On the Nivelle in early November of 1813 De Regoa Brigade have an easy job demonstrating, this earns them 19 casualties but, because there had been a steady trickle of returnees coming back to the ranks they would show a slight increase after this combat:

10th November 1813 [after the crossing of the Nivelle]

1/3rd
447 PAB

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                      
325 PAB

1/15th
298 PAB  

2/15th
259 PAB 

8th Caçadores                                                                                                                                                         
415 PAB  

In the separated battles about the Nive and approaches to Bayonne in December 5th Division and De Regoa Brigade are at Barroullet, this is all messy work in and out of dips and hollows coppices and hedges with no recognisable "line", in the confused fighting the brigade will lose 272 men of which no less than 85 are captured and taken off prisoners. This Brigade at the end of the day has figures which would suggest a reduction to single battalions, however, throughout the hostilities they are shown by Mr’s Oman to be of two battalion composition and since this will be the very last confrontation with the enemy it will perhaps be best to allow De Regoa to remain brigadier over a five battalion corps to the end!

11th December 1813 [after the fighting about the Barroullet]

1/3rd
386 PAB

2/3rd                                                                                                                                                                      
281 PAB

1/15th
226 PAB 

2/15th
196 PAB

8th Caçadores                                                                                                                                                         
381 PAB

Remaining a part of 5th Division to the end the brigade vanishes from view as winter turns to spring and the war draws to a close, they are not involved in the "Thouvenot" sortie so will maybe go on slowly rebuilding numbers until they receive the order to stand down and return to Portugal some time at the end of April 1814.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2012

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