Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on the Portuguese Infantry of the Peninsular War 1807-1814: 6th and 18th Regiments of Oporto and the 6th Caçadores

By Ray Foster

Ashworth’s Brigade

Here we have two regiments that caught the full attention of the enemy invasion from the north under Marshal Nicholas Soult in the early months of 1809. It is as well to show that during that disaster and whilst standing in defence of their home town they became a part of the tragic events at the Douro boat bridge collapse, which saw so may of their townsfolk crushed underfoot or drowned that day. It follows that the survivors would show little mercy to any Frenchman caught defenceless or under their “care” as the war took its toll on all involved. By the time that Oporto had been “liberated” and the Beresford system introduced these units would be well on their way to full establishment figures, so:

15th September 1809 [on the Portuguese frontier in the Beira]

1/6th
770 PUA

2/6th
312 PUA

1/18th
770 PUA

2/18th
601 PUA

Although this brigade is shown in the title above as belonging to Major Charles Ashworth it will be to one of the many Alexander Campbell’s that we look for a short spell, he it is that has them on the ridge at Busaco and as an Independent Brigade, numbers have smoothed out and a battalion of light infantry the 6th Caçadores has joined; these men, also recruited in Oporto had in pre-Beresford days met the enemy at Roliça in 1808, today they lose 23 men. As this last addition is the only unit of the brigade to even come into action this day it will be best to show figures as they all stood down at the end of the day, so:

27th September1810 [after the battle on the ridge at Busaco]

1/6th
720 PAB

2/6th
597 PAB

1/18th
755 PAB

2/18th
631 PAB

6th Caçadores
523 PAB

At this time it is as well to remember that this is an Independent Brigade and as such has only direct Portuguese logistical support, a dire deficiency indeed, so, going back down country into the Lines at Torres Vedras it is the case that they would lose largely by this fault, only one month later they can only muster,

29th October 1810 [in the Lines of Torres Vedras]

1/6th
595 PUA

2/6th
395 PUA

1/18th
604 PUA

2/18th
462 PUA

6th Caçadores
390 PUA

The Public Records Office of the time shows on 8th December 1810 one Captain Alexander Campbell dies by natural causes this snippet of information fits nicely with CT Atkinson’s assumptions [Appendix 2 of Wellington’s Army, C Oman]. So it is that Brigadier Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ashworth takes up this corps holding it for some considerable time. A part of Oman’s text reveals that 6th Caçadores during March of 1812 will fall as low as 342 bayonets, at the same time as Ashworth gets them on the move following Massena’s starving army out of Portugal, it is during this retreat that 6th Caçadores will be in action sufficiently to suffer perhaps another 20 casualties, no figures are forthcoming for the Line regiments until all are brought into line about Fuentes d Onoro at the beginning of May. Their strengths seem steady but the Caçadores have agreeably recouped slightly, so:

2nd May 1811 [on the field at Fuentes d Onoro]

1/6th
593 PUA

2/6th
393 PUA

1/18th
638 PUA

2/18th
492 PUA

6th Caçadores
423 PUA

Ashworth's men are used in the two days of street fighting through the town Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pynn of 18th getting himself mentioned in despatches for his work there but seemingly it is yet again 6th Caçadores and the Grenadiers of 6th who have done the real work so:

5th May 1811 [after the two day battles at Fuentes d Onoro]

1/6th
563 PAB

2/6th
368 PAB

1/18th
638 PAB

2/18th
492 PAB

6th Caçadores
378 PAB

As a result of the re-organisation found necessary following the Albuera losses the Brigade was taken from the main army and in the future would be a part of the 2nd Division in Major General Rowland Hill's Corps and fortunately, no longer expected to subsist as an independent brigade. This was effected by 6th June 1811 so that by that time Ashworth's men were to march off down into the Estremaduran theatre of operations. Hill's Corps task was to hold this southern right flank of the army and counter any aggressive moves by the enemy and, as things turned out be a little aggressive themselves. It is October before we again see a reference to Ashworth Brigade, this is down by Arroyo dos Molinos, and they have no work other than just steady marching as the autumn becomes wintry, we only have brigade figures for this period, and these were but 20 men down for the whole brigade from those above. In the march to and destruction of the Bridge of Almaraz during May of 1812 Ashworth's men once more are not directly engaged with the enemy so that we have no solid figures for almost seven months after which time, having marched up to Madrid by September then gone off on the great retirement back to the Agueda they are to come to rest, it is late November:

29th November 1812 [on the Spanish frontier defensive screen]

1/6th
463 PUA

2/6th
301 PUA

1/18th
525 PUA

2/18th
404 PUA

6th Caçadores
309 PUA

During the winter of 1812/13 Hill's men collectively held the outposts along the Alagon river, Ashworth Brigade at and about Coria. During late February of 1813 they have a skirmish with a few of General Maximilien Foy's men up at Bejar, it is 6th Caçadores that is engaged but so slightly as to make no more difference to their figures than would the regular attrition. In the run up to the long march to Vittoria the army generally replaced its old losses receiving large drafts all of which would help this brigade too. By the end of May of 1813 18th had filled up to establishment figures, 6th not quite and 6th Caçadores at full strength for the first time since Busaco.

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

1/6th
717 PUA

2/6th
472 PUA

1/18th
770 PUA

2/18th
550 PUA

6th Caçadores
550 PUA

The march up to and the battle at Vittoria have little effect on the brigade of Ashworth, we are told that attrition on the march was surprisingly light and at the battle Hill kept Ashworth very much in reserve out on the Pueblo Heights, only 6th and 6th Caçadores having any contact with the enemy the latter to have its Major Samuel Mitchell wounded, otherwise so slight was the contact as to cause but a handful of casualties. It is to be a full two months later before we see the Brigade eventually at the sharp end of affairs. The French and their co-commanders King Joseph & Marshal Jourdan have been ejected from Spain and those CIC’s rejected by their Emperor, the British are now on defence as the new CIC Marshal Soult brings his men on return in an attempt to relieve their garrisons at San Sebastian and Pamplona. It is at Buenza where Hill's position is fought over he falls back in some confusion made doubly awkward by a great rainstorm which wrecks the hill roads, Ashworth's men, who up until now have been in reserve become the rearguard so that they must struggle back in the worst of conditions falling in with Da Costa Brigade at Lizaso.

30th July 1813 [at the battle of Buenza]

1/6th
751 PUA

2/6th
495 PUA

1/18th
741 PUA

2/18th
528 PUA

6th Caçadores
523 PUA

As the combat is joined in earnest we see that in 18th Lieutenant Colonel Pynn and three fellow officers are wounded, his men having been attacked with some venom by the enemy have 51 men and another officer killed, 82 wounded and in the confused close action 12 more taken prisoner. This is by no means the total here, 6th also in the thick of things loses 29 men killed, 5 Portuguese officers and 63 men wounded and 8 men left behind captured. Major Mitchell with 37 of his Caçadores is wounded as is Captain William Temple and Lieutenant Augustin Barckhausen, one officer and 13 men are dead and again, predictably 10 men are to be lost taken by the enemy. The fight only subsides as both sides consider they have done enough, Hill drawing his whole array out of danger at the close of day.

Note: As an observation Wellington and Beresford, both responsible for turning in casualty returns, cannot agree on the detail of men lost in the Portuguese ranks, [this was a quite common occurrence it being the Portuguese way to count up their dead after a short interval of time [mañana perhaps] thus the mortally wounded would succumb and be duly recorded amongst them, the British way was to record immediately so that the deeply/dangerously wounded got into that more optimistic category, only to die later, a much less honest form of presentation. Be that as it may, there is also a little attrition to be included so:

30th July 1813 [after the battle at Buenza]

1/6th
683 PAB

2/6th
458 PAB

1/18th
653 PAB

2/18th
466 PAB

6th Caçadores
459 PAB

For the next three months the Brigade, with Hill are to be found on the right of the army up on the slopes of the Pyrenees about the Pass of Maya, the weather turns cold, they see some snow and it is at the battles of the Nivelle in November that Ashworth and his men are to be next involved. The Brigade has been lucky at the Nivelle losses were a mere 11 men all up so:

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

1/6th
678 PAB

2/6th
455 PAB

1/18th
649 PAB

2/18th
463 PAB

6th Caçadores
455 PAB

We are now only a little over a month from the day on which Ashworth and his Brigade do themselves proud, it is as well then that numbers are looking reasonable and everyone is well used to "the game". The date of their destiny, 13th December 1813, the place a hill spur overlooking the hamlet of St Pierre d'Arrube. Bayonne is some way ahead to the north, it is from this great military walled bastion that Soult will set off a force intended to dislodge Hill's Corps from this strong terrain. The enemy can only come up by a single road, the approaches to the hill being covered at the base by farm buildings, small woods and enclosures each flank at this time of year is heavy with soggy swamps. General Abbe's Division arguably the best in the whole French Peninsular army at that time came on confidently enough against first the 6th Caçadores of Lieutenant Colonel Peter Fearon in the cover of the farm walls, a small grove of shrubby trees and thick hedges and then the two Line regiments to the rear and to left and right. After a preliminary cannonading both sides got down to serious business Ashworth’s Brigade being forced to give ground as superior numbers bored in upon them, Major General Edward Barnes’s British brigade came forward piecemeal as the conflict became general, it soon developed into a desperate toe-to-toe struggle, both sides feeding in men as the conflict wore them down. Ashworth's Brigade forced back, recovered, counter attacking, are thrust back again but always to return fire for fire fighting until almost out of ammunition leaving Ashworth near the end wounded beyond hope of ever returning to command and the brigade so thinned and dispersed as to resemble a skirmish line. This day they will lose 471 men killed, wounded, and prisoners. In 6th besides their Brigadier Ashworth, Lieutenant Colonel John Grant,[who is shown by CTA to have been very mobile in his choice of regiments] Captains George Phelan, John Sutherland and 4 other officers all wounded one killed with 51 of the men and no less than 132 men wounded and 7 captured.

18th contributing its full share lost Captain Thomas Ridge mortally wounded, two other officers killed and 52 of their men also dead, Captain Hugh Lumley with 3 more officers and 112 men in the ranks wounded while a further 11 men were to be taken prisoner.

With 39 Caçadores dead and 51 of their number wounded, Captain Richard Brunton and two other officers amongst these the butcher’s bills shows how stubborn a resistance Ashworth’s men were able to mount alongside Barnes’s British Brigade and the much later reinforcements of Major General Carlos Le Cor’s brigades all of whose total casualty counts had been so desperately amassed, so:

13th December 1813 [after the battle at St’ Pierre d Arrube]

1/6th
559 PAB

2/6th
375 PAB

1/18th
543 PAB

2/18th
381 PAB

6th Caçadores
365 PAB

During January 1814 the DAG office reveal figures for the whole army operating under Wellington, they come to us as rank-and-file only, we are aware that for Brigadier Lieutenant Colonel Henry Hardinge who has taken over from Ashworth there are sergeants, drummers, officers and supernumeries to add as his charges. Since it is usually the case that Portuguese figures include all of the above we see that on

16th January 1814 [cantoned in the valley of the Nive]

1/6th
476 PUA

2/6th
314 PUA

1/18th
582 PUA

2/18th
414 PUA

6th Caçadores
334 PUA

The very moment that the winter frosts had hardened the roads Wellington was again on the move, this brought Hardinge’s men close to the action on the Motte de Garris on 15th February, details are scarce, all we know for sure is that Lieutenant Colonel Fearon of 6th Caçadores is fatally wounded here dying the next day, most of the combat is well dealt with in the histories of the 28th & 39th British Regiments of Major General William Pringle’s command as his CIC urged him on near the end of the day.

The brigade marches on, in wintry conditions eastwards to Orthez where they are not used on the day of the battle of 27th February 1814. Numbers in 6th have increased appreciably and the marching continues, all the way in mud sleet and cold rain along the northern foothills to Toulouse. They arrive ready for action that day at:

10th April 1814 [before the St’ Cyprien gates at Toulouse]

1/6th
526 PUA

2/6th
353 PUA

1/18th
511 PUA

2/18th
364 PUA

6th Caçadores
344 PUA

Hardinge's Brigade is not used on the day so that these last figures stand and they can march off for the western end of the frontier and home to Oporto.

It may be of interest to note that when researching Da Costa's doings at the crossing of the Grave stream; it was Hardinge’s men and 6th Caçadores in particular who rescued that rout, casualties at that time being "negligible".

Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2012

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