Research Subjects: Biographies

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 -- Captain Joseph Bradbey 28th Foot

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan

Joseph Bradbey’s name is spelled several ways in a variety of sources.  The most common are Bradby, Bradley, and Bradly. 

Little is known about Joseph Bradbey’s family life except that he was from the Portsmouth area and that his uncle was Rear Admiral James Bradby, who died in 1809.[1]   He was commissioned an Ensign in the 62nd Foot in November 1799 at the age of 19.[2] He had previously served as an ensign with the North Hampshire Militia.[3]  He appears to have joined the 62nd Foot when its second battalion was raised on 25 November 1799.[4] He was promoted to lieutenant in the 62nd Foot in 23 March 1801.[5]  He purchased his captaincy in the 62nd Foot in 1802 with a date of rank of 20 May 1802.[6]  He went on half-pay in 1802 when the 2nd battalion was disbanded. Captain Bradbey was brought into the 28th Foot from his half-pay 62nd Foot, upon the raising of the 2nd Battalion 28th Foot on 9 July 1803.[7]

Captain Bradbey commanded the Light Company of the 1st Battalion 28th Foot from the time the regiment arrived in the Peninsula, until he died from wounds five years later.  In 1808, when the regiment moved into Spain, he was left in Lisbon sick.  He would miss the Corunna Campaign, but would serve with the 1st Battalion of Detachments from February to September 1809. 

Captain Bradbey fought with 1st Battalion of Detachments at the Douro where he distinguished himself. Initially, he was not recognized, however in the General Orders of 14 May 1809, it was noted that

"In the Order of the 12th instant, it escaped the recollection of the Commander of the Forces to notice the good conduct of the Detachment of the 28th Regiment, under Captain Bradley; on the preceding day, this Detachment conducted itself as became Soldiers of the gallant corps to which they belong."[8]

Captain Bradbey was wounded on 28 July, the second day of the battle of Talavera.  About 4:00 p.m. Sergeant Nicols from the 79th Foot, saw

“Colonel Alexander Gordon, formerly captain in our regiment, killed; and Brigade-Major Gardener, who had been an active officer in our brigade morning – he and his horse lay dead together; Major Ross, 38th, and Captain Bradley [sic], 29th Light company, (I knew him in the light battalion in Dublin), badly wounded.”[9] According to the London Gazette, he was only lightly wounded.[10]

In September 1809, he returned to England.  A year later, he was back with the 1st Battalion in the Peninsula.  The Army List for March 1810 does not have him assigned to either the 1st or 2nd Battalion and according to Challis, he did not deploy with the 1st Battalion when they left for Spain in January 1810.  Captain Bradbey joined up with the battalion in Spain in September 1810.

By March 1811, Captain Bradbey was with the 28th Foot at Tarifa, Spain and marched with them to Barossa.  His company and the Grenadier Company of the 28th Foot was part of a “Flank Battalion”, which also included the flank companies of 1st Battalion 9th Foot and the 2nd Battalion 82nd Foot.  This battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Browne, and it would see much action on 5 March when the Anglo-Allied Army fought the French under Marshal Victor at Barrosa. 

Browne’s Flank Battalion was deployed on a hill on the right of the Allies’ line and were supported by several Spanish battalions.   When six French infantry battalions under the command of General Ruffin advanced on the position, the Spanish withdrew and General Whittingham ordered Browne to withdraw also.  Browne pulled back under protest and went looking for General Graham, the army commander.  The following account was written by Lieutenant Robert Blakeney, who was in Captain Bradbey’s company.

“General Graham came forth instantly to meet us, saying, “Browne, did I not give you orders to defend Barossa Hill?”   “Yes, sir,” said Browne; “but you would not have me fight the whole French army with four hundred and seventy men?”  “Had you not,” replied the general, “five Spanish battalions, together with artillery and cavalry?” “Oh!” said Browne; “they all ran away long before the enemy came within cannon-shot.” The general coolly replied, “It is a bad business, Browne; you must instantly turn round and attack.’  “Very well,” said the colonel; “am I to attack in extended order as flankers, or as a close battalion?”  “In open order,” was the reply, and the general returned to the troops in the wood.”

“The flank battalion were instantly extended into skirmishing order, which had scarcely been done when the general again rode back to Colonel Browne, saying, “I must show something more seriously than skirmishing; close the men into compact battalion.”  “That I will, with pleasure,” cried the colonel; “for it is more in my way than light bobbing.” The order to close on the centre was instantly bugled out, during which movement the colonel sent to know from the general, who had again retired, if he was to advance as soon as formed, and whether he was to attack immediately in his front or more towards his right.  The answer was, “Attack in your front, and immediately.”

“All being now ready, Colonel Browne rode to the front of the battalion and taking of his hat said in a voice to be heard by all, “Gentlemen, I am happy to be the bearer of good news: General Graham has done you the honour of being the first to attack those fellows.  Now follow me, you rascals!”  He pointed to the enemy, and giving the order to advance broke into his favorite air:”

“Now cheer up, my brace lads! To glory we steer,
To add something new to this wonderful year!”

“Thus we moved forward with four hundred and sixty-eight men and twenty-one officers to attack the position, upon which but three-quarters of an hour previously we had stood in proud defiance of the advancing foe, but which was now defended by two thousand five hundred infantry and eight pieces of artillery, together with some cavalry.  To this force were added two battalions of chosen grenadiers. . .”[11]

The outcome was disastrous for the battalion.  “The enemy, seeing so small a force, detached from any apparent support, advancing against them, allowed us to approach close; and the orders given by Colonel Browne were that not a shot should be fired, but to proceed to work as soon as possible with the bayonet.”[12]

Legend has it that when they got close to the French, Colonel Browne, who was riding on a large Spanish horse, spurred his troops on with a fiery speech:  “There they are, you rascals, if you don’t kill them, they will kill you; so fire away!”  He was supposedly in between the two opposing lines when he gave the order to fire, but escaped without injury.[13]

Colonel Browne may have escaped injury, but his men did not.  The first French volley and cannonade was devastating; “. . . Nearly two hundred of our men and more than half the officers went down by this first volley, thus opening the battle propitiously for them.  We now literally stood in extended order; the battalion was checked. In closing on the centre and endeavouring to form a second efficient line, upwards of fit more men and some officers were levelled with the earth; and all the exertions of Colonel Browne could not form a third line.  We had by this time lost upwards of two hundred and fifty men and fourteen officers, between killed and wounded.  The remainder of the battalion was now scattered. The men commenced firing from behind trees, mounds or any cover which presented, and could not be got together.”[14]

Although the Flank Battalion was destroyed, it had bought time for the Guards Brigade to deploy and come up and take the hill.  The cost among the officers of the Flank Battalion was severe.  Of the original 21 officers, only Colonel Browne and Lieutenant Blakeney, who was wounded in the leg, were still standing.  Among the flank companies of the 28th Foot, all seven officers were casualties.  Captain Bradley was seriously wounded, Lieutenant Blakeney was shot in the thigh close to the hip by grapeshot, Lieutenant Samuel Moore was slightly wounded, and Lieutenant  Bennet was shot in forehead with a musket ball “. . . and carried away the whole back of the head: a portion of the brain was laying in his cap; still he breathed!  The serjeant-major said he would never leave him as long as he had breath in his body; and perceiving the army moving down to the beach, on their way to the Isla, a force being left to cover the removal of the wounded, he tied up the shattered head, and placing the body on his shoulder, carried it four miles to the Bermuga Heights, where the army halted. The surgeon coming up, examined the body, and said that it was perfectly ridiculous to think of conveying it a yard further, for although breath remained, all feeling was past.  We therefore procured two great coats, and in the most retired place we could find, placed one under and the other over our poor comrade, and with sore hearts left him.”[15]

The 29th Foot was transferred to the main theater of operations and was assigned to Lumley’s Brigade of the 2nd Division in July 1811.[16]  Things began to change for Captain Bradbey the following year.  Although he still commanded the 1st Battalion 28th Foot’s Light Company, he began to assume greater responsibilities while in the field.  When deployed for battle, Captain Bradbey would command the light companies in his brigade, which consisted of the 1st Battalion 28th Foot, the 34th Foot, the 39th Foot, and one company from the 60th Rifles.  In October 1811, word reached the British that a French force under General Girard was raiding in Estremadura.  Wellington ordered General Rowland Hill, the commander of the 2nd Division, to force the French out of the area.  The brigade would swing to the right of the Arroyo dos Molinos to cut off any French troopers who would try to escape.  The light companies led the columns and were the first to make contact with the enemy.  The four companies, of about 200 men, charged nearly 1500 fleeing French soldiers and took many prisoners.  The light companies would continue to pursue the French for almost four hours before they were ordered back. Lieutenant Blakeney did not think much of Captain Bradbey’s performance during this action, saying that he was to the rear and had been distracted by a charge made by Spanish cavalry and hadn’t realized the French column was so near.  This left Lieutenant Blakeney to give the order to charge.[17]

In May 1812, General Hill and the 2nd Division would make a daring raid deep into Spain to destroy the French pontoon bridge across the Tagus River at Almaraz.  Captain Bradbey would once again lead light troops of his brigade.  This time it would be in diversion against the French fort in the Miravate Pass.  The fort was in an old castle and was manned with 300 men from the 39th Line Infantry Regiment and nine artillery pieces.  Captain Bradbey had not only the light companies from the 28th and 34th Foot, but also the Grenadier Companies from the 28th and 34th Foot.  (The Grenadier Company from the 28th Foot, was commanded by another 1st Battalion of Detachments officer, Lieutenant William Irwin.)  Captain Bradbey’s mission was to make it appear that the fort would was under attack and capture the fort if possible.  However, creating an illusion that the main effort was against the fort and thus divert the French attention from the main attack on the bridge itself was the most important thing.  His men succeeded in capturing the French piquet, but the fort was too strong for them to capture without heavy casualties.  So Captain Bradbey did not press the attack.  His command spent the next several hours keeping up a lively fire.  The diversion worked and the British were able to capture and destroy the pontoon bridge with a minimum of casualties.[18]

On 12 August 1812, Captain Bradbey wrote from Spain to an unnamed officer at the Regimental Depot at Berry Head, near Brixham, Devon.  He appeared to be fairly disillusioned about the way the campaign was proceeding, despite the overwhelming victory at Salamanca. 

“There is no news stirring here.  We have 20 thousand men drawn up in front of Soult’s army of 12 thousand, and why we don’t attack them wiser heads only can tell.  We advance and retreat alternately.”  According to Ensign Keep, Captain Bradbey “deplores the battle of Salamanca and says Bony’s prognostic will be verified that ‘every British family will be in mourning ere the contest ends.’  He also says that they have a field officer at Headquarters so sick that he cannot be removed to the rear, and that Col. Abercromby [1st Battalion 28th Foot’s commander] has written for Col. Ross. [Brevet Lieutenant Colonel John Ross, commander of the 2nd Battalion] to be sent out, and also for 100 or 150 privates from the 2nd Battalion and that they have not received a farthing of pay for the last six months.”[19]

During the retreat from Burgos to the Portuguese border, Captain Bradbey would be in the thick of the fighting.  He and his company would distinguish themselves as the rear guard of the 2nd Division.  According to Charles Cadell

“. . . our march became very harassing: the enemy followed us with a strong force of cavalry, and the mule, with all the books and documents of the regiment, fell into their hands; likewise the long drum, which had been taken from the Spaniards at Minorca.  In the afternoon, after crossing a narrow plain to a wood, where we were to bivouack for the night, and just as the regiment was dismissed, a large body of the enemy’s Polish lancers made their appearance, and after shamefully cutting down several unfortunate women, who had fallen behind, advanced rapidly to the wood, where we were stationed.  The light-company fortunately happened to be on the rear-guard, under Captain Bradbey; and they instantly formed at the edge of the wood, and gave them such a well directed volley, that many of them were brought down.  The regiment then formed into square as quickly as possible, and the 14th light dragoons, with a part of the 1st hussars, under Colonel Hervey, coming up, attacked and completely defeated them, killing and wounding a great many, and taking a considerable number prisoners.”[20]

An artillery officer gave a slightly different version:

“After a little skirmishing they approached us in a very bold manner and charged the 92nd Highlanders who were drawn up in front of us.  These remained firm as a rock, the front rank had kneeled down ready to give them a volley, but some of the English Cavalry being in the way prevented them.  Another party of French Hussars charged Captain Bradbey’s Company of the 28th, but were obliged to wheel about, exposed to a volley which annoyed them a great deal.”[21]

On 1 June 1813, Joseph Bradbey received a brevet promotion to major.  He would still command the light company, but would also command the four light companies of his brigade during the battle of Vittoria.  The brigade saw heavy action, taking about 30% casualties.  I can find no record of what Captain Bradbey and the light companies did.  For his performance however, Captain Bradbey would be one of 211 officers who would receive the Gold Medal for Vittoria. The London Gazette would actually state his award was for leading a light battalion.[22]

After Vittoria, Major Bradbey’s brigade moved to the Maya Pass.  There they performed outpost duties and on 25 July became involved in one of the bloodiest fights of the war.  Major Bradbey would command the brigade’s four light companies during this fight.  General D’Erlon was able to move his forces within a half mile of the British picquets undetected, but aroused the suspicions of Captain Moyle Sherer, who sent word back that something was up.  Major Bradbey’s four companies were sent up to reinforce the picquet and were barely in position when the 7,000 French attacked.  Eight companies of light infantry, led the French assault and soon the British were fighting for their lives.  According to Moyle Sherer,

“In less than two hours, my picquet and the light companies were heavily engaged with the enemy’s advance, which was composed entirely of voltigeur companies, unencumbered by knapsacks, and led by a chosen officer.  These fellows fought with ardour, but we disputed our ground handsomely, and caused them severe loss.”[23]

The overwhelming numbers forced Major Bradbey’s command back to a small hill called the Aretesque Knoll or the Gorospil Knoll.  Here they were surrounded, but continued to fight for 45 minutes.  The officers and men could see the relief force moving up, but they did not arrive in time.  The position was soon over-run and six officers and 140 men were captured.  The rest of the companies laid dead or dying.  Major Bradbey’s command had been destroyed in less than two hour.[24]  Among the prisoners was Captain Sherer.

Joseph Bradbey died of his wounds on 24 August 1813 and never lived to receive the Gold Medal that was awarded to him by the Prince Regent for his actions at Vittoria, which was announced on 28 March 1814.  Of the 211 recipients of the Gold Medal for Vittoria, only twenty-seven were majors and eleven were captains!  The rest of the list included Wellington, 10 lieutenant generals, 31 major generals, 5 brigadier generals, 28 colonels, 97 lieutenant colonels.  As part of the award, the Prince Regent stated that “. . . those badges which would have been conferred upon the officers who fell in, or have died since the battle of Vittoria, shall, as a token of respect to their memories, be transmitted to their respective families.”[25]

In All Saints Church, Fawley Hampshire, there is a tablet in honor of Major Joseph Bradbey.



Maybe the best judge of Joseph Bradbey’s leadership was seen in 1809 during the retreat to Corunna.  Joseph Bradbey was not present with the company because he was sick in Lisbon.  However it was his company.  He was the one who trained and molded it.  The Light Company of the 28th Foot on 5 January 1809 was the last company of the army that marched “.  . . through the village of El-Burgo under a heavy cannonade and a sharp fire of musketry.  Yet it now fell in as strong, if not the strongest company present, and as efficient, willing, and ready for fight as any which the army could produce. . . as far as my memory serves that a single individual of that company fell out of the ranks, or was left behind, in consequence of intolerable fatigue.  The captain of the company (Bradby) was left behind, sick, at Lisbon; and the senior lieutenant (English) was sent in the sick-carts from Benevente to Corunna on December 27th, 1808, suffering from dysentery; but no man fell out on the march.”[27]

During the many years that Joseph Bradbey served in the Peninsula, Robert Blakeney served in his company.  Although written by Robert Blakeney, much of A Boy in the Peninsular War is the story of the Light Company of the 1st Battalion 28th Foot.  Joseph Bradbey commanded the company during that time, so in a way it is his story too.


[1] European: July – December 1813; p. 371

[2] London Gazette: 12 November 1799

[3] London Gazette: 9 November 1799

[4] Frederick; p. 76

[5] Army List: 1802

[6] Army List: 1802

[7] Monthly: 1803; Frederick: p. 76; London Gazette 16 July 1803.

[8] General Orders: 1809, p. 30

[9] Robinson; p. 22

[10] London Gazette: 15 August 1809

[11] Blakeney; pp. 187 - 188

[12] Ibid; p. 189

[13] Cadell; pp. 97-98

[14] Blakeney; pp. 189 - 190

[15] Ibid; pp. 190; 204 – 205; Cadell; pp 98 - 99

[16] Oman; p. 354

[17] Blakeney; pp. 224 - 231

[18] Cadell; pp. 132 – 134; Parliamentary; p. 98

[19] Keep; p. 93

[20] Cadell; pp. 142 - 143

[21] Webber; p. 115

[22] London Gazette: 19 April 1814.

[23] Sherer; p. 258

[24] Oman Vol. VI pp. 629 – 630; Sherer pp. 258 - 261

[25] London Gazette: 19 April 1814.

[26] “Peninsular”

[27] Blakeney; p. 109

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2009

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 ]

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