Research Subjects: Biographies

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 -- Lieutenant Charles Augustus Huddlestone 28th Foot

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan

 

Charles Augustus Huddlestone was appointed ensign in the 28th Foot without purchase in late 1804 or early 1805 by a War Office directive dated 9 February 1805.[1]   He was promoted to lieutenant on 2 January 1806.[2]

Lieutenant Huddlestone served in the Peninsula with the 28th Foot from July 1808 to January 1809; with the 1st Battalion 28th Foot from September 1810 to March 1811 and July 1811 to December 1812.  He served with the 1st Battalion of Detachments from February to August 1809.  During those years he fought at the Douro, Talavera, Tarifa, Barrosa, Arroyo dos Molinos, Badajoz, Almarez, and the retreat from Burgos.  

On 9 March 1811, Lieutenant Huddlestone was part of a force of 100 men under the command of Captain Charles Cadell.  Word had been received that a French attack was expected on  the Pontales Battery, defending Cadiz. This force from the 28th Foot “. . . was ordered there at three in the afternoon.  The distance was about two miles, and the only way we could go (unless by a most circuitous route) was along the seashore, exposed a good deal to the fire from the enemy’s batteries at Matagorda; but going in Indian files at six paces, we reached the fort without having a man touched.  The fort was cannonaded the whole night; the Cadiz volunteers suffered severely; but from the excellent arrangements of Lieutenant Brett, royal artillery, the commandant (who was afterwards killed on the bridge of Seville), we did not lose a man.  Next morning, after sunrise, every thing was quiet, and we found that no assault was to take place; we therefore returned to Cadiz in the same manner that we advanced, and with equally good fortune.”[3]

The 28th Foot took part in the attempt to destroy a French force under General Gerard, which was foraging in Estremadura.  The night before the attack at Arroyos dos Molinos there was a violent storm and Lieutenant Huddlestone’s tent and every other tent in the bivouac was blown down.[4]

On 15 March 1812, a General Order was sent out to commanding officers requesting names of those officers who would volunteer to serve as engineers during the forthcoming siege of Badajoz.[5] A week later, on 22 March, another General Order was sent out ordering Lieutenant Huddlestone and 12 other officers to report to the Commanding Officer of Engineers.  Interestingly, one of his fellow volunteers was Lieutenant John Cattanach of the 92nd Highlanders, who also was in the 1st Battalion of Detachments.[6]  Some of these volunteers were greeted with cries of “. . . here come some more ‘Fire-eaters’. . . “ when they reported to the besieging forces.[7]    During the siege, Lieutenant Huddlestone would have worked long hours under horrendous conditions.   It rained through much of the siege and the temperature was was cold.  The work shift for the engineers were in the trenches for eight hours straight and had four hours off, for nine days.[8]  When off-duty, he would share his tent with Robert Blakeney, who was also serving as a volunteer.[9]  On the night of the ninth day, the assault took place.  According to Charles Cadell, Lieutenant Huddlestone led one of the columns of the 3rd Division to the castle wall, where he showed them where to place the ladders.  This was key to the successful storming of Badajoz.[10]  Unfortunately, I can not confirm that he actually did this.  Neither MacCarthy or Burgoyne mention any volunteer engineer, nor does Jones in his History.  Once the assault was over, the looting and pillaging of Badajoz began.  Lieutenants Huddlestone and Blakeney spent the night and the next day trying to protect the civilians. 

“Three times I narrowly escaped with life for endeavouring to protect some women by conveying them to St. John’s Church, where a guard was mounted.  On one occasion, as Huddleston and I accompanied two ladies and the brother of one of them to the church mentioned, we were crossed by three drunken soldiers, one of whom, passing to our rear, struck the Spanish gentleman with the butt-end of his firelock on the back of his head, which nearly knocked him down.  On my censuring the fellow’s daring insolence in striking a person in company with two English officers, another of the men was bringing his firelock to the present, when I holloaed out loundly, “Come on quick that guard.”  . . .  During the morning of the 7th, while the excesses, of which I have given but a faint idea, were at their height, Huddleston came running to me and requested that I would accompany him to a house whence he had just fled.  The owner was an old acquaintance of all the officers of the 28th Regiment, when a few months previously we were quartered at Albuquerque, where he lived at the time.  Huddleston conducted me to the bedroom of this man’s wife.  When we entered, a woman who lay upon a bed uttered a wild cry, which might be considered as caused either by hope or despair.  Here were two British soldiers stretched on the floor, and so intoxicated that when Huddleston and I drew them out of the room by the heels they appeared insensible of the motion.  . .  Huddleston and I then set to work most actively to break tables and chairs, which we strewed about the rooms and down the stairs.  I remained for some hours, when I considered that all was safe; for although many marauding parties had entered, yet on perceiving the ruinous appearance of the house, and considering that it must have been well visited, they went off immediately in search of better prey.  We even scattered a shopful of stationery and books all over the apartments, and some of the articles we held in our hands as if plunder, for the purpose of deceiving the visitors.”[11]

Lieutenant Huddlestone died on the march during the retreat from Burgos, on 15 December 1812.  According to Cadell he had “. . . never perfectly recovered from the fatigue he underwent at the siege of Badajos; and he suffered so much from the cold and wet, that he was sent to the rear, and actually died on his horse, within a short distance of Lisbon.”[12]

Notes:

[1] London Gazette: 5 February 1805

[2] Army List: March 1810

[3] Cadell; p. 108

[4] Blakeney; p. 220

[5] General Orders 1812; p. 45

[6] Ibid; p. 47

[7] MacCarthy; p. 14

[8] Ibid; p. 15

[9] Blakeney; p. 259

[10] Cadell; pp. 129 - 130

[11] Blakeney; pp. 274 - 277

[12] Cadell; p. 145


Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2009

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



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