Research Subjects: Biographies

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 -- Lieutenant Colin McDougal 91st Foot

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan


Also spelled McDougall or MacDougall

Colin McDougal was the son of Patrick McDougal and grew up at Ardlarach House near Kilchattan in the Slate Islands of Scotland.  Family history refers to him as Coll.[1] He had one brother, who would serve in the 91st Foot beginning in 1809.  Several sources list his brother as being named Colin also![2]  “Coll” McDougal was commissioned as an ensign without purchase in the 91st Foot on 12 August 1805.[3]  He would purchase in lieutenancy in 1806, with a date of rank of 15 January 1806.[4]Lieutenant McDougal deployed with the 91st Foot to the Peninsula in August 1808 and fought at Roliça and Vimeiro.  His family history states that he marched with the regiment into Spain in late 1808, but became sick and was sent back to Portugal.  In February 1809, he was attached to the 1st Battalion of Detachments.  There is some confusion as what his role was with the 1st Battalion of Detachments.  The regimental history states that he was assigned to the “91st Company”, which was commanded by Captain James Walsh, while Lionel Challis indicates he served as the battalion’s quartermaster.[5]  Lieutenant McDougal would fight with the 1st Battalion of Detachments at the crossing of the Douro, Oporto, and the Talavera Campaign.

On the night before the battle, Lieutenant McDougal ran into an old family friend, Captain Duncan MacDougall.  They made arrangements to meet after the battle.  It was not to happen.[6]  The next evening, 27 July, the French had captured the Cerro de Medellin, the hill that anchored the left of the British line of battle.  General Stewart’s Brigade was ordered to re-take the hill and the 1st Battalion of Detachments led the charge.  There is some confusion about what happened when the battalion reached the crest of the hill.  Sergeant Nicols, also of the 79th Foot, who was in the 1st Battalion of Detachments stated:

“At this time our brigade got a biscuit each man served out, when a cry was heard, ‘The hill! the hill!’  General Stewart called out for the detachments to make for the top of the hill, for he was certain no regiment could be there so son as we.  Off we ran in the dark, and very dark it was; but the French got on the top of the hill before us, and some of them ran through the battalion, calling out, ‘Espanioles, Espnioles,’ and others calling ‘Allemands.’”

“Our officers cried out ‘Don’t fire on the Spaniards.’ I and many other jumped to the side of them to let them pass down the hill, where they were either killed or taken prisoners in our rear.  I saw those on the top of the hill by the flashes of their pieces; then we knew who they were; but I and many more of our company were actually in rear of the French for a few moments, and did not know it until they seized some or our men by the collar and were dragging them away prisoners.  This opened our eyes, and bayonets and the butts of our firelocks were used with great dexterity – a dreadful melee.  The 29th regiment came to our assistance, charged, and kept possession of the top of the hill.  The regiment lost a number of men on the highest point of the hill, where the French had a momentary possession, and affairs hung in the balance ere it was decided who should have this key to the position.  The enemy tried it a second time, coming round the side of the hill; but as we now knew who they were, to our cost, a well-directed running fire, with a charge, sent them into the valley below, their drums beating a retreat.”[7]

Lieutenant McDougal was killed in the bitter fight to retake the hill.[8]  According to the MacDougal family history, Lieutenant McDougal’s mother was alone in her room at Ardlarach House, when she “. . . heard the door of her apartment open and close; turning round and see nothing, she called her maid, and being satisfied that no one had entered the room, she exclaimed: ‘I am sorely afraid, Margaret, that something has happened to poor Coll.  Coll is no longer alive.”[9]


[1] “The Slate Islands”

[2] Challis: McDougal; “The Slate Islands”

[3] London Gazette: 20 August 1805

[4] Army Lists: June 1809; London Gazette: 21 January 1806

[5] Groves, p. 10; Challis: McDougal

[6] “The Slate Islands”

[7] Robinson: p. 20

[8] London Gazette: 15 August 1809

[9] “The Slate Islands”

Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2009

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

© Stewart Copyright 1995-2015 , The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.