Research Subjects: Biographies

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 -- Captain James Walsh  91st Foot

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan


James Walsh was commissioned as an ensign without purchase in the 34th Foot on 2 October 1796.[1]  He was promoted to lieutenant without purchase on 4 May 1797.[2]  He transferred and was promoted to captain without purchase in the 91st Foot on 28 August 1804.[3]  Captain Walsh would deploy with the regiment to Hanover in 1805 and upon returning to England on 20 February 1806, would be stationed in Kent.  In 1807, the regiment was sent to Ireland and would remain there until June 1808, when they were ordered to the Peninsula.  Captain Walsh would fight with the regiment at Roliça and Vimeiro.  However when the regiment moved into Spain in late 1808, he was too sick to go and was left behind in Lisbon.  In February 1809, he was attached to the 1st Battalion of Detachments.   Captain Walsh commanded the “91st Company” of the 1st Battalion of Detachments and would fight at the crossing of the Douro and Oporto.  At Talavera  the “91st Company”, which had a strength of three officers and ninety men, was heavily engaged and took very heavy casualties – one officer and nine men killed, thirty-one wounded, and one officer and nineteen men captured.  Over two-thirds of its strength!  Among the casualties were Lieutenant Colin McDougall who was killed, and Captain Walsh, who was captured, during the bitter fight to retake the Cerro de Medellin, the hill that anchored the left of the British line, on the evening of 27 July.[4] Captain Walsh was able to escape from the French shortly afterwards by swimming the Zadora River near Vittoria.[5]

Captain Walsh returned to England in September 1809 and stay with the 1st Battalion most of the time, which was stationed in southern England.  The 1st Battalion occupied barracks at Canterbury,  Ramsgate, Ashford, and Chatham.[6]  In the fall of 1812, the regiment was ordered back to the Peninsula, too late to participate in that year’s campaigns.  Captain Walsh would fight with the 1st Battalion at Nivelle, Nive, Orthez, Aire, and Toulouse where he was slightly wounded.  In July 1814, the 1st Battalion left France and was stationed in southern Ireland – in the cities of Cork, Clonmel, and Limerick.[7]

Captain Walsh was promoted to brevet major on 12 April 1814.[8]  The 1st Battalion stayed in Ireland until April 1815, when they landed in Belgium.  They would partake in the Waterloo Campaign, but missed most of the action.  (The 91st Foot was stationed at Hal on 18 June 1815.  At the storming of Cambrai on 24 June 1815 the regiment would have 1 man killed, 2 lieutenants and 6 men wounded.)   They would be part of the Army of Occupation at Paris until 1818.  They were cantoned in northern France at Saint Pol in 1816 and near Cambrai in 1818.  The regiment returned to Ireland in late 1818.  While in France, James Walsh was promoted to major in the 91st Foot, with a date of rank of 3 September 1818.[9]  In 1819, Major Walsh was promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel, with a date of rank of 21 January 1819.  This promotion was later than expected, because his name had been omitted in a former recommendation for service in the field.[10]  In 1821, the regiment was sent to Jamaica.[11]

Colonel Walsh retired by sale of his commission on 3 February 1825.[12]  We can find no information about his personal life or when died.  However, he probably died prior to 1847, since he did not receive the Army General Service Medal.

In an inspection report of the 1st Battalion 91st Foot, dated 16 October 1818, Major General Sir Manley Power found Major Walsh “attentive, but unintelligent.”[13]   In 1821, a half-pay major was appointed to the regiment. This regimental junior major purchased the lieutenant colonelcy over James Walsh's head in September 1824.  Bad reports did affect promotion. So either James Walsh did not have the purchase price or bad reports led to his being passed over. About four months later he sold out.  


[1] Royal Military Calendar Vol. v, p. 153; London Gazette: 8 October 1796

[2] Ibid; London Gazette: 6 May 1796

[3] Ibid; London Gazette: 4 September 1804

[4] London Gazette: 15 August 1809

[5] Groves: p. 10; Dunn-Pattison.

[6] Ibid; p. 11

[7] Ibid, p. 14; Kitzmiller.

[8] Royal Military Calendar: Vol. V, p. 153

[9] London Gazette: 19 September 1818

[10] Royal Military Calendar: Vol.V, p. 153; London Gazette: 23 January 1819.

[11] Groves, p. 14

[12] London Gazette: 11 February 1825

[13] Veve; p. 53

Acknowledgment: I would like to thank LTC Gary Donaldson for providing information for this article.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2009; updated 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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