Research Subjects: Biographies

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 -- Lieutenant Charles Ward 52nd Foot

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan


Charles Ward was a rarity in this study.  The only information we could find on him was about his career.  We could not determine when he was born, where he was from, or what happened to him after he retired from the army.  It was as if he did not exist outside of the army. Yet even his service in the regiment was overlook, for when he does do something unique, he is misidentified in the regimental history!  (W.S. Moorsom lists the officers who belonged to the 1st Battalion of Detachments and misnames him as Charles Wood.)[1]

Charles Ward was commissioned as an ensign, without purchase, in the 52nd Foot on 29 March 1808.[2] He deployed to Portugal with the 2nd Battalion 52nd Foot and fought with them at Vimeiro.  When the regiment deployed into Spain in December, he was left in Portugal with the sick and wounded.  In February 1809, he was attached to the 1st Battalion of Detachments, part of the 52nd Company that was commanded by Captain Poole.  Ensign Ward was promoted to lieutenant, without purchase, on 10 May 1809.[3]  This would be his last promotion for eleven years!

Lieutenant Ward would fight with the 1st Battalion of Detachments at the crossing of the Douro, but would not fight at Talavera.  Why he was not with the battalion is unknown.  However it is most likely that he was sick.  The battalion was made up of soldiers too sick or wounded to march into Spain in November, 1808.  Six months later, they were nominally fit for duty, however whether they truly were is open to question.  By the end of the Talavera Campaign, the 1st Battalion of Detachments had 496 men listed as being "sick" and only 359 present for duty – a staggering 58% of the men hospitalized.  Lieutenant Ward would stay on the rolls of the 1st Battalion of Detachments until September 1809, when it was disbanded.  Lieutenant Ward returned to England and was with the 2nd Battalion at Lewes through the end of 1810.  On 1 January 1811, he exchanged to lieutenant into the 14th Light Dragoons.[4] He went from being the 15th junior lieutenant in the 52nd Foot, to the junior lieutenant in the 14th Light Dragoons.  On the surface, this does not appear to be a good move.  However, although he was now the junior lieutenant in the 14th Light Dragoons, there were only 20 lieutenants between him and a captaincy.  In the 52nd Foot, there were 34 lieutenants who were senior to him.[5]  For an officer who had little income outside his army pay, it was probably worth the gamble.

Lieutenant Ward would stay at the 14th Light Dragoons regimental depot at Radipole Barracks near Weymouth Dorset.  In October 1811, he was sent to the Peninsula and joined the regiment in the vicinity of Ciudad Rodrigo.  Over the next 30 months, he would fight with the regiment at Badajoz, Llerena, Castalla, Salamanca, Vittoria, the Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, Orthes, Vic Bigorre, Tarbes, and Toulouse.  Much of his time would be spent on outpost duties.  On 25 July 1812, Lieutenant Ward was in command of a picquet east of Salamanca, in the vicinity Blascosancho.  Corporal William Hanley of the 14th Light Dragoons, was returning that night with his patrol of four men of the 1st KGL Hussars and four men of the 14th Light.  Sergeant Hanley’s patrol had succeeded in capturing a French picquet and was escorting 27 French dragoons, a lieutenant, and a lieutenant-colonel back towards Allied lines.  When the 8 British and Germans, with their 29 prisoners “. . . arrived within sight of the advanced videttes fo the 14th light dragoons, who challenged.  The reply, ‘The patrol,’ being satisfactory, we proceeded; but, on our closer approach, the videttes, discovering by the moon’s light such a numerous group of long-tailed horses, supposed the enemy were playing off some stratagem, and fired, and retired towards their picket, which came up with swords drawn, at a brisk trot, led by Lieutenant Ward, to whom I explained how matters stood.  He congratulated one and all on our good fortune, and accompanied the patrol to Major-General Baron Alten, who commanded the brigade, with whom the officers remained.”[6]

After the liberation of Madrid, Lieutenant Ward would be part of a line of outposts screening the British Army towards the south.  The regimental headquarters was at Getafe and he would be part of the line between there and Madrid.[7]  On 28 June 1813, a week after the battle of Vitoria, Lieutenant Ward distinguished himself during the pursuit of the French who were retreating towards the passes that led to France .  He was in command of a small patrol of three men, when they came across twenty-five French infantry in Ostiz, a small village in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  They captured all 25 of them.[8]

With the abdication of Napoleon in April 1814, peace reigned in Europe.  The 14th Light Dragoons initially were slated for service in North America and had marched to Bordeaux to embark for America when new orders arrived.  They were ordered to return to England instead. After marching to Calais, the regiment boarded transports and landed at Dover on 17 July.  They would be stationed in the vicinity of London.[9]  Two squadrons of the 14th Light Dragoons would sail for the Caribbean in the fall of 1814 and participate as dismounted cavalry in the New Orleans Campaign.  It is possible that Lieutenant Ward served in the campaign; however I can find no evidence that he had.  Lionel Challis did occasionally list post-Peninsular War active service for many officers; however he did not list New Orleans for Charles Ward.

The end of the war saw little prospect for advancement for Lieutenant Ward.   By 1816, he was the 5th senior lieutenant and stationed in Ireland with the regiment. With this transfer to Ireland , the regiment was reduced to eight troops.  In 1817 and 1818, the regiment was reduced in size.[10]  In June 1819, the regiment returned to England and by the following year Lieutenant Ward was the senior lieutenant.[11]  Finally, on 20 April 1820, he received his long awaited promotion to captain.[12] Three years later he was the 3rd senior captain in the regiment.[13]  On 13 March 1823, he exchanged into the Cape Corps with Sir Thomas Ormsby.[14] (On an interesting side note, in December 1823, Lieutenant General Sir John Ormsby Vandeleur was appointed the new regimental colonel.)[15] A month later, on 10 April 1823, he exchanged to a half-pay captain in the 45th Foot.[16]

Little is known about Charles Ward after he retired in 1823.  He died in 1834 or early 1835.[17]


[1] Moorsom; p. 112

[2] Army List: January 1809; London Gazette: 2 April 1808

[3] Army List: June 1809; London Gazette: 13 May 1809

[4] Army List: March 1811; London Gazette: 16 January 1811

[5] Army Lists: July 1810 and March 1811

[6] Hanley; 386-387

[7] Cannon; p. 40

[8] Cannon; p. 44

[9] Ibid; p. 50

[10] Ibid; p. 53

[11] Hamilton: pp 530 - 532

[12] Yearly Army List: 1824

[13] Hamilton: pp 530 - 532

[14] London Gazette: 28 March 1823

[15] Cannon; p. 55

[16] London Gazette: 19 April 1823

[17] Army List: 24 January 1835

Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2009

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

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