Notes on Wellington’s Cavalry in the Peninsula

By Ray Foster

9th Light Dragoons in 1812
By Charles Hamilton Smith.
From the collection of Tony Broughton.

The use of the cavalry arm of the military expeditions sent in favour of the Portuguese/Spanish resistance to French incursions into the Iberian Peninsula began modestly enough only gradually attaining any sort of recognition as a force to be reckoned with.

Relying as it must on the capacity of its Royal Navy and its associated fleets of transport vessels to deliver and in many cases to maintain supply on behalf of the mounted arm it would be a demanding task from first to last of those six years from August 1808 to April 1814.

It immediately becomes apparent that the seaborne carriage of significant numbers of troop horses from the shores of the British Isles and ports in the Mediterranean Sea to the Peninsula would be regulated by the seasons and so it is that this compilation will deal with the 26 Regiments of Cavalry in sequence upon their first arrivals.

Due to the way that the whole of the military operations developed it is a simple matter to break down these entries on a year by year basis always keeping an eye on the weather conditions that inevitably affected the sailing ships of the period.

From the 1st August to as late as mid November 1808 we have what might be seen as the Class of 1808, it rapidly becomes the case that there is much to be learned in all facets of ‘the-game’, with just six regiments, all of the ‘Light’ classification it will be up to them to establish some kind of ‘reputation’.

They are:

20th Light Dragoons
18th Light Dragoons
3rd Light Dragoons KGL
7th Hussars
10th Hussars
15th Hussars  

One more regiment, because it only managed to come ashore as late as 23rd December 1808 and at Lisbon must in reality belong to the next Class, they are of course The Class of 1809 will be seven in number with the inclusion of that late arrival, it will be up to this group to show that the 08ers were no flash-in-the-pan. Unfortunately there is still a great deal to be learned but at least the 09ers by and large are there for the long haul and will show a willingness to do just that.

They are:

14th Light Dragoons [the late arrivals of 1808]
16th Light Dragoons
3rd Dragoon Guards
4th Dragoons
23rd Light Dragoons
1st Hussars KGL
1st Dragoons

The following year produced no class at all, this was the time, well after the new Lord Wellington had been left to absorb his own lessons as to the kind of assistance he and his masters at Horse Guards could offer his new allies of Spain and Portugal, it became a full year of contemplation, re-organisation and for those troopers and their mounts of the 09ers a time to get to know ‘the-game’. 

The New Year of 1811 opens tentatively enough as to any cavalry reinforcement but will as the land war expands draw in a further eight regiments, The Class of 1811, by now, with a full dozen mounted units to call on and a few actually well seasoned there might by the end of this year be promise of turning them to good use.

They are:

13th Light Dragoons
2nd Hussars KGL
11th Light Dragoons
12th Light Dragoons
9th Light Dragoons
4th Dragoon Guards|
3rd Dragoons
5th Dragoon Guards

Unlike the previous year, 1812 opens with a bang, it is all action and mostly of the offensive sort, numbers of horses available will become even more important if the cavalry arm is to exert itself on the field there will not however be any multiple regiments able to put in sufficient numbers to classify them. Noticeably two fine regiments will have braved the elements to sail through the Bay of Biscay in mid winter to arrive at Lisbon about the 1st January 1812 they are;

1st Dragoons KGL|
2nd Dragoons KGL 

This effort is to be repeated by three more regiments of ‘Heavies’ as January 1813 comes to an end, they are;

1st Life Guards
2nd Life Guards
Royal Horse Guards

By now the war in the Peninsula has approached its climax, a few regiments during 1813 will go home and four that had departed as long ago as the embarkment from Corunna in January of 1809 will return, their history’s herein will merely follow on.

Rather than pass a judgment on the capacity of Wellington’s cavalry in the Peninsula it is left to the reader to see ‘how-they-went’, it is not possible however to escape the observation that both horse and man,  with sabre or broadsword in hand and at the charge, the enemy before them was certainly ‘in-for-it’.




Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2011 - May 2015


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