Notes on Wellington’s Cavalry in the Peninsula: 14th Light Dragoons (Duchess of York’s Own)
By Ray Foster
23rd December 1808 [landed at Lisbon from Falmouth
Lieutenant General Moore had taken his army off into Northern Spain and was at this time much too far removed from this Regiment for it to be actively involved so it remains for Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Hawker to bring his charges up to readiness to take the field seeing them move off to Bucellas just a few miles to the north early in the New Year.
They would have ample time to become accustomed to the conditions prevailing hereabouts and as their own history will indicate showed throughout this ‘Peninsular’ period a firm grasp of the role expected of them. It is only when Wellesley returns on 22nd April of 1809 to carry on offensive operations that we shall see 14th Light Dragoons enter the field. We are informed that this unit would have under hand by 6th May:
6th May 1809 [on the march at Coimbra]
We do know that Marshal Beresford has taken a squadron of perhaps 100 troopers on his own flank attack. With a reduction already of 164 men then one can only observe that there would be already that restriction due to numbers of mounts available. No matter, they are brigaded under Major General Stapleton Cotton along with 16th Light Dragoons a newly landed regiment heading north together with a force of all arms commanded by Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley who intends to confront a French army under Marshal Nicholas Soult presently sat at Oporto at the mouth of the River Douro.
We pick up Cotton and his charges advancing at the head of a column a little short of Albergarvia Nova discovering that the enemy cavalry retiring before him is prepared to stand and fight, his own troopers on the night of 9th-10th May have been attempting to make progress during this night with what the French would call ‘ill-success’, diarists of both 14th and 16th Light Dragoons complained of the confusion and by this losing four of their men.
It is much too early to start counting heads sterner work lies ahead, the short journey to the southern banks of the Douro has involved other cavalry units but 14th Light Dragoons will get its share as the CIC comes up, sees his opportunities and orders two squadrons to go right with Major General John Murray and two KGL infantry battalions to march upstream as far as the Barca d’ Avintas boat ferry, get over the Douro and cut off the impending retreat of the French as others would be making that event sure.
It is 12th May and while the great adventure is evolving down by the Oporto Seminary Murray does his duty albeit with minimal enthusiasm so that when the retreat of the French comes pouring into sight he considers that his tiny force cannot stem this flood. This inactivity goes on only until that well-known and fiery officer Adjutant General Charles Stewart sent up by the CIC enters the scene, he without pause takes in hand as many as two squadrons of 14th Light Dragoons, some 120 troopers more or less to make a dash at this enemy, Major Felton B Hervey who commanded one squadron, Major the Hon’ Charles Butler the other and Brevet Colonel Samuel Hawker its regimental chief could not resist the challenge.
Whilst the sycophantic Frenchman, General Maximilien Foy, who was one of the first to be ‘dealt-to’ called it an incredible charge most decidedly it was one of those totally reliant on the mood-of-the-moment, the opposition already well on the way to abandonment resisted however just enough to give Hawker and his troopers a substantial near 30% loss. The tight restriction of walled lanes and enclosures prevented any more than a hacking down of those that sought to fight back so that the final count to compensate for 14th Light Dragoon’s casualties of 12 killed, 22 wounded and a single prisoner taken was the rounding up of a slight excess of 300 men prisoner.
In that total of wounded was Colonel Sam’ Hawker, Major Hervey, who as a result lost his right arm , Captain Peter Hawker, another good keen man and well out of place squadron leader and Lieutenant Robert Knipe who was recorded as slightly wounded. It does appear that the Adjutant General Charles Stewart entirely escaped injury although he did however capture Wellesley’s notice to eventually be kept well away from the gloriously gallant mounted arm of the service when in the field.
12th May 1809 [after the combat at the Douro]
All of those detachments both under Murray and Beresford moving forward ever northward have little or no chance of coming up on Soult’s retreating army but continue for several days making what time they can against the terrain, the weather that remains foul and the dwindling access to food of any sustenance. It is on 19th May then close by the rugged northern frontier with Spain that we see them turn about to make their way back down-country, it will be only at Abrantes that they come together both man and horse exhausted. By 18th July the army is re-composed Cotton and his troopers as before and well forward at Celorico all will set out directly east into Spain and a concentration with Captain General Gregorio Cuesta’s Spanish army, the aim, to see how well the French will resist a march on Madrid no less. Involved defensively in the early ‘dance’ around the Alberche stream we see that Lieutenant Theophilus Ellis is injured with one trooper wounded and importantly nine horses killed, it is 27th July; on the next fateful day, that of the battle at Talavera we see again Cotton’s Brigade, they are given a position somewhat to the left rear of Lieutenant Colonel James Kemmis’ Brigade of 4th Division infantry on the previous evening. It will be only when the French begin to advance in earnest in this sector that we can say that their battle begins so:
28th July 1809 [at the battle of Talavera]
Kemmis’ Brigade to their forward right has done its duty repulsing its immediate foe but things are beginning to look less sure to their left front, the Guards Division has not only done its duty in fine fashion but exceeded itself by beginning to chase in disordered fashion after its recoiling enemy ahead. This becomes serious as a large gap in the line opens up, Mackenzie’s and Donkin’s Brigades of 3rd Division make their way to correct that fault and Cotton also reacts by bringing his cavalry a little more left taking up as much lateral ground as his array will allow. Up ahead the contest has taken up a frightening aspect, the Portina stream trickling across this ‘front’ forms no obstacle as men come and go in violent contact, bodies of all contenders beginning to stack up while 14th Light Dragoons will perform that regular task of making sure that there is to be no retirement here. Eventually both sides are satisfied that no more can be achieved in this wanton slaughter and all subsides while commanders on both sides make what they can of this.
For 14th Light Dragoons it has been a mixed day of a little more than ‘light duties’ just three men dead and 11 wounded, of these last there is again their Colonel Sam’ Hawker, Captains John Chapman and Peter Hawker, Lieutenants Thomas Smith and William Wainman, of horses, unfortunately 21 had been killed and three wounded but also Captain Evelyn Dormer and another 13 horses captured, they could stand down at:
28th July 1809 [after the battle at Talavera]
With new enemy army corps beginning to enter the theatre and the corpse burying done the army has to begin a retirement, this to continue down the left banks of the Tagus then over miles of rough hill terrain to first gain a short respite at Truxillo.
Nothing is heard of 14th Light Dragoons in any of this or the further retirement down into the valley of the Guadiana River, there is a three month period of inactivity about Medallin-Badajoz where, on 1st November they will receive from 23rd Light Dragoons a very welcome 126 horses as that Regiment is stood down also a new cavalry regiment appears on the scene.
It is 1st Dragoons, The Royals with Major General John Slade at its head and by 24th November 1809 these men are joined to 14th Light Dragoons with their previous partners 16th Light Dragoons gone elsewhere. During December as the newly titled Lord Wellington begins to extricate himself and his army from ‘cooperation’ with all things Spanish units will begin to fall back across the frontier into Portugal, for Slade’s Brigade this entails a shift into the hill country behind Almeida where they will find quarters to see them through the winter.
In the spring and early summer of 1810 the forces of Napoleon have increased in available number and certainly so in the Peninsula, a new commander Marshal Andre Massena has under hand large numbers of men to dispose of and orders from his Emperor to throw-the-leopard-into-the-sea. For 14th Light Dragoons this will mean little until as late as 4th July, they have for a short while been observing the slow advance of Marshal Michel Ney’s Corps across the Azava River as his men are investing a Spanish garrison holding the fortress of Cuidad Rodrigo. Seemingly during all of the happenings over the next month we hear nothing whatever of Brigadier Slade or his ‘Royals’, instead 14th Light Dragoons have come under close liaison with their previous comrades 16th Light Dragoons the troopers now of Major General George Anson’s Brigade and more importantly under the overall command of Colonel Robert Craufurd of the Light Infantry Division.
On 10th July the garrison of Cuidad Rodrigo lay down their arms and the place is surrendered and activity around that fortress has become fluid, the next day Craufurd is at Fort Concepcion and notes that French foraging parties have come forward far enough to put themselves at risk, this will not do, he comes out into the field with detachments of his infantry, a couple of guns, three squadrons of light cavalry from Anson’s Brigade and three of 14th Light Dragoons.
The action that occurs hereabouts is said by Oman to occur by Barquilla, the cavalrymen involved called it Sexmiro, Oman mentions another village Cismeiro that does sound close, and so, what happened then? The foragers, some 200 or so infantrymen with two troops of dragoons take alarm and begin to abscond, Craufurd who is well forward orders the foremost two squadrons of his cavalry who, it turns out are of Anson’s Brigade to charge these men who seeing the situation rapidly form a tiny square in a standing cornfield on rising ground, their cavalry escort departs at speed drawing after them those of Anson’s troopers, this for some long distance before several are caught [31 in total] and made prisoner. Meanwhile Craufurd with 14th Light Dragoons entering the stage close by calls upon them to destroy this tiny square, just one squadron is up near enough but in they go; being led by their Lieutenant Colonel Neil Talbot it is to be a full-on charge to contact.
Firmly confident of their tight formation the defending infantrymen did everything right Talbot went to ground both he and his horse shot in several places and he to fall so close as to be bayoneted and battered with musket butts without the square being in the least compromised, seven of his troopers met the same fate while 23 more received wounds and no less than 20 horses also. A singular victory for the principle applying to the cavalry versus infantry square equation, in the following confusion these doughty fugitives scrambled off into the nearest cover, the few dwellings and enclosures of Cismeiro and then as the history rather dismissively says ‘got-away’.
A black mark for Craufurd, a number of influential diarists and compilers of journals who had been close by roundly condemned him for his impetuous action, Talbot it appears had been a quite popular commander of his men, it is told that Major Brotherton of his regiment bore a flag of truce to retrieve his body and had it buried back at the glacis of Fort Concepcion where not too long after it was unfortunately blown to pieces as that fort was destroyed under Craufurd’s orders.
11th July 1810 [after the combat at Cismeiro]
Falling back from Ney’s slow advance there is to be no action for 14th Light Dragoons however Lieutenant Colonel Felton Hervey has already returned for service and with the regiment now in hand finds little other than to escort the artillery off the field in some haste when at the passage of the River Coa. At some point here the enemy have come close enough to see that an un-named sergeant is killed, Cornet John Blatchford receives a wound from a shell fragment that saw him die some time later, while of horses, four are wounded. Craufurd has made yet another error of judgment his reputation saved by his more junior officers, all of this on 24th July, managing to get behind that barrier reasonably intact. They are not mentioned as the whole army stands on the ridge at Busaco awaiting Massena’s arrival there, we do know however that at that time Slade has his Brigade together well to the rear minus Captain the Hon’ Henry Percy captured on 25th September while retiring, figures will show 14th Light Dragoons holding now at:
28th September 1810 [behind the Busaco ridge about
When the retirement down country begins the cavalry brigades of Major General George De Grey, Slade and Anson along with the men of Craufurd’s Light Division have the task of retarding the advance of the enemy firstly before Coimbra and then going further yet by Pombal. Retiring steadily south they are confronted by a serious enemy threat requiring stern defence during which 14th Light Dragoons will record six men and six horses killed, eight men and twelve horses wounded these perhaps collected along with three other cavalry units and supported by Captain Bull’s Horse Artillery Brigade, there is nothing more to show of 14th Light Dragoons as they begin to pull up into their chosen defence positions, it is mid-October and autumn is about to become wintry. The next day, fortunately they reach the well prepared ‘Lines of Torres Vedras’ coming in at Alemquer at the most eastern end of these fortified entrenchments, they continue on down as far as Alhandra where the even more secure defenses begin.
A little over three weeks later we are given brigade figures that suggest a somewhat reduced strength of;
1st November 1810 [in the Lines of Torres Vedras]
Another fortnight goes by when Massena decides that his army must fall back at least as far as that area in Portugal where he can provide some comfort if he is to remain in the country during the on-coming winter, back he goes to Santarem with the result that Slade’s Brigade will follow up on 16th November to take ground at Cartaxo in rear of Major General Brent Spencer’s 1st Division on the low lying River Mayor. Three whole months drift by with nothing more than observation duties, 1st Division have withdrawn enough for Light Division to occupy the front so that when the French finally begin to depart and Light Division tentatively follow them up it will be 1st Division again that take the lead ahead of its cavalry companions. It is 6th March 1811 and for 14th Light Dragoons only the opportunity to follow up through a countryside devastated by the depredations of an army that for those winter months had merely ‘existed’. Two days later at Venta de Serra Captain Babington and his squadron come up with units of French Dragoons, the charge is sounded and at the cost of two troopers and their horses lost result in the capture of 14 men and their horses.
At and about Miranda de Corvo Colonel Samuel Hawker’s troopers [he is recovered from his wounds of Talavera back in 1809] would witness the cruel results of hamstringing done to as many as 500 animals of the French train, already deemed too weak to carry on.
By 20th March at Gallegos we see Slade is heard of typically being true to his character and more than slow to react to an opportunity to get his men into action, it is Tomkinson of 16th Light Dragoons who constantly keeps an eye on this regularly incapable commander. On 26th March Hawker has control of the Brigade, Hervey the regiment while Slade himself appears to have shifted up somewhat to take up command of Anson’s and his own brigade, Anson has gone ‘absent’ so that it is Lieutenant Colonel Frederick von Arentschildt who commands there,………searching cavalry command was never going to be easy! With Slade in command of his ‘Cavalry Division’ and Major General William Erskine commanding infantry there is an opportunity lost on 3rd April to compromise the French under Reynier as they begin to fall back from the Coa at Sabugal, it is all confused movement, as a heavy morning fog eventually clears all is revealed and the enemy gets off.
During the rest of April there is much shifting about of cavalry regiments as the French now about the Agueda begin to change from retirement to stand and soon to take up the offensive once again. The men of 14th Light Dragoons are seen in touch with 1st KGL Hussars, 1st Dragoons and eventually settling down to do patrol duty about Alfayates before finding their way to the field at Fuentes d Onoro;
3rd May 1811 [at Fuentes d Onoro]
Slade and Arentschildt Brigades are here covering Light Division as the day begins with Montbrun’s Dragoons pressing all back onto and across the Dos Casas stream so that they draw off to the rear of Wellington’s defensive array at Fuentes d Onoro village and form up well away from such activity as would take place for the rest of that day. Lieutenant Francis Hall and Major Brotherton, both diarists of 14th Light Dragoons tell the story for the two days of action with no mention of a fight in this first day however, Oman’s faithful appendix compiler records the loss of a man killed another wounded and one more missing here, so not entirely free of risk.
It will be on the 5th May that things become risky in the extreme, it is early morning, and the mist is still lying about Brotherton’s position away out on the much extended right flank and in company with men of Julian Sanchez lancers when the Major detects suspicious objects in the marshy woods to their front. The fog rises and the objects become significant numbers of dismounted enemy cavalrymen who likewise, upon seeing their own enemy mount up and as is oft said ‘let battle commence’. With only two squadrons against a whole regiment it is a fighting retirement that keeps 14th Light Dragoons falling back, turning, fighting and falling back for a full two miles before reaching the tiny hamlet of Poço Velha where light infantry elements of 7th Division can stop the rush with a few well aimed volleys. By now Montbrun has brought up more of his dragoons as also Slade and Arentschildt have reinforced Brotherton’s two squadrons, the cavalry fight thus becomes a general melee, still much under strength and unable to do more than gather in towards their infantry who themselves are feeling the sabres too. A few incidents in all of this confusion that come down to us in general histories do involve 14th Light Dragoons, the withdrawal of those two surrounded Horse Artillery guns by Captain Ramsay’s gunners relied heavily on our troopers here along with their brigade comrades of 1st Dragoons also the story of Captain Robert Knipe who opined that the best way to attack guns was at their front. He and a few of his adherents did just that and got themselves shot to pieces in proving the contrary argument while attacking a battery that came conveniently close, in the end however those who survived considered that it was an action worthy of all so engaged with Lieutenant John Townsend picking up Knipe’s squadron although being counted amongst the wounded himself.
The enemy was ultimately beaten off by a combination of all arms and the day won not before the count had been considered, for the two separate days then, 4 men killed, 33 wounded and 4 captured, of those wounded that includes the over-confident Captain Robert Knipe who died just 13 days later, Captain Thomas Milles, Lieutenants Lovell Badcock, John Gwynne, John Townsend and Cornet William Ellis so:
5th May 1811 [after the battle at Fuentes d Onoro]
This battle loss for the French spelled the end for Marshal of the Empire Andre Massena so that as Marshal Auguste Marmont took his place and began re-organising his men there was little to occupy 14th Light Dragoons for a few weeks, the frontier fortress town of Almeida goes off with a bang again as Lieutenant General Brent Spencer allows his fears to command his actions and this northern part of the army goes south across the Tagus but not before having allowed the incompetent John Slade the opportunity to hazard his rearguard while falling back down the Carpio road. Leaving troopers of 14th Light Dragoons too long as last to move Montbrun’s most forward advance guard had to be held back by a charge of 1st Dragoons in order for them to get off by way of the marshes of Nava de Avar, all of this on 5th June. There is a slow continuing retirement coming to an end in the watershed of the Caya River an unpleasant area at this time of year so that all had to endure the attentions of the mosquitoes until late July when the combined forces of Marmont and Soult had retired back to their own theatres of operations.
Some little time after this and while still ‘in the field’ there are a few bewildering brigading changes, Colonel Hawker has gone home, it seems that briefly 14th Light Dragoons will come under Brigadier Major General Richard Ballard Long with 2nd KGL Hussars however, since a few new cavalry units are coming forward this holds only for weeks so that by 1st August Major General George Anson has them in hand but with their old comrades of 1809 the 16th Light Dragoons. We see them as such at Castello Branco midway through August along with two other cavalry brigades ostensibly so positioned to observe the enemy who in fact is quite some way off. When Marmont instigates a great cavalry sweep across the frontier posts on 25th September 14th Light Dragoons will be behind the Azava River on the Carpio road, Wathier’s cavalry are seen by the forward pickets to be coming straight at them. It is no problem for them to retire through lines of 6th Division infantry and await events; it comes to them in the form of a unit of lancers, those of Berg. The charge is called and succeeds so that they are able to re-form and stand a counter charge by which time they are reinforced by 16th Light Dragoons, not only is this counter repulsed but on this occasion nothing will do than but a chase is given going a full two miles right down to the Azava itself.
Only Lieutenant Francis Hall [the diarist] and two of his men are wounded here, 16th Light Dragoons having obviously done most of the work and with figures having been presented just a few days earlier we can say with confidence that they would stand down at:
25th September 1811 [after the skirmish at Carpio]
When all of this has settled itself the CIC draws back his army to find winter quarters Marmont having been satisfied that he was to be no more meddled with that year, For George Anson this meant that once he had found cantonments for his charges about Freixadas he absented himself so that it would be up to Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Ponsonby of 12th Light Dragoons to pick up the brigade during January of the New Year bringing his regiment, a unit that had arrived as long ago as 1st July of 1811 and previously sat with Slade, into that brigade also. Whilst Wellington was busy putting both Cuidad Rodrigo and later Badajoz to the sword his cavalry generally during these still winter/spring months would remain at rest.
With the coming of full summer campaigning Anson has returned to relieve Ponsonby as Brigadier but, as the army converges on Salamanca and Marmont leaves there a garrison to defend extemporized forts by the river bridge it appears that 14th Light Dragoons are uplifted to act as Wellington’s mounted escort when he sets down about that place in mid June 1812.
A celebratory function on 17th June by the civil dignitaries upon their liberation would no doubt be joined by a few privileged Light Dragoon officers there. Very soon after yet another re-arrangement of regiments takes place, Anson is gone, replaced by Major General Victor von Alten who brings with him the highly regarded 1st KGL Hussars while 16th Light Dragoons [no less regarded] depart elsewhere. Back they go on regular screening duties, Marmont showing himself to be prepared to take an offensive stance again, this begins a period of shadowing one against the other about the rolling country north and east of Salamanca, their new comrades of 1st KGL Hussars on 22nd June have a slight touch with enemy vedettes before all head up to the Tormes at Aldea Lengua continuing manœuvres on both sides of the river nearby Huerta.
Nothing serious at all yet, the Forts of Salamanca are taken and as we say in the 21st Century the game is now taken to another level, Marmont shows an almost truculent attitude bringing forward a force of all arms, it is 17th July and Alten’s Brigade, with others are to be tested.
Lowry Cole’s 4th Division on rearguard duty along with Cotton’s cavalry are left without good orders as to their purpose when the rest of the army have made a disconnection during both sides cat-and-mouse moves, on 18th July by Castrejon all are compelled to make a fight of it, a classic case of the men-on-the-ground saving the commander’s embarrassment by their willingness to win a fight at disadvantage. All are on the River Guarena, the story is well told elsewhere of Wellington’s and Beresford’s drawn swords hacking their own way out of danger a little earlier and then, 14th Light Dragoons with Major Brotherton at their head sees his time coming, 1st KGL Hussars are right there also and inevitably the charge is sounded. French Dragoons are coming at them boldly so that this will be no hit-and-run affair, a serious melee ensues both sides giving no ground so that with infantry of both sides already well involved not too far away themselves it only remains to see who will cry enough first.
Here we are then and the place recorded as Castrillo; so
18th July 1812 [at the combat at Castrillo]
Fourteen men have been killed, fifty two wounded and nine are captured, amongst the wounded are officers Major Brotherton, Lieutenants Francis Fowke and John Gwynne so, with a further 60 men of 1st KGL Hussars to be added a serious fight indeed,
18th July 1812 [after the combat at Castrillo]
Best to call this encounter a draw, 4th Division and Cotton’s cavalry retire to re-join the main force and the manœuvres continue, all the way to that area by the Greater and Lesser Arapiles where just four days later Marshal Marmont was to meet his fate. It comes to us that on the morning of the great day 14th Light Dragoons would be split in two but perhaps not before their brigadier Victor von Alten had been seen by enemy voltigeurs as too good a target to pass up, coming within sure range he was shot in the knee and surely in some pain led off the field. Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Arentschildt of 1st KGL Hussars thus took over the brigade duties, with squadron strengths now down to no more than 68 sabres each two of these were to remain on the left flank of the army along with Bock’s KGL Dragoons, their task to keep an eye on Boyer’s French Dragoons at what would be the rear of Marmont’s array. Arentschildt himself with 1st KGL Hussars and these under 140 troopers of 14th Light Dragoons were shifted into a central position close to 1st Division infantry for some time.
We hear nothing of either half until Marmont has made his extension away to the British/Allied right, Wellington has been fired into action and has already sent on from Packenham’s far flank a speedy ADC to get Arentschildt up as soon as possible to come up to the Portuguese cavalry of Major General Benjamin D’Urban who is also being alerted to close onto 3rd Division right flank as protection there. Quite a distance to go then but, this 5 squadron unit of cavalry is by now the most reliable of all of the CIC’s mounted arm and in very good hands, they get up in fine order as D’Urban has his Dragoons closing onto Packenham’s ever extending series of lines, so it is that men of 14th Light Dragoons will be at the point of contact that starts the whole sequence of events that will seal the fate of the Army of Portugal. When the first clash came on Arentschildt used his troopers with admirable economy fully supporting D’Urban’s men driving all before them, the casualty list tells the story best of all, here they were at the very point of first contact and able to sweep down the rear of the French infantry causing despair to their immediate foe and just as importantly warding off the very late attempt by General Curto’s light cavalry to cause any check to this ‘rolling-up’ admittedly being subsequently sent well beyond the point of no return by the Dragoons of Major General Gaspard Le Marchant. Arentschildt’s adjutant could report only 26 casualties of all ranks from this little corps just three of whom are from 14th Light Dragoons so:
22nd July 1812 [after the battle on the Arapiles]
It will be as well to mention those men left to watch Boyer’s cavalry all day on the far left flank, our only clue is that General Maximilien Foy as the night draws on does say that his men, who formed a final rearguard did get ‘harassed’ by cavalry during that retreat from the field. Four days later Arentschildt Brigade is seen by Arevalo with a small patrol group of 14th Light Dragoons, just nine troopers in the hand of a Corporal Hanley, this tiny corps coming up on men of King Joseph’s Chasseur Juramentados all 27 of who are encouraged to surrender themselves. Turning south from here off they all go down to Madrid where some celebrating may take place, Victor von Alten remains absent for a while yet so we can expect Arentschildt to still have them in hand by the end of August;
31st August 1812 [at and about Madrid]
Thankfully the troopers of Arentschildt’s Brigade are not called upon to go north with Wellington when he travels up to see how far he can push the remnants of the Army of Portugal out of Spain, they will stay about Madrid and so much out of sight that when we next hear of them it will be as the combined forces of King Joseph/Jourdan and Marshal Soult have begun to return to the offensive. Von Alten is back in charge and their brigade numbers have been increased by the addition of 2nd KGL Hussars, this on 17th October 1812. A week later the Brigade is falling back behind a few rivers to the south of Madrid as a part of a general retirement from the enemy’s rather slow advances hereabouts and that same situation facing Wellington’s Corps from the north, all of which brings them together after a long semi-circular march north east of Salamanca on the old San Cristobal position of the summer. It is mid-November when the retirement starts its transformation to a full-on retreat, Victor von Alten Brigade being in a rearguard role in the more southern column becomes engaged in a skirmish through wooded country near Matilla, they are engaged against troopers of General Digeon’s Dragoons while screening elements of Hill’s 2nd Division.
Losses here on 16th November amount to some 34 men, no officers it seems but at least we are told that it was 1st KLG Hussars that lost the greater number, 14 men in all while 14th Light Dragoons and 2nd KGL Hussars shared the remainder of casualties here. It is the time of the icy cold rain-filled winds of late autumn, the non-existent food supplies and the paths of deep mud, just as ruinous for horse as man, the episode of the wild-pig-hunt amongst the trees and acorn soup, the enemy gradually affected by the same exposure simply hanging off to glean the pickings of exhausted/drunken soldiers and their camp followers until after mile by miserable mile they are able to turn about behind the frontier at the River Agueda, it is now 19th November and a previously absent commissariat appears with basic rations.
It is noted that besides the wretchedness of the infantry men as much as a half of the cavalry are dismounted and their remaining mounts stand in poor condition, this does not prevent von Alten’s troopers from having to provide forward patrol duties on the Agueda while others are able to fall into winter quarters well back in Portugal, noticeably no figures as to strengths are available. During the winter and early spring there are many changes of command and composition of the cavalry arm of the service 2nd Hussars KGL will have gone by 13th March along with a number of other cavalry Regiments and all to leave their horses to regiments in need.
A whole Brigade of Guard cavalry has already entered the theatre in January making the securing of quarters more difficult for their ‘inferiors’ and even more-so when during April a Brigade of Hussars also re-enter the scene. Victor von Alten is ‘on-notice’ as a commander to be disposed of but at least his brigade holds together during this ‘out-of-line’ period. With the whole of the cavalry arm put together as a single Division under Stapleton Cotton the time comes for the advance against King Joseph and his combined armies of the western/central theatre to be finally ejected from Spain. Alten has 14th Light Dragoons and 1st KGL Hussars still under hand and by late May of 1813 off they go, they take the road directly onto Salamanca where the French General Villate is awakening to the situation slowly enough to be compromised and retreats off in some disorder.
There is a brief contact here on 27th May but with 1st Hussars KGL to the front it is they who will record just one of their troopers killed and the CIC, Wellington himself ordering a halt as the enemy appear to be capable of putting up enough resistance to cause un-necessary casualties, overall they are in a steady but full retreat after all.
Halted for a few days while Graham’s column got forward towards the west there is nothing to report until Alten has his men on the move during June, they have circumvented Valladolid and are to the west of Burgos when we see them so well forward [about Villagarcia] that a squadron led by Captain Thomas Milles takes only a detachment under Lieutenant Arthur Southwell of 14th Light Dragoons to capture an enemy gun left behind as the French retire from that area, it is 12th June, one man and one horse are killed and one man and five horses wounded, the great Basque city of Vittoria is not much further ahead. We should expect by now to have an estimate as to sabres present in this run-up to serious contact with King Joseph/Jourdan’s army, so:
Mid June 1813 [closing on Vittoria]
Incredibly this could be seen as the last of the serious adventures of 14th Light Dragoons in the Peninsula, they attract no attention at the battle of 21st June 1813 they do lose Victor von Alten only to come under Richard Ballard Long who then slides into that ‘surplus-to-requirements’ basket being relieved of the command of not only 1st Hussars KGL on 2nd July but of his new brigade of 13th and 14th Light Dragoons as the army coalesces about Pamplona in August.
They will appear briefly however under Brevet Colonel Richard Hussey-Vivian still with 13th Light Dragoons at Hasparren on 12th December 1813 but standing alone against a large incursion of the enemy cavalry under General Pierre Soult with infantry under General Paris. It was here that their long serving Major Thomas Brotherton and the afore-mentioned Lieutenant Southwell were both captured along with a sergeant and one trooper when irresponsibly put to the charge [by Vivian it was rumoured] over a narrow bridge thereabouts.
This event to become one of those many contentious points at issue that trailed on long after the war even to involve an opinion by non-other than that prolific French military writer/observer General Lemonnier-Delafosse who had been present at the time. Other casualties to 14th Light Dragoons are recorded as three men wounded at this event.
Going into the New Year there were many command changes in the cavalry chain; as offensive operations begin we see that Vivian has moved on and Major General Henry Fane has acquired two brigades, 13th and 14th Light Dragoons and his previous two ‘heavy’ regiments so, the former not to be directly under his care they fall to Brigadier Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Doherty of 13th Light Dragoons.
As Beresford and Hill starting on 16th January 1814 to bring forward the left and right flanks Soult’s much reduced army has difficulty in covering enough ground to match this steady attack however it will be well into February before we can expect Doherty’s Brigade to be seen crossing the various rivers and streams that fall out of the French side of the lower Pyrenees.
The cavalry brigades, well into open country are able to switch from left to right and the reverse order so it is only when they come up to and to pass the Gave d Oloron that identification of positions can be verified prior to serious action in the run-up to the battle at Orthez to give us surety. Fane is shown to be well down at the south end of the ‘line’ to the right of Hill’s infantry as they cross the River Gave by the Fords of Suars. After a long hard fight away towards the far left produces an ever increasing rate of retirement by Soult’s army Hill begins to threaten the road to the southern end that could take these fugitives away by Sault de Navailles and Doherty’s Brigade of Light Dragoons would be to the fore in this.
13th Light Dragoons must have been at the head here whilst we are informed that all were close enough to bring into action their accompanying horse artillery as the enemy put up some significant resistance behind that town. With just two men wounded 14th Light Dragoons would be called off the chase to halt some way along the Hagetmau road;
27th February 1814 [after the battle at Orthez]
The next day with the retreating enemy blowing the bridge over the Luy de France a general halt to the pursuit is called, it will be a full week before a tentative advance returns and even more so as only probing reconnaissance’s are being called for as to the enemy’s intentions, this is the time when Wellington is about to send two full Divisions of infantry and a cavalry brigade off to see if Bordeaux is to be taken by those monarchists principally led by the Duke d Angouleme eager to see the end of Napoleon’s Empire, his line of advance will need to be made secure at this northern end of his array. The situation here is very fluid; we know that Pierre Soult and large numbers of his cavalry had been aware of this attempted breaking of allegiance to the Empire, Fane is warned of Soult’s approach all of which comes down to a number of almost chance confrontations; on 7th and 8th April about Pau a detachment of 14th Light Dragoons led by Captain Townsend and supported with two guns is attacked by enemy cavalry in some number with limited success, that officer and four troopers being captured.
Again on 13th March as Marshal Soult checks his retreat and even begins to look mildly offensive contacts with the enemy are resumed, Fane’s troopers are most likely about open country east of the River Lees, [mentioned as being at Clarac] they are ‘driven in’ mention being made of the presence of squadrons led by Captains John Babington, Lovell Badcock and Milles and eventually one of Captain Anderson which tipped the scales to fall back on Hill’s Divisions whose presence thus revealed persuades Soult that the defensive might be the better option. In this rather protracted fight Babington had been wounded and captured [a singular exception from JA Hall’s exceptional ‘blesses’ lists] and as afollow-on it appears that Milles had done enough to see him later promoted to Major in his turn.
By 18th March we see that Lieutenant William Lyon is recorded as having been killed at Lembeye which is some 15 miles or so beyond Garlin with the direction of advance heading towards Tarbes, as they arrive there is a battle-royal taking place off to their left between infantry of General Taupin’s and men of Light Division. It is only when this fight has been settled that 14th Light Dragoons can get on, they reach Barbazon, a tiny hamlet on the road to Tournay with no further mention coming their way. Their Brigade partners 13th Light Dragoons do however on 22nd March manage to come up to and charge [naturally enough] units of the French 10th Chasseurs taking 100 or so prisoners, this about St Gaudens.
Fane’s men on the last day of March cross the major River Garonne just south of Pinsaguel only to find that before them yet another river flows the River Ariège and insufficient pontoons to make a crossing there. In retiring back with others who had to also turn back in some number they find themselves having become the rearguard with this ensuring that as the battle for Toulouse began they would take no part:
10th April 1814 [at Toulouse]
This is an arbitrary figure taken from Brigade strengths but cannot be far from accurate, they would slowly follow Soult’s retiring army down the Carcassonne road until that Marshal conceded defeat enabling 14th Light Dragoons to take the road first via Bordeaux up to the English Channel at Calais and thus back home, all by 17th July 1814 .
This veteran Regiment having had a full five years of Peninsula experience would not be present at Waterloo.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2011
[ | Home ]