Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 24th Regiment of Foot (2nd Warwickshire)
Landed at Lisbon during April 1809, quite late it seems, they were very soon brigaded under Mackenzie when Wellesley arrived in the country. Their comrades at this time were 3/27th, 2/31st and 1/45th, this Brigade was passed up country by the Tagus river to Abrantes where they were joined by a large number of Portuguese regular troops just recently formed (under Beresford's mandate). Apart from 45th Regiment this was a very "new" recruitment of young lads, as we shall see later, first figures for 2/24th then:
5th May 1809 (at Abrantes)
Not at all bad for numbers even though they might be a 2nd Battalion and quite “green”; their immediate task is to protect the Tagus valley area from any enemy incursion coming by way of the Alemtejo while Wellesley's little army is up north ejecting Soult from Oporto. That campaign was to be over in quick time so that by 18th June Mackenzie's Brigade has been taken into the army that is being re-formed for the campaign with Cuesta to enter deep into Spanish territory. 3/27th have left and gone down to Lisbon, in need of becoming "regular" so that as the three remaining battalions stay with Mackenzie they will be found with 3rd Division and their Brigadier also is the Division Commander. When we see them at the field of the Talavera fighting they, having received a small reinforcement will stand at a creditable:
27th July 1809 (at Talavera)
Their Division is involved in the surprise and retreat from their positions behind the Alberche stream but 2/24th suffer only nine casualties by this, going on to the next day the Brigade is held in reserve for some time at the southern end of the Medallin hill on their left. The Guards brigade which stood some way to their front is hurled back across the Portina stream when it makes a wild uncontrolled charge deep into the enemy positions, Wellesley can only plug the gap thus created by swinging Mackenzie's Brigade into line as the French columns advance on a counter-attack. The concerted volley of this very “unseasoned” brigade brings the rush to a halt and a furious fire-fight is commenced. Mackenzie is killed as this contest is joined, Lieutenant Colonel Drummond leading 2/24th goes down with serious wounds as do Major Popham, Captains Collis and Evans [this one fatally], Lieutenants Easter, Grant, and Skene, Ens's Jesseman and Johnson with lesser injuries to Lieutenants Anderson, Stack and Vardy, 44 of their men are dead, 268 wounded and 21 collected up as prisoners. By the time that the French have called quits 2/24th have 345 men killed, wounded, and prisoners, not a recommended way to ease ones new recruits into the realities of war!
27th July (after the battle at Talavera)
The pain is just beginning, after burying their dead and being forced to leave behind their worst wounded they are then left to make an ignominious retreat onto the south bank of the Tagus going all the way back through desolate hill country to Truxillo before any relief is to be found, even then there is little food to be had and to make matters worse the army is slowly taken further yet into the Guadiana valley where at this time of year malarial fevers reign supreme. The remnants of this ill-used army retire from the Badajoz region by Christmas of 1809 into the comparative comfort of Portuguese hospitality; they will not venture out into the field for a very long time! It is hardly surprising then that when they next appear their numbers will not be encouraging.
In the meantime there have been quite a number of changes in the composition and divisional organisation of Wellington's brigades.
For a short while 2/24th had Robert Craufurd as its Brigadier then, the whole brigade is split up and goes its various ways, 2/24th is now to be found in 1st Division, 2nd Brigade under Cameron, their new comrades are 2/42nd, 1/61st and a coy' of 5/60th.
For four months of 1810 Cameron left the brigade, "vacant" before Blantyre of 42nd Regiment took over and it was under that Brigadier that the 2nd Brigade stood at the Busaco ridge in late September, a new battalion, 1/79th has joined and 1/61st has transferred elsewhere;
27th September 1810 (at Busaco)
They have only one casualty that day, Captain Meacham wounded and march back down country to the lines at Torres Vedras where they have another head count going down by 33 men on the way;
1st November 1810 (at Torres Vedras)
Having the benefit of a static position over the winter months this 2nd Battalion, like most of the other 2nd battalions would still struggle to receive drafts from their depots so as they come out of the "Lines" in March of 1811 have done very well to gather up a fair proportion of their sick and injured. By now Nightingall would have the Brigade, Blantyre standing down in his stead; I have estimated that at this time they would show:
11th March 1811 (coming out of Torres Vedras)
Arriving on the field at Fuentes d Onoro they can still show:
1st May (at Fuentes d Onoro)
The actions over 3rd-5th May will see them lose 29 men amongst them Lieutenant Ireland killed on the first day and the tally is coming down again to a level which will draw the attention of Wellington's masters back at Horse Guards.
5th May (after the battle at Fuentes')
Matters are made worse when the army shifts into the unhealthy Guadiana basin, by the time that they return a little north above the Tagus in September they have sunk to a critical level indeed, yet another Scottish battalion has joined, 1/26th (Cameronians) and Nightingall has gone, Stopford takes over the Brigade.
15th September (at Fuente Guinaldo)
The battalion has three months to build up its numbers before taking part in the siege and storm of the fortress town of Cuidad Rodrigo. It is the turn of the year so, having spent a fortnight as a part of the trench digging roster they will while toiling away there on 15th January 1812 be called upon to stop the rush of a sortie which has come out of the walls to damage these works, they are able to gather together behind a protecting parapet and put up a concerted fire which has the desired effect, Lieutenant Powell and a handful of his men being wounded, the work carries on. It is fortunate that they are not used on the night of the storm but siege work always brings its steady toll of attrition, after the storm then:
19th January 1812 (after the capture of Cuidad Rodrigo)
During the period when Badajoz is put under siege and then stormed 1st Division goes down into Estremadura under Corps chief Graham, in early April Stopford relinquishes the command of the Brigade and a month later Wheatley picks it up. It is about this time that the senior Battalion of 42nd arrives and joins, 1/26th having already left, (too sickly) gone to Gibraltar. There are no solid figures for this period but it is possible to estimate from overall records that the battalion has again restored itself closer to viability:
April-May 1812 (in Estremadura)
Having re-joined the northern army for the Salamanca campaign we next see them just prior to the great battle at the Arapiles they have inched up their numbers to a strength not seen since the Talavera campaign, 2/42nd has been drafted into its 1st Battalion and 2/58th has joined:
15th July (about Salamanca)
The light companies of the Brigade are sent into the village of Arapiles early on the day of the battle there and since 1st Division never gets into the main event at all, the only casualties for 2/24th will come from their light-infantrymen, 5 wounded we are told:
22nd July (after the battle at the Arapiles)
Having had the pleasure of being feted in Madrid for a couple of weeks the Division is put in march northwards all the way up to Burgos where the Brigade operates under Stirling of 42nd Regiment. This does nothing for 2/24th's long-time marginal figures, by the time that they are able to break off the dismal siege, with the occasional abortive escalade, Lieutenant Walton has been mortally wounded and Captain Coote received a severe wound, their total of numbers have slipped down to the previous "danger" area.
23rd October 1812 (at the end of the siege at Burgos)
Although the march back down country to Salamanca and then further, to Cuidad Rodrigo is executed in foul late autumn weather and, without sustenance from the commissary gentlemen it must be said that these 300 odd men of 2/24th had by this time become a very tough corps of survivors. It is estimated that upon arrival back behind the Agueda they could still count:
29th November (behind the Agueda)
Within a week of this return to tranquillity in Portugal, despite Sterling's desire to take it with him into 6th Division the battalion is merged with that other 2nd batt from the old Brigade 2/58th (Rutland's) to become a Provisional Battalion, the 3rd. During the spring of 1813 as these two depleted units work on their liaison we are able to see sure independent figures, surprisingly unaltered at:
26th April 1813 (cantoned in Portugal)
They will be found in 7th Division under Barnes and their combined adventures will be seen amongst the doings of the Provisional Batt's later in this work.
PS: A typical fighting 2nd Battalion originally made up of raw recruits sent out to fill the huge gap that would be left when the Corunna evacuation and to some extent the later Walcheren campaign had run their destructive courses. These young lads, or at least the nucleus that survived their early days went on to become hard men, too good to be called back home by the Horse Guards/Duke of York’s demands.
They of course went on to the bitter end making the best of it!
They are not present at Waterloo.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2010
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