Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 40th Regiment of Foot (The Somersets)

By Ray Foster

Facings: Buff
Lace: Gold


2nd August 1808 (landed at Mondego Bay from Cork)
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Coming ashore with Wellesley this battalion is soon brigaded with 1/36th and 1/71st under Major General Ronald Ferguson they are not engaged at the early fights against Delaborde but are in line at Vimiero less than three weeks after landing.

In this battle they are involved late in the piece performing that classic short range full volley fire and bayonet charge for which this army became famous, the enemy after a repeat reception of this tactic turned tail and ran leaving their part of the field free for an advance, not however before leaving on the ground some 46 killed and woundedof 1/40th, amongst them Captain Charles Smith and Lieutenant Thomas Franklyn both wounded.  A follow-up of the partial victory never took place as the Lieutenant General Hew Dalrymple/Lieutenant General Harry Burrard duo took the battle out of Wellesley's hands, so:

21st August (after the battle of Vimiero)
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Soon after the army had got down to Lisbon it was discovered that a Spanish force was engaged in a blockade of the French held Portuguese frontier fortress of Elvas.  Lieutenant General  John Hope was sent down to this place with a composite Division of battalions to remind this enemy garrison that a Convention at Cintra was being finalised whereby this and all other of the French occupying forces in Portugal would soon be going back to their homeland transported in the hands of the British Navy. Amongst this ad-hoc Division it seems was 1/40th, they, with their Lieutenant Colonel James Kemmis were to stay at this fortress when Hope left to escort Lieutenant General John Moore's artillery and heavy baggage away into Spain via Badajoz, when this occurred it would be likely that the nominal overall command of 1/40th would fall to Lieutenant General John "Beau" Cradock in Lisbon, by now it is almost November of 1808.

Kemmis' battalion stay at Elvas all winter and it is some time in March when he receives an order which has emanated from civil rather than military sources to take his men down to Seville presumably to "cement relations" with the local Junta of that large city.  Having marched his men off to this place he cannot have been long there when Wellesley re-enters the scene at Lisbon.  Having succeeded in expelling Marshal Nicholas Soult's army out of Portugal Wellesley seeks to re-organise all of his available troops and as a result we see that 1/40th are to be brought back from Seville to re-join. There is some ambiguity as to how this was done, in Wellington’s Dispatches it is to be expected that they return going down to Cadiz then by sea to Lisbon and marching up to Abrantes from there. Sergeant Lawrence of 1/40th [who was there obviously enough] in his history says that they merely marched up to Abrantes, I prefer the second story, it is entirely reasonable that this unit would be greatly inconvenienced having to transport men and horses (officers) and more importantly their commissary mule train by sea and in such a short time frame so as to get up to the army on time.

No matter, as the army makes its way into Spain to meet with a Spanish force under Captain General Francisco Cuesta 1/40th will have been brigaded with 97th and a Battalion of company Detachments, the 2nd, all under Kemmis as a part of Lieutenant General Alexander  Campbell's 4th Division. When we see them at the battlefield close by Talavera standing in defensive line they are at:

27th July 1810 (at Talavera de la Riena)                                                                                                                      
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Standing to the right of the plain close to Captain Robert Lawson's gun battery Campbell's Division are to endure a long wait while battle is joined some distance to their left but, once it does come their way Kemmis' Brigade do their duty in exemplary fashion sending those of the enemy in their front back the way they came in their usual fashion, all has not been a bed of roses elsewhere however and by the time that the enemy depart a huge number of both of the contesting troops are left dead, dying and wounded on the field, 1/40th have, in the count up lost but 57 men killed and wounded and amongst them Captain Archibald Colquhoun; so:

28th July 1809 (after the battle at Talavera de la Reina)                                                                                          
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Campbell has been wounded so that in the long, hot, dry retreat from Talavera on the south bank of the Tagus River Kemmis would undoubtedly do the work for the Division as well as his brigade. The return to the Guadiana basin in September heralds a change in title for the CIC, now dubbed Wellington and a re-organisation of this much tried army, Lieutenant Colonel William Myers of 2/7th takes up the Division and whilst Kemmis retains his Brigade we see 2nd Battalion of Detachments dissolved, their place being taken by 3/27th who have come up from Lisbon having spent some time there becoming "regular".

No figures are made available during this time spent about neither the Badajoz area nor even when the army goes back into quarters in Portugal.  For many months all of these men rest and are re-organised in an effort to make them more able to be sustained independent of the native resources. The Talavera experience had taught Wellington that reliance on Spanish promises in the Peninsula were as straws in the wind! This leaves us to await the concentration of the army at the ridge by Busaco in late September of 1810, the internal organisation of 1/40th was perhaps at this time the best in the army, figures always tell the story better than all the rhetoric, so:

27th September 1810 (on the ridge at Busaco)                                                                                                       
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Major General Galbraith Lowry Cole has taken up the 4th Division, Kemmis still to hold 2nd Brigade which in the months before this was temporarily 1st Brigade, they have for some time now had a Company of 5/60th attached too. Standing far to the left of the line at the northern end of the ridge they see no action this day and so, will march off south when the army retires away coming down to the lines by Torres Vedras and settling in. It is estimated that once in their quarters they would show:

1st November 1810 (at Torres Vedras)                                                                                                                      
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For a short while after Marshal Andre Massena's army has begun its long trek out of Portugal 4th Division follow them up which brings 1/40th in brief contact up the roads by Condiexa, losing but 8 men here on 12th March 1811 they are suddenly ordered to go about 180° and march off south to join a force under Marshal William Carr Beresford which has been set aside to put Badajoz under siege. Having arrived by this fortress in the Guadiana valley 1/40th become closely used in the trenches to the extent of losing three officers wounded and an unknown number of their men. Captains Arthur Heyland, Robert Wood and Lieutenant James Butler recorded thus. In a violent sortie out of the walls on the 10th May 2nd Somerset's are on duty and must fight off a determined attack from the besieged, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Harcourt, Major Henry Thornton, Lieutenants Thomas Brown, Alfred Street, John Thoreau and George van Strawbenzie amongst the casualties, the latter to die of his wounds a month later.  All of this reduces their ranks by some 261 men before the whole thing is called off the next day.              

It is best that we understand that at this time 1/40th and others of the brigade were on the northern side of the river when Beresford withdrew his Corps to dash down to Albuera, all, that is excepting for the Light companies of the brigade who had been doing trench/sharpshooter duty on the south side.

This becomes very important when Kemmis discovers that the bridge of casks across the Guadiana where he normally would have crossed to join Cole's other Brigade had been swept away by a torrent brought down from upstream rains. The Light Company of 1/40th then, being no more than 80 or so men was the only part of the battalion present at the Albuera battle, they, in the advance of the Fusiliers at that blood bath only recorded a loss of three men so, having regard for those losses in the Badajoz siege and sortie, and the distinct possibility that 1/40th would always attempt to keep up its numbers, having come up a day late via Juramenha might stand at:

17th May 1811 (on the field after the battle at Albuera)                                                                                          

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Cole has been injured so that Kemmis would most likely do the Divisional work for the rest of the year Myers being dead of course.  From Wellington’s Dispatches we see that a month or so later when the army is standing on defence in the Caya valley this battalion has 1400 or more men on its "establishment" (men for whom rations and pay can be drawn), figures at this time also show that no less than 515 of these men are lying sick or injured, this is nominally the largest battalion in the whole army, and this includes those sons of gentlemen, the Guards! When the CIC gets his men up towards Cuidad Rodrigo in mid September however, there are solid figures to record;

15th September 1811 (at Fuente Guinaldo)                                                                                                               
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Having been able to go into quarters for the early part of the winter the Brigade would lose their comrades of 97th who, having gone down too low in numbers were sent down to Lisbon in October going home from there to recruit. In late December Major General Charles Colville joins to pick up the Division in time to bring it out into the field at the beginning of 1812 to the siege of Cuidad Rodrigo where his men were to once more dig trenches and stand guard as a part of the roster of duties.

This work was always seen by the fighting troops as an imposition and, to make matters worse had to be done after wading up to the crutch in icy water through the Agueda from their encampments on the western banks.

Sending in three companies of 1/40th to secure the capture of the convent of San Francisco caused an un-recorded loss but, when all of this activity was summed up the battalion might have lost as many as 35-40 men, no figures are available.

The Brigade is not called upon for the storm of the breaches on 19th January so we shall need to move on to the next siege, that being at Badajoz more than two months later. Kemmis has disappeared from our reckoning and, whilst the Brigade position may have been vacant Harcourt, recovered from his earlier wounds, did appear to have it in hand at this time.

On this occasion not only do they take part in the siege work but, when the breaches are declared ready Colville has his Division up in the forward trenches ready for action.

They get plenty of that, enough for anyone, going up the right side of the breach with Light Division to their left front there is no way out at the top, obstacles of all kinds are fastened there with sharpened sword blades, baulks of timber, shells, canister, mines, you name it they got it!

From the parapets the enemy sharpshooters picked them off with impunity until other initiatives succeeding at other parts of the walls the rear of the breaches were taken and the storm won. Lieutenants John Ayling, James Greensheils, Volunteer O'Brien and 51 men had been killed, Lieutenant Street and Ensign Edward Johnstone fatally wounded, Harcourt, Major John Gillies, Captains Edward Bowen, Robert Phillips, Lieutenants James Anthony, Butler, John Gray, Henry Millar, Robert Moore, William Turton, Volunteer Joseph Widenham and 170 men all wounded. By the light of the next day the battalion could not have summoned more than:

6th April 1812 (after the storm of Badajoz)                                                                                                                 

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Colville and Harcourt both having been wounded, Major General William Anson takes over the Brigade and, since the Division Command  remains vacant for some time, probably takes on that work too. Three months pass by before we see Anson's Brigade marching away, this time about the Salamanca plains, Lowry Cole has returned by 8th July and when they are being used in a rearguard role near Castrejon in mid-July they are brought into action when the enemy closes in, Wellington had failed to give the rearguard commander Lieutenant General Stapleton Cotton discretionary orders which in effect had held him back while the rest of the army had gone some distance from them. The CIC, realising his error had to return to the danger area and came close to being caught, having to draw sword and fight his way clear.

Cole's Division was compelled to withstand some cannonading while retiring, sometimes in square but always with hostile cavalry hovering ready to take advantage of any faulty changes in formation. The retirement continued as far as Castrillo before safety was reached by which time 1/40th had suffered 69 casualties, not one an officer it seems, a disproportionate number of these coming from its Light Company which Cole had kept out as long as possible to discourage the enemy, so:

18th July 1812 (after the combats at Castrejon and Castrillo)                                                                                 

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Just four days later Cole has the 4th Division in line with 5th Division to the right and Lieutenant Colonel Denis Pack's Portuguese Brigade to the left, all out by the Arapiles to the south east of Salamanca, 1/40th would, in all likelihood stand at those above numbers, half strength sadly on a day when a full complement would have still been less than enough. On this day the fighting starts late in the afternoon over on their far right with 5th Division coming forward when 3rd Division to their right has already got into a general action.  Anson's Brigade are on the left of the Divisional line and have only a faint touch with Pack's men who have started to go forward tending to separate as they attack the Great Arapile hill in their front.

One of Anson's battalions, 3/27th is already detached sitting on the Lesser Arapile and looking over the plain to its right front, and as it transpires, takes no part in the proceedings this day. As Anson's men, which is now only the 500 or so of 1/40th and a Company of 5/60th, about another 50 or 60 men, have the task of attempting to cover the distance between Pack and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Ellis' Brigade who have become totally committed against the enemy to their own front. Whilst affairs over on the far right have gone wonderfully well for British arms it cannot be said that this is the case in front of 1/40th.                  When Pack's initiative against the Arapile hill is halted, dashed down and sent away to the left rear, this leaves a gaping hole in the line which does not go un-noticed by General Bertrand Clausel who sends his men at this weak point with only 1/40th attempting to spread themselves out as cover.

Far too little to engage far too many, back goes Anson's only battalion and, to make things worse Clausel calls up cavalry to exploit this advantage, there are one or two Portuguese Line and Caçadore battalions in the area so that between them they are able to form square if only to protect themselves from destruction. Beresford is also in the area to the rear and, at the cost of a severe wound to himself brings up a Portuguese Brigade to save the day in this plain which, by now is full of smoke and dust masking some very confused fighting. Wellington eventually finds time to have 6th Division brought in here and the position is stabilised with that corps going on to the attack. Meanwhile 1/40th have to pick themselves up, shake off the dust and dirt, re-form and, later, to count the cost. Lieutenant/Adjutant J Bethall and Lieutenant John Gray have been mortally wounded, 12 of their men are dead, Lieutenants Richard Hudson, Turton and 115 more men wounded. No-one in 1/40th would pretend that this was a fight in which 40,000 were defeated in forty minutes, a crass statement made by a vastly over-rated enemy General [Maximilien Foy] which has been picked up and used by many an equally mistaken historian!

22nd July 1812 (after the battle at the Arapiles)                                                                                                        

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This is a regiment whose establishment stands at 1400 men plus and here they are at such pathetic figures that a return home to recruit would be the fate for many another battalion! Nevertheless, the survivors get to march off with the victorious army down to Madrid for some well earned festivities, even better, when the CIC decides to go north to push Clausel's men out of the country Anson's men and 4th Division now once more in Anson's hands since Cole is injured, is left about the Madrid environs in a Corps under Charles Von Alten to protect the Capital. During the stay around Madrid 1/40th are able to restore their numbers by about 100 men so:

31st August (close by Madrid)                                                                                                                                       
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As it turns out this is not to be a long respite, the enemy, in the shape of King Joseph, with Marshals Jourdan and Soult combine their forces to march against them by October.  Wellington's adventure against the defences of the castle at Burgos is going badly so that when he also has a new enemy from the north, General Joseph Souham coming at him the whole of the British/Allied army is put into retirement mode going back onto the old Arapiles position. It is about this time that Anson receives into his brigade a new battalion the 1/48th, they have been with 4th Division 2nd Brigade for a while but, in a Division re-shuffle now fall in alongside 3/27th, 1/40th and that single Company of 5/60th .

The army, after a short stand at the Arapiles position have no alternative but to retire back into Portugal where they can find good winter quarters in their old haunts, there is much suffering to be endured however in this disorganised march to the Agueda. Von Alten's Corps has come under the benign control of Lieutenant General Rowland Hill who, to his credit manages his part of the march far better that do those under Wellington to the north. There is a deal of hunger with its fall-out of plundering, scavenging and straggling, all helped as the men go into and through towns where large quantities of the year's vintage are to be found, some lagging behind so stupefied drunk that the enemy pick up easy prisoners along the way.

29th November 1812 (behind the Agueda)                                                                                                                 
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Having dragged themselves back into friendly country there is a short period whilst the CIC takes stock of the situation then having made a number of changes 4th Division will go by easy marches up to and along the Douro making its HQ at S Joao de Pesquiera. Lowry Cole has been back now ever since leaving Madrid and yet another battalion joins Anson's Brigade, it is made up by the bringing together of two battalions from 6th Division; which had suffered so much at the Arapiles, they could no longer retain "regularity" singly and were, 2nd and 2/53rd, now to be named 2nd Provisional Battalion.

By the time the season had turned from winter to spring figures come to us to show,

26th April 1813 (in cantonments in Portugal)                                                                                                             
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There were to be no offensive moves from an enemy which was still trying to come to terms with their Emperor’s disasters in Russia so, it was up to Wellington to make the first himself. Having had a good six month period to recover and re-shape his now very much superior army and with well founded optimism the CIC could make a bold move to drive the whole of the French forces out of Spain in one majestic campaign. By now 1/40th had received back into the ranks many of its convalescents and no doubt a number of drafts of new men from home, it is estimated that when the army started to make its move they would stand at:

25th May 1813 (on the march out of Portugal)                                                                                                          
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The march up to the Zadorra River in front of Vittoria was only of interest as a great flanking manœuvre with brief touches with the enemy before bringing up by this river where King Joseph had been persuaded by his Generals [Soult was long gone] to put up a fight. There was also the embarrassing problem that their baggage train of plundered loot and its attendant Afrancesado's and la voyages bordello had blocked the road north, this then was in fact a fight to see who got the stolen treasures of Spain.

Cole's men had been given a central position almost as reserve as it turned out, the battle on 21st June saw Anson's Brigade standing in a dense column running back down the Chaussee towards Nanclares ready to debouch forwards when the two flank attacks had been well developed their task early on merely to menace the enemy centre and hold it in place.

This tactic saw occasional cannon shot rolling through the ranks, usually well spent as it had done its work up ahead amongst Stubbs' Portuguese Brigade, eventually Stubbs first and Anson's next came up to the front where a large concentration of enemy batteries faced them dealing Stubbs' men destructive fire before 1/40th and their comrades could get out into full line order.

Luckily the flank attacks were by this time having the desired effect, the enemy batteries were forced to limber up and retire back in some haste allowing 4th Division to come fully out and up the centre now keeping the enemy on the move, all going more rapidly towards the city where panic had taken over. It was the British army and its comrades the Portuguese that got the treasure, the CIC rather naively had expected to have captured the gold and silver bullion of which there was a huge amount but, whoever it was that first laid hands on the stuff became the first owner and from there on it was a matter of how much to carry, how much to hide, where to hide it and lastly, who to trust with the rest?  I digress, the battle had not been too hard on 1/40th, five men killed, Captains John Barnett, Conyngham Ellis, Lieutenants Hudson, Turton and 34 men wounded, they would be counted off next day at:

22nd June 1813 (after the battle at Vittoria)                                                                                                               

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There is much marching on roads in the Bastan and Pyrenean foothills for 4th Division, they are looking to intercept Clausel and his small Corps, not present at Vittoria and now making "great strides" to put distance between himself and his pursuers.

This he manages to do so that Cole's men pull up and descend on the large Provincial City/Fortress of Pamplona, soon, having been relieved of blockading duties there the Division is sent into the lower Pyrenean Passes to hold them against any enemy incursions. Cole their General makes no good defence as it turns out but, Anson's Brigade are not in contact with the enemy when the Division is attacked at Roncesvalles, however upon retiring to the village of Linzoain he does draw out Anson's light infantrymen in a good defensive position well supported by his line troops, and, all ready to fight.

When the enemy had brought up superior numbers an attack ensued in which, we discover 1/40th suffered heavily when compared with its comrades of the brigade, actual figures are not given for this day's work, 26th July excepting to say that the brigade lost 164 men but, we do know that Lieutenant Anthony Malone has been killed and Captains Bowen, Heyland and Lieutenant Thoreau wounded, only two days later at Sorauren this battalion is mentioned as being seriously reduced in number by this engagement.

Luckily Wellington has arrived with sufficient men to reinforce Cole on this position and, more fortunately, has been given enough time by Marshal Soult to set them out in the best way possible considering the rather tight terrain available.

28th July (at the first battle at Sorauren)                                                                                                                    
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When Anson’s Brigade took up its place in line on the Hill of Oricain this small battalion (having but 10 officers present this day) is sitting side by side with two Spanish battalions well to Anson's right, on a knoll, and not being a part of any continuous line however, Captain Frederick Sympher's Divisional battery is well placed to prevent the enemy from taking advantage of this. The combats which take place when General Gauthier's Brigade attempts to dislodge these men come down to an almost personal mano-mano struggle with everything thrown in.

The original attack by the whole of his light troops, some five companies (not six as Oman mistakenly says), the first repulses by concentrated volley fire, a sudden rush of the Spanish troops to the rear, heavy close quarter musketry, man on man again, bayonet charges and then a final French desperate charge with all the trimmings, Eagles to the front, drums beating and officers urging all on with fanatical courage. All to no end, however, Ensign Anthony Galway and 19 men are dead, Lieutenants Nathan Carter, James Glynn, Theobald O'Dogherty, Michael Smith and 105 men are wounded, 1/40th, a mere shadow of a fighting force were left holding their ground to the end, just 5 officers and 276 men standing, everyone involved completely exhausted, so:

28th July (after the fight at Sorauren)                                                                                                                          

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When Wellington goes on the offensive two days later Anson's Brigade has little to do excepting to follow up when the enemy retreat all across the countryside, all of their comrades in this brigade had received heavy casualties too, other than  2nd Provisional Battalion, they would need a long period out of the action. Incredibly 1/40th do have a short brush with their opposite numbers losing seven more men which brings them down to a rock bottom of 274 under arms at the end of July of which only four now seem to be officers Lieutenant John Foulkes being amongst those last casualties!  Luckily they will have three months in which to recover.

By 28th August 4th Division is given the chance to supply volunteers to go to the besieged fortress of San Sebastian as a part of the storming force which will attack its walls three days later. We are told that they were to grant only 200 men this privilege so: perhaps 30 keen men of 1/40th would join this band of adventurers. After the taking of this place and its destruction on 31st August, plus [or is it minus] the death of the courageous Lieutenant Turton and about three of his men, the rest would have lurid stories to tell!

On the same day the rest of 1/40th are to be seen at Pena de la Aya at the western end of a large Spanish Corps, which that day repelled an enemy attack mounted from across the Bidassoa into hill terrain on its southern banks. This battle was named San Marcial, the Spaniards overthrowing their assailants whilst 1/40th to the rear in second line only came into contact with the foe as they had moved to their right and taken up a new position, rain had begun to fall before anything serious was ventured then, as this turned to a great rainstorm the whole attack melted away, casualties to the battalion were no more than five men, probably the usual light infantrymen.

There is no way of getting at true all up figures during all of these slight contacts during August, with hindsight however we can start the recovery from the beginning of that month so that numbers will rise steadily all the way up to November when we finally are treated to firm figures. 4th Division has not been involved in the fighting to cross the Bidassoa and is able to march north up to the line of the Nivelle where they will stand, 1/40th at:

10th November 1813 (on the Nivelle)                                                                                                                          
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Cole's Division is under the overall command of Beresford and in a central position in the line of attack, Anson's Brigade have before them the Santé Barbara fortification it is resting on top of a rocky hill and is well armed. The day begins early as 1/40th advance over the uneven terrain, their battery delivering a barrage of shrapnel to soften up the garrison who, as soon as their attackers close up presenting bayonets, take to their heels. Carrying on the advance the Brigade joins others on their right, cross the river and, as the village of Sare is reached take it at the run, General Conroux the enemy Divisional commander is killed in this fight, which is contested for a short while. Reforming for yet another push forward the next goal is a strongpoint Louis XIV which the enemy had not expected to have to defend so soon, it was inadequately manned and as a result also fell to 4th Division.

Elsewhere the assaults had all gone well so that if all is not to crumble about their ears the enemy must put up a real fight somewhere, Clausel, who so often has had to make a stand where others have already failed brings down a sharp artillery response in the shape of close range canister fire and it is to be expected that this is where 1/40th will collect most of its casualties this day. Recovering and coming on again Anson's men eject General Maransin's men from the Louis XIV works capturing that General for a spell, he escapes in the confused fighting here which after swinging back and forth, finally sees 1/40th and their comrades in possession.

Having accomplished all that was required of them 4th Division stands down and counts heads, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Henry Thornton, Captain Peter Bishop, Lieutenants Carter, John Richardson and Lieutenant/Adjutant Isaac Chetham are all wounded as are 80 of their men, one un-named officer is dead with 15 men, so, 1/40th will show;

10th November (after the combats at the Nivelle)                                                                                                    
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By the end of the day the Division finds quarters by the little town of Serres and, as it turns out will have no more contact with the enemy for the rest of the year.  Late autumn rains herald a cold miserable winter with the CIC still manœuvring the army up to the River Nive and probing forward up to the armed camps about Bayonne, a number of fierce fights are brought on by this but, 4th Division are kept to the rear with little chance of coming up to these actions, mainly due to the washing out of bridges and of course the rivers of mud which the roads and pathways have become whilst attempting to keep the army active in the winter rains.  During January when the army is eventually forced into quarters by the weather we see sure figures presented, 1/40th at this time with a possible 165 men sick or injured and out of contention, so:

16th January 1814 (cantoned south of Bayonne)                                                                                                      
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From this time until the end of hostilities the only figures that will become available will be by way of Brigades and Divisions so that there is to be much rationalising as 4th Division are again in the action during 1814. We next see Anson's Brigade as the army gets into full stride to push Soult's ever diminishing army eastwards away from Bayonne, on 12th February 1814 they are on the left of the army keeping up a strong presence with 7th Division and later Light Division and eventually 6th Division too.

They cross the Bidouze river by Bergoney and, as Hill’s Corps right flank is continually getting round Soult's left the French are forced to go eastward at a steady rate until they reach the Gave d Oloron where a pause is taken. The 2nd Provisional Battalion [2nd & 2/53rd] has been dropped off the Brigade staying at Bidache as communication guard so, appearing before the bridge at Peyrehorade 4th Division will extend left downstream crossing the river at Sordes on 24th February, this by fords which seem to be high enough [and certainly cold enough so early in the year] for some of 1/40th men to get themselves drowned!

Two days later they are before Orthez where Soult has placed his men across low hills to the north of the town which, next day will prove to be strong positions to attack. We can expect that 1/40th will come to the fighting ground on the day of this battle at:

27th February 1814 (at Orthez)                                                                                                                                     
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When Lowry Cole has exhausted the thrust of his 2nd Brigade under Ross at St Boes he is reluctant to commit Anson's men with no surety that they will do any better against a powerful array of artillery, well placed and well supported by the enemy infantry. The CIC having seen his original initiatives repulsed has to re-cast his next attack this time bringing through new brigades and, fortunately for 1/40th, not Anson's. Suffice it to say that this day they will only suffer one man killed and four injured.

A week later Cole is ordered to take his Division under Beresford off to the north, completely away from the fighting going via Roquefort and Bazas to Langon, all of this in very poor weather and the usual heavy mud; this march, in company with 7th Division is to encourage the local governor at Bordeaux to raise the flag on behalf of the monarchy, Cole Division is held at Langon for only three days before it is turned about and, off it goes again returning to the main army.  They are able to pick up 2nd Provisional Battalion on the way arriving back to Plaisance by 18th March then, with virtually no rest are set off again heading directly for Toulouse.

The weather is still foul and the army generally suffers cold and wet discomforts losing a steady trail of men by the wayside and indeed even when arrived near this large transpontine city. The Grande Canal and the Garonne river prove to be more than difficult obstacles when the CIC discovers that his pontoon bridge equipment is too short, 4th Division have the task of escorting this equipment up and down these wet barriers until a favourable place is found, all in pouring rain and a sodden countryside. It will be as well to get right on to the day of the battle, 4th Division is to march with 6th Division around the northern perimeter of the defences, again under Beresford, much of the tale to be told elsewhere. As far as it can be judged 1/40th will this day stand at:

10th April 1814 (at Toulouse)                                                                                                                                        
PUA 549

Beresford has 4th Division in columns of companies up front and for Anson's Brigade to the right this brings them some unwelcome shelling and cannonading as they proceed down the valley between the river Ers and the Mont Rave.   When Beresford gives the order to come around pivoting on the right Anson has his men well down the valley with 3/27th at the extreme left, 1/40th next, 1/48th on their right and 2nd Provisional Battalion  at the extreme right of the brigade.  There is an open flank here but 6th Division is only a little to the rear with 1/61st hurrying along some way down the hill. As this array is being brought steadily up the French are coming down at them, and not at all steadily down, General Taupin has them in column so that they are an easy mark so long as the British can hold their position and wait for a good short range volley.

The men of 1/40th and, not a few of their comrades have been doing this for years by now so, it is no surprise that when they put in a crashing fire of musketry down go the front ranks of the enemy, they flinch, get a few more rolling volleys and when Taupin himself has fallen, back they go up the hill ever faster as the British line keep closing and firing. Securing a position on top of the Mont Rave both 4th and 6th Divisions are given a rest whilst the artillery is called up, a long rest as it happens.

Eventually Anson's men are to come forward across the crest of the hill and take up positions looking westward across towards Toulouse the tactic being to protect this left flank of the hill and as far as possible to keep those men just departed down in the lower ground.  This turns out to be a much better task for Anson's Brigade than that which now confronts 6th Division once the artillery has arrived. The Light companies of the Brigade will be pushed forward supported along the hill edges by the rest of the Brigade and whilst all hell is breaking out to their right and along the Mont' they will spend the rest of the day in mild skirmishing along the west side of this ridge.

Most of the casualties would have come from the early flank cannonading and then the steady receiving of Taupin's first volleys, this all brings to an end the war hereabouts but, not before accounting for seven men killed, Captains Richard Turton, Barnett, Lieutenants  Anthony, Thomas Franklyn, O'Dogherty, Smith, Ens's Glynn, Donald McDonald and 71 men having been wounded.

10th April 1814 (after the battle at Toulouse)                                                                                                            
PAB 463


This battalion of mostly Irishmen recruited from about Fermor with a sprinkling of the men of the English south-west counties soon became known for its prowess in marching long distances and of course in maintaining at the same time, regularity.

Entering the Peninsular theatre at the very beginning of British/Wellingtonian involvement this one is perhaps the quintessential 1st battalion of a regiment that had not been tainted with the malarial Walcheren fevers. One that marched and fought from end to end of the country, suffered the ordinary set-backs of army life, had not only huge losses through sickness and battle casualties but large compensatory returns to the colours.  Reliable veteran fighting men they, along with the Enniskillins made a solid core to 4th Division. Along with their brigade comrades of 3/27th this battalion would go to North America from here and then as we all know returned, stood at Mont St Jean just in time to largely die together in square.

Just another entirely unconnected observation:

Surprisingly the writer upon visiting the museum dedicated to 1st Somerset’s [13th] in Taunton some years ago found that the curator there had never heard of 2nd Somerset’s [1st /40th]  nor of any of their Napoleonic adventures.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2010


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