Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 61st Regiment of Foot (South Gloucesters)
By Ray Foster
Mid June 1809 (landed at Lisbon from Gibraltar)
This was a 'well found' 1st battalion probably led at this time by Major James Coghlan, remaining at Lisbon just long enough to collect its 'necessaries' then moving eastward on the march to join up with Wellesley's army at Plasencia on 18th July where they are brigaded into Colonel Alan Cameron's 2nd Brigade of 1st Division with 2/83rd and a company of 5/60th. Arriving close by Talavera near the end of July they are to act in co-operation with the infamous Captain General Gregorio Cuesta and his Spanish army we are able to count heads and find them at:
27th July 1809 (before the battle at Talavera)
During the night of 27th-28th there is much confused fighting when the enemy under Marshal Claud Victor attempts an assault on the Cerro de Medellin to their left, 3 men are killed 3 more injured and Major Coghlan is not only badly wounded but is also taken prisoner. The next day, now led by Major Henry Orpen the brigade has a quiet enough start, apart from the annoying cannonade which occasionally picks off unlucky men in the line, battle was joined in earnest on either side of the front both early in the day and, after a long respite again in the afternoon, it was to be as late as 3.00pm before Cameron's tiny Brigade got into serious action. The smoke of battle was everywhere but through it all came on the massed enemy columns crossing the meandering Portina stream their skirmishers sweeping away Lieutenant General John Sherbrooke's flimsy Light companys. The British line, ordered to hold its fire until the Frenchmen became sure targets let off a single huge volley followed by a charge which sent off the now disordered survivors, so much so that the 'Guards on the right and the KGL on the left were soon disappearing ahead totally out of control of their officers. To their own great credit Cameron and the men of 1/61st and their comrades of 2/83rd pulled up and made to reform their ranks as soon as they had crossed the Portina, Cameron himself being able still to remember that the enemy was well supported in their own rear. Sure enough, very soon, out of the gloom and noise came a stream of routing friends, far too many for Cameron's line to remain intact, they were also swept away back over the Portina and beyond where another British brigade under Major General John Mackenzie was attempting to plug the very large gap in the line. As soon as order could be restored back came 1/61st and 2/83rd to the assistance of Mackenzie's men who were being shot to pieces meanwhile, the day became one of desperate close quarters musketry with confusion everywhere until both sides became exhausted. Major Orpen is dead as is Captain Henry James, Lieutenant Daniel Hemns and 43 of the rank & file whilst Captains William Furnace, Andrew Hartley, John Laing and David Goodsman, Lieutenants Graves Collins, James Given, George Maclean and Ensign William Brackenbury with 193 men are wounded and, a further 16 men and Lieutenant/Adjutant Richard Drew and Lieutenant Henry Tench left on the field wounded and made prisoner in that first mad dash to the rear, so:
28th July 1809 (after the battles at Talavera)
This fine regiment although suffering the long tortuous retreat down the southern banks of the Tagus and the stay in the malarial Guadiana basin would hold on to its numbers as well as any other. They remain brigaded as a part of 1st Division but 2/83rd have gone, being replaced by two 2nd battalions, 2/24th and 2/42nd, they retain that single company of 5/60th to make up a much stronger looking brigade for numbers. A full year will pass before the army is on the march against an enemy, we see 1/61st now up on the ridge at Busaco, it is late September of 1810 and they are well found at:
28th September 1810 (on the ridge at Busaco)
1st Division have an easy day and no casualties for 1/61st standing on very high ground with a great view of the scene. When the battle has subsided and Marshal Andre Massena begins his search for a flanking march to the north around this forbidding hill off goes Wellington unmolested with his main force being safely ensconced in and about the massive defensive works known as the Lines of Torres Vedras, by the beginning of November we are able to estimate 1/61st at:
1st November 1810 (in the Lines of Torres Vedras)
Not only that but, there has been much shuffling about of battalions, Wellington is constantly receiving new units of infantry whilst he strives to re-position those many 2nd battalions into stronger brigades or, in some cases, as with 2/83rd give them a stand-down period in Lisbon. A new Division has been formed into which goes 1/61st, they will be brigaded with 1/11th and 2/53rd coming under Major General Richard Hulse and, for a short while a company of Brunswick Oels will fill the sharpshooter role, soon however to be transferred out and replaced by the more traditional 5/60th company.
For some long time Hulse' Brigade of this 6th Division will have a very quiet war, they will be a part of the army to face Massena again, this time at Fuentes d Onoro standing at:
1st May 1811 (on the field at Fuentes d Onoro)
Whilst others have furious combats about this tiny village close by the Portuguese frontier not so for 1/61st who register no losses on either of 3rd or 5th May moving off with the army down to the pestilent Guadiana basin along the Caya valley during the malaria season. Not surprisingly their numbers will go down, they are recorded at:
15th September 1811 (about Fuente Guinaldo)
Having by now left these swampy marshes for the uplands one might expect this unit to bring up its strength but, in hindsight this is not to be, perhaps the fevers would continue to weaken them for some time ahead, no matter. They will miss the sieges and storms of the great fortresses of Cuidad Rodrigo and Badajoz going down into Estremadura with Lieutenant General Thomas Graham and many others to keep the French forces down there busy during the early part of 1812 only coming back north as a part of the 'Salamanca' campaign.Their first taste of combat for almost three years is soon to be upon them and when it comes will make up for all of that 'easy' time! First numbers can be calculated at:
23rd June 1812 (at the Forts of Salamanca)
The work here is to be done by the Light company along with others of the same, at the San Cayetano fort, after much sniping and trench work an escalade is mounted, failing and the leader Brigadier Major General Barnard Bowes being killed, the place, after being bombarded with red-hot shot until it burns out of control finally surrenders but not before Captain John Owen, Lieutenant James Given and Ensign John Singleton along with another 21 men are injured. By 15th July after more occasional brushes with the enemy we can expect 1/61st to show:
15th July 1812 (on the march about the Salamanca plains)
A week later after much tactical marching in clouds of dust and mid-summer heat they will come to rest on a low hillside facing south-east looking towards two hills called the Arapiles the day is well advanced and it seems that 6th Division Hulse Brigade have gone another day without anything worse than dry throats and sore feet. Not so! Marshal Auguste Marmont makes a fatal error of judgment in his line of march and the day turns into one of death and glory. The 6th Division stand to arms when the serious action begins away to their right, they are once more in reserve and, since this violence is well over two miles away, not much of a worry, this however is a battle that moves along at some pace. As each Division comes into contact from the right in classic echelon formation their nearest neighbour to the right, 4th Division moves up to challenge its enemy ahead. A brigade of Portuguese under Colonel Dennis Pack immediately ahead do the same while 6th Division do their duty by standing still to the rear. Both 4th Division under Cole and Pack's men get along reasonably well for a while until the Portuguese are forced back whilst clambering up a steep part of one of the Arapiles, they come back with a rush opening the left flank of 4th Division [they being short of their regular 3/27th at the time] who are then counter-attacked by a new force of combined arms which makes a large gap in the line allowing the enemy to feed more men in. Major General Henry Clinton, in command of 6th Division gets the order to move up to counter this dangerous initiative whilst 1st Division to their rear are on notice to support them.
Marshal William Carr Beresford, who has been close by and sizes up the situation, brings up a Portuguese Brigade to plug this hole getting shot in the chest for his trouble. Hulse has his men into action as quickly as possible along with others hereabouts, they break the enemy advance at its height whilst it is somewhat disordered forcing it back all the way to a broad plain; which ends in a slight rise towards a thick wood covering the rear. A fresh French Division under General Ferey stands in defence of this line so that when the retreated men clear their front 6th Division, and in particular 1/61st, are faced with a perfect glacis like 'killing-field of fire'. With well placed enemy artillery also able to sweep the area and no orders to halt or chance take cover, in they go, in very short time Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Barlow is killed, Captains Samuel Favell, P B Horton and George Stubbs die as do Lieutenants Andrew Chauner and John Parker and Ensign Hercules Beere, it seems as though everyone will be killed here! Major James Downing falls with a mortal wound and a further 39 of his men crumple down lifeless while a staggering 319 of all ranks are brought down with all manner of wounds. Amongst these are Captains William Green, John Oke and William Mc'Leod, Lieutenants John Royal, Archer Toole, John Wolfe, James Chapman, John Collis, John Chipchase, Holland Daniel, Samuel Falkiner, Norbury Furnace, Thomas Gloster and Ensigns John Singleton and William White leaving only five company officers standing when the French defence has melted away into the woods and the approaching dusk, Not a man from Major General Henry Campbell’s 1st Division, its commander having received orders to support Clinton’s men had moved up in any way to threaten Ferey’s right flank here. The wrecks of the battalion will count heads next day at:
23rd July 1812 (after the battle at the Arapiles)
Captain Oke although recorded as severely wounded is made up to Major while Ensign White another seriously wounded junior officer is made up to Lieutenant although there are scarcely enough men in the ranks to show more than three companies to command. Clinton's whole Division has been decimated and of them Hulse' Brigade has suffered a 59% overall loss and, worst of all 1/61st is down by 67%, all of this on a day when historians would proclaim a great and glorious victory for British arms, this little corps of survivors now down to a mere brigade of 1700 men PUA would need to stay back when this victorious army marched off down to Madrid to celebrate its success. So it was, carrying as best it could its walking wounded 6th Div' with others who were worse for wear, escorted by a screen of cavalry took up a slow trailing of Clausel's battered remnants all moving north by east, the enemy crossing the Douro at Cuellar and Clinton and his ambulants settling down by that river to 'observe' the movements of the greatly reduced Army of Portugal. If 1/61st had any idea that they might rest and enjoy the summer weather this was soon to be dashed, Wellington would return to take them up north as far as the enemy would allow but, firstly Hulse had been transferred his place taken, but only unofficially, by Colonel George Bingham of 2/53rd another seriously wounded officer. The enemy only allow Wellington to go as far as Burgos and, having left in the castle which commanded the road north a stoutly led garrison with orders to stand a prolonged siege, that would turn out to be his furthest point of attack in the 1812 campaign. Bingham's men would be set to patrol the perimeter area with others of the weakly units while the much vaunted 1st Division and its KGL & Guard's Brigades made repeated attempts to subdue the French defenders, Lieutenant Gilbert Stewart did volunteer his engineering skill at some stage but unfortunately got himself wounded thereby, no different it seems to many others. All to no avail then, by late October the enemy had built up sufficient forces from the north to once again go on the offensive. It must stand to the credit of the 61st Regiment that with such a low number after the Arapiles they would be able to survive as a 'regular' unit in that autumn retreat down first to Salamanca and then off west back into winter quarters behind the Portuguese frontier reaching that haven down around;
29th November 1812 (behind the Agueda)
Once safely behind the Agueda the CIC has to reform a few of his brigades, 1/61st still with 1/11th will take on board 1/32nd and 1/36th and come under Colonel Samuel Hinde of 32nd whilst Bingham and his 2/53rd go elsewhere It can only be the case that during their time about Burgos they must have received some small returnees/reinforcements, certainly during the winter and early spring of 1812-13 there was time enough for this to happen.
26th April 1813 (cantoned in Portugal)
Reinforcements obviously had come in large numbers so, when heads are counted prior to the sweeping flank marches of 1813 to eject King Joseph Bonaparte’s armies out of the country there they are, showing excellent figures and ready for action.
25th May 1813 (on the march north to Vittoria)
For 1/61st these men will in the main be new to war in the Peninsula so it is no surprise that as the army gets close to the enemy south of Vittoria the 'utility' Divisional Commander Major General Edward Packenham is told off to lay back and guard the baggage train while the rest get on with defeating Joseph & Marshal Jourdan behind the Zadorra River. Numbers at this stage would be very little changed from those quoted above. The campaign well into achieving its goals quickly brought the army close to the French frontier posts, four days after the battle at Vittoria, on 25th June Clinton returns but only for a month, he is a sick man, Hinde goes elsewhere and newly promoted Major General John Lambert gets the Brigade by 2nd July, Major General Dennis Pack gets his chance at the head of a British Division for the first time and it is at Sorauren, after many counter-marches that he will draw up his men to meet the enemy as it debouches from that village in an attempt to force a reunion with the besieged garrison at Pamplona. This combat on the morning of 28th July turns mainly upon the actions of Pack's Light companys supported by a well positioned battery of guns which has the effect of pushing the enemy back into the shelter of Sorauren village. For 1/61st this brings on the demise of 2 light infantrymen the wounding of 60 others amongst which are Captain Edward Charlton and Lieutenant Denis O'Kearney, Pack has also been incapacitated so, the ubiquitous Packenham once more takes up command.
28th July (after the combat at Sorauren)
Only two days later Wellington goes on the offensive here so that Packenham has his troops up to the village entrance but in a holding action whilst others slowly work around the flanks, the defenders fight with great determination but are eventually overwhelmed by sheer numbers the survivors fleeing broadcast into the rearward hills. This has not been an expensive day for 1/61st having but one man killed and 12 more injured, Lieutenants John Wolfe and George Maclean among them, so:
30th July 1813 (after the second combat at Sorauren)
Settling down in the secluded Alduides valley 6th Division gets a new commander Major General Charles Colville but only for two months until Clinton returns, this time holding on to the end. During the next three months of inactivity Lambert's Brigade would have sufficient rest to hopefully bring their numbers back to something like full strength, however, it seems that although the whole brigade is composed of good quality, regular 1st battalions there is little to show that this quiet time produced such a result. All-up figures, including everyone on the payroll from officers to sergeants to drummer boys to surgeons & the resident minister of religion would see 1/61st standing at 578, we can confidently say then that on:
10th November 1813 (at the crossings of the Nivelle)
Having stumbled and staggered over the rough terrain covered in scrub and boulders Lambert's Brigade appear to advance closed up taking casualties equally for all excepting 1/11th who had fallen behind somewhat. They come up to the Harismendia redoubt, which falls easily but not before suffering from a sweeping cannonade at long range. Along with others they converge on the Bridge of Amotz sharing the injured yet again, the company captains must have placed themselves well to the fore in all of this because it is in these actions that the veteran of Talavera Captain Furnace is killed and Captains Marcus Annersley, Hugh Eccles and James Horton are severely wounded, Lieutenant Christopher Kellet dies here and Lieutenants Robert Belton and the long time serving Archer Toole collect serious injuries too. Of the rest, 5 men are killed and 37 wounded as they come to a halt.
10th November (after the Battle of the Nivelle)
Although the early winter rains are beginning to make life decidedly uncomfortable the CIC has his army moving up to the next river obstacle, the Nive, a month has passed and the rivers are running full when on 9th December they get the order to cross to the enemy banks, they would be lucky to stand with figures very slightly better than those last recorded. The crossing evolves into a two-stage affair having the convenience of a mid-stream island and little opposition whilst setting up pontoons to bridge the first half, resting through the night and then going on to repeat the process for the second half. There is a check on the enemy side as they approach the village of Villefranque along waterlogged paths. It is here no doubt that Captain Edward Charlton at the head of the Light company is wounded along with Captain William Green but this day only four of the rank & file are injured, so:
9th December 1813 (after the skirmish at the
For the next three days Lambert's Brigade is out of the actions which rage about the hill spurs approaching Bayonne, there is some marching and counter-marching along wretched rained-out roads but no enemy to face other than the weather. There follows an enforced stand-down while the winter rains wreck any chance of forward movement but then, when frosts harden the ground the CIC takes the larger portion of the army off to the east pushing Marshal Nicholas Soult's field force ever further away from the Biscay and Bayonne. The battle which comes when the enemy stand their ground at and about Orthez is played out with 6th Division in support of 3rd Division who carry the fight to the enemy hard enough to achieve their goal without the use of Lambert's men so, on that day no casualties will be recorded for 1/61st. It remains to attempt to fathom out the individual battalion figures as the army closes up to the final act of the war the battle at Toulouse. We have only brigade numbers to work with and those left uncertain as one of the brigade's battalions is absent however, it must be that the South Gloucester's when they stood to arms prior to this action would muster no less than:
10th April 1814 (at the battle of Toulouse)
The story is well told elsewhere as to the doings of Lambert's men in their march around the northern and eastern edges of Mont Rave under Beresford's hand along with their comrades of 1/11th and 1/36th, their violent clash with General Taupin's column and their securing of the hill-crest. This battalion, the smallest of Lambert's charges came in for the heaviest fighting in that brigade. By an accident of ground they were to meet the charging column full on halting its progress by steady ever shortening ranged volleys of musketry, then having pulled up on the hilltop, re-organised their depleted files, rested, fed and stood in reserve, all of which extended over several hours. The battle was once more joined, Lambert's Brigade as last reserve thrown in when all about them were close to exhaustion. Luckily the same was true of the enemy who, reluctantly were compelled to give ground against the never-ending series of counter-attacks, resulting in a sullen retirement over a ground strewn with bodies in and out of earthworks, redoubts and abandoned batteries and finally off the hill altogether. Lieutenant Colonel Coghlan was dead as was Lieutenant Henry Arden and Ensign William Favell mortally wounded along with 16 of the ranks, a further 16 officers were brought down and, singularly every one recorded as seriously injured, they were; Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Oke, Brevet Major William Green, Captain Charlton, Lieutenant/Adjutant William Bace, Lieutenants Graves Collins, John Ellison, Edward Gaynor, Thomas Gloster, James Harris, Alexander Portious, Gilbert Stewart and John Wolfe, Ensigns Spry Bartlet, Cuthbert Eccles, William White and John Wright, of the men, there were 136 wounded bringing the final count to 172 so that, when this last engagement ceased the battalion would only number;
10th April 1814 (after the battle at Toulouse)
Clinton's Division lost in excess of 1000 men this last day of hostilities so that there would be a deal of tending to the wounded and burying the dead before marching down into the town to take whatever comfort there was on offer prior to the long easy marches back to the Biscay coast and adventures in other places.
Note: Considering the disastrous effect the non-appearance of Henry Campbell’s 1st Division had on 1/61st [and all their comrades of both British Brigades and Rezende’s Portuguese] it is well to mention that Campbell disappears without trace from Peninsula affairs at the end of October 1812 as the army settles down to its retreat back to Portugal. It is significant that neither Wellington Oman nor even Atkinson have a word on his departure, this of course being the way when disgrace in high places is ‘best forgotten’.
This battalion was not to be seen at the Waterloo campaign.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2010
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