Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 71st Regiment of Foot (Highland Light)
By Ray Foster
2nd August 1808 landed at Mondego Bay from Cork, Ireland
Obviously this is a well found battalion and, all Light Infantry trained at that, within a few days time another small part will join bringing numbers up by 32 more as they come into line at the battleground at Vimiero, so:
21st August (at the battle of Vimiero)
The CIC at the time one junior Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley has them brigaded with 1/36th and 1/40th under Brigadier Major General Ronald Ferguson, when it comes the turn of this brigade to meet the enemy 1/71st will very soon establish its character in events of this nature, they are uphill of the farm of Ventosa with the main body hidden behind the rising ground.
General Solignac brings his men forward engaging no doubt the first defenders the skirmishing screen; these retire to allow the columns to reach the brow of the hill where Ferguson's Brigade awaits them. A resounding volley at 100 yds clears away the tirailleurs and throws the columns into disorder, the next one disperses them altogether and the fight at this point is already won. Whilst 36th and 1/40th are busy seeing off this retreat 1/71st takes possession of three guns left by the enemy. Another column of four battalions under General Antoine Brennier, seeing 1/71st and another battalion 1/82nd standing about in no particular formation comes at them at speed, they are unprepared for this and for a short while are broken, leaving the prize ordnance they go backwards coming across another friendly unit 29th Reg't upon whom they rally, the fight is rejoined with a will 1/82nd also taking part here. Coming down to a standing fire fight there is no doubt as to the eventual result, Brennier is shot down and left behind as his men finally flee the field leaving three more guns to be captured. The Highland Light having been involved in these two contests with a degree of disorder in between have taken the highest casualties hereabouts, Captains Arthur Jones, Augustus McIntyre and Maxwell Mackenzie, Lieutenants Donald Campbell, Ralph Dudgeon, William Hartley and John Pratt, Ensigns James Campbell and Robert McAlpin are all wounded and, of the men 103 are killed or wounded, so:
21st August 1808 (after the battle at Vimiero)
When Wellesley has been superseded as CIC and the Cintra Convention signed there is to be a period of re-organisation the outcome for 1/71st being that they will be sent off with Lieutenant General John Hope to the surrender of the border fortress of Elvas along with nine other battalions, 1/36th and 1/40th amongst them. This would occur during September it seems whilst Lieutenant General John Moore was coming to terms with the situation he found after bringing with him more troops and others from various places continuing to land at Lisbon. By late October Moore has set his new command in motion to take the field in support of the Spanish armies inland, at Elvas Hope is ordered to make up an escort of brigade strength and accompany the heavy baggage and artillery of the army by way of Badajoz going on to Salamanca, this brigade to be composed of 2nd, 1/36th, 1/71st & 1/92nd, so:
26th October 1808 (on the march to Salamanca via Badajoz)
This late autumn, early winter march would take the best part of two months having been extended to go on from Salamanca to Sahagun during this time the battalion having already left at Elvas around 50 men would lose more along the way arriving at a junction with troops who had marched there from Corunna under Lieutenant General David Baird. Here the army, now enlarged to become a formidable force, is re-cast, Hope takes command of a Division in which 1/71st remains with 1/36th and 1/92nd dropping off 2nd Regiment, they are held by Brigadier General Catlin Craufurd as 3rd Brigade, so:
19th December 1808 (at Sahagun)
After some rapid changes of orders first to retire then advance and finally to retire altogether off the army goes by many short winter marches through hail sleet and snow up hill and down dale onto a fighting ground before Corunna, a rearguard action is fought there while the late arriving transport vessels are being loaded with the impedimenta, sick and injured of the army. The 1/71st are not involved in any fighting on the day of the battle at Corunna excepting to stand in a reserve position to the left rear of Moore's array. They would wait their turn to embark, carrying as many of their infirm comrades as possible to leave the country and return to England some ten days later at:
26th January 1809 (landed at ports in England)
It is sad to report that this battalion would, in the summer of 1809 be landed at the marshlands of Walcheren, collect the germs and fevers of those swamps and stagger back to England with the survivors to rebuild and, hopefully find enough men trained to light infantry standard ready to once more take the field. It takes them just a year to manage this.
Last week of September 1810 (landed at Lisbon)
It is the time of Wellington's retirement from the well fought battle at Busaco with troops coming down country to take up secure positions prepared by the Engineers and named the Lines of Torres Vedras. They are just in time to be fitted into the re-organisation of the army set in motion when all are back in safety in the 'Lines', 1/71st are to join 1st Division in a new 4th Brigade, under the slightly mad Major General William Erskine, they will have for company 1/50th and their old comrades 1/92nd both of whom had also been to Walcheren and stayed close by on their return, and also a stray coy' of 3/95th Rifles.
It is not very long before they get some action, 4th Brigade is at Sobral a rather forward part of the defences, the skirmisher pickets are attacked on 13th October and forced out of the place but only as far as the neighbouring hillside where 1/71st sharpshooters build a barricade flanked by existing stone walls. Next day this is put under cannon fire and assaulted by a more serious attempt at dislodgement first having some success but then when the whole battalion of 1/71st came in at the charge off went the enemy realising that they would need to mount an organised pitched battle if they were to have any thoughts of a breakthrough here. There are no recorded casualties to officers but we do know that in these two combats 1/71st would lose 47 men killed and wounded, so:
14th October 1810 (after the actions at Sobral de Monte
According to a 'return' of 1st November; which gives brigade figures we can expect 1/71st by then to stand at numbers very close to the above and, since there is no more work for them in the field, even when Marshal Andre Massena has given up his enterprise in Portugal we shall only see them again on the field at Fuentes d Onoro in May 1811. Erskine is long gone and Major General Kenneth Howard has the 4th Brigade of 1st Division in hand still holding its original composition, they are in for a couple of busy days!
1st May 1811 (at the battleground of Fuentes d Onoro)
Massena's men are put in to an attack at the village during the afternoon of 3rd May, General Ferey using a brigade of men initially, Wellington has filled the village buildings and its walls with Light infantry companies of 5 or 6 brigades from 1st and 3rd Divisions, it is in trying to get down to fine detail that we discover that in this series of engagements Oman is in difficulty identifying who has and who has not got Lt'companies available, he merely says that Howard Brigade sent in its own. How then do we treat a later stage when he says that 1/71st goes in as a fresh battalion, does he not see 1/71st as a battalion able to be utilised in full as individual light companies? In our own time we would expect 1/71st to have no less than 10 companies of Light infantry available from the beginning, this of course would throw his earlier calculations wildly out in much the same way as he treats the non-existent so-called Portuguese Line Light companies.
I digress, back in Fuentes d Onoro the combined Light companies are under some pressure down at the riverside, the enemy has come on with great dash and in large numbers forcing all who resist here to either retire back and up the slopes or fall killed and wounded or be captured. We know that six men of 1/71st are captured here, the struggle rolls along from house to house up to the top of the village but not until the local Commander Lieutenant Colonel William Williams of 5/60th has put in a serious counter-attack and been repulsed once again. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Cadogan is sent in with 1/71st, and here we must assume that this is at least 9 companies, he has two other battalions of 1st Division 2nd Brigade and with these is able to push back a second brigade of Ferey's but, only a part of the way down into the village. By now the day and the troops involved are well spent darkness falls and it is time to count heads, 1/71st have had Lieutenant John Cowsell killed and seven of the men, Captain James McIntyre, Lieutenant Humphrey Fox and Ensign Donald Kearns are seriously wounded, the last dying five days later, Adjutant/Lieutenant Robert Law and Lieutenant William McCraw are also wounded as are 33 of the men leaving 1/71st standing at:
3rd May 1811 (after the first fight in Fuentes d Onoro)
The next day the troops ensconced in the opposing buildings spend their time taking pot-shots at each other and building barricades across the streets not so on the 5th May however. On they come again but this day 1/71st, and 1/79th of 2nd Brigade 1st Division are all that the CIC is prepared to allocate to this area leaving 2/24th out at the top of the hill as a support. Some two hours after sunrise the assault has re-commenced with a tussle at the lower end of the now well ruined houses, as the pattern is repeated 1/71st will have men surrounded and captured, 37 in all with two un-named officers, the rest of the battalion is slowly ejected going back a far as to where 2/24th is standing in reserve, these men drive the enemy troops back again to near their start point, all are exhausted, rest a while until a new force under General Drouet D‘Erlon is brought up, all grenadier companies, they sweep the remnants of those three battalions all the way up the village to the very top where yet again the impetus is lost.
The survivors of those Light Coy's of 1st & 3rd Div' used on the first day were now sent in again, the fight here by now has achieved major proportions and is about to get even more intense, D‘Erlon sends up nine fresh battalions who dash through the gory body strewn ruined alleys and over wrecked walls taking all before them to the very summit of the ground above the village. For a while there is a fire-fight around the tombstones in a churchyard, fortunately the ubiquitous Colonel Edward Packenham was close by with 3rd Division he rapidly summed up the situation, received permission to engage and sent in 1/88th at the charge who, with 1/74th in support drove the grenadiers all the way back whilst scraps of Light infantry companies rallied onto them sweeping the village ruins clear to the river edge. There was nothing more that could be achieved here this day, it was time to count the cost, Lieutenants William Graham and William Houston lay dead as did 11 of their men Adjutant/Lieutenant Law was hit again and Lieutenant Charles Stewart, Ensigns John Vandeleur and Charles Cox along with 71 of the men wounded, so:
5th May 1811 (after the second fight in Fuentes d Onoro)
Meanwhile down in Estremadura a battle yet to be fought at Albuera will decide the fates of the men of 1/71st for some years afterwards, Wellington having just fought off the challenge from Massena is alerted to the danger of a force being drawn out of Andalusia by Marshal Nicholas Soult to threaten Beresford's siege of Badajoz. There is an almighty clash of arms at Albuera on 16th May which virtually destroys 2nd Division so that as soon as Wellington has been down there and made his decisions Major General Kenneth Howard's Brigade of 1st Division will be marched off and transferred to a re-built 2nd Division becoming its 1st Brigade, this being made official by 6th June 1811, that fragment of 3/95th Rifles goes to Light Division and Howard will receive a coy' of 5/60th to make up the deficit.
Once down in the southern or right wing theatre it is not too long before Howard's Brigade are drawn back up into the valley of the Caya along with a concentration of the principal part of Wellington's army, they stand on defence against a combination of Soult's men from the south and Marshal Auguste Marmont's troops from the north-east. All of this comes to nothing in hard military terms but, standing anywhere close to the swamps and stagnant pools down the Caya during the heat of summer is bound to bring back for 1/71st the fevers buried deep in their bones. We are given no solid figures for this period of attrition other than that those ex-Walcheren men would suffer the greater losses in the army. When the French had departed from his front the CIC moved away into the uplands of the Portuguese frontier leaving Major General Rowland Hill to work back into Estremadura keeping D'Erlon and his little army on the move, a case of tactical manœuvre which paid off when General Girard extended a Brigade of his men too far forward, ostensibly foraging and collecting 'contributions' from the locality about Malpartida. Hill no less that Wellington was well supplied with information as to enemy movements via the Partida of the district and set out from Portalegre on 22nd October taking Howard and others into the Sierras to see what could be done to put Girard in the way of harm. The late autumn rains made marching an uncomfortable task but this force was well led and motivated, they made prodigiously long day marches and occasionally extended these into the night going via Torremocha and Alcuescar until they came close to a largely unsuspecting Girard only 5miles away at Arroyo dos Molinos.
On the morning, and in fact before morning of 28th October, at 2.30am in pitch dark and pouring rain 1/71st in company with 1/92nd half ran the last five miles to catch the enemy in their beds, General Bron and several other commanding officers were caught and made prisoner while the rest made off with Girard as best they could leaving their baggage along with almost 1500 infantrymen captured. We are only given collective casualties hereabouts but, considering the summer losses through fevers and this rapid marching attack we cannot expect 1/71st to muster any better than:
28th October 1811 (after the surprise at Arroyo dos
This unit of light infantrymen is down to very fragile figures and the toil is not yet over for the year. On a false alarm given by Major General William Erskine Hill brings his victorious little force back from the streaming Sierra's at full speed returning all the way to the comparative safety of his base at Portalegre and it is hereabouts that they will come to rest to see out 1811 and, with a long winter and slow start to their spring campaign in 1812 there is nothing to report until May of that year. Numbers have increased by perhaps a company draft and returning convalescents so that as Hill is ordered to take a force up the Tagus to attempt to destroy the bridge crossing and 'works at Almaraz 1/71st would, in all likelihood stand at:
May 1812 (prior to the attack on the Bridge at Almaraz)
Howard's Brigade are to lead this affair which entails a march of some 160mls deep inland coming up to the strongly defended castle of Miravete straddling the road some few miles before the river crossing. Having reconnoitred the area and the approaches to their objective they are able to follow a country pathway out of sight of the enemy at the bridgeworks and circumventing the castle where a small force is left behind to keep this place busily occupied. With 1/50th to the fore and 1/71st immediately following these last few miles are covered halting only at a small settlement to arrange a number of scaling ladders, clearly the local inhabitants have been alerted to all of this as no great amount of time is lost before the real work begins. Howard's men have to cross the last 300yds of open terrain in full view of the defenders of a purpose built timbered strongpoint with several pieces of cannon able to pick them off during this dash to contact. It is 1/50th that take the brunt of this cannonade so that when the ladders are raised at points along the walls Major Charles Cother is able to lead 1/71st on and in close support of 1/50th who are beginning to win their way into this place, Captain Lewis Grant is mortally wounded here dying later in the day whilst the men storm into and through the defences. Their comrades of 1/50th who have succeeded in putting the little garrison to flight are joined by a jostling mob of 1/71st rolling the enemy, who are mainly of the Regiment de Prusse all the way down to the pontoon bridge and some way across until this structure is tipped over breaking its centre parts.
Of 1/71st Lieutenant William Lockwood has been seriously wounded and Lieutenant Donald Ross & Ensign Colin McKenzie lightly injured whilst all in all they have lost 57 men killed and wounded so that:
19th May 1812 (after the combat at Fort Napoleon, Almaraz)
When the defensive works and the bridge have been destroyed Howard's Brigade are marched off a little down country via Truxillo to Merida in the Guadiana valley where they are able to remain while Wellington's main force is to be engaged in the Salamanca campaign. Following that sudden change in the fortunes of Marmont and his Army of Portugal and the consequent removal of Soult's Army of the South to Valencia Hill is able to collect his Corps and head for Madrid. There is no serious work for Howard's men during the march up the Tagus valley nor during their stay to the south west of the Capital when Wellington goes off to besiege Burgos, they will endure the retreat westward onto the old Arapiles position and then yet again going all the way back to the line of the Agueda before halting at the end of November in the safety of the Portuguese frontier.
During the earlier part of all this 1/71st would have increased their numbers perhaps to as much as 400 PUA but, along with the rest of the army this retreat, carried through at the latter stages in heavy early winter rain along ruined roads with minimal logistical support that figure would reduce to yet again bring them close to:
29th November 1812 (after the retreat to the Agueda)
In the closing stages of this dismal trek Howard transfers back to 1st Division and the Brigade is taken up by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Cadogan of 1/71st whose task will be to take up a forward position screening the army about Coria.
The winter and spring of 1813 pass without event excepting that there are to be substantially massive reinforcements for the whole army, we are confidently assured that for 1/71st this would mean excellent numbers as early as;
26th April 1813 (cantoned behind the Portuguese
The army will only be put in motion towards the end of May 1813, at which time it appears that 1/71st will return to figures not seen since 1808, the great majority of which will obviously be new drafts from the recruiting areas back in many parts of the British Isles.
25th May 1813 (on the march north beginning the Vittoria
Cadogan has the brigade still but the 2nd Division is in the hands of Major General William Stewart that well-known and dangerously impetuous warrior, even when closely overlooked by Hill. Being used by the CIC as his right wing Hill's force is to face the enemy as he falls back ever threatened by Lieutenant General Thomas Graham's flanking marches on the left.
With only brief minor clashes with the enemy rearguard they will arrive; almost a month later, at the fighting ground chosen by King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean Baptiste Jourdan in defence of Vittoria, mainly in an attempt to keep secure the accumulated results of six years of systematic looting of Spain's treasures, and its inevitable hangers-on. Numbers have remained very much the same as at the beginning of the long 470mile march to reach this battlefield so, it only remains to tell the story. On 21st June Cadogan is to take his men forward up to the Pueblo Heights to engage the enemy to the far right flank of what will become the main action for a good part of the morning. They have Major General Pablo Morillo's Spaniards even further to their right again and are able to gain the high ground before meeting serious opposition remembering that for many of them this will be their first taste of battle although some training must have resulted in preparing them for light infantry work.
The fighting here although taking up a good deal of time must have been of a desultory nature as light infantryman faced voltigeur, the heights contained some wooded area so perhaps this gave a certain amount of cover. Meanwhile the rest of the brigade was working along the lower slopes and flat areas to their left attracting enemy reinforcements to this flank. On the hill Cadogan is mortally wounded early on, the command seemingly remaining open for a while as the action has become general on this flank, 1/71st and some of Morillo's battalions are able to take more ground along the ridge, thus enabling them to begin to turn the enemy left flank. They are violently counter-attacked falling back for a while but then holding and coming on again as 1/50th and 1/92nd absorb some of the attacks down on the lower ground. There is a pause of some duration while the two sides re-set themselves until a new force of the French under General Villatte come up to the heights. By now 1/71st are being led by some 'mystery leader' whose name has not been recorded, this officer orders a tired and partially unformed 1/71st to advance at the run down a steady slope with a rise beyond of the same gradient to sweep off a residue of scattered enemy on this opposite side.
Author's note: This is exactly the kind of tactic that Stewart himself used on many occasions.
They are set off at precisely the same time as Villatte's men are coming up, both from the front and the flank; these are veterans of many many years of fighting in Central Europe and the Peninsula even, on occasion under Napoleon's eye, arguably the best that France had to offer in the Peninsula at that time. Certainly they gave the new men of 1/71st a welcome to reality completely covering their front and flank they delivered a single short-range volley which put an end to the Highland Light for that day! Fully 200 men were brought down in a flash the rest staggering back to flee in total disorder up their side of the hollow, fortunately the enemy brigadier made the same error bringing his victorious veterans up this rise as 1/50th and parts of 1/92nd were making their way to the scene. The same treatment, with only a little less result befell Villatte's men so that this hollow ground would become a body-strewn bowl for both friend and foe. A short stalemate ensued but, meanwhile the battle, which had developed across most of the field, was going badly for King Joseph and, up on this hill faltered as orders came up for Villatte to break off his engagement to plug gaps already looking ominous down by the Zadorra. Lieutenant Colonel John Cameron of 1/92nd eventually took over the brigade as they continued to advance against an enemy who by now was bent on a full retreat, meanwhile 1/71st had to become accustomed once more to figures close to those recorded whilst the battalion lay in the Lines of Torres Vedras back in 1810. With Cadogan now dead on the field along with Captain Henry Hall and Lieutenant Colin Mackenzie, Lieutenant Humphrey Fox mortally wounded, to die next day, Major Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Charles Cother injured, Captains Joseph Pidgeon and Samuel Reed, Lieutenants Norman Campbell, Thomas Commeline, Alexander Duff, John McIntyre, Loftus Richards, Charles Cox and William Torriano wounded, the last two being captured down in the hollow along with 38 of their men and another 260 light infantrymen wounded and a further 41 dead and dying 1/71st would finish the day at:
21st June 1813 (after the fight on the Pueblo Heights,
The rout of the enemy leaving treasures beyond belief to the tender mercies of Wellington's men would perhaps be secondary to attending to their wounded comrades up in that fateful hollow, there is small evidence indeed to suspect that 1/71st amongst their brigade comrades had any appreciable numbers left here and the countryside generally to be making the best of this literally golden opportunity to reap their own rewards. Whatever, the war must go on, so, we soon see Cameron's Brigade marching off into the plains running up to the Spanish Pyrenees. Within 10 days Hill's Division is to be found about the perimeter of the fortified city of Pamplona, the place is blockaded by degrees and on 2nd July 2nd Division receives its orders to move off westward into the Bastan where Gazan's remnants of the Army of the South are still in possession of the Pyrenean Passes. Two days later Cameron's Brigade comes upon the rearguard of the enemy at the crest of the Col de Villate; they were able to push them along through a few small hamlets on the northern side of the pass until meeting stiffer opposition from a stronger body of support troops who marched up towards them, all of this about Aniz. Both sides kept pushing more men forward in anticipation of a serious general action but meanwhile only ending the day in skirmishing/observation. Next day up comes the CIC to assess his options hereabouts, this soon results in Cameron Brigade going off on a sharp climb on the right flank of the position to feel for the end of the enemy line and turn it. The day was spent with the French retiring by Divisions as Hill slowly took ground, reformed and repeated the process until standing before the Pass of Maya by night time, the next day was all to be a shuffling around of formations for the next regular attack. On 7th July Cameron was to take his men again to the far right, this time about the Peak of Atchiola, this turned out to be a 'soft' attack even when Villate came up from the opposite side in greater numbers, only sporadic shots were exchanged and Corps leader General Honore Gazan eventually removed himself and his Divisions from the whole line of defence after an early ground fog had descended. Through all of this forward manœuvre in the face of the enemy we are not able to get at any sure casualty figures light though they must have been, no-one it seems has yet returned from that mass of absentees following the wholesale looting by the many recalcitrants mentioned by the CIC in his diatribe to the army as a whole. So it is that for a couple of weeks Cameron will settle down with his Brigade about the Pass of Maya we have only brigade figures to go on and these difficult to extract but, may say that here up in the fateful Maya Pass as July was ending and the new “man in charge” Marshal Nicholas Soult was mounting an assault into this and other associated Pyrenean Passes 1/71st would in all likelihood stand at:
25th July 1813 (at the Pass of Maya)
The day began quietly enough for Cameron and his brigade, activity being mainly concentrated to their far right in a part of the 'Pass approached by a different pathway. As the noise of battle reached greater proportions away on this flank a senior Brigadier comes hurrying over to take away 1/50th and a half of 1/92nd from Cameron's array. Pickets of 1/71st are stationed well forward overlooking their own approaches, down their pathway can be just seen large concentrations far below of a veritable army which is picking its way toward them, not at this stage however with any urgency. To the right of Cameron's now weakened front the inclusion of that battalion and a half has been but a drop-in-the-bucket, they too are faced with massive forces on this other pathway being heavily engaged and slowly forced to give ground. Reluctantly Cameron further weakens his front by sending a half of 1/71st right to their urgent help, battle is joined and since this fight has been in progress for some long period they will come into it facing a furiously attacking enemy. These piecemeal reinforcements only serve to feed and prolong an inevitable slaughter at this summit of the 'Pass until Cameron's own front now comes under serious fire. The other halves of 1/71st and 1/92nd are closely involved here with no chance of drawing support at this juncture, they are pushed back little by little resisting valiantly all the way until they fall back onto their camping grounds of tents and baggage. Passing through and relinquishing this area there is a pause in the combat as the enemy takes its chance to plunder whatever they can find. This gives the tired survivors some chance to fall back to a new defensive position, Cameron has been wounded and Lieutenant General William Stewart has arrived on the scene, on this occasion to sum it up correctly and get all of the wrecks of his brigades off this hill to a safer spot. By 4.30pm both sides are well sought into but there is continued contact against this ever diminishing British line until well over 1hour later two battalions of Major General Edward Barnes Brigade of 7th Division come up charging at the battleworn foes with such vigour that this tormenting pressure is cut short, reversed and, as Cameron's remnants join in the pursuit, chased back almost to the summit saddle itself. This ends the day's proceedings and the cost is counted, Lieutenant Duff is dead with 16 of his men, Lieutenant John Roberts whilst also reported killed has been captured remaining a prisoner until war's end, Major Maxwell Mackenzie, Captain William Grant, Lieutenants Anthony Pack, Thomas Park and William Peacocke are wounded along with 120 men whilst no less than 53 men have been captured during these fighting retreats, so:
25th July 1813 (after the fight at the Maya Pass)
Unfortunately this is not to be the end of their share of fighting during Soult's adventures in the Pyrenees, when Wellington discovers the extent and geography of the enemy tactics Hill's Corps is set to defend his left flanks about Lizaso which temporarily gives Cameron's, now Lieutenant Colonel John Fitzgerald of 5/60th Brigade a short breathing space, little or no chance for numbers to improve but with Stewart having received a leg wound which keeps him off the field there is a good chance that Major General William Pringle, the Division Commander this day will conserve these wrecks in keeping with their fragile condition. Manœuvring against superior enemy numbers under General Drouet D'Erlon Hill, going by country roads uphill and down dale at times in torrential rain, takes up a defensive position four days later about Buenza and, on 30th July, is brought to battle here. This fight is taken up in the main by Hill's Portuguese brigades with Fitzgerald's men supporting on the left, once again they have to deal with Abbe's Division those veteran warriors met so seriously before on the Pueblo Height's.
Being well drawn up on higher ground and in the partial cover of trees they put up a strong resistance until outflanked by an enemy which always had the numbers to extend into this undefended terrain. Retiring back to maintain itself its more seriously wounded men were picked up and made prisoner whilst the rest re-gathered a good mile back by the village of Yguaras putting up sufficient fight here to see out the day's work. Captain Leslie Walker and 28 of his men had been wounded, 8 killed and 13 made prisoner so that at the end they would stand down at:
30th July 1813 (after the battle of Buenza)
By now the rest of Soult's offensive had turned out badly with two full scale actions about Sorauren failing and ending in total rout all of which compelled D'Erlon's force to take up a defensive role in his part of the field, for Fitzgerald's Brigade this meant more action and, with Stewart back in the saddle there would be an expectation that 2nd Division’s part of this action would be of a violent nature. The day was well advanced before 2nd Division was able to take up ground now being abandoned in their front however; as good defensive positions appeared Abbe's men were able to put in rearguard actions to delay enemy progress. At the beginning of the Donna Maria Passes by the village of Venta de Urroz he made a stand, unfortunately not only was it that Fitzgerald's Brigade was closest to hand here but, they were also in the company of blood-and-guts Stewart [who had had his wound bound and wrapped with cushions] Hill gave Stewart an order to keep this enemy occupied while others could be brought up to turn their flanks, the recklessly brave Sir William took this as to allow him to throw forward Fitzgerald and his brigade straight in once again uphill through tree covered slopes. As on the previous day the attackers were repulsed and counter-attacked, this time by a greatly superior number of defenders who turned back a second attempt before being slowly outflanked by others, a final outcome which would have occurred anyway without all of Stewart's preceding histrionics.
Fitzgerald had been brought down wounded sufficiently as to be left behind at the counter-attack and made prisoner, Stewart picked up another wound himself as did Captain Grant and 34 of the men of 1/71st, just 2 others being killed, so:
31st July 1813 (after the combat at Venta de Urroz)
The rest of the brigade had faired no better in these multiple encounters in the Pyrenean Passes so with total brigade numbers down at around 820 PUA surely a time of repose was not unreasonable? So it was, military action for this brigade only came to a steady re-occupation of the ground going north to Elizondo and their old camps on the saddle of the Maya Pass, Major General George Walker of 1/50th took up the brigade as they settled in and there they will remain until the first snow flurries of winter blow across these Alps. It is not surprising then that we shall not hear from 1/71st or Walker's Brigade for the next three months, what is to be of some surprise however is that the whole brigade will have brought up its numbers by such a large proportion in this time. Walker still has command and, through some remarkable work [suspiciously like the Adjutant’s pencil-work] men have flooded back to the ranks, some from as long ago perhaps as the Vittoria campaign, with maybe a company or so of new recruits but more than doubling the last PAB figures.
When they stand ready for the taking of the line of the Nivelle early in November we see figures that include a small number of supernumerary's suggesting that of the combatant members of 1/71st there would be:
10th November 1813 (at the battle of the Nivelle)
This 'reconstituted' battalion as also the rest of Walker's Brigade are only used this day as reserve troops walking off with not one recorded casualty, Walker will very shortly later move up to a new command to be replaced by the fire-eating Major General Edward Barnes a fighting Brigadier as ever was. Presumably the CIC expected this brigade to be ready again for serious work. It is not to be the case for the first few days of the fragmented battles about the River Nive, but, when Soult takes advantage of the terrain features where that watercourse runs north into the Ardour before Bayonne the sword is once more pointed in their direction. By now it can be no surprise that it will be Abbe's Division that will put them to the test, Barnes' men the day before their 'test' had to endure a march and counter-march from and back to their final place so that on 13th December when the morning came they would have rested but little. For this reason maybe it was Ashworth's Portuguese Brigade that had the front line at the high ground facing north towards St' Pierre d Arrube an outlying suburb of Bayonne, Barnes' Brigade lay back behind a battery of horse artillery which commanded the crest whilst Ashworth's Portuguese were some way forward amongst farm buildings, stone walls and any other good cover available. To complete the picture there is Stewart large as life relishing a chance to give the enemy a sound thrashing! The early attacks perforce involved swarms of skirmishers intent on ejecting Ashworth's Caçadores from their chosen places, with this task accomplished, [not easily however] the hill before them became the next objective, Stewart, well placed to observe his whole front sent down piecemeal all of Ashworth's infantrymen, the fight continued without abatement then down went the light 'companies of 1/50th, 1/92nd and 5/60th, these, once 'absorbed' received the whole of 1/71st and thus their battle commenced. They were still able to occupy the rising ground somewhat to the left of the spur and protecting this western edge, their first task to put in a counter-attack to hold up the French advance, soon Barnes had but 11companies of men in reserve from his whole brigade, these, parts of 1/50th and 1/92nd. Abbe's men would not be denied, pressing on relentlessly until the new leader of 1/71st could stand it no longer, Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Peacock gave his men the order to retire back while he himself did even worse, trotting off entirely to the rear to abandon his men and the position to the enemy. It was only 11.30am and this action had left a space through which the enemy skirmishers soon established themselves whereupon Barnes sent down his last handful of men, part of 1/92nd led by Colonel John Cameron, at the charge, which effectively plugged this gap for a short time. Abbe too was down to his final efforts, pausing to allow a horse artillery battery to set down and pepper this front he reformed his men onto his reserve coming on yet again for a last throw of the dice. Pushing away these last crumbs of resistance he came onto the hilltop only to be confronted by a composite battery of horse and foot that kept up a damaging rate of fire until his skirmishers were near enough to pick off the toiling artillerymen at their task. Guessing that self preservation was becoming foremost in the minds of the diminishing gun crews Barnes rode about them exhorting them to stand to the last volley, down he went wounded, Ashworth thus taking over during this, the crisis of the fighting.
What then of 1/71st?
Major Maxwell Mackenzie who had 'inherited' the command on Peacock's disappearance had already been killed during the retirement but, coming to the rescue was none other than the fiery Sir William and, on this occasion exactly the right man at the right time in the right place. Gathering together the disparate parts of battalions close at hand he led a charge ably supported by the remnants of 1/92nd sweeping into Abbe's battered array with such force that the whole mass was borne back, grudgingly accepting that on this hill today there was no way through. Retiring off the hill one of their parting shots brought down Ashworth but effectively that was to be the end of serious fighting on this part of the field; it remained to count the cost.
As seen Major Mackenzie was dead as were Lieutenants William Campbell, Charles Henderson and 7 of the men, Captains Robert Barclay and Alexander Grant, Lieutenants William Long, McIntyre, Ensign Richard Ashe and 96 of the men had been wounded and 10 more captured so:
13th December 1813 (after the battle at St'Pierre d
Thankfully the winter rains had already begun making movement for the army generally too arduous, the CIC bringing things to a halt while all scattered about this countryside in search of dry winter quarters. Barnes' Brigade settled down a little back from the scene of their recent tussle and it is of some comfort that when military affairs re-commenced Abbe's Division would be safely blockaded away inside the defences of the Bayonne fortress, future confrontations would be against much less resolute opposition. Going into the New Year figures are made available to show:
16th January 1814 (cantoned about the Nive valley)
It will be mid-February before the roads are hard enough to take heavy traffic, on 13th February Barnes' Brigade are already on the move eastward but, tending southerly to be a part of Hill's tactical Corps forever nudging Soult and his little army off his line by successive turning of his southern flank. For only a paltry handful of casualties they cross the Saison river at Arriverayte outflanking the rearguard of the enemy at the next river crossing by the use of a pontoon bridge assembly and a freezing fording of the Gave d Oloron above Sauveterre leaving the way clear to advance up to the Gave de Pau upstream of Orthez. It is at this provincial town that Soult has decided for a stand to do battle at a position principally to the downstream of the place there being a strong defensive line of rising ground behind the river. We are treated to no more than brigade numbers for this important encounter but, from these can at least see that this brigade of 2nd Division has very healthy figures considering that the winter still has not left the French side of the Pyrenean foothills, we can thus expect on this day that 1/71st may well stand at:
27th February 1814 (at the battle of Orthez)
The task today is to threaten the enemy left flank in the usual way by getting across the river and turning his thin string of defenders, this was to take longer than the CIC might have expected but, was done and, quite cheaply in the end.
Lieutenant George Horton of 1/71st and 9 of his men had been injured and 2 more lay dead leaving the battalion to finish a weary day chasing off an enemy that was intent on retreat as far as they would be pushed, so:
27th February (after the combat at the Gave de Pau,
Some three days later after a march of 35miles Hill's Corps came up to a strong defensive position to the south of and in front of Aire, the long hill chosen by General Bertrand Clausel to halt the advance seemed well held by no less than two Divisions of infantry and had below and in front a stream, the Grave which required that all of the attackers would have a cold plunge as they came up. Set to assault the north-east end of this hill at what was seen to be its steepest incline Barnes and his men hardened by repeated fighting against tough opposition were able to clamber up, gain the top and force before them a much easer foe than of late, it fell to 1/71st to pursue these reluctant combatants down along the back of the high ground towards a bridge gaining access to the town. While others had been used to run off the rest of the hilltop units 1/71st became involved in some gentle street fighting, their enemy always giving back and looking for safe exits, this flowing action ended when sufficient supports had come up to more than balance the odds, all making off as soon as able. Once more casualties given are collective but with Lieutenant James Anderson killed and Lieutenants Henry Lockyer and Hector Munro wounded we can judge that no less that 50 of the men would be killed and wounded, so:
2nd March 1814 (after the combat at Aire)
By now the game is almost up, the weather remains foul, there is still a maze of mountain streams and rivers to cross going always eastward until reaching the city of Toulouse, Soult and his tired army have been there for a while already arming and occupying the whole of its battlements and outlying strong features, there are two major water obstacles the Garonne River and the Canal de Midi, both of which wrap themselves round the city in a north-south aspect. On Hill's natural southern side there is a good deal of floundering about only to find that the rivers now discovered are embarrassingly wider than the pontoons brought to cross them, it will be only during the second week of April that the CIC is able to have his men closed up in fighting order ready to begin his last fight of the 'Peninsular War'. With figures presented only for the whole 2nd Division it is a mammoth task to break them down, however the exercise must be done and it is with some confidence that we can expect 1/71st to stand that day at:
10th April 1814 (at the battle for Toulouse)
They are to have a gentle day's work following up Lieutenant colonel Robert O’Callaghan Brigade at the St'Cyprien battlements as a part of a demonstration intended to hold an appreciable number of the enemy defenders about that area, as specialist skirmishers 1/71st will man the most forward sharp-shooting positions to engage their opposite tirailleurs at the walls, this costs them 3 men killed and 13 wounded to end an otherwise quiet day, marching off from this last battle, all the way to the Biscay coast, their after battle figures at:
10th April 1814 (after the battle for Toulouse)
This battalion will turn up again on the field at Waterloo, they will be a part of Adam's Brig' alongside 1/52nd.
On this occasion they came to the field at PUA 810.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2010
© Copyright 1995-2015, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.
[ | Home ]