Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 88th Regiment of Foot (Connaught Rangers)
By Ray Foster
During March 1809 Landed Lisbon
This battalion, in company with 2/87th had already been sent down to Cadiz by transports during late February-early-March, refused permission to land there by the Spanish authorities and, immediately returned, still in their transport ships to make landfall at Lisbon and make ready to take the field. By the beginning of May Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley had arrived and had put together a force intended to push Marshal Nicholas Soult's Corps out of Portugal by way of Oporto and the northern Beira. Staying with 2/87th and under Brigadier Major General Christopher Tilson 1/88th with 5 companies of 5/60th will be attached to the new Marshal William Carr Beresford's Right Wing when the army moves off north to engage Soult's men, they will set out at:
5th May 1809 (marching north onto Oporto)
These are not particularly good figures for a fresh 1st battalion but it must be remembered that a journey up and down the seas through the Bay of Biscay in the worst of the winter months, remaining on shipboard all the while and then having to set up its communications base at Lisbon would see, as it transpires, no less a reduction than 171 men. The short campaign to eject Soult from Portugal only affects 1/88th in the way of marching about some rugged roads and struggling to come to terms with life in an army of manœuvre, when the enemy have gone all will return down towards the Tagus valley about Abrantes where Tilson takes his leave, Colonel Rufane Donkin takes his place and the army prepares again for an offensive thrust at the enemy. This time it is to be no less than a march on Madrid, this to be executed in company with a large Spanish force of all arms under Captain General Gregorio Cuesta, having made as many arrangements as possible off they march again into central Spain. It is now high summer and not too long before the hot dusty roads become dotted with stragglers unable to cope with prolonged shortage of good sustainable rations before coming together with their new Spanish allies. Things immediately get worse as the two commissary organisations compete for ever dwindling supplies but, we see that once the army has found its enemy and stood to arms 1/88th will be able to show:
25th July 1809 (at the Alberche stream, Talavera)
It is hereabouts that 1/88th will start its war in the Peninsula and, rather abruptly. For two days there have been confused movements of the Spanish force pressing on from the Alberche towards the Capital Madrid until the enemy, now coming under the 'King' of Spain Joseph Bonaparte with Marshals Jourdan and Victor send Cuesta' men reeling back onto the stream positions and beyond. By 27th July we see Donkin's Brigade of 3rd Division, Major General John Mackenzie commanding, falling back behind this watercourse through a bank of trees which cover this obstacle and resting more or less in open country still close up. General Pierre Lapisse's men of Victor's Corps take up the vacated ground and crossing the Alberche by the same fords abandoned by Donkin's men build up a mass of Light infantrymen of 16eme Legere and burst out of the cover of the woods to assail his brigade who are scattered about the area totalled unprepared. Wellesley himself is so much a part of this surprise that he has to quickly mount his horse and gallop off from the immediate danger. In the first rush 1/88th will lose 30 men taken prisoner, as the battalion attempts to hold its ground Lieutenants John Graydon and C F McCarthy are both killed with 7 of the men, however, the more severe fighting losses fall to 2/87th, their comrades of 1/88th having only 25 more men wounded.
The five companies of 5/60th, toughened veterans, along with a battalion of another brigade stem the attack and all are able to retire some way to the rear as friendly cavalry reinforcements enter the contest, so:
27th July 1809 (after the combat at the Alberche stream)
The CIC has allocated positions at a line anchored on the town of Talavera and extending north across an open flat section before climbing the Cerro de Medellin and beyond, Donkin's men are lucky enough to be sent up the Cerro to a place slightly back from the face of this hill so that when the enemy send in a night attack across the Portina stream at the foot of this hill none of the brigade will be involved. The following day there is to be a general action on this line, which has many 'episodes' mostly of intense activity by both sides and heavy casualties thereby, 1/88th however are still up on the high ground and in what passes for a second line. This will not prevent them from receiving intermittent cannon-fire for a good part of the day and as the activity wears on and on Donkin's Brigade having been brought to a more forward position will start to receive serious attention from an enemy who can see that with attack after attack coming to nought but failure will vent some of their frustration by way of shot and shell. Captains Andrew Blake and Richard Browne are hit, the first being killed and the second dying a whole year later from delayed effects, 12 men are killed, Lieutenant John Whittle and Ensign William Whitelaw and 69 men all wounded although a good few of these would come from the Light Company of 1/88th sent forward to do skirmisher duty earlier. The enemy having gone quiet and the casualties collected up 1/88th would stand down at:
28th July 1809 (after the battle at Talavera)
The story of the retreat from Talavera is well told elsewhere, the sorry march back to the safety of the Guadiana valley being attended by great heat, rough hill roads, abysmal food supply and the debilitating effect of troops always carrying their own sick and wounded brings numbers down to a seriously weak level throughout the whole army with 1/88th, using a little hindsight, surviving this perhaps much better than most. Meanwhile, as the army had been marching up to the Alberche and enduring all the following mayhem we should perhaps turn back to watch the movements of another unit, the 2/88th as it passes by in an elusive way.
This battalion it must be said has little or no impact on events anywhere in the Peninsula excepting as an eventual supplier of a large draft of new men to its premier battalion, its movements however may be best dealt with as a whole bearing in mind that during all of their adventures they only touch their 1st batt' during the late spring and early summer of 1811. So, landing in Lisbon in unknown numbers as early as mid-July 1809, they march up to Zarza la Mayor north of Alcantara standing briefly on defence at the border apparently 'unattached' soon to return down country to Lisbon. They are then heard of as being shipped off down to Gibraltar where they remain until we see them arriving at Cadiz on 26th February 1810, they will stay there as garrison troops until returning to Lisbon by 4th September of the same year. They are still at the Portuguese Capital when the battle at Busaco is played out and will only show up as being 'in the Lines of Torres Vedras' attached to Major General Le Cor's Portuguese no less, but with reasonably moderate numbers, these arrived at through brigade estimate at:
1st November 1810 (in the lines of Torres Vedras)
Close inspection will see these men crossing the Tagus to its south side during December to act along its banks observing the enemy but without incident it seems. Our next information sees them back to the northern side of the river, it is 10th March 1811 and 2/88th is in march in company with, but unattached to, men of 7th Division, their numbers may have increased to an improbable 650 PUA [see Oman V4 P 134] however, they have already been gazetted as becoming a part of 3rd Division in its 2nd Brigade under Major General Charles Colville. The battalion will have a hard time attempting to catch up with its new comrades, it is they who with Light Division, are in the infantry vanguard assisting Marshal Andre Massena to get his men out of Portugal so that as they pass through the debris and the ruined countryside on their way up to Celorico they will not be particularly overjoyed by what they see of the results of belonging in a 'front line' fighting Division. It will only be on the day before the enemy make an abortive stand at Sabugal that Colville will receive his new reinforcement, the marching goes on when 3rd Division are put in to cut between the enemy standing at bay and its supports some way to the rear. Making a brief contact before the enemy make off we can expect that of 2/88th only their Light Company will get into action here, 3 men are reported as wounded, it is 3rd April and still we have no firm figures for this unit. At last, when the army is brought to a halt at Fuentes d Onoro we have the true state of affairs in 2/88th, they will stand to arms along with 2/5th, 2/83rd and 94th at:
1st May 1811 (at Fuentes d Onoro)
On the first day of battle here it is highly likely that once more only the Light infantrymen of 2/88th will get any action against the enemy losing just six men wounded so that when the army is compelled to retire down into the valley of the Caya these much travelled but barely used soldiers will be drafted into their 1st battalion who we have left chronologically away back in the last days of 1809.
Retiring out of the Guadiana watershed the army, much reduced by its privations following the retreat from Talavera was able to rest for a considerable period during the winter, spring and early summer of 1810. The CIC used as much time as he could afford to build up a system whereby he might avoid the tragic results of his first real campaign in Spain, for 1/88th all that this meant was to establish its physical links with Lisbon and set up way-stations within Portugal for the passage of its convalescents from the army hospitals up to wherever the army front might be at any time. Even as the army started to fall back from Talavera 3rd Division had begun to change its composition quite dramatically, its 1st and 2nd Brigades were amalgamated, Lieutenant General Robert Craufurd and his Light infantrymen temporarily became its 1st Brigade, Donkin left, Mackenzie had been killed and Major General Henry Mackinnon stepped in to lead 2nd Brigade. Thus it was that as the winter turned to spring the new array would ultimately be Mackinnon 1st Brigade 1/45th, 74th [a Highland battalion come up from Lisbon during the winter] and 1/88th, 2/87th had left during all of this going down to Lisbon and later Cadiz. Craufurd of course had taken his men off to form the Light Brigade and later Light Division, leaving, finally Major General Stafford Lightburne to make up the 2nd Brigade.
There is no work for 3rd Division at the combat at the river Coa in July of 1810 where Craufurd stood too long and paid a price, that officer thus establishing a non-working relationship with Picton and exposing a serious weakness not too often mentioned by lovers of the Light Division! It will be September before we see figures which show battalion strengths throughout the army, they are standing in defence on a long ridge, its northern end capped by the buildings of the church of Busaco, 1/88th have done well to present:
27th September 1810 (on the ridge at Busaco)
On the day of battle on the Busaco ridge Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Wallace has his men drawn up looking down into the mist covered valley to their front, his Light Company had already been engaged with the enemy on the previous day having been turned out of positions of defence part of the way up the slopes opposite the hamlet of San Antonia de Cantaro and near its bottom. All are aware that the enemy is below them in large numbers but that the terrain will restrict them to a narrow corridor of attack when they inevitably will emerge. The first to feel this contact will be the same Light Company who are pushed back steadily but, as the hillside terrain dictates are left alone while the main thrust comes up to the right of the position held by 1/88th. Major General Thomas Picton directs others to plug off this advance, which threatens to enter his line where no troops have been set down and goes himself to draw 1/88th over to its right. As the enemy column, much disordered by its climb, reaches a flat open place, seeing the danger it is Wallace himself that takes the initiative, his men and half of 1/45th from further right charge in on the head of the winded French column as it sought to reform. With fragments of other Light companies and a body of Portuguese Line troops all joining in and even a couple of artillery pieces for good measure the outcome of the charge was never in doubt, down went the enemy almost to the bottom of the hills where only their own cannon-fire brought the pursuit to an end. Although it may sound on the surface that this fight had been one-sided that cannot have been the case, certainly not for 1/88th and their comrades of 1/45th, Lieutenant Henry Johnson had been killed as had 30 of the men, Major John Silver and Ensign Thomas Leonard had been mortally wounded and Major Robert McGregor, Captains George Bury, George Dansey, Henry McDermott, Lieutenants John Fitzpatrick, William Nickle and 94 of the men injured with one more not to be found as all settled back to hold their original positions, so:
27th September 1810 (after the battle on the ridge at
It only remained for the CIC to take his victorious troops off the hill and march down country to the environs of Lisbon and the oft-mentioned 'Lines of Torres Vedras'. Picton's men are given a series of posts well to the fore but over on the left of the 'lines' close to the inundations, which made the far left quite unassailable. Just five weeks later we see brigade figures which suggest that 1/88th will have improved its numbers very well, perhaps by draft but, just as likely by returning convalescents from the infamous hospitals of Belem, so:
1st November 1810 (in the lines of Torres Vedras)
During the winter these figures must continue to increase so that as Massena is forced to retire back from Santarem in March 1/88th will be content with their situation, they of course are up at the front of affairs with Light Division gently easing the enemy ever backward from constant rear-guard actions set up by men of Marshal Michel Ney's 6th Corps. These contacts cost 1/88th no more than 11 men of whom Lieutenant Leigh Heppenstall is one who has first been wounded at Redinha and then killed at Foz do Arouce on 15th March.
By the beginning of May Wellington has his army assembled at Fuentes d Onoro, Massena is determined to have a throw of the dice to relieve a garrison of his men under Brennier at Almeida now that he feels strong enough to once more take the offensive. At Sabugal 2/88th had entered the scene as previously described but, for Wallace's men it is to be more of the same, 5/60th have re-joined 1st Brigade with 3 companies and their HQ but otherwise all is as before, they will stand at a healthy;
1st May 1811 (on the field at Fuentes d Onoro)
By 3rd May Wallace's Light Company with the rest of those of the whole Division and including others were ensconced in the buildings and behind stone walls and barricades in the village stretching all the way from the stream at the bottom to the hill to the church at the top, the battalion itself was stationed well off to their left at the end of a line of reserve behind the hill.
For our Light Company there cannot have been a great deal of danger this day when the enemy battled its way in and up through each defended place taking and losing possession several times until exhausted by their efforts to return across the stream as the daylight faded away. With only five men wounded on the 3rd May the men of 1/88th Light Company would consider they had had a quiet day! When two days later Massena mounted a serious flanking movement away out in the country off to their right 1/88th were brought up closer to the village head as the whole defensive line had to be re-drawn. The Light Company had been taken out of the village and presumably would stand on the left of its battalion at least until the day's actions saw them return to the task to reinforce a village defence which had already cost others dear. It would be Mackinnon's Brigade standing to the back of the village hill that would be most able to engage an assault from General Conroux's picked men who finally were to burst through the village dashing all before them and reaching the graveyard and tombs by the hilltop church.
With Colonel Edward Packenham, Mackinnon and Wallace urging them on the Connaught Rangers put in a close range volley and down came the bayonets for a furious face-to-face charge. We are told that due to the broken nature of the ground being fought over there was no form to this clash, just 'mano-a-mano' until Conroux's grenadiers cried enough tumbling back through the wreckage of bodies and broken barricades leaving Mackinnon's Brigade to take charge of any of the buildings still capable of affording some defensive cover. Apart from sporadic skirmish fire this would complete their work for the day with Captain Christopher Irwine and just one man dead, Lieutenant Samuel Macalpine, Ensigns Hogan and 47 men wounded and one other missing leaving them at:
5th May 1811 (after the fights at Fuentes d Onoro)
When Massena had for his last time admitted defeat and been superseded by Marshal Auguste Marmont the various French army Corps about this area of the Peninsula came together to bring up sustenance for the beleaguered garrison at Badajoz massing sufficient force to make Wellington retire his men into the valley of the Caya, it is about this time that Mackinnon goes off sick and his place taken by Wallace, 2/88th would also be drafted into its senior battalion taking down to Lisbon a cadre of recruiting officers and such of the sick and disabled men as to leave them with a very solid field unit, fully officered and, once able to get away from the malarial swamps of the Caya, to show fine figures.
15th September 1811 (in front of Fuente Guinaldo)
Ten days later the CIC has put his most forward troops at risk by playing on his army's growing record of invincibility, at and about El Bodon he has left 3rd Division spread out in company camps observing the enemy who has sent out a great sweeping cavalry exploration of his front and is debouching from the area around Cuidad Rodrigo with a Division of slow moving infantry in its rear. They have only sparse cover from small units of friendly light cavalry when multi-squadron units of enemy dragoons, lancers and chasseurs set upon them. For 1/88th and the rest of Wallace's Brigade who must be only slightly at risk this comes down to a short period of surprise when five men are captured but, beyond that no-one is in the least endangered, being able to rapidly form up and march in good order to regain safety, a lot has happened to 1/88th since those early days at the Alberche stream! Going into winter Mackinnon would return to pick up the brigade and 3rd Division although in what are very temporary quarters and are well to the front of the army's line so that, on 1st January 1812 it is no surprise to see Picton's Division coming out into a very cold and miserable field, crossing the Agueda with others to put Cuidad Rodrigo under siege.
There is a period of trench work with all of its dangers from sniping, shellfire and sorties to be endured before the place is declared assailable.
During all of this preparative work we are told that some 1000 and more men are put out of action, it has to be the case that 1/88th took its fair proportion of these casualties, we know that both Lieutenant John Armstrong and Ensign William Flack were wounded on the 16th January and with a little hindsight we can expect that around 40 of the men would be either killed or wounded before the storm of 19th January, so:
18th January 1812 (at the storm of Cuidad Rodrigo)
As it transpired the storming of the breaches here became a tolerably mild affair excepting for those men who were with Brigadier Mackinnon who was blown to pieces by a mine, perhaps the Governor was not of a sort that could inspire his men to great deeds or more likely, the garrison felt that they had already done sufficient damage to their tormentors whilst within the safety of its walls. No matter, 1/88th did play a prominent part in capturing this prize, Lieutenant William Mackie not only leading in the forlorn hope but going on, battling all the way to confront the defending officers and receive the formal sword of submission on behalf of the garrison, [much to the distress of Light Division journalists who forwarded their man Gurwood as a likely substitute, it only requires one to see Harry Smith's words on this to come to a common sense answer, Smith after all was one of the Light Division’s more honourable officers]. Lieutenant John Beresford was mortally wounded while Lieutenants George Johnstone, George Faris and William Kingsmill were wounded the latter having had to have a leg removed, seven men were dead and 23 were amongst the wounded to leave 1/88th standing at:
19th January 1812 (after the storm at Cuidad Rodrigo)
With winter still holding the country in its icy grip it fell to Major General James Kempt to take up the brigade, the victorious battalions moving south across the Tagus into the Guadiana watershed and on to put the great fortress town of Badajoz under some of the same treatment. Towards the end of March there was 3rd Division again down in trenches digging away, doing guard duty and taking casualties from a much more fiery foe whose men never let up in their defence of this difficult objective.
We know that losses from the siege period alone were as serious as those suffered on the night of the murderously violent storm, a detailed breakdown is now forthcoming [Steve Brown] so it is seen that one officer had been killed, 3 more un-named wounded and in the ranks 17 killed and no less than 67 wounded thus it is that we can come to a set of numbers which would bring us up to that hard won struggle to take this place, so:
6th April 1812 (at the escalade of the Castle at Badajoz)
Lieutenant Thomas North had already died of a mortal wound doing trench duty a fortnight earlier missing the attack on the castle walls, the main assaults were to take place via the breaches well to their left around the perimeter, however it had been noticed by an observer, a private of 1/45th, that the walls about the castle area were only lightly manned and that all of the efforts of the garrison had been used to make the breaches virtually un-assailable so, on the night, Picton was to be allowed to chance his men using only long scaling ladders and their well known thirst for a fight to gamble on a long shot. To get up to the walls they first had to expose themselves to fire without return crossing a broad river flat, the shallow river itself and then the short steep and rocky glacis to reach the berm before rearing up one after the other their heavy ladders, all the time taking casualties from men at the walls, certainly small in number but no less lethal for that. Both Picton and Kempt as prime targets are hit and in 1/88th Major Barnaby Murphy goes down badly wounded, Captain Patrick Lindsay, Lieutenants Macalpine [first of 1/88th to crest the walls], Ralph Mansfield and Edward Cotton killed, the latter only dying 2 days later, 28 of the men are killed in the fight to mount the ladders and, once established on the battlements carrying on with the rest of the men of 3rd Division to take the castle itself, Lieutenants Patrick Cockburn, John Davern, Ensign William Grattan and two un-named officers with 106 more of the men were wounded but, along with another successful escalade far away left of the bloody breaches the fortress fell into their hands, so:
7th April 1812 (after the storm of Badajoz)
It will perhaps be best not to dwell on the events which followed the taking of Badajoz, it is well known that this place and its citizenry had previously gained a poor reputation in the eyes of the whole army as to their collective attitude towards their 'allies' even as early as that time when the exhausted remnants of the Talavera experience had lodged thereabouts in 1809.
It seems they had it coming to them!
With the coming of summer campaigning weather Marmont's Army of Portugal, now reinforced by two extra Divisions returns to attempt to take the initiative, especially since Wellington has his men marching on Salamanca, there is a great deal of manœuvre/marching to be endured across the open rolling plains eventually centring on the Tormes river and, by mid-July out to the south of Salamanca by a small village and two prominent hills, the Arapiles behind which lay a great wooded area and the river itself. Picton is away ill, as is Kempt both still recovering from their Badajoz wounds, Wallace of 1/88th has the brigade and the ever ready Packenham the Division the battalion has only managed to increase its numbers of three months ago probably by way of returnees and will when called upon, bring to the field:
15th July 1812 (marching about the Salamanca plains)
By good chance the CIC had earlier given orders for Packenham's 3rd Division to march in a broad arc taking a position of reserve far out to his right rear on the day of the great battle. When Marmont allowed his most forward Divisions effectively marching across his enemy's front, to take ground at a speed which disconnected them from their supports Packenham's Division was thus ideally placed to begin an attack in the classic oblique order, with his other Divisions able to fall upon each enemy flank in overpowering numbers as they went down the line. For Wallace's Brigade this would involve a long approach march over a wide open countryside where it was possible to draw out the battalions from column to contiguous line whilst still in full motion, the enemy upon coming into range would have an advantage of slightly higher ground but not of formation. First casualties in the ranks of 1/88th would be felt from hastily placed enemy artillery fire soon to be augmented by a broad band of voltigeurs coming on at the run, none of this could deter the steady advance to close quarters, Major Murphy was shot dead in front of his men and the sight of his horse, dragging him along their line by its stirrup did just enough to arouse the ire of his men to full pitch so that when Packenham gave the order to charge the result was never in doubt. Captain William Hogan and 11 of his men were killed and as the enemy reeled back in confusion on came the whole Division to complete a devastating rout, Captain Walter Adair, Lieutenants Kingsmill, Frederick Meade, William Nickle, Charles Tryon and 110 men were wounded as they pursued the fugitives ever further, continuing obliquely across to disorder more and more formations until the day was won.
22nd July 1812 (after the battle on the Arapiles)
When the enemy clears the scene heading north by east towards the right banks of the Douro Wallace's men are able to pick up their walking wounded and slowly follow the resultant advance in the general direction of Madrid. There will be little or no work for them for some time to come, as a part of a ring of patrolling companies set out beyond the capital city it is only when King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Soult begin their cautious advance from Valencia that 3rd Division are compelled to once more get on the march abandoning the Spanish and their capital. The 1/88th will have had more than two months of rest and recuperation so that their numbers about this time, early October, must have improved from those figures of late July perhaps to as much as 550 bayonets; however there are no sure Morning States to help us here and we now enter a period of great logistical confusion.
With no clue as to who held the battalion at this time we do at least know that Wallace still had the Brigade as the army concentrated in a general withdrawal onto the Arapiles position of July, here they stand at bay as the French bring on superior numbers from both the east and the north, Joseph baulks at bringing on a full-scale battle so that, with rain falling steadily and the autumn winds sweeping icy reminders of a winter to come Wellington can only retire, falling back all the way to the line of the Agueda at the Portuguese frontier, this retreat is accompanied by foul weather on ruined roads and, to make matters doubly miserable with almost no commissary services. The Connaught Rangers are not the sort for walking away from a fight, discipline crumbles and it comes down almost to every-man-for-himself, famously this unit is amongst those who fall upon a large herd of pigs in an oak forest gorging themselves on half butchered, half cooked meat which, when combined with the occasional discovery of large vats of the local new vintages does nothing for their wellbeing, but does at least make for a good story! Sifting through the available Divisional figures we can estimate that upon turning about behind the Agueda 1/88th would have lost through attrition around 110 men to stand at no better than:
29th November 1812 (behind the Agueda about Cuidad Rodrigo)
With both sides now settling into winter quarters there is to be a full six months before there is any action to report. During the winter Wallace will retire and return to England leaving the Brigade without a leader for some time, 1/88th will receive, like so many other battalions, very large drafts, figures made available at the end of April 1813 show:
26th April 1813 (cantoned in Portugal)
Convalescent returnees help to continue building its numbers up eventually by more than double. Colonel Thomas Brisbane of 69th Regiment eventually picks up the Brigade as Major General and off go 1st Brigade 3rd Division, all under Picton on the march north, the 'Rangers starting out no less than:
16th May 1813 (on the march out of Portugal)
The great northern flank march of Lieutenant General Thomas Graham's Corps goes on with little incident as far as 1/88th is concerned, contact with the enemy is restricted to the leading cavalry brigades whilst the main effort for the infantry comes down to the occasional crossing of major rivers, the Douro at the St' Joao de Pesquiera ferry and the Esla at Palomilla also by ferry. By June 19th 3rd Division is to march to Caramo then from Zuazo and Anda over the Monte Arrato by a mountain track to come down on Las Guetas and join in the expected concerted attack on the positions taken up by King Joseph's army in front of Vittoria, principally behind the Zadorra River. The CIC has it in mind that 7th Division Lieutenant General George Ramsey Earl Dalhousie will be at the head of 3rd & 7th Divisions coming in well to the left of Light Division who for some time have been hovering about the un-broken bridges awaiting this support. These two Divisions are already many hours late in coming up, by the time that Picton has his men closed up for action the battle to their right is well developed and in need of serious support so, ignoring Dalhousie's reluctance to take the initiative he sends 3rd Division at the rush across the bridge of Mendoza and gets on with the battle.
Units of Light Division are already available and even under threat as they come into line for a major assault close by the village of Arinez, 1/88th will get into action taking fire from men of General Leval's Division who will be heavily outnumbered once the brigades can take up more ground. Meanwhile they have to endure a withering musketry duel that thins their numbers forcing them to regroup, close to the centre and come on again. Delivering a medium range rolling fire themselves down come the bayonets and 1/88th do what they do best, charge the enemy, before they can properly prepare to re-load. The result is the same as ever, after a brief resistance off go their immediate foes retreating onto a rising ground some distance back, others are benefiting from this collapse and the whole defence hereabouts crumbles, not however before those involved have paid the inevitable heavy price for their victory. It will be here that most of 1/88th's casualties are incurred, Captain Henry McDermott has gone down seriously wounded, Ensign Henry Sanders has received a mortal wound to die six days later whilst 23 of the men are killed, Lieutenants Faris, Fitzpatrick and James Flood all receive minor wounds and no less than 187 of the men are also wounded.
In the closing stages of the battle the French had made a stand supported by their massed batteries drawn up well to the rear, casualties here must not have accounted for many of 1/88th and beyond this last effort lay the treasure and baggage of an army which had assiduously collected loot over a six year period only to have it wrested from them by the joyous survivors of this unequal combat. Obviously this has been a fight where the rank and file took the brunt of the fighting with their officers not particularly having to hazard themselves, no matter, the evening and night is spent in riotous scenes of delight amongst unheard-of wealth, those least restrained helping themselves to all manner of gold and silver coin in an atmosphere of glorious total confusion. Militarily we have to observe that 1/88th were now down to:
22nd July 1813 (after the battle at Vittoria)
Once the CIC was able to get his forces on the move from all of this disorganisation he became focused on the pursuit of the Corps headed by General Bertrand Clausel which had not been engaged at Vittoria, this entailed much marching and counter-marching for Picton's 3rd Division only coming to a close when the French had evaded Wellington's clutches and made fast tracks for the shortest route into their home country over the lower Pyrenees. There had been no contact with a formed enemy so that as 3rd Division settled down around the fortress city of Pamplona their only loss would be from worn-out stragglers and those of their number who had lingered amongst the loot of Vittoria. Although there was to be a great deal of fighting over the next few months, some of it of a desperate nature, 1/88th and Brisbane's Brigade saw none of it and indeed the whole Division spent this time strangely quiet. When Soult returned to the field making a dash at Pamplona near the end of July it fell to Picton and his men to "stand guard" over the defence of that city's north-eastern perimeter blockade. They had briefly been brought forward towards the enemy when Cole had retired the 4th Division but not to become involved in any more than a cover for the retirement. Soult gave his lieutenant General Maximilien Foy the opportunity to manœuvre out on the extreme French left flank as a chance of cutting in around the British right to relieve the beleaguered garrison, that General in his usual manner made great haste but, having got into position for a strike, yet again his style of baulking at serious opposition showed, he halted and observed Picton's 3rd Division who did likewise while the two battles at Sorauren were fought out by others.
The resultant rout of the enemy in the first days of August yet again saw no action for 3rd Division who had the task of following up Foy's hurried departure, that commander having a remarkable facility for making himself scarce, most often to the detriment of any "grand plan" dreamed up by his masters.
It will be early November before we are treated to figures for battalions and this with the inclusion of an undefined number of supernumeries to swell the roll. Major General Charles Colville is standing in for Picton who has gone off sick and the army is by now on the line of the Nivelle River:
10th November 1813 (at the Nivelle)
With nothing but a supporting roll to play Brisbane's Brigade only receive casualties through fire penetration and these reported by brigade numbers, no officers amongst them so a possible:
10th November 1813 (after the crossing of the Nivelle)
By a chance of geography the battles fought around the Nive in December were all played out without the services of 3rd Division that nevertheless had a surfeit of miserable mud-marching to do passing from one theatre of operations to the other in rear of the several actions to the north. Winter has taken over, the roads break down and the army is forced into cantonments, where in mid-January we see Connaught Rangers at:
16th January 1814 (cantoned about the Nive valley)
Picton returns to restore command and it will be mid-February before 3rd Division takes the field again for some serious work.
Soult's much reduced field army is to be "disconnected" from his western base at Bayonne to be pushed ever eastward leaving that large, heavily fortified arsenal to be put under blockade by others whilst Wellington plays the game of continuous discomfort for the remnants of the once great Army of Spain. For 3rd Division starting out during mid-February of 1814 this meant the continuous crossing of those icy rivers that fall out of the French Pyrenees to make their way north and west thereby forming occasional barriers to be forced before moving on yet again. At the Gave D'Oloron on 24th February Picton, around Sauveterre had pressed across the fords only to get repulsed in a petty but bloody bayonet charge, the next day the whole Division was able to cross by way of a repaired bridge as the enemy retired off, Brisbane's men had no casualties in this crossing but, only two days away there was to be a real test, the battle at Orthez. With figures for this day given only at brigade level we are left to rationalise, by now Oman's appendices chronicler has become war-weary so far as 5/60th are concerned and, as this tiny corps was statistically attached to Brisbane's Brigade whilst being spread far and wide within the army accurate estimates in this brigade are difficult, it cannot however be far wrong to allow 1/88th a strength at this tussle of;
27th February 1814 (at the battle of Orthez)
The enemy under Soult, always a good placer of his troops in the opening phases, has found rather secure lines on high ground along and behind the Orthez-Dax road, the approaches to his defensive positions are broken up by several hill streams and intersecting hill spurs in some way similar to the ground chosen by Wellington on the Nive in December of the previous year.
As in those battles the attackers would only be able to come on by passing along these low ridges in close column before making contact, Brisbane's Brigade was chosen to make one of these advances, much exposed to medium range artillery fire and, naturally enough regaled by a peppery musketry from the voltigeurs positioned below the Escorial Knoll. Soult on this occasion has managed to interest the slippery Foy into manning this area, a little to the left of his main line but importantly well inside his flank resting on Orthez Township; there is no chance of a retirement or fancy manœuvre here without destroying his whole defence. Foy's men must hold this part of the field then at all costs, nice one Nicholas! Of Brisbane's men it is 1/45th who head the column taking the early casualties in coming up to musket range, that General has difficulty in keeping his nerve as his front ranks are being shot down and struggling to find cover until the ubiquitous Packenham takes in the scene and gets him to scatter this battalion forward in open order whilst bringing up 1/88th to provide more solid thrust, we have a good account of proceedings from here on.
The first two companies of 1/88th have found enough space to assist their own Divisional artillerymen to bring up their guns in readiness to give some urgently needed support when the enemy seeing this move and feeling the first effects launch a squadron of cavalry across their flank and proceed to cut up men with some success. Casualties hereabouts must have been severe but, the rest of the battalion, keeping its fire to the right time delivered such a blast of musketry as to bring down almost every trooper thus engaged. Just about the same time [Foxy] Foy, who has managed to distance himself from close contact with a serious enemy for so many years is hit by a shrapnel bullet high in his shoulder, down he goes and is carried out of danger meanwhile his men are under real threat as both the 3rd Division guns and the attacking 'Rangers now reinforced by elements of 6th Division begin to crumble away the hitherto solid position. A hole is punched here and the whole French left gives back to begin a retreat which gradually turns to the rout of the whole defensive line, it is a strong indication of who did the lions share of the work in this attack, 1/88th having by far the highest casualty count of all battalions engaged this day, Captain McDermott just returned from his Vittoria convalescence is killed as is Lieutenant James Moriarty, Ensign Bryan Reynolds has a mortal wound dying two days later whilst the battalion leader Lieutenant Colonel John Taylor, Captains James Oates and Richard Bunworth, Lieutenants George Cresswell, Fitzpatrick, Richard Holland, James Stewart, Lieutenant/Adjutant James Mitchell, Ensigns George Stewart and Donald Mackintosh and Volunteer Walpole along with one other un-named officer are all wounded. In the ranks no less than 41 men are killed and 214 wounded leaving the battalion to stand down at:
27th February 1814 (after the battle at Orthez)
All of March is spent in slowly following up Soult's men in the general direction of Toulouse and all on roads and paths turned to a sea of mud by the atrocious winter/spring rains, it seems that no battalion in Wellington's army profited from returning convalescents nor received much in the way of new drafts, 1/88th suffering perhaps no worse than any other will lose well over 10% of its able men by attrition so that when the last battle of this war is fought they will muster no more than:
10th April 1814 (at the battle of Toulouse)
Picton has his Division, after much too-in and fro-in, in a holding stance in front of Petit Granague a small hamlet on the Blagnac road and close to the Royal Canal. This waterway is a serious military obstacle, its bridge at the Ponte Jumeaux being heavily fortified, sealed off with an abatis and well provided with both artillery and veteran voltigeurs. Brisbane's Brigade is to the front of all of this as the day begins. 3rd Division orders are to merely demonstrate and hold in place as many defenders as might be seen reasonable, this form of action, quite sedentary for the vigorous members of this fighting Division is endured until the day is well advanced and there appears to have been little in the way of visible success anywhere about them.
Picton by 2.30pm can stand this no longer and gives his "fighting villains" the chance to show their worth. Probably because of the decimation of its first two companies at Orthez one half of 1/88th is held as a reserve while the rest of the Brigade goes about the assault of the canal defences. As it turns out this is no better than a forlorn hope at any fortress breach, excepting that here there is no weakness to exploit, the defenders are gifted a "turkey shoot" until the truth of the matter comes home to the men thus being slaughtered. For the 'Rangers this affects the battalion numbers as much as though the whole unit had been engaged 8 men are killed, 76 men are wounded along with Captain Nickle and Lieutenant Walter Poole and the Brigadier Brisbane is also hit. Fortunately the battle is ultimately won elsewhere and for 1/88th that completes their war in the Peninsula and southern France, they will stand down for the final time at:
10th April 1814 (after the battle at Toulouse)
This battalion was not present in the Waterloo campaign.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2011
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