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Were the Portuguese Caçadores Armed with Baker Rifles?

Were the Portuguese Caçadores Armed with Baker Rifles?

Were the Portuguese Caçadores Armed with Baker Rifles?

By Moisés Gaudêncio








Battle of Bussaco



In the Peninsular War the Portuguese Army was an important part of the allied forces, under the overall command of the Duke of Wellington, which fought the French armies in Portugal and Spain,

A distinct section of the Portuguese Army were the caçadores battalions, independent units trained to perform the duties of light infantry. Twelve battalions were eventually raised and attached to each Portuguese brigade and the 1st and the 3rd Battalions were an integral part of the Light Division since 1810. In their brown uniform, the caçadores gained, throughout the war, the reputation of being intrepid skirmishers and deadly sharpshooters.

The first caçadores battalions were raised in 1808, and after some changes, their establishment was finally fixed in February 1810. Each battalion was composed of six companies and staff, each company had 112 officers and men.[1]

Robert Burnham and I have recently published a book on the Portuguese Army in the Peninsular War, In the Words of Wellington’s Fighting Cocks. In the course of our research some questions emerged that we could not find a satisfactory answer. One of those questions, which frequently arose, was the use of the Baker rifle by the Portuguese Army. In our book, based in the information available, we stated that:

By August 1810 at least 800 Baker rifles had been distributed among the caçadores, but which units had them is unknown. It is likely that one company in each battalion was equipped with them.[2]

Following up this question I continued to look for sources which could give more information. I started from Benjamin D’Urban, who was the Portuguese army’s Quartermaster General (QMG), and whose Peninsular journal[3]  is a very useful source on the Portuguese Army. On 10 April 1810 D’Urban mentions that:

England always liberal has sent [to Portugal for the use of the Portuguese army] 30,000 stands of arms, 2,000 Rifles, 6,000 swords and pistols.[4]

Later on 6 -7 August 1810 he wrote:

The Marshal [Beresford] gives them [the 3rd Caçadores Battalion] rifles to complete. The other chasseurs [Caçadores] are attached to Brigades under British officers. . . and will therefore improve rapidly. 200 rifles ordered also for each of the Chasseurs [Caçadores], 1st, 4th, 6th [Battalions].[5]

To confirm and clarify D’Urban’s statements I started researching in the Arquivo Histórico Militar (AHM), the Portuguese Military Archives, particularly the Lisbon’s Arsenal papers.

The Royal Arsenal was an important establishment whose workshops and foundry were responsible for the manufacturing of many items of military equipment, from uniforms to ammunition and guns. In the Arsenal was also stored most of the military equipment which was delivered to the different units of the Portuguese Army, including that sent from Britain. So, it was very probable that the rifles shipped from Britain to Lisbon were stored there.

Luckily, I found in the AHM archives a set of returns[6] from the Lisbon’s Arsenal in which it was listed all the equipment, such as uniforms, weapons, and other materials, sent to the infantry and caçadores’ units from 1808 to the end of 1812.

I immediately looked to see if the Arsenal distributed rifles to the caçadores. The difficulty was that the Arsenal did not use the word Rifle, which was a British designation, but I found they furnished to some of caçadores battalions two different types of personal weapons, contrary to the infantry regiments which received only one type. The Arsenal used the following expressions to these items:

Espingarda com baioneta:  Musket with bayonet, distributed both to the infantry and caçadores.

Espingarda com baioneta de terçado: Musket with sword bayonet, distributed only to the caçadores.

I safely concluded that Espingarda com baioneta de terçado was the Arsenal’s designation for the Baker Rifle, which had a sword bayonet.

My next step was to look to which caçadores battalions the Espingarda com baioneta de terçado or rifle was sent. From the returns I found that a first batch, 300 rifles, was shipped from Lisbon’s Arsenal on 1 April 1810 to the port of Figueira, at the mouth of the Mondego River, to be delivered to the 3rd Caçadores Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Elder, an officer of the 95th Foot. As the battalion was marching to the frontier to eventually join the British Light Brigade, the arms probably were transported up the Mondego River.

A second shipment of 1,000 rifles left Lisbon on 22 August 1810 also to Figueira and probably followed the same route up the Mondego to reach the caçadores battalions. From this batch 216 rifles went to the 1st Caçadores Battalion, 384 to the 3rd Caçadores, 200 to the 4th Caçadores and 200 to the 6th Caçadores.

Dom Miguel Pereira Forjaz, the Secretary of State for War, informed Marshal Beresford of the departure of this shipment and that of the 2,000 rifles supplied by Britain, about 700 remained stored in the Arsenal.[7]

Marshal Beresford answered acknowledging the information and mentioning that of the first 300 weapons sent to the 3rd Caçadores only 278 were distributed since one of the boxes sent from Britain contained 22 “old weapons”.[8] It is not entirely clear the meaning of Bereford’s expression, but I think this “old weapons” were not rifles.

All this confirms D’Urban’s statement of 6 – 7 August 1810. With this information we can safely assume that:

First, the 3rd Caçadores Battalion, in the Light Division, was armed entirely with rifles from September 1810. They received 662 rifles for an establishment of 695 men and officers in six companies and staff. At the Combat of the Coa River, on 24 July 1810, they had already received the first 278 rifles and at the battle of Bussaco, in the end of September 1810, probably all their men were armed with rifles.

Second, at Bussaco, the 1st Caçadores battalion, also in the Light Division, had 216 rifles, the 4th Caçadores, in Pack’s brigade, 200 rifles, the 6th Caçadores, in W. H. Campbell’s Brigade, another 200 rifles. Thus the Portuguese Caçadores had about 1,250 rifles at the battle. An impressive number, a little less of half of the rifles in Wellington’s Army at the battle.

The Arsenal’s returns stated also that the 2nd Caçadores Battalion received 200 rifles in October 1810 and 65 more on the beginning of 1811 and the 5th Caçadores 41 rifles from December 1810. Another 98 rifles were delivered to the recruits’ depot for training purposes. According to these returns a total of 1,704 rifles were delivered to the caçadores battalions through the end of 1812. For more details see the appendix.

From the 2,000 rifles that arrived from Britain, until the end of 1812 at least 1682 were in the hands of the caçadores battalions.

René Chartrand, in his work on the Portuguese Army[9], and Coelho, in his thesis on the Portuguese Arsenals,[10] both who did research in Portuguese and British archives, did not find any evidence of additional deliveries of rifles from Britain to the Portuguese army.

I could not trace the distribution of about 300 rifles but another return, dated of 19 January 1813, made at the request of Forjaz, states that 104 rifles remained at the Arsenal ready to be delivered to the army and another 76 rifles were being repaired.[11]

Well before these 2,000 rifles arrived in Portugal, another 120 rifles were sent to arm the Loyal Lusitanian Legion (LLL). Chartrand in his book on the LLL and the combat of Alcantara states, according with documents from the British War Office and Foreign Office, that 120 rifles, among muskets and other materials, were shipped from Britain to the LLL in August 1808. [12]

This shipment was most likely sent to Oporto where the Legion was in the process of being organized. It did not go through the Lisbon Arsenal. It is reasonable to think that these 120 rifles were inherited by the 7th and 8th Caçadores battalions, which were formed from the LLL’s two battalions in 1811, but I did not find any evidence of this.

Another question is how were the rifles distributed within each battalion? I could not find a source that gives a definitive answer. The only contemporary reference founded was in the memoirs of Captain John Dobbs, 52nd Foot, who was in the 5th Caçadores Battalion in September 1813. He describes his company when he joined in the battalion:

The company consisted of 120 men; one half were armed with rifles, the other with muskets and bayonets. On my arrival I found it under the fire of the castle [Castle of San Sebastian], which still held out, but finally surrendered on the 3rd September [1813].[13]

A case can be made considering what we know about the tactical use of the rifle companies in Wellington’s Army that it is probable that, when possible, the rifles equipped certain companies exclusively.[14] For example, the 4th Caçadores Battalion received 200 rifles, so two of its companies, about 100 men each, were equipped with rifles. Until now I could not find any solid evidence to support this.

In conclusion, this research showed that at least 2100 Baker rifles were sent from Britain and delivered to the Portuguese caçadores, which was an acknowledgement of the excellent capabilities of the Portuguese light infantry. It is an impressive number taking in account the total numbers of rifles in Wellington’s army.

Another interesting conclusion is that the 3rd Caçadores Battalion was chosen to be fully equipped with that weapon. The early appointment[15] of Lieutenant Colonel George Elder to the command was important to advance the training of the battalion in the British light infantry tactics. In December 1809, after a review made by Marshal Bersford and his staff to the caçadores battalions cantoned between Tancos and Punhete, QMG D’Urban wrote in his journal:

The progress of Lt. Col. Elder in forming and training the 3rd [Caçadores battalion] is perfectly wonderful. Certainly, no Regimental Officer has yet done so much in so short a time, since the British Officers began to act with the Portuguese Army.[16]

After this evaluation it is no surprise that the battalion was chosen to be completely equipped and trained in the use of the rifles and to join the Light Division in April 1810. The battalion was present in every campaign and fought in innumerable combats along with the other units of the Light Division. They were indeed the Portuguese Riflemen.


List of the Shipments of Rifles that Left the Arsenal according to the Arsenal’s Returns:[17]

By an order of 20 April 1810, 300 rifles were shipped to Figueira for the 3rd Caçadores Battalion (no indication of the date they were received by the battalion).

By an order of 22 August 1810, 1,000 rifles were shipped to Figueira for the 1st Caçadores Battalion, 216 rifles, the 3rd, 384 rifles, the 4th, 200 rifles, and 6th, 200 rifles (no indication of the date they were received by the battalions).

By an order of 5 September 1810, 200 rifles were shipped to Peniche for the 2nd Caçadores Battalion and received on 22 October 1810.

By an order of 21 October 1810, 119 rifles were shipped to Peniche for the 2nd Caçadores (65 rifles, received in the beginning of May 1811), for the 5th Caçadores (41 rifles received from 24 December 1810). The Peniche’s Recruit Depot received 5 rifles for the 6th Caçadores depot and 8 for the 5th Caçadores depot.

By another order of 21 October 1810, 82 rifles were shipped to Peniche for the Recruit Depot. From these the 1st Caçadores depot received 22 rifles, the 3rd Caçadores depot received 45 rifles and the 4th Caçadores, depot received 15 rifles.

In September 1811 another 3 rifles were delivered to the 5th Caçadores depot.

The total number of rifles shipped by the Arsenal was of 1704 according with these returns.


[1] Gaudêncio, Moises and Robert Burnham. In the Words of Wellington’s Fighting Cocks. Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021, p. 14-18.

[2] Ibid, p. 18.

[3] Major General Sir Benjamin D’Urban. The Peninsular Journal 1808-1817. Ed I. J. Rousseau. London: Greenhill Books, 1988.

[4] Ibid, p. 97.

[5] Ibid, p. 131.

[6] PT/AHM/DIV/1/14/162/56-57

[7] PT/AHM/DIV/1/14/39/2 ms 44, letter from Forjaz to Beresford, 15 August 1810.

[8] PT/AHM/DIV/1/14/20/15 ms 131, letter from Beresford to Forjaz, 20 August 1810.

[9] Chartrand, René. The Portuguese Army of the Napoleonic Wars (2). Oxford: Osprey, 2000.

[10] Coelho, Sérgio Veludo. Os Arsenais Reais de Lisboa e Porto, 1800–1814. Thesis submitted to the department of Ciencias da Educação e Património of the Universidade Portucalense, 2009.

[11] PT/AHM/DIV/1/14/265/1 ms 76-82

[12] Chartrand, René. Oldest Allies – Alcantara 1809. Oxford: Osprey, 2000, p.23. Thanks to Ian Chard to call my attention to this.

[13] Dobbs, John.  Recollections of an old 52nd Man. Waterford: T. S. Harvey, p51. Thanks to Mark Ambleton to point me this source.

[14] On this subject see: Haythornthwaite, Philip. British Light Infantry Tactics & Rifle Tactics of the Napoleonic Wars. Oxford: Osprey, 2016.

[15] 10 June 1809

[16] D’Urban, p. 77.

[17] PT/AHM/DIV/1/14/162/57