Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Notes on Wellington’s Peninsular Regiments: 3rd Battalion 1st Regiment of Foot (Royal Scots)

By Ray Foster

Facings: Dark Blue
Lace: Gold    

After a turbulent sea voyage travelling down through the Bay of Biscay accompanied by a great armada of transport vessels this 3rd battalion of the 1st Regiment of Foot, the Royal Scots Regiment put in at the northern Spanish harbour at Corunna.  Standing off in the bay for what seemed like an eternity this and many other infantry battalions are ultimately allowed to disembark. The local Junta having satisfied themselves that this huge body of British troops, in excess of 10,000 infantry alone, might operate to their advantage against the invading French they finally on 26th October 1808 come to an agreement with General Sir David Baird to assist this army in any way they feel fit.

It took the Royal Scots a good while to arrange themselves ready for the field, as was normally the case, but by 1st November there they were ready to march wherever directed. Their close companions would be 1/26th The Cameronians and 2/81st Foot an un-named battalion all brigaded together under Major General Coote Manningham one of the new brand of “caring” officers.

1st November 1808 [on the march from Corunna]                                                                                        
PUA 723

Note: the initials PUA stand for Present under Arms a measure of a military unit’s strength and state of preparedness.

Marching roughly east by south east they showed up at Mayorga, in excess of 200 miles through rough mountain and hill roads and pathways, this journey taking the whole of that early winter month.  Their original task had been to make contact with a larger force coming up from the south under Lieutenant General Sir John Moore who commanded all when brought together.  Manningham’s Brigade was at Sahagun, some thirty or so miles north east of Mayorga as the end of the year approaches show 3/1st Royal Scots at:

20th December 1808 [at or around Sahagun]                                                                                                 
PUA 615

The loss of more than 100 men was not unusual for the marching attrition of many of Moore’s infantry battalions, worse was yet to come.  However, while other units were changing brigade compositions Manningham will hold on to his charges throughout this dismal campaign. Napoleon had suddenly been discovered to be marching an overwhelming army north west from the Madrid theatre straight at Moore’s men expressly to annihilate the hated British “Leopard” [his own description of the forces of King George IIIrd].

This information required no great deal of decision making, Moore, outnumbered by more than 2:1 decided for a retreat and that no less than a return to Corunna where messages going ahead at courier speed would bring up the vast fleet of transports necessary to effect an evacuation of Spain.  For the Royal Scots this entailed a repeat of the now 230 mile trek through Leon and into the Cantabrian Cordillera mountains and, in January sleet and snowstorms. This march would, in view of its urgency be completed far sooner than previously. Whilst a significant number of men  fell by the wayside others, originally left behind on the way in would now rejoin on the way out.

Manningham, good fellow that he was, held his brigade together perhaps a little better than some.  They arrived back at Corunna to discover no fleet of transports in the bay. Napoleon himself has given up his chase but left no less a personage than Marshal Soult to press the pursuit with as many men as he saw necessary to effect a crushing defeat on the “Leopard”.  On 16th January 1809 and Moore, forced to defend while having waited for the fleet to arrive placed his brigades as usefully as the country terrain will allow.

Manningham had a position between the central village of Elvina and the low area running back to the right and the harbour road.

16th January 1809 [in line on the right at Corunna]                                                                                       
PUA 500

When Soult sent his infantry to attack Elvina there was a ding-dong battle there joined by others that eventually required 2/81st to come in from the right flank to make its presence felt, many casualties later it is the turn of 3/1st to pitch in and repulse the French counter-attacks.

It was here that Lieutenant Lorimer along with an unknown number of his men is brought down in this closely fought combat bringing events to a stand-off and with dusk approaching the battle fading to occasional skirmish fire.  Moore was mortally wounded and Baird deprived of an arm, but Manningham was able to retire his men down to the docks where the fleet had just arrived.  They must wait their turn receiving some attention from long-range artillery shells before climbing aboard, wasting no time before pushing off for the trip up the Bay of Biscay and home.

A fair wind sees them home six days after the battle with a collection of sick and wounded to swell the recorded numbers, they arrive in England showing;

22nd January 1809 [disembarked in England]                                                                        

All ranks fit or not 507

Having landed back in England it is known that Lieutenant Lorimer died of his wounds, as would so many another.

A little over six months later 3/1st would become a part of that disastrous campaign mounted at the end of July 1809 and intended to capture the Dutch port of Antwerp. Named for one of the islands in the seaport’s estuary, Walcheren, this campaign doomed many thousands of men to either a lifetime of recurring malarial swamp fever or for the great majority, death! The Royal Scots took in no less than 1000 men PUA, our interest lays with their return to the Iberian Peninsula the survivors carrying the low-country germs for all to share.

This they do, returning during the first week of April 1810 entering the mouth of the Tagus to be transported up that river as far as Thomar before landing, where once more they readied themselves for the field. They are to join a new 5th Division being put together under Major General  James Leith, their own junior Lieutenant Colonel JS Barnes taking up the brigade composed of 3/1st, 1/9th [East Norfolk’s] and 2/38th [1st Stafford’s]. 

There are no figures available at this time but it is known that these Scots were of a sickly nature [WD, Wellington’s Dispatches].  Assembled at Abrantes 5th Division would join Wellington’s main force to eventually show in the north on the ridge at Busaco ready to face Marshal Massena’s attacks.

By now it is late September but at last we have figures, so:

27th September 1810 [on the ridge at Busaco]                                                                                              
PUA 768

Being on a quiet part of the battlefield 3/1st suffer not a single man lost that day so they were able when the call comes, to retire off the back of the hill the next day marching off down to the environs of Lisbon and the previously prepared fortified Lines of Torres Vedras.  Their logistics officers have done sterling work rounding up those sickly convalescents during this time and when they come to rest in their winter quarters we see figures suggesting an increase to;

1st November 1810 [in the Torres Vedras Lines]                                                                                            
PUA 850

During the winter a more senior Lieutenant Colonel of 3/1st Andrew Hay joins to take over the brigade from Barnes, as poor a replacement as the service could devise!  The brigade also receives a company of sharpshooters, light infantrymen of the Brunswick Oels Regiment. The Walcheren fevers return as the men systematically destroy their cover from the wintry blasts, firewood it seems being more important than a “roof-over-your-head”, they are reported as being no protectors of property.

Meanwhile Leith at the end of January 1811 has gained permission to go home for reasons not given so that the half-mad Sir William Erskine takes up the Division, luckily only briefly as the rather junior Major General Dunlop picks it up for a month or so, Erskine returns, getting it on the march to follow Massena’s retiring forces. By the time the campaign of 1811 has developed Hay’s brigade will have marched up country to a defEnsignive position about Fuentes d Onoro, 3/1st will show as the month of May opEnsign;

1st May 1811 [on the field at Fuentes d Onoro]                                                                                             
PUA 672

The two days of battle on 3rd and 5th May have so little influence on the Royal Scots that their stand down numbers will show;

5th May 1811 [after the battles at Fuentes d Onoro]                                                                                    

PAB 663

Note:   PAB denotes Present After Battle

Fortunately Erskine departed leaving Dunlop able to move up again on 11th May and hold the position for the greater part of the year remaining.  Once again the internal organization of our “Royal” battalion shows what Wellington always called “regularity” a very desirable quality, numbers increase even though the army is forced to spend some time on defence in very unhealthy lowland marsh country in the valley of the Caya stream, a slow winding tributary of the Guadiana. Moving away from the marsh country at Fuentes Guinaldo they take up another defEnsignive position close up to the Portuguese frontier in front of Cuidad Rodrigo they will show:

15th September 1811 [at Fuentes Guinaldo]                                                                                                  
PUA 682

They are not attacked by the “new man on the block” Marshal Marmont so will be able to retire at leisure into the high country of the Portuguese border ending the year quietly.  For the last two months a very junior Major General George Walker will have led the Division only to give it up to a returned Major General Leith its original owner.  For reasons best known to Wellington, the 5th Division, still commanded by Leith is not used at the first dramatic siege and storm of the frontier fortress of Cuidad Rodrigo. At Badajoz on the night of 6th April 1812 however their 2nd Brigade led in by Brigadier GT Walker played a decisive role in storming the back walls only to call upon the help of Hay’s Brigade through the services of 2/38th who also contribute greatly to the success achieved there. The only casualty recorded on behalf of 3/1st will be to a detached Lieutenant Rea who fancied himself as an engineer becoming injured while acting out that role.

The high summer of 1812 brings adventures enough, marching about the great plains by Salamanca the army is engaged in a tactical contest of manœuvre counter-marching many dusty miles seeking terrain advantage against Marmont’s men. In mid July with the heat at maximum intEnsignity, they are close by Nava del Rey still well on the move;

15th July 1812 [at or about Nava del Rey]                                                                                                       
PUA 761

Note: These figures are simply a part of normal returns for the army sent every15th of the month to Horse Guards so, the poor adjutant is kept to his pencil work no matter the constant movement, the choking dust and the fierce glare of the sun.

At Castrejon, on 18th July there is a brief brush with outlying units so that 3/1st lose a couple of their light company skirmishers, four days later however the real battle takes on an inevitability that the enemy try as they may cannot prevent.  Leith’s 5th Division  are drawn up in full divisional order. Hay’s Brigade is without its usual leader, Colonel Greville leader of a new battalion 1/38th and his successor has joined, they themselves being so new as to be only “attached”.  

The day begins quietly enough they are south of Salamanca by two humps called the Greater and Lesser Arapiles, the enemy incautiously marching swiftly but directly across their front. Wellington as the day has already gone well past a traditional time for fighting sees his chance and puts the whole army in motion straight at this extended flank march in classic echelon style. It only becomes 5th Division’s turn to enter the fray when the first deadly blow away to their right is already succeeding dramatically.  Leith brings his men to the attack against a second vulnerable French Division, although sEnsigning a murderous defeat, their first defEnsignive volleys bring down a fair number of the advancing lines, Greville’s horse up in front is easily brought down he himself being dragged along the ground by a stirrup in front of his own men, they charge into a hail of indiscriminate musketry knowing full well that the enemy must fall back.

Assisted on their flank by a savage charge of heavy cavalry they are hard put to keep in touch with their opposite numbers who now show only rapidly routing backs. The mass in clouds of dust and constant noise become totally disordered, prisoners surrendering willingly rather than be cut down by the troopers flashing broad swords and sabres until the day runs into night and numbers need to be counted.  Lieutenant Colonel Barnes is seriously wounded as are Lieutenants Clark, Falck, Kellet & O Neil, Ensign Stoyte [carrying the colour] with Volunteer McAlpin.  Captain Logan & Lieutenant McKilligan claim only minor wounds while 23 of the men are dead and 137 more amongst the wounded, so certainly not a completely one sided affair;

22nd July 1812 [after the battle on the Arapiles]                                                                                            
PAB 599 

Leith himself [well known for his accident-proneness] is seriously wounded; Greville also is not at all well so that, as often happened in the heat of battle, commands change rapidly.  We see that Lieutenant Colonel JS Barnes is amongst the badly wounded it must be the case that the senior Major  C Campbell will hold the 3/1st together when the dust has settled, a new name Major General Hulse comes forward, ostensibly to lead the Brigade, whilst taking over the 5th Division too! All of this as the army marches on Madrid to share the spoils of victory, Marmont and his army no longer existing as a force to be reckoned with. By the time that Wellington has drawn out three full divisions for an adventure in the north on 31st August Hulse is beginning to decline in health.

31st August 1812 [leaving Madrid for the north]                                                                                           
PUA 592

Crossing the Douro and pushing the remnants of Marmont’s defeated battalions [now under Clausel] as far as Burgos on the Arlanzon river 5th Division  loses General  Hulse who has become seriously ill. Major  Campbell and 3/1st find themselves without a brigadier as they go into the encircling containment of this Basque fortress town in preparation for a siege and storm of the castle walls. Having only the task of screening the siege along with many others 3/1st will record no casualties during the sad attempts mounted to reduce this stronghold.  Our ever-ready amateur engineer Lieutenant Rea taking with him Captain Stewart gets both of them injured in that capacity during these abortive initiatives, by the 22nd October however their new brigadier Edward Barnes is ordered to bring them all south of the river preparatory to an abandonment of operations here and an early winter retirement.  

Off they go becoming part of the rearguard in the early stages, this to no good effect, at Palencia behind the Pisuerga river their Light Company is surprised and trapped by following enemy cavalry. Caught and taken in flank they are rolled up, nine of their number being either killed or wounded but, more seriously as many as 34 of them captured, unquestionably this would destroy that Company during such time as the battalion was to remain under stress.

25th October 1812 [at and about Palencia]                                                                                                     
PAB 549

Retreating down country as far as the old positions on the Arapiles the army’s divisional components are once more brought together, the enemy confronted and, as Marshal Soult begins a wide and slow flanking movement Wellington is forced to concede ground and indeed, eventually as far back as the Portuguese frontier.

5th November 1812 [at the Arapiles position]                                                                                                
PUA 512

The Royal Scots no different to any other unit suffers the foul weather, the mired roads and paths, the confusion and the accidental but absolute absence of army food supplies; this for only five or six days and nights but all in pouring rain and bitter winds. Hulse already long dead, a new man Major General Pringle takes up the 5th Division  and they retire into winter quarters behind the Agueda in Portugal, they will stand at:

29th November 1812 [on the Agueda]                                                                                                            
 PUA 440 

With Napoleon’s Russian Campaign in tatters Wellington’s masters back at Horse Guards begin to sEnsigne that strengthening the Peninsular Army should bring about favourable results as the offEnsignive state of affairs continues to improve. Over the next six months men and equipment pour into the theatre of operations, for 3/1st this eventually meant almost a doubling of numbers, resting about Lamego in the Portuguese high country their numbers for a long time only grow modestly.  A return shown in SD [Supplementary Dispatches] during April sees them at:

26th April 1813 [about Lamego]                                                                                                                        
PUA 657

They will be ready on the call to arms to join General Graham’s Corps, Major GeneralOswald has the Division , Hay the Brigadier  and Campbell [by now a Lieutenant Colonel], keeps the battalion.  Brigade figures suggest a leap in numbers to;

25th May 1813 [at Outiero on the march north]                                                                                            
PUA 875

Crossing the border and heading for the Elsa river they will march roughly north-east heading for the Grande Chaussee, the great road out of Spain to France! The enemy led now by King Joseph and Marshal Jourdan are in full retreat but as they make the effort to filter their huge train of booty through Vittoria vehicles of all kinds loaded with everything possible to be got out of Spain are jammed together in its narrow streets. The army must stand on the Zadorra River in defence of its ill-gotten gains, to say nothing of its mobile bordello and cringing affrancesadoes.  Graham’s Corps on the day of the battle at Vittoria have marched well ahead and to the left of this Basque city tasked with cutting the chausee north of this place thereby depriving the retreating army [and its loot] of a safe departure.

Hay’s Brigade on 21st June find themselves coming down on the village of Gammora Mayor in rear of their 2nd Brigadier  who upon engaging the enemy at the bridge over the Zadorra fight their way through the village buildings only to be brought down by heavy artillery fire, a hail of canister and shell from across the river.  It is the turn of 3/1st, 1/9th, 1/38th [2/38th has been long gone, absorbed into 1st battalion and the cadre sent off to England to recruit] and their company of Brunswick Oels sharpshooters to force this bridge, the struggle comes down to a very equal contest of skirmisher fire from safe cover with occasional dashes at the bridge.  There is no way past until the battle elsewhere has been decided, friendly units begin to push up from the south ultimately forcing the French to retire.  In all 8 men only, with one officer, Lieutenant Glover [who died a week later] are killed, 103 of all ranks, including Lieutenant Colonel Campbell, Lieutenants Cross, McKilligan, Armstrong and our old acquaintance Lieutenant Rea, with Ensign’s Dobbs and Green all wounded bringing numbers down to;

22nd June 1813 [after the fight on the Gammora Mayor bridge]                                                                

PAB 764

We are told that 5th Division  were not able to join in the general celebrations around the mass of plunder left by the routing French, being very much north of the scene of jollification, so a simple settling down for the night and attention to the saveable wounded. Eventually travelling north again up the Chaussee, the  5th Division  will only re-appear as they come up to the great seaport-fortress town of San Sebastian, here it is that the retreating French have installed a new garrison of well-found experienced fighting men.

By 15th July a three-company detachment [maybe as many as 230 of all ranks] of 3/1st are set to support an attack by others on the outwork of San Bartholome, Captain Arguimbau to lead them up.

The work is stormed and captured without serious involvement for Arguimbau’s men but even so it must be the case that some 20 or so men would be brought down. Ten days later the brutal business of attacking a breach of the main fortress walls begins, the whole of 3/1st to now be put up, this time led by Major Fraser.

Split into two wings it is the one on the right that will receive the most attention from the defenders.

As the first grey tinge of dawn’s light appears and the tide at full ebb they jump out of the most forward trenches to scramble over and through slimy seaweed covered rocks and boulder-strewn pools towards their destruction.

Fraser, leading the charge is soon brought down mortally wounded, all about him his men are falling as a result of a fusillade of fire from well-protected positions where the enemy have been awaiting their arrival.

With survivors struggling up the slopes of the breach only to discover a sheer drop of some 20 frrt beyond they are picked off with no chance of reply until a recall is sounded, the sun has just risen.

Fifty-two men are dead, amongst them Captain Cameron, Lieutenants S Clarke, Cluffe and Massey, a further 159 men are wounded, with these are Captains Arguimbau [loosing his left arm] R Macdonald, Buckley, Logan [right arm gone] and Stewart, Lieutenant O Neil, Ensign’s Reynolds [died two weeks later], Hoskins and Volunteer Millar [left arm shot through] and yet all of these able to be brought off the deadly slopes. Left behind severely injured, dead and/or certainly unable to move are 124 more of all ranks some being simply dashed to pieces, one of these last Lieutenant Eyre, so:

25th July 1813 [after the first storm of San Sebastian]                                                                                  
PAB 414

The siege is scaled down for a whole month as battles are being fought inland along the foothills of the Pyrenees but when it is resumed and the army’s engineers say that they are satisfied that a good breach has been blasted in the walls it is decided that the time has come once more. Leith has returned to pick up his role as Division commander; Oswald thus stepping down while Hay has returned from whatever kept him absent before to head the brigade.

Regimental military pride in the early 19th Century is such that when the next assault is planned it will be the officers of 5th Division  along with Hay’s Brigade that insist on the honour of doing it all again!

It is sufficient to say that on 31st August unremarkably the new assault fares no differently until the regular heavy siege artillerymen who have been battering away now for some months receive permission to have the troops drawn back just enough for them to have a try at clearing the parapets from where the enemy are so successfully beating off the stormers. Laying down a complete blanket of high trajectory fire at these firing steps they sweep the whole fringes with a shattering barrage that sees all opposition destroyed.

Leaping forward to wreak their vengeance 3/1st and their comrades’ pour up and over the walls gaining access into the town.

No quarter is given as Hay and his men seek out the defenders now without any walls to protect them, the centre of the town becomes a raging inferno as building after building bursts into flame and no good order can be restored for two days. Casualties amongst 3/1st, a unit already well down for numbers are considerable, 46 more men are dead and 148 wounded, amongst them Lieutenants Armstrong, W Clarke, Holbrooke [shot through the lung], A McDonald and Suckling with Ensign Dobbs.  It cannot be possible that the battalion would muster after the storm any more than 220 men fit for duty the next day.

A week later the Governor, holed up in the castle Keep surrenders bringing out with him prisoners captured at times during the siege amongst them those survivors of 3/1st taken in from the breach in that early failed attack.  It may be that with a handful of returned convalescents also rejoining the Royal Scots after this final surrender could stand at:          

8th September 1813 [after the capture of San Sebastian]                                                                            
PAB 325

This much-tried battalion with its comrades of 5th Division are to be seen only a month later in support of the crossing of the Bidassoa [the river here marking the French border] once more Leith is absent [wounded at San Sebastian as was Oswald] so that Hay leads the Division  and Greville the brigade.

Other than the loss of perhaps 20 men killed and wounded amongst them Lieutenant Boyd [to die of his wounds just three days later] this crossing was managed gently, a few returned convalescents previously, bringing up the figures to show;

7th October 1813 [after the crossing of the Bidassoa]                                                                                   
PAB 355

Another month passes by uneventfully until the army is set to attack the line of the Nivelle where Soult, the new French commander of all forces in this theatre has dug in with a line of earthworks linked to old established stone built strong-points along the northern banks of the river; we are given sure figures here although somewhat inflated by the addition of all of the regimental non-combatants, they stand at:

10th November 1813 [at the Nivelle]                                                                                                               
PUA 370

Coming forward merely in a supporting role while others do the work 3/1st will collect but four casualties this day, all from its Light Company. Winter is upon the armies of both sides but with Wellington now in the ascendency for both numbers and morale there is to be little rest as the army comes near to the great bastioned frontier city of Bayonne. The approaches from the south pose tactical problems, the River Nive of considerable capacity in the winter rains runs from south to north emptying into the Adour in Bayonne itself. Other minor water courses also heading the same way flow between low hills reaching out like fingers towards Bayonne, the high ground thus is broken up with its shoulders dying off into low wet hollows and stream beds.  Soult and his Generals are fully aware of this and will make the best of it.

On 9th December 5th Division  are to be found close to the Biscay coastline as a part of that corps previously under the hand of General  Graham, now picked up by Sir John Hope. The former having gone home to organise yet another amphibious attack, this on the northern coast of the Continent.  Their tactical area is best described as Anglet/Bassusary, Greville has the brigade and Colonel JS Barnes is returned to take up 3/1st the Royal Scots, for this unit the next three days involve them in a see-saw struggle with the enemy in terrain covered with scrub, stunted trees, rough country indeed, humps and hollows where each side could easily spring surprises or be surprised themselves. The fighting thus bore very little pattern coming down to man on man small knots being captured then lost while officers had little or no influence on proceedings.

The final outcome in this confused sector saw Hope’s force whilst roughly handled left holding its original positions 3/1st to stand down with figures understandably somewhat fragile, so:

11th December 1813 [after the combats at Anglet/Bassusary]                                                                   

PAB 301  

With precise numbers of casualties unsure we do know that Lieutenant Mcdonnell is wounded and long-time serving Lieutenant Killigan has been lost, quite possibly to die in some hidden hollow or thicket in this broken countryside.

The whole of 5th Division  [now in the hands of Major GeneralColville] has come out of these latest adventures in poor state for numbers so it is no surprise as winter takes a firm hold on proceedings that Hay’s men will sit back as Hope organises his efforts to contain and blockade Bayonne. During the early days of 1814 we see [in SD] that 3/1st are really only able to maintain figures close to the last estimate, so:

16th January 1814 [on the Biscay coast about Biarritz]                                                                                 
PUA 320

We know that at some time in the early spring of 1814 units of 5th Division are called upon to man a section of the containing perimeter of the city to the north of the Adour having passed over the broad mouth of that river by the great cable bridge built earlier by the army/navy engineers.  Time drifts on and the war in the north where Napoleon has been fighting for his very existence is over, Bordeaux has for some time declared for the white cockade of the monarchy and away across to the east Soult has grudgingly conceded defeat. In Bayonne however the Governor and a few of his more hot-headed Generals guessing that the game is up decide for a last show of defiance.

They plan a serious sortie to break out at the northern side with a possibility of escape into the hinterland. This event takes us to 3.00am on the morning of 14th April when a force principally made up of Abbe’s Division burst forth against the trench guard outside the St Etienne Gate.  By chance this guard has amongst them a company of 3/1st Royal Scots who quite unexpectedly are overwhelmed, overrun and 21 of them captured, the rest going backward into the town of St Etienne itself, a mere fragment of the men now attempting to stem the flood.

Falling back onto more of their own they see Andrew Hay meet his doom cut down while rallying men always in retreat, Sir John Hope, another over-brave hero is up there too and has his horse fall on him while yet another 21 of Royal Scots are killed and wounded amongst them Captain Buckley.

So, when the rush is contained by others, quelled and sent off back through the same gates it came from the war is finally admitted to have come to an end, it will be another twelve days before Thouvenot the Governor releases his prisoners so that we can safely say that 3/1st will see out the hostilities standing at:

26th April 1814 [Bayonne at war’s end]                                                                                                           
PAB 285

This sorry total then from a battalion that had fielded 875 PUA less than a year earlier!

It will be of interest to note that this hard fighting battalion was present at both Quatre Bras and Waterloo a little over a year later; as a part of Pack’s Brigade of Picton’s Division.  


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2009


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