Recent Acquisition

With the generous assistance of the The ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the Mercian Regiment Museum we have recently acquired the medals of Captain (Quartermaster) A. H. Cooper, Worcestershire Regiment, who during the course of the War was wounded besides earning a brace of ‘mentions in despatches’ and his decoration, the only Regimental appointment to the Order of the British Empire for the Middle East.

Arthur Harry Cooper, a native of Smethwick, Staffordshire, was born on 9 September 1901 and enlisted in the Worcestershire Regiment in 1920. Commissioned Lieutenant (Quartermaster) on 1 September 1938, he served with the 1st Battalion in Palestine and played key role in preparing the unit for the Second World War, as recalled in Birdwood’s The Worcestershire Regiment, 1922-50:

Wadi Halfa was reached at 0100hrs on 3 September [1939]. Once again a long-suffering Quartermaster [Cooper] was called on to cope with a sudden situation, for information was received that two companies were to be dropped at Atbara and this entailed re-sorting out all the barrack equipment and furniture. Accordingly, on 4th September ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies remained at Atbara under the command of Major Knight. This officer had stayed on to bring on the heavy baggage, which was three days behind; for in the peculiar conditions at the time the Battalion was still in a hybrid state of war preparation on a peace-time scale.’

Serving with acclaim throughout the campaign, Cooper finished it with a wound suffered on 16 March 1941 to go with a brace of ‘mentions’ (London Gazette 15 September 1939 & 1 April 1941, refers) and his M.B.E. – one of only 19 such awards to the Regiment for the Second World War.

Captain Cooper’s medals comprising :  The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, M.B.E. (Military); General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Palestine; 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, with M.I.D. oak leaf.

M.B.E. London Gazette 14 April 1942. The original recommendation – for an O.B.E. – states:

‘This Officer has been Quartermaster, 1st Bn. The Worcestershire Regiment almost continuously since his force commission as a Quartermaster in August 1938, after 19 years’ service in the ranks. He accompanied the Battalion to Palestine in September 1938, served in that campaign untill the outbreak of the present war, and was Mentioned in Despatches for his valuable services. After the outbreak of war, in addition to his duties as Battalion Quartermaster, he performed the duties of a Camp Adjutant and Quartermaster for over a year at Gebeit (Sudan) and was again Mentioned in Despatches for exceptional zeal and ability. For a short time, he was Staff Captain to the 9th Indian Infantry Brigade at Gallabat (Sudan), but rejoined the Battalion as Quartermaster at Gedarf before it took the field in January 1941.

He served throughout the campaign in East Africa, being present at the actions at Gogni, Tauda, Barentu and Keren, where he was wounded, but rejoined in time for the final battle at Amba Alagi. He has since accompanied the Battalion to Egypt and is serving as Quartermaster at the present time.

Throughout these three years of active service, 2. Lieut. Cooper’s efficiency and devotion to duty have been of the highest order. His knowledge and capability under difficult conditions of supply and replacement of stores has been outstanding, and it is due to his care and qualities that the administration of this Unit has been maintained at the best possible standard at all times.’

Cooper was posted ‘dangerously ill’ on 24 August 1942 whilst in South Africa, but died on 31 August, being buried in the Johannesburg (West Park) Cemetery, South Africa, aged 40.

The Battle of Slingersfontein 12th February 1900

The 2nd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment left Bermuda on 25 November 1899 under the command of Lt. Col. C. Coningham. They landed at Southampton and spent ten days at Aldershot in freezing winter weather, before leaving for South Africa from Southampton on 17 December 1899 aboard SS Tintagel Castle.

The Battalion arrived at Cape Town on 12 January 1900 where the Boer War had been in progress for three months.  They travelled by train to Rensburg and then marched 18 miles to take over the outpost at Slingersfontein from the cavalry. Slingersfontein was a farm on the extreme right flank of the British line.

British encampment at Slingersfontein

 Patrols were in action every day and captured several Boers from whom they learned that an attack was imminent. The attack came before dawn on 12 February 1900, exactly a month after the Battalion had arrived in South Africa. They were attacked by 300 of the South Africans Republic (Transvaal) Police, known as the “Zarps”, the storm troops of the Boer Forces.

The weight of the attack was at the extreme right held by A, C and E Companies under Battalion Major Stubbs. The forward picquets were overrun, but no ground was lost. The landscape was hilly scrub land and the battle was centred around Pinnacle Hill, Burnt Hill and Signal Hill.

Lt. Col. Coningham went to take command, but was shot in the head by a sniper as he directed operations from the top of Pinnacle Hill. Major Stubbs and Captain Thomas were also killed. Captain Hovell assumed command of the three companies.

A sentry on Pinnacle hill

Pinnacle Hill was held throughout the day. E Company led by Major Stubbs held onto the lower slopes assisted by C Company and well directed fire from A Company. In spite of heavy attacks during the day, they held fast and did not give ground. They made several counter attacks, but were unable to drive the Boers from the crests of Signal Hill and Burnt Hill.

The defence was helped by fire from four guns of J Battery, RHA and one lowitzer, which kept all lost ground under heavy bombardment and eventually setting fire to the scrub on Burnt Hill, enveloping the position in clouds of smoke.

After the all day fight, with great casualties inflicted on the enemy, the Boers retired. Three officers had been lost, 22 men killed and three officers and 47 men wounded.

The Worcesters burials at Slingersfontein, note Lt.Col Coningham and Major Stubbs crosses in the foreground

The successful defence was largely due to the high standard of musketry in the Battalion. Boers taken prisoner were reputed to have said that they had never met such accurate and well directed fire.

The Worcestershire Regiment Monument below Pinnacle Hill, Slingersfontein, South Africa

 A memorial was erected below Pinnacle Hill over the graves of the fallen. It occupies a prominent spot some 200 feet above the surrounding country. It is a granite cross, and at its foot, a plaque is inset into the mound naming Lt. Col. Coningham, the Officers, N.C.O.s and men who died. The foundation of the memorial contains the empty rifle cartridges from the battle.

The Battle of Sobraon 10th February 1846

Battle of Sobraon was fought on the 10th February 1846. It was the fourth, last, and decisive battle of the First Sikh War (1845–46). The Sikh army was entrenched at Sobraon on the eastern British-held bank of the Sutlej River, their retreat secured by a bridge of boats. 

General Sir Hugh Gough having decided to attack the Sikh positions, his troops marched out from their encampment just before dawn with that object. Brigadier Taylor ‘s Brigade including the HM 29th Regiment moved to its position at Chota Sobraon. A thick haze covered the initial British deployment, but as day dawned the Sikhs opened a sharp cannonade.

General Gilbert’s 2nd Division which contained the 3rd Brigade composed of the 41st and 68th Bengal Native infantry and HM 29th Regiment, took up its position at the centre of the British line.

At 0.700 hrs an artillery duel, which lasted for about two hours began on both sides. At approximately 09.00 hrs, General Dick’s division on the British left was ordered to attack the Sikh right flank. This made little headway and General Gough ordered a general assault. At about 10.00 hrs the 1st and 2nd Divisions received their orders to storm the works to their front. Moving out of a ravine Taylors’s brigade advanced in line a distance of three-quarters of a mile exposed to heavy fire from a battery of 13 guns the whole time.

In the charge the 29th outstripped the native infantry and as a result fought alone for some considerable time and were forced to retire to the ravine. The Regiment made a second assault which was again repulsed. Finally charging a third time it entered the entrenchments and captured the battery.

The Battle of Sobraon. From a print in the Museum Collection.

The defences being breached in all directions the Sikh forces retired towards a bridge of boats and the ford across the Sutlej River. In the retreat the bridge collapsed and the remnants of the Sikh army fled across the ford, where they were subjected to fire by all three divisions and the British artillery.

Brigadier Taylor was mortally wounded in the final assault. The 29th Regiment had started the day with 23 officers and 513 Rank and File. It suffered the following casualties one officer and 36 Rank and file killed. 14, Officers and 136 Rank and File wounded.

The Sutlej Memorial in Worcester Cathedral

A monument in the memory of the officers and men of the 29th Regiment who fell in the Sutlej campaign was afterwards placed by their surviving comrades in Worcester Cathedral.

Battle of Ferozeshah 21st December 1845

The 1845-46 Sikh War (The First Sikh War) was a difficult one, as the Sikh army was well-trained and well-armed. As a result, British Casualties were heavy. The campaign was short and concentrated, lasting only three months and was restricted to the Punjab in the North West of India. The Battle of Ferozeshah  was the second battle of the campaign and is characterised by General Gough’s rash and disorganised assault on the entrenched Sikh camp at Ferozeshah.

Following the Battle of Moodkee on 18th December 1845, Lal Singh’s force of Sikhs withdrew to Ferozeshah, eight miles to the North-West of the Moodkee battlefield, occupying strong fortified positions around the village.

While his British and Bengali troops dealt with the casualties of Moodkee, General Gough sent instructions to General Littler, commanding the garrison in Ferozepore, to march out of the town, evading the blockading force of Tej Singh, and join him before Ferozeshah on 21st December 1845 for the second battle with Lal Singh’s force.

On the day after Moodkee, reinforcements marched in from Ludhiana: HM 29th Foot, 1st Bengal Europeans and two regiments of Bengal Native Infantry with two howitzers.  The 29th were assigned to the Second Division: under Major General Sir Walter Gilbert and placed in the Third Brigade under Brigadier Taylor (their former Commanding Officer along with the HM 80th Foot and 41st Bengal Native Infantry (BNI).  The Fourth Brigade commanded by Brigadier McClaren consisting of the 1st Bengal Europeans, 16th BNI and 45th BNI.

Gough’s army was in place in the morning of the 21st waiting for Littler. Gough decided to launch his attack without Littler’s men, but General Sir Henry Hardinge used his authority as Governor General to veto an attack until the Ferozepore garrison arrived.

It was early afternoon when Littler arrived with 2 Bengal Light Cavalry regiments, HM 62nd Foot, 5 Bengal Native Infantry battalions, 2 troops of horse artillery and 2 field batteries at 1.30pm, increasing Gough’s army to 18,000 troops and 65 guns. Littler’s division took up position on the extreme left of the line with his cavalry regiments in support.

At 3 pm, with only two hours of daylight left, Gough opened the battle with an artillery bombardment, which the Sikh answered vigorously. As in most of the early battles of the war the Sikh artillery had the best of the exchange.

 The fortifications around Ferozeshah comprised a series of trenches on a line of hillocks surrounding the village in a rectangle. The Sikh gunners manned some 100 good quality guns that they served with skill and devotion. It is not known how many Sikhs were present in Ferozeshah, but they appear to have constituted a powerful force.

At around 3.30pm Littler began an assault well in advance of the rest of the army, moving his guns forward to engage the Sikhs at closer range, his infantry regiments following in support. The infantry emerged into the open plain 300 metres from the Sikh line and were met with a heavy fire of grapeshot from the guns (fragmented shot used on troops at close range to cause maximum casualties). HM 62nd Foot led the assault, losing 160 casualties in ten minutes. The regiment faltered and fell back, taking the native infantry regiments with them. Littler’s attack had failed.

As Littler began his attack Gough ordered the rest of the British and Bengali line to assault the Sikh lines. The regiments pushed through the jungle under heavy artillery fire, emerging into the dense smoke and dust of the open plain, lit by the flashes of the Sikh gunfire.
Part of the left of the line faltered under the heavy fire, but HM 9th Foot and the right hand (Gibert’s)division pressed on with the attack, while a brigade from the reserve commanded by General Smith moved forward to cover the gap left by the retreat of Littler’s brigade.

The 29th advanced in quick time, file firing as it approached the entrenched positions, all the while suffering from well-directed discharges of shell, grape shot and musketry.  The attacking troops reached the Sikh entrenchments and pressed through, although suffering heavy casualties, and captured and spiked numbers of guns, before pushing on into the Sikh camp.

Here a large magazine exploded causing considerable confusion and casualties. All over the Sikh camp tents were ablaze; stores of gunpowder exploding in the gathering dusk.

On the right of the British line Gough committed Brigadier White’s cavalry brigade; HM 3rd King’s Own Light Dragoons, 4th Bengal Light Cavalry (Lancers) and the 9th Bengal Irregular Cavalry, to an attack on the corner of the fortifications. Considerably reduced by their casualties at Moodkee, the 3rd charged through a battery and the infantry positioned behind it, before breaking into the Sikh camp and engaging in ferocious hand to hand combat with crowds of swordsmen and matchlock men.

General Smith, after fighting through the Sikh camp, found himself with a party of soldiers from his division on the far side of Ferozeshah, where he was attacked throughout the night by the Sikhs. He finally fought his way around the outside of the village to the south side where he rejoined Gough and Hardinge as dawn broke.

The fall of night forced the British and Bengali regiments to withdraw from Ferozeshah, abandoning the Sikh camp and fortifications, to pass the night as best they could among the casualties of the day’s fighting, under the renewed fire of the Sikh guns.

The Battle of Ferozeshah , the night of the 21st December 1845. Print in the the museum collection.

Gough and Hardinge spent the night in considerable anxiety, Hardinge making hasty arrangements to destroy the state papers to prevent them from falling into Sikh hands in the event of a British defeat.

With dawn the drums and trumpets signaled a renewed attack on the fortifications, but the Sikhs were falling back and Gough’s army quickly re-took Ferozeshah.

Battered and exhausted the British and Bengali regiments ceased fighting, cheering Gough and Hardinge as they rode down the ranks, troopers carrying captured Khalsa flags.

But the battle was not finished. To the stupefaction of Gough’s men, onto the field marched the army of Tej Singh, the force that Littler had evaded in the previous days to escape from Ferozepore. The British and Bengali troops were exhausted, their ammunition almost entirely expended. Gough occupied the Sikh fortifications, while a horse artillery battery engaged the Sikhs to keep them away for as long as possible. Then the line stood waiting for the Sikh attack, hardly expecting to be able to resist a determined assault.

Tej Singh’s artillery conducted a long and galling bombardment of Gough’s line, followed by an advance by his cavalry against Gough’s right. Gough ordered Brigadier White to attack the Sikhs and in one last effort HM 3rd Light Dragoons, 4th Bengal Light Cavalry and 9th Bengal Irregular Cavalry urged their blown horses into the charge, causing Tej Singh to abandon his assault and withdraw from the battle field.

A curious incident had occurred at the beginning of the day’s crisis, when the assistant adjutant-general, Captain Lumley, suffering it is thought from the sun and the stress of battle, approached various regiments in turn and ordered them to march to Ferozepore, with the result that at the worst moment of the hard fought two day battle a significant portion of Gough’s army left the field. It may be that the sight of those forces marching away towards Ferozepore contributed to Tej Singh abandoning his attack and leaving the field.

The battle ended at around 4pm on 22nd December 1845, Gough and his army, now virtually without ammunition, reprieved from an attack that would have been hard to resist.

Casualties: The casualties in the British and Bengali regiments were some 700 dead and 1,700 wounded, of which 1,207 were European, including 115 officers. Among the dead were several staff officers, including Major Broadfoot and Brigadier Taylor (Lt. Col. HM 29th Regiment)

Before the action at Ferozeshah on the 21st December 1845, the effective strength of the 29th Foot (Worcestershire Regiment) was 28 Officers and 765 other ranks. After the first battle at Ferozeshah the battalion suffered 2 officers and 52 other ranks killed in action and 196 wounded,  a further 38 men died of their wounds.

The Siege of Barcelona 14 September to 19 October 1705

This siege took place during the War of the Spanish Succession when a Grand Alliance army led by Lord Peterborough, supporting the Habsburg claimant to the Spanish throne, captured the city of Barcelona from its Spanish Bourbon defenders.

Catalonia was regarded as of strategic importance and a potential source of military support for the Allies of the Grand Alliance in their bid to place Archduke Charles of Austria on the Spanish throne in opposition to the rival French Bourbon candidate Philip V. Barcelona was recommended as a potential target by the region’s former Governor Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt. In 1704, he had attempted a landing outside the city but had been forced to withdraw.  Prince George continued to believe that the Catalans would welcome Allied intervention due to their opposition to the Bourbon King in Madrid and that the Bourbon authorities had recently further alienated the Catalans by the imposition of a series of extremely repressive measures against them.

In 1705, a new Allied expedition, of mainly Anglo-Dutch troops set sail from Lisbon.  The commanders had orders that permitted them discretion to choose between several different destinations, including Cadiz and Toulon, but it was decided to attempt to take Barcelona again.

The expedition was under the overall command of the Lord Peterborough, his second-in-command was General James Stanhope. They were accompanied by Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt and the Austrian Archduke Charles. The fleet carrying them was commanded by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell.  The fleet arrived off Barcelona on 16 August.

The city’s defences had recently been repaired and strengthened and measures taken to make sure there was no rising by the Catalans in support of the Allies.

On 23 August the Allied troops, including Charlemont’s Regiment of Foot (later the 36th Foot), were landed three miles east of Barcelona. They were given a warm welcome by local inhabitants and several thousand Catalan rebels gathered outside the city. The Allies proceeded to invest Barcelona to prevent any resupply of the garrison.  Entrenched batteries were prepared under the direction of Colonel John Richards, but Archduke Charles initially forbade a bombardment of the city for fear of offending his potential subjects.

Apart from the construction of siege works very little activity took place for several weeks. Lord Peterborough was concerned that he had too few soldiers relative to the  size of the garrison, and considered abandoning the siege. However, he was opposed by Admiral Shovell as well as a number of his subordinates who favoured an assault.  It was eventually decided that the allies first had to take possession of Montjuïc Castle.  This stronghold overlooks and dominates the city of Barcelona. Therefore, in September the Lord Peterborough agreed to launch an attack, and to deceive the garrison he pretended to abandon the siege and march away towards Tarragona.

The Siege of Barcelona, 1705. From a print in the Museum’s Collection

Late on the night of the 13th September, a force under the command of Prince George of Darmstadt approached the castle in three separate columns. One under the command of General James Stanhope, acted as a diversion to draw the attention and fire of the defenders, while the other two attacked the rear of the castle. They were initially repulsed, but attacked again and succeeded in taking the outer defences of the castle.

Fighting carried on for several days but on the 17th, the castle finally fell to the Grand Alliance. Peterborough established artillery batteries in the castle, which had a commanding position over the city of Barcelona from which they bombarded it until its surrender a month later on the 19th of October.

The Bourbon forces launched a concerted attempt to recapture it the following year during the Siege of Barcelona (1706), which failed. The city and Catalonia remained in Allied hands until reconquered by the Bourbons in 1714.

The Battle of Toulouse 10th April 1814

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 With Soult moving east, Wellington sent Beresford and two divisions to seize Bordeaux, the third-largest city of France. To make up for this Wellington summoned 8000 Spanish infantry and the British heavy cavalry as reinforcements.   Meanwhile, the British-Portuguese-Spanish army pushed the French out of Aire-sur-l’Adour on 2 March in a skirmish. Soult pulled back to Plaisance and Maubourget, facing west. A ten-day lull followed, during which time Wellington’s reinforcements began to arrive.

On 12 March, Beresford captured Bordeaux without resistance. Leaving the 7th Division as a garrison, he rushed back to join Wellington with the 4th Division. Meanwhile, on 17–18 March, in a raid with 100 French cavalrymen, Captain Dauma circled the Allied army’s south flank and attacked Saint-Sever where he captured 100 men. At the same time, Wellington launched his offensive, hoping to ensnare Soult’s army. By rapidly marching east to Saint-Gaudens and north-east to Toulouse, the French avoided the British flanking columns. Reaching Toulouse, Soult placed his soldiers behind the city’s walls and fortifications.

On 4 April, Wellington’s engineers threw a pontoon bridge across the flooding Garonne north of the French city. After 19,000 Anglo-Allies crossed, the bridge gave way, trapping the men for three days. But Soult failed to take advantage of his opportunity to defeat Wellington’s army in detail. On 8 April, in a fine charge, the British 18th Hussars under Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Murray seized the bridge at Croix d’Orade on the Hers. Meanwhile, on 7 April at midnight, the official couriers left Paris with news that Napoleon had abdicated and that the war was over.

Toulouse lies on the Garonne, which runs into the city from the south-west, then turns and exits to the north-west. Just east of the Garonne, the smaller Hers-Mort runs past the city from the south-east to the north-east, forming a narrow corridor. To attack the city from the north, Wellington’s main force would have to cross to the east bank of the Garonne, then drive south-east down the corridor between the two rivers.

West of the Garonne lies the fortified suburb of St-Cyprien. To the north, Soult’s outer defence line rested on the Languedoc Canal. Three bridges crossed the canal, at Pont Jumeaux to the north-west, Pont des Minimes to the north and Pont de Matablau to the north-east. Each crossing was commanded by a powerful redoubt. The Heights of Calvinet (Mont Rave) rose east of the city and west of the Hers River. The Heights were crowned with several redoubts. Soult held St-Cyprien with one division and the canal line with another division. Jean-Pierre Travot’s conscripts lined the city walls. Jean Darmagnac’s division stood between the Heights and the canal. The divisions of Jean Isidore Harispe and Eugene-Casimir Villatte defended the Heights with Eloi Taupin’s division in reserve. Soult’s cavalry screened to the east and south.

Wellington began his attack on Easter Sunday, 10 April. Hoping to divert some of Soult’s forces, the British general sent Hill with the 12,600 men of the 2nd Division and Portuguese Division to attack St-Cyprien. The rest of the Anglo-Allied army (36,000) operated east of the Garonne and north of the city. The 3rd Division faced the north-west canal line with the Light Division to the east. Wellington planned to make his major effort against the Heights of Calvinet. Beresford would take the 4th and 6th Divisions and the Hussar brigades down the west bank of the Hers. Once he reached a point east of the city, Beresford would veer west and attack the Heights with the Hussars protecting his south flank. At the same time, Freire would assault the northern end of the Heights with his two Spanish divisions. Two heavy dragoon brigades waited in reserve.

The Battle of Toulouse 10th April 1814. An Aquatint by W. Heath

To the west, Hill drove in the French outposts but the fighting was not serious. His forces suffered about 80 casualties. Exceeding his orders, Thomas Picton mounted a full-scale attack on the Pont Jumeaux with his 3rd Division and was repulsed with 400 casualties. Meanwhile, Beresford’s men encountered muddy fields and fell behind schedule. Unable to move his artillery, he ordered the cannons to take a position near the northern end of the Heights and open fire. Freire, thinking this was the signal for the combined attack, sent his men to assault the Heights. The Spanish infantry forged uphill and gained a momentary foothold in a road cut, but they were counter-attacked by a cloud of French skirmishers and soon sent fleeing. Covered by the Light Division, the Spanish foot soldiers rallied, then attacked and were defeated a second time.

At last, Beresford’s two Anglo-Portuguese divisions reached their starting positions, with the 6th Division, including the 36th Regiment of Foot in Major General Lambert’s 2nd Brigade, leading. A French division counter-attacked, but was easily driven uphill, and the Allied divisions began to advance up the slope. They fought their way to the top of the Heights despite bitter resistance, then paused to drag up some cannon. Swinging to the north, they began rolling up the French defences. Beresford’s men captured two redoubts, lost them to a counterattack and finally seized them again after bringing the 4th Division forward. The heights being lost, Soult withdrew his soldiers behind the city’s fortifications.

Soult held Toulouse during the day of 11 April but decided to pull out of the city upon detecting allied cavalry moving up the Toulouse-Carcassonne road. At 9 pm that evening, the French withdrew out of Toulouse by the Carcassonne road.

Aftermath

On the morning of 12 April a delegation of city officials handed over the city to the Allied army. That afternoon, Wellington got news via Bordeaux from Frederick Ponsonby of Napoleon’s abdication. A few hours later in the evening, this was confirmed when the official couriers arrived from Paris. Wellington sent them on at once to Soult.

Casualties

The Allied army suffered 4,558 casualties, including 1,900 from Freire’s divisions and 1,500 from the 6th Division.  Brigade commanders Denis Pack, James Douglas, and Thomas Brisbane were wounded.  French casualties numbered 231 officers and 3,005 men killed.

Armistice

On 13 April while on his march from Villefranche to Castelnaudary the Marshal was caught up by the officers from Paris. They were met with a rebuff – Soult declared himself not convinced of the authenticity of their credentials. He definitely refused to acknowledge the provisional regime till he should have, what he considered, solid evidence of its legality. On receiving Soult’s refusal to acknowledge the Provisional Government, Wellington sent him on 14 April a reply to the effect that no armistice would be granted until he made his submission; it was suspected that the Marshal wished to keep his army under his own hand for the purpose of Napoleonic intrigues. By 15 April Marshal Suchet at Perpignan had accepted the evidence, placed himself at the disposition of the new government and asked Wellington for an armistice.

The last major action of the war occurred on 14 April at the Battle of Bayonne, when the French commander Thouvenot led a sortie from the besieged city against the Allied lines.

On 17 April, Soult at last received a dispatch from Berthier which formally announced the Emperor’s abdication and consequent cessation of hostilities in all quarters. There was nothing more to be done and, the same day, his chief-of-staff went to Toulouse to sign an armistice, ending the fighting in the south. The city was briefly placed under Coalition control during the summer of 1814, with the withdrawal of allied troops in September.

The Battle of Orthez 27th February 1814

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On the morning of February 23rd 1814 the left wing of the Allied army under Sir John Hope began its daring crossing of the Adour to the west of the town of Bayonne. The Guards, supported by riflemen of the 5/60th, crossed the river in small groups, ferried across the river on rafts. By the end of the day a bridgehead was established and even a French counter-attack failed to stop the operation. By the afternoon of February 26th a bridge of boats had been constructed across the river, which enabled Hope to get some 8,000 men across to the north bank. Bayonne was now completely surrounded and the blockade began.

The next day Wellington, with the main Allied field army, fought a major battle at Orthez, some thirty-five miles away to the east. On February 26th Beresford had crossed the Gave de Pau with the 4th and 7th Divisions near Peyrehorade, pushing Soult back towards Orthez. The 3rd Division forded the river at Berenx while Wellington himself brought up the 6th, which included the 36th Foot in its 2nd Brigade, and Light Division, plus a force of cavalry, across on a pontoon bridge, which had been thrown across the Gave, also at Berenx. Hill, meanwhile, with the 2nd Division and Le Cor’s Portuguese division, marched to the south of Orthez, passing to the east of the town but remaining on the south bank of the Gave.

On the morning of February 27th Wellington had with him on the northern bank of the Gave some 38,000 infantry and 3,300 cavalry as well as 54 guns. Soult’s army, of about 30,000 with six fewer guns, occupied a strong position along a ridge which ran north from Orthez for about a mile before running west for three miles from the bend in the main Bayonne-Orthez road, which ran along the ridge, to the small village of St Boes upon which Soult rested his right flank.  Soult’s troops occupied the whole length of this ridge from which three very prominent spurs extended south towards the Gave. The spur on the extreme western edge of the ridge does not actually connect with the ridge itself, being separated by a few hundred yards. The remains of an old Roman camp were situated on the forward edge of the spur and would feature prominently in the battle.

The battle commenced at 8.30am on the 27th February when a battalion of French infantry was driven from the church and churchyard of St Boes by the 1/7th, 1/20th and 1/23rd, who made up Ross’s brigade of the 4th Division. The brigade advanced further east along the ridge to clear the rest of the village but it came under fire from French artillery and could go no further. French troops under Taupin were then sent to recover the village and St Boes became the scene of severe house-to-house fighting as both sides struggled for its possession.

While the fight for St Boes waged Picton’s 3rd Division entered the fray, attacking Soult’s centre. His troops advanced up the two centre spurs but were held up by French artillery that swept the crests of the spurs, inflicting heavy casualties. The attack here was only intended to be a demonstration, however, and he pulled his troops back leaving just his strong skirmishing line of light troops and riflemen to probe the French line, something which they continued to do for the next two hours.

Meanwhile, the fighting in St Boes intensified until at about 11.30 Wellington gave orders for an assault along the whole length of his line, leaving part of the Light Division only in reserve at the Roman Camp from where Wellington watched the progress of the fight.

On the Allied left Brisbane’s brigade of the 3rd Division began to push its way up the eastern-most spur with the 6th Division following behind. At St Boes, the 4th Division was replaced by the 7th Division, while the 1/52nd advanced from the Roman camp to deliver an attack on the French brigade on the right flank of the advancing 7th Division.

The Battles of Orthez February 27th 1814. From an acquatint by W Heath in the museum collection.

These attacks were pressed home vigorously but French resistance was stiff and it was to take the advancing British columns about two hours of hard fighting to drive the French from the spurs. This was not accomplished without loss, particularly to the 1/88th, three companies of which suffered heavy losses when a squadron of French cavalry, the 21st Chasseurs, charged and overran them after catching them in line. The French cavalry suffered similarly when they received the return fire from Picton’s men, half of their number being killed or wounded.

The French troops along the ridge were being severely pushed by Wellington’s attacking columns but it was the advance by the 1/52nd, under Colborne, that decided the day. This battalion entered the fight in support of the Walker’s 7th Division just at the moment when this division, along with Anson’s brigade of the 4th Division, was finally driving the French from the body-choked village of St Boes. The 52nd advanced almost knee-deep in mud in places but when it reached the crest of the spur it took Taupin’s division in its left flank. Taupin’s men were driven back by Colborne’s determined charge and fell in with those retreating from St Boes. In so doing, they precipitated a degree of panic, which caused the collapse of the entire French right. It was now about 2.30pm and with Wellington’s triumphant troops pouring along the main road on top of the ridge the day was as good as won.

At first, Soult’s army began to fall back in an orderly manner with the divisions of Villatte and Harispe drawn up on his left flank to cover the withdrawal. However, Hill’s corps had crossed the Gave to the east of Orthes and fell upon Harispe’s division, driving it back upon Villatte. The controlled retreat soon became a panic-stricken flight, which spread along the whole of the French line, Soult’s men discarding huge quantities of equipment to facilitate their retreat to the north-east towards Toulouse.

The battle of Orthez cost Wellington 2,164 casualties while Soult’s losses were put at around 4,000 including 1,350 prisoners, a number which would have been far greater had not Wellington been slightly wounded towards the end of the battle which caused him to halt and incapacitated him during the next few days.

After Soult’s defeat by Wellington at the Battle of Orthez in late February 1814, the French Marshal retreated north behind the Adour River to Saint-Sever. Soult could defend Bordeaux to the north-west or Toulouse to the east, but not both. The French army would have difficulty obtaining food near Bordeaux and it would place the Garonne River in their rear. Therefore, Soult elected to base himself on Toulouse

The Battle of Albuera 16 May 1811

From October 1810 Marshal Masséna’s Army of Portugal had been forced into an increasingly hopeless stand-off against Wellington’s Allied forces, behind the Lines of Torres Vedras. In early 1811 Marshal Soult led a French expedition from Andalusia into Extremadura in a bid to draw Allied forces away from the Lines and relieve Masséna. However, Masséna’s starving army was already withdrawing to Spain. Soult was able to capture the strategically important fortress at Badajoz on the border between Spain and Portugal. Leaving the city strongly garrisoned Soult returned to Andalusia. In April, Wellington sent a powerful Anglo-Portuguese corps commanded by Sir William Beresford to retake the border town.

Soult rapidly gathered another army in Andalusia and marched to relieve the siege. Unknown to Soult, a Spanish army under Gen. Blake had linked up with the Anglo-Portuguese corps, and his 24,000 troops now faced a combined Allied army 35,000 strong.

Beresford was alerted to the French advance by reports received on 12 May.  He kept up the pretence of besieging but he realized he would now not have time to finish the job, so he ordered the withdrawal of his siege guns and supplies.  On 13 May, the Spanish cavalry attached to Colborne’s brigade came into contact with the French force.  Beresford moved the British 2nd Division (including the 29th Foot with a strength of 507 Officers and men), Major General Hamilton’s Portuguese division and three artillery batteries from Badajoz to Valverde—an ideal position to observe the three routes open for Soult’s approach.  The Allied leaders consequently agreed to concentrate at Albuera, which was the location chosen by Wellington as best suited for an attempt to resist any French advance to relieve Badajoz.

By 15 May it was clear to Beresford that Soult was taking the central route to Badajoz, which ran through Santa Marta and the village of Albuera. He made further adjustments to his deployment, moving the 2nd Division and Hamilton’s Portuguese to defend the village, where they were joined by Alten’s King’s German Legion (KGL) brigade and a further Portuguese brigade composed of garrison and light troops temporarily formed for the campaign.   

On the afternoon of the 15th, the British Army took up its position on a ridge about 4 miles long, which ran parallel to the rivulet of Albuera and at about 600 yards distant from it.  On the right the heights were step.  To the front of the centre of the army lay the village of Albuera itself with a bridge over the river.

Alten’s KGL were placed in Albuera, while Hamilton’s division along with most of the Portuguese cavalry formed the Allied left wing to the north of the village and Major General William Stewart’s 2nd Division (including th 29th Foot) formed up on a hill just to the west of Albuera. The right wing of the Allied army was to be supplied by the four Spanish infantry divisions, while the Allied cavalry and artillery along with the 4th Division provided a strong strategic.

Beresford deployed his troops on the reverse slopes of such hills as could be found on the battlefield; unable to see the Allied army, Soult was still unaware that Blake’s Spanish divisions had come up during the night. Thus, on the morning of 16 May 1811, the Marshal proceeded with an attempt to turn the Allied right flank.  Soult’s first move was to launch a strong feint attack towards Albuera. He sent Godinot’s infantry brigade, flanked by  light cavalry and supported by artillery, across the bridge towards the village.

At the same time two brigades of dragoons and Werlé’s infantry brigade showed themselves on Godinot’s left, advancing out of an olive wood in front of Blake’s position to Alten’s right.  With a large concentration of French troops now menacing the village, the Allied commanders sent reinforcements to Alten’s aid.

While the Allies were bracing themselves for a frontal assault on their centre and right, Soult was preparing his real thrust. The two V Corps divisions of Generals Girard and Gazan, preceded by a cavalry brigade, swung left to begin the Marshal’s flanking move—their progress was concealed by intervening olive woods, and the first the Allies knew of them was when four French cavalry regiments burst from the southern end of the woods, crossed two brooks, and scattered Loy’s Spanish cavalry on the right of Beresford’s lines.

Beresford immediately issued new orders. He directed Blake to swing his forward line around to face the approaching French.  Lumley’s cavalry was sent to support Loy’s horse and hold Blake’s right flank, while Stewart’s 2nd Division was sent south from its location behind Albuera to take up a new position behind Blake in readiness to provide support if needed. Cole’s 4th Division was ordered to form up behind the cavalry, and Hamilton’s Portuguese moved to the Allied centre to hold Albuera and act as a reserve.

Blake however did not follow Beresford’s orders; he still believed that the French attack would come at his front. Keeping his forward line in position, he instead moved four battalions from Zayas’s division to form his new southern-facing front.  Zayas deployed these battalions, from the Spanish second line, in two groups. Two battalions of Spanish Guards were formed up, in line, at the top of a steep incline while the remaining two formed close columns behind them; a single battery of Spanish artillery supported the whole position.

Beresford, on hearing of Blake’s limited redeployment, rode back to personally supervise the operation. He merged Zayas’s second pair of battalions with the first pair, forming a front line four battalions strong. He then sent orders for Lardizabal to bring up three of his battalions to support Zayas’s right, and for Ballesteros to bring a further two in support of the left. However, these reinforcements did not arrive in time to meet the first French attack—Zayas’s four battalions had to face two entire French divisions alone.

While Beresford had been redeploying his army, two brigades of dragoons galloped from the French right-centre, passed behind V Corps, and joined Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry on the left. At the same time Werlé’s division closed up with the rear of V Corps, becoming the French reserve. Soult had concentrated his entire infantry strength, except for Godinot’s 3,500 men who were still engaged at Albuera, and most of his cavalry, into one front marching on Blake’s right flank.

Acquatint of the Battle of Albuera in the Museum Collection

The two divisions of the French V Corps advanced one behind the other against Zayas’s position. The first of these divisions, that of Girard, moved in ordre mixte—four battalions in column flanked on either side by a battalion in line, and further flanked by a battalion and a half in column—while Gazan’s division moved in battalion column.  Girard’s voltiguers engaged Zayas line and gradually thinned the Spanish front rank.  When Girard’s main column came within about 50 metres of the Spaniards, the skirmishers retired and the battalions behind them opened fire. The Spaniards held their ground, exchanging volleys with the French, and eventually repelled Girard’s first attack.

Despite their resistance Zayas’s men were being slowly forced back. However, they held long enough for Stewart’s 2nd Division to advance to their support.  Stewart brought John Colborne’s 1st Brigade up, followed by the Division’s two other brigades. The 3rd Regiment of Foot (the Buffs) took the lead, followed by the 48th and the 66th. Colborne’s brigade formed up on the French left, and supported by a battery of KGL cannon the British opened fire, forcing Girard’s two flanking battalions to face outwards in order to return fire.

The musketry duel that developed between Colborne’s brigade and Girard’s left flank was so intense that both sides faltered. The left of Colborne’s brigade, assailed by both musket fire and grapeshot from Girard’s supporting guns, tried to force the issue with a bayonet charge but were unsuccessful. On the right Colborne’s men continued to trade volleys with the French and, seeing their resolve wavering, also fixed bayonets and charged.

As the brigade moved forward a blinding hail- and rain-shower hit the battlefield, rendering both sides’ muskets useless. Under cover of the reduced visibility Latour-Maubourg launched two cavalry regiments at Colborne’s exposed right flank. Ploughing through the unprepared British infantry, they virtually annihilated Colborne’s first three regiments. Only the fourth, the 31st Regiment of Foot, was able to save itself by forming into squares.

Having captured five regimental flags and eight cannon the cavalry swept past the 31st’s square, scattering Beresford and his staff, and attacked the rear of Zayas’s line. Zayas met this assault unflinchingly while continuing to direct fire at Girard.  By this time the rainstorm had cleared and Lumley, commanding Beresford’s horse sent two squadrons of the 4th Dragoons to disperse the lancers. Closing on the action, the 29th Regiment of Foot (the lead regiment of Stewart’s second brigade) opened fire on the scattered Vistula lancers. 

The fighting on the Allied right now paused as both sides sought to regroup. Girard’s division had suffered considerably in its battle with Zayas, and Colborne’s actions had caused significant French casualties. Girard now regarded his division as a spent force and brought up Gazan’s 2nd Division to take its place. Advancing in column, Gazan’s battalions had to struggle through the remnants of Girard’s retiring units. As a result, many of the 1st Division’s survivors were swept up and incorporated into Gazan’s column, which grew by accretion into a dense mass of 8,000 men, losing much of its cohesion in the process.  The ensuing disruption and delay gave the Allies time to re-form their own lines. Beresford deployed Houghton’s brigade behind Zayas’s lines and Abercrombie’s to the rear of Ballesteros, then moved them forward to relieve the Spaniards

The French only deployed a skirmish line against Abercrombie’s brigade, so the weight of the renewed assault fell on Houghton. Despite being joined by the sole survivors of Colborne’s brigade (the 31st Foot), just 1,900 men stood in line to face the advancing corps.  Houghton’s three battalions (the 29th Regiment of Foot, 1/48th Regiment of Foot and 1/57th Regiment of Foot), suffered huge casualties, with 56 officers and 971 men killed or wounded from their complement of 95 officers and 1,556 men.  (Major Gregory Way commanding the 29th Foot was badly wounded.  Ensign Furnace only 17 years of age, who had, whilst carrying the colours received a severe wound, but declined to leave the field soon succumbed to another this time fatal wound.  The Regiment suffered the following casualties: killed: 1 Captain, 1 Lieutenant, 3 Ensigns 1 Serjeant, 76 Rank and File.   Wounded: 1 Lieut. Colonel, 1 Major, 3 Captains, 4 Lieutenants, 3 Ensigns, 1 Staff; 12 Serjeants, 220 Rank and File.  Missing 11 Rank and File.)

More than compensating for the firepower disadvantage of his infantry formation, Girard brought guns up to just 300 yards from Houghton’s line—close enough to enfilade it with a crossfire of grape and shot.

Under this assault Houghton’s brigade lost two-thirds of its strength. The Brigadier himself was killed, and as casualties rose its shrinking line could no longer cover the frontage of the attacking column. However, the French were in no condition to press home their numerical advantage; British volley fire had taken its toll and Girard lost 2,000 men during the confrontation. He had tried to form his unwieldy corps-sized column into line to bring his full firepower to bear and overwhelm Houghton’s brigade, but his deploying companies were constantly driven back into the column by the intense British musketry.

Although the French attacks were being held, the result of the battle was still far from certain. Soult had Werlé’s divisional-sized brigade in reserve, and most of Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry had not been engaged. However, the presence of Cole’s fresh 4th Division, still formed up in readiness behind Lumley’s squadrons, seems to have persuaded Soult not to use his strong force of horsemen.  The Marshal, having outmanoeuvred the Allies with his flank attack, went on the defensive: the cavalry were refused permission to charge, and Werlé remained in reserve.

On the Allied side Beresford was proving no more incisive. Anxious to reinforce Houghton and Abercrombie, he tried to bring up de España’s independent brigade, but they refused to move within range of the French.  Leaving Cole’s division in place Beresford instead called upon Hamilton’s Portuguese Division, but Hamilton had moved closer to Albuera to support Alten in fending off Godinot’s attack, and the orders took a long time to reach him. Hamilton’s brigades only started moving half an hour after the orders had been sent.] With his right under heavy pressure and casualties mounting, Beresford finally sent for Alten’s KGL, ordering 3,000 Spaniards to Albuera to relieve them and take over the defence there. Alten hastily regrouped and marched south to the Allies’ right wing, but Godinot took Albuera before the Spaniards could arrive, exposing another Allied flank to the French.

It was at this critical point that he decisive move of the battle was made by General Cole. Standing idle under explicit orders from Beresford, he had nevertheless been considering advancing against the French left flank, but he was wary of moving his infantry across open country in the face of 3,500 French cavalry.  After a brief consultation with Lumley, Cole began to redeploy his division from column into line. Mindful of the dangers presented by Latour-Maubourg’s horsemen, Cole flanked his line at either end with a unit in column: on the right were the division’s massed light companies. Lumley formed up the whole of the Allied cavalry to the rear and right, accompanied by a battery of horse artillery, and the whole mass, some 5,000 infantrymen, advanced on V Corps’ left flank.

The sight of the approaching Allied line forced Soult’s hand—if Cole’s division was not stopped, defeat was certain. He sent four regiments of Latour-Maubourg’s dragoons to charge the Portuguese section of Cole’s line, and committed the whole of Werlé’s reserve to protect V Corps’ flank.  The dragoons swept down on Harvey’s Portuguese brigade fully expecting to destroy it as they had Colborne’s. The inexperienced Portuguese, however, stood firm and drove away the cavalry without even forming square.  The division’s left soon encountered Werlé’s brigade, which outnumbered them two to one. Despite his advantage in numbers, Werlé had formed his nine battalions into three columns of regiments, and could not bring as many muskets to bear as the Allies. Three separate regimental musket duels ensued, as the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers and the two battalions of the 7th Fusiliers each took on a column. During the fire-fight the French tried once more to extend into line, but as before the concentrated Allied fire prevented their deployment. After 20–30 minutes of bitter conflict they finally broke and ran

Meanwhile, Abercrombie had wheeled his brigade round to face the right of the beleaguered V Corps and charged; Girard’s and Gazan’s men fled to the rear, joining the fugitives from Werlé’s brigade. The Allied 4th Division and parts of the 2nd went after the retreating French.  Latour-Maubourg quickly placed his cavalry between the Allies and the fleeing French infantry, and aborting their pursuit the British and Portuguese instead drew up on the heights they had just won. Soult also moved up his final reserve to cover the retreat, and although these suffered heavily from Allied artillery fire, they and the cavalry ensured there was little further fighting.  After six or seven hours of bitter conflict, the battle had come to an end.

On the morning of 17 May both sides formed up again. Soult marched away before dawn on 18 May, leaving several hundred wounded behind for the Allies to treat, and Beresford, despite a large advantage in numbers and a day’s rest, was nevertheless unable to pursue. So many were injured in the battle that two days later British casualties were still waiting to be collected from the field. The chapel at Albuera was filled with wounded Frenchmen, and the dead still lay scattered across the ground.  In proportion to the numbers involved, the Battle of Albuera was the bloodiest of the whole Peninsular War.

The losses on both sides were horrific, Allied losses amounted to 5,916: 4,159 British, 389 Portuguese and 1,368 Spaniards French casualties are harder to ascertain, the official figure drawn up on 6 July revised that number upward to 5,936.]

The Battle of Roliça, 17 August 1808

On 23rd July 1808, General Arthur Wellesley received a dispatch from Viscount Castlereagh, the Secretary of War, informing him that the French General Junot’s forces in Portugal now numbered more than 25,000. Castlereagh explained his plans to re-inforce the British army in Portugal with 15,000 men. General Sir John Moore was to proceed with an army from Sweden, and another force would be dispatched from Gibraltar. The command of this larger force would pass to Sir Hew Dalrymple (the Governor of Gibraltar).  He was to seconded by Sir Harry Burrard and attended by five other generals, all senior to Wellesley.

On 30 July 1808, General Wellesley started to disembark his troops at Mondego bay.  The landing took a number of days and it was not until the 10th of August, the army marched to Leiria. Wellesley arrived on the 11th.   The army then began its march toward Lisbon shadowing a detachment of the French army under the command of General Henri Delaborde. These troops had been sent by Junot to hold the British while he brought his larger army into position to oppose the Anglo-Portuguese forces.

By 14 August the British reached Óbidos. Here the British vanguard, consisting elements of the 5th/60th and 95th Rifles, clashed with the rear-guard of the French. The 4,000 French retired to the wooded hills around Óbidos and Roliça.  The French position to the north of Roliça, on the higher ground, allowed them to block the roads south towards Lisbon and the approaches to the village which are via four gullies which led up the hill.  Debris and the steep sides to these gullies made attack in formation impossible.  

Wellesley arrived at Óbidos on 16 August and advanced on Roliça on the next day.  With his army of 16,000 men, he attempted to a double envelopment manoeuvre, moving against both flanks of the French position, whilst distracting the French with a show of force in the centre. The French moved forward to the south and east of the village at the top of a steep hill to block its approaches.

The Battle of Rolica an aquatint by William Heath, 1795-1840. Copy in the museum collection

Colonel Lake of the 29th Regiment of Foot in the centre then advanced up a gully toward the French position. He arrived behind Delaborde, which cost Lake his life and most of the men in the 29th. This prompted a general attack in relief of the outnumbered British. The fight was rough and uphill.  Delaborde repulsed three assaults by the British until nearly 16:00 hours. By which time Wellesley reached positions at the top of the hill and Ferguson arrived over the hills to the east.  Delaborde began to withdraw in good order with effective aid from his cavalry. Without British cavalry to press the pursuit, they successfully withdrew to Montachique near Torres Vedras.

The Anglo-Portuguese lost 487 casualties, over half that number from the 29th. The French lost 700 men and three of their five guns. The following day Wellesley found that the 4,000 additional British troops had arrived from England and were off the coast. He marched away to cover their disembarkation rather than follow up his victory.

Killed, wounded and missing of the 29th Foot in the Battle of Rolica , 17th August 1808

Killed: 1 Lieut.-Colonel, 2 Serjeants, 31 Rank and File.

Wounded: 1 Major, 3 Captains, 4 Lieutenants, 6 Serjeants, 105 Rank and File.

Missing: 1 Major, 2 Captains, 5 Lieutenants, 1 Serjeant, 1 Drummer, 32 Rank and File.

The Battle of Vimeiro 21 August 1808

After the Battle of Roliça, General Sir Arthur Wellesley established a position near Vimeiro to cover a beachhead at Maceira Bay.  Most of ,his reinforcements had arrived by 20 August and Wellesley planned to advance to Lisbon. His force consisted of eight independent infantry brigades, 17 cannons, 240 light cavalry and about 2,000 Portuguese troops him giving a total of 20,000 men. This was the first action of the Peninsular war when both the 29th Foot, in the 3rd Brigade under Major General Nightingall, and the 36th Foot, in the 2nd Brigade under Major General Ferguson fought on the same field.

Opposing him was General Junot’s 14,000-man army was organised into two infantry divisions and a cavalry division under Pierre Margaron. Henri François Delaborde’s infantry division contained two brigades under Antoine François Brenier and Jean Guillaume Barthélemy Thomières, while Louis Henri Loison’s division included two brigades commanded by Jean-Baptiste Solignac and Hugues Charlot. In addition, François Étienne de Kellermann commanded a 2,100-man reserve made up of four combined grenadier battalions made up of the grenadier company from each of Junot’s infantry battalions. The French were supported by 23 cannons.

The battle started with an attempt at an outflanking manoeuvre by the French but Wellesley was able to redeploy his army in time to meet this threat.  Wellesley placed Anstruther’s and Fane’s brigades in front of Vimeiro, with Acland’s men in support. At first, his five remaining brigades held only the western ridge. Junot planned to send Thomières, Solignac and Charlot’s infantry brigades to capture Vimeiro, while Brenier’s 4,300-man brigade and some dragoons swung in a wide flanking manoeuvre to seize an empty ridge to the northeast of the village. Wellesley detected Brenier’s move and switched Nightingall (including the 29th Regiment), Ferguson (incuding the 36th Foot) and Bowes Brigades to the northeastern ridge. Once Junot realised that British troops occupied the ridge, he sent Solignac’s brigade to the right to assist Brenier’s attack. The French commander decided to launch his attack on the town immediately, instead of waiting for his flanking move to develop.

All the preliminary moves and countermoves caused a series of uncoordinated French attacks. First, Thomières’ 2,100-man brigade approached the British position. Supported by three cannons and screened by skirmishers, the brigade was formed into a column.

To counter the French skirmishers, Fane detached four companies of the 60th Regiment of Foot and the 95th Rifles. These outnumbered and outfought the French skirmishers, who fell back to the sides of the brigade column. Without their skirmishers in front of them, the French column blundered into the 945 men of the 50th Regiment. At 100 yards the British, formed into a two-deep line, opened fire. Several companies of the 50th began wheeling inward toward both flanks of the French column. Unable to properly deploy into firing line and unwilling to face the deadly enfilade fire, the French infantry fled to the rear, leaving their three cannons to be captured.

The Battle of Vimiero. An acquatint by William Heath. Print in the Museum Collection

Soon after, a similar fate overtook Charlot’s brigade. In a very narrow column, it struck one battalion of Anstruther’s brigade, which had been hidden behind a crest. Before they could deploy, the French were taken in flank by a second battalion. Unable to effectively reply to the devastating British volley fire, Charlot’s men fled. Seeing the battle going against him, Junot committed his grenadier reserve to the attack. The first two battalions attacked the same area as the previous units and were thrown back. Kellermann swung the final two grenadier battalions wide to the right and succeeded in breaking into Vimeiro. But, counterattacked by units from Anstruther’s and Acland’s, these Frenchmen also fell back. The 20th Light Dragoons pounced on Kellermann’s retreating grenadiers and routed them. Excited by their easy success, the British horsemen charged out of control. They were met by Margaron’s French cavalry division and were routed in their turn.

As Brenier’s men had become lost in the hills, Solignac attacked the northeast ridge. This brigade changed tactics deploying in an attack formation with three battalions abreast. Even so, each battalion formed a column one company wide and eight companies deep. If the French intended to form into line once the enemy position was detected, they waited too long. They marched into the kill zone of Nightingall and Ferguson’s brigades before they could deploy. Smashed by British volleys, Solignac’s men fled.

Brenier’s brigade, marching to the sound of battle, came on four battalions abreast. At first they enjoyed success when they surprised and defeated two British battalions. Victorious, the French column pressed, but soon ran into the 29th Regiment in line and were stopped. The 29th was joined by the other two units, who had quickly rallied. Together, the volley fire of the three British battalions soon routed Brenier’s men.

The 29th Regiment at the Battle of Vimeiro on 21st August 1808.
Picture by Richard Simkin (c) Mercian Regiment Museum.

At the Battle of Vimiero the 29th Regiment suffered the following casualties: Killed: 2 Rank and File. Wounded Brigadier-Major Andrew Creagh , 1 Serjeant, 10 Rank and File.

After the comprehensive French defeat, Junot offered complete capitulation. Nevertheless, Dalrymple gave the French far more generous terms than they could have hoped for. Under the terms of the Convention of Sintra, the defeated army was transported back to France by the British navy, complete with its guns and equipment and the loot it had taken from Portugal. The Convention of Sintra caused a massive outcry in Britain and, following an official enquiry, both Dalrymple and Burrard were blamed. Wellesley, who had opposed the agreement, was exonerated.