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 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.

Crossing of the Douro 12th May 1809

Also known as the Battle of the Douro or the Second Battle of Porto, was a battle in which General Arthur Wellesley’s Anglo-Portuguese Army defeated Marshal Nicolas Soult’s French troops and took back the city of Porto. After taking command of the British troops in Portugal on 22 April, Wellesley (later named 1st Duke of Wellington) immediately advanced on Porto and made a surprise crossing of the Douro River, approaching Porto where its defences were weak.

The 29th Regiment of Foot crossing the Douro during the 2nd Battle of Porto. From a print in the museum Collection

The 29th Regiment of Foot formed part of the 6th Brigade in Lt. General Edward Paget’s Division. The French having collected all the boats to their side of the river, failed to either guard them or destroy them.  This being observed signs were made to the inhabitants, who availing themselves of the confusion in the French army, instantly brought over several boats, into which the 29th jumped, and pushing across, succeeded in gaining the opposite shore.  Having landed and formed, the regiment moved up the main street and the grenadiers opened fire on the retreating enemy.

Soult’s late attempts to muster a defence were in vain. The French quickly abandoned the city in a disorderly retreat.

This battle ended the second French invasion of Portugal. Soult soon found his retreat route to the east blocked and was forced to destroy his guns and burn his baggage train.  Wellesley pursued the French army, but Soult’s army escaped annihilation by fleeing through the mountains.

Important Acquisition – A “Lovel” percussion musket

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 a group of three medals awarded to Major. Frederick Kneebone  of the 29th Foot. These comprise medals awarded for his service in India and consist of the Sutlej medal 1845-6 for Sobraon (ensign), the Punjab medal 1848-9 with clasps Chilianwala and Goojerat, ( Lieutenant) and finally the Indian Mutiny Medal 1857-9,  No clasp (Captain)

Groups of three consecutive Indian Campaign Medals issued to members of the 29th Foot are very scarce, and Frederick Kneebone’s is unique as he is the only 29th Foot officer so awarded: just thirty 29th Foot Other Ranks qualified for and received the group.

Frederick Kneebone’s father was Quartermaster Thomas Kneebone 29th Foot.  They both fought at the Battle of Sobraon (10 February 1846); the father’s portrait and Sutlej Medal for Sobraon are on display in the Museum. Thomas died 20 months later in Calcutta and qualified for no other medals. It is extremely rare, if not unknown, to have a father and son both being awarded the same medal for service of the same battlefield.  Therefore Frederick’s medal group is of especial interest to the Museum.

Major Kneebone’s medals

Frederick Kneebone had joined 29th Foot in India in time to take part in the Battle of Sobraon, and then was present for both Punjab Medal battle clasps (CHILIANWALA AND GOOJERAT) available to 29th Foot. Indian Mutiny Medals issued to the 29th Foot are always without clasp and are scarce; only 11 officers qualified and the only other extant officer medal known is in the Museum. Kneebone retired from the army as a Major in 1870 and lived in Bedfordshire; for many years he was Secretary of the Bedford General Infirmary.  In addition the Museum holds all four commissions of Frederick Kneebone plus a portrait photograph.

The Battle of Chillianwallah 13th January 1849

Fought during the Second Anglo-Sikh War, in the region of Punjab, now part of Pakistan. Although the battle may be considered a draw, it was a strategic check to Britain, and damaged British prestige in India.

When war broke out in the Punjab, which had recently lost much of its independence to the British East India Company following the First Anglo-Sikh War, in April 1848, the East India Company’s Commissioner for the Punjab, Frederick Currie, sent several forces of locally raised troops to help quell the revolt. The force led by Sher Singh Attariwalla also revolted and moved north to join his father, Chattar Singh Attariwalla in Hazara.

The East India Company ordered the formation of an Army of the Punjab under the veteran Commander in Chief, Sir Hugh Gough. On 18th November news arrived of the crossing of the Chenab by an army under Shere Singh. Gough dispatched a column up stream, which crossed, and marched down the enemy flank. The 29th Foot, having taken up a position with a battery on the British right, opened fire on the Sikhs to distract their attention from the outflanking troops, but the Sikh general was too wise to be caught and, breaking camp, retired to the north.

Shere Singh was now joined by Chattar Singh’s army bringing his strength to 30,000 against Gough’s 13,000. When the British closed Gough was, therefore, fairly cautious. The enemy were in positions at Chillianwallah stretching some six miles from the low hill at Rasul to Mung on the right. The country in front was mostly thick scrub and movement was difficult, but on the Sikh left in front of Rasul the approaches were fairly open. At 0700 hours on 13th January 1849 Gough advanced with the intention of forcing the enemy left flank, which task was given to Gilbert’s division. Mountain’s brigade with the 29th of Foot was on the right and on their left was Pennycuick’s brigade. Shere Singh, perceiving the British intention, seized a small mound near Chillianwallah causing Gough to alter the line of advance to the village. Nevertheless, he did not intend to assault until the next day.

Shere Singh was now joined by Chattar Singh’s army bringing his strength to 30,000 against Gough’s 13,000. When the British closed Gough was, therefore, fairly cautious. The enemy were in positions at Chillianwallah stretching some six miles from the low hill at Rasul to Mung on the right. The country in front was mostly thick scrub and movement was difficult, but on the Sikh left in front of Rasul the approaches were fairly open. At 0700 hours on 13th January 1849 Gough advanced with the intention of forcing the enemy left flank, which task was given to Gilbert’s division. Mountain’s brigade with the 29th of Foot was on the right and on their left was Pennycuick’s brigade. Shere Singh, perceiving the British intention, seized a small mound near Chillianwallah causing Gough to alter the line of advance to the village. Nevertheless, he did not intend to assault until the next day.

While the troops were piling their arms and unsaddling the horses Lieutenant MacPherson, of the 24th of Foot, climbed a tree and was appalled to see masses of turbans moving through the undergrowth. Bugles were sounded and the British took up their positions for attack. Moving up the guns Gough ordered the advance to commence at 0300 hours. As the advance passed through the thick undergrowth, it was subjected to heavy fire from the Sikh sharpshooters. This caused the orderly line to disintegrate into a series of small groups that, when they debouched into the open, came under the enemy artillery which poured grape into their ranks. The situation on the right was retrieved by the action of General Colin Campbell with the 61st and in the centre by Congreve who, seeing that the 29th were suffering from the fire of a particularly dangerous Sikh gun, charged it himself. Then commenced a struggle of the utmost ferocity. The Sikhs cast aside their matchlocks, and sword in hand fought desperately until overwhelmed.

The battle was by no means over. Pennycuick’s brigade had suffered heavily and the 29th were ordered to change front to cover the gap that had occurred. Congreve, noticing that the enemy was attempting to withdraw its guns, turned the 29th about and charged. Sikh cavalry were now seen moving up but checked their pace within 200 yards of the 29th. Every British firelock was brought up to the present and as they fired Sikhs dropped from their saddles and horses rolled over. Another volley completed the confusion and the survivors galloped away.

Reforming line the regiment continued to advance; meeting some Sikh infantry who were engaging Pennycuick’s men they charged. Six of the guns that had been supporting the Sikhs limbered up and got away, but the seventh turned round and, taking a shot at the colours, succeeded in clearing away every man around them. The gun was captured, however, and the gunners bayoneted; the gallant 24th who had taken the brunt of this action was saved further loss.

In this battle the centre of the Queen’s Colour was shot out and its bearer, Ensign Smith, was twice hit by bullets. This battle was the last occasion on which the colours of any battalion of the regiment were carried in action.

An obelisk was subsequently erected in memory of the British who lost their lives at Chillianwallah. Locally the battle goes by the name of ‘Katalgarh’, the House of Slaughter.

Battle of Chillianwallah

The Battle of Grijo 11th May 1809

Image

An aquatint of the Battle of Grijo in the Museum collection

The Battle of Grijó (10–11 May 1809) was a battle that ended in victory for the Anglo-Portuguese Army commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington)over the French army commanded by Marshal Nicolas Soult, during the second French invasion of Portugal in the Peninsular War. The next day, Wellesley drove Soult from Porto in the Second Battle of Porto.

In the History of the Rifle Brigade, Willoughby Verner describes how the Battalion of Detachments, made from soldiers and officers of multiple regiments who had become stranded with the evacuation of Coruna, fought for the first time near the village of Grijó.

“The infantry of the advance guard consisted of the Rifle Company of the 1st Battalion of Detachments, the Companies of the 43rd and 52nd Light Infantry and the Light Company of the 29th Regiment of Foot, the whole under the command of Major Way of the 29th.”

General Sir Stapleton Cotton with the British Cavalry came in touch with the French at dawn on the 10th, but Major-General Michel Francheschi had some infantry with him and Stewart’s Brigade was delayed and did not come for some time; Francheschi thereupon fell back and joined General Mermet at Grijó.

When at daybreak of the 11th it was discovered that the enemy had retired , a pursuit was immediately commenced, and their advance guard, consisting of 4,000 infantry and some squadrons of cavalry, with its front covered by woods and broken ground, was discovered posted on the heights above Grijo.

Wellesley ordered Major-General Rowland Hill, to endeavour to outflank Mermet’s position on the east whilst he with Major-General Paget’s Division advanced. In the afternoon the Light Companies of the 1st Battalion of Detachments attacked Mermet but met with a stiff resistance and lost not a few.

Wellesley now ordered the King’s German Legion to turn the French left and the 16th Portuguese to turn their right and with the rest of Stewart’s Brigade renewed the attack on the wooded heights in the centre above the village of Grijó. Mermet thereupon withdrew…”

In the action fought on the 11th May 1809 , on the heights of Grijo and Calvahos, the casualties in the Regiment were:
Killed 2 Rank and File
Wounded 6 Rank and File

Sir Arthur Wellesley , in his despatch to Viscount Castlereagh wrote: I have also to request your Lordship’s attention to the riflemen, and flank companies of the 29th, 43rd and 52nd Regiments under the command of Major Way , 29th.”When a

The occupation of France 1815-18

Following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in June 1815. The Allies were faced with the issue of securing France. The allies had not been at war with Louis XVIII and were, in fact, in alliance with him. The terms of a peace settlement therefore focused on securing France’s frontiers with her neighbours, without overstating territorial claims.

As well as the wider object of a peaceful settlement for Europe, each of the allied powers had their own particular interests: the Prussians wished to reshape French territory along its eastern boundary; and the British government became alarmed at the cost of subsidising the fortifications that would guarantee the security of the Low Countries — arguing that the whole of the projected sum (£4 million) should be defrayed by France.

The financial arrangements with France were settled in a meeting of 13 October — and a formal treaty (a second Treaty of Paris) was agreed on 20 November 1815. It committed the four powers — Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia — to the use of military force to ensure the peace of Europe: 60,000 men were to be in the field, beyond the army of occupation. France was to pay 270 million francs over three years from 1 December 1815. That army was to be in place for a minimum of three years and a maximum of five, with the possibility of reducing it in size after one year.

There was a separate military convention agreed at the same time under the terms of the treaty. This defined a zone of occupation which was limited to north-east France, bordering on the Low Countries and the German Confederation — if the allied troops had been dispersed across the whole of France, they would have been spread too thinly to have been of use. Louis XVIII was effectively agreeing to the occupation of his country, while he built up his own military force. While the army of occupation was security for the allies against French aggression, it was also intended that it give France herself, and especially the King, protection against a revolutionary uprising.

The allied powers had considered it desirable on 22 October that Wellington should command the army of occupation. The army was to be composed of 30,000 troops supplied by each of the Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia. On 20 November, formal treaties and conventions were agreed to give effect to the discussions of the allies, for an army of occupation of 150,000 men. The French were to provide quarters, heating, lighting, forage and provisions. In addition France was to pay 50 million francs per annum towards equipment, clothing and other necessaries.

Richelieu attempted within six months of the convention to have the army of occupation reduced in size. Although his moves were rejected, there were other pressures beyond those of the French government for the reduction. France could not resume her normal commercial activity while she was burdened with heavy reparation payments. She had found it hard to raise the funds to pay the allies and a financial crisis in November 1816 resulted in the suspension of payments. At the start of 1817, negotiations with the Hope-Baring bank provided a way for a substantial loan. The Times of 15 July 1817 saw advantages for Anglo-French trade if France had more finance available. The question of payment for French reparations was only concluded at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, at which point they were reduced and France was enabled to pay them off with further loans from Anglo-Dutch bankers.

Richelieu had been successful in 1817 in reducing the size of the army of occupation: the allies agreed that it should be 20% smaller from 1 April that year. The next stage was to negotiate an early conclusion to the occupation itself. This was also business for Aix-la-Chapelle: it was concluded that two further years of occupation would exacerbate conditions in France, rather than providing security for the allies.

On 4 November 1818, the allies agreed that the provisions of the treaty of 20 November 1815 had been fulfilled, and that France might be restored to her full position in international relations — the declaration was made publicly on 15 November. In parallel, preparations had been in hand since early October for the withdrawal of the army of occupation and the troops marched out of France during mid-November.