The Battle of Grijo 11th May 1809

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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.

Battle of Ramilles 1706

The battle Ramilles was one of the crucial battles which occurred during the war of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) between the Grand Alliance (Britain, Austria, Prussia, Dutch republic, Portugal and Savoy) and France and Spain.

When the Spanish King Charles II died he bequeathed his throne to Philip of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV, the king of France. The prospect of a union between the powerful states of France and Spain alarmed many European rulers resulting in many supporting the claim of Archduke Charles, the younger son of the Habsburg Emperor Leopold I.

In May 1702, John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough was sent to Holland as Captain-General of the combined English and Dutch forces. The start of his campaign was a great success having  captured several important fortresses in the Low Countries but Marlborough’s plans to face the French to a decisive battle were resisted by his Dutch allies whose government retained a veto on the use of their troops outside of the Low Countries.

Following his crushing defeat at the battle of Blenheim in August 1704, King Louis XIV of France was eager for decisive victory; Marshal Villeroi (commander of the French forces) was therefore pushed into leaving the safety of the lines of Brabant and crossed the River Dyle with 60,000 men. On 23 May 1706, the Duke of Marlborough attacked him at Ramillies with a force of 62,000 men.

Within the Duke of Marlborough’s forces was the Thomas Farrington Regiment of foot (later 29th Worcestershire Regiment). For their service in the battle the regiment received their first battle honours which were awarded in 1882 after its Amalgamation with the 36th Hereford Regiment.

The battle was fought at the village of Ramillies (modern day Belgium) The French reached the plain of Ramillies before the Allies but deployed unwisely along the entire length of a 4-mile ridge with the villages of Ramillies and Offus located in the centre.

 A strong Allied attack on the French left flank forced Villeroi to shift reinforcements from his centre. But Marlborough called off this attack due to the marshy ground preventing cavalry support. Farrington’s Rgeiment was posted on the right flank and following the success of the feint on the left flank “Marlboro at once ordered the infantry on the right, to retire a short distance, and the 2nd line marching rapidly to its former left, formed in rear of the centre and joined the attack on Ramilles… The enemy’s right, having, after a stubborn resistance, been turned and their troops driven out of Ramilles“.

The Allied casualties from the battle were estimated at 3,500 compared to the 13,000 French casualties as well as the capture of the whole French and Bavarian artillery which stood at 70 guns and mortars.

Within a fortnight of Ramilles, Marshal Villeroi had lost almost the whole of Flanders and Brabant to Marlborough and fallen back to the French frontier, but the Allied advance was halted when they reached better fortified and well-garrisoned towns further south.

The war over the Spanish succession continued for another 8 years ending with a series of treaties known as The Peace of Utrecht in which it was stipulated that no single person could be ruler of both France and Spain and Philip was confirmed as King of Spain.

The Boston Massacre: 5th March 1770

In the Spring of 1770, the 29th (Worcestershire) Regiment was sent to Boston, to reinforce the Garrison. Although America was still then a British colony, over the last few years the City had been a hot-bed of anti-British and anti-Government feelings, and in early March, disorder increased, with assaults upon soldiers becoming frequent.

On the 5th of March, severe disturbances broke out in the town, with attacks on merchants and barracks throughout the City. Between 7 and 8 p.m. in the evening, large mobs descended on the Custom House, a symbol of unpopular British taxes.

The Massacre

The Custom House, on King Street, was guarded by the 29th, although only one sentry, Private Hugh White, was on duty outside. The mob closed in, pelting the sentry with snowballs, rocks and pieces of wood. The guard commander, Captain Thomas Preston, saw the attack and called out the rest of the guard comprising – Lieutenant Bassett, a corporal and six men. They lined up to protect both the sentry and the Custom House, which contained a considerable sum of Government revenue.

The mob kept closing in, though, now numbering over a hundred persons. In another attempt to scare the crowd into leaving, Preston ordered his men to load their muskets and fix their bayonets. Still the mob closed in, shouting insults and threats and hurling missiles at the soldiers. A huge mulatto (mixed race) man called Crispin Attucks lunged at Captain Preston, glancing off him to hit Private Montgomery, knocking his musket from his hands. Montgomery grabbed it back, but as Attucks got up, he grasped the other end and tried to pull it from his reach. Montgomery, acting through self-defence and confusion (he was dazed, and possibly mistook taunts of “Why don’t you fire?” from the crowd as an order from an officer) pulled his trigger, killing Attucks. The rest of the of the guard then fired too, killing two more people and wounding five, ropemaker Samuel Gray, mariner James Caldwell, died instantly. Samuel Maverick, an apprentice ivory turner, died a few hours later and Patrick Carr, an Irish immigrant, died two weeks later.   The shots temporarily dispersed the crowd.

They soon came back to gather up the killed and wounded, and only Preston’s quick thinking stopped his men, fearing another assault, from firing again. After the incident, dubbed the ‘Boston Massacre’ by anti-British propaganda, the 29th were forced to leave Boston, to prevent revenge attacks, although Captain Preston and his eight men (but not Lieutenant Bassett) were kept behind and arrested on charges of murder.

The Trial

The trial of Preston and his men was embroiled in politics. The obvious solution, acquittal on the grounds that they had fired in self-defence after great provocation, would outrage the people of Boston, but on the other hand, how could the British Government hang its own men for upholding the law by firing on a riotous and traitorous mob?

The solution came in the form of a lawyer called John Adams. A Bostonian, and an anti-British one at that, Adams was persuaded to put aside his own views and defend Preston, who was acquitted, and then his men. In their defence Adams argued eloquently and intelligently, cutting through the emotions and politics surrounding the trail, that they had acted justifiably in self-defence. Despite his own anti-British feelings, he argued that what the soldiers had done was right and within the law, and even natural in such circumstances. The jury acquitted all but Montgomery and Kilroy, who were found guilty of manslaughter, and branded on the thumb.

As they left, even the branded soldiers thanked Adams for his efforts in saving their lives and seeing justice done. One even voiced concern for Adam’s safety after such a pro-British act in such a hostile City, but Adams replied that he would be safe.

He was right. Only a few years later, John Adams would sign the Declaration of Independence, and eventually be 2nd President of the United States of America.

The guard picket:

Captain Thomas Preston, Lieutenant Bassett

John Carrol               Matthew Kilroy       Hugh Montgomery William Wenns

James Hartigan       William McCauley William Warren           Hugh White

The Battle of Gheluvelt October 31st 1914 "The Worcesters save the Empire"

 The first shock of the German invasion came near to defeating the combined French and British Armies.  The British Army stood to fight at Ypres.  After ten days’ hard fighting, the 2nd Battalion, 350 strong, was the only reserve for the Gheluvelt sector.  The Battalion was then resting in Polygon Wood.  The line at Gheluvelt, attacked by overwhelming numbers, gave way, and the enemy took the Chateau and village.  The situation was very serious, and preparations for a general retirement were made; unless the gap was closed, the Army would be lost, so, more or less as a forlorn hope, the Battalion was ordered to counter-attack.

‘A’ Company advanced to a railway embankment overlooking the village, to prevent the enemy advancing up the Menin Road.  Meanwhile, with lightened kit and extra ammunition, the rest of the Battalion made ready for the attack.  The village was hidden by a ridge, and their aiming mark was the Chateau.  As they advanced, signs of retreat were everywhere; they alone went forward.

The crest of the ridge was covered by the enemy guns, and could be crossed only by a quick rush.  Though over a hundred fell to the storm of shelling  which met their advance, the rest dashed down the slope, forced their way through the hedges and fences and into the Chateau grounds, where they closed with the Germans.

Surprised by the impetuous speed of the attack, the enemy, though far superior in numbers, gave way, and the attackers linked up with the remnants of the South Wales Borderers, who were still holding out.

As a result of the capture of Gheluvelt against terrific odds, and the consequent closing of the gap in the British line, Ypres was held and the Channel ports were saved.  In his despatch describing this action of the 31st October, 1914, the Commander in Chief, Sir John French, said:-

“the rally of the 1st Division and the capture of the village of Gheluvelt at such a time was fraught with momentous consequences.  If any one Unit can be singled out for special praise, it is the Worcestershires.”

The casualties of the Worcestershire Regiment in carrying out this counter attack were 3 officers and 189 other ranks, or 50 percent. of their fighting strength on the day!

The Worcestershire Regiment retake Gheluvelt

The Worcestershire Regiment retake Gheluvelt

 

The Museum acquires a "Brown Bess"

Brown Bess Musket (Accession No. 2013-6)

Brown Bess Musket (Accession No. 2013-6)

The astonishing generosity of one of our Friends has enabled  the Trustees of the Mercian Regiment Museum to purchase an British India Pattern “Brown Bess” flintlock  musket.   It was armed with this pattern of musket that the 29th and 36th Regiments covered themselves in glory during the Peninsular War and in doing so earned the Peninsular battle honours of  Rolica,Vimiero, Corunna, Talavera Albuera, Salamanca, Nivelle, Nive, Orthez, Pyrennes and Toulouse.

Detail of the lock

Detail of the lock

The musket’s effective range was between 50 to a hundred yards. The musket fired a lead ball of .75″ calibre (approximately 18mm).  It is 55 ½” long with a 39″ barrel marked with ordnance proof marks. The barrel is equipped with a standing foresight and a plain rear sight. It is equipped with a side action lock which is engraved with a Crown over GR (Georgius Rex) the tail of the lock is stamped “TOWER”.  The lock also bears a crowned broad arrow Board of Ordnance mark.  The musket has a India pattern style full stock, with brass furniture including a plain brass fore-end cap for socket bayonet, three ramrod pipes retaining the original ramrod. The musket has two sling swivels, one mounted from trigger guard, the other above front ramrod tube.

 

Proof marks

Proof marks

Markings on the butt plate

Markings on the butt plate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see how a Brown Bess was fired click on the link below

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho-QCmnNMl8

 

The Battle of Busaco 29th September 1810

In May 1810 Marshal Massena took command of the Army of Portugal, with orders from the Emperor Napoleon to capture Lisbon and drive Wellington and his British army out of the Peninsular.

During the winter of 1809/10 Wellington’s engineers had built fortifications across the Lisbon isthmus, known as the Lines of Torres Vedras. As Massena began his advance into Portugal the British and Portuguese Army fell back towards the capital.

Massena captured the Spanish town of Ciudad Rodrigo on the border and on 26th August 1810 he took the Portuguese fortress of Almeida. On 15th September 1810 Massena resumed his advance through Portugal towards Lisbon, harassed by Brigadier General Robert Craufurd’s Light Division.

Wellington, intending to fight a delaying battle, positioned his army at the convent of Busaco. The convent lay on a long high ridge that stretched from the Mondego River for some ten miles to the North. The road to Coimbra and Lisbon climbed up the ridge and passed the convent, while a second lesser road crossed the ridge further south. The ridge rose steeply to 300 metres from the valley in places. A rough track meandered along the top.

The British and Portuguese regiments, including the 29th (Worcestershire) and the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiments, were positioned along the ridge with the main concentration at the northern end and the reserves further south.

The Battle of Busaco 29th September 1810
The Battle of Busaco 29th September 1810

Marshal Ney led the French advanced guard towards Busaco on the evening of 25th September 1810. His assessment was that only a British rear-guard held the ridge and that it could be easily driven off by a frontal assault. Massena came forward and agreed with him, ordering the assault for the next morning.

The first attack was carried out by Reynier’s corps, advancing up the lesser southern road, Massena’s assumption being that this would take the French behind the British right flank.  Once Reynier was established on the crest Ney’s corps would advance up the main road to the Busaco convent at the northern end of the ridge. Far from being held by a rearguard, on the ridge were all 50,000 British and Portuguese infantry supported by 60 guns.

Early morning mist hampered the first movements and observations. Heudelet’s division, setting off at 6am, followed the southern road up to the crest of the ridge where they were engaged by the 74th Foot, two Portuguese battalions and 12 guns. The fire fight continued for the whole of the battle, Heudelet’s division refusing to give ground.

Merle’s division reached the crest to the north of Heudelet’s. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Wallace of the 88th Connaught Rangers had seen the French column climbing the hill and hurried his regiment to the threatened point with several companies of the 45th Foot. Wallace led his men in a fierce attack on the French and drove them back down the hill.  Wellington wrote in his dispatches: “I can assure you I never witnessed a more gallant charge”

The final element of Reynier’s attack was carried out by Brigadier Foy who took his brigade to the top of the ridge and remained there until he was driven out by Leith’s British Brigade of the 5th Division, the counter attack being headed by the 9th Foot.  Reynier’s corps suffered 2,000 casualties in its abortive assault.

Ney, from his position further north, thought that Reynier had taken the crest and ordered his corps to begin the assault up the main road to the convent.  Loison’s division advanced up the hill with its left on the road. As it reached the crest, the 43rd and 52nd Foot of Craufurd’s Light Division rose from their positions in the sunken section of the road and poured a volley into the French column at 25 yards. The two light infantry regiments then attacked with the bayonet driving the French back down the hillside. A watching artillery officer described the fight as “carnage”.    Mermet’s division attacking alongside was halted by a Portuguese brigade.

Seeing the failure of all the attacks Massena called off the assault and began a reconnaissance to the north, discovering a road that circumvented the ridge. As the French marched away to the flank, Wellington’s army withdrew south towards Lisbon, having inflicted a serious reverse on Massena’s Army of Portugal.  The French suffered 522 dead, 3,612 wounded, and 364 captured. The Allied losses numbered 200 dead, 1,001 wounded, and 51 missing. The British and Portuguese each lost exactly 626 men.

Masséna then moved off to the right to flank the position, and Wellington, after spending the night in the convent, resumed the retreat of his army into the previously fortified Lines of Torres Vedras. He reached these by 10 October.  After probing the Lines in the Battle of Sobral on 14 October, Masséna found them too strong to attack and withdrew into winter quarters. Deprived of food for his men and harried by Anglo-Portuguese hit-and-run tactics, he lost a further 25,000 men captured or dead from starvation or sickness before he retreated into Spain early in 1811.

The 29th Foot heroes of Talavera

 

A grenadier and a private of the light company of the 29th Foot

A grenadier and a private of the light company of the 29th Foot

Having driven Marshal Soult’s French army from Portugal, General Sir Arthur Wellesley’s 20,000 British troops advanced into Spain to join forces with 33,000 Spanish troops under General Cuesta. They marched up the Tagus valley to Talavera de la Reina, about 120 km southwest of Madrid. There they encountered 46,000 French under Marshals Jourdan and Victor with the French king of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte in nominal command. On the 23rd July the combined Allied force lost an opportunity to defeat the French corps of Victor at Talavera, because Cuesta insisted that the Spanish wouldn’t fight on a Sunday!

Battle-of-talavera-28th-july-1809-william-heathThe French crossed the River Alberche in the middle of the afternoon on 27 July. A couple of hours later, the French attacked the right of the Spanish and the British left. The dominant feature of this battlefield was a hill about a mile distant from Talavera, upon which Wellesley’s left flank rested.  The hill was taken and lost, until, finally, the British held it firmly. At daybreak on 28 July, the French attacked the British left again to retake the hill and were repulsed when the 29th Foot (the Worcestershire Regiment) who had been lying behind the crest stood up and charged up the slope at the double with bayonets fixed and forced the French off the hill. A French cannonade lasted until noon when a negotiated armistice of two hours began. That afternoon, a heavy exchange of cannon fire started ahead of various infantry and cavalry skirmishes. Early in the evening, a general engagement resulted in the French being held off. A cannon duel continued until dark. At daylight, the British and Spanish discovered that the bulk of the French force had retired, leaving their wounded and two batteries of artillery in the field.

The 29th Foot at Talavera

The 29th Foot at Talavera

The French lost 7,389: 944 killed, 6,294 wounded, 156 prisoners. The Allies lost : 7,468. The Spanish casualties were about 1,200 and British lost 6,268, including 800 killed, over the two days of fighting.  Many of the wounded on both sides were burnt to death when the dry grass of the battlefield caught fire.

After the action Wellesley wrote to Viscount Castlereagh:  … “I wish very much that some measure could be adopted to get more recruits for the 29th Regiment.  It is the best regiment in this Army”……..

Roll of Honour

Serjeant Joseph Martin Corporals: George Duckworth, Jonas Palmer

Important acquisition – a Lovell pattern 1839 musket

The Mercian Regiment Museum Trust has recently acquired a fine 1839 musket recently acquired for the Worcestershire Soldier Gallery

A fine 1839 musket recently acquired for the Worcestershire Soldier Gallery

The Trustees of the Mercian Regiment Museum have recently acquired an British Pattern 1839, percussion smooth bore musket. It is 55 ½” long with a 39″ barrel marked with ordnance proof marks. The barrel is equipped with a standing foresight and a plain rear sight. It is equipped with a side action lock which is engraved with a Crown over VR (Victoria Regina) set over an Enfield stamp. The lock bears a crowned broad arrow Ordnance mark and is dated 1841. The lock is retained by 2 side nails with Lovell cups. The musket has a New Land pattern style full stock, with brass furniture including a plain brass fore-end cap for socket bayonet, three ramrod pipes retaining the original ramrod. The musket has two sling swivels, one mounted from trigger guard, the other above front ramrod tube.

percussion musket p.39

The percussion lock of an 1839 pattern musket

It was with this pattern of musket that the 29th Regiment obtained its victories in the Sikh Wars. Although it is equipped with the most up to date percussion ignition system the musket’s smooth bore limited its accuracy and its effective range was between 50 to a hundred yards. The musket fired a lead ball of .75″ calibre (approximately 18mm).

The Black Drummers

1770's Drummer

One of the Black drummers c.1770.

In 1759 ten slaves captured from the French were presented to the 29th (Worcestershire) Regiment of Foot for use as drummers, and started a tradition which would last nearly a century.
Over the next 84 years nearly 50 black men were actively recruited to serve as drummers in the 29th. Each man was a volunteer, and many served for 20 or more years, receiving equal pay, pensions, medals and status as any other soldier. Some sons followed fathers, and fresh recruits joined from Canada, Ireland, the West Indies and India.
The black drummers remained an important and proud part of the Regiment until the last drummer died in 1843.