Apr 25 2012
2nd Battalion, Siruela, Spain
San Christobal Fort, seen from the walls of Badajoz
This month has been dominated by one event, the taking of Badajoz. The fifth division was initially engaged in a watching brief at San Christobal, across the river from the town. On the 30th March, however, it became known that Marshal Soult was advancing for the relief of Badajoz, so the division was withdrawn from the heights and brought into the forward line. Soult’s advance left Lord Wellington with a difficult choice: he either abandoned the siege or risked an immediate assault. He decided on the latter course, originally planned for the 5th April, but when the engineers pointed out that the breaches could be made more practicable, the assault was postponed for twenty-four hours.
The fifth division joined the besiegers on the 5th April. In the original arrangements for the assault they were to “alarm the enemy” by attacking the Pardeleras outwork; but a note was then added that “if the circumstance should permit”, they were to attempt an escalade, either at the San Vincente bastion or at the curtain wall between the bastion and the bridge.
General Sir James Leith, 5th Division
General Leith always intended to make such an attack, but he was initially frustrated by the engineer attached to the division, who lost his way in the dark. As a result the division were late reaching the point of attack. To make matters worse, there were only twelve ladders, some of which proved unusable, while all of them were too short. Nevertheless, while Spry’s Portuguese brigade undertook the planned diversion at the Pardeleras, and the Royals and the 9th, in the first brigade, remained on guard, the second brigade under General Walker (4th, 30th and 44th) plus the 38th from the first brigade and two companies of Brunswickers undertook the escalade.
The assailants, climbing the ladders in order of regimental seniority, encountered all the difficulties incumbent upon an escalade: ladders thrown back, a hail of missiles and combustibles, and well-directed musket fire (the defenders were aided by intervals of clear moonlight). They persevered, however, and once on the ramparts were formed by General Walker for an advance towards the breaches at the Santa Maria and Trinidad bastions.
Initially the advance was unopposed, but suddenly the flame of a port-fire was spotted and mistaken for the sign that a mine was about to be fired. The resultant panic enabled the defenders to stand and then bayonet the assailants back to San Vincente. Here, though, they were brought up short by the 38th, who delivered a volley and then pursued the defenders with bayonets fixed. The whole division, except the two battalions on guard, now made their way into the town, while General Leith sent a message to Wellington that the fifth division was in Badajoz.
Men of the 30th Regiment escalading the San Vincente bastion
The first men up the ladders, the storming party under Colonel Brooke of the 4th, comprised the light companies of the three battalions from the second brigade, plus the light company of the 38th and (probably) the Brunswickers, who are jägers (light infantry). This party was probably the first into the town. Certainly, two officers of the 4th have described the eerie silence as they advanced along the streets of Badajoz, while some of the 30th managed to open the Las Palmas gates, the main entry into the town.
Inevitably the escalade and subsequent action on the ramparts caused heavy casualties for both the defenders and the assailants. The 30th suffered one officer and twenty-seven men killed, five officers and ninety-nine men wounded, some of whom are not expected to survive.
The death of Major Grey has caused great distress to the battalion. He was popular among both officers and men, and with his wife’s support did much to sustain a family atmosphere in the battalion. He died on the ramparts, bleeding to death before assistance could be procured. The battalion has also lost Sergeants Achison and Tully, both of them well-respected and long-serving NCOs.
The most seriously wounded officers were Captain Chambers of the light company and Captain Hitchen of the grenadiers. Along with Ensign Pratt they have been taken to Lisbon. The other officer casualties were Lieutenants Neville and Baillie, both of whom volunteered to serve as engineers as they did at Ciudad Rodrigo. They have already recovered from their wounds and are back on duty.
One casualty has caused particular concern. Private Elijah Fletcher served with the regiment for many years, and with the second battalion from its establishment. He was a sergeant for some time and, despite his demotion, was well-regarded by the officers. He has left an orphan child, and the officers are already collected for the maintenance of this child.
A story is circulating in the battalion that Ensign Lockwood performed a gesture worthy of Sir Galahad when he rescued a nun during the mayhem in Badajoz and returned her to her family. Lockwood himself, who is only eighteen, is said to be embarrassed by the attention his simple act of kindness is receiving.
As a result of the Badajoz casualties, Corporals McIlhatton and Hall have been promoted to sergeant, while privates Coy, Dawson, Gisborne, Wadsworth and Winn have been made corporal. Corporal George Watts was reduced on the 8th April for misbehaviour in Badajoz.
As well as the losses during the assault, there have also been five natural deaths this month, including Sergeants Metcalf and Brumish. Very much regretted was the loss of Ensign Brooke, who died on the 24th March of the injuries he suffered seventeen days earlier when he fell from his horse.
William Stevenson was transported as a felon on the 15th April, having been found guilty of burglary and violence against a Portuguese householder.
The battalion is now under the command of Samuel Bamford, the senior captain, and is on the march north to Ciudad Rodrigo, which is believed to be under threat from Marshal Marmont.
First Battalion, Cannanore
A fine Indian batik
There has been more sickness than usual this month, among both officers and men, as the temperature has risen. In these parts the temperatures can reach more than 90 degrees, and the accompanying high levels of humidity create a difficult environment for troops. Surgeon Pearce, however, seems to be coping well and there has been only one death, that of Sergeant Cherry on the 4th April.
Many of the Irish soldiers have availed themselves of the ministrations of the Catholic priests in this area, which was originally settled by the Portuguese and still has a large Indian-Portuguese, Catholic community.
Musket drill, from a contemporary instruction manual.
There has been a pleasing influx of recruits, who will be much needed after the losses sustained at Badajoz. One man for unlimited service, and nine men and six boys for unlimited service, as well as two volunteers from the militia, have all enlisted at headquarters. There are a further thirty-three recruits with the recruiting parties. Two men have joined from Portugal and are now considered fit for further service.
Lieutenant Pennefather is to take command of the recruiting party at Tuam, in place of Lieutenant John Roe (2), who is to join the 2nd battalion.