Wednesday, 11 February 2015

2nd Battalion 48th(Northamptonshire) Regiment of Foot - The Heroes of Talavera

I first featured the 48th Foot in my post about the 1st Battalion, back in January last year, where you can find out about the history of the regiment and an overview of its service in the Peninsular War.

With the completion of the 2/48th, I thought it would be interesting to look at the fighting that occurred on their part of the Talavera battlefield with the first attack of the day. The principle source used for this account is from Talavera - Wellington's First Victory in Spain by Andrew W. Field, an excellent book on the battle.

The two battalions of the 48th were at the centre of General Hill's deployment of his 2nd Division atop the Cerro de Medellin, with Brigadier General Richard Stewart's Brigade (29th, 1st Detachments, 1/48th) on the left front of the hill and Major General Christopher Tilson's Brigade (2/48th 2/66th, 1/3rd) on the right front. This after surviving the abortive night attack by Ruffin's division, where both battalions suffered minimal casualties 1/48th eight men and 2/48th three men.

General Hill's 2nd Division can be seen holding the top of the Cerro de Medellin

At 5 am a single signal gun fired from the Cerro de Cascajal initiating a tremendous artillery barrage of over fifty French cannon as Marshal Victor's I Corps Grand Battery opened up on on the Medellin opposite. The order was given to the troops to drop back behind the ridge line and lie down.

A witness described how
"they served their guns in an infinitely better style than at Vimeiro: their shells were thrown with precision, and did considerable execution."

Oman reckons this barrage went on for about forty-five minutes before the French assault columns of General Ruffin's division commenced their attack on the Medellin, as they tried to do what they failed to do the night before.

Because they had pulled back and with all the artillery smoke hanging in the air, the British heard the French advance before they saw it. The sound of French drums beating the attack through a veil of smoke, with that of the firing as the two skirmish screens came ever closer, fighting for advantage, must have been very disconcerting to the newer men.

As the heads of the columns approached within 100 yards of the ridge line, Hill gave his battalions the order to stand up and advance so they looked down on the advancing French. The six battalions delivered a shattering volley that brought the columns to a standstill, as the front ranks fell in disordered heaps and the following ranks hesitated.

Ensign Clarke of the 2/66th on the right of the 2/48th described his battalion's actions
"Our orders were to lie down behind the ridge until the enemy's column had reached the top, then to rise, deliver a volley, and charge. I was sent to the summit by the commanding officer to let him know where the enemy were and returned with the intelligence that a strong column was only fifty yards off. The volley was delivered and we rushed on them with the bayonet. At first they appeared as if they would stand the charge, but when we closed they wavered, and then they turned and ran down the hill in the wildest confusion." 

Meanwhile on the left flank of the Medellin, Wellesley ordered Stewart's brigade to charge, with a participant recording,
"on we went, a wall of stout hearts and bristling steel. The enemy did not fancy such close quarters, and the moment our rush began they went to the right-about. The principal portion broke and fled, though some brave fellows occasionally faced about and gave us an irregular fire."

The momentum of charging down such a steep slope and the adrenalin of success took all six of Hill's battalions down the hill to the Portina Brook. Some of the more enthusiastic fellows even crossed the stream and started up the slopes of the Cascajal, until coming under fire from French artillery and reserves under General Villatte.

A French account of the attack has Colonel Jamin commanding the 24eme de Ligne, shouting
"Au revoir Messieurs les Anglais" as he retired with his survivors, and receiving a mocking reply from a British officer of "Au revoir Monsieur le Colonel; au revoir messieurs!"

The French committed 4,900 men to this attack against the 3,700 British troops. They suffered heavy losses with Oman calculating the number to be about 1,300 casualties. However the British did not get off lightly suffering 750 casualties including the wounded Lieutenant Colonel Muter of the 3rd Foot who would die the next day of his wounds.

The 2/48th started the day with 567 men but would end it with 68 fewer, with 12 killed, 55 wounded and 1 missing.

My 2/48th are composed of figures from the Xan range of British infantry with the mounted officer and ensigns from AB. The Colours are from GMB Flags.

The other principle source consulted for this post was the Napoleon Series.

The completion of the 2/48th, just leaves, the two battalions (1/61st and 2/83rd) of Cameron's brigade of the 1st Division to do, the two heavy cavalry regiments (3rd Dragoon Guards, 4th Dragoons), some additional artillery limbers and about half a dozen general officers to finish Wellesley's army. However the next posts will concentrate on the Spanish division of General Portago and the first scenario, Casa de Salinas.


  1. Will you be using mules for the artillery limbers? And if so, where do you get yours from? I am awaiting an AB Roman Legion mule train.

    1. Hi DaveW.
      The limbers referred to above are for my British batteries. For the Spanish I will use the Warmodelling limbers, when they come back on stream.

      Though now you mention it, I might take a look at some AB mules just to add a bit of variety.


  2. Beautifully done. I enjoyed painting these figures as well.

    1. Thanks SRD. I have painted a lot of redcoats in the last two years so I am rather looking forward to doing some Spanish and French.

  3. Outstanding post as always! Go the Poachers!
    Can I recommend Peter Edwards' Talavera book to you - his interest was piqued by the involvement of his Regiment in this battle, and its interesting to get the perspective of a modern commander with a background in operational decision making - no 20/20 hindsight from a comfy armchair!

  4. Cheers Sparker, I have Edwards' book in the to do pile, and I know he writes well, as I reviewed his Albuera book last April. I should say that Field brings a serving soldier's eye to the battle and he mentions his parent regiments (The Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment - 29th/45th Foot) credentials in the preface.

    I did think that as a specific battle focused book the Edwards "Albuera" was not as "forensic" as the Dempsey book which I posted on back in December 2012 and is probably why I put it to the back of my list.

    Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Another terrific looking unit. I especially like the skirmish bases, but the whole impression is very fine.
    I don't know as much about British uniforms of the period as I should but were they fusiliers? The red and white thingy on the shako looks like the Fusilier hackle one still sees on some British Army berets today.

  6. Hi Michael, thank you.
    No there were only two Fusilier regiments in the Peninsular War, the 7th and 23rd. The title Fusilier was an honorary one recognising the early use by elite formations of the fusil or flintlock musket when the matchlock was more common. I have a feeling that they had a history of being guards for the artillery train, but don't quote me. By the Napoleonic era the Fusiliers were elite units like the Guards or Marines, wearing a white hackle in their grenadier bearskins (although on campaign it seems they wore a grenadier style shako with a white tuft) and with all companies having wings on their tunics. I did a post about the 7th Royal Fusiliers back in December 2013 if you want to read more.

    The red under white tuft worn on the shakos of a line battalion indicates the confusingly named fusilier or centre company men. There being eight centre companies of nominally 100 men and the senior grenadier company in white tufts with shoulder wings and the next senior company, the lights with green tufts and shoulder wings, also nominally of 100 men.

    Seniority was covered in my review last month of "Inside Wellington's Peninsular Army" which talks about battle array and that senior units would form on the right of the line and the next senior on the left, thus in the pictures, you will see the grenadiers of the right, the lights on the left and equally the King's Colour (the union flag) carried to the right of the Regimental Colour.

    The modern hackle, I think, has a red over white arrangement which again is a more modern indication of "elite" status, similar to a red or green beret worn by the Parachute Regiment or Royal Marines.

    You have to love Napoleonics!