With the posts on the 1st and 2nd battalions I looked at the history, uniform distinctions and service in the Peninsular War up to Talavera. So with the third battalion I thought it would be interesting to look at the regiment's involvement in the Battle of Talavera itself.
1/24e Regiment de Ligne
2/24e Regiment de Lgne
The 24e Ligne were brigaded with the 9e Legere, with the 96e Ligne forming the second brigade in General Ruffin's division;
French at Talavera, 28 July 1809 - Source, Oman
1st Corps: Maréchal Victor
1st Division: Général de division Ruffin (5,286)
Brigade: Général de brigade (Colonel Meunier)
9th Légère Regiment (3)
24th Ligne Regiment (3)
Brigade: Général de brigade Barrois
96th Ligne Regiment (3)
The first action involving the 24e Ligne occurred on the night of the 27th of July when along with the other six battalions of the 9e Legere and 96e Ligne, General Loison's division launched a surprise night attack on the Cerro de Medellin.
|The set up for our "Night Attack" scenario showing the French arranged in columns with two battalions up and one back. |
The 24e Ligne are positioned on the right
"To attack in the dark across rugged and difficult ground was to court disaster"
The 24e Ligne were supposed to assault the Medellin from the valley that ran to the north of the hill, and it is clear that no attack developed from this direction, but the reasons why are less so. The common explanation was that the regiment became disorientated and gave up the attempt.
The next morning the whole division was detailed to make the same attack that had so disappointingly failed the night before, except now they would attempt it in daylight on a British defence very much more alert to the attack following a thirty minute bombardment from the French guns positioned on the Cerro de Cascajal opposite.
This would be the regiment's first encounter with British troops in what would become the familiar line versus column encounter. This after braving the preliminary attentions of the Royal Artillery and King's German Legion 6lbr guns together with a bristling line of British skirmishers including riflemen from the 5/60th.
The plan was relatively simple if a little contemptuous by Marshal Victor. He would use the tactics that had overturned every other European foe so far encountered and that had guaranteed success from Austerlitz to Friedland. General Ruffin's division would advance in column behind a screen of skirmishers up the British forward-left slopes. General Lapisse's division together with Latour-Maubourg's cavalry would be used to pin the defenders further along the line of the Portina. Once the summit had been taken General Villatte's division, held in reserve, would be available to advance in support completely unhinging the allied line of defence. General Beaumont's light cavalry was in local reserve to take advantage of any disruption caused by the attack.
The French deployments are not entirely clear with Oman stating that Ruffin's attack was made in three large regimental columns, whilst Fortescue, the Earl of Munster and the Buff's regimental history has them in battalions of double company columns, which would seem more likely.
|My interpretation of Victor's deployment based on Field (Lapisse's deployment order is speculative)|
Following the French barrage of 30-45 minutes depending on which source you follow, the French columns of Ruffin's regiments descended into the valley, taking advantage of the low hanging smoke from the gun fire to help cover their advance; with only the sound of the pas de charge beating out to announce their approach.
As the British skirmish line fell back through the smoke it is clear that they had done their job in keeping the French skirmishers away from the British line. General Hill became impatient for them to fall back behind his brigades and angrily ordered the bugles to sound the recall on the light bobs.
When the heads of the French columns closed to within 100 yards of the ridge line, Hill ordered the troops to stand up and advance to it thus having his men looking down on the French columns. The six British battalions issued a devastating volley that dropped the front ranks in heaps of dead and wounded bringing the attack to a halt.
Surprisingly General Lapisse had not advanced his division as ordered and General Sherbrooke, noticing his troops were not in any threat ordered Low's 5th & 7th KGL to pivot back towards the 3rd Buffs and pour in a withering flank fire upon the 96e Ligne coming up as the reserve regiment.
At this moment of distress and confusion in the French ranks, Wellesley ordered Stuart's brigade to charge in on the 24e Ligne, followed by Tilson's brigade on the 9e Legere, putting all the French battalions into a precipitous rout to their own lines.
Colonel Jamin of the 24e Ligne recounts shouting
"Au revoir Messieurs les Anglais", receiving a mocking reply from a British officer of "Au revoir Monsieur le Colonel; au revoir messieurs!"
Oman calculates the French losses in this attack as 1,300 men lost in 40 minutes of action, with Hill's six battalions losing about 750 men in reply.
Lord Munster is quoted
"The dead of the enemy lay in vast numbers on the face of the hill, and had been tall, healthy, fine young men, well limbed, with good countenances; and as proof of their courage, the bodies lay close to our lines."
Following an interlude of several hours during which the French commanders assessed their options, in light of news regarding Venegas and his Spanish troops threatening Madrid and Soult's late arrival on the allied lines of communication, it was agreed to commit to a final major attack against the centre of the allied line with a turning attack made against the British left in the northern valley and pinning attack on the British right around the Pajar de Vergara. During this time various French and Allied troops were moved in preparation to assault and defend respectively.
|Map illustrating the positions of the opposing formations on the afternoon of the 28th July 1809|
The sixteen battalions of French infantry, about 8,000 men, were supported by the fourteen squadrons of General Merlin's cavalry, including the Vistula Legion Lancers, together with artillery support from the slopes of Cerro de Cascajal.
|The French advance into the north valley with 8,000 infantry|
|The 24e Regiment de Ligne, en mass - Vive l'Empereur|
Either way, Anson's brigade began their advance gradually building to the charge with the French infantry able to form their squares in good time, although some accounts say the 27e Legere were surprised and threw their backs against the walls of the farm buildings to avoid destruction. The 1st KGL Hussars aimed for the smaller squares of the 24e and 96e Ligne, whilst the 23rd Light Dragoons headed for the 27e Legere. Braving the fire from French skirmishers to their left on the Sierra de Segurilla and artillery fire from the Cerro de Cascajal, the 23rd Light Dragoons came to grief in an unspotted ravine reported to have been fifteen feet wide and ten feet deep. Those troopers that survived the ravine careered in between the squares of the Legere only to be met by Merlin's cavalry, eventually being repulsed with the loss of 180 men and 222 horses. The 1st KGL Hussars also went into the ravine although it was reported shallower in their area. They attacked the 24e Ligne but, realising the poor situation, did not press it and retired in relatively good order with casualties of 37 troopers for the day's battle.
The above account is not without dispute, with regard to the presence and the size of this ravine, with several eyewitnesses to the charge not seeing it at all and it is a subject probably worthy of its own post.
In the meantime the allied artillery continued to poor on a withering fire into the French squares and with news of the repulse of the main attack in the centre, the French withdrew back to their start lines.
The 24e Ligne had been involved in some of the heaviest fighting from the night of the 27th July and throughout the day on the 28th and the surviving soldiers must have been exhausted as they headed back down the road to Madrid. Over those two days of battle the regiment suffered 567 casualties of whom 93 were killed and accounting for 11% of the casualties for the division. The average strength for the battalions in Ruffin's division was 587 men so these are horrendous casualties for this period of time with the division losing 1632 men or 31% across all its three regiments.
My third battalion is composed of figures from the AB range with the 3rd battalion fanion supplied by GMB flags. To add variety among the battalions in the regiment each has a sprikling of personality figures. So the first has a cheering fusilier, the second a cheering grenadier and an AB sergeant on the command base, the third a pioneer on the command stand.
Sources used in the writing of this post:
Talavera 1809, Wellington's Lightning Strike into Spain - Osprey (Chartrand & Turner)
Talavera, Wellington's First Victory in Spain - Andrew W. Field
History of the Peninsular War - Sir Charles Oman
Next up Waterloo 2015 battlefield tour and the 1/96e Ligne, then Marshal Victor's "Dawn Attack" -Talavera.