Sunday 20 September 2015

3/8e Regiment de Ligne

With the completion of the 3/8e Ligne I can now complete the history of the regiment's involvement in the Peninsular War up to Talavera by looking at their involvement in the fighting over the two days of the battle on the 27th and 28th of July 1809.

1/8e Regiment de Ligne
2/8e Regiment de Ligne

I Corps: Maréchal Victor
2nd Division: Général de division Lapisse (6,862)
Brigade: Général de brigade Laplannes
16th Légère Regiment (3 battalions)
45th Line Regiment (3 battalions)
Brigade: Général de brigade Solignac
8th Line Regiment (3 battalions)
54th Line Regiment (3 battalions)

The 8e Ligne were amongst the first French troops to clash with the British as Victor's Corps pursued Cuesta's Spanish Army of Estremadura back towards the Alberche river bridge and as part of the point brigade under General Lapisse achieved total surprise on the afternoon of the 27th July 1809 when, by crossing higher up the stream, they managed to attack the flank of General Mackenzie's 3rd Division acting as rear guard for the allied army at Casa de Salinas (see the map above for where the action happened)

This small battle was covered in the first scenario of our Talavera series of games "Casa de Salinas"

Casa de Salinas -Talavera game one
Casa de Salinas-Talavera game two
Casa de Salinas-Talavera game three

In the actual clash the British troops were driven back in some disorder, suffering some 450 casualties with an estimated loss of just 100 to the French troops involved.

Position of the French and Allied armies before the main French attack on the afternoon of the 28th July 1809
On arriving in their positions facing the British troops across the Portina stream on the Talavera line the troops of General Lapisse's 2nd Division were not to be called upon until the afternoon of the next day, when following Marshal Victor's failed assaults on the Cerro de Medellin on the previous night and dawn of the 28th July, the combined French forces prepared to launch the main French attack of the battle.

Diagram to illustrate the main French attack - Source Field
As Lipisse's 2nd Division formed up for the attack the front line of six battalions was formed by General Laplannes brigade of the 16e Legere and the 45e Ligne The 8e Ligne together with the 54e Ligne formed the second line of six battalions as part of General Solignac's brigade.

The twelve battalions of the division were drawn up opposite General Sherbrooke's 1st Division and their planned attack would cause them to contact the four battalions of KGL infantry and the 2/83rd foot, the left flank battalion of Cameron's brigade (see the map above to show the positions at the start of the attack).

lst Division: Sherbrooke
Brigade: Campbell
l/Coldstream Guard Regiment (970)
l/Scots Fusilier Guard Regiment (l,0l9)
5/60th Foot Regiment (l coy) (56)
Brigade: A. Cameron
l/6lst Foot Regiment (778)
2/83rd Foot Regiment (535)
5/60th Foot Regiment (l coy) (5l)
Brigade: von Langwerth
lst KGL Battalion (604)
2nd KGL Battalion (678)
Det/lst KGL Light Battalion (l co)(l06)
Brigade: von Lowe
5th KGL Battalion (6l0)
7th KGL Battalion (557)

Laplanne's brigade (16e Legere and 45e Ligne) was arrayed in battalion columns but with the columns having just six paces (about 4.5 yards) between them, suggesting no intention to deploy into line. The following battalions of Solignac's brigade (8e and 54e Ligne) were described as formed in battalion mass or close order columns and deployed as such to allow them to move up quickly to exploit any breakthrough gained by the front line.

At 14.00 the French guns opened up a tremendous barrage across the whole British front with nearly all their guns, and with most of the British line in full view the red coats could only lie down and pray.

The barrage lasted a full hour and it wasn't until 15.00 that the divisions of Lapisse  and Sebastiani started their advance. The second line of battalions were kept well behind to act as the reserve, finally stopping behind a stone wall to await the results of the initial attack, but close enough to take advantage of any success.

The Guards brigade were also part of Sherbrooke's division and are seen here in combat with Sebastiani's 28e and 58e Ligne 
An ensign of the 3rd Guards recalled
"The French came on over the rough and broken ground...... in the most imposing manner and with great resolution."

The French skirmishers pushed back the British light troops with ease and crossed the Portina without interference from the silent red line beyond. Sherbrooke's division covered more or less the same frontage as the two French divisions that were advancing against it. General Sherbrook had issued strict orders that the first volley should not be delivered until the French columns were only 50 yards away, and the volley was to be immediately followed by a bayonet charge.

When the French columns approached to within extreme musket range and the expected volley failed to happen, the troops within the advancing columns became more agitated as the range decreased with every step. A French officer described the attack

"The French charged with shouldered arms as was their custom. When they arrived at short range, the English line remained motionless, some hesitation was seen in the march. The officers and NCO's shouted at the soldiers, 'forward march, don't fire'. Some even cried, 'They're surrendering'. The forward movement was therefore resumed; but it was not until extremely close range of the English line that the latter started a two rank fire which carried destruction into the heart of the French line and stopped its movement, and produced some disorder. While the officers shouted to the soldiers 'Forward: Don't fire', the English suddenly stopped their own fire and charged with the bayonet. Everything was favourable to them; orderliness, impetus, and the resolution to fight with the bayonet. Among the French on the other hand, there was no longer any impetus, but disorder and surprise caused by the enemy's unexpected resolve. Flight was inevitable."

The first French line broke and rushed back over the Portina and began to reform behind their second line. The British charge became uncontrolled and swept on after the fleeing French, with only Cameron able to halt his brigade short of the Portina. The Kings German Legion troops began to receive fire from the French guns on the Casajal and were then met by volleys from the 8e and 54e Ligne who then charged with the bayonet and routed the Germans back the way they had come.

General Langwerth seized a Colour and attempted to rally his men and was promptly cut down before he could gather any of them together. As the defeated redcoats fell back from the attack the 16th Light Dragoons moved forward to occupy the ground vacated by their two brigades, allowing the Germans to form in their rear. The KGL battalions were very hard hit in this desperate retreat with the 1st Battalion losing half its numbers (387 men) and the 5th Battalion over 100 men as prisoners alone

It was then that Wellesley seeing the gap in his line and how hard pressed the KGL brigades were, directed the only battalion he felt able to release from the defence of the Cerro de Medellin and hold back the attack of the 54e and 8e Ligne. The 1/48th were still nearly 800 men strong and under Colonel Donellan advanced on the two French regiments and issued "a close and well directed fire" that arrested the French advance. Indeed the first volley was all it took to cause these two regiments to turn and flee back the way they had come allowing the Germans to rally and recover some of their order.

This final action was not without cost to both sides with General Lapisse killed outright and Colonel Donellan falling wounded from a musket ball hit that shattered his knee and would cause his death a few days later. The KGL brigades had lost Langwerth and his two battalions were reduced from 1,300 men to just 650 men at the end of the fighting; Low's brigade was also left with just 600 men losing 350 casualties in the afternoon battle which included 150 prisoners to the French.

As far as Lapisse's division was concerned, they had lost their divisional commander killed together with 1,767 men killed, wounded and missing, the most casualties lost in any of Victor's divisions. The 8e Ligne in particular lost 437 men over the two days of battle, with 44 killed and 393 wounded.

My 3/8e Ligne is composed of figures from the AB range, from Fighting 15's and carry an adapted fanion from GMB Flags.

Sources used in this and the other posts on the 8e Regiment de Ligne;
Napoleon's Line Infantry, Osprey Men at Arms - Philip Haythornthwaite, Bryan Fosten
French Napoleonic Line Infantry - Emir Bukhari
Napoleon's Soldiers, The Grande Armee of 1807 (The Otto Manuscript) - Guy C Dempsey Jr.
Napoleonic Armies, A Wargamers Campaign Directory - Ray Johnson
Talavera, Wellington's First Victory in Spain - Andrew W. Field
The Peninsular War Atlas - Colonel Nick Lipscombe

Next up the 54e Regiment de Ligne


  1. Nice job, and good to see some French regimenntal history!

  2. Thanks chaps, I was really pleased with the look of the 8th and I think they will stand out on the table with their fancy fanion's especially when we get to doing Barossa.