In the winter of 1756/57 during the Seven Years War the British Government decided to increase the size of the British Army by directing a number of regiments to form second battalions with the 3rd (Buffs) Foot forming theirs on the 10th December 1756. Two years later the 2/3rd Foot was red-designated the 61st Regiment of Foot under it's first Colonel, Major General Granville Elliot. The new regiment continued its association with its predecessor by maintaining its buff facings.
|Major General Granville Elliot - First Colonel of the new 61st Regiment of Foot|
In late 1758 the regiment was involved in its first operations when it was sent to the Caribbean as part of operations to capture the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique where the British failed to take the former but were successful against the latter; though the 61st Foot suffered high casualties in the process and was back home in 1760 to recruit its losses.
During the American War of Independence the 61st Foot were in garrison on the island of Minorca which had been taken by the British in the Seven Years War but in February 1782 fell to a combined landing by French and Spanish troops in a six month campaign and siege against Fort St Philip.
Repatriated in May 1782, the regiment quickly re-built and in August, with all regiments of foot without a "Royal" title, was given a county designation and the regiment became the 61st South Gloucestershire Foot and was posted to Ireland where it spent the next ten years in garrison duties.
The war against Revolutionary France in 1793 saw the 61st Foot in action abroad starting with another expedition to the Caribbean islands in December 1794, with action in St Lucia and Martinique, returning to England in 1796 and after a short time in garrison duties in Guernsey was off to attack and capture the Dutch colony of the Cape of Good Hope in 1798-99. In 1801 the regiment took part in the Egyptian campaign to expel the remains of General Bonaparte's army gaining the award of the Sphinx badge to its colours for its part in the campaign.
|61st Foot Cape of Good Hope - Bryan Fosten|
The 61st Foot commenced its involvement in the Peninsular War in June 1809 landing at Lisbon under the command of Major James Coghlan, quickly assembling and moving his battalion off to catch up with General Sir Arthur Wellesley's army at Plascencia on the 18th July.
The new battalion was brigaded with the 2/83rd Foot and a company of the 5/60th Rifles as the 2nd brigade of 1st Division under Colonel Alan Cameron arriving at Talavera at the end of July.
On the night of the 27th July, Marshal Victor launched General Ruffin's division on its surprise attack and it would seem that the 61st Foot were caught up in the confused fighting on the periphery of the main attack against the Cerro de Medellin as French battalions became confused and lost in the dark.
The next morning found the 61st Foot with three men killed and three wounded and with Major Coghlan, not only badly wounded but taken prisoner and command passing to Major Henry Orpen.
The 61st Foot spent most of the morning of the 28th July suffering under the heavy French cannonade inflicted on the British line preceding and following the French infantry attack against the Cerro de Medellin soon after dawn.
It wasn't until 15.00 with the launch of the French afternoon assault primarily against the centre of the British line that the 61st was heavily engaged in the infantry fight.
Lieutenant Charlton of the Grenadier Company, 61st Foot described the days action:
"About 10 in the morning we had a fine view of King Joseph surrounded by his body guards. His Majesty took especial care to keep his Royal person out of reach of our artillery. The action was continued with varied success in the woods until 1 o'clock. It was then obvious from the enemy's movements that a desperate attempt on our whole line was in contemplation.
Our division received orders to charge the enemy with the bayonet the moment their caps could be seen as they ascended the ravine which was about 100 yards in our front. The French line of infantry advanced supported by artillery and cavalry with cries of 'Vive Napoleon'.
The 61st, 83rd and Guards, with loud cheers, rushed towards the enemy with the bayonet, repulsing them, but continuing the pursuit too far, were much exposed, in returning to their ground, to the fore of the French artillery and retreating columns. These regiments were also threatened with a charge of cavalry which being observed, the 48th Regiment and a body of dragoons were brought forward to cover their reformation.
The enemy bringing up fresh troops, the action was continued with great obstinacy until about 6 o'clock, when their efforts became weaker, and before 7 o'clock the French fell back, completely repulsed at every point. In these several attacks the 61st lost 15 officers and nearly three hundred Non Commissioned Officers and Privates.
With heartfelt sorrow I learnt that my ever lamented friend, Major Orpen, was killed in the last charge by a musket shot in the chest."
To their credit, the 1/61st and 2/83rd did at least halt their pursuit once across the Portina as Colonel Cameron ordered his brigade to pull back in the face of the French second line and the fire from the French artillery and indeed his still formed troops were able to lend their support in covering the withdrawal of the Guards and KGL battalions.
It was the intervention of the 1/48th and more particularly Mackenzie's 3rd Division that brought the French second line of columns to a halt allowing the battered battalions of 1st Division to regroup and assess their losses.
Those losses were indeed grievous with Cameron's brigade having lost 500 men of the 1,400 men it had started with and with the 61st Foot losing 265 men in total with 3 officers and 43 men killed.
The 61st South Gloucestershire Regiment of Foot were already a seasoned battalion on arrival in the Peninsula and gained the nick-name of the "Silver Dandies" due to their officers maintaining much of the silver lacing on their button loops despite the changes in dress regulations. The 61st would serve the full duration of the war seeing action at Busaco, Fuentes de Onoro, Salamanca, Burgos, Vittoria, Sorauren, Nivelle, Nive, Orthez and finally Toulouse and it would seem fitting that it earned it's final title from its comrades in arms in recognition of its bravery and commitment as the "Flowers of Toulouse" in remembrance of their many dead young soldiers lying on the field of battle in their bright new clean uniforms.
My 61st Foot are composed of AB figures and Colours from Fighting 15s and their completion just leaves one more British battalion to complete the order of battle for Talavera.
The following references were used in this post:
Wellington's Infantry (1), Osprey - Bryan Fosten
Talavera, Wellington's First Victory in Spain - Andrew W. Field
Next up the 2/83rd County of Dublin Regiment of Foot - "Fitch's Grenadiers"