Thursday, 27 November 2014

88th Foot (Connaught Rangers) - The Devil's Own

Fusilier Company Sergeant of the 88th Foot

British Units at Casa de Salinas
Division Lieutenant General Sir Alexander McKenzie

McKenzie's Brigade
2/24th Foot (Warwickshire Regt.)
2/31st Foot (Huntingdonshire Regt.)
1/45th Foot (Nottinghamshire Regt.)
McKenzie's Brigade Light Battalion

Donkin's Brigade
2/87th Foot (Prince of Wales Own Irish Regt.)
1/88th Foot (Connaught Rangers Regt.)
Donkin's Brigade Light Battalion

Anson's Brigade
23rd Light Dragoon's
1st KGL Hussars

Progress on the order of battle for Casa de Salinas continues with the addition of arguably the most famous British infantry battalion in the peninsula army and certainly one that features in the thickest of the fighting from 1810 onwards, the 88th Regiment of Foot, The Connaught Rangers.

Colonel de Burgh
The 88th Foot was raised in Ireland on the 25th September 1793, by Colonel, the Honourable, Thomas de Burgh as one of the new regiments raised in response to the outbreak of war with France. Raised in the province of Connaught, it soon became known as the Connaught Rangers. Most of the officers were Irishmen and all had raised men for rank, that is receiving their commissions based on the number of men they recruited.

From 1794, the battalion saw extensive service, starting with the disastrous campaign in Flanders and taking in the West Indies, Jersey, India, Egypt and South America, before returning to England in 1807. After the Flanders campaign the battalion was commanded by the Anglo Irish Lt. Colonel William Carr Beresford, who after moving on into higher command postings, would meet the 88th again in the Peninsula.

In 1804 a second battalion was raised under Lt Colonel John Alexander Wallace, who would later go on to command the first battalion and be responsible for its development as one of Wellington's crack assault units

Colonel Wallace 1835
The 1/88th arrived in the Peninsula with it's sister Irish battalion the 2/87th in March 1809 and were brigaded together during the Talavera campaign. Their first meeting with the enemy was an inauspicious start to what would turn out to be a glorious battle record as failing to post pickets, whilst forming the rearguard to the allied army as it fell back to Talavera, it was caught unprepared. Both Irish battalions were broken in the attack and fell back in disorder and were both heavily citicised by Wellesley after the action.

In September 1809 the first battalion came under the command of Colonel Wallace with a draft of replacements from the second battalion, and he immediately set about improving drill and discipline, before the battalion came under command of their new divisional commander Sir Thomas Picton. 

The relationship between the Rangers and the new commander of the 3rd "Fighting" Division, was always a difficult one and not a lot of love was lost between the two parties. General Picton, a Welshman, declared his aversion to the 88th right from the start, declaring that they should be known as "Irish robbers and common footpads than as the Connaught Rangers", making further intemperate remarks about their country and religion. Despite their proving to be one of the best regiments in Wellington's army, Picton continued to discriminate against them and their officers.

The combat record of the 88th from 1810 onwards is a series of battle winning performances starting at Busaco and including Fuentes de Onoro, Cuidad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, Nivelle Orthes and Toulouse. In the five years of fighting the 88th were in the thick of it and became a core part of the 3rd Division.

Although General Picton gave the battalion a very hard time, I think even he had a grudging respect for their combat ability, especially when close in bayonet work was required. At the Battle of Vittoria as the 88th led off the attack into the village of Arinez the General was heard to call out to the 88th,

"Rangers of Connaught, drive those French rascals into the village and out of the village - you are the lads that know how to do it".

My 88th Foot are composed of figures from the Xan range, and I really like the poses available. The Colour bearers and Colonel Wallace are from AB and the Colours are from the excellent range of flags from GMB.

You can almost hear the insolent comments from the battalion as General Picton draws near!
With such a famous unit there are a lot of sources of information. I have used the Osprey title "Wellington's Peninsula Regiments (1), The Irish, Men at Arms by Mike Chappell. Other sources are listed below including the reminiscences of William Gratton an officer in the 88th which is a great read.

Adventures of the Connaught Rangers-William Gratton

Next up the 87th (Prince of Wales Own Irish) Regiment of Foot, the real unit (not the South Essex) that took the first Eagle in the Peninsular War


  1. Thanks SRD, you and me to. I've got a handful of British units to get done and then it's all Spanish and French going into 2015.

  2. Seems like we're running in parallel. Once Waterloo 2015 is by, we're hoping to go all Peninsular...some of the guys have even started on Spanish and Portuguese already (but they're just gluttons for punishment). Best of luck to you and hope to see the results here on you great blog.

    1. Yes I saw you were building a large 1815 collection. Great stuff, well done. You can't beat mass Napoleonics as a spectacle and I have a feeling we will be seeing quite a lot in the next twelve months. I look forward to the Peninsula collection.

  3. A great post and a great unit of figures that does full justice to a storied regimental history. I didn't know that about Picton. I wonder if he was just a bigoted old crank who didn't care whom he offended, or whether he said what he said about the 88th to spur them on and make them want to prove him wrong? At any rate, a first rate job on this unit. Cracking stuff.

    1. Hi Michael, thank you.

      Yes Picton was a strange chap, who had a conviction for torturing a woman when Governor of Trinidad, which was later overturned. Wellington described him as a "rough foul mouthed devil", although it should also be stated that Wellington requested for him to join the army. His attitude in Trinidad towards the local population probably mimics his attitude towards his men, "let them hate so long as they fear". Definitely a fighting General, a useful attribute when the "chips are down", but not the kind of chap you would want to sit next to at a dinner party.

  4. Looking good. What do you use for the cords on the flags?

    1. Hi VLE, thank you. I use light fuse wire twisted together using a hand drill. Cut to length with a blob of general purpose glue on the end. I use thicker twists to create the traces on my artillery limbers.

  5. Very nice work JJ and a great post to match. Lovely figures and the history of the army in the Peninuslar in sensational. keep it going mate!

    1. Hi Carlo, thank you and welcome to the blog. The "Aigle Catchers" are on the way.