Wellingtons Peninsula Regiments (1): The Irish (Men-at-Arms)
The famously hard-fighting Irish regiments of the British Army distinguished themselves not only in many of the main Peninsular battles, but also in several dramatic, but lesser known actions. This work contains new research into the uniforms and insignia - as well as the battle history - of the Irish regiments of Wellington's army that fought in the Peninsula from until Visit Seller's Storefront.
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Jones, Brevet Lieut-Col. John T Journals of the sieges undertaken by the allies in Spain : in the years and , with notes "It is therefore an inquiry of considerable interest to ascertain why such a skilful general with the bravest troops in the world, with excellent artillery and with Engineers whose conduct has always met with his approbation, should not have carried on his sieges with the same certainty of success, and the same inconsiderable loss as is usual with the ordinary generals of the French army.
The distressing point in all this is that the Peninsular Army, though it had its proportion of hardened sots and criminals, was full of good soldiers who knew what honour and loyalty meant, and were perfectly capable of answering any stirring appeal to their heart or their brain. There are dozens of diaries and autobiographies written in the ranks which show the existence of a vast class of well-conditioned intelligent, sober, even religious men, who were doing their work conscientiously, and would have valued a word of praise—they often got it from their regimental officers—seldom from their commander-in-chief.
And we may add that if anything was calculated to brutalize an army it was the wicked cruelty of the British military punishment code, which Wellington to the end of his life supported. There is plenty of authority for the fact that the man who had once received his lashes for a fault which was small, or which involved no moral guilt, was often turned thereby from a good into a bad soldier, by losing his self-respect and having his sense of justice seared out.
Good officers knew this well enough, and did their best to avoid the cat-of-nine-tails, and to try more rational means—more often than not with success. It might have been expected that Wellington would at least show more regard for the feelings of his officers, however much he might contemn his rank and file. As a rule he did not.
He had some few intimates whom he treated with a certain familiarity, and it is clear that he showed consideration and even kindness to his aides-de-camp and other personal retainers. But to the great majority of his officers, even to many of his generals and heads of 44 departments, he bore himself very stiffly: he would administer to them humiliating snubs or reproofs before others, and ignore their remarks or proffered counsel in the most marked way.
A few examples may serve. Sir Thomas Picton was one of his most distinguished lieutenants, and was specially summoned by him to come over to Brussels to take his part in the campaign of The moment that he arrived in the Belgian capital he sought the Duke, who was walking in the Great Park. The sooner you get on horseback the better: no time to be lost.
You will take the command of the troops in advance. An engineer captain first made his request: he had received letters informing him that his wife was dangerously ill, and that the whole of his family were sick. I cannot spare you at this moment. By all means.
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Go there immediately. But it was not on them alone that his thunders fell. He often raged at zealous and capable subordinates, who had done no more than think for themselves in an urgent crisis, when the orders that they had received seemed no longer applicable. Sir James McGrigor, whom I have just quoted above, once moved some commissariat stores to Salamanca, where there was a great accumulation of sick and wounded.
I establish one route, one line of communication—you establish another by ordering up supplies by it. As long as you live, sir, never do that again. Never do anything without my orders. Now, if I 46 had not, what would the consequences have been? Anything that seemed to Wellington to partake of the nature of thinking for oneself was an unpardonable sin in a subordinate. This is why he preferred blind obedience in his lieutenants to zeal and energy which might lead to some contravention of his own intention. Thus it came that he preferred as lieutenants not only Hill, who was a man of first-class brain-power notwithstanding his docility, but Spencer and Beresford, who most certainly were not.
Hence, too, his commission of the cavalry arm throughout the war to such a mediocre personage as Stapleton Cotton of whom he used the most unflattering language. It may be noted that Hill, Beresford, Graham and Craufurd, were the only officers to whom Wellington ever condescended in his correspondence to give the why and wherefore of a command that he issued: the others simply received orders without any commentary. There are instances known in which a word of reasonable explanation to a subordinate would have enabled him to understand a situation, and to comprehend why directions otherwise incomprehensible were given him.
Tiresome results occasionally followed.
52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot
This foible of refusing information to subordinates for no adequate reason has been shared by other great generals— e. It is a trick of the autocratic mind. It hardly requires to be pointed out that this determination to allow no liberty of action to his lieutenants, and to keep even small decisions in his own hands, effectually prevented Wellington from forming a school of generals capable 47 of carrying out large independent operations. He trained admirable divisional commanders, but not leaders of armies.
Where grave mistakes had been committed, he still stuck the names of the misdemeanants in the list, among those of the men who had really done the work. A complete mystification as to their relative merits would be produced, if we had only the dispatches to read, and no external commentary on them. Colborne, the most unselfish and generous of men, could never forget this slight.
One would think that you forgot that the 52nd had ever been in battle before. It used to be a common thing with general officers. They have 49 to be mentioned in order to explain how it came to pass that Wellington was implicitly trusted, and never loved. How that promise has been kept every one knows. That the Duke of Wellington is one of the most remarkable perhaps the greatest men of the present age, few will deny.
But that he neglected the interests and feelings of his Peninsular army, as a body, is beyond all question.