British Converged Light Battalions

This paper outlines the way in which Wellington used all of the light infantry companies in each brigade to create small converged Light Battalions, which then operated as a Brigade asset, rather than operate under their parent battalion’s control.

Sir Arthur Wellesley landed at Mondego Bay in Portugal on  1 August 1808, and shortly after that promulgated a General Order issued at Lavos on 3 August 1808.  Amongst other matters this stated:

“The Lieutenant General requests the General officers commanding brigades will, on all occasions of march and formation of the line of their respective brigades, place the light infantry companies belonging to the several regiments under their command in a separate corps under the command of a field-officer. In the ordinary formation on parade, and in route marches, these corps of light infantry will be on the left of the brigade. In formation in front of the enemy they will be in front or in rear, according to the circumstances; and in marches of columns to take up a position, they will be on the reverse flank of the column. The light infantry companies will, however, encamp and do all duties with the regiments.”

After the French were defeated at Roliça and Vimiero, Wellesley was superceded in command by two more senior Generals, Sir Harry Burrard and Sir Hew Dalrymple.  They signed a Peace Treaty with the French, the Convention of Cintra, and Wellesley was also persuaded to sign it.  The terms were heavily criticised by both the Portuguese and British Governments, since the French were allowed to evacuate Portugal taking much of their loot with them.  Dalrymple, Burrard and Wellesley were recalled to London to explain themselves.  Wellesley was reinstated, but the other two generals  were given no further command appointments.

Sir John Moore had taken over command of the British Army in the Peninsula.  After a short campaign in Spain, he was killed at the Battle of Corunna, but his Army won the battle and were able to sail back to Britain.

Sir Arthur Wellesley returned to Portugal, landing at Lisbon on 26 April 1809 and took over command of the British Army in Portugal.  Shortly after resuming command, he promulgated a new General Order issued at Coimbra on 4 May 1809 which, amongst other things, stated:

“The light infantry companies belonging to, and the riflemen attached to each brigade of infantry, are to be formed together, on the left of the brigade, under the command of a Field Officer or Captain of light infantry of the brigade, to be fixed upon by the Officer who commands it. Upon all occasions, in which the brigade may be formed in line, or in column, when the brigade shall be formed for the purpose of opposing an enemy, the light infantry companies and riflemen will be of course in the front, flanks, or rear, according to the circumstances of the ground, and the nature of the operation to be performed. On all other occasions, the light infantry companies are to be considered as attached to their battalions, with which they are to be quartered or encamped, and solely under the command of the Commanding Officer of the battalion to which they belong.”

This General Order remained in force for the remainder of the Peninsular War, by the end of which Wellesley had been created as Duke of Wellington.

On 26th February 1815 Napoleon set sail from Elba and on 20th March entered Paris as Emperor once more.  Wellington was appointed to command an Anglo-Netherlands Army assembling in Belgium and arrived at his new Headquarters in Brussels on 4th April 1815.  He promulgated a new General Order issued at Brussels on 9 May 1815 which stated:

“1. The light infantry companies belonging to each brigade of infantry, are to act together as a battalion of light infantry, under the command of a field officer or captain, to be selected for the occasion by the General Officer commanding the brigade, upon all occasions on which the brigade may be formed in line or column, whether for a march, or to oppose the enemy.
2. On all other occasions, the light infantry companies are to be considered as attached to their battalions, with which they are to be quartered or encamped, and solely under the command of the commanding officer of the battalion to which they belong.
3. The Commander of the Forces wishes that some of the light infantry battalions of each brigade should be practiced in the manoeuvres of the light infantry, and if possible in firing at a mark.”

These General Orders led to a typical British Brigade layout like this:

typical-british-brigade-deployment

Here the layout is shown with two battalions drawn up in line, with a further two drawn up behind them in quarter distance column (the latter being the normal formation used by the British Army when moving, or awaiting further deployment).  Alternatively the entire Brigade could have been in a single line, with another Brigade behind it.

The light companies of these four battalions, plus the attached rifle company of 5th Bn 60th or Brunswick Jãgers (if in the Peninsula), have been converged into a Brigade Light Battalion.  This is now deployed in front of the Brigade, half of each company remaining as a close order support, and the other half being deployed into the skirmish line.

It is interesting that this layout would be identical for a Portuguese Brigade in the Peninsula, their two Regiments, each of two Battalions, providing the four battalions of the main force, whilst their Caçadores light battalion deployed into a skirmish line and supports exactly as above.

It is clear from the wording of these General Orders, that the officers commanding these converged light battalions would be semi-permanent appointments, so that the same officer assumed command of the particular light battalion in any one brigade, whenever the light battalion was deployed.  I therefore decided to research who these officers were.

My starting point was the Royal Military Calendar 1820 Edition, which contains the following information about converged light battalions in the Peninsula.

Volume 1 contains:

Wellington’s report on Fuentes de Onoro, written at Villa Formosa on 8 May 1811.  This  mentions:

Lt Col Williams (60th Regt) commanding light battalion of Maj Gen Picton’s 3rd Division.

Maj Dick (42nd Regt) commanding light battalion of Maj Gen Nightingall’s Bde.

Maj M’Donnell (92nd Regt) commanding light battalion of Maj Gen Howard’s Bde.

Maj Ally (3rd Line Bn KGL) commanding light battalion of KGL Bde.

Wellington’s report on Salamanca, written at Flores de Avila on 24 July 1812.  This mentions:

Lt Col Woodford commanding light battalion of Brigade of Guards.

Wellington’s report on Vittoria, written at Salvatierra on 22 June 1813. This mentions:

Lt Col Cadogan commanding light battalion of Maj Gen Walker’s Bde.

Volume 4 of the Royal Military Calendar 1820 lists the following officers:

Col Hepburn (3rd Foot Guards).  He commanded a light battalion composed of the light infantry of the Guards and riflemen of the 60th Regiment, during the whole of the campaign of 1813, and was present in all of the actions in which the Guards were engaged including the battles of Vittoria and Nive, for which he has the honour of wearing a medal and one clasp.

Maj Pearson (23rd Regt).  In October 1810, he embarked for Portugal, and joined Lord Wellington’s army in the Lines of Torres Vedras. On the formation of the Fusileer Brigade, under the command of the Hon. Col. Packenham, he was appointed to the command of the light battalion of that Brigade of the 4th Division, and commanded them during Massena’s retreat from Portugal. He served at the attack of Badajoz under Marshal Beresford, in 1811, and in the action of Albuera; at the latter part of which, in consequence of the fall of all of his superior officers, he succeeded to the command of the remains of the Fusileer Brigade, in which he continued until the retreat of the army from Almandralejo, when he again resumed command of the light battalion, and continued in the same until the advance of Marshal Marmont to the relief of Ciudad Rodrigo when he received a severe wound.

Lt Col Greenwell (45th Regt). Wounded in one leg at the battle of Orthes, where he commanded the light troops of the 3rd Division.

Lt Col Dodgin (66th Regt).  He commanded a brigade of light companies in Maj Gen Byng’s Division, from 1811 to 1814; and was with it during the action at Arroya de Molinas, 28th Oct 1811, with the advance to and retreat from Madrid and Salamanca in 1812; at the battle of Vittoria for which he obtained a medal, and the brevet of Lt Col; at the actions of the Pyrenees for which he received a clasp; at St Pallas, 15th Feb 1814; at Orthes for which he obtained another clasp; and at Aire, 2nd Mar 1814, where he was severely wounded. Lt Col Dodgin has been engaged with the light companies eleven times, exclusive of the above.

Volume 5 of the Royal Military Calendar 1820 lists the following officers:

Lt Col Gordon (50th Regt).  He was appointed by Lord Hill to the command of a corps of Light Companies in advance of the right column of the 3rd Division of the army on 1st Oct 1813, which corps he led on entering France the 10th Nov. He commanded this gallant corps of light companies in every skirmish and affair which took place with the enemy from the period of his appointment to his command, up to forcing the enemy’s lines at Haspaine, 14th Feb 1814, in which affair he was again severely wounded.

Lt Col Auchmuty (7th Foot).  He commanded some light companies at Orthes & Tolouse.

Maj Lightfoot (45th Regt). He commanded the light battalion of the right brigade of the 3rd Div in the battle of Vittoria.

Maj Faunce (4th Foot).  On the 3rd April 1811, when in pursuit of the French Army under Massena’s, and in dislodging them from the heights before Sabugal, Maj Gen Dunlop appointed Maj Faunce to the command of the light infantry companies of the brigade, and a company of the Brunswick Oels, then acting as a battalion which command he retained until the end of the campaign of 1814. He was present and commanded the light infantry companies of the brigade at the battle of Salamanca, for which he has received a medal.

Maj Mullins (28th Foot). Received a medal for the battle of Orthes, at which he commanded some light companies.

Capt Carthew (39th Foot). He proceeded with the army under Marshal Beresford, from the siege of Badajoz to meet the enemy on the plains of Albuera, on which occasion (16 May 1811) he commanded the light infantry companies of the brigade. He received the thanks of the Hon Sir W Stewart in front of his Regiment for his conduct during the action.

I subsequently researched Volume 3 of 1815 Edition of the Royal Military Calendar and found this new material:

Maj Deane (38th Regt).  He commanded the light troops and advance of the army at the battles of Rolica and Vimiero under the Duke of Wellington; and afterwards served under Sir John Moore in Spain, and during the whole of that campaign commanded the light companies of the Division.

Maj Way (29th Foot). He commanded the Light Troops of W Stewart’s Brigade at Oporto in 1809.

Lt Col & Capt Cotton (3rd Foot Guards).  He…commanded the light infantry at the passage of the Adour.

Lt Col Mitchell (92nd Foot – Gordon Highlanders).  From the attack upon Garis on 15 March (1813) till the close of the campaign in 1814, he commanded the Light Companies of the 1st Brigade of the 2nd Division of the Army.

I also found some information in “Present State of Portugal and of the Portuguese Army” – Halliday – 1812.

Page 327 – 4th Division light battalion commanders during 1st siege of Badajoz – Majors Pearson & Birmingham [note – Maj Birmingham (27th Foot) killed during that siege].

Page 329 – Fuentes de Oñoro – Piquets of 1st Division under Lt Col Hill (3rd Foot Guards).  Light Infantry of Guards under Lt Col Guise (3rd Foot Guards).  Light infantry battalions (note plural) of Maj Gen Picton’s Division under Lt Col Williams (5th Bn 60th). Light Infantry battalion of 3rd Division commanded by Maj Woodgate (5th Bn 60th).  Light infantry battalions of Maj Gen Nightingale’s and Maj Gen Howard’s Brigades under Majors Dick (42nd) and McDonnell (92nd). The light infantry battalion of the King’s German Legion under Maj Alley supported this corps.

The research above has identified 24 separate officers commanding converged light battalions in the Peninsula.  I have cross-referenced this with the information on who commanded which Brigade at which date, from the information in Appendix II of “Wellington’s Army” by Sir Charles Oman (that particular Appendix being compiled by C T Atkinson).  I then constructed a chart of Converged Light Battalion Commanders against their particular brigades for the period 1811 – 1814.  I did not cover 1808 – 1810, since I only have details of a couple of Battalion Commanders in that period.  The table is not complete, but does show conclusively the semi-permanent nature of these appointments.  If I come across any more information I will try to fill in the remaining gaps.

converged-lt-bn-comds

What is clear, just from this study so far, is that Wellington’s orders that all brigades should converge their battalion’s light companies into a temporary brigade light battalion whenever they moved or faced the enemy, was followed in practice (as one might expect any General Order issued by Wellington to be).

Although not specifically mentioned in the General Orders, I am sure that Wellington’s Brigade Commanders would have required these light battalion commanders to arrange training days for all of the light companies in their particular brigade, since it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for them to have operated effectively in action without regular prior practice.  The companies forming these converged light battalions would therefore have thought of themselves as being special, thus achieving an elite status within their brigades.

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