The History of the 52nd Regiment Of Foot (Light Infantry)
The Oxs & Bucks/The light BobsMarch:Lower Castle YardColours:
Buff & ScarletTrivia
Detailed SourcesThe 52nd Regiment Of Foot Wiki PageThe Peninsular War 1808-1814 British Battles
Lt John Gurwood of the 52nd is mentioned in the Sharpe series “Sharpe's Company “ at the Siege of Badajoz. His action of leading the forlorn hope followed by the 300 stormers led by 52nd Major George Napier at the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo is briefly mentioned.
The 52nd Regiment Of Foot were the first regular regiment to be designated “light infantry” in 1803, seeing many notable actions throughout the Peninsula Campaign and the final battle of Waterloo. Described by Sir William Napier as "a regiment never surpassed in arms since arms were first borne by men" The battles I have mentioned below are so far what I would consider to be the unheard or least spoken off battles, I will continue to add to the list, to try and cover the entire battle record and list sources to sites so others may find information about other regiments they have a interest in.
Battle of Copenhagen (1807) The Crippling of Denmark
The Battle of Copenhagen (1807)The Peninsular War
In 1807, Denmark having allied itself with France, the corps of light infantry (43rd, 52nd and 95th), led by Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, were part of a force which bombarded and captured Copenhagen and with it the entire Danish fleet. The Battle of Køge was a battle on 29 August 1807 between British troops besieging Copenhagen and Danish militia raised on Sjælland. It ended in a British victory and was also known as the 'Træskoslaget' or 'Clogs Battle', since the poorly-equipped Danish militia threw their heavy wooden clogs away when they were fleeing.
Notable actions by the 52ndBattle of Viemrio
The battle began about 9:00 a.m. when General Junot sent Charlot's and Thomière's Brigades, along with seven guns, to attack the British on the ridgeline near Vimeiro. General Anstruther wrote later that:
"The enemy came rapidly along the road, directly in front of the 50th, and when within about nine hundred yards deployed to their left, so as to bring their front parallel to ours; heavy cannonade from our guns, which caused the enemy much loss, but did not check his advance. Brigadier-General Fane sent out nearly all the 60th and some companies 95th, to skirmish with their sharpshooters; after a good deal of firing our people were driven in. Sent the light company 97th and three companies 52nd to cover their retreat; the latter made a gallant stand, but were at length driven in almost to the position, and the enemy advanced to the edge of the copse, about one hundred and fifty yards from us."
Source:The Battle of ViemrioBattle of Corunna – The Rear Guard Action
Leading up to the battle of corunna, the french cavalry pursued the British Army the length of the journey, and a Reserve Division was set up to provide rearguard protection for the British troops. The core of this Reserve, commanded by Edward Paget, consisted of the 1/52nd and 1/95th battalions, who displayed none of the ill-discipline which plagued other regiments during the retreat, but "made a stand at every defile and riverline, buying time for the rest of the army to get away." Following the secondment of the 1/52nd and 1/95th to the Reserve, Craufurd's 1st Flank Brigade was reformed, and comprised the 1/43rd, 2/52nd and 2/95th. The 1st Flank Brigade deployed with the Reserve for a time, protecting the crossing of the river Esla near Benavente, before it separated from the Reserve and the main army and marched to Vigo, with over 4,000 other troops, for eventual transportation to England. The 1/52nd remained with the main army, which was caught by the French at Corunna. During the ensuing battle, in January 1809, Moore was killed; the army, including the 1/52nd, were evacuated to England
Source:The Battle of Corunna
Source:The Battle of CorunnaBattle of the Côa – A Near Disaster
In the early hours of 24th July, after a night of torrential rain, Ney pushed forward his entire force of 24,000 men against Crauford's line. Strung out over a 3km-long front, the line was held from left to right by the 1/43rd, 3rd Caçadores, 1st Caçadores and 1/52nd with the 1/95th partly with the 1/43rd and partly dispersed along the front. Shortly after daybreak, Crauford's 5 battalions came under attack from 13 battalions of Loison's Division. No sooner had the first French attacks been checked by intense musket- and rifle fire than several hundred cavalry of the French 3rd Hussars braved the fire of the guns of Almeida and drove in the left flank of Crauford's line, practically annihilating a company of the 1/95th. With his line in danger of being rolled up from the left, Crauford ordered an immediate retreat to the bridge over the Côa.
Whereas the Caçadores were ordered to follow the guns and cavalry down the road to the bridge, the three British battalions strived to hold off the enemy while falling back from the left. The flight down the road was held up after an overturned wagon blocked the way, and not all the guns had crossed the bridge by the time the British battalions had been driven back to the river. While Crauford hurriedly deployed his guns and the Caçadores so as to cover the bridge from the slopes on the western side of the river, the British infantry guarded the approach to the bridge by occupying the rocky knoll above it.
Had Ney ended his attack at this point, he would have secured a clear victory; at little loss to themselves, the French had inflicted 300 casualties while driving the Light Division across the Côa. Instead, Ney ordered the bridge to be stormed. In the first attempt, grenadiers of the 66th surged down the knoll but, under a hail of musket- and cannon fire, failed to get further than halfway across the bridge. The second and most strongly-pressed attack was made by the Chasseurs de la Siège, an elite light infantry battalion. Oman wrote of how they "flung themselves at the bridge, and pushed on till it was absolutely blocked by the bodies of the killed and the wounded, and till they themselves had been almost literally exterminated, for out of a battalion of little more than 300 men 90 were killed and 147 wounded in less than ten minutes." The third and final attack was again made by the 66th; less determined than the two previous assaults, it was beaten off with little difficulty.
Source:Battle of the Côa
Source:Battle of the CôaBattle of Bussaco – The Revenge of Moore
The light Infantry section of the battlefield:
Loison’s division advanced up the hill with its left on the road. As it reached the crest, the 43rd and 52nd Foot of Craufurd’s Light Division rose from their positions in the sunken section of the road and poured a volley into the French column at 25 yards. The two light infantry regiments then attacked with the bayonet driving the French back down the hillside. A watching artillery officer described the fight as “carnage”.
As the 52nd Foot rose from the sunken road to attack Loison’s division, Craufurd is said to have called out “Now, 52nd! Revenge the death of Sir John Moore”. Moore had been colonel of the 52nd. The two light infantry regiments gave a terrible shout and charged driving Loison’s division down the hill in confusion.
Source:The Battle of Busaco
Source:The Battle of Busaco The Battle Of Casal Novo – Near Surrounded
The unotable small skirmishes that took place:
The combat of Casal Novo of 14 March 1811 was a rearguard action during Masséna’s retreat from Portugal that was notable for the reckless behaviour of General Erskine, the temporary commander of the British Light Division.
Having been forced out of his position at Condeixa on 13 March, Ney had taken up a new defensive position at Casal Novo. Marchand’s division had a strong position on rising ground, protected by stone walls. When Erskine’s men reached Casal Novo on the morning of 14 March the French position was hidden by fog. Erskine himself refused to believe the French were still in the village, and ordered three companies from the 52nd foot to clear away what he believed to be a thin line of French pickets. When the fog lifted it became clear that the five battalions of the Light Division were facing eleven French divisions, and a period of hard fighting followed, in which the British suffered 90 casualties.
The Light Division was saved by the arrival of the 3rd Division. When they began to move around the French left, Marchand pulled back towards Mermet’s division, two miles to the east, and the two French divisions formed up on a new line.
This time the British carried out a more skilful outflanking manoeuvre, and the French were forced to retreat with little lose. The same happened again later in the day at Chão de Lamas. After being turned out of this position Ney retreated six miles to the Eça River and joined up with the rear of the 8th Corps. This ended the fighting for the day, although the same units would clash again on the following day at Foz do Arouce in the last significant clash between the French rearguard and the British vanguard of this stage of the campaign.
The British suffered 155 casualties, nearly two thirds of them in the first combat of the day. After this Erskine began to lose Wellington’s confidence, completing that process at Sabugal on 3 April.
Source:The Battle Of Casal Novo – A Book Of Golden Deeds
Source:The Battle Of Casal Novo – First hand accounts from the 95thBattle of Sabugal – The Pursuit by Wellesley
Sequence of Events:
Beckwith’s 1st Brigade crossed the river around 10:00hrs and immediately came into fire with some French pickets who were easily driven off. However this alerted the four battalions of the 4th Leger from Merle’s 1st Division who quickly formed column of divisions on the forward slope of the hill. The skirmish line was weak and was quickly driven in by the companies of the 1/95th and 3rd Cacadores. Merle advanced down the hill and drove in Beckwith’s skirmishers but found that the density of his units were a good target for the Allied firepower and had to withdraw after considerable loss.
Beckwith followed up the withdrawal, through a small chestnut wood and onto the crest of the hill. Here, he was confronted by the remainder of Merle’s division, seven battalions of the 2nd Leger and 36th Ligne. The early morning mist had now turned into rain and much diminished the firepower on both sides but the French having a 2 :1 superiority of numbers forced Beckwith’s men back down the hill and into some stone walled enclosures. Sergeant Anthony Hamilton of the 43rd Light infantry observed:
For a time the rain ceased and after some heavy exchanges of musketry the French fell into disorder and retired back to the crest to reform.
The Brigade, went up the hill a second time in pursuit but Merle had positioned two guns which could now come into play on Beckwith’s right flank.
The situation was made worse by the re–entry of the rallied 4th Leger who began to come in on the left and two squadrons of cavalry were also approaching from the right.
Once more the allies were forced back to the shelter of the stone walls.
Fortunately for Beckwith the 2nd Brigade now made an appearance and came up to support the right flank. After a bitter struggle the French fell back in disorder and the Light Division regained the crest.
Reynier, had he known right from the beginning, the size of his adversary, would of surely sent the whole of his available force en masse a lot sooner and dispensed with each individual attack as they appeared. Instead, he waited until Merle’s infantry were almost in flight before calling up Foy’s brigade of Heudelet’s Division.
All hell broke loose again, the seven battalions of the 17th Leger and 70th Ligne joined the fight for the summit, the two French squadrons charged again upon the flank of the 52nd and a British squadron of the 16th Light Dragoons now entered into the melee.
At this moment the weather cleared again and Reynier caught sight of the two British divisions advancing from the west. The 5th Division were crossing the bridge at Sabugal and Picton’s 3rd Division were rushing in upon the flanks of the 17th and 70th.
Reynier’s position was now hopeless and he ordered a general withdrawal. The 47th Ligne and the 31st Leger were the only fresh troops that had missed out on the earlier fighting and these regiments were used to cover the retreat of the broken 2nd Corps.
A full pursuit by the allies was out of the question because of the bad weather.
Nevertheless, a squadron of the 1st KGL Hussars fell on the French transport column and captured the private baggage of Reynier and General Pierre Soult.
The following day Massena’s army marched back across the frontier to Cuidad Rodrigo and would not see another major action for a month – Fuentes de Onoro on 3 May.
“Wellesley later referred to the Light Division's action in the battle as one of the most glorious that British troops were ever engaged in.”
Source:Battle of Sabugal
Source:Battle of Sabugal