Regimental History Section
Grognards, soldaten, old and new campaigners: welcome to this issue's Regimental History Section! Our offer of last issue still stands - to all and sundry wishing to research and submit a short written piece, be it a regimental unit history or a biography - a glass (or more) of good cheer await you at Rhine Tavern, in addition to (possibly) even greater accolades....
A Regimental History - The 7th Legere Infantry Regiment
The origins of the Napoleonic Infanterie Legere lie with the armies of revolutionary France. Under the Directory, there were 30 "legere" and 110 "ligne" demi-brigades; Napoleon reorganized these into 90 ligne and 27 legere regiments. Composed of small, hardy soldiers who were also excellent marksmen, the legere regiments built a tradition of élan and aggressiveness which made them perfect in the role of skirmishers and in the taking and holding of vital points like villages and woods.
Although the 7eme Legere was not present at Marengo (1800) or Austerlitz (1805), two battalions (1,800 men) of the regiment were engaged at the Battle of Jena (1806) as part of Heudelet's division, VII Corps d'Armee, commanded by Marechal Augereau. Following the defeat of Prussia, the 7eme Legere marched into Poland with Augereau's corps and confronted the Russians at the action of Golymin on 26 December 1806.
At Eylau on the morning of 8 February 1807, 1,600 men of the 7eme Legere advanced through a snowstorm with the rest of VII Corps d'Armee to the support of St. Hilaire's division on the French right. Blinded by the snow, the relief column veered to its left and came up against a 70-gun battery in the center of the Russian position. At bout this same time, the men were also mistaken for the enemy by French cannoneers. Beset by cannonading from front and rear, and attacked by Russian infantry on one flank and cavalry on the other, "almost every regiment in the advance was broken [and] fled in the wildest confusion". In a very short time, the VII Corps d'Armee was almost wiped out. However, the 7eme Legere was one of the few units to retain its formation and withdraw in good order from this fiasco.
After Eylau, the units of the VII Corps d'Armee were assigned to other formations and the corps was disbanded. The 7eme Legere was assigned to 3eme Division (Gudin), 1ere Brigade (Petit) of Marechal Davout's III Corps d'Armee. Together with the 12eme and 21eme Ligne regiments, the 7eme was to become a useful member of Petit's brigade.
The opening stage of the 1809 Campaign on the Danube found Davout's 30,000 French troops nearly cut off in Ratisbon by 80,000 Austrians. As part of a delaying force of light infantry and cavalry commanded by Montbrun, a battalion of the 2,600-strong 7eme Legere distinguished itself on 19 April at Teugn-Hausen (Thann) while the rest of the regiment (two battalions) participated in defeating the Austrians on 22 April at Eckmuehl. The 7eme Legere and Davout's corps missed the battles of Aspern-Essling, but 2,384 men of the 7eme participated as part of Gudin's division at the victory over the Austrians at Wagram (6 July 1809).
The 7eme Legere marched into Russia as part of 3eme Division (Gerard), I Corps d'Armee (Davout). At Borodino on 7 September 1812, 5 battalions of the regiment confronted the Great Redoubt under Gerard's personal control. Marching out of Russia, a survivor of the 7eme Legere observed his comrades gathering around "our Eagle, the staff of which had only a rag of cloth...and despite having had one of its wings carried off by a bullet at Eylau, soared above these disasters like a holy rallying sign".
The battle honors of the 7eme Legere Regiment included Jena, Eylau, Eckmuehl and Wagram (and Borodino?).
THE 44TH FOOT (THE EAST ESSEX REGIMENT)
DURING THE NAPOLEONIC WARS
The 44th Foot was originally formed in 1739 from a battalion of Marines, but was disbanded at the end of the war with Spain. In 1741, seven Line infantry regiments were formed. The unit, originally numbered the 55th, was renumbered the 44th in 1748 and thus began a long and illustrious unit history which continues to the present day. The 44th Regiment was named the "East Essex" regiment in 1782.
A long tour of duty in North America saw the 44th heavily involved in the American War of Independence. In 1801-02 the regiment served in Egypt, and a second battalion was formed in 1803. From 1809 to 1812 the 44th served in Sicily, the Ionian Islands and Spain. It was during this period that the regiment's involvement in the Napoleonic Wars began in earnest.
The 44th was a part of General Abercromby's 1808 expeditionary force in Egypt. The regiment saw action at Cairo and the siege of Alexandria, earning the titles "Sphinx" and "Egypt". As recognition of their victories, the Sultan awarded gold medals to the regiment's officers. The unit's rank and file had paid dearly for these successes: the flank companies could produce only two sergeants still on their feet at the campaign's conclusion.
20 March 1810 was a fateful day for the "East Essexers", for this was the day the 2nd Battalion embarked for Cadiz, Spain. Disembarking on 4 April, the unit remained at Cadiz until sailing for Portugal. Landing there on 4 October, the battalion became embroiled in the long and bloody series of struggles comprising the Peninsular War. Lieutenant Colonel Charles Buckeley marched the battalion to the fortified Lines of Torres Verdes in December, where it joined the main British army commanded by the Duke of Wellington.
Only the light company of the 2/44th was engaged at the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro on 3-5 May 1811, and the battalion was not involved in the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo in January of 1812. But on 6 April, as part of the 5th Division the 44th stormed the walls of the San Vinciente bastion of Badajoz and planted its colors at the top of the wall. Casualties were heavy: 39 killed and 88 wounded. The light company was especially hit hard, losing 36 out of 56 men in the attack.
On 22 July 1812 the 44th was engaged at Salamanca, capturing the eagle of the French 62nd Line Regiment while suffering 29 casualties. Entering Madrid in August, the regiment was marched northward to Burgos where it was involved in the costly series of failures to take the city. During the retreat from Burgos, on 25 October the 44th was engaged at Villa Muriel where it suffered the loss of three more of its officers. The battalion's total field strength had by this time fallen to 42 men. A reinforcement of 40 men brought the unit's paper strength to 455, but of these only 130 were fit for duty. Four companies were formed from these men and stayed on in Portugal while the remnants of six companies returned to England to rest and refit.
Reunited in England on 13 July 1813, the 44th took part in the campaign in Holland against Bergen-op-Zoom, and afterward remained at Ostend on the Channel coast until news of Napoleon's escape from Elba arrived in April 1815. For the Waterloo campaign, the 2/44th was assigned to 9th British Infantry Brigade commanded by Sir Dennis Pack. The battalion saw heavy action at Quatre Bras, where a French lancer nearly captured the regimental color. Only the bravery of Ensign Christie, who had been speared through the eye and jaw by the lance but was able to shoot the French rider, saved the flag from capture. The regiment suffered 165 casualties during the campaign, 70 of whom were officers. Reduced to one third of its original strength after the Battle of Waterloo, the 44th nevertheless took part in the ensuing march to Paris. For its conduct during the campaign, the 44th added "Waterloo" to its many battle honors.
For a more detailed history of this regiment with pictures and such go to Rob Jarvis' fine site at
Additional information can be found in the following books:
Wellington's Regiments(chapter - 44th (East Essex) Foot, p159); and
The British Army and Auxiliary Forces (chapter - The Essex Regiment, p86).