In the course of our research some questions emerged that we could not find a satisfactory answer. One of those questions, which frequently arose, was the use of the Baker rifle by the Portuguese army. In our book, based in the information available, we stated that:
“By August 1810 at least 800 Baker rifles had been distributed among the caçadores, but which units had them is unknown. It is likely that one company in each battalion was equipped with them.”
Following up this question I continued to look for sources which could give some clues. The most important was by Benjamin D’Urban, the Portuguese Quartermaster General, whose Peninsular Journal (Greenhill Books, 1988) is a very useful source on the Portuguese army. On 10 April 1810 D’Urban mentions (p. 97) that “England always liberal has sent [to Portugal for the use of the Portuguese army] 30,000 stands of arms, 2,000 Rifles, 6,000 swords and pistols.” Later in 6-7 August 1810 (p.131) he wrote:
“The Marshal [Beresford] gives them [the 3rd Caçadores Battalion] rifles to complete. The other chasseurs [Caçadores] are attached to Brigades under British officers…and will therefore improve rapidly. 200 rifles ordered also for each of the Chasseurs [Caçadores], 1st, 4th, 6th [Battalions].”
To confirm and clarify D’Urban’s statements I started researching in the Portuguese military archives (Arquivo Histórico Militar, or AHM) particularly the Lisbon’s Arsenal papers. In the Arsenal was initially stored most of the military equipment which was delivered to the different units of the Portuguese army. So, it was very probable that the rifles shipped from Britain to Lisbon were stored there.
Luckily, I found in the AHM archives a set of returns (PT AHM 1-14-162-57) from the Lisbon’s Arsenal in which they list all the equipment (uniforms, arms, etc) sent to the different units from 1808 to the end of 1812. I immediately looked to see if they distributed rifles to the Caçadores. The difficulty was that the Arsenal did not use the word Rifle, which was a British designation, but I found they furnished to some of Caçadores battalions two different types of personal weapons, contrary to the infantry regiments which received only one type.
The Arsenal used the following expressions to these items:
Espingarda com baioneta: Musket with bayonet, distributed both to the infantry and Caçadores.
Espingarda com baioneta de terçado: Musket with sword bayonet, distributed only to the Caçadores.
I safely concluded that Espingarda com baioneta de terçado was the Arsenal's designation for the Baker rifle, which had a sword bayonet.
My next step was to look to which Caçadores battalions the Espingarda com baioneta de terçado or Rifle was sent. From the returns I found that a first batch, 300 rifles, was shipped from Lisbon's Arsenal on 1 April 1810 to the port of Figueira at the mouth of the Mondego River to be delivered to the 3rd Caçadores Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Elder, an officer of the 95th Foot. As the battalion was marching to the frontier to eventually join the British Light Division, the arms probably were transported up the Mondego River.
The second shipment, 216 went to the 1st Caçadores Battalion, 384 to the 3rd Caçadores, 200 to the 4th Caçadores and 200 to the 6th Caçadores. They left Lisbon on 22 August 1810 and were also shipped to Figueira and probably followed the same route up the Mondego to reach the battalions. All this confirms D'Urban's statement of 6-7 August 1810.
With this information we can safely say that:
First, the 3rd Caçadores battalion, in the Light Division, was armed entirely with rifles from September 1810.They had 684 rifles for an establishment of 695 men and officers in six companies and staff. At the combat of the Coa River, on 24 July 1810, they had already received the first 300 rifles and at the battle of Bussaco, in the end of September 1810, they had all their men armed with rifles. They were indeed the Portuguese Rifle Men.
Second, at Bussaco, the 1st Caçadores battalion, also in the Light Division, had 216 rifles, the 4th Caçadores, in Pack's brigade, 200 rifles, the 6th Caçadores, in W. H. Campbell's brigade, another 200 rifles. The Portuguese Caçadores showed from 1, 250 to 1,300 rifles at the battle. An impressive number, a little less of half of the rifles in Wellington’s army at the battle.
I also found that the 2nd Caçadores battalion received 200 rifles in October 1810, the 5th Caçadores 41 at the beginning of 1811. Another 160 rifles were delivered to the recruits’ depot at Peniche, certainly for training purposes. No more rifles were distributed until the end of 1812. At this point around 1,700 rifles were in the hands of the Portuguese Caçadores.
Another question is the way the rifles were distributed inside each battalion. In view of what we know about the tactical use of the rifle companies in Wellington’s army it is very probable that the 200 rifles equipped two companies exclusively, in each battalion, each company having an establishment of 112 men and officers.
I was thrilled with the conclusions of this little piece of research, and I hope many of you will also. Particularly those interest in the Light Division!
For more on the Portuguese Army look for our book!