As some of you probably know, Robert Burnham and I have recently published a book on the Peninsular War ‘s Portuguese army, In the Words of Wellington’s Fighting Cocks.
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!
Interesting stuff Mark, suggests that, like many things with regard to the Peninsular, there will be no convenient fixed rules.
Regarding the distribution of Baker rifles within the Caçadores battalions, there is an interesting reference to this in the memoirs of John Dobbs (Recollections of an old 52nd Man, p51).
"On the 1st September , Lord Beresford having placed a company of the 5th Portuguese Caçadores in Bradford's Brigade at Colonel Colburn's disposal, he gave me the appointment, and I proceeded at once to St. Sebastian to take command of it.
The company consisted of 120 men; one half were armed with rifles, the other with muskets and bayonets. On my arrival I found it under the fire of the castle, which still held out, but finally surrendered on the 3rd September."
Thanks Ian! And thank you for calling my attention to the LLL. I went looking for more information and Rene Chartrand in his Osprey's "Oldest Allies - Alcantara 1809" states, according with documents from the WO and FO, that 120 rifles, among muskets and other materials, were shipped from Britain to the LLL in August 1808. As this shipment was most likely sent to Oporto were the Legion was in the process of organization, did not go through the Lisbon Arsenal.
It is reasonable that many of these 120 rifles were inherited by the 7th and the 8th Caçadores, the LLL successors. If you come across again with that snippet please let me know.
Any way, my research is by no means definitive. The Arsenal documents list the materials delivered until the end of 1812 and are very detailed but not bullet proof. D'Urban mentions 2000 rifles promised, if all arrived to Portugal about 300 are yet unaccounted. I will keep looking to this!
An excellent piece of new research Moises, thank you - and thanks to Hans for sharing Michael Tanzer's work as well. Superb detail in both.
Moises - you mention that the 2nd bn LLL having no rifles at the time of their conversion to cacadores, but do you have any thoughts about the weaponry of the 1st bn? I'm sure that I have read somewhere that this battalion had a number of rifles in 1811 (the figure of 200 comes to mind, though I may be mistaken). I can't place the source of that snippet of information just now, and to look for it would lose the moment, but would this make any sense to you?
I think that your book could make an appearence on my Christmas present wish list!
A great bit of research, I'll need to edit a paper I'm writing and cite this! Certainly having rifle only companies would make sense from the point of view of how riflemen were often used, and also logistically. That was the case with the Brunswickers with their single rifle company. The KGL Light Battalions were the other major mixed unit, and looking at their inspection returns about 2/3 were armed with rifles so it's difficult to know how they were distributed.
I'm really looking forward to reading your book.
You are welcomed. More information on this subject and others related with the Portuguese army in the book In the Words of Wellington’s Fighting Cocks.
Thanks for that, very interesting. The removal of the atiradores is particularly good to know, as is the rifles information.
Very interesting stuff Moises, thank you for sharing. My particular interest is the Cacadores N.8 in 1812. I always assumed that only their Atiradores were rifle armed, but studiously avoided the whole issue when writing Wellington at Bay. What does your research tell you about rifles in this battalion?
Caçadores Portugueses na Guerra Peninsular