A Company of Rifles at Talavera

Arthur Bryant in his "Jackets of Green" talks about a Company of Rifles which led Wellesley's advance to Oporto. Basil Harvey, in his history of the Rifle Brigade, refers to a "Company of Rifles" (i.e. of the 95th Rifles) who were present at Talavera. Of course, while 1/95 marched as hard as it could (under Black Bob Craufurd) to get to Talavera technically the regiment was not present at either Talavera or Oporto. The "Company" would have been part of one of the Battalions of Detachments. But which Battalion, and where did they fight?

Since both 1/95 and 2/95 had been present in Portugal, it makes sense that there would have been some detached Rifles hanging around. These would have been augmented by any who were cut off during Moore's campaign and returned to Portugal. Logistics would ensure that all the Rifles were grouped together (simplifying the supply of cartridges and spare parts) but were they in the First or Second Battalion of Detachments (1/D or 2/D).

The army in Lisbon in 1809 contained only one specialist battalion of Rifles, the 5/60th, but by this time the light companies of the KGL were also armed with Baker rifles and there was apparently a company of detached 95ths in one of the Battalions of Detachments. One of the first things Wellesley did when he returned to command in Portugal in 1809 was to detach 5 companies of the 5/60th and spread them around his brigades to strengthen the skirmish line across the whole army. The way these were distributed gives an indication to which Battalion the stray rifles were assigned.

On the march to Oporto Wellington's contingent was brigaded thus [Weller: Penin] with known rifle companies highlighted in bold.

Sherbrooke's Division

HF Campbell's Guards Brigade
1/Coldstream, 1/3rd Guards, 1 Co 5/60th
Sontag's 4th Brigade
97th, 2/Detach, 2/16 (Port), 1 Co 5/60th
A Campbell's 5th Brigade
2/7th, 2/53rd, 1/10th (Port), 1 Co 5/60th

Paget's Division

R Stewart's 6th Brigade
29th, 1/Detach, 1/16 (Port)
Murray's KGL Brigade
1st, 2nd, 5th, 7th Line KGL

Hill's Division

Hill's 1st Brigade
1/3rd, 2/66th, 2/48th, 1 Co 5/60th
Cameron's 7th Brigade
2/9th, 2/82nd, 2/10th (Port), 1 Co 5/60th

The only Brigade without an obvious rifle component is Stewart's, the brigade containing 1/Detachments. Further, during the engagement at Grijon (the day before Oporto) the light company of 1/Detachments was sent to test the resolve of French defenders in a wood, and that is Rifleman's work. At Oporto R. Stewart's Brigade ended up crossing directly into Oporto after the French had begun evacuating it.

Similarly when Wellesley advanced to Talavera, the only Brigades without attached companies of 5/60th were:

In the battle itself, Mackenzie's Brigade was drawn back to form part of the reserve, while Donkin's brigade with its 5 companies of 5/60th formed the left centre of the British line, holding the southern flank of Medellin Hill, with the KGL brigades to their south on the plain. Tilson's Brigade ("sister" to Stewart's) with its 1 Co 5/60th held the centre of the hill, while Stewart's Brigade (with no obvious Rifles) was left holding the extreme left of the British line, on the north flank of Medellin Hill overlooking a broad valley. Once again the implication is that there was a strong force of skirmisher's in Stewart's brigade, and this was probably a company of 95th detachments in 1/Detachments. So Harvey's "Rifle Company at Talavera" would have formed part of the left flank of the British line.

The Sharpe Edge

In the book, Sharpe's Eagle, Sharpe and his company are part of Donkin's Brigade, next to the KGL Rifles. So Sharpe was on the opposite side of the hill to his fellow riflemen. Late in the day, the French tried a flanking attack, through the valley to the north of Medellin. This was repulsed by a British cavalry charge, the right wing of which was formed by Light Hussars of the KGL. So Lossow (had he existed) would have gone galloping past the Rifles of 1/Detachments.

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