Sahagun - 1808

Sahagun - 1808

The Fifteenth moved to quarters in Essex in the summer of 1808, and were reviewed, on the 19th of August, by the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, who commended the appearance, steadiness, and discipline of the corps.

They landed at Corunna

Meanwhile, events in the Peninsula proceeded apace, and towards the end of October eight troops of the Fifteenth (a total of 753 officers and soldiers), under Lt.Col. Colquhoun Grant, embarked at Portsmouth for Spain. They landed at Corunna in mid November, having lost 22 horses as a result of bad weather, and one transport having been captured by a French privateer (who released the plundered ship, on condition that the twenty men, under Cornet Jenkins, aboard should not serve until exchanged).

The army set out in early December, and advanced towards Marshal Soult's army on the Carrion. After a long march in violent weather, including snowstorms, the Hussars arrived in front of Mayorga, where the Head Quarters of the Army were established.

The Action At Sahagun 21st December 1808

At this point the "Historical Record of the Fifteenth or King's Hussars" takes over again:

"Three Leagues from the quarters of the Hussar Brigade, between seven and eight hundred French Dragoons were in cantonments at Sahagun, under Brigadier-General Debelle; and although the Fifteenth Hussars did not arrive in quarters until late in the evening, they received notice, with great enthusiasm, that they were to advance and engage the enemy the same night.

About two o'clock on the following morning (21st December) the Fifteenth, with Captain Thornhill and twelve soldiers of the Seventh Hussars, and Lord Paget at their head, moved along the left bank of the Cea, with the view of intercepting the retreat of the French Dragoons from Sahagun, while the Tenth Hussars, and four guns, advanced direct upon the town. the march was performed with difficulty; the weather was extremely cold, a deep snow lay on the ground, and the road was so covered with ice in many places that the men had to dismount and lead their horses. Between five and six o'clock the advance guard of the Fifteenth fell in with a French patrole, and took five prisoners, but, owing to the extreme darkness, the remainder of the patrole escaped, and galloping back to Sahagun, gave the alarm to the officers and soldiers in their quarters; the surprise of the enemy was thus prevented. The Fifteenth quickened their pace, and, approaching Sahagun a little before daylight, the French Dragoons were discovered, formed up, beyond a rugged hollow way, which was unfavourable for Cavalry, and, as the Fifteenth drew near, the enemy retired towards a bridge on their left. In numbers the French were about two to one, but British courage disregarding the inequality, Lord Paget moved the regiment, in column of divisions, at a brisk trot, parallel to the enemy's line of march, but some distance behind them. They endeavoured to cross the head of his column; when he changed direction. They then halted and formed for battle; as soon as the Fifteenth had passed the enemy's left flank, they also halted and wheeled into line.

*The images were kindly supplied by Portsmouth Napoleonic Society.

About seven hundred French horsemen stood opposed to between three and four hundred British sabres; the disparity of numbers was great, but Lord Paget had unbounded confidence in his men, and he led the regiment at speed against the opposing squadrons. Stimulated by his noble example, the Fifteenth dashed forward with resistless impetuosity. The French, who had beheld the beautiful order of the march in column, had still the firmness to stand the charge; but they were overthrown in an instant, and dispersed in every direction; pursued and overtaken, some sharp fighting took place; many of the enemy fell beneath the sabres of the King's Hussars; two Lieut.-Colonels, eleven other officers, and one hundred and fifty four private soldiers, were made prisoners; one hundred and twenty-five horses, several mules, and a quantity of baggage, fell also into the hands of the victors: the remainder of the French Dragoons escaped to Santarbas.

When this affair was over, Lord Paget expressed to the officers and soldiers his thanks for the very gallant manner in which they had conducted themselves; their superiority over the French Dragoons had been decidedly established; the loss of the Fifteenth was limited to two private soldiers and four horses killed; Lieut.-Colonel Grant, Adjutant Jones, eighteen rank and file, and ten horses wounded. The distinguished conduct of Lieut.-Colonel Grant was rewarded with a medal; Lord Paget also received a medal; the conduct of the Hussars was commended by Sir John Moore, and the regiment was subsequently honoured with the royal authority to bear on its appointments the word "SAHAGUN", to commemorate this spirited action."

Sahagun

'Twas in quarters we lay, as you quickly shall hear,

Lord Paget came to us and bade us prepare,

Saying, 'Saddle your horses-by the light of the moon,

For the French they are lying in the town of Sahagun.'

 

We saddled our horses, and away we did go

O'er rivers of ice and o'er mountains of snow,

To the town of Sahagun then our course we did steer,

'Twas the Fifteenth Hussars, who had never known fear.

 

We rode on all night till the daylight did break,

When eight of those French on a bridge we did take:

But two got away, and rode off to Sahagun,

To tell the French there that the English had come.

 

The French they turned out of the town of Sahagun,

Well mounted, well armed, full eight hundred strong:

So loud they did cry for Napoleon, their King;

With three cheers from the fifteenth the vineyards did ring.

 

They formed themselves up, and the fight it began,

They thought they could frighten the brave Englishman:

With our glittering broadswords right at them we sped,

They turned threes about, and away they all fled.

 

We soon overtook them as frightened they fled,

Cut through the brass helmets they wore on their head;

'Have mercy, have mercy! ' So loud they did cry;

'Have mercy, you English, or else we must die! ,

 

'Mid the snow in the vineyards the French they lay dead:

Three hundred were taken, the rest of them fled.

Their Colonel, likewise, he was taken in the field;

'Twas the Fifteenth Hussars made those Frenchmen to yield.

 

The Spaniards turned out of the town of Sahagun

To welcome the Fifteenth, the 'King's Light Dragoons,'

With jugs full of wine, our thirst for to quench,

Crying, 'long live the English, and down with the French!

 

Lord Paget came to us, and thus he did say:

'I thank you, Fifteenth, for your valour this day;

Dismount now your horses and feed everyone,

For the battle is over and the fight it is won.'

 

The twenty-first of December, my boys, was the day

When three hundred 'Fifteenth' made those French run away,

Although they then numbered eight hundred or more.

We'll drink and well sing now the battle is o’er.

 

Here's health to Lord Paget, so endeth our stave,

Likewise Colonel Grant, and our Officers brave;

With a full flowing bowl now "we’ll drink and we’ll sing,

'Success to the Fifteenth; and 'God Save the King.'

This song was composed by one of the men and was first sung on 21 December 18O8.

It is still sung every year when the anniversary of Sahagun Day is celebrated and on other occasions

During this action Lt.Col. Grant, whose dictum "an Hussar does not fall from his horse, he falls with it" was often directed to his men lived up to this ideal himself, having two horses shot from under him, and returning on a captured French charger. Afterwards Lord Paget wrote "...We have had an affair with the French...and it was those lucky rogues the Fifteenth, who always happen to be under my hand when there is work to be done..."

Despite the spectacular success of Sahagun, Moore found it necessary to commence a retreat, as intelligence learned of a strong force in motion towards his small army. The Infantry began their retreat behind a screen of strong Cavalry patrols, and the whole army was in motion towards the coast on the 26th December. The French rushed to catch up, but were unable to secure an advantage. On the 29th the piquets of the Tenth, along with a few orderly men of Fifteenth, repulsed a body of Imperial guards at Benevente, (one of the Fifteenth being killed in the action) the remainder of the regiment came up, but the French did not come back , and the British retreat continued.

Throughout the retreat the Fifteenth were constantly exposed to frost, snow, and rain, along with the lack of supplies, as were the whole army. The cavalry were greatly tried by the constant duties as rear guards, piquets, and patrols, and by occasional skirmishes; yet Sir John Moore was able to say in his public dispatch that "Our Cavalry is very superior in quality to any the French have, and the right spirit has been infused into them by the example and instruction of their two leaders, Lord Paget and Brigadier-General Stewart."

The Fifteenth had three horses killed covering the retreat from Bembibre on the 2nd January 1809, as well as a number of men and horses wounded. On the following day the regiment was engaged before Cacabellos in the morning, and in the evening during the fighting retreat through the town, when they lost four horses, but succeeded in killing several French Dragoons - one of whom was decapitated by a single blow from a Dragoon of the Fifteenth.

A squadron of eighty was formed with the best of the horses, to continue in the rear with the Infantry, and were engaged repeatedly during the traversing of Monte del Cebrero. The army were gathered at Lugo, but Soult declined to engage, so on the evening of 8th January the order was given to the army that bivouac fires be lit, although the army was to retreat; the piquets of the Fifteenth remained in place until the morning of the 9th.

Before the battle of Corunna, on the 14th January, the Fifteenth were in advance of the Army, and had a number of horses wounded when the French drove in the outposts. A patrol was sent out under Captain Thackwell to see if the French were extending to their left, but made no contact after five miles. Part of the piquet remained on duty until the next day, but saw no further action. In fact forty men of the Fifteenth under Lieutenant Knight were the only British cavalry who took part in the battle, acting as escort to General Sir John Moore.

The Fifteenth had succeeded in bringing 400 of their horses to Corunna, but apart from 31 for which transport could be found, and a number who were handed over to the commissariat, they were all destroyed to prevent them falling to the enemy. The Army embarked for England, and the Fifteenth landed at Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Falmouth towards the end of January 1809

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