SALAMANCA (JUNE 1812)
In 1811 the 68th went to Spain to share the fame of Wellington's army in The Peninsula,
joining the newly formed 7th Division (The 'Mongrels').
After being present at the sieges of Badajoz and Cuidad Rodrigo the battalion advanced on Salamanca in June 1812. A vicious street-fight with the French at Moriscos is described by John Green (pages 89-90) - 2 Sergeants and 4 men killed, 2 Officers and 20 men wounded.
Lt. Mackay received 22 bayonet wounds and survived!
On July 22nd 7th Division was attacked by Foy's Division from Marmont's Army. The 68th and 2nd Cacadores (Portuguese L.I.) were ordered-out to repel the French Voltigeurs and came in 'for a hot breakfast' (Private Wheeler, 51st).
So commenced the Battle of Salamanca.
Early in the afternoon the 68th were relieved by the 95th. By 4 o'clock it was back with the 1st Brigade of the 7th Division; under the command of Bernewitz, when Wellington came to the front, pulled off his hat and they advanced against then broke three French Divisions!
Darkness brought the fighting to an end. The French suffered an overwhelming defeat where their losses of killed, wounded and taken prisoner totalled 20,000, compared with British losses of slightly over 5,000.
In August the 51st and the 68th were the first Regiments to march into Madrid, to great excitement. The same night (13th) they assaulted a defended Fort, The Buen Retiro, (a Royal Palace fortified by the French).
After 2 days the French surrendered and the 68th found the abandoned clothing store, and stocked-up on new shirts, stockings and shoes; then, according to legend, in the ornamental gardens they ate the fruit off the trees and the goldfish from the Royal fountain and Lake!
VITTORIA (JUNE 1813)
The battalion took a significant part in the splendid victory of Vitroria on the 21st of June 1813, when within a few hours a French army of 70,000 men was irretrievably beaten, and Joseph Bonaparte, whom Napoleon had made King of Spain, was forced to fly in such haste, that he and his courtiers, who had come to witness the battle, left their baggage strewn on the ground, much of which had been plundered by them from the Spanish.
Many soldiers and civilians came away with a fortune from Vittoria-one can see on the picture the 14th light dragoon capturing Joseph Bonaparte’s baggage during the battle.
PYRENEES (JULY 1813)
In July 1813 the British advance continued into the Pyrenees, pushing onward and upward. Found written in the 68th Regiment 'digest' in the museum, is 'on the side of a mountain'! And the next day 'on the top of a mountain'.
On the 30th July, above Ostiz,'attacked 2 battalions of Clausel's flank guard, driving them by bayonet down into the valley'. It took over a month of constant fighting in terrible conditions to push the French back over the Pyrenees.
In November Wellington attacked the formidable position taken up by Marshal Soult on the Nivelle, and the skilful tactics of the English commander, combined with the determined bravery of our troops captured, in 24 hours, the position which the French Marshal had been three months fortifying. Col. Inglis wrote 'The 68th made the attack with its usual vivacity!'
By now though it was down to 197 men.
With the same spirit the battalion fought at Orthez. The 1st Brigade, the 68th, 82nd and C.B.s charged where the 4th Division had been stopped earlier and carried the position.
One Brigade of approximately 1000 men had defeated a whole French Division.
Orthes was the last action of the 68th in the Peninsular War, since while at the capture of Bordeaux the abdication of Napoleon brought an end to the Peninsular War for the 68th.
In three years the 68th, (a single Battalion Regiment) lost 9 Officers and 100 killed: 3 Officers and approximately 350 men died of disease, 23 Officers and 266 men wounded, disabled.
Forty years now intervened during which the regiment was not engaged on active service with an enemy, but in various quarters of the globe it took its turn of duty in guarding the safety of British colonies and possessions.
The battle Honours can be seen on the Regimental Flag:
- "Peninsular" (its first) granted in April 1815.
- "Salamanca" granted in April 1815.
- "Vitoria" granted in April 1815.
- "Pyrénées" granted in April 1815.
- "Nivelle" was added in June 1823.
- "Orthez" was added in June 1823.