Saturday, June 9, 2012

Portuguese 6th Line Infantry

(Originally posted on the Home Page April 3rd, 2012)
For the past few months the excellent Napoleonic forum 'La Bricole' has been hosting a painting competition focusing on 'bog average' troops. You know these lads, these are the dust-pounders, the beetle-crushers, the poor dog-faces that make up the vast majority of any army. So members of the forum have been busy producing a fine assortment of units ranging from Austrian Landwehr, French Chasseurs a Cheval, to Prussian Musketeers and Bavarian Chevauleger (just to name a few).

So, after a little consideration I decided to get back to work on my Peninsular War collection by digging-up enough castings to do a largeish unit of Portuguese line infantry.

These are 28mm Victrix metal castings sculpted by the talented Paul Hicks. Great sculpts overall, with very good proportions and animation (though it must be said that their bayonets do have a tendency to be a bit thin and fragile). The regimental colours are by 'Flag Dude'. Sharp-eyed visitors will have noticed that I submitted a smaller version of this unit as part of my final entry to the Painting Challenge but it has since increased in size with fresh recruits.

This unit depicts the 6th Regiment of the Line which was composed of recruits from the northern region of Portugal, around Porto. This regiment was part of W.H. Campbell's 5th Portuguese Brigade who's units were all made up of men from the same area and saw hard campaigning from Busaco to Vittoria.

Some may ask to what reason a Portuguese brigade was commanded by a Scot? Good question: In 1809 the Portuguese government, finding itself facing dissolution and possible annexation by the French, was determined that their army should be reconstituted, with British assistance, to enable it to better defend its sovereign rights. As part of this arrangement Great Britain appointed General William Carr Beresford to reorganize, train and re-equip the Portuguese army along British lines.  A part of this reorganization resulted in several Portuguese regiments and brigades being led by British officers who were seconded from Wellington's army. The attraction to this for those British officers was that it allowed them to get a 'leg up' in rank without the heavy financial burden normally required to purchase their equivalent promotion in rank with the British army. 

The results of this close cooperation was a highly trained, extremely motivated Portuguese army that became an integral, if not indispensable, part of British military efforts in the Peninsula. In fact, by the last years of the war Portuguese units made up between one third and one half of the 'British' army that fought in Spain. They earned a reputation as tenacious fighters and uncomplaining campaigners, with their qualities best described in Wellington's famous comment that they were 'the fighting cocks of the army' which is no small accolade considering how typically reserved the Duke was to giving compliments!