1813 - The progress of military organization in Portugaland Spain, with the arrival of reinforcements from England, enabled the British commander to take the field in May 1813, with a formidable army. He drove the French from Salamanca, turned their positions on the Douro, and forced them back in disorder upon Burgos, when they destroyed the castle and retreated to the Ebro, the passage of which river they were prepared to defend; but he turned their position by a flank march, and obliged them to fall back upon Vittoria, where they forned for battle. The 6th division was left behind at Melina de Pomar, to cover the march of the magazines, and the Sixty-First were thus prevented sharing in the victory at Vittoria on the 21st of June. They were sufficiently near to hear the firing, and arrived at the field of battle on the following day, to take charge of the captured artillery and stores.
The regiment was subsequently employed in attempting to intercept the French division under General Clausel, and when this force had escaped to France, the regiment proceeded to Pampeluna, to take part in the blockade of that fortress, from which duty it was relieved by a Spanish corps, on the 14th of July, and advanced into the Pyrenean Mountains to San Estevan, situated in a beautiful valley, where it halted. Thus, after marching nearly 600 miles in 7 weeks, passing 6 great rivers, gaining one decisive battle, and investing the 2 fortresses of Pampeluna and San Sebastian, the allied army stood triumphant on the lofty Pyrenees, and the officers and soldiers panted for the opportunities to acquire additional honors.
The French army having been reinforced, and reorganized, advanced under Marshall Soult, and attacked the British posts in the mountains, when the allied army fell back to a position in front of Pampeluna. The 6th division, to which the Sixty-First continued to belong, quitted San Estevan to support the troops first attacked; but when advancing, Lord Wellington rode up to the divisions, and ordered it to halt for the night. It afterwards retired through the mountain passes, and bivouacked, during the night of the 27th of July, in a pine-wood. At daybreak on the following morning it resumed its march, and joining the army in position in the mountains, formed for battle across the valley in the rear of the left of the 4th division, its right on the village of Oricain, and its left on some heights.
Soon after the regient had taken its post, columns of attack were seen in motion to commence the battle of the Pyrenees, where the Sixty-First had another opportunity of distinguishing themselves. A body of French troops moved along the valley of Lanz towards the mountain at its extremity, and the Sixty-First with two other British corps, were ordered to move at a running pace and occupy the mountain. The Sixty-First hastened up the hill on one saide, as the French skirmishers ascended on the other; but as the British gained the summit first, and opened their fire with terrible effect. The French were encompassed in the valley; 2 brigades smote them from the left, the Portuguese smote them back with a terrible carnage. The enemy retreated behind the village of Sauroren. The Sixty-First, and 2 other regiments, advanced to a post near the village, and the fire of small-arms was kept up until dark.
No serious fighting occured on the 29th of July; but on the morning of the 30th the British batteries opened from the heights, and a cloud of skirmishers advanced against Sauroren. The firing at this point afterwards subsided; but was eventually renewed, and the Sixty-First had the honor to participate in storming the village and heights of Sauroren, and in forcing the French from a position, which, from its natural strength and advantage, appeared almost impregnable. The pursuit was continued until night, and many prisoners were taken.
The regiment had 70 men killed and wounded; Captains Charleton and McLean, Lieutenants Wolfe and O'Kearney, and Volunteer Leedbody, were wounded. Lieut-Colonel Coghlan received a gold medal; and the word 'PYRENEES' was placed upon the colours of the regiment, as a mark of royal approbation of its gallant conduct.
Continuing the pursuit of the enemy to the extremity of the Pyrenees, the regiment ascended the summit of one of the highest mountains on the 2nd of August, and as the soldiers beheld the beautiful plains of France, which Napoleon had often declared to be inviolable, spread in rich landscape scenery before them, they experienced emotions of exultation in the anticipation of future conquests. In the afternoon the regiment encamped on a piece of high ground, surrounded by inaccessible rocks, the only entrance to which was through a chasm; a beautiful stream ran along the hollow below, with a cannon foundry on it banks. Two days afterwards it marched to the vale of Los Alduides: and afterwards penetrated France some distance; but withdrew towards Maya, and relieved the 2nd division on the heights commanding the pass of Maya, where the soldiers threw up breastworks. The prospect from these heights was particularly interesting: on the left was seen the sea, and the fortress of Bayonne; on the right the thickly wooded plains of Gascony, interspersed with towns and villages; in front was the French army; and in the rear of the right and left, the lofty Pyrenees crowned with the tents of the British army.
On the 1st of September the division drove the enemy from two heights in its front; and on the 9th of October, it again attacked the French, to favour the operations of the British troops which had passed the Bidassoa. Three companies of the Sixty-First were engaged on this occasion. Invigorated by the mountain air, and impatient to win the fair plains of France before them, the soldiers received with joyful anticipations the orders to advance, and attack the enemy's positions on the Nivelle. The Sixty-First descended from the mountains by moonlight on the night of the 9th of November, and lay concealed near the enemy's picquets until the following morning. The day broke with great splendour, and as the first rays of light gilded the summits of the mountains, three guns gave the signal for the attack, and the French beheld with astonishment the allied army rise from its concealment, and rush to battle with an impetuosity they were not prepared to withstand. The Sixty-First passed the Nivelle river, and marched through rugged country towards the bridge of Amotz, to attack the works at that place; the skirmishers of the regiment were in front under Lieutenant Harris. Advancing up a difficult ascent, covered with bushes, under a sharp fire, the regiment drove a body of French troops from a semicircular breatswork; several officers of the regiment outran the men, who had knapsacks to carry, and first jumped into the works: - Captain William Henry Furnace, who had repeatedly distinguished himself, fell a sacrifice to his gallantry; and Lieutenant Christopher Kellet was killed about the same time. The regiment pressed resolutely forward to storm a redoubt at the top of the hill; its commading officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Coghlan, received a shot through the cap, which grazed the top of his head, - several officers and men fell, but the regiment continued its rapid advance, and Lieutenant Harris jumped across the ditch at the redoubt, when the French feld in dismay, and many of them were intercepted in the rear of the redoubt. Lieutenant-General Sir Rowland Hill came up to the regiment, and thanked the officers and soldiers repeatedly for the very gallant manner in which they had ascended under the enemy's fire. A second redoubt was captured at this part of the enemy's line, and afterwards a third. The Sixty-First penetrated the enemy's camp, which had been abandoned and set on fire. The light company of the regiment was detached on this occasion, and distinguished itself. A decisive victory was gained, and the British army established itself in the French territory. Captains James Horton, Marcus Annesley, and Hugh Eccles, Lieutenants Robert Belton, and Archer Toole, were all severly wounded.
Lieutenant-Colonel Coghlan received the honorary distinction; Major Oke was promoted to the rank of Lieut-Colonel; and the gallantry displayed by the regiment on this occasion, was rewarded with the word 'NIVELLE' on its colours.
After this success, the regiment occupied quarters at Ustaritz, which was found an agreeable change; the bleak summits of the mountains, on which it had been long stationed, having become extremely cold. The moral and physical energies of the men were in full power, and nothing could have withstood their conquering progress had the weather been favourable.
Early in December a forward movement was ordered; and on the morning of the 9th of that month a beacon lighted on the heights above Cambo gave the signal for the attack, when the passage of the river Nive was forced, and the enemy driven back towards Bayonne. The 6th division passed the river on floating bridges. The advanced-guard (in which was the light company of the Sixty-First , formed in a light battalion under Captain Greene, of the regiment) evinced great gallantry, and surprised the first French picquet, which fled in dismay. Some sharp fighting occurred; Captain Greene was wounded, and Captain Charleton was sent from the regiment to take command of the light battalion. The swampy nature of the country retarded the advance of the division, and gave time for the French troops to effect their retreat towards Bayonne. The enemy advanced and attacked the British troops on the three following days, but were repulsed.
At the passage of the 'NIVE' the regiment
earned another honorary inscription for its colours; and Captain
Greene received a medal. Its loss was limited to Captains
Greene and Charelton wounded, and a few private soldiers
killed and wounded.