The History of a Salamanca Myth

By Garry Wills

Our recent From Reason to Revolution title Glory is Fleeting contains a variety of studies of aspects of the Napoleonic Wars. In his chapter on the Maucune’s division at the Battle of Salamanca, Garry Wills addresses, amongst other things, the question of the various trophies captured by the allies in the battle. Here, he takes a look at the story of the eagle of the 22e Ligne and the vexed question of who actually captured it.

The Lancashire Infantry Museum in Fulwood Barracks, Preston, proudly displays the eagle of the 22e Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne. Alongside the eagle the museum states that it was captured by Ensign John Pratt of the 2nd Battalion 30th Foot, one of the antecedents of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.[1] Unfortunately the eagle of the 22e Ligne was not taken by Ensign Pratt, 2/30th Foot, but by a different regiment altogether, so how was this ‘myth’ created over the last 208 years?

The Battle of Salamanca was fought on 22 July 1812 and the captured trophies were brought to England by Captain Lord Clinton. In August 1812 Orme published a drawing of the trophies which clearly shows the two eagles, those of the 22e Ligne and the 62e Ligne, neither eagle is shown with its flag and while the eagle of 22e Ligne is marked with its number that of the 62e Ligne is not.[2] In his dispatch to Earl Bathurst, Wellington mentions the eagles but not their captors.[3]

Major General Pringle’s correspondence, written in the days immediately following the battle, makes it clear that the light companies of his second brigade of Leith’s 5th Division, including Ensign John Pratt, captured the eagle bearer party of the 62e Ligne.[4]

In October 1816, while in Gibraltar, Colonel Chichester William Crookshank wrote his statement of service, which included his service at Salamanca, commanding Caçadores N.12, in Pakenham’s 3rd Division, and the capture of the eagle of the 22e Ligne by that battalion.[5] As early as 1821, this was in the public domain via the Royal Military Calendar.[6]

In 1829 John Pratt, now a Major in the 27th Foot, recorded his statement of service, which, while describing his service at Salamanca, makes no mention of capturing any trophies let alone a coveted French Eagle.[7]

Napier published volume five of his history in 1836 but made no mention of the capture of the eagles at Salamanca.[8]

In 1844 a letter from John Garland, adjutant of the 2/30th at Salamanca, named Pratt as one of two officers who took eagles to headquarters from Leith’s 5th Division.[9]

In 1864, the history of the 44th Foot was published and included the following account, based on discussions with Pearce:

The eagle, which was that of the 62nd Regiment of the line, was taken by Lieutenant W. Pearce 44th Regiment, and the two standards by Lieut.-Francis Maguire, 4th, and Ensign John Pratt, 30th Regiment. The French were called on to lay down their arms, about which there was some demur; but on the cavalry returning to the charge they gladly did so, craving protection. Ensign Standley was killed carrying one of the colours of the 44th.

The French officer who carried the eagle had just wrenched it from the pole, and when Lieutenant Pearce first saw it, he was endeavouring to conceal it under the grey great-coat, which he wore over his uniform; Private (afterwards Sergeant) Finley aided in the capture, and the French officer making resistance, was assisted by one of his men, who attacking Lieutenant Pearce with his fixed bayonet, was shot dead by Private Bill Murray, of the 44th light company. Privates Blackburn and Devine, of the same company, had also a hand in this affair, and Lieutenant Pearce divided twenty dollars—all the money he had with him—amongst the four, for their gallant exertions. Soon after the capture of the eagle a heavy column of French infantry came in sight, although at a considerable distance; the eagle was at once placed on a sergeant’s halbert, the men giving three cheers. This trophy was kept for the night with the regimental quarter guard, and Lieut.-Colonel Hardinge sent to Major-General Pringle on the following morning, to know what was to be done with the eagle. ‘Send it to the man who took it,’ was the reply: and Lieutenant Pearce carried it on the march the next day and night, and delivered it the following day, the first time a halt was made, at head-quarters, at a village from which Lord Wellington wrote his despatch about the battle.[10]

In the footnotes further details were included;

In order to mark its identity, Lieutenant Pearce scratched his name on the pedestal with a nail. Some years after, he went to see the eagles which had been removed from Whitehall Chapel to Chelsea College. Lieut.-Colonel Le Blanc, then Major of the Hospital, told him there was one that could not be accounted for, which he recognised as that captured by himself at Salamanca. Since the period of this visit it has been ascertained that one was missing, and it is considered it must be the eagle in question. Captain Ford, Captain of Invalids, Chelsea Hospital, in a paper published in. ‘Colburn’s United Service Journal’ for April 1844, states that the two eagles taken at Salamanca were then in the Chapel of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea.[11]

Thus, the eagle was captured without its pole, but it is shown in Orme’s drawing mounted on a pole, which was presumably one of those recovered from the battlefield without eagles, as described by ‘one of Colonel Greville’s brigade’ in 1844.[12]

The history of the 30th Foot was published in 1887, but despite describing Salamanca over two pages, it made no mention of the regiment capturing an eagle.[13]

In 1912 Edward Fraser published The War Drama of the Eagles, in which he repeats Pearce’s description of the capture of the eagle of the 62e Ligne with some differences in detail. The biggest of these details is his description of the capture of the eagle of the 22e Ligne, ‘it was captured by a British officer of the 30th, Ensign Pratt, attached for duty to Major Cruikshank’s [sic] 7th Portuguese a light infantry (or Caçadores) battalion, serving with the Third Division.[14] This account contains several errors and is contradicted by the history of the 44th Foot. Ensign Pratt was never attached to any Portuguese unit, as evidenced by his own statement of service and Challis’s Peninsular Roll Call.[15]

In 1914, Oman published his history in which he stated ‘The 5th Division swept in some 1,500 prisoners from them, as also the eagle of the 22nd Line, which the heavy brigade had broken in their last effort, while five guns were taken by the 4th Dragoons’.[16]

In 1923 Neil Bannatyne published his updated and expanded History of the Thirtieth Regiment, now the First Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, 1689-1881. In his account, Bannatyne describes Pearce taking the eagle of the 62e Ligne but has Pratt and Maguire taking fanions of two other battalions of that regiment rather than the banderoles of the 2e and 3e Porte-aigles as shown by Orme.[17]

On 10 September 1947, the Burnley Express and News reported, next to the cricket scores, that the eagle of the 22e Ligne was to be handed over by the Royal Hospital, Chelsea to the East Lancashire Regiment on 28 September 1947. The eagle was to be kept in the Regimental Museum within the Towneley Hall Museum, in Burnley. On 4 October 1947, The Sphere published a report on the handover ceremony complete with photographs.

From The Sphere, 4 October 1947. The original caption reads: ‘The Chelsea Pensioners parade with the colours and battle trophies; the veterans lined up before handing the standards and guidons to the Governor of the Royal Hospital, who, in turn, placed them in the keeping of representatives of the ten regiments concerned’

Conclusions

This survey of the literature regarding the capture of the eagle of 22e Ligne, is remarkable in that neither history of the 30th Foot made any claim for the capture of the eagle by Ensign John Pratt, who himself appears never to have claimed it. The ‘myth’ appears to rest on Edward Fraser’s erroneous interpretation of John Garland’s letter, Crookshank’s statement of service and Leith Hay’s ‘Major Birmingham’, although none of these sources are in Fraser’s ‘authorities consulted’.[18]

Having been captured by men of Caçadores N.12, the eagle of the 22e Ligne should be more appropriately displayed in the Museu Militar de Lisboa.

You can order Glory is Fleeting: New Scholarship on the Napoleonic Wars from the Helion and Company website: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/glory-is-fleeting-new-scholarship-on-the-napoleonic-wars.php


[1] Museum website, available at;<http://www.lancashireinfantrymuseum.org.uk/the-salamanca-eagle/&gt;, accessed 24 October 2020.

[2] The Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 750679, Battle of Salamanca: trophies taken from French. 22 July 1812.

[3] J. Gurwood, The Dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington (London: John Murray, 1852), Vol.V, p.756.

[4] University of Manchester Library (UML), GB 133 Eng MSS 1273: Correspondence of Sir William Henry Pringle.

[5] Arquivo Municipal de Mafra (AMM), PT/AMM/CFLLTV/TT-MNE/091.

[6] J. Philippart, The Royal Military Calendar (London: T.Egerton 1821), Vol.III, p.335.

[7] The National Archives, Kew (TNA), WO25/790/93, John Pratt’s 1829 Statement of service.

[8] W.F.B. Napier, History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France from the year 1807 to 1814 (London: Constable, 1993), Vol.V, pp.168–180.

[9] Naval & Military Gazette and Weekly Chronicle of the United Service, 22 June 1844.

[10] Thomas Carter, Historical Record of the Forty Fourth or the East Essex Regiment of Foot (London: W.O. Mitchell, 1864), pp.78–80.

[11] Carter, Forty Fourth Foot, pp.78–9.

[12] Naval & Military Gazette and Weekly Chronicle of the United Service, 25 May 1844.

[13] Anon., Historical Records of XXX Regiment (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1887), pp.96–98.

[14] Edward Fraser, The War Drama of the Eagles (New York: Dutton and Co., 1912), p.254; however the Historical Record of the 44th Foot is not amongst the ‘authorities consulted’.

[15] TNA, WO25/790/93, John Pratt’s 1829 Statement of service.

[16] Charles Oman, History of the Peninsular War (London: Greenhill, 1996) Vol.V, p.453.

[17] N. Bannatyne, History of the Thirtieth Regiment, now the First Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, 1689-1881 (Liverpool: Littlebury, 1923), p.279.

[18] Edward Fraser, The War Drama of the Eagles (New York: Dutton and Co., 1912), p.xv.

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