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.

Hungary 1848: Europe’s Biggest Unknown War

By Chris Pringle

1848 is known as the year of revolution. Yet the Hungarian War of Independence (“the ‘48”), the largest and most violent revolution of that turbulent year, is almost unknown outside its home country. This conflict involved over half a million men and lasted a whole year. It encompassed a dozen major battles, many smaller actions, and some epic sieges, but is largely ignored.

The major focus of my own interest is on European wars of the nineteenth century, and particularly the large battles of the period from the point of view of strategy, generalship and grand tactics. In attempting to learn about the Hungarian battles of 1848­-1849 it became apparent that sources in English were almost non-existent, and those that did exist were limited or flawed. Given the scale of the war, this is a huge and unfortunate gap.

Since 2015 I have been collaborating with Professor Nicholas Murray of the US Naval War College on a series of English editions of previously untranslated military histories by that giant of military theory, Carl von Clausewitz. Consequently, my German translation skills are quite well honed. In addition, for other personal projects over the years, I have learned enough rudimentary Hungarian to use sources in that language as well. In order to learn about the 1848-1849 battles in Hungary, I became very familiar with some of the main Hungarian histories as well as the Austrian ones. Having established myself as a translator by publishing Clausewitz’s history of 1796, it seemed a natural progression to build on that and on my growing knowledge of the ’48 by publishing Hungary 1848: The Winter Campaign – an English edition of the Austrian (semi-)official history of the first half of the war – to fill this void in the English-language literature. Helion was kind enough to oblige.

I was first attracted to the ’48 through a general interest in Eastern Europe and particularly in that period of warfare. I’ve always found it appealing to explore obscure and esoteric corners of history, and this one is certainly well-hidden. Once the quest was begun, it turned out to be incredibly rewarding because the campaigns are so richly complex and varied, there is a colourful cast of characters, and it offers all the fascinating episodes and drama you would expect from a war of this extent and duration. Furthermore, the battles provide some great tabletop challenges for the wargamer.

I was struck by some signal feats of generalship. On the Hungarian side, General Artúr Görgei performed astonishing feats to bamboozle and out-manoeuvre his opponents, both in attack and defence; among the mountains of Transylvania, the veteran Polish revolutionary Józef ‘Papa’ Bem conducted a campaign of lightning manoeuvre and aggressive attacks worthy of the Bonaparte of 1796. For the Austrian monarchy, Field Marshal Windisch-Grätz’s ‘McClellanesque’ caution in the Winter Campaign contrasts strongly with Haynau’s ruthlessly determined and ultimately victorious Summer Campaign.

If the original narrative history of the events of the war is not fascinating enough, I hope my editorial annotations have enhanced it further. I have added a lot of commentary on and analysis of the operations, both tactical and strategic, which I hope will help readers reflect on the commanders’ decisions and reach their own conclusions.

Biographical notes reveal which Hungarian generals then went on to fight for the Ottoman Empire in the Crimean War, or who found the Hungarian crown jewels at the end of the war, or who got beaten up by angry brewery workers when he visited England. Footnotes include little nuggets like the importance of floating ship-mills on the major rivers, or the Hapsburg salt monopoly.

I am particularly proud of the large set of maps I created for the book. Each of these includes a text panel that summarises the action they portray. The idea is that, simply by reading through the maps and following the action, the reader can get a clear picture of the shape of what was a very complex war on several fronts.

Like any major war, the Hungarian War of Independence has other dimensions than the purely military. There is international great power politics in play; there is also the intense factionalism in the Hungarian camp between the radical revolutionaries and their more conservative, constitutionally minded rivals. The tensions and personality clashes in the Hungarian hierarchy are matched among the Austrian commanders by the entertaining sight of Windisch-Grätz trying to control his subordinates, the excessively aggressive Schlik and the erratic Jellacic. At the socio-economic level, there is the friction among the different ethnic groups in the Kingdom of Hungary, showing itself at its most bitter in the Serb and Vlach (Romanian) insurrections in southern Hungary (now northern Serbia) and Transylvania. For modern military professionals, there is contemporary resonance in the asymmetric nature of the campaign as an exercise in counterinsurgency.

I therefore hope that publishing this book will help the Hungarian War of Independence to be recognised as the epic struggle it was.

Miracles in 6mm! The Hungarian army of 1848-1949 in 1/300 scale.

Figures by Baccus (mostly adapted from Baccus’s American Civil War and Risorgimento ranges); flags by Maverick Models; painting by Richard Morrill. Photos by kind permission of Richard Morrill.

Jägers, Polish Legion, scythe-armed militia, grenadiers, German Legion, Tyrolean Jägers
Assorted honvéds, including the famous 9th battalion in their red kepis.
Colourful national guards flanking former imperial line infantry in their old white tunics.
Various hussar regiments escorting the artillery, including a rocket launch stand and crew.
The high command: Görgei, Bem, Klapka, et al.

***

Hungary 1848: The Winter Campaign will soon be followed by its natural sequel, Hungary 1849: The Summer Campaign (also from Helion). Together these will provide a complete history of the war. At the time of writing this blog post, the translation is finished and the editorial annotations almost complete. The maps will be a substantial task, but the work will be delivered to Helion later this year for publication in 2022.

I am also preparing a Bloody Big BATTLES! campaign volume on the Hungarian War of Independence for publication in 2022. This will include 15 wargame scenarios for the most important battles of the war.

***

Chris Pringle’s previous three books are all Clausewitz translations:

Napoleon’s 1796 Italian Campaign

Napoleon Absent, Coalition Ascendant: The 1799 Campaign in Italy and Switzerland, Volume 1

The Coalition Crumbles, Napoleon Returns: The 1799 Campaign in Italy and Switzerland, Volume 2

He is also responsible for a popular wargames ruleset, Bloody Big BATTLES!, for refighting nineteenth-century battles.

He lives in Oxford, UK, and is an academic publisher. His time as a junior officer in the Territorial Army left him with an abiding interest in the challenge of making soldiers do things they don’t particularly want to do. A lifelong wargamer, his focus is on recreating large historical battles. He maintains the Bloody Big BATTLES Blog to report his exploits in that domain.