The exceptional Field Officer’s Gold Medal for Vittoria and Peninsular War Service 1815 Companion of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath group awarded to Lieutenant Colonel Charles Cother, 1st Battalion, 71st Highland Regiment of Foot, later 83rd County of Dublin Regiment of Foot. Cother commanded a company that covered Sir David Baird’s landing at the Cape of Good Hope, and fought at the Battle of Blaauwberg otherwise known as the Battle of Cape Town in January 1806 in the conquest of the Batavian Republic, at that time a French Vassal. Whilst stationed there he briefly served afloat as a temporary marine at the capture of the French frigate La Volontaire in March 1806. Later that same year during the First Expedition to the River Plate, was was present at the capture of Buenos Aires in June 1806, but later surrendered with the remainder of Beresford’s force in August 1806, when defeated by the French mercenary, Liniers-Brémond, a French officer in the service of Spain. Marched 1000 miles into the interior of what is now Argentina, he was released from captivity in September 1807.
Having landed in the Peninsular he saw service in Portugal and Spain during 1808 to 1809 when in command of the light companies of General Ferguson’s Brigade under Wellington and later Sir John Moore, being present at the battles of Roliea, Vimiera and after the bitter winter retreat, at Corunna. Having returned to the war in July 1811 as a Major, he fought in the brilliant action at Arroyo-del-Molinos in October 1811, but then distinguished himself on 19th May 1812 with the forces under Sir Rowland Hill, when he commanded the column of the 71st in the attack at Almaraz and the capture of Fort Napoleon and other works, receiving promotion to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel, a Mention in Brigade Orders, and subsequently a ‘handsome sword’ by the citizens of Gloucester “as testimony of their high opinion of his heroic conduct at the storming and taking of Fort Napoleon, on the Tagus, on the 19th May, 1812.”. This is now housed in the collection of the British Museum.
It was at the Battle of Vittoria on 21st June 1813 when the 71st Foot were ordered to ascend the heights of La Puebla, to support the Spanish forces under General Morillo, that they accordingly advanced in open column, and having formed line, were immediately hotly engaged with the enemy, and upon this occasion suffered an irreparable loss in the fall of their Commanding Officer, Cadogan, who fell mortally wounded while leading his men to the charge. Command had now devolved to Cother, and the 71st continued advancing, and driving the enemy from the heights, until the force which was opposed to them became so unequal, and the loss of the battalion so severe, that it was obliged to retire upon the remainder of the brigade. The battle was a most hard fought and desperate encounter, in the course of which the 71st were surrounded, but was able to retire owing to the most timely arrival of the 50th Foot, but for which it is doubtful if a single man of the regiment would have escaped. ‘In the course of the battle, Cother was wounded by a musket ball, and in addition, received three balls through his clothes, and one in his saddle.’
He was awarded the Field Officer’s Gold Medal for Vittoria, and later in December 1815 was appointed a Companion of the Military Division of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath in respect of his services. As Garrison Commander of the City of Glasgow, he was made a Freeman of that city in 1815, and having then gone back to the Cape of Good Hope in 1816, he went on to command the 83rd Foot in Ceylon for 11 years, between 1817 and 1828 during which period he commanded the Eastern Provinces in the Kandian country during the Third Kandyan War of 1817-1818.
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Companion, C.B., Military Division, 22 carat gold and enamels, jewellers initials ‘I.N’ for John Northam of London, and date letter ’U’ for 1815, complete with original gold wide suspension and three pronged gold ribbon brooch buckle; Field Officer’s Small Gold Medal for Vittoria; (LIEUT. COLONEL CH. COTHER), complete with original three pronged gold ribbon buckle; Military General Service Medal 1793-1814, 3 Clasps: Roleia, Vimiera, Corunna; (CHAS. COTHER, CAPT. 71ST. FOOT)
Condition: Nearly Extremely Fine.
Together with the recipient’s Westminster Abbey Stall Plate for a Companion of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, this engraved: ‘Charles Cother Esquire, Lieutenant Colonel of the 71st. (Highland) Regiment of Foot Companion of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath Nominated 8th. December 1815.’
Charles Cother was born according to one source in Gloucester, Gloucestershire in 1777, whilst another source states that he was born in Painswick, Gloucestershire on 17th August 1779. Gazetted as an Ensign into the 71st Highland Regiment of Foot on 16th January 1800, he was promoted to Lieutenant by purchase on 16th July 1800, and to Captain by purchase on 25th March 1803. At this time he regiment was stationed at home in Scotland, it having recently returned from active service in India.
The invasion of the Cape of Good Hope and the Battle of Blaauwberg.
Cother was with the 1st Battalion when it embarked for the Cape of Good Hope in August 1805, the Cape being then Dutch, known as the Batavian Republic, and a French vassal, which made it fair game for conquest. Because the sea route around the Cape was important to the British, they decided to seize the colony in order to prevent it—and the sea route—from also coming under French control. A British fleet was despatched to the Cape in July 1805, to forestall French troopships which Napoleon had sent to reinforce the garrison. The colony was governed by Lieutenant General Jan Willem Janssens, who was also commander-in-chief of its military forces. The forces were small and of poor quality, and included foreign units hired by the Batavian government. They were backed up by local militia units.
As such Cother and his battalion found itself a part of the force under Lieutenant General Sir David Baird.
The first British warship reached the Cape on Christmas Eve 1805, and attacked two supply ships off the Cape Peninsjula. Janssens placed his garrison on alert. When the main fleet sailed into Table Bay on 4th January 1806, he mobilised the garrison, declared martial law, and called up the militia.
After a delay caused by rough seas, two British infantry brigades under Baird, landed at Melkbosstrand, north of Cape Town, on 6th and 7th January, and it was Cother who covered the landing his company having gone ashore first.
Janssens moved his forces to intercept them. He had decided that "victory could be considered impossible, but the honour of the fatherland demanded a fight". His intention was to attack the British on the beach and then to withdraw to the interior, where he hoped to hold out until the French troopships arrived. However, on the morning of 8th January, while Janssens's columns were still slowly moving through the veld, Baird's brigades began their march to Cape Town, and reached the slopes of the Blaauwberg mountain, a few kilometres ahead of Janssens. Janssens halted and formed a line across the veld.
The battle began at sunrise, with exchanges of artillery fire. These were followed by an advance by Janssens's militia cavalry, and volleys of musket fire from both sides. One of Janssens's hired foreign units, in the centre of his line, turned and ran from the field. A British bayonet charge disposed of the units on Janssens's right flank, and he ordered his remaining troops to withdraw. Janssens began the battle with 2,049 troops, and lost 353 in casualties and desertions. Baird began the battle with 5,399 men, and had 212 casualties.
Cother is confirmed as having been present with his regiment at the Battle of Blaauwberg or ‘Blue Berg’, which is also known as the Battle of Cape Town, fought on 8th January 1806, a small but significant military engagement.
From Blaauwberg, Janssens moved inland to a farm in the Tygerberg area, and from there his troops moved to the Elands Kloof in the Hottentots Holland Mountains, about 50 km from Cape Town. The British forces reached the outskirts of Cape Town on 9th January. To spare the town and its civilian population from attack, the commandant of Cape Town, Lieutenant-Colonel Hieronymus Casimir von Prophalow, sent out a white flag. He handed over the outer fortifications to Baird, and terms of surrender were negotiated later in the day. The formal Articles of Capitulation for the town and the Cape Peninsula were signed the following afternoon, 10th January, at a cottage at Papendorp (now the suburb of Woodstock) which became known as "Treaty Cottage." Although the cottage has long since been demolished, Treaty Street still commemorates the event. The tree under which they signed remains to this day.
However General Janssens had not yet surrendered himself and his remaining troops and was following his plan to hold out for as long as he could, in the hope that the French troopships for which he had been waiting for months would arrive and save him. He had only 1,238 men with him, and 211 deserted in the days that followed.
Janssens held out in the mountains for a further week. Baird sent Brigadier General William Beresford to negotiate with him, and the two generals conferred at a farm belonging to Gerhard Croeser near the Hottentots-Holland Mountains on 16th January without reaching agreement. After further consideration, and consultation with his senior officers and advisers, Janssens decided that "the bitter cup must be drunk to the bottom". He agreed to capitulate, and the final Articles of Capitulation were signed on 18th January. The terms of the capitulation were reasonably favourable to the Batavian soldiers and citizens of the Cape. Janssens and the Batavian officials and troops were sent back to the Netherlands in March. The British forces occupied the Cape until 13th August 1814, when the Netherlands ceded the colony to Britain as a permanent possession.
Service afloat as an acting Marine at the capture of the French Frigate La Volontaire
Cother then most usually found himself on active service afloat, his being a rare occasion of his being actively involved both ashore and afloat in relation to the same campaign. The British Admiral who had commanded the fleet that had conveyed Baird’s force to Table Bay, Sir Hope Popham, remained on station at the Cape in the immediate aftermath of the surrender of General Janssens’ force. As his squadron of warships was somewhat depleted, he took aboard some men of the 71st Foot, including Cother, to act as marines. On 4th March 1806 the French warship, La Volontaire, a 40 gun frigate, sailed unknowingly into Table Bay, she being deceived by the Dutch colours flying from the castle and anchored shipping. When the 64 gun Diadem changed her ensign, Volontaire’s astonished captain was obliged to surrender, and in so doing released 200 British soldiers who had been capture out of their troop transports in the Bay of Biscay. There were a number of other small naval engagements in the ensuing months of which Cother may or may not have been a part whilst employed in the temporary role of marine.
The first expedition to the River Plate, the capture of Buenos Aires, and subsequent surrender and captivity.
Cother however then found himself involved in a British disaster, namely General Beresford’s expedition to the River Plate in 1806 to 1807 during the Anglo-Spanish War in the unsuccessful attempt to seize control of areas in the Spanish colonial Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata, present day Argentina and Uruguay. The 71st Foot took part in the disastrous attack on Buenos Aires.
On 25th June 1806, 1600 soldiers, including the 71st Foot, disembarked in Quilmes, some 11 miles south of Buenos Ayres. Two days later the Viceroyalty authorities surrendered Buenos Ayres, and that same evening the British troops marched to the Plaza Mayor, now called the Plaza de Mayo. They raised the Union Jack which would remain hoisted 46 days. The British troops actually walked down the Defensa street to the Plaza Mayor and raised their flag on top of one of the unfinished church of the San Pedro Telmo church.
On 1st August 1806 the 71st Foot took part in the Combat of the Chacra of Perdriel, some 20km northeast of Buenos Aires, defeating Juan Martín de Pueyrredón. On 21st September 1806 eight wagons trundled into London under military escort. Cheering crowds watched from the streets; some brave souls peered down from windows overhead. Blue silk banners emblazoned with ‘Buenos Aires, Popham, Beresford, Victory’ in gold thread were presented to the column in St James’ Square. On the front of each wagon was painted the word ‘Treasure’. Later that day over a million dollars in Spanish gold and silver (roughly equivalent to £300,000 sterling at 1806 rates or £18,000,000 today) was deposited in the vaults of the Bank of England.
For an account of these operations from the perspective of the 71st Foot see the book ‘Journal of a soldier of the 71st of Glasgow Regiment Highland Light Infantry from 1806 to 1815’ published in 1819 by Thomas Howell, who served as a Private with the 71st during the campaign. Howell who was then 17 years old said: “It was the first time I saw blood in a battlefield and heard the cannon ́s deadly charge ̈.
During the First Invasion everyday from 3 to 6 PM the band and the pipers played their music to uplift the soldiers morale. The 71st Foot ́s master of the band became very popular, specially among local women. After the Reconquista seven British musicians were carried as prisoners to Mendoza where they cheered up the social reunions and formed several disciples. The Regiment’s drum major baton is shown at the Museo de Lujan and has a silver engraved handle. This man trained the Regiment of Patricios ́ band musicians and introduced in Buenos Ayres musical instruments that were not known till then such as the trombone, the bascorno and the serpent.
On 10th July 1806 General Beresford opened an office attended by Royal Marine Corps Captain Alexander Gillespie where the inhabitants of Buenos Ayres could pledge an oath of allegiance to King George III. 58 neighbours swore loyalty and, according to Gillespie, among them were 6 members of the Primera Junta.
However soon things started to go wrong. In August 1806 French Commander Jacques Antoine Marie de Liniers-Brémond leading the reconquest fought the British in every street up to the Fortress. Liniers-Brémond was a French officer in the service of Spain, and he crossed from Colonna to Concher. Forming a junction with the force under Pueridon, the whole marched upon Buenos Ayres. The Historial Record of the 71st Highland Light Infantry recounts: ‘On 10th August the enemy commenced operations, by the massacre of a Sergeant and his guard of the 71st Foot, who were posted at a place in the suburbs where the bull-fights were usually exhibited. On the following day much skirmishing ensued in the outskirts of the city, the enemy taking possession of the tops of houses, from which he kept up a galling and destructive fire.
During this time the main body of the British force took up a position in the Grand Square, but afterwards retired into the fort of Buenos Ayres. Being now bereft of all resources, and without hopes of reinforcement, there appeared no alternative but to capitulate, and about one o’clock on the 12th of August hostilities ceased, and the fort was surrendered. The troops marched out with the honors of war, and laid down their arms in the Square.’
Beresford signed the surrender on 20th August, and 1600 British troops were taken prisoners leaving the Spaniards with 36 cannons, 4 mortars and 4 howitzers besides the Regimental Colours of the 71st Foot. The 71st lost in this expedition Lieutenant Mitchell and Ensign Lucas, and 91 non-commissioned officers and privates were killed and wounded. With just 2000 men, Liniers had obtained the surrender of 1200 British who suffered 417 casualties.
For his part, Captain Cother was amongst those officers of the 71st Foot to be taken prisoner, he having up till then taken part in every affair at and in the vicinity of Buenos Aires, and on the surrender of that place was taken prisoner. Initially the officers were allowed their parole, and quartered upon the inhabitants, whilst the men were confined in the prisons of the city.
How in September 1806, with the whole force, including the officer, were then marched nearly 1000 miles into the interior. They arrived in the vicinity of Cordova. In May 1807, a further removal to the interior of the prisoners took place. The officers were collected at a college belonging to the Jesuits, about forty leagues to the northward of Cordova, and entirely separated from their men. In this situation they remained until August following, when, just as they were ordered to prepare for a transfer to a station still more remote, the accounts of the convention entered into by Lieutenant General John Whitelocke were received, by which it was stipulated that the prisoners should be restored to liberty, on condition that all the British forces should be withdrawn. It is scarcely necessary to remark, that the prospect of being restored to liberty and friends was greatly damped by the military events which produced it, and which completely extinguished the ardent hopes of success that had been entertained from the arrival of the last British force in South America.
As mentioned they were released after the even more calamitous second attack on Buenos Aires by British troops under Whitelocke in 1807, when British troops once again surrendered. However all prisoners were then released by the Spaniards in September 1807 and the whole of the officers and men were re-conducted to Buenos Ayres, from whence they were conveyed in boats to Monte Video, and there embarked in transports. The fleet sailed immediately, and after a tedious and rough voyage of three months the transports with the 71st Foot on board put into Cork Harbour in December, and on the 27th, the whole were landed, without uniforms, clothing, arms, or accoutrements, and marched to Middleton.
Colonel Denis Pack, who was in command, had the barracks locked after they had been there a little while and received their back pay for a six day booze up/party where "For two days there was a steady stream of local merchants delivering whisky, brandy and every known liquor" and "the barracks were ankle deep in liquor"..
The 71st Foot were presented with new colours on 26th April 1808 by Lieutenant General John Floyd, who had commanded the cavalry and advance in the campaign of 1790 in the East Indies.
The following animating and soldierlike address was made by the gallant general on the occasion:
“I am directed to perform the honourable duty of presenting your colours.
“Brave Seventy-first, the world is well acquainted with your gallant conduct at the capture of Buenos Ayres, in South America, under one of His Majesty’s bravest generals.
“It is well known that you defended your conquest with the utmost courage, good conduct, and discipline to the last extremity. When diminished to a handful, hopeless of succour, and destitute of provisions, you were overwhelmed by multitudes, and reduced by the fortune of war to lose your liberty, and your well-defended colours, but not your honour. Your honour, Seventy-first regiment, remains unsullied. Your last act in the field covered you with glory. Your generous despair, calling upon your general to suffer you to die with arms in your hands, proceeded from the genuine spirit of British soldiers. Your behaviour in prosperity,—your sufferings in captivity,—and your faithful discharge of your duty to your King and country, are appreciated by all.
“You who now stand on this parade, in defiance of the allurements held out to base desertion, are endeared to the army and to the country, and your conduct will ensure you the esteem of all true soldiers,—of all worthy men,—and fill every one of you with honest martial pride.
“It has been my good fortune to have witnessed, in a remote part of the world, the early glories and gallant conduct of the Seventy-first regiment in the field; and it is with great satisfaction I meet you again, with replenished ranks, with good arms in your hands, and with stout hearts in your bosoms.
“Look forward, officers and soldiers, to the achievement of new honours and the acquirement of fresh fame!!
“Officers! be the friends and guardians of these brave fellows committed to your charge!!
“Soldiers! give your confidence to your officers. They have shared with you the chances of war; they have bravely bled along with you;—they will always do honour to themselves and you. Preserve your regiment’s reputation for valour in the field and regularity in quarters.
“I have now the honour to present the
“Royal colour. “This is the King’s colour!!
“I have now the honour to present your Regimental colour.
“This is the colour of the Seventy-first regiment.
“May victory for ever crown these colours!!!”
The Peninsula War. Command of the light companies of General Ferguson’s Brigade in Portugal 1808. Roleia and Vimiera.
The Peninsula was at this period the centre of political interest. Portugal, deserted by her government, and Spain betrayed, the people of each rose in arms to recover the national independence. Dissensions had arisen in the royal family of Spain, occasioned by the sway of Emanuel Godoy, who bore the title of Prince of Peace. This minister was dismissed, but the court was unable to restore tranquillity. In this emergency, the French emperor was solicited to be umpire, and Napoleon ultimately placed the crown of Spain on his brother Joseph, who was transferred from the throne of Naples. The Spaniards flew to arms in consequence. The British government resolved to aid the Spanish and Portuguese patriots, and a British army was ordered to proceed to the Peninsula, under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley. The 1st Battalion, 71st Foot formed part of the force selected on this occasion and embarked at the Cove of Cork on the 17th June 1808.
Cother, still a Captain, landed with the 1st battalion at Mondego Bay in Portugal on 1st August 1808 and he then commanded the light companies of Major General Ferguson’s Brigade. As such he was in command of the light company of his regiment amongst others at the Battle of Roleia on 17th August 1808. Only the light company from the 71st Foot were present in the thick of it when the forces of Marshal Junot were defeated, the remainder of the battalion being employed in manœuvring on the right flank of the French. The light company suffered a trifling loss, having but one man killed and a few wounded.
In the aftermath of the battle of Roleia, Sir Arthur Wellesley did not pursue the enemy by the high roads, but keeping to the right near the sea, marched to Vimiera, to cover the landing of a brigade commanded by Major-General Anstruther, which was effected on the 20th August.
The morning of the 21st August 1808 was given up to the troops, in order to prepare and repose themselves. The men were engaged in washing and cleaning their equipments, when the approach of the enemy, moving to the left, was discovered at eight o’clock in the morning, and the brigades commanded by Major-General Ferguson which included Cother, Brigadier-Generals Nightingall, Acland, and Bowes, were consequently moved across a valley from the heights on the west to those on the east of Vimiera. Marshal Junot, Duke of Abrantes, moved on his army to the attack of the position, and commenced it on the British centre, where the fiftieth regiment was posted, moving along the front gradually to the left, until the whole line became engaged.
A short time previously to this, the soldiers of the brigade were ordered to sit down, with their arms in their hands, keeping their formation. The enemy in the meantime cannonaded the whole line, and pushed on his sharpshooters and infantry. To oppose the former, Major-General Ferguson ordered the left sections of companies to move forward and skirmish. Upon the retreat of the enemy’s sharpshooters, the action became general along the front of this brigade, and the whole moved forward to the attack. Nothing could surpass the steadiness of the troops on this occasion, and the general and commanding officer set a noble example, which was followed by all.
The grenadier company of the Seventy-first greatly distinguished itself, in conjunction with a subdivision of the light company of the thirty-sixth regiment. Captain Alexander Forbes, who commanded the grenadier company, was ordered to the support of some British artillery, and, seizing a favorable opportunity, made a dash at a battery of the enemy’s artillery immediately in his front. He succeeded in capturing five guns and a howitzer, with horses, caissons, and equipment complete. In this affair alone the grenadier company had Lieutenants John Pratt and Ralph Dudgeon and thirteen rank and file wounded, together with two men killed.
The French made a daring effort to retake their artillery, both with cavalry and infantry; but the gallant conduct of the grenadier company, and the advance of Major-General Ferguson’s brigade, finally left the guns in the possession of those who had so gallantly captured them. George Clark, one of the pipers of the regiment, and afterwards piper to the Highland Society of London, was wounded in this action, and being unable to accompany his corps in the advance against the enemy, put his pipes in order, and struck up a favourite regimental air, to the great delight of his comrades. During the advance of the battalion, several prisoners were taken, among whom was the French general, Brennier. Corporal John McKay, 71st Foot, who took him, was afterwards promoted to the commissioned rank of Ensign in the 4th West India Regiment. The result of this battle was the total defeat of the enemy, who subsequently retreated on Lisbon, with the loss of twenty-one pieces of cannon, twenty-three ammunition wagons, with powder, shells, stores of all descriptions, and 20,000 rounds of musket ammunition, together with a great many officers and soldiers killed, wounded, and taken prisoners. The conduct of the battalion, and of its commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Pack, was noticed in the public despatches, and the thanks of both Houses of Parliament were conferred on the troops.
The “Convention of Cintra” was the result of this victory, and it was signed on the 30th August. By its provisions the French army evacuated Portugal, which country became freed from its oppressors. The British army was ordered to move forward to Lisbon, some of the reinforcements for it having preceded it by water, and occupied the forts at the mouth of the Tagus. The French army having by this convention fallen back on Lisbon, the British proceeded to the vicinity of Fort St. Julien, and encamped. All the objects of the expedition being carried into effect, and the French troops embarked for France, the British army remained for some time at Lisbon and its vicinity. At this period, September 1808, Sir John Moore, having assumed the command, made dispositions for entering Spain.
The retreat to Corunna winter of 1808-1809.
The 1st Battalion, 71st Foot was now brigaded with the 36th and 92nd Foot under Brigadier-General Catlin Craufurd, and placed in the division under the command of Lieutenant General the Honourable John Hope, afterwards the Earl of Hopetoun. On the 27th October the division was put in motion, and after a short stay at Badajoz resumed the march, proceeding by Merida, Truxillo, Jaraicejo, Puerto-de-Merivette, and crossing the Tagus at the bridge of Almaraz, directed its route upon Talavera-de-la-Reyna. From this town the column proceeded to the Escurial, seven leagues to the north-west of Madrid.
Intelligence was here received of the enemy’s approach towards Madrid, and two companies of the Seventy-first, under Major Archibald Campbell, were pushed forward to occupy the important pass in the Guadarama Mountains, which separate Old from New Castile. After a halt of a few days, the division was put in motion over the Guadarama Pass to Villa Castin, at which place Lieut.-General the Honorable John Hope, in consequence of the intelligence which he received of the enemy’s movements, made a night march to the left, by Avila and Peneranda, and finally proceeded to Alba-de-Tormes. At the latter place a junction was formed with a detachment from the army under Lieut.-General Sir John Moore, then at Salamanca. The army under Sir John Moore was shortly afterwards put in motion towards Valladolid, and subsequently to the left, to form a junction with Lieut.-General Sir David Baird’s division, which had landed at Corunna.
Previously to this period, the Spanish armies under General Blake, near Bilboa on the left, General Castanos in the centre, and General Palafox lower down the Ebro on the right, had been completely defeated; and Lieut.-General Sir John Moore consequently made arrangements for a retreat on Portugal by Ciudad Rodrigo; but it having been represented to him that Madrid held out against the French, he was induced to effect a junction with Lieut.-General Sir David Baird, in order to make a diversion in favour of Madrid, by attacking Marshal Soult on the river Carion.
The British force, 29,000 strong, joined at Toro on the 21st December, and on the 23d of that month Sir John Moore advanced with the whole army. The cavalry had already met with that of the enemy, and the infantry were within two hours’ march of him, when an intercepted letter informed the British commander that Napoleon, who had entered Madrid on the 4th December, was then in full march for Salamanca and Benevente. A retreat on Corunna, through Gallicia, was immediately decided on, that through Portugal being then impracticable. Accordingly the several divisions marched towards the Esla, the greater part crossing by the bridge of Benevente on the 26th December, when, after a day’s halt, the cavalry under Lieut.-General Lord Paget and Brigadier-General the Honorable Charles Stewart had an engagement with some of the Imperial Guards that had forded the river Esla under General Le Fevre, who was made prisoner, with several of his men.
At this period the situation of the British army was dispiriting in the extreme. In the midst of winter, in a dreary and desolate country, the soldiers, chilled and drenched with the heavy rains, and wearied by long and rapid marches, were almost destitute of fuel to cook their victuals, and it was with extreme difficulty that they could procure shelter. Provisions were scarce, irregularly issued, and difficult of attainment. The wagons, in which were their magazines, baggage, and stores, were often deserted in the night by the Spanish drivers, who were terrified by the approach of the French. Thus baggage, ammunition, stores, and even money were destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of the enemy; and the weak, the sick, and the wounded were necessarily left behind. The 71st suffered in proportion with the rest, and by weakness, sickness, and fatigue lost about 93 men. On the 5th January 1809, a position was taken up at Lugo, where some skirmishing occurred, in which three companies of the 71st were engaged, and repulsed the enemy.
The retreat was again commenced on the 9th January; and on the 11th the army, still nearly fifteen thousand strong, reached Corunna. The British army, having accomplished one of the most celebrated retreats recorded in modern history, repulsing the pursuing enemy in all his attacks, and having traversed two hundred and fifty miles of mountainous country under very disheartening circumstances, accompanied by severe privation, was not destined to embark for England without a battle.
The transports not having arrived, a position was occupied in advance of Corunna, and some sharp skirmishing ensued, in which four companies of the 71st were warmly engaged, and lost several men in killed and wounded. Lieutenant William Lockwood was severely wounded. On this ground the battle of Corunna was fought, on the 16th January 1809, and in which Captain Cother was present. The 71st, being placed on the extreme left of the British line, had little to do therein. The result of the action was glorious to the British army, but was darkened by the loss of Lieut.-General Sir John Moore, who received a severe wound during the battle, and died at ten o’clock on the same night. His remains were wrapped in a military cloak, and interred in the Citadel of Corunna, over which Marshal Soult, with the true feeling of a soldier, erected a monument.
At eight o’clock on the night of the 16th January the troops quitted their position, leaving the picquet's posted, and a few men to keep up the fires, and then marched into Corunna, where they embarked for England on the following day. The 1st Battalion, 71st Foot landed at Ramsgate, it was marched to Ashford in Kent, where it continued for some time, collecting the men, who from contrary winds were driven into different ports.
On his return from Corunna, Cother was promoted to Major on 9th March 1809. A few days later the regiment was changed into a Light Infantry Regiment. Cother appears to have transferred to the 2nd Battalion, 71st Foot, and did not accompany his regiment to the Scheldt during the Walcheren Expedition when it attacked Antwerp in July 1809, and later Flushing in August 1809. The 1st Battalion was back home in December 1809, after a service of five months in a very unhealthy climate, which cost the battalion the loss of the following five officers and 85 men.
Return to the Peninsula July 1811 and the action at Arroyo-del-Molinos
In September 1810 the 1st battalion was once again readied for foreign service, and it landed in Portugal later that same month. Cother was again not present, remaining with the 2nd Battalion on home service in north Britain. He however landed in the Peninsula and was present on operations with the 1st Battalion in Portugal and Spain from July 1811, arriving most probably as a replacement officer with the detachment of 350 men, with a proportion of officers, who joined from the 2nd Battalion, and meeting up with the 1st Battalion in camp at Toro de Moro where it was recovering. The 1st Battalion had suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Fuentes D’Onor on 3rd to 5th May 1811. The 1st Battalion had gone in 320 strong, and lost nearly one half of their number in killed and wounded. Four officers, four Sergeant’s, and 22 others ranks were killed, whilst 8 officers, six Sergeants, three buglers, and 100 rank and file, were wounded. Two officers, with several men, were also taken prisoner, in what was nevertheless a British victory.
About July 1811 the 1st Battalion became a part of the army under Lieut.-General Rowland Hill. The junction of the armies of Marshals Marmont and Soult having obliged Viscount Wellington to raise the siege of Badajoz, which had been resumed after the battle of Albuhera, the battalion, in co-operation with his Lordship’s retrograde movement, retired to Borba on the 20th July. Here it remained until the 1st September, when it moved to Portalegre, and thence marched to Castello de Vido on the 4th October.
A detachment from Marshal Soult’s army under General Girard having been collecting contributions in Spanish Estremadura, Hill, with a view of putting a stop to his movements, broke up his cantonments at Portalegre upon the 22nd October, proceeding by Albuquerque and Malpartida. On the 27th, when within a moderate march of the enemy at Arroyo-del-Molinos. Hill halted his troops, and, at night, breaking up his bivouac, made a flank movement close to the road by which the French intended to march on the following morning. In that position he awaited the approach of day, when, on the 28th October, the British marched directly on the rear of the town with such celerity that the cavalry picquet's were rushed upon before they had time to mount. The French main body, though in the act of filing out, had so little intimation of danger that the officers and men were surrounded before their formation was effected, and to seek safety they individually dispersed. Many of them were killed, and about 1,400 were taken prisoners. All the enemy’s artillery and baggage were captured. General Brun and Colonel the Prince of Aremberg, together with several other officers, were among the prisoners.
Cother is confirmed as having been present in the action at Arroyo-del-Molinos on 28th October 1811. In this brilliant affair the 71st Foot was one of the three corps that advanced through the centre of the town, and were, therefore, principally engaged; but the enemy, from his complete surprise, being unable to make a combined resistance, the British sustained but trifling loss. The battalion subsequently returned to Portalegre, where it arrived early in November.
Viscount Wellington having made preparations for the recapture of Ciudad Rodrigo, concentrated the main body of the army in that neighbourhood, and the troops under Lieut.-General Hill were therefore ordered to divert the enemy’s attention in the south. The 1st Battalion, 71st Foot remained at Portalegre until the 25th of December, when the brigade moved into Estremadura for the purpose of expelling the French, who were ravaging the country. After the performance of this duty, the battalion returned to its former quarters at Portalegre in February 1812. Upon the 19th of March 1812, the battalion moved northward to Castello Branco, where it remained for about a week, and afterwards returned for the last time to Portalegre.
The Earl of Wellington having made arrangements for the third siege of Badajoz, Lieutenant-General Sir Rowland Hill’s corps was destined to cover his movements, and with that view proceeded on the 21st March towards Merida, and afterwards to Don Benito, where the troops remained for a few days; but upon the approach of Marshal Soult with a large army, with the intention of raising the siege, Hill retired upon Albuhera, through Arroyo de San Servan and Talavera Real. Badajoz having been assaulted and carried by the troops under the Earl of Wellington on the night of the 6th April, after a sanguinary conflict, the movement of Marshal Soult was rendered nugatory, and the troops under his orders retired into Andalusia. Marshal Marmont having, during the progress of the siege, penetrated into the province of Beira, and threatened Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida, the Earl of Wellington, after the fall of Badajoz, crossed the Tagus, leaving Sir Rowland Hill’s force to watch Marshal Soult, which took post at Almendralejos for that purpose.
The attack at Almaraz and the capture of Fort Napoleon and other works - promotion to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel and a Mention in Brigade Orders.
The battalion was stationed at Almendralejos from the 13th April until the 11th May. It having then become expedient to render the communications between the French armies on the north and south of the Tagus as precarious as possible, by the destruction of the bridge of boats at Almaraz, the corps under Sir Rowland Hill, being the most disposable and convenient force, was accordingly ordered on this important service.
The French, feeling the importance of this bridge to their mutual strength and security, had surrounded it on both sides of the river with formidable enclosed works, having in the interior of them casemated and loop-holed towers. The troops appointed for these strong works, consequently, anticipated an arduous struggle.
Upon the 12th May the corps broke up from Almendralejos, and marching by Truxillo and Jaraicejo, reached on the 18th of that month the sierra, five miles from Almaraz, on which stands the Castle of Mirabete. This post was so strongly fortified that it blocked up the only road to Almaraz for the passage of artillery, which was considered by the enemy absolutely necessary for the destruction of the works. Sir Rowland Hill thought otherwise; and ascertaining that infantry could cross the sierra by a track through Roman Gordo, he left his artillery, and descended at night with a column of 2,000 men. The leading company arrived at dawn of day close to the principal fort, built on a height a few hundred yards in front of the tête-de-pont; but such were the difficulties of the road that a considerable time elapsed before the rear closed, during which the troops were fortunately sheltered by a ravine, unseen by the enemy.
On the 19th May 1812, the 50th Foot and the left wing of the 71st, having been provided with ladders, were appointed to escalade the works of Fort Napoleon, supported by the right wing of the 71st, and the 92nd Foot. From a feint made upon Mirabete, the French were aware that an enemy was in the neighbourhood. The garrison was on the alert; immediately opened a heavy fire, and vigorously resisted the efforts made to push up the scarp; but the moment the first men gained a footing on the parapet the enemy took to flight. The whole of this brilliant affair was completed in the short space of fifteen minutes, and with little loss. The 71st had Captain Lewis Grant, with one sergeant and seven rank and file, killed; Lieutenants William Lockwood and Donald Ross, three sergeants, and twenty-nine rank and file were wounded. The names of thirty-six non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the 71st were inserted in regimental orders for conspicuous bravery upon this occasion, and the Royal authority was subsequently granted for the word “Almaraz” to be borne on the regimental colour and appointments.
The following orders were issued upon this occasion:—
“Bivouac, near Fort Napoleon, “19th May 1812.
“Major-General Howard cannot delay expressing his warmest acknowledgments to Lieut.-Colonel Stewart and Major Harrison, of the fiftieth regiment, and Major Cother of the Seventy-first regiment, who commanded the three columns of attack this morning on Fort Napoleon and the works on the Tagus, for the gallant and distinguished manner in which they led the columns intrusted to them, as well as to all the other officers, non-commissioned officers and privates, for their bravery and good conduct, which produced the brilliant result of the capture of the works in question.”
“Truxillo, May 22nd, 1812.
“Lieut.-General Sir Rowland Hill congratulates the troops on the success which has attended their exertions in the present expedition. Every object for which it was undertaken has been attained, and in the manner most desirable and effectual. It is highly gratifying to the Lieut.-General to report on this occasion his admiration of the discipline and the valour of the troops under his command. The chance of war gave to the fiftieth and Seventy-first regiments the most conspicuous share in these events, who nobly profited by the opportunity; but the Lieut.-General is satisfied that the same zeal and the same spirit would have been found in every corps if there had been occasion for bringing them into play.
“The Lieut.-General has not failed to report to his Excellency the Commander of the Forces the particulars of this brilliant service, and the good conduct of all those concerned in it. He will therefore not say more at present than to express his warmest thanks for the assistance which he has received from all ranks; and he is confident, when it shall again be his good fortune to lead them against the enemy, he shall have to report conduct equally honorable to them, and equally advantageous to their country.”
It was for the assault on Fort Napoleon and other works at Almaraz that Cother led the 71st Foot’s attacking column, and along with Lieutenant Colonel Stewart and Major Harrison of the 50th Foot, he was mentioned in Major General Howard’s Brigade Orders of 19th May 1812, “for the gallant and distinguished manner in which they (sic) led the columns intrusted to them (sic), as well as to all the other officers, non-commissioned officers and privates, for their bravery and good conduct, which produced the brilliant result of the capture of the works in question.” Cother was promoted to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel for this action, the promotion coming through on 19th June 1812. He was also presented in 1816 with a ‘handsome sword’ by the citizens of Gloucester “as testimony of their high opinion of his heroic conduct at the storming and taking of Fort Napoleon, on the Tagus, on the 19th May, 1812.”
The bridge and works in the neighbourhood of Almaraz having been completely destroyed, the 71st returned to Truxillo, where they remained a few days, then moved to Merida, and afterwards to Almendralejos. Sir Rowland Hill’s force having received orders to make a diversion in the south, while the main army was moving northward on Salamanca, the battalion again moved from Almendralejos to the borders of Andalusia, through Llerena. On this march the advanced parties of cavalry were constantly skirmishing with the enemy, but the 71st were not engaged.
From Llerena the battalion returned to Zafra, where, after a short halt, it proceeded to Villa Franca, and finally to Don Benito. In these marches through Estremadura the weather was oppressively hot, and, joined to the clouds of dust raised by the troops, was so fatiguing that it was considered expedient at one time to move by night, and thus these inconveniences were alleviated.
While the force under Sir Rowland Hill had been thus employed, the allied army under the Earl of Wellington had gained a victory on the 22nd July over the French at Salamanca, for which he was advanced to the dignity of marquis.
From Don Benito the battalion moved upon the 13th September, and passing through Truxillo, Talavera, and Toledo, arrived at Aranjuez upon the 1st October, from which place, after a halt of three weeks, it moved to Ponte Duenna, further up the Tagus.
The sudden approach of the united armies of Marshals Soult and Suchet rendered a speedy retreat necessary, and the division accordingly retired from Ponte Duenna in the night of the 28th October, moving to form a junction with the army of the Marquis of Wellington, who had now relinquished the siege of Burgos. Near Madrid the division halted for a short period, when, being joined by the garrison of that city, the troops retired leisurely by the Guadarama Pass on Alba de Tormes. This town the 71st occupied from the 7th to 13th November, and during that period sustained a loss in action with the enemy of one sergeant and six rank and file killed; one bugler and five rank and file wounded.
The army having received orders to retire on Portugal, the battalion abandoned this post, arriving at Coria upon the 1st December, where the retreat terminated. In this quarter the 71st continued until the 13th December, at which time they were pushed forward to Puerto de Bannos, where they were joined by a draft of 150 men from the second battalion.
The Battle of Vittoria, 21st June 1813, a close shave, and the award of the Field Officer’s Gold Medal.
While stationed at Puerto de Bannos, an attempt was made, in February 1813, by the French, to surprise Bejar, then occupied by the 50th Foot. The 71st were ordered forward to support, but previously to their arrival that brave regiment had driven back the enemy, and completely foiled his efforts.
Upon the 5th April the 71st changed quarters with the 50th Foot, and continued to occupy Bejar until the 21st May, at which period the army broke up from its winter cantonments for active operations. The battalion on its advance moved by Salamanca and Toro, and encamped at La Puebla on the 20th June, the evening before the memorable battle of Vittoria. At this stage the 1st Battalion, 71st Foot was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel the Honourable Henry Cadogan, with Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Cother as second-in-command.
Upon the morning of the 21st June, the two armies being in position, the 71st Foot were ordered to ascend the heights of La Puebla, to support the Spanish forces under General Morillo. They accordingly advanced in open column, and having formed line, were immediately hotly engaged with the enemy, and upon this occasion suffered an irreparable loss in the fall of their Commanding Officer, Cadogan, who fell mortally wounded while leading his men to the charge, and being unable to accompany the battalion, requested to be carried to a neighbouring eminence, from which he might take a last farewell of them and the field. In his dying moments he earnestly inquired if the French were beaten; and on being told by an officer of the regiment, who stood by supporting him, that they had given way at all points, he ejaculated, “God bless my brave countrymen” and immediately expired.
While recording the deep sense of sorrow which the Seventy-first experienced in the demise of a commanding officer who had so often fought at their head, and whose devoted gallantry had so frequently called forth their admiration, it is but a meet tribute to the memory of that brave spirit to extract from the despatch of the Marquis of Wellington the following expressions of his lordship’s regret at his loss: “And I am concerned to report that the Honorable Lieut.-Colonel Cadogan has died of a wound which he received. In him His Majesty has lost an officer of great zeal and tried gallantry, who had already acquired the respect and regard of the whole profession, and of whom it might be expected, that if he had lived he would have rendered the most important services to his country.”
Command had now devolved to Cother, and the 71st continued advancing, and driving the enemy from the heights, until the force which was opposed to them became so unequal, and the loss of the battalion so severe, that it was obliged to retire upon the remainder of the brigade. The battle was a most hard fought and desperate encounter, in the course of which the 71st were surrounded, but was able to retire owing to the most timely arrival of the 50th Foot, but for which it is doubtful if a single man of the regiment would have escaped.
In the performance of this arduous duty the battalion suffered very severely, having had one field officer, one captain, two lieutenants, six sergeants, one bugler, and seventy-eight rank and file killed; one field officer, three captains, seven lieutenants, thirteen sergeants, two buglers, and two hundred and fifty-five rank and file were wounded.
The officers killed were Colonel the Honorable Henry Cadogan, Captain Henry Hall, Lieutenants Humphrey Fox and Colin Mackenzie. Those wounded were Brevet Lieut.-Colonel Charles Cother, Captains Samuel Reed, Joseph Thomas Pidgeon, William Alexander Grant, Lieutenants Alexander Duff, Loftus Richards, John McIntyre, Charles Cox, William Torriano, Norman Campbell, and Thomas Commeline.
Cother survived the day but ‘in the course of the battle, Cother was wounded by a musket ball, and in addition, received three balls through his clothes, and one in his saddle.’ He was awarded the Field Officer’s Gold Medal for Vittoria.
The 71st subsequently received the Royal authority to bear the word “Vittoria” on the regimental colour and appointments, in commemoration of this signal victory. When the battalion paraded on the morning of the 22nd June, the dreadful havoc made by the action of the preceding day became painfully manifest, and an universal gloom was thrown over all, at missing from their ranks nearly four hundred brave comrades who had been either killed or wounded on the heights of La Puebla.
The enemy, having been completely beaten at all points, was forced to retreat in confusion on Pampeluna, and the British army immediately followed in pursuit. Cother however was not with them and was recording from his wound, being sent home in September 1813.
Later life, Ceylon, and the Third Kandyan War 1817-1818.
Cother was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 13th October 1814, the promotion being back dated to 19th June 1812, and on his return from the Peninsula, was appointed to the command of the garrison of the City of Glasgow and on 25th July 1815, he was appointed a Freeman Citizen of Glasgow, “with the whole liberties, privileges, and immunities belonging to an honorary burgess and guild brother of the said city.” An extra minute of the City of Glasgow records on this occasion: “The Lord Provost, magistrates, and council, in testimony of their high respect for him as a soldier and as a gentleman, and of the grateful sense which they entertain of the polite attention with which he has on all occasions lent his aid to the magistracy, while in command of the garrison of this city, unanimously admit Lieutenant Colonel Mother, of the 71st of Glasgow Regiment of Foot, a freeman citizen of Glasgow.” Cother was also apparently later also presented with a portrait painting of himself in uniform by the City of Glasgow, but whereas some believe is in it having been painted circa 1815 this must have been some amendments to the painting circa 1848 as its shows him wearing all of his awards, in which year his Military General Service Medal was awarded to him.
Cother was subsequently also nominated for and appointed a Companion of the Military Division of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath on 8th December 1815, but having seen no further active service Vittoria, it is likely that this was also an award for his outstanding services in the Peninsular War, and not least for Vittoria.
In addition, as mentioned previously, in 1816 during a short visit to Gloucester, the citizens of that place ‘presented him with a handsome sword “as testimony of their high opinion of his heroic conduct at the storming and taking of Fort Napoleon, on the Tagus, on the 19th May, 1812.”’ This sword is now housed in the collection of the British Museum.
Cother was however not finished with his military service, and on 24th October 1816 he was appointed as Lieutenant Colonel into the 83rd County of Dublin Regiment of Foot. The regimental history of the Royal Irish Rifles records that on 22nd September 1816 he commanded a ‘draft of all serviceable men of 2nd Battalion’ of the 83rd who arrived art Simons Town, Cape of Good Hope in the transports Adamant and Eliza, and then joined the 1st Battalion, 83rd, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Brunt.
In October 1817, the regiment, now reduced to a single battalion, was ordered from the Cape of Good Hope to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) for garrison duty. Cother was now in command of the 83rd, and went on to serve in Ceylon for the next 11 years, during which period he commanded the Eastern Provinces in the Kandian country during the rebellion in 1818. The Third Kandyan War had broken out before the arrival of the Cother’s 83rd, and on arrival the regiment was sent straight on active service in the hills. Over the year and a half of active duty, in what was an arduous campaign, the regiment lost only twelve men to combat, but 121 to disease and illness; a further 91 died from long-term effects over the following year. The regiment was also reduced progressively in size, to 750 men in 1818, and under 650 in 1822.
On 12th March 1821, the regiment was inspected by Major General Sir Edward Barnes, KC, commanding the forces in Ceylon, who in a General Order of 13th March, complimented the regiment on the regularity and precision of their movements and the correctness of their firing, which brought the highest credit to Lieutenant Colonel Cother and the regiment at large.
On the embarkation of the 83rd from Ceylon in 1828, General Barnes, in a General Order of 4th September, assured Colonel Cother of his respect and esteem. The transports bearing the regiment arrived at Portsmouth on 16th April and 18th May 1829. Cother retired on 3rd December 1829, and resided at York Building, Gloucester, where he died on 24th January 1855.