The 60th Regiment, 5th Battalion
The 60th (Royal American) Regiment of Foot was first raised in the American colonies during the Seven Years’ War, some 50 years ago. Its current colonel-in-chief is the commander-in-chief of the army, His Royal Highness Frederick, the Duke of York, but of course an array of lieutenant colonels manage the regiment and its far-flung battalions. Most of the battalions of the 60th serve in Canada.
The Fifth Battalion of the 60th Royal Americans (we’ll call it Fifth Battalion here for clarity, although its men think of themselves as members of the 60th, wherever they are) was raised in England in 1797 as the first all-rifle battalion of the British Army. Its 500 men were primarily Hessians (Hompesch’s Mounted Rifles) and others from Europe displaced by the wars of the French Revolution. It was led by Lieutenant-Colonel the Baron Franz de Rottenburg, a Polish nobleman and expert in light infantry tactics.
In 1798, Fifth Battalion fought the rebels in the United Irishmen Rebellion, serving under Rottenburg’s friend Gen. John Moore — later Sir John Moore, who had served briefly in the 60th as a major in 1787 and who figures prominently in our tale.
In 1799, Fifth Battalion added 400 Dutch mounted riflemen from Lowenstein’s Chasseurs and was transferred to South America — the West Indies — where it participated in the bloodless overthrow of Suriname during the war with Holland.
In 1803, Fifth Battalion was transferred to Nova Scotia. It returned to England in 1805 for recruiting, and in 1806 was augmented with a recruitment of 44 officers, 22 sergeants and 800 rank and file — including Captain Yorkshire and most of his company, as well as a large number of veteran skirmishers and light infantry who had deserted Napoleon’s forces. In 1807 it transferred once more, briefly, to Ireland.
In 1808, Baron de Rottenburg was appointed as a brigadier-general on the North American staff, a post which awaits him on his return to Canada, and was given charge of Sir John Moore’s light infantry training camp in Kent, England while Fifth Battalion remained in Ireland under the command of 29-year-old Major William Davy.
In June 1808, Fifth Battalion moved from Ireland to Portugal in the transports Juliana, Atlas and Malabar.
The Fifth Battalion of the 60th Regiment was the first unit ashore at Montego Bay. At the start it was paired with the 95th Regiment, another rifle regiment, to form a full brigade of riflemen. Wellesley`s standing orders were that these two units should always form the vanguard when the army moved. The rifle battalions fought in this formation at the opening battles of Obidos and Rolica.
Shortly afterwards the Light Brigade was re-formed and Wellesley moved the 5/60th to General Fraser’s 3rd Division in detachments, with each company to provide extra cover for his brigades of regular infantry. Ordinarily a battalion is broken into detachments only when it proves too unreliable to keep its regular formation in battle, but Wellesely softened the stigma by issuing an order that Davy could assign his companies at his own discretion.
Unfortunately for the honor of the Regiment, the detachments proved disastrous. Being separated from a central battalion is always hard, since it makes resupply and communication difficult. But in the 5th/60th, a number of former French soldiers took advantage of the confusion to desert again and return to the French side. It drew the attention and condemnation not only of Maj. Davy but also of the men above him. In Salamanca Sir John Moore, having assumed command in Wellesley’s absence, ordered the bulk of the 5th/60th to march for Lisbon before the main army set out north to engage the French.
Yorkshire’s Company is one of a few companies of the 5th/60th reserved by Sir John Moore to march with him rather than return in disgrace to Lisbon.
Yorkshire and his men are attached to the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot in Major-General William Carr Beresford’s brigade.
The 5th Battalion, 60th Regiment has had ten years’ experience from combat in Ireland to the debilitating West Indies and chilly Nova Scotia, and it has had the best possible training for riflemen under de Rottenburg. At its core are hundreds of Dutch and German mounted riflemen — jaegers or light infantry trained as marksmen to pick off enemy officers and provide covering fire for engineers and other exposed special troops — and it retains their green and red jackets, blue trousers, sturdy cavalry boots, traditional mustaches, and the cavalry officer’s protective fur pelisse. The Battalion is still equipped with old-fashioned powder horns, prone to breakage and impossible to pour with any precise measurement.
In 1806 and 1807, Captain Yorkshire recruited predominantly Britons for his company, including a few men who had served in India and other campaigns.
Yorkshire’s Company participated in the Army’s first few triumphs over the French in Portugal and Spain, the tremendous victory at Vimeiro and the smaller battles at Lorinda and Roliça. At Vimeiro they thwarted a French attempt to flank the Battalion’s position. Sergeant Cole was injured and Private Jones was given a medal for heroism by the officers’ mess after he saved the life of a Major Carruthers of the 95th.
When Sir John Moore sounded the long, disastrous retreat from Salamanca to the sea, he sent a few companies of the 5th/60th as detachments with the main army on its trek to Corunna rather than sending them with the bulk of the Battalion to Lisbon or with the Light Division to Vigo.
Now Yorkshire’s men they march through the snow, scouting the flanks for the 9th Regiment of Foot in Major-General William Carr Beresford’s brigade. With Yorkshire in command it is one of the few companies to keep formation and discipline relatively intact.
Yorkshire’s company is best known for two things. First, its young captain is a rising star among the officers, an obsessive student of strategy, not wealthy himself but with good family and many connections in London. Second, its key enlisted men are experts at finding supplies by any means, fair or foul. They therefore have not suffered for their detached status, where ordinarily they would find it impossible to get what they need from other regiments. Yorkshire’s company is well led and well stocked.
Now it faces a war that England and Spain seem already to have lost.
The Company as of 16 January 1809
- Capt. Geoffery Yorkshire
- Lt. Halter Smithwick
- Lt. Archibald Bowman (died earlier in the march)
- Ensign Charles Richter
- Three sergeants (Cole and two others)
- Four corporals
- Two buglers
- 52 privates (Jones, O’Toole, Southgate and 49 others)
- Mr. Thomas Raif Giles (gentleman volunteer)
- 9 January 1809: Capt. Yorkshire hurt in an accident; Lt. Smithwick wounded; 4 men killed and 7 wounded (including O’Toole and Jones).
- 10 January 1809: 4 men wounded.
- 11 January 1809: 1 dead fom an earlier wound.
- 13 January 1809: 2 men killed and 18 wounded (including Cole, Giles and Southgate).
- 15 January 1809: 4 men killed and 4 wounded.