A light cavalry regiment at war against Napoleonic France
This the second volume of C. R. B Barrett's in depth history of the 7th (Queen's Own) Hussars. Whilst the first volume dealt with the regiment's service as dragoons during the continental wars of the eighteenth century in this volume the regiment has developed into a light cavalry unit—first as light dragoons and then as fully styled hussars. The regiment took part in the campaign in the Netherlands and the Helder before it's posting to Spain and the ultimately disastrous Corunna campaign. Further service in the Peninsula followed to the close of the war with France. Napoleon’s escape from Elba brought the regiment to battle once more during the formidable campaign of 1815 where it saw intense action at Genappe and Waterloo. This book is filled with vital detail and is enhanced by several first hand accounts by soldiers of the 7th. Volume three of this history deals with the regiment through Queen Victoria's colonial wars of the nineteenth century and the fourth and final volume concerns uniform, equipment and the services of notable regimental members.
The reference to Waterloo in the letter of Lieutenant O’Grady, from which we have already quoted in the last chapter, is as follows:<br><br>
At daybreak on the 18th we were ordered to the extreme right of the army. We were close to the road where the hardest fighting was: and had an opportunity of seeing almost the whole of this tremendous battle. In every fight I had ever seen we had acted on the offensive, but here we were attacked by double our force: we maintained our position until five or near six in the evening, repulsing every effort to break our lines and covering the field with dead. The 7th had an opportunity of showing what they could do if they got fair play, and we charged 12 or 14 times and once cut off a squadron of cuirassiers every man of whom we killed on the spot except the two officers, whom and one Maréchal de Logis I sent to the rear. About 7 o’clock Lord Wellington gave us the order to advance, and put himself at the head of the Highlanders, cheering them with his hat in his hand, and we advanced under the most horrible fire of grape and canister, round shot and musketry that can be imagined. Our ranks were thinning fast but we went too quick to perceive it, and after having charged every species of troops, infantry, artillery and cavalry, we halted about ½ a mile in rear of the French position, and there found, tho’ of the 7th and 15th there remained only 35 men. Colonel Kerrison and four officers. We were too weak to act any longer as a brigade, so we joined Vivian’s Brigade and acted with the 18th and 1st German hussars for the rest of the night. During the battle, when Buonaparte made that tremendous attack on our left centre, which he owns to have supported with 80 pieces of cannon, we were ordered to charge them; and had the honour of lending our aid to destroy three columns of cavalry to whose flight Buonaparte attributes the loss of the action. We had most of our officers wounded, by cannon shot, i.e. grape canister &c. Robbins was run through the body by a lancer and Beattie was struck by a musket ball; tell Walter that at the moment I was going to shake hands with Irvine of the 13th he was knocked off his horse by a grape shot. Gregory safe.<br><br>
In another document Lieut.-Colonel Standish O’Grady writes as follows, evidently in answer to some query:<br><br>
I believe, however that the time you fix is that when the last attempt to force the British position was made by (I think) Ney on the Brussels road. If so, the 7th were ordered from the right to assist in repelling that attack, and consequently were on the right centre at that time, but from the general confusion that prevailed consequent on the flight of some Belgian dragoons, who ran through our ranks, I find it very difficult, and indeed, except by guess, to fix upon the precise spot we occupied.<br>
The 7th, who were in advance of the left centre on the night of the 17th, were moved very early on the 18th to the ground above Hougoumont, and occupied various positions there during the day, and assisted by the 15th Hussars and the 13th Light Dragoons, drove back the French cavalry, who attacked the squares of British and Brunswickers immediately above Hougoumont, and rather late in the day. If your query has reference to that charge I think I could place the 7th accurately for you. The French cavalry were in the first instance cuirassiers, and in squadron, but they soon became mixed with cavalry of all arms, and acted in masses of more or less size. After clearing the front of our position we were ordered to our left to assist in repelling the last attempt of the enemy to which I before alluded. After that we moved to about midway to our former position, from which we moved at the general advance, and sweeping the ground to Hougoumont, entered the enemy’s line on his left, and charged down his lines until we met Sir Hussey Vivian at the head of his brigade. The 7th having in these various encounters lost a great many men, and being reduced to a squadron, and having separated from the 15th Hussars and the 13th Light Dragoons, joined Sir Hussey and continued to act with him until the next morning, . . . You will perceive that as we occupied the ground above Hougoumont no infantry penetrated to us, though we were perpetually menaced, and often attacked by the enemy’s cavalry, who advanced in column and formed squadrons of attack.