The Napoleonic Wars


The Napoleonic Wars


The outbreak of war with revolutionary France in 1793 found the 44th and the 56th in Ireland. Both Regiments were sent to the West Indies, being employed in operations against the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. The 56th Foot remained in the West Indies until 1799, fighting both the French and yellow fever until decimated.


Meanwhile, the 44th returned home in 1794 to be sent, ill-prepared and under strength, to fight under the Duke of York in Flanders. This ill-conceived campaign ended for the 44th in the spring of 1795, when it returned with the other remnants of the army to England, only to be sent once more to the West Indies.


Returned home in 1797, the 44th next garrisoned in Gibraltar from October, 1800, at a time when Napoleon conquered Egypt only to have his fleet destroyed by Nelson at the Battle of the Nile. Isolated by British sea-power, the eventual fate of the French was certain and only depended on when the hard-pressed England could spare the force necessary for their destruction. In 1801 the 44th was made part of this expedition. It took part in the Battle of the Pyramids and the Siege of Alexandria. It was awarded its first battle honour, "The Sphinx Superscribed Egypt", to be borne on the Regimental Colour. A Sphinx formed part of the Regimental cap badge.


"The Little Fighting Fours" and the Salamanca Eagle


Expansion of the army during the Napoleonic Wars resulted in the raising of the 2/44th in Ireland (1803) and the 2/56th (1804), while the 3/56th was raised in 1813. It is perhaps to commemorate the many Irishmen who served with gallantry in the ranks of the 44th and 56th that both regular battalions of The Essex Regiment always marked St Patrick's Day by the beating of reveille by the Corps of Drums playing traditional Irish airs - a custom still observed today.


The 44th served in Malta, Sicily, Spain and North America. In the latter campaign, the battle honour "Bladensburg" was awarded for the part the Regiment took in the advance to and occupation of Washington, the American capital, 1814.


The 2/44th in its short life crowned itself with glory, gaining great distinction under Lord Wellington in the Peninsular War and at Quatre Bras and Waterloo. It won for the Regiment the battle honours of "Badajoz", "Salamanca", "Peninsula" and "Waterloo". It was a party of the 2/44th, under command of Lieutenant W. Pearce, that captured the Eagle Standard of the 62nd Regiment of French Infantry during the Battle of Salamanca in 1812. This Eagle (only five were taken in battle in all the wars with the French) rests in the Museum and an Eagle badge is worn as an arm badge by the Royal Anglian Regiment.


The gallantry of the 2/44th in the Peninsular War gained them the nickname "The Little Fighting Fours". The 56th helped in the destruction of French power in the East, taking part in the seizure of Rodriguez, the raid on St Paul's, Bourbon, and the capture of Mauritius, as well as seeing active service in India. The 2/56th served many years in India, while the 3/56th served in Holland at the Battle of Merxem and the Siege of Antwerp.

Photo captions

Soldier of the Light Company, 1st Battalion, 44th (East Essex) Regiment at the Burning of the White House, 1812 (In Memory of George Newark (Late Pompadours) with the kind permission of Chris Newark)

 William Pearce c1860. The Officer who captured the Salamanca Eagle. Pictured in retirement as a Colonel in the Gloucestershire Rifle Volunteers.

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