His Majesty's Royal West India Rangers Last Fight for Napoleon
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The Last Fight for Napoleon

“The last battle between the Allies and Napoleon’s soldiers was fought in August, 1815, and the scene ... was the Island of Guadeloupe in the West Indies.

Basse Terre, Island of Guadeloupe in 1790

The above image of 1790s Basse Terre, Island of Guadeloupe, is courtesy of Kaui Fine Arts.

“This island had been repeatedly taken from the French by the British, the latest occasion having been in 1810, but in 1814 it had been handed back to the Governor nominated by Louis XVIII, Admiral Comte de Linois, together with [the Island of] Martinique, whose new Governor was the Comte de Vaugriraud. However, when the news of Napoleon’s return from Elba reached the West Indies both islands showed strong signs of unrest. The Comte de Vaugiraud remained staunch to the Bourbons, but Comte de Linois wavered in his allegiance and was finally persuaded to declare for the Emperor by his second-in-command, Baron Boyer de Peyrelean.

"The day chosen for this outburst of Bonapartist enthusiasm was an unfortunate one; it was the 18th June![The date of Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo.]

"The movement, however, had been anticipated by the officer in command of the British forces in the West Indies, Lieut.-General Sir James Leith, G.C.B., a distinguished Peninsular leader, and he instantly set things in motion to suppress the outbreak. In conjunction with Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Durham he collected what troops he could lay hands on and set out for Guadeloupe. The Admiral having secured the island of Mariegalante, which lies to the southward, the expeditionary force assembled in safety on 2nd August at the Saintes, a group of islands in which is situated a bay that affords a secure anchorage for a large fleet and which lies seven miles south of Guadeloupe. The Admiral was dubious of the wisdom of attempting a landing at that time of year, for July, August and September are months of hurricanes and terrific rains in the West Indies, but Sir James Leith was obdurate, seeing that as he had left the other islands denuded of troops speed was essential.

"The Troops forming the expeditionary force were divided up into three brigades, commanded respectively by Major-Generals Sir Charles Shipley, Stehelin and Douglass, and consisted of the following regiments: -- 1 [battalion of the]/15th [infantry regiment], 1/25th, 1/63rd Regiments, the Royal West India Rangers, the York Chasseurs, Royal York Rangers, and detachments of the West India Regiment.

"The French troops were 6,000 strong and consisted of Regular soldiers and Militia. ….

"One point to be borne in mind is that Guadeloupe is actually two islands, not one; they are called Grand Terre and Basse Terre, the division being a narrow strip of water which is named La Riveiere Salee. It will be seen that the operations were confined to Basse Terre.

"...one gunboat was lost in the tremendous surf...."

"On 8th August the force set sail and after the Royal York Rangers, under Lieut.-Colonel Starck, 850 strong, had effected a landing at Saint Sauveur, so as to threaten the enemy’s rear, the 1st and 2nd Brigades (including the 1/15th and 1/25th Regiments) successfully secured a footing at Grand Ance, assisted by a preliminary bombardment from the sea, during which one gunboat was lost in the tremendous surf. The French thereupon withdrew to Dolet. Their situation was a bad one, for their troops were inferior and Baron Boyer, who commanded in the field, proved an incapable leader. Moreover they had heard rumours of the overthrow of Napoleon at Waterloo, although they ignored them.

"...heard rumours of the overthrow of Napoleon at Waterloo, although they ignored them...."

"On the morning of the 9th Captain Leith Hay led out a force consisting of the light company of the 6th West India Regiment and one company of The Royal West India Rangers, with which he contrived to turn the right flank of the French, while Sir Charles Shipley with his 1st Brigade performed a similar service by their left; the 2nd Brigade making a frontal attack. They then abandoned their positions on Morne Bouccanier and, after a subsequent attack, Morne Palmiste also, and retired on their main position at Mourne Houel where they had eight guns.

"While this was in progress the 3rd Brigade, under Major-General Douglass, landed at Bailiff. The light company of the 63rd pushed forward to the heights inland where they were vigorously attacked by 300 of the enemy whom they withstood with great gallantry, Captain Lynch and Lieutenant Wigley being wounded. However, Major-General Douglass reinforced them in person with part of the York Chasseurs and drove off the enemy.

Fort Matilda in Guadeloupe in 1796 Fort Matilda in modern times

This 1796 view of Fort Matilda, Island of Guadeloupe, is courtesy of Kaui Fine Arts. Modern Fort Matilda and its history is found in a French and in an English translation

"It was now discovered that the French troops in Grand Terre were endeavouring to join forces with their comrades on Morne Houel and there was some risk of their throwing themselves into the strong place of the island, Fort Matilda. A detachment of the West India Regiment was therefore ordered to counter this design, which task they succedssfully accomplished; lining the River Gallion and the woods about it ins such a way that the Commandant of Grande Terre found it quite impossible to break through.

"...it rained in torrents and they were, of course, totally unprotected..."

"Darkness now fell and the troops spent the night in great discomfort as it rained in torrents and they were, of course, totally unprotected. During the night the Comte de Linois sent an officer to try to arrange a capitulation, but this Sir James Leith positively refused, as he also did another offer which reached him just as the troops were moving off to the attack next morning. The garrison of Morne Houel now hoisted the white flag (the banner of the Bourbons), but Sir James insisted that the Union Flag must be displayed before he would suspend hostilities. This order the French at last complied with and thereupon the fighting ceased after a remarkably strenuous forty – eight hours.

...the French to give up "all the eagles, tricoloured flags, the public treasures"...

"The Articles of Capitulation were extremely severe and, amongst other matters, set forth that the French undertook to give up, ‘all the eagles, tricoloured flags, the public treasures … magazines of every description, arms of all kinds,’ etc. etc, while the officers were compelled to surrender their swords. Baron Boyer, who had been the cause of all the trouble, refused at first to have anything to do with the surrender, but he was eventually obliged to join in the deliberations and sign the Articles along with the Comte de Linois. The wretched royalists, who were to have been executed on Napoleon’s birthday, 15th August, were immediately set at liberty and restored to the posts they had held before the insurrection.

"Thus the operations came to an end and Sir James Leith proceeded to reorganize the police forces of the island and repair the damage caused by what he describes in his despatch as the ‘sanguinary phrenzy’ of the Bonapartists, which he did so effectually that he was able to hand it over in a perfect state of law and order when the Comte de Lardenois came out to receive it back on behalf of the King of France.

"The casualties suffered by our troops had been very small, and Sir James Leith was thus amply justified for the courage and firmness he had shown in carrying through the enterprise in the face of great difficulties.

"Thus it came about that French and British were still at war when, had they but known it, the Allies were in occupation of Paris and Napoleon was already on his way to St. Helena, a prisoner in a British ship-of-war."

the transfer of Napoleon from the Bellerophon to the Northumberland for passage to St.Helena 8 August 1815

This contemporary view of Napoleon's final journey to exile is courtesy of Kaui Fine Arts


(Text is from Denis Haggard,“The Last Fight for Napoleon,” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, vol. Xiv, no. 56 (Winter 1935), pp. 231-2. Six RWIR were wounded in the two day invasion).

"Mourne" is French for "hill".
West India Regiments were entirely separate and distinct from the Royal West India Rangers.

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