2/87th Gallantry in Retreat to Salamanca

Sun, 10/25/1812

Having moved from Seville on transfer to Wellington's Peninsular Army on 1 October 1812, the 2nd Battalion of the 87th Regiment joined the 4th Division at Aranjuez on 25 October as Wellington advanced on Madrid.

The 9,000 strong advanced guard of Marshal Soult's French Army attacked Wellington's army at the bridge and fort at Puerto Largo on 31 October, but was defeated with great loss. The advance continued and the 2/87th arrived in Madrid that same night. However, Wellington then retreated to Salamanca with the rear guard being found by 3 Brigade that included the 2/87th. On the 16 November, the Battalion was attacked several times by French cavalry and by the end of December, due to casualties from actions, disease and extreme bad weather, the 2/87th had lost two officers, eight serjeants, two drummers and 182 rank and file. Such was the conduct of the serjeants that five (Coppin, McMahon Milligan, O'Hara and Palmer) were promoted to Ensign.

One of these rear guard actions was notable for the gallant actions of Grenadier Private James Geraghty from Limerick. The 87th was resting on a hill not far from the enemy when the position came under fire from a howitzer and, although most of the rounds fell short, one shell fell in the centre of one of the companies. Many men did their best to get away from its predictable consequences but one, Grenadier Geraghty, called out that he would show them 'how they played foot-ball at Limerick' and kicked the live shell with its burning fuse over the edge of the hill where it exploded without causing injury.

He was rewarded by the Commanding Officer with a 'handsome present'; unfortunately, at that time there was no Victoria Cross. The VC was first presented on 26 June 1857 and the first recepient was an Irishman, Mr (a Sub-Lieutenant) Charles Davis Lucas (ranked as a 'Mate' in 1857) from Poyntzpass, County Armagh; he too had manhandled a live shell with a burning fuse, albeit tossing it overboard from the deck of HMS Hecla during the Crimean War.