Orders, Decorations and Medals (19 & 20 March 2008)

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Date of Auction: 19th & 20th March 2008

Sold for £1,300

Estimate: £800 - £1,000

Military General Service 1793-1814, 1 clasp, Barrosa (J. Wise, 3rd Foot Gds.) nearly extremely fine £800-1000


James Wise, a 21 year old weaver from Mells, Somerset, joined the 3rd Foot Guards in April 1805, following two years service in the Somerset Militia.

In March 1811, he was to be found in Spain on the heights of Barrosa, near Cadiz, one of three companies of his regiment present, part of a force of 10,000 Spaniards and 5,000 British from Cadiz who had been landed further up the coast in a projected attack on the French besiegers of the city - Cadiz was besieged, without success, by the French for no less than 30 months during the Peninsula War and there was a British element always present in the town. On the 5th, as this army was approaching Cadiz, the French suddenly attacked, Lieutenant-General Graham, C.O. of the British force, regrettably being deserted by his Spanish allies and left painfully exposed to a French attack from two directions.

A furious fire fight ensued, one of the severest of the whole war, with the result that the French were driven down the slopes with great loss. The Guards had been on the march all morning, and had not had time to cook any breakfast, but, nonetheless, eagerly pressed forward to engage four battalions of Ruffin’s infantry stood atop the ridge - the 1st Foot Guards, in the first line, were supported by the 3rd Foot Guards with Graham himself at their head. At length, as the French fell back, Graham shouted for his men to advance with the bayonet, as a result of which the enemy left behind some 3,000 killed or wounded (or prisoners), including General Ruffin and several of his officers. About a quarter of the British had also become casualties, such was the intensity of the fighting, among them James Wise.

He was duly discharged in June 1811, aged 27 years, on account of ‘having lost his right arm in the Battle on the Heights of Barrosa near Cadiz on the 5 March 1811’. The 1851 census reveals him as a Chelsea pensioner, aged 66 years, and living in Mells with his wife, Hannah, aged 62, and daughter Elizabeth, 25, a seamstress. He died in January 1854 in the Bath pension district, which included Mells.