The Salamanca Eagle

Object: The Salamanca Eagle

Materials: Gilded bronze

Place: Spain

Date of Creation: 1809

Essex Regiment Museum, Chelmsford, Essex, UK

EMu user since 2008


july_small.jpgThe most famous trophy of the Essex Regiment.

A gilded bronze Eagle was presented personally by Napoleon with great ceremony to the 1st or senior Battalion of each French Infantry Regiment in the Imperial Army, and was carried on top of the Regiment’s Colours (flag).

A rallying point in Battle and a symbol of the Regiment, Colours were fiercely defended. It was a dishonour for a Regiment to lose its Eagle in battle and an honour for an enemy unit to take one.

This Eagle was captured by Lieutenant William Pearce of the 2nd Battalion, 44th (East Essex) Regiment at sword-point at the Battle of Salamanca, in Spain, on 22 July 1812. Only six Eagles were captured by British Regiments in the entire Napoleonic Wars, of which five survive in Museum collections.

Pearce wrote of the capture in 1863 “…not knowing the French were so near, we came unexpectedly, as it were, into each other’s presence at no greater distance than twelve to fourteen yards… We instantly charged them, and, being in such confusion, they turned. Two squadrons of the 5th Dragoon Guards (The Green Horse) went right through them on their flank and we made the whole of them prisoners, with their eagle and the two colours. The officer who carried it must have wrenched it from the pole, as when I first saw it he was trying to conceal it under his grey coat, which he wore over his uniform. In taking it from him he offered no resistance but one of his men attacked me with his fixed bayonet and Bill Murray, of the Light Company, shot him dead. There was a heavy column of French Infantry in sight at a considerable distance when we put the Eagle on one of the halberds and gave three loud cheers. The eagle was sent to the quarter guard with the colours of the Regiment the night of the battle…”

The Eagle became an emblem of the Essex Regiment, used on badges and buttons, unit flags, notepaper, vehicles and sports kit, and continues to be used by all ranks of the serving Royal Anglian Regiment, which continues the traditions of the Essex Regiment.

Acknowledgements: The Trustees of the Essex Regiment Museum