The Capture of an Eagle
Patrick Harris -During the Napoleonic Wars, regiments of the Imperial French army carried as their standard a gilded eagle upon a staff. The eagle was a sign of prestige, and men would fight like devils for it. It is not surprising then that the eagle was one of the most sought after prizes on the battlefield. The first eagles were captured by the Russians and Prussians during the Austerlitz campaign, but in this post, I will delve into the first British capture of an eagle, that of Ensign Edward Keogh and Sergeant Patrick Masterson of the 87th Regiment (Royal Irish Fusiliers) at the Battle of Barrosa in 1811.
The capture of this eagle occurred due to the British repulsing a French attack upon Barrosa ridge. As the column of 3000 men advanced, it suffered horrendous casualties of up to 50% due to British and Portuguese musket and artillery fire. Eventually, two regiments, the British 87th, and the Portuguese 20th, charged the broken column, over running the French 8th regiment, which had been attempting to deploy into line. A vicious bayonet fight ensued. Ensign Keogh was the first to grab the eagle from its bearer, though he was immediately shot and killed by ferocious French defenders. The eagle was then grabbed by Sergeant Masterson, who killed the eagle's bearer, managing to escape with the eagle safely. He was later gazetted as an Ensign, eventually reaching the rank of Captain.
The 87th was given the Royal title as "Prince of Wales own Irish Regiment", and its regimental badge displayed an eagle.