A silver model of the French eagle taken at the Battle of Barossa in 1811
The Battle of Barossa was fought during the siege of Cadiz (1810-1812) by Marshal Victor. Early in 1811 the allies attempted to threaten the Victor’s lines and thus raise the siege. The attempt failed, mainly because of the incompetence of General La Peňa, in overall command.
The allied army was returning to Cadiz when on the 5th March, the Anglo-Portuguese rearguard under Lieutenant General Graham came under French attack. Abandoned by their Spanish allies, Graham’s force fought a fierce defensive action which eventually caused the French to withdraw with heavy losses.
Barossa was the first action in which the Anglo-Portuguese took a French eagle. When the 87th (Royal Irish Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot, famous for their battle cry ‘Faugh a Ballagh’ (clear the way), came into contact with the 8ieme de la Ligne, the eagle was a desirable prize.
Ensign Keogh, who was supported by Sergeant Patrick Masterson, was the first to take it but he was almost immediately killed in the ensuing struggle as the French struggled to regain their treasured icon. Seven French soldiers were killed before Masterson secured the eagle for the 87th, famously proclaiming: ‘Bejabbers, boys, I have the cuckoo!’
Masterson was rewarded with a battlefield commission and the Prince Regent bestowed on the regiment the title The Prince of Wales’s Own. The 87th was also popularly known as the Eagle Catchers.
The original eagle was stolen from Chelsea Hospital in 1852. This silver model was assayed in 1827.