Army Gold Medal for Vittoria, Lieut. Colonel, 50th Regt. wounded at Vimiera, desperately wounded at the Pass at Maya, carried from the field believed killed by a ball to the forehead. Died 1819 tending his men when none other would enter the hospital

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Medal Description

Army Gold Medal for Vittoria, with gold ribbon buckle

Lieut. Colonel Ch. Hill

Served in 50th Regt. throughout his whole service of 37 years from a 16 year old Ensign in 1778 to his command and death in Jamica in 1819. Severely wounded at Vimiera, desperately wounded at the Pass at Maya where his regiment lost some 250 men killed, wounded or missing, Hill being carried from the field by his men and believed killed from a  musket ball shot to the forehead though 'miraculously recovered'. Died 1819 tending his sick men during the outbreak of yellow fever in Jamaica in 1819 'when none other would enter the hospital'

Charles Hill was born in 1762 and was commissioned as an Ensign in the 50th Foot on 27 December 1778; Lieutenant, September 1780; Captain, February 1794; Major in the Army, September 1803; Major, 50th Foot, August 1804. Served at Gibraltar in 1792 from where the Regiment was sent for service to Corsica in 1793 during the French Revolutionary Wars, taking part in the Siege of Calvi in July 1794. The Regiment saw service in Egypt from 1800,  and fought at the Battle of Mandora in March 1801, the Battle of Alexandria later that month and the Siege of Cairo in May 1801. Major Hill is recorded as serving at Copenhagen 1807 and the Walcheren Expedition of 1809

Major Hill was severely wounded at the battle of Vimiera, 21 August 1808, in circumstances described by Lieutenant-Colonel J. Leach, 95th Rifles, in his Rough Sketches of the Life of an Old Soldier:

‘The night before the battle I belonged to a picket of about two hundred riflemen, of our own regiment and the 60th, under the command of Major Hill, of the 50th Regiment. We were posted in a large pine wood, to the right and front of General Fane’s brigade. About eight or nine o’clock in the morning of the 21st, a cloud of light troops, supported by a heavy column of infantry, entered the wood, and assailing the pickets with great impetuosity, obliged us to fall back for support on the 97th Regiment. In our retrograde movement, Major Hill, who commanded the pickets, was severely wounded.’

In the battle that followed, the 50th were greatly distinguished and had the honour of breaking a French infantry column, one of two columns about 400 yards apart that were sent to attack Vimiero hill: ‘Each of the two French columns was composed of two battalions, one behind the other; the mass was about 30 men broad and extended back 42 ranks in depth. The northern column was slightly in the lead; it came into contact with the 1/50th which was in two-deep line some minutes before the southern column attacked. The first volley from the 1/50th was fired at a range slightly over 100 yards; others followed regularly at 15-second intervals as the range gradually shortened. Slowly the ranks of the 50th wrapped around the column. The British line was using every one of its 900 muskets; the French could only reply with no more than 200 of their 1,200 firearms. General Thomieres, who commanded the French brigade, endeavoured to deploy from column into line under fire, but found this impossible. The French recoiled at each volley; they finally broke and fled to the rear with the riflemen in hot pursuit.’

Charles Hill was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel by brevet in July 1810, and  took command of his regiment in June 1811. At the battle of Vittoria on 21 June 1813, the 50th formed part of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Cadogan’s Brigade, along with 1/71st, 1/92nd, and 1 Company 5/60th. This brigade, which was part of Stewart’s 2nd Division in Hill’s Corps, was engaged at the very start of the battle when Hill ordered it to take the heights of Puebla on the right flank of Wellington’s Army. They were able to climb right up to the crest of the mountains, but once there were soon engaged in a spirited action. This contest started before 8.30 a.m., and there were heavy casualties on both sides. The 71st suffered severely when the Scots mistook French for our own Spanish infantry, allowed them to approach too close and even to open fire. Their loss amounted to some 400 men, including the gallant Cadogan who was mortally wounded. The 50th and 92nd, however, were able to restore the situation and gained possession of the heights, thereby protecting Hill’s flank. For his part in command of the 50th, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Hill received the Gold Medal.

The following month, on the 25th July, the pass of Maya was attacked by D’Erlon’s corps in an attempt to capture this important pass across the Pyrenees. During the action Lieutenant-Colonel Hill’s 50th Regiment was sent to the aid of Pringle’s hard pressed Brigade, comprising 1/28th, 2/34th and 1/39th Regiments. Hill’s fresh battalion joined that part of Pringle’s Brigade not driven south down the Maya road, and attacked in line, moving west to east. At first they were successful and brought the French to a standstill, but were opposed by greatly superior numbers and finally driven back west in some disorder, 

'Charles Hill - Lt. Colonel at the time of battle, struck in the groin by a spent ball. Had barely recovered from the first injury, when a second ball struck him on the forehead. This injury caused him to fall, to the belief of everyone that he was dead. The soldiers then carried him of the field. The command was then given to Major Thomas Dundass Campbell. He was believed dead and written onto the list, but miraculously recovered and joined the 50th on their return to England.'

Such was the severity  of his wound that he was granted a Pension of three hundred pounds per annum, commencing 26 July 1814, for wounds received in the Pyrenees.

Hill was awarded the C.B. on 4 June 1815. In January 1819 the Regiment embarked for Jamaica, arriving at Port Royal 683 strong early in March. was still suffering from the effects of wounds some four years ealier, and had been advised to remain in England, but would not leave the regiment in which he had served so long.

Yellow fever struck soon after their arrival, claiming 11 officers and 255 men by the end of the year. Hill himself died of the fever on 31 August 1819, having just received promotion to Colonel by brevet on the 12th August. 

His obituary notice read ‘It is with much regret we notice that accounts have been received this week from Jamaica, which state the appearance of that dreadful scourge of the island, the yellow fever. The following is an extract from a letter, which we have received, dated Port Royal, Sept. 3, 1819:

“Colonel Sparrow, Deputy-Adjutant-General of the Forces, died on the 22nd of last month, of the yellow fever, which is now raging here in all its horrors. The 50th and 92nd Regiments are arrived here from Ireland, the latter so late as 4th of June - a season, when those assimilated to the climate, expect sickness. The fever broke out the latter end of June in the 50th Regiment, in the most aggravated and appalling form. Colonel Hill, Ensign Barlow (son of General Barlow), and seven other officers, with about 190 men, 23 women, and 15 children fell victims in a very short space of time; as well as Lieutenant-Colonel Blaney, two other officers, and 150 men and children of the 92nd. I lament to say, its ravages have by no means ceased. Sir Home Popham, who has evinced an anxiety to second the zealous exertions of our Commander-in-Chief, General Conran, has, in the most handsome manner, given up, for the use of the troops, the Serapis Convalescent ship; and his kindness, in every way, in our melancholy situation, does honour to his heart.

“A few days previous to the date of the letter, Colonel Hill, of the 50th regiment, the oldest person in the corps, and who had been 47 years (sic)  in it, fell a sacrifice to his humanity. It is said that it arose from the men refusing to act as nurses to their comrades in the hospital, for all those who had done so had invariably died. After some pause, four privates of the grenadiers offered their services, which of course, were accepted. Two of them in a short time became victims of the pestilence, when the other two instantly withdrew their assistance. This hopeless state of things did not long remain, for Colonel Hill exclaimed, “Then my men, we must change our coats; since I cannot find a man in my regiment to attend a sick soldier, I must do it myself.” Many days did not elapse ere this noble minded officer was himself attacked with the same dreadful malady, which terminated in his death. He was universally respected, and his remains were followed to the grave by all the officers and men of the regiment, whose health permitted their doing so.’

His widow was granted a pansion of £200 p.a. Parliamentary papers  record 1 September 1819 'Widow of Colonel Charles Hill, of the 50th Foot, granted in consideration of his generous conduct, having on the 31st August 1819, fallen victim to the Yellow Fever at Jamaica, while attending to the sick of the Regiment he commanded, at a time when no other soldier of the  the Corps could be persuaded to enter the hospital.'

An extensively inscribed memorial tablet stands in the Cathedral Church, Kingston, Jamaica.

A superb Field Officer's Gold Medal

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