The Portuguese Caçadores, 1808 – 1814

by Sérgio Veludo Coelho

The origins- The Light Troops Legion (Legião de Tropas Ligeiras)

The Portuguese Caçadores, specially in the Peninsular War period, became a well known military corps mostly after the Wellington’s and Beresford’s reorganization of the Portuguese Army, struck down by the first French invasion of Portugal in 1808. Due to the lack of an organized resistance and the escape of King D. João VI to Brazil, the whole army stood still while watching the troops of Junot, most of them in rags after a long and arduous march throughout Spain and Portugal. Although the first six Caçadores battalions were only raised by Royal decree on 14th October 1808, there was already a light independent corps, the Light Troops Legion (Legião de Tropas Ligeiras) under the command of the Marquis de Alorna.

This Legion was raised by a decree of the 7th August 1796 and, for the time, it was a totally new concept for the Portuguese Army whose structure remained unchanged since the period of the Count of Lippe in 1764, when he reorganized and transformed a weak and demoralized Portuguese Army into an efficient war machine quite in a Prussian style, able to face the Spanish threat in that period. The Legion was raised and sometimes was called Experimental Legion, quite in the same way the future Rifle corps of the British Army. It consisted of a eight companies light infantry battalion more three cavalry squadrons and a mounted artillery battery, armed with four six pounders, and up to 1339 men. The Marquis of Alorna adapted the French manuals in order to the basic training of his troops, but some conservative Portuguese high rank staff officers kept the Legion in a shady place on the Army structure. The 1806 military reforms didn’t affect deeply the Light Troops Legion, keeping is independent place in the Army until is disbandment on 22 December 1807.

The appearance and equipments of the Light Troops Legion are still unknown due to a lack of written and graphic documents. This unit was raised apart from a general plan of uniforms and it seems that their purposes were connected with an intervention in the Roussillom campaigns. However, some descriptions about this unit are in the studies of Lieutenant Saturio Pires, a Caçadores officer, whose historical works concerned this corps and were published between 1918 and 1932. In an unpublished manuscript of 1932, called Uniformes dos Corpos de Caçadores 1808 –1932, now in the Military Archives of Lisbon, Lt. Saturio Pires gives us a brief view of the Light Troops Legion, whose appearance remained aparently unchanged from 1796 to 1805. The first uniforms cut were in a typical late 18th century style.

The troops were using a light blue coatee, although the tails sizes are not described, with black collars, cuffs, shoulder strap and turnbacks with yellow piping. In the coatee chest were three rows of brass buttons, connected by yellow flat lace, two laces at the collar, two on the cuff and two above on the lower sleeve, besides yellow lace edging the cuffs. The contemporary pictures show white-gaiter trousers for winter time and sky blue breeches with black gaiters. The headcover from 1796 painted by Ribeiro Arthur was a primitive model of shako, also used by the period cavalry and it was made in black hardened leather and it had a remote resemblance with the Tarleton helmet. The shape of this shako allowed wearing a green plumes crest and a side tuft of the same material. However the earlier engravings describe a stove-pipe shako with yellow cord and white plume on the left side, although without plate. In the paintings of Lt. Col. R. Arthur the troops having the 1806 uniforms adopted the regulation shako of uniform plan of that year, a standard model for all the Portuguese Army, except cavalry, only the cap plumes changed to green.

The equipments were like the ones used in the line infantry regiments, with white hide shoulder belts and black leather ammunition boxes and bayonet and sabre-briquet scabbards. Considering the tactical differences between light troops and rifle units, it was certain that the Light Troops Legion were armed with Portuguese pattern flintlock smoothbore muskets, built in the Royal Arsenals of Lisbon.

The Loyal Lusitanian Legion

Another corps to be mentioned as a Caçadores ancestor was the Loyal Lusitanian Legion, an independent foreign unit at the British service, raised with Portuguese emigrants in London and later in Oporto, after the first French invasion. The Legion were to be composed by three light infantry battalions, but only two were raised, the later with ten companies each, totaling 2300 men. Three light cavalry (Dragoons) squadrons were planned but they weren’t raised and only a small corps of dispatch riders was organized. To the fire support an artillery company of four light field guns and two howitzers was raised. The commander was the daring Sir Robert Wilson who gave the Loyal Lusitanian Legion a fine reputation of a shock and striking unit, outflanking and surprising their French foes specially in the center and northern regions of Portugal. In the other commmandig ranks were sixty five British and thirty five Portuguese officers, being the remaining ranks filled with Portuguese volunteers. Later, after the replacement of Robert Wilson, the Legion has gradually declined until it was disbanded in 1811 and all men were transferred to the newly raised 7th, 8th and 9th Caçadores battalions.

The uniform of the Loyal Lusitanian Legion infantry companies was based on the ones of the British rifles, which was a short tailed coatee made in dark green wool with white chest lace and piping. The buttons were probably white and in three rows of six, the shoulder straps were dark green with white piping and fringing. The trousers were dark green for the winter and white for the summer, probably wearing black cloth short gaiters. Officers and NCO’s used similar uniforms but with rank distinctions like silver lace and buttons for the former and white lace and rank chevron badges for the latter, although there isn’t any surviving documentation or materials to prove this. The Legion’s shako was sometimes pictured as the Portuguese 1806 tall front Barretina with white cords and a side tuft. However, the LLL uniforms were rushly made in England, being most probable that the stove-pipe model was adopted since the raising of this unit. The plate had the embossed initials LLL and the plumes would be green.

The equipments like the shoulder belts, boxes and bayonet scabbards were the British standard models and a figure of the Bussaco Military Museum shows very clearly a black leather belly box, which may indicate a riflemen. The troops armament was the Short Land India Pattern musket with socket bayonet and the officers had British swords like the 1796 light cavalry model, except for 120 riflemen armed with Baker carbines and the pattern black accoutrements, including the belly boxes and frog scabbard for the sword bayonet.

Info picture: Sérgio Veludo Coelho

The raising of the first Caçadores Battalions

The royal decree of the 19th May 1806 and the one of 8th October 1807 were supposed to give a more efficient structure to the Portuguese Army which was badly armed and paid and without a qualified officer’s corps. However they were not early enough to avoid the French advance and later occupation of Lisbon. After some popular insurrections on the 13th and 14th December 1807, one of the first Junot’s acts was the drastic reduction of the Portuguese Army. The 24 line infantry regiments were reduced to 6 and the cavalry regiments from 12 to 3. The Portuguese Legion on French service was created and in the last days of March 1808 it was heading to France through Salamanca. In fact the first orders of the French Maréchal Junot was to demobilize the Portuguese Army, keeping only 9000 men to raise the Légion Portugaise, with a history who passed through the cold and deadly plains of Russia. After the British forces had landed in the 1st August 1808 at the beach of Buarcos, and after the battles of Roliça and Vimeiro where the French troops were routed, Junot was compelled to sign an armistice on the 23rd August 1808 and later on 30th the Sintra convention, in which the conditions for the French Army were established.

With the presence of the British Army in Portuguese territory and the French threat briefly away from the border, Wellington and the Portuguese government ordered a hurried reorganization of the Portuguese Army, including the creation of six Caçadores battalions.

The Caçadores were created by a decree of the 14th October 1808, but only on the 15th December came the order to raise the ranks, generally in the inner provinces of Portugal. The 1st, 2nd and 4th battalions were raised in the border provinces of Beira and Alentejo, the 3rd and 5th in Trás-os- Montes and the 6th battalion in Minho, all provinces, on the border with Spain. Most of Portuguese Caçadores were mountain and farm men, with hunting habits and with individual experience in handling guns in a most different way of the massed fire of line infantry. Like many other European units of the same kind, the Portuguese Caçadores were supposed to outflank enemy positions and harass selected targets, although the first battalions of 1808 were not all equipped with the efficient Baker rifled carbine.

The Structures

By the decree of the 14th October 1808 the basic structure of a Caçadores battalion was composed by a headstaff corps and five companies of 123 men each. One of the battalion companies was raised as sharpshooters (Atiradores), very similar to the chosen men of the British rifles regiments and this meant that the Portuguese shooters were to be equipped with Baker rifled carbines given by the British government. The other four companies still used smootbore muskets either Portuguese or British India Land pattern Brown Bess models. The main composition of a Caçadores battalion in 1808:


1 Lieutenant Colonel
1 Major
1 Adjutant
1 Quarter Master
1 Chaplain
1 Surgeon
2 Surgeon Assistants
1 Gunsmith for the wood works
1 Gunsmith for the iron works
1 Master Drummer
2 Fifers
Total : 13 men

Caçadores Company

1 Captain
1 Lieutenant
2 Underlieutenants (Alferes)
1 First Sargent
2 Second Sargents
1 Third Sargent (Furriel)
8 Corporals
8 Second Corporals
2 Drummers
1 Bugler
96 Soldiers
total: 123 Men

The complete numbers:

Headstaff – 13 men
Four Caçadores companies – 492 men
1 Sharpshooter company- 123 men
Total: 628 men.

This composition was maintained after the 1809-1811 Portuguese Army reorganization and the raising of six more Caçadores battalions in May 1811 in order to reinforce the Anglo-Portuguese Army with reliable shock troops, who should be able to fight in the hard lands of Portugal and Spain. The following list gives a view of the batallions raising places and their origins. Caçadores battalion nº 1 (Castelo de Vide, Alentejo) - raised on 14th October 1808, with their origins in the Portalegre Volunteers Regiment, which was an insurrectional movement against Junot’s ruling.

Headquarters in Portalegre between 1814 and 1816. Caçadores battalion nº2 (Moura, Alentejo) - raised on 14th October 1808 with their origins in the Transtagana Legion (Regiment of the Honoured Volunteers of Beja, another insurrectional militia against French domination).

Headquarters in Tomar from 1814 to 1816. Caçadores battalion nº3 (Trás-os Montes) – raised on 14th October 1808 in Vila Real.

Headquarters in Vila Real between 1814 and 1816. Caçadores battalion nº4 (Beiras) – raised on 14th October 1808 in Viseu. in Penamacor in 1814, transferred to Mértola (Alentejo) in 1816. Caçadores Battalion nº 5 (Alentejo) – raised on 14th October 1808 in Campo Maior, with their origins in the Transtagana Legion. Moved to the Portuguese Northeast regions, their headquarters were in Miranda do Douro in 1814 and they were transferred to Feitoria in 1816. Caçadores battalion nº 6 (Entre Douro e Minho) – raised in Oporto on 14th October 1808.

Headquarters in Penafiel from 1814 to 1816. Caçadores battalion nº 7 (Beiras) – raised in Guarda on 4th May 1811, based in the 1st battalion of the very well known Loyal Lusitanian Legion.

Headquarters in Guarda in 1814 and later in Fundão in 1816. Caçadores battalion nº 8 (Beiras) – raised in Trancoso on 4th May 1811, based on the 2nd battalion of the Loyal Lusitanian Legion.

Headquarters in Trancoso between 1814 and 1816. Caçadores battalion nº 9 (Beiras)- raised on 4th May 1811 Although the documents do not give us any mention to the raising origins, this unit was formed after the remnants of the 7th and 8th battalions of the loyal Lusitanian Legion as mentioned in period Army orders. Their later headquarters were in S.Pedro do Sul in 1814 and in Lourinhã in 1816. Caçadores battalion nº 10 (Entre Douro e Minho / Military district of Oporto) – raised in Aveiro on 4th May 1811.

Headquarters in Aveiro from 1814 to 1816. Caçadores batallion nº 11 (Entre Douro e Minho / Military district of Oporto) – raised in Feira on 4th May 1811.

Headquarters in Feira from 1814 to 1816. Caçadores battalion nº 12 (Entre Douro e Minho / Military district of Oporto) – raised at Ponte de Lima on 4th May 1811. Headquarters in Ponte de Lima between 1814 and 1816.

The Uniforms

The Caçadores uniforms, both the 1808 and the 1811 models, were made in dark brown cloth, (named Saragoça in Portuguese) which was worn by this corps until the 1880’s. The 1808 Caçadores uniform shown in the Ribeiro Arthur watercolor has wide yellow flat lace, but its probable that this is misconception from Ribeiro Arthur(Fig. 3). This is not typical for chasseur style troops. Considering the British and Loyal Lusitanian influences, a hussar style jacket, similar in cut to the late ones, would be more likely, this since 1808. This is because the Army Order of 14th October 1refers to cordão amarelo in Portuguese, which must be translate as cords and not as a flat lace. The cut of the LLL was copied outright, changing only the colors. However the yellow chest cords would be too visible and were changed to black in 1811. The shoulder straps were dark brown with distinctive green piping and fringing, much similar to the ones used by the line infantry regiments. The collars were quite tall and the cuffs also followed the infantry cut, being straight with vertical squared dark brown patches with three yellow buttons.

The officers and NCO’s had similar uniforms but with gold piping on the cords, collar and cuffs for the first ones and silk for the later ones. Besides the golden ornaments, the officers also used golden metal shoulder straps, in cavalry style and a scarlet sash with silver fringing. Instead of the gaiters, officers usually used tall black leather boots, cavalry style or even the more expensive Hessian models.

In the Winter all the troops used the dark brown pantaloons with tall black gaiters. In Summer time the units were allowed to use white linen or cotton trousers, mostly over the gaiters.

The shako, (Barretina in Portuguese) was initially of the line pattern of 1806 with the tall front, green cords and plume, except for the sharpshooters company which had black plumes, similar to the earlier model used by the Light Troops Legion and the Loyal Lusitanian Legion. Instead of the Infantry royal coat of arms, the Caçadores used the hunting horn with the battalion number in the center. This horn was to become the traditional Caçadores symbol, an elite sign, until the 1960’s. The facing colors, basically on the collar and the cuffs of the Caçadores battalions in 1808 were according to the order of the 14th October:

Cacadores Battalion Collar Cuffs
1 Brown Light Blue
2 Brown Red
3 Brown Yellow
4 Light Blue Light Blue
5 Red Red
6 Yellow Yellow

By the Army Order (Ordem do Exército) of the 30th July 1811 all the Caçadores battalions continued to be distinguished by the colors of their collars and cuffs, besides the battalion number in the shako plate.

However, the 1808 uniform was changed to a less visible design, getting even closer to the British Rifles style. Due to the almost destroyed Portuguese economical structures, many items of the Army uniforms were impossible to be locally manufactured, so the British command managed to import to Portugal a wide variety of military materials. For instance the Portuguese 1806 tall front shako was quickly replaced by the cheaper and simple black cloth stove-pipe British shako, adopted for all the Portuguese Army, including the Caçadores battalions. In 1812 the British Army adopted the false front or Belgic shako, this one with a strong resemblance with the 1806 Portuguese model.

The battalion number was placed under the bugle-horn badge and the old green cords were removed. The green or black tuft was now at the top front of the shako and immediately above a cockade and lace with the royal colors of the Bragança dinasty, red and blue. Some models had a folding peak much like the pattern Rifles shakos.

The evolution of the Caçadores uniforms, in this period, shows a strong influence of the earlier Loyal Lusitanian Legion and the British 95th and 60th Rifle Regiments, specially in the hussard styled short tailed coatee, with three rows of yellow and later black bone buttons. Keeping the distinctive dark brown cloth, the coatee had black cords and piped in the chest and the cuffs were also pointed in Brandebourg cut with black piping. The ancient infantry cut shoulder straps were replaced by British style models with black wool tufts at the extreme parts of the straps, which were also black piped with the inner parts in dark brown. The dark brown pantaloons and the white trousers remained unchanged but the old black gaiters were replaced by a shorter model with pointed tops although keeping the black color.

The officers and NCOs also adopted the new uniform but kept the earlier rank distinctions from 1808 model, the sargents using chevron rank badges.

With the raising of the six new battalions in 1811, the systems of colors of the collars and cuffs were changed to a more complex combination and the brown collars of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd battalions became black, according to the chart.

Cacadores Battalion Collar Cuffs
1 Black Light Blue
2 Black Red
3 Black Black
4 Light Blue Light Blue
5 Red Red
6 Yellow Yellow
7 Black Yellow
8 Light Blue Black
9 Red Black
10 Yellow Black
11 Light Blue Black
12 Red Light blue

Equipments and weaponry

In 1808 the main accoutrements of the Caçadores battalions were, most certainly of British provenience, being the British standard models for line and light infantry, since the Caçadored only received the Baker rifles in 1810, although ordered on June 1809. By this time they restricted to the use of smoothbore muskets like the Brown Bess or the Portuguese pattern muskets, the later with some resemblances with the French Charleville model. The early Caçadores were supposed to make surprise attacks or the outflanking of 11the enemy positions rather to aim to selected targets, task almost impossible with smoothbore muskets.

When the Caçadores finally adopted the Baker rifled carbine and they became experts on the handling of that gun. The use of the Baker carbine also led to the adoption of the British Rifle black leather accoutrements, with main ammo box and powder horn for separate loadings, belly box with cartdriges for quick loadings and the frog scabbard for the sword-bayonet. However the Baker rifles were not available to all Caçadores soldiers, the others keeping the smoothbore muskets and accoutrements. In 1811 there was 2100 Baker rifles to twelve Caçadores battalions, which gave from a ratio of 200-150 rifles per battalion, still a much respectable total of riflemen in any contemporary army.The Caçadores officers firstly used the Portuguese 1806 pattern sword with curved blade, but many of them later adopted the better quality British 1796 light cavalry sword, also with a curved blade. The sword and scabbard were suspended by a thin black leather shoulder belt, usually passing under the scarlet sash.

The Campaigns

The Portuguese Caçadores became involved in the most hard battles of the Peninsular War, specially after the British reorganization of the Portuguese Army since 1809. The British command practically had rebuild an entire military organization and indoughtfully made the Portuguese Army one the most reliable allies in the Peninsular War or even in the whole Napoleonic period. Here is a list of some campaigns, battles and combats where the Caçadores were present, along with other Portuguese corps and most of them in the British Brigades:

Bussaco, 27th September 1810

The Light Division under Craufurd’s command – Beckwith’s Brigade: the 3rd Caçadores battalion;

Barclay’s Brigade: the 1st Caçadores battalion.

Pack’s Independent Brigade: the 4th Caçadores battalion.

Campbell’s Independent Brigade: the 6th Caçadores battalion.

Coleman’s Independent Brigade: the 2nd Caçadores battalion

Lecor´s Brigade: the 5th Caçadores battalion.

All the Caçadores battalions were engaged in the fighting, under the British Independent Brigades command, except the 5th Caçadores battalion. which was attached to the brigade of the Portuguese General Carlos Lecor.

Albuera, 16th May 1811

Collin’s Independent Brigade: the 5th Caçadores.

Fuentes de Oñoro, 1811

The 1st, 2nd ,3rd, 6th and 8th (former 2nd Loyal Lusitanian Legion) Caçadores battalions, attached to the British Brigades.

Sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, 1812

The 1st, 3rd , 7th and 12th Caçadores battalions, attached to the British Brigades.

Salamanca, 22 July 1812

The 3rd Division under Packenham’s command – Power’s Brigade: the 12th Caçadores battalion. The 4th Division under Cole’s command – Stubbs Brigade: the 7th Caçadores battalion. The 5th Division under Leith’s command – Spry’s Brigade: the 8th Caçadores battalion. The 6th Division under Clinton’s command – Rezende’s Brigade: the 9th Caçadores battalion. The Light Division under Alten’s command – Vandeleur’s Brigade: the 3rd Caçadores battalion. Pack’s Independent Brigade: the 4th Caçadores battalion. Bradford’s Independent Brigade: the 5th Caçadores battalion.

Vittoria, 21st June 1813

The 2nd Division under Stewart’s command – Ashwort’s Brigade: the 6th Caçadores battalion.
. The 3rd Division under Picton’s command – Power’s Brigade: the 11th Caçadores battalion.
The 4th Division under Cole’s command – Stubb’s Brigade: the 7th Caçadores battalion.
The 5th Division under Oswald’s command – Spry’s Brigade: the 8th Caçadores battalion.
The 7th Division under Dalhousie’s command – Le Cor’s Brigade: the 2nd Caçadores battalion.
The Alten’s Light Division – Kempt’s Brigade: the 1st Caçadores; Vandeleur’s Brigade: the 3rd Caçadores battalion.
Bradford’s Independent Brigade: the 5th Caçadores
General Silveira Portuguese Division – Campbell’s Brigade: the 10th Caçadores battalion.
At the final stages of the Peninsular War in the Pirenneus campaigns, the fightings on the Nivelle and Nive rivers, in Bayonne and Toulouse and between 1813 and 1814 had, at least, the participation of the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 9th Caçadores battalions.


The Caçadores soldiers were humble and good willing men but at the same time hard and fierce fighters. In the great battles in the Peninsula like Busaco, Albuera, Salamanca or Vittoria, the Portuguese Caçadores behaved as well as their British counterparts, harassing the French Army and never giving up. They became also known for never having left behind their wounded comrades, despite the distance from their motherland and showing a great endurance towards the land difficulties, the long and fatiguing marches and the hazardous weather of Iberian Peninsula. All these facts were related by British officers as well as others who were in the command of Portuguese units, including the Caçadores battalions. Such examples can be found in the testimonies of the Portuguese born staff officer William Warre or General Picton, the commander of the 3rd British Division both of them stating the bright evolution of the Portuguese troops and considering them as better as any other troops, including the British3. But the most severe judge was Lord Wellington himself, the one who usually called his troops the scum of the earth,in fact he had no problems in considering the Portuguese soldiers, the Caçadores most certainly, as the fighting cocks of the army.


I dedicate this article to my dear friends René Chartrand and Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Carvalho, as well as to the staff of the Oporto Military Museum. Last, but not the least, to my wife Teresa.


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