"The Die-Hards" - A Regimental Nickname Many Wars In The Making

As a boy of 17, the young Scotsman, William Inglis, was commissioned as an ensign in the 57th Regiment of Foot and sent to North America. The 57th at that point in the war was a veteran unit of the American Revolutionary War having served in the New York theater at Long Island (1776), Fort Montgomery (1777) and in General Clinton's "Grand Forage" operation in 1778.  By 1781 though, when Inglis arrived, the war had moved further south and the fighting had died down around New York City where he was garrisoned for the remainder of the war.

William Inglis in later years.
At the war's conclusion, he would leave New York with his regiment and be sent to Canada where he would spend 10 years on deployment before returning home to England. He would earn two promotions in North America: Lieutenant in 1782 and a captaincy in 1785. You can imagine how Inglis and the regiment must have felt during those 10 years in Canada, having never lost a battle but having fought for the losing side of the war.

During the 1790s, after their return to England and as a revolutionary fervor was sweeping Europe, the 57th would be deployed to Brittany, France and then to the Low countries to participate in the Flanders campaign.  From there, the 57th and Inglis would be deployed to the West Indies and the Caribbean where Inglis would be promoted to Lt. Colonel and where he would earn the admiration of Sir John Moore during the invasion of St. Lucia.

He would return to England during the Peace of Amiens and raise a 2nd battalion for the 57th regiment.  The "fighting villains" as he referred to them, lacked discipline off duty but were praised when they wore the regimental uniform. Finally in 1809, Inglis and his regiment would join Wellington's army in Portugal on the latter's return to command.

In 1810, at Busaco, Inglis would command the 2nd Brigade under Maj. Gen. Hill's division but would be stationed on the extreme end of the British line and remain effectively out of action.

He would continue to serve in the Peninsular until getting his chance to lead men in a desperate battle at Albuera, as commander of the 57th.  With the destruction of John Colborne's brigade by the 2e Hussars and the 1st Polish Lancers on the British right flank, and the gradual withdrawal of Spanish forces under pressure from concentrated fire by masses of French infantry and cannon,  Major General Hoghton's brigade and Inglis and the 57th Foot were thrown forward to reinforce the faltering Spanish line.

The 57th's stand at Albuera would capture popular imagination back home in Britain and inspire this famous painting by Lady Elizabeth Butler

As the lines of red-coated British infantry from Hoghton's brigade fired volley after volley into the French infantry, Hoghton would fall, killed by a bullet and Inglis would be hit and severely wounded by a 4 lb grapeshot from a French cannon.  Hit in the neck and back he bled heavily on the battlefield. On a litter suffering from his wounds, he was removed to just behind his regiment's line and was heard by his men to yell throughout the battle "Die hard 57th!  Die hard!"

The 1st battalion 57th Foot, that had seen action in North America, St. Lucia and the Flanders campaign among their more famous deployments, suffered catastrophic losses at Albuera and yet held the line.  Regimental casualties included 422 of 570  in the ranks and 20 of 30 officers. Incredibly, Inglis would survive and return to action in the Peninsular for the fighting in 1813 after having been sent home to Britain to recuperate.

At the conclusion of the battle, Marshal William Beresford, the overall commander at Albuera, would write this to Lord Wellington about the 57th:

"...and it was observed that our dead, particularly the 57th regiment, were lying as they had fought in their ranks, and every wound was in the front."

The regiment would accept the "Die-hards" nickname after Albuera and would become famous in the British army for their gallantry.  Inglis would go on to command them throughout the remainder of the war, be appointed as Governor of Cork and die in 1835, some 24 years later.