Battle of Telavera
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Historical military art prints of the Peninsula War including the Battles of Televera, Fuentos d'Onoro, Albuera, Badajoz, San Sebastian, Salamanca and Benevente. Napoleonic art prints by leading military artists published by Cranston Fine Arts.
The Battle of Corunna, 1809 Sir John Moore is one of the few soldiers who have won lasting fame by the conduct of a retreat. When he was sent to arrest the victorious march of Napoleon through the Peninsula he foretold failure. Despite many difficulties he succeeded in baffling the greatest military genius that the world has known, and in lowering the prestige of triumphant arms. With twenty thousand fighting men he invaded a country overrun by three hundred thousand veterans, and, meeting with no support from the Spaniards, struck boldly at Bonaparte's communications. The audacity of this strategy drew from Napoleon the admission that Moore was the only foe worthy of his steel. With characteristic energy Bonaparte abandoned his plan of campaign and set out in pursuit, but rumour of an alliance between Russia and Austria sent him in hot haste to Paris. Soult was left behind to drive the British into the sea. Undismayed by the overwhelming force with which he was threatened, Moore prepared to meet the French. But prudence prevailed. Madrid had capitulated without striking a blow, and the Spanish legions had melted into shadows. Eluding the snares set for him by the perfidy of persons in high places and warned by the treacherous folly of the British representative, Moore made up his mind to fall back upon the coast. His force was so reduced that he had to post his men on an inferior range of hills commanded by the artillery fire of the enemy. But advantage of position and superior numbers were of no avail against the gallantry of the British. By a skillful move Moore managed to outflank the left of the French columns sent to crush the infantry under Baird. Centre and left became engaged and a furious fight swept along the line. Hill and valley re-echoed with the din of battle. Moore was in the forefront of the conflict near the village of Elvina, against which the assault was fiercest. Here a cannon shot struck him on the left breast, shattering the shoulder to pieces, breaking the ribs over the heart and tearing the muscles to shreds. Thrown violently from his horse he gave no sign of the terrible nature of his wound, but fixed his gaze steadily on the troops. Only when he saw the thin red line advancing did he suffer himself to be carried to the rear. The hilt of his sword had entered the wound and an officer of his staff would have removed it. "It is as well as it is", said the dying soldier, "I had rather it should go out of the field with me". Moore died as he had always wished to die. "I hope my country will do me justice", were among his last words. And England had reason to be satisfied, for by his skill, his foresight, and his bravery, he saved her army from destruction, and arrested the blow that Napoleon aimed at the conquest of Spain. (extract from British Battles 1898)
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BARROSA, 5 March 1811 Two weeks after the battle at Busaco Wellington's army began to enter the Lines of Torres Vedras, a series of natural and man-made barriers which stretched across the Lisbon peninsula between the Tagus and the Atlantic. The system comprised mainly of three separate lines; the first, to the north, ran inland from the Atlantic to the town of Torres Vedras and then on to the Tagus. The second line ran almost parallel to the first but was five miles farther south. The third lay west of Lisbon and enclosed an area from which a re-embarkation could be carried out should it become necessary. The system included the damming of streams and rivers to make inundations, castles in towns were protected by earthworks and every hill along the first two lines was crowned with a defensive work or redoubt. Coupled with the naturally rugged terrain the Lines of Torres Vedras were an almost impregnable system of fortifications behind which Wellington placed his army along with as much food as could be gathered in from the outlying countryside.
Massena and his army were shocked when they came face to face with the lines. They were stunned by their extent and strength and it did not take long for Massena, who had absolutely no idea of their existence, to realise that it would be hopeless to attack them, particularly with the recent unpleasant experience at Busaco still fresh in his mind. He was left, therefore, with little choice but to sit down in front of the lines and wait in the hope that Wellington would come out and attack him. Wellington had no such intention, however, and while his own army grew stronger and was supplied through Lisbon by the Royal Navy, he was only too pleased to sit and wait and starvation took a hold on Massena's army.
In mid-November 1810, Massena's starving army, having made no impression at all on Wellington's lines, began to pull back and by April 1811 had recrossed the border into Spain having lost almost 25,000 men.
Whilst Massena's army was dragging itself back into Spain another 25,000 French troops, under Marshal Victor, were laying siege to the important Allied port of Cadiz which was garrisoned by an equal number of British and Spanish troops. The Allied troops were well protected by strong fortifications and their situation improved when French troops began to be withdrawn from in front of Cadiz in response to Massena's appeals for reinforcements. These requests had resulted in Soult having to pull out of Andalucia in order to beseige Badajoz, Soult in turn drawing upon Victor's force to assist him. This move reduced Victor's force to around 15,000 men.
The reduction in enemy troop numbers around Cadiz, coupled with the news of Massena's retreat towards Spain, prompted the much-encouraged defenders into launching an attack on the French besiegers. The attack involved shipping 10,000 Spanish and 4,000 British troops some 50 miles to the south to Tarifa, from where they would march north to attack the French from the rear while at the same time some 4,000 Spaniards would make a sortie from Cadiz.
Commanding the British troops was the 62 year-old Major General Sir Thomas Graham, one of the oldest but most spirited generals in the British Army. Graham had received orders from Wellington that on no account was he to serve under any Spanish general but for the sake of Anglo-Spanish relations Graham relented an agreed to serve under the inept and very haughty General Manuel La Pe?, the choice of the Spanish junta.
Graham's force set sail on February 21st 1811 although bad weather prevented the force from landing at Tarifa and forced it on instead to Algeciras where it disembarked on February 23rd. The Spanish contingent did not arrive until February 28th but soon afterwards the whole Allied force was on the march north towards Cadiz. The march was fraught with disagreements between Graham and La Pe?, who insisted on making night marches which usually resulted in the troops losing their way. Nevertheless, early on the morning of March 5th the force found itself marching along the beach near the tower of Barrosa, the waves of the Atlantic crashing in on their left.
Later on that morning, La Pe?'s advanced guard clashed with elements of Villatte's French force although the fighting was cut short when the garrison in Cadiz launched its sortie which forced the French to withdraw. Graham, meanwhile, had positioned his British troops on the ridge of Barrosa which stretches for about a mile and a half from the coast on the left to the thick pine forest of Chiclana on the right. No sooner had Graham's men settled down than a messenger arrived with orders from La Pe? who, flushed with his earlier success, wanted Graham to leave the ridge and join him. It was obvious to the British commander that the ridge would be an important strategic position in the forthcoming battle which now seemed inevitable. Nevertheless, he ordered his men to march off but only after having first left behind a composite battalion under Colonel Browne, consisting of two companies each of the 1/9th, 1/28th and the 2/82nd, as well as five Spanish battalions.
Graham and his men had not long set off along the dusty road leading from the ridge when two rather animated Spanish guerrillas came riding up with the news that a French division was moving through the forest towards the ridge, just as Graham had feared, and that another division was advancing from the south. The French troops advancing through the forest belonged to Leval's division whilst the other division was Ruffins's and between them they managed to panic the five Spanish battalions into abandoning the ridge without hardly having to fire a shot, thus leaving Browne's composite battalion all alone.
Graham was unaware of the flight of the Spaniards but was certainly made aware of the close proximity of the French when a couple of round shots came bouncing in between the trees, killing an officer of the Guards. First to turn about was General Dilkes' Brigade of Guards who pushed their way through the ranks of the 2/87th in order to get forward. When the 1st Foot Guards advanced they did so in the face of heavy French musketry from the top of the ridge, the overwhelming French numerical superiority having forced Browne's men to retire earlier.
With the British situation deteriorating rapidly Graham decided that the only solution was to drive the French from the ridge using the Brigade of Guards supported by Wheatley's brigade. Browne's six companies, meanwhile, would attack first in order to give the Guards time to deploy, news of which was delivered by Browne himself to his men with the words, "Gentlemen, I am happy to be the bearer of good news. General Graham has done you the honour of being the first to attack these fellows. Now follow me, you rascals." Browne's men advanced up the ridge with determination and courage but took heavy casualties from the French artillery and musketry. There was little cover for his men and after a few salvoes and volleys had swept away over half his men Browne ordered them to fall back and lie down, taking advantage of what little cover there was available to them. A French counter-attack would have meant the end for Browne and his small unit but just as Ruffin began to deploy, Dilkes' Brigade of Guards appeared from the forest.
The Foot Guards advance took them along a route which afforded them rather more cover than had Browne's route and they were supported by the ten guns under Major Duncan. Nonetheless, the advance proved a difficult one as the Guards had been on the march all morning and had not had time to cook any breakfast. Four battalions of Ruffin's infantry stood atop the ridge, ready to greet them, but the Guards would not give way but fought like tigers and continued their advance. The 1st Foot Guards, in the first line, were supported by the 3rd Foot Guards with Graham himself at their head, waving his hat in the air, cheering his men forward. Browne's men too, having recovered from their earlier ordeal, now rejoined the fight and together the British troops forced the French back until they were finally on top of the ridge. Then, Graham shouted, "Now my lads, there they are. Spare your powder, but give them steel enough," and with that his men charged forward and drove the French from the ridge but only after a bitter fight.
Elsewhere, the British troops had been equally successful. On the left, Wheatley's brigade had thrown back and defeated Laval's division. During this struggle Sergeant Patrick Masterman, of the 87th, captured a French eagle after a savage little fight in which no more than seven French soldiers were killed defending it and one lieutenant severely wounded.
Soon afterwards, the battered and bruised French withdrew from the field leaving Graham's equally exhausted soldiers in possession of the ridge. Of 5,000 British troops engaged some 1,238 had become casualties against 2,062 French. Ruffin himself was wounded and one of his brigadiers, Rousseau, later died of his wounds. Five French guns were taken also.
Graham had achieved a remarkable victory without the aid of a single Spanish soldier, La Pe? refusing to march to his assistance. His men had also taken the first Imperial eagle of the war which was brought home to England and laid up at Whitehall amidst great pomp and ceremony.We'd like to thank Ian Fletcher, renowned military author on the Peninsula and Waterloo, for his contribution ot our website.
The Middlesex Regiment at the Combat of El Bodon & Battle of Cuidad Rodrigo
Excerpt form the Navy and army Illustrated August 18th 1897 by Colonel W W Knollys
Early in 1811 the regiment embarked for the Peninsular, and before the year was out had covered itself with glory at the action of El Bodon. In September, Marmot determined to introduce provisions into Cuidad Rodrigo, which had been blockaded by Wellington for some weeks. One of the results of this was the "Combat of El Bodon", as Napier calls it. In those days the term battle was reserved for great occasions. On the morning of 25th September General Colville, with the 5th and 77th, and the 21st Portuguese, with two batteries of Portuguese artillery and three squadrons of cavalry - two squadrons 11th Light Dragoons and one squadron 1st German Hussars - under Major-General Baron Alten, were attacked by overwhelming numbers. The assailants consisted of between 30 and 40 squadrons of French cavalry with 12 guns, followed by 14,000 infantry with a due proportion of artillery. The British occupied a height convex towards the enemy, and covered in front and on both flanks by bushes. It was, however, too large to be occupied properly by the small force at General Colville's disposal.
Montbrun, at the head of over 30 squadrons of cavalry, advanced by the road through El Bodon direct on Fuente Guinaldo, which was held by the English and Portuguese. This distinguished cavalry commander, noting his opponents' weakness, determined to attack before the supporting French infantry could come up. The Portuguese guns plied the French horsemen well with shot, but, nothing daunted, the gallant Frenchmen persisted. Crossing a ravine they rode up the height on three sides and arrived at the top only to be saluted with the fire of the defender's infantry and artillery and the heroic dash of the cavalry, who charged again and again the heads of the French columns and drove them back. Napier says the the British and German Hussars charged them no less than 20 times. That may be a loose expression, but it is certain that our horsemen charged the heavy masses of the French cavalry repeatedly, each time forcing them back. Not less gallant, however, than their opponents, the French each time rallied, and failure was followed by a fresh effort to crown the crest of the hill.
At length Montbrun brought up his guns. A squadron of the 11th Hussars, charging too far, became entangled in the intricacies of a ravine. The French profited by the opportunity, and charging the Portuguese artillery, captured two of their guns, cutting down the gunners who stuck to their pieces manfully.
Then occurred an incident almost without example in war. The 5th Regiment actually charged the French cavalry and recovered the guns, and the 77th on their left, under Lieutenant-Colonel Bromhead, at the same moment charged and drove back the French horsemen in their immediate front. By this time the French infantry were close at hand, and Lord Wellington sent word to Colville to retire. Then was accomplished another feat which reflects the highest credit on the 5th and 77th regiments. These two weak battalions were formed in one square. The 21st Portuguese formed another square, which was also joined by the Portuguese artillery, and the three squadrons who feared to be cut off as the French had turned our right. Thus the retreat was effected in two echelons, the 5th and the 77th being the nearest to the enemy. The movement to the rear had scarcely commenced when, to quote the eloquent words of Napier, " In an instant the whole of the French cavalry came thundering down upon them. But how vain, how fruitless, to match the sword with the musket; to send the charging horseman against the steadfast veteran. The multitudinous squadrons, rending the skies with their shouts, and closing upon the glowing squares, like the falling edges of a burning crater, were as instantaneously rejected, scorched and scattered abroad; and the rolling peal of musketry had scarcely ceased to echo in the hills, when bayonets glittered at the edge, and with firm and even step, the British regiments came forth like the holy men from the Assyrian's furnace."
The French cavalry made no more attempts to break the steadfast British square, and though they threatened the Portuguese square, they, probably deterred by the fact that it was supported by the Portuguese guns and our three squadrons, made no actual charge. During the remaining portion of the day the French contented themselves with following Colville, who had been reinforced, with mere artillery fire.
At the capture of Cuidad Rodrigo by assault on the 12th January 1812, the 77th played a conspicuous part. The 3rd - Picton's - Division, to which the regiment belonged, was told off to attack the great breach. The left breach was stormed by the Light Division, and false attacks were made elsewhere. The Light division showed the most astounding intrepidity under the most desperate circumstances, and after suffering losses that may be called, without exaggeration, appalling, eventually succeeded. The task of the 3rd division, though arduous enough, not quite so arduous as that of the Light Division. Picton - who as Charles Lever says in "Charles O'Malley" was always in a heavenly humour when somebody was going to be killed- was a general to get the utmost out of his men, and on this occasion they fought splendidly, the 77th being among the leading regiments. Having escaladed the Fausse Braye, the 3rd division cleared it till they came to the foot of the great breach. This they mounted in the face of a most destructive fire, which every second stretched an officer or man among the ruins. The French from their entrenchments poured forth a constant stream of bullets, and were aided by the fire of their comrades occupying the houses in the rear of and overlooking the ramparts. Our men had forced their way up to nearly the top of the breach, but could not advance further in the teeth of the two guns which at only a few yards swept the narrow passage with grape. Die, Picton's men could; go back they would not. At length the other breach was carried, and the 43rd and the stormers of the Light Division came down on the flank of the defenders of the great breach. Three small expense magazines exploded about this time, and the defence weakening, the 3rd division, by a great effort, carried the retrenchments. The total loss of the allies in this siege was about 1,200 soldiers and 90 officers. Of these some 650 men and 60 officers were the casualties due to the assault.
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