This siege took place during the War of the Spanish Succession when a Grand Alliance army led by Lord Peterborough, supporting the Habsburg claimant to the Spanish throne, captured the city of Barcelona from its Spanish Bourbon defenders.
Catalonia was regarded as of strategic importance and a potential source of military support for the Allies of the Grand Alliance in their bid to place Archduke Charles of Austria on the Spanish throne in opposition to the rival French Bourbon candidate Philip V. Barcelona was recommended as a potential target by the region’s former Governor Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt. In 1704, he had attempted a landing outside the city but had been forced to withdraw. Prince George continued to believe that the Catalans would welcome Allied intervention due to their opposition to the Bourbon King in Madrid and that the Bourbon authorities had recently further alienated the Catalans by the imposition of a series of extremely repressive measures against them.
In 1705, a new Allied expedition, of mainly Anglo-Dutch troops set sail from Lisbon. The commanders had orders that permitted them discretion to choose between several different destinations, including Cadiz and Toulon, but it was decided to attempt to take Barcelona again.
The expedition was under the overall command of the Lord Peterborough, his second-in-command was General James Stanhope. They were accompanied by Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt and the Austrian Archduke Charles. The fleet carrying them was commanded by Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell. The fleet arrived off Barcelona on 16 August.
The city’s defences had recently been repaired and strengthened and measures taken to make sure there was no rising by the Catalans in support of the Allies.
On 23 August the Allied troops, including Charlemont’s Regiment of Foot (later the 36th Foot), were landed three miles east of Barcelona. They were given a warm welcome by local inhabitants and several thousand Catalan rebels gathered outside the city. The Allies proceeded to invest Barcelona to prevent any resupply of the garrison. Entrenched batteries were prepared under the direction of Colonel John Richards, but Archduke Charles initially forbade a bombardment of the city for fear of offending his potential subjects.
Apart from the construction of siege works very little activity took place for several weeks. Lord Peterborough was concerned that he had too few soldiers relative to the size of the garrison, and considered abandoning the siege. However, he was opposed by Admiral Shovell as well as a number of his subordinates who favoured an assault. It was eventually decided that the allies first had to take possession of Montjuïc Castle. This stronghold overlooks and dominates the city of Barcelona. Therefore, in September the Lord Peterborough agreed to launch an attack, and to deceive the garrison he pretended to abandon the siege and march away towards Tarragona.
Late on the night of the 13th September, a force under the command of Prince George of Darmstadt approached the castle in three separate columns. One under the command of General James Stanhope, acted as a diversion to draw the attention and fire of the defenders, while the other two attacked the rear of the castle. They were initially repulsed, but attacked again and succeeded in taking the outer defences of the castle.
Fighting carried on for several days but on the 17th, the castle finally fell to the Grand Alliance. Peterborough established artillery batteries in the castle, which had a commanding position over the city of Barcelona from which they bombarded it until its surrender a month later on the 19th of October.
The Bourbon forces launched a concerted attempt to recapture it the following year during the Siege of Barcelona (1706), which failed. The city and Catalonia remained in Allied hands until reconquered by the Bourbons in 1714.
With Soult moving east, Wellington sent Beresford and two divisions to seize Bordeaux, the third-largest city of France. To make up for this Wellington summoned 8000 Spanish infantry and the British heavy cavalry as reinforcements. Meanwhile, the British-Portuguese-Spanish army pushed the French out of Aire-sur-l’Adour on 2 March in a skirmish. Soult pulled back to Plaisance and Maubourget, facing west. A ten-day lull followed, during which time Wellington’s reinforcements began to arrive.
On 12 March, Beresford captured Bordeaux without resistance. Leaving the 7th Division as a garrison, he rushed back to join Wellington with the 4th Division. Meanwhile, on 17–18 March, in a raid with 100 French cavalrymen, Captain Dauma circled the Allied army’s south flank and attacked Saint-Sever where he captured 100 men. At the same time, Wellington launched his offensive, hoping to ensnare Soult’s army. By rapidly marching east to Saint-Gaudens and north-east to Toulouse, the French avoided the British flanking columns. Reaching Toulouse, Soult placed his soldiers behind the city’s walls and fortifications.
On 4 April, Wellington’s engineers threw a pontoon bridge across the flooding Garonne north of the French city. After 19,000 Anglo-Allies crossed, the bridge gave way, trapping the men for three days. But Soult failed to take advantage of his opportunity to defeat Wellington’s army in detail. On 8 April, in a fine charge, the British 18th Hussars under Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Murray seized the bridge at Croix d’Orade on the Hers. Meanwhile, on 7 April at midnight, the official couriers left Paris with news that Napoleon had abdicated and that the war was over.
Toulouse lies on the Garonne, which runs into the city from the south-west, then turns and exits to the north-west. Just east of the Garonne, the smaller Hers-Mort runs past the city from the south-east to the north-east, forming a narrow corridor. To attack the city from the north, Wellington’s main force would have to cross to the east bank of the Garonne, then drive south-east down the corridor between the two rivers.
West of the Garonne lies the fortified suburb of St-Cyprien. To the north, Soult’s outer defence line rested on the Languedoc Canal. Three bridges crossed the canal, at Pont Jumeaux to the north-west, Pont des Minimes to the north and Pont de Matablau to the north-east. Each crossing was commanded by a powerful redoubt. The Heights of Calvinet (Mont Rave) rose east of the city and west of the Hers River. The Heights were crowned with several redoubts. Soult held St-Cyprien with one division and the canal line with another division. Jean-Pierre Travot’s conscripts lined the city walls. Jean Darmagnac’s division stood between the Heights and the canal. The divisions of Jean Isidore Harispe and Eugene-Casimir Villatte defended the Heights with Eloi Taupin’s division in reserve. Soult’s cavalry screened to the east and south.
Wellington began his attack on Easter Sunday, 10 April. Hoping to divert some of Soult’s forces, the British general sent Hill with the 12,600 men of the 2nd Division and Portuguese Division to attack St-Cyprien. The rest of the Anglo-Allied army (36,000) operated east of the Garonne and north of the city. The 3rd Division faced the north-west canal line with the Light Division to the east. Wellington planned to make his major effort against the Heights of Calvinet. Beresford would take the 4th and 6th Divisions and the Hussar brigades down the west bank of the Hers. Once he reached a point east of the city, Beresford would veer west and attack the Heights with the Hussars protecting his south flank. At the same time, Freire would assault the northern end of the Heights with his two Spanish divisions. Two heavy dragoon brigades waited in reserve.
To the west, Hill drove in the French outposts but the fighting was not serious. His forces suffered about 80 casualties. Exceeding his orders, Thomas Picton mounted a full-scale attack on the Pont Jumeaux with his 3rd Division and was repulsed with 400 casualties. Meanwhile, Beresford’s men encountered muddy fields and fell behind schedule. Unable to move his artillery, he ordered the cannons to take a position near the northern end of the Heights and open fire. Freire, thinking this was the signal for the combined attack, sent his men to assault the Heights. The Spanish infantry forged uphill and gained a momentary foothold in a road cut, but they were counter-attacked by a cloud of French skirmishers and soon sent fleeing. Covered by the Light Division, the Spanish foot soldiers rallied, then attacked and were defeated a second time.
At last, Beresford’s two Anglo-Portuguese divisions reached their starting positions, with the 6th Division, including the 36th Regiment of Foot in Major General Lambert’s 2nd Brigade, leading. A French division counter-attacked, but was easily driven uphill, and the Allied divisions began to advance up the slope. They fought their way to the top of the Heights despite bitter resistance, then paused to drag up some cannon. Swinging to the north, they began rolling up the French defences. Beresford’s men captured two redoubts, lost them to a counterattack and finally seized them again after bringing the 4th Division forward. The heights being lost, Soult withdrew his soldiers behind the city’s fortifications.
Soult held Toulouse during the day of 11 April but decided to pull out of the city upon detecting allied cavalry moving up the Toulouse-Carcassonne road. At 9 pm that evening, the French withdrew out of Toulouse by the Carcassonne road.
On the morning of 12 April a delegation of city officials handed over the city to the Allied army. That afternoon, Wellington got news via Bordeaux from Frederick Ponsonby of Napoleon’s abdication. A few hours later in the evening, this was confirmed when the official couriers arrived from Paris. Wellington sent them on at once to Soult.
The Allied army suffered 4,558 casualties, including 1,900 from Freire’s divisions and 1,500 from the 6th Division. Brigade commanders Denis Pack, James Douglas, and Thomas Brisbane were wounded. French casualties numbered 231 officers and 3,005 men killed.
On 13 April while on his march from Villefranche to Castelnaudary the Marshal was caught up by the officers from Paris. They were met with a rebuff – Soult declared himself not convinced of the authenticity of their credentials. He definitely refused to acknowledge the provisional regime till he should have, what he considered, solid evidence of its legality. On receiving Soult’s refusal to acknowledge the Provisional Government, Wellington sent him on 14 April a reply to the effect that no armistice would be granted until he made his submission; it was suspected that the Marshal wished to keep his army under his own hand for the purpose of Napoleonic intrigues. By 15 April Marshal Suchet at Perpignan had accepted the evidence, placed himself at the disposition of the new government and asked Wellington for an armistice.
The last major action of the war occurred on 14 April at the Battle of Bayonne, when the French commander Thouvenot led a sortie from the besieged city against the Allied lines.
On 17 April, Soult at last received a dispatch from Berthier which formally announced the Emperor’s abdication and consequent cessation of hostilities in all quarters. There was nothing more to be done and, the same day, his chief-of-staff went to Toulouse to sign an armistice, ending the fighting in the south. The city was briefly placed under Coalition control during the summer of 1814, with the withdrawal of allied troops in September.
On the morning of February 23rd 1814 the left wing of the Allied army under Sir John Hope began its daring crossing of the Adour to the west of the town of Bayonne. The Guards, supported by riflemen of the 5/60th, crossed the river in small groups, ferried across the river on rafts. By the end of the day a bridgehead was established and even a French counter-attack failed to stop the operation. By the afternoon of February 26th a bridge of boats had been constructed across the river, which enabled Hope to get some 8,000 men across to the north bank. Bayonne was now completely surrounded and the blockade began.
The next day Wellington, with the main Allied field army, fought a major battle at Orthez, some thirty-five miles away to the east. On February 26th Beresford had crossed the Gave de Pau with the 4th and 7th Divisions near Peyrehorade, pushing Soult back towards Orthez. The 3rd Division forded the river at Berenx while Wellington himself brought up the 6th, which included the 36th Foot in its 2nd Brigade, and Light Division, plus a force of cavalry, across on a pontoon bridge, which had been thrown across the Gave, also at Berenx. Hill, meanwhile, with the 2nd Division and Le Cor’s Portuguese division, marched to the south of Orthez, passing to the east of the town but remaining on the south bank of the Gave.
On the morning of February 27th Wellington had with him on the northern bank of the Gave some 38,000 infantry and 3,300 cavalry as well as 54 guns. Soult’s army, of about 30,000 with six fewer guns, occupied a strong position along a ridge which ran north from Orthez for about a mile before running west for three miles from the bend in the main Bayonne-Orthez road, which ran along the ridge, to the small village of St Boes upon which Soult rested his right flank. Soult’s troops occupied the whole length of this ridge from which three very prominent spurs extended south towards the Gave. The spur on the extreme western edge of the ridge does not actually connect with the ridge itself, being separated by a few hundred yards. The remains of an old Roman camp were situated on the forward edge of the spur and would feature prominently in the battle.
The battle commenced at 8.30am on the 27th February when a battalion of French infantry was driven from the church and churchyard of St Boes by the 1/7th, 1/20th and 1/23rd, who made up Ross’s brigade of the 4th Division. The brigade advanced further east along the ridge to clear the rest of the village but it came under fire from French artillery and could go no further. French troops under Taupin were then sent to recover the village and St Boes became the scene of severe house-to-house fighting as both sides struggled for its possession.
While the fight for St Boes waged Picton’s 3rd Division entered the fray, attacking Soult’s centre. His troops advanced up the two centre spurs but were held up by French artillery that swept the crests of the spurs, inflicting heavy casualties. The attack here was only intended to be a demonstration, however, and he pulled his troops back leaving just his strong skirmishing line of light troops and riflemen to probe the French line, something which they continued to do for the next two hours.
Meanwhile, the fighting in St Boes intensified until at about 11.30 Wellington gave orders for an assault along the whole length of his line, leaving part of the Light Division only in reserve at the Roman Camp from where Wellington watched the progress of the fight.
On the Allied left Brisbane’s brigade of the 3rd Division began to push its way up the eastern-most spur with the 6th Division following behind. At St Boes, the 4th Division was replaced by the 7th Division, while the 1/52nd advanced from the Roman camp to deliver an attack on the French brigade on the right flank of the advancing 7th Division.
These attacks were pressed home vigorously but French resistance was stiff and it was to take the advancing British columns about two hours of hard fighting to drive the French from the spurs. This was not accomplished without loss, particularly to the 1/88th, three companies of which suffered heavy losses when a squadron of French cavalry, the 21st Chasseurs, charged and overran them after catching them in line. The French cavalry suffered similarly when they received the return fire from Picton’s men, half of their number being killed or wounded.
The French troops along the ridge were being severely pushed by Wellington’s attacking columns but it was the advance by the 1/52nd, under Colborne, that decided the day. This battalion entered the fight in support of the Walker’s 7th Division just at the moment when this division, along with Anson’s brigade of the 4th Division, was finally driving the French from the body-choked village of St Boes. The 52nd advanced almost knee-deep in mud in places but when it reached the crest of the spur it took Taupin’s division in its left flank. Taupin’s men were driven back by Colborne’s determined charge and fell in with those retreating from St Boes. In so doing, they precipitated a degree of panic, which caused the collapse of the entire French right. It was now about 2.30pm and with Wellington’s triumphant troops pouring along the main road on top of the ridge the day was as good as won.
At first, Soult’s army began to fall back in an orderly manner with the divisions of Villatte and Harispe drawn up on his left flank to cover the withdrawal. However, Hill’s corps had crossed the Gave to the east of Orthes and fell upon Harispe’s division, driving it back upon Villatte. The controlled retreat soon became a panic-stricken flight, which spread along the whole of the French line, Soult’s men discarding huge quantities of equipment to facilitate their retreat to the north-east towards Toulouse.
The battle of Orthez cost Wellington 2,164 casualties while Soult’s losses were put at around 4,000 including 1,350 prisoners, a number which would have been far greater had not Wellington been slightly wounded towards the end of the battle which caused him to halt and incapacitated him during the next few days.
After Soult’s defeat by Wellington at the Battle of Orthez in late February 1814, the French Marshal retreated north behind the Adour River to Saint-Sever. Soult could defend Bordeaux to the north-west or Toulouse to the east, but not both. The French army would have difficulty obtaining food near Bordeaux and it would place the Garonne River in their rear. Therefore, Soult elected to base himself on Toulouse
From October 1810 Marshal Masséna’s Army of Portugal had been forced into an increasingly hopeless stand-off against Wellington’s Allied forces, behind the Lines of Torres Vedras. In early 1811 Marshal Soult led a French expedition from Andalusia into Extremadura in a bid to draw Allied forces away from the Lines and relieve Masséna. However, Masséna’s starving army was already withdrawing to Spain. Soult was able to capture the strategically important fortress at Badajoz on the border between Spain and Portugal. Leaving the city strongly garrisoned Soult returned to Andalusia. In April, Wellington sent a powerful Anglo-Portuguese corps commanded by Sir William Beresford to retake the border town.
Soult rapidly gathered another army in Andalusia and marched to relieve the siege. Unknown to Soult, a Spanish army under Gen. Blake had linked up with the Anglo-Portuguese corps, and his 24,000 troops now faced a combined Allied army 35,000 strong.
Beresford was alerted to the French advance by reports received on 12 May. He kept up the pretence of besieging but he realized he would now not have time to finish the job, so he ordered the withdrawal of his siege guns and supplies. On 13 May, the Spanish cavalry attached to Colborne’s brigade came into contact with the French force. Beresford moved the British 2nd Division (including the 29th Foot with a strength of 507 Officers and men), Major General Hamilton’s Portuguese division and three artillery batteries from Badajoz to Valverde—an ideal position to observe the three routes open for Soult’s approach. The Allied leaders consequently agreed to concentrate at Albuera, which was the location chosen by Wellington as best suited for an attempt to resist any French advance to relieve Badajoz.
By 15 May it was clear to Beresford that Soult was taking the central route to Badajoz, which ran through Santa Marta and the village of Albuera. He made further adjustments to his deployment, moving the 2nd Division and Hamilton’s Portuguese to defend the village, where they were joined by Alten’s King’s German Legion (KGL) brigade and a further Portuguese brigade composed of garrison and light troops temporarily formed for the campaign.
On the afternoon of the 15th, the British Army took up its position on a ridge about 4 miles long, which ran parallel to the rivulet of Albuera and at about 600 yards distant from it. On the right the heights were step. To the front of the centre of the army lay the village of Albuera itself with a bridge over the river.
Alten’s KGL were placed in Albuera, while Hamilton’s division along with most of the Portuguese cavalry formed the Allied left wing to the north of the village and Major General William Stewart’s 2nd Division (including th 29th Foot) formed up on a hill just to the west of Albuera. The right wing of the Allied army was to be supplied by the four Spanish infantry divisions, while the Allied cavalry and artillery along with the 4th Division provided a strong strategic.
Beresford deployed his troops on the reverse slopes of such hills as could be found on the battlefield; unable to see the Allied army, Soult was still unaware that Blake’s Spanish divisions had come up during the night. Thus, on the morning of 16 May 1811, the Marshal proceeded with an attempt to turn the Allied right flank. Soult’s first move was to launch a strong feint attack towards Albuera. He sent Godinot’s infantry brigade, flanked by light cavalry and supported by artillery, across the bridge towards the village.
At the same time two brigades of dragoons and Werlé’s infantry brigade showed themselves on Godinot’s left, advancing out of an olive wood in front of Blake’s position to Alten’s right. With a large concentration of French troops now menacing the village, the Allied commanders sent reinforcements to Alten’s aid.
While the Allies were bracing themselves for a frontal assault on their centre and right, Soult was preparing his real thrust. The two V Corps divisions of Generals Girard and Gazan, preceded by a cavalry brigade, swung left to begin the Marshal’s flanking move—their progress was concealed by intervening olive woods, and the first the Allies knew of them was when four French cavalry regiments burst from the southern end of the woods, crossed two brooks, and scattered Loy’s Spanish cavalry on the right of Beresford’s lines.
Beresford immediately issued new orders. He directed Blake to swing his forward line around to face the approaching French. Lumley’s cavalry was sent to support Loy’s horse and hold Blake’s right flank, while Stewart’s 2nd Division was sent south from its location behind Albuera to take up a new position behind Blake in readiness to provide support if needed. Cole’s 4th Division was ordered to form up behind the cavalry, and Hamilton’s Portuguese moved to the Allied centre to hold Albuera and act as a reserve.
Blake however did not follow Beresford’s orders; he still believed that the French attack would come at his front. Keeping his forward line in position, he instead moved four battalions from Zayas’s division to form his new southern-facing front. Zayas deployed these battalions, from the Spanish second line, in two groups. Two battalions of Spanish Guards were formed up, in line, at the top of a steep incline while the remaining two formed close columns behind them; a single battery of Spanish artillery supported the whole position.
Beresford, on hearing of Blake’s limited redeployment, rode back to personally supervise the operation. He merged Zayas’s second pair of battalions with the first pair, forming a front line four battalions strong. He then sent orders for Lardizabal to bring up three of his battalions to support Zayas’s right, and for Ballesteros to bring a further two in support of the left. However, these reinforcements did not arrive in time to meet the first French attack—Zayas’s four battalions had to face two entire French divisions alone.
While Beresford had been redeploying his army, two brigades of dragoons galloped from the French right-centre, passed behind V Corps, and joined Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry on the left. At the same time Werlé’s division closed up with the rear of V Corps, becoming the French reserve. Soult had concentrated his entire infantry strength, except for Godinot’s 3,500 men who were still engaged at Albuera, and most of his cavalry, into one front marching on Blake’s right flank.
The two divisions of the French V Corps advanced one behind the other against Zayas’s position. The first of these divisions, that of Girard, moved in ordre mixte—four battalions in column flanked on either side by a battalion in line, and further flanked by a battalion and a half in column—while Gazan’s division moved in battalion column. Girard’s voltiguers engaged Zayas line and gradually thinned the Spanish front rank. When Girard’s main column came within about 50 metres of the Spaniards, the skirmishers retired and the battalions behind them opened fire. The Spaniards held their ground, exchanging volleys with the French, and eventually repelled Girard’s first attack.
Despite their resistance Zayas’s men were being slowly forced back. However, they held long enough for Stewart’s 2nd Division to advance to their support. Stewart brought John Colborne’s 1st Brigade up, followed by the Division’s two other brigades. The 3rd Regiment of Foot (the Buffs) took the lead, followed by the 48th and the 66th. Colborne’s brigade formed up on the French left, and supported by a battery of KGL cannon the British opened fire, forcing Girard’s two flanking battalions to face outwards in order to return fire.
The musketry duel that developed between Colborne’s brigade and Girard’s left flank was so intense that both sides faltered. The left of Colborne’s brigade, assailed by both musket fire and grapeshot from Girard’s supporting guns, tried to force the issue with a bayonet charge but were unsuccessful. On the right Colborne’s men continued to trade volleys with the French and, seeing their resolve wavering, also fixed bayonets and charged.
As the brigade moved forward a blinding hail- and rain-shower hit the battlefield, rendering both sides’ muskets useless. Under cover of the reduced visibility Latour-Maubourg launched two cavalry regiments at Colborne’s exposed right flank. Ploughing through the unprepared British infantry, they virtually annihilated Colborne’s first three regiments. Only the fourth, the 31st Regiment of Foot, was able to save itself by forming into squares.
Having captured five regimental flags and eight cannon the cavalry swept past the 31st’s square, scattering Beresford and his staff, and attacked the rear of Zayas’s line. Zayas met this assault unflinchingly while continuing to direct fire at Girard. By this time the rainstorm had cleared and Lumley, commanding Beresford’s horse sent two squadrons of the 4th Dragoons to disperse the lancers. Closing on the action, the 29th Regiment of Foot (the lead regiment of Stewart’s second brigade) opened fire on the scattered Vistula lancers.
The fighting on the Allied right now paused as both sides sought to regroup. Girard’s division had suffered considerably in its battle with Zayas, and Colborne’s actions had caused significant French casualties. Girard now regarded his division as a spent force and brought up Gazan’s 2nd Division to take its place. Advancing in column, Gazan’s battalions had to struggle through the remnants of Girard’s retiring units. As a result, many of the 1st Division’s survivors were swept up and incorporated into Gazan’s column, which grew by accretion into a dense mass of 8,000 men, losing much of its cohesion in the process. The ensuing disruption and delay gave the Allies time to re-form their own lines. Beresford deployed Houghton’s brigade behind Zayas’s lines and Abercrombie’s to the rear of Ballesteros, then moved them forward to relieve the Spaniards
The French only deployed a skirmish line against Abercrombie’s brigade, so the weight of the renewed assault fell on Houghton. Despite being joined by the sole survivors of Colborne’s brigade (the 31st Foot), just 1,900 men stood in line to face the advancing corps. Houghton’s three battalions (the 29th Regiment of Foot, 1/48th Regiment of Foot and 1/57th Regiment of Foot), suffered huge casualties, with 56 officers and 971 men killed or wounded from their complement of 95 officers and 1,556 men. (Major Gregory Way commanding the 29th Foot was badly wounded. Ensign Furnace only 17 years of age, who had, whilst carrying the colours received a severe wound, but declined to leave the field soon succumbed to another this time fatal wound. The Regiment suffered the following casualties: killed: 1 Captain, 1 Lieutenant, 3 Ensigns 1 Serjeant, 76 Rank and File. Wounded: 1 Lieut. Colonel, 1 Major, 3 Captains, 4 Lieutenants, 3 Ensigns, 1 Staff; 12 Serjeants, 220 Rank and File. Missing 11 Rank and File.)
More than compensating for the firepower disadvantage of his infantry formation, Girard brought guns up to just 300 yards from Houghton’s line—close enough to enfilade it with a crossfire of grape and shot.
Under this assault Houghton’s brigade lost two-thirds of its strength. The Brigadier himself was killed, and as casualties rose its shrinking line could no longer cover the frontage of the attacking column. However, the French were in no condition to press home their numerical advantage; British volley fire had taken its toll and Girard lost 2,000 men during the confrontation. He had tried to form his unwieldy corps-sized column into line to bring his full firepower to bear and overwhelm Houghton’s brigade, but his deploying companies were constantly driven back into the column by the intense British musketry.
Although the French attacks were being held, the result of the battle was still far from certain. Soult had Werlé’s divisional-sized brigade in reserve, and most of Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry had not been engaged. However, the presence of Cole’s fresh 4th Division, still formed up in readiness behind Lumley’s squadrons, seems to have persuaded Soult not to use his strong force of horsemen. The Marshal, having outmanoeuvred the Allies with his flank attack, went on the defensive: the cavalry were refused permission to charge, and Werlé remained in reserve.
On the Allied side Beresford was proving no more incisive. Anxious to reinforce Houghton and Abercrombie, he tried to bring up de España’s independent brigade, but they refused to move within range of the French. Leaving Cole’s division in place Beresford instead called upon Hamilton’s Portuguese Division, but Hamilton had moved closer to Albuera to support Alten in fending off Godinot’s attack, and the orders took a long time to reach him. Hamilton’s brigades only started moving half an hour after the orders had been sent.] With his right under heavy pressure and casualties mounting, Beresford finally sent for Alten’s KGL, ordering 3,000 Spaniards to Albuera to relieve them and take over the defence there. Alten hastily regrouped and marched south to the Allies’ right wing, but Godinot took Albuera before the Spaniards could arrive, exposing another Allied flank to the French.
It was at this critical point that he decisive move of the battle was made by General Cole. Standing idle under explicit orders from Beresford, he had nevertheless been considering advancing against the French left flank, but he was wary of moving his infantry across open country in the face of 3,500 French cavalry. After a brief consultation with Lumley, Cole began to redeploy his division from column into line. Mindful of the dangers presented by Latour-Maubourg’s horsemen, Cole flanked his line at either end with a unit in column: on the right were the division’s massed light companies. Lumley formed up the whole of the Allied cavalry to the rear and right, accompanied by a battery of horse artillery, and the whole mass, some 5,000 infantrymen, advanced on V Corps’ left flank.
The sight of the approaching Allied line forced Soult’s hand—if Cole’s division was not stopped, defeat was certain. He sent four regiments of Latour-Maubourg’s dragoons to charge the Portuguese section of Cole’s line, and committed the whole of Werlé’s reserve to protect V Corps’ flank. The dragoons swept down on Harvey’s Portuguese brigade fully expecting to destroy it as they had Colborne’s. The inexperienced Portuguese, however, stood firm and drove away the cavalry without even forming square. The division’s left soon encountered Werlé’s brigade, which outnumbered them two to one. Despite his advantage in numbers, Werlé had formed his nine battalions into three columns of regiments, and could not bring as many muskets to bear as the Allies. Three separate regimental musket duels ensued, as the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers and the two battalions of the 7th Fusiliers each took on a column. During the fire-fight the French tried once more to extend into line, but as before the concentrated Allied fire prevented their deployment. After 20–30 minutes of bitter conflict they finally broke and ran
Meanwhile, Abercrombie had wheeled his brigade round to face the right of the beleaguered V Corps and charged; Girard’s and Gazan’s men fled to the rear, joining the fugitives from Werlé’s brigade. The Allied 4th Division and parts of the 2nd went after the retreating French. Latour-Maubourg quickly placed his cavalry between the Allies and the fleeing French infantry, and aborting their pursuit the British and Portuguese instead drew up on the heights they had just won. Soult also moved up his final reserve to cover the retreat, and although these suffered heavily from Allied artillery fire, they and the cavalry ensured there was little further fighting. After six or seven hours of bitter conflict, the battle had come to an end.
On the morning of 17 May both sides formed up again. Soult marched away before dawn on 18 May, leaving several hundred wounded behind for the Allies to treat, and Beresford, despite a large advantage in numbers and a day’s rest, was nevertheless unable to pursue. So many were injured in the battle that two days later British casualties were still waiting to be collected from the field. The chapel at Albuera was filled with wounded Frenchmen, and the dead still lay scattered across the ground. In proportion to the numbers involved, the Battle of Albuera was the bloodiest of the whole Peninsular War.
The losses on both sides were horrific, Allied losses amounted to 5,916: 4,159 British, 389 Portuguese and 1,368 Spaniards French casualties are harder to ascertain, the official figure drawn up on 6 July revised that number upward to 5,936.]
On 23rd July 1808, General Arthur Wellesley received a dispatch from Viscount Castlereagh, the Secretary of War, informing him that the French General Junot’s forces in Portugal now numbered more than 25,000. Castlereagh explained his plans to re-inforce the British army in Portugal with 15,000 men. General Sir John Moore was to proceed with an army from Sweden, and another force would be dispatched from Gibraltar. The command of this larger force would pass to Sir Hew Dalrymple (the Governor of Gibraltar). He was to seconded by Sir Harry Burrard and attended by five other generals, all senior to Wellesley.
On 30 July 1808, General Wellesley started to disembark his troops at Mondego bay. The landing took a number of days and it was not until the 10th of August, the army marched to Leiria. Wellesley arrived on the 11th. The army then began its march toward Lisbon shadowing a detachment of the French army under the command of General Henri Delaborde. These troops had been sent by Junot to hold the British while he brought his larger army into position to oppose the Anglo-Portuguese forces.
By 14 August the British reached Óbidos. Here the British vanguard, consisting elements of the 5th/60th and 95th Rifles, clashed with the rear-guard of the French. The 4,000 French retired to the wooded hills around Óbidos and Roliça. The French position to the north of Roliça, on the higher ground, allowed them to block the roads south towards Lisbon and the approaches to the village which are via four gullies which led up the hill. Debris and the steep sides to these gullies made attack in formation impossible.
Wellesley arrived at Óbidos on 16 August and advanced on Roliça on the next day. With his army of 16,000 men, he attempted to a double envelopment manoeuvre, moving against both flanks of the French position, whilst distracting the French with a show of force in the centre. The French moved forward to the south and east of the village at the top of a steep hill to block its approaches.
Colonel Lake of the 29th Regiment of Foot in the centre then advanced up a gully toward the French position. He arrived behind Delaborde, which cost Lake his life and most of the men in the 29th.
The enemy occupied the village of Columbeira, situated on the principal road to Lisbon, and of course necessary for our further operations. After some skirmishing, and under a heavy fire from the surrounding heights, we drove the French from this point; but their principal position was on the heights of Roleia, which overlook and overtop the village. These were our next objective ……. Our enterprising antagonist, you may be sure, had not neglected these; and, while climbing up through briars and brushwood, plied us successively with grape and musketry. I commanded the right centre company, the fifth from the right; each scrambled up the best way he could; and, on gaining the summit, I found several officers, and about 60 privates of the 29th who were in front of me; only one of my own company reached the top with me, the rest following fast. Here we lost that distinguished ornament of his profession, my good friend Colonel Lake, and many other gallant officers, long my companions in the regiment. My poor private, the moment he stepped up, was also knocked down by my side; in the agonies of death he asked leave to shake hands with me; he was a good soldier, and few knew their duty better. Upon advancing, we were immediately attacked by a platoon of 90 men, whom we repeatedly repulsed; these were, however, joined by another of the same number, who charged us with the bayonet, with whom we sustained the unequal conflict; but our little band being now considerably advanced in front, and reduced to 25, Major Way, Captain Ford, and myself, and our brave companions, were under the painful necessity of surrendering. Even this, however, did not satisfy the sanguinary enemy, who seemed bent on bayoneting us all. After many narrow escapes, General Brennier at last came up, and with difficulty put an end to the carnage, and to the distressing scene around the dead and dying. I have been oftener than once engaged with French troops, and my former opinion still remains unchanged; upon anything like equal terms, they have no chance with the British bayonet; so it would have been the case now.
This prompted a general attack in relief of the outnumbered British. The fight was rough and uphill. Delaborde repulsed three assaults by the British until nearly 16:00 hours. By which time Wellesley reached positions at the top of the hill and Ferguson arrived over the hills to the east. Delaborde began to withdraw in good order with effective aid from his cavalry. Without British cavalry to press the pursuit, they successfully withdrew to Montachique near Torres Vedras.
The Anglo-Portuguese lost 487 casualties, over half that number from the 29th. The French lost 700 men and three of their five guns. The following day Wellesley found that the 4,000 additional British troops had arrived from England and were off the coast. He marched away to cover their disembarkation rather than follow up his victory.
Killed, wounded and missing of the 29th Foot in the Battle of Rolica , 17th August 1808
Killed: 1 Lieut.-Colonel, 2 Serjeants, 31 Rank and File.
After the Battle of Roliça, General Sir Arthur Wellesley established a position near Vimeiro to cover a beachhead at Maceira Bay. Most of ,his reinforcements had arrived by 20 August and Wellesley planned to advance to Lisbon. His force consisted of eight independent infantry brigades, 17 cannons, 240 light cavalry and about 2,000 Portuguese troops him giving a total of 20,000 men. This was the first action of the Peninsular war when both the 29th Foot, in the 3rd Brigade under Major General Nightingall, and the 36th Foot, in the 2nd Brigade under Major General Ferguson fought on the same field.
Opposing him was General Junot’s 14,000-man army was organised into two infantry divisions and a cavalry division under Pierre Margaron. Henri François Delaborde’s infantry division contained two brigades under Antoine François Brenier and Jean Guillaume Barthélemy Thomières, while Louis Henri Loison’s division included two brigades commanded by Jean-Baptiste Solignac and Hugues Charlot. In addition, François Étienne de Kellermann commanded a 2,100-man reserve made up of four combined grenadier battalions made up of the grenadier company from each of Junot’s infantry battalions. The French were supported by 23 cannons.
The battle started with an attempt at an outflanking manoeuvre by the French but Wellesley was able to redeploy his army in time to meet this threat. Wellesley placed Anstruther’s and Fane’s brigades in front of Vimeiro, with Acland’s men in support. At first, his five remaining brigades held only the western ridge. Junot planned to send Thomières, Solignac and Charlot’s infantry brigades to capture Vimeiro, while Brenier’s 4,300-man brigade and some dragoons swung in a wide flanking manoeuvre to seize an empty ridge to the northeast of the village. Wellesley detected Brenier’s move and switched Nightingall (including the 29th Regiment), Ferguson (incuding the 36th Foot) and Bowes Brigades to the northeastern ridge. Once Junot realised that British troops occupied the ridge, he sent Solignac’s brigade to the right to assist Brenier’s attack. The French commander decided to launch his attack on the town immediately, instead of waiting for his flanking move to develop.
All the preliminary moves and countermoves caused a series of uncoordinated French attacks. First, Thomières’ 2,100-man brigade approached the British position. Supported by three cannons and screened by skirmishers, the brigade was formed into a column.
To counter the French skirmishers, Fane detached four companies of the 60th Regiment of Foot and the 95th Rifles. These outnumbered and outfought the French skirmishers, who fell back to the sides of the brigade column. Without their skirmishers in front of them, the French column blundered into the 945 men of the 50th Regiment. At 100 yards the British, formed into a two-deep line, opened fire. Several companies of the 50th began wheeling inward toward both flanks of the French column. Unable to properly deploy into firing line and unwilling to face the deadly enfilade fire, the French infantry fled to the rear, leaving their three cannons to be captured.
Soon after, a similar fate overtook Charlot’s brigade. In a very narrow column, it struck one battalion of Anstruther’s brigade, which had been hidden behind a crest. Before they could deploy, the French were taken in flank by a second battalion. Unable to effectively reply to the devastating British volley fire, Charlot’s men fled. Seeing the battle going against him, Junot committed his grenadier reserve to the attack. The first two battalions attacked the same area as the previous units and were thrown back. Kellermann swung the final two grenadier battalions wide to the right and succeeded in breaking into Vimeiro. But, counterattacked by units from Anstruther’s and Acland’s, these Frenchmen also fell back. The 20th Light Dragoons pounced on Kellermann’s retreating grenadiers and routed them. Excited by their easy success, the British horsemen charged out of control. They were met by Margaron’s French cavalry division and were routed in their turn.
As Brenier’s men had become lost in the hills, Solignac attacked the northeast ridge. This brigade changed tactics deploying in an attack formation with three battalions abreast. Even so, each battalion formed a column one company wide and eight companies deep. If the French intended to form into line once the enemy position was detected, they waited too long. They marched into the kill zone of Nightingall and Ferguson’s brigades before they could deploy. Smashed by British volleys, Solignac’s men fled.
Brenier’s brigade, marching to the sound of battle, came on four battalions abreast. At first they enjoyed success when they surprised and defeated two British battalions. Victorious, the French column pressed, but soon ran into the 29th Regiment in line and were stopped. The 29th was joined by the other two units, who had quickly rallied. Together, the volley fire of the three British battalions soon routed Brenier’s men.
At the Battle of Vimiero the 29th Regiment suffered the following casualties: Killed: 2 Rank and File. Wounded Brigadier-Major Andrew Creagh , 1 Serjeant, 10 Rank and File.
After the comprehensive French defeat, Junot offered complete capitulation. Nevertheless, Dalrymple gave the French far more generous terms than they could have hoped for. Under the terms of the Convention of Sintra, the defeated army was transported back to France by the British navy, complete with its guns and equipment and the loot it had taken from Portugal. The Convention of Sintra caused a massive outcry in Britain and, following an official enquiry, both Dalrymple and Burrard were blamed. Wellesley, who had opposed the agreement, was exonerated.
Also known as the Battle of the Douro or the Second Battle of Porto, was a battle in which General Arthur Wellesley’s Anglo-Portuguese Army defeated Marshal Nicolas Soult’s French troops and took back the city of Porto. After taking command of the British troops in Portugal on 22 April, Wellesley (later named 1st Duke of Wellington) immediately advanced on Porto and made a surprise crossing of the Douro River, approaching Porto where its defences were weak.
The 29th Regiment of Foot formed part of the 6th Brigade in Lt. General Edward Paget’s Division. The French having collected all the boats to their side of the river, failed to either guard them or destroy them. This being observed signs were made to the inhabitants, who availing themselves of the confusion in the French army, instantly brought over several boats, into which the 29th jumped, and pushing across, succeeded in gaining the opposite shore. Having landed and formed, the regiment moved up the main street and the grenadiers opened fire on the retreating enemy.
Soult’s late attempts to muster a defence were in vain. The French quickly abandoned the city in a disorderly retreat.
This battle ended the second French invasion of Portugal. Soult soon found his retreat route to the east blocked and was forced to destroy his guns and burn his baggage train. Wellesley pursued the French army, but Soult’s army escaped annihilation by fleeing through the mountains.
In Spain known as Battle of Elviña, took place on 16 January 1809, when a French corps under Marshal Nicolas Soult attacked a British army under Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore. The battle was a result of a French campaign, led by Napoleon, which had defeated the Spanish armies and caused the British army to withdraw to the coast following an unsuccessful attempt by Moore to attack Soult’s corps and divert the French army.
Doggedly pursued by the French, the British made a retreat across northern Spain while their rearguard fought off repeated French attacks. Both armies suffered extremely from the harsh winter conditions. Much of the British army, excluding the elite Light Brigade under Robert Craufurd, suffered from a loss of order and discipline during the retreat. Throughout the retreat the 36th Foot part of the 2nd Division under Lt. General Hope and part of the 3rd Brigade under Major General Catlin Crauford, formed part of the rearguard. When the British eventually reached the port of Corunna on the northern coast of Galicia in Spain, a few days ahead of the French, they found their transport ships had not arrived. The fleet arrived after a couple of days and the British were in the midst of embarking when the French forces launched an attack.
In the resulting action, the British held off French attacks until nightfall, when both armies disengaged. British forces resumed their embarkation overnight; the last transports left in the morning under French cannon fire. But the port cities of Corunna and Ferrol, as well as northern Spain, were captured and occupied by the French. During the battle, Sir John Moore, the British commander, was mortally wounded, dying after learning that his men had successfully repelled the French attacks.
“Inter-war sport was marked by competition with foreign teams, but such interaction also illustrated problems with the British focus on amateurism. By the 1930s, Belgian and French teams were far superior to British counterparts because these armies encouraged sporting development along professional lines. Both the Belgian and French armies, which enforced conscription, found their countries’ best sporting players serving time in the military, in which they were carefully groomed for competition. The British army, being a volunteer organization, could not compete against such rivals, and this conflict between professional and amateur sporting ideologies led to the British breaking off sporting relations with the French. But sports were a major draw for the British army, in terms of recruitment, against declining pay standards and limited promotion prospects. To support this attraction, the British forces increased funding for sports through non-public service funds, rather than forcing payment through games subscriptions or gate money.”
Sport and the Military: The British Armed Forces 1880-1960 (2010) by Tony Mason and Eliza Riedi, Cambridge University press.
Key Inter-war Regimental Footballers
Joining the Worcestershire Regiment in August 1919, 3 months before his 18th birthday, Alfred Dalloway would go on to spend the best part of 40 years with the regiment in various capacities. He has been noted to be “one of the most loved and loyal members of the regiment” there ever was.
Being one of the most renowned servicemen in the Regiment, Dalloway possessed many great attributes. Many of which helped him to excel at sports, especially football. Clearly passionate about playing the game, Alfred Dalloway gained a British Army cap against Belgium in 1930. Unfortunately, he could not inspire the team to victory as they suffered a 4-2 loss in London. This is no surprise however; as the inter-war period saw foreign armies surpass the capabilities of the British Army in sport. This was in part due to the British Army’s attempts to keep sport amateur and discourage the “evils” of professionalism. Foreign Armies were doing quite the opposite as teams such as Belgium had the best pickings of their country’s footballers due to conscription.
On Thursday 13th of March 1930, Dalloway put in one of his best performances playing “like a Trojan” to score two goals that would make his team win the Worcester Thursday Medals Competition. During this era “he was always scheming on the field of play to try to bring off a win even when a weak side was fielded.” This sort of mindset shows that he was aware of the other members of his team and their strengths or weaknesses and could adapt to differing scenarios.
The man affectionately known as simply “Curly” was praised highly by his associates for his sporting prowess. One description of him provides some insight into his qualities, stating that he was a “tower of strength” and excelled in “every form of sport”. His athleticism is noted on several occasions but his footballing aptitude shines off the pages of the regimental magazine with accounts of matches, such as the ability to have “tricked 3 opponents,” lay it off and clinch the assist in a match against Bromsgrove E.C. on the 11th of March 1937.
Often the Captain of representative Army sides on Malta and China, he arrived in Shanghai greeted by Colonel Pelly with the remark; “ready for football tomorrow Dalloway?” as he marched down the gangway of the boat. One could argue he had a sort of cult fame when it came to football within the Worcestershire Regiment. After being the 2nd Battalion’s resident captain for a decade, Dalloway found himself posted to The Depot in 1936. He had been with the 2nd Battalion in Dublin, Dover before becoming part of the British Army of the Rhine and then going on to Malta and China. When it was time for the 2nd Battalion to travel to India, Dalloway, now a sergeant was posted to the Depot.
Upon arriving at the Depot he made an instant impact in the 1936/37 season, where the team racked up 110 goals, winning 14 out of 20 games. Whilst only netting 2 goals, “great credit must be given to Sgt. Dalloway for the very capable way he captained the team” during this period. This was the best set of results The Depot had mustered since 1923.
After the Second World War Dalloway rose to prominence as a Billiard and Snooker player, extending his sporting vocabulary even further, adding to his experiences with football, hockey and cricket from his time with the 2nd Battalion. Retiring from service after 18 years in 1938 after some leg trouble, he stayed on at Norton Barracks as Sgts Mess Caterer. Dalloway operated in that capacity until 1959 when the Depot was closed down.
Reginal Horton Couchman
The 10th March 1901 saw Reginal Horton Couchman enter the world. After leaving Sandhurst for Worcester in 1920, he would go on to serve for 9 years in the Regiment. He is one of the most important figures for football in the Worcester Regiment as when the “The Green ’Un” first took shape in 1922, it was Couchman that was responsible for the first set of articles headed “Association Football”. A true pioneer for the documentation of history. He gave his opinions on the various teams across the battalions, performance analysis and gathered the results. Although at times the information on football can appear sparse in the regimental magazine, it must be remembered that the only reason it is there initially is because of Couchman.
In terms of playing the game himself, he was perhaps Worcester regiments highest recognised player. With an impressive British Army cap record of 12 games, playing a total of 5 against both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. The other 7 games were against the French and Belgian Armies. Not only is this impressive by British Army standards, as hardly any players got to play on that many occasions, it is remarkable for a solider in the Worcestershire Regiment. It is ironic that for such a prolific shooting regiment, one of Couchman’s earliest complaints in the Regimental magazine is “the weakness forward” and the use of the phrase “we cannot score goals” is rather a blunt and effective description of the team’s form at the time.
In 1929 he transferred to the reserves and then the following year to the 1st London Rifle Brigade (TA) as a Captain. The 27th February 1937 saw Couchman become a Major. Throughout the Second World War he performed a few different roles and was eventually invalided out in 1944.
During his time with the Worcester Regiment, R.H. Couchman proved himself a stellar performer when it came to Athletics, most notably in 1928 when he was awarded a plaque for reaching Olympic standard in the Modern Pentathlon. Championing the importance of fitness throughout his Army sporting life, he certainly had the wherewithal to back it up. A true credit and pioneer to the Regiment.
Arthur Temple Burlton
Born on the 10th March 1900 Arthur Temple Burlton was commissioned into the Worcestershire Regiment from Sandhurst on the 15th December 1919. His first role was in the 4th Battalion in January of 1920 just before they were moved to Cologne in March where the Battalion engaged with BAOR activities. 1922 saw the 4th Battalion disbanded so Burlton was placed in the 2nd Battalion who were stationed in Dublin. Having spent 1927 to 1930 in Allahabad, it would seem that this would be the longest period of A.T. Burlton’s army career spent in one place. A very different scenario to his involvement in the Norwegian Campaign of 1940. A loyal servant to the Worcestershire Regiment, gaining promotion in 1941 to become a Lieutenant Colonel commanding the 10th Battalion. Burlton would eventually spend 24 years with the Worcesters. Upon leaving the 1st Battalion, it is noted that the group penned, “the loss to us can not be overestimated” in the Regimental Magazine in April 1936.
Marrying on the 16th November 1927 to Enid Doreen, Burlton had two Grandsons who would go on to serve in the 4th/7th Royal Dragoons.
Before joining the Military Government of the British Army of the Rhine in 1945 and then retiring from the Army in 1948, Burlton had accomplished much in the way of sporting endeavour. A proficient boxer who often featured in bouts for the Army Officer’s Boxing Team. He is also the one responsible for chronicling the first few regimental boxing activities in the Regimental Magazine. A talented athlete, taking part in a variety of activities during his time with the 1st 2nd and 4th Battalions respectively, alongside proficiency in cross country. He occasionally partook in Hockey duties but in his own words only “when they were hard up” due to injuries and the like.
He was the 12th man in A.E.R Gilligan’s 1926/27 Army-n-India Cricket side. Demonstrating a serious passion for the sport of Cricket, Burlton founded The Mount Cricket Club in 1934 and “after the war killed the club, resurrected it in 1962”. A statement filled with pride. As the Regimental Magazine states, Burlton’s “record as a cricketer needs no emphasis”.
Arthur Temple Burlton was extremely proficient at football and was one of the most valued inter-war stars for the regiment. His “chief asset being the way he feeds his forwards,” a statement most likely thought up by and approved for publication by his good friend at the time, R.H. Couchman. A footballer “who plays with his head and works very hard,” a most perfect combination of work ethic and a footballing brain. These highly prized assets gained Burlton an international army cap against Belgium in 1924. Also in 1924, Arthur Temple Burlton was awarded his Regimental Colours for football, an honour that was no doubt prized as much as his other stellar achievements.
On March 16th 1812 a British Force some 15,000 strong with a battering train of 52 guns reached Badajoz, a strongly fortified Spanish town near the frontier with Portugal.
General of Brigade Philippon commanded in Badajoz with a force of 4,742 men and although short of powder and shell, still presented a formidable task to a besieging army. He had taken every means possible to strengthen his post: mines were laid, the arch of a bridge built up to form a dam, ditches cut and filled with water, fortifications constructed, ramparts repaired and that he should have no useless mouths to feed, the inhabitants were ordered to lay up 3 months’ provisions or leave the town. Badajoz was also protected on one side by a river, 500 yards wide in places and having several outworks, notably one called the Picurina on a hill to the South East.
Such was Badajoz when Picton’s 3rd Division (which included the 45th of Foot (1st Nottinghamshire Regiment)), Lowry Cole’s 4th Division and the Light Division invested it. The rest of the army covered the siege and the 5th Division was on its way from Beira
On the night of 17th March; 2,000 men moved silently forward to guard the working parties who began to break ground 160 yards from the Picurina. The sentinels on the ramparts heard nothing in the howling wind and at daylight, so well had the volunteers from the 3rd Division laboured, 3,000 yards of communication and a parallel 600 yards long were revealed.
The next night, it was prolonged to the right and left and two batteries traced out. Wet and stormy weather harassed the workmen and flooded the trenches, but in spite of this the parallel was extended across the Seville Road, towards the river by the 21st March and three counter-batteries were commenced between Picurina and the river in order to open on San Roque, which covered the bridge and dam across the Rivillas as well as the Castle and the ground on the left of it.
On the 23rd March the floods in the trenches suspended all work, but on the 24th the 5th Division invested the place on the right bank of the river and, the weather having cleared the batteries were armed with ten 24 pounders, eleven 18 pounders and seven 5 and a quarter inch howitzers, all of which opened fire on the following day. They were replied to vigorously, but in spite of this the San Roque was silenced and the Picurina garrison so galled by the fire of the marksmen that no one dared to look over the parapet. The outward appearance of the fort showed no signs of great strength and the order was given to assault.
The ‘Fighting Third’ were, as usual, to the fore and five hundred men of that Division were assembled for the attack on the evening of the 25th. At nine o’clock, the evening being fine, flanking columns, each composed of two hundred men moved out to the right and left, while one hundred men remained in reserve in the trenches. The two flanking columns advanced simultaneously against the palisades but were held in check until the reserves were sent forward, when, in spite of a fearful fire, the stormers scrambled over the palisades and up to the ramparts. Here a desperate hand-to-hand fight raged; nearly all the officers fell and half the garrison were killed or wounded before they surrendered with the remainder. Thus the first phase of the attack was completed and the Picurina won. Three battalions were at once advanced to secure the work and the second parallel was begun.
The breaching batteries opened on the 30th March and by 6th April three breaches had been made, all of which were considered practicable. The main breach was on the right flank of La Trinidad Bastion, another in the curtain of La Trinidad and the third in the left flank of the Santa Maria Bastion. The four divisions were employed in the assault. The Light Division to attack the main breach, the fifth division to make a false attack on Pardaleras and a real attack on San Vincente, the fourth division to attack the two smaller breaches in the bastions of La Trinidad and Santa Maria and the ‘Fighting Third’ was ordered to escalade the castle.
The night of the 6th April was cloudy but fine and the assault was ordered for ten o’clock, but just before the appointed hour, a carcase fired from the town disclosed the position of the third division and drew fire upon it. It was useless to wait – and the ‘Fighting Third’ rushed forward. The troops, headed by their ladder men, crossed the bridge over the Rivillas in single file under a terrible fire and advanced up the rugged and broken ground, which led to the foot of the Castle walls. In the advance, Kempt’s Brigade formed the right and Campbell’s the left, while the 45th led the whole column.
The light-balls (carcases) of the enemy completely exposed the position of the 3rd Division and the loss as the men swarmed up to the walls was terrible. The ladders, which proved too short, were thrown down as soon as they were raised, while stones, logs of wood and all sort of missiles made terrible havoc among the men. At length, three ladders were fairly well placed and up the first of them climbed Lieutenant James Macpherson of the 45th. He arrived at the top before he discovered that the ladder was too short by some three feet, so pushing the head of it from the wall he called to upon his comrades to hoist him, ladder and all, upwards. Thrown up thus above the rampart he was shot by a French soldier before he had time to collect himself, two of his ribs were broken and he was unable to move either way. The next minute the ladder gave way and Macpherson fell insensible in the ditch.
Meanwhile, Ridge of the 5th managed to place a ladder where the wall was lower and an embrasure offered a chance of entry and a second ladder being placed by Cranch of the 88th the two swarmed up over the parapet followed by their men. The first man who sprang down from the ramparts into the Castle was Corporal Kelly of the 45th who killed a French Colonel as he did so. The Castle was won and the troops crowding in, in increasing numbers, speedily drove the French in desperate hand-to-hand fighting through the double gates into the town.
Macpherson, recovering and despite being wounded and bleeding, re-climbed one of the ladders into the Castle and made his way to the Keep where the French flag was flying. He seized the sentry and making his way to the flagstaff hauled down the flag and hoisted his own jacket in its place, which, bravely fluttering in the breeze at daylight testified to the gallant part the 45th had taken in the assault.
Meanwhile, the attack on the main breaches was going on with desperation, but with little success. For upwards of two hours a fearful fire of musketry and grape, together with hand grenades, bags filled with powder and every conceivable form of destructive missile had been poured over the heads of the attackers. Soon after midnight, when over 2,000 men had fallen Wellington ordered the remainder to retire and re-form for a second assault. To the South and West of the town the 5th division had been more successful having carried San Vincente by escalade and moved across the town towards the great breach.
As soon as he was sure of the Castle, Picton sent his aide-de-camp, Tyler to Wellington to report, who sent him back with orders to hold the Castle at all hazards. Feeling himself secure, Picton then sent parties to the left along the ramparts to fall on the rear of those defending the great breach and to communicate with the right attack on the bastion of La Trinidad. But the French, on retreating from the Castle had closed and strongly barricaded the gates communicating with the ramparts and to force these barriers was a work of considerable time and difficulty.
The capture of the Castle, however, coupled with the advance of the 5th Division through the streets soon convinced the French that it was useless to continue the struggle at the main breach; they gallantly rallied for some time and faced the troops taking them in the rear before breaking and fleeing by the bridge and covered way into Fort San Christoval. When the stormers mounted the great breach for the second time they accordingly found the ramparts abandoned; and the troops pouring into the unfortunate town from the three entries they had gained were quickly masters of the place. “Then followed a scene of riot and debauch unequalled in the annals of the British Army; the chains of discipline were thrown off and the whole force gave themselves up to pillage, intoxication and wanton destruction of life and property”.
Philippon, with the remnants of his brave companies, surrendered Fort San Christoval on the following morning and BADAJOZ was fully won, but at the fearful cost of 5,000 men of whom 3,500 fell in the assault.