Marshal Soult's Invasion of Estremadura, 1811

Marshal Soult's Invasion of Estremadura, 1811

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Marshal Soult's Invasion of Estremadura, 1811

Map showing the route of Marshal Soult's invasion of Estremadura in January-March 1811 and the main battles and sieges of the campaign. Clickable links are in red.

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William Beresford, 1st Viscount Beresford

General William Carr Beresford, 1st Viscount Beresford, 1st Marquis of Campo Maior, GCB , GCH , PC ( / ˈ k ɑːr ˈ b ɛr ɪ s f ər d / 2 October 1768 – 8 January 1854) was an Anglo-Irish soldier and politician. A general in the British Army and a Marshal in the Portuguese Army, he fought alongside The Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular War and held the office of Master-General of the Ordnance in 1828 in Wellington's first ministry. He led the 1806 failed British invasion of Buenos Aires

Marshal Soult's Invasion of Estremadura, 1811 - History

However even the Duke readily recognised Beresford's weakness in his abilities as a general, demonstrated by his point by point instructions issued to his subordinate in every event of French reactions to his approach and later siege of Badajoz.

This guidance by Wellington also went as far as him issuing a warning on the need for maintaining a tight hold on the cavalry, stating

'I recommend to you to keep your troops very much en masse. I have always considered the cavalry to be the most delicate arm that we possess. We have few officers who have practicalknowledge of the mode of using it, or who have ever seen more than two regiments together and all our troops, cavalry as well as infantry, are a little inclined to get out of order in battle.

To these circumstances add, that the defeat of, or any great loss sustained by, our cavalry, in these open grounds, would be a misfortune amounting almost to defeat of the whole and you will see the necessity of keeping the cavalry as much as possible en masse, and in reserve, to be thrown in at the moment when an opportunity may offer of striking a decisive blow.'

Needless to say, this kind of advice to an already unsound commander, would likely lead to serious problems when it came to deciding when the 'moment of opportunity' had arisen and how to respond, with, as always, the common soldier left to pick up the bill for the deficiencies in their commanding general officer, and alongside Albuera and indeed the bungled first siege of Badajoz, Campo Mayor stands testimony to those deficiencies.

Latour Maubourg's movements leading to his encounter with Beresford's army at Campo Mayor, 25th March 1811

As covered in my previous post, General Latour Maubourg was busy carrying out the orders of Marshal Soult to continue the French offensive in Estremadura after the capture of Badajoz, by marching north to neutralise the fortress towns of Albuquerque and Campo Mayor, which indirectly, put the French on a collision course with Marshal Beresford's army marching south to relieve the Spanish garrison of Badajoz.

Lieutenant General Robert 'Bobby' Ballard Long commander of the
Allied cavalry at Campo Mayor

Sir William Napier covered the events in just over a page of his history, that was to be the touch paper that ignited a row between him and others on one side, and Marshal Beresford and his supporters on the other, that would see pamphlets published refuting the accounts offered by each opposing camp.

'It has "been shown how Beresford was sent to oppose Soult beyond the Tagus, but the latter, disturbed by the battle of Barosa, which put all Andalusia in commotion, had returned to Seville, leaving Mortier to continue the operations.

Campo Mayor surrendered the 21st of March, and four days after, Latour Maubourg, having to bring away the battering train and a convoy of provisions, issued from the gates with nine hundred cavalry three battalions of infantry some horse-artillery and sixteen heavy guns, all in column of march, just as Beresford emerged from an adjacent forest with twenty-thousand infantry, two thousand cavalry and eighteen field-pieces.

The walled fortress town of Campo Mayor undergoing some restoration work on its defences at the time of our visit, hence the white awnings covering the exterior of the wall

An astonishing apparition this was to the French, for so adroitly had Wellington, while seemingly absorbed in the pursuit of Massena, organized this army, that its existence was only made known by its presence.

All Beresford's cavalry, supported by a field battery and a detachment of infantry under Colonel Colborne,* were close up ere the enemy knew of their approach, and the horsemen, sweeping by their left round the town and moving along gentle slopes, gradually formed a crescent about the French, who were retreating along the road to Badajos.

Colborne was then coming up at a run, a division was seen behind him, and the French infantry formed squares, supported by their cavalry, while their battering guns and baggage hurried on.

The road to Badajoz leads away from the hill top position of Campo Mayor along which the French made good their escape before the Allied pursuit in March 1811

General Long, holding back his heavy cavalry, directed some Portuguese squadrons, and the 13th Light Dragoons under Colonel Head, to charge. Head, galloping forward under a fire from the square, was met half-way by the French hussars with louse reins, and fiercely they came together, and many went down on both hides, yet those who kept the saddle drove clean through each other, re-formed, and again charged in the same fearful manner!

Desperately all struggled for victory, but Head's troopers riding close and on better chargers overthrew horse and man, and the hussars dispersed, yet still fighting in small bodies with the Portuguese, while the British squadron, passing under the fire of the square without flinching, rode forward, hewing down the gunners of the battering train and seeking to head the long line of convoy.

Phase 1 of the Combat of Campo Mayor. Mortier's force departs Campo Mayor on the road to Badajoz with 2,400 men including 900 cavalry (2nd & 10th Hussars & 26th Dragoons) a half battery of horse guns and a siege train of 16 guns. Having swung north of the town and with the British Heavy Cavalry in reserve to deal with the French column, once the guns and allied infantry had come up, the 13th Light Dragoons supported by Otway's Portuguese cavalry defeated the French dragoons and drove them off the field.. A representational sketch based upon Lieutenant Patrick Doherty's (13LD) MSS. Published in Long's memoirs. Not to scale. My illustration adapted from Ian Fletcher's book

They thought the heavy dragoons, the infantry and the artillery, marching behind them, would suffice to dispose of the enemies they passed, but Beresford took a different view. He stopped a charge of the heavy dragoons he suffered only two guns to open when six were at hand he even silenced those two after a few rounds, and let the French recover their battering train, rally their hussars, and retreat in safety.

Meanwhile the 13th and some of the Portuguese dragoons reached the bridge of Badajos and there captured more guns, but were repulsed by the fire of the fortress, and being followed by Mortier and met by Latour Maubourg's retreating column lost some men, but passing by the flanks they escaped, to be publicly censured by Beresford!

An inaccurate illustration with the 13th Light Dragoons shown wearing the 1812 uniform, shows Corporal Logan cutting down Colonel Chamorin, commander of the French 26th Dragoons.

The admiration of the army consoled them.

One hundred of the allies were killed, or hurt, and seventy taken the French lost only three hundred and a howitzer, but the colonel of hussars, Chamorin, a distinguished officer, fell in single combat with a trooper of the 13th Dragoons, an Irishman of astonishing might, whose sword went through helmet and head with a single blow.'

Suggesting some Roman input to its original building, the road from Campo Mayor stretches out ahead towards Badajoz, about three miles out from Campo Mayor, as described by Oman

Ian Fletcher goes into great detail analysing the accounts from both camps with those of the British cavalry commanders and their men the most compelling when it comes to refuting the counter arguments put up by Beresford and his supporters.

I can only recommend those interested into getting a fuller understanding of this action to read Fletcher's book but I quote Napier's account because of the compelling detail he includes that Oman omits in his account, as follows

'Seeing that Long was manoeuvring to outflank him, Latour-Maubourg ordered the 26th Dragoons to charge before themovement was far advanced. The British 13th formed to theirfront, and started to meet them the two lines met witha tremendous crash, neither giving way, and were mingled fora few moments in desperate hand to hand fighting, in whichColonel Chamorin, the French brigadier, was slain in a personalcombat with a corporal named Logan of the 13th.

Presentlythe French broke, and fled in disorder along and beside theBadajoz road. Then followed one of those wild and senselesspursuits which always provoked Wellington's wrath, and inducedhim to say in bitterness that the ordinary British cavalry regiment was ' good for nothing but galloping.

General Longsays in his account of the affair that he found it impossible tostop or rally the Light Dragoons, and therefore sent after themthe two squadrons of the 7th Portuguese, to act as a support.But the Portuguese put on a great pace to come up with the13th, got excited in pursuing stray knots of French dragoons,broke their order, and finally joined in the headlong chase asrecklessly as their comrades.'

Phase 2. The 13th LD and Otway's Portuguese pursue the French cavalry, capturing 16 heavy guns en route, thinking the heavy cavalry are forcing the French column to halt in their wake. However Beresford orders the heavy cavalry to halt.

The simple account of the 13th LD charging through the French dragoons, breaking them in mixed melee and then pursuing them madly along the Badajoz road doesn't make sense and ignores the testimonies of the first hand accounts that say the 13th LD passed through the French, turned, and charged again, during which the combat was conclusive and saw the French, now able to break for Badajoz, take full advantage of doing so, following the losses they had received.

If Oman's account is to be taken at face value, the French would have had to have reined in and tried to get back, stuck as they were between the 13th LD and an escape route to Badajoz and having the Portuguese behind them.

13th Light Dragoons

Lieutenant Dudley Malden of the the 4th Dragoons wrote in his diary that the 13th

'charged their flank several times'

Whilst John Burgoyne of the Royal Engineers recorded that the 13th

'went through them (the French) the enemy closed and faced to the right about, the 13th rode through them again, and again a third time, when the enemy's cavalry went off in confusion.'

One of the 13th's officers wrote

'The road to Campo Mayor to Badajoz runs across the great plain of Badajoz, and not even a thistle or briar to intercept the prospect. The French manoeuvered most beautifully all the way, and sustained three charges of our cavalry without breaking.

The 13th behaved most nobly. I saw so many instances of individual bravery, as raised my opinion of mankind in general many degrees. The French certainly are fine and brave soldiers, but the superiority of our English horses, and more particularly the superiority of swordsmanship our fellows showed, decided every contest in our favour it was absolutely like a game of prison bars, which you must have seen at school . The whole way across the plain was a succession of individual contests, here and there, as the cavalry dispersed . it was certainly most beautiful.'

The ground to the left of the road over which the 13th Light Dragoons and Otway's Portuguese, in support, met and defeated the 26th French dragoons

There is a military truism that states 'order, counter-order, disorder' and General Long found himself the victim of this truism when after agreeing his plan with Beresford, to see off the French cavalry or at least to neutralise it with the 13th LD and the Portuguese cavalry, the British Heavy Cavalry brigade would then support that move by holding up the progress of the French column long enough for Colborne to bring up the Allied infantry and artillery to force the French to surrender.

Beresford's 'counter-order' halting the Heavy Brigade threw the whole plan into disorder and his later claim that he considered that the 13th LD were lost, to justify his action, was contradicted by his infantry commander on the spot, Colonel John Colborne.

My depiction of the British Heavy Cavalry brigade (3rd Dragoon Guards and 4th Dragoons) under the command of Colonel George De Grey at Campo Mayor and Usagre

Colborne recounted

"From my position, I could plainly see the French evacuate the town, and I saw an admirable operation of the13th Light Dragoons, who passed through the French cavalry and dispersed them, and if they had been supported by the heavy cavalry, a most excellent coup de main would have been achieved, and the whole French force might have been made prisoner.

But just at that moment General Lumley, who commanded the heavy cavalry , to my great mortification, sent me a message by his aide de camp that the infantry must halt, as it was useless in the face of the superior strength of the enemy to continue the engagement.

'The whole of the 13th,' it was added, 'are taken'. I told the aide de camp that I had seen the contrary with my own eyes, and that I should do no such thing. The aide de camp said, 'Shall I take the general this message?' to which I replied, 'Yes, he thinks the 13th are taken, but there they are.'

However through this error, the heavy cavalry were halted, and the whole operation failed."

Phase 3. Unsupported, the 13th LD are driven off by the guns of Badajoz and with blown horses, on their return, are unable to stop the French column from recovering the heavy guns they captured, as the British Heavy Cavalry look on and do nothing to intervene.

One can only imagine how Colonel Head, commanding the 13th LD, felt, who, having triumphed over the French dragoons and pursued them up the road to the point of dispersal, then overcame the French guard marching with the sixteen heavy siege guns, to then order his troopers to take command of the mules towing them and look to try and drag them back up the road to Campo Mayor, only then to find his route blocked by the oncoming balance of French troops and no sight of his intended support from the heavy brigade.

With blown horses and no sign of relief from his support, he was forced to surrender his prize and make his way back into Allied lines only to have the wrath of Wellington and Beresford heaped upon his head and the unjustifiable slander of his regiment being an undisciplined bunch of gallopers.

The ground to the right where the British Heavy Cavalry under orders from Beresford not to advance, sat and observed the debacle unfold. One can only imagine their frustration as the French simply marched away down the road to the left.

As Fletcher goes on to highlight, Wellington's dispatch to Beresford and his verdict about the combat was so damning that it has prejudiced the case against the British cavalry ever since and I am forced to agree.

In it he accused the 13th Light Dragoons of 'undisciplined ardour' and that of 'a rabble, galloping as fast as their horses could carry them over the plain', issuing an order later censoring the 13th 'for their impetuosity' and want of discipline, although he did credit them for their bravery and resolution.

Personally, like Fletcher, I think the last verdict on the combat of Campo Mayor should rest with Sir John Fortescue, the historian of the British Army, when he concluded about the performance of the Thirteenth

'. who did not exceed two-hundred men, in defeating twice or thrice their numbers single handed, it is difficult to speak to highly. Indeed I know of nothing finer in the history of the British cavalry . if he (Colonel Head) had been supported and his trophies had been secured, the action would no doubt have become a classic in the annals of cavalry.'

Marshal Soult's Invasion of Estremadura, 1811 - History

This book was published in 2012 by Pen & Sword books and is entitled "The Battle of Barrosa 1811, forgotten battle of the Peninsular War", which as a title surprised me somewhat, as in my experience Barrosa is pretty well mentioned in most English accounts of the war I have read and is certainly not a battle that I would consider as forgotten, unlike many of the Franco-Spanish clashes, that often receive a lot less coverage in English written histories.

However my initial assessment of the title was before reading this compelling account of not only the battle but the significant events that surrounded it. The premise of the book is that Barrosa was one of the most important actions of the whole war and that it is its significance that often gets understated, with the major actions of Wellington's main force, operating out of Portugal, having a much higher profile in comparison.

So what does this book have to say on the matter?

The first three Chapters cover the start of the war up to the French laying siege to Cadiz and the build up of forces around the town.

The authors take the reader through a summary of the earlier events that lead to the war between former allies, France and Spain and Napoleon's scheming that enabled him to place his brother Joseph on the throne. The events of the Spanish uprising and the merciless French suppression of the patriots are covered together with the French forces dispatched to key areas in the peninsula to bring it under French control. British intervention in Portugal dealt with one of these columns, with Wellesley's defeat of Junot at Vimeiro, whilst Spanish armies under Castanos and Reding managed to force the surrender of General Pierre Dupont and his army of 18,000 men at Bailen, on his way to secure Seville and Cadiz.

The defeat of Dupont had dramatic effects, causing Joseph to leave Madrid and forcing the Emperor Napoleon to take control of events personally, entering Spain in November 1808 with 130,000 troops. In addition Andalusia acquired an ascendancy over other regions in Spain with the newly formed Supreme Junta basing itself in Seville and gaining a grudging acceptance from the other parts of Spain as the recognised national provisional government.

The advance of Napoleon on Madrid and his being drawn away to the north by Sir John Moore's British army meant that Andalusia remained free of French forces, and when Napoleon left the peninsula in 1809 to deal with Austrian issues he left Spanish forces scattered but undefeated and French forces only able to control territory within range of their muskets.

It was at this time that the British made approaches to the Junta in Seville that British troops might be sent into Andalusia to support Spanish forces on the proviso that a British garrison be formed in Cadiz to ensure a safe exit port should the need arise. This was the first occasion of the suspicion that dogged Anglo-Spanish relations during the war arising, when the Junta refused on the basis that they were nervous that Britain would occupy the city permanently as with Gibraltar. So it was that Britain's main army returned to the peninsula via Lisbon and, under Wellesley, established it's main base in Portugal. However from this point the two cities would be inextricably linked in the fortunes of the British forces operating out of Portugal.

The account then moves on to cover Wellesley's 1809 campaign to Oporto and against Madrid with the Battle of Talavera, forcing the French to evacuate Portugal, Galicia and Asturias in response. With the campaign against Austria concluded Napoleon was able to redirect forces back to Spain, the first arriving in December 1809, to regain the initiative and finish the job of crushing all resistance to King Joseph.

Joseph had recognised the importance of Andalusia, with the Supreme Junta directly challenging his authority by declaring itself the legitimate government of Spain. Andalusia was also the richest and most populated area in Spain and would be needed if Joseph was to deal with the thirteen months of pay that were in arrears for his troops.

Not for the last time, the Spanish Junta were to throw caution to the winds and offer Joseph an opportunity to strike. Instead of staying safely on the defensive, controlling the passes of the Sierra Morena mountain range north of Cordoba (see the map above) and daring the French to risk another Bailen, they decided to go on the offensive. The only main army defending the region, numbering 50,000 men left the safety of the mountains and advanced on Madrid losing 18,000 men and getting soundly beaten at Ocana on the 19th November 1809, just south of the city.

On the 7th of January 1810 King Joseph and Marshal Soult led French forces on their invasion of Andalusia, easily brushing aside what resistance remained, the Junta were forced to evacuate Seville and then there began a race to get to Cadiz, the only defensible fortress remaining. The small Spanish force under the command of the Duke of Albuquerque, knowing the Junta were headed for the fortress and knowing that it lay undefended, on his own initiative, turned and headed to Cadiz arriving on the 3rd of February 1810, just two days ahead of Marshal Victor.

The authors consider the mistake made by Soult and Joseph in heading for Seville, with Soult overruling the King when asked to consider heading straight for Cadiz in the knowledge that Alerquerque was already going there. Soult must then take the blame for his fixation on Seville, a city that could not be held by the Spanish forces available, and allowing the Spanish to save themselves by getting to Cadiz first. This then finishes the set up for the story of Cadiz and the eventual Battle of Barrosa and its consequences.

With the arrival of the Supreme Junta, Cadiz and its maintenance assumed a very high importance, not just to the Spanish but also to the British who very quickly realised that with its capture would see the end of a government of national resistance in Spain and the likely collapse of formal resistance across the country and also the cutting off of the supply of Spanish Gold and Silver specie arriving from its colonies that were vital to pay for British military involvement, making the British position very likely untenable. These facts became obvious to the the French as well and so the two sides became locked into a race to fortify and defend whilst the other pulled in resources to lay siege and make preparations to assault.

The book covers the difficulties encountered by both sides in their preparations and the establishment of allied cooperation, at last, with the arrival of British troops supplied for the garrison, with some initial reluctance on Wellington's part as he struggled to build his forces to defend Portugal. The hostility of the residents of Cadiz, particularly to their former enemies, the British, is covered and their resistance to giving any aid to the defenders in building redoubts and defences. Indeed it would seem that the town would have preferred to have been able to throw open its gates to Victor and the French.

With the arrival of British troops, a British commander was needed. Sir Thomas Graham had already establish friendly links with General Castanos who had been appointed as President of the five man Regency Council, and, with the support of Wellington, was the man selected. The difficult relations between the allies are extensively covered, explaining the concerns the British had with Spanish eagerness to attack the French besiegers. Graham had the task of holding the line between being a supportive ally whilst protecting British interests in the security of the city and the British garrison.

Fortescue's Map of Barrosa
It soon becomes obvious that the defence of Cadiz and Lisbon were becoming inextricably linked as forces from both areas started to affect one another. Marshal Soult commanding French forces in Andalusia was continually having to juggle his resources to find forces to maintain the siege of Cadiz whilst supporting the invasion of Portugal or sustaining the French garrisons of Badajoz and Cuidad Rodrigo and it is with these movements of French troops and the gradual build up of allied troops in Cadiz that Spanish insistence to take advantage of weakened French forces gradually gains the ascendancy and Graham reluctantly accedes to Spanish General La Pena's plan of attack.

The events of the allied landing and march on Cadiz and the battle itself are covered very well, with various first hand accounts adding detail to the descriptions of the fighting. The fall out between the British and Spanish over the lack of co-operation and support are detailed and assessed. The account makes the point very well that Barrosa demonstrated yet again (Albuera being another example), the resilience and battle winning ability of the British troops in the face of adversity. Having marched for several days and nights over waterlogged ground with little rest and food, they were able to respond quickly on the march to turn, attack and defeat a larger force occupying favourable ground without the guiding hand of Wellington. Graham seems to display the patience of a saint when working with La Pena and seems to vent all that frustration on the French when the opportunity presents.

The 2/28th (North Gloucesters) charge the 54th Ligne at Barrosa, Cover art work from the very talented David Rowlands

The subsequent chapters then go on to look at events following the battle which failed in its aim to cause the French to lift the siege and led to Graham refusing to commit British troops in support of further expeditions against their lines. The war beyond Cadiz continued to influence and be influenced by the siege. With the defeat of Massena's Army of Portugal in 1811 at Fuentes de Onoro and Soult's failure at Albuera, the struggle with Wellington was finely balanced and indeed Wellington would be forced back into Portugal when Soult and the new commander of the Army of Portugal, Marmont, massed their combined forces against him, but neither French army could stay concentrated for long without finding their respective areas coming under pressure from local Spanish forces and partisans. Soult tried to relieve some of this pressure by laying siege to the walled town of Tarrifa just along the coast from Cadiz, which together with Gibraltar was able to offer support to the Spanish forces. When the attack on Tarrifa failed, the balance in Andalusia shifted in favour of the Allies.

With the advent of 1812 and the draw down of forces for Napoleon's invasion of Russia, the initiative swung to Wellington and the allies. Joseph sent the brother of La Pena, the General who led the allies at Barrosa, as a secret envoy to Cadiz to try and persuade the Junta to come to terms with his regime. The book points out that, with momentum swinging to the allies and with the Spanish needing to keep open the links to their now rebelling colonies in South America, they could not run the risk of having a war with Britain. Wellington took advantage of the change, swiftly taking Cuidad Rodrigo in January 1812 and then moving on Badajoz in April. Soult gathered his forces to march to the aid of the city expecting Marmont to support him, as previously, to force Wellington back, but Napoleon ordered Marmont to let Soult deal with the problem, whilst he demonstrate against Cuidad Rodrigo drawing Wellington away. Meanwhile the forces around Cadiz and Tarrifa threatened Soult's rear areas as the Marshal found out that Badajoz had fallen and there was no support coming from Marmont.

In June 1812 with Wellington now in control of the Portuguese frontier, he went on the offensive against Marmont culminating in the Battle of Salamanca, with Soult refusing Joseph's command to gather his forces to come north in support. His reasons being that this would free the Supreme Junta and Regency in Cadiz and allow the Spanish insurgents to retake Andalusia, reinvigorating Spanish resistance across the peninsula. With Marmont's defeat, the momentum swung still further to the allies, and King Joseph was close to calling for Soult's dismissal for his insubordination. Wellington then moved against Madrid and Soults forces were facing being cut off. The order was given to evacuate French forces and to fall back. The siege of Cadiz was lifted on the 25th of August 1812.

Despite Wellington being forced back to Portugal that year, the initiative was irreversibly in favour of the allies, and we are taken through the events of 1813 leading to the Battle of Vitoria to the close of that year with French forces pushed back into France.

The summary of the events described and the impact of the long siege of Cadiz really makes some strong points as to why its effect on the war as a whole was so important, and why the Battle of Barrosa was an unnecessary risk to the strategic balance at the time of its happening and that the fact it failed to lift the siege was to the benefit of Wellington's main force in Portugal.

Key points covered are that Cadiz became the focal point of Spanish resistance when French power in the Peninsula was at its height from 1810-11. Wellington was on the defence, only able to launch raids into Spain now that both Cuidad Rodrigo and Badajoz were in French hands. There was a serious risk of Spanish capitulation had the Supreme Junta and Cadiz fallen in 1810, which would have enabled the French to bring overwhelming strength to bear on the British in Portugal.

The loss of Cadiz would also have cut off gold and silver imports from the Spanish colonies ending the finance agreement between Spain and Britain that was paying for the British war effort.

The occupation and siege of Cadiz tied down more French forces in Andalusia than in any other part of the peninsula, Massena invaded Portugal with about 70,000 men in 1810, about a fifth of all French troops, whilst Soult, in Andalusia, commanded over 80,000 at one stage of the best French troops including most of the Polish contingents.

And finally the book has a useful battlefield tour guide of the main sites and includes three useful maps of the area around Cadiz and the battle site. However with the main proposition of the book being about the wider implications of the siege and the events leading up to and afterwards I did find myself looking to find where certain towns and locations were in relation to Cadiz, but without a map rather like the one I have posted, it made following certain key events more problematic. So my advice would be to get the book if this period is of interest, it is a jolly good read and really spotlights the stresses that all parties involved were under, but I would use the map I have included as I think it will make the book even more enjoyable to read and a great one for Xmas.


  • With Peninsular War expert, author & historian Col Nick Lipscombe
  • From Wellington&rsquos observation tower we discuss the opening shots of the campaign
  • Explore the battlefield of Roliça and visit Lake&rsquos monument
  • See the Vimeiro Battlefield
  • Visit Junot&rsquos headquarters
  • Examine Wellesley&rsquos audacious crossing of the Douro and the recapture of Porto
  • Drive to the formidable ridge on which the battle of Bussaco was fought
  • Visit the Bussaco battle monument, Massena&rsquos headquarters, Wellington&rsquos command post, the military museum and Craufurd&rsquos rock
  • Explore the Lines of Torres Vedras
  • Colonel Fletcher&rsquos monument at Alhandra

From Alexander Hamilton

If I have not already, too much trespassed upon your attention, permit me to observe, that the commercial Interests of the United States, are now unrepresented in Portugal. The consulate office, in consequence of the absence of Mr Jarvis, has become vacant.1 If it comports with your feelings & does not interfer, with the arrangements of Government, I should be happy, through your personal influence, to obtain this station. From the natural indolence & love of ease, that pervades this country, this will always be an important mart, for American productions. As the true policy of our country is to secure, an honorable tranquility, we should avoid exotic transactions as productive of vexatious changes & confirm those arrangements, founded in mutual interests. These degenerate people, are so excessively ignorant, that an attempt to reformation by revolution, would be productive of the most sanguinary consequences & from the nature of such ingredients, would terminate in a more extreme slavery. The laws of this nation I understand, are excellent, they are however a dead letter.2 The influence of our commercial rival, has already evidenced its invidious effects, by the adoption of a system of exclusion, that prohibits the admission of all liquors, from the United States, that may arrive here, after the 10th May past . Should security & tranquility be restored, the ascendancy of Great Britain, will be more dependent upon personal influence, than national power. The councils of Portugal, will represent the prejudices of individuals, themselves dependent upon commercial calculations & private affections.

Should you have time, to reply to my request a letter addressed, to the care of Mess: Le Roy Bayard & McEvers New York will be carefully transmitted to Mess Baring Brothers & Co London my commercial correspondents. My intention is to be in England, about the last of August.

The combined forces, in Spain & Portugal have dearly purchased their late victories & from present appearances, there is every expectation, of a decisive battle, on the plains of Merida. Marshalls Soult & Victor have about 50.000 Men. Lord Welington 60.000. The[y] have advanced from Seville to the relief of Badajos.3 The issue will decide, the fate of th⟨ree⟩ nations. Accept the respects of Your Obedt Hum: Servt.

1 . After returning to the U.S. in November 1810, William Jarvis resigned the Lisbon consulate in February 1811. JM nominated George Jefferson as his replacement on 1 Mar. 1811, but Jefferson did not take up his duties in Lisbon until February 1812 (Jarvis to Robert Smith, 6 Feb. 1811 George Jefferson to Monroe, 8 Feb. 1812 [DNA : RG 59, CD , Lisbon] Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols. Washington, 1828). description ends , 2:173).

2 . Hamilton was alluding to the situation produced by the exile of the Portuguese court in Brazil and the fact that after 1809 the Portuguese army was under the command of the British major general William Beresford.

3 . Badajoz, a fortress guarding the southernmost invasion route from Spain toward Lisbon, had been captured by French forces under Marshal Nicholas-Jean de Dieu Soult in March 1811. British efforts to retake the position over the summer of 1811 were unsuccessful (Sir John W. Fortescue, A History of the British Army [13 vols. London, 1899–1930], 8:120–250).

Warfare in the Age of Napoleon:Peninsular War, War of The Fifth Coalition, Invasion of Russia

Great Britain was a long time ally of Portugal, and when France began to exert influence over neighboring Spain it brought the two Empires into conflict through their Iberian surrogates. Both the British and the French had established a blockade on each other&rsquos ports hoping that this economic pressure might force capitulation in their long standing conflict. Portugal was the only remaining route left open between the British and the Continent, but in 1807 the French invaded capturing Lisbon, which forced the Royal family to flee to Brazil. While this move theoretically cut off trade, smuggling remained strong in both Portugal and Spain.

To bolster the blockade another French army under General Murat entered Spain in March 1808 under the pretext of restoring order in the conflict between King Charles IV and his son. Charles IV would be forced to abdicate, but when Napoleon&rsquos brother Joseph was crowned King in his place, insurrections against French control erupted throughout Spain and Portugal. This resulted in a number of French defeats, which then encouraged the British to invade. After the British army under Sir Arthur Wellesley landed near Lisbon in August, he defeated the increasingly isolated French under General Junot at Rolica and Vimiero. When the British navy shipped back what remained of Junot&rsquo,s army back to France, a controversy arose over the escape, and Wellesly was recalled to England to answer charges.

Perhaps some of the best known images of the Peninsular War come down to us through the paintings and prints of Francisco Goya. As a court painter he had a sworn allegiance to the Spanish King but he wished for the type of liberty promised by the French Revolution. He produced very little work during the war years as a result, though he was greatly affected by the French atrocities he witnessed. In 1814 he completed two paintings depicting the suppression of the Madrid rebels in 1808. By the time they were reproduced on postcards, they had become iconic images and form the counterfoil to the myth of Napoleon&rsquos greatness. Though a great deal of romanticism built up around Wellington and the Spanish insurgents in the years that followed, little of their determined effort to free their country from the invading French is to be seen on postcards outside of reproductions of Goya&rsquos artwork. It is a rare example of a strong myth of resistance being ignored.

These works by Goya would later be reinforced by his series of intaglio prints entitled Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War), in which French atrocities are reproduce both literally and in allegorical form. While we now consider them great works of art, such imagery fell outside of the public&rsquos expectations of glorification in Goya&rsquo,s time so they were not published until the mid 19th century. Though powerful, their uncompromising graphic violence diminished their popularity. The prints were not a commercial success, and they did not receive much interest from postcard publishers.

The British, now under the command of General John Moore, invaded Spain in September 1808, and with the help of Spanish irregulars pushed the French occupiers back. Napoleon could see that his position in Spain was deteriorating, so he sent in large amounts of reinforcements. They soon overcame the Spanish in the north and by November Napoleon took personal command. He soon recaptured Madrid, and then Saragossa after a long siege. Moore tried falling on Soult&rsquos isolated corps but the news of Napoleon&rsquos approach put him to flight. Believing the situation was finally under control, Napoleon headed back to France in a hurry to deal with new trouble on the Austrian front. Despite some sharp rearguard actions, the remaining French now under the command of Marshal Soult drove the British back toward the port of Corunna. Moore&rsquos stubborn defense allowed his army to escape by sea but he was killed in battle.

Once Napoleon returned to France, the guerrilla war that had plagued Spain broke out again. The country&rsquos low agricultural yield made it difficult for a large occupying force to live off the land, but a large force was needed to control such a vast territory. Even when no pitched battles were fought this irregular warfare led to constant French casualties and became known as the Spanish Ulcer. The French responded by establishing small military posts along lines of communication, and swept the countryside with large bodies of men to weed out guerrillas, but this only provided sporadic control. This policy also tied down many soldiers that could not be used in offensive operations elsewhere. The brutality inflicted on the civilian population in return knew no bounds, which kept them permanently hostile to French occupation. Only late in the war did the French make some efforts to win over the local population and deprive the guerrillas of a base. While an effective strategy that had some success, it could not be put into practice fast enough to make a real difference. While the resistance continually ate away at the French, they did so in an inconsistent manner, which made them unreliable allies for the British. Fear of their unreliability often inspired British commanders to be more cautious than they might have otherwise been.

France re-invaded Portugal in March 1809, and the British under Wellesley would return to Spain in June. Soon after they fought an indecisive battle at Talaverra for which Wellesley received the tittle of 1st Duke of Wellington. While the French retreated to Madrid they managed to deliver a heavy defeat on Wellington&rsquos Spanish allies at the Battle of Ocana. When 1810 began the British were not strong enough to go on the offensive, so they began construct massive defenses north of Lisbon at Torres Vedras. These fortifications proved too strong for the French to take, and the lack of supplies in the area made a siege prohibitive. The French however did lay siege to Cadiz, the temporary free Spanish capital, which had been reinforced by British troops.

The end of 1810 though the beginning of 1812 was marked by guerrilla warfare and indecisive battles between Wellington and the French under General Soult. While the British and insurgents seemingly controlled most of the countryside, the French were hold up in a number of key fortresses from where real control lay. To gain momentum, Wellington was forced to attack Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo.

With the French garrison held up in Badajoz threatening his supply lines back to Portugal, Wellington&rsquos Anglo-Portuguese army laid siege to the city in March 1812. Its walls were finally beached in April after a very costly assault, which led enraged troops to sack the city. This was one of the most highly romanticized episodes of the conflict in Great Britain. This cycle of back and forth fighting was finally broken when Wellington won a major victory over the French at Salamanca in July and advanced to capture Madrid.

The British had landed troops to the rear of the French investing Cadiz in March 1811 in hope of breaking the siege but the resulting Battle of Barrosa achieved nothing. The French would finally lift the siege and withdraw after Wellington&rsquos victory at Salamanca. Much of the territory gained by the British was lost when the French regrouped and launched a counteroffensive in the fall, but this effort could not be sustained. The British launched another offensive in 1813 in which the French were decisively defeated at the Battle of Vittorio and this forced them to retreat back over the Pyrenees.

A small but very unusual battle occurred in July 1812 when Wellington&rsquos cavalry caught up with the French rear guard retreating from Salamanca. The French as usual formed up into squares whose tight formation prevented flanking while its deep ranks of bristling bayonets discouraged horses from getting in too close. The charge by the King&rsquos German Legion was fired upon too late and the momentum of dead horses and riders fell into the square disrupting the precise formation and this gap was then exploited by heavy cavalry following behind. Once this square disintegrated the remaining French square broke in panic. The large numbers of German troops involved at the Battle of Garcia Hernandez insured it would be a popular subject on both British and German postcards.

The French under Soult would try to return to Spain in July but this attempt was halted at the Battle of Sorauren. In 1814 the British took the war into France by launching an amphibious attack against Bayonne, driving the French back at the Battle of Orthez. Afterwards Wellington advanced on Bordeaux, and then Toulouse, which he captured after a battle. The campaign ended soon after when news of Napoleon&rsquos abdication arrived.

The War of the Fifth Coalition 1809

Archduke Charles had been reorganizing the Austrian army ever since its humiliating defeat in the War of the Forth Coalition. In 1809 while Napoleon was preoccupied with the Peninsular War, Austria decided it was the right time to recapture territories it had signed away in the Treaty of Pressburg. While Napoleon suspected that trouble was brewing, he did not expect it so soon. When Austria sent armies into Italy and Bavaria that April, the unsuspecting French were thrown into turmoil. After Napoleon arrived to rectify the situation, he quickly stopped the Austrian offensives with superior maneuvering, throwing them back at the battles of Abensberg, Landshut, Eckmuhl. At the Battle of Ratisbon, the Austrians put up a fierce rearguard defense of their bridgehead on the Danube, and there was fighting in the streets. While the Austrians managed to retreat, they put up little further opposition as Napoleon marched on Vienna.

Napoleon&rsquos pursuit of the Austrians was cut short by the rising waters of the Danube and the lack of bridging materials. Overconfident, he finally began crossing the river in May at Aspern-Essling only to have his vanguard cut off by flood waters. The now united Austrians were waiting for this opportunity and a seesaw battle raged until the French were forced to withdraw. This blunder became a stain on Napoleon&rsquos reputation of invincibility.

By June Napoleon had been heavily reinforced by the Army of Italy under Prince Eugene while Austrian troops were being diverted to quell a Polish uprising. After confusing the enemy as to where and when he might force a crossing, Napoleon made a night crossing of the Danube in July that met with little opposition. They then quickly deployed against the Austrians at Wagram, and although the French won the ensuing battle, it was not the quick and decisive victory Napoleon had hoped for. An attempt to cut off the Austrian retreat was made at Znaim, but with both armies exhausted an armistice was signed instead. Political troubles within Austria prevented the immediate renewal of hostilities. The British half of the coalition had largely been engaged in Iberia at this time, and now they made some indecisive moves against the Netherlands to keep the war going. This campaign barely left the beachhead, and by October Austria signed the Treaty of Schonbrunn. The agreement forced Austria to cede more territory to France, and they were compelled to break all ties with Britain.

Eugene de Beauharnais was the son of the revolutionary general Alexandre de Beauharnais and Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie. His father, Alexandre was guillotined in 1794 for his failures as commander of the Army of the Rhine. After his mother remarried in 1796, he became the stepson of Napoleon Bonaparte. Eugene began serving as aide-de-camp to Napoleon during the Italian and Egyptian campaigns. Once Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France, Eugene received the title of Prince. From there he became Viceroy of Italy, and came to rule in Bavaria after his marriage to Princess Augusta Amelia in 1806. He took to the field in 1809 as commander of the Army of Italy and distinguished himself at the Battle of Wagram. He continued to serve Napoleon loyally until his downfall.

While Archduke Charles was facing off against Napoleon, another Austrian Army under Archduke Ferdinand had invaded the Duchy of Warsaw in 1809 to subdue the Polish uprising in Galicia. There they were defeated by the army of Prince Poniatowski at the Battle of Raszyn. When the Poles left Warsaw undefended the Austrians took the city, but the Polish army was on its way to Krakow and seized western Galicia from Austria in the process. In the peace that followed the areas around Lublin and Krakow were ceded to the Duchy of Warsaw, but the Kingdom of Poland was not restored as the Poles hoped.

After Austria ceded Tirol to Bavaria in 1805 a number of unpopular changes were made starting with the raising of taxes, and then interfering with long standing cultural and administrative institutions. When a draft was instituted in 1808 the Tyroleans rose up in rebellion against the Bavarian garrison. Austria claimed that the Bavarians had violated the agreed upon territorial transfer by ignoring Tyrolean constitutional rights, and they sent in an army to Innsbruke in support of the revolt. An informal army of peasants was also raised under the leadership of Andreas Hofer. The Austrians were eventually forced to withdraw from Tirol but Hofer&rsquos men fought on and managed to inflict a string of losses against the Bavarians on their own. When the treaty of Schonbrunn ended the War of the Fifth Coalition, Austria gave up all claims to Tirol. An Italian army immediately moved into the region and crushed all remaining resistance. They executed many rebels in the process including Hofer.

Although the Tyrolean Rebellion was only a small part of the Napoleonic Wars, it is vastly over represented by postcards. There are many cards that depict historic events from this conflict, but there are many more printed during World War One that references this conflict when depicting contemporary events. Some of these are rather straightforward showing bearded Tyrolean soldiers fighting in the mountains, only they are now wearing modern Austrian uniforms and are battling Italians. Other cards incorporate Hofer himself as a spirit offering encouragement and guidance. Even though Bavaria was now an ally of Austria, the spirit of resistance that forms the foundation of these cards was drawn from a mythic archetype that surpasses immediate cultural associations and can thus be applied against a new enemy. Hofer had become a martyr to Germanic independence, and as such his likeness was also placed on many postcards.

In 1807 Napoleon organized the many small German States he had seized from Prussia into the Kingdom of Westphalia, which was later added to the Confederation of the Rhine, to which he installed his brother Jerome Bonaparte as king. In 1809 the Prussian Major, Ferdinand von Schill took his regiment out of Berlin on the pretext of maneuvers but started an uprising that he hoped would spread to eventually topple Napoleon. The revolt quickly gathered local support but it collapsed after an unreceptive Danish-Dutch army defeated him at Stralsund. Schill was killed in battle and his head was taken as a trophy for the new King.

After the failed revolt against French occupation, many of Schill&rsquos followers escaped, others were imprisoned, but eleven of his officers were taken to the Fortress of Wesel where they were executed. While this was but a small episode within the Napoleonic wars, the eleven officers that were executed became martyrs to the Prussian cause. By the 1830&rsquos Schill&rsquos name was not only widely known, he had been elevated to a national hero in Prussia and many monuments were erected to honor him. The incident repeated through story and art was still very well remembered a hundred years later and was the subject of numerous postcards. His portrait also became a popular subject for German postcards.

The Invasion of Russia 1812

France&rsquos support of the Duchy of Warsaw was a constant irritant to Russia for its very existence provided inspiration for others within the Empire to revolt. The unwillingness of France to support the Russian war against the Ottomans strained relations further and Czar Alexander broke his agreement with France reviving its ties with Britain and Sweden. Unable to launch a cross channel invasion of England, Napoleon turned his attention on her ally Russia. He was wary of overextending himself so he raised the largest of all his armies that incorporated many non-French contingents hoping that this overwhelming force could win an early victory. An extensive depot system was also set up to keep it supplied. The Polish army under Marshal Poniatowski was a significant part of this force, as they hoped that their participation would not only lead to true independence for the Duchy of Warsaw but that of Lithuania, its former commonwealth partner and that they would rejoin into a new kingdom. To bolster morale, Napoleon sometimes referred to this invasion as the Second Polish War, even though Poland was nothing more than a bargaining chip between him and the Czar.

In June of 1812 Napoleon&rsquos army began crossing the Niemen River into Russia. When the campaign began the two main Russian armies under Generals Barclay de Tolly and Bagration were widely divided and too week to face Napoleon alone. They began retreating eastward in an attempt to consolidate their forces. Marshal Davout managed to block Bagration&rsquos first attempt to unite with Barclay at the Battle of Mogilev, but the two Russian armies eventually met up at Smolensk in August. There they put up a strong defense but the French broke through. Napoleon had hoped to surround the Russians but he only managed to push them further back. Another attempt was made at Valotino but that too failed. Since the war began Napoleon had hoped to trap the Russian armies and destroy them in decisive battles but the Russians always slipped out of his grasp. Napoleon&rsquos army was large but the various contingents were not all the same quality and became difficult to manage.

As a separate French and Bavarian force securing Napoleon&rsquos left headed northwards, the Czar became concerned that St. Petersburg might fall and he put the city&rsquos defenses in the hands of General Kutuzov. While on their way to Riga the French were counterattacked by General Wittgenstein&rsquos army at Polotsk. The defeat not only halted the French advance, it now allowed the Russians to threaten Napoleon&rsquos supply line through Belarus. Napoleon had hoped to go into winter quarters at Smolensk, but with problems brewing in his rear he decided he needed to end the war soon and continued his advance on the Russian army.

Czar Alexander, impatient with the inability of his army to defend Russian territory finally put Marshal Kutuzov in command. The Russian retreat still continued until Kutuzov had time to prepare the ground at Borodino for a stand. While part of his position was protected by the Kolocha and Moskwa Rivers, he constructed two large redoubts and other defenses along the rest of his line in September. While a strong position, the terrain was not ideal. Much faith was placed in his army&rsquos desire to protect the sacred city of Moscow, and before the battle Kutuzov paraded the Black Madonna of Kazan through his army so they could prey.

Unable to find a desirable way around the Russian flank, Napoleon met them head on and an enormous battle ensued. Attack and counterattack continued through the day. Although the French would eventually take control of the Russian redoubts, the Russian army was still intact, digging in on the ridge to the east. Casualties had been very high on both sides and neither wanted to risk another bloody encounter at this point. When Kutuzov decided to continue his eastward withdrawal, Napoleon followed but did not molest him.

For a major war that involved an extraordinary amount of men, there were very few battles fought. Borodino was not only the largest of these it was the largest one-day battle of all the Napoleonic Wars. Though fought to a draw, this battle has an important reputation in both military history and in myth. As such it has been reproduced more often on postcards than most other battles from this era. Many of these cards were published to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this campaign in 1912. A great panorama entitled The Battle of Borodino was completed by Franz Roubaut that same year. Sections of it appear on a large set of postcards later produced in Soviet Russia.

The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg had been the home of the Russian royal family since 1732. Catherine II added a new wing to serve as an informal retreat within the palace, which came to be known as the Hermitage. Its artwork would be greatly expanded upon by Czar Nicholas I, who eventually opened it to the public. It came to house many large historical paintings depicting Napoleon&rsquos campaign in Russia. The Parisian publisher I. Lapina reproduced many of these paintings on tricolor postcards. Their backs are in both French and Russian.

While most commemorative postcards marking the Napoleonic wars were published around their 100th anniversary, subsequent anniversaries were honored as well. Some of these more recent cards draw on the same material as their older cousins for inspiration. These are the numerous historical paintings that were produced throughout Europe during the 19th century. It is no accident that many of these early cards were produced by the French publishers Lucien Levy and E. Lay Delay, who were both well known for their art reproductions and had good connections to salons and museums. New times however often brought new graphic sensibilities with them. Even though the Soviet Union is well known for its social realist art, it also has a long connection with modernism, which occasionally influences postcard design.

When Napoleon reached Moscow, he was upset that there was no one there to surrender the city to him. Kutuzov decided not to make a stand and positioned his army further to the east. There were still some rear guard troops in the city burning official buildings when the first of the French arrived. They did not engage in combat in fear of letting the fires grow out of control, but about three-quarters of the city went up in flames due to additional acts of sabotage and from the looting and general chaos that ensued over the following days. This great tragedy is so full of drama and passion that it became a perfect subject for novels and postcards. It is one of the more popular and common themes on Napoleonic cards.

Fires and other disasters were a constant staple for postcard production outside of war pictures, so the availability of postcards depicting the burning of Moscow should come as no surprise. There was however another element to this event that was also captured on cards, which was the execution by the French of those suspected of spreading the blaze. Depending on your perspective this act could be justice applied to common criminals or an atrocity committed against those loyally protecting their homeland from invaders. While it is clear which side is taken by Russian painters, it does not make clear the motives of publishers that carry these images. They can be found on cards to promote Russian nationalism or merely be one of many art reproductions produced for a museum.

Napoleon had managed to march 600 miles into Russia with one of the largest armies ever assembled, but he controlled nothing but the burnt out city he was occupying and a few supply depots stretching back to Poland. Despite the size of the battle of Borodino, there were no decisive battles in this entire campaign to force a conclusion as there had been in other wars. Czar Alexander was unwilling to agree to peace while the French remained on Russian soil, and since Napoleon&rsquos efforts amounted to nothing more than a gigantic raid, the Czar saw no need to offer concessions. The peace talks that followed the capture of Moscow lasted for five weeks but did not go anywhere. The morale of French troops had declined after Borodino, and his allies were growing restless. Finding himself short of supplies in a city that had been ravaged by fire while Cossacks were gathering in his rear, Napoleon decided it was time to retreat. In October he set a route to the southwest toward Kaluga where he felt he could find warmer weather and ample forage for his troops.

As the French began to retreat they found that their preferred route through Kaluga was contested Kutuzov had anticipated this move. The French tried to clear the way across the Lugha River at the Battle of Maloyaroslavets but this delaying action allowed Kutuzov to bring up the entire Russian army and block their way. The fierce back and forth battle left the Russians holding the high ground. Not wanting another major engagement so far from home, Napoleon was then forced to retreat across the same ravaged land he had come in on. The weather was not yet bad but the land could not provide his army with adequate supplies.

Napoleon quickly began loosing control of his demoralized troops. The remainder of the campaign consisted of the Grande Armée being constantly harassed by irregular forces and a few sharp rearguard actions, most notably against Marshal Ney at Krasnoi. Katuzov held back waiting for the winter to do much of the killing. By the time the French neared Smolensk in early November it finally turned sharply cold. The Russians made a final attempt to trap the French before they passed over Berezina River into Belarus. A fierce defense was put up at the bridgehead allowing many solders to escape, but most of the stranded stragglers were killed.

Two themes are most often captured on postcards relating to Napoleon&rsquos retreat. One shows French troops succumbing to the cold, snow, and hunger, while in the other stragglers are harassed by small bands waiting in ambush or by Cossacks in close pursuit. In both cases they represent tragedy more than victory.

Alexander Petrovich Apsid was a Latvian illustrator that provided work for magazines and book publishers in St. Petersburg. Many of his illustrations for War and Peace were reproduced on postcards, which are noted for their bright palette and highly graphic style. He began producing propaganda posters during World War One, and continued this work for Soviet State Publishing into the 1930&rsquos.

Even with this last victory at the Beresina, the results of the campaign were devastating to the Grand Armée. The battles combined with a very harsh winter it was enough to consume the vast majority of his army. Of the 450,000 men who invaded, only 9,000 effectives escaped into Belarus, though many of these had become casualties before Napoleon ever reached Moscow. (Historical estimates of the initial size of Napoleon&rsquos invading army and its casualties vary widely though the ratio is always extreme.) Leaving Marshal Murat in command of what was left of the Grande Armée, Napoleon rushed back to Paris to raise a new army that could stop the advancing Russians. Murat was ordered to hold onto Lithuania, but as the winter grew even colder he retreated back to the Prussian fortress at Konigsburg. Kutuzov would advance no further than the Niemen River that winter.

While most are only vaguely familiar with the historical details of Napoleon&rsquos Russian campaign, his tragic retreat is probably the best known part of all the Napoleonic Wars because of its great mythical associations. Here the greatest army assembled by man under the command of the world&rsquos greatest general is ultimately destroyed by the lack of hubris and the formidable power of nature. It is a cautionary tale, one that not only warns against getting too smug but that the underdog can sometimes come out on top. The disastrous effect of the weather on Napoleon&rsquos retreat can also be seen a divine judgment against evil, and as God&rsquos blessing over the Russians. All of these notions were in play when postcard production began, often further romanticized and distorted in literature such as Tolstoy&rsquos War and Peace. Since most postcard collectors do not acquire cards for an education but to reinforce values already held, those depicting the invasion of Russia probably account for the majority of cards that deal with the Napoleonic wars. They uphold already well established myths. Though many of Napoleon&rsquos troops had succumbed to the brutal summer heat at the beginning of the campaign, only the harsh wither conditions at the very end are depicted on cards because that image is what exists in the public consciousness.

Vasilii Vasilievich Vereshchagin was a well known war artist who made first hand sketches of the Turkistan War 1867-70, and then in the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78 from which he turned into series of paintings. Not all paintings were of contemporary events such as his Napoleonic wars series that was begun in 1887 and sporadically worked on until his death. While much of this work contains drama, Vereshchagin had a knack for capturing the small moments within a soldiers life. He painted with the precision of an academic of his day, but his work often contains moody atmospheric effects. Many of his paintings were reproduced on postcards, especially of the Napoleonic Wars, which due to their unusual compositions have a much more modern look to them. In 1904 he traveled into danger again as a war artist to get a first hand account of the Russo-Japanese War. He died the following year when working from the Russian battleship Petropavlovsk that hit a mine and sank.

Wojciech Kossak was the son of the noted historical painter Juliusz Kossak. Under his fathers influence Wojciech went on to become recognized as an important painter of historical subjects that promoted Poles fighting for their independence. His most famous piece dating from 1894 is the giant panorama commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Raclawice. In the years prior to World War One He produced a number of paintings on the Napoleonic Wars, concentrating on the events of 1812.

Mykola Samokysh was a well known Ukrainian painter of historical scenes who worked in both Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. Much of his work followed the military tradition of painting depicting active complex battle scenes. A number of his paintings capture events of Napoleon&rsquos invasion of Russia, and were placed on postcards by the art publisher Richards in St. Petersburg.

Denis August Marie Raffet was born in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, and only became a well known illustrator after these events were over. By 1830 he began a series of patriotic lithographs depicting the campaigns of Napoleon that brought him much recognition. These works included illustrations for the History of the Revolution by Thiers, and the History of Napoleon by de Norvins. All this work would later be reproduced on postcards, and it has become a major component of Napoleonic postcard history.

While Napoleon was invading Russia, Great Britain was fighting the French in the Peninsular War. Britain&rsquos attempt at stopping American trade with France only added to the growing animosity between them, which finally led the United States to declare war on Britain in June 1812. This conflict would continue to sap British resources for the remainder of the Napoleonic wars.

(Further details of the War of 1812 are covered in the Wars in America chapter of this guide.)

Wellington’s 1811 Campaign

This post leads on from a previous one on Wellington’s 1809-10 campaigns.

Click here for a low resolution map of the Peninsular War. Maps are very useful in following the descriptions of battles below. For copyright reasons, I have provided links to websites that include maps of the battles rather than directly copying the maps. All photos in this post were taken by myself when I visited the battlefields of Wellington’s campaigns of 1809-12 in a tour led by Ian Fletcher. I have no connection with Ian Fletcher Battlefield Tours except as a satisfied and repeat customer.

A good source of photos is Jac Weller’s Wellington in the Peninsula. The photos in it were taken by Weller in the 1950s and early 60s, before much of the re-development of the battlefields had taken place [1].

5 March 1811 was a significant day in the war. At Barrosa in the south an Anglo-Portuguese force under General Sir Thomas Graham defeated a larger number of French troops commanded by Marshal Victor. On the same day, Marshal Masséna began to withdraw, reaching Salamanca on 11 April. He was unable to attack the Lines of Torres Vedras, was short of supplies and was being harassed by guerrillas.

Wellington, however, was not in a strong position. There were two routes across the Spanish-Portuguese frontier, each guarded by a fortress on both sides of the frontier. In the north these were Ciudad Rodrigo in Spain and Almeida in Portugal and the southern ones were Badajoz in Spain and Elvas in Portugal. An invader needed to control all four in order to cover his lines of communication.

Marshal Soult took Badajoz on 10 March. Since the French still held Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo, Wellington had to split his force in order to cover both the northern and southern invasion routes. He sent a force under Lord William Beresford, a British general who had re-organised and vastly improved the Portuguese Army, to face Soult in the south. Beresford’s skills lay in organisation rather than in battlefield tactics.

Wellington’s HQ at Freinada

Wellington lacked a siege train of heavy artillery, and his army was too small to both siege Almeida and cover against any attempt by Masséna to relieve it. He therefore decided to blockade the fortress in an attempt to starve it into submission. His headquarters was at Freinada, where he received reports that Masséna was building up his forces.

Masséna, with 48,000 men, advanced, and on 3 May 1811 met Wellington’s 37,000 troops at Fuentes de Oñoro, a village just inside Spain on the road from Ciudad Rodrigo to Portugal. Wellington’s army was positioned behind the River Dos Cassos along a 12-13 mile front from Fort Concepcion in the north through Fuentes de Oñoro and Poço Velho to the village of Nave de Haver in the south. Fort Concepcion covered the road to Almeida. Fort Concepcion and Fuentes de Oñoro are in Spain, Almeida, Freinada, Poço Velho and Nave de Haver are in Portugal.

This website has some photos of Fort Concepcion it cannot be visited at the moment because its current owner wants to re-build it as a hotel. It is eight miles from Fuentes de Oñoro, but two-thirds of this distance was protected from attack by a steep cliff. Consequently, Wellington had four divisions at Fuentes de Oñoro and only two between there and Fort Concepcion. His southern flank was guarded by Don Julian Sanchez’s Spanish guerrillas at Nave de Haver.

Bridge over Dos Cassos at Fuentes de Onoro from defending side.

Masséna’s plan was to attack Wellington’s centre and right, forcing him to move troops from his northern flank south, thus allowing him to re-supply Almeida. The Dos Cassos was no more than a stream in place, so could be crossed easily. Wellington’s left flank was protected by the cliffs and his centre by Fuentes de Oñoro, but his right flank consisted of largely open ground. There was a low ridge behind the village, but there was not a significant reverse slope it is a myth that Wellington was always able to deploy his army on a reverse slope. If Wellington’s army was forced to retreat, then it would have to do so across the River Coa.

Masséna deployed his army across the Dos Casas from the village of Fuentes de Oñoro on 2 May. At 2pm the next day he attacked. Fighting in the narrow streets and alleys of Fuentes de Oñoro was confused.

Narrow street in Fuentes de Onoro

Hand to hand combat saw buildings change hands and the Allied troops forced back to the church, which was on the north-west side of the village. A counter-attack by the 1/71st (Highland Light Infantry), 1/79th (Cameron Highlanders) and 2/24th (2nd Warwickshire) battalions forced the French back across the river.On the 4 May an unofficial truce allowed both sides to bury their dead and collect their wounded. As on other occasions when fighting was not taking place in the Peninsular War, there was some fraternisation between British and French troops.

The fighting resumed the next day with a French attack in the south. It forced Sanchez’s guerrillas to withdraw, covered by British Cavalry under General Stapleton Cotton and the Royal Horse Artillery. Wellington had moved his newest division, the 7th, south on 4 May. It was forced out of the village of Poço Velho, but was reinforced by the Light Division, commanded by General Sir Robert Craufurd.

Open ground to south of Fuentes de Onoro

Wellington’s right was under severe pressure, and he realised that Masséna wanted him to move troops south, opening up the road to Almeida. Instead, Wellington left the troops that guarded his front from Fuentes de Oñoro to Fort Concepcion in position. He re-deployed the rest of his army to run eastwards from Fuentes de Oñoro, facing south towards the advancing French, a manoeuvre known as refusing the right flank. This meant that Wellington was cutting himself off from the route back to Portugal across the River Coa at Sabugal. If forced to retreat, his army would have to cross the Coa at the small bridges at Castello Bom and Almeida, running the risk of a retreat turning into a rout. The troops withdrawing from Poço Velho were under severe pressure. William Napier, a Peninsular veteran and historian said that this ‘there was not, during the war, a more dangerous hour’ [2]. The Light Division fought a highly skilful retirement Sir John Fortescue said in his history of the British Army that:

No more masterly manoeuvre is recorded of any general no grander example of triumphant discipline is recorded of any regiments in the history of the British Army [3].

Fuentes de Onoro to Church

Masséna did not try to turn Wellington’s re-positioned right flank, but resumed his attacks on Fuentes de Oñoro. Wellington was present and personally directed the defence for a period. The British were again forced back to the church. A counter-attack, led by the 1/88th Connaught Rangers, commanded by Lt-Col Wallace, supported by the 45th (1st Nottinghamshire) and 74th (Argyll) Foot, forced the French back across the Dos Cassos. The French had been defeated, but narrowly Wellington later claimed that the French would have won had Napoleon been present [4]. Allied casualties were 1,804 and French ones 2,844 note that casualties means dead, wounded and prisoners.

Masséna’s attempt to relieve Almeida failed, but the two armies continued to face each other across the Dos Cassos until 10 May, when the French withdrew towards Ciudad Rodrigo. That night, General Brennier, the French commander of Almeida, blew up its defences and withdrew the garrison through the Allied blockade. Wellington told Beresford that ‘the escape of the garrison of Almeida is the most disgraceful military event that has yet occurred to us’[5]. Masséna was replaced by Marshal Marmont, a decision that Napoleon had taken before Fuentes de Oñoro.

Also on 10 May Soult’s army of 25,000 left Seville in order to attempt to lift the siege of Badajoz. Beresford had 10,000 men more, including 15,000 Spaniards under Blake, and deployed his army along the hills on either side of the village of Albuera, at a junction on the road from Seville to Badajoz. This gave Beresford’s army a reverse slope, but the length of the hills meant that, regardless of where he placed his right flank, there would be another hill from which the French could threaten it. Major Roverea, ADC to General Lowry Cole, commander of the 4th Division, later wrote that Beresford’s dispositions allowed the French to capture a hill ‘the possession of which was vital to our safety.’[6]

Monument to battle in Albuera

The Battle of Albuera took place on 16 May. Wellington was not present, but some British troops managed to fight at both Fuentes de Oñoro and Albuera. The French initially demonstrated against Albuera, before launching their main attack against Beresford’s right flank. Soult did not know that the Spanish were present and thought that he faced only 10,000 enemy. Beresford ordered Blake’s Spanish troops to re-align themselves and refuse the right flank in the way that Wellington had done at Fuentes de Oñoro. Blake refused to comply. He thought that the French attack on the right flank was just a feint, and that their main assault would come in the centre. One of his subordinates, General Zayas, moved four Spanish battalions to the right on his own initiative. When Beresford arrived on the scene after receiving Blake’s refusal to obey his orders, he reinforced Zayas with five more Spanish battalions. 4,800 Spanish infantry faced 8,400 French infantry and 3,500 cavalry with artillery support.

They held them up long enough for the three battalions of Colborne’s Brigade of the 2nd British Division to come up in support. Beresford had ordered it to form a second line behind the Spanish, but the 2nd Division’s commander, General Sir William Stewart, sent it against the French left flank. This attack stopped the French, but Stewart had not allowed for the possibility that there might be cavalry on its flank. It suddenly started to rain very heavily, meaning that muskets could not fire and visibility was restricted.

The 800 men of General Latour-Maubourg’s two cavalry regiments, the Polish 1st Lancers of the Vistula Legion and the French 2nd Hussars, caught Colborne’s Brigade by surprise and in line. Cavalry could do little against disciplined infantry in square unless they had artillery support, but infantry in line was very vulnerable to cavalry. Colborne’s Brigade lost 1,413 casualties out of 2,066 officers and men at Albuera, although not all of these casualties were caused by the cavalry. This was the first time that the British had faced lancers.

The French and Polish cavalry inflicted further losses on Zayas’s Spanish troops and on artillery of the King’s German Legion, a force of expatriate Germans serving with the British the British King was also Elector of Hanover, and many Hanoverians had fled to Britain when Hanover had been occupied by Napoleon. Beresford himself was attacked by a lancer but the general threw his assailant from his horse. French and Polish cavalry casualties were about 200, a quarter of those committed to this action.

Two more British Brigades, Hoghton’s and Abercrombie’s were brought up. They faced an attack by two French divisions. The British were outnumbered, but were in two deep lines so that they could bring 3,300 muskets to bear. There were 8,000 Frenchmen, but they were in columns 200-400 men wide. Only the front two ranks and perhaps the men on the flanks could fire 400-1,000 men, However, the French had 24 guns and the British four. A very bloody firefight ensued. Lt-Col William Inglis of the 1/57th (Middlesex) gave his regiment its nickname of the Die-hards by exorting his men to ‘Die hard, 57th, die hard.’[7]

The killing continued, but Beresford appeared to suffer a crisis of confidence and did little to reinforce his right flank. Soult stood on the defensive and continued with a battle of attrition. He held Werlé’s Brigade, stronger than some British divisions, in reserve when committing it might well have broken the British line. Soult is alleged to have said that ‘the day was mine, but they did not know it and would not run.’[8]

After almost an hour of slaughter Major Henry Hardinge, a British staff officer who later became a Field Marshal, urged Lowry Cole to do something. Cole was contemplating taking action on their own initiative and ordered his 4th Division forward. An earlier flood of the River Guadiana had prevented part of the 4th Division crossing only the three Fusilier battalions of Myer’s Brigade and three companies of Kemmis’s Brigade were present, but he also had Harvey’s Portuguese Brigade and cavalry and artillery support.

Cole’s troops advanced in line, with a square at each end, giving the firepower advantage of line and protection against cavalry. Soult now committed Werlé’s Brigade, but once again the French were in column, giving the British and Portuguese in line a firepower advantage. Both sides took heavy casualties, with the British ones including Myers killed and Cole and all three Fusilier battalion commanders wounded, before the French broke.

Allied casualties were 5,916 4,159 British, 1,368 Spanish and 389 Portuguese. Official French losses of 5,936 are almost certainly too low most estimates are of around 8,000. No other Peninsular War pitched battle in the open, as opposed to the storming of a fortress, saw such killing in such in a small area or short time period.

After the battle, Wellington visited some of the wounded and said ‘Men of the 29th, I am sorry to see so many of you here.’ A veteran sergeant replied, ‘If you had commanded us, my Lord, there would not be so many of use here.’ [9]

Wellington resumed the blockade of Badajoz on 18 May, but serious siege operations did not start for another week. Marmont and Soult were both marching to relieve Badajoz, and Wellington believed that he had until 10 June to take it. Two assaults on Fort San Cristobal, on the north bank of the River Guardiana failed the main fortress was on the south bank. The French relief force entered Badajoz on 20 June, just in time for the garrison, whose supplies had run out.

Wellington took up a strong defensive position, and the French declined to attack. Needing to take the two Spanish frontier fortresses, but unable to capture Badajoz, he moved north to blockade Ciudad Rodrigo. His siege train was still being unloaded at Oporto, and he was unable to prevent Marmont from re-supplying the fortress on 24 September.

Wellington could not invade Spain without capturing Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, but in 1811 his army was not strong enough to take them. He was able to win local victories, but had to withdraw if the French Marshals combined against him. By doing so, however, they risked rebellion elsewhere in Spain. Whilst both the key Spanish fortresses remained in French hands, Wellington had to cover both the northern and the southern routes, but when he split his forces he could not rely on his subordinates to act independently.

As Charles Esdaile points out in The Peninsular War, in 1811 the French were able to defend against Wellington’s Anglo-Portuguese army, contain the guerrillas and attack the remaining territory held by their Spanish opponents. However, this was very expensive there were 350,000 French troops in Spain. They had been unable to defeat Wellington in open battle, giving him the initiative and his army a moral advantage. Both sides could still win the war.[1o]

[1] Jac Weller, Wellington in the Peninsular (London: Greenhill Books, 1992), p. 519.

[2] William Napier, History of the Peninsular War vol. iii (London, 1833), p. 519.

[3] Quoted in Ian Fletcher, Bloody Albuera: The 1811 Campaign in the Peninsula (Marlborough: The Crowood Press, 2000), p. 43.

[4 ] Fletcher, Bloody Albuera, p. 45.

[5] Quoted in Fletcher, Bloody Albuera, p. 47.

[6] Quoted in Fletcher, Bloody Albuera, p. 82.

[7] Quoted in Fletcher, Bloody Albuera, p. 93.

[8] Quoted in Fletcher, Bloody Albuera, p. 96.

[9] Quoted in Julian Paget, Wellington’s Peninsular War: Battles and Battlefields (London: Leo Cooper, 1990), p. 138.

[10] Charles Esdaile, The Peninsular War: A New History (London: Allen Lane, 2002), pp. 367-68.

Soult was born at Saint-Amans-la-Bastide (now called Saint-Amans-Soult, near Castres, in the Tarn departement) and named after John of God. He was the son of a country notary named Jean Soult (1726–1779) by his marriage to Brigitte de Grenier. His paternal grandparents were Jean Soult (1698–1772) and Jeanne de Calvet, while his maternal grandparents were Pierre François de Grenier de Lapierre and Marie de Robert. His younger brother Pierre also became a French general.

Well-educated, Soult originally intended to become a lawyer, but his father's death when he was still a boy made it necessary for him to seek employment, and in 1785 he enlisted as a private in the French infantry.

The Revolutionary Wars

Soult's superior education ensured his promotion to the rank of sergeant after six years' service, and in July 1791 he became instructor to the first battalion of volunteers of the Bas-Rhin. He was serving in this battalion in 1792. By 1794, he was adjutant-general (with the rank of chef de brigade). After the Battle of Fleurus of 1794, in which he distinguished himself for coolness, he was promoted to brigadier general by the representatives on mission.

For the next five years Soult was employed in Germany under Jourdan, Moreau, Kléber and Lefebvre, and in 1799 he was promoted general of division and ordered to proceed to Switzerland. It was at this time that he laid the foundations of his military fame he particularly distinguished himself in Masséna's great Swiss campaign, and especially at the Second Battle of Zurich. He accompanied Masséna to Genoa, and acted as his principal lieutenant throughout the protracted siege of that city, during which he operated with a separate force outside the city walls. He was wounded and taken prisoner at Monte Cretto on 13 April 1800.

Marshal of the Empire

The victory of Marengo restored his freedom, and Soult received the command of the southern part of the kingdom of Naples. In 1802 he was appointed one of the four generals commanding the consular guard. Though he was one of those generals who had served under Moreau, and who therefore, as a rule, disliked Napoléon Bonaparte, Soult had the wisdom to show his devotion to the ruling power. In consequence he was appointed in August 1803 as the commander-in-chief of the camp of Boulogne, and in May 1804 he was made one of the first marshals of the Empire. He commanded a corps in the advance on Ulm, and at Austerlitz he led the decisive attack on the allied centre.

Soult played a great part in many of the famous battles of the Grande Armée, including the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 and the Battle of Jena in 1806. However, he was not present at the Battle of Friedland because on that same day he was conquering Königsberg. After the conclusion of the Peace of Tilsit, he returned to France and in 1808 was anointed by Napoléon first Duke of Dalmatia (French: Duc de Dalmatie). The awarding of this honour greatly displeased him, for he felt that his title should have been Duke of Austerlitz, a title which Napoléon had reserved for himself. In the following year, Soult was appointed to the command of the II Corps of the army with which Napoléon intended to conquer Spain. After winning the Battle of Gamonal, Soult was detailed by the Emperor to pursue Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore's British army. At the Battle of Coruña, at which the British general was killed, the Duke of Dalmatia was defeated and the British escaped by sea.

The Peninsular War

For the next four years Soult remained in Spain engaged in the Peninsular War. In 1809, he invaded Portugal and took Oporto, but was isolated by General Silveira's strategy of contention. Busying himself with the political settlement of his conquests in the French interests and, as he hoped, for his own ultimate benefit as a possible candidate for the Portuguese throne, he attracted the hatred of Republican officers in his Army. Unable to move, he was eventually driven from Portugal in the Second Battle of Porto by Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Wellesley (later created Duke of Wellington), making a painful and almost disastrous retreat over the mountains, pursued by Beresford and Silveira. After the Battle of Talavera (1809) he was made chief-of-staff of the French troops in Spain with extended powers, and on 19 November 1809, won a great victory at the Battle of Ocana.

In 1810 he invaded Andalusia, which he quickly overran. However, because he then turned to seize Seville, the capture of Cádiz eluded him. He said, "Give me Seville and I will answer for Cádiz." [5] This led to the prolonged and futile Siege of Cadiz, a strategic disaster for the French. In 1811 he marched north into Extremadura and took Badajoz. When the Anglo-Portuguese army laid siege to the city he marched to its rescue, and fought and nearly won the famous and very bloody Battle of Albuera on 16 May.

In 1812, after Wellington's great victory of Salamanca, the Soult was obliged to evacuate Andalusia. In the subsequent Siege of Burgos campaign, Soult was able to drive Wellington's Anglo-Allied army back to Salamanca. There, the Duke of Dalmatia, as Soult was now known, failed to attack Lord Wellington (later created Duke of Wellington) despite an 80,000 to 65,000 superiority of numbers, and the British army retired to the Portuguese frontier. [6] Soon after, he was recalled from Spain at the request of Joseph Bonaparte (who had been installed by his brother as King Joseph I of Spain) with whom, as with the other marshals, he had always disagreed.

In Germany and defending southern France

In March 1813 Soult assumed the command of IV Corps of the Grande Armée and commanded the centre at Lützen and Bautzen, but he was soon sent, with unlimited powers, to the South of France to repair the damage done by the defeat of Vitoria. It is to Soult's credit that he was able to reorganise the demoralised French forces.

His last offensives into Spain were turned back by Wellington in the Battle of the Pyrenees (Sorauren) and by Freire's Spaniards at San Marcial. Pursued onto French soil, Soult was maneuvered out of several positions at Nivelle, Nive, and Orthez, before suffering what was technically a defeat at Wellington's hands at the Battle of Toulouse. He nevertheless inflicted severe casualties on Wellington and was able to stop him from trapping the French forces.

Aftermath [ edit | edit source ]

The British success against Soult allowed them to march deep inside France before they met any serious resistance. The French peasants acted kindly towards the British because they paid them for their food, whereas the French raided their own towns and villages. [ citation needed ]

Moreover, the Basque people, besides largely opposing the ideas ensuing the French Revolution and sticking to old customs, didn't even speak or understand French for the most part.

Watch the video: Napoleons Vietnam: Spain 1809 - 1811 (May 2022).