Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Battle of Busaco(English spelling)

September 27th 1810

Forces: French; Marshall Massena, 65,000 men. Anglo-Portuguese; lieutenant-General Wellington, 25,000 British, 25,000 Portuguese.

After capturing Almeida in record time, Marshall Massena's army of Portugal resumed it's march towards Lisbon. Using Spanish maps, the French army took very bad roads and their transport suffered acutely.

Wellington moved his army to block the French at Busaco(This is the English spelling). A long low ridge, now wooded, but bare in 1810, that a British officer described as "The best defensive position in Europe". The British and Portuguese troops were deployed on Barrosa's reverse slope, hiding them from observation and protecting them from artillery.

Massena and his subordinates, marshall Ney and generals Reynier and Junot(The same man who was defeated at Vimiero at 1810) held a council of war and then launched their attack.

The actural attack was made by the corps of Ney and Reynier, attacking in division column, they attacked in division columns which were checked, then counterattacked by British and Portuguese troops in line.

One French column was hidden by mist and nearly made it to the crest unopposed. But the mist cleared and the the 57nth counterattacked and drove them down the slope.


Note from Edward York: :Hi, sorry abou the brevity of the post; I'm in the midst of moving and I've misplaced most of my reference books. I should be up and running in about a week. Thanks."

Battle of Almeida

Not very much of a battle, three weeks after the battle of Coa, the Army of Portugal invested the Portugues fortress-city of Almeida. The second day of the siege Almeida's magnificent fortifacations were rendered useless when a french shell exploded the city's magazine. The Anglo-Portugese defenders held out for one more day, then surrendered

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Battle at Coa River

July 24th, 1810

The French army of Portugal under Marshall Massena, though short on supplies, crossed the Spanish/Portuguese frontier, headed toward the fortress of Almeida on July 21st 1810. The approach was covered by Robert Craufurd and the Light Brigade. Craufurd decided to stand and fight short of the only bridge over the Coa River and gorge, just 2 miles east of Almeida.

Marshall Ney began a general advance, fiercely contested by the British troops. In a second rush, the French turned the Light Brigade from their position and sent them scrambling for the bridge. This soon became congested with their guns and transport. The Brigade contracted and for a short time the Light Troops were trapped in a ruined stone house. They broke down a section of the far wall and escaped to the bridge.

Nay attempted to force the bridge in three separate assaults, but was repelled each time by the British guns. The battle came to an end under a heavy thunderstorm. Craufurd vacated the area afterwards, but it was 3 weeks before the French could gather the necessary guns and supplies to reach the last distance to Almeida.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The second year: 1810

The French reinvaded Portugal in July 1810 with an army of around 60,000 led by Marshal Masséna. The first significant clash was at the Battle of Coa where Robert Crauford fought a skillful delaying action. Shortly after, the French besieged the Portuguese fortress of Almeida. A lucky shell landed in the powder magazine, destroying the fortress' ammunition reserves and a large part of the fortress. Almeida surrendered the next day. Masséna then took "the worst route in Portugal." wrecking most of his transport(The French relied on Spanish maps, which were notably unreliable in Portugal). At the Battle of Buçaco on September 27, the French were bloodied in uncoordinated attacks on 'The strongest defensive position in Europe.' But the British quickly retreated back to the Lines of Torres Vedras. The fortifications were so impressive that after a small attack at Sobral on October 14 the conflict fell into stalemate. As Charles Oman wrote, "On that misty October 14th morning, at Sobral, the Napoleonic tide attained its highest watermark, then it ebbed."

Massena set his army to waiting the British out- The Regent, the Prince of Wales was likely to form a new parliament in the next few weeks. If he did so, it would almost certainly be formed of his old friends the Whigs, who favored peace with Napoleon: If they came to power, they would almost certainly recall the army from Portugal. As it happened, the Prince kept the Tories under Lord Liverpool.

The Portuguese population had subjected the area in front of the lines to a scorched earth policy and the French wasted away to starvation and disease. Wellington, looking out through a telescope said wistfully: "I could whip them, but it would cost 10,000 men, and as this is the only army England has, I must take care of it."[it's entirely possible this is a misquote, if you know, please tell us].

As it was, wastage was doing the Allie's work for them; Irregulars, notably colonel Trant's militia cut the French off from Spain and attacked their foraging parties. Massena kept his army waiting before the Lines six weeks, four weeks longer than Wellington predicted. It is probable that no other commander in Europe could have stayed there as long

Finally, the French retreated. Leaving their campfires burning, they caught the British flat-footed and the pursuit started 24 hours late.

Massena didn't intend to retreat back to Spain- the retreat was intended to draw the British out from the Lines, but the attacks of several British officers -notably General Picton and his 3rd division- drove the French back to Spain in several skirmishes.

In Spain, the year was notable for small actions between Spanish 'Guerillas' and French detachments, the Spanish lacking any effective field force at the time.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Battle of Talevera de la Reina

The Battle of Talavera took place on July 27 – July 28, 1809, when having driven Marshal Soult's French army from Portugal, General Sir Arthur Wellesley's 20,000 British troops joined forces with 33,000 Spanish troops under General Cuesta and marched up the river Tagus valley to Talavera de la Reina, 70 miles south-west of Madrid.

Here they encountered Marshall Victor with his corps unsupported. Wellesley pressed for an immediate attack. Cuesta, however, insisted that his men wouldn't fight on the sabbath(It was sunday), and Victor retreated.

The next day, Cuesta sent his army headlong after the French, finding that Victor had been reinforced by King Joseph and Marshall Jourdan and the Spanish retreated faster than they'd come. Several British units were advanced to cover the Spanish retreat and Wellesley was nearly captured(Just one of the many times the French almost got him).

The night of July 27-28 saw a major skirmish as the French made three attacks, trying to take a vital hill where British troops were encamped. On another part of the field, the Spanish infantry were spooked by a French cavalry patrol and fled their positions, only returning shortly before the battle opened.

After an inital bombardment, the French launched a major attack against the British sector while the Spanish held off several attacks throughout the day. The British bore most of the weight of this hard-fought set-piece battle for which the Spaniards were untrained and withstood the French attacks at a cost of 5,500 killed or wounded. The Spaniards lost about 1,000 and the French 7,390 killed or wounded. Many of the wounded on both sides were burnt to death when the dry grass caught fire.

The light brigade, under Robert Crauford missed the battle, despite a heroic 42-mile march across mountainous terrain. They arrive a few hours after the end, helping to deal with casoulties and fight the brush fires which proved so deadly.

After the battle, the British learned that Marshall Soult with his corps was threatening their line of retreat. Cuesta informed Wellesley that he'd placed a garrison in Soult's way, but the 'garrison' was a single understrength battalion and the british retreated, leaving their wounded under Cuesta's protection(He promptly abandoned them, but they were rescued by the French).

The retreat developed into a nightmare, and not in any way because of the French: Cuesta had promised the British supplies but denied them. Spanish troops even threatened to loot any village which gave supplies to their 'allies'. The British, quite naturally didn't trust the Spanish after that.

After word of the victory reached England, Wellesley was raised to the Peerage and made Viscount Wellington, of Talavera and of Wellington in the County of Somerset.

Battle of Alcaniz

The Battle of Alcañiz resulted in the defeat of General Suchet's French army on May 23, 1809 by a Spanish force under General Blake.

General Blake's army of 8,500 infantry and 500 cavalry was attacked by General Suchet's army of 10,000 infantry and 800 cavalry, Blake's army however, had a large amount of artillery under General García Loigorri in support.

The victory is credited to Loigorri's superb command of the Spanish artillery which allowed the French columns to close and then mauled them with well-directed salvos. Loigorri was later promoted to Field Marshal and became the first artillery officer ever to receive the San Fernando Cross.

We don't have much information on the battle, so if you have any, please contact us. -John

Siege of Gerona

The Siege of Gerona of May 6, 1809, sometimes called the Third Siege of Gerona (after two battles in 1808), involved the French Grande Armée's seven-month struggle to conquer the Spanish garrison at Gerona. The town held out obstinately under the leadership of General Alvarez until disease and famine compelled it to capitulate on December 12.

On the accession of Joseph Bonaparte to the throne of Spain in 1808, General Alvarez was commander of the castle of Montjuïc in Barcelona. On February 29 French troops arrived to take possession of the fortress. Alvarez was preparing to defend it against them when he received direct orders of his Commander-in-Chief to hand it over. Alvarez fled Barcelona and joined the Spanish rebels against French rule. The Spanish Government in Cadiz named him commander of the Army of Catalonia and Governor of Gerona.

On May 6 a French army of 18,000 men under the Duc de Castiglione besieged the town. Alvarez had only 5,600 men under arms. The French mounted 40 gun batteries that over the next seven months fired some 20,000 explosive shells and 60,000 cannon balls into the city. In August, the French captured the castle of Montjuich, the main defensive point. Undeterred, de Castro constructed barricades and trenches inside the city and battle raged for another four months before Alavarez, exhausted and ill, handed over command to a subordinate. Two days later, on 12 December, the town capitulated. It is estimated that some 10,000 people, soldiers and civilians, had died inside. French losses were around 15,000, over half of those to disease.

The town's resistance (rivalled only by the defence of Saragossa) served Spanish purposes well owing to the large delays and losses imposed on the French, and the battle became something of a legend over the course of the Peninsular War. In spite of Alvarez's poor health, the French imprisoned him at Perpignan.

Battle of Medellin

Victor began his southern drive with the objective of destroying the Army of Estremadura, commanded by General Cuesta, who was retreating in face of the French advance. On the 27th of March, Cuesta was reinforced with 7,000 troops and decided to meet the French in battle rather than continue to withdraw.

The battlefield was just southeast of the town of Medellín, which was roughly 300 km southwest of Madrid. The Guadiana River ran along a west-east axis in the northern edge of the battlefield and was joined with the Hortiga River, which ran along a north-south axis that precluded any Spanish flanking maneuvers on the French right. Although the Spanish outnumbereed the French 23,000 to 17,500 troops, Victor had marked superiority in cavalry (4,500 to 3,000) and an even greater(50-30) advantage in guns.

Both commanders arrayed their armies in an unusual fashion, although Victor's array was more reasonable. The center of the French army, an infantry division under General Eugene Villatte, occupied the main road that led from Medellín to Don Benito in the southeast, whereas the wings, commanded by Lasalle (the left) and Latour-Maubourg (the right), stood much farther south and southeast. Each wing was composed of a cavalry division and two infantry battalions filled with German troops from the Confederation of the Rhine. Apparently, Victor intended to keep withdrawing his flanks closer and closer to the center until a powerful counter-attack could shatter the Spanish lines. Victor's reserve was an infantry division under General Francois Ruffin, which would take no part in the battle. Cuesta maintained no reserve and extended just 23,000 men, deployed in four ranks, into a four-mile arc from Guadiana to Hortiga. His plan was to simply strike the French wings and hope to catch the entire French army with their backs to Medellín and the Guadiana River, which was exactly what Victor expected.

The cannonade began around 1 p.m. and Cuesta ordered the attack about an hour later. The Spanish initially had a great deal of success, repelling an impatient cavalry charge on their left flank by a brigade of Latour-Maoubourg's dragoons and prompting both French wings to keep falling back, all while their skirmishers unleashed deadly fire into the French ranks. Lasalle's position was a bit dangerous, since the Guadiana at his back meant his 2,000 cavalry and 2,500 infantry could not fall back more than a mile. Three Spanish cavalry regiments hovered around the bank of the Guadiana and attempted to turn the French left, but Lasalle and his men held on to their tenuous positions.

By this point in the battle, both French flanks had retreated far enough to be within easy supporting distance from Villatte's division. Latour-Maubourg's western sector was reinforced with the 94th Line infantry regiment and a battalion of grenadiers. The ten French guns in this part of the battlefield also stabilized the situation as they consistently outperformed their Spanish counterparts. Spanish infantry, however, kept pushing forward and created many problems for Latour-Maubourg's men, who were arrayed in squares to protect themselves against cavalry charges and consequently had limited firepower. As the Spanish threatened to capture the French guns, Latour-Maubourg ordered the dragoons to attack once more. This time, the charge succeeded. The French dragoons defeated three Spanish cavalry regiments, who fled the field and left their infantry isolated, prompting them to flee as well. Since Cuesta had no reserves, a breach of this magnitude was just about the worst that could happen to his fragile line.

Events now unfolded quickly. Lasalle had been reinforced with seven infantry battalions from Villatte, and once he saw the Spanish routing to the west he too ordered a powerful counter-attack. The 2nd Hussars regiment, accompanied by a regiment of Chasseurs à Cheval, smashed the Spanish cavalry, reformed, and charged at the once-again abandoned Spanish infantry in the eastern flank. Lasalle's fresh battalions also attacked frontally and French dragoons were now rolling over the center of the Spanish army, which attempted to flee in any way it could. Many were brutally killed in this chaotic retreat and Cuesta's army effectively ceased to exist.

It had been a disastrous day for Cuesta, who nearly lost his life in the battle. The Spanish had 8,000 troops killed or wounded and about 2,000 captured, while the French only suffered about 1,000 casualties. On top of that, the Spanish lost 20 of their 30 guns. It was Cuesta's second major defeat at the hand of the French after Medina del Rio Seco in 1808. The battle saw a successful start to the French conquest of Southern Spain.

Battles of Porto

The first Battle of Porto took place on March 28, 1809, when the French under Marshal Soult completely defeated 10,000 Portuguese militia under Lima Barreto and Pareiras outside the city of Porto (traditionally called Oporto by the British). Soult followed up his success by storming the city, with horrible slaughter; civilians fleeing the city were fired on by French artillery trying to cross the bridge to the south shore, collapsing the bridge. It is estimated that 10,000 of the inhabitants perished in the attack. The losses to the militia are unknown, although they must have lost several thousand. The French lost only 500 men.

The second battle occurred on may 12; Taking command of the British troops in Portugal in April, General Arthur Wellesley led the reinforced British army north to beat the French. When the British reached the city, thay found they could not cross the Douro river for Soult had ordered all the boats destroyed or moved to the North bank.

Colonel John Waters was reconnoitering the river east of Porto when he was approached by a Portuguese barber who led him to a point on the bank hidden by brush where there was 'a skiff, a prior of the covent and three or four peasants'; partly at Waters' entreaties and partly at the urging of the Prior, the peasants leapt in the skiff with the British officer and crossed the river, bringing back three wine barges that were unguarded on the opposite bank.

When informed of this, Wellesley said; 'well, let the men cross.' Immediately a company of the 3rd Buffs, crossed the river and entered a walled convent overlooking the landing. By the time Soult and the French realized that Wellesley's forces were on the north bank an entire battalion under Rowland Hill had been sent into the convent.

General Foy, who first saw the British crossing, requisitioned a battalion and led an attack on the convent, but was beaten back with heavy losses. Reinforced later in the day to four battalions, he attacked again. By this time however, 3 entire battalions were occupying the convent and surrounding buildings. Again Foy was beaten back. Soult withdrew the troops guarding the Porto boats to reinforce Foy, the people of Porto immediately set out in 'anything that would float' and ferried more British troops over; four British battalions were brought over immediately.

Murray's brigade with the 14th Light cavalry was stationed eastward to cut off the French retreat. Murray failed to do so, elsewhise the entire French army may have been captured and contented himself with skirmishing with the French advance guard. The 14th however, sped after the retreating French and both caused and received considerable casualties.

Battle of Ciudad-Real

The Battle of Ciudad-Real was fought on March 27, 1809, and resulted in a French victory under General Sebastiani against the Spanish under General Cartojal.

If you have any more information on the battle please inform us.

Battle of Villafranca del Bierzo (Vi'ya'Frang'ka Del Bi'yehr'Tzo)

March 17, 1809

Battle of Villafranca del Bierzo took place during the French occupation of León in the Peninsular War. After a bloody four-hour siege the small and isolated French garrison at Villafranca surrendered to a Spanish force under Brigadier Mendizábal.

In 1809 Spanish military operations in northern Spain were marked by sporadic efforts to expel the French from the provinces they had overrun during the collapse of the Spanish armies the previous year. Fragments of the armies torn-apart by the French, operating in conjunction with guerillas and militia, organized raids and skirmishes that occasionally resulted in the capture of French troops and supplies.

One remaining Spanish formation, General La Romana's division of regular infantry, established itself in Asturias and harassed the French in León and Galicia. In March, elements of the unit, armed with a French 12-pound gun and munitions recovered from an abandoned post at Ponferrada, decided to attack the French post at nearby Villafranca del Bierzo.

The vanguard of the attack was formed of some 1,500 men of the Zaragoza and Zamora regiments under Mendizábal. On March 17 they entered the plaza at Villafranca and closed in on the French entrenched in the castle. A costly battle broke out that claimed the lives of several Spanish officers. After four hours of fighting the French agreed to surrender.

Battle of Corunna

At Corunna, the British retreat ended and the exhausted soldiers rested while the wounded and stores were embarked. One observer noted that it seemed nothing could rouse the redcoats but on 16 January when word arrived that the French were coming, "They all stood as one and formed in their companies and regiments, ready and eager to meet the enemy."

The British infantry formed a series of defensive lines with the key position being the small village of Elvina. This point was targeted by Soult and, following a lengthy bombardment, he sent in a heavy attack against the defending 42nd and 50th regiments. And an order to bring up ammunition was confused for one to retreat. Moore rallied the 42nd and they threw the French out in bloody hand-to-hand combat. seconds after the 42nd charged the village Moore was struck by a cannonball, staying alive long enough to see the battle won. The battle for the village was ferocious and it took several hours for the British to drive off the attackers.

An attempt by French cavalry to outflank the British right was defeated by sharpshooting riflemen of the 95th. A more direct assault on the centre of the defenders was also driven off and, as night fell, the British returned to evacuating the troops. The cost to the British included some 900 men and the death of Sir John Moore, while the French suffered some 2000 casualties. The evacuation, however, was a complete success and led to some 27,000 men being saved to fight another day.

With the main French army drawn north, the planned reinvasion of Portugal was delayed for several months, allowing the British enough time build up the small garrison left in Lisbon into the army that defeated the French invasion under Soult and subsequently drove the French from the Iberian peninsula. Arthur Wellesley, duke of Wellington said of Moore. "You know, I don't think we'd have won without him."

Battle of Cacabelos

3 January, 1809

As the retreat continued, the British army(with the exception of the rearguard under 'Black Bob' crauford and the Guard regiments) began losing it's discipline, many men falling out from the ranks from exhaustion or to find drink. While many of them found their way back to the army, it was rarely to their old units and the resulting confusion further broke down the discipline.

Moore decided to hold the French off at the Cacabelos bridge over the River Coa - some three kilometres before Villafranca - and sent the rest of the army to its well-provisioned storehouses. Unfortunately, as soon as they reached the town, the many British troops desaerted to loot all the liquor they could find and order disintegrated.

Back at the bridge the British were under extreme pressure from General Baron Auguste Colbert and a large number of French dragoons.

After a sharp engagement in which the 95th rifles and the cavalry were routed behind the Cacabelos bridge, the French drew back to reform for an attack across the bridge.

As Colbert led the charge. Henry Paget, Duke of Uxbridge made a wager with the men of the 95th Rifles over who could shoot the French commander. An Irish rifleman, Thomas Plunkett, ran in advance of his unit to lay on his back and shoot the general through the head and then, to prove it was not a lucky shot, killed a French drum-major who rode to the general's aid.

Seeing their leader killed, the French withdrew allowing Moore to move into Villafranca where he was appalled by the drunken goings on.

Even the execution of one offender failed to do more than temporarily halt the debauchery and the retreat towards Corunna lurched on.

Battle of Benavente

29 December, 1808

After the battle of Sahagun the British learned that the Spanish armies had been smashed by the Grande Armee and Moore decided to withdraw to the north and lead the French away from the remaining Spanish and Portugal where a small British garrison of 10,000 men remained under the command of Arthur Wellesley

As Sir John Moore's men pulled away from Napoleon Bonaparte's fast-approaching army, the French sent 600 cavalry under General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes to disrupt the British retreat.

They caught the British rearguard at the River Cea, but the courage of a small group of British cavalry bought enough time for Henry Paget (Lord Uxbridge) to organise a defence.

There was an indecisive clash between Lefebvre-Desnouettes' men and Paget's force of 10th Hussars and King's German Legion cavalry.

Drawing the French in the direction of Benavente, Paget's men ambushed them and, after a sharp fight, pursued the retreating French back across the Coa.

The British suffered about a dozen casualties while the French lost 50 men killed and wounded and 100 captured. Lefebvre-Desnouettes among the latter.

Despite the moral-boosting success at Benavente, the retreat towards Corunna continued.

Battle of Sahagun

21 December, 1808

As the British expeditionary force under John Moore marched into Spain to support the Spanish(Whose armies had already been smashed, unknown to the British), Henry Paget (Lord Uxbridge), commander of the British cavalry vanguard, decided to deal with a French cavalry force based at Sahagun.

Setting off with the 15th and 10th Hussars, Paget arrived near the town and split his force to catch the French as they withdrew.

He sent General Slade with the 10th to attack Sahagun, which sheltered some 600 dragoons, but the general moved too slowly and when the French discovered the attack column they moved to retreat.

As they left Sahagun the French noticed Paget's 15th, and, mistaking them for Spanish horsemen, moved to attack.

Instead of unsteady Spanish troopers opposing them, General Debelle's cavalry found themselves facing a charge by some 400 British hussars.

Within seconds the French front rank had caved in and the rear one was scattered, turning a formed battle into a bitter duel-like struggle between individual horsemen where the British had all the advantage.

Debelle and half his men escaped, but left behind at least 120 men killed and more than 160 captured.

The British lost two dead and a score injured.

On a side note, this battle is never noted in any French account of the Peninsular war(It never happened- just ask 'em).

Battle of Ucles

The Battle of Ucles was fought on January 13, 1809, and resulted in a French victory under General Victor against the Spanish under General Venegas.

Due to lack of information, this is all we have available on this battle. If you have any more information, please send it.

Battle of Saragossa

The Second Siege of Saragossa, after a first in 1808, was an attack on the Spanish city of Zaragoza during the Peninsular War. It is widly considered one of the most brutal battles in the history of Napoleonic warfare—a comparison can even be drawn to the Battle of Stalingrad due to the the extreme brutality and vicious street fighting which occured in both sieges. The battle is perhaps best summed up by General Palafox's reply to the French upon being asked whether he would consider an armistice: "War to the knife."[

Following the French retreat to the line of the Ebro after the first siege, general Palafox neglected to refurbish the city’s defences until after news of the Spanish defeat at the Battle of Tudela. Due to the French operations elsewhere, however, the Spanish were given three weeks in which to prepare their defences.

On 20 December 1808 the French army under General Moncey took the heights of the Monte Terro. Moncey’s calls for surrender were quickly rejected and the siege of the city proper began.

Fighting was confined to the outlying defences for the next month as the French slowly pushed closer to the walls with their entrenchments, and soon several breaches were made in the walls. Palafox prepared inner defences to resist the inevitable assault.

On 27 January 1809 the French assailed the breaches and forced their way into the city. However where this would usually have resulted in a sacking, the populous, as well as the regular Spanish troops were far from defeated and horrific street fighting took place instead.

Individual battles are remarkable for their ferocity. At one point in the San Augustin Convent the French held the Altar end of the chapel and exchanged shots for hours on end with the Spanish entrenched in the Nave and Belfry. However French superiority in equipment and training was taking its toll, and thousands were falling daily both in the fighting and due to disease, which was rampant through the city.

The end finally came when the French opened a second front into the city on the northern bank of the Ebro. On February 20 the Spanish finally surrendered. Most of the city lay in ruins, and around 54,000 people had perished in the siege.
The Battle of Somosierra (November 30, 1808) took place on at the Somosierra pass in the Sierra de Guadarrama north of Madrid during the Peninsular War. It was a victory for the French under Napoleon and led directly to the fall of Madrid on December 4. The most famous episode of the battle was a spectacular Polish cavalry charge led by Jan Kozietulski.

By late November 1808, the French juggernaut had overwhelmed and destroyed both wings of the Spanish popular army. To complete his reconquest of Spain, Napoleon advanced on Madrid with 45,000 men of his Grande Armée.

General San Juan mustered an ad hoc army of militia, reservists, and various regular regiments reeling from earlier defeats; in all roughlyt 20,000 men to defend Madrid. In order to screen the many approaches to the city, San Juan was obliged to deconcentrate his already greatly outnumbered forces. Under his orders, 9,000 men were dispatched west to guard the Guadarrama pass while 3,500 occupied an advanced post at Sepulvida, leaving only 9,000 men and 16 guns on the heights of Somosierra.

The nature of the terrain worked in the Spaniard's favour. On the evening of November 29 the brigade at Sepulvida repulsed a French attack. Inflicting heavy casualties and escaped from overwhelming French numbers in the gathering darkness. The next morning, Napoleon advanced his infantry directly toward the pass while small detachments crept up the flanks. Exchanging musket volleys with the defenders, the French made slow but measurable progress toward the enemy guns.

Because the Spanish forces could not easily be outflanked by infantry movement, and Napoleon was impatient to proceed, he ordered the Polish Light Horse escort to charge the Spaniish artillery.

The 13 bulletin mentioned that they were commanded by Gen. Louis Pierre, Count Montbrun. However, both Polish charge participants and Lt.Col. Pierre Dautancourt, one of the commanders of the unit, stressed in their relations that this was not the case. Datancourt mentioned that Montbrun laughed at the idea. Yet French historian Adolphe Thiers gave him the honours of leading the charge, which caused the protest by Polish living participants of the battle. Also Maj. Philippe de Ségur in his memories wrote that he was commanding the charge, but his relations were often described as unreliable and again both Dautancourt and Poles denied his role.

The First charge was led by Kozietulski, but he lost his horse after taking the first battery. Then the 3rd squadron of Lt. Andrzej Niegolewski, who had been on reconnaissance with his troops joined the charge. The charge was continued under command of Dziewanowski, and when he fell from his horse after taking the third battery, by Wincenty Krasiński. The charge to the last battery was led by Niegolewski, who then survived almost by miracle when Spanish infantry counter-attacked and recaptured the battery (he received nine wounds from bayonets and a wound to the head. Niegolewski stated he was shot in the head, but other accounts say it was a sabre wound.

The second charge was led by Tomasz Łubieński, who then tried to claim the victory, minimixing the role of the third squadron while Niegolewski claimed that he took the cannons and Łubieński had it so easy 'The Spanish were shooting at him with candies'.

French officers tried to minimize the effect of the Polish charge, claiming that all the success should be given to French infantry of Gen Francois Ruffin. Yet still the 13th bulletin of the Grande armee mentioned the lead role of Polish chevau-légers. It is undeniable that even the first charge was able to take all four batteries, even if the success was temporary and the last was quickly recaptured, allowing the French infantry to press their attack, and that the second charge took the last battery again. A total retreat of Spanish Andalusian irregular militia ensued.

San Juan raced his army back to Madrid. Although the victory at Somosierra was more accurately the result of a combined infantry and cavalry attack, with the infantry bearing the heavier fighting, later accounts, Napoleon's included, placed all the emphasis on the gallant Polish charge.

French patrols reached the outskirts of Madrid on December 1. General San Juan made a half-hearted and futile attempt to defend the capital, and on December 24, a devastating French artillery barrage brought the Spanish defence to grief. San Juan surrendered his remaining 2,500 regulars, the 20,000 civilians under his banner dispersed; and the French entered Madrid for the second time that year.

Battle of Tudela

23 November, 1808

With Spanish armies lurking too close to his flanks on his march towards Madrid, Napoleon Bonaparte sent his trusted friend Marshal Jean Lannes with 31,000 men to end their threat.

Under the command of General Francisco Castanos, one Spanish army was caught at Tudela and was quickly defeated.

The poorly deployed 19,000 Spanish could not hold off Lannes' well executed attacks that took advantage of the major gaps in the Spanish lines and were quickly put to flight.

The entire Spanish army would have been much destroyed had Marshal Ney, in command of a force sent to cut off any routes of retreat, managed to close the trap in time. As it was, Castanos lost 4000 men, while Lannes suffered only 650 men killed and wounded.

Battle of Espinosa

The Battle of Espinosa was fought on November 10 and November 11, 1808 at the township of Espinosa in the Cantabrian Mountains and resulted in a French victory under General Victor against Lieutenant General Joaquín Blake's Army of Galicia.

On the first day of the battle, Victor, seeking an easy victory to erase his humiliation at Valmaseda, launched a series of ill-coordinated attacks that were thrown back with heavy losses by General La Romana's disciplined regulars. By nightfall, Blake's positions still held. On the morning of November 11, Victor led a massive French attack that pierced Blake's left wing and drove the Spaniards from the field. The French captured a total of 30 guns and 30 standards.

Although not a decisive defeat in itself, the hopeless confusion of the tattered and weary Spanish army (having neither a government nor a military command structure to coordinate it) meant that Espinosa marked the deathblow to Blake's Army of Galicia. Blake, to his credit, led his remaining men through an heroic retreat west through the mountains, escaping, to Napoleon's disbelief, Soult's pursuit, but when he arrived at León on November 23, only 10,000 men remained under his banner.

Battle of Burgos

The Battle of Burgos was fought on November 7, 1808. A powerful French army under Marshal Bessières overwhelmed and destroyed the outnumbered Spanish under General Belveder, opening central Spain to invasion.

Spanish history remembers this battle for the vain gallantry of the Guard and Walloon regiments under Don Vicente Genaro de Quesada. Forming a rearguard for the shattered Spanish lines, these troops absorbed repeated charges by General Lasalle's French cavalry without yielding an inch of ground. The cost was a massacre of both French and Spaniards: of the 307 men in the rearguard only 74 survived, caked with blood; uniforms in tatters; bayonets bent and blunted.

It is said that Bessières personally returned Quesada's sword and had his wounds treated in the French field hospital. These acts of chivalry became increasingly rare as the Peninsular War dragged on.

Valmaceda

5 November, 1808

The Battle of Valmaseda took place during Lieutenant-General Blake's retreat from superior French armies in Cantabria. Reinforced by veteran regular infantry from General La Romana's Division of the North (Spanish: Division del Norte), Blake suddenly turned on his pursuers and defeated a division of General Victor's army at Valmaseda.

Valmaceda occurred while the Spaniards were retreating from Pan Corbo where Blake had shaken off the premature French assault and escaped with his army intact. Further mistakes were made in the French pursuit, namely when Victor carelessly allowed his Army Corps to spread out in its search for an enemy he regarded as beaten. As a result Blake was able to draw the French into a trap of his own, and on November 5 General Villate's division, operating ahead of the other French formations, blundered into a brusque attack.

With part of his army trapped, General Joachim Blake took advantage of reinforcements under General Pedro Romana and swung around at lightning speed to rescue the isolated unit.

His 24,000 men caught some 12,000 French troops by surprise, but general Villate formed his men into squares and fought a withdrawal which descended into headlong flight. They left behind some 500 killed, wounded and captured, while Blake suffered only light casualties.

Battle of Pancorbo

The Battle of Pancorbo was one of the opening engagements in Napoleon's invasion of Spain. On October 31, 1808, Marshal Lefebvre bloodied the Army of Galicia under Lieutenant General Joaquín Blake but failed to encircle or destroy it, upsetting both the Emperor and the French strategic situation.

Under Napoleon's guidance, the French had made meticulous preparations to annihilate Blake's position and thereby crush the left wing of the Spanish front that stretched from Cantabria to the Mediterranean Sea. Owing to friction with the Spanish authorities and a lack of coordination by the Central Junta, Blake, for his part, had no confidence in the Spanish deployment and could do little but conduct a cautious advance in the direction of Bilbao.

On October 31, Lefebvre disobeyed Napoleon's orders and launched his IV Corps into a premature attack against Blake at Pancorbo. Blake was deeply disturbed by the appearance of French forces and took immediate measures to withdraw his troops and guns. The Spanish infantry, fighting without artillery support, was swiftly thrown back but escaped in good order.

Lefebvre lost 300 casualties and Blake 600. Although the French had managed something of a tactical victory, the battle was a definite strategic blunder: Blake escaped the French trap and conducted a crafty withdrawal, checked his pursuers at Valmaceda, and was not caught until November 10. Ultimately, however, the overwhelming strength of Napoleon's Grande Armée allowed the French to sweep past the tottering Spanish defences and capture Madrid by year's end.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The first year - 1808-1809

In February 1808 Napoleon had boasted that 12,000 men would suffice to conquer Spain; by June, 120,000 troops had been poured into the country in an effort to subdue the revolt. The main French army of 80,000 men held a narrow strip of central Spain stretching from Pamplona and San Sebastian in the north to Madrid and Toledo to the south. The French in Madrid took shelter behind an additional 30,000 troops under Moncey. Napoleon believed that holding on to Madrid while seizing Spain's main cities with flying columns would quickly restore the situation and quell the uprisings. Accordingly, General Dupont led 24,000 men south with Seville and Cádiz as his goal; Bessières moved into Aragon and Old Castile with 25,000 men, aiming to capture Santander with one hand and Saragossa with the other; Moncey marched toward the Mediterranean with 10,000 men, Valencia in his sights; and Duhesme marshalled 13,000 troops in Catalonia and put Girona under siege.

Napoleon had "no opinion whatsoever of local militias or popular levies," and tried to spain at onse with a too-small force; Twice in June, detachments leaving Barcelona for the front ran afoul Catalan militia along the Bruch and were forced back with heavy casualties. After storming and sacking Cordoba, Dupont, frightened by the violent hostility of the Andalusians, abandoned his offensive and retired to Andujar. Girona resisted all efforts to conquer it. In Saragossa General Palafox and the Spaniards defied the French for three months, fighting inch by inch, corps à corps, in the streets, and eventually forcing the French to lift the siege and limp away in defeat. Moncey's masterful push along the coast was halted outside the walls of Valencia and gave way to a long retreat which proved no less impressive, but also no less futile. Only in the north did the French see success: Bessières, his march on Santander blocked by partisans, turned back in frustration only to find Blake and Cuesta with their army atop Medina del Rio Seco. The Spanish generals, at Cuesta's insistence, had made a foolhardy dash towards Valladolid and left themselves quite exposed. After a sharp fight on July 14 the French poured into the gap Cuesta had unwisely opened between his troops and Blake's, and the motley Spanish army was swept from the field and scattered, leaving Old Castile firmly in Napoleon's hands.

At a stroke, Bessières' victory salvaged the strategic position of the French army in northern Spain. The failures at Valencia and Saragossa were forgotten; all that remained was to reinforce Dupont and allow him to force his way south through Andalusia. A delighted Napoleon asserted, "if Marshal Bessières has been able to beat the Army of Galicia with few casualties and small effort, General Dupont will be able to overthrow everybody he meets."A few days later, Dupont was defeated in battle at Bailén and surrendered his entire Army Corps to General Castaños. The catastrophe was total—with 24,000 troops erased from the map, Napoleon's military machine abruptly collapsed. The French command panicked and ordered a general retreat to the Ebro, abandoning Madrid and undoing all of Bessières' hard-fought gains. Europe trembled at this first check to the hitherto unbeatable Imperial armies. Bailén contributed to the rise of the Fifth Coalition against Napoleon: With French forces being defeated in Spain, the Austrians Saw their chance at regaining their territories from France.

In August 1808 British forces landed in Portugal under the command of Major-General Sir Arthur Wellesley. Wellesley checked Delaborde's forces at Roliça on August 17, while the Portuguese Observation Army of Bernardim contained Loison. On August 21, the Anglo-Portuguese were strongly engaged at the Battle of Vimeiro by French forces under the command of Junot. Wellesley's sound tactics repulsed the French and the Allies held their line. Despite his abilities, Wellesley was replaced as commander by Harry Burrard, who stopped the pursuit that would have destroyed Junot's army and immediately thereafter by Hew Dalrymple as he was considered too junior an officer to command the newly-reinforced expedition to Portugal. In the aftermath Dalrymple lost his wits and offered Junot very favourable armistice terms, allowing for his unmolested evacuation from Portugal—courtesy of the Royal Navy—under the controversial Convention of Sintra in August. The three British commanders were ordered back to England for an inquiry into Sintra, leaving command of the 30,000-strong British force to Sir John Moore.

This new expedition enjoyed the advantages of the Royal Navy's command of the seas. After the destruction of the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar, Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood's Mediterranean Fleet had bottled up the remaining French fleet at Toulon. The role of the Navy in supply, convoy protection, and intelligence-gathering around the Iberian Peninsula in 1808 was vital to the eventual British success, as Wellington later acknowledged. The actions of the Royal Navy along the Catalan coast of France and Spain slowed the French entry into eastern and southern Spain and drained their military resources in the area. During the whole of 1808 the Royal Navy was active in the defence of Spain, notably during the siege of Roses in Catalunya. Frigate captains such as William Hoste, Jahleel Brenton and Lord Cochrane operated around the strategically vital Gulf of Roses, close to the French border north of Barcelona. In one incident, Lord Cochrane defended a cliff-top fortress against French artillery and infantry for nearly a month, eventually destroying it when the main citadel at Roses capitulated to a superior French force.

If Bailén convinced Napoleon of the need to mend matters in Spain with his own hand, the liberation of Portugal brought home the full urgency of the situation. The Emperor, deeply disturbed by news of Cintra, remarked in disgust, "I see that everybody has lost their head since the infamous capitulation of Bailén. I realize that I must go there myself to get the machine working again." The French, so lately masters of Spain, had been reduced to clutching at scraps of land in Navarre and Catalonia, and it was doubtful if even these two footholds could be maintained in the face of a new Spanish attack. Luckily, no attack was forthcoming. Shaken by the shock of rebellion, the Spanish social fabric succumbed to a host of underlying social and political tensions which divided the loyalties of the rebels and fragmented their war effort. Local juntas, to which effective power had devolved since the fall of the monarchy, interfered in military operations, undermined the tentative central government taking shape in Madrid, proved almost as dangerous to each other as to the French, and went about the business of war with hardly a trace of coordination. The British army in Portugal, meanwhile, was itself bogged down in logistical problems and petty administrative disputes, and could not budge. Consequently, months passed with silence on the front; the revolution had "temporarily crippled Patriot Spain at the very moment when decisive action could have changed the whole course of the war."

The Spanish attacked near Burgos, but were defeated and forced into a long retreat, chased by the French in a series of maneuvers punctuated by battles at Pancorbo, Valmaseda, Burgos, Tudela, Espinosa, Somosierra, Saragossa, Castellon and Ucles. Only at Saragassa, still in ruins from Lefebvre's bombardment, was the French tide staunched once again by Palafox and his followers. The Spanish troops that had broken and fled from so many fights now proved unmoveable, and Moncey's 45,000 French soldiers found themselves locked in a second costly siege. French guns made no impression on the steadfast Spaniards and Moncey's overtures for an honorable capitulation were met with the laconic reply: "War to the knife." The war's single most brutal battle unfolded, keeping 45,000French troops delayed for a month.

The British advanced into Spain to support the Spanish armies opposed to Napoleon, but before they arrived, the Grande Armee had smashed the three spanish armies opposed and rounded on the small British force.

Sir John Moore led his army north towards the Spanish port of Corunna to draw the French army away from Portugal. The orderly withdrawal gave way to a nightmare winter retreat over mountainous terrain without supplies(The Spanish had promised the British supplies but never delivered, only the first time the Spanish failed their British allies). Many men left their units from exhaustion, others fell dead by the wayside, hundreds became so drunk they had to be left behind(Many of these helpless men were slaughtered or mutilated by the pursuing French cavalry).

The guard regiments and the rearguard kept their order, however and the French pursuers were defeated at Sahagun, Benavente, and Cacobellos where Irish rifleman shot French general Auguste Colberte.

Midway through the retreat Napoleon returned to the east to cambat the new coalition led by the Austrians.

In January, the British straggled into Corunna, the exhausted soldiers cast themselves down to rest while store and wounded were loaded aboard the Royal Navy ships already there.

On the 16th the French army of Marshall Soult attacked, attempting to halt the embarkation. The French were repulsed with heavy losses and the British embarkation continued. Sir John Moore was struck by a cannonball during the fighting and died shortly after.

While Soult was drawn north, several French armies were involved in the invasion of southern Spain(Andulusia) resisted by the Spanish Army of Estremadura under general Gregorio de la Cuesta.The Spanish army was destroyed at the battle of Medellin, but the French paused to rest their troops and failed to take advantage of the victory to sieze the vital city of Cadiz, which thereafter proved a thorn in the French side.

In March, Marshal Soult invaded Portugal through the northern corridor. Initially repulsed in the Minho river by Portuguese militias, he then captured Chaves, Braga and, on March 29, 1809, Porto. Yet, the resistance of Silveira in Amarante and other northern cities isolated Soult in Oporto.

Meanwhile, Napoleon's victories had broken the Spanish armies, but had also forced the Spanish to begin the guerrilla warfare that would contribute to the downfall of the French in Spain. In Portugal, Miguel Pereira Forjaz, the Secretary of War, had rebuilt the Portuguese Army with money and arms received from the British. The Reform of the Army, held up since 1806, was implemented. In a first phase some 20,000 were called to the Regular Army and some 30,000 to Militias. Later on, this number would grow to 50,000 in the Army and another 50,000 in Militias, in addition to Ordenanças and voluntary units.

Wellesley returned to Portugal in April 1809 to command the Anglo-Portuguese forces. He strengthened the British army with the recently formed Portuguese regiments organized by Forjaz and the Governors of the realm and adapted by General Beresford to the British way of campaigning. These new forces defeated Soult at the Battle of Grijo (May 10 – May 11) and then the Battle of Oporto (May 12). All other northern cities were captured by Silveira.

Leaving the Portuguese to take care of their newly-won territory, Wellesley advanced into Spain to join up with the Spanish army of Gregorio de la Cuesta. The combined Allied force had a sterling opportunity to defeat the French corps of Victor at Talevera, but Cuesta's insistence that the Spanish wouldn't fight on a Sunday provided the French the chance to get away. The next day, having lost the best chance for victory they were likely to get, Cuesta sent his army headlong after Victor, losing a clash with the reinforced French army (now led by King Joseph). The Spanish retreated precipitously, necessitating several British battalions advancing to cover their retreat and almost leading to the capture of Wellesley by French cavalry, (just one of the many times the French almost got him). That night, a patrol of French dragoons spooked the Spanish infantry: ten thousand men opened fire at once in one of the largest single volleys of the Napoleonic Wars. Panicked by their own fire, the Spaniards turned and ran, playing nearly no part in the battle the next day.

The next day, July 27, the French advanced in three columns and were repulsed several times throughout the day by British infantry in line, forcing the French to withdraw. the Battle of Talavera de la Reina was a costly victory that left the allies precariously exposed. The British soon retreated westwards, leaving several thousand of their wounded under Cuesta's protection. The Spanish abandoned them shortly afterwards and they were rescued from their allies by the French. Although the Spanish had promised food to the British if they advanced into Spain, not only was no food given, but Spanish troops threatened to pillage any town that sold food to their 'allies,' forcing the British to continue retreating back to Portugal. The British in the peninsula never quite trusted the Spanish again. Wellesley was made viscount for his victory at Talavera. Later that year, however, Spanish armies were badly mauled at the Battle of Ocana and the Battle of Alba de Tormes.

After his disappointing experience of collaboration with the Spaniards, and expecting a French attack, Wellesley strengthened Portugal's defences. To protect Lisbon, he took a plan from Major Neves Costa and ordered the construction of a strong line of 162 forts along key roads and entrenchements and earthworks, the Lines of Torres Vedras.

Start of the Peninsular war

In 1806 while in Berlin, Napoleon declared the Continental Blockade, forbidding British imports into continental Europe. Of the two remaining neutral countries – Sweden and Portugal – the latter tried in vain to avoid Napoleon's ultimatum. After the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, now being freed from obligations in the east, Napoleon decided to capture the Iberian ports.
On October 27, 1807, the Treaty of Fontainebleau, which defined the occupation of Portugal, was signed between Spain and France. It split Portugal into three kingdoms: the new Kingdom of Northern Lusitania, the Algarve (expanded to include Alentejo), with Portugal continuing in a reduced size. In November 1807, after the refusal of Prince Regent John VI to join the Continental System, Napoleon sent an army into Spain under General Jean-Andoche Junot tasked with invading Portugal.

Marching through spain, the French were hailed as heros. Their maps of spain were fairly reliable and good time was made. In Portugal, the maps were unreliable and the French army was decimated though there was no military opposition.

Two Spanish divisions joined the French troops in an attempt to occupy their rival. Spain initially requested Portugal's alliance against the incoming French armies, but later secretly agreed with France that in return for its cooperation it would receive Portugal's territories; Spain's main ambition was the seizure of the Portuguese fleet. Lisbon was captured on December 1, offering no military opposition. The Portuguese army was positioned to defend the ports and the coast from a British attack. The escape on November 29 of the Portuguese Queen and Prince Regent and 6,000 people (plus 9,000 sailors from the fleet) from the Administration and the Court enabled John VI to continue to rule over his overseas possessions, including Brazil. This was a major setback for Napoleon, who wrote in his Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, C'est ça qui m'a perdu ("This was what destroyed me.").

Using the Franco-Spanish army occupying Portugal as a pretext, Napoleon began sending troops into Spain, where they were greeted with enthusiasm. In February 1808 this "invasion by stealth" swung into action; Napoleon dropped his charade and the French troops were ordered to abandon their march and seize key Spanish fortresses. Pamplona soon fell to a ruse and Barcelona followed on February 29 when a French column, disguised as a convoy of "wounded," convinced the authorities to open the city's gates. When Brigadier Castro garrisoned the Barcelona citadel against the French, his own superiors ordered him to stand down. They were not particularly concerned about the fate of the ruling regime, nor were they in any position to fight. The Spanish Royal Army, counting only 100,000 men, stood unprepared for battle, underequipped, leaderless, paralyzed by the turmoil in the government, and widely scattered throughout dozens of regional posts, from Portugal to the Balearic Islands. Only in far-off Galicia, under Blake and Cuesta, and in Andalusia, under Castaños, were concentrations of any size to be found. The French had seized the country by a coup de main and any hope of resisting them militarily was stillborn.

Meanwhile, Napoleon moved to secure his gains by pursuing a series of intrigues against the Spanish royal family. A Spanish coup, instigated by the aristocratic party, forced Charles IV from his throne and replaced him with his son Ferdinand. Napoleon removed the royals to Bayonne and forced them both to abdicate on May 5, giving the throne to his brother Joseph. A puppet Spanish council approved the new king. But when Joseph tried to enforce his rule in Spain, he provoked a popular uprising that would eventually spread throughout the country. Citizens of Madrid rose up in rebellion against French occupation on May 2, 1808; it took Maréchal Murat several hours and several full-scale charges from the Guard and mameluk cavalry to crush the revolt, with the loss of some 150 French soldiers slain. The next day, bitterly remembered ever after as The Third of May 1808, the French army shot 5,000 Madrid citizens in retaliation. This provocation of a total war against the Spaniards has been identified as one of Napoleon's greatest mistakes, for soon afterwards all of Spain exploded in a bloody guerilla. Tiny Asturias cast out its French governor on May 25, rose up in arms, and, heedless of what was happening elsewhere in the country, "declared war on Napoleon at the height of his greatness." Within weeks, every Spanish province had done the same.

Jean-Andoche Junot


French General
1771-1813

Jean-Andoche Junot knew Napoleon Bonaparte longer than most, having served with him from as far back as Toulon in 1793.

By the time he met Bonaparte, Junot had already served for three years, had been wounded once and promoted to sergeant. Becoming Bonaparte's aide, he rose to lieutenant and then accompanied the young commander for most of his meteoric career.

He fought in the Italian, Egyptian, Austerlitz, Russian campaigns with his mentor, and had independent commands in Portugal and Spain.

Junot became the first major French casualty of Wellington's brilliant career - at Vimiero - but, cut off from France, was lucky that the Convention of Cintra allowed him and his men to be transported home by the Royal Navy.

A very able commander early on and a fierce fighter, Junot was once seriously injured in a skirmish in which he killed six men.

Increasingly mentally unstable in later years, Junot's performances in Russia were not up to his usual standard and he was censured for failing to stop the Russian escape after Smolensk.

Despite his closeness to Bonaparte, Junot never became a marshal - something that preyed on his mind.

In 1813, and retired from service, he killed himself.

Claude Victor


French Marshal
Duc de Bellune
1764-1841

Claude Victor began his military career in the artillery and, not surprisingly, became known to Napoleon Bonaparte during the siege of Toulon.

His abilities as a leader became obvious fairly quickly and by the age of 27 was a general of brigade. Six years later he was a general of division and, at Marengo in 1800, Victor was one of Bonaparte's chief subordinates.

He earned his marshal's baton at Friedland in 1807 and was made a duke the following year.

Sent to Spain, Victor had some successes - defeating Spanish troops at Espinosa and Medillin - but lost the battles of Talavera and Barrossa.

During the disastrous Russian campaign the few remaining French survivors owed their lives, in very large part, to Victor's fighting skills at Beresina which kept the last line of escape open.

He performed well at Dresden and Leipzig, but was criticised for his leadership before Montereau and released from duty. Refusing to accept the order, he said he would fight with the troops and won a reprieve from the loyalty-conscious Bonaparte who gave him an Imperial Guard command.

Agreeing to serve the Bourbons upon their restoration, Victor did not stray from that pledge and did not rejoin his emperor during the 100 Days' Campaign.

True to his own pledges, Victor found it hard to side with senior officers who had switched from Bonaparte, to the Bourbons and back to Bonaparte.

He led an investigation into those who had sided with Bonaparte during the Waterloo Campaign and voted for Marshal Ney's death.

Louis Suchet

French Marshal
Duc d'Albuera
1770-1826

One of Napoleon Bonaparte's most brilliant subordinates, Suchet had a long military career that began in 1791 and ended in 1815.

Of all the marshals sent to hold Spain, only Suchet had success and ruled Catalonia wisely and well with a just administration that brought peace to a ravaged land.

His early career saw him fight at Loano, Dego, Lodi, Castiglione, Mantua, Arcola and Rivoli.

Promoted to general de brigade in 1798, Suchet married into the Bonaparte clan and became Chief of Staff of the Army of Italy.

He was fought at Novi, Ulm, Hollabrunn, Austerlitz, Saalfield, Jena, Pultusk and Ostrolenka. In 1808, Suchet became a count and then was transferred to Spain.

His successes in Spain earned him a marshalate in 1811 and two years later took up the governorship of Catalonia.

As the French began to withdraw from the Peninsula, Suchet oversaw a textbook withdrawal into France and, after the abdication of Bonaparte, served the Bourbons.

Rejoining the eagles upon the emperor's return, Suchet - like the equally able Marshal Davout - found himself out of the main action of the 100 Days' Campaign.

Just why Bonaparte wasted such military talents at such a crucial time seems inexplicable.

Initially blacklisted by the returning Bourbons, he was forgiven in 1819 but spent the remaining seven years of his life in retirement.

Together with Davout, Suchet was Bonaparte's military and administrative equal.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nicolas Soult


French Marshal
Duc de Dalmatie
1769-1851

More than 20 years after the Napoleonic Wars had ended Marshal Nicolas Soult was representing France at the coronation of Queen Victoria when he was grabbed by the arm by none other than the Duke of Wellington.

The conqueror of Napoleon Bonaparte is reported to have said: "I have you at last."

The comment refers to one of the final campaigns of the Peninsular War where Wellington was forced to chase Soult's army through the Pyrenees as the Frenchman led him a merry dance.

Such was the respect that one of the greatest commanders of all time had for the son of a baker.

Soult had joined the French army at 16 and his abilities saw him an officer within six years.

He fought at Fleurus, received a promotion to general of brigade in 1794, and then was stationed on the Rhine. In 1799 he took part at Stockach, became general of division and fought at Zurich.

Becoming a marshal in 1804, Soult was given the honour of taking the vital Pratzen Heights at Austerlitz and won huge praise from Bonaparte for his tactical abilities.

He fought well at Jena, Eylau, Heilsberg and was rewarded by becoming the Duke of Dalmatia.

Known for his greed, Soult enjoyed his titles and the accompanying wealth.

In 1808, Soult went to Spain and chased Sir John Moore to Corunna where, although beaten, he put up a monument to his fallen foe and won great respect from the British for doing so.

Being surprised by Wellington at Oporto lessened his standing, although he followed that by beating the Spanish at Ocana.

In 1811, Soult found himself up against Marshal Beresford at Albuera and was stunned to lose that bloody battle. In awe of British courage, he said later he had beaten the redcoats, it was just that they did not know when they were beaten.

During the 1813 Campaign, Soult fought at Bautzen but was rushed back to Spain to recover the situation after the debacle of Vitoria.

His leadership proved outstanding and, in the face of great odds and a supremely confident British army, managed to stay the inevitable for almost a year.

Joining with Bonaparte for the 100 Days' Campaign he became the emperor's chief of staff and did not perform as well as perhaps he could have.

In later years, Soult was used in many senior government position, including Minister of War, and became one of only a few honoured with the title Marshal-General of France.

Michel Ney


French Marshal
Prince de la Moscowa
Duc d'Elchingen
1769-1815

Known as the Bravest of the Brave, Michel Ney was not known for his coolness, or an excessive amount of caution.

Irrefutably courageous, the hot-tempered soldier's soldier too often let his dash get in the way of sound military thinking.

He joined a hussars regiment in 1787 and through his elan and personality was quickly promoted.

He fought at Neerwinden, Mainz, Mannheim, Winterthur, Hohenlinden, Elchingen, Jena, Eylau, Friedland, Bussaco, Smolensk, Borodino, Beresina, Weissenfels, Lutzen, Bautzen, Dennewitz, Leipzig, Quatre Bras and Waterloo.

His later career and relationship with Napoleon Bonaparte was a strained one - Ney having sided with those who demanded the emperor's abdication and served the Bourbons. He re-attached himself to Bonaparte for the 100 Days' Campaign - with terrible consequences for the French.


His delaying and mishandling of the battle at Quatre Bras ruined Bonaparte's strategic plan and the debacle of Waterloo, where he completely lost the plot, ended in abject defeat.

Ney paid for his errors with his life as he was put on trial for treason by the returning Bourbons, sentenced to death and shot on 7 December 1815.

He was, however, insanely brave to the end and gave the signal to the firing squad to shoot.

Joachim Murat


French Marshal
King of Naples
Grand Duke of Berg
1767-1815

One of the most dashing cavalry commanders in an era of beau sabreurs was Joachim Murat.

He joined the army as a cavalry trooper at the age of 20 and his first contact with the rising General Napoleon Bonaparte came when he helped suppress the Vendemaire coup attempt.

Promoted, Murat joined Bonaparte in Italy in 1796 fighting at Tagliamento.

During the Egyptian campaign he won battlefield promotion to general of brigade.

His handling of the French cavalry at Marengo won him more honours.

With his courage and dash, and the marriage to Caroline Bonaparte, it was a certainty he'd become a marshal in 1804.

An important part of the French army's command, Murat was the perfect harasser of retreating enemies, but his intervention at Eylau saved the battle for Bonaparte and was arguably the high point of his military career.

Journeying to Spain in 1808, Murat was partly responsible for the uprising in that country, as his repression of the Madrid insurrection was harsh.

Leaving Spain because of poor health, he was given the kingdom of Naples and ruled his adopted nation well.

He returned to serve France during the 1812 campaign in Russia and fought at Ostronovo, Smolensk, Borodino and Vinkovo before taking command of the latter stage of the great retreat from Moscow.

Returning to Naples temporarily, he rejoined Bonaparte for the 1813 Campaign in Germany. Fighting at Dresden, Wachau and Leipzig, he eventually negotiated with the emperor's enemies to save his own throne.

In 1815 he tried to assist Bonaparte during the 100 Days' Campaign by fomenting a revolt in northern Italy, but acted too soon and the attempt failed.

The defeat of Waterloo forced him to try to regain his own kingdom, but he was arrested and shot.

Vain to the end he told the firing squad to not aim at the head.

Bon Adrien Moncey

French Marshal
Duc de Conegliano
1754-1842

One of the oldest marshals of 1804, Bon Adrien Moncey had been a professional soldier since 1769 and served in various units before being made an officer in 1779.

Five years later he was a general of division and, after capturing San Sebastian, led the West Pyrenees campaign for a year.

In 1797, he was removed from command after the leaders of the coup of Fructidor suspected he was a pro-royalist.

Moncey returned to favour in 1800 and he firstly served in Switzerland and Italy, before becoming Inspector General of the Gendarmes.

In Spain, Moncey fought at Tudela and Saragossa, but did not see action again until he led the Paris National Guard against the invading allies in 1814.

After Napoleon's final fall, Moncey was jailed for three months for refusing to lead the court martial of Marshal Ney.

Auguste Marmont


French Marshal
Duc de Raguse
1774-1852

A skilled artillery officer, Auguste Marmont fought at Toulon and Mainz, before becoming an aide to Napoleon Bonaparte for the 1796 campaign in Italy.

Two years later he went to Egypt and was promoted to general of brigade for his courage in Malta. He served at Alexandria and the Pyramids and was in the party of loyal followers who returned to France with Bonaparte.

His artillery skills helped win the day at Marengo, for which he was promoted to general of division.

Marmont was put out by not being made a marshal in 1804, but a year later was given command of II Corps, fighting with it at Ulm.

Reassigned to Italy and Dalmatia, Marmont earned the title Duke of Ragusa by forcing a Russian army away from that city.

During the 1809 campaign along the Danube he was held in reserve at Wagram and was sent in pursuit of the retreating Austrians. He caught them at Znaim, but they counterattacked in strength and Marmont found himself in desperate trouble. It was only the arrival of major French reinforcements that saved him. Despite the battle, he was finally given his marshalcy.

In 1811, he took command of the Army of Portugal and the following year pushed Wellington's talents to the full by halting the British push into northern Spain. However, that may have led to an overconfidence that was smashed at Salamanca.

Badly wounded, Marmont did not return to active service until the 1813 Campaign,where he fought at Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden, Leipzig and Hanau.

A skilful fighting retreat during the 1814 defence of France ended badly when he was criticised by Bonaparte for losing the battle at Laon.

As the Allies closed on Montmartre, Marmont - together with marshals Mortier and Moncey - had talks with the enemy and he surrendered his force.

Marmont stayed loyal to Louis XVIII during the 100 Days' Campaign and, following Waterloo, voted to execute Marshal Ney.

Exiled after the 1830 revolution, the Duke of Ragusa travelled Europe unable to return to his country where the verb raguser had been coined to mean betray.

Francois Lefebvre


French Marshal
Duc de Danzig
1755-1820

Straight-speaking and honest, Francois Lefebvre was a loyal and distinguished member of the marshalate.

It took him almost 20 years to go from being a soldier in the royal guard to sergeant but, after the revolution, just 18 months to achieve general of division.

He impressed at Fleurus and spent the next few years on the German front.

One of his biggest achievements, however, came in Paris when during the Coup of Brumaire he marched his troops into the Council of the 500 and probably saved Napoleon Bonaparte from being lynched.

His promotion to marshal came in 1804.

Fighting at Jena as head of the Guard infantry, Lefebvre went on to besiege Danzig and his success led to his ducal title.

From 1808 he campaigned in Spain and won the battles of Durango, Valmaceda and Espinosa against Spanish troops.

Returning to Germany, he led the Bavarians at Abensberg and Eckmuhl before moving into the Tyrol and defeating the Austrians and rebels under Andreas Hofer.

The Russian campaign saw him back in charge of the Old Guard and he fought at Borodino, and later at Dresden and Leipzig during the 1813 Campaign.

During the 1814 defence of France, Lefebvre did exceptionally well at Champaubert and Montmirail.

He was one of the marshals who backed Bonaparte's abdication, but joined with him again for the 100 Days Campaign, after which he spent four years kicking his heels before being restored to his titles by the Bourbons.

Jean-Baptiste Jourdan


French Marshal
1762-1833

A long-serving and experienced commander, Jean-Baptiste Jourdan was known as "the Anvil" by his detractors - "for having been beaten so often".

He joined as a private in 1778 and served in the American Revolution, before taking part in such battles as Jemappes, Neerwinden, Hondeschoote, Wattignies, Fleurus and Wurzburg, after which he became a member of the political elite Cinq-Cents.

Returning to military life after illness, he fought and was beaten at Stockach.

He became a marshal in 1804 and then went to Spain where he served as chief of staff to Joseph Bonaparte, the king of spain. Where he was beaten again by Arthur Wellesley at Talavera and Vitoria.

Vitoria was particularly galling for the marshal, who had advised against forcing the issue against the British - but was blamed for the disaster nonetheless.

Jourdan turned his allegiance to the royals upon Bonaparte's abdication, but returned to his former leader's side for the 100 Days.

Upon Bonaparte's final fall, Jourdan was the president of the court that sentenced his fellow marshal, Michel Ney, to death.

Jean-Baptiste Bessieres

Jean-Baptiste Bessieres

French Marshal
Duc de Istrie
1763-1813

One of the few marshals to be called a friend of Napoleon Bonaparte, Jean-Baptiste Bessieres was a distinguished soldier whose career included fighting with the Swiss Guard to save Louis XVI.

Joining the revolutionary armies, Bessieres skills brought him to Bonaparte's attention and, after fighting at Rivoli, he became a major.

Accompanying Bonaparte on the Egyptian Campaign, Bessieres took part in the battles of Acre and Aboukir.

His performance at Marengo in 1800 saw him a general of brigade and by 1802 he was leading a division.

In 1804, he became a marshal and led the Imperial Guard cavalry at Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau and Friedland.

Sent to Spain he won the battle of Medina del Rio Seco, fought at Somosierra and chased Sir John Moore's army to Corunna.

In 1809, his cavalry performed very well at Aspern-Essling and Wagram and, in Russia, he saved Bonaparte from cossacks during the disastrous retreat in 1812.

Bessieres' last battle was Weissenfels, in 1813, where he died instantly after being hit in the chest by a cannonball.

Gregorio de la Cuesta

Spanish General
1740 - 1812

Don Gregorio Garcia de la Cuesta may have been one of Spain's most high-profile soldiers at the outbreak of war with France, but he was also one of the most unpopular with his British allies.

Old, sick and obstinate, Cuesta proved more of a hinderance to the British than a help.

He was violent, stubborn, wilful and, when he was not letting General Arthur Wellesley down in the field, he was denying supplies to him.

His performances on the field were poor, with no seeming appreciation for strategy or tactics, and at Talavera his inaction forced the British to fight alone and earned him their wrath.

He was described by one as being obstinate, surly and old. "So violent and obstinate that everbody feared him ... but his enemies."

Joachim Blake

Spanish General
1759 - 1827

A leading Spanish general Joachim Blake was not the best tactician but made up for his lack of skill with bravery, good organisation and a knowledge of his own limitations.

Of Irish descent, Blake became Captain General of Galicia in 1808 and found himself up against invading French forces at Medina del Rio Seco, Espinosa and Pan Corbo, although then immediately won a victory at Valmaceda.

More defeats followed and in 1809 resigned his command.

In 1810 he took over the army based at Cadiz but his run of defeats continued at Baza and Albuera.

Despite this he gained higher command with the armies of Valencia and Aragon, but was besieged by Marshal Suchet in Valencia and was forced to surrender in 1812.

Imprisoned in Vincennes for the duration of the Peninsular War, Blake went into politics and was a liberal.

He was a strict, brave and able general - but was very unlucky.

Francisco Castanos

Spanish General
1756 - 1852

Dignified and intelligent, Francisco Castanos made a glorious start to his war against the French by forcing the surrender of an enemy army at Bailen in 1808.

His career, however, would not hit the same heights again and in November of 1808 he resigned after being defeated at Tudela.

Within two years his fortunes turned when he was appointed for a short time to the Spanish Regency following his rescue of the Central Junta from an angry mob.

Castanos got on well with the British and the Duke of Wellington, who liked the Spaniard's lack of pretension or overconfidence in his military skills.

In 1811, Castanos became Captain-General of Estremadura and took overall charge of three armies.

Working well with Wellington, Castanos received much support from the British commander when political back-stabbing led to his being removed.

It says a lot about Castanos that Wellington, who was not slow to criticise Spanish regular officers, said he could rely upon him.

Jose de Palafox y Melzi


Spanish General
1776 - 1847

A highly connected aristocrat, Jose de Palafox y Melzi was extremely loyal to the Spanish royal family and after their removal to France thought about launching a rescue mission.

As Captain-General of Aragon, Palafox led the heroic defence of Saragossa against the French.

Initially, his plans did not seem to include holding out in the poor defences of the city - he had only 1500 troops available - and he left when the French army crossed the horizon on 15 June 1808.

General Lefebvre-Desnouettes launched an immediate assault, which was unexpectedly thrown back with heavy losses - some 700 men were killed.

As the attackers settled in for a siege, Palafox collected reinforcements and, after a failed first attempt, managed to get himself and his troops into Saragossa.

Palafox then set about strengthening the city's defences and turned it effectively into a maze of defensive positions.

The new French commander, General Verdier, sent in a new assault on 4 August and managed to get a foothold in the city.

He sent a message calling for Saragossa to surrender but it was met by Palafox's reply: "War to the knife."

John Gaspard Le Marchant


1766-1812

Apart from being an extremely brave cavalry leader, John Le Marchant was also a reformer and it was his design that led to the introduction of the 1796 light-cavalry sabre(see below).

He wrote an instruction manual for the cavalry and pushed for better training for Britain's officers. He established officer academies and is largely responsible for the creation of the military school at Sandhurst.

Promoted to major-general and sent to the Peninsula, Le Marchant showed extreme promise but his career ended too early when - like so many cavalrymen of his time - he proved too reckless at Salamanca and was killed while hunting down fleeing French infantry. Reports said he had killed six with his own hand.

Sir John Moore


(1761-1809)

Commissioned at 15, Sir John Moore served in the American War of Independence and within eight years was a member of parliament.

In 1794 he was involved with the British backing of Paoli's conquest of Corsica and then served in West Indies.

Becoming a major general in 1798, Moore then took part in operations in Holland and Egypt, where he was a leading player in defeating the French at the second battle of Aboukir.

Sir John Moore's main contribution, however, to Britain was his training of light infantry and his military changes earned him a lieutenant generalcy.

He became the commander of British troops in Portugal following the removal of Sir Harry Burrard for his signing of the Convention of Cintra and advanced in to Spain to back local forces against the French.

Moving to attack the dispersed French forces he found himself cut off from his supply lines and began a horrific retreat to Corunna.

There he organised a skillful rearguard battle that kept the French from attacking his embarking army but he was mortally wounded during the engagement.

His French counterpart, Marshal Soult, was so impressed by Moore that he ordered a monument erected to his fallen foe as a sign of respect.

Sir Edward Pakenham


1778 -1815

The Duke of Wellington's brother-in-law, Sir Edward Pakenham served in Martinique before joining his famous relative in the Peninsula.

He fought at Fuentes de Onoro, but it was his performance at Salamanca that brought wide acclaim.

Given charge of the British operation at New Orleans, Pakenham mishandled the situation and led his troops to slaughter at the hands of the American defenders.

He was mortally wounded during the battle and died on the field.

Sir Thomas Picton


1758 -1815

Unconventional and uncouth, Thomas Picton was one of the best of the senior officers working with the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula.

A life-long soldier, Picton fought in the American War of Independence, served in the West Indies and eventually became Governor of Trinidad in 1801.

His style of leadership was unpopular and he resigned only to find himself facing charges of allowing a woman to be tortured.

Cleared of wrong doing, Picton became a major-general and went to Walcheren, but suffered health problems while Governor of Flushing and returned to Wales.

His next military assignment was to join Wellington in the Peninsula where he proved himself time and again as commander of the 3rd "Fighting" Division.

At Fuentes de Onoro, Badajoz and Vitoria he won admiration for his courage, if not his manners.

Wellington described him as "a rough-mouthed devil", but one in which he had supreme confidence.

In 1813 he was knighted and promoted to lieutenant-general. Joining Wellington again in 1815, he led the 5th Division at Quatre Bras and was wounded during the battle.

Fearing it would mean his being replaced, Picton hid the fact he had been injured and so lined up at Waterloo two days later.

It was a fatal decision, as he was shot through the head and died while leading his men forward.

Famed for his roughness and unusual dress style - a shabby greatcoat and round hat being favourites - he even wore a nightcap during the battle at Bussaco.

Stapleton Cotton


Viscount Combermere,
(1773-1865)

Originally commissioned as an infantry officer, Stapleton Cotton transferred to the cavalry in time for the Flanders Campaign of 1793-1794.

A lieutenant-colonel at the incredibly young age of 20, Cotton found his niche in the cavalry and led the 25th Light Dragoons in the Cape and India.

Meeting the future Duke of Wellington at Seringapatam, he then campaigned in Spain and Portugal taking part at Oporto and Talavera.

In 1805 he was made major-general, was an MP between 1806 and 1812 and in 1810, Cotton inherited his father's title and had to return to Britain.

Upon his return to the Peninsula he took command of the small British cavalry force and was particularly effective on the retreat to Torres Vedras.

His other major actions were Bussaco, Fuentes de Onoro, the Pyrenees and Orthez.

After Salamanca Cotton was badly wounded when he failed to give the correct password and was shot by a British sentry. He recovered in Britain before returning to Wellington's staff.

During the 100 Days' Campaign he was passed over for command of the Allied cavalry, an honour that went to Lord Uxbridge.

While impressed with Cotton's talents, Wellington did not feel he was the right man to have charge of an army.

After the Napoleonic Wars, Cotton was governor of Barbados, army chief in Ireland and India. In India his fine service earnt him a viscountcy and in 1855 he was made a field marshal.

Henry William Paget


Marquess of Anglesey
1768 -1854

After an impressive military career Paget, as Lord Uxbridge, was Britain's second-in-command at Waterloo.

An exceptional cavalry leader, it was his unleashing of the British heavy cavalry that smashed Napoleon Bonaparte's first major attack of the battle.

Originally an infantry colonel with the 80th Foot, Paget saw action in the Netherlands in 1794 before switching to the cavalry.

Under his direction, the 7th Light Dragoons became a highly respected unit and, in 1808, the now Lieutenant-General Paget led the British cavalry in the Peninsular War at Sahagun, Benavente and Corunna.

His career with Wellington came to an abrupt end when he eloped with the sister-in-law of his commander, but he took part in the Walcheren expedition.

Paget was a Member of Parliament between 1796 and 1810 and, on his father's death, joined the House of Lords.

In 1815, Wellington requested his presence during the 100 Days' Campaign and at Waterloo, where Uxbridge lost his leg.

Other offices held by the Lord Uxbridge included Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland and Master-General of the Ordnance.

In 1846 he was made a Field Marshal.

Sir William Beresford


Viscount of Albuera
1768-1854

Joining the army in 1785, the aristocratic Beresford served in North America and lost an eye in a hunting accident in 1786.

He fought the French at Toulon and, in 1795, joined the 88th when it went to India.

Beresford saw more service in Egypt, the Cape and then came the embarrassment of being captured at Buenos Aires.

After a brief time as Governor of Madeira (for Portugal), Beresford returned to the British army with Sir John Moore and the Duke of Wellington.

In 1809, he was promoted and given the task of turning the Portuguese army into an efficient and disciplined fighting force.

Knighted after the battle of Bussaco, Beresford then commanded at the bloody conflict of Albuera, where he received criticism for his positioning of troops.

Supported by Wellington, Beresford threw off self-doubt and continued to play a major role in the campaign.

A man of immense personal strength - At the battle of Albuera he unhorsed a Polish lancer with his bare hands, helping to repel a cavalry attack - he was severely wounded at Salamanca.

After the war he became Master-General of the Ordnance between 1828 and 1830.

Whatever doubts others may have had about Beresford's capacity for independent command they were never backed by Wellington who said if anything ever happened to him then it was Beresford he wanted to take over. High praise indeed.

Sir Thomas Graham


Viceroy of Italy
1748 -1843

Sir Thomas Graham had one of the more unusual British army careers - as he took up arms at the age of 50.

Graham joined the army to fight the French after an incident in 1792 when Revolutionary officials open his wife's coffin as he was returning her body to England for burial.

Furious with the treatment of his beloved he volunteered to help the British efforts at Toulon and raised a regiment - the 90th at his own expense.

Despite his obvious passion and talent, Graham was not initially given a permanent commission, but still served with the regiment as its colonel at Quiberon and in 1796 became a liaison officer with the Austrians in Italy.

Trapped by the French inside Mantua with General Wurmser, the middle-aged Graham staged a daring escape during a severe snowstorm.

His next campaigns came with Sir John Moore, firstly to Sweden in 1808 and then into Spain.

After Corunna his temporary status was made permanent and, before setting out on the Walcheren Expedition, he was promoted to general. Sickness saw him sent back to Britain, but a year later he took command of the British troops at Cadiz.

Under siege in 1811, Graham went on to the offensive and caught the enemy unawares. He later defeated them at the battle of Barrossa.

Illness struck again just prior to the battle of Salamanca and he did not return to the Peninsula until 1813 when he arrived just in time to play a major part at Vitoria.

At the head of 20,000 men, Graham was sent on a wide hooking operation to threaten the French flank and rear. Its success cut the French supply lines and line of retreat.

His follow-up capture of San Sebastian was his last major success as sickness again forced his return to Britain.

His last military assignment came in 1814 when he unsuccessfully tried to take Antwerp.

For the last 30 years of his life, Graham spent his time pursuing his great interests of farming and politics.

Sir Rowland Hill "Daddy Hill"


Viscount Hill
1772 -1842

The career of Sir Rowland Hill is linked closely to both the Duke of Wellington and Sir Thomas Graham.

He met Graham during the siege of Toulon and the older man appreciated the talents the 21-year-old displayed there.

When Graham formed his own regiment he asked Hill to be its colonel and he commanded it in Egypt. A brigade command followed in Hannover.

Hill went to the peninsula with Wellesley's army, taking part at Rolica and Vimiero, then later at Corunna and Oporto, and played a vital defensive role at Talavera.

One of the few officers Wellington trusted enough to give a separate command to, Hill was unfortunately stricken with malaria before his force fought at Albuera and had to hand it over to Sir William Beresford.

On his return he protected Wellington's right flank at Badajoz and later destroyed a French force at Arroyo de Molinos. His surprise attack was so successful he only suffered 65 casualties to the French's 1300 killed, wounded and captured.

Rising to general in 1812, Hill was often used by Wellington as an independent guard on his flank or rear, but again showed his fighting abilities at Vitoria, Souraren and St Pierre. At the latter he soundly defeated a larger French army under Marshal Soult.

Aside from his excellent fighting qualities, Hill was an officer who deeply cared for his men, who loved him in return and called him Daddy Hill.

Hill was given a peerage in 1814 and upon Napoleon Bonaparte's return to Paris from Elba he journeyed to Holland to assist the Dutch building up their army.

He fought during the 100 Days' Campaign and narrowly missed being killed towards the end of the battle of Waterloo. He remained in France for three years as second-in-command of the Allied occupation troops.

Retiring, Hill remained out of the public eye for 10 years but returned to it when asked by Wellington, the Prime Minister, to be the head of the army. Just before his death in 1842, he was made Viscount Hill.

Robert Craufurd "Black Bob"


1764-1812

One of Britain's most brilliant commanders was the aristocratic Scot, Robert Craufurd.

Short, but with a volcanic temper that earnt him the nickname "Black Bob", Craufurd was a harsh disciplinarian who did not tolerate weakness in any of his men.

During the infamous retreat towards Corunna, Craufurd stopped his Light Division to administer floggings. After that display, he had no more problems with discipline for the remainder of the retreat. He even ordered a soldier to drop an officer he was carrying across a river.

Rifleman Harris reports: "The sight of such a piece of effeminacy was enough to raise the choler of the general and, in a very short time, he was plunging and splashing through the water after them both.

"Put him down sir! Put him down! I desire you to put that officer down instantly."

To the drenched officer he then said: "Return back, sir, and go through the water like the others. I will not allow my officers to ride upon men's backs through the rivers - all must take their share alike here."

Craufurd joined the army in 1779 and rose to captain before being placed on half-pay four years later. He used the time to further his military studies and traveled through Europe seeing how other armies were training their troops.

Returning to Britain in 1787, he joined the 75th regiment and quickly found himself training it to travel to India and fight against Tippoo Sultan, a renegade Indian leader.

Craufurd's performance was well noted, but the fiery Scot resigned his commission when passed over for promotion to major. He returned to Europe and served as a liaison officer with the Austrians in Holland and Italy.

Joining the 60th he was a staff officer in Ireland (1798) and Holland (1799) and during the 1807 debacle in Buenos Aires, Craufurd was forced to surrender his brigade of light troops.

A year later he was with Sir John Moore in Spain and on the dreadful retreat to Corunna he commanded the British rearguard. He held his men together with an iron will that, backed by brutal force, saved thousands of lives.

Craufurd and his Light Brigade returned to the Peninsula in 1809 and, despite a soul-breaking 42 mile march (75 kilometres) in just over a day, missed the battle of Talavera.

In 1810, and with a now-reinforced division under his command, Craufurd led a celebrated defence along the Agueda River against French forces more than six-times his size. At the River Coa, however, his tactical sense let him down when he positioned his men badly and was almost cut off by Marshal Ney's troops.

Craufurd fought admirably at Bussaco and Fuentes de Onoro, where he helped rescue an about-to-be trapped British division and then won undying fame by pulling his men out under fierce assault from French cavalry. The retreat across two miles of open ground cost him some 50 men.

Craufurd was mortally wounded leading his men in the assault on Ciudad Rodrigo.

On the way to his funeral troops of his Light Brigade changed from their route to deliberately walk through a river as a mark of respect for their much feared, but loved, commander.

Rifleman Harris, a respected chronicler of the wars, said of his general: "I shall never forget Craufurd if I live to be 100 years, I think. He was everything in a soldier."