Battle of Benavente

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Battle of Benavente
Part of the Peninsular War
Charge des hussards britanniques a Benavente, le 29 decembre 1808.jpg
British hussars at the battle of Benavente, 29 December 1808, by William Barnes Wollen.
Date29 December 1808
Location
Zamora, Spain
Result British defensive victory
Belligerents
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom Flag of France (1794-1815).svg France
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Henry, Lord Paget Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Lefebvre-Desnouettes   (POW).
Strength
600 550
Casualties and losses
50 killed and wounded 55 killed and wounded, 3 officers and 70 other ranks captured. [1]

The Battle of Benavente (29 December 1808) was a cavalry clash in which the British cavalry of Lord Paget defeated the elite Chasseurs à cheval of the French Imperial Guard during the Corunna Campaign of the Peninsular War. The French chasseurs were broken and forced into the River Esla; their commanding officer, General Lefebvre-Desnouettes, was captured. The action was the first major incident in the British army's harrowing retreat to the coast and ultimate evacuation by sea.

Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey British politician

Field Marshal Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey,, styled Lord Paget between 1784 and 1812 and known as the Earl of Uxbridge between 1812 and 1815, was a British Army officer and politician. After serving as a Member of Parliament for Carnarvon and then for Milborne Port, he took part in the Flanders Campaign and then commanded the cavalry for Sir John Moore's army in Spain during the Peninsular War; his cavalry showed distinct superiority over their French counterparts at the Battle of Sahagún and at the Battle of Benavente, where he defeated the elite chasseurs of the French Imperial Guard. During the Hundred Days he led the charge of the heavy cavalry against Comte d'Erlon's column at the Battle of Waterloo. At the end of the battle he lost part of one leg to a cannonball. In later life he served twice as Master-General of the Ordnance and twice as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

Imperial Guard (Napoleon I)

The Imperial Guard was originally a small group of elite soldiers of the French Army under the direct command of Napoleon I, but grew considerably over time. It acted as his bodyguard and tactical reserve, and he was careful of its use in battle. The Guard was divided into the staff, infantry, cavalry, and artillery regiments, as well as battalions of sappers and marines. The guard itself as a whole distinguished between the experienced veterans and less experienced members by being separated into three sections: the Old Guard, Middle Guard and Young Guard.

Battle of Corunna battle

The Battle of Corunna took place on 16 January 1809, when a French corps under Marshal of the Empire Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult attacked a British army under Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore. The battle took place amidst the Peninsular War, which was a part of the wider Napoleonic Wars. It was a result of a French campaign, led by Napoleon, which had defeated the Spanish armies and caused the British army to withdraw to the coast following an unsuccessful attempt by Moore to attack Soult's corps and divert the French army.

Contents

Background

An officer of the Chasseurs a cheval of the Guard by Theodore Gericault, c.1812 An Officer of the Imperial Horse Guards Charging.jpg
An officer of the Chasseurs à cheval of the Guard by Théodore Géricault, c.1812
Copy of an 1808 French map which shows the relative position of river Esla, Benavente and Castrogonzalo. 1847 Passage de l'Esla map.jpg
Copy of an 1808 French map which shows the relative position of river Esla, Benavente and Castrogonzalo.
Henry, Lord Paget, commander of the British cavalry Henry William Paget00a.jpg
Henry, Lord Paget, commander of the British cavalry
General Lefebvre-Desnouettes. Lefebvre Desnouettes.jpg
General Lefebvre-Desnouettes.
Brigadier General Charles Stewart Thomas Lawrence, Charles William (Vane-)Stewart, Later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, 1812, oil on canvas, National Portrait Gallery, London.jpg
Brigadier General Charles Stewart

Sir John Moore led a British army into the heart of northwestern Spain with the aim of aiding the Spanish in their struggle against the French occupation. However, Napoleon had entered Spain at the head of a large army in order to retrieve French fortunes. This, together with the fall of Madrid to the French, made the position of the British army untenable. The British army had begun their retreat and were being pursued by the main French army led by Napoleon; the cavalry under Henry, Lord Paget were performing an effective screening role to cover them. On Christmas Day the 10th Hussars had taken 100 enemy cavalrymen prisoner, and on 27 December the 18th Hussars had been attacked no less than six times, on each occasion they countercharged successfully. On the 28th the British cavalry were acting as a rearguard posted on the River Esla, to cover the army's withdrawal to Astorga. [2]

John Moore (British Army officer) British soldier and general

Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore, was a British Army general, also known as Moore of Corunna. He is best known for his military training reforms and for his death at the Battle of Corunna, in which he repulsed a French army under Marshal Soult during the Peninsular War. After the war General Sarrazin wrote a French history of the battle, which nonetheless may have been written in light of subsequent events, stating that "Whatever Buonaparte may assert, Soult was most certainly repulsed at Corunna; and the British gained a defensive victory, though dearly purchased with the loss of their brave general Moore, who was alike distinguished for his private virtues, and his military talents."

Astorga, Spain Municipality in Castile and León, Spain

Astorga is a municipality and city of Spain located in the central area of the province of León, in the autonomous community of Castilla y León, 43 kilometres (27 mi) southwest of the provincial capital. It is located in the transit between the Páramo Leonés and the mountains of León and acts as the backbone of the shires of Maragatería, La Cepeda and the Ribera del Órbigo. The city is the head of one of the most extensive and oldest dioceses of Spain, whose jurisdiction covers half of the province of León and part of Ourense and Zamora. It is also head of the judicial party number 5 of the province of León.

Forces

The French force consisted of four squadrons of the Chasseurs à cheval of the Imperial Guard, plus a number of Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard. [3]

Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard

The Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard was a cavalry squadron of Napoleon I's Imperial Guard.

The British forces were drawn from the brigades of John Slade: 10th Hussars and the 18th Hussars and of Charles Stewart (later took the surname Vane): pickets of the 7th Hussars and 3rd Hussars of the King's German Legion (KGL). [4]

General Sir John "Black Jack" Slade, 1st Baronet, served as a general officer in the British Army during the Peninsular War. He lacked talent as a combat leader. Though Slade was praised in official reports, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington criticized his actions privately and finally replaced him with a more efficient officer. Despite this, he attained high rank after the war. His descendants include two admirals.

Charles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry British soldier, politician and nobleman

Charles William Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry was an Irish soldier in the British army, a politician, and a nobleman. As a soldier he fought in the French Revolutionary Wars, in the suppression of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and in the Napoleonic wars. He excelled as a cavalry commander on the Iberian Peninsula under John Moore and Arthur Wellesley.

Kings German Legion military unit

The King's German Legion (KGL) was a British Army unit of mostly expatriate German personnel during the period 1803–16. The Legion achieved the distinction of being the only German force to fight without interruption against the French during the Napoleonic Wars.

Battle

Outlying pickets of the British cavalry were stationed along the western bank of the River Esla, which was swollen with rain. The bridge at Castrogonzalo had been demolished by British engineers early on the 29th, and it was not until about 9:00 in the morning that Lefebvre-Desnouettes, a noted favourite of Napoleon, was able to ford the river with three strong squadrons of his chasseurs and a small detachment of Mamelukes. [5] The French forced the outlying pickets of the British cavalry back onto the inlying picket commanded by Loftus Otway (18th Hussars). Otway charged, despite heavy odds, but was driven back for 2 miles towards the town of Benavente. In an area where their flanks were covered by walls the British, now reinforced by a troop or squadron of the 3rd Hussars KGL and commanded by Brigadier-General Stewart, counter-attacked and a confused melee ensued. [6] The French, though temporarily driven back, had superior numbers and forced the British hussars to retreat once more, almost back to Benavente. Stewart knew he was drawing the French towards Paget and substantial numbers of British reserves. [7]

Loftus William Otway British Napoleonic Wars general

General Sir Loftus William Otway, CB was an experienced and professional cavalry commander of British forces during the Peninsula War who saw extensive service under Sir John Moore in the Corunna Campaign and Wellington in the remainder of the campaign. He also worked training Portuguese troops and spent time serving in Ireland during the 1798 rebellion and Canada. Otway retired after the Peninsula War and was honoured several times for his war service by both the British and Spanish royal families.

Benavente, Zamora Place in Castile and León, Spain

Benavente is a town and municipality in the north of the province of Zamora, in the autonomous community Castile and León of Spain. It has about 20,000 inhabitants.

The French had gained the upper hand in the fight and were preparing to deliver a final charge when Lord Paget made a decisive intervention. He led the 10th Hussars, with squadrons of the 18th in support, around the southern outskirts of Benavente. Paget managed to conceal his squadrons from French view until he could fall on their left flank. [8] [9] The British swords, often dulled by their iron scabbards, were very sharp on this occasion. An eyewitness stated that he saw the arms of French troopers cut off cleanly "like Berlin sausages." Other French soldiers were killed by blows to the head, blows which divided the head down to the chin. [10]

The Pattern 1796 Light Cavalry Sabre is a sword that was used primarily by British Light Dragoons and hussars, and King's German Legion light cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars. It was adopted by the Prussians and used by Portuguese and Spanish cavalry.

The French made a fighting withdrawal back to the river, though their squadrons were eventually broken and a running fight ensued. The chasseurs were forced into and across the river, those who were left on the western bank were either cut down or made prisoner. Lefebvre-Desnouettes' horse was injured and he could not cross the river; he was then made prisoner, either by Levi Grisdale of the 10th Hussars or Johann Bergmann of the King's German Legion hussars, opinions differed at the time. [11] As the chasseurs swam their horses across the river the British troopers fired on them with their carbines and pistols. The French cavalry re-formed on their side of the river and opened carbine fire on the British, though they were subsequently dispersed by the fire of British horse artillery. [12]

Aftermath

The victory gained over the elite of the French light cavalry raised the morale of the British hussars; it underlined the moral ascendancy they had achieved over the French cavalry at the earlier Battle of Sahagún. The retreat of the British army, however, continued. Napoleon had viewed the action from a height overlooking the river; [13] his reactions were rather muted and he made light of the losses to, and humbling of, his "Cherished Children." That evening Lefebvre-Desnouettes, who had suffered a superficial head wound, was entertained at the table of the British commander-in-chief Sir John Moore; Moore gave him his own sword to replace the one taken when he surrendered. [14] The French general was imprisoned in England where he eventually broke his parole, an unpardonable sin according to English public opinion, and escaped back to France, whereupon Napoleon reinstated him to his former command of the guard chasseurs. [15]

References and sources

References
  1. Smith p.273 - all strength and casualty figures
  2. Anglesey, p.84.
  3. Fletcher, p. 96
  4. Fletcher, p. 97
  5. Anglesey, p.85.
  6. Vane, pp. 207-208
  7. Fletcher, p.97.
  8. Haythornthwaite, p. 46.
  9. Anglesey, p. 86.
  10. Hibbert, p. 78.
  11. Haythornthwaite p. 47.
  12. Anglesey, pp. 86-87.
  13. Fletcher, p. 97
  14. Hibbert, pp. 78-79
  15. Within the social code of the time a "gentleman", when giving his parole, pledged his honour not to escape. In return for this he was not incarcerated and allowed very considerable freedoms. According to this code, when he escaped, Lefebvre-Desnouettes dishonoured himself. In addition, Napoleon became a party to the dishonour when he did not send Lefebvre-Desnouettes back to face imprisonment. See:Summerville, pp. 246-248
Sources

Coordinates: 42°00′11″N5°40′27″W / 42.0031°N 5.6742°W / 42.0031; -5.6742

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