Battle of Campo Maior

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Battle of Campo Maior
Part of the Peninsular War
They were hotly pursued by the 13th.jpg
The 13th Light Dragoons pursued the beaten French cavalry at Campo Maior, 25 March 1811. Illustration by Stanley L. Wood, 1897.
Date25 March 1811
Location Campo Maior, Portugal
Result Anglo-Portuguese victory
Belligerents
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Flag Portugal (1750).svg Portugal
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg M. V. Latour-Maubourg Flag of the United Kingdom.svg William Beresford
Strength
2,400 [1] 700
Casualties and losses
200
1 cannon
168

In the Battle of Campo Maior, or Campo Mayor (an older spelling most often used in English language accounts), on 25 March 1811, Brigadier General Robert Ballard Long with a force of Anglo-Portuguese cavalry, the advance-guard of the army commanded by William Beresford, clashed with a French force commanded by General of Division Marie Victor de Fay, marquis de Latour-Maubourg. Initially successful, some of the Allied horsemen indulged in a reckless pursuit of the French. An erroneous report was given that they had been captured wholesale. In consequence, Beresford halted his forces and the French were able to escape and recover a convoy of artillery pieces.

Robert Ballard Long officer of the British and Hanoverian Armies

Lieutenant-General Robert Ballard Long was an officer of the British and Hanoverian Armies who despite extensive service during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars never managed to achieve high command due to his abrasive manner with his superiors and his alleged tactical ineptitude. Although he remained a cavalry commander in the Peninsular War between 1811 and 1813, the British commander Wellington became disillusioned with Long's abilities. Wellington's opinion was never expressed directly, though when the Prince Regent manoeuvred his favourite, Colquhoun Grant into replacing Long as a cavalry brigade commander, Wellington conspicuously made no effort to retain Long. Other senior officers, including Sir William Beresford and the Duke of Cumberland, expressed their dissatisfaction with Long's abilities. The celebrated historian, and Peninsula veteran, Sir William Napier was a severe critic of Beresford's record as army commander during the Albuera Campaign; in criticising Beresford he involved Long's opinions as part of his argument. The publication of Napier's history led to a long running and acrimonious argument in print between Beresford and his partisans on one side, with Napier and Long's nephew Charles Edward Long on the other. Recently Long's performance as a cavalry general has received more favourable comment in Ian Fletcher's revisionist account of the British cavalry in the Napoleonic period.

William Beresford, 1st Viscount Beresford British soldier and politician

General William Carr Beresford, 1st Viscount Beresford, 1st Marquis of Campo Maior, was an Anglo-Irish soldier and politician. A general in the British Army and a Marshal in the Portuguese Army, he fought alongside The Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular War and held the office of Master-General of the Ordnance in 1828 in Wellington's first ministry.

Contents

Background

During the winter of 1810–1811, the French army of Marshal André Masséna maintained its futile siege of Lord Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese Army, which was sheltered behind the Lines of Torres Vedras near Lisbon. Masséna finally ran out of supplies and withdrew toward Almeida in March. Meanwhile, farther to the south, Marshal Nicolas Soult laid siege to Badajoz on 26 January. The fortress fell to the French on 11 March. [2]

André Masséna French military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

André Masséna, 1st Duc de Rivoli, 1st Prince d'Essling was a French military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He was one of the original eighteen Marshals of the Empire created by Napoleon, with the nickname l'Enfant chéri de la Victoire.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington British soldier and statesman

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, was an Anglo-Irish soldier and Tory statesman who was one of the leading military and political figures of 19th-century Britain, serving twice as Prime Minister. His victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 puts him in the first rank of Britain's military heroes.

Anglo-Portuguese Army

The Anglo-Portuguese Army was the combined British and Portuguese army that participated in the Peninsular War, under the command of Arthur Wellesley. The Army is also referred to as the British-Portuguese Army and, in Portuguese, as the Exército Anglo-Luso or the Exército Anglo-Português.

On 15 March, Marshal Édouard Mortier and 4,500 troops belonging to the V Corps laid siege to Campo Maior Castle. Major José Talaya with 800 Portuguese militia and 50 old cannon stoutly defended the ancient Portuguese fortress, located 18 km northwest of Badajoz. The castle held out until 21 March when the French bombardment rendered the place indefensible. [3]

Major is a military rank of commissioned officer status, with corresponding ranks existing in many military forces throughout the world.

Wellington despatched Marshal William Beresford with an 18,000 strong army to relieve Badajoz; when news of the city's fall reached the allies Beresford continued his advance with the aim of recapturing Badajoz. [4]

Battle

The French 26th Dragoons Grande Armee - 26th Regiment of Dragoons.jpg
The French 26th Dragoons

Mortier assigned Latour-Maubourg to escort a convoy of French siege cannons from Campo Maior, which the French were abandoning, to Badajoz. The French force included three battalions of the 100th Line Infantry Regiment, [5] half a battery of horse artillery and eight squadrons of cavalry: the 2nd and 10th Hussars, the 26th Dragoons, and one squadron of the 4th Chasseurs a juramentado (pro-French) Spanish light cavalry regiment. In order to interfere with the French operation Beresford sent Brigadier-General Robert Long ahead with a force of cavalry fifteen and a half squadrons strong: a British heavy cavalry brigade, a Portuguese light cavalry brigade and an unbrigaded British light cavalry regiment. The only units to see action were the 13th Light Dragoons, the 1st and 7th Portuguese Cavalry Regiments, and part of Cleeves' KGL artillery battery, a total of 700 sabres and two cannon. [3]

Campo Maior, Portugal Municipality in Alentejo, Portugal

Campo Maior, is a municipality in the Portalegre District, Alentejo Region, Portugal. The population in 2011 was 8,456, in an area of 247.20 square kilometres (95.44 sq mi). It is bordered by Spain on the North and East, by Elvas Municipality on the Southeast, and by Arronches Municipality on the West.

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.

On 25 March, Long hurled the 13th Light Dragoons (two and a half squadrons) at the 26th Dragoons (three squadrons), with the Portuguese 7th Dragoons (two weak squadrons) covering their left flank. The French dragoons were broken and their commanding officer, General Chamorin, was killed. The whole French cavalry covering force of six squadrons - two remained in support of the infantry - was routed and fled in the direction of Badajoz. The historian Sir John Fortescue wrote, "Of the performance of Thirteenth, who did not exceed two hundred men, in defeating twice or thrice their numbers single-handed, it is difficult to speak too highly." [6] The British horsemen, followed by the 7th Portuguese Dragoons under Loftus Otway, embarked on a wild pursuit of the defeated Frenchmen. They came upon the convoy of 18 siege guns, overran it, and continued on for 11 kilometres (6.8 mi). Incredibly, some of the Light Dragoons charged onto the glacis of the Badajoz fortress and were repulsed by its fire. French cavalry emerged from the city to drive away the allied horsemen. Beresford, who had been given an erroneous report that the 13th LD had been captured in its entirety, called off the action when two of his cannon had just opened fire on the French column, the British heavy cavalry were within striking distance and British infantry were coming up. [7] [8] Beresford's decision to call off his troops when they appeared to be in a position to destroy or force the surrender of the entire French column was taken by his detractors as an early sign of the lack of military insight he was to show later in the campaign at the Battle of Albuera. [9]

13th Hussars

The 13th Hussars was a cavalry regiment of the British Army established in 1715. It saw service for three centuries including the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War and the First World War but then amalgamated with the 18th Royal Hussars, to form the 13th/18th Royal Hussars in 1922.

Battle of Albuera battle

The Battle of Albuera was a battle during the Peninsular War. A mixed British, Spanish and Portuguese corps engaged elements of the French Armée du Midi at the small Spanish village of Albuera, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) south of the frontier fortress-town of Badajoz, Spain.

Following Beresford's halting of his troops the French infantry continued unmolested along the road and, having been passed by the returning allied light cavalry, easily recaptured the convoy and successfully escorted it into Badajoz. However, the allied cavalry managed to retain and carry off one captured cannon (howitzer). [10] [11]

Result

Marshal Beresford William Carr Beresford.jpg
Marshal Beresford

Out of 2,400 engaged, the French suffered 200 casualties, including 108 from the 26th Dragoons, plus one cannon. Total Allied losses were 168. The 13th Light Dragoons lost 10 killed, 27 wounded, and 22 captured. The Portuguese regiments lost 14 killed, 40 wounded, and 55 captured. The Allies recovered Campo Maior. [3]

The pursuit of Latour-Maubourg's force faltered despite the British and Portuguese outnumbering them greatly. The reason behind this failure was subsequently disputed between supporters of Brigadier Long and Marshal Beresford. The cavalry clash at Campo Maior was to become a very controversial action. Beresford considered that Long had lost control of his light cavalry. Beresford also claimed that his taking personal command of the heavy dragoon brigade had prevented Long from ordering them to attempt a suicidal charge against French infantry squares. [12] Long was of the opinion, and was subsequently supported in this by the historian Sir William Napier, [13] that if Beresford had released the British brigade of heavy dragoons he would have been able to drive off the remaining French cavalry (two squadrons who had not been charged by the 13th LD and some rallied fugitives), who were in close support of their infantry, and consequently force the French infantry to surrender. [7]

Three other incidents where Wellington's cavalry charged out of control were the 20th Light Dragoons at the Battle of Vimeiro, the 23rd Light Dragoons at the Battle of Talavera, and John Slade's brigade at the Battle of Maguilla. [14] The next major action in the southern sector would be the Battle of Albuera. [15]

Aftermath

Wellington, after receiving Beresford's report on the clash at Campo Maior, issued a particularly harsh reprimand to the 13th LD calling them "a rabble" and threatening to remove their horses from them and send the regiment to do duty at Lisbon. The officers of the regiment then wrote a collective letter to Wellington detailing the particulars of the action. Wellington is reported as saying that had he known the full facts he would never have issued the reprimand. [16] The publication of Napier's history of the Peninsular War in the 1830s re-ignited the controversy surrounding Campo Maior, and led to a vituperative pamphlet campaign between Napier and Long's nephew on the one side and Beresford and his supporters on the other. [17]

Footnotes

  1. Smith, p 357. All strengths and losses are from Smith
  2. Smith, p 355
  3. 1 2 3 Smith, p 357
  4. Oman (1911), pp. 249-251
  5. French sources say two battalions - totalling 1,200 infantry. Lapène, p. 137.
  6. Fletcher, p. 140.
  7. 1 2 McGuffie, pp. 73–81
  8. Fletcher, pp 132 and 142
  9. Fletcher, pp. 138-139.
  10. Oman (1913), p 105
  11. Napier records the captured artillery piece as a howitzer. A field howitzer, due to its short barrel, would have been the lightest and easiest piece to remove.
  12. Oman (1911), pp. 258–265
  13. Napier pp. 309–310
  14. Oman (1913), p 104-105
  15. Fletcher, p. 149.
  16. Fletcher, pp. 136-137.
  17. Napier, W.F.P. History of the War in the Peninsula and the South of France 1807-1814, London 1828-1840, Vol. III (2nd Ed.), pp. xxi-xxv, also A Letter to Lord Viscount Beresford in Napier, Vol. VI, pp. xxxv-xxxvi.

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References