Battle of García Hernández

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Battle of García Hernández
Part of Peninsular War
Battle of Garcia Hernandez July 23, 1812.jpg
Battle of Garcia Hernandez, 23 July 1812. Oil on canvas painted 1863 by Adolf Northen - Lower Saxony State Museum
Date23 July 1812
Location Garcihernández, Spain
Result Anglo-German victory
Belligerents
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Maximilien Foy Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Eberhardt von Bock
Strength
4,000 1,770
Casualties and losses
1,100–1,600 casualties 116–127 casualties

In the Battle of García Hernández on 23 July 1812, two brigades of Anglo-German cavalry led by Major-General Eberhardt Otto George von Bock defeated 4,000 French infantry led by Major-General Maximilien Foy. In what would otherwise have been an unremarkable Peninsular War skirmish, the German heavy dragoons achieved the unusual feat of breaking three French squares, those of the 6th, 69th and 76th Line, [1] routing the entire French force with heavy losses.

Cavalry soldiers or warriors fighting from horseback

Cavalry or horsemen are soldiers or warriors who fight mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the most mobile of the combat arms. An individual soldier in the cavalry is known by a number of designations such as cavalryman, horseman, dragoon, or trooper. The designation of cavalry was not usually given to any military forces that used other animals, such as camels, mules or elephants. Infantry who moved on horseback, but dismounted to fight on foot, were known in the 17th and early 18th centuries as dragoons, a class of mounted infantry which later evolved into cavalry proper while retaining their historic title.

Baron Eberhardt Otto George von Bock was a Hanoverian born major-general in the British army during the Napoleonic Wars.

Peninsular War War by Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom against the French Empire (1807–1814)

The Peninsular War (1807–1814) was a military conflict between Napoleon's empire and Bourbon Spain, for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war began when the French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, previously its ally. The war on the peninsula lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814, and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.

Contents

Background

The previous day, the Allied army commanded by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington had won a decisive victory over a French army led by Marshal Auguste Marmont in the Battle of Salamanca. Foy's division was the only French unit not engaged in the battle and it was acting as rearguard on 23 July.

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.

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.

Battle of Salamanca battle

In Battle of Salamanca an Anglo-Portuguese army under the Duke of Wellington defeated Marshal Auguste Marmont's French forces among the hills around Arapiles, south of Salamanca, Spain on 22 July 1812 during the Peninsular War. A Spanish division was also present but took no part in the battle.

Battle

Heavy Dragoons of the King's German Legion at Garcia Hernandez Dragoner der KGL 1812 in Spanien.jpg
Heavy Dragoons of the King's German Legion at Garcia Hernandez
Battle plan of Garcia Hernandez reconstructed on the basis of contemporary sources and Google Maps. Battle plan of Garcia Hernandez on July 23, 1812.jpg
Battle plan of Garcia Hernandez reconstructed on the basis of contemporary sources and Google Maps.

Bock's 770-strong heavy cavalry brigade, consisting of the 1st and 2nd King's German Legion (KGL) Dragoons, led the pursuit of the French. In support of Bock were the 1,000 troopers of George Anson's British light cavalry brigade (11th and 16th Light Dragoons). [2] As the Anglo-Germans approached, Maj-Gen Curto's French cavalry fled. Foy arranged his eight battalions on a hill in square near Garcihernández in Salamanca province in Spain. He had two battalions each of the 6th Light, and the 39th, 69th and 76th Line Infantry Regiments. [3]

Brigade Military formation size designation, typically of 3-6 battalions

A brigade is a major tactical military formation that is typically composed of three to six battalions plus supporting elements. It is roughly equivalent to an enlarged or reinforced regiment. Two or more brigades may constitute a division.

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.

Battalion military unit size

A battalion is a military unit. The use of the term "battalion" varies by nationality and branch of service. Typically a battalion consists of 300 to 800 soldiers and is divided into a number of companies. A battalion is typically commanded by a lieutenant colonel. In some countries, the word "battalion" is associated with the infantry.

Bock's dragoons charged a square belonging to a battalion of the 6th Light. The French held their fire too long. Their volley killed a number of horsemen, but a mortally wounded horse carrying a dead dragoon crashed into the square like a battering ram. [4] The horse fell, kicking wildly, knocking down at least six men and creating a gap in the square. Captain Gleichen rode his horse into the gap, followed by his troopers. The square broke up and most of the men surrendered. [5] [6]

A second square farther up the hillside was soon charged. Shaken by the first square's disaster, the men flinched when the dragoons rode into them. Soon the men in the second square were running for their lives, except those who surrendered. Foy quickly pulled back the rest of his troops. Anson's horsemen mopped up the battlefield.

Results

Foy lost 200 killed and wounded, and 1,400 captured. Bock lost 54 killed and 62 wounded. The very high proportion of killed to wounded was due to the "deadly effect of musketry at the closest possible quarters." [7] Another authority gives 52 Germans killed, 69 wounded and 6 missing and 1,100 total French casualties. [3]

Commentary

Garcia Hernandez as it is today. The aerial photo on the left - taken from south to north- shows the Gamo brook on the upper edge of the village. The road starting from the village, toward north, to the Almar River behind the hills of La Serna, is from where Wellington obsverved the battle. The center image was taken from the Heights of Altos de La Serna. The photo shows the narrowness of terrain between the town and hills, which forced the two King's German Legion regiments to charge in echelones (steps) rather than in line. Picture on the right shows the old country road with old bridge that crossed the Gamo brook - Anson's brigade crossed this bridge coming from south (from the left in the picture). The heights of the Altos de La Serna are on the right background Garcia Hernandez 2015.jpg
Garcia Hernandez as it is today. The aerial photo on the left - taken from south to north- shows the Gamo brook on the upper edge of the village. The road starting from the village, toward north, to the Almar River behind the hills of La Serna, is from where Wellington obsverved the battle. The center image was taken from the Heights of Altos de La Serna. The photo shows the narrowness of terrain between the town and hills, which forced the two King's German Legion regiments to charge in echelones (steps) rather than in line. Picture on the right shows the old country road with old bridge that crossed the Gamo brook - Anson’s brigade crossed this bridge coming from south (from the left in the picture). The heights of the Altos de La Serna are on the right background

The breaking of a steady square was a rare event. A French infantry battalion in square formed up in a bayonet-studded hedgehog either 3-ranks or 6-ranks deep. (A British square was 4-deep.) If a square stood its ground without flinching and fired with effect, it could withstand the best cavalry. When infantry squares were broken by cavalry in the Napoleonic Wars, it was usually because:

Napoleonic Wars Series of early 19th century European wars

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).

At García Hernández, the last event occurred with the first square, leading to the extraordinary accident of a mortally-wounded horse and rider smashing into the square making a gap which was then exploited by the following cavalry. The second square likely panicked at the extraordinary sight of the first square being torn apart.

Marcel was an officer in the 69th Ligne and gives a very different perspective. According to his account (pp170–173) the battalion of the 76th were caught with the men having broken ranks to drink in the stream. The 6th Leger were partially dispersed seeking food in the nearby hamlets with the officers seeking to rally them when they were overtaken by the cavalry. Marcel's battalion was in close column when it was attacked by the cavalry who failed to break the column. The second battalion of the 69th saw off the attacking cavalry by volley fire from its square.

Literature

Culture

This skirmish is depicted in Bernard Cornwell's novel, Sharpe's Sword .

The battle was also shown in Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell , while Jonathan Strange is serving under the Duke of Wellington.

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References

  1. Chappell, Mike. The King's German Legion: 1. Oxford: Osprey, 2000. Print.
  2. Glover, p 380
  3. 1 2 Smith, p 381
  4. Keegan, p 154
  5. Beamish, p 81ff
  6. Oman, p 101
  7. Oman, p 102