Battle of Roliça

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Battle of Roliça
Part of the Peninsular War
Batalha da Rolica.jpg
Date17 August 1808
LocationNear the village of Roliça in Portugal
Result Anglo-Portuguese victory, tactical French retreat
Belligerents
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Flag Portugal (1750).svg Portugal
Flag of France.svg French Empire
Flag of Switzerland.svg Swiss Confederation
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Sir Arthur Wellesley Flag of France.svg Henri Delaborde
Strength
14,800 [1] -15,700 infantry and cavalry 4,000-4,930 [1] infantry and cavalry
5 guns
Casualties and losses
487 killed and wounded 700 killed and wounded, [2]
3 guns captured

In the Battle of Roliça (17 August 1808) an Anglo-Portuguese army under Sir Arthur Wellesley defeated an outnumbered Imperial French division under General of Division Henri François Delaborde, near the village of Roliça in Portugal. The French retired in good order. Formerly spelled Roleia in English, it was the first battle fought by the British army during the Peninsular War. [3]

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.

First French Empire Empire of Napoleon I of France between 1804–1815

The First French Empire, officially the French Empire, was the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte of France and the dominant power in much of continental Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. Although France had already established an overseas colonial empire beginning in the 17th century, the French state had remained a kingdom under the Bourbons and a republic after the Revolution. Historians refer to Napoleon's regime as the First Empire to distinguish it from the restorationist Second Empire (1852–1870) ruled by his nephew as Napoleon III.

Henri François Delaborde French general

Henri-François Delaborde was a French general in the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars.

Contents

Background

In the months after occupying Portugal, Napoleon undertook the conquest and control of Spain. He met much resistance but it was disorganised even when it was effective. By the end of July the Spanish had met the French a dozen times, winning, or at least not losing, at seven of those meetings. Their most spectacular victory was in southern Spain on 23 July 1808, when General Castaños surrounded and forced 18,000 French under General Dupont to surrender at Baylen. On 30 July 1808, the French General of Division Louis Henri Loison massacred the population, men, women, and children, of Évora. Both of these events were to have an effect on the future of each nation's relationships with British troops.

Pierre Dupont de lÉtang French general

Pierre-Antoine, comte Dupont de l'Étang was a French general of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, as well as a political figure of the Bourbon Restoration.

Battle of Bailén battle

The Battle of Bailén was fought in 1808 by the Spanish Army of Andalusia, led by Generals Francisco Castaños and Theodor von Reding, and the Imperial French Army's II corps d'observation de la Gironde under General Pierre Dupont de l'Étang. This battle was the first ever open field defeat of the Napoleonic army. The heaviest fighting took place near Bailén, a village by the Guadalquivir river in the Jaén province of southern Spain.

Louis Henri Loison French general

Louis Henri Loison briefly joined the French Army in 1787 and after the French Revolution became a junior officer. Blessed with military talent and courage, he rapidly rose to general officer rank during the French Revolutionary Wars. He also got into difficulties because of his fondness for plundering. In late 1795 he helped Napoleon Bonaparte crush a revolt against the government. After a hiatus, he returned in 1799 to fight in Switzerland where he earned another promotion. In 1800 he commanded a division under Napoleon in the Marengo Campaign.

On the same day, Wellesley received a letter from Viscount Castlereagh, the Secretary of War. It informed Wellesley that General Jean-Andoche Junot's forces numbered more than 25,000. Castlereagh forwarded his plans to augment the British army in Portugal by another 15,000 men. General Sir John Moore was to arrive with an army from Sweden, and another force would be forwarded from Gibraltar. The command of this larger force would pass to Sir Hew Dalrymple (the Governor of Gibraltar, a 60-year-old general who had seen active service only in a failed campaign in Flanders in 17931794). Dalrymple would be seconded by Sir Harry Burrard, attended by five other generals, all senior to Wellesley (Dalrymple, Burrard, Moore, Hope, Fraser, and Lord Paget). The ambitious General Wellesley hoped to make something happen during the time he still commanded the army in Portugal.

Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh British politician

Robert Stewart, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry,, usually known as Lord Castlereagh, which is derived from the courtesy title Viscount Castlereagh by which he was styled from 1796 to 1821, was an Irish/British statesman. As British Foreign Secretary, from 1812 he was central to the management of the coalition that defeated Napoleon and was the principal British diplomat at the Congress of Vienna. Castlereagh was also leader of the British House of Commons in the Liverpool government from 1812 until his suicide. Early in his career, as Chief Secretary for Ireland, he was involved in putting down the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and was instrumental in securing the passage of the Irish Act of Union of 1800.

Jean-Andoche Junot French general

Jean-Andoche Junot, 1st Duke of Abrantès was a French general during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

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."

On 30 July 1808, General Wellesley remet Admiral Cotton's convoy with Wellesley's troops at Mondego bay. Wellesley chose this as his landing point because students from Coimbra University had seized the fort making this a safer landing than any place nearer Lisbon. The disembarking of Wellesley's original 9,000 troops and supplies with the 5,000 they met off Portugal lasted from 18 August. Some landing craft capsized in the rough surf making the first British casualties in the Peninsula victims of drowning.

Mondego River river in Portugal

The Rio Mondego is the longest river located exclusively in Portuguese territory. It has its source in Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain range in mainland Portugal. It runs 234 kilometres (145 mi) from the Gouveia municipality, at 1,425 metres (4,675 ft) above sea level in Serra da Estrela, to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean next to the city of Figueira da Foz.

Lisbon Capital city in Lisbon Metropolitan Area, Portugal

Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal, with an estimated population of 505,526 within its administrative limits in an area of 100.05 km2. Its urban area extends beyond the city's administrative limits with a population of around 2.8 million people, being the 11th-most populous urban area in the European Union. About 3 million people live in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, including the Portuguese Riviera,. It is mainland Europe's westernmost capital city and the only one along the Atlantic coast. Lisbon lies in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and the River Tagus. The westernmost areas of its metro area form the westernmost point of Continental Europe, which is known as Cabo da Roca, located in the Sintra Mountains.

The army marched off on the 10th on the hot and sandy 12 miles (19 km) march to Leiria. Wellesley arrived on the 11th and soon argued with General Bernardim Freire de Andrade, the commander of 6,000 Portuguese troops, about supplies and the best route to Lisbon. The result had Wellesley taking his preferred route, close to the sea and his supplies, with 1,700 of the Portuguese under the command of Colonel Nicholas Trant, a British officer in service with the Portuguese Army.

Leiria Municipality in Centro, Portugal

Leiria is a city and a municipality in the Centro Region of Portugal. It is the capital of Leiria District. The population in 2011 was 126,879, in an area of 565.09 square kilometres (218.18 sq mi). It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Leiria-Fátima.

Bernardim Freire de Andrade Portuguese general

Bernardim Freire de Andrade, was a Portuguese Army general officer who was assigned to command the forces of the Porto Junta in 1808 during the Peninsular War.

Nicholas Trant (1769-1839) was a British Army officer who led Portuguese irregular troops in several actions during the Peninsular War. His best known exploits were the recapture of Coimbra from the French in October 1810 and the successful defense of the line of the Mondego River in March 1811.

The army then began its march toward Lisbon following a force of the French army. The French were under the command of General Henri François, Comte Delaborde. These troops had been sent by Junot to harass and hold the British while he brought his larger army into position to oppose the Anglo-Portuguese forces.

By 14 August the British reached Alcobaça and moved on to Óbidos. Here the British vanguard, consisting of riflemen from 5th/60th and 95th Rifles, met pickets and the rearguard of the French forces. The 4,000 French were outnumbered approximately four to one.

Alcobaça, Portugal Municipality in Centro, Portugal

Alcobaça is a city and a municipality in Oeste Subregion, region Centro in Portugal, formerly included in the Estremadura Province. The city grew along the valleys of the rivers Alcoa and Baça, from which it derives its name. The municipality population in 2011 was 56,693, in an area of 408.14 km². The city proper has a population of 15,800 inhabitants.

Óbidos, Portugal Municipality in Centro, Portugal

Óbidos is a town and a municipality in the Oeste Subregion in Portugal. The town proper has approximately 3100 inhabitants. The municipality population in 2011 was 11,772, in an area of 141.55 square kilometres.

Battlefield

The village of Roliça is placed in the centre of a horseshoe shape of steep hills approximately one mile wide and two deep. The open end opens north-northeast toward Óbidos where the 5/60th and 95th had met the French the day before. The hills around Óbidos and Roliça were well wooded.

The French began the day to the north of Roliça backed up to the higher ground allowing them to block or protect the roads south toward Lisbon. On the hill about one mile to the south of the village where the French first fell back, there were four defiles, or gullies leading into the new French position. The field below these hills were grassy, but boulders and the steep sides to the gullies made attack in formation impossible. In the first stages of the battle, Delaborde pulled his troops back to the top of the hill.

Armies

The Anglo-Portuguese were formed in six brigades under Major General Rowland Hill, Major General Ronald Craufurd Fergusson, Brigadier General Miles Nightingall, Brigadier General Barnard Foord Bowes, Brigadier General Catlin Craufurd, and Brigadier General Henry Fane with the Portuguese under Trant. Trant with the Portuguese and 50 cavalry formed the right and were to turn the French left. Fergusson and Bowes with three companies of riflemen and some light artillery were to force the French right and hold against the possible arrival of French troops under Loison. Hill, Nightingall, Craufurd, Fane with the remaining Portuguese, and the rest of the guns and cavalry were to push the centre.

The French forces under Delaborde consisted of five battalions, including one Swiss, and five guns.

Battle

A map of the battle Battle of Rolica map.jpg
A map of the battle

Wellesley arrived at Óbidos on 16 August and moved toward Roliça on the following day. At the beginning of the battle, Delaborde occupied a position to the north-northwest of the village of Roliça. Wellesley attempted to manoeuvre his forces into a double envelopment, moving to each flank of the French position. This could be attempted since the Anglo-Portuguese army outnumbered the French forces present by over 3 to 1.

He sent Trant to the west, and a stronger force under Fergusson and Bowes with six guns to the east, while he distracted the French with a show of force and noise in the centre. Wellesley tried the manoeuvre twice starting at 9:00 in the morning, but the battle-wise French fell back each time. At this time the French final position was to the south and east of the village at the top of a steep hill.

Colonel Lake of the 29th Regiment of Foot in the centre then made the mistake of dashing up a gully toward the French position. He arrived behind Delaborde, which cost Lake his life and most of the men in the 29th. This prompted a general attack in relief by the outnumbering British. The fight was rough and uphill with Delaborde hoping for support to arrive from Loison. He repulsed three assaults by the British until nearly 4:00 in the afternoon. At this time Wellesley reached positions at the top of the hill and Ferguson arrived over the hills to the east.

Delaborde began to withdraw in good order with effective aid from his cavalry until his army's discipline broke and his army ran. Without British cavalry to press the pursuit, they successfully withdrew to Montachique near Torres Vedras.

Aftermath

The Anglo-Portuguese won with 487 casualties, over half that number from the precipitate 29th. The French lost 700 men and three of their five guns. Delaborde himself was wounded. The following day Wellesley found that the 4,000 additional British troops had arrived from England and were off the coast. He marched his men to cover their disembarkation rather than follow Delaborde. Four days later they would be attacked again and the Battle of Vimeiro would ensue.

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References

  1. 1 2 Ralph Baker in The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars by Gregory Fremont-Barnes (main editor) (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006) 825.
  2. Ralph Baker in The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars by Gregory Fremont-Barnes (main editor) (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006) 826.
  3. Wellington: The Years of the Sword, Elizabeth Longford, Harper & Row, 1969, pp. 148-152

Further reading

Coordinates: 39°18′49″N9°11′01″W / 39.3136°N 9.1836°W / 39.3136; -9.1836