Battle of Sahagún

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Battle of Sahagún
Part of the Peninsular War
Henry William Paget00a.jpg
A portrait of Henry, Lord Paget, later 1st Marquess of Anglesey, as Colonel of the 7th Light Dragoons (Hussars) circa 1807.
Date21 December 1808
Location
Result British victory
Belligerents
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg France Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg César Alexandre Debelle Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Henry, Lord Paget
Strength
800 dragoons & chasseurs [1] 400 hussars [2]
Casualties and losses
20 killed & wounded
13 officers and over 300 other ranks captured [1]
4 killed
21 wounded [1]

The Battle of Sahagún (21 December 1808) was a cavalry clash at Sahagún, Spain, in which the British 15th Light Dragoons (Hussars) defeated two regiments of French cavalry during the Corunna Campaign of the Peninsular War. [3] Losses to one of the French regiments were so heavy that it was subsequently disbanded. The action marked the final phase of the British army's advance into the interior of Spain, before they began their harrowing retreat to the coast and ultimate evacuation by sea.

Sahagún Municipality in Castile and León, Spain

Sahagún is a town in the province of León, Spain. It is the main town of the Leonese section of the Tierra de Campos district.

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.

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

Sir John Moore led a British army into the heart of northwestern Spain with the aim of aiding the Spanish in their struggle against French occupation. However, Napoleon had entered Spain at the head of a large army intending to reestablish French interests. This, together with the fall of the Spanish capital Madrid to the French, made the position of the British army untenable. Moore, whose headquarters was at Mayorga, was aware that he must retreat towards the coast in the face of the overwhelming odds ranged against him. However, he was also aware that Marshal Soult's apparently unsupported corps was nearby, on the Carrión River, and before beginning his retreat he wished to make a strike against Soult. As part of this design the cavalry under Henry, Lord Paget were sent towards Soult, as a reconnaissance in force, ahead of the infantry. [4]

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."

Kingdom of Spain under Joseph Bonaparte

Napoleonic Spain was the part of Spain loyal to Joseph I during the Peninsular War (1808–1813) after the country was partially occupied by French forces. During this period, the country was considered a client state of the First French Empire.

Madrid Capital of Spain

Madrid is the capital of Spain and the largest municipality in both the Community of Madrid and Spain as a whole. The city has almost 3.3 million inhabitants and a metropolitan area population of approximately 6.5 million. It is the third-largest city in the European Union (EU), smaller than only London and Berlin, and its monocentric metropolitan area is the third-largest in the EU, smaller only than those of London and Paris. The municipality covers 604.3 km2 (233.3 sq mi).

Forces

The French fielded a brigade under César Alexandre Debelle composed of the 1st Provisional Chasseurs à cheval and the 8th Dragoons.

César Alexandre Debelle French general

César Alexandre Debelle was a French general. He was created a baron of the Empire in 1808. He was the cavalry brigade commander at the Battle of Sahagún, where his force was heavily defeated by British hussars under Henry, Lord Paget. His name is inscribed on the north side of the Arc de Triomphe. His brother Jean-François Joseph Debelle was also a general.

The British force was the 15th Light Dragoons (Hussars) from the brigade of Charles Stewart and the 10th Light Dragoons (Hussars) of John Slade's brigade, however, the latter regiment did not come into direct combat.

15th The Kings Hussars cavalry regiment in the British Army

The 15th The King's Hussars was a cavalry regiment in the British Army. First raised in 1759, it saw service over two centuries, including the First World War, before being amalgamated with the 19th Royal Hussars into the 15th/19th The King's Royal Hussars in 1922.

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.

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.

Battle

French 8th Dragoons Grande Armee - 8th Regiment of Dragoons.jpg
French 8th Dragoons

On a bitterly cold night Lord Paget ordered the 10th Hussars to move through the town of Sahagún, then occupied by a French cavalry force, whilst he made a sweep around Sahagún with the 15th Hussars in order that the French might be trapped. [5] Unfortunately General John Slade was tardy in moving off with the 10th Hussars; the French cavalry became aware of the proximity of the British cavalry and exited from the town to the east unmolested. [6] In the dawn light the French regiments, catching sight of the 15th Hussars to the south, formed up in two lines with the 1st Provisional Chasseurs (commanded by Colonel Tascher, a relative of the Empress Josephine - though he may not have been present) in front and the 8th Dragoons behind them. Unusually, the French cavalry received the charge of the British hussars whilst stationary and tried to halt it with carbine fire. [7]

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.

Carbine shorter version of rifle

A carbine, from French carabine, is a long gun firearm but with a shorter barrel than a rifle or musket. Many carbines are shortened versions of full-length rifles, shooting the same ammunition, while others fire lower-powered ammunition, including types designed for pistols.

The 15th Hussars charged, over about 400 yards (370 m) of snowy, frozen ground, shouting "Emsdorf and Victory!" [8] It was so cold the hussars wore their pelisses, rather than having them slung over their shoulders, and many had cloaks over all. Eyewitnesses also spoke of numbed hands hardly able to grasp reins and sabres. The impact when the hussars met the chasseurs was terrible, as one British officer recorded: "horses and men were overthrown and a shriek of terror, intermixed with oaths, groans and prayers for mercy issued from the whole extent of their front." [7] The impetus of the British hussars carried them through the ranks of the chasseurs and into those of the dragoons behind. The French force was broken, and it routed eastwards with the British in pursuit. Many French cavalrymen (though the chasseurs were largely of German origin) were taken prisoner at very little cost to the 15th Hussars. [9] Two French lieutenant colonels were captured and the chasseurs, who lost many men captured, ceased to exist as a viable regiment. [10] The 10th Hussars came up during the pursuit, however, they were initially mistaken for French cavalry. This caused the 15th Hussars to break off their pursuit to re-form, ending the action. [11]

Pelisse type of cloak, often fur-lined

A pelisse was originally a short fur trimmed jacket that was usually worn hanging loose over the left shoulder of hussar light cavalry soldiers, ostensibly to prevent sword cuts. The name was also applied to a fashionable style of woman's coat worn in the early 19th century.

Aftermath

Contemporary British hussar private (7th Hussars) with mount, and horse furniture in foreground (a dozen men of the 7th Hussars fought at Sahagun, serving as Lord Paget's escort) 7th hussars private 1812.jpg
Contemporary British hussar private (7th Hussars) with mount, and horse furniture in foreground (a dozen men of the 7th Hussars fought at Sahagun, serving as Lord Paget's escort)

News reached Moore that the main French forces were much closer to him than he had thought; therefore the attack against Soult was abandoned. The cavalry action at Sahagun marked the final advance before the British began their long, painful and almost disastrous retreat towards the port of Corunna on the Galician coast. [12] The presence of the British army had, as Moore intended, focussed Napoleon's attention upon it allowing the Spanish forces some time to reorganise and regroup after the defeats they had suffered. [1]

The 15th Hussars' charge and subsequent victory meant that the French cavalry were reluctant to fight the British cavalry for the remainder of the campaign. The French 1st Provisional Chasseurs were so depleted by their losses at Sahagun that they were disbanded. [7] The British Hussars were to gain one more victory over their French counterparts during the campaign when, on 29 December 1808, at Benavente they drove Napoleon's elite Chasseurs à cheval of the Imperial Guard into the River Esla, capturing their commanding general, Lefebvre-Desnouettes.

The 15th Hussars were awarded "Sahagun" as a Battle Honour, which is still celebrated today by The Light Dragoons and B Battery 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery.

Footnotes

  1. 1 2 3 4 Smith p. 273.
  2. Smith p. 273. This figure does not include the 10th Hussars
  3. The official designation of the regiments of British light cavalry converted to hussars (in 1806-07) was in the form "15th Light Dragoons (Hussars)," but they were usually termed "15th Hussars" etc.
  4. Hibbert, pp. 57-60.
  5. Fletcher, p. 91
  6. Fletcher, p. 91. Slade apparently harrangued his hussars with a lengthy and quite ludicrous speech, ending with the words: "blood and slaughter. March!"
  7. 1 2 3 Hibbert, p. 62.
  8. Emdsorf being an earlier action, 16 July 1760, in which the 15th had played a notable part. Not all of the 15th proved to be equally adept, it is reported that one clumsy hussar managed to shoot his own horse during the pursuit, Hibbert, p. 62.
  9. Fletcher, pp. 93-94
  10. Fletcher, p. 95
  11. Glover, p. 80
  12. Hibbert, pp. 64-65.

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References

Coordinates: 42°22′15″N5°01′45″W / 42.3708°N 5.0292°W / 42.3708; -5.0292