Battle of Talavera

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Battle of Talavera
Part of the Peninsular War
Battle-of-talavera-28th-july-1809-william-heath.png
The Battle of Talavera de la Reina by William Heath
Date27–28 July 1809
Location Talavera, southwest of Madrid, Spain
Result Tactical Anglo-Spanish victory [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
Strategic French victory [6] [7] [8] [9]
Belligerents
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg Spain
Flag of France.svg French Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Arthur Wellesley
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg Gregorio de la Cuesta
Flag of France.svg Joseph Bonaparte
Flag of France.svg Jean-Baptiste Jourdan
Strength

55,634:

  • 20,641 British, [10]
    30 cannon
  • 34,993 Spanish, [10]
    30 cannon
46,138, [11]
80 cannon
Casualties and losses
British - 6, 268 [6]
Spanish - 1,200 [6]
French - 7,389 [6]

The Battle of Talavera (27–28 July 1809) was fought just outside the town of Talavera de la Reina, Spain some 120 kilometres (75 mi) southwest of Madrid, during the Peninsular War. At Talavera, an Anglo-Spanish army under Sir Arthur Wellesley combined with a Spanish army under General Cuesta in operations against French-occupied Madrid. The French army withdrew at night after several of its attacks had been repulsed.

Talavera de la Reina Municipality in Castile-La Mancha, Spain

Talavera de la Reina is a city and municipality in the western part of the province of Toledo, which in turn is part of the autonomous community of Castile–La Mancha, Spain. It is the second-largest population center in Castile-La Mancha. Its population of 83,303 makes it the fourth largest town in the region of Castilla-La Mancha, after Albacete, Guadalajara and Toledo.

Spain Kingdom in Southwest Europe

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a country mostly located on the Iberian Peninsula in Europe. Its territory also includes two archipelagoes: the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla make Spain the only European country to have a physical border with an African country (Morocco). Several small islands and a peninsula bordering Morocco in the Alboran Sea are also part of Spanish territory. The country's mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with British dependency Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.

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).

Contents

After Marshal Soult's French army had retreated from Portugal, General Wellesley's 20,000 British troops advanced into Spain to join 33,000 Spanish troops under General Cuesta. They marched up the Tagus valley to Talavera, some 120 kilometres (75 mi) southwest of Madrid. There they encountered 46,000 French under Marshal Claude Victor and Major-General Horace Sebastiani, with the French king of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte in nominal command.

Portugal Republic in Southwestern Europe

Portugal, officially the Portuguese Republic, is a country located mostly on the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It is the westernmost sovereign state of mainland Europe. It is bordered to the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean and to the north and east by Spain. Its territory also includes the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, both autonomous regions with their own regional governments.

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.

Tagus International river of Spain and Portugal.

The Tagus is the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula. It is 1,007 km (626 mi) long, 716 km (445 mi) in Spain, 47 km (29 mi) along the border between Portugal and Spain and 275 km (171 mi) in Portugal, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean near Lisbon. It drains an area of 80,100 square kilometers (30,927 sq mi). The Tagus is highly utilized for most of its course. Several dams and diversions supply drinking water to places of central Spain and Portugal, while dozens of hydroelectric stations create power. Between dams it follows a very constricted course, but after Almourol it enters a wide alluvial valley, prone to flooding. Its mouth is a large estuary near the port city of Lisbon.

The French crossed the Alberche in the middle of the afternoon on 27 July. A few hours later, the French attacked the right of the Spaniards and the British left. A strategic hill was taken and lost, until, finally, the British held it firmly. At daybreak on 28 July, the French attacked the British left again to retake the hill and were repulsed when the 29th Foot and 48th Foot who had been lying behind the crest stood up and carried out a bayonet charge. A French cannonade lasted until noon when a negotiated armistice of two hours began. That afternoon, a heavy exchange of cannon fire started ahead of various infantry and cavalry skirmishes. Early in the evening, a major engagement resulted in the French being held off. A cannon duel continued until dark. At daylight, the British and Spanish discovered that the bulk of the French force had retired, leaving their wounded and two brigades of artillery in the field. Wellesley was ennobled as Viscount Wellington of Talavera and of Wellington [12] for the action.

Alberche river in Spain

The Alberche is a river in the provinces of Ávila, Madrid and Toledo, central Spain. It begins its course at 1,800 m in Fuente Alberche, San Martín de la Vega del Alberche municipal term, Ávila Province. It forms the natural division between the Sierra de Gredos and the Sierra de Guadarrama, in the Sistema Central.

The Peerage of the United Kingdom comprises most peerages created in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland after the Acts of Union in 1801, when it replaced the Peerage of Great Britain. New peers continued to be created in the Peerage of Ireland until 1898.

Wellington, Somerset town in Somerset, England

Wellington is a small market town in rural Somerset, a county in the west of England, situated 7 miles (11 km) south west of Taunton in the Taunton Deane district, near the border with Devon, which runs along the Blackdown Hills to the south of the town. The town has a population of 14,549, which includes the residents of the parish of Wellington Without, and the villages of Tone and Tonedale.

Preliminary movements

On 27 July, Wellesley sent out the 3rd Division and some cavalry under the command of George Anson to cover Cuesta's retreat into the Talavera position. But when Anson's cavalry mistakenly pulled back, the French rushed in to surprise and inflict over 400 casualties on Rufane Donkin's brigade, forcing them to fall back. That night, Victor sent Ruffin's division to seize the hill known as Cerro de Medellín in a coup de main. Two of Ruffin's three regiments went astray in the dark, but the 9th Light Infantry routed Sigismund Lowe's King's German Legion (KGL) brigade (1st Division) and pushed forward to capture the high ground. Alertly, Hill sent Richard Stewart's brigade (2nd Division) on a counter-attack which drove the French away. The British suffered some 800 casualties on the 27th.

George Anson (British Army officer, born 1769) British Army officer and politician (1769–1849)

General Sir George Anson, GCB, was a British officer and politician from the Anson family. He commanded a British cavalry brigade under the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular War and sat for many years as a Whig Member of Parliament.

Rufane Shaw Donkin British Army general

Lieutenant General Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, was a British army officer of the Napoleonic era and later Member of Parliament.

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.

During the evening of 27th, French Dragoon squadrons were riding close to the Spanish position firing their carbines at Spanish skirmishers. Suddenly, without orders, Cuesta's entire Spanish line fired a thunderous volley at the French Dragoons. The French were outside the range of the Spanish muskets, and little harm was done to them. Four Spanish battalions threw down their weapons and fled in panic. Wellesley wrote, "Nearly 2,000 ran off on the evening of the 27th...(not 100 yards from where I was standing) who were neither attacked, nor threatened with an attack, and who were frightened by the noise of their own fire; they left their arms and accoutrements on the ground, their officers went with them, and they... plundered the baggage of the British army which had been sent to the rear." [13] While a majority of the panicked troops were brought back, many hundreds continued to flee, taking some rear echelon British with them. [14]

Dragoon mounted infantry soldiers

Dragoons originally were a class of mounted infantry, who used horses for mobility, but dismounted to fight on foot. From the early 18th century onward, dragoons were increasingly also employed as conventional cavalry, trained for combat with swords from horseback.

Opposing armies

The Allied Army

Wellesley's British army consisted of four infantry divisions, three cavalry brigades and 30 cannon, totaling 20,641 troops. [15] The infantry included the 1st Division under John Coape Sherbrooke (6,000), the 2nd Division led by Rowland Hill (3,900), the 3rd Division commanded by Alexander Mackenzie (3,700) and the 4th Division (3,000) under Alexander Campbell. Henry Fane led a brigade of heavy cavalry (1,100), while Stapleton Cotton (1,000) and George Anson (900) commanded light cavalry brigades. There were three British (RA: Lawson's Company, Sillery's Company, Elliot's Company) and two KGL batteries (Rettberg, Heise) with six guns apiece.

1st Infantry Division (United Kingdom) British Army combat formation

The 1st Infantry Division was a regular army infantry division of the British Army with a very long history. The division was present at the Peninsular War, the Crimean War, the First World War, and during the Second World War and was finally disbanded in 1960.

John Coape Sherbrooke British Army general

General Sir John Coape Sherbrooke, GCB was a British soldier and colonial administrator. After serving in the British army in Nova Scotia, the Netherlands, India, the Mediterranean, and Spain, he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia in 1811. During the War of 1812, his policies and victory in the conquest of present-day Maine, renaming it the colony of New Ireland, led to significant prosperity in Nova Scotia.

Rowland Hill, 1st Viscount Hill British Army general

General Rowland Hill, 1st Viscount Hill, was a British Army officer who served in the Napoleonic Wars as a trusted brigade, division and corps commander under the command of the Duke of Wellington. He became Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in 1828.

Cuesta's Spanish army of 35,000 [16] was organized into five infantry and two cavalry divisions, plus about 30 artillery pieces, some 12lb guns. The 28,000 infantry were in José Pascual de Zayas y Chacón's 1st Division (7 battalions) and Vanguard (5 battalions), Iglesias's 2nd Division (8 battalions), Portago's 3rd Division (6 battalions), Manglano's 4th Division (8 battalions) and Juan Procopio Bassecourt y Bryas's 5th Division (7 battalions). Henestrosa and the Duke of Alburquerque led the 6,000 horsemen of the 1st and 2nd Cavalry Divisions and there were 800 artillerymen.

The French Army

While Joseph nominally led the French Army, his military adviser Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan actually exercised command over their 37,700 infantry and artillerymen, 8,400 cavalry and about 80 cannon. [17]

Victor's I Corps included the infantry divisions of François Amable Ruffin (5,300), Pierre Belon Lapisse (6,900) and Eugene-Casimir Villatte (6,100), plus Louis Chrétien Carrière Beaumont's 1,000-man light cavalry brigade.

Sebastiani's IV Corps consisted of his own infantry division (8,100), Jean-Baptiste Cyrus de Valence's Poles (1,600) and Jean François Leval with his German-Dutch division (4,500). Christophe Antoine Merlin [18] led the IV Corps light cavalry brigade (1,200).

Marie Victor de Fay, marquis de Latour-Maubourg (3,300) and Édouard Jean Baptiste Milhaud (2,350) commanded the two heavy dragoon divisions of the Cavalry Reserve.

The Madrid Garrison included part of Jean-Joseph, Marquis Dessolles's division (3,300), the King's Spanish Foot Guards (1,800) and two regiments of cavalry (700).

Positions

In the morning, it could be seen that the bulk of Cuesta's army held the right while the British formed the left. The Spanish right was anchored on the city of Talavera on the Tagus River and followed the course of the Portina stream. In the centre the British had built a redoubt, which was backed by the 4th Division and in which they placed a battery of four 3lb light cannons. Further to the left, the Medellín hill was held by the 1st Division, with the 2nd Division to its left. The 3rd Division plus Fane's and Cotton's cavalry formed the reserve. On the far left, Bassecourt's Spanish division was positioned on some high ground near the Sierra de Segurilla. Anson's brigade covered the valley between the Medellín and the Segurilla, supported by Alburquerque's Spanish horsemen.

Joseph and Jourdan massed Victor's I Corps on the French right, holding the hill of Cerro de Cascajal. Sebastiani's corps held the centre, while Latour-Maubourg and the Madrid Garrison stood in reserve. On the French left, Milhaud's horsemen faced almost the entire Spanish army. Opposite the Medellín, the Cascajal bristled with 30 French cannon.

Battle

Victor urged his superiors for a massive attack, but Joseph and Jourdan chose to peck away at the Anglo-Spanish position. At dawn, the guns on the Cascajal opened up, causing some loss among the British infantry formed in the open. Having learned the hard way about the destructive power of French artillery, Wellesley soon pulled his soldiers back into cover.

Again, Ruffin's division attacked the Medellín. Each battalion was formed in a column of divisions with a width of two companies and a depth of three. (French battalions had recently been re-organized into six companies.) Each regiment's three battalions advanced side-by-side with only a small gap between units. This would make each regimental attack roughly 160 files across and nine ranks deep. When Ruffin's men got within effective range, the British emerged from cover in two-deep lines to overlap the French columns. Riddled by fire from front and flank, and with their rear six ranks unable to fire, the French columns broke and ran.

Victor shifted Ruffin's survivors to the right against the Segurilla and supported them with one of Villatte's brigades. Lapisse, Sebastiani and Leval (from right to left) then launched a frontal attack against the British 1st and 4th Divisions. Alexander Campbell's men and the Spanish (notably the: Cavalry Regiment El Rey ) Leval's attack, which went in first. Lapisse and Sebastiani then advanced in two lines using the same regimental columns that Ruffin had employed. Henry Campbell's Guards brigade (1st Division) routed the French regiments opposite them, then charged in pursuit. Running into the French second line and intense artillery fire. The Guards and the Germans with them were routed in their turn, losing 500 men, and carried away Cameron's brigade with them. Seeing Guards and his centre broken, [19] Wellesley personally brought up the 48th Foot to plug the hole caused by the dispersal of Sherbrooke's division. Backed by Mackenzie's brigade (3rd Division), the 48th broke the French second line's attack as the Guards rallied in the rear. Lapisse was mortally wounded.

A map of the final French attack Battle of Talavera final attack.jpg
A map of the final French attack

The main French attack having been defeated, Victor pushed Ruffin's men into the valley between the Medellín and the Segurilla. Anson's cavalry brigade was ordered to drive them back. While the 1st KGL Hussars advanced at a controlled pace, the 23rd Light Dragoons soon broke into a wild gallop. The undisciplined unit ran into a hidden ravine, hobbling many horses. Those horsemen who cleared the obstacle were easily fended off by the French infantry, formed into squares. The 23rd Light Dragoons charged past the squares and ploughed into Beaumont's cavalry, drawn up behind Ruffin. The British dragoons lost 102 killed and wounded and another 105 captured before they cut their way out. After the battle, the mauled regiment had to be sent back to England to refit. However, this ended the French attacks for the day. Joseph and Jourdan failed to employ their reserve, for which they were bitterly criticized by Napoleon.

Results

The French, in this hard-fought set-piece battle, lost 7,389: 944 killed, 6,294 wounded, 156 prisoners. [6] The Allies lost more: 7,468. The Spanish casualties were about 1,200 [20] and British casualties were 6,268, including 800 killed, over the two days of fighting. [6] [21] This was approximately 25% of the British force, compared to only 18% of the French, although it is clear that the brunt of the French attack fell on the British. Many of the wounded on both sides were burnt to death when the dry grass of the battlefield caught fire. The next day, the 3,000 infantry of the Light Division reinforced the British army after completing a famous march of 42 miles (68 km) in 26 hours.

Meanwhile, Marshal Soult advanced south, threatening to cut Wellesley off from Portugal. Thinking that the French force was only 15,000 strong, Wellesley moved east on 3 August to block it, leaving 1,500 wounded in the care of the Spanish. Spanish guerillas captured a message from Soult to Joseph that Soult had 30,000 men and brought it to Wellesley. The British commander, realizing his line of retreat was about to be cut by a larger French force, sent the Light Brigade on a mad dash for the bridge over the Tagus River at Almaraz. The light infantry reached there on 6 August, just ahead of Soult. By the 20th of August, all British forces had withdrawn across the mountains and for the next six months, until 27 February 1810, Wellesley's forces took no part in the hard fighting in southern Spain and along the Portuguese border, [22] despite numerous invitations from the Spanish. The Spanish had also promised food to the British if they advanced back into Spain, but Wellington, with an army incapable of living off the land like the French and without its own transport, did not trust his ally to provide these essentials and made general excuses blaming the Spanish for various deficiencies of their government and army. [23] In the event of the retreat the British abandoned nearly all of their baggage and ammunition as well as the artillery captured from the French at Talavera. [24]

The Spanish made another attempt to take Madrid, with Wellesley still refusing to participate, and they were ultimately badly defeated at the battle of Ocaña in November 1809.

Historian Charles Oman, in volume II of his History of the Peninsular War, calls the Talavera campaign a failure for the Anglo-Spanish allies, placing the blame on various Spanish errors while dismissing much of the criticism of Wellesley and the British, suggesting there was no reason to imagine a concentration of the French forces opposing them. [25] Oman also attributes some of the failure to Wellesley's ignorance of the conditions in Spain at the time. At the start of the campaign Wellington received the promised provisions while both the French [26] and the Spanish were suffering severe shortages of food. He complained more about the failure of the Spanish to provide transport for the provisions than food attributing this to maliciousness on the part of the Spanish, apparently unaware that there was no transport to be had for any army in that area.

After this battle Wellesley was created Viscount Wellington of Talavera.

Talavera is the setting for Sharpe's Eagle , the first book written in Bernard Cornwell's "Sharpe" series, and is depicted in the conclusion of the film adaptation of the same name.

Notes

  1. Gates, p. 185, Wellesley and Cuesta had emerged triumphant, but Talavera was a Pyrrhic victory.
  2. Gash, Norman, Wellington: Studies in the Military and Political Career of the First Duke of Wellington. Manchester University Press, 1990, ISBN   0-7190-2974-0, p. 95, "Talavera had been a Pyrrhic victory and the campaign strategy had failed."
  3. Titan: The Art of British Power in the Age of Revolution and Napoleon . University of Oklahoma Press; 31 May 2016 [Retrieved 11 February 2018]. ISBN   978-0-8061-5534-0. p. 207. "Although the allies won a tactical victory by holding their ground during those two days of savage fighting, they did not tarry."
  4. Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon . Yale University Press; 1 October 2008. ISBN   978-0-300-14768-1. p. 22. "while on other occasions a tactical victory might prove fruitless, when other considerations intervened and forced the victorious army to retreat, as after Talavera and Busaco."
  5. Britain As A Military Power, 1688-1815 . Routledge; 4 January 2002 [Retrieved 11 February 2018]. ISBN   978-1-135-36080-1. p. 207. "...and the victory at Talavera had led to no gains."
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Napier, p. 218.
  7. Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492–2015, 4th ed. . McFarland; 9 May 2017 [Retrieved 11 February 2018]. ISBN   978-1-4766-2585-0. p. 154. "Talavera gained the British no strategic benefit, however."
  8. Napoleon and Wellington: The Battle of Waterloo- and the Great Commanders who Fought it . Simon and Schuster; 2001 [Retrieved 11 February 2018]. ISBN   978-0-7432-2832-9. p. 56. "Napoleon therefore decided, especially once Wellington was forced by the sheer weight of numbers against him to retreat back into Portugal, to portray Talavera as a French victory."
  9. Battle Honours of the British Army (1911) . Andrews UK Limited; 30 March 2012 [Retrieved 11 February 2018]. ISBN   978-1-78150-731-5. p. 167. "...but the fact of our retreat, coupled with the abandonment of the sick and wounded, have induced the French to claim Talavera as a French victory"
  10. 1 2 Gates, p. 490-491.
  11. Gates, p. 492, Oman, p. 648.
  12. Holmes, p. 142.
  13. Gurwood, The Dispatches, V, p.85
  14. Napier, p. 215, says 6,000 Spanish troops did not return for the battle and there were no cannon in the redoubt.
  15. Gates, p. 490-491, Oman, p. 646.
  16. Oman, p. 647.
  17. Gates, p.182.
  18. Mullié, C. (in French) Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850/M (Biography). Retrieved 1 September 2013.
  19. Fortescue, p. 248.
  20. Oman, p. 513-514. 4 battalions of Spanish troops ran off the evening of the 27th and on the 28th "... many hundreds were still missing...".
  21. Oman, p. 651, agrees closely with Napier on individual returns, differing on total giving 5,363 (Napier's total of individual return is 5,365). Napier does not explain his total of 6,268 but says specifically that the British lost 5,422 on the second day, leaving 846 lost on the 27th. Oman gives 832 lost on 27th and 4,521 on the 28th (Oman's states his total as 5,363 it is actually 5,353).
  22. Oman, vol. III, p. 2.
  23. Oman, vol. III, p. 5.
  24. Napier, p. 226.
  25. Oman, vol. II, p. 478-480, "The failure of the Talavera campaign ...". Also Napier, p.228.
  26. Oman, p. 459.

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The Battle of Alcantara saw an Imperial French division led by Marshal Claude Perrin Victor attack a Portuguese detachment under Colonel William Mayne. After a three hours skirmish, the French stormed across the Alcántara Bridge and forced the Portuguese to retreat. The clash happened during the Peninsular War, part of the Napoleonic Wars. Alcántara, Spain is situated on the Tagus river near the Portuguese border, 285 kilometres (177 mi) west-southwest of Madrid.

Battle of Arzobispo

The Battle of Arzobispo on 8 August 1809 saw two Imperial French corps commanded by Marshal Jean-de-Dieu Soult launch an assault crossing of the Tagus River against a Spanish force under José María de la Cueva, 14th Duke of Alburquerque. Alburquerque's troops rapidly retreated after suffering disproportionate losses, including 30 artillery pieces. El Puente del Arzobispo is located 36 kilometres (22 mi) southwest of Talavera de la Reina, Spain. The action occurred during the Peninsular War, part of a larger conflict known as the Napoleonic Wars.

Battle of Talavera order of battle

The Battle of Talavera saw an Imperial French army under King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan attack a combined British and Spanish army led by Sir Arthur Wellesley. After several of their assaults were bloodily repulsed on the second day, the French retreated toward Madrid leaving the battlefield to the Anglo-Spanish army. Events soon compelled Wellesley, who was soon appointed Viscount Wellington, to fall back toward his base in Portugal. The following units and commanders fought at the battle, which occurred during the Peninsular War.

Pierre Margaron French soldier

Pierre Margaron led the French cavalry at the Battle of Vimeiro in 1808. He joined a volunteer battalion in 1792. He rose in rank during the French Revolutionary Wars until he commanded a heavy cavalry regiment in 1798. He led his horsemen at the Trebbia, Novi and Genola in 1799 and Pozzolo and San Massimo in 1800. He became a general of brigade in 1803 and led a corps light cavalry brigade at Austerlitz, Jena and Lübeck. He participated in the 1807 invasion of Portugal and fought at Évora and Vimeiro. From 1810 to 1812 he held a post in the interior. He became a general of division in 1813 and led troops at the Battle of Leipzig. His surname is one of the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, on Column 2.

References

Coordinates: 39°58′N4°50′W / 39.967°N 4.833°W / 39.967; -4.833