Battle of Villagarcia

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Battle of Villagarcia
Part of Peninsular War
Battle of Salamanca.jpg
In the right foreground British heavy dragoons of Le Marchant's brigade are depicted charging during the Battle of Salamanca. They had done the same a few months earlier at Villagarcia.
Date11 April 1812
Location
Villagarcia, Extremadura, Spain
Result British victory
Belligerents
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Charles Lallemand Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Stapleton Cotton
Strength
1,100 cavalry 1,400 cavalry
Casualties and losses
53 killed and wounded,
136 captured
51 killed and wounded

In the Battle of Villagarcia (also known as the Battle of Llerena) on 11 April 1812, British cavalry commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Stapleton Cotton routed a French cavalry force led by General de Brigade Charles Lallemand at the village of Villagarcia in the Peninsular War. Cotton intended to trap the French cavalry, which was separated by a number of miles from the main body of the French army, by executing simultaneous frontal and flank attacks. The plan came close to disaster when the forces making the frontal assault pushed forward prematurely. The situation was saved by the timely arrival of John Le Marchant's force on the French left flank.

Charles Lallemand French general

François Antoine "Charles" Lallemand was a French general who served Napoleon I of France, tried to found a colony in what is now Texas, and finally returned to France to serve as governor of Corsica.

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

Stapleton Cotton Stapleton Cotton, 1st Viscount Combermere by Mary Martha Pearson (nee Dutton).jpg
Stapleton Cotton

The recent fall of the French occupied fortress city of Badajoz, on 6 April 1812, allowed the Anglo-Portuguese forces under Wellington to take the strategic offensive. Prior to moving the bulk of his forces north where he would launch his Salamanca campaign Wellington entrusted a considerable proportion of his available cavalry to a force under General Sir Rowland Hill who was ordered to drive the retreating French army of Marshal Soult, who had failed in his attempt to relieve Badajoz, back into Andalusia to the south. The French rearguard under General D'Erlon were under orders to fall back towards Seville if pressed hard. Hill's cavalry, under Sir Stapleton Cotton, were indeed pressing those French forces still remaining in the province of Extremadura hard. [1]

Badajoz City in Extremadura, Spain

Badajoz is the capital of the Province of Badajoz in the autonomous community of Extremadura, Spain. It is situated close to the Portuguese border, on the left bank of the river Guadiana. The population in 2011 was 151,565.

Anglo-Portuguese Army Combined English and Portuguese army during the Peninsular War

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.

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.

Forces

Stapleton Cotton's cavalry consisted of John Le Marchant's heavy brigade (3rd and 4th Dragoons and 5th Dragoon Guards), John Slade's heavy brigade (1st Dragoons, and 3rd and 4th Dragoon Guards) and Frederick Ponsonby's (in temporary command due to General Anson's absence) light brigade (12th, 14th and 16th Light Dragoons). [2] Only Ponsonby's brigade and the 5th Dragoon Guards were involved in the fighting.

5th Dragoon Guards

The 5th Dragoon Guards was a British army cavalry regiment, officially formed in January 1686 as Shrewsbury's Regiment of Horse. Following a number of name changes, it became the 5th Regiment of Dragoon Guards in 1804.

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.

3rd Dragoon Guards

The 3rd Dragoon Guards was a cavalry regiment in the British Army, first raised in 1685 as the Earl of Plymouth's Regiment of Horse. It was renamed as the 3rd Regiment of Dragoon Guards in 1751 and the 3rd Dragoon Guards in 1765. It saw service for two centuries, including the First World War, before being amalgamated into the 3rd/6th Dragoon Guards in 1922.

The French cavalry force, attached to D'Erlon's two infantry divisions, commanded by General François "Charles" Lallemand was composed of the 2nd Hussars and the 17th and 27th Dragoons. [2]

Battle

A French Dragoon Officer. Grande Armee - 1st Regiment of Dragoons - Colonel.jpg
A French Dragoon Officer.

On the evening of 10 April 1811, General Cotton climbed the steeple of a church in Bienvenida. He knew that the French were occupying Llerena and saw that there were considerable numbers of French cavalry five miles closer to him near the village of Villagarcia. [3] Cotton decided that he should attempt to trap the French cavalry with his superior forces. During the night he despatched Ponsonby with the 12th and 14th Light Dragoons to probe the Villagarcia area, whilst Le Marchant was sent on a circuitous march to get on the French left flank and, it was hoped, cut off their retreat. Slade was also instructed to concentrate his brigade on Bienvenida, though he seems to have been tardy in moving. Cotton retained the 16th Light Dragoons as a reserve. At some time during the night Cotton realised that Ponsonby's force might alert the French before Le Marchant was within striking distance and despatched an aide-de-camp with orders to halt the light cavalry; unfortunately the order arrived too late. [4]

Two squadrons of the British light cavalry had forced the French vedettes out of the village of Villagarcia but, around dawn, had run into the full force of the French cavalry and were then chased back. Ponsonby subsequently found his two regiments faced by the three strong regiments under Lallemand and had to make a controlled withdrawal whilst skirmishing against heavy odds. [4]

Following his orders, Le Marchant had moved his brigade though the night over tortuous terrain for a considerable distance. Coming down from rugged hills bordering the plain where the action was fought Le Marchant and the 5th Dragoon Guards had pulled considerably ahead of the other two regiments of the brigade. Le Marchant noticed, looking through the trees of the wood his men were moving through, that French cavalry, drawn up in two deep columns of squadrons, were pushing the six squadrons of light dragoons back towards a narrow ravine flanked by stone walls. Le Marchant realised that an immediate charge was needed, before Ponsonby's squadrons were forced into the congested and broken ground to their rear. [5]

General of Brigade Francois Antoine Lallemand, the French commander at Villagarcia. General Francois Lallemand (1774-1839).jpg
General of Brigade François Antoine Lallemand, the French commander at Villagarcia.
General John Le Marchant (1766-1812) General Le Marchand ( + 22.7.1812).jpg
General John Le Marchant (1766-1812)

Lallemand, it is recorded, caught a glimpse of red-coated figures in the woods to his left and rode to alert General Peyremmont, who was leading the 2nd Hussars. Peyremmont scorned Lallemand's concerns, saying that the British dragoons were probably a small detachment who had lost their way. [6]

At this point the advantage that the French had enjoyed in the action was suddenly reversed. Le Marchant led his dragoon guards out of the woods and they formed their ranks whilst accelerating into the charge. The 5th Dragoon Guards attacked with their squadrons in echelon, their left refused, and struck the deep and exposed left flank of the French formation to considerable effect. Simultaneously with Le Marchant's charge the 16th Light Dragoons, led by Cotton, appeared to Ponsonby's right-rear; they jumped a stone wall in line, and also charged. The French cavalry were thrown into instant confusion and were swiftly broken. [7]

The British pursuit, continuing to inflict casualties and take prisoners, was conducted all the way back to the walls of Llerena where the bulk of D'Erlon's force was concentrated. The French rallied briefly at a ditch halfway to Llerena, but they were outflanked by the 16th Light Dragoons and were forced into flight once more. A few hours later the French abandoned Llerena and continued their retreat out of Extremadura. [8]

Results

The French lost 53 killed or wounded, plus 136 captured (including 4 officers - one a lt. colonel) and were induced to leave the province of Extremadura. The British lost 51 troopers killed or wounded. [9]

Cotton had shown initiative in conceiving a plan to trap the French cavalry, however, the plan was wholly reliant on the timing of the movements on the flanks coinciding with those of the centre. As a result, it was probably rather too complex and came dangerously close to breaking down in execution. However, Cotton was flexible in extemporising once his original plan was rendered irrelevant when his central force made its presence known to the enemy too soon. Slade's heavy brigade did not make an appearance at all. [10]

Le Marchant, in his first large-scale action as a general, proved himself as able a commander of cavalry in the field as he was a military innovator and educator. [11]

Footnotes

  1. Fletcher, pp. 158-159
  2. 1 2 Fletcher, p. 159
  3. Thoumine, p.169
  4. 1 2 Fletcher, p.160
  5. Thoumine, p.170 and 173
  6. Le Marchant, D., p 213.
  7. Fletcher, p.160-161
  8. Thoumine, p.171
  9. Smith, p 376
  10. Fletcher, pp. 162-163
  11. Fletcher, p. 163

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