Battle of Vimeiro

Last updated
Battle of Vimeiro
Part of the Peninsular War
Batalha do Vimeiro.jpg
Portuguese and British troops fighting the French at Vimeiro
Date21 August 1808
Location
Result Anglo-Portuguese victory, Convention of Sintra
Belligerents
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Flag of Portugal (1750).svg Portugal
Flag of France.svg French Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Sir Arthur Wellesley Flag of France.svg Jean-Andoche Junot
Strength
17,000 [1] –20,500 men
18–19 [1] guns
13,000 [1] –14,000 men
23–24 [1] guns
Casualties and losses
720 killed and wounded [2]

2,160 killed and wounded

  • 370–450 killed [2]
  • 1,630–1,710 wounded [2]
  • 13 guns captured

In the Battle of Vimeiro (sometimes shown as or "Vimiera" or "Vimeira" in contemporary British texts) [3] on 21 August 1808, the British under General Arthur Wellesley (who later became the Duke of Wellington) defeated the French under Major-General Jean-Andoche Junot near the village of Vimeiro (Portuguese pronunciation:  [viˈmɐjɾu] ), near Lisbon, Portugal during the Peninsular War. This battle put an end to the first French invasion of Portugal.

Contents

Four days after the Battle of Roliça, Wellesley's army was attacked by a French army under General Junot near the village of Vimeiro. The battle began as a battle of manoeuvre, with French troops attempting to outflank the British left, but Wellesley was able to redeploy his army to face the assault. Meanwhile, Junot sent in two central columns but these were forced back by sustained volleys from troops in line. Soon afterwards, the flanking attack was beaten off and Junot retreated towards Torres Vedras having lost 2,000 men and 13 cannon, compared to 700 Anglo-Portuguese losses. No pursuit was attempted because Wellesley was superseded by Sir Harry Burrard and then Sir Hew Dalrymple (one having arrived during the battle, the second soon after).

Prelude

After Roliça, Wellesley had established a position near Vimeiro. By holding the village, plus some ridges to the west, the British commander covered a beachhead at Maceira Bay a little further to the west. Since most of his reinforcements had arrived by 20 August, Wellesley planned to advance south on Lisbon. Eight independent infantry brigades under Rowland Hill, Ronald Craufurd Ferguson, Miles Nightingall, Barnard Foord Bowes, Catlin Craufurd, Henry Fane, Robert Anstruther and Wroth Acland formed the core of Wellesley's forces. Rounding out his force were 17 cannons, 240 light cavalry led by C. D. Taylor and about 2,000 Portuguese troops under Nicholas Trant, giving a total of 20,000 men.

Junot organised his 14,000-man force into two infantry divisions and a cavalry division under Pierre Margaron. Henri François Delaborde's infantry division contained two brigades under Antoine François Brenier and Jean Guillaume Barthélemy Thomières, while Louis Henri Loison's division included two brigades commanded by Jean-Baptiste Solignac and Hugues Charlot. In addition, François Étienne de Kellermann commanded a 2,100-man reserve made up of four converged grenadier battalions. These units were created by taking the grenadier company from each of Junot's infantry battalions. The French took 23 cannons into battle with them.

Wellesley placed Anstruther's and Fane's brigades in front of Vimeiro, with Acland's men in support. At first, his five remaining brigades held only the western ridge. Junot planned to send Thomières, Solignac and Charlot's infantry brigades to capture Vimeiro, while Brenier's 4,300-man brigade and some dragoons swung in a wide flanking manoeuvre to seize an empty ridge to the northeast of the village. Wellesley detected Brenier's move and switched Nightingall, Ferguson and Bowes to the northeastern ridge. Once Junot realised that British troops occupied the ridge, he sent Solignac's brigade to the right to assist Brenier's attack. The French commander decided to launch his attack on the town immediately, instead of waiting for his flanking move to develop.

Battle

All the preliminary moves and countermoves caused a series of uncoordinated French attacks. First, Thomières' 2,100-man brigade approached the British position. Supported by three cannons and screened by skirmishers, the brigade was formed into a column of companies.

A survey of the battle by major Pierrepont. Battle of Vimieiro.jpg
A survey of the battle by major Pierrepont.

The first company of 120 men formed in a three-deep line would have a front rank 40 men wide. All the other companies formed behind the first company, making the entire brigade about 40 files wide and 48 ranks deep. According to French doctrine, as soon as the enemy main position was found, the companies would peel off to the right or left to form a firing line many companies wide and only three files deep. On the other hand, French commanders often pressed home attacks while in column, depending entirely upon their skirmishers and artillery to provide the necessary fire support.

To counter the French skirmishers, Fane detached four companies of riflemen (60th Regiment of Foot & 95th Rifles). [4] These outnumbered and outfought the French skirmishers, who fell back to the sides of the brigade column. Without their skirmishers in front of them, the French column blundered into the 945 men of the 50th Regiment. At 100 yards (91 m), the British, formed into a two-deep line, opened fire. Several companies of the 50th began wheeling inward toward both flanks of the hapless French column. Unable to properly deploy into firing line and unwilling to face the deadly enfilade fire, the French infantry suddenly bolted to the rear, leaving their three cannons to be captured.

Soon after, a similar fate overtook Charlot's brigade. In a very narrow column, it struck one battalion of Anstruther's brigade, which had been hidden behind a crest. Before they could deploy, the French were taken in flank by a second battalion. Unable to effectively reply to the devastating British volley fire, Charlot's men soon ran away. Seeing the battle going against him, Junot committed his grenadier reserve to the attack. The first two battalions attacked the same area as the previous units and were thrown back. Kellermann swung the final two grenadier battalions wide to the right and succeeded in breaking into Vimeiro. But, counterattacked by units from Anstruther and Acland, these Frenchmen also fell back. Colonel Taylor's 20th Light Dragoons pounced on Kellermann's retreating grenadiers and routed them. Excited by their easy success, the British horsemen charged out of control. They soon came up against Margaron's French cavalry division and were routed in their turn. Taylor was killed and the British horsemen lost about one man in four.

As Brenier's men had gotten lost in the hills, Solignac attacked the northeast ridge. This brigade changed tactics deploying in an attack formation with three battalions abreast. Even so, each battalion formed a column one company wide and eight companies deep. If the French intended to form into line once the enemy position was detected, they waited too long. They marched into the kill zone of Nightingall and Ferguson's brigades before they could deploy. Smashed by British volleys, Solignac's men fled.

Brenier's brigade, marching to the sound of battle, came on four battalions abreast. At first they enjoyed success when they surprised and defeated two British battalions. These units had let down their guard after overpowering Solignac. Victorious, the French pressed on in column, but soon ran into the 29th Regiment in line and were stopped. The 29th was joined by the other two units, who had quickly rallied. Together, the volley fire of the three British battalions soon routed Brenier's men. Though Wellesley urged him to pursue, Burrard declined to interfere with the subsequent French retreat.

Aftermath

In hindsight, Junot faced very long odds with only 14,000 Frenchmen against 18,000 British and Portuguese led by Wellesley. Junot correctly launched his heaviest attack on the weakest point in the British position, the unoccupied northeastern ridge. However, his attacks suffered by being badly coordinated. Wellesley reacted quickly to counter Junot's flanking move. His forces overcame the French skirmishers by using superior numbers of their own skirmishers. Two of Wellesley's brigades never got into action, but the rest were used economically to defeat each French attack.

After the comprehensive French defeat, Junot offered complete capitulation. Nevertheless, Dalrymple gave the French far more generous terms than they could have hoped for. Under the terms of the Convention of Sintra , the defeated army was transported back to France by the British navy, complete with its guns and equipment and the loot it had taken from Portugal. The Convention of Sintra caused a massive outcry in Britain and, following an official enquiry, both Dalrymple and Burrard were blamed. Wellesley, who had opposed the agreement, was exonerated.

Nevertheless, the dispatch of so many troops to Portugal had ensured that there would be a considerable delay before operations could commence in Spain. There were also serious problems with the Spaniards: inherent in the sudden Spanish interest in British troops, for example, lay the desire not just to receive assistance but also to obtain command over them. Equally a desire was beginning to emerge amongst the British to further their influence in Spain and to impose their own political solutions. With the British army in the hands of an officer who was not only highly ambitious but deeply frustrated, at odds with the ministry, notoriously suspicious of the government's representatives abroad, and possessed of a prickly disposition, trouble was certain, and all the more so given the thunderbolt that was being prepared across the river Ebro. [5]

Related Research Articles

Battle of Salamanca Battle during the Peninsular War

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

Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro battle

In the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, the British-Portuguese Army under Lord Wellington checked an attempt by the French Army of Portugal under Marshal André Masséna to relieve the besieged city of Almeida.

Battle of Roliça battle during the Peninsular War

In the Battle of Roliça 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.

Battle of Bussaco battle

The Battle of Buçaco or Bussaco, fought on 27 September 1810 during the Peninsular War in the Portuguese mountain range of Serra do Buçaco, resulted in the defeat of French forces by Lord Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese Army.

Battle of Barrosa 1811 battle in Spain between the British and French

The Battle of Barrosa was part of an unsuccessful manoeuvre to break the siege of Cádiz in Spain during the Peninsular War. During the battle, a single British division defeated two French divisions and captured a regimental eagle.

Combat of the Côa

The Combat of the Côa was a skirmish that occurred during the Peninsular War period of the Napoleonic Wars. It took place in the valley of the Côa River and it was the first significant battle for the new army of 65,000 men controlled by Marshal André Masséna, as the French prepared for their third invasion of Portugal.

Antoine-François Brenier de Montmorand served as a French general of division during the period of the First French Empire and became an officer of the Légion d'honneur.

This is an order of battle for the Battle of Vimeiro that was fought on 20 August 1808.

Battle of Sabugal An engagement of the Peninsular War

The Battle of Sabugal was an engagement of the Peninsular War which took place on 3 April 1811 between Anglo-Portuguese forces under Arthur Wellesley and French troops under the command of Marshal André Masséna. It was the last of many skirmishes between Masséna's retreating French forces and those of the Anglo-Portuguese under Wellington, who were pursuing him after the failed 1810 French invasion of Portugal.

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.

Jean Gabriel Marchand French general

Jean Gabriel Marchand, 1st Count Marchand went from being an attorney to a company commander in the army of the First French Republic in 1791. He fought almost exclusively in Italy throughout the French Revolutionary Wars and served on the staffs of a number of generals. He participated in Napoleon Bonaparte's celebrated 1796-1797 Italian campaign. In 1799, he was with army commander Barthélemy Catherine Joubert when that general was killed at Novi. Promoted to general officer soon after, he transferred to the Rhine theater in 1800.

Battle of Castalla An engagement of the Peninsular War in 1813.

In the Battle of Castalla on 13 April 1813, an Anglo-Spanish-Sicilian force commanded by Lieutenant General Sir John Murray fought Marshal Louis Gabriel Suchet's French Army of Valencia and Aragon. Murray's troops successfully repelled a series of French attacks on their hilltop position, causing Suchet to retreat. The action took place during the Peninsular War, part of the Napoleonic Wars. Castalla is located 35 kilometers north-northwest of Alicante, Spain.

Eloi Charlemagne Taupin French military officer

Eloi Charlemagne Taupin became a French soldier before the French Revolution and was killed in 1814 leading his division in battle against the British and the Spanish in southern France. After fighting in the French Revolutionary Wars, he was promoted to command an infantry regiment at the beginning of the First French Empire. He led the unit during the War of the Third Coalition in 1805. The following year he fought in the War of the Fourth Coalition. The year 1808 found him at Zaragoza in Spain where he was wounded. In 1809 he led a brigade during the War of the Fifth Coalition at Gefrees.

Lt.-Gen. Sir Wroth Palmer Acland KCB was an English soldier, notable for his role in the Peninsular War.

Robert Anstruther, was a Scottish general who served during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Claude François Ferey French division commander

Claude François Ferey, Baron de Rozengath became a division commander during the Napoleonic Wars and was killed fighting the British in Spain. In 1787 he joined the French Royal Army and became an officer in 1792. His surname is one of the Names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, on Column 38. At the end of the Battle of Salamanca his division held off the victorious Anglo-Portuguese, while the rest of the army escaped. He was killed in this action.

The VIII Corps of the Grande Armée was a French military unit that existed during the Napoleonic Wars. Emperor Napoleon formed it in 1805 by borrowing divisions from other corps and assigned it to Marshal Édouard Adolphe Casimir Joseph Mortier. Marshal André Masséna's Army of Italy was also reorganized as the VIII Corps at the end of the 1805 campaign. The corps was reformed for the 1806 campaign under Mortier and spent the rest of the year mopping up Prussian garrisons in western Germany.

The Invasion of Portugal saw an Imperial French corps under Jean-Andoche Junot and Spanish military troops invade the Kingdom of Portugal, which was headed by its Prince Regent João of Bragança. The military operation resulted in the almost bloodless occupation of Portugal. The French and Spanish presence was challenged by the Portuguese people and by the United Kingdom in 1808. The invasion marked the start of the Peninsular War, part of the Napoleonic Wars.

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.

Barnard Foord Bowes or Barnard Bowes Foord commanded a British brigade in several battles during the Peninsular War. He joined the 26th Foot Regiment as a junior officer in 1781 and rose in rank by purchase to become lieutenant colonel of the 6th Foot Regiment in 1796. He led troops during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. From 1799 to 1806 he served in Canada and married his wife there. He led a brigade at Roliça and Vimeiro in 1808. He was promoted major general in 1810. He was severely wounded while leading his brigade in an assault during the 1812 Siege of Badajoz. He was killed in action leading a storming column at the Siege of the Salamanca Forts.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 Ian Fletcher in The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars by Gregory Fremont-Barnes (main editor) (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006) 1055.
  2. 1 2 3 Ian Fletcher in The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars by Gregory Fremont-Barnes (main editor) (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006) 1058.
  3. Weigley, Russell F. The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 411. ISBN   0-253-21707-5.
  4. http://www.napoleon-series.org/military/virtual/c_vimeiro.html
  5. Charles Esdaile (14 June 2003). The Peninsular War: A New History. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 107–108. ISBN   978-1-4039-6231-7 . Retrieved 2 April 2013.

Bibliography

Coordinates: 39°10′30″N9°19′0″W / 39.17500°N 9.31667°W / 39.17500; -9.31667