In the first post about the 1/96e Regiment de Ligne, I covered off the history and early campaigns of the regiment prior to its involvement in the Peninsular War. With the completion of the 2/96e Ligne the story of the regiment continues with their involvement in the Peninsular War leading up to Talavera.
|Map to illustrate the actions that Victor's I Corps d'Armee fought up to Talavera|
The mustering of Marshal Victor's I Corps d'Armee in Bayonne in the autumn of 1808 for Napoleon's re-invasion of the Iberian peninsula would be the first involvement of the 96e Ligne in the war.
Battle of Espinosa de los Monteros
Napoleon left Erfurt on the 14th October and reached Bayonne on the 3rd November, by which time Victor's corps was already in Spain. By the 11th of November the regiment had had its first major engagement with General Blake's Spanish army at Espinosa and the return below for the 15th shows the three battalions of the regiment with 1,886 men in total, or just over 600 men each.
I Corps: Maréchal Victor - 15th November 1808, source Oman
1st Division: Général de division Ruffin
Brigade: Général de brigade Labruyere
9th Légère Regiment (3)(57/1,558)
24th Line Regiment (3)(56/2,046)
Brigade: Général de brigade Barrois
96th Line Regiment (3)(64/1,818)
6/1st Foot Artillery
7/1st Foot Artillery
8th Artillery Artisan Company
At this time the regiment was led by Colonel Jean-Chrisotome Cales who took command in 1807. Colonel Cales was wounded on the 30th November at the forcing of the Somosierra pass when the 96e Ligne was placed on the road to follow up behind the assault of the Polish light horse and secure the position whilst the 9th Legere and 24e Ligne cleared the sides of the valley. Colonel Cales, obviously a leader who led from the front, would be wounded a second time at Talavera on the 28th July.
By the 15th December 1808 Victor's corps was in and around Madrid as Napoleon's forces sought to close in on an unsuspecting British army under General Sir John Moore. The strength of the regiment was little changed at 1,878 men all ranks.
lst Division: Général de division Ruffin - 15th December 1808 - Source Oman
lst Brigade: Général de brigade Lefol
9th Légère Infantry Regiment (62/l,527)
24th Line Infantry Regiment (6l/l,852)
2nd Brigade: Général de brigade Barrois
96th Line Infantry Regiment (6l/l,8l7)
6/1st Foot Artillery (2/4/88/)*
7/1st Foot Artillery (1/3/34)
8th Artillery Artisan Company (0/0/6)
Whilst Napoleon was off to the north west in pursuit of Moore's army, his brother Joseph was establishing his hold on Madrid becoming increasingly aware of the old Spanish army of the centre badly beaten at Tudela on the 23rd November 1808 and previously commanded by Castanos, now under the command of the Duke of Infantado regrouping close by at Cuenca.
After re-organising his 20,000 strong army, the Spanish commander began a leisurely advance on Madrid on Christmas Day 1808 and failed to take advantage of King Joseph only having 9,000 French troops in the capital following his brother stripping the garrison to pursue Moore and Lefebvre, disobeying orders, taking his IV Corps north to Avila instead of remaining near Talavera.
With the arrival in Madrid of Marshal Victor's 16,000 men on January 8th, Joseph was in a position to confront Infantado's Army of the Centre, and on the 13th of January the Marshal managed to engage the vanguard of the Spanish army under General Venegas (9,500 infantry, 2,000 cavalry and 4 guns) arrayed on a ridge either side of the village of Ucles.
Battle of Ucles (1809)
Ruffin's division ended up little engaged in this one sided action that saw Villatte's division turn the Spanish left flank and roll their line up to Ucles The 96e Ligne and the other battalions in their division were mainly involved in closing the escape route of the beaten army and rounding up the prisoners. Victor's troops sustained barely 200 casualties, whilst taking 6,000 prisoners and inflicting 1,000 killed or wounded.
Following this defeat Infantado fled into Murcia with the other half of his army, hotly pursued by French cavalry who caused them to lose their remaining cannon in their retreat.
Victor now turned his attention westward and his planned support of the second invasion of Portugal by Marshal Soult's II Corps from Galicia. Ahead of him lay General Cuesta's Army of Estremadura with 15,000 men in three divisions being shadowed by General Lasalle's cavalry close to Almaraz on the River Tagus where the Spanish succeeded in destroying the bridge and used the river to cover their front.
Victor at first was not convinced his force of 22,000 men was sufficient to take on Cuesta and invade Portugal, but after procrastinating about his orders, he was eventually compelled by King Joseph to get on with it and crossing the Tagus at Talavera and Arzobispo, turned Cuesta out of his position and pursued him south, where, reinforced, the Spanish general offered battle at Medellin on March 28th 1809.
Battle of Medellin
The Battle of Medellin saw the overthrow of the Spanish cavalry by the French cavalry who attacked the Spanish infantry to their flanks and rear as they were attacked by French infantry to their front. The rout when it came left 8,000 Spanish troops dead and 2,000 taken prisoner. The 96e Ligne as part of Ruffin's division was held in reserve throughout the battle.
Cuesta and the remains of his army retired to Badajoz to lick their wounds. Victor advanced on Merida where he halted and commenced a barrage of requests to Joseph for more resources before he would undertake any invasion of Portugal. These demands fell on deaf ears and thus Victor played no part in the march on Lisbon and would be forced by starvation to fall back on Madrid as Wellesley began his march into the Tagus valley that summer.
My 2/96e Ligne is composed of figures from the AB range and the fanion is from GMB.
Other sources used in this post;
Napoleon's Line Infantry, Osprey Men at Arms - Philip Haythornthwaite, Bryan Fosten
French Napoleonic Line Infantry - Emir Bukhari
Napoleon's Soldiers, The Grande Armee of 1807 (The Otto Manuscript) - Guy C Dempsey Jr.
Napoleonic Armies, A Wargamers Campaign Directory - Ray Johnson
Talavera, Wellington's First Victory in Spain - Andrew W. Field
Next up the 3/96e Ligne and more. With the 206th anniversary of the Battle of Talavera fast approaching I thought I would do a series of posts on the construction of the 3/96e as a painting tutorial on French Line Infantry.