Saturday, 3 August 2019

Biera Frontier Part Two - (Barba del Puerco & The Valley of the Eagles, Action on the Azaba, Villar de Puerco, The Combat of Espeja and Wellington's HQ, Freineda) Peninsular War Tour 2019

In Part One of this post looking at Fort Concepcion, Almeida and the Action on the Coa, I mentioned the fact that the Biera Frontier became, over several occasions, the front line between Allied and French armies as the two sides attempted to solidify their respective positions around the key fortified towns in the area.

As often happens when two armies are forced into a period of time close up against one another the small war of outposts and patrols replaces that of the large encounter battle as both sides seek to dominate 'no-mans land' and keep a close watch on the moves of the opposition.

The elite battalions of Light Infantry, Sir John Moore's 52nd and 43rd regiments, formed the core of the Light Brigade, later Division alongside the 95th Rifles and 1st & 3rd Portuguese Cacadores. Sir John's man-management style of leadership developed the prototype modern soldier in these battalions, trained and encouraged to think for themselves and operate more independently than the more conventional line units.

For Wellington's Peninsular Army that key role in dominating the area between the respective armies fell to Major General Robert Craufurd and the famous 'Light Division' of Anglo-Portuguese light infantry supported by light cavalry and horse artillery with the mobility and elan to operate in this fluid environment.

The period map below illustrates this important area, just behind and over the Portuguese border and in the country between the two natural barriers, the line of the River Coa and that formed by the River Agueda and Azaba, with Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo on opposite sides of the lines.

The frontier lands between Spain and Portugal illustrating the positions of some of the key clashes that occurred in this area 

To help visualise where each of the four engagements we visited during our stay at Fort Concepcion are I have numbered them and placed them on the map above, together with the corresponding numbered titles in the post.

The first three occurred in in 1810 as the French Army of Portugal under moved Marshal Massena moved up to the border to lay siege to Ciudad Rodrigo, before its invasion of Portugal later that year.

The final engagement at Espeja occurred in the September of 1811 as the Allied army having pursued the Army of Portugal out of the country was forced to halt with Ciudad Rodrigo in French hands and with a reinvigorated French command under Marshal Marmont keen to stabilise the situation with reinforcements and resupply of the garrison before testing the allies with a two pronged reconnaissance in force from the city towards Espeja and El Bodon.

As we shall see the terrain in which these actions occurred was varied and suited the deployment of light troops better able to cope with the terrain and the need to be able to operate in loose and formed order alongside the ability to move quickly, something the Light Division would show it excelled in.

1. Barba del Peurco (Valley of the Eagles), 19th March 1810

Captain Peter O'Hare of the 95th Rifles, leading his company in action at Barba del Puerco - Christa Hook

The first of these frontier actions we explored was in the very aptly named 'Valley of the Eagles' situated near the renamed village of Puerto Seguro, formerly known, to the 95th Riflemen who were posted there, as Barba del Puerco or 'Beard of the Pig'.

Craufurd's deployment area for his brigade in March 1810 behind the River Agueda and with the River Douro to the north. Barba del Puerco and French held San Felices de los Gallegos are highlighted, illustrating the position in relation to Salamanca and Ciudad Rodrigo.

The map below shows the intricate defence system set up by the Rifles in this outlying extension of the line occupied by the Light Division in the winter of 1809-10 as shown on the map above, with the village situated above a deep gorge on the headwaters of the River Agueda over a narrow zig-zag path leading down to a Roman bridge and up the other other side leading to San Felices.

The View Ranger 1;25000 walking maps with 'sat nav' function on my I Pad and mobile proved a perfect solution for planning my walks to these rural areas and allows for a perfect illustration of the terrain. The two yellow star markers are my navigation marks placed on the map with notes of relevant pages in books to refer to when I got there on the walk, here marking the chapel and bridge. Details as per Tim Saunders book.

In early January 1810, Wellington's army was billeted in winter quarters, when the 'Light Brigade',a relatively new addition to the army, having narrowly missed the Battle of Talavera the previous summer, after its famous speed march from the waterfronts of Lisbon, was deployed forward of Almeida and Fort Concepcion on the Portuguese border.

Still technically part of 3rd Division, Brigadier General Craufurd's soldiers took up their positions in forward villages such as Figuera, Mata de Lobos (Wood of the Wolves) , Escallion and Escaigo.

The village of Puerto Seguro, formerly Barba del Puerco as seen from the small chapel above the valley.

Lieutenant Jonathan Leach 95th Rifles

Lieutenant Jonathan Leach, 95th Rifles, recorded his impressions of this miserable time of year and the not so comfortable accommodation they were forced to occupy;

"Deep snow fell soon after we had taken up our new quarters, which rendered the otherwise miserable desolate villages forlorn. Coursing and shooting were our chief employments by day, and at night we either whiffed away cigars over some Douro wine, and speculated on the campaign which was soon expected to commence ...

To detail the manner in which we killed time every day during the dreary winter months, some weeks of which we were nearly snowed up in our hovels, and in the poorest villages in the Peninsula, would be nearly a repetition of what I have just stated."

The small chapel of Barba del Puerco where Captain O'Hare deployed is inlying piquet

One of the few crossings over the River Agueda, north of Ciudad Rodrigo, a one-hundred yard long Roman bridge, lies in a deep valley amid the rock strewn frontier at Barba del Puerco

Although Barba del Puerco and its bridge lay immediately on the line between the two armies, the area was relatively quiet with patrols mounted by the 1st KGL Hussars, under the command of the Light Brigade in what would become a close working partnership going forward.

This situation changed on the 16th February 1810 when a French column of Macaune's brigade, part of Marshal Ney's VI Corps, marched down to the bridge from San Felices later to withdraw the following day, but clearly demonstrating a show of force possibly indicating French intentions to dominate the area.

The start of the road that leads down into the valley - I should warn anyone thinking of walking this path that it is steep and long and going down is the easy bit. Coming up on a hot sunny day takes more effort and it should only be tackled if you are fit enough to cope and then with plenty of water. Mobile phone signals may not work in this remote country.

This impression in a change of French posture was reinforced on the 27th February when around two-hundred French troops chased a patrol of riflemen away from the bridge and beyond Barba del Puerco, occupying and looting the village and skirmishing with three rifle companies until again withdrawing the next day leaving piquets on the eastern bank of the Agueda to face off against the Rifle's piquets only a few yards away on the opposite bank.

Once you leave the sealed road you are on a narrow dusty track, just as it would have been for the 95th Rifles in 1810. This position just along from where the officer's tent would likely have been pitched

With an obviously more aggressive stance by the French in and around Ciudad Rodrigo, Craufurd's brigade, now titled a 'Division' but still only totalling some 3,000 soldiers had to be able to cover some forty miles of front with widely scattered detachments, now focused on the area between Almeida and Rodrigo and seeking to maintain communication with the latter for as long as possible

This network of detachments and piquets was described by Oman as resembling a spiders web able to detect the first tremble of a French boot to enable a prompt and appropriate response.

Did I mention Eagles? Well there were lots of these handsome chaps to entertain us on our walk

Lieutenant Harry Smith, 95th Rifles, described this network;

"At this period General Craufurd had officers at two or three of the most advanced vedettes where there were beacons, who had orders to watch the enemy with their telescopes, and, in case of any movement to report or fire the beacon. I was on this duty in rather a remote spot on the extreme left of our posts. The vedette was from the 1st Hussar picquet. These men would often observe a patrol or body of the enemy with the naked eye which was barely discernible through a telescope, so practised were they and watchful."

These are magnificent birds and a real treat to see flying in the wild

As well as three bridges on the waters above Ciudad Rodrigo there were fifteen fords, usable at various times and all these points had to be kept under observation by the KGL Hussars patrols tasked with monitotring the depth of the Agueda down from its junction with the Douro.

The early months of 1810 proved to be particularly wet and so the levels of the Agueda remained relatively high thus allowing Craufurd to keep the units within the Light Division relatively concentrated along his very extended front.

To quote a very famous poem from another walking adventurer, "The road goes ever on".

On the 8th of March 1810, probably due to the increased activity in the area, Craufurd ordered a strong force of Riflemen to occupy the position above and on the bridge at Barba del Puerco in support of the KGL Hussars.

However before they could get into position the Hussars were driven off the bridge by Macaune's brigade (6th Legere and 69th Ligne) supported by a couple of squadrons of cavalry on the 9th March, who, as before entered the village above the valley to loot it of any supplies before withdrawing back to San Felices

I was hoping to see the odd Eagle, but Carolyn and I were treated to a flying display by a whole squadron

Just coming in to get a closer look at the visitors!

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Thomas Sydney Beckwith 95th Rifles as well as commanding at Barba del Peurco ended up receiving a surprising wound soon after the fighting and responded with great coolness and compassion.

By the 13th March the Rifles were fully deployed around the position, with four companies under Lieutenant Colonel Sydney Beckwith up close to the bridge, supported by other companies close by in neighbouring villages and able to monitor the closest fords.

This strong presence was a noticeable change with two companies of riflemen in reserve and two deployed forward and now with piqutes and sentries established in the gorge and on the bridge, ready to confront any incursion over the Agueda.

And then suddenly, there it was, the bridge over the Agueda that until now I had only read about and seen other peoples pictures of.

In addition to the riflemen there was support also from a Spanish infantry company placed close by, with whom, Captain O'Hare placed a corporal and two riflemen for liaison.

The typical strength of a rifle company at the time was around sixty soldiers and the deployment is illustrated in the detailed map above.

The sentries, operating in pairs at the bridge and along the river bank were hidden among the rocks, and were only changed at night to allow the replacements to get into position unseen and therefore able to remain hidden.

Then there was the outlying piquet, further up the hill, which was described by Rifleman Green as

"a Corporal and six men were posted in the night about half way down the hill, and a sergeant and twelve men on top"

With a duty officer close by, George Simmons mentions a tent being used for the officer, the other forty riflemen of the company under a captain, were positioned in the church, on call, with weapons close at hand, to be ready to support the outlying piquet within minutes.

A clear view of the bridge from about the position of the corporal's piquet as shown on the map above

George Simmons noted that;

"The French had a piquet of seventy men on the opposite side of the mountain on a level with ours. On this side we for some time were in the habit of looking at each other with only about half a mile in a direct line between us. They now and then tried to pick some of our men off, but the shots never took effect."

Having walked the path myself, I know it does indeed take at least twenty-five minutes to descend from the top to the bridge and that by the time, the forty men in the chapel to have grabbed their weapons and made their way forward, the French would no doubt have driven the extended piquet at least half way back up the hill.

Major George Napier of the 52nd Light Infantry described Craufurd's further deployment plan to bring forward the other supports;

".... seven minutes sufficed for the division to get under arms in the middle of the night, and a quarter of an hour, night or day, to bring it in order of battle to its alarm-posts, with baggage loaded and assembled at a convenient distance to the rear. And this not upon a concerted signal, nor as a trial, but on all occasions."

Well Major Napier's bold statement was to be soon put to the test!

With the two armies close up and the build up of troops on the French side of the line, heralding the opening of the campaign to invade Portugal, the tension grew by the day, illustrated by a conversation noted by Lieutenant Kincaid of the Rifles;

"The chief of the 1st German Hussars meeting our commandant one morning 'Well Colonel,' says our gallant German in broken English, 'how do you do?' 'Oh, tolerably well, thank you, considering that I am obliged to sleep with one eye open.' 'Mine Gott,' says the other, 'I never sleep at all!'"

By the 19th of March 1810 General Ferey's brigade, part of Loison's division had taken over the French outposts on the line in preparation for an attack that night.

On a moonless night under cover of heavy rain and the roaring of the River Agueda, two battalions, one each from the 66th and 82nd Ligne supported by elements of the Hanoverian Legion advanced down the steep track towards the old Roman bridge.

According to a letter by Marshal Ney to General Junot, the mission of his 2,000 troops was to disperse the enemy's advanced posts on the Agueda and push on as far as Almeida, with Ney hoping the move by his Corps would put pressure on Marshal Massesna to ignore the Emperor's orders to subdue Ciudad Rodrigo before advancing into Portugal and support the easy advance his soldiers had demonstrated.

Lieutenant George Simmons had a close up view of the Roman bridge as he crawled across it to reconnoitre the French position

Meanwhile Lieutenant Simmons was out checking up on his sentries:

I crawled over the bridge to the French side to see if I could see their sentries or observe if any of them were coming near the bridge, but saw nothing and returned up the mountain to the tent pitched for the convenience of the officers for lying in between the hours of going their rounds."

Simmons, just as at the River Coa, was one of my principle sources, and as I stepped out on to the bridge and started to read his account of that night, the scene came to life as only he could describe the action, the perfect guide you might say;

"Early in the evening I crossed the bridge to find a paper left there (in the piquet house) for me to fetch from the French side, and had just returned from visiting the advanced double sentry and made my report to Lieutenant Mercer, when a tremendous firing commenced.

Mercer immediately ordered the men to fall in and move forward to our alarm post, which was on the edge of the rocky chasm. The night being dark and stormy, with rain occasionally, caused the river to make more noise in its passage over the rocky bed than usual, and completely prevented our advanced sentinels hearing the approach of the enemy. Also from the obscurity of the night, it was not possible to see any object, so that the enemy passed the bridge so rapidly that only one sentinel fired before they were both knocked down.

Two men, Maher and M'Can, were taken at the bridge. However, this gave the alarm, and a small party stationed amongst the rocks kept up a fire. The sergeant being shot through the mouth and the enemy being so numerous, they could not impede their progress. In a moment, after the arrival of the main body of the piquet, the French were literally scrambling up the rocky ground within ten yards of us. 

We commenced firing at each other very spiritedly. Their drums beat a charge, and the French attempted to dislodge us without effect. My friend, Lieutenant Mercer, who was putting on his spectacles, received a musket ball through his head, and fell dead close to my feet.

The piquet house above the bridge, now home to bats

Several were now falling, and the moon for a few minutes shone brightly, then disappeared, and again at intervals let us see each other. We profited by this circumstance, as their belts were white and over their greatcoats, so that where they crossed upon the breast, combined with the glare of the breast-plate, gave a grand mark for our rifles. 

Our men being in dark dresses, and, from their small number, obliged to keep close together, the ground also being exceedingly rugged, were all favourable circumstances. We fought in this way for at least half an hour against fearful odds, when Lieutenant-Colonel Beckwith brought up the
three reserve companies from the village, who soon decided the affair. The enemy was driven in the greatest confusion back over frightful precipices, leaving two officers killed and a number of men wounded.

About 9 o'clock in the evening. Captain O'Hare had been taken unwell, and as there was no idea of an attack, he went home to bed. Lieutenant Cowan was sent for him when the firing commenced. They arrived after poor Mercer was killed, so the command of the piquet devolved upon me for a quarter of an hour. Thus I had the honour to command for some time after poor Mercer was killed and until O'Hare returned.

I merely mention this circumstance as it was the first time I had been in a fight, but the gallantry displayed by the varmint fellows that were with me left no doubt on my mind that we should have resisted all these attempts to dislodge us until the reserves came up.

The French view from the San Felices end of the bridge, with the zig-zag path climbing the opposite bank clearly visible.
A young Frenchman that was taken, fired into Colonel Beckwith's face. A Rifle Man was just going to blow his brains out, when the Colonel stopped him, saying, " Let him alone ; I daresay the boy has a mother. Knock the thing out of his hand, that he may do no more mischief with it, and give him a kick on the bottom and send him to the rear."

The next morning the boy was given a hearty breakfast at the Colonel's house. On being  questioned about firing so wantonly, he said he was in such agitation that he was not aware his finger was upon the trigger of his gun. The ball went through the Colonel's cap peak, which, being turned up, made it take a slanting direction ; it passed through and grazed the top of his head. 

Six hundred volunteers were chosen by the French general to attempt the annihilation of our party, and fifteen hundred more were formed to support the attack in case of success. A number of men kept up a fire from the enemy's side of the river during the time the soldiers were passing the ravine.

A body of Spaniards under a captain was stationed on our right. We had a corporal and file with them, merely to give us intelligence if necessary. When the firing commenced the Spaniards became very uneasy; the officer wished our corporal to leave his post; he said he was determined to wait until the enemy overpowered him, so the noble Castilian and his forces started off. 

The famous 'Grasshoppers', as the French would call them, of the 95th Rifles would earn new laurels and an enhanced reputation in the Peninsular Army after their gallant action at Barba del Puerco. Note the sergeant, to the right, with sword bayonet affixed to his Baker Rifle, turning the short rifle into a handy close quarter weapon as mentioned in General Craufurd's Complimentary Order.

Two French officers, a Light Infantry captain and a subaltern, and seventeen men lay stretched
upon the rough ground. We afterwards heard from a deserter that the colonel who led the attack was shot through the mouth and his jaw broken. He was making a great noise before, but this circumstance made him so quiet that a child might have played with him. 

Several other officers were wounded and a number of men who were carried off during the affray. Lieutenant Mercer killed, seventeen of our men killed and wounded, Fairfoot was of the party
taken; Betts, the sergeant, wounded in the jaw; O'Gallagher wounded and died; William David, his
skull blown off and his dura mater exposed. A French sergeant was wounded through the knee, and afterwards I assisted Surgeon Burke to remove his leg.

This being the first affair of the outposts, and it having resulted in the total discomfiture of the enemy in his midnight attack, the following Complimentary Order was issued on the occasion."

Division Orders
Brigadier-General Craufurd has it in command from the Commander-in-Chief to assure Lieutenant-Colonel Beckwith and the officers of the 95th Regiment who were engaged at Barba del Puerco that their conduct in this affair has augmented the confidence he has in the troops when opposed to the enemy in any situation. 

Brigadier-General Craufurd feels peculiar pleasure in noticing the first affair in which any part of the Light Brigade were engaged during the present campaign. That British troops should defeat a superior number of the enemy is nothing new, but the action reflects honour on Lieutenant-Colonel Beckwith and the Regiment, inasmuch that it was of a sort that Rifle Men of other Armies would shun. In other Armies the Rifle is considered ill calculated for close action with an enemy armed with Musket and Bayonet, but the 95th Regiment has proved that the Rifle in the hands of a British soldier is a fully efficient weapon to enable him to defeat the French in the closest fight in whatever manner they may be armed.

(Signed) T. Graham, D.A.G.

As Tim Saunders concludes with his account of the action, where little over 200 riflemen saw off nearly ten times their number, it soon became the much talked-of event in the rest of the army, few of whom were in contact with the enemy at that time.

2. Action on the Azaba, 4th July 1810

The Light Division's area of operation, between the River Coa and the Rivers Agueda and Azaba, with their headquarters established at Galllegos, shown in relation to Ciudad Rodrigo

As spring arrived in 1810, the tempo of French preparations increased as their forces moved forward to invest Ciudad Rodrigo.

This build up heralded a much more aggressive posture between the Light Division and the French troops of observation as indicated by the action at Barba del Puerco, but with French preparations underway to lay siege to the city and their desire to cut off Allied communications with it, the operational area of the Light Division shifted further south on the River Azaba.

Action on the Azaba - 4th July 1810

In March 1810, Wellington outlined his intent for the role of the Light Division and the obvious trust he was placing in its commander;

"Since we took up the position which we now occupy, our outposts have come in contact with those of the French; and although there is some distance between the two, still the arrangement of our outposts must be made on a better principle, and the whole of them must be in the hands of one person, who must be yourself.

I propose, therefore, as soon as the weather will allow of an alteration of the disposition of the advanced corps, that your division with the Hussars, which will be put under your orders, should occupy the whole line of the outposts, and, with this, the Portuguese corps shall be brought up to the front as soon as the state of the weather will allow them to march.

I am desirous of being able to assemble the army upon the Coa, if it should be necessary; at the same time, I am perfectly aware that if the enemy should collect in any large numbers in Estemadura, we should be to far forward for any communication with General Hill even here, and much more so upon the Coa. But till they collect in Estremadura, and till we shall see more clearly than I can at present what reinforcements they have received, and what military object they have in view, and particularly in the existing disposition of the army, I am averse to withdrawing from a position so favourable as the Coa affords, to enable us to collect our army and prevent the execution of any design upon Ciudad Rodrigo."

1st King's German Legion Hussars Hussars, formed a close working relationship with the Light Division. Lieutenant Harry Smith said of them:
"These men would often observe a patrol or body of the enemy with the naked eye which was barely discernible through a telescope, so practised were they and watchful."

From the outline of Wellington's intent, General Craufurd was able to formulate his own plans to conform with it, as outlined by his aide-de-camp, Captain James Shaw-Kennedy;

"The object to be gained by the Light Division holding as long as possible the whole country on the left bank of the Agueda up to the bridges and fords over that river were to encourage the governor of Ciudad Rodrigo to make a stout defence, to keep open the communication with Almeida as long as possible, and to command the resources of the country.

These were objects of great importance, as delay in taking these towns was a formidable obstruction to the French army, from its obliging them to undertake the operation against Portugal at a late season of the year; and was of immense value to Lord Wellington in allowing time to bring greater maturity to his defensive preparations."

The view of the frontier country from in front of Marialba looking towards Ciudad Rodrigo and patrolled by the 1st KGL Hussars and 16th Light Dragoons in July 1810

The plan of Craufurd's occupation of the ground in front of Rodrigo was finely balanced in his need to monitor French activities such that if they should sally forth in strength he would have adequate warning from the KGL Hussars to allow the bulk of his division to get behind the River Coa.

The fact that Craufurd could speak German helped with his need to be fully aware of what his cavalry were telling him day to day, but he also took into account the mobility of his infantry which with the exception of the Rifles up at Barba del Puerco were held far enough forward to support the 1st KGL Hussars against minor incursions, but far enough back to take advantage of the delay the cavalry were able to cause to allow them to get back; with main bodies deployed in such a way that they would not get fixed by superior numbers of enemy cavalry.

The hill in front of Marialba occupied by the 1st KGL Hussars on the 4th July 1810 when the French advance in force began

For the most of the spring and into early summer the line remained fairly quiet with only the occasional incursion by the French, with one in particular that was recorded by Captain George Napier;

"One day I was on picket at a ford and a staff coming down the road on the opposite bank towards the ford. I called out across the river, which was narrow, to desire them to go back, and at the same time drew my men up and told the French general that I would fire at him if he persisted in coming down to the ford.

They seemed to hold my threat in perfect contempt and still moved down; upon which I fired and shot one of their horse. This had the desired effect and they wheeled about and went back at the trot.

The General ... was Marshal Ney who rode a white horse; as I was not aware at the time that it was he, I made my men do all they could to shoot him; as it is always a good thing to shoot the enemy's general, as it must make a great confusion in his army."

The Marialba Bridge over the River Azaba     

KGL Hussar patrols had gradually found their patrol activity increasingly contested which reached a climax in early June with the French construction of pontoon bridges across the Agueda around Ciudad Rodrigo allowing the French easy access to either side of the river and ensuring its complete investment cut off close allied proximity to the city.

The view over the bridge looking back towards Marialba

By the end of June, the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo was fast reaching its end and following a French reconnaissance in force at the beginning of the month towards Gallegos, Capio and El Manzano Craufurd resorted to assembling the Light Division on the heights above Gallegos, to return into and forward of the village each morning.

This activity, and with Wellington coming to the front to see the French positions before the city, may have caused Massena to fear an imminent advance by the Allies at a time when the French were preparing to take advantage of the breach they had caused.

Coming over the brow of a hill on the road from Marialba looking down towards Gallegos. The fields either side of the road would have teemed with French cavalry pushing back the British 16th Light Dragoons and KGL 1st Hussars as they retired towards the village. The road to Almanda can be seen climbing the hill to the rear of the village.

An officer of the 16th Light Dragoons, obviously based on the portrait of Captain Cocks - R Simkin

Captain Cocks of the 16th Light Dragoons, now sharing the piquet duties with the KGL Hussars noted a change in posture in early July leading up the actual attack;

"1 July: This morning no cavalry were in sight except a regiment or two out foraging. Three enemy guns were to the right and the chasseurs in the same position as yesterday. They continued quiet all day except for some occasional firing from the advanced vedettes; we were very jealous whenever the enemy appeared to be trying the ford ...

2 July: The enemy brought down a regiment of cavalry this morning and encamped them with their right on Marialba; this makes our situation very ticklish; it appears superior to our three squadrons and is not 400 yards from our vedettes.

3 July: Four squadrons of the enemy came down this day and reconnoitered Carpio ford. At sunset, they made an attempt to carry off some cars (waggons) we had thrown across the Marialba bridge.

The bottom of the Marialba road as it enters Gallegos at a small bridge 

4 July: At daybreak this morning, just as we had turned out and taken up our normal ground, the enemy attacked the piquets at Marialva bridge, Carpio and Mollino de Flores. He had 2,000 cavalry, supported by infantry and artillery.

We were ready for them with Krokenburgh's (Captain Krokenburgh, 1st KGL Hussars) squadron of Hussars and two squadrons of the 16th. The infantry and Spaniards were at Almanda. Of course we retreated as the enemy appeared and fortunately not a man of the piquets was cut off...

The 'small bridge' at Gallegos as described by Captain Cocks and where Captain Krokenburgh, 1st KGL Hussars, made his stand.

About 1/2 a mile in rear of Galllegos is a marshy brook, crossed by a manor bridge and behind this Krokenburgh made a rally with the skirmishers and dashed several times very gallantly at the advance of the enemy as they attempted to cross.

Three French officers, a serjeant and some men were sabred and one dragoon taken with his horse. The enemy might have been stopped here longer had he not turned our right. Our artillery served with considerable effect and did execution in their crowded columns. We had two 6-pounders under Lt Macdonald of Capt Ross's troop of Horse Artillery.

Looking over the bridge towards Gallegos beyond

Almost a mile further to the rear, as the enemy began to press us very hard again, we met the infantry and Elder's Cacadores pouring a running fire into him; this completely checked him, The enemy's artillery hardly got into action...

The small bridge to the rear of Gallegos and the higher ground beyond occupied by the Light Division, with the road leading back to the River Dos Casas via Almanda, along which it withdrew.

The Hussars behaved particularly well. It would be unfair to bear unqualified testimony to their courage, zeal and knowledge of their duty. They have not such good seats as English dragoons but their horses are under better command and I think better taken care of ... Our advanced posts now occupy the line of the little River Dos Casas, from Fuentes to Castilegos ..." 

The French push was slowed enough to allow General Craufurd to assess the situation and perceiving he was outnumbered and in danger of being enveloped he retired his division back behind the Dos Casas. Captain Jonathan Leach, 95th Rifles described the withdrawal;

"The movement was covered by some cavalry and our battalion, who skirmished with the advance of the French until we had passed the river, which was effected with a very trifling loss on our part. Two hundred riflemen and some cavalry were left on the heights of Fort Concepcion as a picket, the remainder being placed in a position near the Portuguese village of Vale de la Mula, behind the rivulet called Turon which is the boundary of the two countries."

The Light Division had pulled off a skillful withdrawal under almost continual attack from superior numbers of enemy cavalry constantly attempting to cut off pockets of units along the route and covered a further three miles beyond Gallegos to fall back behind the Dos Casas skirmishing with the enemy as they went.

The French seemed content not to follow up, having confirmed that the Allies were not attempting to interfere with their siege operations, they retired to the Azaba leaving picquts beyond the Marialba bridge.

3. Villar de Puerco, 11th July 1810

It would, on the basis of the first two examples, be wrong to conclude that the Light Division were quite the finished veteran formation that they were to become and the next clash detailed, at the little village of Villar de Puerco, perhaps illustrates the point, that Craufurd and his soldiers were still on the learning curve of managing combined action with the three arms of artillery, cavalry and infantry.

The action at Villar de Puerco - Probable deployments based on Saunders

Following the action on the 4th July 1810 that saw the Light Division pushed back from the Azaba and behind the Dos Casas, the ground in between became a fertile area for further small actions, as the French, attracted by the untouched fields, sent forward foraging parties to gather in the crops ripening in the summer sun.

In addition to foraging, there was an ongoing need to monitor Allied intentions to safeguard the troops besieging Ciudad Rodrigo from any last minute relief attempts to bolster the hard pressed garrison.

The road leading into Villar de Puerco from the French line along the Azaba

Lieutenant George Simmons explained a particular situation around the village of Villar de Ciervo;

"The enemy had a piquet of cavalry and infantry in advance of Villar de Ciervos, but withdrew them after dark and reoccupied the post at daylight."

This continuous French deployment in and out of what was a contested area presented an opportunity that General Craufurd felt compelled to take advantage of and on the night of the 10th/11th July he planned to deploy, under cover of darkness, an area ambush with a significant force of infantry, cavalry and artillery.

To reach Villar de Ciervo the French column would leave at dawn, marching via the villages of Villar de Puerco (now Villar de Arganan) and Barquilla.

On the 10th of July, Ciudad Rodrigo fell to the French, and Craufurd issued his orders to the units that would participate in the operation, which included six squadrons of cavalry (three of the 14th LD, two of the 16th LD and a squadron of the 1st KGL Hussars), supported by nine companies of infantry, including seven companies of 95th Riflemen, and a pair of guns from Ross's troop with the rest held in reserve at Castillejo de Dos Casas.

Craufurd's deployment around Villar de Puerco (Villar de Arganan) as per Saunders

The French column was commanded by Colonel Armand of the 22nd Ligne with an advance guard of thirty to forty dragoons, with his third battalion under the command of Captain Gouache numbering some 300 men following behind

The map above is based on Saunders description, suggesting the advance guard would have already left the road when approaching Villar de Puerco, with the first and second battalions following behind similarly, looking to avoid the village and cut the corner to the road leading to Barquilla.

The third battalion of the 22nd Ligne fought, to quote Major George Napier,
 "most gallantly and withstood the charges of several hundred of our dragoons."

Captain Edward Cocks of the 16th Light Dragoons left this description of the action that followed;

"We reached Villa de Puerco and formed in close column of squadrons beyond it a little before daybreak and well concealed in a hollow. As the sun rose some infantry and a troop of dragoons was discovered in a large plain, covered with corn beyond, the village.

We advanced in column of division, right in front, but as we had a defile to pass it tailed a good deal; the Hussars were first under Krokenburgh, then the 16th, then the 14th. The French infantry were just opposite the defile behind the brow of a hill, and nearly concealed in the corn...

The fields beyond the road leading into Villar de Puerco across which the British and German cavalry clashed with the French dragoons and infantry

The Hussars and Ashworth's of the 16th, charged, but they got a heavy volley which knocked down 13 or 14 men and nearly as any horses, and they then wheeled to the left and made at the distant enemy cavalry.

The third squadron emerging - Bellis- followed their example, the sun was directly in our eyes and from the circumstance, and the dust, we could see nothing, and indeed, except the first two squadrons who had charged, no one knew whence the enemy volley had proceeded.

These three squadrons rode at the cavalry and took nearly 40 with their horses; very few got away.

A view of the same fields seen above this time seen from the north of the village looking out from a minor lane 

The fourth squadron, the 14th, was stopped by General Craufurd and ordered to charge the enemy infantry and it is impossible to do justice to the intrepidity of this enemy body. They stood this second charge as well as the first, knocked down some by running fire and bayoneted others.

Colonel Talbot led the squadron. When he saw the enemy had formed an oblong he endeavoured to bring his right flank forward and charge the upper face of the square. He moved on like a lion, had his horse killed close to the enemy, and fell himself, fighting sabre in hand in the middle of the square; this was not broken and the 14th was repulsed.

In the dust and the confusion the enemy got off through the corn into the woods.

The road leading to Barquilla

It is probable that General Craufurd was hurried by the idea of Ciudad Rodrigo having surrendered, those officers to whom he spoke say his manner was that of a man who had lost his presence of mind.

It is certain that had we only surrounded and watched the infantry and sent for the guns - which were in the neighbourhood and could have come up in twenty minutes - we should have annihilated them had they not first surrendered. But this I feel convinced they would have done but they had no opportunity, they were charged the instant our cavalry appeared and had not time to throw down their arms.

Other things were ill-managed. General Craufurd appeared to have forgot his own arrangements and our own squadrons were repeatedly pointed out to us as enemies.

On the whole it was very mortifying that an affair, ably planned and favourably carried on to the moment of action should, in the end, turn out so ill through a too great precipitancy in the execution.

We returned to camp at about 8am and learnt that Ciudad Rodrigo surrendered at six yesterday evening."

The failure of this action seemed very much to affect Craufurd in the days that followed, with much criticism coming his way and with Rifleman Costello commenting;

"for some days after, I thought he wore a troubled look, as though he took our failure to heart."

4. Combat at Espeja - 25th September 1811

Following the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro between the 3rd and 5th of May 1811, the invasion of Portugal was over and Marshal Massena was replaced by Marshal Marmont who immediately set about re-provisioning, re-equipping and re-clothing his battered army. However, bad as the situation seemed, it was obvious that the Allied army was not yet able to take the offensive to the French, whose combined armies easily outnumbered them, and Wellington shifted the focus of his campaign south against Marshal Soult in Andalucia and his besieging of Cadiz.

This saw Allied forces move on Badajoz and lay siege, forcing Soult to come north to attempt to break it, leading to the bloody battle of Albuera on the 16th May 1811 that saw Soult driven off.

In July Marmont with his army somewhat restored, headed south to join with Marshal Soult in raising the siege of Badajoz, before returning north to take a position astride the River Tagus, around Almaraz, able to support French forces to the north or south depending on where the Allies moved and taking the time to further rebuild his 36,000 strong Army of Portugal.

Wellington's blockade of Ciudad Rodrigo - September 1811

During August Wellington stayed in the south waiting for Soult and Marmont to disperse which when they inevitably did, he marched north to take up a position on the River Agueda, to assume a blockade of Ciudad Rodrigo, causing no strong reaction from the French, with the city having recently been resupplied with a convoy, sufficient to last it until October.

This situation changed when Marmont received  intelligence that Wellington was collecting together a siege train and making other preparations that seemed to indicate an immediate threat to the fortress seeing the Marshal summon his forces now numbering some 50,000 troops and another large convoy of supplies, around Salamanca, preparatory to marching to break the Allied blockade.

Wellington was well informed of French preparations to march and was well aware that the plains around Rodrigo would offer the French a distinct advantage to the very likely superiority in French cavalry, thus ensuring he would decline battle until he could secure himself more suitable ground.

His orders to Generals Picton and Craufurd and their respective 3rd and Light Divisions, conducting the close blockade  was to only fall back if pressed with 3rd Division directed to El Bodon and the Light Division to to a position beyond the Vadillo stream.

Marmont's Reconnaissance 25th September 1811

The French advance commenced on the 22nd September 1811 with 5th Division's piquets watching the passes through the Sierra de Gata, to the south, driven in. On the 23rd the convoy entered Rodrigo, escorted by cavalry of the Imperial Guard, with the rest of the French army remaining inactive on the 24th on the plains around the city.

Both commanders were no doubt curious as to what the intent was of the other, but with Marmont perhaps the more concerned to determine if Wellington intended to make a serious attempt to take the city once he retired and the opportunity to perhaps badly discomfit the Allied army whilst still dispersed around the city, it was he who determined to launch two reconnaissance in strength, with one column aimed at Carpio and the River Azaba and the other towards the El Bodon plateau.

Combat of Espeja, 25th September 1811

The advance to Espeja from Carpio, via the River Azaba was conducted by General Lepic's Guard Cavalry brigade shown to be over 2,000 sabres in July of that year with over 800 men from the attached Lancers of Berg and totaling in excess of fourteen squadrons and supported by two horse artillery guns for the advance on Carpio.

General de Brigade Louis Lepic led the Guard Cavalry in the Peninsula from 1810-11.
He was famous in the army for his utterance to the Guard Grenadier a Cheval at the Battle of Eylau in 1807, when observing his troopers lowering their heads among the Russian bullets whistling past them
"Heads up gentlemen, these are bullets, not turds!"
His leadership during the battle saw him promoted to General de Brigade

Officer of the 14th Light Dragoons

There advance was observed by the vedettes of the 14th Light Dragoons around Carpio as they fell back to the River Azaba, with the French detaching squadrons to hold Carpio and the Azaba bridge as they advanced.

The village church at Carpio

Captain Cocks of the 16th Light Dragoons described the French advance in a letter home;

Captain Edward Cocks 16th Light Dragoons

"Between Carpio and Espeja is a wood. When our piquets were driven from the line of the former I was ordered up to support them in the wood with two small squadrons. They advanced with 500 men, leaving the rest in support. I kept them in check a little but was obliged to retire thro' the wood as they attempted to surround me. On getting through the wood I found three more squadrons formed. I made my arrangements and the instant the head of the enemy column had cleared the wood and begun to deploy, Hay who had come up with one squadron, myself and Brotherton of the 14th charged with complete success. The enemy - pikemen (lancers) and chasseurs - scarcely awaited the shock and we drove them to their supper."

The Lancers of Berg were attached to Lepic's Guard Cavalry Brigade
and were some 835 men in July 1811 and described as 'pikemen' in Captain Cocks's letter home.
Illustration by Gerry Embleton

Our men were broke (disorganised); but they are no longer ignorant barrack soldiers and they re-formed constantly*. We retired, again drawing on the enemy to the top of the wood. He had the imprudence again to come through. He got a volley from the light company of the 11th** (11th North Devon Regiment of Foot) which had by this time come up and was again charged by us."

*so much for uncontrollable British cavalry!
** Wellington only mentions the 61st Foot in his dispatches but others sources state that all three light companies of Hulse's brigade (11th, 2/53rd and 61st Foot), part of General Clinton's 6th Division, together with their attached company of 60th Rifles were also involved.

The old road leading from Carpio to Espeja along which Lepic's cavalry advanced

The bridge over the Azaba just below Carpio

In the heat of June, the Azaba is a dried up gully

This was the first occasion that British cavalry confronted enemy lancers. Captain Cocks continued his account;

"We drove them all the way through the wood and he never afterwards advanced but, after waiting till evening near Carpio, returned to Rodrigo.

I was only personally engaged once with a Chasseur and had the fortune to kill him the first blow. We had eight men of the 16th wounded and some horses killed; the 14th had an Officer and a dragoon wounded. 

The approach to Espeja on the old road from Carpio

It is difficult to judge the loss of the enemy because as fast as his men were cut down, if not quite dead, they crawled into the thickets and could not be found.

Looking back up the old road towards Carpio with the high wooded ground ahead on which Lepic's cavalry were met by the British Light Dragoons and the Light Companies of Hulse's brigade.

We took up a chef d'escadron and fifteen men, all wounded. Eight or more lay dead on the road and we afterwards learnt that twenty-one, including four officers, were brought back to Carpio in blankets unable to sit on their horses. The total loss in killed, prisoners and badly wounded was probably seventy to eighty men."

Corporal of the 13th Light Dragoons and a Trooper of the 14th Light Dragoons - John Pimlott

Tim Saunders mentions that among the 'French' dead was an Irishman, Colonel O'Finn, who had fled to France in 1799 following the previous year's rebellion in which he played a significant part in County Cork before entering French service.

This is still horse country, although this chap is able to enjoy it much more than his predecessors

Finally, during our few days touring the frontier country, I took the time to travel out to the Portuguese village of Freineda, to visit the house that served as Wellington's HQ during the winter of 1811-12 and 1812-13, periods of planning in between to dynamic campaigns.

If the walls of this unique house could only talk, it is just amazing to think of the discussions had and the planning made for two of the most significant years campaigning in the entire Peninsular War.

Next up Carolyn and I cross over the border into Portugal to follow the French invasion route of Marshal Massena, the battle of Bussaco and the rearguard actions of Marshal Ney before the battle of Fuentes de Onoro.

Sources used in this post
The Sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo 1810 and 1812 - Tim Saunders
Intelligence Officer in the Peninsula, Letters & Diaries of Major The Hon. Edward Charles Cocks 1786 to 1812 - Julia Page


  1. Great post! Very interesting and entertaining, lots of lovely detail too.
    Best Iain

    1. Thank you Iain, glad you enjoyed the read.


  2. Another great post. And covering sites we did not visit when we spent a few holidays exploring the same battlefields about 30 years ago.

    It is fantastic to see how useful your satnav and the maps now available are. We spent hours trying to find locations using the maps available back then.

    We now live in Spain and walk in the local hills twice a week with our U3A groups. But only in the "walking season". It ends at the end of May and starts again first week in October. So I read with feeling your description of the steep hill down to the bridge when you visited in June. It was lucky you did not visit in July or August!

    I will return to these interesting blogs again in the future. Meanwhile looking forward to your visit to Busacco. Another site we visited back in the day.

    1. Thank you Paul.

      I feel you're pain, I too have plenty of memories trying to interpret maps with the terrain that was in front of me and the frustrations that can cause. View Ranger along with Google Maps and others has completely changed the whole situation, and we were able to find many of the old unsealed roads that have not changed in over two hundred years.

      I'm glad you spotted my comment about the Valley of the Eagles. Both Carolyn and I do a lot of cycling and swimming that helps keep everything working, but I was conscious coming back up that long steep trail how hot it was and even our need to take regular stops for water. I don't want to be responsible for people following the blog ending up needing a helicopter to get them back to civilization!


  3. Another excellent post - thank you. Barba Del Puerco is one of my favourite locations in the entire Peninsula - you really do feel you are touching history. The Tourist Information Office in Almeida sells a set of postcards of the interior of Wellington's HQ at Freinada - I'm not sure if it's ever been open to the public?

    1. Cheers Jeremy, both Carolyn and I loved visiting Barba del Puerco, and the day will be a memory to savour.

      We popped in the Tourist Office, but I didn't find anything that grabbed my eye. That said there is a post on The Napoleon Series that gives more information and pictures of the interior of Wellington's HQ at Freineda


  4. another super report. JJ your blog pages are always a delight. infomative and detailed. Much appreciated.

  5. Hi Mark,
    Thank you for your comment, I'm so glad you enjoyed the read and got something out of it.


  6. Catching up on your trip to Spain now that summer is settling down. Great stuff and again, thank you for all of the research and time spent sharing this. It’s a real pleasure to read.

    Was the house that Wellington stayed in the same as that referred to in the blog My Neighbour Wellington?

    1. Wow you have been getting through some weekend reading, well done.

      I'm hoping to have Fuentes de Onoro up later in the week.

      Good question, and quite possibly, but I can't seem to access her blog anymore which is a shame, but I guess blogs, like most things, have a life and when they've said what they wanted to say, that's it.

      The link in my comment above to The Napoleon Series gives more information about the house together with some great interior shots.