Wednesday 3 July 2019

Battle of Salamanca - Peninsular War Tour 2019

Warning, this is a long, long post about a very important battle that I wanted to take the time to record as much as for me and my understanding of what I had seen as for any other reason. I hope you enjoy the read if you decide to take the plunge!

It was way back in 2016 that I read and reviewed Rory Muir's 'Salamanca 1812' which, as I discovered, is a truly forensic analysis of the way the Battle of Salamanca has been reported to us by a succession of historians, based on some very contradictory accounts and timings of events, that have been put together to form a coherent construction of how the battle unfolded.

The problem is that those events, as they are reported, are not coherent or very well timed and thus which account you chose to go with has in the end to be a choice based on what seems likely or most probable and, of course, walk the battlefield to see how the terrain may have influenced them.

Thus it was that I made a promise to myself that when the opportunity to walk Salamanca came along I would follow those events with Rory Muir's book to hand and indeed follow his route plan that he has included in Appendix V.

To make sure I could follow the route I obtained all the Spanish 1:25000 walking maps together with a digital version for ViewRanger and plotted the places on them prior to going and taking Rory's guidance that Sir Charles Oman's map seems to offer the best layout of the terrain with some questionable troop deployments, I have opted for Sir Charles' map of the battle to illustrate where my pictures were taken and using the top of the map as approximate north when describing the direction of view.

In addition at each point I have tried to outline what particular events occurred in the area together with first hand accounts from veterans who witnessed them.

Sir Charles Oman's map of Salamanca, described by Muir as being 'surprisingly accurate' in comparison to modern maps of the terrain, and so used to illustrate my position for my pictures and tour. Interestingly, the tight grouping of British position observation points (4,5 and 6) contrast sharply with the opposite points (2, 3 and 7) for the French illustrating the strung out situation of the French line versus the concentrated one adopted by Wellington. 

As mentioned in my book review of Muir's 'Salamanca 1812', perhaps General de Division Maximilien Foy, who commanded the French 1st Division at Salamanca and spent most of the day on the heights around Calvarisa de Ariba facing off the Light and British 1st Divisions on the opposite high ground, summed up best the Duke of Wellington's victory thus;

"the battle of Salamanca is the most masterly, the most considerable, allowing for the number of troops, and the most important in its results, battle that the English have gained in modern times. It raises Wellington almost to the heights of the Duke of Marlborough. Previously one recognised his prudence, his choice of positions, his ability at using them; at Salamanca he showed himself a great and able manoeuvrer; he kept his dispositions hidden almost all day; he watched our movements in order to determine his own; he fought in oblique order; it was like one of Frederick the Great's battles."

My only contention I have with General Foy's assessment is that right from the very start of Sir Arthur Wellesley's involvement in the Peninsular War, at the battle of Rolica in 1808 and most particularly at Oporto in 1809, we see the warning signs for the French that this British general could manoeuvre and was more than prepared to take the offensive when the opportunity presented itself to his advantage. The judgement about his prudence seems to fail to note that Britain was a great naval power with a small professional army that could not easily be replaced should it be lost, thus prudence was what was required, but as we shall see that did not in anyway imply a lack of offensive spirit within the allied army or its commander, and perhaps that lack of understanding played into Wellington's hands.

I have only wargamed this battle once, using a large collection of 28mm figures at a former wargame holiday centre, and although we had a fun game with plenty of laughs, I found the experience rather disappointing as a simulation, in that it failed completely as a game to put the players in the situation faced by the commanders on the day, and thus we ended up with a wargame with two rather equally sized armies going toe to toe across a valley, in just the sort of battle both commanders spent a month of manoeuvring to avoid.

The point about Salamanca, as I see it, is that Wellington spent the months running up to this battle putting in place all the intelligence and pre-battle planning that set up this battle, before either army came into contact.

Precisely, the work done by Sir George Scovell, analysing and breaking Napoleon's code used by his Marshals to communicate with each other in the Peninsula, allowed, through the captured communications supplied by Spanish partisans, a very well defined picture of the state of the French armies, the ability of their likely reinforcing of Marmont's army and when, and the state of Marmont's cavalry. I posted about Mark Urban's excellent book covering Scovell's work back in 2012, see link below.

The opposing commanders at Salamanca, Wellington and Marmont

With this picture established Wellington made sure that Marmont would be even less likely to gain reinforcements from Soult in the south when he sent a force under General Hill to take out the bridge of boats and its defences at Alcantara on the Tagus in May 1812.

This strategy of detaching Marmont's army from the support of other neighbouring commanders extended to Royal Navy activity on the northern coast, to British landings in support of Spanish armies operating on the south east coast (see my review of Colonel Nick Liscombe's excellent book covering these operations designed to tie down Marshal Suchet and my visit to the Castalla battlefield last year).

In addition both Cuidad Rodrigo and Badajoz were now under allied control, leaving Wellington a secure rear area on the Portuguese border from which to operate as he sought to destroy the main French army opposing him.

Thus with all the necessary preparation done before hand Wellington was now able to challenge Marmont, knowing full well when King Joseph was likely to be able to support the Marshal and thus what his window of opportunity was in terms of time in which to bring the Army of Portugal to battle.

The genius of the man was his taking the time necessary to spot the opportunity, not to bring on a battle of equal forces, but to allow his army to achieve overwhelming superiority on a part of the battlefield that would simply force a collapse of the French army as a whole.

Map Point 1 - Aldea Tejada

Following the route plan, Carolyn and I started our tour by putting in Aldea Tejeda to the car sat nav on leaving Salamanca and then looking for the old unsealed road that leads approximately south east from the village, thought to be the route that Packenham and his Anglo-Portuguese 3rd Division took in the first part of its advance to Miranda de Azan.

Packenham received his orders to march from Wellington, in the middle of the afternoon (at 2pm, according to Brigade Major Campbell and 3pm according to Packenham himself) as soon as the Duke had spotted the gap that had developed between the two leading French divisions of Thomieres' and Maucune and the rest of the French army trailing behind in columns across the top of the Monte de Azan, leaving them dangerously exposed to a frontal and flank attack before support could arrive.

The old road leading out of Aldea Tejeda towards Miranda de Azan. The high ground to the left would have kept 3rd Division completely out of sight of the French and it is easy to imagine Packenham and his staff riding that high ground monitoring the march of Thomieres' division and its progress.

Within minutes the division was under arms and moved off in several open columns;

Brigade Major, Captain James Campbell recalls;

"To me, as brigade major of the right brigade, Sir Edward Packenham, in his quick decided manner, pointed out the direction we were to take, and desired me to tell Colonel Wallace, 88th Regiment, the officer in temporary command of the brigade, to move on with as much rapidity as possible, but without blowing the men too much.

We soon descended into a kind of valley, or rather hollow, and having brought up our left shoulders a little, we pushed on at a quick pace, but in excellent order, to the right; the side of the hollow towards the enemy concealing our movements from their sight."

Colonel Campbell's 'valley' or 'hollow' is well illustrated in this picture and helps to explain why the arrival of Packenham's force at the head of the French column was such a surprise

It is worth mentioning that Rory Muir gives an excellent diagram of the likely formation of march adopted by 3rd Division as it made its way along this route.

The road leads on to Miranda de Azan

Map Point 2 - Miranda de Azan

The next point took us to the foot of the Monte de Azan in the village of Miranda de Azan where Packenham is thought to have deployed 3rd Division before ascending the heights to tackle Thomieres' on coming French infantry supported by Curto's cavalry.

As mentioned in Muir's commentary, the ground at Miranda de Azan raises huge questions as to how 3rd Division could have arrayed itself in a somewhat confined space, with my bottom picture illustrating the narrow valley between the French ridge and the smaller hills on which it is thought the artillery of Douglas and Bulls batteries positioned themselves to fire on the oncoming French battalions.

The precise details of the French movements also appear to be unclear, as you would have thought that Curto's sixteen squadrons of light cavalry, some 6,500 men, would have lead the advance with scouts and supports to 'bump' any unseen opposition, but it appears from the observations not and that the French cavalry were not able to interfere with 3rd Division's approach up the ridge despite their superiority in numbers to their British cavalry opponents.

That said they did manage to close on the two British infantry brigades as they surmounted the ridge, but the 1/45th deployed three companies to refuse the flank of their line and drive off the attack. The 1/5th were not so lucky and lost 126 casualties as the French cavalry broke them with their sabres before D'Urban's cavalry drove them off allowing Packenham to rally the battalion and bring them forward again.

Muir does offer an alternative deployment with 3rd Division coming up the north face of the Pico de Miranda, but even he rules the probability is against this and so I offer what has become the accepted approach, based on the testimonies of Lieutenant William Grattan of the 88th Foot and from the two commanders Wellington and Packenham.

To quote Wellington;

"I ordered Maj. General. the Hon. E. Packenham to move forward with 3rd division ... to turn the enemy's left on the heights .... The attack on the enemy's left was made in the manner above described, and completely succeeded. Maj. Gen. the Hon. E. Packenham formed the 3rd division across the enemy's flank and overthrew everything opposed to him."

Major General Sir Edward Michael Packenham
And Packenham;

"At three in the afternoon, the 3rd Division received instructions to move in double column across the Enemy's Left, which was advantageously placed upon some strong heights, there to form line, carry the heights and sweep everything before it."

Packenham's Attack - Taken from 'Salamanca 1812' by Rory Muir.
The most likely deployment set up offered in the book.

Grattan's account of the attack corresponds;

"No sooner was Packenham in motion towards the heights, when the ridge he was about to assail was crowned with twenty pieces of cannon, while in the rear of this battery was seen Thomiere's division endeavouring to regain its place in the combat. A flat space, 1,000 yards in breadth, was to be crossed before Packenham could reach the heights. The French batteries opened a heavy fire, while the two brigades of artillery, commanded by Captain Douglas, posted on a rising ground behind the third division, replied to them with as much warmth.

Packenham's men might thus be said to be within two fires; that of their own guns firing over their heads, while the French balls passed through their ranks, ploughing up the ground in every direction; but the veteran troops which composed the third division were not to be shaken even by this.

The road leading past the high ground into the village

Wallace's three regiments advanced in open column until within 250 yards of the ridge held by the French infantry. Thomiere's column, 5,000 strong, had by this time reached their ground, while in their front, the front of the hill had been hastily garnished with riflemen. All were impatient to engage .... but Packenham, who was naturally of a boiling spirit and hasty temper, was on this day perfectly cool. He told Wallace to form line from open column without halting, and thus the different companies, by throwing forward their right shoulders were in line without the slow manoeuvre of a deployment."

The foot of the Pico de Miranda that marks the end of the Monte de Azan above the village and up which 3rd Division, with the 88th 'Connaught Rangers' Foot in the front and centre, advanced to meet with Thomiere's Division

Casualty figures from Thomiere's force would suggest that his battalions were still in column advancing to their left as the senior battalion, 1st Ligne, was at the rear, suffering only 13% casualties compared to 62nd and 101st Regiments which were almost destroyed during the battle with 77% and 82% casualty rates respectively.

The right hand slope of the Pico Miranda as seen above over which Artenschildt's cavalry advanced on Curto's French chasseurs and hussars

Grattan described the close to contact as Wallace's brigade pressed on up the ridge;

"All were impatient to engage, and the calm, but stern advance of Packenham's right brigade was received with beating of drums and loud cheers from the French, whose light troops ...... (ran) down the face of the hill in a state of great excitement ..... (and) commenced an irregular and hurried fire...

..the soldiers, with their firelocks on the rest, followed close upon the heels of their officers, like troops accustomed to conquer. They speedily got footing upon the breast of the hill, but before they had time to take breath, Thomiere's entire division, drums beating and uttering loud shouts, ran forward to meet them, and belching forth a torrent of bullets from five thousand muskets, brought down almost the entire of Wallace's first rank and more than half of his officers.

The brigade staggered back from the force of the shock, but before the smoke had altogether cleared away, Wallace,  looking full in the faces of his soldiers, pointed to the French column, and leading the shattered brigade up the hill, without a moment's hesitation, brought them face to face before the French had time to witness the terrible effect of their murderous fire.

Astounded by the unshaken determination of Wallace's soldiers, Thomiere's division wavered; nevertheless they opened a heavy discharge of musketry, but it was unlike the former, - it was irregular and ill-directed, the men acted without concert or method, and many fired in the air. At length their fire ceased altogether, and the three regiments, for the first time, cheered! The effect was electric; Thomiere's troops were seized with a panic...

The French officers did all that was possible, by voice, gesture, and example, to rouse their men to a proper sense of their situation, but in vain. One, the colonel of the leading regiment ... seizing a firelock, and beckoning to his men to follow, ran forward a few paces and shot Major Murphey dead at the head of the 88th; however his career soon closed: a bullet, the first that had been fired from our ranks , pierced his head; he flung up his arms, fell forward and expired.

The narrow valley between the Pico and the hills to the left on which the British artillery set up, see map above, as seen from the edge of Miranda de Azan

The brigade, which till this time cheerfully bore up against the heavy fire they had been exposed to without returning a shot, were now impatient, and the 88th greatly excited: for Murphy, dead and bleeding, with one foot hanging in the stirrup-iron, was dragged by his affrighted horse along the front of his regiment; the soldiers became exasperated, and asked to be let forward.

Packenham, seeing that the proper moment had arrived, called out to Wallace 'to let them loose'.

The three regiments ran onward, and the mighty phalanx, which but a moment before was so formidable, loosened and fell to pieces before fifteen hundred invincible British soldiers fighting in a line of only two deep."

Map Point 3 - Monte de Azan

From Miranda de Azan we retraced our route back along the road  and made the short drive into Los Arapiles village, before taking the road that leads south up and onto the Monte de Azan ridge line along which Thomiere's Division was followed by that of Macaune's.

It is in this area that we find the 'killing fields' where the battle was practically decided in its earliest stage and, to quote one French officer, "the beating of forty thousand men in forty minutes" took place leaving it with horrendous casualties in excess of 25% and its three most senior commanders out of the battle.

The French army at this point of the battle was already reeling like a boxer who had just received a heavy punch to the head as Packenham's 3rd Division stopped Thomiere's division dead in its tracks and sent two of its three first regiments reeling back from the crest of the Pico de Miranda, leaving the 1st Ligne to try and stem the threat to the French line.

But it was still standing, if a little shaken by the blow, before it was hit by a lower body shot that doubled it up, as Leith's Anglo-Portuguese 5th Division, 6,700 men strong and held in reserve for such an attack as this, assailed Maucune's division, now being threatened to its flank and rear by Packenham's 3rd Division, atop the the northern face of the ridge, the attack sending two of its regiments reeling back in disorder and adding yet more distress to a now perilous looking situation.

Then the final leg shaking punch that would leave the Army of Portugal desperately supporting itself on the ropes and trying its best to cover up with elbows and gloves as Le Marchant's Heavy Cavalry brigade, consisting of the 3rd and 4th Dragoons and 5th Dragoon Guards crested the ridge to administer the coup de grace and see the virtual destruction of both French divisions and leaving the others with little choice but to try and extricate themselves from the battlefield.

Leith's 5th Division had remained in the open ground in front of the French held Monte de Azan ridge and with its left just behind Los Arapile village for about an hour, lying down under French artillery bombardment from the ridge, and with the soldiers able to observe the Duke of Wellington ride over to and have conversations with Generals Packenham and Le Marchant, before with, it is described 'impatient anticipation' the Duke rode over to their commander Lieutenant-General James Leith, commanding the strongest division in Wellington's army.

Corporal John Douglas, 3/1st 'Royal Scots' Foot described an incident during the bombardment illustrating the cool, black humour of the veteran soldiers in this division during the bombardment.

"On the 2nd Brigade forming, a man of the 44th was killed and lay for a few minutes, when a shell fell under him and exploding drove him into the air. His knapsack, coat, shirt, body and all flew in every direction. A Dublin lad lying on my right looks up and exclaims with the greatest  gravity, 'There's an inspection of necessaries.' "

Lieutenant General Sir James Leith, served under Sir John Moore in the Corunna campaign, returning to the Peninsula after service in the disastrous Walcheren campaign that left him suffering from the infamous fevers. When Wellington created the 5th Division in 1810, Leith was appointed its commander. The division was in combat against Reyniers division at Bussaco and played a leading role in the storming of Badajoz. He was wounded in the arm by a musket ball at Salamanca causing him to return home to recover.

On receiving his orders from Wellington to advance his division up on to the French ridge and sweep all before it, after he had observed the division of Packenham's engage the French flank and seen Le' Marchant's cavalry move ahead in support, General Leith coolly rode up and down the length of his division, insisting the men continued to lie down as he sat on his horse amid shot and shell to address them.

A soldier of the Royal Scots recalled;

"The cannonading at this time was terrible. Addressing the Regiment he says, 'Royals', on which we all sprang up. 'Lie Down men', said he. though he sat on horseback, exposed to the fire as calm as possible. 'This shall be a glorious day for Old England, if these brigadocian rascals dare but stand their ground, we will display the point of the British bayonet, and where it is properly displayed no power is able to withstand it. All I request of you is to be steady and obey your officers.'"

The view looking north towards the village of Los Arapile from atop the French held Monte de Azan ridge, up which Leith's division advanced to the left of the village. The ground beyond is open and exposed showing the field of fire the French artillery had whilst bombarding the British line.

Leith's 5th Division advanced towards the ridge with around a thousand skirmishers thrown forward from its combined light infantry companies pushing back the French voltigeurs.

The division was supported on its left by Cole's 4th Division and on its right by Bradford's Portuguese brigade and had the 7th Division behind it in support in case of a reverse.

Moving a line, some nine hundred yards wide, over a mile of ground, under enemy fire,  maintaining dressing and order whilst moving at a steady pace, is no easy task, thus Leith positioned two of his aides, Captains Belshes and Dowson to different parts of the line to help curb the pace, whilst positioning himself at the very centre of the line with the Colours of the 38th Foot, acting as a clear marker for his division, controlling the pace and direction of the advance.

The advance helped steady the men, in that it was always described as preferable to be advancing to the risks and excitement of close engagement with the enemy rather than enduring long range fire without possibility of returning the compliment, and with the added benefit that the advance of the division and its light companies forced the French gunners to fall back from the ridge line amid their supporting infantry as the British line closed in on the ridge.

Bill Younghusband's excellent illustration of the advance of Leith's division at Salamanca from the Osprey Campaign book of that title

It is not entirely clear how the French division under Macaune arranged itself prior to Leith's attack, and Muir offers a potential arrangement for his division in two lines of battalion columns, with five in the first line and four in the second, with the 15th and 82nd Ligne in the forward line of columns.

Lieutenant Andrew Leith Hay, an aide to General Leith and at the centre of the line, described their encounter with the French as they crested the ridge;

"drawn up in contiguous columns*, the front rank kneeling and prepared to fire  when the drum beat for its commencement. All was still and quiet in these columns; - not a musket was discharged until the whole opened. 

Nearly at the same moment General Leith ordered the line to fire, and charge: the roll of musketry was succeeded by the proud cheer that has become habitual to British soldiers on similar occasions - that to an enemy tremendous sound, which may without doubt be termed the note of victory. At this moment, the last thing I saw through the smoke was the plunge of Colonel Greville's horse, who, shot through the head, reared and fell back on his rider.

In an instant every individual present was enveloped in smoke and obscurity. No struggle for ascendancy took place; resistance was in vain; the French squares were penetrated, broken, and discomfited; the victorious division pressed forward, not against troops opposed, but a mass of disorganised men, overpowered and flying in all directions." 

*also described as squares in his first editions of his book and subsequently changed by him to columns in later editions

On the right of the British infantry, General Le Marchant's heavy cavalry brigade charged the French in the flank as observed by Corporal John Douglas, 3/1st 'Royal Scots' Foot;

"The enemy, as I before observed, seemed to be rather in confusion. The cavalry on our right was to them a puzzle. The enemy seemed to have formed parts of squares, and parts of lines, and before they could recover from their panic, our murderous fire opened, which swept all before it. Their first line we fairly ran over, and saw our men jumping over huge grenadiers, who lay down exhausted through heat and fatigue, unhurt in the hope of escaping ...

The first line of enemy being broken and falling back in confusion, the second lined the side of a deep trench cut by the torrents of water which roll down from the hills near the village of Arapiles, and so deep and broad that it took a good spring to leap over it. Here the second line kept up a heavy fire of musketry, which checked our centre for a few minutes, while our poor fellows fell fast. To remain long in this way was too much to be borne. The cheer was raised for the charge, a general bound was made at the chasm, and over we went like so many beagles, while the enemy gave way in confusion. 

The cavalry now came in for their share and cut them down in great numbers."

Major General John Gaspard Le Marchant was born in Amiens in France but through his father was part of the Le Marchant's , a distinguished family in the Channel Island of Guernsey. He was perhaps one of the finest British cavalry commanders at the time of his death at Salamanca, aged 46 and was responsible for the design of the excellent 1796 British light cavalry sabre together with rewriting the British Rules and Regulations of the Sword Exercise of the Cavalry. He was also the founder of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst  for the instruction of officers and received the personal thanks from King George III in 1804 for his work.

On his ride back from giving orders to General Packenham, and before stopping to issue orders to General Leith, Wellington stopped to pass orders to Major General Le Marchant commanding the formidable Heavy Brigade of British cavalry.

Again Wellington's orders are very succinct and clear telling Le Marchant,

"that the success of the movement made by Third Division greatly depend on the assistance they received from the cavalry; and that he must therefore be prepared to take advantage of the first favourable opportunity to charge the enemy's infantry. 'You must then charge,' said Lord Wellington, 'at all hazards.' After some brief remarks on the chances of the day, Lord Wellington rode towards the centre, having desired the Dragoons to remain in the same position until the time of action was come."

Plan of Le Marchant's Charge adapted from Muir.
As stated in the book the troop positions are approximate and conjectural

The heavy brigade had been held in low ground in front of Las Torres covered by the higher feature of the Teso de San Miguel, beyond effective artillery range, and commenced its advance at the walk in a south westerly direction aimed at bringing the brigade up the northern slope of the Monte de Azan ridge in a position to take advantage of the mile long gap that had appeared between Thomieres' and Maucaune's divisions.

Le Marchant was looking to time his arrival just as the infantry of 3rd and 5th Divisions had thrown the French back in confusion, thus allowing his troopers to take full advantage of the situation, which combined with the smoke from the mass musketry exchanges, fire started on the dry grassy slopes and the late afternoon sun glaring directly into the eyes of the French soldiers, presented a situation depicted in the map above.

As Muir states clearly, 'A better opportunity for cavalry would be hard to imagine.'

The Monte de Azan ridge stretching out to the east towards the Greater Arapile. Over this ground, Le Marchant's heavy cavalry completed the destruction of the French infantry begun by 3rd and 5th Division's

The three British regiments each consisted of three squadrons, less one of the 4th Dragoons that had been detached to the right and had not rejoined. Each squadron was formed in a two deep line and with six squadrons in the front rank had a frontage of about 600 yards.

Precise details of  the combat are unclear, but it seems passing through, initially, some startled elements of British infantry, who quickly recognised them as friends, they reformed and Le Marchant ordered the advance, quickly gathering pace until the full ferocity of the charge smashed into the surprised infantry of Thomieres and Maucune, putting the survivors into a rout that may have possibly disrupted the 22nd Ligne part of Taupin's division who were similarly overwhelmed.

What French cavalry there was in the area seems not to have got involved and indeed from the various accounts it seems that the second brigade of Curto's division simply fled the scene, along with the artillery men who were quick enough to mount the towing horses to escape.

Le Marchant was killed leading a party of dragoons in a charge on a hastily formed square that dissolved as soon as it fired with the soldiers escaping to the cover of the trees to the rear of the battlefield.

Two Eagles were captured in the confusion of Le Marchant's charge, that of the 62nd Ligne captured
by Lieutenant Pearce of the 44th Foot and that of the 22nd Ligne by Ensign Pratt of the 30th Foot serving at the time
with the 7th Portuguese Infantry.

The charge is reported to have lasted less than an hour, perhaps forty minutes and covered about two miles, two French divisions were destroyed, a number of guns captured together with two Eagles,  those of the 62nd and 22nd Ligne.

William Bragge of the 3rd Dragoons wrote home after the battle giving an account to his father:

" .... the Cavalry advanced upon the Backs of the infantry. Our brigade literally rode over the Regiments in their Front and dashed through the Wood at a Gallop, the Infantry cheering us in all Directions. 

We quickly came up with the French Columns and charged their Rear. Hundreds threw down their Arms, their Cavalry ran away, and most of the Artillery jumped on their Horses and followed the Cavalry. One or two charges mixed up the whole Brigade, it being impossible to see for Dust and Smoake.

The view from the French position west with Arapile village to the right, ground over which Le Marchant's cavalry turned the disordered French divisions into a rout

Map Point 4 - Los Arapiles

On leaving the Monte de Azan heights, Carolyn and I returned to the village of Los Arapiles and passed by the Interpretation Centre on the way. The battlefield is now helpfully signed to guide the visitor to key areas and the wall of the centre has a large map showing these and how to get there

As an Interpretation Centre, I can't really comment other than to say it is only open on two specific occasions and on the occasion I returned it still wasn't open even though it was supposed to be! Comparisons with the usefulness of chocolate teapots comes to mind!

So returning to the battlefield and Rory Muir's guide I took time on leaving the eastern end of the village to take in the less significant high ground within Wellington's line, the Teso de San Miguel that lies close to the much more noticeable Lesser Teson.

The view from here gives the soldiers eye view of the opposing higher ground that separated the two armies punctuated by the village of Los Arapiles together with some friendly horses in a nearby paddock, curious as to what I was doing and had I brought food.

The view of the Teso de San Miguel seen from the eastern outskirts of Arapiles Village

The village itself was fought over earlier in the morning of the battle as the two armies repositioned themselves pivoting their lines on the Lesser and Greater Tesons, and Macaune's voltigeurs attempted to cross the intervening valley, from his position on the Monte de Azan, managing to get a foothold among the houses until the Guards Light Companies, together with those of the Fusilier Brigade and Brunswick Oel Riflemen from Cole's 4th Division counterattacked driving the French out, with them being ordered back to the ridge by Marmont, seemingly not keen to see any battle for the position escalate as he manoeuvred the rest of his army.

The village may also have played host to the famous lunch scene that has many versions and so 'you pays your money and takes your choice' as to the one that you prefer. However all of them have a reoccurring theme that sees Wellington informed of before/or seeing for himself Thomiere's division continuing movement along the Monte de Azan ridge towards Miranda de Azan causing the Duke to abandon lunch, before setting off on his ride to deliver his attack orders personally to their respective commanders.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Greville of the 1/38th Foot recorded his version of the event in 1838;

He was dining in a farm-yard with his officers, where everybody else came and dined as they could. The whole French army was in sight, moving, and the enemy firing upon the farm-yard in which he was dining. 'I got up,' he said, 'and was looking over a wall round the farm-yard, just such a wall as that' (pointing to a low stone wall bounding the covert), 'and I saw the movement of the French left through my glass. "By God," said I , "that will do, and I'll attack them directly." I had moved up the Sixth (actually the Third) Division through Salamanca, which the French were not aware of, and I ordered them to attack, and the whole line to advance. I had got my army so completely in hand that I could do this with ease.

The vista from this end of the village with the paddock in front of the Teso de San Miguel extending right with the Lesser Teson seen further along the road. Unfortunately the village is larger than in 1812 and new buildings block the line of sight up to the French ridge beyond the Greater Teson, but you still get a vivid idea of the British commanders having the view described above

Map Point 5 - Teso de San Miguel

This slight rise on the outskirts of Arapiles village on the road towards the Lesser Teson is said to be where Wellington was positioned throughout most of the battle and from where he first observed the extension of Marmont's line with the movement of Thomiere's division past that of Macaune's.

Muir devotes Chapter Three, some thirty six pages, of his book looking at the preliminary manoeuvres and skirmishing in the morning and early afternoon before the battle commenced and on confirming for himself that the French line was becoming over extended, Wellington took the decision to ride the three miles himself rather than trust such important communications to a staff officer to relay.

Often described as an accomplished horseman, the Duke, with his staff trailing in his wake, must have made an extraordinary sight, as they galloped across the lines to meet with the respective commanders.

Kieth Rocco's excellent depiction of Wellington issuing orders to General Packenham at Salamanca

On arriving at the summit of the Teso de San Miguel the visitor is rewarded with a marvellous overview of the centre of the battle with the French line extending from the Greater Arapile, right over to the Pico de Miranda showing the French positions would have been obvious to the British command.

The view towards Salamanca from the Teso de San Miguel and the ground to the left in front of the village of Las Torres in front of which the British heavy cavalry brigade gathered prior to being ordered forward.

Conversely the views to the rear also show the interrupted views offered to the French with sight lines blocked within the much tighter grouping of higher ground stretching out to the city of Salamanca, offering the Duke the opportunity to manoeuvre his force in a much more covert way and to provide the troops lying down with a level of cover to keep them in good order prior to them needing to be moved forward.

A contemporary illustration of the spires of Salamanca as French prisoners from the battle are marched under guard into the city over the Roman bridge

The viewing platform seen above offers a picture view of the area being looked at with a description of the various units that would have been in sight during the day of battle. Here the Lesser Arapile (extreme left) can be seen opposite its Greater version with the ridge line extending right towards Los Arapiles village.

The Lesser Arapile, where Anson's brigade and Captain Dynley's RHA Troop were positioned, as seen from the Teso de San Miguel. The rocky forward (southern) slope is clearly visible.

The views from this point reminded me distinctly of those seen from atop the Lion Mound at Waterloo, with the excellent sight lines to different parts of the battlefield, except of course that this view point was there at the time of the battle and allows a view that has remained practically unchanged for over two hundred years. All you need is the serried ranks of troops and you are there, back to Wednesday 22nd July 1812.

Lieutenant General Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole
National Trust Images

Also from this point one gets a magnificent view of the next Allied Division to set out to attack the French line, that of Lieutenant General Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, 4th Division, the weakest division in Wellington's allied army with just 5,200 men having suffered significant casualties during the siege of Badajoz and at the Battle of Albuera, seeing an influx of new inexperienced recruits and the amalgamation of first and second battalions among the Fusilier brigade to compensate for the losses.

Cole himself was wounded at Albuera and had a period of six months recuperation in England, returning to the Peninsula that June.

The precise orders given to Cole by Wellington do not seem to have been recorded but it seems likely that they corresponded closely to those given to Leith and 5th Division.

Whatever the orders it seems 4th Division advanced across the valley seen below, passing to the left of Los Arapiles village and to the right of the Greater Arapile, where after cresting the ridge it appears to have come off worse in the musketry exchange with the troops of Clausel's division and failing to press forward collapsed as the French division did, supported by a charge from troops of Bonnet's division sheltering in the lee of the Greater Arapile

Major John Burgoyne, Royal Engineers was attached to the Fusiliers during the attack and described events;

"Our troops had just but gained (the height), and had not had time to form again in order, but even then they did not give it up, although ours was a much smaller regiment, until the enemy's column was close to them. The French regiment came up the hill with a brisk and regular step, and their drums beating the pas de charge; our men fired wildly and at random among them; the French never returned a shot, but continued their steady advance. The English fired again, but still without return; they stood their ground however with great courage. But men in such confusion had no chance against the perfect order of the enemy, and when the French were close  upon them, they wavered and gave way. The officers all advanced in line in front, waving their swords, and cheering their men to come on, but the confusion became a panic, and there was a regular suave qui peut down the hill."  

Looking left (south east), the Greater Arapile and open ground between extending up to the French ridge. This is the ground crossed by Cole's 4th Division with Pack's Portuguese Brigade to its left tasked with attacking the French troops atop the Greater Arapile

General Sir Henry Clinton commander of 6th Division at Salamanca

At the same time Pack's ambitious attack on the cliffs of the Greater Arapile gave way and for a moment the gains made against the French left flank seemed in peril with a collapse in the allied centre, but Wellington had already the support in place to cover such an eventuality with 6th Division under Major General Sir Henry Clinton already moving forward in the wake of the 4th Division now running back towards 6th Division with French soldiers of Bonnet's divisions supported by Boyer's Dragoon division intermixed with the routers in hot pursuit.

The situation could still have gone wrong amid all this confusion had the Dragoons of Boyer's division been of the same quality as those of Le Marchant's, but the soldiers of Cole's Division and Pack's Portuguese fell back behind the advancing columns of 6th Division forming square to fend off the French Dragoons who now turned their attention to the new arrivals.

The 2/53rd was the battalion on the extreme eastern end of Clinton's Line and, seemingly slightly detached from the other battalions in the brigade, gained the attention of the French dragoons.

Adjutant Lieutenant John Carss described the attack;

"Our regiment was formed on the left of the line and a little from the division, to support a pass in order to prevent the enemy from flanking us.

We had fired about 10 rounds .... when about two or three hundred of the enemy's cavalry supported by infantry made a charge and totally surrounded us. They called out 'Surrender'. We answered 'No'. Our brave fellows kept up such a blaze on them that in about five minutes we drove them off  after killing or wounding nearly one half; in this charge we had about five officers wounded and about 40 rank and file killed and wounded. We formed line and advanced."

My rendition of the 1/61st Foot for Talavera 208

Bonnet's infantry advanced in the wake of Boyer's dragoons, who seemed to have had no further impact on the advance of 6th Division, and so it was left to the infantry to try and stem the British advance and in particular the 1/11th North Devon and 1/61st South Gloucestershire Foot, the latter veterans from Talavera.

Major Frederick Newman of the 1/11th described the encounter;

".... The brigade now advanced in line, and when we rose the hill a body of French cavalry was coming up at a hand canter, either to cover their retreating infantry, or to put a finishing hand to the 4th Division; we at once halted and gave them a volley which sent these cavaliers to the rightabout in much quicker time than they came, leaving several horses and men on the ground. The brigade then again advanced in line and entered the plain in front of the enemy's position, and within range of their batteries, which commenced a fire upon us. We advanced but a short distance before we halted by Headquarter Staff, and in this situation remained considerably more than an hour."

The French attempted counter-attack, if that is what it was, or simply French troops continuing to charge forward in pursuit of 4th Division, was stopped in its tracks and put both Bonnet's infantry and Boyer's dragoons in headlong retreat, leaving Bonnet's three regiments with up to 1,500 casualties.

The village of Los Arapiles seen at the foot of the Teso de San Miguel with the village of  Las Torres extreme right, behind

Map Point 6 - Lesser Arapile

The two Arapiles, known locally as the Hermanitos or 'Little Brothers' are the most dominant features on the battlefield and are often the first landmark that can be identified by the knowledgeable visitor to the area in search of a certain very famous battlefield.

The Lesser Arapile is the hinge point to an 'L' shaped line of hills around, on and behind which, Wellington repositioned his army on the morning of the battle as it became obvious that the French under Marmont were continuing to extend their line to work their way around the Allied flank.

Indeed at one stage Wellington considered using the Lesser Arapile as a launch point for projecting his army across the gap to the Greater Arapile and capturing the other ground destroying the French units already gathered at that point and forcing the French to consider marching yet further to the south close to the woodlands if they were going to turn his flank yet again.

Fortunately he dismissed the plan, settling for having the inner radius of deployment offer the concentration of force that interior lines convey, allowing the Duke to wait for a better opportunity to strike should the French continue to extend further to the west.

It was in the morning manoeuvres that Anson's brigade (3/27th, 1/40th and 1 coy. 5/60th Rifles) part of Cole's 4th Division, was detailed to hold this key feature amid the allied line.

The Lesser Teson viewed from the pull in area on the road at its foot. The front edge as seen in very rocky making this bulwark a very defensible area from an attack across the valley

Alongside Anson's Brigade, Wellington also placed a horse artillery troop from 7th Division under the command of Captain Dynley, initially with just two of his guns but later joined by the other four to hold the position and to engage the French guns placed on the Greater Arapile opposite.

The thought of manhandling cannon up the slopes of these features is extraordinary and illustrative of why lighter artillery pieces were preferred by both sides in the Peninsular War for their manoeuvrability.

Dynley later explained to his brother;

"The order I received had certainly a very awkward signification: 'His Lordship desires you will get your guns up that height and wishes you to defend it as long as you have a man left to your guns. In event of your being obliged to retire, you will spike your guns and leave them and the General officer commanding has most positive orders that he supports you to the last; in fact,' his Lordship says, 'he must have the hill kept.'

From these orders I made sure of an 'ex' or 'dis' -tinguish. I got my guns up with the assistance of a company of the 40th Regiment, unloaded my limbers and sent them and my gunners' horses to the rear, as I thought, if we have to run for it, my men should get away as fast as the infantry. On arrival on the hill I had some satisfaction in finding my friend General Cole in command, knowing there was not any run in him. But the enemy never put us to the test."

The Greater Arapile seems to glower at its smaller brother from just across the road, seeming to still resent their respective positions in opposing lines.

Dynley and his fellow artillerymen would end up playing a critical role in the battle to come with an impact far greater than they could have known.

The gap between the two Arapiles, with the Lesser on the left, across which Cole's 4th Division and Packs Portuguese Brigade came to grief 

Map Point 7 - Greater Arapile

From the Lesser Arapile it is a short drive down another unsealed road that brings you to the foot of the Greater Arapile and the centre of the French line.

As the French line pivoted on the Greater Arapile in the morning before extending westward towards the Pico de Miranda, it was Bonnet's division that was tasked with holding this key hill and in particular the 120th Ligne with the rest of the division sheltering in its wake.

Later the French put guns up on the ridge by dismantling the barrels and having them carried up by grenadiers before bringing up the now lighter carriages and remounting the barrels.

The view gives an excellent position for bombarding the opposite allied lines especially the troops around the the Lesser Arapile, but the steepness of the forward slope offers an element of dead ground where the guns would not be able to depress far enough, and the steeper rearward slopes would make evacuation of the position exceedingly problematic.

Perhaps Marmont assumed the dust clouds created by formations moving in Wellington's rear indicated the supply wagons of the army setting off in retreat to the Portuguese border and thus determined him to continue to extend around the allied flank.

The question as to what prompted Marmont to extend his line still further from his strong position around the Greater Arapile is thought to lie in observation of dust clouds from the movement of Wellington's rearward divisions in and around Salamanca prompting the French commander to assume Wellington was withdrawing his forces away through the city in an attempt to break contact and protect his line of communication with Portugal. Perhaps the French assessment that Wellington was a defensive commander unlikely to make an attack but await that of the French played into this line of thinking

It was at about 2pm that the French started to extend their line towards Miranda de Azan with Thomieres' division marching past Macaune's in that direction and leaving the two dangerously separated from the rest of the French army, a situation Marmont viewing the alarming deployment from the Greater Arapile quickly noticed, sending urgent orders to Sarrut and Ferey to march from the army's right wing to its centre and for Taupin to move his division to the west in support of the other two.

He then prepared to mount his horse to ride in person to Thomieres to correct his deployment just as a shell, fired from Captain Dynley's troop atop the Lesser Arapile, landed close by, badly wounding the Marshal in his right side and arm, forcing him to be carried to the rear and passing command of the army to General Clausel.

Marshal Marmont is badly injured in the early stages of the battle by a shell fired by
Dynley's RHA Troop atop the Lesser Arapile

However when messengers arrived at French 2nd Division to let General Clausel know of the situation they discovered that he had also retired to the rear after just being wounded in the heel by a British shell fragment, now leaving General Bonnet in command.

However General Bonnet had barely taken up his new command when he to succumbed to the British artillery with a serious wound to the thigh in time to see General Clausel return from the rear having had his wound attended to and still able to ride.

However the British artillerymen had made their significant contribution to the battle of Salamanca by removing the command of the Army of Portugal for a crucial hour in which time Wellington had issued the orders that would take full advantage of the deployment errors already made.

The roads leading to the Arapiles and the Teso de San Miguel are all uncovered with just the main road travelling east-west through the centre of the battlefield tarmacked. This is the view from the car as we travelled from the Teso over towards the Arapiles

Arriving at the left rear of the Greater Arapile we discovered another English couple exploring, having hired a taxi to bring them out to the battlefield

Arriving at the top of the Greater Arapile one is treated to an amazing view from all directions, with the monument to the battle placed centrally on the ridge.

The view to the rear of the French line and the woods bordering the battlefield, ground through which the French made their escape at its close and where Ferey's rearguard formed on the edge of the woods atop a slight ridge and held back the victorious allies as the sun began to set.

Since first reading about the Battle of Salamanca in Oman's History as a teenager, I have had an ambition to take the time one day to walk this battlefield and get a better understanding of how it unfolded. A lifetime ambition achieved and recorded for posterity.

Of course one cannot forget that this is a battlefield where men fought and died and that the sacrifice of others are properly acknowledged and not forgotten

As mentioned it was the Independent Portuguese Brigade of Major General Sir Denis Pack, consisting of the 1st and 16th Portuguese Line Regiments, two battalions each and the 4th Cacadore Battalion, 2,607 men, that supported the attack of Cole's 4th Division by assaulting the daunting front slopes of the Greater Arapile.

Major General Sir Denis Pack commanding the Independent Portuguese Brigade that attacked the Greater Arapile

In a later account acknowledging the orders he received to attack the Greater Arapile, he commented;

"My 'cacadores' stood well at Bussaco and Cuidad Rodrigo, much to my wonderment, but my mind misgave me somewhat when I received the order to attack the hill at Hermanito, the strongest part of the enemy's position; it is the duty of soldier to obey and not to question, hence we advanced up the hill.

No one admires Lord Wellington more than myself, but I fear he expected over-much from my 'Hildalgos', whose courage is of a vastly changeable nature."

Pack's Portuguese assault the Grand Arapile

Captain Charles Synge an aide to Sir Denis took part in the attack and left a very graphic and detailed account of it;

"In a moment all the commanding officers were under weigh. As the General and I were riding to Major Fearon's storming party, he remarked that both on the right and left of the point of direction which the storming party were taking there appeared better openings to get to the top, and he added, 'I wish I had divided Fearon's party into two and sent half to each of the openings, but it is too late now.' I said 'Not if you choose to let me gallop at once and give him the order, and allow me to take command of one.' He hesitated for a second, but on my repeating the offer and urging the necessity of my being off or it would be too late, he consented

The rocky outcrop on the Greater Arapile that confronted Pack's Portuguese or as Captain Synge described it
"a natural wall of I suppose between three and four feet high" 

I was soon up with Major Fearon. He took fifty to the left, and I the same number (not that we stopped to count) to the right. Immediately after this change my path led through a patch of standing rye, where several of my little party fell, at first I supposed killed, for the enemy opened their guns as soon as they saw what we were about; but one man near my horse fell in such a manner that it struck me that it was a sham, as he lay on his face I gave him rather a sharp prod with my sword - there was no time for any other appeal to his 'honour' - on which he turned up perfectly unhurt! What became of him afterwards I no not; I had other matters to think of.

.... Pack overtook me, and said in a whisper, 'Synge! I think those fellows won't carry it for you.' I said 'Oh! yes they will, we are over the worst of it.' I meant the ground. The roar of the enemy's guns was tremendous as we approached the top, and somewhat unusual in its sound, for they tried to depress the muzzles of their guns as much as possible, and though they could not do so much harm, so steep was it, it sounded as if all but touched the top of our heads. I have never heard the like before. Those following in support fared worse.

The last part of the assent was so steep that it was almost impossible for a horse to climb it; even the men did so with difficulty - but I had a horse that would do what scarcely any horse would attempt. It was not until I was close upon the summit that I knew what we had to contend with, for I found the ground, which had at a little distance  the appearance of a gentle slope, formed a natural wall of I suppose between three and four feet high, at the top of which it spread out into a level table land, on which the enemy were drawn up in line about ten yards from me.

The forward northern slope of the Greater Arapile up which Pack's Portuguese pressed their attack and which is so vividly described by Captain Synge. The route they took is though to have been diagonally from the left of the Lesser Arapile to arrive below at the bottom of the slope.

We looked at each other for a moment. I saw immediately that what we had undertaken was impracticable, as the men could not mount the scarped ground without first laying their arms upon the top, and even then in such small numbers that it would be absurd - but I also knew that we were so easily covered by 'the wall', and the enemy so exposed from head to foot, that if we fired they could not remain an instant.

At this critical moment the head of Sir Noel Hill's column, which had followed me in support, was close up, and Hill himself called to me to ask what to do and what was before us (he could not see).
I said 'Be quick, and let your leading company close up to this bank and fire away while the others deploy as fast as they can and fire as they get up - the enemy are exposed and we are protected by this parapet.'

To my horror Hill replied, 'You forget we are not loaded!' 'Well', said I, 'we have no other chance. Load away as fast as you can.' He gave the word of command , and the men were in the act - I was addressing some few words of encouragement as well as the breathless state of anxiety I was permitted (my poor old Ronald with great difficulty keeping his position on the steep), and two or three of the storming part were trying to scramble up the scarp, when the whole line opposed to us fired, knocked me over and literally cut to pieces the few that had climbed the 'wall'. 

My thigh was broken, and in falling, having no hold of the saddle, I could not in any manner save myself. Ronald made a couple of springs down the hill while I was falling, and this, together with the mangled bodies of those who fell back off the scarp on the the head of Hill's column, which in the confusion of loading was unable to see what was happening above, caused a sensation of panic which was complete.

The French line followed up their volley, by charging up the edge of the scarp, down which they leapt when they saw our confusion. ...."

Synge goes on to describe his situation now badly wounded and unable to move as the Portuguese fled down the slope with the French in pursuit, some stopping to loot the dead of valuables and coming back to do the same to him despite a French officer trying to prevent it, earlier on in the pursuit.

On standing at the top of the scarp and seeing the position attacked by Pack's soldiers I have every sympathy with his earlier comments questioning the sense of Wellington's decision to make the attack in the first place and think that the soldiers would have been better placed following Cole's 4th Division to the west of the feature thus supporting the flank from which Bonnet's infantry charged out from behind the Greater Arapile.

The view of the end of the British line from the eastern end of the Greater Arapile as it curves back on the 'L' shaped line of hills to face the French on a similar ridge opposite

The Light Division spent the day on the extreme left flank of the allied army facing off against Foy's division with occasional outbreaks of skirmishing and long range artillery exchanges between the two lines. 

Moving to the extreme eastern end of the Greater Arapile it is possible to make out the Chapel of Nuestra Senora de la Pena, around which the early morning skirmishing occurred and which marked the front of Foy's position atop the rocky cliffs of the ridge at the village of Calverassa de Arriba, seen just behind

The Chapel of Nuestra Senora de la Pena from the same point above seen on maximum telephoto. Note the rocky cliffs delineating the front of the French held ridge.

Map Point 8 - El Sierro, Ferey's Rear Guard Position

The defeat of the French divisions of Clausel and Bonnet put the final nail in the coffin of any French aspirations of contesting the battle of Salamanca any further, and with thousands of French soldiers captured and with thousands more streaming to the rear in disorder and panic, those French commanders still commanding soldiers in good order turned their thoughts to covering the retreat and salvaging what was left of the Army of Portugal, as it tried to get off the battlefield as the day began to end.

The view along the road from the Greater Arapile south east towards the woods that cover the area in the direction of Alba de Tormes and its bridge over the River Tormes, about six to eight miles away

Three and a half French divisions remained intact and with Foy's out on the extreme French right flank, effectively pinning any movement forward by the Light Division, and unable to move across to the centre to bring its aid directly to cover the retreat, it left the divisions of Ferey, Sarrut and Taupin's brigade, some twenty-two battalions, together with attached artillery, to form a cohesive line as the fugitives streamed along the road and over the fields above, making for the relative cover of the woods beyond and some protection from pursuing allied cavalry.

General de Division Claude Francois Ferey who, with his own division, commanded
the French units still in good order to cover the retreat of the broken divisions of the Army of Portugal.
He was killed conducting that rearguard, but managed to hold off the allied army until nightfall.

The collapse of the French centre made the Greater Arapile's defence no longer tenable as allied divisions closed around it from both sides with British 1st Division moving across from behind the Light Division out on the allied left flank to join the pursuit.

The precise details of the French fall back across the meadows and plains behind the Greater Arapile are not clear, but it seems to have been a fighting withdrawal that held up the very tired British divisions that took part in the first attacks that destroyed the French left flank.

Packenham's 3rd Division had conducted a long march in the hot sun via Salamanca to get to Aldea Tejeda and then followed that with the march to Miranda de Azan coupled with the adrenalin rush of combat to carry the Pico de Azan which would have contributed hugely to their fatigue and explains the three hours it took them to march from the Monte de Azan to the El Sierro position.

There is controversy about the nature of the final attack put in by the British line, led by 6th Division, to break the French line on the El Sierro ridge in the fact that the attack was made frontally into massed French musketry and grape shot when the numbers of allied troops available would have allowed the whole position to be pinned frontally and assaulted from flank and rear.

The casualty bill to the assaulting British battalion seems wasteful and extraordinary given that the battle had already been won by them, but I suppose that is the nature of warfare and battles are not always conducted in the best and most economical way.

Following the road to the El Sierro ridge and tree line. The slight ridge occupied in the final stages of the French rearguard, and so bitterly fought for by them, becomes obvious in the shape of the ground.

Corporal John Douglas of the 3/1st 'Royal Scots, was in the follow up units and observed the attack put in by the 2nd, 61st and 11th Foot to break the French position;

".... the 6th Division on our left was ordered to charge a hill crowned with cannon. The day was extremely warm. Our poor fellows, having to bear up against the united fire of cannon and musketry, had their ranks thinned ere they commenced to ascend the hill. So determined were the enemy to maintain this post that one brigade  of our division was cut off.

Fortunately, our work was settled on the right as the enemy were falling back in confusion. We brought up our right shoulder and flanked the hill, on which they gave way also, abandoning their guns in disorder.

T'was now near sunset, which appeared as red as sunset through the dense clouds of smoke, while the cheers of the British advancing to the charge, and the peals of musketry which seemed to increase, was a scene so awfully grand that no pen could describe it.

The 2nd Queens, the 11th and 61st were the Regiments which composed the Brigade I have mentioned ... I never saw the British casualties so thick, while we passed on in pursuit, striving to avoid treading on the wounded, who were calling for a little water for God's sake, which was entirely out of our power to give; or in the more feeling accents of comrades they pleaded, 'Don't trample on us.'"

Looking back from the tree line towards the rear slope of the Greater Arapile, the last view of the Battle of Salamanca for the departing French as night fell.

Map Point 9 - Chapel of Nuestra Senora de la Pena

As mentioned above the two opposing lines out on the extreme allied left flank spent the afternoon of the battle in observation of one another following a lively morning of close skirmish as the two armies sorted out which side of the intervening valley and opposing high grounds they intended to occupy.

This area is dominated by the rocky outcrop on the ridge which stands the village of Calvarrasa de Arriba and at its foot runs the dry course of the Pelagarcia brook together with its reed-beds. On the extreme edge of this ridge is found the Chapel of Nuestra Senora de la Pena, which remained in allied control throughout the day, while Foy's division occupied the rest of the ridge and village.

The initial tussle for control of this ridge involved elements from 7th Division, namely the Brunswick Oel Jagers and the 68th Foot later supported by the 4th Cacadore's from Pack's brigade and KGL riflemen.

Private John Green of the 68th Durham Light Infantry left a description of the early morning skirmish that developed in this area;

"Early on the morning of the 22nd July, we heard the firing  of the advanced guard, and in less than ten minutes our regiment, being light infantry, was ordered forward: having reached the front, we saw the French picquets advancing on ours, and both were sharply engaged.

In a moment the left wing was ordered to the front: no sooner did our advance picquets perceive that they were supported by such a number of light troops, than they advanced on the French picquets, and drove them in confusion to the summit of a high hill; but the enemy receiving strong reinforcements, bore down on my brave comrades, who contested every inch with them.

The Chapel seen from the rear on leaving the village, with the main British controlled ridge in the background across the valley.

At this period a General came to the front, to see how things were going on: in a fit of passion he enquired, 'Who commands here?' The answer was 'General Hope'. He said 'Where is he? the whole of the advanced picquets will be taken prisoners.' General Hope came up at that time, but did not appear at all afraid that the men would be taken: he sent one of his aides-de-camps with directions for a squadron of light dragoons to support the skirmishers immediately: they came forward, and had only just taken their stand, when one of them, a youth of about twenty-one years of age, was killed.

The men of the 68th Durham Light Infantry spent the morning and early afternoon
fighting a spirited skirmish in and around Calvarrasa de Ariba

The enemy now retired to the top of the hill, and brought six pieces of cannon to play on us. About this time the watering parties of the 7th Division came to the valley for a supply of water: the French guns began to play on these unarmed and defenceless men; but not one of them was hurt, although shot and shell fell thickly amongst them. After this the enemy continued firing on us for some hours. In this skirmish Major Miller and several privates were wounded, and one of the latter had to undergo an amputation.

We remained in this position until afternoon, but were not allowed to take off our accoutrement's. About three o'clock the 95th rifle corps arriving, took our places, and we immediately marched off to join our division."

The road leading down to the chapel from the village of Calvarrasa de Ariba, perhaps where the French set up their six cannon to fire down into the valley

The view north from the edge of the chapel showing the rounded end of the valley beyond

The chapel is a surviving veteran from the battle and bears the scars to prove it

General de Division Maximilien Sebastien Foy commanding the French 1st Division on the ridge
at Calvarrasa de Ariba on being informed of the fate of the rest of the Army of Portugal
conducted a skillful retreat covering the rest of the army and falling back to Alba de Tormes.

By late afternoon General Foy was aware of the collapse of the French left and centre and the time had come for him to withdraw his division whilst trying to protect the army's flank.

His account clearly outlines the position;

"At this point I received orders to quit Calvarrasa de Arriba with my division and join the rest of the army. I arrived at the edge of the wood half an hour before sunset.

The battle continued to be extremely bloody; one could hear nothing above the continuous musketry and cannon fire. The French took flight. I decided not to enter the wood but to take a position very near by, behind a ravine, in order to cover the retreat of the army. There was time; the victorious enemy was advancing towards Alba de Tormes between Calvarrasa and the wood, with two strong bodies of infantry, six cannon and 1,500 cavalry. I sent my skirmishers to delay their advance and they engaged them with artillery and musketry.

The view from the rocky outcrop close to the chapel looking towards the two Arapiles in the distance

Night saved my division and those I was protecting; without it I would probably have been broken and the enemy would have arrived at Alba de Tormes before the remains of our seven broken divisions.

For an hour after sunset the English cavalry continued its charges on my regiments formed alternately in line and en masse. I had good fortune to have my division in hand at all times and maintain its good order, although many of the broken units coming onto our left threatened to carry disorder into our ranks.

Seen from the chapel the rocky cliffs here are very imposing

The enemy's pursuit stopped near Utero de Maria Asensio, and all our forces found their way to Alba de Tormes where the army was gathered about 10 at night."

Alba de Tormes

The Battle of Salamanca ended with Wellington's divisions to exhausted to pursue the French into the dense woodland that lies between the edge of the battlefield down to the River Tormes.

Much has been made of the Spanish force detailed to hold Alba de Tormes and its all important bridge, but I feel I agree with Muir's assessment that the likelihood of the Spaniards being able to stop the Army of Portugal crossing at the town seems slim at best, even given the state of the French force at the time.

In addition there were several fords close by to the town and it seems likely that the French would have forced a passage somewhere along its course.

I was interested to see what the terrain was like that the French marched through in the darkness, to get to Alba de Tormes, and the modern road follows the route fairly closely, descending gradually down into the valley of the river, across open wooded terrain for about six miles, before the town and its 12th century castle, the Castillo de los Duques de Alba towering above the other buildings, comes into view.

Alba de Tormes and a temporary refuge from pursuit on the opposite bank of the River Tormes for the Army of Portugal

As Muir states, the battle of Salamanca was the greatest French defeat for over a decade, pointing out that not since 1799 had a French army of almost 50,000 men been broken in an open field battle and fled into the night.

It was the greatest British victory for more than a century, drawing comparisons with those achieved by Marlborough and such triumphs as Blenheim.

Estimates for the losses suffered by the Army of Portugal vary between 12,500 to 14,000 men, with Thomieres' division suffering over 50% casualties, Macaune's 35% and Taupin's 30% with four French regiments losing over half their strength by the end of the day, the worst being the 101st Ligne from Thomieres' division with 81.8% casualties.

Alongside the horrendous casualty list that also included Marmont, Clausel and Bonnet, all of whom commanded the army at some stage during the day, can be added General de Brigade Thomieres, twenty guns, six other Colours and two Eagles lost.

In comparison the allied army under Wellington suffered just over 5,220 casualties with 694 dead, the British suffering 61% of the casualties.

The French army fought well and although the victory was decisive it was by no means an unequal contest, as the crisis in the centre of the allied line and the repulse of Cole's division and Pack's brigade demonstrated.

That said the victory created a new paradigm in the Peninsular War that saw the initiative shift irrevocably in favour of Wellington and his allied army, made permanent with the Emperor's defeat in Russia later that year, and as events were to show Salamanca was not the end of French ambitions in the Peninsula, but, as another great man once said, perhaps it was the beginning of the end.

Our visit to the battlefield of Salamanca was a long day and with an hour to drive to our hotel still ahead we set course for the historic border fortress city of Cuidad Rodrigo.

Our hotel in Cuidad Rodrigo and the start of another adventure looking at the role of the city in the Peninsular War together with the interesting actions fought close by.


  1. Another excellent post - as expected - although describing Oman as "surprisingly accurate" is certainly damning with faint praise. Salamanca is a wonderful battlefield - arguably the best of the Peninsular War - and it really benefits from walking the ground. You can be totally hidden (and unaware of British Heavy Cavalry) in a number of folds in the terrain.

    1. Hi Jeremy,
      Thank you.

      I was 'knocked out' by how relatively 'unspoiled' Salamanca is even when allowing for the vandalism of the quarrying at the back of the Greater Arapile, and reading Captain Synge's description of the wall atop it and seeing it just as he describes, whilst imagining his horse 'Ronald' (by the way who calls their horse Ronald!) leading the storming party up that forward slope was astonishing in that the setting looked like just yesterday that all this had happened. Absolutely incredible.

      Likewise, as you say, walking the ground really does enable a better understanding of the sight-lines and how Wellington made best use of the ground to mask his movements and protect his soldiers.

      The choice of 'surprisingly accurate' are Muirs words and I think refers to his comments in the book looking at all the previous maps from the various histories, French and English, including what I thought was the best, Fortescues, where he includes contour lines.

      In his analysis he shows the wide variation in distances between landmarks illustrated in the various maps offered compared with the modern numbers and given all the technology available to today's mapmakers, Oman's stands up very well - so I guess you can call it an inverted compliment to the late great Sir Charles.


  2. That was a great read, thank you from the states. If my family decides to go on vacation, I suspect I will mention Spain as a nice spot- as there looks to many great battlefields to check out

    1. Thank you, I'm so glad you enjoyed the read.
      If you and the family are looking for a different vacation, Spain and Portugal would be excellent choices, with great food, weather, countryside and of course the odd battlefield.


  3. Great post. You bring the entire battlefield to life with your photographs and commentary. And what a nice-looking hotel!

    1. Hi Bill,
      Thank you, this was a holiday that was a life-time in the planning and so I decided to record my thoughts about what I saw in a way that would be fun to look back on and also as a reference for wargamers as I always want to view these places in terms of 'what do I need to know about this place to model it on the table?'.

      The places featured are very much in that theme and I intend to use them myself at some stage.

  4. Wonderful to recall my own experience of visiting Salamanca - I enjoyed your account of the trip and battle. I may be able to offer an explanation as to why the Los Arapiles centre was not open. The centre was conceived, initiated and carried to fruition almost single-handedly by a good friend of mine, Miguel-Angel Martin Mas. Miguel was also largely responsible for the way the battlefield was eventually treated when the authorities decided to drive a road through it. Virtually all the protective measures and visitor information facilities were taken at his instigation. Miguel has a small family and a career in education which take much of his time. Sadly, he could not persuade anyone reliable to attend the Los Arapiles facility and so it does not always open when it should. If you ever plan a return to Salamanca, please let me know and I will try to arrange for you and he to meet.

    He was my guide on my trips to the battlefields and was instrumental in arranging visits to key locations and people. My trip to Albuera when writing my book was particularly fruitful from this aspect.

    Mike Oliver

    1. Hi Mike,
      First thing I should say is thank you for your contribution to Napoleonic Wargaming and historical writing over the years, I have many of your books which have been a constant turn to resource when constructing my own scenarios and I really appreciate the opportunity to express my gratitude to you as my Talavera and Oporto projects in particular would have been much more challenging otherwise.

      Thank you for your comment, Miguel should be congratulated for his input into the preservation of the Salamanca battlefield and the information provided around it which was very helpful and if the opportunity to return presents then I would be very pleased to take you up on the offer.

      I fully understand the issues around supporting information centres for historic battlefields and it's great when individuals care enough to create them in the first place and we are rather fortunate in this country to have the folks at the Battlefield Trust doing their great work to protect our own history.

      Thanks and kind regards