Thursday, 15 August 2019

The Battle of Fuentes de Onoro - Peninsular War Tour 2019

Corunna Retreat - Peninsular War Tour 2019

The positions of the key sites mentioned in the text with the eventual battle site at Fuentes de Onoro situated quite clearly on the lower end of the Dos Casas stream, where the Allied right in front of Almeida would be shown to be open to exploitation.

Following the French rearguard being turned out of their defensive position along the River Coa at Sabugal, Massena was left with no alternative but to retreat back into Spain and more specifically back to Ciudad Rodrigo where he found much needed reinforcements, supplies, remounts and Marshal Bessieres with a Guard Cavalry enhancement to add to his force, now back up to some 42,000 infantry, 4,500 cavalry and 38 guns. 

Outnumbered with 38,000 infantry, 1,850 cavalry but with 48 guns, Wellington was determined to blockade Almeida and starve its French garrison into submission, setting up the final round of the Third French Invasion of Portugal with the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro, as Massena sought to salvage his reputation and garrison, whilst hoping to put Wellington firmly back on the defence.

Wellington deployed his troops in a relatively strong position on the Dos Casas stream which in spring was not an insignificant obstacle, particular further north where its course took it through a difficult ravine which would likely deter any large scale attack.

The Allied right however was not so strong with the country becoming much more open the further south one traveled and with the Allied line ending at Fuentes de Onoro there was very little in the way of advantageous terrain to help stop a French turning action; in addition, about six miles behind the village was the very steep ravine of the River Coa with only three potential crossing points suitable for wheeled vehicles that could pose a serious problem to a hard pressed army in retreat, something already experienced by General Crafurd and his Light Division in the previous autumn.

For a look at some of the key sites of Almeida, Fort Concepcion and the bridge over the River Coa, close to the battlefield see my post above on the Beira Frontier Part One.

The Battle of Fuentes de Onoro from Oman's History of the Peninsular War showing the positions of the two armies on day one, 3rd May 1811 and the likely crossing points on the Coa should the Allies be forced into a retreat.

On the 2nd May 1811 the French marched from Ciudad Rodrigo, monitored by the Light Division, and four regiments of light cavalry, soon to be back under the command of General Robert Craufurd, with Sir William Erskine to be temporarily inflicted on 5th Division.

Numerous small skirmishes marked the route of march as the French pressed forward to Gallegos and Espeja (note the terrain in these areas were covered in earlier posts looking at actions in 1810 - see Beira Frontier Part Two) and on the following morning the outposts pulled back onto the main Allied line in and around Fuentes de Onoro with the village itself held by twenty-eight light companies*, equivalent to just under three battalions, and supported by the 2/83rd 'County of Dublin' Foot.

*According to Oman, the light companies of seventeen British and four Portuguese battalions, plus four companies of the 5/60th, one of the 3/95th, and two extra light companies of the K.G.L. attached to Lowe's brigade.

My rendition of the 2/83rd Foot for Talavera 208

Oman described the French deployments thus;

"In the afternoon the whole French army became more or less visible from the Allies' position. It was now in three columns: the right column was formed by the 2nd Corps, which had taken the route Gallegos-Alameda, and displayed itself on the heights opposite Wellington's left, facing towards Fort Concepcion and San Pedro, with the deepest part of the ravine of the Dos Casas in front of it. 

The centre column was formed by the single division of the 8th Corps (Solignac), which posted itself to the left of the 2nd, south of Alameda. The heaviest and most important mass of the enemy, however, was on the left, where Montbrun's cavalry, which had been engaged all the morning in pushing back the British horse, came up directly opposite Fuentes de Onoro, and on finding that village occupied in force by the Allies took ground to its left, facing the squadrons which it had been pursuing, on the other side of the Dos Casas. 

When the cavalry had wheeled aside, the front of the infantry of the 6th Corps became visible on the highroad, division behind division. The 9th Corps, still out of sight in the rear, was behind the 6th, so that five of the eight infantry divisions forming Massena's army were concentrated opposite Fuentes de Onoro. The front of the French did not extend for more than a short distance south of that village, so that it looked as if Wellington was to be assailed precisely in the strong position that he had selected."

Perhaps the most iconic depiction of the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro is views of the village church mentioned below in Oman's and the veterans accounts of the fighting and around which the bloody hand to hand fighting swayed back and forth as both sides threw in reinforcements to this battle within a battle. 

Oman continues;

"Massena, having surveyed Wellington's position in the early afternoon, recognized without difficulty that the village of Fuentes was the key of the whole, and that the northern front was too formidable, from the nature of the ground, to be lightly meddled with. It was impossible to make out the disposition of the allied troops, for (in accordance with his usual practice) their general had placed his battle-line behind the crest, so that nothing could be made out save the skirmishers all along the heights, and the garrison of Fuentes itself, which was sufficiently visible on the slope. 

In a manner which somewhat suggests his old method of Bussaco, Massena ordered the leading division of the 6th Corps, Ferey's ten battalions, to storm the village by direct frontal attack, while Reynier made a mere demonstration against the 5th Division on the extreme northern end of the
position. The latter movement led to nothing, save that, when it seemed threatening, Wellington sent off the Light Division to strengthen his right wing—but, since the 2nd Corps never closed, it was not needed there, and halted behind the crest till nightfall.

In Fuentes village, however, there was a sharp conflict: the first brigade of Ferey's division charged across the easily fordable brook under heavy fire, and got possession of some of the houses on the lower slope. From these the French were dislodged by the charge of the reserves of which Colonel Williams could dispose. 

The second brigade was then thrown into action by Ferey, and, coming on to the British while they were in the disorder caused by a charge among houses and walls, beat them back, and pursued them up to the top of the village. Here the light companies rallied, by the church and among the rocks, but the enemy remained for a moment master of all that part of Fuentes which lies on the slope and in the bottom by the brook.

Recently promoted General de Division Claude Francois Ferey

Wellington was determined that the French should make no lodgement in his line, and late in the afternoon sent three fresh battalions of the 1st Division to clear the village. Cadogan with the l/71st, supported by the l/79th and 2/24th, made a determined advance through the tangle of  houses, lanes, and walls, and at considerable cost drove Ferey's men right over the brook and up their own slope. Massena then ordered the defeated troops to be supported by four battalions from Marchand's division, and with this aid they once more advanced and got possession of the chapel and the few other buildings on the east side of Dos Casas, but could not make their way across the
water again, or into the main body of the village.

The combat only stopped with the fall of night, though the fusillade across the brook was of course objectless, when neither side made any further definite attack. 

It had cost the French 652 men—mostly in Ferey's division, of whom 3 officers and 164 men were prisoners, taken when the village was re-stormed by Cadogan. The Allies, being on the defensive, and under cover, save at the moment of their counter-attack, only had 259 killed and hurt, of whom 48 were Portuguese. Colonel Williams, the original commander of the village, was severely wounded, but no other officer above the rank of captain was hit."

The fierce street fighting in the village of Fuentes de Onoro characterised the battle, with 71st Highland Light Infantry, 79th Highland and 2/24th Foot sent into the village to clear it of French troops on the first day - Patrice Courcelle, Osprey.

A soldier of the 71st Highland Light Infantry recorded his memories of this encounter in a Journal of a Soldier of the 71st;

"On the 3d of May, at day-break, all the cavalry, and sixteen light companies, occupied the town. We stood under arms until three o'clock, when a staff-officer rode up to our Colonel, and gave orders for our advance. Colonel Cadogan put him self at our head, saying “My lads, you have had no provision these two days; there is plenty in the hollow in front, let us down and divide it.”

We advanced, as quick as we could run, and met the light companies retreating as fast as they could. We continued to advance, at double-quick time, our firelocks at the trail, our bonnets in our hands.

They called to us, “Seventy-first, you will come back quicker than you advance.” We soon came full in front of the enemy. The Colonel cried, “ Here is food, my lads, cut away.” Thrice we waved our bonnets, and thrice we cheered; brought our firelocks to the charge, and forced them back through the town.

How different the duty of the French officers from ours They, stimulating the men by their example; the men vociferating, each chafing each until they appear in a fury, shouting, to the points of our bayonets. After the first huzza, the British officers, restraining their men, still as death—“Steady, lads, steady,” is all you hear; and that in an under tone.

The French had lost a great number of men in the streets. We pursued them about a mile out of the town, trampling over the dead and wounded; but their cavalry bore down upon us, and forced us back into the town, where we kept our ground, in spite of their utmost efforts.

In this affair, my life was most wonderfully preserved. In forcing the French through the town, during our first advance, a bayonet went through between my side and clothes, to my knapsack, which stopped its progress. The French man to whom the bayonet belonged, fell, pierced by a musketball from my rear-rank man. 

Whilst freeing myself from the bayonet, a ball took off part of my right-shoulder wing, and killed my rear-rank man, who fell upon me..., Narrow as this escape was, I felt no uneasiness, I was become so inured to danger and fatigue.

During this day, the loss of men was great. In our retreat back to the town, when we halted to check the enemy, who bore hard upon us, in their attempts to break our line, often was I obliged to stand with a foot upon each side of a wounded man, who wrung my soul with prayers I could not answer, and pierced my heart with his cries to be lifted out of the way of the cavalry. While my heart bled for them, I have shaken them rudely off.

We kept up our fire, until long after dark. About one o'clock in the morning, we got four ounces of bread served out to each man, which had been collected out of the haversacks of the Foot Guards. After the firing had ceased, we began to search through the town, and found plenty of flour, bacon, and sausages, on which we feasted heartily, and lay down in our blankets, wearied to death. 

My shoulder was as black as a coal, from the recoil of my musket; for this day I had fired 107 round of ball-cartridge. Sore as I was, I slept as sound as a top, till I was awakened by the loud call of the bugle, an hour before day."

The next day of the battle saw a distinct lull in the fighting with both sides content to exchange skirmish fire across the Dos Casas as Massena spent the day reconnoitring Wellington's position and discerning the weakness of the Allied right flank, planned to envelop it with three divisions and almost all his cavalry.

Whilst the envelopment move was developed he planned to pin the Allied line with a further fierce attack to take the village of Fuentes de Onoro with three other divisions whilst Reynier would continue to threaten the Allied left flank.

Captain Edward Cock's

Captain Charles Cock's of the 16th Light Dragoons summed up the day whilst fending off French cavalry probes;

"This day was spent in trifling skirmishing between the cavalry, which wearied our horses and answered no other end than ascertaining the enemy's force, but I should have thought we had known this already.

Massena reconnoitred our left. General Hay was too polite and he would not allow Bull to fire on him when within range of case shot."

Round Two of the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro, showing the results of Massena's reconnaissance on the 4th of May and his redeployment on the 5th to the Allied right flank whilst pinning the Allied line around the village and out on the left - from Oman's History of the Peninsular War.

Wellington however was not entirely unaware of the threat to his right flank and had deployed the 7th Division, the latest addition to his army and in its first battle, together with a cavalry screen out on the right between Fuentes de Onoro and Nava de Aver.

7th Division: Major-General Houston
(officers/men) as at the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro

Brigade: Sontag
51st Foot Regiment (30/551)
85th Foot Regiment (22/365)
Chasseurs Britanniques (31/808)
Brunswick Oels (8 coys)(32/561)

Portuguese Brigade: Doyle (1ater Collins)
7th Portuguese Regiment (2)(713)
19th Portuguese Regiment (2)(1,026)
2nd Cacadore Battalion (1)(442)

However as Oman states, it seems Wellington did not fully comprehend the threat to his right flank, quoting his dispatch of the battle written afterwards where he states;

'that the enemy would endeavour to obtain possession of Fuentes de Onoro and of the ground occupied by the troops behind that village, by crossing the Dos Casas at Pozo Velho, I moved the 7th Division under Major-General Houston to the right, in order to protect, if possible, that passage.'

However as Oman goes on to state, Massena was not just planning to take Pozo Bello but to press on from it and turn the Allied line around Fuentes de Onoro in a wide sweeping move pitting 20,000 French troops against the untried 4,000 infantry of Houston's division and 1,400 Allied cavalry.

Again as with my post on the Battle of Bussaco I present the account of the third day of Fuentes de Onoro using the words of the soldiers involved but in the order I toured the area which focused first on the village before moving out to Pozo Bello to get an impression of the Allied right flank area and the ground fought over between Massena's cavalry and the 7th and Light Division's as they desperately fought their way back to the new Allied line.

You know you're back in Spain when these chaps are seen perched on all the best views

On the 5th May Massena launched his attack on the Allied right forcing the 7th Division back and continuing to attack Fuentes de Onoro village, forcing Wellington to form a new line with the 1st and 3rd Divisions together with Ashworth's Portuguese.

This however left 7th Division in great peril of being cut off by the French cavalry requiring the bulk of the Allied cavalry and the Light Division, back under Craufurd's capable control, to come forward to help take the pressure off and shepherd the new division back into the new line.

With the French attack around the Allied flank making progress, the attack on the village launched two hours after dawn drove the 71st and 79th from most of the houses and farms before a spirited counterattack by the 2/24th Foot drove the French back to the river.

The soldier from the 71st described this next phase;

"After dark, a deserter from the French told us, that there were five regiments of grenadiers picked out to storm the town. In the French army, the grenadiers are all in regiments by themselves.

We lay down, fully accoutred, as usual, and slept in our blankets. An hour before day, we were ready to receive the enemy.

The old village of Fuentes de Onoro still looks much as it must have done during the fierce combat described by the Soldier of the 71st and Grattan of the 88th, here looking back up the hill through the narrow lanes leading up from the Dos Casas to the church

About half-past nine o'clock, a great gun from the French line, which was answered by one from ours, was the signal to engage. Down they came, shouting as usual. We kept them at bay, in spite of their cries and formidable looks. How different their appearance from ours! their hats set round with feathers, their beards long and black, gave them a fierce look. Their stature was superior to ours; most of us were young. We looked like boys; they like savages. 

But we had the true spirit in us. We foiled them, in every attempt to take the town, until about eleven o'clock, when we were overpowered, and forced through the streets, contesting every inch.

French dragoon, who was dealing death around, forced his way up to near where I stood. Every moment I expected to be cut down. My piece was empty; there was not a moment to lose. I got a stab at him, beneath the ribs, upwards; he gave a back stroke, before he fell, and cut the stock of my musket in two ; thus I stood unarmed. I soon got another, and fell to work again.

During the preceding night, we had been reinforced by the 79th regiment, Colonel Cameron commanding, who was killed about this time. Not withstanding all our efforts, the enemy forced us out of the town, then halted, and formed close column betwixt us and it. While they stood thus, the havoc amongst them was dreadful. Gap after gap was made by our cannon, and as quickly filled up. 

These narrow confined streets were barricaded, and it is easy to imagine the desperate fate of the French grenadiers who became trapped and were killed to a man on the bayonets of the 88th.

Our loss was not so severe, as we stood in open files. While we stood thus, firing at each other as quick as we could, the 88th regiment advanced from the lines, charged the enemy, and forced them to give way. As we passed over the ground where they had stood, it lay two and three deep of dead and wounded." 

While we drove them before us through the town, in turn, they were reinforced, which only served to increase the slaughter. We forced them out, and kept possession all day."

Lieutenant William Grattan of the 88th Connaught Rangers described their role in the counterattack that finally secured the village;

"The Highlanders were driven to the churchyard at the top of the village, and were fighting with the French Grenadiers across the tomb-stones and graves; while the ninth French Light Infantry had penetrated as far as the chapel, distant but a few yards from our line, and were preparing to debouche upon our centre. 

Wallace with his regiment, the 88th, was in reserve on the high ground which overlooked the churchyard, and he was attentively looking on at the combat which raged below, when Sir Edward Pakenham galloped up to him, and said, "Do you see that, Wallace? "—" I do,"replied the Colonel," and I would rather drive the French out of the town than cover a retreat across the Coa."—"Perhaps," said Sir Edward, "his lordship don't think it tenable." Wallace answering said, "I shall take it with my regiment, and keep it too."—" Will you .? " was the reply ; "I'll go and tell Lord Wellington so; see, here he comes." In a moment or two Pakenham returned at a gallop, and, waving his hat, called out, " He says you may go—come along, Wallace."

At this moment General Mackinnon came up, and placing himself beside Wallace and Pakenham, led the attack of the 88th Regiment, which soon changed the state of affairs. This battalion advanced with fixed bayonets in column of sections, left in front, in double quick time, their firelocks at the trail. As it passed down the road leading to the chapel, it was warmly cheered by the troops that lay at each side of the wall, but the soldiers made no reply to this greeting. 

A stone 'clapper' bridge winds its way over the dry course of the Dos Casas to what would have been the French side of the stream in 1811

They were placed in a situation of great distinction, and they felt it ; they were going to fight, not only under the eye of their own army and general, but also in the view of every soldier in the French army; but although their feelings were wrought up to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, not one hurrah responded to the shouts that welcomed their advance. There was no noise or talking in the ranks; the men stepped together at a smart trot, as if on a parade, headed by their brave  colonel.

It so happened that the command of the company which led this attack devolved upon me. When we came within sight of the French 9th Regiment, which were drawn up at the corner of the chapel, waiting for us, I turned round to look at the men of my company; they gave me a cheer that a lapse of many years has not made me forget, and I thought that that moment was the proudest of my life. The soldiers did not look as men usually do going into close fight—palethe trot down the road had heightened their complexions, and they were the picture of everything that a chosen body of troops ought to be.

On a peaceful sunny afternoon amid bird song and buzzing insects it was hard to picture the carnage that filled these narrow lanes on the 3rd and 5th of May 1811 as no quarter was asked or given.

The enemy were not idle spectators of this movement they witnessed its commencement, and the regularity with which the advance was conducted made them fearful of the result. A battery of eight-pounders advanced at a gallop to an olive-grove on the opposite bank of the river, hoping by the effects of its fire to annihilate the 88th Regiment, or, at all events, embarrass its movements as much as possiblebut this battalion continued to press on, joined by its exhausted comrades, and the battery did little execution. 

A French grenadier in bearskin as depicted by Gerry Embleton.
These picked troops were mentioned in the 'Soldier from the 71st's' account
and seemingly misidentified as Old Guard Grenadiers by Grattan in his account.

On reaching the head of the village, the 88th Regiment was vigorously opposed by the French 9th Regiment, supported by some hundred of the Imperial Guard, but it soon closed in with them, and, aided by the brave fellows that had so gallantly fought in the town all the morning, drove the enemy through the different streets at the point of the bayonet, and at length forced them into the river that separated the two armies. 

Several of our men fell on the French side of the water. About one hundred and fifty of the grenadiers of the Guard, in their flight, ran down a street that had been barricaded by us the day before, and which was one of the few that escaped the fury of the morning's assault; but their disappointment was great, upon arriving at the bottom, to find themselves shut in. Mistakes of this kind will sometimes occur, and when they do, the result is easily imagined; troops advancing to assault a town, uncertain of success, or flushed with victory, have no great time to deliberate as to what they will do; the thing is generally done in half the time the deliberation would occupy. In the present instance, every man was put to death; but our soldiers, as soon as they had leisure, paid the enemy that respect which is due to brave men. This part of the attack was led by Lieutenant George Johnston, of the 88th Regiment."

A contemporary picture of the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro clearly showing the withdrawal of the Light Division and possibly Ramsey's horse battery pulling clear from the French cavalry in the low ground in front of the Allied line. Note the nature of the terrain depicted with rolling hills interspersed with areas of woodland and compare with my photograph looking from the opposite direction and the French advance - Major T St Clair.

The assault on the Allied right flank commenced at dawn as described in an account by Captain Brotherton of the 14th Light Dragoons on piquet duty with Sanchez's mounted guerrillas supposedly monitoring the French in this area.

He left the following very unflattering account of El Charro's performance;

"I had been sent the night before to the village of Nave d'Aver, which was occupied by that humbug, Don Julian Sanchez, with his corps of infantry and cavalry. It was a strong post, on an eminence, surrounded by stone wall enclosures, similar to those in Ireland, and no cavalry alone ought to have carried it. I arrived there late at night, and could not see what arrangements Don Julian had made for defence ; but he assured me all was secure, and that he meant to defend himself most obstinately, before he retired.

The view from Pozo Bello towards the Allied ridge extending behind Fuentes de Onoro. The 7th Division would have been deployed centre left on the lower ground and across this area was pursued by French cavalry until they turned their attention to the Light Division who met them in retiring squares in the centre background 

Just at daybreak in the morning, however, having requested him to show me where his picquets were posted, he pointed out to me what he said was one of them, but I observed to him that it appeared to me in the dusk of the morning too large to be one of his picquets, but he persisted. However, the sun rising rapidly, as it does in these countries, dispelled the fog and the illusion the same moment, for what Don Julian pointed out to me as his picquet, proved to be a whole regiment of French cavalry dismounted.

Don Julian Sanchez - El Charro

They mounted immediately and advanced. I still thought the Spaniards would make a stand, as cavalry alone never ought to have carried the village; but the brave Don Julian, as the Spaniards called him, took himself off immediately with his whole force to the mountains, and left me with my two squadrons to shift for myself. The consequence was that I was pursued by the whole French cavalry towards the position at Fuentes d'Onor, where the army was drawn up, and the advance-guard of which was at POC.O Velho, which, as I approached, I saw occupied by red-coats, and began to breathe and feel secure.

As I approached I found our infantry posted with great regularity and steadiness, but as they did not commence firing on the French cavalry that were closely pursuing me, I rode up to the first officer I could approach, and asked him why he did not fire and stop the progress of the enemy. He replied with astonishment, "Are those the French?" I told him I knew it to my cost, having sustained considerable loss from them during my retreat. He immediately commenced firing on them, and most effectually checked them, bringing down numbers of men and horses. I found this was the 85th regiment, only just come up to the army, and never having seen the enemy before. 

There was, however, no want of steadiness and bravery when once they were told it was the enemy. This gave me the liberty of retiring leisurely to the position where the army was drawn up, and the battle then commenced in earnest.

At this battle the numerical superiority of the enemy, in cavalry, was four to one, and of the best description, a considerable proportion being cavalry of the Guard; and some of the most distinguished of the French cavalry generals were commanding it Montbrun, Fournier, etc. This was an eventful and critical battle."

The 85th 'Bucks Volunteers' Foot were 'straight off the boat' , not recognising the French cavalry at first, according to Captain Brotherton of the 14th Light Dragoons, and along with the 2nd Portuguese Cacadores were badly mauled getting clear of Pozo Bello. - Patrice Courcelle, Osprey

Oman described the opening of the French attack;

".... Montbrun had under his hand four cavalry brigades—those of Wathier, Fournier, Cavrois, and Ornano—about 2,700 sabres, with Lepic's 800 guard cavalry as his reserve—though, as it turned out in the end, the use of that reserve was to be denied him. 

In front of him were the two battalions recently evicted from Pozo Bello, with the British cavalry brigades of Slade and Arentschildt (about 1,400 sabres) and Bull's horse-artillery troop, which had drawn up to protect the retreat of the routed battalions towards the main body of the 7th Division. 

General Houston with that force (one British battalion, two foreign, and four Portuguese battalions) was engaged in taking up new ground, on the slope which is separated from Pozo Bello by the  shallow trough forming the valley of the Dos Casas brook. Montbrun's object was, of course, to break the British horsemen, and then to fall upon and destroy the shaken infantry which they were protecting, before they could cross the valley. 

There resulted a very fierce and long-sustained cavalry combat, infinitely creditable to the four British regiments, who had to fight a detaining action against numbers about double their own. They were bound to retire in the end—and indeed had no other intention—but it was their duty to hold off the enemy till the infantry behind them had got into order. This was done, though at great cost, the regiments retiring by alternate squadrons, while the rear squadron at each change of front charged, often winning a temporary and partial success over the enemy in its immediate front, but always forced to give back as the French reserve came up. ' When we charged,' wrote a
participant in this long combat, ' they would often turn their horses, and our men shouted in the pursuit—but go which way they might, we were but scattered drops amid their host, and could not possibly arrest their progress. We had again to go about and retire. 

The British cavalry, though losing heavily, never got out of hand, and could be still used as efficient units down to the end of this phase of the battle. Of their total casualty list of 157 nearly all must have been lost in this hard work; it is noticeable that only one officer and four men were taken prisoners, a sufficient proof that there was no such rout as French accounts describe—for a rout always implies a serious loss in 'missing.' "

The arrival of the Light Division, come up in support of the 7th Division allowed the hard pressed infantry to make good its escape, before Craufurd's veterans executed a masterful withdrawal;

Lieutenant Jonathan Leach, 95th Rifles described the action;

"The 7th Division was now taking up a new alignment, with its right thrown back towards the heights near Villa Formosa, and communicating by its left with the 1st Division. Whilst this was in progress, the French attacked, with many battalions of infantry, the wood into which the Light Division had been ordered, and a sharp fire was kept up for some time on both sides.

The British right being turned at Navis d'Avair, the mass of French cavalry, with artillery, continued to advance along the plain, threatening to cut off the Light Division from the position on the heights. We were, therefore, directed to retire from the wood, to form squares of battalions, and to fall back over the plain on the 1st Division.

The steadiness and regularity with which the troops performed this movement, the whole time exposed o a cannonade, and followed across the plain by a numerous cavalry, ready to pounce on the squares if the least disorder should be detected, has been acknowledged by hundreds of unprejudiced persons (unconnected with the Light Division), who witnessed it from the heights, to have been a masterpiece of military evolutions. We sustained a very trifling loss from the cannonade  and reached our station in the position near the 1st Division.

Guardsmen in the British 1st Division experience the ferocity and frustration of the French cavalry assault that had pursued the Light Division up to their position. These are 3rd Guards commanded by Lt. Colonel Hill who was captured when he unwisely extended his line of piquets from square and were charged by the 13th Chasseurs with sixty to eighty men being lost from three companies  before being able to club together and fend off the attack.

With the Allied line holding firm on the heights behind Fuentes de Onoro and the attacks on the village itself repulsed, the French attacks petered out towards dusk and Massena soon realised that the position was too strong to warrant further attacks and the next day would see Wellington having constructed field fortifications over-night along his line.

The French finally conceded the field on the 8th of May by which time only II Corps was maintaining its position in front of Alameda covering the withdrawal of VI and IX Corps.

The total losses of the 5th had been, on the part of the Allies, 1,452 officers and men, of whom 192 were killed, 958 wounded, and 255 taken prisoners. That of the French was 2,192, of whom 267 were killed. 1,878 wounded, and 47 prisoners.

The overall losses for the three day battle are estimated at 1,800 for the Allies with 241 killed and 2844 for the French with 343 killed.

The battle had been a 'close run thing' and Wellington had been caught out by the size and scope of the French ambition in its attack on the 5th but had managed 'just', to recover the situation, much due to the steadiness of Craufurd and the Light Division.

In the immediate aftermath, Massena failed to relieve his garrison in Almeida but managed to order, via a smuggled in cyphered message,  the 1,800 man garrison to abandon it, seeing them successfully evade the loose Allied blockade by 6th Division and through a certain amount of bungling by 5th Division's new commander, Sir William Erskine, managed to cross into French lines at Barba del Puerco.

Wellington was rightly furious and complained;

"I am obliged to be everywhere, and if abscent from any operation, something goes wrong."

and of Erskine he commented that;

"There is nothing on earth so stupid as a gallant officer."


Well that completes my look at the northern theatre of Anglo-Portuguese operations in the first half of the Peninsular War and so Carolyn and I headed south towards the River Tagus valley and more precisely, the former Convent of Santa Clara in Trujillo where we based ourselves for a night to visit some key places indicted on Sir Charles Oman's map of the area, before heading over to the Portuguese border near Elvas to continue our explorations. 

Oman's map of the Talavera Campaign, helps illustrate why Trujillo seemed an obvious choice for our next stop over, not to mention an opportunity to visit the amazing Roman city of Merida

Trujillo was right at the heart of French operations in this area between 1809 to 1810 with Marshal Victor's Corps dominating the country jousting with several Spanish armies and the Loyal Lusitanian Legion, whilst observing the Allies in and around Badajoz.

One of the other aspect of our holiday this year was to include some great historic hotels on our itinerary as shown with some of the places we stayed at previously and the Parador at Trujillo was truly stunning, set amid the medieval and renaissance buildings of the city with its castle and Plaza Mayor lavishly endowed by Francisco Pizarro and his conquistador brothers, with the formers statue dominating the square.

Trujillo castle, indicative of the towns importance in centuries past

The view out over Trujillo from the castle

The Plaza Mayor 

Our hotel continued the theme with its relaxing renaissance cloisters, arches and columns surrounded with air conditioned rooms and a dining room offering an opportunity to sample the local Extremaduran cuisine as we prepared our plans for our next places to visit.

The hotel front gate with 'Your's Truly' all set to explore the town - Boy it was hot!

History and modernity brought together in this unique hotel

The view from our room out over the city

The dining room maintained the ecclesiastical theme
Next up, we are off to visit two very important bridges on the River Tagus that played a key role in the Peninsular War with the river very much delineating the northern and southern theatres and at which to very interesting actions were fought.

References referred to in this post:
The Sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo 1810 & 1812 - Tim Saunders
History of the Peninsular War Vol IV - Sir Charles Oman
Fuentes de Onoro, Wellington's liberation of Portugal - Osprey Campaign
Adventures with the Connaught Rangers - William Grattan 
Intellegence Officer in the Peninsular - Charles Cocks
Memorials of the Late War Volume I - A Soldier of the 71st
Unpublished accounts from Captain (later Colonel Brotherton) 14th(Light Dragoons)Hussars 
Rough Sketches of an Old Soldier - Jonathan Leach of the 95th Rifles


  1. Another fascinating report - many thanks. Such a surprise to see the "clapper bridge" over the Dos Casas so overgrown - when I first visited, it still spanned a sizeable stream! Trujillo is a delightful place to stay - such an atmospheric town with very few tourists around.

  2. Great post! Love the pictures, particularly of the town. This is one of my favorite battles, specifically the fight for the town. Being able to see the actual terrain was really inspirational, especially for when I put together a wargame geared around this battle. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks for your comments chaps.

    The old village of Fuentes is another one of those classic places to visit in the Peninsula that has seemingly remained frozen in a time bubble and viewed through the reminiscences of the veterans immediately comes back to life.

    It is a battle within a battle that would be interesting to wargame, with all the aspects of town fighting and the need to judge when to feed in reinforcements.

    We loved Trujillo, although I was glad of air-conditioning and it made an excellent place to base ourselves for our next set of adventures.

    I am in the process of putting together the next post looking at some key bridges on the Tagus but am a bit behind having been away at the weekend enjoying the thrill of another Ashes series and watching Jofra Archer in action at Lords on Saturday.