Saturday, 21 December 2019

The Battle of Vittoria - Peninsular War Tour 2019

With the concern expressed by my fellow blog correspondent, Mr Steve, ringing in my ears that there had been a significant drop off in the number of bridges featuring on the blog, and conscious that I needed to conclude this series of posts covering Carolyn's and my trip to Spain this summer touring Peninsular War battle sites, I finish the series with a look at Wellington's climactic battle around Vittoria in the summer of 1813.

I mention bridges jokingly, but this series began with our look at the Corunna retreat and not surprisingly bridges featured large in the look at the route covered as it was to continue to do in the subsequent series of posts where armies were manoeuvring to battle rather that fixed in a siege situation.

As wargamers we tend to focus attention on the large scale clash, often forgetting the smaller and no less interesting struggles that developed in the actions that would include raiding and battles around choke points such as bridges and passes.

The Battle of Vittoria, as we shall see, encompasses both aspects of the larger conflict of a significant battle with the smaller struggle for control of key crossing points as Wellington engaged Joseph Bonaparte in a battle of manoeuvre  and envelopment with access to the battlefield principally controlled by a series of bridges over the River Zadorra.

If you are new to this series of posts, I have added the links to them below and am planning to create a central reference tab on the blog later, as a more permanent point to access them going forward.

Corunna Retreat - Peninsular War Tour 2019
Battles and Actions in the Tagus Valley(Alcantara and Almaraz Bridges) - Peninsular War Tour 2019
Battles and Actions in the Tagus Valley, Battle of Talavera - Peninsular War Tour 2019
Badajoz, The French Siege and Allied First, Second and Third Sieges - Peninsular War Tour 2019
Cavalry Actions in Estremadura - Peninsular War Tour 2019
Elvas and the Battle of Albuera - Peninsular War Tour 2019
Battle of Bailen - Peninsular War Tour 2019
Burgos - Peninsular War Tour 2019

In the previous post, I covered the disappointing end to the Allied campaign of 1812 which opened so promisingly with the destruction of Marmont's Army of Portugal at Salamanca in July and the liberation of Madrid in August that unhinged the French occupation of Andalusia and threatened to roll the French forces back behind the Ebro, that is until Wellington's army split to hold the capital whilst he led forces against the main French supply base at Burgos.

The siege of Burgos was poorly planned and executed and Wellington can perhaps be blamed for under estimating the potential of the French garrison to resist his demonstration before the walls of the castle without any real threat of forcing a breach with his insufficient artillery train.

The inevitable lost time executing the siege passed the initiative back to the French and allowed them to reorganise their forces against him, that saw his army retreat in great distress and loss, arriving back at Ciudad Rodrigo on the 19th of November 1812 amid much recrimination between the Commander in Chief and officers within the army for the loss of discipline and troops that resulted.

Wellington took full responsibility for the failure of his 1812 campaign, highlighting himself four errors he committed
as he planned not to repeat them in 1813

Sir Charles Oman in his history summarises the four key failures of the 1812 campaign from Wellington's own account;

'One thing is clear—he was conscious of the mistakes of 1812, and was not going to see them repeated in 1813. When the Burgos campaign was just over he wrote two short comments on it, for the benefit of persons whom he judged capable of appreciating his difficulties. He owned up to his errors—he acknowledged four. 

The first was that he had tried to take Burgos by irregular means, without a proper battering train: the second that he had under-estimated the strength of the united French armies of Portugal and the North: the third that he had kept his army in two equal halves over-long—Hill should have been called in from Madrid to join the main body much sooner than he actually was: the fourth and most notable was that he had entrusted a crucial part of his plan of campaign to a Spanish general, over whom he had no formal authorityBallasteros, who should have advanced from Andalusia to distract and hinder Soult. 

'If the game had been well played it would have answered my purpose. Had I any reason to suppose that it would be well played ? Certainly not. I have never yet known the Spaniards do anything, much less do anything well. . . . But I played a game which might succeed (the only one that could succeed) and pushed it to the last. The parts having failed—as I admit was to be expected—I at least made a handsome retreat to the Agueda, with some labour and inconvenience but without material loss.'

However despite their success in driving the Allies back, the French situation in Spain had been decisively altered to their disadvantage, with the Allies able now to count on a constant and steady resupply of new troops to replace their losses and add yet new formations to their order of battle.

This whilst the draw down on experienced French troops from Spain continued to grow as Napoleon sort to bolster his position in Europe as his army was forced out of Russia into his Prussian and German holdings, now desperately short of cavalry and experienced soldiers after the losses in the Russian retreat.

This was the situation as Wellington took stock in the winter of 1812 and planned his campaign for 1813 that would drive the French back to the border with France and open the way for the invasion of the French homeland by his Peninsular Army the following year.

The camp at Villa Velha as depicted by Thomas St Clair

The winter months saw key changes in the Allied command team with Wellington glad to see the back of Quartermaster General, Sir James Willoughby Gordon; with much of the blame for the disorderly retreat laid at his door, his need to return home on sick leave was a welcome opportunity for him to be replaced with Sir George Murray a very effective officer and often considered as Wellington's right-hand man.

Sir James Willoughby Gordon, held responsible by Wellington for the cause of the badly administered retreat
from Burgos. His sick leave home allowed Wellington to make an important change to his senior command team 

In addition Wellington would have back eight experienced and trusted generals for the forthcoming campaign which included generals Graham, Picton, Pack, Brisbane, Byng, Leith and Cotton.

The 18th of November 1812 heralded the mixed blessing of Wellington's appointment as commander-in-chief of the Spanish army by the Spanish Cortez which should have only improved the Allied position but with all the political issues that accompanied the position brought Wellington as many new problems than the existing ones it solved.

Perhaps Wellington's greatest ally in his planning for 1813 was the Emperor himself, caught up in his own round of campaign planning to try and stem the Allied advances in Germany following the disastrous Russian campaign.

Perhaps one of the most important additions to Wellington's army for the campaign in 1813 was Major General Sir George Murray appointed as Quarter Master General to replace Sir James Willoughby Gordon.

This planning saw Napoleon recall 15,000 French troops from the Peninsula by February 1813 to bolster his own forces together with General Cafferelli, commander of the Army of the North and Marshal Soult to oversee his position in Paris whilst he was away in the east.

Napoleon's grasp of the situation in Spain was continually hampered by poor communications and the inevitable time lag coupled with a poor intelligence picture that caused him to base his plans and directives on his wrong assumption that Wellington would not be able to field any more than 50,000 British and Portuguese troops in 1813.

The fact was that Wellington would take the field with just short of 79,000 British and Portuguese troops which when bolstered with the addition of some 25,000 Spanish would bring the Allied army to just over 104,000 troops.

Wellington would confront the French command team that faced him in 1809 at the Battle of Talavera, King Joseph Bonaparte, known as 'Tio Pepe' to the Spanish, and his Chief of Staff, Marshall Jean-Baptiste, Count Jourdan. Joseph was a poor military commander and a more able administrator. Jourdan was an experienced soldier, but perhaps his best days, the victory he achieved at Fleurus in 1794, were behind him, and he carried little influence with the other French Marshals in Spain.

The French on the other hand would see the Armies of the South, Centre and Portugal fielding around 70,000 troops with the largest contingent from the Army of the South, 35,000 men and Joseph's own Army of the Centre, 17,000 men positioned between Madrid and the River Douro, with King Joseph moving his headquarters to Vallodolid.

The Army of Portugal, 17,000 men, would start the campaign dealing with a Spanish insurrection near the French border in the Basque country, whilst the Army of the North, 20,000 were tasked with chasing guerrillas in and around Pamplona.

These Spanish guerrilla activities would deny the French both the Army of the North and General Foy's Division when their combined forces turned to face the Allies at Vittoria.

If the Northern Insurrection wasn't bad enough for the French command, Joseph could expect no support from Marshal Suchet on the East Coast who would have his hands full dealing with an Allied force in Alicante which would see his army defeated in April at the Battle of Castalla, as covered in my post from 2018.

Lieutenant General Sir John Murray's victory over Marshal Suchet at Castalla, 13th April 1813, was a welcome boost to Allied prospects for the year to come

First and Second Battles of Castalla

For the campaign plan ahead Oman continued his summary with the the corrections of the mistakes made the previous year;

'The interest of these confessions is that we find Wellington in his next campaign making a clear effort to avoid precisely these four mistakes. He made elaborate preparations long beforehand for getting up a battering train: he rather over than under-estimated his adversary's numbers by way of caution: he never divided his army at all during his great advance of May-June 1813; after the first six days it marched in close parallel columns all in one mass, till Vittoria had been reached: and, last but not least, he entrusted no important part of the scheme to any Spanish general, and indeed used a much smaller proportion of Spanish troops than he need have done, although he had now become Generalissimo of all the allied armies, and could command where he could formerly only give advice.'

Oman's points are well made, but there is much more to the Vittoria campaign in that in it we see the full maturity of the skill set Wellington had developed since his early days in India and his experience of offensive warfare gained in the Mysore War of 1799 from which he developed the strategy of 'Light and Quick' so well described in Huw Davies book 'Wellington's Wars' that I reviewed back in 2014.

Wellingtons Wars - Huw J Davies

Now relatively free of the restriction of fighting a defensive strategy, Wellington was able to demonstrate the 'Indian Practice' of using highly mobile forces, lightly laden and able to take decisive action against known enemy locations based on sound intelligence, whilst blinding the enemy to its understanding of exactly where his forces were - a Napoleonic form of 'Blitzkrieg'.

Wellington's campaign of 1813 culminating in the Battle of Vittoria, 21st June 1813

His plan saw his army advancing in two wings, the left under Sir Thomas Graham with six divisions and the right under Sir Rowland Hill with three divisions.

With Graham advancing north of the Douro from well within the Portuguese border and Hill advancing north from Coria towards Salamanca, then further north to cross the Douro at Toro about twenty-five miles west of Vallodolid, the two wings of his army would unite in front of the French HQ at Vallodolid either forcing Joseph to give battle or to retreat.

The manoeuvre was designed to allow Hill, accompanied by Wellington to draw French attention to his advance on Salamanca, whilst Graham got across the River Elsa above the Douro, before bringing them together north of the Douro on the right flank of the main French army between Madrid and Vallodolid.

Sir Charles Oman's map illustrating the parallel routes taken by Wellington's four allied columns (Roman Numerals) as they turned the French line out of one position to another until Joseph made his stand on the plain before Vittoria 

Wellington, aware of past leaks of previous plans of operations that ended up in the British press and eventually Napoleon's breakfast table, played his cards close to his chest and only wrote to ministers at home confirming his arrangements as late as May 12th 1813;

'I propose to commence our operations by turning the enemy's position on the Douro, by passing the left of our army over that river within the Portuguese frontier. I should cross the Right in the same manner, only that I have been obliged to throw the Right very forward during the winter, in order to cover and connect our cantonments, and I could not well draw them back without exposing a good deal of country, and risking a counter-movement on the part of the enemy. I therefore propose to strengthen the Right, and move with it myself across the Tormes, and to establish a bridge on the Douro below Zamora. The two wings of the army will thus be connected, and the enemy's position on the Douro will be turned. The Spanish Army of Galicia will be on the Esla, to the left of our army, at the same time that our army reaches that river.

Having turned the enemy's position on the Douro, and established our communications across it, our next operation will depend on circumstances. I do not know whether I am now stronger than the enemy, even including the Army of Galicia. But of this I am very certain, that I shall never be stronger throughout the campaign, or more efficient, than I am now: and the enemy will never be weaker. I cannot have a better opportunity for trying the fate of a battle, which if the enemy should be unsuccessful, must oblige him to withdraw entirely. We have been sadly delayed by the pontoon bridge, without which it is obvious we can do nothing.'

In addition to the plans for the Allied Army, Wellington concluded with a request that a Royal Navy squadron, under the command of an admiral, should be present in the Bay of Biscay to support the movement of the army with stores to be landed at Santander, together with siege equipment in readiness for potential operations against San Sebastian in the event of a French withdrawal and also to prevent any interference from a growing threat from American privateers now starting to make their presence felt on that coast.

The advance began between the 21st and 24th of May 1813 and the early reports to the French left them uncertain as to where it would end up before their line, with confusion added to by reports of another allied contingent moving up on the Elsa.

The move from Salamanca by Wellington towards Toro, unhinged the French line now unable to march in time to muster north of the Douro about Vallodolid and necessitating their retreat to Burgos as the Allied force turned their flank north of the great road to France.

The 52nd Light Infantry was part of Vandeleur's Brigade, Light Division, played a key role in the skirmish at San Millan, 18th June 1813, wheeling at the run and volleying a French brigade, before driving it back into nearby hills causing some 400 casualties in the process

By the evening of June 3rd it was obvious to the Allies that the French were in full retreat from Vallodolid and that retreat would continue beyond Burgos as the French continued their march, destroying their base on the 13th June.

Meanwhile Wellington continued the pursuit, daringly sending his columns into the mountains above Burgos, thought to be impassable to guns and wagons by the French because of the terrain.

As well as the surprise aspect of this move, Wellington gained three distinct advantages in that by advancing over ground not used by the French in their retreat he was able to avoid the delay of blown bridges and French rearguards - secondly the movement brought the army closer to the north coast and supply from the Royal Navy which had already started to bring stores in at Corunna, but could now contemplate using Santander instead - this move again surprised the French commanders who were contemplating a counterattack against Wellington's communications with Lisbon in an effort to drive his army back.

Finally the move north through the mountains continued the plan of outflanking any potential French position and by the 17th of June, following a clash between Allied and French cavalry, the first in four days, the French suddenly realised their position on the River Ebro was turned and compromised and this inability to detect where the Allied army was over long periods of time severely undermined the French plans to choose a strong position to make their stand.

Indeed the clash on the 17th was followed by a sharp fight at the small village of San Millan on the 18th June when troops from Maucune's division were surprised by those of the Light division, losing about 3-400 casualties and when the last attempted French rearguard on their right flank was effortlessly turned at Osma about twenty miles west of Vittoria the attempt to hold the line of the River Ebro was abandoned and the French army fell back on to the plain before the city.

The 19th of June 1813 saw both armies moving their forces into position, on a wet and cold day for what would be the climactic battle of the Peninsular War in Spain and would also see the advent of heavy rain before a major battle establish itself in the minds of British soldiers as a very good omen in future.

Oman's map illustrating the Vittoria Campaign with Vittoria and Pamplona highlighted together with Lagrono. Joseph, with the Armies of the South, Centre and Portugal, stopped his retreat east at Vittoria, not knowing exactly where General Clausel with the Army of the North was, whilst hoping to contact him to join him at Vittoria. Wellington, through his intelligence network, knew Clausel was in Pamolona on the 16th June, six days march away from Vittoria and with that knowledge knew he had to fight Joseph before the 22nd of June.

On the 20th June Wellington reconnoitred the ground before him upon which the French were drawn up from the high ground above the villages of Nanclares and Villodas. Meanwhile Joseph and Jourdan sent out messengers desperately searching for General Clausel and his 20,000 man Army of the North who were assumed to be close by and in the area, supposedly having marched to Lagrono from Pamplona on the 15th June - in fact as Wellington knew he was still in Pamplona on the 16th June and six days march away from Vittoria.

General de Division Bertrand Clausel commanding the Army of the North. His 20,000 men
would be sorely missed by the French combined armies at Vittoria.

Oman describes the ground thus:

'The plain of Vittoria, into which the French army debouched on the afternoon of June 19th, is a plain only by comparison with the high hills which surround it on all sides, being an oval expanse of rolling ground drained by the swift and narrow Zadorra river, which runs on its north-eastern side. Only in its northern section, near the city, does it show really flat ground.

It is about twelve miles long from north-east to south-west, and varies from six to eight miles in breadth. The Zadorra is one of those mountain streams which twist in numberless loops and bends of alternate shallows and deep pools, in order to get round rocks or spurs which stand in the way of their direct course. At one point seven miles down-stream from Vittoria it indulges in a complete ' hairpin-bend ' in which are the bridges of Tres Puentes and Villodas, as it circles round a precipitous knoll. At several other spots it executes minor loops in its tortuous course. The little city of Vittoria stands on an isolated rising ground at its northern end, very visible from all directions, and dominating the whole upland with two prominent church spires at its highest point. 

The great road from France enters the plain of Vittoria and the valley of the Zadorra three miles north-east of the city, descending from the defile of Salinas, a long and difficult pass in which Mina and other guerrilleros had executed some of their most daring raids on French convoys. After passing Vittoria the road keeps to the middle of the upland in a westerly direction, and issues from it by the defile of La Puebla, where the Zadorra cuts its way through the Sierra de Andia in order to join the Ebro. There is not much more than room for road and river in the gorge, which is dominated by the heights of La Puebla, a spur of the Andia, on the east, and by a corresponding but lower range, the end of the heights of Morillas on the west.

The eventual French retreat from Vittoria along the road described by Oman as '... the Salvatierra-Pampeluna road, running due east, and then crossing from the valley of the Zadorra to the upper waters of the Araquil, by which it descends into Navarre. This was a route practicable for artillery or transport, but narrow, ill repaired, and steep...'

But the Bayonne chaussee is by no means the only road in the Vittoria upland. The city is the meeting point of a number of second-class and third-class routes, debouching from various subsidiary valleys of the Pyrenees and leading to various towns in Navarre or Biscay. Of these the chief were ( 1 ) the Salvatierra-Pampeluna road, running due east, and then crossing from the valley of the Zadorra to the upper waters of the Araquil, by which it descends into Navarre. This was a route practicable for artillery or transport, but narrow, ill repaired, and steep — eminently not a line to be taken by a large force in a hurry; (2) the main road to Bilbao by Villareal and Durango, a coach road, but very tortuous, and ascending high mountains by long curves and twists; (3) the alternative coach route to Bilbao by Murguia and Ordufia, easier than the Villareal road in its first section, but forced to cross the main chain of the Pyrenees by difficult gradients before descending into Biscay; (4) a bad side road to the central Ebro, going due south by Trevino and La Guardia to Logrono; (5) a similar route, running due east from Subijana on the Bayas to the bridges of Nanclares three miles up-stream from the defile of Puebla. 

The three principle Allied columns, Hill left, Wellington centre and Graham right crossing the Zadorra are clearly seen in red, together with the blue lines marking the positions of the French as they were driven up the valley towards Vittoria and their eventual retreat route east( right edge  of the map).

At the opening of the battle of Vittoria Graham's column was already across the Murguia-Bilbao road, and in its earliest advance blocked the Durango-Bilbao road also. Thus the only route beside the great chaussee available for the French was that to Salvatierra and Pampeluna. The road to Trevino and Logrono was useless, as leading in an undesired direction.

In addition to these five coach roads there were several country tracks running from various points on the Bayas river to minor bridges on the Zadorra, across the lofty Monte Arrato, the watershed between the two streams. It was these fifth-rate tracks which Wellington used on the battle-day for the advance of some of his central columns, while Hill on the right was forcing the defile of La Puebla, and Graham on the left was descending from Murguia on to the bridges of the upper Zadorra north-east of Vittoria.

The satellite map shows how much Vittoria and its business districts have expanded into the greater part of the French positions, to the west of and in front of the old city, behind the River Zadorra which influenced my decisions on which parts of the battlefield to visit.

As can be seen from the maps depicting the battle, the French army under Joseph that confronted Wellington was a combination of three previously separate armies drawn up in a series of parallel lines facing what the French command considered to be the principle Allied route of advance along the great road and its crossing point at Nanclares.

General de Division Honore Theodore Maxime Gazan commanded the Army of the South in the front line of Joseph's three battle lines.

In the front line before Arinez, facing the four principle crossing points of Nanclares, Villodas, Trespuentes and Mendoza was General de Division Honore Theodore Maxime Gazan commanding the former Army of Estremadura, Soult's old command, and now retitled the Army of the South, composed of four and a half Infantry Divisions, amounting to 26,000 men, supported by two dragoon and a light cavalry division amounting to just short of 6,500 cavalrymen.

General de Division Jean Baptiste, Count D'Erlon
commanded the Army of the Centre

Rather aptly, in the centre, behind Arinez, was the Army of the Centre, commanded by General de Division Jean Baptiste, Count D'Erlon, with two divisions and a light cavalry division, alongside King Joseph's personal division, amounting to 17,000 men including 1500 cavalry

General de Division Honore Charles Michale Joseph, Compte de Reille
commanded the Army of Portugal

Finally to the rear, initially just before the village of Armentia with its right flank resting on the village of Ali, but following the discovery of Grahams columns descending above Gamara Mayor, repositioned on the River Zadorra on that flank above Vittoria, the Army of Portugal.

The Army of Portugal was commanded by General de Division Honore Charles Michale Joseph, Compte de Reille and was composed of two infantry divisions of 11,500 men supported by a division of light cavalry and dragoons, just short of 3,500 cavalrymen.

The whole combined French army could call on the support of 151 guns in artillery batteries among the various divisions and in reserves.

This route from Nanclares was indeed one of the crossing points to be used by the Allied army, but Wellington's plan was designed to envelop the French position, by pinning their front along the great road, with thrusts across the Zadorra in the west and north, by 30,000 Allied troops, designed to pull off the French reserves to contest the crossings to their front and on their northern flank, whilst also having their southern flank turned by an Allied thrust along the Heights of Puebla by 20,000 Allied troops lead by General Hill.

With French troops thus committed to holding these various points around their positions, General Graham with 25,000 troops would descend onto the rear most part of the French position north of the Zadorra and Vittoria around the key crossings at Gamara Mayor and Durana to press on via Zurbano and on to the two roads leading out of the city towards the French border and thus cut off Joseph's army from any retreat.

The plan of attack is perhaps the most audacious of Wellington's offensive battles, relying as it did on his detached commanders working to his choreographed timetable of arrival, designed to keep the French reacting to his moves and keeping close enough to each other to avoid defeat in detail at any point.

In the end it did not quite work out as planned, but was good enough to ensure that the French would be driven back to the border forced to leave garrisons in their wake in the hope of buying time for them to reorganise in the face of the next Allied offensive.

Vittoria has grown dramatically in the last two hundred years and and perhaps most notably in the last twenty years if the colour pictures of the battlefield depicted in the Osprey Campaign book from 1998 are to go by and with pictures of villages in the centre of the battlefield described as being on the edge of industrial estates now engulfed by them

With the advance west onto the plain before the city, of commercial buildings alongside the local airport that now dominates the ground behind the knoll of Arinez, there is little little opportunity for getting an impression of the ground in 1813 as the Allied pressed the French back to the walls of the city.

The Battle of Vittoria as illustrated in Sir Charles Oman's history with my added positions indicated from where I took my pictures touring the battlefield.

Thus I focused my time looking at those areas best preserved from that time, around the key crossing points over the Zadorra used by Wellington's and Grahams columns; and concluding with a look at the ground behind the city where the Allied advanced units caught up with Joseph's rearguard and him and his great wagon train, as the French departed in great haste, forced to abandon much of their ill-gotten treasures.

Point 1 - La Puebla de Arganzon

Lieutenant General Sir Rowland led the left column of Wellington's envelopment attack at Vittoria,
tasked with taking the Heights of Puebla and turning the southern flank of the French combined armies.

The battle of Vittoria began at 08.00 on the 21st June 1813 on a clear, crisp morning with the troops of General Hill's 2nd, Silviera's Portuguese and Morillo's Spanish Divisions led by Cadogan's brigade of the 1/71st, 1/50th and 1/92nd, crossed the River Zadorra over the bridge at La Puebla de Arganzon, climbing the western slopes of the Heights of Puebla, and driving back the voltiguers of Marasin's brigade, sent up on the heights to contest the Allied advance.

This battle would continue through the morning as the French troops were driven back along the heights, gradually drawing in more French troops from the plains below trying to stem it.

The medieval stone buildings of La Puebla de Arganzon seem pretty much as they must have looked in 1813 

Somewhat like Lord Wellington our reconnaissance and advance onto the field of Vittoria only really got going late morning on the day of our visit, after a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, and the drive up from Burgos.

With my map of the field suitably marked up on View Ranger, the app I tend to use for field walks and one that provides walking maps for around the world, I had decided to begin our tour along the route of the River Zadorra, visiting the key bridges crossed by Wellington's columns, starting with La Puebla de Arganzon where General Hill led his column across to start the battle early on the sunny morning of the 21st June 1813.

ViewRanger is my walking app of choice that I carry on my phone and Ipad and allows me to upload a variety of maps and preplan walks with markers as seen above. This is a 1:25000 map of the Vittoria area and with SatNav capability allows a walker to know exactly where they are.

La Puebla de Arganzon is a beautiful sleepy Spanish village set close to the river in seemingly timeless setting, where the dramatic events of two hundred years previously are very hard to imagine for the uninformed.

A soldier of the 71st part of Cadogan's brigade in Hill's 2nd Division left his account of setting out from here to attack the French troops on the heights beyond and the fierce battle they had that followed;

'Next morning we got up as usual. The first pipes played for parade; the second did not play at the usual time. We began to suspect all was not right. We remained thus until eleven o'clock; then received orders to fall in, and follow the line of march. During our march we fell to one side, to allow a brigade of guns to pass us at full speed.

Sergeant and bugler of the 71st 'Highland' Light Infantry. The 71st had been with Sir Arthur Wellesley as a Highland battalion at Vimeiro in 1808 and were part of Cadogan's brigade along with the 1/50th, 1/92nd and a company of the 5/60th Rifles at Vittoria. They would have a fierce battle on the Heights of Puebla before the French were driven before them

“Now,” said my comrades, “we will have work to do before night.” We crossed a river; and, as we passed through a village, we saw, on the other side of the road, the French camp, and their fires still burning, just as they had left them. Not a shot had been fired at this time. We observed a large Spanish column moving along the heights, on our right. We halted, and drew up in column.

Orders were given to brush out our locks, oil them, and examine our flints. We being in the rear, :these were soon followed by orders to open out from the centre, to allow the 71st to advance.

Forward we moved up the hill. The firing was now very heavy. Our rear had not engaged, before word came for the Doctor to assist Colonel Cadogan, who was wounded. Immediately we charged up the hill, the piper playing, “Hey Johnny Cope." The French had possession of the top, but we soon forced them back, and drew up in column on the height; sending out four companies to our left to skirmish. The remainder moved on to the opposite height. 

As we advanced driving them before us, a French officer, a pretty fellow, was pricking and forcing his men to stand. They heeded him not—he was very harsh:—“Down with him"  cried one near me; and down he fell, pierced by more than one ball.

Scarce were we upon the height, when a heavy column, dressed in great-coats, with white covers on their hats, exactly resembling the Spanish, gave us a volley, which put us to the right about at double-quick time down the hill, the French close behind, through the whins. 

The four companies got the word, the French were on them. They likewise thought them Spaniards, until they got a volley that killed or wounded almost every one of them. We retired to the height, covered by the 50th, who gave the pursuing column a volley which checked their speed.

We moved up the remains of our shattered regiment to the height. Being in great want of ammunition, we were again served with sixty rounds a man, and kept up our fire for some time, until the bugle sounded to cease firing.

We lay on the height for some time. Our drought was excessive; there was no water upon the height, save one small spring, which was rendered useless. One of our men, in the heat of the action, called out he would have a drink, let the world go as it would. He stooped to drink; a ball pierced his head; he fell with it in the well, which was discoloured by brains and blood.—Thirsty as we were, we could not taste it.'

As you can see, the day we visited was equally as sunny and clear, as it must have been when the Allied columns marched through to battle, and with folks enjoying a coffee in the town square and locals in the river clearing away bundles of weeds threatening to clog up the flow of water, life was going on as normal.

A ford over the River Zadorra close to the bridge makes this an ideal crossing point

The old medieval wall on the right and the bridge on the extreme left of picture

Arriving at the bridge and seeing the old road heading into the valley towards Vittoria and with the Heights of Puebla to the left dominating the vista, the plan of attack developed by Wellington on this, the southern flank of Joseph's combined armies, became very easy to envisage and the account of the 71st fighting their way to the top added to the impression.

It is easy to imagine the troops of Hill's column tramping through these streets and setting out across the bridge towards the heights seen in the picture beyond the bridge

The soldier of the 71st continued his account of the battle that raged on the heights above La Puebla de Arganzon;

'At this time the Major had the command, our second Colonel being wounded. There were not 300 of us on the height able to do duty, out of above 1000 who drew rations in the morning. The cries of the wounded were most heart-rending.

These narrow streets would have been choked with the infantry, guns and transport of Hill's 2nd Division as they prepared to cross the Zadorra

The French, on the opposite height, were getting under arms: we could give no assistance, as the enemy appeared to be six to one of us. Our orders were to maintain the height while there was a man of us. The word was given to shoulder arms. The French, at the same moment, got under arms. 

The view across the bridge at La Puebla de Arganzon towards Vittoria which, with the exception of the cars, must have looked very similar in June 1813. It was along the road that Von Alten led his cavalry brigade (14th Light Dragoons and 1st Hussars KGL) along the foot of the hills as he pushed on into the valley beyond

Looking south along the Zadorra with the Heights of Puebla in the distance over which the Allied troops under General Hill advanced to turn the southern flank of the French armies. Note the locals, mums, dads and kids clearing the weed clogging the weir.

The engagement began in the plains. The French were amazed, and soon put to the right about, through Vittoria. We followed, as quick as our weary limbs would carry us. Our legs were full of thorns, and our feet bruised upon the roots of the trees. Coming to a bean field at the bottom of the heights, immediately the column was broke, and every man filled his haversack.

We continued to advance until it was dark, and then encamped on a height above Vittoria.'

Looking north with the Zadorra meandering its way towards Villodas and Trespuentes, the crossing points for the Light Division

The view looking back towards La Puebla de Arganzon from the French side of the river

I think, looking back to our day's visit, La Puebla de Arganzon was the loveliest spot we visited, and writing this during the dark winter days of December in the UK, the sleepy streets and blue skies of July look glorious.

Point 2 -Villodas

Moving on from La Puebla de Arganzon, Carolyn and I headed for the next significant crossing point on the Zadorra, the old bridge at Villodas at the base of the 'hairpin' in the river before its course changes from north to northeast.

The advance by General Hill's column onto the Heights of Puebla was matched to the north of the Zadorra, as Joseph and Jourdan noted the arrival of General Picton's 3rd Division and General Graham's columns, halting to await the arrival of General Dalhousie's 7th Division. Incredibly it seems the French commanders decided that these troops halting to the north of their positions were simply a display designed to hold them from committing troops to battle in the south against Hill.

The veteran 95th Rifles would be to the fore as Wellington ordered the Light Division across the bridges at Villodas and Trespuentes

The delay extended on into the late morning with Wellington in position above the village of Villodas becoming increasingly frustrated at no sight of his flanking columns or the sound of the battle contesting the advance of Graham's columns north of the river and Vittoria.

It was not until about midday that the sound of cannon and musketry rolled down the valley to announce that Graham's columns had commenced their attack on Gamara Mayor and Durana, and with still no sign of any advance on his left flank by Dalhousie or Picton, Wellington decided to take advantage of some local intelligence gleaned from a Spanish peasant informing him that the bridge at Trespuentes had been left unguarded by the French.

The modern road bridge at Villodas runs alongside the old stone bridge used in 1813. As can be seen, the Zadorra is easily fordable at this time of summer.

The bridge at Villodas is just around the hairpin bend from Trespuentes bridge and this part of the river formed the front line between the Light Division and the French as Wellington observed the movement of his army in the early stages of the battle.

William Surtees of the 2/95th Rifles, part of Vandeleur's brigade (1/52nd & 2/95th) who would eventually cross here, once their comrades from the rest of the division had moved over Trespuentes, described this period when the bridge was crossed by Tiralleurs of the 9e Legere as they attempted to occupy Villodas and shoot at Wellington and his staff;

'Whilst this movement was executing, and the different divisions were getting into their several stations, we, who had arrived first, were allowed to pile our arms and sit down. His lordship, with a numerous staff, went down a little nearer to the river to reconnoitre the enemy's position. I wandered down with them, and got as near as I could in order to ascertain the opinion of the big-wigs as to the business about to take place. One staff-officer, after carefully examining the position of the enemy through his glass, gave it as his opinion, that we should scarcely be able to make any impression upon so numerous an army, and so very strongly posted; but this opinion must have been dictated, I think, by his rather desponding temperament, for I believe it was entirely singular.

The old bridge below Villodas described by Surtees of the 95th Rifles as the 'bridge at the village of Villoses'.

The enemy, however, did not fail to notice this movement of our General and his staff, and instantly detached a corps of voltigeurs, who, rushing down to the river, dashed across the bridge at the village of Villoses, and immediately took possession of a small woody height on our side of the river, from whence they opened a fire on his lordship and those that were with him. This of course could not be borne; and as my battalion was the leading battalion of the column and nearest at hand, we were ordered (with two companies of our 1st battalion, which stood next to us) to take our arms, and drive those fellows across the river again. Thus we had, I believe, the high honour of commencing the action on that memorable day. 

Looking towards the French side of the river over the old bridge at Villodas

We soon chased the voltigeurs from the woody height, down through the village, and over the bridge, where they took post and remained, we not having orders to pursue them any farther. We took possession of the village, and continued skirmishing with the enemy, a good many men falling on both sides, as the river was not more probably than thirty or forty yards wide, and a constant fire was kept up by both parties till the French were afterwards driven away by our divisions crossing lower down the river.'

Surtees latter point about the French withdrawing due to Allied troops crossing elsewhere was to become a common theme, carrying on on the other side of the river as turned flanks caused the French line to retire yet again until retirement would become a rout.

Point 4 - Kempt's Hill

Major General Sir James Kempt c 1820 commanded the first brigade of the Light
Division (1/43rd, 1/95th, 3/95th) that crossed the River Zadorra at Tres Puentes

We crossed the bridge at Villodas and worked our way along the river bank towards the bridge at Trespuentes, passing as we did the little hamlet of Iruna de Oca, perched on the forward slopes of a small hill situated in the bend of the river and occupied initially by General Sir James Kempt and his brigade and later by the commander of the Light Division and the rest of his troops, once they had got across the Zadorra via Trespuentes and Villodas bridges.

The crossing at about midday gave the Light Division's commanders an excellent view out over the plain in front of the hill of Arinez with the French lines arrayed before them and they waited in anticipation for the likely French counterattack that never developed as the French fell back in the face of a ferocious assault on their flank by General Picton's 3rd Division launched further along the river from Mendoza that unhinged their line and allowed the Light Division to advance in support of Picton's attack.

The conical hill at Arinez is immediately obvious set amid the plain stretching out from the forward slopes of Kempt's Hill 
I had in mind William Surtees description of this vista whilst gazing out on this, perhaps the best preserved part of the Vittoria battlefield on this side of the river.

'Pretty early in the morning of the 21st, we fell in and moved forward by the way the French rearguard before mentioned had taken, and after having passed the end of the mountain and descended into the valley on the other side, we saw evident proofs that the affair between our 4th division and the French, above alluded to, must have been pretty warm. 

We continued to advance on the road to Vittoria, till, on ascending a rising ground, the French army appeared in position immediately in front of us. It was a noble and animating sight, for they appeared as numerous almost as grashoppers, and were posted as nearly as I can recollect in the following order. 

A closer look at the hill at Arinez from the top of Kempt's Hill

Immediately before us ran the river Zadora, passing from our left and front to our right and rear. In the centre of an extensive plain rose a pretty lofty conical hill, from which extended to their left a sloping plain, through which the great road lay, and terminated by a long range of mountains, stretching from Puebla de Arlanzon, just above the river, to a considerable distance beyond Vittoria. 

The city was shut out of our view by the conical hill before mentioned, and was distant from it about four or five miles; to the right of this hill, along the bank of the river, it appeared broken, and not easily approachable. On the face of the conical hill, and to its very summit, it appeared as thickly set with troops as if they had been bees clustering together; it was also thickly studded with batteries and other field-works. 

The vista from Kempt's Hill at the ground over which the Light Division advanced against the forward French lines of Gazan's Army of the South deployed across this plain. in the distance can be seen the Heights of Puebla over which General Hill's column were already well established as the Light Division advanced

On the plain between that and the long range of mountains, the troops appeared to stand so thick that you might imagine you could walk on their heads. There did not appear any great force on the mountains to their left, and what they had to the right of the conical hill and towards Vittoria we could not discern, but it turned out they had a strong force there. There were several small villages in the plain and on the side of the mountains; the largest stood rather to the right of the plain, with a wood immediately behind it; this, I believe, is called Subijana de Alva. 

On the bank of the river also were three or four villages, most of them on our side, with a bridge at each village. The French army did not extend immediately to the river bank, but was placed at some little distance beyond it. The river was easily fordable.

A contemporary view of the battle in front of Vittoria

Our army began to arrive by divisions, and was posted as follows— General Hill with the 2d division, consisting of about 12,000 men, was on our extreme right, except about 3000 or 4000 Spaniards under General Morillo, who were still more to the right, and facing the long range of mountains before mentioned. 

In the centre was his lordship with the 3d, 4th, 7th, and light divisions, perhaps 25,000 strong, with the main force of artillery and cavalry. Sir Thomas Graham had been early detached to our left with the 1st and 5th divisions and some Portuguese, about 12,000 in all, to turn the enemy's right flank, and to try to cut him off from the great road leading from Vittoria to France, which ran in that direction.'

The little chapel marks the summit of the hill, and is obviously a popular picnic area if the benches and tables around it were a sign

Point 3 - Trespuentes

Following the river along its eastern bank we arrived at the bridge at Trespuentes, left unguarded by the French and drawn to Wellington's attention by a local peasant, who after guiding Kempt's brigade to it was one of the first killed by the French artillery that fired a salute to welcome the new arrivals in their front.

The old Roman bridge at Trespuentes, serene amid the summer green clad banks of the Zadorra. The Light Division crossed from right to left.

Captain John H Cooke of the 43rd Light Infantry left an account of the march made by him and his soldiers, part of Kempts brigade, to cross this bridge, later followed over by the 15th Hussars, depicted alongside it in the picture below, as the 43rd cross it behind them.

He also described the battle that developed in the early afternoon following the attack by Picton's division;

'At half-past eleven o'clock the Marquis of Wellington led the way by a hollow road, followed by the light division, which he placed unobserved amongst some trees, exactly opposite the enemy's right centre, and within two hundred yards of the bridge of Villoses (Villodas), which we understood was to be carried at the point of the bayonet. I felt anxious to obtain a view, and, leisurely walking between the trees, I found myself at the edge of the wood, and within a very short distance of the enemy's cannon, planted with lighted matches ready to apply to them. Had the attack begun here, the French never could have stood to their guns so near the thicket; or at least the riflemen would have annihilated them. 

The General-in-chief was now most anxiously looking out for the third and seventh divisions to make their appearance. We had remained some time in the wood, when a Spanish peasant told the Marquis of Wellington that the enemy had left one of the bridges across the Zadorra unprotected, and offered his services to lead us over it. Our right brigade instantly moved to its left by threes, at a rapid pace, along a very uneven and circuitous path, (which was concealed from the observation of the French by high rocks,) and reached the narrow bridge which crossed the river to Yruna. 

The Battle of Vitoria (1813). Spanish General Alava, with the British 15th Hussars Regiment, at Trespuentes bridge, Augusto Ferrer Dalmau

The 1st rifles led the way, and the whole brigade following, passed at a run, with firelocks and rifles ready cocked, and ascended a steep road of fifty yards, at the top of which was an old chapel, which we had no sooner cleared, than we observed a heavy column of French on the principal hill, and commanding a bird's-eye view of us. However, fortunately, a convex bank (Kempt's Hill) formed a sort of tête de pont, behind which the regiments formed at full speed, without any word of command. 

Two round shots came amongst us; the second severed the head from the body of our bold guide, the Spanish peasant. The soldiers were so well concealed, that the enemy ceased firing. Our post was most extraordinary, as we were at the elbow of the French position, and isolated from the rest of the army, within one hundred yards of the enemy's advance, and absolutely occupying part of their position on the left of the river, without any attempt being made by them to dislodge us; scarcely the sound of a shot, from any direction, struck on the ear, and we were in momentary expectation of being immolated; and, as I looked over the bank, I could see El Rey Joseph, surrounded by at least five thousand men, within eight hundred yards of us. The reason he did not attack is inexplicable, and, I think, cannot be accounted for by the most ingenious narrator.

The view of the bridge from the allied side of the river.

Gen. Sir James Kempt expressed much wonder at our critical position, and our not being molested, and sent his aide-de-camp at speed across the river for the 15th Hussars, who came forward singly, and at a gallop, up the steep path, and dismounted in rear of our centre. The French dragoons coolly, and at a very slow pace, came within fifty yards to examine, if possible, the strength of our force, when a few shots from the rifles induced them to decamp. 

I observed three bridges, within a quarter of a mile of each other, at the elbow of the enemy's position. We had crossed the centre one, while the other two, right and left, where still occupied by the French artillery; at the latter, the enemy had thrown up an earth entrenchment.

We continued in this awkward state of suspense for half an hour, when we observed the centre of the enemy drawing off by degrees towards Vittoria, and also the head of the third division rapidly debouching from some rocks on our left near the hamlet of Mendoza, when the battery at Tres Puentes opened upon them, which was answered by two guns from the horse artillery on the right of the river. Some companies of the rifle corps sprang from the ground, where they lay concealed, and darted forward, opening a galling fire on the left flank of the enemy's gunners, at great risk to themselves of being driven into the water, as the river ran on their immediate left, while the French cavalry hovered on their right; however, so well did this gallant band apply their loose balls, that the enemy limbered up their guns, and hastily retired; and the third division, at a run, crossed the bridge of Tres Puentes, cheering, but unopposed.

The enemy withdrew the artillery from the bridges in their centre at two o'clock, P. M., and were forming across the high road to Vittoria. The third division had no sooner closed up in contiguous columns, than General Picton led them forward in very handsome style, in column, by a flank movement, so as to place them exactly opposite the French centre. The fourth division directly after crossed the river by the bridge of Nanclara (Nanclares), and were hurrying forward to support the right flank of the third division; the seventh division also crossed the bridge of Tres Puentes, supported by the second brigade of the light division, and faced the small village of Marganta. 

Modern buildings obscure the view around the bend in the direction of the Villodas bridge

Our heavy horse and dragoons had deployed into line, on the other side of the river, so as to communicate with the rear of the second division, (in the event of their being driven back from the mountains,) or to support the centre of the army, in case of any disaster. They made a brilliant display of golden helmets and sparkling swords, glittering in the rays of the sun.

The view from Trespuentes bridge looking along the river towards the bridge at Mendoza crossed by Picton's 3rd Division

Three divisions being in motion, the centre and left supported by the light division and the hussar brigade, the battle began by a terrible discharge on the third division, while they were deploying into line. We closed up to them, behind a bank; when, with loud huzzas, they rushed from behind it, into the village of Ariyez (Arinez), with fixed bayonets, amidst flashing small arms and rolling artillery, and, after a bloody struggle, carried it. 

The view across the bridge towards Kempt's Hill in the plain beyond

The enemy's artillery was within two hundred yards of us, ploughing up the ground in our rear: fortunately, the bank nearly covered us, during the time it was necessary to remain inactive, to support the front attack, if needful.

The village of Trespuentes lies to the right and the the road to the bridge on the left indicated by the brown sign. 

A Portuguese regiment, attached to our brigade, had been detached for a short time, and rejoined in close column; but, just before they reached the cover, some round shot tore open their centre, and knocked over many men; and such was the alarm of a Portuguese officer, at the whizzing of balls and bursting of field shells, that he fell into an officer's arms, weeping bitterly. For ten minutes at this point, what with dust and smoke, it was impossible to distinguish any objects in front, save the shadows of the French artillerymen serving the guns, and the shouts of troops while forcing their way into the village. The smoke had no sooner cleared away, than we came on the bodies of many dead and gasping soldiers, stretched in the dust. The sharp fire of musketry and artillery in the centre, announced it to be the point of contest. 

The approach to the bridge from the French side of the Zadorra

The "advance" of the second division had been severely handled on the mountains to our right, but they were now getting on as speedily as the nature of the ground would admit, it being composed of deep ravines, and such natural obstacles, as almost to delay their progress unopposed.

Point 5 - Mendoza Bridge

Moving further east along the course of the River Zadorra led us to one of the most important crossing points during the battle in that, the initiative taken here by a certain irascible Welsh General, namely, Sit Thomas Picton, dramatically set forth the course of events that would see the bulk of Wellington's centre drive on into the plain before Vittoria and cause the French to keep on retreating past the city and away from the battlefield.

The bridge at Mendoza over which Picton's veteran 3rd 'Fighting' Division stormed on to the plain around Arinez taking the village at the point of the bayonet and driving all before them as they were joined by the rest of Wellington's centre

Oman described the situation as Picton, having arrived at the bridge early in the morning waited impatiently for orders to advance with his division;

'We have an interesting picture of him on that morning from eye-witnesses. He was a strange figure—suffering from inflammation of the eyes, he had put on not his cocked hat but a broadbrimmed and tall civilian top-hat—the same that may be seen to-day in the United Service Museum (National Army Museum as in my picture below from a visit earlier this year)

During the struggle on the right the centre was inactive. General Picton was impatient, he inquired of every aide-de-camp whether they had any orders for him. As the day wore on, and the fight waxed louder on the right, he became furious, and observed to the communicator of these particulars, 

' D—n it ! Lord Wellington must have forgotten us.' 

General Picton's topper as described by Oman and the one worn at Vittoria, now on display in the National Army Museum

It was near noon, and the men were getting discontented. Picton's blood was boiling, his stick was beating with rapid strokes upon the mane of his cob. He rode backward and forward looking in every direction for the arrival of an aide-de-camp, until at last one galloped up from Lord Wellington. He was looking for Lord Dalhousie—the 7th Division had not yet arrived, having to move over difficult ground. The aide-de-camp checked his horse and asked the general whether he had seen Lord Dalhousie. Picton was disappointed; he had expected that he might at least move now, and in a voice which did not gain softness from his feelings, answered in a sharp tone,

No, Sir: I have not seen his Lordship, but have you any orders for me.' 
' None,' replied the aide-decamp. Then, pray Sir, what are the orders that you do bring ? ' 
' Why,' answered the officer, ' that as soon as Lord D. shall commence an attack on that bridge,' pointing to the one on the left (Mendoza), the 4th and Light are to support him.' 

The fields between modern day Mendoza and the River Zadorra over which General Picton led the 'Fighting Third' towards the bridge

Picton could not understand the idea of any other division fighting in his front, and drawing himself up to his full height said to the astonished aide-de-camp, 

' You may tell Lord Wellington from me, Sir, that the 3rd Division, under my
command, shall in less than ten minutes attack that bridge and
carry it, and the 4th and Light may support if they choose.'

Mendoza's church peeking over the tree line as seen from the bridge over the Zadorra

Having thus expressed his intention, he turned from the aide-decamp and put himself at the head of his men, who were quickly in motion toward the bridge, encouraging them with the bland appellation of 

'Come on, ye rascals ! Come on, ye fighting villains.'

Ten minutes as the time required to plunge down from the hillside to a bridge two miles away seems a short estimate. But there is no doubt that the advance of the 3rd Division was fast and furious—an eye-witness describes it as shooting like a meteor across the front of the still-halted column-head of the 7th Division. 

The military purist may opine that Picton should have waited till he got formal orders via Lord Dalhousie to advance. But the moments were precious—Kempt was across the Zadorra close by, in an obviously dangerous state of isolation: the French in a few minutes might be sending infantry to block the bridge of Mendoza, which they had so strangely neglected. The 7th Division was short of two brigades, and not ready to attack. Wellington's orders were known, and the situation on the right was now such as to justify the permissible advance which they authorized.  Neither Wellington nor Dalhousie in their dispatches give any hint that Picton's action was disapproved—complete success justified it. 

Not exactly Chasseurs from Avy's Light Cavalry Brigade, but capturing the feel of the aggressive attack by Picton's men as they stormed across the Zadorra. Here the 87th Foot part of Colville's brigade, 3rd Division, engage French Dragoons at Vittoria - Brian Palmer.

Picton had directed Brisbane's brigade of the 3rd Division straight upon the bridge of Mendoza, Colville's upon a ford 300 yards farther up-stream. Both crossed safely and almost unopposed. The only French troops watching the stream here were Avy's weak brigade of cavalry—under 500 sabres—and their three horse-artillery guns commanding the bridge. But the latter hardly got into action, for on Picton's rapid approach becoming visible, General Kempt threw out some companies of the l/95th under Andrew Barnard, from his point of vantage on the knoll of Yruna, who opened such a biting fire upon the half battery that the officer in command limbered up and galloped off. 

Avy's chasseurs hovered about in an undecided way—but were not capable either of defending a bridge or of attacking a brigade in position upon a steep hill. Wherefore Picton got across with small loss, and formed his two British brigades on the south side of the river. Power's Portuguese rapidly followed Brisbane, as did a little later Grant's brigade of the 7th Division—Lord Dalhousie's other two brigades (as we have already noted) were not yet on the ground.

Arinez hill seen from the approaches to the Mendoza bridge

On seeing Picton safely established on the left bank Kempt advanced from his knoll, and formed on the right-rear of the 3rd Division. The trifling French detachment at the bridge of Villodas—only a voltigeur company—wisely absconded at full speed on seeing Kempt on the move. The passage there was left completely free for Vandeleur's brigade of the Light Division, who had long been waiting on the opposite steep bank.

The British were across the Zadorra in force, and the critical stage of the action was about to commence: the hour being between 2 and 3 in the afternoon.

Point 6 - Gamara Mayor

Having looked at the jump off points for the right and centre columns of Wellington's army, Carolyn and I headed over to the left flank on the extreme northern end of the River Zadorra above the city of Vittoria over which the soldiers of General Sir Thomas Graham attacked and closed the direct road leading to France, forcing Joseph's combined armies to look to the narrow Salvatierra road leading to Pamplona to make their escape along as the battle turned against them.

Oman wrote;

'When Jourdan and Joseph first arrayed their host for the expected battle, it would seem, from the line which they took up, that they imagined that Wellington would attack them only from the direction of the Bayas, and paid no attention to Graham's flanking movement, though afterwards they wrote dispatches to prove that they had not ignored it. 

For they drew up the Army of the South on a short front, from the exit of the defile of Puebla on the south to the bridge of Villodas on the north, a front of three miles, with D'Erlon's two divisions in second line on each side of the village of Gomecha, two miles farther back, and the Army of Portugal and the King's Guards as a third line in reserve about Zuazo, not far in front of Vittoria along with the bulk of the cavalry. This order of battle, as a glance at the map shows, presupposed a frontal attack from the line of the Bayas, where Wellington was known to be. It was ill-suited to face an attack from the north-west on the line of the Zadorra above Villodas, and still more so an attack from the due north by the roads from Orduna and Murguia.'

Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Graham

Oman continued with a description of the force commanded by Graham:

'Graham's column-head was at Olano, three miles in front of Murguia, and six from the Zadorra. He had in front Longa's Spanish infantry, with whom Anson's light dragoons were to join up when operations should begin. Behind were the 1st and 5th Divisions, Pack's and Bradford's Portuguese brigades, and Bock's heavy dragoons. The total force was about 20,000 men of all nations.'

He then continued with a description of Graham's orders and objectives;

'The orders issued to Graham gave him a rather perplexing choice of action. He was (like the 3rd and 7th Divisions) to guide himself by what was going on upon his right: he must get in touch at once with the centre columns; he might attack if it was obviously profitable to the main advance, but he was to avoid letting his whole corps be drawn into close action in front of Vittoria, for his main object must be to turn the enemy's position, by getting round its right wing and cutting the great road to France. 

The lack of precise direction in this order is, no doubt, a testimony to Wellington's confidence in Graham's judgement. But it cast a grave responsibility on him: if he had been told simply that he was to turn the French right and seize the great chaussee, matters would have been simple. But he is given leave to attack frontally if circumstances farther down the line seem to make such a policy desirable: yet he must not attack so heavily as to make his great turning movement impossible. 

It must be confessed that the difficult problem was not well solved that day by the gallant old general.'

The attack on Gamara Mayor by J.P Beadle, 1913.
The picture depicts, on the left, men and an officer of the 47th on foot, led by Captain Livesey of the 47th on horseback. In the centre Lieutenant Colonel Brooke, also on horseback, leads men of the 4th through the middle of the village. Near him is the Ensign with the 4th Regimental Colour. A Colour Sergeant bends down to retrieve the 4th King's Colour from the fallen Ensign. On the right, men of the 4th fight with French troops on the other side of the wall.

The troops facing Graham belonged to Reille's Army of Portugal and consisted of Sarrut's division and Curto's light cavalry brigade, positioned  near the village of Aranguiz, north of the River Zadorra, with support further back from Lamartiniere's division and Boyer's and Digeon's dragoon divisions.

When the French saw this large Allied contingent bearing down on them they wisely decided not to contest the advance that far north of the Zadorra and withdrew back to the villages Gammara Major, Minor and Abechuco on its northern bank to await events, with Graham advancing slowly, obeying his orders to conform his movements with those of Dalhousie and Picton to his right who were delayed in their advance, with Picton frustratingly sitting before Mendoza.

Once Graham had contacted the centre columns his attack began in earnest clearing Gamara Minor but coming up against determined resistance in Durana and Gamara Mayor, with Graham conscious of his orders not to draw to large a force against him, preventing any chance of cutting the French escape route via Durana, before the other Allied columns had unhinged the rest of the French defence further along the valley.

The fighting in Gamara Mayor was house to house, street to street as Major General Sir John Oswald's 5th Division fought the 118me and 119me Ligne to rest control of the bridge from around midday to five in the afternoon, only to have their attempts to cross the bridge stymied by massed French artillery that repulsed each attack with yet more casualties.

The church in Gamara Mayor as presented in Beadle's picture above depicting the attack by the soldiers of 5th Division, who fought to capture the town.

Sergeant James Hale, 1/9th Foot part of Hay's Brigade in the 5th Division described the fighting in Gamara Mayor;

'In a few minutes after our arrival on the hill, our division received orders to proceed to Gamara, a village about three miles to the left of Vittoria, at which village the enemy were very numerous, with a large column placed at the bridge, and also a quantity of riflemen placed along the river. 

We advanced to the village in open column of companies; the light companies formed the advance, about one hundred yards in front; and when we came near, the first thing that the enemy saluted us with was a few cannon shot, for they had guns placed in all directions; but as soon as we got within gun-shot distance, we advanced to the village in double quick time, and gave them a grand charge, by which we got full possession of the village in a few minutes, and the light companies were immediately extended along, very convenient to the river, just opposite their skirmishing party, with an order not to expose ourselves more than we could help, nor to advance one inch without an order: therefore we formed ourselves under cover of a bit of a bank that was about knee high, and in this position we continued skirmishing for more than two hours—the remaining part of the division kept possession of the village. - :

The enemy made several bold attacks to force the bridge, in order to regain the village, but were repulsed every time with great loss; it was a very narrow street that led to the bridge, which was a  great disadvantage to us, and their guns continued roaring tremendously; it was much in comparison to a continual thunder, for they never ceased throwing shot and shells into the village during the action, by which most of the houses were very much damaged.

The view into town with the bridge over the Zadorra in the extreme distance at the end of the road running past the church on the right.

It plainly appeared this day, that the enemy had formed a sort of determination not to be beat, for we never saw them, stand so vigorous before; but notwithstanding all that, between four and five o'clock in the afternoon, we gave them another grand charge at the bridge, in consequence of which there was great slaughter on both sides, but in a few minutes the enemy gave way, upon which we pushed on more vigorous, and got full possession of the bridge; and all of a sudden the whole French army retreated, leaving one hundred and eighty pieces of cannon, about four hundred ammunition waggons, the whole of their baggage, provisions, and cattle, together with three waggon-loads of money, and many carriages that belonged to their generals and other officers cf high rank, (several with their ladies and families in them); and among the crowd was Joseph Bonaparte's carriage and lady. The whole fell into our hands, and also many prisoners; but  however, we did not stand worshipping that, for we pursued the enemy about one league as close as possible, by which more prisoners were taken; but before our guns could pass over the bridge, some men were obliged to move the dead bodies, for they lay in heaps most melancholy to behold. 

Notwithstanding, our regiment got off rather favourably in this engagement, for I believe not more than one hundred were killed and wounded, but some other regiments suffered very much.'

When looking at Gamara Mayor and its church you have to imagine that main road and the streets around piled up with dead and wounded British and French infantry left in the wake of the column attacks made along the roads towards the bridges and the fighting within the houses along the route.

In the late afternoon of the 21st June events elsewhere would cause the defence to slacken as French soldiers thought more about escaping the battlefield and the British 5th Division would cross the bridge in hot pursuit of the rearguard falling back on the village of Zurbano as they attempted to protect the route to Pamplona for the rest of the French army to make good its escape.

Point 7 - Durana

Just a short drive along the Zadorra from Gamara Mayor is the town of Durana in which Spanish troops on both sides met and fought an equally bitter struggle, house to house, street to street as the Allied forces of General Francisco Longa sought to rest the bridge and cut the road to France that led to it.

Lieutenant General Franciso Longa

Contesting their advance were the Spanish troops of King Joseph under their general the Marques de Casapalacios.

Oman described the struggle to get control of this key objective for Graham's command;

'.... Longa took Gamarra Menor from the French battalion of the 3rd Line, and then, pushing on, came into collision at Durana bridge with his renegade compatriots the Franco-Spanish division of Casapalacios. 

As the great road to Bayonne actually passes through Durana, and was now under fire from Longa's skirmishers, it may be said to have been blocked for all practical purposes at this early stage of the battle. It was not till the afternoon, however, that Longa succeeded in storming the bridge and occupying the village, thus formally breaking the enemy's main line of communication with France—to save which King Joseph had risked his all. Apparently he was hampered by having no artillery, while the Franco-Spaniards had some four or five guns with them, bearing on the bridge.'

The key bridge over the Zadorra at Durana, captured by General Longa's Spanish troops as they pressed on into the town beyond to capture the road to Bayonne and the French border

General Francisco Longa and his rather French looking Spanish troops before the bridge at Durana. Looking like this it's no wonder that the officers of the 71st had a hard job recognising their Spanish allies from the enemy!

Oman continues his account of the battle to take Durana;

'There was an absolute deadlock at Gamarra Mayor till nearly five o'clock in the afternoon. At Durana things went otherwise: Longa, though hampered by his lack of guns, ended by pushing the Franco-Spanish brigade across the bridge, and then for some way down the south side of the Zadorra. 

The retreating party then made a stand behind a ravine and brook some half-mile farther on, where they were flanked by a brigade of Mermet's light cavalry, as well as by their own five squadrons, and supported by the French battalion of the 3rd Line which had been in their quarter of the field from the first. Longa was unable to push them farther—probably for fear of lending his flank to cavalry charges, and gained no further ground till the general retreat of the French army began. But he had effectively cut King Joseph's communication with France by seizing Durana—and this was the governing factor of the whole fight, since the enemy had now only the Pampeluna road by which he could retreat. 

If Joseph had owned some infantry reserves, he could (no doubt) have driven Longa away; but he had not a man to spare in any part of the field, and things were going so badly with the Army of the South that he had no attention to spare for the Army of Portugal.'

Point 8 - Zurbano

By 16.00 the French army in the valley before Vittoria had been driven back in some disorder and Joseph and his commanders sought desperately to stem the Allied advance and buy their troops some respite.

This stage of the battle would see the French amass a grand battery of seventy-six guns in their attempts to halt the allies only to see Wellington able to respond in kind, ordering Dickson, his artillery commander, to amass a similar battery of seventy-five guns; resulting in a massive artillery duel and neutralising the French attempt at stopping the advance of the Allied infantry columns, thus forcing the French retreat to continue.

By 1800 the French line was collapsing and General de Division, Count Reille commanding the Army of Portugal was forced back from the bank of the Zadorra in front of Graham's troops as he took on the role of rearguard to allow enough time for the escape of the broken Armies of the South and Centre along with the baggage train along the Salvatierra Road.

Retreat in the face of the enemy is always a difficult manoeuvre to pull off and when Reille fell back from the Zadorra, Oswald's 5th Division pursued along with Anson's and Bock's cavalry forcing Reille to counter with his supporting dragoon divisions.

Anson's Light Cavalry brigade (12th & 16th Light Dragoons) caught up with the French rearguard at Zurbano, encountering a mix of French infantry and cavalry looking to delay their advance in the fields before the village.

A trooper of the 16th Light Dragoons in their new look 'French style' uniform of 1813

Captain William Tomkinson of the 16th Light Dragoons left his account of their encountering these troops in the pursuit;

'The enemy collected in the wood a rear-guard of six squadrons and a regiment of infantry, with others scattered as light troops in all directions. With this force they occupied a plain about half a mile across, surrounded with wood and ending in a defile, thus keeping the head of the lane, along which we could alone get at them. 

The Spanish infantry got into a field of corn and down the lane, and on firing a few shots the enemy moved off, and we pushed on after them. My squadron was in advance, and on arriving on the plain formed immediately and advanced to the charge. All was confusion, all calling " go on " before the men had time to get in their places. We got half across before I was able to place them in any form, and had we been allowed one minute more in forming, our advance might have been quicker, and made with much more regularity.

In the fields around Zurbano, Anson's light cavalry caught up with the Army of Portugal as it fought a desperate rearguard against the Allied pursuit

The enemy had about six squadrons in line, with one a little in advance, consisting of their elite companies. This I charged, broke, and drove on their line, which advancing, I was obliged to retire, having had a good deal of sabring with those I charged and with their support. A squadron of the 12th was in my rear, and in the place of coming up on my flank, followed me, so that they only added to the confusion of retiring by mixing with my men. 

Captain Wrixon's squadron of the 16th then came to the charge. We were so mixed that I could not get my men out of his way, was-obliged to front and make a rally back, and the enemy, seeing the remainder of the brigade coming up, retired through the defile with their cavalry, leaving a square of grenadiers in its mouth.  

We came close upon them without perceiving they were there, and on our going about they fired a running volley, which did considerable execution, and then they made off through the defile. (We followed them about a mile, when, night coming on, the pursuit ceased, and we bivouacked on the ground we halted on.) I rode up within a yard of the enemy's infantry; they had their arms on the port, and were as steady as possible, not a man of them attempting to fire till we began to retire.  They certainly might have reached myself and many others with their bayonets had they been allowed. I never saw men more steady and exact to the word of command.

The outskirts of modern day Vittoria seen from the hot sun bleached fields around Zurbano

Point 9 - The Road to Salvatierra

From Zurbano we headed a short distance south to the Salvatierri Road to Pamplona, a modern busy through road heavy with traffic, not so dissimilar from what might have been seen in 1813 with less combustion and more horsepower.

The road here crosses wide open flatish countryside as it leaves the confines of Vittoria and approaches yet another series of hills jutting up on the horizon on the route to Pamplona.

The 15th Hussars at the charge - G. Rava

It was along this road that the bulk of the French troops tramped away from the battlefield of Vittoria, leaving behind them over one-hundred and fifty guns and some 8,000 men killed, wounded or captured which should have been much higher had the numerous British cavalry fulfilled the promise of their numbers and taken up the pursuit from the now tired and worn Allied infantry.

The Salvatierra Road looking back in the direction of Vittoria. In the fields, to the left, was where Joseph's train of wagons and the booty they contained, was captured and looted by British troops now having abandoned any thought of pursuing the shattered French army 

The Hussar Brigade under Major-General Sir Colquhoun Grant (10th, 15th & 18th Hussars) newly arrived from England and keen to pick up from where their predecessors had left off in 1809 at Sahagun and Benevente should have been at the forefront of the pursuit, and indeed it was their arrival among the rear of the retreating fugitives that sparked much of the chaos that followed.

The 15th Hussars were in the lead supporting the efforts of Graham's troops as they closed in on Zurbano, followed by the 10th, with one of their squadrons getting in among the baggage train and its drivers and narrowly missing the chance to capture Joseph as a trooper opened one door of his carriage only to see the king departing from the other door now astride a horse as he galloped off towards Pamplona.

The 15th Hussars catch up with the French baggage train.

Major Edwin Griffith of the 15th Hussars recorded events in his journal;

'The engagement became general towards two o'clock, and before five, Sir Thos. Graham having turned the enemy's right, they abandoned all their positions one after the other, and fled in confusion through and round the town of Vitoria.

The 15th having followed them across the meadows intersected with ditches round the left of the town, came up with and charged large bodies of both cavalry and infantry, killing and taking about a thousand prisoners, the remainder of the brigade having unfortunately been directed to go through Vitoria did not arrive in time to support the 15th who were consequently under the necessity of contenting themselves with victory and abandoning many of the prisoners taken.

The meadow in which Joseph's train was captured and looted. The 15th Hussars came via the fields in the distance as they skirted around Vittoria in pursuit.

Part of the 10th and 18th soon afterwards coming up we continued the pursuit and captured the whole of the baggage publick and private; the military chest, and most of King Joseph's treasures.

After following them up about a league on the road leading to Pamplona night came on and we got into a wood near a village happy enough to lay down and sleep off the fatigues of the day.

We had been full sixteen hours on horseback with little enough to eat or drink the whole time; the day had been extremely hot, the night became cold and wet, and yet none of us suffered from either.'

Grant and the hussar brigade would come under heavy criticism for their handling of the pursuit phase after Vittoria with the 18th Hussars getting a severe reprimand from the Commander in Chief for abandoning the pursuit to engage in looting the French baggage.

However it's hard to be totally unsympathetic towards common soldiers who stopped to plunder a convoy containing riches beyond their wildest dreams of fortune, and not surprisingly Wellington only managed to secure a paltry 275,000 francs from a military chest containing 5,500,000 francs.

The view from the road looking towards Zurbano and the River Zadorra

The Flight of King Joseph Bonaparte from Vittoria June 21st 1813 - B Granville Baker

Thus ended our holiday touring some of the key battle sites of the Peninsular War with a car drive to Santander and our ferry trip home on leaving the Pamplona road.

The battle of Vittoria seemed an appropriate battle to end on, seeing, as it did, the end of French aspirations to hold Spain as part of its now shrinking empire and the Napoleonic dream that would finally be snuffed out two years later on the field of Waterloo.

Upon hearing of Wellington's victory, the Austrians decided to take up arms once again on the 12th August 1813 and the following year the Allies would be in Paris.

The road, busy with traffic looking towards Pamplona via the hills in the background.

This holiday was a lifetime in the planning and fulfilled so many personal aspirations to walk in the footsteps of Wellington and his Peninsular Army.

I hope I have managed to show that it is not beyond the scope of any well informed and read Napoleonic enthusiast to do this kind of trip without having to join an organised guided tour and that there is much satisfaction to be gained in doing the thing yourself and let the veterans who were there on the day tell you what you are looking at and what they experienced.

If you can and want to do something similar, my advice would be to do it as soon as you can because as every year passes more and more of these incredible places face the threat of development; that has only increased with Spain and Portugal being in the EU and the funding and economic growth that has encouraged within those countries - not a bad thing for its citizens, but not so good for those of us wanting them to preserve these important historical sites.

Already many key places have been altered for ever or lost completely as my series of posts has shown and I am glad I have been able to see those that still survive and carry the memories of my visits recorded here on the blog which will inform my hobby of historical wargaming for games still to be played.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this series of posts with your comments and thoughts, it has been great fun to share the holiday with like minds and I have learnt so much from preparing these posts that it seems many have enjoyed reading.

Happy Xmas all


Sources consulted in this post:
Vittoria 1813 Osprey Campaign - Ian Fletcher
From Corunna to Waterloo, Letters And Journals of Two Napoleonic Hussars - Gareth Glover
Galloping at Everything - Ian Fletcher
A Soldier of the 71st - Anonymous
Twenty Five Years in the Rifle Brigade - William Surtees
Captain John H. Cooke of the 43rd
The Journal of James Hale - Sergeant 9th Foot
The Diary of a Cavalry Officer in the Peninsular War and Waterloo - William Tomkinson
History of the Peninsular War Vol VI - Sir Charles Oman
Inside Wellington's Peninsular Army - Rory Muir et al.


  1. Another fantastic post, informative and so nicely illustrated...Wonderful hollidays, for sure!

    1. Hi Phil
      Thank you, much appreciated, and yes a definitely a holiday to remember.

      Happy Xmas

  2. Your series of posts inform and inspire. Not just for now but also future days for gaming the battles and hopefully making my own tour. The picture of soldiers of the 71st in the post is also particularly interesting; where does this come from?

  3. Thank you, really glad you enjoyed the read and I hope you get the chance to do something similar.

    The picture of the 71st was one I had in my files and I don't know who to credit for the work, sorry.