Commentary Explorer Results
Commentary for Volume 1, Chapter 34 : Toulouse and the End of the War (January–April 1814)
Returning to Paris after his defeat at Leipzig Napoleon decided that it was time to cut himself loose from the Spanish quagmire; and it was now simple, for Joseph’s claims to the throne had disappeared at Vitoria, and he no longer had any allies who would be alarmed by an admission of weakness. The Spanish patriots wanted the French armies to leave, and so did Napoleon. They wanted King Ferdinand back, and Napoleon was happy for them to have him. That settled, there would be no quarrel between France and Spain; peace would be restored; and the British and Portuguese army would have to abandon its position. The British government might send their troops to Holland or Italy but it would take months before they were ready to fight and it seemed unlikely that the Portuguese would go with them. (Some of this is supposition based on events, but see Oman vol 7 p 297-300. There is a great need for a serious study of Napoleon’s grand strategy.)
On 17 November Napoleon’s emissary Count La Forest arrived at Valençay with proposals for Prince Ferdinand, who had been kept as a comfortable prisoner and exile there ever since 1808. Napoleon did not anticipate any opposition or trouble from Ferdinand whom he despised, and not without reason, for the exile had written him fawning letters full of obsequious praise and denouncing the activities of the Spanish resistance. (Oman vol 7 p 297-8). But if Ferdinand was a coward he was also cautious and well versed in court intrigues, so far from accepting la Forest’s proposals outright, he took his time squeezing as many ancillary advantages out of the negotiations as possible. The Treaty of Valençay was not signed until 11 December 1813 and it would not take effect until it was ratified by the Spanish government. Ferdinand remained at Valençay while the Duke of San Carlos was sent to Madrid (through Catalonia) with a copy of the Treaty – his journey was slow and he did not arrive until 4 January 1814. (Oman vol 7 p 300-305).
Wellington was quite alarmed at the news of the Treaty, especially as the Spanish commander in Catalonia, General Copons, had not informed him of San Carlos’s mission and was reported to have said that Napoleon had satisfied every reasonable demand Spain could make. (Wellington to Henry Wellesley 13 January 1814 WD VII p 261-2). He told Bathurst on 10 January: ‘I have long suspected that Buonaparte would adopt this expedient; and if he had had less pride, and more common sense, and could have carried his measure into execution as he ought to have done, it would have succeeded. I am not certain that it will not succeed now.’ Specifically he felt that Napoleon should have released Ferdinand and withdrawn his forces from Catalonia immediately, without waiting for the Treaty to be ratified, but even so ‘I cannot now guess what will be the decision of the Cortes.’ (Wellington to Bathurst 10 January 1814 WD VII p 252-4). He also suspected that many senior officers in the Spanish army near at hand, in the western Pyrenees, shared the views attributed to Copons, although they had remained prudently silent on the whole question. (Wellington Henry Wellesley 13 January 1814 WD VII p 261-2).
However the Cortes had no hesitation in rejecting the treaty, and public opinion warmly approved this resolute stand, partly because Napoleon had tried to save a little face by including provisions protecting afrancesados and providing a pension for Charles IV, measures which were intensely unpopular in Spain. San Carlos returned to France empty handed at the end of January and on 2 February the Cortes unanimously declared the Treaty invalid (Oman p 305-6; Esdaile The Peninsular War p 486-7). Wellington was delighted: ‘Nothing can be more satisfactory than the whole conduct of the Spanish government regarding the negotiations for peace,’ while his satisfaction was completed by the removal of the unco-operative Minister of War (Wellington to Henry Wellesley 26 January 1814 WD VII p 285-6). The one reservation he felt was when the liberale majority in the Cortes resolved that when Ferdinand returned he would be required to sign an oath of allegiance to the new constitution. This was a step too far for Wellington: ‘I don’t admire the policy or the delicacy of the mode of receiving the King … what is to be done if he will not swear to the Constitution on the frontier. Is he then to be sent back?’ Fortunately however, it was clear that if Ferdinand was released it would be through Catalonia and so Wellington would not be forced to handle the delicate issue himself (Wellington to Henry Wellesley 5 February 1814 WD VII p 304-5).
Anglo-Spanish Relations 1813-1814:
Charles Esdaile’s monograph The Duke of Wellington and the Command of the Spanish Army provides by far the best account of the troubled relationship, and in the end is highly critical of Wellington for his lack of tact and consideration in dealing with the Spanish government and generals (see especially p 164). There is certainly some truth in this – Wellington was as caustic in dealing with the Spanish authorities as with the government in London, and was far from diplomatic in some of his language. But this must be set against the extremely unco-operative attitude of the Spanish government, and particularly the minister of war, from the spring of 1813 onwards, in comparison to which Wellington was a model of tact. Beyond this, there is the crucial fact that while the squabbles between the allies fill their correspondence, an underlying sense of common purpose remained and survived all the friction of the war.
French strength in the Peninsula:
Clerc Campagne de Marechal Soult dans les Pyrenees p 382-5 gives the gross strength of Soult’s army as 109,000 on 1 November 1813 and 96,000 on 16 January 1814; Oman vol 7 p 310 gives net figures of 82,000 for 1 December 1813 and 60,000 for 20 January 1814. Oman vol 7 p 299 refers to Napoleon having 100,000 men in the Pyrenees, which is a good, rough approximation: more precise figures suggest a misleading sense of accuracy.
Napoleon withdraws troops from the Pyrenees, leaving Soult short of men:
Napoleon may have been misled by the quarrels between Britain and Spain, or he may simply have failed to appreciate the hatred towards France felt in Spain. Whatever the reason he was confident that his solution to the Spanish war would work and on 10 January he ordered Soult to send half his cavalry and Orleans at once, with 10,000 infantry to follow soon, and most of the rest of the army to march as soon as Wellington’s army had abandoned its positions. Soult reported that he could see no sign of the allies withdrawing, but he nonetheless dispatched 3,000 dragoons and 18 guns on 16 January, followed by two full divisions of infantry and their batteries on the 21st. With the casualties suffered at the Nive and the loss of his German, Italian and Spanish troops, Soult’s army was reduced by about one third, to barely 60,000 men including garrisons. As Wellington had some 67,000 British and Portuguese, and large Spanish reserves to draw upon as well, there could no longer be any pretence that Soult was fighting on even terms. Yet if anything it is surprising that Napoleon did not demand even larger drafts from Soult, for the critical point would be in north-eastern, not south-western, France, and his need for trained men was urgent. Naturally he made similar demands on Suchet’s small field force at the same time (Oman vol 7 p 308-12).
Beatson Crossing of the Gaves and the Battle of Orthez (p 202-5) quotes rather different figures and denies that Wellington had any great numerical superiority. In part this is because he focuses on the field army and much of Wellington’s superior strength was absorbed in the need to leave such a large force blockading Bayonne – nearly double the strength of the garrison. Oman wrote after Beatson and in this case is to be preferred. Certainly both Soult and Wellington behaved as if the allied army was much stronger than the French, whether the difference was merely that of quality or numbers as well.
While Wellington never approved of the pointless killing of outposts and sentries he saw problems in the outposts becoming too friendly: it both created a potential for a surprise attack and more particularly led to the leaking of news and military information. On 20 January 1814 he issued a General Order (WD VII p 277) reiterating an order of 1810 prohibiting unauthorized flags of truce and other casual contact between the armies. However there is no evidence that this had much effect. For Gleig’s story of the incident that provoked the crackdown (a variation on the two piquets drinking together) see The Subaltern (edited by Ian Robertson) p 120-1. Larpent noted on 18 February: ‘It is curious that even latterly, ever since we left our mountains, almost all our advanced troops – the advanced line – has been Portuguese; they not only stop our deserters, but go off very much less themselves.’ (Private Journal vol 2 p 303). Although the many stories of fraternization between British and French outposts throws some doubt on this.
Numbers of Sick:
The figures given come from the General Monthly Returns in WO17 and, as noted previously, they vary quite extensively from those in the ‘morning states’. The latter are certainly better for the fighting strength of the army on any given day, but because the monthly returns are a regular series, they are very good at showing trends and variations, and attention should concentrate on this rather than the absolute numbers of sick.
The Army in Quarters:
George L’Estrange records an incident from this time:
One day, strolling out with my gun on my shoulder, a gentleman in a blue frock-coat and round hat, was riding past, when he asked me if I could tell him where General Hill resided in the village. Though I have scarcely ever seen him before, I could not be mistaken in those marked features and eagle-eye. I said, “Oh, my lord, I shall be happy to show you!” I was Lord Wellington himself. I walked beside his horse and pointed out the house he inquired for, when he thanked me, and left me as proud as a peacock after having a conversation with our great commander. (Recollections of Sir George L’Estrange p 152).
Rothschilds and Wellington’s specie:
Kaplan’s monograph gives the best and the most detailed account of how, in response to Wellington’s complaints in November Herries proposed and the government agreed to employ Rothschild to purchase coin. The contract signed on 11 January 1814. There proved to be a shortage of French coin in Holland and Germany, and despite urgent efforts the agents fell just short of raising the full £600,000 but £450,000 was shipped from Holland in two shipments in March (Herbert H. Kaplan Nathan Meyer Rothschild and the Creation of a Dynasty: The Critical Years 1806-1816 p 81-89). This must have been invaluable in maintaining British credit and in facilitating the break up of the army and the final payment of the debts to the muleteers etc.
Lord Rothschild suggests that this was not the first time Herries had employed Rothschilds for such transactions (The Shadow of a Great Man p 22) but Richard Davis (The English Rothschilds p 30) points both to the lack of records and the fact that one reason that Herries employed Rothschild in 1814 was that no one would think they were acting for the British government as reasons to doubt any precedents.
Davis also concludes (The English Rothschilds p 30) that the large purchases of gold made by Rothschilds during the war, and smuggling of it between Britain and France, were private transactions that had nothing to do with supplying Wellington’s army. Corti The Rise of the Rothschilds p 135 has a story that Rothschild cashed Wellington’s bills for specie in London, smuggled it to Paris, then transferred the proceeds to ‘Spanish, Sicilian and Maltese bankers’ who supplied Wellington with money. But this makes no sense – why not just send the cash from London to Lisbon? More plausible is the idea of smuggling gold out of France in exchange for colonial goods and other contraband, but you didn’t need the Rothschilds for that!
The transactions of 1814 were useful in themselves, and important for the connections they established, but the – carefully encouraged – mystique of the Rothschild name, and the desire to tell a good story appear to have led to considerable exaggeration. (See also Niall Ferguson The House of Rothschild: Money’s Prophets 1798-1843 (Viking 1998) p 83-89).
News of the progress of the Allied armies encourages Wellington to advance, February 1814:
See Larpent Private Journal 2 February 1814 vol 2 p 279: ‘We have strong reports of commotions and internal dissatisfactions in France, and that Bonaparte is reduced to concentrate his army round Paris. If this be true, Lord Wellington must be mad about the roads.’ Against this on the following day Larpent comments on reports of an allied defeat at St Dizier near Chalons, ‘I fear it is not all to go as smooth as hitherto, unless a rising takes place.’ (4 February vol 2 p 283). Vivian reported that Wellington had taken a bet of four to one in dubloons that peace would be made by 21 February – Vivian Memoir p 194-5 see also p 192 on expectation of imminent peace in early February.
The Passage of the Adour:
Wellington arrived at St Jean de Luz late on the short winter afternoon of 19 February after a 30 mile ride from Garris. The weather was cold and wet with strong westerly winds blowing in from the Bay of Biscay. This was a serious problem, for the plan was to cross the Adour between the town of Bayonne and the sea, and to use 48 small coastal luggers, or chasse marées, rather than pontoons as the basis of the bridge. These boats had been collected (hired at considerable expense) and were now waiting in the harbor of St Jean de Luz, laden with cables, timber and other bridging materials. But they could not venture to leave the safety of their port so long as the gale blew, and even if they had done so, they could not pass the always dangerous bar of the Adour. Wellington waited throughout the 20th hoping that the wind would drop and discussing the operation with Admiral Penrose, who had been attached to his army to improve naval co-operation. On the 21st he reluctantly rode back to Garris leaving Sir John Hope in command of the left wing of the army and attempt to cross the Adour. He would have much preferred to be present when the operation was undertaken, but did not dare leave the field army so close to the French, for longer than three days (Larpent Private Journal 19, 20 February 1814 vol 2 p 308-9; Frazer Letters p 409).
The wind fell on the afternoon of 22 February and the fleet of small vessels put to sea. That night the First Division advanced up to the river at the place chosen for the crossing along with a handful of pontoons and small boats and some heavy artillery – a hard march through loose sandy soil. Dawn came, but, but there was no sign of the chasse marées. Hope had arranged for diversionary skirmishing all along the southern defences of Bayonne, and these proved effective at distracting French attention for the moment, but time was pressing and the operation would be made almost impossible if it had to be conducted under enemy fire. The British artillery and some of Congreve’s rockets damaged and drove upstream a French corvette and some gunboats, so the only obstacle to the crossing was the strong tidal current and the absence of the boats. Sir John Hope’s great personal courage was not combined with much patience, and about 11 o’clock he decided that he could wait no longer and would attempt the crossing with the few resources he had at hand. Five small boats, each carrying eight or ten men were launched and rowed to the north bank of the Adour. A hawser was passed across the river and secured and rafts made of several pontoons lashed together, used it to cross without too much difficulty. But these rafts could only carry about fifty men, and the river was wide, making the passage slow. About two o’clock the tide turned, the current grew stronger and the task of working the rafts became much more difficult. By late afternoon only five companies of Guards and two of the 5/60th were on the northern bank: a few hundred men, within three of miles of a fortress occupied by some 14,000 French infantry. Hope’s move had been extraordinarily bold (it would surely have been called ‘absurdly rash’ if it had failed), and the French had been remarkably slack and unobservant. The Governor of Bayonne, General Thouvenot, knew that something was happening downstream, but made little effort to find out what or to thwart it. Eventually two incomplete battalions were sent to investigate, but advancing in near darkness against an enemy of unknown strength, it is not surprising that they fell into a panic when they suddenly encountered heavy musketry fire and a well-aimed rocket. They fled back to the fortress and Thouvenot made no further attempt to interfere with the operation.
Hope’s luck continued, for the missing flotilla appeared off the mouth of the Adour early on the 24th and the weather held, although the surf was running high. Even so the first attempts at crossing the bar led to upset boats and drowned sailors, and although the channel was discovered, the flotilla had to wait until afternoon, and the best tide, before it entered the river. Meanwhile the hardworking rafts continued to carry handfuls of men across the river, so that by noon there were 3,000 men on the north bank and Hope could breathe a little more easily. Work on constructing the bridge began on 25 February and was completed the following day, while on the 27th allied troops closed in on Bayonne from the north completing its investment. Wellington ordered that plans be made for a formal siege, but did not commit himself to the operation. (Oman vol 7 p 330-340, 381; Burnham ‘British Bridging Operations’ p 246-262 in Inside Wellington’s Peninsular Army; Frazer Letters p 411-417; Larpent Private Journal vol 2 24 February 1814 p 7-13; Hope’s reports to Wellington from 23-25 February 1814 in WSD vol 8 p 589-9).
According to Bob Burnham ‘British Bridging Operations’ p 248 Wellington gave the job to Elphinstone, but Sturgeon had the idea for using cables and Tod was put in charge. It is odd that there should be such overlap between the Royal Staff Corps and the Engineers, two bodies that did not normally co-operate. It is also odd that Wellington gives credit to neither in his official dispatch (to Bathurst 1 March 1814 WD VII p 336-41) mentioning only the naval and transport officers, although this probably is a reflection of the same omission in Hope’s letter of 3pm 25 February (WSD vol 8 p 593-4). Hope corrected it in his next letter (8pm 25 February WSD vol 8 p 594-5) but probably this did not reach Wellington before he wrote his dispatch. Hope wrote:
in justice to those who have hitherto had charge of that branch of it [the operation] which respects the passage of the river, I am bound to mention to your Lordship Lieutenant-Colonel Elphinstone for the arrangements he made, and Lieutenant-Colonels Burgoyne and Sturgeon, and the officers employed under them, for the zeal with which they executed his order.’ (WSD vol 8 p 594-5).
So Elphinstone was in charge, with Sturgeon acting under him, even though Ron McGuigan informs me that Sturgeon’s army rank was superior to Elphinstone’s (e-mail of 10 June 2007).
Incidentally Hope’s letters – especially that of 5pm 23 February, and also 25 February WSD vol 8 p 589-90 and 592-3 – confirm that he did feel that he was taking a risk ordering the crossing to go ahead without the fleet, and that it proved more difficult than expected.
How wide was the river? 250m according to Burnham.
John Rous describes the initial crossing as ‘perhaps the most rash act ever attempted by any general, passing over in boats where they had not means to pass more than 1,200 men in 24 hours, with a hostile force of 10,000 men within a mile.’ (Guards Officer in the Peninsula p 117 letter of 24 April 1814).
Allied Supply Lines:
Pasajes was still the principal supply of the allied army in 1814 although some cargoes were carried from there to St Jean de Luz by coastal vessels: Beatson Crossing of the Gaves p 73-76, 78.
Wellington originally hoped that the Adour might be used, but the entrance proved too difficult, and this probably lessened his desire to capture Bayonne (Oman vol 7 p 340).
Oman (vol 7 p 381) makes the point that supplies now crossed the Adour by the bridge of boats and then joined the army by the much better roads on the north bank.
In letters to Sir John Hope and C. Dalrymple, the Commissary General of 26 February 1814 (WD VII p 333) Wellington suggested moving supplies up to Adour by water (from upstream of Bayonne, of course, and starting from the north bank). But it is not clear if anything came of the idea.
How large was the allied Force blockading Bayonne?:
Oman does not seem to give a precise figure but (vol 7 p 381) talks of almost 20,000 good Anglo-Portuguese troops, and needing to leave 30,000 Spanish troops there if he withdrew all the British and Portuguese. That is a surprisingly large figure, but Hope had the First and Fifth Divisions, Aylmer’s independent British brigade, Portuguese brigades of Bradford and Campbell; a cavalry brigade (at least at first) and artillery train, engineers, sappers etc. Which amounted to at least 18,000 all ranks plus a strong force of Spaniards (at least Freyre’s two divisions – 7 or 8,000 men initially). So about 25,000 men at a guess. And given that his front was split into three by the Adour and the Nive, and that the garrison was 14,000 men, he could not have safely blockaded it with fewer.
Wellington’s brush with the French before Orthez:
Larpent gives the best account:
Reports say Lord Wellington had a narrow escape with his staff, whilst reconnoitreing on the right in the late move. He is said to have been going up a hill when a French cavalry regiment was coming up the other side. The engineer officer was going round, and he saw the regiment and galloped back to give information, but before he could reach Lord Wellington they were just close to the top of the hill, and Colonel Gordon, who was in the advance, saw some of the French videttes close; he gave the alarm, and they all had a gallop for it, pursued by some of the dragoons. (Larpent Private Journal 22 February 1814 vol 3 p 4)
Such incidents cannot have been uncommon, although Gleig (Life of Wellington Everyman edition p 204) makes much of this one.
Did Wellington expect a battle on the 27th?
Fortescue (p 506n) has a long note disputing Napier’s view that Wellington did not expect to fight but protests rather too much. Wellington was not taken by surprise that the French stood and fought, but thought it less probable than that they would retreat. Beresford indeed goes further, writing privately on 2 March: ‘I confess that tho’ I knew on the night of the 26th that the Enemy had assembled his whole force at the places mentioned I had not an idea on going out in the morning that we should have a battle, and could scarcely believe it when it had actually commenced.’ (Beresford to Lady Anne Beresford 2 March 1814 Biblioteca de Artes, Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Beresford Papers BC 919 p 60-61). But then, Beresford was not Wellington.
The Battle of Orthez, 27 February 1814:
It is said that Wellington hoped to attack Soult late on the 26th, but that the troops, delayed by poor roads, were not in position in time, and that he deferred it until the following morning although it seemed likely that the French would retreat in the night (Beatson Wellington: the Crossing of the Gaves and the Battle of Orthez p 190-191). But Soult held his ground while re-deploying part of his army to face west: it was a strong position, a curving range of hills rising some 300 feet above the river. The northern part of the line around the village of St Boes were also the most westerly – it then ran east for a mile before swinging south again and ending at the town of Orthez. The obvious tactic would have been to turn the French line to the north of St Boes but the country made this extremely difficult. There was no hope of turning the other flank by forcing the town bridge at Orthez, but Hill had discovered some difficult fords a little to the east of the town, and once the French attention was fixed by fighting to the west, he would attempt to cross and get into their rear. Beresford’s initial attack would have to be directed at the steep hillside around St Boes while the Third and Sixth Divisions, which crossed the river early on the 27th, would threaten the centre. The Light Division, which had crossed at the same time, would be held in reserve, under cover near the old Roman camp south-west of St Boes where Wellington took up his station. Altogether the allied army was some 7,000 men stronger than the French though the nature of the terrain and the division of the army, with Hill still south of the river, went a long way towards off-setting the numerical difference. (Oman vol 7 p 357, 551-2 cf Fortescue p 507 who makes Wellington’s army weaker than Soult’s by some four thousand men and much lower than Oman’s figure, but gives no breakdown or explanation whereas Oman’s appendix gives a detailed calculation). But few observers, or soldiers in the allied army at least, would have imagined that the result would ever be in doubt given the complete psychological ascendancy which Wellington’s army had established by its victories in 1813.
The morning of 27 February 1814 was cold and clear. The battle began about 8:30 when Ross’s brigade (1/7th, 1/20th, 1/23rd) of the Fourth Division advanced against St Boes. They took the church, which stood a little apart to the west of the village, and then the village itself but were then checked. Beyond the village was a neck of high ground connecting it to the heights beyond but the French had placed several batteries to sweep the neck with converging fire. Cole brought up his own divisional battery to counter the French artillery but its commander, Captain Frederick Sympher, KGL, was killed almost immediately and his demoralized men were soon overpowered and took shelter. Cole then sought to renew the attack with the support of his Portuguese brigade, but although the men initially advanced with confidence they soon faltered under the heavy fire and fell back to the cover of the village. The French infantry attempted to exploit their advantage but were held at bay, and a desultory skirmish resulted.
Wellington reconsidered his plan and ordered a general attack by the centre and left of the army, with the Third and Sixth Divisions attacking in the centre and the Seventh taking the place of the Fourth Division on the left. Captain James Oates of the 88th, in Brisbane’s brigade of the Third Division, described his experiences:
The 88th were marched up a narrow road in sections of threes right in front, my company (Gr[enadier]s) of course were the first formed after leaving the road and had to sustain a heavy fire while the remainder of the regt. were forming on my left – I perceived a dense column of the enemy returning in disorder in a hollow close on my right and wishing to bring the whole fire of my company upon this column where every shot could tell, but from the rapid firing of musketry and artillery I could not stop them, upon which I went in front of my com[pany] as the only effectual way of closing it and was directing their fire in the way I wished when I received a severe wound through my right thigh, however I had the satisfaction of seeing before I was carried to the rear that the fire of my company was taking full effect as I wished – I threw my sword as far as I was able in front as the enemy was at this time very close to us and desired the men never to see my face again without they bro[ugh]t me back my sword – it is unnecessary to say that I received it, it was delivered to me the same day by Serjt Brazil who was severely wounded himself about two minutes after me. (Uffindell National Army Museum Book p 253).
The Close of the Battle of Orthez and the French retreat:
Soult formed a new line about a mile northeast of Orthez and might well have checked the allied advance and ensured an orderly retreat if not for the unexpected appearance of Hill’s column, led by Fane’s cavalry and the Second Division, beyond his flank and threatening to get into his rear. There was no alternative to an immediate retreat. A French account captures the moment: ‘Before reaching the high road the troops, obliged to use narrow muddy by-paths, or to strike across country, with all arms mixed up, and the enemy’s guns thundering in their rear, experienced a crisis of disorder. The confusion was augmented when it became known that Hill’s corps was pressing up the high road. The moment was critical, the hurry grew more urgent, and the army experienced a long period of disunion and disorder which nothing could prevent.’ (Lapène quoted in Oman vol 7 p 370). Fortunately for the French, the country was too cut up and broken for the British cavalry to take full advantage of their disorder, while in general the allied pursuit was lacklustre.
Comments on the Battle of Orthez:
‘I never saw the French fight so hard as this day’ (Harry Smith Autobiography p 163).
‘On the 27th we fought a hard battle near Orthez after having passed the Gave, and gained a great Victory over the Enemy whose loss cannot have been less than 8,000 men.’ (Alexander Gordon to Lady Alicia Gordon 3 March 1814 At Wellington’s Right Hand p 397-8).
‘The French occupied very strong positions and I have not seen them fight so well for these two or three years, but they were most completely beat & their loss is very great, and the consequence will be nearly fatal to that army, as vast part of it will desert & which they are now doing in great numbers.’ (Beresford to Lady Anne Beresford 2 March 1814 Beresford Letters p 60-61).
‘The enemy behaved much better than I have seen them do for a great length of time, which was the less expected as we have been so much accustomed to drive them before us.’ (Cole to Lady Grantham 3 March 1814 Memoirs of Cole p 104-5).
And from home: ‘The Action of Orthes appears to have been hardly contested, and I think there have been few occasions where in the superior resources of Lord Wellington’s military acquirement have been more happily and promptly exerted. If it were permitted an humble Individual like myself to comment, I should express a regret that the Cavalry had not been brought forward to take advantage of the avowed confusion which attended the Enemy’s Retreat. If the whole Cavalry force had been applied upon this occasion, I think the total destruction of the French Army was inevitable. I hope you will forgive an ignoramus at His desk for venturing upon this observation.’ (Torrens to Colin Campbell ‘Private’ 31 March 1814 W03/607 p 52-55).
Wellington’s wound at Orthez:
Accounts of the nature of the wound vary: Picton wrote home on 4 March that ‘The Marquis was wounded in the thigh on the 27th. It was rather a spent Ball and only penetrated about an inch, which he treated very lightly. It has, however, confined him with considerable pain, and must go through [the] usual process of suppuration, &c. We cannot afford to lose such a Man at such a time.’ (Picton to Flanagan 4 March 1814 ‘Unpublished Letters’ part 2 p 23). This is an interesting tribute given Picton’s often difficult relations with Wellington, but the evidence of Gordon and Larpent, who were well placed to judge, indicates that Picton rather exaggerated the severity of the wound.
Blakiston’s account was written long after the event but is worth quoting here:
While we were amusing ourselves with conjectures of what was next to be done, Lord Wellington came from the village at St Boes, walking his horse quietly, and chatting with some of the staff, just as if nothing of consequence was going on, although it was clear that his principal attack was partially repulsed. On coming up to our division he ordered our left brigade to follow him, and very deliberately formed into line, along the valley, thus connecting the attacks on the right and left. In effecting this, he received a wound from a spent shot in the leg, which, though it did not prevent his continuing on horseback, confined him for several days afterwards. (Twelve Years Military Adventure vol 2 p 329-330).
This is at least more plausible than the version in Combermere: ‘It was at this battle that Wellington was wounded by a spent bullet on the thigh. As he was stretched on the ground for a few minutes to recover, the bystanders, ignorant at first of the slight nature of his wound, broke out unanimously with the despairing remark, “Good God! who is to get the army out of the country?” (Combermere Memoir vol 1 p 308).
George Head recalled, ‘During this affair the Duke of Wellington was struck by a grapeshot. I saw him the next day ride slowly along accompanied by General Alava. He looked jaded and placed his hand often on his hip, as if in pain.’ (Memoirs of an Assistant Commissary p 339).
Samuel Rogers’ Tabletalk includes the following, purportedly from Wellington: ‘The elastic woven corslet would answer well over the cuirass. It saved me, I think, at Orthez; where I was hit on the hip. I was never struck but on that occasion, and there I was not wounded. I was on horseback again the same day.’ (p 237-8).
Reaction to Wellington’s wound:
Lady Wellington wrote to John Malcolm: ‘His contusion was, thank God, nothing of consequence, though more than enough to electrify me. I have always seen him in my mind protected by a transparent, impenetrable, adamantine Shield, and settled that he could not be even touched; so precious a life, so invaluable – surely the almighty hand of God will protect him.’ (quoted in Wilson A Soldier’s Life p 155). Maria Edgeworth to Mrs Ruxton, Dublin, March 1814 (The Life and Letters of Maria Edgeworth edited by Augustus Hare 2 vols (London Edward Arnold 1894) vol 1 p 222). ‘A buckle of Lord Wellington’s sword belt saved him: he wrote four times in one week to Lady Wellington, without even mentioning his wound.’ Presumably the frequency of the letters was unusual, and intended to reassure, though the silence on a subject which could not have been kept secret, surely reflects a lack of confidence not consideration, and must have been mortifying.
News of the battle reached London on Sunday 20 March and was reported in The Times of the following day without mention of Wellington’s wound. A paragraph on this appeared on 22 March:
In the course of the battle of Orthes on the 28th ult Lord Wellington, whilst in conversation with his Spanish Aide-de-Camp, was struck on the side by a musket ball. His Lordship said “I am hit,” and in fact the contusion was so violent, as to produce a momentary sickness; but fortunately the sword belt prevented the ball from entering his body. As soon as his side had been examined, and it was found that the skin was barely perforated, his Lordship remounted his horse, and appeared to think no more of the accident. He has, however, since been obliged, to use the assistance of a stick in walking; in all other respects he is well, and his spirits are excellent.’ (The Times 22 March 1814).
On the following day The Times was full of the events at Bordeaux and there seems to have been no further mention of the wound.
The attitude of the French population:
Larpent noted some hundreds of recent conscripts attended high mass with the Duc d’Angoulême – notable for their short cropped hair (St Sever 6 March 1814 Private Journal vol 3 p 41). He also tells a story which helps explain the French attitude: he stayed at Peyrehoarde in early March:
My host was perfectly civil, and gave me a very good apartment and an excellent dinner – some roast beef à lé Anglaise all red with gravy, a duck, and a fowl. The whole family dined with us, wife, mother, and two daughters. The eldest son, who had been intended for an attorney, had been taken as a conscript, and was wounded at Leipsic – since that time they had not heard of him; I comforted them by suggesting that he must have been left at Mayence. The next son was sixteen, and at school at St Sever; next year it became his turn to take his chance as a conscript. And you may well conceive that we were considered as welcome guests – independently of the expectation of having coffee and sugar cheap for grandmamma, and English linens, muslins, &c, for the two ugly misses. (Larpent 5 March 1814 vol 3 p 32-33).
Wellington’s anger at the misbehaviour of some of his soldiers:
Despite Wellington’s best efforts the behaviour of the allied troops was far from perfect and it was at just this time (8 March) that he wrote one of his most scathing indictments of the misconduct of his men and the neglect of his regimental officers which permitted it to occur:
there is no crime recorded in the Newgate Calendar that is not committed by these soldiers, who quit their ranks in search of plunder; and if the Staff Corps [Military Police] were three times as numerous and active as they are, they would not be sufficient either to prevent the mischief or detect those guilty of it.
I have no hesitation in attributing the evil to the utter incapacity of some officers at the head of regiments to perform the duties of their situation, and the apathy and unwillingness of others; to the promotion of officers in regiments by regular notation, thus holding forth no reward to merit or exertion, and leaving all in a state of equal indifference and apathy whether their superiors have, or not, reason to be displeased with them; and to the difficulty, if not impossibility, of punishing any officer for neglect of duty, when he is to be tried by others, each and all of whom have been guilty of the same, if not of greater neglects. (Wellington to Torrens 8 March WP 1/406 printed in WSD vol 8 p 626-8 with some names deleted).
Larpent gives a nicely balanced assessment of the issue:
In general, also, we have behaved well. There are, however, many instances to the contrary; and many more, I am sorry to say, amongst the Portuguese. When the Spaniards come, I am much afraid things will be much worse. The mischief done by, and injury arising from, the passing of the very best disciplined army is considerable. The people feel that, and are ready, in general, to submit to much, especially as the French army has been so much worse than ours, and does not pay for anything, whilst, on the other hand, we enable many to make almost little fortunes against quiet times; and Lord Wellington begins upon a plan, which I only hope he will have funds to continue, of paying for all damage done when well made out. Indeed, some most exaggerated and unreasonable demands have been made to him inconsequence. Guineas are already spread all over this province, and pass most readily.
I am at an apothecary’s here, who was, I am sorry to say, robbed by our men just after the attack. General Hill offered to send him the money, nearly £15 and a watch, but he declined taking it. (Larpent 11 March 1814 Private Journal vol 3 p 45-46).
Harry Smith also has a relevant anecdote. On the night after Orthez he and Barnard slept and dined at an inn and were well treated by the host, a veteran of Napoleon’s Italian campaigns who knew what they would want, but who was astonished when, on leaving in the morning, Barnard paid for everything! (Autobiography p 165-66)
Wellington orders the cavalry and Spanish troops forward:
This was not a result of the French resistance at Orthez, for Wellington gave the orders the day before the battle, 26 February 1814 (WD VII p 333, 334 incl to Commissary General).
Portuguese troops break at Aire, 2 March 1814:
Wellington occupied St Sever on 1 March and pushed Beresford forward to Mont de Marsan, ten miles to the north, where he captured a large stockpile of supplies. Hill marched east on the south bank of the Adour, while the Third and Sixth Divisions kept pace on the north bank. They encountered the French at Aire on 2 March and a sharp combat resulted, which was notable for the flight of Da Costa’s brigade of the Portuguese division. As the Portuguese infantry had long been almost as reliable as the British this took everyone by surprise, and it was concluded that the fault lay with Da Costa who was sent home and dismissed in disgrace. The damage was soon put right, although Hill described the fight as ‘the most critical I had ever to do with’ which is doubly surprising coming from such a quietly spoken man only three months after the Battle of St Pierre. Soult retreated towards Tarbes and was not pursued; the weather was very bad. (Hill’s letter of 13 March 1814 in Sidney Life of Hill p 279-80; Oman vol 7 p 386).
It was, presumably, this incident that Wellington had in mind when he warned Bathurst in May 1815:
You must be aware of one thing, however; and that is, not to rely upon my friends the Portuguese, unless they have British troops with them to give them confidence and set them the example. Even in our last affairs with the French, the Portuguese division which was with Hill behaved remarkably ill; and it was always my opinion, as well as Hill’s, and I believe Beresford’s, that it was too large a body of Portuguese troops together’. (Wellington to Bathurst 5 May 1815 WD VIII p 62-63).
The Bourbons and Wellington in 1813:
Wellington’s first contact with the Bourbons had been in the July 1813 when in the wake of Vitoria the Duc de Berri had written claiming to have 20,000 men organized and ready to support an allied invasion of southern France. It was not a claim that inspired much confidence in the realism of the exiled princes. (Duc de Berri to Wellington 14 July 1813 WSD vol 8 p 76).
Overtures from Royalists in France to Wellington in December 1813:
In the middle of December 1813 a M. de Mailhos came to Wellington’s headquarters from the interior of France with much talk of the readiness of the country to rise in favour of the Bourbons, and a plea for one of the princes to join the army. Wellington let him meet the Comte de Grammont, who was serving as a captain in the 10th Hussars, and sent Grammont back to England with Mailhos’s message. However he insisted that Grammont keep his mission secret and warned him that the allies were likely to make peace with Napoleon which would leave the royalists in France exposed to retribution. Any action they took was their choice and responsibility: Britain made no commitment to them. He hoped that by the time Grammont reached London its chances of a negotiated settlement would have become much clearer. (Memorandum for the Comte de Grammont 20 December 1813 WD VII p 212-13; Wellington to Bathurst 22 December 1813 WD VII p 216-17).
Royalist sentiment in French Population:
Beresford wrote home on 2 March:
It is not easy to describe the good will we are everywhere received with, and the efforts of the inhabitants to be useful to us even against their own army. No one has ever exaggerated the detestation in which Bonaparte & his Government are held by the people of every description save some of the principal Functionaries, Civil and Military, but he is held in equal fear. The people are now in a state of the greatest perplexity, having the will & opportunity to throw off the yoke, and at the same time a Congress sitting that may deliver them up to Bonaparte’s vengeance in case they take any part against him. Had the Bourbons been proclaimed the war would have been over immediately.’ (Beresford to Lady Anne Beresford 2 March 1814 Biblioteca de Artes, Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Beresford Papers BC 919 p 60-62).
Senators and Generals were sent by the Emperor to raise the Loi du Mass and irritate the people of the country against us, but they completely failed, as we are every where received in the most friendly and Hospitable manner, and the utmost detestation is everywhere expressed to the government and Person of Napoleon. If the Allies would proclaim or even offer them one of their old masters, he would be received by the Army in general as well as the public, but with the best disposition everyone is afraid to take the lead and commit himself without a certainty of support.’ (Picton to Flanagan 4 March 1814 Picton ‘Unpublished Letters’ Pt 2 p 22; see also William Freer to John Freer 23 February 1814 Freer Family Letters from the Peninsula p 74).
But Larpent was not so sure: ‘The Bourbons are almost forgotten, and few, even of the better sort of people, know who the Duc d’Angoulême is. All want peace, and therefore wished him well.’ (5 March 1814 Private Journal vol 3 p 35; see also 29 January 1814 vol 2 p 271). Arthur Kennedy of 18 Hussars wrote, ‘The people here all seem anxious for the fall of Bonaparte although not particularly anxious for the restoration of the old Family. I believe if Lord Wellington declared himself King he would be as well received …’ (Hunt Charging Against Napoleon p 191).
The Duc d’Angoulême:
Larpent wrote on 10 February, a few days after Angoulême’s arrival:
I do not think much of the little Duke; his figure and manners are by no means imposing, and I think his talents are not very great. He seems affable and good-tempered; and though not seemingly a being to make a kingdom for himself, he may do very well to govern one when well established. Lord Wellington was in his manner droll towards them. As they went out, we drew up on each side, and Lord Wellington put them first; they bowed and scraped right and left so oddly, and so actively, that he followed with a face much nearer a grin than a smile.’ (Private Journal vol 2 p 288).
Reactions to the Bordeaux’s declaration:
Edward Cooke wrote to Castlereagh from London on 22 March:
The capture of Bordeaux, and the manner of it, and the raising of the Bourbon standard, has made a great sensation here today, and, of course, obliged the Government to make a new communication to your lordship. Should preliminaries have been signed before this news reaches you, the disappointment of the public will be great. If they should not, after knowing the proceedings at Bordeaux, you shall authorize the signature, I fear the case must be of extreme urgency to make it in any degree supportable here.
Your Lordship sees that Wellington’s letter is now of a very decided cast, and he feels strongly and decidedly as to the policy. (Castlereagh Correspondence vol 9 p 382-3).
See also a warm letter from Palmerston to Temple 23 March 1814 Palmerston Papers GC/TE/138 and The Times 23 March 1814.
Significance of news of Bordeaux:
On 10 March, just two days before the declaration of Bordeaux, Nesselrode, the Russian Foreign minister, had written, ‘I fear there is no more hope for the poor royalists. I don’t find any real party favouring them, and we would only be plunging ourselves into an endless war by espousing the Bourbon cause.’ (quoted in Sauvigny The Bourbon Restoration p 23). Without the news of Bourdeaux it would have been very much harder to overcome this reluctance.
The Failure of Attempts to Bridge the Garonne:
A second attempt was made two nights later, on 30 March, at Pinsaguel, a few miles upstream beyond the junction of the Ariège river. The bridge was successfully laid and Hill’s divisions crossed without difficulty, only to find that they were unable to cross the Ariège: the nearest bridges were miles away, and even if the crossing was secured there was said to be no suitable road by which the army could approach Toulouse. This was mortifying, the more so as Wellington knew that Toulouse was relatively open from the south but had formidable natural and man-made defences facing north. He had hoped that if the initial crossing had succeeded Soult would have withdrawn from the city without a fight and that the triumph of Bourdeaux would be repeated, but each passing day made that less likely. (Wellington to Sir J Hope 26 March 1814 WD VII p 396-7).
This may be a bit unfair to the Engineers for Wellington had noted on 26 March: ‘We have had a good deal of rain, and I fear the Garonne is too full and large for our bridge; if not we shall be in that town, I hope, immediately. Hill is on the great road from St Gaudens; Beresford on that from Auch; and I am between them.’ (Wellington to Hope 26 March 1814 WD VII p 396-7). So he was aware of the problem before the attempt was made; yet there is still a sharp contrast between the failure here and the crossing of the Adour.
Burnham (Inside Wellington’s Peninsular Army p 267) has a vivid description of the practical difficulties of the attempt, the strength of the current etc. He has a little information about the second attempt but a few good details of the third, successful, bridge.
Sir Howard Douglas Essay On … Military Bridges p 82 says that Wellington suggested that the cables of the successful bridge be secured by the use of anchors buried on the bank and that this was done.
The Passage of the Garonne, the breaking of the bridge and Beresford’s corps isolated:
Richard Hussey Vivian describes the passage: ‘The passing of the Garonne was a beautiful sight. It would have been magnificent had the weather been fine; but it was cloudy, with showers; and the poor fellows, after a night march, drenched to the skin and up to their knees in mud, were looking rather miserable; still, however, the passing the river on a pontoon bridge, all the bands playing the ‘British Grenadiers,’ the trumpets sounding, and the banks lined with thousands of spectators, was, notwithstanding the weather, a beautiful sight.’ (Vivian Memoir p 236-7).
There is also a good description in Frazer’s Letters p 452-4 who adds that ‘When three infantry divisions, two brigades of cavalry, and twelve field-pieces had passed, his lordship, who had sat the whole time looking earnestly at what was doing, crossed attended by the usual suite.’ (p 453-4).
Vivian was surprised at the lack of opposition: ‘either Soult was afraid, or deceived, for he never even attempted the slightest resistance … I suspect he means to be off altogether; if not, he has missed a fine opportunity of fighting us. He never can mean to stay in Toulouse, for if he does, he and all his army will certainly be taken.’ (Vivian Memoir p 236).
Then, when the bridge broke: ‘If Soult does not take advantage of this opportunity and attack us he is not worth his salt. However, after all, if he does he will get thrashed; for my firm belief is that the three divisions here would beat his whole army.’ (Vivian Memoir p 237).
The bridge was re-established on the morning of 8 April and Freyre’s two divisions of Spanish infantry and some more cavalry crossed. Wellington then ordered that it be taken up and relaid some miles closer to Toulouse: his army was now equally divided by the great river and he wished to guard against the danger that Soult might cross the town bridge to the southern bank, attack Hill and break into the rear of the allied army. However the operation of moving and re-laying the bridge took longer than he expected, forcing him to postpone the attack he was planning to make until 10 April. Larpent quietly noted that ‘Lord Wellington was more vexed, and in a greater state of anger, than he usually is, when things go wrong.’ (Private Journal 10 April 1814 vol 3 p 126).
The Heights of Calvinet:
Oman (vol 7 p 466 & n) says that the heights were highest at each end, some 600 feet above sea level and 250 above the Ers valley. British firsthand accounts stress the steepness. Fortescue vol 10 p 77 puts the Heights at 200 feet.
Why did Wellington entrust Freyre with such an important role?
British histories often say that Freyre had begged to be given this prominent role, but there does not seem to be any contemporary evidence for the story. (Napier vol 6 p 163 (Bk xxiv Ch 5); Oman vol 7 p 492 but I can trace the story no further back than Napier who was not present at the battle (Butler Life of William Napier vol 1 p 162). George Napier, who was present, tells the story in his memoirs (Passages p 257) but they were written in old age and are not always reliable). The Spanish division had occupied a similar place in the left-centre of the allied line in most of the battles of 1813 (counting the troops besieging San Sebastian as being on the extreme left) and had generally performed well. The story may be true, but it may also have arisen among the officers and men of the Light and Third Divisions speculating why they were left with little to do and the Spaniards were given a demanding task. Hindsight does suggest that it would have been better if the easy task of masking the northern front had been given to Freyre, freeing the Third and Light Divisions for an attack on the Great Redoubt, but it is possible that Wellington rejected this idea because it would inevitably result in very heavy casualties among his of British infantry. (See his letter to Bathurst of 7 April 1814 WD VII p 418-19 complaining of this). Alternatively he may simply have felt that the Spanish infantry should take their place in the line and do their share of the fighting that came their way.
Oman discusses the point, although inconclusively:
It remains a rather inexplicable problem why the storming of the most critical point of the enemy’s works was entrusted to the Spaniards, even when we remember that Freire had asked for a responsible share in the venture, and that ever since San Marcial the Galician troops had been fighting very creditably. It would have been much more natural to use Picton against the Mont Rave, and to have sent Freire to demonstrate in front of the Ponts Jumeaux, where he could certainly have dealt with the very unlikely chance of a French counter-attack. On the whole one is driven to conclude that Wellington over-estimated the demoralization of the French army, and under-estimated the destructive power of entrenched artillery. (Oman vol 7 p 492-3).
George Napier gives a highly coloured and rather implausible account: ‘the centre of the French position was attacked by a Spanish column of eight thousand men, under General Freyre, who had demanded in rather a haughty tone that Lord Wellington should give the Spaniards the post of honour in the battle. He acceded, but took special care to have the Light Division in reserve to support them in case of accidents.’ (George Napier Passages p 257).
The advance of Beresford’s column:
Charles Crowe of the 3/27th in the Fourth Division, wrote that ‘our Division advanced in open column of Brigades over the morass, so soft that every general and field officer was compelled to march and have his horse led over. Our left Brigade skirted the bank of the River Ers. Our Portuguese took the centre of the morass and our Right Brigade proceeded nearer the heights …. The three columns of our Division advanced sections in threes, to be as compact as possible, and at the same time to allow free passage for cannon balls, through our line of march, as chance could direct. Regardless of this precaution, some shots and shells swept down all before them.’ (Cassidy Marching with Wellington p 109-10).
The most plausible explanation of what happened is that when Beresford’s column was east of the Great Redoubt Wellington changed his plan, either losing his nerve or judging that the ground south of Beresford was too soft. He therefore ordered Freyre and Beresford to make simultaneous, converging attacks on the Great Redoubt. Freyre obeyed; Beresford did not, so Freyre’s attack was unsupported and failed. This fits the evidence we have and common sense, but it is still only a theory: no source actually says that this is what happened.
In his dispatch Wellington wrote: ‘As soon as formed, and that it was seen that Marshal Sir W. Beresford was ready, Gen Don M. Freyre moved forward to the attack. The troops marched in good order, under a very heavy fire of musketry and artillery, and showed great spirit, the General and all his staff being at their head.’ (Wellington to Bathurst 12 April 1814 WD VII p 425-32 quote on p 427).
British accounts go out of their way to praise the bravery of the Spanish advance: Frazer Letters p 471-2, Larpent Private Journal vol 3 p 141-2 even George Napier Passages p 257-8 – though he also has much to say about their flight.
Yet a few weeks later William Clinton records Wellington as having spoken with contempt of Spanish troops in general and disparaged their failure at Toulouse (Diary of William Clinton vol 54 p 150 quoted in Ward Notes, Ward Papers 300/7 p 57).
And Arthur Kennedy wrote, ‘Lord W. was most annoyed at the Spaniards and ordered a brigade of our heavy cavalry to form in rear of them to cut down any that night again attempt to run. He was himself at the head of them and was I hear much exposed.’ (Hunt Charging Against Napoleon p 211).
That may reflect the typical bias of many British accounts, but Frazer confirms Wellington’s personal role: ‘In a moment Lord Wellington, who was on the Pujade, galloped to the spot, and by his personal exertions rallied about a company on the Alby road near the cypress trees. General Freyre was also very active. It should be mentioned to the honour of the Portuguese caçadores of the light division, that they boldly advanced through the flying Spaniards, drubbing them as they went on. A squadron or two of British heavy dragoons, sent still more in the rear of the routed Spaniards, rallied them by striking them with the flat side of their swords. After some time (of which had the enemy profited the affair had been still more awkward) the Spanish troops rallied, and were again placed in position near the Pujade, from which the afterwards moved to the left in support of the sixth division, but were not again brought into serious action all the day.’ (Frazer Letters p 472). This last point contradicts the generally accepted account that the Spaniards rallied sufficiently to make a second, and even a third, attack.
Beresford appeals for reinforcements:
The only source for this seems to be Frazer, who says that after the defeat of Freyre’s first attack: ‘At a quarter before 12 Marshal Beresford’s troops had gained the bridge to the right of the enemy’s position, and the enemy’s troops were seen moving in force towards that point. At this time a Portuguese aid-de-camp arrived from the Marshal, requesting more infantry; none, however was sent.’ (Letters p 473).
So this was before Beresford was seriously engaged.
Beresford’s explanation in his report:
That we did not proceed immediately to the attack of the succeeding redoubts your Lordship is already aware of the reasons; and it was principally that, after the failure of the Spaniards, knowing nothing could dislodge us from where we were, I did not think it prudent to risk any the slightest failure on our part, and therefore waited to collect all the means possible for the assistance of the troops, though I will not doubt they would, under such officers, have carried the redoubts …’ (Beresford to Wellington 13 April 1814 WSD vol 8 p 739-41).
Beresford’s attack on the Great Redoubt along the ridge:
Lieutenant John Ford of the 79th conveys something of the fear and confusion as this fighting ebbed and flowed over the same ground with fresh units mingling with the shattered remnants of previous attacks:
When the Enemy attempted to recover possession of the Redoubts, I was in a kind of Fleche or outwork of the one we had taken, but separated from the main part of it by a deep farm road
one French Regiment marching up that road cut off my retreat and that of Seven men who were with me. – one of the number attempted, and possibly did escape? – another had the presence of mind to cry out “sit down!”, and if the words had come from a General Officer they could not have been more promptly obeyed – he saw the Enemy before we did, (They came up on our left,) and the cry of “the French Sit down” did not require to be often repeated. – we sat down close to the Parapet. – at this moment we heard a cheering and that portion of the Enemy, then close to us, appeared panicstruck, went to the right about & immediately retreated.
One French Officer looked at us and shrugged up his Shoulders (supposing we were wounded and thereby intimating that he could not afford us any assistance) and a French soldier attempted, while retreating, to pull off the Epaulettes of Capt John Cameron’s Coat as he lay dead a few yards from us, but did not succeed. – (Captn J. Cameron commanded the Company I belonged to.) –
It was altogether but a momentary business, the cheering come from the 91st then advancing to meet the Enemy, for Lieut [Alexander] Robertson at the head of a party of his Regiment immediately entered the work, and surprised at seeing us there, said Ford are you wounded? – Having been thus released we joined our Regiment where it had reformed, having had a narrow escape of being bayoneted or dragged along as Prisoners … (Uffindell National Army Museum Book of Wellington’s Army p 257).
Casualties were very heavy: 64 of the 214 officers in Harispe’s division were killed or wounded, and the Sixth Division lost 1,500 casualties or one quarter of its strength: fully half the men in the 42nd and 79th, the two leading regiments, were wounded or killed.
Beresford failed to take the Great Redoubt and the renewed Spanish attack was also driven off. Few accounts clearly distinguish between the two Spanish attacks, but Harry Smith, who does, describes this second attack as ‘most gallant, heavy and persevering’, and adds that ‘had my dear old Light Division been pushed forward on the right of the Spaniards in place of remaining inactive, that attack of the Spaniards would have succeeded.’ (Smith Autobiography p 176, but cf Frazer Letters p 472 which denies that the Spaniards were seriously engaged after being routed in the morning). Yet the Light Division was the last intact reserve available to Wellington on that side of the Garonne, and it is perhaps not surprising that he declined to throw it into the fray.
Lord Wellesley and the Spanish at Toulouse:
The Times of 27 April 1814 gives a detailed account of the action further to Wellington’s dispatch which is most complimentary about the performance of the Spanish troops. It uses the victory to threaten the Americans, and gives a broad hint of the paper’s political connection: ‘In another respect the mournful occurrences at Toulouse carry with them matter of gratifying reflection. They afford proof that the Spanish armies under the auspices of the Great Wellington, have attained a degree of discipline before unknown. To the admirable counsels of the Marques Wellesley is Spain indebted for much of her civil wisdom.’
Peninsular Prize Money:
In the Peninsular War as in other campaigns the army was entitled to a substantial share of the value of public property captured from the enemy (for example stores and equipment in a fortress that had been stormed). Whether this was a matter of right, or merely a privilege entrenched by custom could be debated (as it was after the fall of Seringapatam in 1799: see Chapter 6 above), but the officers and men in the army had strong views on the subject. In 1815 the army’s prize money for the Peninsular War was set at a round figure of £800,000 (General Order, Paris, 10 Aug 1815 Gurwood General Orders of the Duke of Wellington (1837 edition) p 434). Wellington’s share of this was set at 1/16th or £50,000 (See Gentleman’s Magazine vol 85 pt 2 July-Dec 1815 p 163 summarizing the Report of the Committee of Supply to Parliament on 26 June 1815. See also WSD vol 9 p 555-563 for the claims of the army’s prize agents, and T. H. McGuffie’s note in J.S.A.H.R. vol 24 no 99 1946 p 143 on its distribution).
© Rory Muir