Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

 


Albuera 1811 – The Electronic Archives: Beresford’s Edited Dispatch to Wellington

Edited by Guy Dempsey

 

Albuera, May 18, 1811


My Lord,

I have infinite satisfaction in communicating to your lordship that the allied army united here under my orders, obtained, on the l6th instant, after a most sanguinary contest, a complete victory over that of the enemy, commanded by Marshal Soult; and I shall proceed to relate to your Lordship the circumstances.

In a former report I have informed your lordship of the advance of Marshal Soult from Seville, and I had in consequence judged it wise entirely to raise the siege of Badajoz, and prepare to meet him with our united forces, rather than, by looking to two objects at once, to risk the loss of both.  

Marshal Soult, it appears, had been long straining every nerve to collect a force which he thought fully sufficient to his object for the relief of Badajoz; and for this purpose he had drawn considerable numbers from the corps of Marshal Victor and General Sebastiani, and also, I believe, from the French army of the centre.   Having thus completed his preparations, he marched from Seville on the 10th instant, with a corps then estimated at 15,000 or 16,000 men, and was joined on descending into Estremadura by the corps under General Latour Maubourg, stated to be 5,000 men.

His Excellency General Blake, as soon as he learnt the advance of Marshal Soult, in strict conformity to the plan proposed by your Lordship, proceeded to form his junction with the corps under my orders, and arrived at Valverde in person on the 14th instant, where, having consulted with his Excellency and General Castaños, it was determined to meet the enemy, and to give him battle. On finding the determination of the enemy to relieve Badajoz, I had broken up from before that place, and marched the infantry to the position in front of Valverde, except the division of Major General the Hon. G. L. Cole, which, with about 2,000 Spanish troops, I left to cover the removal of our stores.

The cavalry, which had, according to orders, fallen back as the enemy advanced, was joined at Santa Martha by the cavalry of General Blake; that of General Castaños, under the Count de Penne Villemur, had been always with it.  

As remaining at Valverde, though a stronger position, left Badajoz entirely open, I determined to take up a position (such as could be got in this widely open country ) at this place, thus standing directly between the enemy and Badajoz.

The army was therefore assembled here on the 15th instant. The corps of General Blake, though making a forced march to effect it, only joined in the night, and could not be placed in its position till the morning of the 16th instant;  when General Cole's division, with the Spanish brigade, under Don Carlos de España, also joined, and a little before the commencement of the action. Our cavalry had been forced, on the morning of the 16th instant, to retire from Santa Martha, and joined here.

In the afternoon of that day, the enemy appeared in front of us. The next morning our disposition for receiving the enemy was made, being formed in two lines, nearly parallel to the river Albuera, on the ridge of the gradual ascent rising from the river, and covering the roads to Badajoz and Valverde, though your Lordship is aware, that the whole face of this country is every where passable for all arms.   General Blake's corps was on the right, in two lines; its left on the Valverde road, joined the right of Major General the Hon William Stewart's division, the left of which reached the Badajoz road; where commenced the right of Major General Hamilton's division, which closed the left of the line. General Cole's division, with one brigade of General Hamilton's, formed the second line of the British and Portuguese army.

The enemy, on the morning of the l6th, did not long delay his attack; at eight o'clock he was observed to be in movement, and his cavalry was seen passing the rivulet of Albuera, and considerably above our right; and shortly after he marched out of the wood opposite to us a strong force of cavalry, and two heavy columns of infantry, pointing them to our front, as if to attack the village and bridge of Albuera. During this time, under cover of his vastly superior cavalry, he was filing the principal body of his infantry over the river beyond our right, and it was not long before his intention appeared to be to turn us by that flank, and cut us off from Valverde.

Major General Cole's division was therefore ordered to form an oblique line to the rear of our right, with his own right thrown back; and the intention of the enemy to attack our right becoming evident, I requested General Blake to form part of his first line, end all his second, to that front; which was done.

The enemy commenced his attack at nine o'clock, not ceasing at the same time to menace our Ieft; and after a strong and gallant resistance of the Spanish troops, he gained the heights upon which they had been formed; meanwhile the division of Major General the Hon. William Stewart had been brought up to support them; and that of Major General Hamilton brought to the left of the Spanish line, and formed in contiguous close columns of battalions, to be movable in any direction. The Portuguese brigade of cavalry, under Brigadier General Otway, remained at some distance on the left of this, to check any attempt of the enemy below the village.

As the heights the enemy had gained raked and entirely commanded our whole position, it became necessary to make every effort to retake and maintain them; and a noble one was made by the division of General Stewart, headed by that gallant officer. Nearly at the beginning of the enemy's attack, a heavy storm of rain came on, which, with the smoke, from the firing, rendered it impossible to discern any thing distinctly.  This, with the nature of the ground, had been extremely favorable to the enemy in forming his columns, and in his subsequent attack.

The right brigade of General Stewart's division, under Lieutenant-colonel Colborne, first came into action, and behaved in the most gallant manner; and finding that the enemy's column could not be shaken by fire, proceeded to attack it with the bayonet; and while in the act of charging, a body of Polish lancers (cavalry) which the thickness of the atmosphere and the nature of the ground had concealed, (and which was, besides, mistaken by those of the brigade, when discovered, for Spanish cavalry, and therefore not fired upon), turned it; and being thus attacked unexpectedly in the rear, was unfortunately broken, and suffered immensely. The 31st regiment, being the left one of the brigade, alone escaped this charge, and under the command of Major L’Estrange, kept its ground until the arrival of the 3d brigade under Major General Houghton. The conduct of this brigade was most conspicuously gallant; and that of the 2nd brigade, under the command of Lieut. Colonel the Hon A. Abercrombie, was not less so.  Major General Houghton, cheering on his brigade to the charge, fell, pierced by wounds.

Though the enemy's principal attack was on this point of our right, he also made a continual attempt upon that part of our original front at the village and bridge, which were defended in the most gallant manlier by Major General Baron Alten, and the light infantry brigade of the German legion, whose conduct was, in every point of view, conspicuously good. This point now formed our left, and Major General Hamilton's division had been brought up there; and he was left to direct the defence of that point, whilst the enemy's attack continued on our right, a considerable proportion of the Spanish troops supporting the defence of this place.

The enemy's cavalry, on his infantry attempting to force our right, had endeavoured to turn it; but by the able maneuvers of Major General the Hon.  William Lumley, commanding the allied cavalry, though vastly interior to that of the enemy in number, his endeavours were foiled.   Major General Cole, seeing the attack of the enemy, very judiciously bringing up his left a little, marched in line to attack the enemy's left, and arrived most opportunely to contribute, with the charges of the brigades of General Stewart's division, to force the enemy to abandon his situation, and retire precipitately, and to take refuge under his reserve.  Here the Fusileer brigade particularly distinguished itself.

He was pursued by the allies to a considerable distance, and as far as I thought it prudent, with his immense superiority of cavalry; and I contented myself with seeing him driven across the Albuera. I have every reason to speak favourably of the manner in which our artillery was served, and fought; and Major Hartman commanding the British, and Major Dickson commanding the Portuguese, and the officers and men, are entitled to my thanks.  The four guns of the horse artillery, commanded by Captain Le Fevre, did great execution on the enemy's cavalry; and one brigade of Spanish artillery (the only one in the field) I saw equally gallantly and well served. We lost, in the misfortune which occurred to the brigade commanded by Lieut. Colonel Colborne (whom General Stewart reports to have acted, and was then acting in a most noble manner, leading on the brigade in admirable order) one howitzer, which the enemy, before the arrival of the gallant General Houghton's brigade, had time to carry off, with 200 or 300 prisoners of that brigade. After he had been beaten from this his principal attack, he still continued that near the village, on which he never could make any impression, or cross the rivulet, though I had been obliged to bring a very great proportion of the troops from it, to support the principal point of attack; but the enemy seeing his main attack defeated, relaxed in his attempt there also. The Portuguese division of Major General Hamilton in every instance evinced the utmost steadiness and courage, and manoeuvred equally well with the British.

Brigadier General Harvey's Portuguese brigade, belonging to General Cole's division, had an opportunity of distinguishing itself when marched in line across the plain, by repulsing with the utmost steadiness a charge of the enemy's cavalry.

It is impossible to enumerate every instance of discipline and valour shown on this severely contested day; but there never were troops that more valiantly or more gloriously maintained the honour of their respective countries.  I have not been able to particularize the Spanish divisions, brigades, or regiments, that were particularly engaged, because I am not acquainted with their denominations or names; but I have great pleasure in saying, that their behaviour was most gallant and honourable; and though, from the superior number and weight of the enemy’s force, that part of them that were in the position attacked were obliged to cede the ground, it was after a gallant resistance, and they continued in good order to support their allies; and I doubt not, his Excellency General Blake will do ample justice on this head, by making honourable mention of the deserving.

The battle commenced at nine o'clock, and continued without interruption till two in the afternoon, when the enemy, having been driven over the Albuera, for the remainder of the day there was but cannonading and skirmishing.

It is impossible by any description to do justice to the distinguished gallantry of the troops; but every individual most nobly did his duty, which will be well proved by the great loss we have suffered, though repulsing the enemy; and it was observed that our dead, particularly the 57th regiment, were lying as they had fought, in ranks, and every wound was in the front.

Major General the Hon. William Stewart most particularly distinguished himself, and conduced much to the honour of the day; he received two contusions, but would not quit the field.  Major General the Hon. G. L. Cole is also entitled to every praise; and I have to regret being deprived for some time of his services, by the wound he has received.  Lieut. Colonel the Hon. A. Abercrombie, commanding the 2nd brigade, 2nddivision, and Major L’Estrange, 31st regiment, deserve to be particularly mentioned; and nothing could exceed the conduct and gallantry of Colonel Inglis, at the head of his regiment.  To Major General the Hon. William Lumley, for the very able manner in which he opposed the numerous cavalry of the enemy, and foiled him in his object, I am particularly indebted. To Major General Hamilton, who commanded on left, during the severe attack upon our right, I am also much indebted; and the Portuguese brigades of Brigadier Generals Fonseca and Archibald Campbell deserve to be mentioned. To Major General Alten, and to the excellent brigade under his orders, I have much praise to give; and it is with great pleasure I assure your lordship, that the good and gallant conduct of every corps, and of every person, was in proportion to the opportunity that offered for distinguishing themselves.  I know not an individual who has not done his duty.

I have, I fear, to regret the loss to the service of Colonel Collins, commanding a Portuguese brigade, his leg having been carried off by a cannon shot. He is an officer of great merit; and I deeply lament the death of Major General Houghton, and of those two promising officers, Lieut. Colonel Sir William Myers and Lieut. Colonel Duckworth. It is most pleasing to me to inform your lordship, not only of the steady and gallant conduct of our allies, the Spanish troops, under his Excellency General Blake, but also to assure you, that the most perfect harmony has subsisted between us; and that General Blake not only conformed in all things to the general line proposed by your Lordship, but in the details, and in whatever I suggested to his Excellency, I received the most immediate and cordial assent and co-operation; and nothing was
omitted, on his part, to ensure the success of our united efforts; and during; the battle he most essentially, by his experience, knowledge, and zeal, contributed to its fortunate result.

His Excellency the Captain General Castaños, who had united the few troops he had in a state to be brought into the field to those of General Blake, and placed them under his orders, assisted personally in the field; and not only on this, but on all occasions, I am much indebted to General Castaños, who is ever beforehand in giving whatever can be beneficial to the success of the common cause. Though I unfortunately cannot point out the corps or many of the individuals of the Spanish troops, that distinguished themselves, yet I will not omit to mention the names of General Ballesteros, whose gallantry was most conspicuous, as of the corps he had under his command; and the name of General Zayas, and of Don Carlos de España. The Spanish cavalry have behaved extremely well; and the Count de Penne Villemur is particularly deserving to be mentioned.  

I annex the return of our loss in this hard-contested day; it is very severe, and in addition to it is the loss of the troops under his Excellency General Blake, who are killed, missing, and wounded, but of which I have not the return.  The loss of the enemy, though I cannot know what it is, must be still more severe.  He has left on the field of battle about 2,000 dead, and we have taken from 900 to 1,000 prisoners.  He has had five generals killed and wounded; of the former, Generals of division Werlé and Pesim [Pepin]; and Gazan and two others amongst the latter. His force was much more considerable than we had been informed of, as I do not think he displayed less than 22,000 infantry, and he certainly had 4,000 cavalry, with a numerous and heavy artillery. His overbearing cavalry cramped and confined all our operations, and with his artillery saved his infantry after its rout.

He retired after the battle to the ground he had been previously on, but occupying it in position; and on this morning, or rather during the night, commenced his retreat on the road he came, towards Seville, and has abandoned Badajoz to its fate.   He left a number of his wounded on the ground he had retired to, and to whom we are administering what assistance we can. I have sent our cavalry to follow the enemy, but in that arm he is too powerful for us to attempt any thing against him in the plains he is traversing.

Thus we have reaped the advantage we proposed from our opposition to the attempts of the enemy; and whilst he has been forced to abandon the object for which he has almost stripped Andalusia of troops, instead of having accomplished the haughty boasts with which Marshal Soult harangued his troops on leaving Seville, he returns there with a curtailed army, and, what perhaps may be still more hurtful to him, with a diminished reputation.

In enumerating the services received from the officers of my own staff, I must particularly call your Lordship's attention to those of Brigadier General d'Urban, Quarter Master General to the Portuguese army, and which I cannot sufficiently praise, though I can appreciate. On all occasions I have felt the benefits of his talents and services, and more particularly on this, where they very essentially contributed
to the success of the day; and I cannot here omit the name of Lieut. Colonel Harding, Deputy Quartermaster General to the Portuguese troops, whose talents and exertions deserve my thanks. To Brigadier General Mozinho, Adjutant General of the Portuguese army, and to Lieut. Colonel Rooke, Assistant Adjutant General to the united British and Portuguese forces, and to Brigadier General Lemos, and to the officers of my own personal staff, I am indebted for their assistance.

To the services of Lieut. Colonel Arbuthnot (Major in his Majesty's service), I am also much indebted, and he is the bearer of this to your Lordship, and is fully enabled to give you any further information you may desire, and is most deserving of any favour your lordship may be pleased to recommend him for to his Royal Highness the Prince Regent.

I have the honour to be &c.

(Signed) W. C. BERESFORD, Marshal and Lieut. Gen.

P. S.  Major General Hamilton's division, and Brigadier General Madden’s brigade of Portuguese cavalry, march to-morrow morning to reinvest Badajoz on the south side of the Guadiana.

 

Source: Dispatches of Wellington, Vol. 7, pp. 588-593

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2008

 

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