Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

 


Notes

Soult's Report on the Battle of Albuera, 16 May 1811

By Donald E. Graves

The original text of this report was printed in French in J. Gurwood, editor, The Dispatches of F.M. the Duke of Wellington 1799-1818, vol. V, p. 770-771. I have left the French ranks and some phrases as in the original but have translated the unit titles. Editorial intrusions are in square brackets. It should be noted that, although Soult only admits to some 3,000 casualties in this report, a return of casualties dated 11 July 1811 and signed by his under chief of staff, Mocquery, lists 5,936 casualties. An intensive investigation, however, by Charles Oman (History of the Peninsular War, IV, 395, 634-635) has shown that the total figure could easily be revised upwards to 7,900 and the real figure may be even higher.

 

Marshal, the Duke of Dalmatia to His Highness, the Prince of Wagram and Neufchatel, Major-General[1]

                                                                                                            Solano, 21 May 1811

I left Seville during the night of the 9th-10th[May]as my report of the 9th informed you. On the 12th I joined the division commanded by Général Latour Maubourg[2] between Fuente Cantos and Bienvenida. On the 14th, I took up a position at Villa Franca and Almendralejo; on the 15th[I was]at Santa Marta and Villalba; my cavalry was advanced to Albuera where I learned that the enemy's army was gathering. The various Spanish, Portuguese and English corps, having arrived from Cadiz and Lisbon, and even an English brigade withdrawn from Sicily, were threatening Andaluzia. My march had freed this province and the enemy had recalled all his corps, gathering them at Albuera. On the 15th, therefore, we found ourselves in the presence of the army of the enemy, and I resolved not to lose a moment, and to engage in battle.

The enemy's position was a favourable one[for him]. He was situated at the junction of the routes leading to Badajoz and Jurumenha via Valverde and Olivenza; but Blake's[3] Spanish division had not yet joined the rest, and although knowing that if I postponed action I could expect to get reinforcements, and that I only had 4 brigades of infantry totalling 15,000 men with 3,000 horses, only 18,000 men in all, I judged it suitable to prevent Blake and his 9,000 Spaniards from joining the rest, and to attack on the right in order to focus on the line of communication; moreover the nature of the ground made this the most advantageous point of attack. I knew that General Beresford[4], who commanded the opposing army, had two strong divisions of English infantry of 10,000 men, 8,000 Portuguese and 3,000 Spanish commanded by Castanos[5], with 3,000 cavalry, making 24,000 men in all; but I never doubted that I would succeed.

Général de Division Latour Maubourg commanded all the cavalry and Général de Division Ruty[6], the artillery. Général de Division Girard[7] commanded the two main brigades, some 7,000 men. Généraux de Brigade Werle[8] and Godinot[9] each commanded another ]infantry]brigade.

Général Godinot was charged with his brigade -- which was joined by 5 squadrons under the orders of Général de Brigade Briche[10], to fake an attack on the village of Albuera; whilst I with the rest of the army moved to the enemy's right, which was immediately outflanked by our cavalry. Général Latour Maubourg manoeuvred with audacity and skill; he tried in vain to engage the enemy's cavalry, which was held constantly in reserve. Général Girard with his two brigades marched at the pas de charge and took the enemy's position, which was occupied by a Spanish division and an English brigade, who fell back after a fairly stubborn resistance, and were hotly pursued. The battlefield was covered with their dead, and we took considerable numbers of prisoners.

The second line of the enemy then advanced and considerably outflanked ours ]the French line]. Positioned as I was on the high ground, I was surprised to see such large numbers of troops; and shortly thereafter I learned, from a Spanish prisoner, that Blake had arrived with 9,000 men, and had joined at three in the morning. The field was no longer equal. The enemy had more than 30,000 men, whilst I only had 18,000. I decided I could no longer pursue my plan, and ordered that the enemy position we had taken should be held.

However, the enemy line soon approached ours, and the fighting then became most terrible. Général Latour Maubourg charged[with]the 2nd Hussars, the 1st Lancers of the Vistula, the 4th and 20th Dragoons, with such skill and bravery that the three English infantry brigades were entirely destroyed. Six cannon, 1,000 prisoners and 6 colours (those of the 3rd, 48th and 66th English regiments) were ours for the taking. The enemy left us the position we had taken from him, and did not dare to attack again. The firing lasted until four in the afternoon, when it finally finished.

The enemy lost three generals killed, two English and one Spanish, and two generals wounded. 1,000 English were taken prisoner (some escaped but today we counted 800); 1,100 Spanish were also taken. All the information I have received up to now indicated that the enemy dead and wounded as being 5,000 English, 2,000 Spanish and 700-800 Portuguese. This gives losses of 9,000 men from the enemy army, three times our own losses.

Généraux Werlé and Pepin[11] were killed. Généraux Maransin[12] and Brayer[13] were wounded. Colonel Praefke[14] of the 28th Light Infantry was killed, along with chefs de bataillon Astrue and Camus[15], of the 26th and 28th Regiments ]of Light Infantry].

The ]French]troops are covered in glory. The cavalry made the most beautiful charges and was particularly distinguished. The artillery maintained its reputation. I constantly had 40 guns firing in battery[en batterie], pouring death upon the enemy lines. The English lost one man in two.

On the 17th[of May]we rested. 5,000 men from Elvas joined the enemy army. I continued to hold the battlefield, and on the 18th, at daybreak, I made a flanking move on Solano. I ordered Général Gazan[16] to move my English and Spanish prisoners to Seville, and my wounded, with a suitable escort. As soon as I knew this had been done, I manoeuvred to join up with the other troops, and to complete the defeat of the enemy.

I cannot complete this report without mentioning to your Highness in particular the services rendered me by Général Gazan,[my]chief of staff; Général Latour Maubourg also merits mention for his good services, and Général Ruty for the manner in which he directed the artillery. I must also mention Généraux Godinot, Bron[17], Briche, Bouvier des Eclats[18], and Vielande[19]; adjutant commandant Mocquery[20], my under chief of staff, Général Fourgeat[21] and Colonel Berge[22], of the artillery; Colonel Konopka[23] of the Vistula lancers; Colonel Vinot[24] of the 2nd Hussars, and Colonel Farine[25] of the 4th Dragoons. I must also mention several other commanders and officers of all ranks who distinguished themselves especially; but all the individual reports have not reached me and I am obliged therefore to mention them in another report. I must praise in particular the officers of the staff and my aides de camp, most of whom were cut down and several were wounded. I will have the honour[in the future] of informing your Highness of the state of the officers whom I believe merit the graces of His Imperial Majesty and remain,

Soult, Duke of Dalmatia      

 
Notes:

[1]. Maréchal Louis-Alexander Berthier (1753-1815), chief of the imperial general staff.

[2]. Général de Division Victor-Nicolas La Tour-Maubourg (1768-1850), Soult's second in command in the Army of the South in May 1811 and his cavalry commander during the battle.

[3]. Teniente General Joaquin Blake (1759-1827), commanding the Spanish Expeditionary Force in Estramadura.

[4].  Field Marshal William Carr Beresford (1764-1854), commanding the Allied armies in Estramadura.

[5].  Capitán General Javier Castaños (1756-1852), commanding the Spanish armies in Estramadura.

[6].  Général de Brigade Charles-Etienne-François de Ruty (1774-1828), Soult's artillery commander at the battle. Soult refers to him as a général de division but Ruty was not promoted to this rank until 10 January 1813.

[7]. Général de Division Jean Girard (1775-1815) who commanded the 1st Division of infantry in the 5th Corps and commanded the infantry of that corps during the battle.

[8]. Général de Brigade François-Jean Werlé (1763-1811) commanded an infantry brigade composed of infantry from the 1st and 4th Corps at the battle.

[9]. Général de Brigade Nicolas Godinot (b. 1765) commanded an infantry brigade at the battle drawn from his own division which garrisoned Cordoba.

[10]. Général de Brigade André-Louis Briche (1772-1825) commanded a cavalry brigade at the battle.

[11]. Général de Brigade Joseph Pépin (1765-1811) who commanded an infantry brigade of the 5th Corps at the battle.

[12]. Général de Brigade Jean-Pierre Maransin (1770-1828) who commanded an infantry brigade of the 5th Corps at the battle.

[13]. Général de Brigade Michel-Sylvestre Brayer (1769-1840) who commanded an infantry brigade of the 5th Corps at the battle.

[14]. Colonel Jean-André Praefke, commanding officer of the 28th Light Infantry Regiment.

[15]. No further information on these officers can be provided from the reference given.

[16]. Général de Division Honoré-Théodore-Maxime Gazan (1765-1845) who commanded an infantry division in the 5th Corps and served as Soult's chief of staff during the battle.

[17]. Général de Brigade André-François Bron de Bailly (1757-1847) who commanded a cavalry brigade during the battle.

[18]. Général de Brigade Joseph Bouvier des Eclaz (1757-1830), who commanded a cavalry brigade during the battle. His name is often mispelled as "Bouvier des Eclats" and it appears that even Soult couldn't get it right.

[19]. A mispelling, this was Général de Brigade Michel Veilande (1767-1832) who commanded the 1st Brigade in Girard's 1st Divsion of the 5th Corps.

[20]. Mocquery. No further information can be given about this officer.

[21]. Général de Brigade Fourgeat is probably a typographical error and what was meant was Général de Brigade Jean-Dominique Bourgeat (1760-1827), an officer of artillery.

[22]. Colonel François Berge (1779-1832), commanding officer of the 5th Regiment of Horse Artillery.

[23]. Colonel Michael Konopka (b. 1777), commanding officer of the 1st Regiment of Lancers of the Vistula.

[24]. Colonel Gilbert-Julian Vinot, commanding officer of the 2nd Hussars.

[25]. Colonel Pierre-Joseph Farine, commanding officer of the 4th Dragoons.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2005

 

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