Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns


 

"At dawn, great firing was heard:" A Spanish Eyewitness to the Sieges of Badajoz, 1811

Translated by: João Centeno and Donald E. Graves

The Portuguese historian, Cláudio Chaby, rendered the students of the Peninsular War a great service when he included excerpts from an unpublished diary written by a Spanish resident of Badajoz during 1811 in his 6-volume work, Excerptos Historicos e Collecçao de Documentos Relativos a Guerra Denominada na Peninsula e as anteriores de 1801, e do Roussilon e Cataluna (Lisbon, Imprensa Nacional, 1863-1882). The diarist was apparently a cleric of the Catholic church and his manuscript was given to Chaby by a descendant a half century later when the Portuguese historian was actively collecting material.

Chaby reproduced those portions of the diary relating to the second siege of Badajoz (April-May 1811) on pp. 375-381 of his third volume and portions relating to the third siege (May-June 1811) on pp. 423-428 of the same volume. Below we have provided a translation from the Portuguese of Chaby's excerpts. It should be noted, however, that neither of the editors are language professionals so students of the 1811 campaign who wish to make serious reference to this diary, should consult the original.

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[First excerpt]

     

By the distinct favour of D. José Turrens, captain of the province of Badajoz, we have come into the possession of an interesting unpublished manuscript, which that gentlemen preserved for our study, and we are cordially grateful to him for this fine discovery. The said manuscript is entitled: "Libro con las noticieas mas particulares de los sitios qu ha sufrido Badajoz par las tropas Francesa, y del la conquista de los ingleses" ["Diary with detailed information on the sieges whereby Badajoz suffered from French troops and the English conquest"] and was the work of a near relative of D. José Torrens who was member of the Church and who testified that the [military] successes also grievously afflicted the city and its people.

With regard to the first siege, that charitable person wrote the following careful investigation which was judged to be of interest enough to be included here.

   

Diary of the Second Siege, the First by the Allies, of Badajoz, undertaken by the English and Portuguese Troops

Saturday, 4 May 1811

It the first light of dawn, two great columns of English and Portuguese troops, of infantry and cavalry with some artillery pieces, were visible from the city.

The French cavalry, in the strength of about 50 men, left the square, to undertake a reconnaissance, but having received four artillery shots [rounds], returned to the city about an hour after they departed.

In the latter part of the day the English troops began to position [construct] batteries, one in the hills of San Gabriel, the other on the Atalaya Hill, with the cavalry in the middle. They remained in this position until the afternoon of the following day, the city [the French][1] occasionally greeting them with shots and shells.

On this day there were published orders by the [French] governor [or commandant][2] with four sections [chapters]:

1. That all of the inhabitants, without exception, were to surrender all the weapons in their possession, both firearms and edged weapons, under the penalty of being judged by a military tribunal, if such weapons were not surrendered, or found to be hidden.

2. That no inhabitants were to show themselves at the windows [looking out of the city] or to appear on the roofs or towers, and that the French troops had orders to fire at any transgressors.

3. That any gathering of more than seven people would be dispersed by being fired upon.

4. That no inhabitants were to leave their houses from eight [in the evening] to five in the morning, and if patrols found any trangressors, they would be shot.

On the same day the governor ordered that all the non-combatants of the garrison -- doctors, surgeons, pharmacists, bakers, servants, and those from the brigade of artillery were to be issued weapons to defend the city and would be formed into two companies, one of infantry and another of cavalry.

Sunday, 5 [May 1811]

In the morning of this day there was no artillery fired at the city. At one in the afternoon, the French took a Royal Howitzer to the area of the Picurina Hill and, having thrown some twenty shells into the two [allied] camps, afterward left the field.

Monday, 6 [May 1811]

Nothing happened in the morning of this day and there were only some shots on the part of the garrison. On this same day an English parliamentarian [flag of truce] approached on the Albuera road but it was not known what message was delivered but the French spread the information that if civilians attempted to approach the enemy positions, they would be shot. During the night an order was published, by the senior Governor that those inhabitants who did not have enough to eat during a lengthy siege to be suffered by the city, could leave on the following day, the only occasion they would have to do so.

Tuesday, 7 [May 1811]

There was on this day great suspense on both sides. In the early morning large columns of English troops arrived on the Albuera road. On this same morning rumours circulated that the French troops had orders to remove the overcoats and outer clothing of any civilian for fear that they might conceal weapons, but in the afternoon an order was published saying that this rumour was false, and that the people should remain calm, and that these rumours were being deliberately spread and the French troops had been ordered not to interfere with civilians. Before this order was published, the inhabitant walked with overcoats and outer clothing open, so it did seem to be an interference. This order was followed by another request for weapons [to be surrendered].

Wednesday, 8 [May 1811]

At dawn great firing was heard, and when the day grew light, it could be seen that English artillery had arrived close to the Picurina Fort, and the field of San Roque, and fought with the French, which lasted up to 9 in the morning.

On this same morning, strong columns of English infantry arrived on the other side of the Guadiana, extending the artillery to the San Cristobal Fort and the Tête du Pont. About eight or nine in the morning the French made a sortie to attack the English in the number of about six hundred infantry and fifty cavalry, with two artillery pieces. They attacked the English with the artillery and a lively fire broke out but not being able to resist the English they withdrew to San Cristobal from which they exchanged a sustained fire with artillery, for half the day. The French losses were thirty dead and fifty wounded, and among the dead was a captain of the regiment no. 88, [88e de Ligne] who was buried that afternoon in the cathedral.

Toward the close of day, there was artillery and howitzer fire, and at dusk, musketry, which was continuous throughout the night, and which implied that the work of the besiegers had begun.

On this day they [the French] arrested some people on the pretext that they appeared to be assisting the enemy and they arrested others later outside the city, on the pretext that they were rebellious.

Thursday, 9 [May 1811]

The hopes and suspicions of the previous night were not in vain as the English had begun their works and there appeared four works, in the hills of the Wervic, the Cerro Viento, Cerro Almendral and San Cristobal, much closer to that fort. The besieged, seeing these works, commenced a lively fire with the city batteries that did not cease all day and night. At the San Cristobal there was a lot of musketry, but the allies remained in their works.

During this day and night there was fired a thousand shot and shell.

They [the French] became agitated, raised the temporary companies again, to provide guards for the New Gates, patrols, and guard the wall at night.

Friday, 10 [May 1811]

The French on this day mounted a sortie at 8 in the morning, from the Palmas Gate, in the number of one thousand infantry and six hundred cavalry, in order to attack the besiegers in their works and to destroy the works.

The French emerged from the city in three columns formed for battle. The infantry column that formed the right, moved forward on the side of the fort [San Cristobal], another equally of infantry the centre, with two pieces of artillery moved forward along the two roads to Campo Major, inclined somewhat to the road to Elvas. The skirmishers and the French columns moved forward quickly to the parapets and, at first, found these defended by not more than ninety Englishmen, but in a short time two columns of allied infantry could be seen, one for the front and the other against the right of the French and in this position they opened fire, that by making this racket, they displayed much satisfaction, and threw back the French on the left headlong and in disorder, into the fort where they kept up musketry until 10 in the evening. At the same time a force of English cavalry approached the French who soon gave back, taking refuge in the Tête du Pont with two artillery pieces, which they retained as they would have been lost as the English approached the stockade of the Tête du Pont.

The loss of the French in this action was from forty to fifty dead, two officers among them, there were one hundred wounded, among them also two officers. While the action lasted the temporary company did service in the city.

During the remainder of the day the French fired mortars and howitzers against the works of the besiegers.

On this afternoon were expelled six civilians out of the Palmas Gates and later an order was published by the governor, that all the inhabitants were to provide two earth sacks on the following under the penalty of two ducados [ducats].

Just at sun down, it was observed that the allies had driven six pieces of artillery up the Almendro Hill where they had built a battery, and that at the same time more artillery moved along the road from Elvas, which was put in the San Cristobal battery.

Saturday, 11 [May 1811]

It was obvious in the morning of this day that two thirds of the circuit of the city were blockaded and in the early dawn two batteries, on the Almendro Hill fired against Fort Picurina, and the other against the strong works at San Cristobal. Besides these batteries a new one appeared among the roads to Elvas and Campo Major and fired at the Tête du Pont.

There was such fog in the morning that the firing was forced to stop until eight o'clock, when it resumed and lasted all day.

During the quiet, a captain of those killed the previous day was buried at the cathedral.

As darkness fell, the English ceased firing although the French, from time to time, sent over a number of shells and grenades.

Sunday, 12 [May 1811].

Very windy. At dawn the allied opened fire but ceased at six and did not resume all day and night. The French stopped firing a half an hour later.

At 11 AM, the governor published an order that all of the inhabitants, with distinction, must provide four earth sacks to the alcaldes, and ordering that the news vendors obey the alcaldes of their neighbourhoods, because if any contradicted them, they would be expelled from the city without their personal effects or foodstuffs.

At one hour in the afternoon a flag of truce arrived at the Trinity Gate and, receiving an answer, departed.

During the night there was great peacefulness; only the defenders fired, about three or four shells at 10, and at midnight was heard some musketry.

Monday, 13 [May 1811]   

Rainy. There was on this day a suspension of fire on the part of English, and the French responded slowly, and it was calculated that a hundred shots were fired between day and night.

The governor repeated the order about the earth sacks in the morning, and re-iterated that the previous order published on the 4th, that no civilian was to leave his house, between the hours of 8 at night up to 5 in the morning, under penalty of being arrested and brought before a military tribunal.    

Tuesday, [14 May 1811]

Rainy. There was on this day great peacefulness in all parts but the French fired about twenty shots during the day and night.

Wednesday, 15 [May 1811]

Rainy. The besiegers' works appeared somewhat careless and the embrasures of the batteries were destroyed, implying that the English had removed their guns.

This being observed, the French began to prepare for a sortie as they had doubts that the English had lifted the siege although they said that they were going out to cut firewood.

They took possession of the works on the Picurina hill but only used skirmishers to attack the works on the hills of Almendro and San Miguel. They found, however, greater resistance than they had planned and had to withdraw at 3 in the afternoon, unless they suffered heavy losses in action.

At the same hour, taking advantage of the mist and rain, the French cavalry galloped along the road to Talavera and, having found some Portuguese, who were unarmed and looking for broad beans, they killed fifteen of them and captured eleven, learning from two officers that they were in an advanced position.

These officers told them that the English had lifted the siege as they had been called to face a French reinforcement of twenty-four thousand that had come to the relief of the city.

Thursday, 16 [May 1811]

Rainy. At dawn the siege works were found abandoned on both sides of the Guadiana and in the fields.

The French formed to sortie from the city with the civilians they collected, in order to destroy the siege works and batteries of the besiegers, which was to take three days.

It shortly became known that the allies had marched away to fight a great battle, because in the city could be seen a lot of smoke between Albuera and the mountain of Monsalu, and that the line occupied there seemed to be more than two leagues in length.[3]

Friday, 17 [May 1811]

Windy and rainy. At dawn of this day, five hundred Frenchmen left the city with the intention of taking a bridge of boats the English had built a league from the city and gathering provisions. In the area of Benevides they encountered four thousand and five hundred English infantry and some cavalry who attacked them and surrounded them in such a way, that only about three hundred and sixty returned to the city, the remainder being killed or captured.

At the same time, the Presbítero D. José Sanches with six men of the people, moved by pity, left the city to dig graves for the Portuguese, that had been abandoned naked, in the road of Talavera and among the vegetable gardens after being killed by the French cavalry that had sortied at three hours in the afternoon of 15 May.

.................

[Second excerpt]

Sunday, 19 [May 1811]

Calm. Blockade. On this day at 10 in the morning the English were visible on the highway to Albuera and in the hills of San Gabriel. The garrison announced this appearance with some artillery shots. During the whole week the English stayed quietly camped in the hills of Mayas, nothing happening of note except it was observed on the heights of these hills a hung man on Monday, 20 May, in the morning.

Saturday, 25 [May 1811]

Hot and windy. On this day at 8 in the morning, the English presented themselves on the other side of the Guadiana, the garrison announcing their appearance with some shots.

In the afternoon the French expelled from the city eight Portuguese, that days before they had arrested as suspicious persons.

Sunday, 26. [May 1811]

Hot. During the morning of this day the English made a small stronghold on the hill closest to Fort San Cristobal, where the French observed them through a telescope. For the most part, the day passed in silence but at night some musketry was heard from the side of the San Vincente bastion.

Monday, 27. [May 1811]

Calm. At dawn the French ventured out of the Palma Gate with infantry, cavalry and two artillery pieces, to protect those that were sent to harvest herbs or green wheat. A little time later they had to withdraw, having been attacked by the English. They exchanged musketry and artillery and lost two carts. The remainder of the day passed peacefully.

Tuesday, 28 [May 1811]

Calm. There was on this day a great suspension of hostility. At 10 hours of the morning great infantry columns and cavalry of English and Portuguese passed in the number of eight thousand men from Santa Engracia over the bridge of Xévora, Bardocas, the area of Silveira's pasture, through which passed the Guadiana, and they located [camped] close to the road to Talavera, less than a league in distance from the city.

Wednesday, 29 [May 1811]

Hot. At the dawn of this day the French made another attempt to protect those that were sent out to gather provisions but they could not move very far and were forced to return loaded with sedge that they had picked on the banks of the Guadiana. The remainder of the day passed quitely. At two and a half hours in the morning, some artillery shots were heard, which announced that the besiegers had begun their works.

Thursday, 30 [May 1811]

Hot. The day of San Fernando. The Holy Day of Santo Rei did not pass quietly as artillery fire began early in the morning as the French opened up a lively fire against the works of the besiegers, a battery of four pieces, that appeared on crown of the Carro del Viento [Windy Hill], and a covered road [parallel?] around it that looked on the city and the Pardaleras Fort. From four in the morning the French fired, slowly, and it was calculated that they fired four hundred rounds throughout the day.

Friday, 31 May [1811].

Fair. Brisk wind. On this day at dawn the works of the besiegers appeared, two batteries they had previously built against San Cristobal and the Tête du Pont, which the French had demolished on the 16, 17 and 18 [of May].

Beyond this was a covered road [parallel] that they began in the hill of San Miguel, crossed through the vegetable gardens, joined the Tinoco, which the French called the Tinajero, and finished in the Pic [juncture of the Rivillos with the Guadians]. At nine in the morning about fifty skirmishers left the city to fire at those who worked in this covered road. However, they had no sooner left for the small bridge of five arches close to the San Roque bastion, than they returned with a dead soldier and two wounded. The afternoon passed with much musketry and the French lost seven men killed and twenty-four wounded but collected a Portuguese prisoner and a wounded English musician. The roundshot and grapeshot fired today were counted at five hundred.

Saturday, 1 [June 1811]

Windy. The besiegers continued to work this day and the French kept them under a lively artillery fire, with batteries again mounted in the castle, to the count of six hundred rounds. The English [fired] barely twoo hundred. Also an order was published [by the governor] that all of the rich inhabitants were to provide four earth sacks, and the other [poorer] people, two or one, together with the labour to pile them. Artillery was observed on the highway from Albuera moving to the batteries.

Sunday, 2. [June 1811]

Windy. Pentecost Sunday. Since yesterday the fire has been continuous from both the French and from the works of the besiegers, amounting to seven hundred rounds, the greatest part of the defenders' fire directed against the Tinajero where there were works earlier.

At eight in the evening the governor issued an order by way of the news vendors [street callers] that we were to go at five in the morning to the castle to work, under the penalty of being arrested and put to death for those that did not obey.

Monday, 3. [June 1811]

Fresh. On this day at nine and half of the morning the besiegers opened fire against the city with six batteries; four that were beside the hills of Bervic, fired against the Tête du Pont, the stronghold of San Cristobal, and the castle in the city; and the other two that were on this side of Guadiana, each mounting eight pieces, fired against the castle, which was their main target. This fire continued in a very lively fashion throughout the day until eight in the evening, and was mainly English, and it was calculated that the defenders and the besiegers fired, in all, six thousand, one hundred and sixty rounds. During the night there was a lot of musketry and the French from time to time fired shells.

Tuesday, 4 [June 1811]

Hot. At four hours of the morning the artillery fire began and continued, without pause, until eight in the evening. The French launched a terrible fire from a battery that in the night they had positioned in the cemetery of the hospital where they had positioned 24-pdr. guns. The shots counted during the day, from one side to another, were six thousand hundred and ninety.

At nine in the evening one began to hear musketry and occasionally shells and bombs.

Wednesday, 5 [June 1811]

Hot. The firing began today before four in the morning, and at the same time there appeared another new battery in the bank of the Guadiana, which at ten hours also opened fire against the castle from that area. The shooting was so continuous that one became stunned by the constant discharges. The French responded with the artillery in the San Roque bastion and the Trinity bastion. The firing ceased at eight in the evening. It was calculated that, overall, six thousand two hundred and thirty shots were fired. An artillery round shot killed the sentry stationed at the door of Filipon's quarters, in the house of the Conde da Torre del Fresno.

Thursday, 6 [June 1811]

Hot. The firing of the besiegers began at dawn and was very lively but later decreased. The French answered slowly but the calculation was that four thousand two hundred rounds were fired. A poor woman was killed by a round shot. At ten in the evening, a lot of musketry was observed along the whole line of Bervic and the stronghold of San Cristobal and continued, later with artillery, howitzer and mortar rounds, until one in the morning.

On the following day the French announced that the English had assaulted the strongpoint of San Cristobal but only got as far as the ditch where they left two hundred dead and did not break into the stronghold. Others said that the French tried, by using boats, to spike the enemy artillery in the battery nearest the fort but could not accomplish this but were chased into the Tête du Pont and the fort, pursued by the English. An artillery round shot today removed the arm of a boy near the convent of Santo Onofre carrying a lantern.

Friday, 7 [June 1811]

Hot. On this day there was little fire, calculated as being two thousand and three hundred.

Saturday, 8 [June 1811]

Hot. The English today began to fire from a new battery established in the area of the Guadiana, and they continued with plenty of activity during the whole day. The French made little return fire, and the shots of both sides were calculated as being three thousand and two hundred.

Sunday of Sacred Trinity, 9 [June 1811]

Hot. The fire continued as on the previous day. At ten hours in the morning a round shot killed two women, and removed the arm of a man who died the following day, this misfortune happening in the "street of the Feathers." At nine in the night the English came to assault the fort of San Cristobal, but they could not take it. The firing lasted until eleven. In the morning of the following day, the French displayed in the plaza an English officer, another Portuguese, and a soldier, saying they had captured them in the breach.

Monday, 10 [June 1811]

Hot. The firing ceased at ten in the morning when an English parlimentary [flag of truce] approached the Palma Gate but as nothing happened, the firing broke out again between the French and the besiegers at one hour in the afternoon. The French prepared to cross the bridge to attack the allies. At five hours in the afternoon five Frenchmen playing cards in the bakery of Santa Engracia were seriously wounded by an artillery projectile and on the Santa Marta rampart, another shot killed a sentry.

A rumour ran among the French that the English had lifted the siege and this was proclaimed in an order at nine in the evening as an established fact.

Tuesday, 11 [June 1811]

Hot. The little fire made by the besiegers on this morning confirmed to us that the French statement of the previous night was true, because they didn't shoot more than one round every hour and stopped in the afternoon.

Troop columns were seen on the road to Talavera, but it was not known if they were troops in retreat, or that had left during the previous night for some attack. It was observed that, on the field, the besiegers had removed for Olivença and for Elvas artillery and other equipment.

Wednesday, 12 [June 1811]

Fair. The suspension of fire on the part of the besiegers continued on this day and the French showed little activity. The removal of artillery and carts could be seen and by afternoon the rumour went around that the besiegers had left the field.

Thursday, 13 [June 1811]

Hot. Corpus Christi. The suspension of firing continued as before.

At one hour of the afternoon there left Pardaleras Fort about thirty skirmishers in order to protect the cattle that were sent out to graze. However, a half hour later, they had to retreat as they had been attacked by a larger force, and they herded the cattle into the ditches. The rest of the day passed calmly.

Friday, 14 [June 1811]

Hot. At nine of the morning the French troops left through the Palmas Gate in the number of forty infantry and thirty cavalry, and marched for the highway of Olivença to reconnoitre. They returned after one hour, however, bringing eight captured horses, and four English but one that was taking a bath [swimming?] had died.

Saturday, 16 [June 1811]

Hot. On this day nothing special happened, concerning the besiegers and it was clear that they had left.

Sunday, 17 [June 1811]

Stormy. During the dawn the besieging troops definitely lifted the siege, after forty-four days of blockade, and eight of open breach. The French left the city in the force of five hundred infantry, forty cavalry and two artillery pieces, in order to reconnoitre the area on the other side of Guadiana, and they returned at two hours in the afternoon, bringing sixteen horses loaded with biscuit and other subsistence, four Portuguese that were driving them for the bridge of Xévora having been killed.

This same afternoon came a thunderstorm with rain, quite hideous, and when it cleared at six o'clock, great infantry columns and cavalry that passed the Guadiana in the ford of Canhada, were seen headed for Elvas. Some in the city said that this was the reserve and that the greater part of the English army stayed in their old positions at Albuera, awaiting the new reinforcement being brought by the marshal duke of Dalmatia [Soult]. The French proclaimed an order to make preparations to receive the marshals [Soult and Marmont] and that lodgings, food and other things were to be got ready for them. At the same time the ecclesiastical authority ordered that the bells of the cathedral and the other churches, were to be pealed as soon as they heard the first artillery piece shot [i.e., the first French salute for the arrival of the two marshals].


Notes

[1]. Used here and frequently to mean the French garrison and it has been so translated throughout.

[2].Général de brigade Armand Phillipon

[3].Two leages or about six miles which was about the extreme length of the allied position at Albuera, from north to south.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2006

 

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