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Barba del Puerco

By Robert Burnham

Barba del Puerco was the site of numerous skirmishes between the British Light Division and French troops operating around Ciudad Rodrigo in 1810. The village itself was insignificant, however it was the location of one of the four crossing sites on the Agueda River, within 40 kilometers of Ciudad Rodrigo. The village of Barba del Puerco sits on the western edge of a steep canyon. A narrow winding road, with many switchbacks, leads down for about 500 meters to the bridge. (Photo #1) This road was paved at one time and the stones can still be seen in places, however it is now no more than an overgrown path. (Photo #2) The bridge was built by the Romans in the First Century and is about 50 meters long, five meters wide and 20 meters high. (Photo #3) At the east end of the bridge is a three room stone house. This house served as a covered position for the French piquet's and is still in good shape, although it is now occupied by a large number of bats. The road on the east side of the river has deteriorated to nothing more than a goat path. (Photo #4) Both sides of the canyon have large outcroppings of boulders and are overgrown with large bushes.

In mid-February, 1810 the British had a posted a small detachment to guard the bridge. The first French probe took place on 16 February when they captured the bridge, but withdrew the next day. On 27 February 200 French attacked and climbed to the heights take the village. Once again, the French withdrew the next day. On 8 March Craufurd posted a strong detachment from the Rifles there, but the next day they were pushed out by two regiments from General Macune's division. The French also captured Villar de Ciervo, but again withdrew. On 13 March, Craufurd moved four companies of the 95th Rifles into Barba del Puerco, and had the rest of the Light Division move into supporting positions behind them. The French kept a company on the ridgeline above the east side of the bridge.

On the night of 19 March, General Ferey conducted a night attack across the bridge with six battalions of infantry (two each from the 66th and 82nd Line, and the Hanoverian Legion). Under the cover of a heavy rainstorm, 600 grenadiers and voltigeurs surprised the two man piquet on the west end of the bridge. A 12 man piquet, placed about 50 meters up the road was quickly over-powered but were able to get a warning to their company bivouacked in a small church at the top of the ridge. This company quickly deployed to meet the French and fought hand-to-hand for 15 minutes until the other three companies arrived. The British soon counter-attacked, driving the French back across the bridge. Casualties for the British were 18 dead and wounded, while the French had about 40.

Photographs

#1: The west bank of the River Agueda, occupied by the British.

#2: The narrow road leading down to the bridge.

#3: The bridge over the River Agueda at Barba del Puerco.

#4: The east bank of the River Agueda, occupied by the French.

How to get there:

The village of Barba del Puerco is now called Puerto Seguro. From Ciudad Rodrigo go west on E 80 for about 5 km until you see signs for Gallegos de Arganan. Make a right and follow the road until Gallegos de Arganan (about 15 km). Head west from the town towards Aldea del Obispo. About 3 km outside of town take the road north to Villar de Ciervo (about 10 km). Head north from Villar de Ciervo towards Puerto Seguro (about 11 km.) The road is not marked, so you may have to ask directions. On the southeast side of Puerto Seguro is a small church. At the front of the church find a place to park and take the dirt road east. After 50 meters there will be a fork in the road, take the right side. The road will begin to deteriorate badly and will become a wide path. This path will wind down a very steep hill for about 500 meters. At the bottom of the hill will be the bridge. On the south side of the bridge is a water pumping station. If you can not find the turn-off for the bridge, ask for the water pumping station.

Further Reading:

Simmons, George: A British Rifleman. This is the best source on the action of 19 March. Simmons was the British officer who commanded the piquet and left a very livid account of the action.

Costello, Edward: The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns. Costello was a rifleman in Simmons' company and also has left a very readable account, which conflicts with Simmons' in some of the minor details.

Howard, Donald: Napoleon and Iberia: the Twin Sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida, 1810. This account provides information on the many small engagements at the bridge and detailed information on the campaign.

Kincaid, John: Adventures in the Rifle Brigade and Random Shots from a Rifleman. Kincaid also provides a very detailed account of the action, however due to his writing in the 2nd person, makes it unlikely that he was an actual participant.

 

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