Research Subjects: Miscellaneous


Identity and Memory of the Peninsular War: a Cognitive Survey of the British Graves at Elvas

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy

 

A flowering Portuguese municipality, Elvas  is a natural milieu located nearly 15 km. west of the Spanish fortress of Badajoz. Its peculiar location, a hilly site northwest of the Guadiana River, gave it a strategic fame throughout the centuries.

The quite impressive Auqueduto de Amoreira (whose origins trace back to the 15th Century, the year 1498) easily supplied  waters to the city; remains of this 8 km. long composite structure do include tiers and 843 arches.

The town is dominated by a castle of  Roman-Moorish origin, a fortified structure which underwent further improvements and renovations until the end of the XVth Century.

Elvas encompasses the Pra ça da Republica, with its beautiful mosaic paving in stone and marble.  Here one can see the XVIth Century Câmara Municipal, and the temple of Nossa Senhora da Assunção, which was erected on a previous Roman-Gothic building of the XIIth century. The church of Nossa Senhora da Consolação is most surprising for the great quantity of color azulejos which are mounted on  the walls, reaching up to the vault of the dome.  Worth mentioning is the library of the Archaeological and Ethnografic Museum, a cultural establishment which is enriched by an outstanding collection of over 50,000 volumes.

Due to the fertile lowlands, olives and plums are distinguishing features of Elvas agriculture; production is abundant, and quantities fairly large.

In the neighbouring area lies Campo Maior, a fortress which was besieged during the Napoleonic invasion by the French; in 1811, under the sound leadership of Sir William Carr Beresford (Marshal of the Portuguese Army), the position was relieved by a contingent of British and Lusitanian troops. On account of its fearlessness the town earned the title of Vila Leal e Valorosa.  This resolute exploit de guerre was commemorated in a ballad by the Scottish historical novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott (15 August 1771- 21 September 1832).

Death of a Proud Professional

At the battle of Albuhera (May 16, 1811) (western Spain ) which was fought against the French army contingents led by Marshal Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult, Major General Daniel Hoghton (57th Foot Regiment) was shot at the head of his brigade. While under intense fire, the gallant British officer tried to re-mount, but was shot again.   He fell back from his mount, and was carried to the rear to receive immediate treatment. Hoghton’s qualities of leadership definitely emphasized his promptitude to the callings of personal transcendency and martial duty.

So far, it is easy to affirm with hindsight that his added display of determination on the line of fire (with his boldness, and breath of vision) proved a spurring to the severely tested troops to opposing French superior mobility on ground.  When his blood stained jacket was removed, it was discovered it had been penetrated by over ten musket shots.  That was the death of a proud military professional, (and his standard of duty), which caused grief and consternation amid his fellow comrades. 

The Brigade of Major General Daniel Hoghton relied on the fighting capabilities of the following combat units: 29th Foot; 48th Foot, 1st Btn.; 57th Foot, 1st Btn.  Totalling  1651 men in 30 companies. While defending against protracted French efforts, the Brigade suffered appalling losses (63.36 % of the effectives). The 57th Foot Regiment, a combat man power of 647 units, was literally mowed down by the withering enemy fire.  Two officers (Major J. McKenzie Scott and Captain Ralph Fawcett) and 87 men were killed; 21 officers and 318 were seriously wounded (i.e. a tribute of 52.39 %).  The force had 13.75 % of its men either killed or died of wounds.

After the major engagement was over, orders were imparted to have Hoghton buried at Elvas, and his resting place was properly arranged in the fortressed town (via General Leite’s supervision).  A most vivid description (year 1812) of the exact location where the body was buried is presented by the narrative of John Edgecombe  Daniel.

Details are very accurate, and sustained by objective evidence; we are provided a number of distinguishing elements:

- military rank of the deceased;
- surname;
- location of the tomb;
- place of resting;
- town location; |
- description of the grave;
- words inscribed on the memorial stone.

I had almost forgot to mention that in the walking round the ramparts of Elvas one evening, I came to the grave of Major-General Hoghton, who (it will be remembered) fell in the battle of Albuera. He is buried on one of the highest batteries of Elvas, which commands a most extensive view of the surrounding country, particularly over the plains of Badajos, extending even to the field of Albuera.A stone laid flat over the grave bears the following simple inscription:

Beneath this stone is deposited / THE BODY / of / MAJOR-GENERAL HOGHTON / of the English Army / He was killed at the head of his Brigade / In the Battle of Albuhera, / 16th May 1811.[1]

It can be easily noted that there are further specifications: the cause of death (military action); the location where he perished; the date of death. All told, 32 words were engraved on this epithaph of bravery and valour in action.

Albuera Remembered

The battle of Albuera, a rather disputed victory on ground, had resounding effects in England.The martial confrontation gained over the Napoleonic troops lifted the spirits, engendered waves of enthusiasm and unrestrained joy amid the people. In the Parliamentary debate, a “Vote of Thanks” was expressed to the army, and a number of specific considerations to duly honour the military success attained in the Iberian conflict. The Chancellor of the Exchequer expecially recalled the sacrifice of Hoghton, whose death in the field contributed to wresting the laurels of victory from the pugnacious French units.  Sensibly conditioned by emotion, he proposed to erect a monument in memoriam of the British commander, thus honouring his bright mark of valour (Hoghton had stood without hesitation sacrificing his life for the country).

The Chancellor of the Exchequer next moved, “That an humble Address be presented to his royal highness the Prince Regent, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions, that a Monument be erected in the cathedral church of Saint Paul, London, to the memory of major-general Daniel-Hoghton, who fell gloriously on the 16th of May last in the battle of Albuhera, which terminated in the signal defeat of the enemy’ s forces; and to assure his royal highness, that this House will make good the expense attending the same.[2}

Thus circumstanced, a commemorative plate was placed in St. Paul’s cathedral, in London.

In St. Paul’ s is a monument to Maj.-General Hoghton, who received a mortal wound in the very moment of victory, and expired on the field.
The inscription is: - “Erected at the public expense, to the memory of Major-General Daniel Hoghton, who fell gloriously, 16th May, 1811, at Albuera”[3]

Elvas Graves

Graves of Peninsular War veterans can be found in the British cemetery at Elvas ( Portugal ). The cemetery (Cemitério dos Ingleses) is located in the bastion of São João da Carujeiro.  The site is located just on the eastern wall of the fortress.

On location, the tomb of Hoghton can be easily noticed; however, it can equally be found the stone of another distinguished British officer: Lieutenant Colonel White. Daniel White was the commander of His Majesty’s 29th (Worcestershire) Regiment of Foot,[4]  and had died of wounds at Elvas (3 June 1811). At the fighting of Albuhera, the regimental force which counted a strenght of 507 equivalents (31 officers, and 476 ranks), suffered heavy casualties (74.95 %) under hard pressing French attacks.  A total of 17 officers and 363 men were killed, wounded, and missing.

On his stone are inscribed the following words of honour:  

HERE LIES THE BODY / OF / LIEUTENANT COLONEL DANIEL WHITE / WHO DIED IN ELVAS ON 3RD JUNE 1811 / OF WOUNDS RECEIVED / WHILE LEADING THE 29TH FOOT / AT THE BATTLE OF / ALBUHERA.

All around is silence; and the immobility of history can still be perceived.

Bibliography:

Daniel, John Edgecombe. Journal of an Officer in the Commissariat Department of the Army: Comprising a Narrative of the Campaigns under His Grace the Duke O\of Wellington, in Portugal, Spain, France, and the Netherlands, in the Years 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814, & 1815; and a Short Account of the Army of Occupation in France, during the Years 1816, 1817, & 1818. London: Printed for the Author, by Porter and King, Walbrook. 1820.

Gale, Richard. The Worcestershire Regiment: the 29th and 36th Regiment of Foot. London: Leo Cooper Ltd, 1970.

Huge, Everard, Major. History of the 29th (or Worcestershire) Regiment of Foot 1694 to 1891. Published by Littlebury & Company, The Worcester Press 1891.

Tissington, Silvester. A Collection of Epithaphs and Monumental Inscriptions, on the most Illustrious Persons of All Ages and Countries. London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., Stationers’ Hall Court; Keene, Derby; Piper, Ipswich; and By Order through every Bookseller. 1857.

The Parliamentary Debates from the Year 1803 to the Present Time. Published Under the Superintendence of T. C. Hansard. Vol. XX. London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, And Brown; [...]. 1812.

Notes:

[1] Daniel, John Edgecombe, Journal  [...], pp. 96-97.

[2] The Parliamentary Debates [...], p. 530; Vote of Thanks-Battle of Albuera, June 7, 1811.

[3] Tissington, Silvester, A Collection of Epithaphs[...],  p. 66.

[4] The regimental force was active from 1694 to 1881.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2007

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