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"The contest was arduous, and our situation was critical:" Major-General William ("Auld Grog Willie") Stewart Reports on the 2nd Division at Albuera, May 1811

By Donald E. Graves

On 18 May 1811, two days after the bloody action at Albuera ended, Major-General William Stewart wrote the following report to Marshal William Beresford, describing the activities of his division in the battle. The original of this report seems to have gone missing (unless it is in Beresford's personal papers) but lengthy extracts from it quoted below were included by the anonymous author of a biography of Stewart that was published under the title of "Cumloden Papers" in Edinburgh in 1871. I am grateful to John Grodzinski for bringing the existence of this very rare book to my attention. I have introduced paragraphing to improve the flow of the narrative.

The arduous combat in which we were engaged having been fought under your own immediate eye, it may be almost unnecessary that I should on this occasion enter upon that which is certainly the most pleasing of all our duties -- the giving praise to the survivors and recording the gallantry of those who may fall in a well-contested action. The memory and martial virtue, however, of those who entered the field that day are too strongly impressed upon my mind for me willingly to lose the opportunity for which you have given me of asserting that more brave men never defended the honour of His Majesty's arms or more firmly supported the glory of their country than those who fell in, as well as those who survived, the contest of the 16th instant.

The conduct of the 1st brigade, which was first brought into action by Lieutenant-Colonel Colborne, was very gallant. Although the loss in prisoners and colours has fallen on this portion of the Division, you are probably aware, Sir, that the brigade was suddenly attacked in flank and rear by a body of the enemy's cavalry while engaged in the almost desperate effort of charging nearly the whole of the enemy's attacking force. The form of the hill up which the brigade was led to the charge, and the obscurity occasioned by the smoke of musketry, and by a heavy fall of rain, prevented the enemy's cavalry from being seen, or their charge sufficiently early resisted. The colours of the 2d battalions of the 48th and 66th Regiments were unfortunately lost on this occasion, but not until the officers who bore them were killed, and the commanding officers, Major Brooke and Captain Binning, ceased to command. The former was severely wounded and made prisoner, and the latter was killed.

The 31st Regiment, the left of the brigade, not having been attacked by the cavalry, retained by its steadiness and spirit, the summit of the hill which had been gained by the rest of the brigade. The conduct of this small corps (it had only 320 firelocks in action , under the command of Major L'Estrange, was so particularly remarked by me during the whole of the action that I feel it to be my duty to state the same in the warmest terms. Wherever the fire or bayonets of that battalion could be directed, although against the heaviest columns of the enemy, they never failed of being so directed until the defeat of the enemy closed the operation. ......

The death and severe wounds of every commander in the 3d brigade, and the fall of two-thirds of both officers and men on the spot which was so warmly contended for sufficiently bespeak the unconquerable spirit of the corps which composed that brigade. A noble example was shown by the Major-General (Hoghton) who commanded it. He fell with many wounds while in the act of encouraging the 29th Regiment to the charge. ......

On none of the many occasions on which British armies have been accustomed to evince high conduct in battle has there been more high or, I believe, more general good conduct than was shown on the 16th instant. The contest was arduous, and our situation was critical. The enemy more obstinate than usual; and your own expression of determination to myself on the field called forth a more than ordinary degree of exertion and of self-determination from all. It is my hope that the 2d Division did its duty on the day.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2005


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