Trophies of Albuera (May 16, 1811)
The different consulted sources give some very different figures, about the number of flags and scripts taken by one and another decree in the course of this bloody battle, always spreading to diminish the lost ones own and to increase those of the enemy.
Fortunately, and thanks to the studies of the French vexologists Pierre Charrié and Jean Regnault, today we can confirm that they were 6 flags taken by the French army from the British in this battle, as well as 1 banner taken by the Spaniards from the French Imperial Army. The British were not able to take a trophy during this occasion, and limited the feats of the others in their writings to try to minimize the importance of the lost of their own flags, as well as to downplay those taken by their Spanish allies, in fact from the same horsemen that had just slaughtered to the English Brigade of Colborne.
The French divisions of Girard and Gazan, in an intent of overturn the Allied right, collided with the Spanish forces theres. The British commander, Marshal Beresford decided to send to their support an English division, commanded by Stewart. Colborne’s Brigade was the first of Stewart’s Division to arrive and he deployed its three battalions (1st Battalion 3rd Foot, 2nd Battalion 48th Foot, and the 2nd Battalion 66th Foot) in line, while the brigade’s fourth battalion (1st Battalion 31st Foot) remained to the rear of this line in a column.
At the moment that the British succeeded in throwing back the French infantry attack, they were surprised on their right by a great mass of enemy cavalry, consisting of the 2nd and 10th Hussars, 20th Dragoons, as well as the famous Polish lancers of the Vistula Legion.
In less than seven minutes the three British battalions had ceased to exist. Only the 1st Battalion 31st Foot, that was in the rear of the these battalions, had time to from square and to escape the disaster.
Each one of these battalions had two flags: the King’s Colour, with the Union Jack occupying the clothe, and the Regimental Colour, which was the color of the facings of the regiment, with a small Union Jack in the upper corner of the flag, Both Colours had a shield in the center on which was embroiderer the regimental number.
Six were taken by the French, one of them, that of the 48th Regiment, was take by Marechal-de-Logis Dion d'Aumont, of the 10th Hussar, while the other five were take by the Polish lancers, whose Colonel Konopka, while hoisting one of them, screamed to the French infantry, “. . . the victory is with us! These are the flags that only my regiment took!"
These flags, in fact 4 complete and 2 reduced to the flagstaff with their spearhead and so alone some fragments of their cloths, were sent by Soult to Paris, in the care of Captain Laffite, of the 26th Dragoons, where they were temporarily deposited in the home of Marshal Berthier, until their solemn presentation in the Tulleries in August 1811, along with 200 flags taken from the Spanish in the past campaigns. This was a brilliant act, that sought to be an eloquent answer to the ceremony organized in London on May 18 to receive the eagle of the 8th French Regiment taken at Barrossa.
In 1814, these trophies were almost destroyed, but remained hidden until 5 April 1827, when five of they were displayed in the Museum of Artillery. The sixth flag was the King’s Colour of the 3rd Foot, which had been reduced to shreds at the time of its capture. During the Revolution of 1830, a mob stormed the Museum and took weapons and flags from it, including the King's Colour of the 66th Foot.
In 1831, the 4 remaining Colours, were placed in the cornices of the chapel of the Hotel des Invalides. During the funeral of Marshal Sebastiani on 11 August 1851 a fire broke out. The Regimental Colour of the 66th Foot was completely destroyed, while the King’s Colour of the 48th Foot was badly damaged with only its central shield surviving. The Regimental Colours of the 3rd Foot and the 48th Foot had only small fragments of its clothe and part of the Union Jack survive. One disappeared completely and of the other ones, only three fragments remained.
On 26 February 1861, General Duffourc d'Antist donated to the Invalides his collection of flags. Among these flags was the King's Colour of the 66th Foot which had been stolen by a mob in 1830, and acquired by this indefatigable collector.
At the present time there still exist: the shield of the King’s Colour of the 48th Foot, which is in a frame in the warehouses of the l'Armée Musée (Paris), while the King's Colours of the 66th Foot, as well as the remains of those of the 3rd and 48th are suspended of the cornices of the chapel of the Hotel des Invalides, which is part of the annex to the l'Armée Musée.
To conclude this section, I believe it would be interesting to summarize the information given by the British about the losses suffered in the Albuera by each one of the three battalions of Colborne’s Brigae:
First Battalion 3rd Foot (The Buffs)
Their facing color: buff
It was the first one attacked, having in line 24 officers and 750 soldiers, of whom on the following day only 5 officers and 134 soldiers were present for duty. Their ensign, Edward Thomas, only 15 years old, took the Regimental Colour, was surrounded by the enemy horsemen. A French officer asked him for the flag, and when he refused, he fell instantly to the ground pierced a lance. "The flag was taken, Fraser writes, but recovered but then retaken", without explaining when either occured. Other sources say that the Brigade of Fusiliers, was able to recover all its cloth, but not the staff.
The King’s Colour, was carried by Ensign Walsh, who was 16 years old. Several men of his escort united with half a dozen soldiers that fought in small circle, to defend the flag. Desperately, their flag was caught by Lieutenant Latham who defended it hopelessly with his sable. Felled by blows and kicked by the horses, he was able to pull the cloth off the staff and to hide it under his body. At the end of the day, Sergeant Gough of the 7th Fusiliers would find it bloodstained under the lieutenant's body, who although seriously maimed, was able to survive..
"Our flags” wrote one officer of the Buffs “were taken and recovered three times, but are still with us, fixed on two halberds."
In fact both sources are right, because the Poles took their staffs, with the spearheads and cords, as well as parts of the cloth, while the Englishmen were able to save much of the clothe. The Regiment’s Day is now celebrated on the anniversary of the battle of Albuera.
Second Battalion 48th Foot (Northamptonshire)
Their facing colour: buff
Their losses were numerous: 7 dead and 23 wounded officers, with 392 men hors de combat. The British do not mention their flags, but there is no doubt that both were taken, one by Marechal-de-Logis Dion d'Aumont, of the 10th Hussars, and the central shield of the other still remains in Paris.
Second Battalion 66th Foot (Berkshire)
Their facing colour: green yellowish.
The 2nd/66th was all but destroyed. Of their force of about 400 men, they had 16 officers and 310 men killed or wounded. The following day, it was able to muster only 53 bayonets. The majority of the casualties had been killed and among the dead were the battalion major, and the ensigns Walker and Colter. Captain Clark was taken prisoner, but was able to escape later, wrote that one of the flags was saved, but surprisingly he does not specify which one. The remains of this battalion was formed into a provisional battalion with the 2nd Battalion 31st, which had saved its flags. It was noted in its last inspection in Roncesvalles in 1813 said “The Battalion of the 66º doesn't have flags, because their new ones were sent to Lisbon in 1812. It is the undeniable test of their loss at Albuera, and the King's Colours also exsists still in Paris”.
Another document: in a letter about Albuera from Lieutenant George Crompton of the 66th Regiment, dated May 18, 1811 "Oh, what a day that was. The worst of the story I have not related. Our Colours were taken. I told you before that two ensigns were shot under them; two Sergeants suffered the same fate. A Lieutenant seized a musket to defend them, and was shot to the heart; what could be done against cavalry?"
The Allies reacted to the destruction of Colborne’s brigade, by quickly counter-attacking. The Spanish headquarters Nogales, wrote on June 11, “The Polish squadrons were almost destroyed and those that penetrated intact, between the 1st and 2nd lines were killed by their fire and some companies of in front of the rearguard."
It was in that moment that the Spanish Infantry Regiment Murcia was able “to take the banner of the Poles", said General Lardizabal, commander of the Vanguard Division of which was part the Murcia Regiment belonged. Count Clonard, when recording the history of this unit copied when making the record of this unit.
And it concludes the part of the biggest State": the enemy lost 9,000 men among them were Generals Werlé and Pepín, both of who were killed; Marranxin, Gazan and Brayer wounded; as well as many senior officers, 3 flags, and numerous weapons and Spoils."
On May 23, during the feast of the Ascension, seven days after the battle, it was presented in Cádiz by D. Sbastian Llano, aide-de-camp to General Blake, brought the news of the victory to the Cortes, along with one of the above trophies.
According to the proceedings of the General and Extraordinary Cortes (of Cádiz) it was admitted before the assembly and after a short address exalting the Allied victory, he concluded by saying:
of the three flags that were captured from the enemy, I have the honor of presenting this to V.M. like tribute due to the Nation that they represents."
The aide continued requesting that that flag “be sent to a temple consecrated by the Patron of Spain . . . (the San Flepe Nen Chapel) and be preserved there forever. . .” This “flag” was the banner of the Vistula Lancers, taken by the Murcia Regiment, but what were the other two flags?
or some time, I believed that in 1890, there were two banners of belonging to the Vistula Lancers displayed in San Fernando's Real chapel in Seville. Today only the banner of the 2nd Squadron still hangs there, the banner of the 1st Squadron having been returned to the French Army Museum in Paris. But according to Captain Wojciechowski’s memoirs, these guidons were not lost at Albuera, but at Yebenes on 20 March 1809, where they were stored in the regimental commander’s personal carriage and subsequently captured. It is most likely that these guidons were sent to the Supreme Junta, which had its headquarters in Seville.
Therefore, given the evidence, it is highly likely that the figure of three flags captured was propaganda exaggeration.
This trophy, however, could be that of the 3rd Squadron of the Vistula Lancers or possibly a replacement guidon - of unknown design – for the ones lost at Yébenes. It hung in the Chapel of San Felipe Neri in Cádiz. On 29 November 1813, a pennant of the 52nd French Line Regiment, was sent to Cadiz after the capitulation of Pamplona (31 October 1813) and offered by the Cortes to the priests of San Felipe in appreciation of their permitting the Cortes to have their first sessions in that church.
The flags disappeared sometime in 19th Century and there is a possibility that these flags were destroyed by the priests to prevent them being re-taken by the French in 1823, when they occupied the city. Nevertheless, another extraordinary possibility exist. In the Museum of the Cortes of Cádiz, next to San Felipe's Chapel, a small collection of old flags existed but have never been classified. For 20 years now, they have been stored inside a freezer! None of the Museum personnel are unwilling to open, in spite of the repeated requests by myself!
Are two of them perhaps the trophy of the Albuera and the pennant of Pamplona?, I trust that some day we can know it, but at the moment the mystery remains.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2002; updated November 2002.