« ZurückWeiter »
UNDECIDED MOVEMENTS OF THE BRITISH ARMY. [A.D.
Gregorio de Cuesta, against Marshal Victor's intervening army and upon Madrid. The Spanish authorities having undertaken to supply ample provisions for the British troops on the line of march, he implicitly relied upon their promises, and broke up his cantonments near Abrantes, without any itinerant commissariat of his own. On the 27th of June, directing his march on Placentia, by Castello Branca, Zaza Mayor, and Coria, he calculated that the beating he had given Soult had disqualified that army from assuming the offensive, but he was ignorant of the orders which Napoleon had sent out of Germany, directing the Marshal to assume the supreme command of the two corps of Ney and Mortier, and to advance with the whole force united on the flank of the British army. To effect this object, however, it was first necessary for the French Marshal to lay siege to Ciudad Rodrigo, the possession of which would open a direct means of cutting off, through a descent by Placentia on Almaraz, all retreat of the allied army out of Spain. Soult at once proposed to the intrusive King to lay siege to this fortress with a view of forcing Wellesley to withdraw out of Spain ; but Joseph thought it of more importance to protect Madrid. Napoleon, however, judged as Soult had done, and wrote from Schönbrunn, “ Wellesley will probably advance by the Tagus upon Madrid ; in this case, pass the mountains, fall upon his tank and rear, and destroy him.” The possibivity of such a step was present to the mind of the British Commander, who had directed Beresford to move on Almeida and to co-operate with the Duque del Pasque, who was in the neighbourhood of Ciudad Rodrigo ; and Wilson, who was in the Gredos mountains with the Lusitanian Legion, was appointed to guard the defile of Baños and to watch the Col de Perales. He had, howerer, at this time the incontestable evidence of a General Franceschi, who had been taken prisoner by the Guerillas, that Soult had not quitted Zamora on the 30th of June. While, therefore, the army remained at Placentia from the 8th to the 13th of July, Sir Arthur Wellesley thought it prudent to concert measures with the army with which he was to co-operate, and therefore repaired to the Spanish head-quarters at Puerto Mirabete, to have an interview with Cuesta. He found the General sullen, obstinate, haughty, and impracticable, in no degree concealing his natural arrogance and the supreme contemptin which he held the English General. Wellesley however, after much trouble, induced him to promise that his army should be amply provisioned on the line of advance agreed upon, and immediately on returning to his head-quarters he issued orders for a forward movement on Madrid.
While the British army rested at Placentia no decided indication had been given of the future intentions of its leader. He there covered Almaraz as well as Ciudad Rodrigo, and thus watched every point of junction of the French armies, but as soon as he moved forward to Oropesa, where he joined Cuesta on the 20th, he exposed his left flank. On the 24th, 25th, and 26th, the French forces began to concentrate. Marshal Victor now warned the
1809.7 DISCORD CREATED BY CUESTA'S OBSTINACY.
intrusive King at Madrid that not only might the capital be threatened by Wellesley and Cuesta, but that Vanegas was marching against Sebastiani on the site of La Mancha. Marshal Jourdain forthwith advised Joseph to collect all the forces he could assemble, and advance io meet the allied army in his front, which was supposed to number 60,000 men, exclusive of the corps of Vanegas, namely, 26,000 British and 36,000 Spanish. The army of Victor was estimated at 22,000 bayonets, and the garrison of Madrid could spare about 5,000 men, including the King's guard. A request was despatched to Soult for the aid of the corps of Marshal Mortier, consisting of 18,000 or 20,000 good old soldiers, stationed at Villa Castin, two or three marches from Toledo; but Soult had already ordered Mortier to march to Salamanca; and King Joseph, having refused him the co-operation of the armies of Arragon and Catalonia, was afi aid of insisting on a countermand of Mortier's march, lest he should incur the displeasure of the Emperor, who had, as stated, appointed Soult to the supreme command of the French troops in the north of Spain. Joseph, however, ordered Sebastiani to move quickly through the province of Toledo, to the support of Marshal Victor, which made the French army amount to 45,000 excellent troops.
Very shortly after Wellesley had effected the junction of his army with that of Cuesta, the ill-will and wrong-headedness of the latter produced open discord. The English General complained that the needful supplies for his army had not been forthcoming, and he informed Cuesta that, unless furnished with the articles which he had vainly and repeatedly demanded, he would not march another league in advance of his own resources. The old Spaniard replied tha; the British army was unreasonable in requiring more than was deemed amply sufficient for the Spanish; and Sir Arthur, unwilling to retire from the prospect of a successful inroad, acceded, but with an ill grace, to this unsatisfactory retort. Marshal Victor now withdrew behind the Alberche, and the allied army advanced to Talavera de le Reyna, where it took up a joint encampment on the 22nd. Wellesley,with his accustomed vigour, now proposed to attack Victor next morning, but Cuesta, from constitutional indolence and the effect of age, declared that he was not ready. The French Marshal, accordingly, was enabled to withdraw unopposed towards Toledo — a strategic point of considerable importance, as it brought him into immediate communication with the corps of Sebastiani. Wellesley now addressed a further communication in writing to urge Cuesta to unite in an attack, but without effect; and the next day he saw incontestably that the time for action was passing away, for he received information that Soult was concentrating his army in the rear, while King Joseph, in the front, was uniting all his strength to reinforce Victor. At length, however, being assured by the Spanish officer commanding the outposts that the French were withdrawing their artillery, and induced by the paltry ambition of being the first to enter Madrid, Cuesta changed his mind, and proposed an attack on the 25th, assuring Sir Arthur
CRITICAL SITUATION OF WELLINGTON.
that the enemy was in full retreat ; but the British General knew better, and was now firm in refusing to quit the Alberche to move forward. The Spaniards were, nevertheless, put in motion on Sta Olalla and Torrejos, and their columns passed the river in rapid succession; but Wellesley, though he would not advance, looked most anxiously upon Cuesta's rash movement. Jomini sees in this cautious and judicious proceeding of the British General “une foible idée de son talent et de son caractère-de l'aplomb mais peu de hardiesse.” Nevertheless, he finds fault with Joseph for not tempting the allied generals forward, which was the precise reason which made Wellesley pull up, and which had inspired him with alarm for Cuesta's rashness. The French were assembled behind the Guadarama stream with an army of nearly 50,000 men and 90 guns, and Wellesley, seeing the inevitable consequences of the Spaniard's presumption, sent forward across the Alberche the whole of the British cavalry, with two infantry divisions, under General Sherbrooke in support. The van of Cuesta's army was attacked, as Wellesley expected, on the morning of the 26th, and after considerable resistance was driven back in confusion, followed closely by the dragoons of LatourMaubourg. Fortunately the Duke del Albuquerque, with 3,000 Spanish cavalry, stood firm, and by a gallant charge checked the enemy in the very nick of time; for a panic had already begun to diffuse itself in the Spanish ranks. Sir Arthur, who witnessed the disorderly march of chattering assemblages of half clad, halfarmed men, now came up, and besought Cuesta to withdraw his army to Talavera, undertaking that Sherbrooke should remain to cover the movement; but Cuesta's uncouth nature again broke forth. He saw his troops beaten, dispirited, fatigued, and bewildered, yet said that his army would be disheartened by a retreat; and it was not until alter much persuasion that the sullen old man yielded, turning round to his staff with the absurd remark, that " he had first made the Englishman go down on his knees.” Having vented this ridiculous speech, he retired into the lumbering coach and six, which always attended his headquarters in his campaigns, “ leaving to the Englishman,' by virtue of his superior genius, to assume the command of both armies.” Sir Arthur posted the Spanish army in two lines upon the right of the position he had assumed at Talavera, resting their flank on the town, which touched upon the river, and their entire front being covered by an extensive grove of olive and cork trees.
38. BATTLE OF TALAVERA. The British commander had not been unmindful of the very critical situation into which he had got himself by trusting too confidently to Spanish presumption, and by marching almost to the capital itself without the ordinary security for the provisioning of his army ; but he saw that it would be necessary to satisfy public opinion by trying the fortunes of a battle, and examined the ground about Talavera, where he discovered a limited but very favourable
DISPOSITION OF THE BELLIGERENTS.
position suited to his object. It has been thought that Joseph could have done better had he awaited the movement of Soult (who was at last certainly in motion), but having advanced to, and already obtained some success at, Sta Olalla, the French army, in the early morning of the 27th, went forward and again crossed the Alberche in front of Sir Arthur's position. The allied army was situated on commanding ground of about two miles in extent, strengthened with some field works. Between it and the river lay a plain thickly covered with cork and olive, which were also scattered over the lower face of the mountain range here bordering the valley of the Tagus. The right flank rested on the town of Talavera, through which passed the high road, but this was rendered almost unapproachable by the mud enclosures of the suburb, which were occupied by the Spanish r flemen. The left flank was closed by a mound, on which was a large field redoubt. Some unconnected hills, of moderate height, bounded the plain on the left; and on these were situated the British troops, covered in their front by a ravine formed by the winter torrents from the mountains, but at this time dry. In order to secure the point of junction where the British right touched the Spanish left, ten guns were placed in battery on the summit of a bold knoll, and behind this the British and Spanish cavalry were posted. In frout of Cuesta's infantry, ditches and felled trees added something to the difficulties of an attack, and a large house, with a wood, also stood there, well placed for defence. A battery likewise covered the retreat, which could be made by the main road from Madrid to Oropesa. From the mound the British line consisted of Campbell's division, in two lines ; Sherbrooke's next, but only in one line; then Mackenzie ; and then Hill, who had two brigades of artillery posted in his front for the defence of an isolated hill, at which the position terminated. The French army marched in the cool of the morning of the 27th, and fording the Alberche, surprised and attacked General Mackenzie's division, which was posted at the f 'asa de Salinas, and had not yet got into line. Here they were without cavalry outposts, and the woods by which the enemy approached were badly guarded by the sentinels. Indeed, Sir Arthur was like to have been taken prisoner himself, for, at the moment of attack by the divisions Lapisse and Ruffin, he was in the house writing out his directions. The French charged hotly, and an English brigade, now under fire for the first time, was separated and driven back in some disorder ; but Wellesley placed himself at the head of the 45th regiment, and, with some companies of the 60th rifles, kept Marshal Victor at bay, and brought the 87th and 88th regiments safely back, having called up some cavalry to cover the movement; but he lost 400 men in this encounter. Mackenzie's division then took up its allotted place in the line, and Marshal Victor rapidly advanced across the plain in fine martial order: Ruffin on the right, then Villatte, then Lapissé ; while Sebastiani approached the Spanish line, and pushed forward his light cavalry to make Cuesta show his order of battle. Milhaud's light cavalry actually commenced a pistol skirmish, to which the Spaniards replied with one
general discharge of musketry, when, in one instant of time, 10,000 infantry, with all the artillery, as if deprived of their senses, broke their ranks and fled; the gunners leading away their horses from the guns, and the infantry throwing away their arms, and even Don Gregorio de Cuesta himself going with them. Sir Arthur instantly brought up some British cavalry to flank them, and opened some batteries against the enemy, which were aided by the difficulties of the ground; when Cuesta, having fortunately recovered his presence of mind, sent his horsemen to head the fugitives and bring them back, but about 5,000 men never returned at all, and the great redoubt in the centre was for a long time silent for want of gunners.
Marshal Victor bad observed the confusion which appeared to exist in the enemy's army, and thought that a smart attack upon the left before nightfall would bring matters to an issue, and permit him and his corps-d'armée, of which he was just!y proud, to gain the exclusive glory of the day. Without communicating with the King, or even with Sebastiani, he ordered Ruffin's division to make a circuitous march to their right, but to send up one regiment to attack the hill on that side, and another to press down the valley and get to the rear o: the British position, while the third was to attack General Hill's right, where Villatte was to join in support; and Lapisse was to assail the British divisions ratber as a diversion than seriously It was already nearly dark, but the assault was vigorous; at intervals, voices were heard through the dusk calling out not to fire, for that they were of the German Legion. Thinking that at this latc hour it was but some English stragglers, Hill with his Brigade Major Fordyce rode forward, and in a moment found himself in the midst of the French. Fordyce was killed by the first fire, and Hill's horse wounded ; indeed, a grenadier had seized the General's bridle, but he disengaged himself from the man's hold and galloped off to the 29th regiment. Considerable sections of the enemy had even got into the English lines; some crying out that they were Spaniards, others Germans This night contest was carried on with acrimony, and often band to hand with the butt ends of the muskets. General Donkin had at first gallantly repulsed the attack with his brigade, and the 48th had poured in some telling volleys, but he was at length obliged to give way, and one French regiment actually reached the top of the hill. General Hill, however, arrived in the nick of time with the 29th, which he led up the height, and poured in a volley, followed by such a charge that the eneiny could not sustain the shock, but fled in all directions. When the summit was thus happily recovered, the 48th again went forward, and Donkin presented so formidable a front that the 9th French regiment, which made another attempt to ascend, was attacked front and flank and repulsed with little difficulty. The regiment sent up the valley had found obstacles there that they did not expect, so that the whole having failed in their several attacks, the French retired with one of their regiments perfectly cut to pieces. Their loss was estimated at 1,000, and the British loss was nearly 800 men. Both sides now lay down in their bivouac ; but about mid