OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 3


Pages: 1 2 <3> 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Sir Arthur was anxious to engage and defeat Victor before he was joined by the forces of Joseph from Madrid, and of Sebastiani from Mancha. He therefore dispatched Sir Robert Wilson, at the head of a considerable body of Spanish and Portuguese troops, on the way towards Madrid; and Sir Robert executed this duty with so much promptness and address, that he threw himself into the rear of Victor at Escalona, only eight leagues from the capital. On the 22nd of July the united armies of England and Portugal attacked Victor's outposts at Talavera, and drove them in. The stupid old Cuesta was nowhere to be seen; and the next day, the 23rd, when the English were again in position, ready to attack the French, the day was lost, because Cuesta said he would not fight on a Sunday. This tried Sir Arthur's patience past endurance, for every moment was precious, and he wrote on the occasion - " I find general Cuesta more and more impracticable every day. It is impossible to do business with him, and very uncertain that any operation will succeed in which he has any concern. He has quarrelled with some of his principal officers, and I understand they are all dissatisfied with him." The opportunity of beating Victor was thus lost. At midnight he quitted Talavera, and retreated to Santa Olalla, and thence towards Torrijos, to form a junction with Sebastiani. The next morning Wellesley took possession of Talavera, but he could not pursue the enemy, for he says, " he found it impossible to procure a single mule or a cart in Spain." Neither could he procure food for his army. He says his troops had actually been two days in want of provisions, though Cuesta's camp abounded with them. He declared that, under such treatment by those that he had come to save, he would return to Portugal before his army was ruined. On this, Cuesta became as wildly and madly active as he had been before stubbornly passive. He dashed forwards after Victor alone, never stopping till he ran against the rear of the united army of Victor and Sebastiani, at Torrijos. Wellesley was quite sure what the result would be, and in a new days Cuesta came flying back in a confused mass of men, bullocks, flocks of sheep, baggage-wagons, and artillery, beaten and pursued by the enemy.

Sir Arthur knew that at least one hundred thousand French were on the march to take him at once in flank and front; that Soult was advancing from Salamanca, Mortier from Valladolid; and, besides - which he did not know - Ney was en route from Astorga. He must, therefore, retreat at once or fight, and the enemy saved him the trouble of deciding. King Joseph, afraid of Sir Robert Wilson being joined by general Venegas, who had shown himself on the road towards Aranjuez, and of then falling on Madrid, ordered Victor to attack Wellesley at once, without waiting for any further reinforcements. Accordingly, Sir Arthur was attacked by Victor in front of Talavera. He had placed Cuesta and his Spaniards on his right, abutting on the Tagus, and protected by old enclosure walls and olive gardens; and his own troops on the left, on the open plain. The attack commenced, on the evening of the 26th, on the outposts, which gradually fell back, and the battle was renewed the next day. The position of the Spaniards being found unapproachable, the whole fury of the French fell on the English, and the contest was kept up till it was pitch dark. About midnight there was a tremendous firing on the Spanish side, and Sir Arthur rode there to ascertain the cause. No cause was visible, but the Spaniards were flying in great haste, and it was with difficulty that he and Cuesta could stop the route. The battle was renewed on the 28th with fresh vigour. The British line was attacked on ail points by the troops of both Victor and Sebastiani, but they were repelled, and driven down the hills at the point of the bayonet. In the words of Sir Arthur, the British everywhere maintained their positions gloriously, and gave the French a terrible beating. Out of the fifty thousand pitched against the less than twenty thousand British - for the Spanish were scarcely engaged at all - they lost in killed and wounded seven thousand men. General Lapisse was killed, and many prisoners taken, besides seventeen pieces of artillery, with tumbrils and ammunition complete. The English lost eight hundred and fifty-seven killed, and had three thousand nine hundred and thirteen wounded. Major-general Mackenzie and brigadier-general Langworth were killed.

The next morning, by daybreak, the French were in full retreat over the river Alberche, and Sir Arthur employed the two following days in getting his wounded into hospital in Talavera, and in procuring provisions for his victorious but starving army. Sir Arthur complains that, though he had thus repulsed the French for them, neither the Spanish authorities nor the Spanish people did anything to assist him in this respect. They were very willing that the British should fight their battles, but they must provide for themselves, or starve. The state of our own commissariat aggravated this evil. It had for ages been a department of the most corrupt kind, the duties of which were neglected, and little was thought of by its officers but the enriching themselves at the expense of our government and our soldiers. They were a set of harpies, or rather vampires, who sucked the blood of the nation, and of the troops which they pre- tended to invigorate. These people, long after this period, continued to pay the contractors and muleteers in notes payable at Lisbon, or at head-quarters; these the receivers had often to get changed into coin at a monstrous discount, and Jews and jobbers flocked after the army for this purpose. Many of these were in connection with the officers of the commissariat, who shared in their diabolical gains. To add to the mischief, some of these wretches introduced loads of counterfeit dollars, merely copper-plated, so that, after losing enormously on the exchange of the paper, the receivers found themselves utterly defrauded of their payment. It was no wonder that the trading part of the Spanish population should feel shy of supplying us, more especially as Sir John Moore - from the money which should have been in his chest having been, by Mr. Frere, carelessly handed over to the Spanish junta - had had to pay in paper, which the English government had not yet redeemed. The reform of such abuses as these was one of the great things which Wellesley did for the English army, but at present he was suffering the extremest difficulties from them. He wrote sternly to Mr. Frere, who had not yet been superseded by the arrival of the marquis of Wellesley, that he was blamed by the junta of Madrid for not doing more, whilst they were allowing his army, which had beaten twice their own number in the service of Spain, to starve. He says: " It is positively a fact that, during the last seven days, the British army have not received one-third of their provisions; that, at this moment, there are nearly four thousand wounded soldiers dying in the hospitals in this town from want of common assistance and necessaries, which any other country in the world would have given even to its enemies; and that I can get no assistance of any description from this country. I cannot prevail on them to even bury the dead carcases in the neighbourhood, the stench of which will destroy themselves as well as us." All this while, he added, Don Martin de Garay was urging him to push on, and drive the French over the Pyrenees; " but," added Sir Arthur, " I positively will not move; nay more, I will disperse my army till I am supplied with provisions and means of transport as I ought to be."

And, in fact, circumstances rendered it advisable to retreat. Joseph Buonaparte, with the reinforcements of Sebastiani, had joined Victor, and that general fell back on Talavera. At the same time, Wellesley learned that Soult had arrived in Placencia, in the British rear. He desired Cuesta to guard the pass of Puerto de Banos, but this he did so ineffectually, that both Soult and Mortier marched through it. Ney also reached Placencia, and thus fifty- three thousand men were threatening to cut off Sir Arthur's route to Portugal. He determined to fall back on Oropesa, leaving Cuesta to defend Talavera, and protect the two thousand British wounded in the hospitals; but Cuesta speedily abandoned the place, leaving one thousand five hundred of the wounded behind, whom Victor, to his honour, treated in the most humane manner. With the road of the enemy thus left open in his rear in two directions, Sir Arthur, at the same time, learned that Soult's division had got betwixt him and the bridge of Alvarez, in the direct line of his march into Portugal. His situation, thus hemmed in by overwhelming forces, was most critical, and he informed Cuesta that he must file off for Arzobispo, where another bridge opened the way, by Truxillo, to Badajoz. Cuesta opposed the idea, insanely insisting that Sir Arthur should stay and fight these overwhelming armies, and allow his route to be altogether cut off. Sir Arthur marched, crossed the bridge of Alvarez, and, on the night of the 6th of August, encamped in a ravine about six leagues from Arzobispo. Cuesta lost no time in following, and Sir Arthur desired him to defend the bridge of Alvarez; but he did it as effectually as he had defended the defile of the Puerto de Banos; he let the French come over with scarcely any opposition, his soldiers flying, and leaving behind them baggage, artillery, and everything.

Sir Arthur continued his retreat, with the whole host of French marshals in Estremadura - Soult, Ney, Victor, Kellermann, Sebastiani, and king Joseph - in pursuit of him. He reached, however, Badajoz safely on the 2nd of September, carrying the one thousand five hundred wounded with him. These he sent to the strongly fortified town of Elvas, in the Portuguese territory, which now became the great hospital of the army. Sir Arthur, on the 7th of September, was informed of the arrival of Sir Robert Wilson at Castello Branco. He had conducted his little force almost to the gates of Madrid, and had made a powerful diversion in favour of the main army, by keeping king Joseph and the French general in constant fear of his joining Venegas and attacking the capital. On his return, by order of Wellesley, he had gallantly fought his way against vastly superior forces, always contriving to make the enemy believe that his strength was double what it was. His conduct of this expedition elicited the most cordial praises from the commander-in-chief. At this juncture Napoleon sent a dispatch, ordering the army in Spain to cease further offensive operations till the conclusion of the Austrian war enabled him to send fresh reinforcements into Spain. This was a proof that Buonaparte no longer hoped to beat the English by any but the most preponderating masses. He had in Spain ten times the amount of the British, yet he could not hope for victory from this vast disproportion. Wellesley, at this very time, in one of his dispatches, had observed this great fact. " I conceive," he said, " that the French are dangerous only in large masses." The British army was therefore quartered on the line of the Guadiana, to protect Portugal from Soult, and remained undisturbed till the following May. Soult put his army into cantonments in Estremadura and Leon; king Joseph recalled Mortier to Madrid, and the other generals went into winter-quarters in different towns. Whilst the hostile forces were thus resting, the news reached Sir Arthur that he had been created baron Douro of Wellesley, and viscount Wellington of Talavera. This honour had been conferred upon him on the 4th of September, as soon as possible after the arrival of the news of his brilliant victory at Talavera; and we have now henceforth to name him by that name, which rose to the highest pitch of military renown, and has become one of the household words of England.

Lord Wellington, however, took no rest during' this winter. He was actively engaged in endeavouring to rouse the Spanish government to a sense of the necessity of his having proper means of supply and of transport, and of the impossibility of co-operating with the Spanish army in its present wretched condition. He had now had ampler experience of it, and he determined to have nothing to do with it till it should be thoroughly reformed. He was ably supported in these representations by his brother, the marquis of Wellesley, who had now arrived at Seville. Both of them stated very plainly to the junta their sense of the treatment which the English army had received from the Spanish authorities, and that lord Wellington could not possibly go on fighting for Spain unless the chief command of the army was given to him. Don Martin de Garay, and the dons altogether, maintained that they knew more of what concerned Spain than foreigners could, and complained bitterly of Wellington's retreat into Portugal, as they had done of Sir John Moore's. The marquis not only vindicated his brother, but Lord Wellington wrote, telling them very plainly what sort of support and co-operation he had received from them, and how little their word was to be relied on. Both the marquis and lord Wellington made these matters perfectly understood by the government in England, that their statements might be supported thence.

If there wanted anything to prove the truth of lord Wellington's warnings, and of his plain declarations to the Spanish authorities of the miserable, undisciplined condition of their armies, and the incompetency of their generals, it came quickly. Whilst they continued to treat him more like an enemy than a friend, and had actually issued orders throughout the province where he lay, forbidding the sale of provisions and forage for his army, their own armies were again utterly annihilated. The army of Venegas, which had retreated, on the advance of Sebastiani towards Madrid, into the Sierra Morena, had been taken from him, and given to a young, inexperienced man, general Areizaga. Cuesta, also, had been set aside for one still more incapable, a general Eguia, of whom lord Wellington had already pronounced that he was a fool. Areizaga, instead of maintaining his strong post in the hills, being joined by the greater part of the army of Estremadura, now commanded by Eguia, imagined that he could beat the united forces of Mortier and Sebastiani, and drive them out of Madrid. With fifty thousand men and sixty pieces of artillery, he descended from his hills into the open plains of La Mancha, where he was beaten on the 19th of November, with the loss of all his artillery but five guns, baggage, military chest, provisions, and everything. There was an immense slaughter of the soldiers, and the rest fled into the mountains.

The duque del Parque, who was posted for the protection of the line of the Tagus with another large army, was marching to support this intended conquest of Madrid, when, in the month of October, being strongly posted on the heights of Tamames, he encountered general Marchand, and defeated him. Elated by this success, he no longer trusted to hills and strong positions, but, like Areizaga, advanced boldly into the plains, and, on the 28th of November, he encountered Kellermann at Alba de Tormes, and received a most annihilating defeat. His men, both cavalry and infantry, scarcely staid to cross swords or bayonets with the French, but, flinging down their arms, and leaving all their baggage and artillery behind them, they fled in every direction. Kellermann pursued and cut them down without mercy - according to his own account, killing three thousand men, and making three hundred prisoners.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 <3> 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 3

The Battle of Talavera
The Battle of Talavera >>>>
Lord Collingwood
Lord Collingwood >>>>
Via Mala
Via Mala >>>>
Execution of Andrew Hofer
Execution of Andrew Hofer >>>>
Campo Vaccino
Campo Vaccino >>>>
Pope Pius VIII
Pope Pius VIII >>>>
Burdett riots
Burdett riots >>>>
Sir Francis Burdett
Sir Francis Burdett >>>>
Marriage of Napoleon
Marriage of Napoleon >>>>
The fire at the Austrian ambassadors ball
The fire at the Austrian ambassadors ball >>>>
Scene in the Peninsula
Scene in the Peninsula >>>>
Port of Rotterdam
Port of Rotterdam >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About