Forty-four battles of the Napoleonic era in words and pictures
Napoleon was one of the most significant figures in world history; a military and administrative genius, statesman and despot, he set Europe ablaze and his influence around the globe resounds to this day. While there is no real glory in warfare, the Napoleonic period, with its marching Imperial armies, plumes bobbing above casques and shakos, and martial figures in uniforms glinting with steel, brass or bronze, is an irresistibly romantic time that fascinates both serious students and casual readers. Great battles were fought across continents, from the heat of the Iberian Peninsula to the snows of the Russian steppe, from the sands of Egypt to the northern woodlands of the Canadian frontier. This world at war, on land and sea, has been chronicled in hundreds of books, from first-hand accounts by soldiers who knew its battles to the works of modern historians who know there is an eager readership. Today we are familiar with photographs of warfare, but in the early nineteenth century the visual documentation of wars was undertaken by a host of talented artists and illustrators, and it is their work that places this unique Leonaur four volume set above the ordinary. Compiled from the writings of well regarded historians and experts on the subject, these accounts were originally part of a multi-volume collection of essays on the battles of the entire 19th century. Each essay benefits from the inclusion of illustrations, diagrams and maps to support and enhance the narrative, many of which will be unfamiliar to modern readers.
Battles covered in this second volume include Buenos Ayres, Eylau & Friedland, Baylen, Finland, Vimiera, Aspern-Essling, Corunna, Passage of the Douro, Talavera, Tyrol-Innsbruck and Barrosa.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
On the 9th, Sir A. Wellesley moved off with 12,300 men and 18 guns, carrying eighteen days’ provisions—three in haversacks and the rest on mules. On that day and the 11th the army, assembled at Leiria, on the main road from Lisbon to Oporto, forestalling and preventing the junction at that point which Laborde and Loison had arranged. Here the baggage and tents of the army were left. They followed the high road for some days, marching in burning sun and hot sand, and bivouacking in the open. On the 13th they were at Batalha, where Laborde had spent the 11th and 12th looking for a defensive position, but, finding it too extensive, had fallen back on Obidos.
It was observed that the Portuguese did not help the British very heartily. They had only 6,000 men, and refused to co-operate unless they were supplied with food, money, and arms from the English stores, so that no more than 1,400 joined under Colonel Trant, and about 300 cavalry came in by four and five at a time, with a few officers. They were well equipped and mounted, and some had belonged to the Lisbon police. On the 15th, the army first felt the French at Brilhos, in front of Obidos, and a few men fell in a skirmish, among them Lieutenant Bunbury, of the Rifles, who was shot in the head and died immediately—the first English officer killed in the Peninsular War.
On the 17th August the army, comprising 14,000 men and 18 guns, left Obidos. Sir Arthur reconnoitred Laborde’s position from a steep rock about two miles west of the Roliça road, and found him, with 5,000 men and six guns, occupying isolated ground of moderate elevation near the village of Roliça, which closes in the valley three miles south of Obidos. Laborde’s great care was to hold on to the mountains on his right, in the hope of Loison joining him with his 6,000 men. The British, on the other hand, wished to keep them separate, and to drive Laborde back before Loison could come up. Sir Arthur, therefore, formed his force in three parts. The centre, consisting of 9,000 infantry with twelve guns, he himself commanded, having Craufurd under him. On his left he sent Fergusson, with a division and six guns, to make a movement through the mountains by which he could turn Laborde’s right. On the right he sent Trant’s Portuguese to turn the French left. The cavalry were not engaged, but disposed so as to look more formidable than they really were.
General Foy, who was present with the French army, notices the fine appearance presented by the English, who marched slowly, regaining at once their compact order whenever it was broken by the obstacles of the ground, and ever converging towards the narrow position of the French. This, he observes, would much strike the imagination of the young French soldiers, who had hitherto only had to deal with bandits and irregulars.
As the movements were developed, Laborde found it prudent to retire to the heights of Zambugeiro, about a mile in rear, where the two mountain spurs join. The British general, who now further reinforced his left wing, continued the same tactics as before—namely, a centre attack, assisted by turning movements on both flanks, which his greatly superior numbers made possible—but Fergusson’s force, instead of marching round the French right so as to take them in rear, inclined towards their own right, and thus came upon and attacked them in front, crowding the centre. The centre also attacked before the Portuguese, on their right, were in a position to give much assistance.
The whole British force was, therefore, crowded into a space of less than a mile of very broken and craggy ground—so broken that the different bodies of troops were unable to keep up effective connection. The advantage of numbers was therefore entirely lost, while the French retained the advantage of a very strong position. The right wing of the 29th Regiment, now taking a wrong direction, came upon a point in Laborde’s line to which he was drawing in the troops from his left. The regiment was therefore taken in flank while it was attacking in front, and its right wing was almost annihilated, losing its colonel—Lake—and a major and some men prisoners; but General Hill (afterwards Lord Hill) galloped up, rallied them on their left wing, and on the 9th joining them, put himself at their head and charged the enemy, who resisted strongly, and Colonel Stewart of the 9th fell fighting with great vehemence. The French had possession of two small buildings on the hill, from which they annoyed the skirmishers of the 95th Rifles very much. They became angry, and one of them, jumping up, rushed forward crying “Over, boys, over!” to which the whole line responded “Over, over!” and dashed in, fixing bayonets as they ran. The French turned tail and evacuated the buildings, in which were some wine butts. These being pierced by bullets, the wine ran out and mingled with the blood of the wounded men lying there while they were being tended by the surgeons. A man of the 95th Rifle Brigade named Harris, who relates this incident, describes the French soldiers as wearing long white frock coats and bearing the imperial eagle in front of their caps. Laborde now found himself strongly attacked in front and both his flanks being turned, cutting off his line of communication with Loison. Retreat was therefore absolutely necessary, and this movement he carried out steadily, attacking his enemy three times with half his force and with cavalry charges, so as to enable the other half to retire. At the village of Columbiera, where the ridge of hill widened out, but was protected by ravines on the flanks, he made another stand, but finally was forced to retreat into the mountains, ultimately reaching Torres Vedras. The British bivouacked at and round Zambugeiro. In this action Laborde was wounded, and lost 600 men killed and wounded; the British loss was 500.