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Wellington’s Early Peninsula Campaigns

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Wellington’s Early Peninsula Campaigns
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Author(s): John Fane
Date Published: 2010/10
Page Count: 156
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-360-1
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-359-5

An infantry officer’s view of the war in Spain and Portugal

This book concerns the history, as it was experienced by the author, of Wellingtons campaigns in Spain and Portugal to the point that the French general, Massena, having been brought to a stalemate beneath the Lines at Torres Vedras and unable to sustain his army began his retreat back into Spain closely followed by the now replenished British and their allies under Wellington. John Fane, the author, was heir to the earldom of Westmorland. As was the practice of his time he had moved from regiment to regiment from the time of his joining the army in 1803 as ensign in the 11th Foot to the 7th, 23rd, 2nd West India Regiment, 91st and back to the 7th again. By 1811 he was Lt. Colonel of the 63rd Foot. Clearly well educated as one would expect of his station, Fane is able to combine his own experiences with an overview of the campaign generally and has thus left posterity with an invaluable source work on this interesting period of military history. This book is rare on the antiquarian market but is available in this affordable Leonaur edition in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.

On the 9th of August, Sir Arthur Wellesley made his first movement from the Mondego, and reached Leyria on the 10th; he halted two days to make the necessary arrangements for his advance, and to bring up the Portuguese who were at Coimbra. On the 13th he moved to the ground about Batalha, where a patrol of French, from the corps under General La Borde, at Alcobaca, was first discovered. General Frere, who commanded the Portuguese, here made an objection to advance any further, stating, as his reason, the improbability of finding provisions. Sir Arthur Wellesley was not disconcerted by this defection: after attempting in vain to alter General Frere's determination, he decided to move forward, taking with his army a detachment of 1,600 men, from the force under that officer's command, which he placed under the orders of Colonel Trant, and which Sir Arthur undertook to provision. These arrangements being made, he advanced to attack the corps that occupied Alcobaca; the enemy had, however, abandoned it in the night, and the British army took up its position upon the heights beyond it. The next day the army moved forward to Caldas; the advance, under Brigadier General Fane, to Obidos; where some skirmishing took place between the light troops under his orders, and the French rear.<br>

On the 17th Sir Arthur Wellesley moved to attack General La Borde, who had not as yet been joined by the force under General Loison, which was marching by Alemquer, to effect that object. General La Borde was posted at Rolica, in a strong position upon some heights which covered the road from Obidos to Lisbon.
Sir Arthur first formed his army in columns of battalions, behind Obidos, from thence he detached the light troops, under Brigadier-General Fane, supported by Major General Ferguson's brigade, along some heights which led to the right of the enemy's position. The rest of the army passed through Obidos, and advanced along the plain towards Rolica.<br>

The enemy was first discovered, drawn up at the foot of the hill, and in front of the position; but upon seeing our advance he retired to the heights.
Sir Arthur, upon a close examination of the ground thus taken up, and wishing to prevent the possibility of General La Borders retiring upon the fortress of Peniche, determined to advance the right of his army as well as the left, and thus to attack both flanks of the enemy's position. The attack on the enemy's left was led on by the brigade under Major General Hill, while the 45th and 29th Regiments under Major General Nightingale were ordered to advance upon the centre; Major General Ferguson's brigade was brought from the heights on the left into the plain, to support this movement; by continuing however its original direction, that corps might have rendered more essential service, since it would have fallen upon the French right, and in conjunction with Brigadier General Fane's corps, would have decided the fate of, the action sooner: but some mistake having arisen in an order delivered to it, this advantage was not obtained.<br>

The 29th Regiment ascended the hill by a hollow way which led to the summit, and encountered, a most determined resistance on the height where the enemy was formed: The path along which the regiment moved was so narrow, as to admit but three or four men abreast; so that when it had reached the ground upon which it was to deploy, the soldiers were exposed to the fire of the French corps which occupied the vineyards, while they were unable to form any front, from which to return it; the grenadier company, however, charged that part of the enemy which was upon the open, and by that act of heroism, (although it was afterwards driven back by the fire from the vineyards), gave time to some of the companies behind it to form, and to maintain the ground they had got possession of. In the meantime, the light troops, under Brigadier General Fane, had got upon the right of the position, and Major General Hill had ascended the hill upon its left; so that the enemy was obliged to abandon his first line, and retire into the village of Zambugera in the rear.<br>

From this he was driven by a most gallant charge under the direction of Major General Spencer, which terminated the action.<br>
General La Borde continued to make some resistance upon a height beyond the village, only for the purpose of collecting and forming his troops in the plain behind it, which he executed with considerable ability. After having formed them upon two lines he retired, filing from his left upon the road to Torres Vedras.<br>
Such was the first battle fought by British troops in the great cause of the Peninsula: it cost us some valuable lives, among whom Colonel Lake and Captain Bradford were the most distinguished; but it gave a sample of that bravery and good conduct which have since marked the progress of our arms, and have raised the military renown of England to the glorious eminence on which it at present stands. The advantage which resulted from this action was great. General Loison was marching to join General La Borde, in the position of Rolica; his columns, the next day, were distinctly perceived in the direction of Torres Vedras, to which place he was forced to retire, in consequence of the action of the preceding morning; but if the two corps had been at the battle of Rolica, the British loss must have been considerably greater, and the general operations of the campaign proportionally delayed. <br>
The following day, the 18th, Sir Arthur Wellesley marched the army to Lourinhal, for the purpose of bringing supplies from the shipping, as also to receive the reinforcements which were understood to be upon the coast from England.
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