Eyewitness to many of the engagements of the Peninsular War
William Warre perhaps took the Peninsular War more closely to his heart than most British soldiers for he belonged to an Anglo-Portuguese family and had been born in Oporto. However, early in his life Warre decided he was not temperamentally suited to the dull commercial life his family proposed for him and he became a soldier. The outbreak of war in Iberia brought Warre back to Portugal in 1808 as a British Army staff officer. He took part in Sir John Moore’s brief, abortive campaign and the subsequent gruelling retreat to Corunna through the Spanish winter. Warre fought at the bloody siege and assault at Badajoz and it was war he accepted the sword of the defeated French commander. Through Warre’s letters written to his family, which are often irreverent and humorous, the reader is able to see, from an eyewitness perspective, many of the notable battles of this fascinating conflict. Following the Battle of Salamanca, Warre was instructed to assist in the reorganisation of the Portuguese Army and act as liaison officer for the British at the Portuguese court. This is an unusual perspective on the Peninsular War from the pen of an English-speaking soldier who could also see the war from a Portuguese perspective. Recommended.
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Lacebo, 10th August, 1809.
My Dear Father,
An unfortunate accident of having dislocated the knuckles of my right hand, and having broke one of the small bones, obliges me to apply to my friend Captn. Souza to serve as an amanuensis. It being now nearly a month since the accident happened, I am afraid you will be very anxious to hear from me. I am in other respects perfectly well, and so far, recovered from this, that I but yesterday returned from travelling night and day to the English Hd. Quarters post and back again. I have not yet, however, quite the use of my hand.
You will long before this have heard of the Battle of Talavera perhaps the most glorious ever gained, if we consider the disproportion of numbers. Not having had the good fortune to be present I can give no further particulars than you will have seen by Sir Arthur’s despatch. The attacks were most vigorous and repeated by upwards of 40,000 men in heavy columns, first against the left, then the right, and afterwards along the whole British line which was occupied by about 19,000 men.
Nothing however could overcome the steadiness and gallantry of our troops. After having been engaged the 26th and 27th, the greatest part of the night between the 27th and 28th, and from daybreak till night that day, the enemy was completely repulsed, leaving 11,000 killed and wounded on the field, and the next morning retired 4 leagues to Sebola. Our loss was also very considerable, about 4500 killed and wounded. You will be sorry to hear that the 23rd lost half their men in a charge, and among a great many officers wounded are Capt. Howard badly, Drake ditto. He was taken and afterwards released by the enemy, Allen wounded and taken, D. W. Russell slightly, Frankland slightly, Lieut. Anderson badly, and 226 men killed and wounded. I saw Col. Seymour and Dance, who are quite well. The regt. was ordered to charge two columns of the enemy, who were deploying, but who unfortunately had time to form square without there being time for the order being revoked, and they unfortunately persevered in attempting an attack which it was impossible should succeed.
The British Army as usual has been deprived of the fruits of their glorious victory; for Soult, Ney, and Mortier, having penetrated from Castille to Placencia with 34,000 men, added to the impossibility of placing any dependence upon the Spaniards, who during and after the Battle of Talavera had remained, except their artillery, entirely spectators, with 20,000 men, exposing the British Army to finding itself between two fires, besides entirely cutting off its retreat and communications with Portugal, obliged Sir Arthur to retire by the bridge of Arçobispo to the other side of the Tagus; that of Almaraz was already occupied by the enemy. Cuesta, who was left at Talavera to keep the army of Victor in check, I suppose not feeling very confident in his troops, set off after Sir Arthur, thus abandoning all such of our wounded, who could not crawl along the road, to the enemy, who however, it must be confessed, on all occasions have treated the English prisoners with great humanity.
We have moved forward with the Portuguese Army to occupy the strong passes near this place, and assist, as far as we may be able with our small force of 12,000 men, the British and Spanish Armies, the former of which occupies a position on the South Bank of the Tagus at Almaraz, the latter at Arçobispo. The names of these passes are Perales and Gata and are at four leagues distance from Coria. The French have advanced towards Talavera from Placencia. Our army are in very good spirits, and will, I have no doubt, maintain their character better than their neighbours, in whom, you know, I never had much confidence.
I am happy to tell you that Jack Prince is well, also Genl. Fane. Poor Milman is badly wounded, as is Sir W. Sheridan.
I am much obliged to you for the boots and my glass, which I have received, and which I was in great want of.
I will write to you again the moment I am able, and in the meantime I have only to add that I remain, my dear father, with love to all at home, your very affectionate son,
Wm. Warre, A. D.C.
I beg you will believe my hand is really of no consequence and nearly well, nor do I find it a bit the worse for a ride of fifty hours de suite to the British Headquarters and 36 back, and I am otherwise in as good health as I ever was.
Los Hoyos, August 13.
I have been unable to forward this letter before today and have merely to add that my hand is much better. We continue near these passes, though we made the other day a movement to Salteros, but retired again to the same position, and established our headquarters at this place. I believe Soult’s, Ney’s, etc., army are moving again into Castille by Baños without deigning to take notice of us. The cowardly Spaniards have suffered the enemy to pass the bridge at Arçobispo with very little resistance, and now occupy the passes in which I left the British Army, on its right flank.
Every day convinces me more strongly that the fate of these countries depends entirely upon Austria, of which, you may well imagine, we are most anxious for positive accounts. We have had a French bulletin with accounts of an armistice, and other rumours of a peace. But as they have all come from the French, I trust unfounded. I hope you will let all your arrangements, with regard to Portugal, depend upon the successes in Germany.
Yrs. most affectionately,