With one of Wellington's heavy cavalry regiments during the war in Iberia
Samuel Broughton was an assistant surgeon for a regiment of militia before transferring to the 2nd Life Guards. He served with this elite cavalry regiment throughout the campaigns in Portugal, Spain and into the South of France and in the concluding battle for Toulouse. Broughton's take on the campaign as it appears in this collection of his letters-originally published in 1815-reveals a man with a keen eye for the details of the countryside through which he travelled and the habits and cultures of the people he met. This a very personal account of war from an observant and thoughtful medical man who clearly wanted to share his experiences of a journey through wartime. It is rich in period colour making it ideal background reference material of this fascinating episode of the Napoleonic War.
About six leagues from Lisbon on the left my attention was of course attracted by a part of Lord Wellington's extensive lines coming in view; of which, as they constitute a very prominent feature in the history of the campaign, I shall endeavour to give you some idea; particularly as I have obtained my information upon the subject from authority on which I can most fully rely. After Lord Wellington had fought the battle of Talavera, the result of which was unquestionably in our favour, he was obliged, from circumstances which it will be unnecessary to enumerate in this place, to relinquish his position, in consequence of Soult's bold and unexpected movement upon Placentia in conjunction with Mortier. The country upon which he was forced to retire was unfortunately of the worst description and after a sickly sojourn in Estramadura, ever the grave of armies tarrying there, his Lordship fell farther back, and finally retreated to Portugal. This retreat, so bitterly lamented by the allied countries, and by England in particular, again roused the desponding bodings of opposition; and the firm belief in the never-failing ascendancy of the French arms, together with the idea of the almost absolute insanity attendant upon our endeavours to put a stop to their progress:—but the vigour of the masterly mind which directed these operations was only increased by the doubts thus cast upon its great military capacity.—His Lordship was aware of the tremendous means that could be employed to force the British army from the Continent; and he was equally convinced that the enemy would put every resource in motion to accomplish this great object, well knowing that this important point once obtained, all minor difficulties would vanish. To this end he resolved on that plan of warfare that eventually proved the key-stone to his own glory and the deliverance of Europe. In 1809 he determined upon fortifying a position, which being unassailable in its flanks, would render the great superiority of the enemy's numbers of little avail; and by being far within the country would tend to draw the enemy rapidly to the extremity of the kingdom, where of course he could have no magazines, and where every resource might be cut off even by the inhabitants themselves; so that his difficulties would be multiplied, his destruction rendered more probable, and the safety of the allied army provided for. The position selected by his Lordship for the attainment of these great ends was one which covers Lisbon at a distance of more than six leagues from the city, defending every road to the capital through the great province of Beira, the very centre and heart of the kingdom, and which upon the best military opinions must always form the great object of attack. This celebrated position had its right resting upon the Tagus at Alhanda, whence it stretched across to Porte de Roll on the sea, and had consequently the most powerful apuis for both flanks, whilst its rear remained open and clear to all sorts of supplies. The position which I am now hastily describing, and which in 1810 occupied so important a point in the attention of Europe, was formed by a chain of hills running in the direction already mentioned; the most commanding of which, and particularly those principally overlooking the approaches to the capital, were occupied by strong redoubts, that on the advance of Massena were garrisoned principally by the Portuguese troops; the infantry (chiefly British) were judiciously posted in the long intervening spaces, to oppose the enemy should he attempt to penetrate, forming
a chain of curtains to the redoubts. The grand redoubt of the position occupied the rear of Sobral; and Torres Vedras also came within the line.