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With the “Eagle Takers”: the Peninsular War Experiences of Hugh Gough with the 87th (The Prince of Wales’s Own Irish) Regiment of Foot

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With the “Eagle Takers”: the Peninsular War Experiences of Hugh Gough with the 87th (The Prince of Wales’s Own Irish) Regiment of Foot
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Author(s): Robert S. Rait & Richard Cannon
Date Published: 2016/06
Page Count: 176
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-510-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-509-8

An outstanding soldier and his regiment in the Peninsular War


Those who know anything of Hugh Gough will probably know of him as the general who defeated the Sikhs of the Punjab and finally secured the Indian sub-continent for the British Empire. In common with many senior officers of the Victorian age, Gough learned his craft as a young soldier in the British Army at war with the Napoleon’s French forces in Spain. There he proved himself to be an outstanding and highly regarded regimental officer. His regiment, the 87th, was comprised of hard fighting Irishmen and eventually became The Royal Irish Fusiliers. For those interested in the Peninsular War this book will be especially noteworthy because much of its content concerns the comparatively little reported campaign in Andalusia. Not only did Gough and the 87th fight at Barrosa, but there they took the Imperial Eagle of the French 8th Ligne regiment—the first Imperial Eagle to be taken in battle in Spain by the British Army. This volume, extracted from a biography of Gough’s entire career, also provides vital insights into the siege of Tarifa. Notably, it was also the 87th who captured Marshal Jourdan’s baton at Vitoria—yet another singular distinction of the Peninsular War. This Leonaur original includes extensive use of Gough’s own words, written while campaigning in Spain, together with maps and illustrations not present in the original. Gough’s personal experiences are complemented here by a short history of the 87th during the Napoleonic Wars.

Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

When General William Stewart arrived at Cadiz in February, 1810, the garrison of Cadiz consisted of some 3,000 British troops, and about 14,000 Spaniards, along with a number of Portuguese. Stewart’s most important service was the recovery of a fort called the Matagorda which had been unwisely abandoned. In the end of March a new commander arrived—General Graham (afterwards Lord Lynedoch). He had entered the army late in life, and had but little military experience. It is interesting to recall the fact that, in boyhood, he had possessed (in common with the father of Sir Charles Napier) no less distinguished a tutor than David Hume. When Graham took charge, he found that the defences were in a most miserable condition, and their improvement required a considerable addition to his available forces.
Reinforcements arrived, and Graham, in spite of some difficulties with the Spaniards, carried out an important scheme of fortification, interrupted by violent assaults upon Matagorda. In July, the numbers of the garrison were still further increased to 30,000 allied troops. Thus the summer and autumn passed, the French unable to capture the place, but maintaining a strict blockade and rendering it impossible for the garrison at Cadiz to be transferred to another part of Andalusia. The loss of Cadiz would have been second in importance only to that of Gibraltar, and would have made it impossible for the allies to continue to hold any part of the south-west of Spain. No incident of the blockade calls for our attention until we reach the memorable Battle of Barrosa.
From the date of the Battle of Barrosa (March 5, 1811) onwards, almost to the close of the War, our information regarding Gough’s personal share in the campaigns becomes much more complete, as the letters of this period have been preserved along with various documents, relating to the military operations in which the battalion was engaged. We left the 87th at Cadiz, forced to remain inactive, while the fate of Southern Europe was depending upon the success of Wellington’s great defence of the lines of Torres Vedras. Occasional attempts upon French outposts at Moguer and Huelva varied the monotony of garrison life, but of these Gough’s correspondence says nothing, and the efforts to reduce these defences of the main French position at Seville were unavailing. In September, 1810, a meeting of the Spanish Cortes (the first since 1808) was held at Cadiz, and it exercised considerable influence upon the course of the war.
One of the fashionable constitutions of the time was drawn up, based upon a democratic principle which would have proved impossible of realization in any European country, and which was peculiarly unsuited to the traditions and the circumstances of Spain. The resistance to Napoleon had not been merely the natural opposition to a gratuitous war of conquest, nor was it merely against the pride of an ancient race, with traditions of imperial sway, that the French had offended. The shock of the French Revolution had come with special force upon a haughty nobility, accustomed to receive a deference which seemed to be founded upon the immutable laws of nature; upon a clergy whose influence had remained undisturbed by the religious revolution of the sixteenth century; and upon a people which had been wont to render unquestioning obedience to its leaders.
The principles of the pre-Revolution philosophers had not spread from France into Spain, as they had spread into England and America. The rise of a military despotism, and the overthrow of the ancient constitutions of Europe had increased the horror with which the tenets of democracy were regarded by the larger portion of the Spanish people, and the war was waged against the Revolution, and all that the Revolution stood for, as much as against the emperor and Joseph Bonaparte. This national feeling, which had given point to the famous remark of Sheridan that Napoleon had ‘yet to learn what it is to combat a nation animated by one spirit against him,’ was outraged by a Cortes which claimed for itself the title of Majesty, and allowed to the Regents for the ancient monarchy only that of Highness. With an amount of folly for which it is difficult to make due allowance, the Cortes proceeded to outline a number of proposals which could not but divide the national resistance still further, and along more definite lines.
An attack upon the privileges of noble blood alienated the aristocracy; a suggested interference with the powers and functions of the Inquisition made the clergy doubt if things would be worse under the rule of the French. The Spanish colonies, which had not been backward in contributing aid to the mother-country, were treated with a contempt worthy of the despotic rule of Philip II, and the Cortes entered upon a course which finally provoked the revolt of the colonies, and the serious complications which that rebellion involved. From the month of September, 1810, Spanish feeling ceased to be unanimous, and the sympathy between the British and the Spanish peoples, of which this is the first instance in history, now reached its period of decline, as the main aims and objects of the allies began to diverge.
The immediate effect of the meeting of the Cortes was a change in the personnel of the Spanish Generals. Andalusia was placed under the charge of Manuel La Peña, and he was also entrusted with the command of the Spanish forces which guarded the Isla de Leon. It had been intended that La Romana should join La Peña at Cadiz, but at the instance of Wellington, he was retained in his command in the army which was facing Massena, and General Graham was left to concert with La Peña a scheme of defence against the renewed attack upon Cadiz, for which the enemy had been busily preparing. To appreciate the situation which led up to the Battle of Barrosa, it will be necessary to give some account of the fortifications of Cadiz, and of its topography, as far as concerns our story.
Cadiz is situated upon a small rocky peninsula at the end of a narrow isthmus, about five miles long, known as the Isthmus of Cadiz. This isthmus projects from a flat triangular marsh, broken by a central ridge, on which stands the town of Isla. Beyond this marsh (the famous Isla de Leon) is the Channel of Santi Petri, extending round two sides of the triangle formed by the Isla, and separating it from the mainland. The French had invested Cadiz from the mainland, by means of a chain of forts, stretching from the mouth of the River Guadalquivir, some twenty miles north of Cadiz, to a point about five miles south of the Santi Petri. The main positions in this line were Puerto Santa Maria, at the mouth of the Guadelete; Puerto Real, at the root of a tongue of land projecting, for a distance of four miles, towards the Isthmus of Cadiz; and Chiclana, a strong position almost opposite the southern mouth of the Santi Petri channel.
The tongue of land projecting from Puerto Real is intersected by a canal known as the Trocadero; and at its southern extremities, facing the Isthmus, were the fort of Matagorda, on the north of the canal, and the fortified village of Trocadero on the south. To the north of Puerto Real, the French held the coast towns of Rota and San Lucar. The defences of Cadiz consisted, in the last resort, of the communication between the town and the Isthmus, which would probably have rendered the place really impregnable had any of the French attacks penetrated so far. The Isthmus itself was divided almost at right angles, by a creek called the Cortadura, at the top of which was an unfurnished fort called Fernando.
A battery at Puntales, on the Isthmus and opposite to the village of Trocadero, commanded the approach to the north end of the Santi Petri. Close to the junction of the Isthmus of Cadiz with the Isla de Leon, was the Torre Gordo, which offered another point of vantage for the defence. Finally, the Spaniards held the Santi Petri Channel, by means of an island at each end. The only communication between the Isla de Leon and the mainland was by a bridge at Zuazo, which crossed the Santi Petri at a point near its centre, whence a road led directly to the town of Isla and thence to Cadiz. This bridge had been broken down, and each side had protected itself by a battery on its own side of the channel. The Spanish command of the Santi Petri was, however, more apparent than real, because the coast line consisted, on the mainland, of a marsh, from one to three miles broad, intersected by navigable channels and creeks of considerable size.
On the 31st of October, 1810, the French succeeded, by an ingenious stratagem, in adding considerably to their numbers and resources. Part of their available force was at San Lucar, watched by a hostile fleet, in spite of which thirty pinnaces and gunboats managed to escape, and reached the town of Rota, whence they made their way to Puerto Santa Maria. So strong was the battery at Puntales that they did not risk an attempt to get into the Trocadero canal by sea, but conveyed their ships on rollers overland. This accession to the strength of the enemy at the Trocadero batteries was intended to threaten Puntales, and ultimately to open the Santi Petri to the French fleet, thus giving them the command of the Isla de Leon, and reducing the allied forces in Cadiz to their last line of defence.
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