A Leonaur Original—never before available in this form
The Duke of Wellington is widely regarded as one of the finest British generals, and there are many books about his most famous campaigns during the Peninsular War in Portugal and Spain against Napoleon’s French army. Accounts of Wellington’s victory in 1815 at Waterloo, which brought about the final downfall of the emperor are, if anything, more numerous, such is the interest in the great captains who faced each other in the most renowned battle in world history. Leonaur has published many histories and personal accounts of those who fought in these campaigns, and although our two linked volumes by C. W. Robinson concern Wellington in the Peninsular War and Waterloo campaign respectively, they are quite different to most other books on the subject. In these books, originally intended for military students, and now of equal value to war-gamers, the campaigns are described from the perspective of the tactical choices and options open to the antagonists. The potential consequences, and the outcomes which may have arisen, had the choices that were made been from these other options are also discussed. These books therefore provide fascinating insights into the business of command, set against campaigns that are familiar and of abiding interest to military history students. Each volume contains maps and illustrations that did not appear in the texts when originally published in different form.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Badajoz is situated on the left bank of the River Guadiana, which varies here from 300 to 500 yards in width and makes about one-fourth of the enceinte of the fortress unattackable. It was a work of what may be termed the first order at that period—a strong fortress with eight bastions, of which the escarp exceeded 30 feet in height.
On the left bank of the river, to the south and south-east, were two detached works, termed the Pardaleras and the Picurina, the latter being a strong redoubt. The castle, or old keep of the place, was on the north side, upon rising ground near the junction of the little River Rivillas with the Guadiana; and immediately opposite it, but on the right bank of the latter river, was Fort Christoval, a powerful redoubt, situated on a commanding height and communicating with the left bank by a bridge to the west. An inundation on the east side between the Picurina and the fortress extended for 200 yards along the front of that portion of the place. The garrison consisted of about 5,000 men; the works were well armed, and the governor, Phillipon, was a man of great resource and energy.
After reconnoitring Badajoz Lord Wellington determined to first lay siege to the Picurina redoubt, as from the hill on which it stood the enceinte could be most easily seen, and from thence to carry on the approach; this therefore was undertaken.
During the siege of this redoubt the garrison by a sortie from the fortress caused some loss and damage. Lieutenant-Colonel Fletcher, the commanding Royal Engineer, being at this time wounded. The enemy, also, from the right bank of the Guadiana, east of Fort Christoval, brought a most annoying fire upon the besiegers, so that the 5th Division had to be brought up to prevent this; and heavy rain carried away a pontoon bridge of the Allies over the Guadiana.
But at length, on March 25th, 1812, everything being sufficiently advanced, the Picurina redoubt, of which the defences, though injured, were not breached, was gallantly stormed, partly by escalade, with a loss of 350 men, and batteries were then established under great difficulties upon the hill, commanded as it was by the guns of the fortress.
A superiority of fire having been obtained, breaches were made (see plan) in the face of the bastion named La Trinidad (a), in the flank of that named Santa Maria (b), and in the curtain between these bastions (c); and these having been reported practicable, the assault was ordered for 10 o’clock on the night of April 7th, 1812; for here again, as at Ciudad Rodrigo, the question of time had become a vital one with Wellington.
The French had been completely surprised by the sudden investment of Badajoz; but, nevertheless, their movements made it necessary for Wellington to endeavour to immediately carry the fortress by assault. Soult was approaching from Seville, and Marmont from Salamanca threatened Ciudad Rodrigo.
The assault was conducted on much the same general principles as that of Ciudad Rodrigo. The columns were directed to form up behind the Picurina Hill, and advance to the breaches past the western end of the inundation.
The 4th Division was to assault the breach in the bastion of La Trinidad.
The Light Division (advancing slightly before it) was to assault that on the flank of the bastion of Santa Maria. The storming party of each division was to consist of 500 men provided with ladders, axes, and crowbars, and also bags of hay to be thrown into the ditch. Each division was to have a reserve of 1,000 men at the quarry, south of the Santa Maria bastion. Firing parties were to follow the storming parties.
The 3rd Division was to carry the castle, if possible, by escalade, and then fall on the rear of the defenders of the breaches.
The 5th Division was to carry the bastion of St. Vincente, on the west side, by escalade; or the curtain and flank between it and the River Guadiana; while a general artillery fire was to be directed upon the Pardaleras, upon the works towards the Guadiana, and upon the enemy’s batteries which bore upon the breaches.
The Light and 4th Divisions, though they assaulted the breaches more than once with desperate courage, were on each occasion driven back. In the conflict the right direction was not altogether taken, and both divisions soon found themselves opposite the breach of La Trinidad. After renewed attempts to storm it, repulsed with great slaughter, the men got mixed together, lost formation, and either stood in the ditch to be slaughtered, or returned the enemy’s fire, instead of making further efforts with the bayonet.
The breaches in the Santa Maria bastion and in the curtain were also attempted without success; but unfortunately, the main efforts were directed against that of La Trinidad, which was subsequently discovered to be the least practicable of all.
So heavy was the carnage at the breach of La Trinidad that Wellington ordered the two divisions to be withdrawn, preparatory to a further fresh assault before daylight.
Napier thus describes the scene at this breach:—
The bursting of shells and grenades, the roaring of guns from the flanks, answered by the iron howitzers from the battery of the parallel, the heavy roll and horrid explosion of the powder-barrels, the whizzing flight of the blazing splinters, the loud exhortations of the officers, and the continual clatter of the muskets, made a maddening din.
Now a multitude bounded up the great breach as if driven by a whirlwind; but across the top glittered a range of sword-blades, sharp-pointed, keen-edged on both sides, and firmly fixed in ponderous beams, which were chained together and set deep in the ruins; and for ten feet in front the ascent was covered with loose planks studded with sharp iron points, on which the feet of the foremost being set, the planks slipped, and the unhappy soldiers, falling forward on the spikes, rolled down upon the ranks behind. . . . Again the assailants rushed up the breaches, and again the sword-blades, immovable and impassable, stopped their charge, and the hissing shells and thundering powder-barrels exploded unceasingly.
In addition to all this a deeper ditch had been dug to a depth of 17 feet in the main ditch and partially filled with water, in which many of the assailants were drowned.
In short, the activity and skill of the French governor had made the forcing of the breach of La Trinidad a task beyond human power to achieve, and in the confusion and darkness the assailants were mown down by hundreds. It is the heroism evinced in the renewal of the assault again and again which must excite our wonder, and not that it was evinced in vain.
But though the assault of the breaches failed, the 3rd Division (under Picton, another of Wellington’s distinguished divisional generals), and the 5th Division under General Leith, completely succeeded in what also appeared to be an undertaking almost beyond hope of accomplishment—viz. the escalade of the castle, and the bastion of St. Vincente.
What an extraordinary feat this was will be understood when it is said that, although the attention of the garrison was mainly fixed upon the assault of the breaches, still, the defenders of those parts of the enciente to be escaladed were all at their posts, and made a very obstinate resistance; so that the assault was no surprise.
The wall of the castle was from 18 to 24 feet high, and partially flanked; the escarp of the bastion of St. Vincente 31 feet high, flanked by artillery and musketry, and there were also palisades and other obstacles to be overcome. Stones, shells, and hand-grenades were hurled down on the assailants from above. The ladders were overthrown again and again, and again and again set up, till after a desperate and prolonged conflict both castle and bastion were at last carried, though with great loss of the Allies, that at the bastion of St. Vincente being 600.