The French at British Armies in battle during the Napoleonic Age
The French revolution, which broke out during the later 18th century, set the nation on a course of conflict which would set Europe and parts of the wider world ablaze for almost thirty years. Revolutionary and Consulate armies would, in time, become those of the First Empire of the French under the command of the incomparable military genius of Napoleon Bonaparte. Inevitably Britain would join the fray and the dominance of the Royal Navy in securing the seaways would ensure that the soldiers dressed in red would become implacable enemies of those who marched in blue under the tricolour. Among the British, almost incredibly, another great soldier emerged who had the presence and skill to turn back the blue tide. The Duke of Wellington was the finest commander his nation had produced since Marlborough and one who would become Napoleon’s nemesis. This unique Leonaur edition describes twenty-five renowned battles of the period in detail—principally fought between British and French forces—the first describes the Battle of Alexandria in 1801, and the last, of course, the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and is enhanced by the inclusion of battlefield maps and attractive black and white illustrations. The Battle of Assaye, 1803, has been included by virtue of its importance to Wellington’s career, and the capture of the Cape of Good Hope, 1806, is also included for interest and context.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket; our hardbacks are cloth bound and feature gold foil lettering on their spines and fabric head and tail bands.
The position was about two miles in length, extending perpendicularly from the Tagus, on which the right rested in the town of Talavera. It was partially retrenched, having an intersected and most difficult country in its front. The centre was more open; but the left terminated favourably on a bold and commanding height, overlooking a considerable valley, which separated the left of the position from a range of rocky mountains. To the Spaniards the right was allotted, it being considered nearly unattackable, while the British defended the more accessible ground upon the left.
Talavera stands on the northern bank of the Tagus, the houses reaching down to the water’s edge. The two armies were drawn up in line; the British on the left, extending from the town nearly to the Sierra de Gata, its extreme flank occupying a bold height near Alatuza de Segusella, and having in its front a difficult ravine, and on its flank a deep valley. To the Spaniards the right was assigned. Their battalions were stationed among olive groves, with walls and fences interspersed, and an embankment running along the road, that formed an excellent breastwork, and rendered their position nearly unassailable.
It was necessary to secure the point of junction where the British right touched Cuesta’s left, and to effect this, ten guns were placed in battery on the summit of a bold knoll, with a British division to protect them, and a strong cavalry corps in reserve. In the general disposition of the troops Campbell’s division was on the right of the British, Sherbrooke’s division adjoining; Mackenzie occupied the next portion of the battleground, while the height upon the left, the key of the position, was intrusted to General Hill.
During the morning of the 27th July, the troops had been marching on the different points marked for their occupation, and had taken ground hitherto unmolested by the enemy; but at noon Mackenzie’s division was suddenly and furiously assailed by two heavy columns, which attacked the wood and convent. Partially surprised, the 87th and 88th regiments were thrown into a momentary confusion; and the French penetrated between the two brigades which formed the division. Immediately, by the exertions of their officers, the 31st, 45th, and 60th Rifles were brought forward, and these regiments covered their companions, while they retired from the wood into the plain, retreating in beautiful order along the heights on the left of the position which they were directed to occupy.
The enemy continued their attack, and it had now extended partially along the whole line, growing more animated as the evening began to fall. The left, where the British stood, at once appeared the grand object of the marshals. They directed a strong force against it, forming their infantry into columns of battalions, which advanced in double quick, supported by a furious cannonade.
Mackenzie’s division having retired a little, and, at the moment, forming a second line, the brunt of the assault fell upon a smaller brigade under General Donkin, then in possession of the height. The French, though they came on with imposing bravery, were checked in front; but from the weakness of his brigade, Donkin’s flank was turned on the left, and the hill behind crowned by the enemy.
But that success was momentary. Hill instantly led up the 48th, 29th, and 1st battalion of detachments. A close and murderous volley from the British was followed by a charge. The French were forced from the position with great loss; and the ridge was again carried by a wing of the 29th with the bayonet.
There was a brief space of quiet; but determined to win the key of the position, though darkness had now set in, the French in great force once more rushed forward to wrest the height from its defenders, and in the gloom the assailants and the assailed nearly touched each other. The red flash of a well-delivered volley disclosed to the British the dark array that threatened them. The order was given to advance, and again the British bayonet drove the columns down the hill.
No fighting could have been more desperate than that which marked this night attack. A feint had been made by Lapisse upon the Germans in the centre, while, with the élite of their infantry, Ruffin and Vilatte ascended the heights, which, at every loss, they seemed more resolute in winning. A terrific slaughter ensued. Could it be otherwise? So desperately was this night fighting maintained, and the regiments were so closely engaged, that in the mêlée, some of the men fought with clubbed muskets.
These signal repulses of a powerful and gallant enemy could not but cost a heavy expenditure of blood. Many brave officers had fallen, and at this period of the conflict the killed and wounded amounted to upwards of eight hundred men.