|Battle of Salamanca|
|Part of the Peninsular War|
Battle of Salamanca, etched by J. Clarke, coloured by M. Dubourg.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Earl of Wellington||
|Casualties and losses|
Dead or wounded:|
Dead or wounded:|
The Battle of Salamanca saw the Anglo-Portuguese army under the Duke of Wellington defeat Marshal Auguste Marmont's French forces among the hills around Arapiles, south of Salamanca, Spain on 22 July 1812 during the Peninsular War. A Spanish division was also present but took no part in the battle.
The battle was a succession of strokes in oblique order, initiated by the British heavy cavalry brigade and Pakenham's 3rd division, and continued by the cavalry and the 4th, 5th and 6th divisions. The French left wing was routed.
By chance, both Marmont and his deputy commander General Bonet were wounded by shrapnel in the first few minutes of firing. The French command confusion may have been decisive in creating the opportunity, which Wellington successfully seized and exploited.
General Bertrand Clausel, third in seniority, assumed command and ordered a counterattack by the French reserve toward the depleted Allied centre. It had some success but Wellington had sent his reinforcements to the centre, and they decided the fight in his favour.
The losses were 3,129 British and 2,038 Portuguese dead or wounded. The Spanish troops took no part in the battle as they were positioned to block the French escape routes and as such suffered just six casualties. The French suffered about 13,000 dead, wounded and captured. As a consequence of Wellington's victory, his army was able to advance to and liberate Madrid for two months, but then retreated back to Portugal. The French were forced to abandon Andalusia permanently, and the loss of Madrid irreparably damaged King Joseph's pro-French government.
The battle followed a frustrating period of six weeks for Wellington. His foray into Central Spain in the spring of 1812 had been blocked by Marmont's army. As Wellington advanced, Marmont's strength grew as he received reinforcements. Wellington withdrew, as the odds turned against him, with the armies often marching close together and Marmont repeatedly threatening Wellington's supply line. By this day, Wellington had finally decided to withdraw his army all the way back to Portugal. Suddenly, he observed that Marmont had made the tactical error of separating his left flank from his main body. (Wellington's reaction has been differently reported, with little emphasis that both he and Marmont had been looking for an opening for weeks.) He immediately ordered the major part of his army to attack the overextended French left wing.
Marshal Marmont's 50,000-man Army of Portugal contained eight infantry and two cavalry divisions, plus 78 artillery pieces. The infantry divisions were Maximilien Sebastien Foy's 1st (4,900), Bertrand Clausel's 2nd (6,300), Claude François Ferey's 3rd (5,400), Jacques Thomas Sarrut's 4th (5,000), Antoine Louis Popon de Maucune's 5th (5,000), Antoine François Brenier de Montmorand's 6th (4,300), Jean Guillaume Barthélemy Thomières's 7th (4,300), and Jean Pierre François Bonet's 8th (6,400). Pierre François Joseph Boyer led 1,500 dragoons and Jean-Baptiste Theodore Curto commanded 1,900 light cavalry. Louis Tirlet directed 3,300 artillerymen and there were also 1,300 engineers, military police and wagon drivers.
Wellington's 48,500-man army included eight infantry divisions and two independent brigades, five cavalry brigades and 54 cannons. The infantry divisions were Henry Campbell's 1st (6,200), Edward Pakenham's 3rd (5,800), Galbraith Lowry Cole's 4th (5,191), James Leith's 5th (6,700), Henry Clinton's 6th (5,500), John Hope's 7th (5,100) and Charles Alten's Light (3,500). Carlos de España commanded a 3,400-man Spanish division, while Denis Pack (2,600) and Thomas Bradford (1,900) led Portuguese brigades.
Stapleton Cotton supervised the cavalry brigades. These included 1,000 British heavy dragoons (1st Cavalry Brigade) led by John Le Marchant, 1,000 British light dragoons (2nd Cavalry Brigade) under George Anson, 700 Anglo-German light horse under Victor Alten, 800 King's German Legion (KGL) heavy dragoons led by George Bock and 500 Portuguese dragoons under Benjamin D'Urban. Hoylet Framingham commanded eight British (RHA: Ross, Bull, Macdonald; RA: Lawson, Gardiner, Greene, Douglas, May) and one Portuguese (Arriaga) six-gun artillery batteries.
Early on 22 July, Marmont's army was moving south, with its leading elements southeast of Salamanca. To the west, the Marshal could see Wellington's 7th Division deployed on a ridge. Spotting a dust cloud in the distance, Marmont surmised that most of the British army was in retreat and that he faced only a rearguard. He planned to move his French army south, then west to turn the British right flank.
Marmont was mistaken. Wellington actually had most of his divisions hidden behind the ridge. His 3rd and 5th Divisions would soon arrive from Salamanca. Wellington had planned to retreat if outflanked, but he was watching warily to see if Marmont would make a blunder.
Marmont planned to move along an L-shaped ridge, with its angle near a steep height known as the Greater Arapile. That morning, the French occupied only the short, north-pointing part of the L. For his flanking move, Marmont sent his divisions marching west along the long side of the L. The Anglo-Allied army lay behind another L-shaped ridge, inside and parallel to the French L, and separated from it by a valley. Unseen by the French, Wellington assembled a powerful striking force along the long side of the British L.
As Marmont reached to the west, the French became strung out along the long side of the L. Thomières's division led the way, supported by Curto's cavalry. After that came Maucune, Brenier, and Clausel. Bonet, Sarrut and Boyer were near the Greater Arapile. Foy and Ferey still held the short side of the L.
When the 3rd Division and D'Urban's brigade reached the top of the French L, they attacked Thomières. At the same time, Wellington launched the 5th and 4th Divisions, backed by the 7th and 6th Divisions, at the long side of the French L.
The 3rd Division came at the head of Thomières's division in two-deep line. Despite column formation, the French division initially repulsed its attackers, but was then charged and routed by a bayonet charge. Thomières was killed. Seeing British cavalry in the area, Maucune formed his division into squares. This was the standard formation to receive a mounted attack, but a poor one to defend against infantry. Deployed in a two-deep line, Leith's 5th Division easily defeated Maucune in a musketry duel. As the French foot soldiers began falling back, Cotton hurled Le Marchant's brigade (5th Dragoon Guards, 3rd and 4th Dragoons) at them. Maucune's men were cut to pieces by the heavy cavalrymen's sabres. Many of the survivors surrendered.
Le Marchant hurriedly reformed his troopers and sent them at the next French division, which was winded from a rapid march. The heavy dragoons mauled Brenier's hastily formed first line, but Le Marchant pressed his luck too far. He was killed trying to break a French square in Brenier's second line. William Ponsonby succeeded to command of the brigade.
During this crisis, the French army lost its commander. As Pakenham's 3rd Division prepared to attack Thomières, Marmont finally woke up to his army's peril. He dashed for his horse, but was caught in a British shellburst which broke his arm and two ribs. His second-in-command, Bonet, was wounded very soon afterwards. Records conflict, Marmont claiming that he was wounded as his wing became overextended, and his incapacitation led to the error not being corrected before Wellington attacked. His enemies place his wounding during Wellington's attack. For somewhere between 20 minutes and over an hour, the Army of Portugal remained leaderless.
Cole's 4th Division attacked Bonet's division and Pack's Portuguese assaulted the Greater Arapile. With the help of a 40-gun battery firing from the Greater Arapile, both attacks were repulsed by the French.
Assuming command, general Clausel did his best to salvage a bad situation. He committed Sarrut's division to shore up the wrecked left flank, and then launched a dangerous counterattack at Cole's 4th Division using his own and Bonet's divisions, supported by Boyer's dragoons. This attack brushed aside Cole's survivors and struck the 6th Division in Wellington's second line. Marshal Beresford reacted promptly to this developing threat and immediately sent Spry's Portuguese brigade of the 5th Division to engage the French infantry, while Wellington moved the 1st and 7th Divisions to assist. After bitter resistance, the divisions of Clausel and Bonet were defeated and the French army began to retreat.
As the rest of the French army streamed away, Ferey formed his division in a single three-deep line, with each flank covered by a battalion in square. Led by Clinton's victorious 6th Division, the British came up to this formation and were initially repulsed. After ordering his artillery to crossfire through the centre of the French line, Wellington ordered a second assault. This attack broke Ferey's division, killing its commander.
Foy's division covered the French retreat towards Alba de Tormes, where there was a bridge they could use to escape. Wellington, believing that the Alba de Tormes crossing was blocked by a Spanish battalion in a fortified castle, directed his pursuit along a different road. De Espana, however, had withdrawn the unit without informing Wellington, so the French got away. The Army of Portugal suffered 7,000 killed and wounded and 7,000 captured. Besides Marmont's severe wounding, two divisional commanders were killed and another wounded. Half of the 5,214 Anglo-Allied losses came from the 4th and 6th Divisions. Cotton, Cole, and Leith were wounded.
The battle established Wellington as an offensive general. It was said that Wellington "defeated an army of 40,000 men in 40 minutes." Six days after the battle, Foy wrote in his diary,
"This battle is the most cleverly fought, the largest in scale, the most important in results, of any that the English have won in recent times. It brings up Lord Wellington's reputation almost to the level of that of Marlborough. Up to this day we knew his prudence, his eye for choosing good positions, and the skill with which he used them. But at Salamanca he has shown himself a great and able master of manoeuvring. He kept his dispositions hidden nearly the whole day: he allowed us to develop our movement before he pronounced his own: he played a close game: he utilized the oblique order in the style of Frederick the Great."
The Battle of Salamanca was a damaging defeat to the French. As the French regrouped, the Anglo-Portuguese entered Madrid on 6 August and began the Siege of Burgos, before retreating all the way back to Portugal in the autumn when renewed French concentrations threatened to trap them.
The victory was flawed by the failure of Spanish troops to guard a crucial escape route over the bridge at Alba de Tormes, possibly by a misunderstanding between Spanish and British commanders. The pursuit failed to destroy or to capture the fleeing French.
Action at Garcia Hernandez
The following day, Wellington's King's German Legion (KGL) heavy dragoons performed the astounding feat of "breaking a square" and overrunning a portion of the French rearguard at the Battle of Garcia Hernandez. Moreover, they accomplished this twice within a few minutes.
Two Imperial Eagles were captured at Salamanca. The Eagle of the 22nd Line Regiment was taken by Ensign John Pratt of the Light Company of the 2nd Battalion 30th Foot and is today on display in the Museum of The Queen's Lancashire Regiment at Fulwood Barracks in Preston, Lancashire. And that of the French 62nd Line (Thomières) was captured by Lieutenant Pearce of the 2nd Battalion 44th East Essex Regiment, a part of Lieutenant General Leith's 5th Division.
The battle is mentioned in Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, Book 3 Chapter XXVI. Prior to the Battle of Borodino, Tolstoy describes Napoleon as receiving an aide-de-camp, Fabvier, who has just arrived with news of the Battle of Salamanca. "Fabvier told him of the heroism and devotion of his troops fighting at Salamanca, at the other end of Europe, but with one thought – to be worthy of their Emperor – but with one fear – to fail to please him. The result of that battle had been deplorable. Napoleon made ironic remarks during Fabvier's account, as if he had not expected that matters could not go otherwise in his absence".
The battle features in Sharpe's Sword by Bernard Cornwell, in which Richard Sharpe helps Wellington bring the French to battle by feeding a known French spy false information.
Bernard Cornwell also duplicated Wellington's tactics in this battle, in his retelling of Arthur's victory at the Battle of Mount Badon, in The Warlord Chronicles.
The battle is described in Suzanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, during the time that Jonathan Strange is serving under Lord Wellington.
Salamanca Place, in Hobart, Tasmania, commemorates the battle. Mount Wellington is nearby.
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- Gates, p. 513
- Gates, p. 514
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- Chandler-Pimlott p 266
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- Military General Service Medal, with bars for Roleia, Vimiera, Busaco, Salamanca, Vittoria & St Sebastian, inscribed to Pvt. Joseph Weller, 1848
- Oman p 58
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- Beamish, N. Ludlow History of the King's German Legion Vol 2 (reprint) Naval and Military Press 1997 ISBN 0-9522011-0-0
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- Muir, Rory Salamanca, 1812 Yale University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-300-08719-5
- Young, Peter Wellington's masterpiece: The battle and campaign of Salamanca Allen and Unwin, 1972, ISBN 0-04-940037-1
- Battle of Salamanca Original reports from The Times
- Dispatches: London Gazette 16 August 1812
- Details on battle of Salamanca
- Includes British and allied OOB
- The Cruel War in Spain – Armies, Battles, Skirmishes
- Batalla de los Arapiles (in Spanish)
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