22 July, 1812
Spanish Battle Tour
more and more French troops were siphoned from Spain to
prepare for the advance on Russia, the British position
in the Peninsula became
Duke of Wellington was
determined to maintain the pressure on his immediate counterpart,
Marshal Marmont, and a
dance of manouevre began as each side strove to get the
gained the advantage by capturing a series of forts at Salamanca,
but word of fast-approaching additional French troops reached
British then set about preparing for another retreat to
Portugal, with wagon convoys ordered to move the sick and
injured, as well as baggage and unrequired stores, towards
of Wellington's imminent evacuation reached Marmont and
he moved his army of 50,000 men, bolstered by almost 80
cannons, to try to catch the British on the march.
arrived at Salamanca on 21 July, but the only fighting was
an initial series of fierce light-infantry skirmishes.
next morning, Marmont planned his battle and made two major
terrain around Salamanca was filled with dead ground that
hid many areas from view and he thought the left wing of
Wellington's army was only a small rearguard force.
dusty clouds he could see in the distance added to his perception
that the British were pulling out and so he decided to swing
most of his army around the delaying force and cut Wellington
off from Portugal.
the British commander saw Marmont marching his army across
the front of his own drawn-up, but hidden force of some
48,000 men, he let out a whoop of delight.
knew that by doing so, Marmont had potentially led his men
into serious trouble.
French position was not helped by the fact that the leading
troops were outpacing the rest of the army, which was slowly
being split into several bodies of men.
acted quickly and sent his brother-in-law Sir
Edward Pakenham and his 3rd Division to stop the advance
French troops. The assault caught the French unawares and
scattered a full division almost instantly.
Wellington ordered a combined infantry and cavalry attack
upon the second block of two French divisions which, also
caught by surprise, were smashed and routed. During the
fighting, one of Britain's best cavalry commanders - General
John Le Marchant - was killed, and Marmont left the field,
wounded by an exploding shell.
battle had only been going for some 40 minutes and it was
effectively already won by the British.
the new French commander General Bertrand Clausel quickly
stabilised the situation, fending off two British attacks
and then going on to the offensive himself.
a superb combined infantry and cavalry attack he inflicted
serious losses on the British 4th Division and, as he advanced
into the centre of Wellington's men, looked as he could
be on the verge of a seemingly improbable victory.
repositioning his men, Wellington caught Clausel's attack
in a vicious crossfire that firstly halted them, then broke
them. It was a costly success, with heavy casualties on
the French now on the verge of defeat Wellington released
a counterattack that broke their cohesion and scattered
entire army could have been trapped had it not been for
the failure of a Spanish force to block an escape route
at the bridge at Alba de Tormes.
than 7000 French troops were killed or wounded, a further
7000 captured, while the British and their Portuguese allies
suffered just under 5000 casualties.
was the decisive battle Wellington had needed to prise open
France's grip on the Peninsula.