Enlarge BATTLE of TALAVERA
THE MAIN ENGAGEMENT
3 to 5 p.m. JULY 28TH 1809
The battle had now come to a standstill: of the five French infantry divisions in the front line those of Leval, Sebastiani, and Lapisse were reforming their diminished ranks in the plain, far to the east of the Porti?a, while Villatte and Ruffin had fallen back on to the slopes of the Cerro de Cascajal. The only intact infantry still remaining at the disposition of the King were his own 1,800 Guards, and the 3,300 bayonets of Dessolles. With these and with Villatte’s two brigades, which had only lost 400 men, it would have been possible to prepare one more [p. 551]assault upon the British position. Victor, raging with anger at his third repulse, was anxious to continue the action, though he had lost nearly one man in four of his infantry, and had not won an inch of ground. The King was less hopeful: the frightful slaughter had subdued his spirits, and he asked himself whether the 5,000 men of his reserve would suffice to break the thin red line against which the whole of the 1st and 4th Corps had hurled themselves in vain. For a moment he seemed inclined to risk his last stake, and the Guards and Dessolles were ordered to move forward. But they had not gone far when a counter-order was sent to check them: Milhaud, whose dragoons had spent the whole day in observing the Spanish lines, had sent in a message to the effect that Cuesta was at last showing signs of life, and that he could see numerous troops pushing to the front among the olive groves in front of the town. The news was not true, for nothing more than vedettes and small exploring parties had been sent out by the Spanish general. But the very suspicion that the Army of Estremadura might at last be preparing to take the initiative was enough to damp the very moderate ardour of King Joseph. If he committed himself to one final dash at the English, and engaged both his reserve and the rallied divisions of his front line, in an attack upon their allied centre and left, what could he do in the event of the sudden appearance of the whole Spanish army in the act of turning his southern flank? Twenty-five thousand men, or more, might suddenly sally out from the screen of groves, and fling themselves upon the left flank of Sebastiani’s corps. To hold them back nothing would be available but the 5,000 sabres of Milhaud and Latour-Maubourg; of infantry not one man would be left to parry such a stroke. The King could not flatter himself that anything but a disaster could ensue. Even if it were not true that the Spaniards were already in motion, there was every reason to believe that they might deliver an attack when they saw the last French reserves put into action against the British. Few generals would have resisted such a tempting opportunity. It was to be remembered also that some of the Spaniards had actually come out of their lines, and fallen upon Leval’s flank, when the last assault had been pressed against the Pajar de Vergara. A third advance in this quarter[p. 552] might yet rouse the whole Estremaduran army out of its apathy, and induce it to charge home upon Sebastiani’s left wing.
Jourdan and most of the members of Joseph’s staff were convinced that it would be mad to deliver a last attack on the British line, in face of the possible consequences of an advance by the Spaniards. The Marshal declared that it was impossible to proceed with any further scheme of advance, and that the only safe course was to draw back the whole army towards the Alberche. His master was relieved to find a good reason for ending a battle which had been begun without his permission, and continued under his very reluctant sanction. Orders were sent along the whole line, directing both the 1st and the 4th Corps to abandon their fighting-ground and fall back to their old position of the twenty-seventh. The cavalry divisions of Merlin, Latour-Maubourg, and Milhaud were to cover the retreat.
Victor was furious at receiving these directions. He averred to the officer who bore the King’s dispatch that from his point of vantage on the Cascajal he could command a view of the whole Spanish army, and that he was positive that not a Spaniard had moved. He even pretended to observe signs of a retreat in Wellesley’s lines, and persisted that the mere demonstration of a fourth attack would induce the allies to abandon their position. How he came to form any such conclusion it is hard to see, for the whole British army was still preserving its old ground, and no one from the Commander-in-chief down to the youngest private was dreaming of a movement to the rear. It would indeed have been insane to desert a strong position, in order to retreat across the open in face of an army possessing 7,000 excellent cavalry! But Victor, still loth to withdraw and to own himself beaten, sent word to the King that he took it upon himself to remain on the slopes of the Cascajal till he should receive further orders, and that he yet hoped that the reserve might be sent forward and the battle renewed.
When Victor’s message reached the King, it had already been discovered that all the rumours concerning the advance of the Spaniards were false. But the hour was now late, and (as[p. 553] Jourdan observed) if the army were to gain a final success—a most problematical occurrence—there would be no daylight left in which to push it to its legitimate end. He thought it better to take the prudent course, to refuse to risk the reserve, whose defeat would have the most fatal consequences, and to prepare for a retreat. The orders were accordingly issued that the army should fall back to its old camping-ground of the morning, deferring the passage of the Alberche till the next day.
While the French commanders were in controversy concerning their movements, the battle had died down into a cannonade, kept up with great vehemence by the batteries on the Cerro de Cascajal. The British and German guns never ceased their reply, but—as had been the case during the whole day—they were far too few to subdue the enemy’s fire: considering how they were overmatched, it is wonderful that there was but one piece disabled, and that only sixty-six gunners were put hors de combat. The opposing batteries were hit almost as hard, for the artillery of the 1st Corps had sixty-four casualties.
A distressing accident took place during this final strife between the hostile batteries: a large area of dry grass on the lower slopes of the Cerro de Medellin took fire, from smouldering wadding fanned by the wind. Many of the severely wounded of both sides were scorched, and some burnt to death, by the short but devouring conflagration that ran along the hillside.
By dusk the whole of the 4th Corps was rolling to the rear, and the last rays of daylight showed Wellesley the welcome view of a general retreat opposite his right and centre. Victor clung obstinately to the Cerro de Cascajal till far into the hours of darkness. But at last the cold fit supervened, his spirits sank, and he withdrew at 3 A.M. full of resentment, and well stocked with grievances for the acrimonious correspondence with Joseph and Jourdan in which he indulged for the next six weeks.
There can be little doubt that Jourdan was right in refusing[p. 554] to fall in with the younger marshal’s plans for a fourth assault on the British. Wellesley was well settled into his fighting-ground: at the southern end of his line Campbell was perfectly safe at the Pajar de Vergara redoubt. He had lost no more than 236 men, so that his whole division was practically intact. Hill’s brigades on the Cerro were also in perfectly good order—they had not been attacked since the morning, and would have been quite competent to defend themselves at five o’clock in the afternoon. The cannonade which they had been enduring had done some harm, but there were still 3,000 men in line, to hold a most formidable position. The only point of the British front on which the French could have hoped to make any impression was the centre. Here the Guards and Cameron’s brigade had suffered heavily, and the four battalions of the German Legion even worse—they had lost a full fifty per cent. of their numbers. But Mackenzie’s division was now in line with Sherbrooke’s, its first brigade supporting the Guards, its second (Donkin’s) linked to the Germans. Considering the way in which the British centre had dealt with the 15,000 bayonets of Sebastiani and Lapisse during the main engagement, the French critics who hold that they would have given way before the 5,000 men of Dessolles and the Royal Guard, even when backed by the rallied divisions, show a very optimistic spirit. Moreover when the battle had waxed hot in this quarter, the French would have had no certainty that Campbell and the Spaniards might not have fallen upon their flank. For Leval’s much depleted division was no longer in front of the British right—it had been withdrawn behind Sebastiani, and there was nothing to prevent the reserve-brigade of the 4th division from going to the aid of Sherbrooke’s men. The chances of war are incalculable, but there seems no reason to believe that Victor’s judgement as to the probability of success was any better at five o’clock in the afternoon than it had been at five o’clock in the morning. Jourdan was the wiser man.
Thus ended the battle of Talavera, in which 16,000 British supported and repulsed the attack of 26,000 French infantry—omitting from the total of the assailants the division of Villatte,[p. 555] which was only slightly engaged. The Cerro de Medellin was strong ground, but not so strong as to counterbalance a superiority of 10,000 men. The real fighting power of Wellesley’s foot-soldiery was shown in the lower parts of the field, where Sherbrooke’s and Mackenzie’s 8,000 bayonets achieved their marvellous success over the 15,000 men of Lapisse and Sebastiani. Doomed to apparent ruin by their own rash valour in pursuing the enemy across the Porti?a, they yet recovered their line, re-established the battle, and finally won an almost incredible victory. The ‘First Division’ of the Peninsular army,—the Guards and the German Legion who fought side by side throughout the whole war,—had many proud days between 1809 and 1814, but surely Talavera was the most honourable of them all. Yet probably Mackenzie’s brigade and Donnellan’s 48th must claim an even higher merit—it was their prompt and steady help which gave their comrades time to re-form, and warded off the possibility of disaster at the critical moment.
The Spaniards had little to do upon July 28, but what little they had to do was well done. The charge of the cavalry regiment Rey was well timed and gallantly delivered. The few battalions engaged near the Pajar de Vergara and in Bassecourt’s division behaved steadily. The artillery sent to aid the British was manfully worked and did good service. But if only the Spanish army had been able to man?uvre, what a difference there must have been in the battle! When Leval, Sebastiani, and Lapisse fell back in disorder at 4 P.M., what would have been the fate of the French if Cuesta could have led out 25,000 men upon their flank and rear? He did not attempt to do so, and probably he was right. Yet it was hard for a British army to have to fight in line with allies who were perfectly useless for any large offensive movement.
The losses of Talavera, as we have already shown, were tremendous on both sides. Adding together the casualties of the twenty-seventh and the twenty-eighth, the British lost 5,365 men, 801 killed, 3915 wounded, and 649 missing. Of the last-named 108 belonged to the unfortunate 23rd Dragoons, and nearly 300 to the German Legion. Two generals, Mackenzie and Langwerth, had been killed, and three colonels,
Ross of[p. 556] the Coldstream Guards, Donnellan of the 48th, and Gordon of the 83rd.
The French losses were decidedly heavier, though the percentage in the regiments was in most cases far lower than that in the victorious British force. The total was 7,268, of whom 761 were killed, 6,301 wounded, and 206 missing. General Lapisse and von Porbeck of the Baden regiment, one of Leval’s brigadiers, were the only officers of distinction slain. But the number of field-officers wounded was enormous—in Sebastiani’s division all the colonels, and seven out of twelve of the battalion commanders were disabled.
Cuesta never issued any proper return of his casualties. He stated in one of his dispatches that they amounted to 1,201 men. This figure cannot possibly represent killed and wounded alone. Only one cavalry regiment, five or six battalions, and three batteries were engaged, none of them heavily. The British troops which fought in their neighbourhood had very modest losses, which made it incredible that the comrades in line with them should have suffered to the extent of more than 400 or 500 men. The balance must represent the missing from the stampede of Portago’s division upon the night of the twenty-seventh. Major-General Manglano, who commanded one of the divisions near the Pajar de Vergara, and de Lastra, the gallant colonel of the regimiento del Rey, were wounded.
The only trophies taken on either side were the seventeen guns of Leval’s division captured by Campbell and the Spanish cavalry.
N.B.—I have used of British sources mainly Lord Londonderry, Lord Munster, Leslie and Leith-Hay of the 29th, Stothert of the Guards, Cooper of the 2/7th, Hawker of the 14th Light Dragoons, and letters of Elley and Ponsonby of the 23rd Light Dragoons. Of French sources I have found Jourdan’s Mémoires, Victor’s dispatches and controversial letters with King Joseph, Sémélé’s journal of the 1st Corps, and Desprez’s narrative the most useful. From Colonel Whinyates I have received an unpublished map, drawn on the spot by Unger of the K.G.L., which fixes all the artillery position with admirable accuracy.
[p. 557]NOTES ON THE TOPOGRAPHY OF TALAVERA
I looked over the proofs of the last three chapters, seated on the small square stone that marks the highest point of the Cerro de Medellin, after having carefully walked over the whole field from end to end, on April 9, 1903. The ground is little changed in aspect, but the lower slopes of the Cerro, and the whole of its opposite neighbour the Cascajal hill, are now under cultivation. The former was covered with barley nine inches high, and the rough vegetation of thyme and dry grass, which the narratives of 1809 describe, was only to be seen upon the higher and steeper parts of the hill, and on the sides of the ravine below. The latter is steep but neither very broad nor particularly difficult to negotiate. Even in April the Porti?a had shrunk to a chain of pools of uninviting black water. The ditch fatal to the 23rd Light Dragoons, in the northern valley, is still visible. In its upper part, where the German regiment met it, the obstacle is practically unchanged. But nearer to the farm of Valdefuentes it has almost disappeared, owing to the extension of cultivation. There is only a four-foot drop from a field into a piece of rough ground full of reeds and bent-grass, where the soil is a little marshy in April. I presume that when the field was made, the hollow was partly filled up, and the watercourse, instead of flowing in a well-defined narrow ditch, has diffused itself over the whole trough of the ground.
In the central parts of the field the Porti?a forms a boundary, but not an obstacle. Where Cameron and the Guards fought Sebastiani’s 8,000 men, the ground is almost an exact level on both sides of the little stream. There is no ‘position’ whatever on the English bank, which is, if anything, a little lower than the French. The Pajar de Vergara is a low knoll twenty feet high, now crowned by a large farmhouse, which occupies the site of the old battery. The ground in front of it is still covered with olive groves, and troops placed here could see nothing of an advancing enemy till he emerges from the trees a hundred yards or so to the front. On the other hand an observer on the summit of the Cerro de Medellin gets a perfect bird’s-eye view of this part of the ground, and could make out the enemy all through his progress among the olives. Wellesley must have been able to mark exactly every movement of Leval’s division, though Campbell could certainly not have done so. In the Spanish part of the line the groves have evidently been thinned, as there are now many houses, forming a straggling suburb, pushed up to and along the railway, which now crosses this section of the line. In 1809 Talavera was still self-contained within its walls, which it has now overstepped. The Cascajal is practically of the same height as the main eastern level of the Cerro de Medellin: but the triple summit of the latter is much loftier ground; and standing on it one commands the whole of the Cascajal—every one of[p. 558] Villatte’s battalions must have been counted by Wellesley, who could also mark every man along the whole French front, even into and among the olive groves occupied by Leval’s Germans. Victor on the Cascajal could get no such a general view of the British position, but could see very well into Sherbrooke’s line. Hill’s troops, behind the first crest of the Cerro de Medellin, and Campbell’s in the groves must have been much less visible to him. There is a ruined house, apparently a mill, in the ravine between the two Cerros. As it is not mentioned in any report of the battle, I conclude that it was not in existence in 1809. The Pajar de Vergara farm is also modern, and the only building on the actual fighting-ground which existed on the battle-day was evidently the farm of Valdefuentes, which is alluded to by several narrators, French and English.
SECTION XVI: CHAPTER VIII
THE RETREAT FROM TALAVERA
When the dawn of July 29 had arrived, the plain and the rolling hills in front of the allied position were seen to be absolutely deserted. No trace of the French army was visible save the heaps of dead upon the further side of the Porti?a: the wounded had been carried off, with the exception of those who had fallen within the British lines, and so become prisoners of war. It was soon discovered that the enemy had left a screen of cavalry along the western bank of the Alberche: but whether his main body lay close behind the stream, or had retired towards Madrid, could not be ascertained without making a reconnaissance in force. Such an operation was beyond Wellesley’s power on the morning after the battle. He was neither able nor willing to send out a large detachment to beat up the enemy’s camps, with the object of ascertaining his situation and intentions. The British army was utterly exhausted: on the preceding day the men had fought upon half-rations: when the contest was over they had found that only a third of a ration had been issued: this scanty pittance was sent up to the regiments in the evening, as they still lay in battle-order on the ground that they had held during the day. Water was almost equally deficient: it was difficult to procure: nothing but the wells of the few houses in the rear of the position being available. Only on the morning of the twenty-ninth, when the departure of the enemy had become certain, were the troops allowed to return to their old bivouacs in the rear, and there to seek repose. Even then it was only a minority of the men who could be spared from duty. The gathering in of the vast numbers wounded—French as well as English—and their removal into Talavera demanded such enormous fatigue-parties that the larger number of the survivors had to be told off to[p. 560] this work and were denied the rest that they had so well earned.
It is certain that the British army could have done nothing upon the twenty-ninth even if their commander had desired to push forward against the enemy. The men were not only tired out by two days of battle, but half-starved in addition. But Wellesley was far from feeling any wish to pursue the French. His infantry had suffered so dreadfully that he could not dream of exposing them to the ordeal of another engagement till they had been granted a respite for the refreshment of body and spirit. Of his divisions only that of A. Campbell—the smallest of the four—was practically intact. The others had suffered paralysing losses—in Hill’s ranks one man out of every four had been stricken down, in Mackenzie’s one man in every three, while Sherbrooke’s frightful casualty-list showed that nearly two men out of five were missing from the ranks. Never, save at Albuera, was such slaughter on the side of the victors seen again during the whole course of the Peninsular War. ‘The extreme fatigue of the troops,’ wrote Wellesley, ‘the want of provisions, and the number of wounded to be taken care of, have prevented me from moving from my position.’
On the morning of the twenty-ninth the depleted strength of the army was partly compensated by the arrival of the first of those reinforcements from Lisbon which Wellesley had been anxiously expecting. At about six o’clock Robert Craufurd came upon the scene with the three regiments of his Light Brigade—all old battalions who had shared in Moore’s Corunna campaign. He was accompanied by a battery of horse artillery (A troop), the first unit of that arm which came under Wellesley’s command. But the Light Brigade were almost as weary as their comrades who had fought in the battle: they had only reached Talavera by a forced march of unexampled severity. Hearing at Navalmoral that the two armies were in presence, Robert Craufurd had hurried forward with almost incredible swiftness. Dropping his baggage and a few weakly men at Oropesa he had marched forty-three miles in twenty-two hours, though the day was hot and every soldier carried some fifty pounds’ weight upon his back. All day long the cannon was heard growling in the distance,[p. 561] and at short intervals the brigade kept meeting parties of Spanish fugitives, interspersed with British sutlers and commissaries, who gave the most dismal accounts of the progress of the fight. In spite of his desperate efforts to get up in time Craufurd reached the field thirteen hours too late, and heard to his intense chagrin that the battle had been won without his aid. Weary though his men were, they were at once hurried to the front, to relieve A. Campbell’s division on the line of advanced posts. There they found plenty of employment in burying the dead, and in gathering up the French wounded, whom it was necessary to protect from the fury of the Spanish peasantry.
The arrival of Craufurd’s brigade did something towards filling up the terrible gap in the ranks of the British infantry, but was far from enabling Wellesley to assume the offensive. Indeed the advent of fresh troops only accentuated the difficulty of feeding the army. Corn was still almost unobtainable; the supplies from the Vera de Plasencia showed no signs of appearing, and even oxen for the meat-ration, which had hitherto been obtainable in fair quantities, were beginning to run short. Nothing was to be had from Talavera itself, where Victor had exhausted all the available food many weeks before, nor could any assistance be got from the Spanish army, who were themselves commencing to feel the pinch of starvation.
All Wellesley’s hopes at this juncture were founded on the idea that the diversion of Venegas upon the Upper Tagus would force the French host in his front to break up, in order to save Madrid from an attack in the rear. The army of La Mancha had failed to keep Sebastiani in check, and to prevent him from appearing on the field of Talavera. But since the enemy had concentrated every available man for the battle, it was certain that Venegas had now no hostile force in his front, and that the way to the capital was open to him. If he had[p. 562] pushed on either by Aranjuez or by Toledo, he must now be close to the capital, and King Joseph would be obliged to detach a large force against him. That detachment once made, the army 佛山桑拿按摩站街 behind the Alberche would be so much weakened that it would be unable to face the British and Cuesta. If it offered fight, it must be beaten: if it retired, the allies would follow it up and drive it away in a direction which would prevent it from rejoining the troops that had been sent against Venegas. On the twenty-ninth Wellesley was under the impression that the army of La Mancha had already brought pressure to bear upon the French, for a false report had reached him that on the previous day it had captured Toledo. His dispatches written after the arrival of this rumour indicate an intention of moving forward on the thirtieth or thirty-first. The King, he says, must now detach troops against Venegas. This being so, it will be necessary to induce Cuesta to advance, supporting him with the British army ‘as soon as it shall 黄岐桑拿体验 be a little rested and refreshed after two days of the hardest fighting that I have ever been a party to. We shall certainly move towards Madrid, if not interrupted by some accident on our flank.’
The last words of this sentence are of great importance, since they show that already upon the day after Talavera Wellesley was beginning to be uneasy about his left flank. Some time before the battle he had received news from the north, to the effect that both Ney and Kellermann had returned to the valley of the Douro, after evacuating Galicia and the Asturias. He had therefore to take into consideration the chance that the enemy might move southward, and fall upon his line of communication with Portugal, not only with the corps of Soult, but with a large additional force. Unfortunately the information that had reached 佛山桑拿哪里有 him from the plains of Leon had been to the[p. 563] effect that Ney’s and Kellermann’s troops were much reduced in numbers and efficiency, so that even when they had joined Soult the total of the French field army upon the Douro would not much exceed 20,000 men. This misconception affected all his plans: for if the hostile force about Salamanca, Zamora, and Benavente was no greater than was reported, it followed that any expedition sent against his own communications could not be more than 12,000 or 15,000 strong, since Soult would be forced to leave a containing force in front of Beresford and Del Parque, who now lay in the direction of Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo. Any French advance against Bejar and Plasencia, therefore, would, as Wellesley supposed, be a mere raid, executed by a comparatively small force. He doubted 佛山桑拿网论坛 whether Soult dared undertake such an operation: ‘the enemy,’ he wrote, ‘would not like to venture through the passes into Estremadura, having me on one side of him, and you [Beresford] and Romana upon the other.’ He was therefore not much disturbed in mind about the movements of the French in the valley of the Douro. If he had but known that not 20,000 men but 50,000 men were now concentrating at Salamanca, his feelings would have been far different. But it was not till some days later that it began to dawn upon him that Soult was far stronger than he had supposed, and that there might be serious danger to be feared from this quarter. Meanwhile he hoped to prevent any advance of the French in the direction of Plasencia, by causing a strong demonstration to be made in the valley of the Douro. He wrote to Beresford that 佛山桑拿按摩全套图 he must contrive to arrange for joint action with La Romana and the Army of Galicia. If they appeared in strength in the direction of Ciudad Rodrigo, the Duke of Dalmatia might be deterred from making any movement to the south. If, however, the Spaniards proved helpless or impracticable, the Portuguese army would have to confine itself to the defence of its own frontier.
On the morning of July 30 Wellesley received the first[p. 564] definite information which led him to conclude that the French forces from the north were actually contemplating the raid upon his communications which on the preceding day he had regarded as doubtful. The Marquis Del Reino, whom, as it will be remembered, Cuesta had sent to the Puerto de Ba?os with two weak battalions, reported that troops from the Douro valley were threatening his front. At the 佛山桑拿0757 same time messages were received from the Alcaldes of Fuente Roble and Los Santos, places on the road between Salamanca and Bejar, to the effect that they had received orders from Soult to prepare 12,000 and 24,000 rations respectively, for troops due to arrive on July 28. The numbers given counted for little in Wellesley’s estimation, since it is the commonest thing in the world for generals to requisition food for a far larger force than they actually bring with them. But at least it seemed clear that some considerable detachment from Salamanca was on its way towards the Puerto de Ba?os. In consequence of this fact Wellesley wrote to the Spanish government, and also informed Cuesta, that in the event of a serious attempt of the enemy to cut his communications, he should ‘move so as to take care of himself,’ and do his best to preserve Portugal—in other words, that he 佛山夜生活论坛 should abandon the projected march on Madrid which had been his main purpose on the preceding day. He was still, however, under the impression that Soult had no very large force with him, as is sufficiently shown by the fact that on the thirty-first he suggested to Cuesta that it would be well to detach one of his divisions—say 5,000 men—to strengthen the insignificant force which was already in position at the Puerto de Ba?os. ‘I still think,’ he wrote, ‘that the movements of General Beresford with the Portuguese army on the frontier, and that of the Duque del Parque from Ciudad Rodrigo, combined with the natural difficulties of the country, and the defence by the Marquis Del Reino, may delay the enemy’s advance till the arrival of your division.’ It is clear that when he[p. 565] wrote in these terms Wellesley was still labouring under the delusion that Soult’s advance 佛山桑拿全套 was a mere raid executed by one or two divisions, and not a serious operation carried out by a large army.
While Wellesley was spending the three days which followed the battle of the twenty-eighth in resting his men and pondering over his next move, the enemies whom he had defeated at Talavera were in a state of even greater uncertainty and indecision. By daylight on July 29, as we have already seen, the whole French army had retired behind the Alberche, leaving only a screen of cavalry upon its western bank. The King was under the impression that Wellesley and Cuesta would probably follow him up ere the day had passed, and drew up his whole force along that same line of heights which Victor had occupied upon the twenty-second and twenty-third of the month. But when nothing appeared in his front during the morning hours save a few vedettes, he realized that he might count upon a short respite, and took new measures. 广东佛山桑拿论坛 After sending off to his brother the Emperor a most flagrantly mendacious account of the battle of Talavera, he proceeded to divide up his army. As Wellington had foreseen, he detached a large force to hold back Venegas and the army of La Mancha, who were at last coming into the field upon his flank. He was bound to do so, under pain of imperilling the safety of Madrid.
It is time to cast a glance at the operations of the incompetent general whose sloth and disobedience had wrecked the plan that Wellesley and Cuesta had drawn out at their con[p. 566]ference near Almaraz. On July 16 Venegas had begun to move forward from El Moral, Valdepe?as, and Santa Cruz de Mudela, in accordance with the directions that had been sent him. He occupied Manzanares and Daimiel, and then came into collision with Sebastiani’s cavalry at Villaharta and Herencia, for the 4th Corps had not yet begun to withdraw towards Madrid. Owing to the profound ignorance in which the enemy still lay as to the advance of Wellesley and Cuesta, Sebastiani had not, on the nineteenth, received any order to fall back or to join Victor and the King. Thus, when pressed by the advanced troops of Venegas, he did not retire, but held his ground, and showed every intention of accepting battle. Learning from the peasantry that he had the whole of the 4th Corps in front of him, and might have to deal with nearly 20,000 men, the Spanish general halted, and refused to advance further. In so doing he was fulfilling the spirit of the instructions that had been sent him, for Cuesta and Wellesley had wished him to detain Sebastiani and keep in touch with him—not to attack him or to fight a pitched battle. They had taken it for granted that the Frenchman would receive early news of their own advance, and would already be in retreat before Venegas came up with him. But it was not till July 22, as we have already seen, that Victor and King Joseph obtained certain intelligence of the march of the allies upon Talavera. Until the orders for a retreat arrived from Madrid, the 4th Corps was kept in its old position at Madridejos, and courted rather than avoided an engagement with the army of La Mancha.
Venegas, after summoning his divisional generals to a council of war, refused to attack Sebastiani, and wisely, for his 23,000 men would certainly have been beaten by the 20,000 Frenchmen who still lay in front of him. From the nineteenth to the twenty-second the two armies faced each other across the upper Guadiana, each waiting for the other to move. Late on the twenty-third, however, Sebastiani received his orders to evacuate La Mancha, and to hasten to Toledo in order to join Victor[p. 567] and the King, in a combined assault upon Wellesley and Cuesta.
It was on the next day that Venegas committed the ruinous error which was to wreck the fate of the whole campaign. On the morning of the twenty-fourth the 4th Corps had disappeared from his front: instead of following closely in the rear of Sebastiani with all speed, and molesting his retreat, as his orders prescribed, he made no attempt to prevent the 4th Corps from moving off, nor did he execute that rapid flanking march on Aranjuez or Fuentedue?as which his instructions prescribed. He moved forward at a snail’s pace, having first sent off to Cuesta an argumentative letter, in which he begged for leave to direct his advance on Toledo instead of on the points which had been named in his orders. On the twenty-sixth he received an answer, in which his Commander-in-chief authorized him to make his own choice between the route by Aranjuez and that by Toledo.
Venegas had already committed the fatal error of letting Sebastiani slip away unmolested: he now hesitated between the idea of carrying out his own plan, and that of obeying Cuesta’s original orders, and after much hesitation sent his first division under General Lacy towards Toledo, while he himself, with the other four, marched by Tembleque upon Aranjuez. So slow and cautious was their advance that Lacy only arrived in front of Toledo on July 28—the day that the battle of Talavera was fought, while Venegas himself occupied Aranjuez twenty-four hours later, on the morning of the twenty-ninth. He had taken six days to cross the sixty miles of open rolling plain which lie between the Guadiana and the Tagus, though he had been absolutely unopposed by the enemy whom he had allowed to slip away from his front. Sebastiani had marched at the rate of twenty miles a day when he retired from Madridejos to Toledo, Venegas and Lacy followed at the rate of ten and twelve miles a day respectively. Yet the special duty imposed on the army of La Mancha had been to keep in touch with the 4th Corps. Further comment is hardly necessary.
On the morning of the day when Wellesley was assailed by the forces of Victor and King Joseph, General Lacy appeared[p. 568] in front of Toledo. The town was held by 3,000 men of Valence’s Polish division: it is practically impregnable against any attack from the south, presenting to that side a front of sheer cliff, overhanging the river, and accessible only by two fortified bridges. To make any impression on the place Lacy would have had to cross the Tagus at some other point, and then might have beset the comparatively weak northern front with considerable chances of success. But he contented himself with demonstrating against the bridges, and discharging some fruitless cannon-shot across the river. General Valence, the Governor of Toledo, reported to Jourdan that he was attacked, and his message, reaching the battle-field of Talavera after Victor’s second repulse, had a certain amount of influence on the action of King Joseph. The place was never for a moment in danger, as Lacy made no attempt to pass the Tagus in order to press his attack home.
On the following morning (July 29) Venegas reached the other great passage of the Tagus, at Aranjuez, with two of his divisions, and occupied the place after driving out a few French vedettes. He pressed his cavalry forward to the line of the Tajuna, and ere nightfall some of them had penetrated almost as far as Valdemoro, the village half way between Aranjuez and Madrid. No signs of any serious hostile force could be discovered, and secret friends in the capital sent notice that they were being held down by a very weak garrison, consisting of no more than a single French brigade and a handful of the King’s Spanish levies. There was everything to tempt Venegas to execute that rapid march upon the capital which had been prescribed in his original orders, but instead of doing so this wretched officer halted for eight whole days at Aranjuez [July 29 to August 5].
On the day after Talavera Jourdan and Joseph had not yet discovered the whereabouts of the main body of the army of La Mancha: but Lacy had made such a noisy demonstration in front of Toledo that they were inclined to believe that his chief must be close behind him. Accordingly the garrison of Toledo was reinforced by the missing brigade of Valence’s Polish division, and raised to the strength of 4,700 men. The King, with the rest of Sebastiani’s corps and his own Guards and[p. 569] reserves, marched to Santa Ollala, and on the next day [July 30] placed himself at Bargas, a few miles in rear of Toledo. In this position he would have been wholly unable to protect Madrid, if Venegas had pressed forward on that same morning from Aranjuez, for that place is actually nearer to the capital than the village at which Joseph had fixed his head quarters. The sloth displayed by the Spanish general was the only thing which preserved Madrid from capture. On August 1, apprised of the fact that the main body of the army of La Mancha was at Aranjuez and not before Toledo, Joseph transferred his army to Illescas, a point from which he would be able to attack Venegas in flank, if the latter should move forward. Only Milhaud’s division of dragoons was thrown forward to Valdemoro, on the direct road from Aranjuez to Madrid: it drove out of the village a regiment of Spanish horse, which reported to Venegas that there was now a heavy force in his front. For the next four days the King’s troops and the army of Venegas retained their respective positions, each waiting for the other to move. The Spaniard had realized that his chance of capturing Madrid had gone by, and remained in a state of indecision at Aranjuez. Joseph was waiting for definite news of the movements of Wellesley and Cuesta, before risking an attack on the army of La Mancha. He saw that it had abandoned the offensive, and did not wish to move off from his central position at Illescas till he was sure that Victor was not in need of any help. Yet he was so disturbed as to the general state of affairs that he sent orders to General Belliard at Madrid to evacuate all non-combatants and civilians on to Valladolid, and to prepare to shut himself up in the Retiro.
The doings of Victor, during the five days after he had separated from the King, require a more lengthy consideration. Left behind upon the Alberche with the 1st Corps, which the casualties of the battle had reduced to no more than 18,000 men, he felt himself in a perilous position: if the allies should advance, he could do no more than endeavour to retard their march on Madrid. Whether he could count on any further aid from the King and Sebastiani would depend on the wholly problematical movements of Venegas. Somewhat to his surprise Wellesley and Cuesta remained quiescent not only on the[p. 570] twenty-ninth but on the thirtieth of July. But an alarm now came from another quarter: it will be remembered that the enterprising Sir Robert Wilson with 4,000 men, partly Spaniards, partly Portuguese of the Lusitanian Legion, had moved parallel with Wellesley’s northern flank during the advance to Talavera. On the day of the battle he had ‘marched to the cannon’ as a good officer should, and had actually approached Cazalegas, at the back of the French army, in the course of the afternoon. Learning of the results of the fight, he had turned back to his old path upon the twenty-ninth, and had entered Escalona on the upper Alberche. At this place he was behind Victor’s flank, and lay only thirty-eight miles from Madrid. There was no French force between him and the capital, and if only his division had been a little stronger he would have been justified in making a raid upon the city, relying for aid upon the insurrection that would indubitably have broken out the moment that he presented himself before its gates.
It was reported to Victor on the thirtieth not only that Wilson was at Escalona, but also that he was at the head of a strong Portuguese division, estimated at 8,000 or 10,000 men. The Marshal determined that he could not venture to leave such a force upon his rear while the armies of Wellesley and Cuesta were in his front, and fell back ten miles to Maqueda on the high road to Madrid. On the following day, still uneasy as to his position, he retired still further, to Santa Cruz, and wrote to King Joseph that he might be forced to continue his retreat as far as Mostoles, almost in the suburbs of Madrid [Aug. 2]. He was so badly informed as to the movements of the allies, that he not only warned the King that Wilson was threatening Madrid, but assured him that the British army from Talavera had broken up from its cantonments and was advancing along the Alberche towards the capital. Joseph, better instructed as to the actual situation of affairs, replied by assuring him that Wellesley and Cuesta were far more likely to be retreating on Almaraz than marching on Madrid, as they must have heard ere now of Soult’s advance on Plasencia. He ordered the[p. 571] Marshal to fall back no further, and to send a division to feel for Wilson at Escalona. On detaching Villatte to execute this reconnaissance [Aug. 5] Victor was surprised to find that Sir Robert’s little force had already evacuated its advanced position, and had retreated into the mountains. For the last four days indeed Victor had been fighting with shadows—for the British and Estremaduran armies had never passed the Alberche, while Wilson had absconded from Escalona on receiving from Wellesley the news that Soult had been heard of at the Puerto de Ba?os. In consequence of the needless march of the 1st Corps to Maqueda and Santa Cruz, the allied generals were able to withdraw unmolested, and even unobserved, from Talavera, and were far upon their way down the Tagus before their absence was suspected. The erratic movements of Victor may be excused in part by the uniform difficulty in obtaining accurate information which the French always experienced in Spain. But even when this allowance is made, it must be confessed that his operations do not tend to give us any very high idea of his strategical ability. He was clearly one of those generals, of the class denounced by Napoleon, qui se font des tableaux, who argue on insufficient data, and take a long time to be convinced of the error of their original hypothesis.
Neither Victor nor King Joseph, therefore, exercised any influence over the doings of Wellesley and Cuesta at Talavera between the 29th of July and the 3rd of August. The allies worked out their plans undisturbed by any interference on the part of the old enemies whom they had beaten on the battle day. Down to August 1 the British general had been unconvinced by the rumours of Soult’s approach, at the head of a large army, which were persistently arriving from the secret agents in the direction of Salamanca. It was only on the evening of that day that he received news so precise, and so threatening, that he found himself forced to abandon for the moment any intention of pushing on towards Madrid, in consequence of the impending attack on the line of his communications[p. 572] with Portugal. It was announced to him that the vanguard of the French army from the north had actually entered Bejar on the twenty-ninth and was driving in the trifling force under the Marquis Del Reino, which Cuesta had sent to the Puerto de Ba?os.
Whatever might be the force at Soult’s disposal—and Wellesley was still under the delusion that it amounted at most to a single corps of 12,000 or 15,000 men—it was impossible to allow the French to establish themselves between the British army and Portugal. If they were at Bejar on the twenty-ninth they might easily reach Plasencia on the thirty-first. On receiving the news Cuesta, who had hitherto shown the greatest reluctance to divide his army, detached his 5th division under Bassecourt, with orders to set out at the greatest possible speed, and join the Marquis Del Reino. This move was tardy and useless, for it is four long marches from Talavera to Plasencia, so that Bassecourt must arrive too late to hold the defiles. If he found the French already established on the river Alagon, his 5,000 men would be utterly inadequate to ‘contain’ double or triple that number of Soult’s troops. As a matter of fact the enemy had entered Plasencia on the afternoon of August 1, before the Spanish division had even commenced its movement to the west.