Combat of Navas de Membrillo, 29 December 1811

Combat of Navas de Membrillo, 29 December 1811

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Combat of Navas de Membrillo, 29 December 1811

The combat of Navas de Membrillo of 29 December 1811 was a minor clash between a British and Portuguese expedition under General Hill and part of the French garrison of Estremadura. Hill had spent two inactive months on the Portuguese border, before receiving orders to conduct a raid towards Merida, where part of Dombrouski’s 5th French Division was relatively isolated. Wellington hoped that this expedition would distract Soult from his pursuit of the small Spanish army of General Ballesteros and from the siege of Tarifa.

Hill crossed into Spain on 27 December with 12,000 men, and advanced along the north bank of the Guadiana River. On 29 December, with his column close to Merida, Hill was unlucky enough to run into a small French detachment which had been sent out to find supplies. This force was made up of three companies from the 88th Regiment supported by a troop of hussars. Hill ordered two squadrons from the 13th Light Dragoons and two from the 2nd Hussars of the King’s German Legion to attack this force, but Captain Neveux, commanding the infantry, formed his men into squares and ordered them to retreat towards a nearby forest of cork trees.

Hill’s cavalry made five attempts to charge the French squares, each without success. After the fifth charge the French reached the safety of the trees, and were able to escape to Merida, after losing two dead and nine wounded. The British cavalry lost 3 dead and 36 wounded in their attempts to break into the French squares. Forewarned of Hill’s approach, Dombrouski evacuated Merida and began to retreat back toward Soult’s army in Andalusia. Hill occupied Merida, taking 160,000lb of wheat. He then pressed the French as they continued their retreat, fighting a second action at Los Santos on 3 January. Once it became clear that the French had been forced to abandon the siege of Tarifa, Hill pulled back into Portugal.

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Battle of Molins de Rei

The Battle of Molins de Rei or Battle of Molins de Rey or Battle of Molins del Rey (21 December 1808) saw an Imperial French corps led by Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr attack a Spanish army temporarily led by Theodor von Reding and the Conde de Caldagues because its commander Juan Miguel de Vives y Feliu was absent. Saint-Cyr outmaneuvered his opponents, distracting them with a false attack in front while sending the bulk of his force across Llobregat River in a turning movement around the Spanish right flank. The Spanish defensive lines crumbled and the French captured 1,200 soldiers, all the Spanish artillery and Caldagues himself. The Peninsular War engagement was fought near Molins de Rei, located 15 kilometres (9 mi) west of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.

The Dos de Mayo Uprising caught the Imperial French occupation forces in Spain off guard. By the end of August 1808, the Franco-Italian garrison of Barcelona found itself isolated and in danger of capture. Emperor Napoleon soon assembled a substantial army, entrusted it to Saint-Cyr, and directed his general to relieve Barcelona. After a risky campaign, Saint-Cyr defeated a Spanish force at Cardadeu and reached Barcelona. Finding his opponents holding a strong position behind the Llobregat, Saint-Cyr marched out of Barcelona and resolved to drive them away.


During the winter of 1810–1811, the French army of Marshal André Masséna maintained its futile siege of Lord Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese Army, which was sheltered behind the Lines of Torres Vedras near Lisbon. Masséna finally ran out of supplies and withdrew toward Almeida in March. Meanwhile, farther to the south, Marshal Nicolas Soult laid siege to Badajoz on 26 January. The fortress fell to the French on 11 March. ΐ]

On 15 March, Marshal Édouard Mortier and 4,500 troops belonging to the V Corps laid siege to Campo Maior Castle. Major José Talaya with 800 Portuguese militia and 50 old cannon stoutly defended the ancient Portuguese fortress, located 18 km northwest of Badajoz. The castle held out until 21 March when the French bombardment rendered the place indefensible. Α]

Wellington despatched Marshal William Beresford with an 18,000 strong army to relieve Badajoz when news of the city's fall reached the allies Beresford continued his advance with the aim of recapturing Badajoz. Β]


À la toute fin de l'année 1811, le vicomte de Wellington, commandant en chef des armées anglo-portugaises, veut distraire l'attention des troupes du maréchal Soult occupées par le siège de Tarifa. En conséquence, il ordonne au général Rowland Hill de mener un raid contre la 5 e division française du général Dembowski en position à Mérida. Hill rassemble 12 000 hommes, entre en Espagne le 27 décembre [ 1 ] et dès le 28, atteint le village de La Rocca à une trentaine de kilomètres de la ville. Simultanément, un petit contingent français se dirige dans cette direction afin de trouver des approvisionnements. Il se compose de trois compagnies du 88 e régiment d'infanterie de ligne commandées par le capitaine Neveux et d'un détachement de hussards, pour un total d'environ 400 hommes [ 2 ] .

Le 29 décembre, l'avant-garde du corps de Hill tombe sur le détachement de hussards français non loin du village de Navas de Membrillo. Ces derniers donnent rapidement l'alarme auprès du capitaine Neveux qui décide de se replier vers Mérida. À la vue de ce mouvement, le général Hill, dont l'infanterie n'est pas encore arrivée, demande à sa cavalerie de poursuivre la formation française et de la faire prisonnière [ 2 ] .

Les Britanniques déplorent 3 tués et 37 blessés, soit au total 20 pertes pour chacun de leurs deux régiments [ 2 ] . Rickard donne quant à lui le chiffre de 36 blessés [ 1 ] . Les Français ne comptent de leur côté que 2 morts et 9 blessés, uniquement dus à l'action de l'artillerie anglaise. Hill se montre très mécontent du revers de sa cavalerie, le privant de toute chance de succès pour la suite de son expédition [ 3 ] . Informé de l'approche du corps de Hill, le général Dembowski abandonne cependant Mérida et fait sa jonction avec le maréchal Soult en Andalousie. Hill investit la place peu après et poursuit sa progression sur le sol espagnol, avant de rétrograder au Portugal quelque temps plus tard [ 1 ] .

Le combat de Navas de Membrillo est considéré par l'historien Ian Fletcher, du point de vue britannique, « comme l'un des épisodes de cavalerie les plus décevants de la péninsule » et le compare à l'affaire de Villar de Puerco, disputée en juillet 1810 dans des conditions similaires (charge de cavalerie infructueuse contre de l'infanterie formée en carré). Dans le cas de Navas de Membrillo, la bonne utilisation du terrain par les Français, la compétence du capitaine Neveux et la stricte discipline observée par ses soldats conduisent à un échec britannique, mais ne remettent pas en cause pour autant l'attitude de la cavalerie anglaise qui « ne pouvait pas vraiment se comporter mieux qu'elle ne l'a fait » [ 3 ] .

American Revolution

Early in the spring of 1776 during the start of the 2nd year of the American Revolutionary War, the 29th Regiment of Foot under the command of Lt. Col. Patrick Gordon was sent with other British regiments to relieve the siege of Quebec City by an American army. On 25 July Lt. Col. Patrick Gordon was shot and mortally wounded by Benjamin Whitcomb of Whitcomb's Rangers, Lt. Col. Thomas Carleton of the 20th Regiment of Foot was then promoted to command the 29th. After pushing the American army down the St. Lawrence River at the Battle of Trois-Rivières, men from the battalion companies served on board the ships of General Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester in the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain on 11 October 1776. In 1777, the Light Infantry Company and the Grenadier Company were with Lt. General John Burgoyne as he headed down from Montreal to Saratoga. Both the Light Infantry Company and Grenadier Company saw action at the Battle of Hubbardton under the command of Brigadier Simon Fraser, as part of his Advance Corps on 7 July 1777. Both companies surrendered with the rest of Burgoyne's Army after the defeats at Battle of Freeman's Farm and Battle of Bemis Heights in September and October 1777. The other eight Battalion Companies remained in Canada and took part in raids and small battles along the Vermont and New York frontiers during the rest of the American Revolution led by Major Christopher Carleton and Lt. John Enys. In 1781 the 29th was linked to the county of Worcestershire in England, giving them a recruiting area and home. The 29th Regiment returned to England in 1787.

For more details on the raids along Lake Champlain and the upper Hudson Valley see Carleton's Raid (1778) and Burning of the Valleys.


À la toute fin de l'année 1811, le vicomte de Wellington, commandant en chef des armées anglo-portugaises, veut distraire l'attention des troupes du maréchal Soult occupées par le siège de Tarifa. En conséquence, il ordonne au général Rowland Hill de mener un raid contre la 5 e division française du général Dembowski en position à Mérida. Hill rassemble 12 000 hommes, entre en Espagne le 27 décembre [ 1 ] et dès le 28, atteint le village de La Rocca à une trentaine de kilomètres de la ville. Simultanément, un petit contingent français se dirige dans cette direction afin de trouver des approvisionnements. Il se compose de trois compagnies du 88 e régiment d'infanterie de ligne commandées par le capitaine Neveux et d'un détachement de hussards, pour un total d'environ 400 hommes [ 2 ] .


In the middle of October, 1811 a French division under the command of Jean-Baptiste Girard crossed the River Guardiana at Mérida and campaigned in Northern Extremadura. [1] Major-General Rowland Hill consulted with General Wellington and received permission to pursue Girard with his Second Division. Upon learning that the French had halted at the village of Arroyo dos Molinos, near Alcuéscar, Hill force-marched his troops for three days in poor weather so as to catch the French before they moved on.

By the evening of the 27 October, Hill's forces had reached a point four miles from the French at Arroyo dos Molinos, and had the area around the enemy surrounded. The 71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot was ordered to occupy the village of Alcuéscar, three miles from Arroyo. During the night there was a violent hail-storm, and on the following morning the weather was still so foul that the French pickets on duty had their backs turned so as to gain some reprieve from the wind and rain - it was from this direction that Hill's forces attacked at dawn on the 28th. [2]

The French 34th and 40th Regiments suffered extremely heavy losses during the battle, although to Marshal Soult's relief the eagle standards of the two regiments were not lost to the British. He wrote to Napoleon: L'honneur des armes est sauvé les Aigles ne sont pas tombés au pouvoir de l'ennemi. [The honour of the army is saved the Eagles did not fall into the hands of the enemy.] [3]

Long's cavalry charged, the 2nd Hussars King's German Legion particularly distinguishing themselves, and broke the French cavalry. Over 200 of them were captured plus three pieces of artillery. [4]

On 5 November a jubilant Hill (who would be made a Knight of the Bath for Arroyo dos Molinos) wrote to his sister

I have time merely to inform you that on the morning of the 28th at daybreak I succeeded in surprising, attacking, and annihilating the French corps under General Girard at Arroyo dos Molinos. The enemy's force, when attacked, consisted of about 3,000 infantry, 1,600 cavalry and artillery. The result is the capture of one general (Bron), one colonel (the Prince d'Aremberg commander of the 27th Chasseurs), 35 lieutenant-colonels and inferior officers, 1,400 prisoners, and probably 500 killed. The others dispersed, having thrown away their arms we have also got all the enemy's artillery, baggage, and magazines—in short, everything that belonged to the corps. [5]

The French eagles may "not have fallen into the hands of the enemy", however. The greatest prize for the 34th [Cumberland] Regiment, (who harboured a long held ambition to take on their opposite French number) was the capture of six side-drums and the French Drum-Major’s staff which, after a tustle, was taken from the French Drum-Major by Sergeant Moses Simpson of the 34th’s Grenadier Company. Included in the haul was the French grenadier company drum, the shell of which is emblazoned with three grenadier ‘ball and flame’. These magnificent trophies of war had been presented to the 34e Regiment d'Infanterie de Ligne by none other Napoleon himself when the French regiment was founded in 1796. The drums and drum majors staff are on display in The Border Regiment museum, Carlisle Castle.


Goya's series of 82 prints The Disasters of War (1810–20) remains the most famous and powerful depiction of the war and its effects on the civilian population. The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki (1814) is narrated from the time of the Peninsular War. Prosper Mérimée's Carmen (1845), on which Bizet's opera (1875) was based, is set during the war. The Spanish zarzuela, La Viejecita (1897) set in 1812, celebrates the entry of the joint forces into Madrid. The C. S. Forester novel Death to the French (1932) concerns a private in a British Rifle Regiment who is cut off from his unit and joins a group of Portuguese guerrillas. The 1957 motion picture The Pride and the Passion, also set during the war, was based on Forester's The Gun (1933). F. L. Lucas's novel The English Agent – A Tale of the Peninsular War (1969), about the Battle of Bailén and its aftermath, is the account of a British Army officer who, gathering information before the first British landings, buys a Frenchwoman at auction to save her from the Spanish mob. Lucas's poem "Spain 1809" (in From Many Times and Lands, 1953), the story of a Spanish village woman's courage during the French occupation, was turned into the play A Kind of Justice by Margaret Wood (1966). Curro Jiménez was a successful Spanish TV series (1976–79) about a generous bandit fighting against the French in the Sierra Morena. The Sharpe novels (1981–2007) by Bernard Cornwell were a series likewise following the adventures of a British Army officer and set, partly, during the Peninsular War. They were later made into a series of television movies featuring actor Sean Bean as Sharpe (see Sharpe (TV series)). A short but dramatic episode from the war is given in Gary Jennings's Aztec Rage. A board wargame called Wellington – The Peninsular War 1812–1814 was produced by GMT Games in 2005. [ 64 ]

The Peninsular War saw the first use of medal bars. Also known as "devices", these are clasps affixed to the ribbons from which medals are suspended. The Peninsular Medal, more properly known as the Army Gold Medal, was issued to senior officers in Wellington's army. Clasps were added, each giving the name of a major battle in which the holder participated. When four clasps were earned a Peninsular Cross was awarded. Each arm was inscribed with one of the battles named on an earned clasp. Subsequent clasps were then added to the ribbon. Wellington's Peninsular Cross, featuring a unique nine clasps (thirteen battles), can be seen on his uniform in the basement of Apsley House. In 1847, the surviving lower ranked officers and enlisted men received the Military General Service Medal, with battle clasps, for service in this conflict.

Déroulement de la bataille

La pluie s'apaisa enfin durant la nuit du 18 février et la Gebora était à nouveau guéable [ 28 ] , [ 29 ] . Dans la soirée, Soult dirigea neuf bataillons d'infanterie, trois escadrons de cavalerie et deux batteries d'artillerie, le tout sous le commandement de Mortier, traverser un pont enjambant la Guadiana à partir de la rive nord. Rejoint par les six régiments de cavalerie du général Latour-Maubourg, le maréchal avait sous ordres 4 500 fantassins, 2 500 cavaliers et 12 canons prêts à attaquer les lignes adverses à l'aube du 19 février [ 20 ] , [ 30 ] , [ 28 ] . Profitant d'un épais brouillard matinal, les Français traversèrent la Gebora, repoussèrent les avant-postes espagnols et s'avancèrent à moins de deux kilomètres de leurs lignes sans être repérés [ 30 ] . Simultanément, le 2 e régiment de hussards, chargé par Latour-Maubourg de contourner le flanc gauche de Mendizábal, gravit discrètement les hauteurs au nord et tomba par surprise sur les unités sans méfiance de Charles d'Espagne [ 31 ] , [ 32 ] .

Mortier démontra lors de cet affrontement ses capacités tactiques dans le déploiement de son armée : il envoya toute sa cavalerie vers le nord pour attaquer l'aile gauche espagnole et dirigea trois bataillons au sud, entre le fort San Cristóbal et le flanc droit de Mendizábal, tandis que les six derniers bataillons d'infanterie attaquèrent frontalement la position [ 33 ] , [ 34 ] . Alors que le brouillard se dissipait, la cavalerie légère du général Briche galopa en direction des hauteurs et se jeta sur l'aile gauche de l'armée espagnole pendant que Latour-Maubourg enleva trois régiments de dragons et chargea les cavaliers hispano-portugais dans les plaines de la Caya [ 35 ] . Malgré leur supériorité numérique, ces derniers restèrent sourds aux appels de leurs officiers et prirent la fuite vers Elvas ou Campo Maior. Beaucoup d'entre eux réussirent à s'échapper, en grande partie grâce à Latour-Maubourg qui préféra les délaisser pour lancer à la place sa cavalerie contre l'infanterie régulière de Mendizábal [ 36 ] .

L'engagement sur l'aile droite espagnole fut plus longuement disputé. Le brouillard parti, les Espagnols s'étaient en effet rendus compte de l'infériorité numérique de l'armée française et se préparèrent à recevoir l'attaque de leurs adversaires dans la plus grande discipline [ 36 ] . Le duel de mousqueterie entre les deux belligérants venait à peine de s'engager lorsque la cavalerie française fit son apparition. Pendant que les hussards se rapprochaient le long des crêtes, les dragons de Latour-Maubourg surgirent par l'arrière, ce qui incita Mendizábal à ranger ses troupes en deux immenses carrés divisionnaires soutenus par son artillerie. Bien qu'ayant initialement réussi à gêner la cavalerie française, ces formations constituèrent une cible de choix pour l'infanterie et l'artillerie de Soult [ 36 ] , [ 20 ] , [ 19 ] qui, comme le raconte un fantassin espagnol à propos de cette dernière, « s'est amusé avec eux de la manière la plus horrible jusqu'à ce qu'ils deviennent d'abord ovales puis une masse informe que la cavalerie était capable de pénétrer et de faire prisonnier » [ 19 ] . La cavalerie légère de Briche enfonça les deux carrés espagnols sans grande difficulté, action qui décida du sort de la bataille. Plusieurs régiments espagnols furent dispersés, la plupart furent faits prisonniers tandis que d'autres se frayèrent un chemin ensemble jusqu'à Badajoz ou vers la frontière portugaise [ 37 ] .

The Spanish Army

The Spanish army was developed from the Reconquista crusade-era Military Orders. The linkage was directly to the church and helps explain the religious focus of early Spanish explorations in the Americas.[8] In 1534, cavalry was the key arm and deployed in 'bandes', but for infantry Spain hired the Swiss (beginning in 1483) and Dutch (from 1718) regiments. There were 100,000 Swiss mercenaries available in 1770 but the Spanish answer was the development of an army supported by Royal Arsenals and standing cavalry.

Philip II established the first Royal Arsenal of Cavalry in 1572 at Redondo in Andalusia. The Spanish wanted a trained military reserve, but arrangements were complex and the cavalry were not paid. Spain was permanently at war in the 1500s with the only regular army other than the Ottoman Turks. The Spanish created training schools, a military career, good generals, and a European military model. The Tercio was the basic Spanish infantry unit from 1534 to 1704. It consisted of a permanent staff (a novelty in 1534) and a variable number of combat companies. The Tercio was an administrative as well as a tactic unit, especially in the XVI century. The permanent staff was an innovation in 1534-1536 when the Tercios were created. The staff comprised the administrative function (payment, medical, etc) and military command. The Tercio had two different types of companies: one of pike-men and another of harquebusiers. In 1704, King Philip V replaced the term tercio with regiment of infantry using the French model of 1 or 2 battalions of 636 men (11 line companies and 1 Grenadier company). [9]

Spanish troops fought in Spain, Oran, Tripoli, Italy, Ireland, France, Central America, South America, and in the Netherlands. Under Charles V (1519-1558), Spain and the Holy Roman Empire were temporarily united, and even into the seventeenth Century Spanish and Imperial forces co-operated. Franco-Dutch-Spanish conflict was renewed through the 30 Years War (1618-1648). However, in 1643, Spain was defeated by France and her deterioration continued. In 1715, Spain had 52,000 men in 100 infantry battalions, organised in 63 regiments. In 1802 there was a war-establishment of 144,448 men in 64 regiments. In 1715, Spanish infantry regiments reflected her former empire: 37 Spanish, 14 Dutch-Walloon, six Italian, and five Irish. Each battalion of 520 men was commanded by a colonel and had 13 companies. Spanish weapons were based on the pike and crossbow until the early 1500s when early firearms were introduced. The initial gun was an arquebus (the soldier an arquebusier): it was a smooth-bore weapon with a matchlock and was fired with a supporting pole. By the 1600s, arquebuses and muskets were the prime weapons. Dragoons first appeared in Spanish ranks in the 1630s, but the infantry were the chief arm. Later, the cavalry formed from a quarter to a third of the army as in that of other nations. Spanish artillery was only rudimentary until after the Armada.

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Slaget var en stor motgång för de engelsk-spansk-portugisiska allierade. Wellington hade tidigare varnat de spanska generalerna att den extremaduranska armén var "den sista väsentliga trupp som deras land hade", [ 34 ] och senare skrev han att "besegrandet av Mendizabal är den största olägenheten som hittills drabbat oss, som inte tidigare var förväntad". [ 35 ] Armén hade i huvudsak blivit krossad även om 2𧋴 infanterister hade flytt in till Badajoz, samt att ett mindre antal tagit sig till Portugal. Omkring 1𧄀 spanjorer hade blivit dödade eller skadade och 4𧄀 tagna som fångar, och därtill hade 17 kanoner förlorats. [ 36 ] Fransmännen hade däremot endast drabbats av mindre förluster. Soult rapporterade inledningsvis att 30 man blivit dödade och 140 skadats, men dessa siffror blev så småningom reviderade till ungefär 400 förluster, huvudsakligen från kavalleriet. [ 36 ]

Soult hade nu möjligheten att fortsätta sitt omringande av Badajoz. Badajoz föll slutligen till fransmännen den 11 mars. Detta trots att stadens garnison vid det laget var 8𧄀 man stark, efter tillströmningen av soldater från Mendizabals tillintetgjorda armé. [ 37 ] Wellington sände därefter en stor engelsk-portugisisk armékår under sir William Beresford för att återta den viktiga fortstaden. [ 38 ] Den 20 april hade den andra belägringen av Badajoz inletts. [ 39 ] Ett franskt försök att bryta belägringen resulterade den 16 maj i det blodiga slaget vid Albuera. [ 40 ] Under slaget lyckades Beresfords starka allierade trupper behålla belägringen, men kunde endast med nöd hålla tillbaka den mindre franska armén, återigen kommenderad av Soult. [ 41 ] Emellertid tvingades Wellington den 20 juni att avbryta belägringen och dra tillbaka sin 44𧄀 man starka armé till Elvas. Detta då de inte klarade av att stå emot den förenade franska styrkan på 60𧄀 man, vilken bestod av den Franska armén från Portugal, nu under marskalk Auguste Marmonts befäl, och den Södra armén. [ 42 ] Följaktligen fortsatte Badajoz att vara i franska händer under det följande året fram till dess att de allierade slutligen återtog det under slaget vid Badajoz. [ 43 ]

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