I have the honor to report to you another glorious resolution by your Imperial soldiers.
On 16 May 1811, I surprised and routed the Spanish Army of General Blake near the village of Albuera.
Having received your blessing to take the offensive against the outpost held by General Beresford, I gathered in all the outposts that could be spared as well as the infantry from the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo and marched with the utmost speed to the neighborhood of Albuera. It was discovered that General Blake (historian’s note – Soult discovered Blake when the Spanish engaged his assaulting columns) had landed a sizeable Spanish force at Cadiz and marched them to join Beresford, but I was undeterred.
I approached the enemy’s positions with great care. The men were not to light fires and the wheels of the limbers and carriages were muffled. The efforts were met by complete success as our assault came as a surprise to all the allied defenders, as borne out by the statements of captured officers.
To further baffle the enemy, I had small detachments of the 23rd Chasseurs a Cheval and two old 4-pounders make noisy demonstrations downstream on the Albuera River. This was also successful as the enemy posted several brigades to the north and west of the village to defend against this feint.
My scouts reported that the allied south flank was in the air, so I made my dispositions to take advantage of this tactical error. I formed an ad hoc corps under General Girard, giving him 10,000 veteran infantry and all my disposable light cavalry, about 2200 troopers. His orders were to turn the south flank and destroy Blake’s corps. (historian’s note – this is clearly revisionist thinking on Soult’s part, his original orders were to turn and then roll up the flank, bagging Beresford. He did not know Blake was there!)
The rest of the V Corps was placed under General Godinot, another 10,000 infantry, including the garrison battalions, and the two dragoon brigades. His orders were the fix the British and give General Girard sufficient time to destroy Blake.
Godinot’s feint succeeded brilliantly. He advanced boldly across the farmer’s bridge and split the Spanish from Beresford. The 15th Dragoons captured five guns in a gallant charge up hill into the teeth of the canister (historian’s note – the cavalry actually struck the guns in flank while the infantry of the 13th Legere took the canister fire). British reserves attacked Godinot’s penetration and both the 30th and 111th Regiments were caught unprepared to receive cavalry and routed, losing their eagles. Both colonels have been cashiered and both regiments have been ordered to wear black armbands until they redeem their honor. Beresford’s entire force, estimated at 16,000 total, was occupied by Godinot the entire day. British losses in their mounted arm were about twice as many as our in the dragoon brigades.
Girard struck the end of the ridge and the open ground simultaneously, though the cavalry in the open engaged first, having an easier time than the infantry who had to scale the rocky heights. The hussars, in a series of brilliant charges, chased the Spanish dragoons from the field. However, they allowed themselves to get involved in a lengthy melee with the Spanish light cavalry. It was in this desperate struggle that they suffered their greatest loss.
The 33rd Ligne and 10th Legere led the charge up the hill and into the Spanish line perched, British-style, on the military crest. After some stiffer than usual resistance, especially by the Borbon Regiment, and the addition of the 108th Ligne, they pushed the Spanish from the heights and across the Araya Brook to the west. Girard took six Spanish guns and the guidons from two cavalry regiments.
Nightfall ended the action and the British retired on Badajoz under cover of darkness. Without any heavy artillery with which to reduce that fortress I ordered the army to withdraw on Llerena to prepare to engage Castanos who was gathering a new army to the south.
I am, etc.
Jean de-Dieu Soult, Marechal de Empire
For an entirely different view of the battle…
His Honor the Duke of Wellington,
Soult attempted to turn our position on the Albuera the 16th instant. He was repulsed with heavy loss.
Pursuant to your orders I had taken position, with my command, at the village of Albuera. General Blake, with his Spanish army, joined us on the eve of the battle and generously extended my right. Anticipating Marshal Soult, I had deployed the Cacadores on a commanding height on my left, occupied the village itself with two brigades, making it impervious to attack, and had deployed the rest of my command in ready reserve (historian’s note – Beresford failed to place pickets or patrols on the east side of the Albuera Brook or Albuera River. The first inkling he had that Soult was there was when the French columns burst from the olive groves). Blake, I am pleased to say, used the reverse slope to his advantage, surprising the attackers by appearing suddenly at the crest to deliver a volley!
The French attempted a two-pronged attack, with their right attempting to cross at the bridges and assault my command while a second force tried to turn General Blake’s right. I am pleased to report we destroyed both wings.
General Blake’s cavalry was heavily engaged from the beginning. The General Lautour-Mauberg led his veterans headlong into General Loy’s division. I am sorry to say the Spanish heavy cavalry did not stand the test, breaking and running from the field. However, the provisional Light Cavalry brigade stood up the French hussars and ground them up in a ferocious melee. Over 400 French saddles were emptied by the Spanish horsemen. They showed much promise.
The infantry, as well, showed the results of our training. The Regiments Ceuta, Borbon, and Cantabria fought toe-to-toe with the attackers. They gave ground only grudgingly, fighting in line, and withdrawing in good order when pressed heavily by French numbers.
As to our soldiers, all I can do is heap praise upon them. Lefebvre’s Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery and the Fusiliers, by their very presence and accurate fire, kept the French from crossing at the main bridge. Only at the small, “farmer’s bridge” did they get across.
There, Mercer’s Troop impeded, alone, their entire corps while Lumley maneuvered the cavalry for their decisive blow. The Guards smashed the 4th Dragoons and then proceeded to catch the 30th Ligne unsquared. They, of course, routed the infantry. They suffered a slight setback to a counterattack by the 1st Dragoons but took an eagle and 2 guns (historian’s note – the “slight setback” was 50% losses, and the two guns were originally Mercer’s).
The 13th Light Dragoons also covered themselves with glory, slicing through a French battery and coming upon the 111th Ligne, also unsquared, and destroying them as well. The Light Dragoons took 6 guns and an eagle.
Marshal Soult withdrew on Llerena, his offensive capability severely impeded, if not removed. General Castanos has come up and is observing the French at that location. I have transferred my base to Badajoz to better feed my force as well as fully equip the batteries.
I remain, Yr Obt Svt,
Wm. C. Beresford, Marshal, Portuguese Army
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Diatribes are simply often humorous recountings of the games played by the Long Island Irregulars. We play with toy soldiers and are unabashedly happy to have never lost this part of our childhoods..