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The Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro

War: Peninsular War

Date: 3rd to 5th May 1811

Place: In Spain on the Portuguese border west of Ciudad Rodrigo

The Battle of Fuentes de Onoro
The Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro

Combatants: British, Portuguese and Spanish against the French

Generals: Lieutenant General Viscount Wellington against Marshal André Massena, Prince of Essling and Duke of Rivoli.

Size of the armies: 37,000 British, Portuguese and Spanish (1,500 being cavalry) with 48 guns against 48,000 French (4,500 being cavalry) and 46 guns.

Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British foot wore red, waist length jackets, grey trousers and stovepipe shakos. The two rifle regiments wore green. The Portuguese infantry wore blue and their Caçadores green. The Highland regiments wore the kilt and feather bonnets.

The British dragoons wore red jackets with a Roman style helmet. The light dragoons wore light blue and a shako. The British artillery wore blue.
The French infantry wore blue tunics and shakos.

Immediately before the battle, Marshal Bessières brought up a force of 1,700 Guard Cavalry. There was consequently a wide range of cavalry in the French army, Cuirassiers, Dragoons, Hussars, Chasseurs à Cheval and Lancers. The Cuirassiers wore heavy breastplates. The Cuirassiers and Dragoons wore blue uniforms and brass helmets with a long horse hair crest. The Hussars and Chasseurs à Cheval wore the classic hussar uniform of short braided jacket, second slung jacket, fur busby and curved scimitar sword. The Lancers wore a Polish uniform of double breasted jacket and displaced square topped shako. A wide range of colours were worn by the various light cavalry regiments.

The French foot artillery wore uniforms similar to the infantry, the horse artillery, hussar uniform.

The standard infantry weapon for both armies was the musket, which could be fired two or three times a minute and threw a heavy ball inaccurately for a hundred metres. Each infantryman carried a bayonet that fitted on the muzzle.
The British rifle battalions were armed with the Baker rifle, a more accurate weapon but slower to fire, and a sword bayonet.

Field guns fired a ball projectile, by its nature of limited effect against troops in the field, unless closely formed. Guns also fired case shot or canister which fragmented, but was effective only at a short range. Exploding shells fired by howitzers, as yet in their infancy, were of particular use against buildings. The British had the development of ‘shrapnel’ or fragmenting shell which was effective against troops.

Winner: The British, Portuguese and Spanish.

Account:
Following the winter of 1810 which Marshal Massena’s Army of Portugal spent before the lines of Torres Vedras, the French retreated into Spain leaving a garrison in the Portuguese border fortress of Almeida. Wellington followed up with his British Portuguese army and laid siege to Almeida, which had to be taken before he continued his advance into Spain. He was joined there by Spanish guerrillas.

In April 1811 Massena advanced from Ciudad Rodrigo to relieve Almeida, the move Wellington hoped Massena would make, although earlier than he had expected. Wellington took position on the ridge above Fuentes de Oñoro, ready to fight the form of defensive battle he fought so effectively on many occasions.

Map of the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro
Map of the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro

The road from Ciudad Rodrigo to Almeida crossed a ridge near the recently destroyed fortress of Fort Concepcion. Wellington’s army took position along the ridge. Wellington expected that Massena would approach south of the Almeida road, where the ridge leveled off. He placed a strong garrison at this point in the village of Fuentes de Oñoro. The Spanish guerilla chief, Julian Sanchez occupied a hill further to the right beyond an area of plain in which was the village of Poco Velha.

Along the foot of the Fuentes ridge and in front of the British positions ran the Don Casas stream.
The village of Fuentes de Oñoro, on the western bank of the Don Casas, straggled up the hillside in a jumble of streets. The British garrison of the village comprised the light companies of all the battalions from the First and Third divisions.


Highlanders engage French Cuirassiers.

On 3rd May 1811 the French attacked across the Don Casas and stormed into Fuentes de Oñoro. The fighting see sawed throughout the day with the French troops forcing their way into the village and being driven out. As night fell the attackers were finally pushed back across the stream and the village remained in British hands.

There was no fighting on 4th May 1811, but Wellington saw French columns moving away to his right. It seemed clear that Massena intended to attack beyond the British right flank.
Wellington marched the Seventh Division across the plain to Poco Velha on the bank of the Don Casas. British cavalry moved into the plain in support. The Seventh Division was a recent formation and comprised only two British battalions, 51st and 85th Foot.

On 5th May 1811, a large force of French cavalry crossed the Don Casas on the extreme right flank and drove the Spanish from the hill. The Guard cavalry, brought up by Bessières, attacked the Seventh Division followed by two divisions of French infantry. There was an immediate crisis, the Seventh Division being unable to hold Poco Velha against such force.


French Cavalry attack the British Infantry at the Battle of Fuentes De Onoro

Wellington ordered the Seventh Division to withdraw to the ridge and to make the retreat possible sent the Light Division to occupy the woods on the extreme flank beyond Poco Velha.

Craufurd’s Light Division drew off some of the French strength while the Seventh Division fell back, assisted by vigorous support from the British cavalry. At one point in the critical fighting in the plain the French cavalry was seen to heave about and Bull’s troop of Royal Horse Artillery, which had been nearly overwhelmed, burst from their ranks and galloped for the British lines, the gunners fighting hard with their sabres.


Ramsey's troop of the Royal Horse Artillery charging through
the French cavalry to escape back to the British lines

Once the Seventh Division had been extracted the Light Division marched back across the plain with the large force of French cavalry circling them, attempting to find an opportunity to charge home. The British regiments marched in square and the French shirked from the attack. Napier described this hazard withdrawal saying, “there was not during the whole war a more perilous hour”.

Once the Light Division had reached the high ground, Wellington’s flank was secure, with the Seventh Division on the right and the British line resting on Fuentes de Oñoro to the left. Massena did not press the attack.

Simultaneous with his assault on Poco Velha Massena, launched a series of overwhelming attacks on the village of Fuentes de Oñoro, which lasted throughout 5th May. The light companies had been replaced overnight by the 74th and 79th Foot, both highland regiments, supported by the 88th Connaught Rangers.

At the high point of their assault the French drove the two highland regiments to the top of the village. Colonel Wallace counter attacked with his 88th and drove the French out of the village and back across the Don Casas. The French, their ammunition running low, refrained from further action.

British Regiments:
1st Dragoons, the Royal Dragoons, now the Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and Royal Dragoons) *
14th Light Dragoons, from 1922 14th/20th King’s Hussars and now the King’s Royal Hussars *
16th Light Dragoons, from 1922 the 16th/5th Queen’s Royal Lancers and now the Queen’s Royal Lancers *
Royal Horse Artillery
Royal Artillery
Coldstream Guards *
3rd Guards, now the Scots Guards *
1st Foot, the Royal Scots
4th Foot, the King’s Own Royal Regiment and now the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment
5th Foot, from 1882 the Northumberland Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
9th Foot, from 1882 the Norfolk Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment
11th Foot, from 1882 the Devonshire Regiment and now the Devon and Dorset Regiment
24th Foot, from 1882 the South Wales Borderers and now the Royal Regiment of Wales *
30th Foot, from 1882 the East Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment
36th Foot, from 1882 the Worcestershire Regiment and now the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment
38th Foot, from 1882 the South Staffordshire Regiment and now the Staffordshire Regiment
42nd Foot, the Royal Highland Regiment, the Black Watch *
43rd Foot, from 1882 the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and now the Royal Green Jackets *
44th Foot, from 1882 the Essex Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment
45th Foot, from 1882 the Sherwood Foresters and now the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment *
50th Foot, from 1882 the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment and now the Prince of Wales’s Own Royal Regiment
51st Foot, from 1882 the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and now the Light Infantry *
52nd Foot, from 1882 the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and now the Royal Green Jackets *
53rd Foot, from 1882 the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and now the Light Infantry *
60th Foot, from 1820 the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and now the Royal Green Jackets *
61st Foot, from 1820 the Gloucestershire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment
71st Foot, the Highland Light Infantry and now the Royal Highland Fusiliers *
74th Foot, from 1882 the Highland Light Infantry and now the Royal Highland Fusiliers *
79th Foot, the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and now the Highlanders
83rd Foot, from 1882 the Royal Ulster Rifles and now the Royal Irish Regiment *
88th Foot, the Connaught Rangers, disbanded in 1922 *
92nd Foot, the Gordon Highlanders and now the Highlanders *
94th Foot, the Connaught Rangers, disbanded in 1922 *
95th Rifles, from 1882 the Sherwood Foresters and now the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment *
* These regiments have Fuentes de Oñoro as a battle honour.

British order of battle:
Commander: Lieutenant General Viscount Wellington
Cavalry: commanded by Major General Stapleton Cotton
1st Brigade: commanded by Major General Slade: 1st Dragoons, 14th Light Dragoons.
2nd Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel von Arentschildt: 16th Light Dragoons, 1st Hussars, King’s German Legion.
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Barbacena: 4th and 10th Portuguese Dragoons.

Infantry:
Lieutenant General Spencer
1st Division: commanded by Major General Nightingall
1st Brigade: commanded by Colonel Stopford: 1st/Coldstream Guards, 1st/3rd Guards, 1 Co. 5th/60th Foot.
2nd Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Lord Blantyre: 2nd/24th Foot, 2nd/42nd Foot, 1st/79th Foot, 1 Co. 5th/60th Foot.
3rd Brigade: commanded by Major General Howard: 1st/50th Foot, 1st/71st Foot, 1st/92nd Foot, 1 Co. 5th/60th “Foot.
4th Brigade: commanded by Major General Sigismund, Baron Löw: 1st, 2nd, 5th, 7th Line Battalions, King’s German Legion, Detachments of Light Battalions, KGL.

3rd Division: commanded by Major General Thomas Picton.
1st Brigade: commanded by Colonel Mackinnon: 1st/45th Foot, 1st/74th Foot, 1st/88th Foot, 3 Cos 5th/60th Foot.
2nd Brigade: commanded by Major General Colville: 2nd/5th Foot, 2nd/83rd Foot, 2nd/88th Foot, 94th Foot.
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Colonel Manley Power: 1st and 2nd/9th, 1st and 2nd/21st Portuguese Line Regiments.

5th Division: commanded by Major General Sir William Erskine
1st Brigade: commanded by Colonel Hay: 3rd/1st Foot, 1st/9th Foot, 2nd/38th Foot, Co. Brunswick Oels
2nd Brigade: commanded by Major General Dunlop: 1st/4th Foot, 2nd/30th Foot, 2nd/44th Foot, Co Brunswick Oels
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Spry: 1st and 2nd/3rd and 1st and 2nd/15th Portuguese Line Regiments, 8th Caçadores

6th Division: commanded by Major General Alexander Campbell
1st Brigade: commanded by Colonel Hulse: 1st/11th Foot, 2nd/53rd Foot, 1st/61st Foot, 1 Co. 5th/60th Foot
2nd Brigade: commanded by Colonel Robert Burne: 1st/36th Foot (2nd Foot at Almeida)
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Frederick, Baron Eben: 1st and 2nd/8th Foot, 1st and 2nd/12th Portuguese Line Regiments

7th Division: commanded by Major General John Houston
1st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier John Sontag: 51st Foot, 85th Foot, Chasseurs Britannique, Brunswick Oels Light Infantry (8 Cos.)
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General John Doyle: 1st and 2nd/7th and 1st and 2nd/19th Portuguese Line Regiments, 2nd Caçadores

Light Division: commanded by Brigadier General Robert Craufurd
1st Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Sydney Beckwith: 1st/43rd Foot, 1st/95th Rifles (4 Cos), 2nd/95th Rifles (1 Co.), 3rd Caçadores
2nd Brigade: commanded by Colonel George Drummond: 1st/52nd Foot, 2nd/52nd Foot, 1st/95th Rifles (4 Cos), 1st Caçadores

Independent Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Colonel Ashworth: 1st and 2nd/6th, 1st and 2nd/18th Portuguese Line Regiments

ThispictureforsaleThispictureforsaleThispictureforsale
Captain Norman Ramsay, Royal Horse Artillery
Captain Norman Ramsay, Royal Horse Artillery, Galloping his Troop
Through the French Army to Safety at the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro, 1811
Painting by George Bryant Campion - Click to buy on-line

Artillery: commanded by Brigadier General Howorth, 48 guns
Troops of Ross and Bull, Royal Horse Artillery
Batteries of Lawson and Thompson
Portuguese batteries of Von Arentschild, da Cunha and Rozierres.

French order of battle:
Army of Portugal:
Commander-in-Chief: Marshal André Massena, Prince of Essling, Duke of Rivoli
II Corps: commanded by General Reynier
1st division commanded by General Merle
2nd division commanded by General Heudelet
Cavalry Brigade: commanded by General Soult

VI Corps: commanded by General Loison
1st division commanded by General Marchand
2nd division commanded by General Mermet
3rd division commanded by General Ferey
Cavalry Brigade: commanded by General Lamotte

VIII Corps: commanded by General Junot, Duke of Abrantes
2nd division commanded by General Solignac

IX Corps: commanded by General Count d’Erlon
1st division commanded by General Claparéde
2nd division commanded by General Conroux
Cavalry Brigade commanded by General Fournier

Reserve of Cavalry commanded by General Montbrun
Artillery commanded by General Eblé: 40 guns

Army of the North:
Commander-in-Chief: Marshal Bessiéres, Duke of Istria
Light Cavalry of the Imperial Guard commanded by General Lepic
Light Cavalry Brigade commanded by General Wathier
Artillery: 6 guns.

Casualties: The British, Portuguese and Spanish suffered 1,500 casualties. The French suffered 4,500 casualties.

British Casualties:
1st Dragoons lost 4 officers and 37 soldiers killed and wounded
14th Light Dragoons lost 5 officers and 32 soldiers killed and wounded
16th Light Dragoons lost 2 officers and 23 soldiers killed and wounded
Royal Artillery lost 3 officers and 28 soldiers killed and wounded
Coldstream Guards lost 1 officer and 53 soldiers killed and wounded
3rd Guards lost 2 officers and 57 soldiers killed and wounded
1st Foot lost 9 soldiers wounded
5th Foot lost 7 soldiers wounded
9th Foot lost 4 soldiers wounded
24th Foot lost 1 officers and 27 soldiers killed and wounded
30th Foot lost 4 soldiers wounded
42nd Foot lost 1 officers and 32 soldiers killed and wounded
45th Foot lost 4 soldiers killed and wounded
50th Foot lost 2 officers and 27 soldiers killed and wounded
51st Foot lost 5 soldiers killed and wounded
60th Foot lost 4 officers and 24 soldiers killed and wounded
71st Foot lost 11 officers and 133 soldiers killed and wounded
74th Foot lost 4 officers and 66 soldiers killed and wounded
79th Foot lost 14 officers and 224 soldiers killed and wounded
83rd Foot lost 2 officers and 42 soldiers killed and wounded
85th Foot lost 4 officers and 49 soldiers killed and wounded
88th Foot lost 3 officers and 65 soldiers killed and wounded
92nd Foot lost 3 officers and 50 soldiers killed and wounded
94th Foot lost 7 soldiers killed and wounded
95th Rifles lost 2 officers and 22 soldiers killed and wounded

Follow-up:
The French garrison in Almeida was not relieved. However they managed to evade the British and escape, blowing up the fortifications.

Massena was recalled from Spain by Napoleon a week after the battle, although the order had been dispatched some time before. The French hold on Spain was beginning to slacken.

Wellington did not claim Fuentes de Oñoro as a victory. He considered he had not handled the battle well, unnecessarily extending his line too far, putting the Seventh and Light Divisions in danger.