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
The Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro
Combatants: British, Portuguese and Spanish against the
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
The British dragoons wore red jackets with a Roman style helmet. The
light dragoons wore light blue and a shako. The British artillery wore
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
Winner: The British, Portuguese and Spanish.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
11th Foot, from 1882 the Devonshire Regiment and now the Devon and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
The French garrison in Almeida was not relieved. However they
managed to evade the British and escape, blowing up the
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.