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The Battle of Busaco


War:
Peninsular War

Date: 27th September 1810

Place: Central Portugal

Combatants: British against the French

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

The Battle of Busaco
The Battle of Busaco

Size of the armies: 50,000 British and Portuguese against 65,000 French.

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. The French cavalry comprised Dragoons dressed in green tunics and helmets with horse hair crests. The French artillery wore uniforms similar to the infantry, the horse artillery in hussar uniform.

The standard infantry weapon for both armies was the musket, which could be fired three or four times a minute, throwing a heavy ball inaccurately for a hundred metres. Each infantryman carried a bayonet that fitted on the muzzle of his musket.

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 use 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.

Winner: Busaco was a victory for Wellington. While immediately after the battle Wellington’s army continued its retreat to Lisbon, the French casualties were significantly larger than Wellington’s and all their attacks on the Busaco ridge failed.

Map of the Battle of Busaco
Map of the Battle of Busaco

Account: In May 1810 Marshal Massena took command of the Army of Portugal with orders from the Emperor Napoleon to capture Lisbon and drive Wellington and his British army out of the Peninsular.

During the winter of 1809/10 Wellington’s engineers had built fortifications across the Lisbon isthmus, known as the Lines of Torres Vedras. As Massena began his advance into Portugal the British and Portuguese Army fell back towards the capital.

Massena captured the Spanish town of Ciudad Rodrigo on the border and on 26th August 1810 he took the Portuguese fortress of Almeida. On 15th September 1810 Massena resumed his advance through Portugal towards Lisbon, harassed by Brigadier General Robert Craufurd’s Light Division.

Wellington, intending to fight a delaying battle, positioned his army at the convent of Busaco. The convent lay on a long high ridge that stretched from the Mondego River for some ten miles to the North. The road to Coimbra and Lisbon climbed up the ridge and passed the convent, while a second lesser road crossed the ridge further south. The ridge rose steeply to 300 metres from the valley in places. A rough track meandered along the top.

The British and Portuguese regiments were positioned along the ridge with the main concentration at the northern end and the reserves further south.

Marshal Ney led the French advanced guard towards Busaco on the evening of 25th September 1810. His assessment was that only a British rearguard held the ridge and that it could be easily driven off by a frontal assault. Massena came forward and agreed with him, ordering the assault for the next morning.

The first attack was carried out by Reynier’s corps, advancing up the lesser southern road, Massena’s assumption being that this would take the French behind the British right flank.

Once Reynier was established on the crest Ney’s corps would advance up the main road to the Busaco convent at the northern end of the ridge. Far from being held by a rearguard, on the ridge were all 50,000 British and Portuguese infantry supported by 60 guns.

Early morning mist hampered the first movements and observations. Heudelet’s division, setting off at 6am, followed the southern road up to the crest of the ridge where they were engaged by the 74th Foot, two Portuguese battalions and 12 guns. The firefight continued for the whole of the battle, Heudelet’s division refusing to give ground.

The Battle of Busaco
French infantry : Battle of Busaco

Merle’s division reached the crest to the north of Heudelet’s. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Wallace of the 88th Connaught Rangers had seen the French column climbing the hill and hurried his regiment to the threatened point with several companies of the 45th Foot. Wallace led his men in a fierce attack on the French and drove them back down the hill.

The final element of Reynier’s attack was carried out by Brigadier Foy who took his brigade to the top of the ridge and remained there until he was driven out by Leith’s British Brigade of the 5th Division, the counter attack being headed by the 9th Foot.

Reynier’s corps suffered 2,000 casualties in its abortive assault.
Ney, from his position further north, thought that Reynier had taken the crest and ordered his corps to begin the assault up the main road to the convent.

Loison’s division advanced up the hill with its left on the road. As it reached the crest, the 43rd and 52nd Foot of Craufurd’s Light Division rose from their positions in the sunken section of the road and poured a volley into the French column at 25 yards. The two light infantry regiments then attacked with the bayonet driving the French back down the hillside. A watching artillery officer described the fight as “carnage”.


The 43rd and 52nd Light Infantry attack Lolsin's Division

Mermet’s division attacking alongside was halted by a Portuguese brigade.

Seeing the failure of all the attacks Massena called off the assault and began a reconnaissance to the North, discovering a road that circumvented the ridge. As the French marched away to the flank, Wellington’s army withdrew south towards Lisbon, having inflicted a serious reverse on Massena’s Army of Portugal.

British Regiments:
4th Dragoons, later 4th Hussars, then Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars and now the Queen’s Royal Hussars
14th Light Dragoons, later 14th/20th King’s Hussars and now the King’s Royal Hussars
16th Light Dragoons, later 16th/5th the Queen’s Royal Lancers and now the Queen’s Royal Lancers
Royal Horse Artillery
Royal Artillery
Coldstream Guards
3rd Guards
1st Foot, the Royal Scots *
3rd Buffs, later the Queen’s Regiment and now the Prince of Wales’s Royal Regiment
5th Foot, later the Northumberland Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers *
7th Royal Fusiliers and now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers *
9th Foot, later the Norfolk Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment *
11th Foot, later the Devonshire Regiment and now the Devon and Dorset Regiment
24th Foot, later the South Wales Borderers and now the Royal Regiment of Wales *
27th Foot, later the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and now the Royal Irish Regiment
28th Foot, later the Gloucestershire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment *
29th Foot, later the Worcestershire Regiment and now the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment
31st Foot, later the East Surrey Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment
34th Foot, later the Border Regiment and now the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment
38th Foot, later the South Staffordshire Regiment and now the Staffordshire Regiment *
39th Foot, later the Dorset Regiment and now the Devon and Dorset Regiment
40th Foot, later the South Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment
42nd Highlanders, the Royal Highland Regiment, the Black Watch *
43rd Foot, later the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and now the Royal Green Jackets *
45th Foot, later the Sherwood Foresters and now the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment *
48th Foot, later the Northamptonshire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment
52nd Foot, later the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and now the Royal Green Jackets
53rd Foot, later the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and now the Light Infantry
57th Foot, later the Middlesex Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment
60th Foot, later the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and now the Royal Green Jackets *
61st Foot, later the Gloucestershire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment
66th Foot, later the Royal Berkshire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment
74th Highlanders, later the Highland Light Infantry and now the Royal Highland Fusiliers*
79th Highlanders, later the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and now the Highlanders*
83rd Foot, later the Royal Ulster Rifles and now the Royal Irish Regiment *
88th Foot, the Connaught Rangers (disbanded 1922) *
95th Rifles, later the Rifle Brigade and now the Royal Green Jackets *
97th Foot, later the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment
* These regiments have Busaco as a battle honour.
British order of battle:
Commander: Lieutenant General Viscount Wellington
Commander of the Portuguese troops: Marshal Beresford

Cavalry:
4th Dragoons, 14th Light Dragoons, 16th Light Dragoons.

1st Division: commanded by Lieutenant General Brent Spencer
1st Brigade: commanded by Colonel Stopford: 1st/Coldstream Guards, 1st/3rd Guards, 1 Co. 5th/60th Foot

2nd Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Blantyre: 2nd/24th Foot, 2nd/42nd Highlanders, 1st/61st Foot, 1 Co. 5th/60th Foot

3rd Brigade: commanded by Major General Baron Löw: 1st Line Battalion, King’s German Legion, 2nd Line Battalion, King’s German Legion, 5th Line Battalion, King’s German Legion, 7th Line Battalion, King’s German Legion, Detachment of light battalions, King’s German Legion

4th Brigade: commanded by Colonel Pakenham: 1st/7th Royal Fusiliers, 1st/79th Highlanders

2nd Division: commanded by Major General Rowland Hill
1st Brigade: commanded by Major General Stewart: 1st/3rd Buffs, 2nd/31st Foot, 2nd/48th Foot, 2nd/66th Foot, 1 Co. 5th/60th Foot

2nd Brigade: commanded by Colonel William Inglis: 29th Foot, 1st/48th Foot, 1st/57th Foot

3rd Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Catlin Craufurd: 2nd/28th Foot, 2nd/34th Foot, 2nd/39th Foot

3rd Division: commanded by Major General Thomas Picton
1st Brigade: commanded by Colonel Mackinnon: 1st/45th Foot, 1st/74th Highlanders, 1st/88th Foot

2nd Brigade: commanded by Major General Lightburne: 2nd/5th Foot, 2nd/83rd Foot, 3 Cos. 5th/60th Foot

Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Colonel Champlemond: 1st and 2nd/9th Line Portuguese Regiment, 1st/21st Line Portuguese Regiment

4th Division: commanded by Major General Lowry Cole
1st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Alexander Campbell: 2nd/7th Royal Fusiliers, 1st/11th Foot, 2nd/53rd Foot, 1 Co. 5th/60th Foot

2nd Brigade: commanded by Colonel Kemmis: 3rd/27th Foot, 1st/40th Foot, 97th Foot

Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Colonel Collins: 1st/11th Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/11th Portuguese Line Regiment, 1st/23rd Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/23rd Portuguese Line Regiment

5th Division: commanded by Major General Leith
British Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Leith: 1st/Buffs, 1st/9th Foot, 2nd/38th Foot

Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Spry: 1st/3rd Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/3rd Portuguese Line Regiment, 1st/15th Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/15th Portuguese Line Regiment, Thomar Militia, 2 Battalions of the Loyal Lusitanian Legion, 1st/8th Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/8th Portuguese Line Regiment

Light Division: commanded by Brigadier General Robert Craufurd
1st Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Beckwith: 1st/43rd Foot, 1st/95th Rifles (5 cos), 3rd Caçadores

2nd Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Barclay: 1st/52nd Foot, 1st/95th Rifles (4 cos), 1st Caçadores

Portuguese Division: commanded by Major General Hamilton
1st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Archibald Campbell: 1st/4th Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/4th Portuguese Line Regiment, 1st/10th Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/10th Portuguese Line Regiment

2nd Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Luiz Fonseca: 1st/2nd Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/2nd Portuguese Line Regiment, 1st/14th Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/14th Portuguese Line Regiment

Independent Portuguese Brigades:
1st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Denis Pack: 1st/1st Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/1st Portuguese Line Regiment, 1st/16th Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/16th Portuguese Line Regiment, 4th Caçadores

5th Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Alexander Campbell: 1st/6th Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/6th Portuguese Line Regiment, 1st/18th Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/18th Portuguese Line Regiment, 6th Caçadores

6th Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Coleman: 1st/7th Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/7th Portuguese Line Regiment, 1st/19th Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd/19th Portuguese Line Regiment, 2nd Caçadores

Artillery: commanded by Brigadier Howorth; 60 guns
Bull’s and Ross’s Troops Royal Horse Artillery
Thompson’s and Lawson’s Batteries Royal Artillery
Von Rettberg’s and Cleeves’ Batteries King’s German Artillery
Portuguese Artillery:
Batteries of de Rozierres, da Cunha Preto, da Silva and Freira.
French order of battle:
Commander-in-chief: Marshal André Massena, Prince of Essling and 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 Marshal Ney, Duke of Elchingen
1st Division: commanded by General Marchand
2nd Division: commanded by General Mermet
3rd Division: commanded by General Loison

VIII Corps: commanded by General Junot
1st Division: commanded by General Clausel
2nd Division: commanded by General Solignac
Cavalry Brigade: commanded by General Sainte-Croix

Reserve of Cavalry: commanded by General Montbrun
Reserve of artillery, engineers, staff and gendarmerie.

British Casualties:
14th Light Dragoons 8 killed and wounded
16th Light Dragoons 1 killed and wounded
1st Foot 2 killed and wounded
5th Fusiliers 8 killed and wounded
7th Royal Fusiliers 24 killed and wounded
9th Foot 24 killed and wounded
24th Foot 1 killed and wounded
38th Foot 23 killed and wounded
42nd Highlanders 7 killed and wounded
43rd Foot 7 killed and wounded
45th Foot 141 killed and wounded
50th Foot 1 killed and wounded
52nd Foot 15 killed and wounded
60th Foot 24 killed and wounded
74th Foot 29 killed and wounded
79th Foot 55 killed and wounded
83rd Foot 5 killed and wounded
88th Foot 142 killed and wounded
95th Rifles 31 killed and wounded
Total British and Portuguese casualties: 1,250 killed and wounded.
French casualties: The French suffered 4,400 killed and wounded including 5 Generals

Follow-up: Continuing his retreat, Lord Wellington withdrew the British and Portuguese Army into Lisbon, behind the Lines of Torres Vedras. The French were taken by surprise by the fortifications. With no prospect of a successful attack and reluctant to withdraw, Massena allowed his army to starve, until 6th March 1811 when the French “Army of Portugal” began its retreat. The French finally reached Spain and did not invade Portugal again.

Anecdotes and traditions: