Date: 28th July 1809
Place: South west of Madrid in New Castile, on the road from the Portuguese border to the Spanish capital.
Combatants: British and Spanish against the French
The Battle of Talavera
Generals: Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley against King Joseph Bonaparte
Size of the armies: 20,000 British and 30,000 Spanish against 46,000 French.
Uniforms, arms and equipment: Uniforms, arms, equipment and
The British infantry wore red waist length jackets, white trousers, and stovepipe shakos. Fusilier regiments wore bearskin caps. The two rifle regiments wore dark green jackets.
British Dragoons wore red coats and Roman style crested helmets. The Light Dragoons wore light blue. The Royal Artillery wore blue tunics.
Highland regiments wore the kilt with red tunics and tall black ostrich feather caps.
The King’s German Legion, which comprised both cavalry and infantry regiments wore black, as did other German units in the British service.
The French army wore a wide variety of uniforms. The basic infantry uniform was dark blue.
The French cavalry comprised Dragoons largely in green. The French artillery dressed in uniforms similar to the infantry, the horse artillery in hussar uniform.
The standard infantry weapon across all the armies was the musket. It could be fired at three or four times a minute, throwing a heavy ball inaccurately for only a hundred metres or so. Each infantryman carried a bayonet that fitted on the muzzle of his musket.
The British rifle battalions (60th and 95th Rifles) carried 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 over a short range. Exploding shells fired by howitzers, as yet in their infancy were of particular use against buildings. The British had the secret development in this field of ‘shrapnel’.
Winner: Both sides claimed a victory, the British on the basis that all the French attacks had been decisively repelled, with French guns captured, and the French on the basis that the British were finally forced to retreat from the Talavera position, leaving their wounded in French hands.
3rd Dragoon Guards, later the 3rd Carabineers and now the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards *
4th Dragoons, later the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards and now the Royal Dragoon Guards*
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 *
23rd Light Dragoons, disbanded 1815
1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards*
3rd Guards, now the Scots Guards*
3rd Buffs, later the East Kent Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment *
7th Royal Fusiliers, now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers *
24th Foot, later the South Wales Borderers and now the Royal Regiment of Wales *
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 *
40th Foot, later the South Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment *
45th Foot, later the Sherwood Foresters and now the Worcestershire & Sherwood Foresters Regiment *
48th Foot, later the Northamptonshire Regiment and now the Royal Anglian *
53rd Foot, later the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and now the Light Infantry *
60th Foot, later the King’s Royal Rifles 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 *
83rd Foot, later the Royal Ulster Rifles and now the Royal Irish Regiment *
87th Foot, later the Royal Irish Fusiliers and now the Royal Irish Regiment *
88th Foot, the Connaught Rangers, disbanded in 1922 *
97th Foot, disbanded 1815
* These regiments have Talavera as a battle honour.
British order of battle:
Commander in chief: Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley
Cavalry: commanded by Lieutenant General William Payne
1st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier
Map of The Battle of Talavera
General Henry Fane
3rd Dragoon Guards
2nd Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Stapleton Cotton
14th Light Dragoons
16th Light Dragoons
3rd Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General George Anson
23rd Light Dragoons
1st Hussars, King’s German Legion
4th Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Sigismund, Baron Löw
5th Line Battalion, King’s German Legion
7th Line Battalion, King’s German Legion
43rd Light infantry carry in the dead after the battle
Picture by Lady Butler
2nd Division: commanded by Major General Rowland Hill
1st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Christopher Tilson
1 Co. 5th/60th Foot
2nd Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Richard Stewart
1st Bn detachments
3rd Division: commanded by Major General Randoll Mackenzie
1st Brigade: commanded by Major General Randoll Mackenzie
2nd Brigade: commanded by Colonel Donkin
4th Division: commanded by Brigadier General Alexander Campbell
1st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Alexander Campbell
1 Co. 5th/60th Foot
2nd Brigade: commanded by Colonel James Kemmis
2nd Battalion detachments
1 Co. 5th/60th Foot
Lawson’s, Sillery’s and Elliot’s batteries
Rettberg’s and Heise’s batteries
French order of battle:
Commander in Chief: Joseph Napoleon, King of Spain
Chief of Staff: Marshal Jourdan
I Corps: commanded by Marshal Victor
1st Division commanded by General Ruffin
2nd Division commanded by General Lapisse
3rd Division commanded by General Villatte
IV Corps: commanded by General Sebastiani
1st Division commanded by General Sebastiani
2nd Division commanded by General Valence
3rd Division commanded by General Leval
Cavalry Brigade commanded by General Merlin
Madrid Division commanded by General Dessolles
Reserve of cavalry:
1st Dragoon Division commanded by General Latour-Maubourg
2nd Dragoon Division commanded by General Milhaud
Artillery: commanded by General Sénarmont
Sir Arthur Wellesley crossed the border from Portugal into Spain on 2nd July 1809 with the intention of co-operating with the Spanish armies of General Cuesta and of General Venegas in an attack on the French in Madrid under Joseph Bonaparte.
Joseph also had aggressive plans, intending to use Marshal Soult’s corps to invade Portugal. On 20th July 1809 Wellesley joined General Cuesta and advanced to attack Marshal Victor’s corps near Talavera. On 22nd July 1809 the British began probing Victor’s positions.
Hearing of Wellesley’s advance Soult, positioned to the North, proposed that Victor hold the British and Spanish armies while he marched south and put his army of 30,000 men between Wellesley and his base in Portugal.
The British line at the Battle of Talavera
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Victor in the face of the attacks on him withdrew, with Cuesta’s Spanish army following him. At Torrijos, forty five miles to the East, Cuesta was confronted by Joseph Bonaparte’s army of 46,000 men. Cuesta retreated and joined Wellesley at Talavera.
During the final part of this retreat the French advance guard surprised a brigade of British foot and inflicted heavy casualties.
By the evening of 26th July 1809 the British and Spanish army was
in position at Talavera on the north bank of the River Tagus. The
Spanish occupied the town and the close ground to the North. Beyond
their positions a line of high ground formed the main position for the
British troops, ending in the Cerro de Medellin. Between the Cerro and
the mountains of the Sierra de Segurilla lay a narrow valley.
The Talavera position provided the high ground Wellesley favoured for a defensive battle.
Marshal Victor’s corps led the French advance and had surprised the British brigade in the evening. Victor decided to assault the Cerro de Medellin, the dominating feature of the British line, without delay, although it was now night. The division of General Ruffin made the attack. The French reached the summit before the British troops realised they were there and there was considerable confusion. General Hill brought up a reserve brigade and drove Ruffin’s men from the Cerro. The rest of the night was spent by the British waiting for a further French assault.
The Battle of Talavera
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At 5am Marshal Victor sent Ruffin’s division back up the Cerro, a battery of fifty guns supporting the attack. This time the British were ready. Wellesley’s troops were lying down behind the crest of the hill out of the line of artillery fire. As Ruffin’s infantry reached the top of the hill the British 29th and 48th Foot stood up and charged with the bayonet, driving the French back down the hill and across the Portina brook.
There was a pause in the battle for two hours while Joseph Bonaparte consulted with his chief of staff, Jourdan, Victor and Sebastiani. Victor urged that Sebastiani should attack the British right at its junction with the Spanish formations, while he attacked the Cerro yet again. Joseph, anxious for a victorious outcome agreed.
Sebastiani’s columns attacked at the point where the hills were
lowest. His left column, after bitter fighting, was driven back by the
7th Fusiliers and the 53rd Foot. His right column attacked the British
Foot Guards and the 83rd Foot. The French were driven back by the
Guards, but during the course of the pursuit the Guards were taken in
enfilade by a French battery and driven back in confusion, while
Sebastiani’s columns returned to the attack. Wellesley brought up the
48th Foot, behind which the Guards were able to reform, and the
dangerous French counter-attack was held and repelled.
In the meantime Ruffin’s division had been ordered to make its third assault on the Cerro, which it did with little enthusiasm and no success.
In the valley to the North of the Cerro, Victor’s right hand
division attempted to outflank the British line. Wellesley launched
Anson’s cavalry brigade in a charge on the French infantry. A hidden
defile brought disaster to the cavalry. The 1st Light Dragoons, King’s
German Legion plunged into the defile. The 23rd Light Dragoons charged
on to be met by the French Infantry in square and suffered significant
The French assault petered out and Joseph’s army retreated during the night, leaving several guns in British and Spanish possession.
French losses were 17 guns and 7,268 men. The British lost 5,363 men killed and wounded.
The morning after the battle Brigadier General Robert Craufurd’s Light Brigade marched into camp with bugle horns playing, having marched 42 miles in 26 hours in an attempt to reach the army in time for the battle.
The next day Wellesley heard that Soult with 30,000 men was near to cutting the route to Portugal, forcing a precipitous British retreat to the Portuguese border.
Having just arrived, the Light Brigade had to march for another
fifteen hours to secure the Almaraz Bridge before Soult could take it,
thereby keeping open communications with Lisbon.