Wellington’s victory on 22nd July 1812 over the French army of Marshal Marmont leading to the capture of Madrid
The previous battle of the Peninsular War is the Battle of Albuera
The next battle of the Peninsular War is the Battle of Vitoria
War: Peninsular War
Date of the Battle of Salamanca: 22nd July 1812
Place of the Battle of Salamanca: in Spain, between Ciudad Rodrigo on the Portuguese border and Madrid
Combatants at the Battle of Salamanca: British, Portuguese and Spanish against the French
Commanders at the Battle of Salamanca: Lieutenant General the Earl of Wellington against Marshal Marmont
Size of the armies at the Battle of Salamanca: 50,000 British, Portuguese and Spanish troops against 52,000 French troops.
Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Battle of Salamanca:
The British infantry wore red waist-length jackets, grey trousers, and stovepipe shakos. Fusilier regiments wore bearskin caps. The two rifle regiments wore dark green jackets and trousers.
The Royal Artillery wore blue tunics.
Highland regiments wore the kilt with red tunics and black ostrich feather caps.
British heavy cavalry (dragoon guards and dragoons) wore red jackets and ‘Roman’ style helmets with horse hair plumes.
The British light cavalry was increasingly adopting hussar uniforms, with some regiments changing their titles from ‘light dragoons’ to ‘hussars’.
The King’s German Legion (KGL) was the Hanoverian army in exile. The KGL owed its allegiance to King George III of Great Britain, as the Elector of Hanover, and fought with the British army. The KGL comprised both cavalry and infantry regiments. KGL uniforms mirrored the British.
The Portuguese army uniforms increasingly during the Peninsular War reflected British styles. The Portuguese line infantry wore blue uniforms, while the Caçadores light infantry regiments wore green.
The Spanish army essentially was without uniforms, existing as it did in a country dominated by the French. Where formal uniforms could be obtained, they were white.
The French army wore a variety of uniforms. The basic infantry uniform was dark blue.
The French cavalry comprised Cuirassiers, wearing heavy burnished metal breastplates and crested helmets, Dragoons, largely in green, Hussars, in the conventional uniform worn by this arm across Europe, and Chasseurs à Cheval, dressed as hussars.
The French foot artillery wore uniforms similar to the infantry, the horse artillery wore hussar uniforms.
The standard infantry weapon across all the armies was the muzzle-loading musket. The musket could be fired at three or four times a minute, throwing a heavy ball inaccurately for a hundred metres or so. Each infantryman carried a bayonet for hand-to-hand fighting, which fitted the muzzle end 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, of limited use against troops in the field unless those troops were closely formed. Guns also fired case shot or canister which fragmented and was highly effective against troops in the field over a short range. Exploding shells fired by howitzers, yet in their infancy. were of particular use against buildings. The British were developing shrapnel (named after the British officer who invented it) which increased the effectiveness of exploding shells against troops in the field, by exploding in the air and showering them with metal fragments.
Throughout the Peninsular War and the Waterloo campaign, the British army was plagued by a shortage of artillery. The Army was sustained by volunteer recruitment and the Royal Artillery was not able to recruit sufficient gunners for its needs.
Napoleon exploited the advances in gunnery techniques of the last years of the French Ancien Régime to create his powerful and highly mobile artillery. Many of his battles were won using a combination of the manoeuvrability and fire power of the French guns with the speed of the French columns of infantry, supported by the mass of French cavalry.
While the French conscript infantry moved about the battle field in fast moving columns, the British trained to fight in line. The Duke of Wellington reduced the number of ranks to two, to extend the line of the British infantry and to exploit fully the firepower of his regiments.
Winner of the Battle of Salamanca: The British, Portuguese and Spanish
British order of battle:
Commander: Lieutenant General (local General) the Earl of Wellington
Cavalry: commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Stapleton Cotton
1st Brigade: commanded by Major General Gaspard Le Marchant: 5th Dragoon Guards, 3rd and 4th Dragoons
2nd Brigade: commanded by Major General George Anson: 11th, 12th and 16th Light Dragoons
3rd Brigade: commanded by Major General Victor von Alten: 14th Light Dragoons and 1st Hussars, King’s German Legion
4th Brigade: commanded by Major General Baron Bock: 1st and 2nd Dragoons, King’s German Legion
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General D’Urban: 1st, 11th and 12th Portuguese Dragoons.
1st Division: commanded by Major General Henry Campbell
1st Brigade: commanded by Colonel Fermor: 1st/Coldstream Guards, 1st/3rd Guards, 1 company of 5th/60th Foot
2nd Brigade: commanded by Major General Wheatley: 2nd/24th, 1st/42nd, 2nd/58th, 1st/79th Foot and Co 5th/60th Foot.
3rd Brigade: commanded by Major General Baron Löw: 1st, 2nd and 5th Line Battalions, King’s German Legion.
3rd Division: commanded by Colonel (local Major General) Pakenham
1st Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Wallace: 1st/45th, 74th, 1st/88th and 3 companies of the 5th/60th Foot.
2nd Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Campbell: 1st/5th, 2nd/5th, 2nd/83rd and 94th Foot.
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Colonel Manley Power: 1st and 2nd/9th, 1st and 2nd/21st Portuguese Line and 12th Caçadores.
4th Division: commanded by Major General (local Lieutenant General) Lowry Cole
1st Brigade: commanded by Major General William Anson: 3rd/27th, 1st/40th, 1 company of 5th/60th Foot.
2nd Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ellis: 1st/7th, 1st/23rd, 1st/48th and 1 company of the Brunswick Oels.
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Colonel George Stubbs: 1st and 2nd/11th and 1st and 2nd/23rd Portuguese Line and 7th Caçadores.
5th Division: commanded by Major General (local Lieutenant General) Leigh.
1st Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Greville: 3rd/1st, 1st/9th, 1st and 2nd/38th Foot and 1 company of Brunswick Oels.
2nd Brigade: commanded by Major General Pringle: 1st and 2nd/4th, 2nd/30th, 2nd/44th Foot and 1 company of Brunswick Oels.
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Spry: 1st and 2nd/3rd, 1st and 2nd/15th Portuguese Line and 8th Caçadores.
6th Division: commanded by Major General Clinton.
1st Brigade: commanded by Major General Hulse: 1st/11th, 2nd/53rd, 1st /61st and 1 company of 5th/60th Foot.
2nd Brigade: commanded by Colonel Hinde: 2nd, 1st/32nd and 1st/36th Foot.
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General de Rezende: 1st and 2nd/8th, 1st and 2nd/12th Portuguese Line and 9th Caçadores.
7th Division: commanded by Major General Hope.
1st Brigade: commanded by Colonel Colin Halkett: 1st and 2nd Light Battalions King’s German Legion, 7 companies of Brunswick Oels.
2nd Brigade: commanded by Major General von Bernewitz: 51st, 68th Foot and Chasseurs Britanniques.
Portuguese Brigade: commanded by Colonel Collins: 1st and 2nd/7th, 1st and 2nd/19th Portuguese Line and 2nd Caçadores.
Light Division: commanded by Lieutenant General Charles, Baron von Alten.
1st Brigade: commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Barnard: 1st/43rd Foot, 2nd/95th Rifles (4 companies), 3rd/95th Rifles (5 companies) and 3rd Caçadores.
2nd Brigade: commanded by Major General Vandeleur: 1st/52nd Foot, 1st/95th Rifles (8 companies) and 1st Caçadores.
1st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Pack: 1st and 2nd/1st, 1st and 2nd/16th Portuguese Line and 4th Caçadores.
2nd Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Bradford: 1st and 2nd/13th, 1st and 2nd/14th Portuguese Line and 5th Caçadores.
Spanish Division: commanded by Major General De España: 2nd/Princesa, Tiradores de Castilla, 2nd/Jaen, 3rd/1st Seville and Caçadores de Castilla.
Artillery: Lieutenant Colonel Hoylet Framingham: 54 guns
Troops of Ross, Bull and Macdonald, Royal Horse Artillery.
Batteries of Lawson, Gardiner, Greene, Douglas, May and Arriaga (Portuguese).
French order of battle at the Battle of Salamanca:
Commander in Chief: Marshal Marmont, Duke of Ragusa
Light Cavalry Division: commanded by General Curto: 18 squadrons
Heavy Cavalry Division: commanded by General Boyer: 8 squadrons
1st Division: commanded by General Foy: 8 battalions
2nd Division: commanded by General Clausel: 10 battalions
3rd Division: commanded by General Ferey: 9 battalions
4th Division: commanded by General Sarrut: 9 battalions
5th Division: commanded by General Maucune: 9 battalions
6th Division: commanded by General Brennier: 8 battalions
7th Division: commanded by General Thomières: 8 battalions
8th Division: commanded by General Bonnet: 12 battalions
Artillery commanded by General Tirlet: 78 guns
Account of the Battle of Salamanca:
Following the capture by the British and Portuguese of Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo in the summer of 1812, Lord Wellington advanced into Spain on the road to Madrid.
Marshal Marmont commanded the army known as the ‘Army of Portugal’, which lay across Wellington’s path between Toros and Tordesillas, to the east of Salamanca.
The opposing armies were much the same size.
Marmont was under pressure from Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain and the Emperor Napoleon’s brother, to attack Wellington’s army. His own French troops agitated for an offensive move.
On 15th July 1812, Marmont began his advance against Wellington’s right. Wellington was caught off guard and fell back towards Salamanca.
On 16th July 1812, a letter from Joseph to Marmont fell into Wellington’s hands. The letter stated that Joseph was marching to join Marmont with 13,000 French troops. Another French general, Cafferelli, with a force of cavalry and guns was due to join Marmont in the next few days.
The two opposing armies marched on Salamanca, crossing the River Tormes on 21st July 1812. Wellington was resolved to avoid action, other than under the most advantageous of circumstances.
Marmont was anxious not to engage in full battle, but felt constrained to fight some sort of action.
On 22nd July, Marmont thought he had the right opportunity. Dust clouds beyond the hills to the south of Salamanca suggested that Wellington was retreating. British troops could be seen on the hills opposite the French positions, but Marmont assumed they were a rear-guard.
Marmont thought his ideal opportunity had arisen, to engage a small force and achieve success, thereby satisfying the demands of his army and his commander, King Joseph.
Wellington had sent his heavy baggage on the road to Ciudad Rodrigo, creating the dust cloud, but it was not a rear guard but Wellington’s whole army that lay concealed in the hills in front of the French.
French troops advanced and fighting took place around the chapel of Nostra Señora de la Peña, at the apex of the angled British position.
Assuming that two divisions was all he faced, Marmont resolved to engage the British troops in the area of the chapel, while the preponderance of his army marched off to the left and came in behind the British around the chapel, cutting them off from the rest of Wellington’s army, which he took to be retreating in the distant dust cloud.
During the day, Wellington moved his hidden divisions into positions facing to the south. At about 2pm Wellington saw the nature of Marmont’s move around his flank. The French divisions were marching across the British and Portuguese front, dangerously strung out and exposing their flanks.
Wellington galloped to his extreme right, where Pakenham’s 3rd Division was arriving from Salamanca with D’Urban’s Portuguese Cavalry.
He ordered an immediate attack on the head of the French column. Wellington then crossed the hills to his centre, and directed the 5th and 4th Divisions to assault the French column in the flank, supported by the 6th and 7th Divisions and two Portuguese infantry brigades.
D’Urban’s cavalry and the infantry of the 3rd Division began the battle, attacking Thomières’ Division at the head of the French column. After heavy fighting, involving Lieutenant Colonel Wallace’s 1st Brigade, the French gave way.
Further to the left, the British 5th Division advanced down the hillside towards Maucune’s Division, isolated by the spreading out of the marching French column. Maucune formed his battalions in square, under the threat of the advancing British cavalry, and were attacked by the infantry of the 5th Division. The British and Portuguese charged the squares and the French were driven back.
The next phase of the battle was the attack by Le Marchant’s brigade of heavy cavalry between the 3rd and 5th Divisions. The cavalry struck Maucune’s retreating infantry and overran them. The charge was continued until the cavalry encountered a steady French brigade of infantry in squares and the dragoons were brought to a halt, suffering casualties including General Le Marchant, who was killed.
The French divisions of Thomières and Maucune were forced out of the battle and the division of Brennier suffered heavy casualties.
At the beginning of the fighting, Marshal Marmont was wounded, as was his deputy, General Bonnet.
Taking command, General Clausel launched a counter attack on the open flank of the 4th Division with considerable effect, until Beresford brought up a Portuguese Brigade from the second line of the 5th Division and halted the French assault. The arrival of the 6th Division, advancing in support of the 4th Division, drove back the French.
By this time, night was well advanced and the French Army of Portugal was streaming back to the Tormes River, to escape the British and Portuguese assault. The battle ended with a complete victory for Wellington.
Casualties at the Battle of Salamanca: The British, Portuguese and Spanish lost 5,000 killed and wounded (half of this number being casualties in the 6th and 4th Divisions). The French lost 7,000 killed and wounded and 7,000 as prisoners. The French also lost 20 guns.
Follow-up to the Battle of Salamanca:
On 12th August 1812, the British, Portuguese and Spanish army marched into Madrid. The effect of the Battle of Salamanca was to convince the British Government, finally, that the war in Spain should be continued. Wellington gained a moral ascendancy over his French opponents that he did not lose.
This aggressively conducted battle dispelled Wellington’s reputation for being a cautious general, who only fought defensive actions from positions of overwhelming strength.
Wellington’s victory reverberated through Europe. Napoleon was in increasing difficulty in Russia. Now his armies were being beaten in Spain.
Regimental anecdotes and traditions from the Battle of Salamanca:
- Before the Battle of Salamanca, Wellington and his staff were in a farmyard eating a quick meal, when news of the French advance came in. Wellington was still on his horse, refusing to dismount even to eat. He called for his staff to follow and throwing away the chicken leg he was eating, galloped out of the farmyard. Up on the hillside, Wellington surveyed the distant French army marching across his front. He snapped his eye glass shut and said to the Spanish general ‘Mon cher Alava. Marmont est perdu.’ (My dear Alava. Marmont is lost).
- Once Wellington’s troop dispositions were ordered, there was a period of an hour before the attack could begin. Wellington ordered his military secretary, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, to wake him, when the head of the French column reached a particular stone. Wellington then fell asleep.
- When Wellington briefed General Pakenham on the attack to be made by the 3rd Division on the head of the French column, he ended by saying ‘Do you see those fellows on the hill, Pakenham? Throw your division into columns; at them directly and drive them to the devil…’ Pakenham saluted and asked to shake Wellington’s hand, saying ‘Let me shake the hand of a conqueror.’ Wellington was married to Pakenham’s sister, Kitty.
- As a reward for the victory, Lord Wellington was given a step up in the peerage. His reaction was to say ‘What the devil’s the use of making me a marquis?’
- Major General Gaspard Le Marchant, who commanded the 1st Brigade of British cavalry and was killed at the Battle of Salamanca, was a major reforming figure in the British Army. Le Marchant was responsible for bringing in new training systems for the British cavalry at the end of the 18th Century, which enabled them to meet the formidable French cavalry in battle on an even footing. Le Marchant assisted in establishing the Army’s Staff College at High Wycombe and the junior branch at Marlow, before it was moved to its present location at Sandhurst. Le Marchant’s death at the Battle of Salamanca was a major loss to the British Army.
References for the Battle of Salamanca:
History of the Peninsula War by Sir William Napier Volume 1
History of the Peninsula War by Sir Charles Oman
History of the British Army by John Fortescue Volume 6
British Battles on Land and Sea by James Grant Volume 2
The Peninsular War: A Concise Military History by Michael Glover
The previous battle of the Peninsular War is the Battle of Albuera
The next battle of the Peninsular War is the Battle of Vitoria