General Graham’s notable victory over the French during the march to Cadiz on 5th March 1811, in the Peninsular War
The previous battle of the Peninsular War is the Battle of Busaco
The next battle in the Peninsular War is the Battle of Campo Maior
War: Peninsular War
Date of the Battle of Barossa: 5th March 1811
Place of the Battle of Barossa: Outside Cadiz in Southern Spain.
Combatants at the Battle of Barossa: British, Portuguese and Spanish against the French.
Commanders at the Battle of Barossa: The nominal commander of the British, Portuguese and Spanish armies was the Spanish General La Peña. The British officer, Lieutenant General Thomas Graham, conducted the battle.
The French were commanded by Marshal Victor.
Size of the armies at the Battle of Barossa: The British, Portuguese and Spanish force comprised 15,000 troops. General Graham commanded 5,200 British and Portuguese troops. 9,600 Spanish troops were present. The French force that attacked the British and Portuguese contingent comprised 7,000 troops.
Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Battle of Barossa:
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 Barossa:
The Battle of Barossa took place during a raid by the Spanish and British/Portuguese force on the French siege works around the southern Spanish city of Cadiz. The aim of the raid, to inflict damage on, if not destroy, the French siege works was not achieved, but heavy casualties were inflicted on the two French divisions involved in the battle, and the British, Portuguese and Spanish force was able to return to Cadiz unimpeded. The British consider the battle a victory.
British order of battle at the Battle of Barossa:
General Officer Commanding: Lieutenant General Thomas Graham
1 Squadron of King’s German Legion Hussars
1st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Dilkes
2nd/1st Guards, 2nd/Coldstream Guards (2 companies), 2nd/3rd Guards (3 companies), 3rd/95th Rifles (2 companies).
2nd Brigade: commanded by Colonel Wheatley
1st/28th Foot (less flank companies), 2nd/67th Foot, 2nd/87th Foot
Gibraltar Flank Battalion formed from 1st/9th Foot, 1st/28th Foot, 2nd/82nd Foot
Cadiz Light Battalion. Formed from 2nd/47th Foot, 3rd/95th Rifles.
Portuguese Flank Battalion formed from 1st/20th and 2nd/20th Line Regiment.
Artillery: commanded by Major Duncan
10 guns of Hughes’ and Shenley’s batteries.
Account of the Battle of Barossa:
In January 1810, Joseph Bonaparte, the French king imposed on Spain by the Emperor Napoleon, and Marshal Soult advanced into the southern Spanish province of Andalusia, with a French army, and captured Seville, the city from where the Spanish Cortes, or supreme council, had been directing the war against the French invaders of Spain.
Soult delayed to continue the French advance on the important port of Cadiz, giving time to the Spanish Duke of Albuquerque to slip into the city and hold it against the French. Cadiz, reached by an isthmus, was impregnable when fully garrisoned. Soult began a desultory siege of Cadiz, while Joseph returned to Madrid.
The garrison of Cadiz was increased by further Spanish, British and Portuguese troops brought in by sea by the Royal Navy, the British and Portuguese contingent commanded by Lieutenant General Thomas Graham.
In early 1811, Soult took a substantial part of his Andalusian army north to Badajoz. The Spanish and British commanders decided to seize the opportunity of Soult’s absence to disrupt the French siege works outside Cadiz with an attack on the French rear. The command of the sea exercised by the British Royal Navy made this possible.
General Graham and the British and Portuguese contingent took ship along the coast to Algeciras, across the bay from Gibraltar. Graham was joined by troops from the Gibraltar garrison, including a battalion formed from the flank companies (grenadier and light companies) of the garrison, commanded by Major Brown of the 28th Foot.
General La Peña arrived with a Spanish force, and, having a larger contingent, took command of the combined army.
La Peña ordered the army to march along the coast westwards towards Cadiz. Criticism is made against La Peña that he marched the troops too hard and kept changing their destination.
Rather than fulfilling the purpose of the expedition, which was to destroy as much of the French siege works outside Cadiz as possible, La Peña resolved to march along the coast and back into Cadiz, with the assistance of the Spanish force waiting on the far side of the San Petri River.
The French Marshal Victor moved towards the coast to intercept La Peña’s force.
General Graham decided to hold a position on the Barossa Ridge, an area of high ground leading to the coast, three miles short of the San Petri River crossing, but La Peña ordered him to march on, leaving a rear guard of a battalion and the few cavalry he had, while five Spanish battalions would join them to hold off the French. Graham gave this job to Major Brown with his battalion of flank companies and marched on to the west in compliance with La Peña’s order.
On Barossa Ridge, Brown soon found himself threatened by two French divisions. Brown hastened to leave the ridge, sending a message to Graham, warning him of the arrival of the French army.
Graham turned his British/Portuguese column about and hurried back, ordering Brown to recover the position on the Barossa Ridge.
Graham led his battalion of flank companies into the attack up the hillside, suffering 236 casualties in his assault on the French. Coming up on Brown’s right, Colonel Dilkes’ brigade of Foot Guards also attacked up the hill. The French sent down two counter-attacks, both of which were beaten off, the Foot Guards and Brown’s battalion forcing their way onto the crest of the ridge.
Coming up behind Dilke’s brigade of Foot Guards, Wheatley’s brigade (1st/28th Foot (less flank companies), 2nd/67th Foot, 2nd/87th Foot) assaulted Laval’s division on Brown’s left, his 2,600 men pitted against 4,000 French.
Laval sent his division against the British in four columns. The British battalions waited until the French were within 50 yards and, firing from line two deep, decimated the French columns. The final blow was a charge by a squadron of King’s German Legion Hussars. The battle had lasted just one and a half hours, with the French driven back off the Barossa Ridge.
Throughout, La Peña and his Spanish troops held aloof, leaving the British, Germans and Portuguese to fight alone. Had, at the very least, the Spanish cavalry joined the KGL Hussars the French losses would have been disastrous.
Once the French had been driven off, Graham’s force resumed their march along the coast and crossed the river back into Cadiz. No attempt was made to destroy any of the French siege works.
Casualties at the Battle of Barossa:
The French lost 3,500 men killed, wounded and captured against British casualties of 1,200 men killed, wounded and captured.
1st Guards lost 10 officers and 210 soldiers killed and wounded
The Coldstream Guards lost 3 officers and 54 soldiers killed and wounded
3rd Guards lost 2 officers and 99 soldiers killed and wounded
The Royal Artillery lost 8 officers and 46 soldiers killed and wounded
9th Foot lost 4 officers and 64 soldiers killed and wounded
28th Foot lost 8 officers and 151 soldiers killed and wounded
47th Foot lost 2 officers and 69 soldiers killed and wounded
67th Foot lost 4 officers and 40 soldiers killed and wounded
82nd Foot lost 2 officers and 97 soldiers killed and wounded
87th Foot lost 5 officers and 168 soldiers killed and wounded
95th Rifles lost 4 officers and 62 soldiers killed and wounded
Follow-up to the Battle of Barossa:
General Graham was furious at the failure of La Peña to support him and at the way the Spanish general had conducted the raid. The Spanish Cortes awarded Graham the position of Grandee of the First Class which he refused, resigning his post as commander of the British and Portuguese forces in Cadiz and returning to the main army in Portugal.
Anecdotes and traditions from the Battle of Barossa:
- Lieutenant General Thomas Graham of Balgowan was a Scottish Landowner and keen cricket player. While in France after the Revolution in 1789, Graham’s wife died. A French mob treated his wife’s coffin with considerable disrespect. Enraged, Graham, at the age of 45, raised a regiment at his own expense in his home county of Perthshire, the 90th Foot, becoming its colonel. The 90th became a light infantry regiment and was known as the ‘Perthshire Grey Breeks’ from the colour of the soldier’s trousers. Prevented from promotion any earlier by the Duke of York’s regulations, Graham was promoted major general at the specific dying wish of Sir John Moore. Graham subsequently became Wellington’s second in command and a peer as Lord Lyndoch.
- At the Battle of Barossa, Sergeant Patrick Masterson captured the first French eagle to be taken in battle, from the French 8th of the Line, and was commissioned. One of the French regiments to take a prominent part in the Battle of Barossa was the 45th of the Line, which was to lose its eagle to the Royal Scots Greys at Waterloo.
- Sergeant Masterson’s regiment, the 87th Foot, were known in the Peninsular for their battle cry ‘Faugh a Ballagh’, the Irish for ‘Clear the way’. Following the Battle of Barossa, the 87th Regiment was recommended to the Prince Regent, who awarded them the title of ‘Prince of Wales’ Own Irish Regiment’ and directed that they wear an eagle on their colours and appointments.
- Major Brown led his composite flank companies battalion into the attack singing his favourite song ‘Hearts of Oak’, or so it is said.
References forthe Battle of Barossa:
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 Busaco
The next battle in the Peninsular War is the Battle of Campo Maior