« ForrigeFortsett »
ting off their retreat. During the 22d
and 23d, he executed a variety of movements, with the view of distracting the attention of the British general, and concealing from him his real i. For a while he threatened the ritish left ; but although Lord Wellington had provided for the defence of this wing of his army, he still sus. pected that Marmont had designs upon the other flank, which he was therefore very careful to support. The French marshal was ambitious of doing too much ; he wished to surround the British army, and he extended and weakened his own line. Lord Wellington at once perceived this fatal mistake, and saw that the moment was at last arrived which put the enemy in his power. He had been long anxious to give them battle, and to punish their temerity; they had now afforded him a finer opportunity than he could have anticipated. Arrangements were soon made for the attack; the singular conjuncture admitted of no delay.—Major-General Pakenham, with the third division, began a furious assault on the flanks of the enemy’s left, in which he was supported by Brigadier General Bradford's brigade, by the fourth and fifth divisions, and the cavalry under Sir Stapleton Cotton in front. The French, although finely posted, and supported by cannon, were overthrown. Already the victory was decided. General Pack was at first unsuccessful in his attempt to drive the enemy’s Centre from the hill of the Arapiles; but the victorious fifth division, which ad already contributed so much to the rout of the enemy’s left, having “hanged its front, bore down on the
centre, and drove it from the hill with precipitation. Generals Beresford and Leith were wounded about this time ; but these unlucky accidents did not abate the ardour of the troops. The enemy’s right, which had been joined by the fugitives from the other wing, still maintained a shew of resistance; it was at once attacked in front and on its flanks, and driven in confusion from the field.—Thus had the French received a total defeat throughout their line; and nothing but the darkness of the night saved them from destruction. The pursuit was renewed next morning; the French rear-guard was overtaken, attacked, and put to flight, the cavalry leaving the infantry to its fate. Three whole battalions surrendered.—Never was victory more decisive; never did a beaten army exhibit greater marks of consternation; stores, baggage, and ammunition, every thing, in short, which could impede their flight, was left to the conquerors. The carnage on the field of battle, and in the pursuit, was prodigious ; and the trophies of the victory corresponded to its importance. Eleven pieces of cannon, two eagles, and six colours, were taken ; 5 generals, 3 colonels, 3 lieutenant-colonels, 130 officers of different ranks, and upwards of 7000 soldiers, were made prisoners. Marmont and Bonnet, the first and second in command, were wounded, and the command of the fugitive army devolved upon General Clausel.—The loss of the allies was small in proportion to the greatness of the success; about 700 were killed, and upwards of 4000 wounded. Major-General Le Marchant, a brave and skilful officer, was killed ; Lieutenant-Generals Leith and Cole, and Major-General Alten, were wounded. Sir Stapleton Cotton, a very distinguished officer, was singularly unfortunate; he was wounded in the darkness of the night by a British
manca, which will always be referred to in history as one of the most brilliant achievements of modern times, whether the matchless talents displayed by the British general—the admirable courage of the troops—or the splendid consequences which followed such a combination of heroism and genius, are considered. Let it be remembered, that when the battle was fought, the French were unquestionably superior in numbers to their enemies; that they were under the gui. dance of one of the first of their marshals, who shewed a splendid genius even amid his misfortunes; and that in the utmost confidence of victory, should they be able to bring the British to an engagement, they were acting upon the offensive, and eager in the pursuit. It has been thought very high merit in some of the most distinguished generals, that they have been able to manage the retreat of a great army without material loss, and have conducted themselves so well as to turn upon and chastise their pursuers. It is the peculiar glory of the British commander that he did more than this ; that he not only conducted the retreat of a large army without loss, but foiled his able antagonist at all points; that, not satisfied with turning to chastise him, he was able, in circumstances unexpected and disastrous, to obtain a most signal and decisive victory, and to drive his pursuers before him in disorder and consternation. If such talents as were here displayed do not constitute the perfection of military genius, we may reasonably ask, in what does this quality consist, and where is it to be found in the records of battles, or the history of the world?
The army of the centre, under Joseph Buonaparte, which had advanced
from Madrid to join Marmont before the battle, had the mortification to find their comrades retreating in disorder.—Nothing could oppose the progress of the allied army; the French no longer attempted to defend the passage of the Douro ; and Lord Wellington having crossed at Trudella, entered Valladolid on the 4th of August. He had always attached great importance to the fortress of Burgos, and would, in all probability, have proceeded immediately to reduce it, had he been enabled to bring up his artillery. The rapid movements of the army, however, had rendered this impossible; and as he foresaw the great effect, in a moral and political point of view, which might be produced by his advance to Madrid, he determined to move a part of the army in this direction. His conduct on this, as on other occasions, evinced a rare sagacity, and was fully justified by the circumstan. ces in which he was placed. Of these circumstances, which encouraged the hope at this time entertained, that the close of the Spanish war was approaching, it may be proper to give some account in this place, that the merits of Lord Wellington's conduct, and the objects of his movements, may be more accurately appreciated. The battle of Salamanca was distinguished from all the other battles hitherto fought in the peninsula, by several important circumstances ; it was more masterly in the design, more brilliant in the execution, and followed by consequences of far greater importance, than any of its predecessors, By the movements and operations of the British at the opening of the campaign; by the reduction of the strong fortresses, and the separation of the French armies, the contending parties were placed in an attitude towards each other, very different indeed from that in which they formerly stood, and incomparably more favourable to the
allies. In the former battles, they had acted in a great measure upon the defensive, and by the display of the greatest bravery, had in very unfavourable circumstances repulsed the enemy, when he ventured to come to blows; but here the value of their former triumphs may be said to have ended. Limited as to the resources at - his disposal, the British general seldom could follow up the advantages which he gained ; while the enemy with a rapidity which denoted the extent of his means, and the vigour with which they were conducted, soon repaired his losses and resumed his former attitude. If the French were beaten in the field and compelled to retire, they were enabled to effect their retreat in such order, and quietly to take up so fine a position, that except the o: of the achievement, their enemies had little more to boast of. Our armies, indeed, were fast acquiring discipline and experience; and a school was formed for the education of British officers, from which many illustrious pupils have since issued; but these were benefits which were to be afterwards reaped, when circumstances should be more propitious to the operations of the British army. In the mean time, however, many vulgar critics who judged of all things by narrow maxims; who thought that victories could not have been won, because much ground had not been gained; who could not anticipate what might in future be done by that resistless enthusiasm, which a feeling of superiority was imparting to the British soldier; and who could see in Wellington no traits but those of an ordimary mind; laughed at him when he claimed the honours of victory, and called upon him to point out the signs and consequences of it. Their view of the state of Spain and the prospects of Europe was a very homely and simple one; they avowed with an
air of triumph, that, for their parts, they were mere matter-offact-men, and could not follow the flights of those who still refused to despair of the fortunes of their country. They assumed it as a principle, that nothing could compensate to the British, that irremediable disadvantage as to numbers under which they must always meet their enemies on the continent ; and this maxim being once established, every other evil followed of course. When their gloomy predictions were first disappointed at Vimiera, Talavera, and Albuhera, they demanded of their antagonists to point out with precision the benefits which were derived from these victories. They disavowed all sympathy with the generous feelings of the nation; they cared not for the triumphs of the British armies; the unfading laurels which had been won were purchased at too great an expence for these economical politicians, and the whole business of war was, according to their sordid notions, reduced to a matter of mere vulgar calculation. Their only question on such occasions was, what has been the expence, and what the gain; how much has been thrown away in pounds, shillings, and pence, and how much territory has been acquired in reimbursement 2 They were busy in casting up such accounts about the Spanish war, and in uttering from their obscene temples the oracles of despair, when all their hopes were dissipated by the intelligence of the battle of Salamanca. A battle had now been fought which united at once all that was brilliant and useful ; which had secured advantages to satisfy all classes of expectants; and while it was as rich in honour as the most generous could desire, had profit also in abundance to meet the wishes even of the most sordid politician. While one of the mightiest hosts of the enemy had been dispersed, his other armies of the north, the south, and the centre were disjoined ; a large portion of Spain was recovered; and an opportunity was afforded to the Spaniards themselves to come forward and seal the deliverance of their country. In its consequences, therefore, the victory of Salamanca was pre-eminently distinguished from all the former achievements of the British arms in Spain ; even the most obstinate of the unbelievers began to shew some symptoms of amendment, and to doubt the soundness of their views ; while those who had from the beginning taken the more generous and high-minded side in this great cause, were filled with hope and joy. Lord Wellington having left a force under General Paget to watch the motions of the enemy, advanced with the main body of his army to the Spanish capital. Joseph Buonaparte had under his command 20,000 men ; but on the approach of the British, he hastily evacuated Madrid, and retreated to Almanza on the frontiers of Murcia and Valencia; a position from which he could communicate either with Soult or with Suchet. On the 12th August, the allied army entered the capital; the Retiro garrisoned by 1500 men immediately surrendered; while Guadalaxara was at the same time taken by the Empicenado. Intelligence was also received that an army of about 16,000 men, consisting of British and Neapolitan troops from Sicily, with some Spaniards from Majorca, the whole commanded by a British officer, had reached Alicant; so that every thing seemed to promise a vigorous prosecution of hostilities, and a glorious termination of the campaign. •. The Earl of Wellington naturally believed that the Spaniards would ilave availed themselves of this propitious opportunity to rescue their country from a foreign yoke. Their first ef.
forts had been nobly seconded by the generosity of the British nation; and puny as all their subsequent exertions had been, the ardour of their allies had never abated. Great allowance was made for the unhappy condition of Spain at the moment when her independence was assailed by the most treacherous of enemies; and England, while she generously lent her aid to the almost despairing Spaniards, gave them credit for virtues which they have never discovered. It was supposed that the ardent love of independence, which was said to characterise the Spanish nation, and the unextinguishable hatred which they entertained towards the intruders, would have raised them to deeds worthy of a great people; but these most reasonable hopes were greatly disappointed. If the Spaniards loved the independence of their country much, they loved their own ease still more; if they hated the French, they had no other way of shewing their hatred, but in an irregular and petty warfare, which was marked, indeed, with a ferocity justifiable only against their present enemies. The moment had at length arrived, however, when, if there existed a single spark of genuine patriotism in Spain, it should have been struck out; and when by one grand and unanimous effort the whole Spanish nation might have been expected once for all to have avenged themselves on their oppressors. The joy which the people discovered when the British army entered Madrid, is thus described by Lord Wellington, on whose sober account even the most suspicious will rely. “It is impossible,” says his lordship, “to describe the joy manifested by the inhabitants of Madrid upon our arrival; and I hope that the prevalence of the same sentiments of detestation of the French yoke, and of a strong desire to secure the independence of their country, which first induced them to set the example of resistance to the usurper, will induce them to make exertions in the cause of their country, which will be more efficacious than those formerly made.” Had the Spaniards acted thus, the independence of their country might have been established in the course even of this single campaign, which had already become so glorious; the British armies might have won elsewhere those laurels which they were still destined to gather in Spain; the sufferings of humanity might have been abridged, and the destinies of the world more easily fixed and secured. It will be a painful task to record, how far the Spanish nation was from fulfilling these expectations. Doubts have been entertained by some persons, whether the plan formed by Lord Wellington at this great conjuncture, was quite conformable to the wisdom which generally marked his operations. It has been said, that it should have been the great object of the British general to have united the whole of the allied forces in the peninsula, and completed the separation of the different corps of the enemy; that, with this view, leaving a body of troops to prevent the passage of the Douro, he should have marched directly upon Alicant, threatened the armies of Suchet and Joseph Buonaparte, prevented their junction with Soult, and established his own communications with General Maitland; that thus united the allied army would have had no difficulty in accomplishing any object to which it might have been directed; while the enemy’s forces, so widely o: must have been or. of attempting any operation of importance. The capital after this might easily have been preserved; and the unexpected disasters which followed might have been avoided. That it is not easy to discover the reasons which induced the British commander WOL. W. PART Is
to attach so much importance to the possession of Burgos; that this single fortress could never have enabled the beaten enemy to keep the field; nor could it, even in the most unfavourable event for the British army, have presented any serious obstacle to a retreat. That, in point of fact, the plan pursued by Lord Wellington was attended with this consequence,—that Soult, Suchet, and Joseph Buonaparte were enabled to unite their armies, and with the remains of Marmont's force, to compel the British, whom they far outnumbered, to retire.—Such are the opinions which have been professed by some judges not wholly incompetent; but there are others who have taken a different and apparently a juster view of the conduct of the British commander. It was expected that the strong expedition under General Maitland, by uniting with the Spanish troops in that quarter, would have been able to co-operate in another and a more beneficial way with the grand army. The presence of so strong an army in that part of Spain, it was supposed, would have operated as a check upon Soult and Suchet, and prevented them from attempting any thing, while Lord Wellington was completing his plan of operations in the north ; but these .. expectations were entirely disappointed by a series of accidents, . could not have entered into the contemplation of the British chief. The expedition under General Maitland was inadequate to any active operations without the aid of the Spaniards; and it unfortunately happened, that, just about the time when the expedition was disembarked at Alicant, the Spaniards commanded by General O’Donnell were defeated by the French under Harispe, and the plan of the campaign was thus in a great measure deranged. General Maitland was unavoidably cooped up X