On the following morning (July 29) Venegas reached the other great passage of the Tagus, at Aranjuez, with two of his divisions, and occupied the place after driving out a few French vedettes. He pressed his cavalry forward to the line of the Tajuna, and ere nightfall some of them had penetrated almost as far as Valdemoro, the village half way between Aranjuez and Madrid. No signs of any serious hostile force could be discovered, and secret friends in the capital sent notice that they were being held down by a very weak garrison, consisting of no more than a single French brigade and a handful of the King’s Spanish levies. There was everything to tempt Venegas to execute that rapid march upon the capital which had been prescribed in his original orders, but instead of doing so this wretched officer halted for eight whole days at Aranjuez [July 29 to August 5].

On the day after Talavera Jourdan and Joseph had not yet discovered the whereabouts of the main body of the army of La Mancha: but Lacy had made such a noisy demonstration in front of Toledo that they were inclined to believe that his chief must be close behind him. Accordingly the garrison of Toledo was reinforced by the missing brigade of Valence’s Polish division, and raised to the strength of 4,700 men. The King, with the rest of Sebastiani’s corps and his own Guards and[p. 569] reserves, marched to Santa Ollala, and on the next day [July 30] placed himself at Bargas, a few miles in rear of Toledo. In this position he would have been wholly unable to protect Madrid, if Venegas had pressed forward on that same morning from Aranjuez, for that place is actually nearer to the capital than the village at which Joseph had fixed his head quarters. The sloth displayed by the Spanish general was the only thing which preserved Madrid from capture. On August 1, apprised of the fact that the main body of the army of La Mancha was at Aranjuez and not before Toledo, Joseph transferred his army to Illescas, a point from which he would be able to attack Venegas in flank, if the latter should move forward. Only Milhaud’s division of dragoons was thrown forward to Valdemoro, on the direct road from Aranjuez to Madrid: it drove out of the village a regiment of Spanish horse, which reported to Venegas that there was now a heavy force in his front. For the next four days the King’s troops and the army of Venegas retained their respective positions, each waiting for the other to move. The Spaniard had realized that his chance of capturing Madrid had gone by, and remained in a state of indecision at Aranjuez. Joseph was waiting for definite news of the movements of Wellesley and Cuesta, before risking an attack on the army of La Mancha. He saw that it had abandoned the offensive, and did not wish to move off from his central position at Illescas till he was sure that Victor was not in need of any help. Yet he was so disturbed as to the general state of affairs that he sent orders to General Belliard at Madrid to evacuate all non-combatants and civilians on to Valladolid, and to prepare to shut himself up in the Retiro.

The doings of Victor, during the five days after he had separated from the King, require a more lengthy consideration. Left behind upon the Alberche with the 1st Corps, which the casualties of the battle had reduced to no more than 18,000 men, he felt himself in a perilous position: if the allies should advance, he could do no more than endeavour to retard their march on Madrid. Whether he could count on any further aid from the King and Sebastiani would depend on the wholly problematical movements of Venegas. Somewhat to his surprise Wellesley and Cuesta remained quiescent not only on the[p. 570] twenty-ninth but on the thirtieth of July. But an alarm now came from another quarter: it will be remembered that the enterprising Sir Robert Wilson with 4,000 men, partly Spaniards, partly Portuguese of the Lusitanian Legion, had moved parallel with Wellesley’s northern flank during the advance to Talavera. On the day of the battle he had ‘marched to the cannon’ as a good officer should, and had actually approached Cazalegas, at the back of the French army, in the course of the afternoon. Learning of the results of the fight, he had turned back to his old path upon the twenty-ninth, and had entered Escalona on the upper Alberche. At this place he was behind Victor’s flank, and lay only thirty-eight miles from Madrid. There was no French force between him and the capital, and if only his division had been a little stronger he would have been justified in making a raid upon the city, relying for aid upon the insurrection that would indubitably have broken out the moment that he presented himself before its gates.

It was reported to Victor on the thirtieth not only that Wilson was at Escalona, but also that he was at the head of a strong Portuguese division, estimated at 8,000 or 10,000 men. The Marshal determined that he could not venture to leave such a force upon his rear while the armies of Wellesley and Cuesta were in his front, and fell back ten miles to Maqueda on the high road to Madrid. On the following day, still uneasy as to his position, he retired still further, to Santa Cruz, and wrote to King Joseph that he might be forced to continue his retreat as far as Mostoles, almost in the suburbs of Madrid [Aug. 2]. He was so badly informed as to the movements of the allies, that he not only warned the King that Wilson was threatening Madrid, but assured him that the British army from Talavera had broken up from its cantonments and was advancing along the Alberche towards the capital[695]. Joseph, better instructed as to the actual situation of affairs, replied by assuring him that Wellesley and Cuesta were far more likely to be retreating on Almaraz than marching on Madrid, as they must have heard ere now of Soult’s advance on Plasencia. He ordered the[p. 571] Marshal to fall back no further, and to send a division to feel for Wilson at Escalona. On detaching Villatte to execute this reconnaissance [Aug. 5] Victor was surprised to find that Sir Robert’s little force had already evacuated its advanced position, and had retreated into the mountains. For the last four days indeed Victor had been fighting with shadows—for the British and Estremaduran armies had never passed the Alberche, while Wilson had absconded from Escalona on receiving from Wellesley the news that Soult had been heard of at the Puerto de Ba?os. In consequence of the needless march of the 1st Corps to Maqueda and Santa Cruz, the allied generals were able to withdraw unmolested, and even unobserved, from Talavera, and were far upon their way down the Tagus before their absence was suspected. The erratic movements of Victor may be excused in part by the uniform difficulty in obtaining accurate information which the French always experienced in Spain. But even when this allowance is made, it must be confessed that his operations do not tend to give us any very high idea of his strategical ability. He was clearly one of those generals, of the class denounced by Napoleon, qui se font des tableaux, who argue on insufficient data, and take a long time to be convinced of the error of their original hypothesis.

Neither Victor nor King Joseph, therefore, exercised any influence over the doings of Wellesley and Cuesta at Talavera between the 29th of July and the 3rd of August. The allies worked out their plans undisturbed by any interference on the part of the old enemies whom they had beaten on the battle day. Down to August 1 the British general had been unconvinced by the rumours of Soult’s approach, at the head of a large army, which were persistently arriving from the secret agents in the direction of Salamanca[696]. It was only on the evening of that day that he received news so precise, and so threatening, that he found himself forced to abandon for the moment any intention of pushing on towards Madrid, in consequence of the impending attack on the line of his communications[p. 572] with Portugal. It was announced to him that the vanguard of the French army from the north had actually entered Bejar on the twenty-ninth and was driving in the trifling force under the Marquis Del Reino, which Cuesta had sent to the Puerto de Ba?os.

Whatever might be the force at Soult’s disposal—and Wellesley was still under the delusion that it amounted at most to a single corps of 12,000 or 15,000 men—it was impossible to allow the French to establish themselves between the British army and Portugal. If they were at Bejar on the twenty-ninth they might easily reach Plasencia on the thirty-first. On receiving the news Cuesta, who had hitherto shown the greatest reluctance to divide his army, detached his 5th division under Bassecourt, with orders to set out at the greatest possible speed, and join the Marquis Del Reino. This move was tardy and useless, for it is four long marches from Talavera to Plasencia, so that Bassecourt must arrive too late to hold the defiles. If he found the French already established on the river Alagon, his 5,000 men would be utterly inadequate to ‘contain’ double or triple that number of Soult’s troops. As a matter of fact the enemy had entered Plasencia on the afternoon of August 1, before the Spanish division had even commenced its movement to the west[697].

On the morning of August 2 Wellesley and Cuesta held a long and stormy conference. The Captain-General proposed that Wellesley should detach half his force to assist Bassecourt, and stay with the remainder at Talavera, in order to support the Army of Estremadura against any renewed attack by Victor and King Joseph[698]. The English commander refused to divide[p. 573] his force—he had only 18,000 effectives even after Craufurd had joined him, and such a small body would not bear division. But he offered either to march against Soult with his entire host, or to remain at Talavera if his colleague preferred to set out for Plasencia with his main body. Cuesta chose the former alternative, and on the morning of the third Wellesley moved out with every available man, intending to attack the enemy at the earliest opportunity. He was still under the impression that he would have to deal with no more than a single French corps, and was confident of the result. His only fear was that Victor might descend upon Talavera in his absence, and that Cuesta might evacuate the place on being attacked. If this should happen, the English hospitals, in which there lay nearly 5,000 wounded, might fall into the hands of the enemy. On halting at Oropesa he sent back a note to O’Donoju, the chief of the staff of the Estremaduran army, begging him to send off westward all the British wounded who were in a condition to travel. He asked that country carts might be requisitioned for their assistance, if no transport could be spared by the Spanish troops[699].

Wellesley was setting out with 18,000 men to attack not the mere 15,000 men that he believed to be in his front, but three whole corps d’armée, with a strength of 50,000 sabres and bayonets. In his long career there were many dangerous crises, but this was perhaps the most perilous of all. If he had remained for a little longer in ignorance of the real situation, he might have found himself involved in a contest in which defeat was certain and destruction highly probable.

The real situation in his front was as follows. On receiving the dispatch from Madrid which permitted him to execute his projected march upon Plasencia, Soult had begun to concentrate his army [July 24]. Mortier and the 5th Corps were already in march for Salamanca in pursuance of earlier orders: they arrived in its neighbourhood the same day on which Foy brought the King’s orders to his chief. The 2nd Corps was already massed upon the Tormes, and ready to move the moment that it should receive the supply of artillery which had been so long upon its way from Madrid. Ney and the[p. 574] 6th Corps from Benavente and Astorga had far to come: they only reached Salamanca on July 31; if we remember that the distance from Astorga to the concentration point was no less than ninety miles we cease to wonder at their tardy arrival.

Soult had strict orders from the Emperor to march with his troops well closed up, and not to risk the danger of being caught with his corps strung out at distances which would permit of their being met and defeated in detail[700]. He was therefore 杭州桑拿耍耍网 entirely justified in refusing to move until the 6th Corps should be in supporting distance of the rest of his army, and the 2nd Corps should have received the cannon which were needed to replace the pieces that they had lost in Portugal. For this reason we must regard as unfounded all the vehement reproaches heaped upon him by Joseph and Jourdan during the acrimonious correspondence that followed upon the end of the campaign. It would have been wrong to start the 5th Corps upon its way to Plasencia till the 2nd Corps was ready to follow, and the much needed guns only came into Salamanca on the twenty-ninth, though their approach had been reported on the preceding day.

We cannot therefore blame Soult for sloth or slackness when we find that he started Mortier upon his way on July 27, and followed him with his own corps upon 杭州按摩攻略 July 30, the day after the guns arrived, and the day before Ney and his troops were due to reach Salamanca from the north.

The order of march was as follows: the vanguard was composed of the whole corps of Mortier, nearly 17,000 strong[701], reinforced by three brigades of dragoons under Lahoussaye and Lorges with a strength of 2,000 sabres. The 2nd Corps followed; though it started three days later than the 5th it was gradually gaining ground on the vanguard all through the march, as it had no fighting to do or reconnaissances to execute.[p. 575] Hence it was only twenty-four hours behind Mortier in arriving at Plasencia. Its strength was 18,000 men, even after it had detached the brigades of dragoons to strengthen the vanguard, and placed five battalions at the disposal of General Kellermann[702]. During its stay at Zamora 杭州西湖区男士养生spa and Toro it had picked up a mass of convalescents and details, who had not taken part in its Galician campaign. The rear was formed by Ney’s troops, which started from Salamanca only one day behind the 2nd Corps. The infantry was not complete, as a brigade of 3,000 men was left behind on the Douro, to assist Kellermann in holding down the kingdom of Leon. Hence, even including a brigade of Lorges’ dragoons, the 6th Corps had only some 12,500 men on the march. The whole army, therefore, as it will be seen, was about 50,000 strong.

Just before he marched from Salamanca Soult had heard that Beresford’s Portuguese were commencing to show themselves in force in the direction of Almeida, while Del Parque’s small division at Ciudad Rodrigo was beginning to be reinforced by troops descending from the mountains of Galicia. Trusting 杭州最好的spa会所 that the danger from this quarter might not prove imminent, the Marshal left in observation of the allies only the remains of the force that Kellermann had brought back from the Asturias—the 5th division of dragoons and a few battalions of infantry, strengthened by the five battalions from the 2nd Corps and the one brigade detached from Ney. The whole did not amount to more than 9,000 or 10,000 men, scattered along the whole front from Astorga to Salamanca. It was clear that much was risked in this direction, for Beresford and Del Parque could concentrate over 20,000 troops for an attack on any point that they might select. But Soult was prepared to accept the chances of war in the Douro valley, rightly thinking that if he could crush Wellesley’s army on the Tagus any losses in the north could easily be repaired. It would 杭州龙凤论坛 matter little if the[p. 576] Spaniards and Portuguese occupied Salamanca, or even Valladolid, after the British had been destroyed.

Mortier, starting on July 27, on the road by Fuente Roble and Los Santos, made two marches without coming in touch with any enemy. It was only on the third day that he met at La Calzada the vedettes of the trifling force under the Marquis Del Reino which Cuesta had sent to hold the Puerto de Ba?os. After chasing them through Bejar, the Marshal came upon their supports drawn up in the pass [July 30]. Del Reino thought himself obliged to fight, though he had but four battalions with a total of 2,500 or 3,000 bayonets[703]. He was of course dislodged with ease by the overwhelming numbers which Mortier turned against him—the first division of the 5th Corps alone sufficed to drive him through the pass. Thereupon he retired down the Alagon, and after sending news of his defeat to Cuesta fell back to Almaraz, where he took up the bridge of boats and removed it to the southern bank of the Tagus.

Having cleared the passes upon the thirtieth, the 5th Corps advanced to Candelaria and Ba?os de Bejar upon the thirty-first, and entered Plasencia on the first of August. Here Mortier captured 334 of Wellesley’s sick, who had been left behind as being incapable of removal. On the preceding day the town had been full of British detachments: the place was the half-way house between Portugal and Talavera, and many commissaries, isolated officers going to or from the front, and details marching to join their corps, had been collected there. Captain Pattison, the senior officer present, withdrew to Zarza, with every man that could march, when he heard of Mortier’s[p. 577] approach, taking with him a convoy which had recently arrived from Abrantes. But he was obliged to leave behind him a considerable amount of corn, just collected from the Vera, which had been destined for Wellesley’s army. The whole civil population of Plasencia fled to the hills, in obedience to an order of the local Junta, and the British soldiers in the hospital were the only living beings whom the French vanguard found in the city. The men of the 5th Corps plundered the deserted houses, as was but natural, but behaved with much humanity to the captured invalids[704].

After seizing Plasencia Mortier halted for a day, in obedience to Soult’s orders, that he might allow the 2nd Corps to close up before he pressed in any further towards Wellesley. The Duke of Dalmatia was determined to run no risks, when dealing with an adversary so enterprising as his old enemy of Oporto. On August 2 he himself and the leading divisions of his corps reached Plasencia: the rest were close behind. On the same afternoon, therefore, the advance could be resumed, and Mortier set out on the high road towards Almaraz and Talavera, having eight regiments of horse—3,000 men—in his front. He slept that night at Malpartida, seven miles in advance of Plasencia, and moved on next morning to the line of the Tietar and the village of Toril. One of his reconnoitring parties approached the bridge of Almaraz and found it broken: another reached Navalmoral. He was now drawing very close to Wellesley, who had encamped that day at Oropesa, and was only thirty miles away: indeed the British and the French cavalry came in contact that evening in front of Navalmoral.

On August 3, by a curious coincidence, each Commander-in-chief was at last informed of his adversary’s strength and intentions by a captured dispatch. A Spanish messenger was arrested by Soult’s cavalry, while bearing a letter from Wellesley to General Erskine dated August 1. In this document there was an account of the battle of Talavera, which had[p. 578] hitherto been unknown to Soult. But the most important clause of it was a request to Erskine to find out whether the rumours reporting the advance of 12,000 French towards the Puerto de Ba?os were correct. The Duke of Dalmatia thus discovered that his adversary, only two days before, was grossly underrating the numbers of the army that was marching against his rear. He was led on to hope that Wellesley would presently advance against him with inferior numbers, and court destruction by attacking the united 2nd and 5th Corps[705].

This indeed might have come to pass had not the allies on the same day become possessed of a French dispatch which revealed to them the real situation of affairs. Some guerrillas in the neighbourhood of Avila intercepted a friar, who was an agent of King Joseph, and was bearing a letter from him to Soult. They brought the paper to Cuesta on August 3: it contained not only an account of the King’s plans and projects, but orders for the Marshal, which mentioned Ney and the 6th Corps, and showed that the force marching on Plasencia was at least double the strength that Wellesley had expected[706]. This letter Cuesta sent on to his colleague with laudable promptness; it reached the British commander in time to save him from taking the irreparable step of marching from Oropesa to Navalmoral, where the vanguard of Mortier’s cavalry had just been met by the vedettes of Cotton’s light horse. Wellesley had actually written to Bassecourt to bid him halt at Centinello till he himself should arrive, and then to join him in an attack on the French[707], when he was handed the intercepted letter which showed that Soult had at least 30,000 men in hand.

[p. 579]

This unpalatable news changed the whole prospect of affairs: it would be mad to assail such an enemy with a force consisting of no more than 18,000 British troops and Bassecourt’s 5,000 Spaniards. Wellesley had therefore to reconsider the whole situation, and to dictate a new plan of campaign at very short notice, since his cavalry were actually in touch with the enemy at the distance of a single day’s march from Oropesa. On the morrow he must either fight or fly. The situation was made more complicated by the fact that Cuesta, when forwarding the French dispatch, had sent information to the effect that he considered his own situation at Talavera so much compromised that he was about to retreat at once, with the design of crossing the Tagus at Almaraz, and of taking up once more his old line of communications, which ran by Truxillo to Badajoz. It may be asked why the Captain-General did not adopt the simpler course of crossing the Tagus at Talavera, and moving under cover of the river, instead of executing the long flank march by Oropesa to Almaraz on the exposed bank, where the French were known to be in movement. The answer, however, is simple and conclusive: the paths which lead southward from Talavera are impracticable for artillery and wheeled vehicles. Infantry alone could have retreated by the route which climbs up to the Puerto de San Vincente, the main pass of this section of the Sierra de Guadalupe: nor was the track along the edge of the river from Talavera to Arzobispo any better fitted for the transport of a large army. It is this want of any adequate communication with the south which makes Talavera such a dangerous position: no retreat from it is possible save that by the road to Oropesa, unless the retiring army is prepared to sacrifice all its impedimenta.

Cuesta has been criticized in the most savage style by many English writers, from Lord Londonderry and Napier downwards, for his hasty departure from Talavera. It is fair to state in his defence the fact that if he had tarried any longer in his present position he might have been cut off not merely from Almaraz—that passage was already impracticable—but also from the bridge of Arzobispo, the only other crossing of the Tagus by which artillery and heavy wagons can pass southward. If he had started on the fourth instead of the third


he[p. 580] might have found Mortier and Soult interposed between him and this last line of retreat. He would then have been forced to abandon all his matériel, and to hurry back to Talavera, in order to take the break-neck track to the Puerto de San Vincente. But there was every reason to believe that Victor might arrive in front of Talavera on the evening of the fourth or the morning of the fifth, so that this last road to safety might have been already blocked. Thus the Spanish army, if it had started on the fourth for Oropesa, might have found itself caught between the two French corps, and vowed to inevitable destruction. As a matter of fact Victor moved slowly and cautiously, and only reached Talavera on the sixth—but this could not possibly have been foreseen. We cannot therefore blame Cuesta’s precipitate departure upon


the night of August 3.

His main body marched under cover of the darkness to Oropesa, where they arrived, much wearied and in some disorder, on the following morning. He left Zayas’s division and Albuquerque’s horse as a rearguard, to hold Talavera till midday on the fourth, with orders to make a semblance of resistance and to detain Victor for a few hours if he should appear. But no hostile force showed itself: by his unwise retreat to Santa Cruz the Marshal had drawn back so far from the enemy that he could not take advantage of their retrograde movement when it became known to him. Villatte’s division and Beaumont’s cavalry only reached Talavera on the morning of the sixth.

The departure of the Estremaduran army had one deplorable result. It exposed the English hospitals at Talavera, with their 4,000 wounded, to capture by the enemy. Wellesley, before he had marched off, had given orders that all the men capable of being moved should be sent off towards Plasencia and Portugal as soon as possible. But he had no transport that could cope with the task of transferring such a mass of invalids towards his base. He wrote from Oropesa begging Cuesta to requisition carts from the country-side for this purpose[708]. But it was notorious that carts were not to be had—all Wellesley’s letters for the last three weeks were full of complaints to the effect that he could not procure them by money[p. 581] or by force. When the Spaniards were themselves departing, bag and baggage, it was an inopportune moment at which to ask them to provide transport: yet since the British wounded had been left to their care they were bound in honour to do all that could be done to save them. It is said that Cuesta made over[709] no more than seven ox-carts and a few mules to Colonel Mackinnon, the officer charged with the task of evacuating the hospitals. These and about forty vehicles of various kinds belonging to the British themselves were all that could be procured for the use of the wounded. They could only accommodate a tithe of the serious cases: the men with hurts of less consequence were forced to set out upon their feet. ‘The road to Oropesa,’ writes one of their fellow sufferers, ‘was covered with our poor limping bloodless soldiers. On crutches or sticks, with blankets thrown over them, they hobbled woefully along. For the moment panic terror lent them a force inconsistent with their debility and their fresh wounds. Some died by the road, others, unable to get further than Oropesa, afterwards fell into the hands of the enemy[710].’ The rest trailed onward to the bridge of Arzobispo, where Wellesley provided transport for many of them by unloading baggage-wagons, and ultimately reached Truxillo, at which place the new hospitals were established. Of the whole 4,000 about 1,500 had been left at Talavera as hopeless or dangerous cases, and these became the captives of the French: 2,000 drifted in, at various times, to Truxillo: the remaining 500 expired by the wayside or were taken by the French in the villages where they had dropped down[711].

Related Post