Whilst Wellington was conducting a successful campaign in the north of Portugal, events further south near Badajoz were less illustrious. Marshal Beresford, the British general who had been appointed to command the Portuguese army had made slow progress with the siege. After starting the siege on 8th May, the French made two sorties which inflicted significant casualties. French Marshal Soult meanwhile hurried to relieve the city, forcing Beresford to abandon the siege on and offer battle at Albuera on 16th May.
Beresford enjoyed a superiority in numbers at Albuera, having 35,000 men (10,000 British, 10,000 Portuguese and 15,000 Spanish). However, Beresford deployed in what he later realised was the wrong position. As Soult turned the Allied right flank, he was stopped by Spanish infantry who heroically fought the French to a bloody standstill. As Beresford redeployed the Second Division from his centre to support the Spaniards, one brigade was caught in the open by French cavalry and was ripped apart.
Marshal Beresford disarming a lancer at Albuera
Acting on his own initiative, General Cole moved the Fourth Division to the right flank, and broke the flank in extremely bloody fighting. The Allies suffered nearly 6,000 casualties, though the French certainly lost more. When Wellington read the first draft of Beresford’s despatch he told him to ‘write me a victory’. Albuera turned out to be a metaphor for the 1811 campaign. Although Wellington laid siege to Badajoz again, progress was very slow, and after two unsuccessful attempts to capture the outwork of San Christobal the siege was abandoned.
In August, an attempt to blockade Ciudad Rodrigo had to be abandoned when Marshal Marmont, who had now taken over from Massena, swiftly brought 58,000 men forward to relived the town. The 48,000 men Wellington had in the region were forced to withdraw rapidly, seeing a small action at El Bodon where they were forced to withdraw across open ground in the face of a large force of French cavalry.
Although General Hill managed to take 1,300 French prisoners after making a long night march to catch a French division at Arroyo dos Molinos by surprise, the fact remained that the Allies had not gained the upper hand in 1811. Just as the French had started the year containing them north of Lisbon, they now seemed to have found a way of doing the same thing in Portugal.
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Interesting in Learning More?
Rory Muir, Wellington: The Path to Victory (Yale: Yale University Press, 2013)
Charles Esdaile, The Peninsular War: A New History (London: Penguin, 2003)