The Peninsular War
The Battle of Fuentes D’Onoro
Determined to relieve the blockaded fortress of Almeida, French Marshal Massena advanced with his 48,000 strong army from Ciudad Rodrigo on 2nd May. Wellington had adopted a defensive position with his 42,000 man army stretching some 12 miles from Fort Conception in the north, to Nave de Haver in the South. Much of this position was protected by a ravine along the Dos Casas stream north of the village of Fuentes D’Onoro.
Initially the French tried a frontal assault on Fuentes D'Onoro in the afternoon of the 3rd May. This initially was very successful, almost overrunning the town, before being pushed back by 71st, 79th and 24th regiments. The French lost 650 men compared to the allied loss of 259. The following day saw a truce as both sides tended to their dead and wounded, and Massena to the opportunity to reconnoitre the allied position more closely.
Wellington meanwhile, made a rare mistake, deploying a lone division (the Seventh) two miles to the south of Fuentes D’Onoro at Poco Velho where it had very little support. At dawn on the 5th May, the French attacked the 7th Division with a large force. Wellington immediately pulled the 7th Division back, creating a new front line from Fuentes D’Onoro to Frenada. First however, the 7th had to be rescued from the French forces closing in. He therefore sent the Light Division to support them as they withdrew. In phenomenal display of calm and discipline, especially in the face of repeated French cavalry charges, they were able to pull back with less than 500 casualties.
Massena then resorted to a further assault on Fuentes D’Onoro, with predictable results. Although the fighting ebbed and flowed in the village over the course of the day, the French made no progress. After two days of fighting, and over 2,800 casualties, Massena decided to pull back, signalling to the garrison at Almeida to abandon the fortress, which they did on the night of 10th-11th April. Wellington was furious at the garrison’s escape, but otherwise Fuentes D’Onoro was a considerable success. The Allies had lost 1,800 casualties, had defeated the French in battle once again, raised the confidence of the army and captured a fortress. Wellington therefore had reason to be optimistic about the year’s potential. Little did he realise that the Allies would make little further progress that year.
Map of Spain in 1811
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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)