The Peninsular War
After the drama of 1813, the first weeks of 1814 were relatively quiet. In part, the pause in the Allied advance into Southern France was caused by heavy rain, and a shortage in cash. On 12th February, however, Wellington’s army resumed their offensive. Soult’s force had already been weakened, losing half of its cavalry and 10,000 infantry as Napoleon used them to try and rebuild the army he had lost during the fighting in North Germany in 1813, ahead of what he knew would be the crucial campaign against the allied forces when they invaded Northern France.
Wellington’s first aim was to isolate Bayonne. He did not launch a full-scale siege, but instead contained the city, pushing the main French forces north away from the city, and crossing rhw River Ardour on the 23rd to 26th February in a bold operation. Blockading the French city absorbed 20,000 men of his army, but after the experience of the siege of San Sebastian, he did not want to attempt another long siege.
Marshal Nicolas-Jean Soult
Sourced from Wikimedia commons
Soult tried to stop the Allied advance at the Battle of Orthez on 27th February. He occupied a strong defensive position, and waited for the Allied advance, which initially failed as only a small portion of the army was engaged. In two hours of fierce fighting, Wellington launched an attack on almost the entire French line, breaking through at the village of St Boes, on the French right. The French lost around 4000 men, compared to an Allied loss of nearly 2,200.
Soult was faced with a choice of withdrawing north towards Bordeaux, the largest city in Southern France, or heading or Toulouse. As Toulouse was a military department, he favoured that option. Wellington meanwhile, was considering the progress of the war as whole, as reports emerged of peace talks in the north of France. On 4th March Bordeaux declared its support for the restoration of the old French monarchy. Wellington detached a further part of his force to hold the city, whilst Soult pulled back toward Toulouse, where he arrived on the 24th March.
After crossing the Garonne on the 4th April, Wellington examined the defences around the city of Toulouse on 9th April. He reluctantly decided that the only option was a direct assault. The stage was set for the last major battle of the Peninsular War.
Up Next: The Battle of Toulouse
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Interest in learning more?
Charles Esdaile, The Peninsular War: A New History (London: Penguin, 2003)
Rory Muir, Wellington: The Path to Victory (Yale: Yale University Press, 2013)
Robert Harvey, War of Wars (London: Constable, 2008)