The Peninsular War
The Battle of Toulouse
Toulouse was the last great battle of the Napoleonic Wars. It was arguably a technical loss for Wellington, loosing more men than Soult, though as Soult evacuated the city the night after the battle, it is more accurate to say that it was a tactical one. It was also a futile battle. Unbeknown to both sides, Napoleon had abdicated the throne 6 days earlier, bring the conflict to an end. The news arrived 48 hours too late for those who were casualties of the battle.
Wellington’s plan was for a bold assault on the well prepared and defended French positions around Toulouse. Hill’s and Picton’s troop would distract the French with feint attacks that they would not press home, whilst Beresford would take the 4th and 6th Divisions, march down the length of the French positions to the east of the city, and outflank them from the south east. Meanwhile, a Spanish division would attack from the north east, catching the French in a pincer movement. The move meant exposing his infantry to French artillery fire as they moved south over marshy ground, but Wellington trusted his veteran units to prevail.
Battle of Toulouse
Although the initial phase of the attack went well with the Spanish making good progress, although Beresford’s men were slowed by the marshy ground. However, the Spanish pressed ahead with their attack without support and in the face of fierce artillery and musket fire, they broke and ran. Wellington sarcastically remarked that he was damned if he had ‘ever seen 10,000 men run a race before’.
The success of Wellington’s battle plan therefore rested within Beresford’s men, but Wellington had chosen the point of attack well, picking an area where the French redoubts were incomplete, and had not been fitted with artillery. The French commander in the area, Taupin, tried to launch a pre-emptive attack to sweep away the British as they advanced. The attempt failed, and the Taupin’s men themselves broke, whilst Taupin himself was killed. Beresford’s men pressed north, forcing the French out of their defensive positions to the east of the city. Two French counter-attacks using the last of Soult’s reserves both made some initial progress before stalling, and as darkness fell, both sides collapsed into an exhausted stalemate.
So ended the last great battle of the Napoleonic Wars. The Allies had lost over 4,500 men, 2,100 British, over 1,900 Spanish, and over 500 Portuguese. The French suffered 3,236 casualties. That night the French abandoned their position and withdrew from Toulouse.
Two days later, news arrived of Napoleon’s abdication in favour of his young son. After almost continuous war since 1792, Europe was once again at peace. British forces had marched thousands of miles, and lost tens of thousands of men killed and wounded. Finally, however, after six long years, they had emerged from the Peninsular War triumphant.
Up Next: The Impact of the Peninsular War
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Interest in Learning More?
Ian Robertson, A Commanding Presence: Wellington in the Peninsula, 1808-1814 (Chalford: Spellmount, 2008)
Charles Esdaile, The Peninsular War: A New History (London: Penguin, 2003)
Rory Muir, Wellington: The Path to Victory (Yale: Yale University Press, 2013)