Albuera Eyewitness: Contemporary Accounts of the Battle of Albuera, 16 May 1811
Guy Dempsey Publisher : Frontline Books (July 30, 2023)
Hardcover: 296 pages
On 16 May 1811, the small town of Albuera was the setting for one of the Peninsular War’s most bloody and desperate battles. A combined Spanish, British and Portuguese force of more than 30,000 men, under the command of Lord Beresford, stubbornly blocked the march of the French field marshal Soult, who was trying to reach the fortress of Badajoz, twelve miles to the north.
However, after suffering losses of up to 7,000 men during the fighting, Wellington declared that, ‘Another such battle will ruin us’. One British regiment, the 57th Foot, suffered casualties of more than 50 per cent. Similarly, the French fought with enormous tenacity, and sustained almost equally heavy losses. The stories from those who fought in the battle on both sides make for both chilling and inspiring reading.
These contemporaneous accounts include letters, diaries, official correspondence, army records, maps, newspaper reports and memoirs totaling over 100 contemporary accounts of the battle. They range from the comprehensive after-action reports of the British, Portuguese, Spanish and French commanders to casualty and prisoner lists and to recollections of individual soldiers from all the combatant armies.
The purpose of this book is to tell the story of the battle exclusively by way of these primary sources, with English translations for foreign language sources, along with, in each case, a commentary identifying the source and its context.
The heart of the work will be a vast number of first-hand accounts providing astonishing details of the intense fighting including the heroism of the Spanish troops, the massacre of Colborne’s brigade by Polish lancers, Beresford’s near-fatal indecisiveness, and the heroic charge of the Fusilier brigade. This presentation allows readers avid for detailed historical information to draw their own conclusions about how the events of the battle unfolded
In honor of the 212th anniversary of the battle, here is a letter written by Captain Arthur Gordon of the 3rd Foot describing the casualties suffered by his unit in the successful charge by the French cavalry:
Star [Newspaper] June 8, 1811, page 4
[A French translation of this letter was printed (verbatim except for the last two sentences) in Le Moniteur Universel in Paris on June 20, 1811.]
Extract of a letter from a Captain of the Buffs, who is wounded in the action at Albuera, to his Brother Officer in England.
Elvas, in Portugal, 20th May, 1811
Before this reaches you, many statements of the battle fought at Albuera on the 16th instant, will be received in England.
I shall endeavor, however, to give you some facts respecting the first Battalion of the Buffs:
Captain Burke is killed, Captain Cameron shot in the neck, wounded in the breast with a pike, and a prisoner.
Captain Marley was wounded twice in the body with a pike, badly.
Captain Stevens was shot in the arm, was a prisoner, and made his escape.
Lieutenant Woods had his leg shot off by a cannonball.
Lieutenant Latham‘s hand is shot off, also part of his nose and cheek.
Lieutenant Juxon is wounded in the thigh with a pike.
Lieutenant Hooper shot through the shoulder.
Lieutenant Houghton has received a severe saber cut on the hand, and through the skull.
Lieutenant Herbert is dead; Ensigns Chadwick and Thomas also dead.
Lieutenants O’Donnell and Tetlow, with Ensign Walsh, were wounded and made prisoners, [but] they have since escaped and joined.
Twenty-four officers, and 750 rank and file, were actually engaged. Out of that number there only remained to draw a rations on the following day five officers and 34 men.
This immense slaughter occurred in consequence of our charging the enemy, halting at the muzzles of their heavy guns, when a tremendous fire was opened on both sides.
So soon as our ranks were thinned by cannon shot, the enemy’s cavalry (Polanders) armed with long spikes, charged over our dead and wounded men. It was this circumstance that caused the destruction of many of the Buffs. I was stabbed at the time with a pike in the breast, in the back, and elsewhere, and the enemy’s cavalry galloped over me, when the British cavalry appeared in sight, and they very soon came up to our assistance, the enemy’s cavalry galloped off in all directions. Our colors were taken and retaking three times, and they are now in our possession, fixed on two halberts. Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart, Major King, and another field officer the Buffs are all safe.
The French have retreated in great confusion, and have suffered severely. Marshal Beresford is in pursuit of the enemy.
Now available in the UK, in time for the anniversary. Not out until Aug. in the US
Attached is an updated press release about the book
The book is actually being printed this month so copies should be available (at least in the UK) in time for the 212th anniversary of the battle next month.
The book invites readers to take the Albuera challenge by formulating their own analyses of the battle using the comprehensive array of primary sources provided.