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Commentary for Volume 1, Chapter 20 : Misery on the Guadiana (August–December 1809)

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Craufurd sent to secure the bridge and ford at Almaraz and so secure the army’s rear:

The British army crossed to the southern bank of the Tagus at Arzobispo on 4 August, (Schaumann On the Road with Wellington p 199 has a good description of the throng pouring across the bridge) and, then marched generally south and west to the Deleytosa which it reached on the 7th.  Wellington’s great fear in these days was that Soult might cross the river at Almaraz, thirty miles west of Arzobispo, where there was a bridge and a difficult ford, and so be able to threaten his line of retreat.  He dispatched Craufurd and Donkin with their two brigades on a forced march to secure the crossing.  Craufurd’s men arrived on 6 August to find the position held by two weak Spanish battalions, who had succeeded in breaking the bridge and in deterring the French patrols from attempting the ford.  Soult’s attention had been concentrated on the northern sides of the Tagus and by the time he realized the importance of the crossing at Almaraz four thousand British infantry were well placed to defend it.  (Oman p 584-7.  It is not quite clear from Oman p 577 when the French arrived on the north bank opposite Almaraz, – Oman p 577 says French reconnaissance parties had found the bridge broken, but Leach Rough Sketches p 94 says that no French troops were established opposite the bridge when the leading troops of Craufurd’s brigade reached the position.  And Urban Rifles p 26 says that the French did not appear until 15 August).

Misery of the army around Deleytosa:

The army remained in its position near Deleytosa until 11 August when it withdrew a few miles further west to Jaraicejo where it stayed until the 20th.  Craufurd’s division continued to guard the river crossing at Almaraz.  According to Leach ‘not one issue of bread was made to the troops during the fortnight; but an exceedingly coarse kind of flour, mixed with bran and chopped straw, and in very small quantities … Now and then half-a-dozen antiquated goats, which the commissary contrived to take by surprise in the mountains, found their way into the camp-kettles … Perhaps the want of salt to help us through the goat’s flesh, was as much felt as anything.’ (Leach Rough Sketches p 95-96; see also Costello Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns p 21-22).

Schaumann is eloquent on the discomfort of this camp:

The drought was so intense that our eyelids smarted; the ink thickened in our pens as fast as we wrote, and our skins, burnt by the sun, peeled off our noses and upper lips.  Shaving and washing, and particularly dying ourselves with a coarse towel, became extremely painful.  Every soldier stuck an olive leaf or a piece of paper on his under lip to prevent it from bursting … the long dry grass in which we had bivouacked often caught fire owing to carelessness while cooking…

The bivouacs themselves were full of vermin; there were large green lizards, eighteen inches long, that lived in the hollows of trees; spiders, mosquitoes, scorpions, snakes, ants and flies.  All our clothes and linen suffered accordingly … The soldier’s wives, who as a rule went about decently clad, and were most faithful to their husbands, now rode round hungrily in rags on starved donkeys, and gave themselves to anyone who wanted them in exchange for half a loaf of bread. (On the Road with Wellington p 204-5).

Indiscipline and plundering deters peasants from providing food:

That this was a real problem, not just official rhetoric, is shown by George Simmons although he chooses to blame the Spanish, not the British soldiers for the misconduct: ‘I rode several miles from our camp in search of bread, and luckily bought some from a peasant who had plenty hidden in his house, and would have gladly brought to our camp but durst not, from dread of being robbed by the Spanish soldiers.’ (Simmons British Rifleman p 23 Journal 4 August 1809).

Schaumann On the Road with Wellington p 201 states that the British troops thoroughly plundered the deserted Spanish villages they passed through.

French suspend campaign; allied recriminations:

Fortunately there was little prospect of further fighting in the campaign.  The French had seized the bridge and ford at Arzobispo and routed the Spanish rear-guard in a bold attack on 8 August, but Soult felt no enthusiasm for pushing south beyond the Tagus where the country was both desolate and full of excellent defensive positions.  He would have preferred to invade Portugal, but Joseph and Jourdan forbade any large scale offensive and were content to remove the last threat to Madrid by defeating Venegas in the battle of Almonacid on 11 August.  The French armies then dispersed to feed more easily, and await the outcome of the Austrian war and fresh instructions from Napoleon.  Wellesley, saw a theoretical opportunity for resuming the offensive and for a brief moment was tempted, but he knew that his army was in no condition to embark on a new campaign and he had completely lost faith in his Spanish allies.  Indeed these weeks were marked by a series of acrimonious quarrels with the Spanish authorities over their failure to supply the British army as they had repeatedly promised.  Wellesley was also dismayed by the Spanish defeat at Arzobispo and Almonacid, and by Cuesta’s failure to inform him promptly of the former.  Cuesta’s resignation on 13 August following a stroke should have improved relations, but Wellesley was soon quarreling just as bitterly with his successor General Eguia.  By this stage both sides had exhausted their patience and were as much concerned with shifting the opprobrium of failure from their own shoulders as with seeking a practical solution to their problems.  (AW to Lord Wellesley 9 and 10 August, AW to Cuesta 11 August, AW to Eguia 18 and 19 August 1809 WD III p 407, 409-10, 411-12, 431-2; Fortescue vol 7 p 281-2).

Lord Wellesley’s embassy to Spain:

Arthur Wellesley did not welcome his brother’s appointment, telling Pole on 1 July (even before close co-operation with Cuesta had soured his opinion of the alliance), ‘I am sorry that Wellesley accepted the Office of Ambassador; he will not be able to do any good; still more sorry that he has delayed his Departure for so great a length of time…’ (AW to William Wellesley-Pole 1 July 1809 ‘Letters to Pole’ p 13-15).  This was perceptive, for the delay in sailing ruined any chance of Wellesley’s embassy proving even moderately useful.  He had been appointed before the end of April and if he had sailed in May rather than at the end of July, he would have handled the negotiations which preceded the British army’s advance into Spain.  The result would probably not have been much different – the problems were not due to Frere or even the willingness of the Spanish government to assist with supplies, but rather its inability to convert that willingness into effective action – but his forceful personality might have injected some energy into the authorities in Seville.  As it was, by the time he reached Seville on 11 August there was little hope of reviving close military co-operation, and it was far too late for the plans for feeding the British army with which he was soon bombarding the Supreme Junta.  What made things worse was that the delay in sailing for Spain had originated in – as Canning explained to Frere – ‘a discussion about a whore, whom he was about to take with him, or suffer to follow him – but whom, after all that passed this year in relation to the Duke of York – it was quite impossible to allow him to take – though it was exceedingly disagreeable to be obliged to interfere with such an arrangement.’ (Canning to Frere, ‘Private and Confidential most secret’ 20 July 1809 Canning Papers Bundle 45).  This was followed by illness and other excuses – the first signs of the self-indulgence, dilatoriness and general lack of efficiency which were to undermine Lord Wellesley’s reputation over the next three years.

Why Wellington stayed on the Guadiana:

Oman justifies Wellington’s halt on the Guadiana:

If he had been free to follow his personal inclination, it is probable that Wellesley would have moved back into Portugal in September.  But strategical and political reasons made this impossible.  While based on Badajoz he still threatened the French hold on the valley of the Tagus, and compelled the King to keep two army corps at least in his front.  Since it was always possible that he might return to Almaraz and threaten Madrid, and containing force had to be told off against him.  He was also in a position from which he could easily sally out to check raids upon Portugal: from Badajoz he could either join Beresford in a few marches, or fall by Alcantara upon the flank of any detachment that Soult might lead forward in the direction of Castello Branco and Abrantes.  He was convinced that no such raids would be made, but their possibility had to be taken into consideration.  And while lying in his present cantonments he was well placed for frustrating them.  But political considerations were even more powerful than military considerations in chaining him to Badajoz.  The Junta at Seville were most anxious to keep the British army in their front: they were convinced that, if it retired on Portugal, Joseph and Soult would at once organize an invasion of Andalusia, and they were well aware that Eguia and Venegas would not suffice to hold back the 70,000 men who might then be directed against them … [quotes from Lord Wellesley’s pleas of 22 August]

A stay at Badajoz was obviously the only ‘intermediate plan’ that was worth taking into consideration; and considering the urgency of his brother’s representations Wellesley could not refuse to halt within the Spanish border.  The military advantages of the position that he had now taken up were not inconsiderable, and no profit that could have been got by returning to Portugal could have counterbalanced the loss of the Spanish alliance. ( vol 2 p 607-8).

            This is interesting, but rather underplays the cost of remaining in the Guadiana valley, if, indeed, the location did contribute substantially to the sickness in the army in the autumn of 1809.  Thousands of lives were lost to sickness, and the army was made despondent; and easing Lord Wellesley’s difficulties in handling the Spanish government was not a sufficient justification.  But against this, Oman’s argument overlooks that fact that the British government had not fully decided to commit itself to defend Portugal rather than southern Spain; and that so long as this remained uncertain, Wellington would have been wrong to withdraw into Portugal, for it would make subsequent co-operation with the Spaniards much more difficult.  This was not the only factor, but it was probably the decisive one.

Background to ministers’ queries about strategic prospects:

Broadly speaking the ministers wished to know whether a British army of 30,000 men, co-operating with the Spaniards, would be able to hold its own against the French if the defeat of Austria enabled Napoleon to send large reinforcements into Spain.  Both Castlereagh’s letter of 4 August and Canning’s letter of the 12th had been written before news of Talavera reached London, at a time when it seemed reasonable to suppose that Wellington might receive them in Madrid or even further north as he drove the French towards the Ebro.  Nevertheless the events of 1808 had shown the folly of supposing that a small British army acting in conjunction with the Spaniards could withstand the full force of Napoleon’s empire.

AW’s strategic advice to the government in late August and early September 1809:

Arthur Wellesley replied to Castlereagh’s letter on 25 August before he received the official dispatch from Canning.  He began with a broad survey of the existing state of the war in the Peninsula: he estimated that the French already had 125,000 in the Peninsula, not counting sick or garrisons, compared to 80,000 Spaniards, 25,000 British and 10,000 Portuguese; and the Spanish troops – especially their cavalry – were much inferior in quality to the French.  The Spanish lacked discipline and confidence; they had to become accustomed to running away; and their officers were particularly bad.  The ultimate responsibility for these problems lay not with the ordinary Spanish soldiers, nor even with their officers, but with the members of the Supreme Junta.  ‘They have attempted to govern the Kingdom in a state of revolution, by an adherence to old rules and systems, and with the aid of what is called enthusiasm; and this last is, in fact, no aid to accomplish anything, and is only an excuse for the irregularity with which everything is done, and for the want of discipline and subordination of the armies.’ (AW to Castlereagh 25 August 1809 WD III p 449-454 quote on p 451).  All the frustrations of the last five weeks – the endless dishonoured promises of supplies about to be delivered, the prevarication and political posturing by the Junta – account for the vehemence of Wellesley’s opinion; while the substance of his diagnosis of Spain’s problems was widely shared.

His conclusion was hardly surprising, ‘I feel no inclination to join in co-operation with them again, upon my own responsibility … and I do not recommend you have anything to do with them in their present state.’  He would not now accept the command of the Spanish armies unless instructed to do so by the British government, and he warned that to do so would ‘incur the risk of the loss of your army.’  On Cadiz, whose importance was a trading entrepôt and naval base made it the subject of perennial concern to Britain, he warned that the jealousy of the Spaniards was so great, that it was better to leave the issue alone, and if a British garrison was admitted its safety would be in danger unless it was extremely large, 15-20,000 men was his figure.  In short, ‘If you should take Cadiz, you must lay down Portugal, and take up Spain.’ (AW to Castlereagh 25 August 1809 WD III p 449-454).

But even on Portugal Wellesley, at this time, sounded uncertain and far from confident.  He told Castlereagh that he disapproved of the way Beresford was using his British officers to reform the Portuguese army, and he doubted the ability of the Portuguese government to enforce conscription to provide manpower for the army.  He admitted that it would be ‘very difficult’ to hold the line of the frontier, while it ‘is difficult, if not impossible, to bring the contest for the capital to extremities, and afterwards to embark the British army.’  As if this was not enough to depress the ministers he predicted that when the French reinforcements arrived in the Peninsula ‘their first and great[est] object will be to get the English out’, and requested the return of the transports which had been withdrawn for the Walcheren Expedition.  Nonetheless it was obvious from the letter that he preferred to undertake the defense of Portugal than to join in further operations in Spain; and that he had hopes of devising means by which Portugal could be defended, even if the rest of the Peninsula was overrun by the French.  (AW to Castlereagh 25 August 1809 WD III p 449-454).

This letter was so comprehensive that when Wellesley received Canning’s dispatch of 12 August he simply had to clarify a few points and make one correction.  In the ten days since he had written to Castlereagh he had discovered that a garrison of four or five thousand men would be secure in Cadiz, although he still believed that the Spanish government and people would be violently opposed to the admission of British troops.  He did not hide his preference for Portugal, but wrote that he would ‘not be surprised if the advantage of this possession of the fleets of Spain, and the certainty that the army could be embarked at Cadiz, which is not, in the Tagus, quite clear, should induce our government to prefer the operation in the south of Spain to that in Portugal.’  If this option were preferred he regarded the possession of Cadiz, command of the Spanish armies, and guarantees on supplies as absolutely essential.  The final decision would be made by the British government, and he would not pre-empt it by withdrawing his army into Portugal.  (AW to Castlereagh 4 September 1809 WD III p 477; and “Observations on Mr Sec Canning’s Dispatch of the 12th August to Marques Wellesley’ 5 September 1809 WD III p 477-8).

Wellington’s reaction to the political crisis:

Wellington’s attitude to the duel was ambivalent: he told Castlereagh ‘It is impossible to read the account of what has passed without indignation at the manner in what you have been treated; and though I regret the duel, and consider it as a fatal event, I must admit that your feelings could not have been otherwise satisfied.’  But he then firmly rejected Castlereagh’s claim that he had aroused Canning’s enmity by insisting on defending Wellington over Cintra, with its implication that Wellington owed him reciprocal loyalty now.  According to Wellington, Canning had been as kind and supportive as any other minister, and that the Government had left him to defend his conduct as an individual without official support.  Moving on from this dangerous territory, Wellington acknowledged Castlereagh’s ‘many acts of friendship and kindness … of all of which I assure you I am not forgetful’, but he regretted the crisis in terms whose impartiality can have given little comfort to the aggrieved Minister: ‘Affairs are in a strange state, and it appears that inordinate ambition, want of judgment, and vanity, will place the King and his government in the hands of the Opposition.’ (Wellington to Castlereagh 14 October 1809 WSD vol 6 p 401-3).

Charles Stewart, Castlereagh’s half brother and Wellington’s Adjutant-General had read accounts of Canning’s intrigues against his brother with boiling fury, and dashed off an intemperate letter to Camden which he soon regretted.  Rather naively, he was dismayed and surprised that Wellington did not react in the same way, condemning a lack of ‘warmth of feeling’ in his reaction.  According to Stewart, Wellington admitted that Castlereagh had been basely treated, but thought that Camden and Portland had behaved even worse than Canning; and this weakened Castlereagh’s right to demand satisfaction from Canning. Stewart went on to say that Wellington ‘could not reconcile in his mind the propriety of the duel and seemed to me to take the line of finding some fault with all parties in order most determinedly to adhere to any government the King chooses to form.’ (Charles Stewart to Castlereagh, Cintra, 20 October 1809 PRONI D 3030/P/321).

Stewart suspected that Wellington was guarded in his reaction because he was unsure what course Lord Wellesley would take, and it would be strange if this had not been an influence.  Wellington seems to have felt unsure how close were the ties between the Marquess and Canning.  The fact that Canning had been pressing for Castlereagh’s removal in order to install Lord Wellesley in the War Department created an awkward conflict of loyalties.  Wellington wrote to Wellesley, carefully acknowledging Canning’s claims upon his brother, but adding ‘it is a question deserving your consideration whether you alone of all his friends and colleagues are to support his pretensions to be the First Minister, and are bound to sacrifice yourself to attain that object.’  Further than this he dared not go without receiving some indication of Lord Wellesley’s views, but it is obvious that he hoped that Wellesley would not join Canning in opposition to Perceval’s ministry as this would set family and political loyalties at odds.  (Wellington to Lord Wellesley Badajoz 5 Oct 1809 WSD vol 6 p 386-7).

Castlereagh was a little disappointed by Wellington’s reaction to his resignation and the duel, but more philosophical and less naïve than Stewart.   He told Edward Cooke: ‘I send you Charles’s most secret thoughts, and I am sure they are safe in your hands.  I certainly do not feel that Wellington has blazed out as a warm friend – Charles’s opinion is however to be received with some deduction from the warmth of his own feelings – besides I don’t think any of us felt Canning’s conduct in its full extent at first …’ (Castlereagh to Edward Cooke ‘Most Confidential’ 4 November [1809] D 3030/Q2/2 p 86).

Wellington and Lord Wellesley at Seville:

Early in November Wellington was able to spend ten days with his brother in Seville and Cadiz giving them the opportunity to discuss fully the prospects of the war in the Peninsula and of British politics.  By the time he arrived, Wellesley had been joined by Benjamin Sydenham carrying Perceval’s offer of the Foreign Office and encouraging messages from William Wellesley-Pole.  Lord Wellesley seems to have had no hesitation in agreeing to join the new government.  He did not feel himself pledged to act with Canning and was seriously annoyed that Canning should have objected to serving under him.  This result must have pleased Wellington.  He had earlier warned Pole that he would not join Wellesley in opposition to the government, and now wrote with evident satisfaction that Wellesley had sailed for home, ‘in high spirits and determined to exert himself to make a strong Govt. for the King.’ (Wellington to William Wellesley-Pole 22 Oct and 16 Nov 1809 ‘Letters to Pole’ p 26-27, 27-28).

Wellington’s letter to Pole about British politics:

It is worth quoting this at rather greater length:

      It appears to me to be scarcely possible to form a Govt. which shall do the business of the House of Commons, without the assistance of both Canning & Lord Castlereagh; and I dread the attempt to patch yourselves up by the aid of the Doctor [Lord Sidmouth] & his Myrmydons at a very large expense of Officers, power etc etc.  The King will, nay must, fall into the hands of the other party, let your effort be what it may, unless their violence & intemperance should add to your strength; and all that can be done at present appears to me to consist in increasing your party to enable you to make some head as an opposition.

         As for my part my wishes are in favour of Perceval & the cabinet, and as far as I shall take any part in politics I shall belong to them.  But I don’t conceive that I ought to embark in politics to such an extent as to preclude my serving the Country under any administration that may employ me.  In fact I never felt any inclination to dive deeply into party Politics; I may be wrong but the conviction of my mind is that all the misfortunes of the present reign, the loss of America, the success of the French Revolution etc etc are to be attributed in great degree to the Spirit of Party in England; & the feeling I have for a decided party politician is rather that of Contempt than any other.  I am very certain that his wishes & efforts for his party very frequently prevent him from doing that which is best for the Country; & induce him to take up the cause of foreign powers against Great Britain, because the cause of Great Britain is managed by his party opponent.

         It may be true that the Country cannot be served in Parlt. excepting by people acting in Parties; and I acknowledge that I don’t understand the subject sufficiently to be able to make up my mind upon that point.  What has passed lately however has increased my doubts upon that point; & my opinion is that the best of the late confusion would be a Junction & confounding of all parties to support the Govt. against the Jacobins. (Wellington to William Wellesley-Pole, 22 Oct 1809 ‘Letters to Pole’ p 26-27).

Wellington’s letter to Lord Buckingham:

 I shall not say much to your Lordship about home politics.  I regret, and am almost ashamed of what has passed in England lately.  I am no party politician, but I wish that old friends would unite and form a strong government to carry the country through its difficulties, and I hope that the day is not very distant, on which people will find out that the best way of serving the country is not be forming parties to oppose or support particular men.  (Wellington to Buckingham, Badajoz, 16 Nov 1809 WSD vol 13 p 369-71).

This came close to being an open reproach for the Opposition’s curt dismissal of Perceval’s proposal coalition government, but Buckingham was a Pittite not a Whig at heart, and was unlikely to be offended; while he would not fail to notice that the man who, only eight months previously had been a minister in the Portland government, now declared himself ‘no party politician’.

The ‘affection’ in the signature was not how Wellington had signed his letter of 8 July 1807 to Buckingham – in Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George III vol 4 p 194-5 where he was obedient obliged and humble – much more stilted and impersonal terms of address; the letters of 11 and 14 October 1809 are printed without the final flourish – merely ‘Believe me &c’).

Liverpool’s four queries:

On 20 October Liverpool sent Wellington four queries: 1) What chance did the increased French forces have of completely subduing Spain? 2) Were the French likely to attack Portugal before they could consolidate their hold on northern and central Spain? 3) What were the prospects of successfully resisting an immediate attack on Portugal?  and 4) If resistance was unlikely to succeed, would the army be endangered by delaying its withdrawal?  (Liverpool to Wellington 20 Oct 1809 WSD vol 6 p 412-3).

Wellington’s letters of 14 and 28 November, outlining his requirements for the defence of Portugal:

In addition to the points made in the text Wellington asked that some of the second battalions he had been sent be replaced.  ‘There are really many in this army that are quite unfit for service in respect to composition and discipline,’ and the problem was exacerbated by the constant interchange of officers between first and second battalions, which undermined their esprit de corps.

And as well as the cost of the army and the subsidy to Portugal there would be the cost of the transports, but most of these ‘would be on the public service [even] if the army were at home.’  If possible, additional transports should be provided to evacuate those Portuguese soldiers who wished to remain with the British.  Finally he emphasized that if the British army was withdrawn, the whole country would promptly fall to the French, probably without a struggle.  (Wellington to Liverpool 14 November 1809 WD III p 583-8 – two letters).

In response to Liverpool’s four queries Wellington stated that there was little danger of the French subduing all Spain if the Spaniards were reasonably prudent; that Portugal was likely to be the first French objective once their reinforcements arrived; and they could not attack until their reinforcements had arrived; and that even after a defeat the army could be evacuated.  (Wellington to Liverpool 14 November 1809 WD III p 587-8).

Problem on constant interchange of officers between 1st and 2nd battalions:

Where regiments had two or more battalions, the most senior officers of each rank served with the first battalion.  This led to considerable movement between battalions: for example, if the senior captain serving with the first battalion was promoted, he would become the junior major and move to the second battalion.   His promotion would mean that the remaining captains would each advance one step of seniority in the regiment, and the most senior captain in the second battalion would consequently transfer to the first battalion to become its junior captain.   A similar shuffle would happen whenever an officer transferred to another regiment, was killed, or quit the service.  The fact that Wellington’s army contained so many second battalions meant that it was often losing senior, experienced regimental officers who were being sent to the first battalion of their regiment.   (Wellington to Liverpool 14 November 1809 WD III p 587-88).   Liverpool replied on 15 December 1809 (BL Add Ms 38,241 f 112-6) that he had spoken to Dundas about this but that the practice was too settled to change.   However a compromise was eventually devised so that transfers from units engaged in active operations would be suspended until the end of a particular campaign.  Officers would also no longer leave a regiment in a theatre of operations until their replacement had arrived, or at least was known to be on his way.     (See also Aitchison An Ensign in the Peninsular War p 91 which describes the problem, but also adds to the confusion surrounding the measures taken to lessen its effect).

Napier claims a minister wants to enact a policy that will ‘spill blood’:

Napier claims that ‘there was a ministerial person, who, in his dread of the opposition, wrote to Lord Wellington, complaining of his inaction, and calling upon him to do something that would excite a public sensation: “anything provided blood was spilt!”  A severe rebuke, and cessation of all friendly intercourse with the writer, discovered the general’s abhorrence of this detestable policy: but when such passions were abroad, Lord Wellesley’s accession to the government was essential to the success of Lord Wellington’s projects’ (Napier History vol 2 p 364 book xi chapter 1).

The story is too vague to be definitely disproved, but Napier’s whig prejudices were violent and he may well be repeating an old piece of gossip that he assumed was true.  Certainly I have never seen a letter from any minister that remotely resembles this, and the idea that the government looked to fresh fighting in the autumn of 1809 is far fetched.  The best explanation I can suggest is that this is a garbled version of the letter Croker wrote to Wellington in Nov/Dec 1810 – which has not been published but which Charles Stewart thought contained the statement that the public would now like a battle even if bloody – and which produced a sharp retort from Wellington, but no lasting breach in their friendship. (Charles Stewart to Castlereagh 21 Dec 1810 PRONI D 3030/P/35; Wellington to Croker 20 Dec 1810 Croker Papers vol 1 p 40-43).    Or it might refer to the letters of Edward Cooke who wanted Wellington to take the offensive in Nov/Dec 1810; but he was out of office at the time, and his argument was based on military grounds: see Ch 23 Commentary below.

Prevailing military opinion in England against the defence of  Portugal:

Colonel J.W. Gordon informed Lord Grey of the government’s decision to defend Portugal on 20 December 1809 adding, ‘I suppose there is good reason for this, but I have not sufficient penetration to discover it.’ (Earl Grey Papers, Durham University Library no 37).

Wellington’s entry into Lisbon:

Lieutenant Wright Knox of the 87th wrote home:

Sir Arthur (for we still call him by that name) made a pompous entry into Lisbon a few days ago, he was received by the Militia and Volunteers of the place under arms, with Minute Guns firing from the Castle for half an hour, the populace seemed to pay him a kind or adoration, the next day he was received by the Regency, and admitted into it with the uncontrolled command of the military affairs of this country and a share in the civil.  (Lieutenant Wright Knox to his brother, Lisbon 18 October 1809 At Barrosa with the 87th p 15).

Letters home from officers in the army:

Wellington’s visits to Lisbon and Seville aroused some speculation among the officers of the army which they freely expressed in their letters home, which some of their friends did not hesitate to send on to the newspapers.  There was, of course, no censorship even for serving soldiers – that would have been regarded as an unthinkable infringement of liberty in 1809 – but Wellington complained to Liverpool that,

 In some instances the English newspapers have accurately stated, not only the regiments occupying a position, but the number of men fit for duty which each regiment was composed; and this intelligence must have reached the enemy at the same time as it did me, at a moment at which it was most important that he should not receive it.

      … I enclose a paragraph recently published, describing the line of operation which I should follow in case of the occurrence of a certain event, the preparations I had made for that operation, and where I had formed my magazines … if editors really feel an anxiety for the success of the military operations in the Peninsula, they will refrain from giving this information to the public, as they must know that their papers are read by the enemy, and that the information which they are desirous of conveying to their English readers is mischievous to the public, exactly in proportion as it is well founded and correct.  Your lordship will be the best judge whether any and what measures ought to be adopted to prevent the publication of this description of intelligence.  I can only assure you that it will increase materially the difficulty of all operations in this country. (Wellington to Liverpool 21 November 1809 WD III p 603).

However any attempt to censor the press was regarded as just as impractical and obnoxious as the interference with the private letters of serving officers, and Wellington was reduced to issuing General Orders urging officers to be more discreet in their correspondence – a plea which was flouted even by his personal staff.  The problem would have been much more serious if it had not taken letters about a month to reach home from the army, and at least another month passed before information from English newspapers reached the French generals in the Peninsula, so that their reports were always out of date; and if most officers in the army had not been poorly informed of affairs outside their brigade or division, so that their speculations were often inaccurate and misleading.  Nonetheless the British press remained an important source of information for the French and proved a frequent irritant, and on occasion a serious nuisance, for Wellington.  (GO 10 August 1810 General Orders edited by Gurwood (the 1837 compilation) p 199-200; Liverpool to Wellington 16 Feb 1811, WSD vol 7 p 61-62; Wellington to Liverpool 16 March 1811WD IV p 675; Alexander Gordon’s letters in At Wellington’s Right Hand passim; and Michael Glover ‘“Writing News and Keeping Coffee-Houses”’ History Today vol 27 no 7 July 1977 p 452-3).

See also Wellington to Charles Stuart 17 June 1810, and Wellington to Craufurd, 23 July 1810 WD IV p 123 and 179-80.  It should also be said that although the official French press was strictly censored and full of propaganda, it still conveyed much useful news to the British government.

Speculation over Wellington’s visits to Lisbon and Seville:  

John Fremantle wrote home to his uncle, the politician W. H. Fremantle, on 12 October, ‘Sherbrooke was knighted at this place [on] the 7th, and Lord Wellington set off after the ceremony for Lisbon.  What to do?  Perhaps you in England are more likely to know than we do.  God grant that it may be to make arrangements for our army to quit this truly wretched and horrid country…’ (Glover (ed) Wellington’s Voice p 51-4).

There is another good example of such speculation – although in a diary, not a letter – in Boutflower’s Journal of an Army Surgeon p 15-17, 19. Simmons British Rifleman (p 18, 39) urged his father not to show his letters to anyone.


Training was not entirely neglected.  Wellington ordered that each division march at least three leagues in full order twice a week, and readily approved Craufurd’s request to use some damaged ammunition for target practice. (GAO 31 October 1809 WSD vol 6 p 416 and the AG to Craufurd 13 November 1809 WD III p 582).

Not all new officers were properly trained.  When Thomas Bunbury joined the Portuguese army in late 1809 he had been an ensign in the Buffs for two years but admits, ‘I knew nothing of the duties of my profession.’ (Reminiscences of a Veteran vol 1 p 53-4).

Some poor units receive special attention: for example, General Sherbrooke asked Alan Cameron to take the 2/24th, (which had recently been transferred to his brigade) in hand.  ‘The Officers & Serjeants are so much in want of instruction and the Regt is so deficient in every Respect that something unpleasant attaches to Every person who has anything to say to it in its present State … I shall inspect the 24th very Minutely ere long and I shall hope to find them much improved.’ (Maclean Indomitable Colonel p 212).

Gossip about the young woman at headquarters :

Another observer was less flattering describing her as ‘a little ugly swarthy colored female’, although having ‘a good figure’, whose conversation was courted even by senior officers.  (Henry Smith ‘Journal in England, Scotland, Portugal and Spain, 1809’ – transcript of an unpublished journal, held in the University of Kansas Library, and sent to me by Tim Rooth in Feb 2008).

Beehives and the Fourth Division:

Back at Badajoz Wellington faced the perennial problem of friction between the troops and the local population.  Inevitably there were some cases of robbery and theft, although nothing like the breakdown of discipline which had followed the Oporto campaign.  Soon after the army reached the Guadiana a group of soldiers from the Fourth Division came into Badajoz at night and broke into a bakery and several private houses and frightened the inhabitants, although they do not appear to have stolen anything other than bread.  Wellington was determined to stop such incidents before they became more serious and ordered that there be a roll call throughout the Fourth Division every hour and that no soldiers be permitted to leave their lines unless accompanied by an officer.

Nonetheless a few days later the Fourth Division was responsible for plundering beehives near the town and Wellington raged that ‘this last outrage … [could not] have been committed without the officers obtaining some knowledge of it.  The Officers with the army do not appear to be aware how much they suffer in the disgraceful and unmilitary practices of the soldiers, in marauding and plundering everything they lay their hands upon.’ (GO 7 September General Orders 1809 p 153).  This may have seemed an unduly harsh response, but if the army quarreled with the local population it could lead to endless friction and make the task of feeding it much more difficult.  Wellington was not a martinet and he enjoyed telling the story of how, riding one day he had seen ‘a man of the 88th, or Connaught Rangers, posting along as fast as legs could carry him, with a beehive on his head.  Lord Wellington, furious at so flagrant a disobedience of orders, which sapped all discipline, called out to him, “Hillo! Sir, where did you get that beehive?”  Pat had enveloped his head and face in his great coat to prevent the bees stinging him, and thinking more of the prize than of the tone of the voice addressed to him, answered in pure Milesian, “Jist over the hill, there; and by Jasus, if ye don’t make haste they’d all be gone.”  The blind good nature of Pat stayed the Duke’s anger, and it was reported at dinner as a good joke.’ (Gurwood introduction to General Orders (1837 compilation) p xxxi, cf Brett-James Wellington at War p 167 for a slightly different version of the story told by Wellington himself many years later – after Gurwood had published that given here.  And Schaumann On the Road with Wellington p 202 gives a completely different story of beehives at this time).    But that was at Jaraicejo when the men were going hungry; there was no such excuse at Badajoz in September and it was time to tighten discipline before the men turned to more serious crime than stealing bread and honey.  The affair left one curious legacy: for a time the Fourth Division became known as ‘the honeysuckers’, although this was later superseded by ‘the supporting division’, and ‘the Enthusiastics’.  (General Orders edited by Gurwood p xxxi and Oman Wellington’s Army p 172).

Trouble with the local population:

The blame did not always rest with the soldiers and the civilians were not always innocent victims.  A week before Christmas Wellington told Lord Burghersh,

 The Spanish people are like gunpowder – the least spark inflames them; and when inflamed there is no violence or outrage they do not commit, and nothing can stop their violence.  They have already fired upon our people between this and Merida, and they killed a soldier in this town two nights ago, and I am obliged to stay, either to moderate and quiet the storm or to take a high tone, according to circumstances, upon the occurrence of these accidents.  The fact is that these people have no reason to complain of us.  We have spent and paid a million of money in this part of the country, and I never knew the British soldiers behave so regularly or so well; but the Spaniard is an undisciplined savage, who obeys no law, despises all authority, feels no gratitude for benefits conferred or favours received, and is always ready with his knife or his firelock to commit murder.  At the same time, bad as they are, their vices and defects and the lamentable state of their country afford some hopes of the issue of a contest, and we cannot with honour withdraw from it till we shall be obliged to do so. (Wellington to Lord Burghersh, Badajoz, 17 Dec 1809 Correspondence of Lord Burghersh p 38-39).

Alexander Campbell’s departure from the army:

Having been wounded at Talavera, he had accompanied the army in its retreat in a rough bed in the back of ‘a huckster’s tilted cart’ which had managed to cross the most difficult passes of the road through the mountains.  By the beginning of September his wound was not healing as it should and he decided to go home.  Wellington farewelled him with real sadness and gave him letters of recommendation to Castlereagh and Sir David Dundas, but added bitterly that they ‘will only subject you to the mortification of a disappointment, and me to that of making another request in vain in favour of a person who deserves the King’s favour.’ (Wellington to Alexander Campbell 4 and 10 September 1809 WD III p 473-489).

Campbell’s return home produced this comment from John Atchison:

Brigadier General Campbell, who was wounded in the thigh, has sailed to England after being quite recovered – he was much in the confidence of Sir Arthur and it is believed by many that he has been sent home confidentially for the purpose of representing to the Ministers the state of affairs, the same as General Stewart was sent from Sir John Moore. (Aitchison to his father, Belem, 26 Sept 1809 An Ensign in the Peninsular War p 61-62).

This was not true, of course, but it is interesting confirmation that Alexander Campbell was known to be much in Arthur Wellesley’s confidence.

Wellington and Craufurd:

Wellington gave Craufurd a plum command, and wrote quite confidentially to him when he was detached at Almaraz (e.g. Wellington to Craufurd 9 August 1809 WD III p 408) but this may not be as significant as it appears – for he wrote confidentially to Henry Clinton after Salamanca and there was certainly no special trust there.

Oman is rather pro-Craufurd; Fortescue strongly against.

Several senior officers go home on leave:

Charles Stewart was seriously ill with a fever and left the army to recuperate at Cintra and then decided to go home for a few months.  (Stewart to Castlereagh 20 October 1809 PRONI D 3030/P/231).  Stewart did not return to the army until May 1810, and his place was filled by Edward Pakenham, Wellington’s brother-in-law, who joined the army in Spain after Talavera from the West Indies.  Pakenham proved popular with all ranks in the army, although he chafed at office work; but Wellington found him competent and efficient and took him with him on his visit to Seville and Cadiz.  Several other senior officers also left the army for the winter.  Stapleton Cotton’s father had died and he had to return home to put his affairs in order. (Fortescue vol 7 p 416).   Henry Fane and George Anson also paid visits to England, while Colonel Donkin left Portugal for good – being given a senior staff position in the Mediterranean.  While some coming and going was inevitable, the departure of too many senior officers would have a bad effect on the morale of the army and Wellington acted firmly to discourage it, with some success.  (Wellington to Beresford 3 Oct and to ____ _____ [Brigade-Major Searle] 26 Nov 1809 WD III p 534-5, 605-6 (Searle’s name supplied by Karen Robson, e-mail 18 December 1809) Wellington to Hill 3 March 1810 WD III p 764 condemning an officer who got leave but stayed with his regiment when action seemed likely).

Changing composition and organization of the Army:

These months also saw some changes to the composition of the army.  The two battalions of detachments were finally sent home after detaching the officers and men who belonged to regiments that had returned to the Peninsula (such as the 43rd, 52nd and 95th).  Two other weak battalions, the 2/83rd and 2/87th, were sent down to Lisbon where both received fresh drafts and regained their strength and so were enabled to play active part in later campaigns.  Their place was taken by some of the second battalions Castlereagh had sent out in May, and by some additional reinforcements including the 1/11th from Madeira and the 1/57th from Gibraltar.  The first division was little affected: the Guards and the King’s German Legion were unchanged, so that the only alteration was the loss of the 2/83rd from Alan Cameron’s brigade and its replacement with the 2/24th and the 2/42nd.  The Second Division was considerably enlarged: the 2/31st was added to Tilson’s brigade; Richard Stewart received the 1/57th in place of the 1st Battalions of Detachments; and a new brigade under Catlin Craufurd was added comprising three of the second battalions (2/28th, 2/34th and 2/39th).  The changes in the Third Division were more complicated: Mackenzie’s own brigade was broken up and its place was taken by the Light Brigade, with Craufurd commanding the division.  In the Fourth Division the 1/11th was added to what had been Alexander Campbell’s brigade, but was now, like the division, commanded by Lowry Cole.  Kemmis’s brigade lost the 2nd Battalion of Detachments but gained the 3/27th brought up from Lisbon in their place.  There was no obvious pattern to these changes except that Wellington was evidently keen to distribute inexperienced units throughout the army (with the curious exception of Catlin Craufurd’s brigade), and that Hill’s good performance and new found seniority (he had been given local rank as Lieutenant-General) were rewarded with an increase in the size of his division.  But in some ways Robert Craufurd had the choice command: not only was the Light Brigade an elite force, but the battalions in Donkin’s brigade (1/45th, 5/60th and 1/88th) were among the best in the army.  When Wellington was invited by the Horse Guards to recommend a subaltern for promotion in recognition of Talavera he selected Lieutenant Urquhart, the senior lieutenant of the 45th, as a way of rewarding the ‘uniform good conduct’ of that regiment under his command, and asked that the vacancy this created go to the senior ensign, Ralph Ouseley.  (Wellington to the Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief, Badajoz, 6 Oct 1809 WD III p 538).  One anomaly remained: Major-General Tilson continued to command a brigade in the second division, even though he was senior to both Robert Craufurd and Lowry Cole.

The cavalry had been reinforced by the 1st Dragoons who arrived in the middle of September.  Wellington saw them in Lisbon a month later and told Payne ‘I think that in my life I have never seen a finer regiment.  They [are] very strong, the horses in very good condition, and the regiment apparently in high order.’ (Wellington to Payne, Lisbon, 11 Oct 1809 WD III p 543).  Anxious to give the horses plenty of time to adjust to the new climate and conditions, and so avoid the heavy losses which Fane’s brigade had suffered in its first months, Wellington kept them near Lisbon until the end of the year.  On the other hand the 23rd Light Dragoons were deemed to have lost too heavily at Talavera for further service (although many infantry battalions suffered greater or comparable casualties) and was sent home early in 1810.  Wellington’s proposal that the men be allowed to volunteer into other regiments and the remaining horses be similarly distributed ran into objections from the Horse Guards. (Wellington to Payne 13 Oct 1809, to the Adjutant General of the Forces 16 Nov 1809 and to Admiral Berkeley 7 Dec 1809 WD III p 548, 593 and 626).

Sickness in the Army: 

The General Monthly Returns in WO17/2464 give somewhat different figures but confirm the trend: (these are figures for entire British force in the Peninsula, not just the field army):

1 May 1809        2,358    sick from            24,227   total r&f               9.7%

1 June 1809        3,166    sick from            25,406   total r&f             12.5%

25 July 1809      6,095    sick from            35,410   total r&f             17.2%

25 Aug 1809      9,582    sick from            35,796   total r&f             26.8%

25 Oct 1809       9,003    sick from            34,481   total r&f             26.1%

25 Dec 1809       9,052    sick from            32,551   total r&f             27.8%

The number of sick then fell to just over 6,000 sick in early months of 1810 and reached a low of 4,000 in June before rising again.

Wellington told Lord Wellesley in September that he believed that the French armies in Spain had between thirty and forty thousand sick; and that Victor’s army had about 10,000 sick from 45,000 men (Wellington to Lord Wellesley 19 September 1809 WD III p 508).

The sick were not evenly distributed throughout the army, and it is notable that newly arrived regiments suffered less – not more – than those which had been in the Peninsula since the spring and which had taken part in the two campaigns.  The return of 1 November shows that the First Division suffered the most, with almost 40 per cent of its rank and file sick; the Second and Fourth Divisions had 29 and 27 per cent respectively; while the Third Division had barely 20 per cent.  The cavalry were even healthier with less than 16 per cent sick.  Looking at individual regiments, it is no surprise that the Light Brigade was very healthy (15 per cent sick) but why did the 1/43rd have almost twice as many sick (225) as the 1/95th (141) or the 1/52nd (116)?  Some other results are rather disconcerting, challenging the reputation of the regiments involved.  One would not expect that the 5/60th would be just as healthy as the 1/95th; or that the Buffs should be far less sickly than the other regiments in their brigade.  It is not remarkable that the 2/24th, 2/83rd and 2/87th were all sickly, but it is more surprising that the King’s German Legion infantry (but not their cavalry) should be hard hit.  Of course, particular circumstances lie behind many of these examples: some quarters were better than others, some units had unusually good doctors or a colonel with a special interest in the health of his men, while in other cases the doctor might himself have fallen ill.  And the legacy of the casualties in the battle goes a long way to explain the high numbers of sick in the First Division (especially the King’s German Legion infantry) and the low rates in the cavalry and Third Division. (Weekly State of 1 November 1809 printed in WSD vol 6 p 418-19).

The 2/53rd was a fairly typical regiment.  Of the 700 rank and file who embarked for Lisbon in the spring, 64 had died and 214 were sick by 20 November 1809.  It had lost 6 men killed, 30 wounded and one missing in the battle: the rest were due to sickness and accidents (T. H. McGuffie ‘The Bingham Manuscripts’ J.S.A.H.R. vol 26 no 107 1948 p 107).


According to Cantlie History of the Army Medical Department vol 1 p 318: the general hospitals were overwhelmed with 5,843 patients, including 1,500 Talavera wounded; a further 3,000 patients were treated at regimental hospitals.  He also believes that the accommodation at Elvas was ‘excellent’ (p 319).  Is he wrong or is Cooper exaggerating?  Schaumann – who is not normally inclined to overlook the chance to make much of the horrors of war – says that there was ‘a fine hospital’ at Villa Vicosa, but then, he wasn’t a patient (On the Road with Wellington p 208).

The charge of the 23rd Light Dragoons and the sickness in the army suggest parallels to the charge of the Light Brigade and the hospitals in the Crimean War.  Wellington was certainly fortunate not to have a William Howard Russell in the Peninsula, or quite so naïve a public at home, but the parallel can’t be pushed too far: the 23rd Light Dragoons suffered much less than Cardigan’s brigade, and the sickness in the Peninsula was dwarfed by that at Walcheren while Wellington had already achieved much in 1809.

The sickness damages the Army’s morale:

The spreading sickness had a demoralizing effect on the whole army.  Charles Leslie writes that,

The troops cantoned on the low plain bordering either bank of the Guadiana began early in October to get very sickly, some being attacked with typhus fever, others with bilious fever, and many with fever and ague, which occasioned a great mortality.  The hospitals at Elvas became crowded to a serious extent from the numbers sent in from the out-quarters.  These diseases appear to have originated from a combination of causes.  In the first place, the men had been constantly in the field for upwards of five months, during the various operations of the campaign of Oporto and Talavera, during the whole of which period they had almost never a night or two in quarters.  The excitement which kept them up during these daring enterprises was now gone.  They were crowded into small rooms in small houses, with only their blankets and bare bricks or clay floor to lie upon.  In the second place, the wet season had commenced, which prevented outdoor exercise or field movements; and lastly, the damp and chilling mists which prevail at that period along the borders of the river.  What was most to be deplored was that the finest and most robust men were in general the first who fell victims to these scourges.  Our brave fellows died in such numbers that the contingent allowance made to captains of companies for all purposes could not cover the expense of coffins, so it was ordered that the men should be interred in their blankets only.  But their comrades who were still in health, with a commendable fine sense of feeling, begged to be allowed to subscribe the amount necessary to procure coffins for their unfortunate brothers-in-arms.

During the whole month of October, the vast number of fever patients sent in from the army to Elvas, and the want of sufficient accommodation, prevented them from being kept separate from the other sick and wounded.  The contagion unfortunately spread to these also, and many who had narrowly escaped the effects of honorable wounded fell under the ravages of disease.  (Leslie Military Journal p 175-76).

But most of the dead did without coffins or even blankets when they were buried, as Private William Lawrence of the 40th records:

Whilst we were staying at Badajoz, numbers of us fell sick daily, and amongst them was unfortunately myself.  We were conveyed to … Elvas … [and] occupied the convents of the town.

Our loss here through the sickness, which was some kind of fever, and was increased through the want of doctors and medicine, was very great, cartloads of the dead being carried out of the town every day for internment in the ground kept for the purpose outside the fortifications.  I recovered sufficiently after about six weeks to be able to get out a little on the ramparts, and there a fearful spectacle often met my gaze, for the dead were brought out of the convent completely naked, and after they had been pitched into carts like so many pieces of wood, were carried out and put into holes scarcely large enough to admit of such a number.  This unpleasant office of burying the dead fell chiefly on the Portuguese convicts, and it was surprising to see with what readiness these men went to work.  They carried one body at a time, having the legs over their shoulders, and the head dangling down behind them, and when they came to the graves, on account of the piece of ground approximated for the burials being so small, they had to pack their burdens with the greatest nicety.  This sight soon cured me, as I thought what a narrow escape I had had of being handled by these same men; and I was glad to get back to my regiment at Badajoz as soon as possible. (Lawrence Autobiography p 57-58 – he was not promoted until later in the war.  His description is confirmed by Costello Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns p 22-23).

The hospitals and burying ground at Elvas left an abiding sense of horror in the army which remained fresh even years later. (For example Costello Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns p 109 when the drunken Sergeant Connelly consoles hospital patients that they will be properly buried and were ‘not at Elvas, to be thrown into a hole like a dog’).

Mood of the Army:

Despite his pessimism William Warre still felt that Wellington was ‘a most fine clever fellow as ever existed’ (Warre Letters from the Peninsula p 45-7), but John Aitchison of the Guards was much more critical:

The truth must at last appear.  I expected it would and I was prepared for all the clamour at present at home.  How I pity fallen greatness – for rapidity of movement and able dispositions in a battle my Lord Wellington certainly merits much applause, but the late campaign in Spain has diminished in a considerable degree the credit for Generalship which he acquired by the brilliant success that attended his former operations.

Aitchison blamed Wellington for placing too much reliance on Spanish promises of co-operation, but ‘I am also of opinion that the great miseries which our troops have suffered are in no small degree to be attributed to a presumption of infallibility, which Lord Wellington appears to have entertained of his own plans.’ (Aitchison to his father, Belem, 1 Oct 1809, An Ensign in the Peninsular War p 62-64).  In his next letter Aitchison told his father that ‘every person here’ looked with ‘great anxiety’ for the next packet boat from England, ‘as by it we expect to learn what is to be the fate of the army in the Peninsula.  We have heard of the quarrel amongst Ministers, and as Mr Canning was the chief advocate for the Spaniards, the recall of his army is anticipated in consequence of his resignation.’ (Aitchison to his father, Belem, 7 October 1809 An Ensign in the Peninsular War p 64-5).

Captain Bowles was equally jaundiced and preserves one of the many ill-informed rumours that circulated at this time:

We are all most heartily sick of this country and its inhabitants.  I don’t believe we shall do much good by remaining in it, and we have seen enough of the Spanish army to pray most sincerely that we may never act with them again.  The Portuguese army, with his Excellency Marshal Beresford, is, I believe, completely disorganized, and he is living in Lisbon as a private gentleman; at least, that is what we hear, but it may not be true to the full extent. (Bowles to Lord Fitzharris 5 October 1809 Malmesbury Series of Letters vol 2 p 146-9).

It was not true to any extent, but better informed officers than Bowles were happy to discount the Portuguese army in the late 1809.

Lieutenant T. C. Fenton of 4th Dragoons shared the prevailing view:  ‘We were in hopes we should be recalled for it is the general opinion we can be of no further use in this country, and as to our forming a second junction with the Spaniards [it] is ridiculous, but John Bull is so delighted with the action of Talavera that he will not be satisfied without such another’ (‘Peninsula and Waterloo Letters of Captain Thomas Charles Fenton’  p 216 – letter of 14 September 1809).

Charles Boutflower was more impressed by reports (slightly premature) that Austria had made peace with Napoleon.  ‘Should such be the case, I think that there can be no doubt but we should evacuate the Peninsula.  It would be absurd in the extreme to attempt with our Numbers to oppose the undivided force of France.’ However a few days later he added that ‘For my own part I have no wish to quit this Country.’ (Boutflower Journal of an Army Surgeon 22 and 27 October 1809 p 16-17).

Before he sailed for Portugal Lowry Cole told his sister, ‘In the opinion of most people my stay will not be long, as it is supposed Lord Wellington cannot resist the force against him.  I cannot find out whether it is the intention of government to send more troops there or not, but hope some of those returning from Flushing will go.’ (Cole to Lady Grantham, London, 5 Sept 1809 Memoirs of Cole p 56-7).

George Murray wrote home on 21 August,

I am still of opinion, that unless Bonaparte is occupied elsewhere, things may come to our evacuating the Peninsula.  I told you long since that there was nothing in the Peninsula which deserved the name of an Army, except the British, and that government would do well not to lose sight of that fact.  I believe if I were to speak the truth about the British themselves now, I should acknowledge that they also are not so like an Army, as they were some time ago.  As to the Defence of Portugal after Spain is lost, I confess myself one of those who never calculated upon it; and I have seen nothing to make me of a different opinion. (G[eorge] M[urray] to Alex[ande]r [Hope], Truxillo, 21 Aug 1809 Hope of Luffness Papers GD 364/1/1193).

This was written at the very nadir of the British army’s fortunes as it withdrew from Deleytosa to the Guadiana; but Murray was no more hopeful in December writing home privately, ‘There are some people who seem to fancy we can defend Portugal but upon what solid grounds their expectations are founded I do not know.  For my own part I do not see any reason to alter the sentiments contained in the letters I wrote you between our leaving Talavera and our arrival at this place [Badajoz].’ (Murray to Alex Hope ‘Private’ 6 Dec 1809 Hope of Luffness Papers GD 364/1/1197).

Wellington’s ‘unanimous’ army:

Given the gloom in the army it was disingenuous of Wellington to tell John Malcolm: ‘I do not despair.  I have in hand a most difficult task, from which I may not extricate myself; but I must not shrink from it.  I command an unanimous army; I draw will with all the authorities in Spain and Portugal; and I believe I have the good wishes of the whole world.’ (Wellington to Malcolm 3 December 1809 WD III p 619-21).   Yet it was at least true that Wellington’s authority was never challenged, and that the senior ranks of the army were not riven with factions or regarded their commander with contempt, and that was more than could be said of many British armies of the period.

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© Rory Muir

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