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ART. X.-1. Supplementary Despatches of the Duke of Wellington,
Vols. 6, 7, 8. 1860, 1861. 2. Correspondance de Napoleon Ier. Publiée par ordre de l'Em
pereur Napoleon III, Tomes XIX., XX. Paris, 1866. TN 1808 all England looked instinctively and hopefully to
I wards the Spanish Peninsula. Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Canning well expressed the public feeling in parliament on the 15th of June. Sheridan said
There had never existed so happy an opportunity for Great Britain to strike a bold stroke for the rescue of the world. Hitherto Buonaparte had run a victorious race because he had contended against princes without dignity, ministers without wisdom, and countries where the people were indifferent as to his success. . ... Now was the time to stand up, fully and fairly, for the deliverance of Europe.'
With regard to this noble struggle against the unexampled atrocity of France,' that there was the strongest disposition on the part of the Government to afford every practicable aid in a contest so magnanimous;' and added,
In this contest wherein Spain had embarked no interest could be so purely British as Spanish success, no conquest so advantageous for Great Britain, as conquering from France the complete integrity of the Spanish dominions in every quarter of the world.
But in 1809 the aspect of affairs was sufficiently gloomy. The star of Napoleon was still in the ascendant. The kings of Europe were at his feet, and their armies at his disposal. Stung by the defeat of Vimiero, he poured fresh masses of troops into Spain. Placing himself at their head, he scattered the Spanish forces, and reigned supreme in the palace at Madrid. Our first serious attempt after the convention of Cintra ended in failure, The victory of Corunna by no means compensated for Sir John Moore's disastrous retreat and glorious death. Sir John Cradock expected instructions to evacuate Lisbon. The Opposition in Parliament declared the French Emperor to be invincible by land, and ultimate success in such a contest to be impossible. But Sir Arthur Wellesley supported the opposite opinion of the Ministers, by saying, in his memorandum of 7th March, 1809, “I have always been of opinion that Portugal might be defended, whatever might be the result of the contest in Spain;' and Lord Castlereagh prevailed upon his colleagues to appoint 2 L 2
the destined victor to the chief command in the Peninsula just as Napoleon believed the war to be at an end.
Strong measures and immediate success were necessary, alike to revive sinking hopes and combat unscrupulous opposition in England, to encourage and quiet the sanguine Portuguese, and to arouse the defeated patriots of Spain to fresh exertion. When Wellesley reached Lisbon on the 22nd April, Soult was on his north at Oporto with 20,000 men, endeavouring to communicate with Spain through Tras-os-Montes; and Lapisse had joined Victor at Merida on the east, raising the numbers under that Marshal to 30,000 combatants. Wellesley proposed, as he wrote to Lord Castlereagh on the 27th April — 'forthwith to move to the northward' in the first instance, and then “as soon as the enemy shall have evacuated the north of Portugal, it is my intention to return to the eastern frontier of the kingdom, and to co-operate with the Spanish general, Cuesta (who was at Llerena), against the army of Marshal Victor.'
He was further influenced in carrying out his plans by the important intelligence of D'Argenton's conspiracy. He heard on the 25th from General Beresford, at Lisbon, of 'a disposition in the officers of Soult's army to revolt,' and to seize • Soult and the other principal officers of the army;' and he had an interview with Captain d'Argenton the same evening on that subject. He reported upon it at length to Lord Castlereagh in two letters, on the 27th April,* and the 15th May.t He wrote, • I fully believe in the intentions of the French officers to revolt;' and, in expressing a doubt of their success, 'In case there should be an opportunity, I should not wait for a revolt, but shall try my own means of subduing Soult.' And further, “ If this army should revolt, or at all events, I anxiously recommend you to set all your emissaries to work in France. I have no doubt of the detestation of Buonaparte by the people of that country.'
It was thus that from the outset Sir Arthur Wellesley, having the main object always before him, allowed no opportunity to escape, and left no stone unturned which could contribute to success. His knack of obtaining intelligence, and his promptitude in acting upon it, were always prominent features of his character. And he had excellent opportunities in the Peninsula, where spies were of all ranks and classes of society. At Madrid a Spanish marquesa was in communication with Lord Wellington, to whom she sent valuable information. But this patriotic lady, when asked which she preferred, the English or French, replied,
* Vol. iv. pp. 273-276, Gurwood.
† P. 337.
she would like to see the latter hung con las tripas of the former. * Just as in youth he became acquainted in all sorts of odd ways with what passed around him,' so also in manhood and in high stations his powers of imbibing and assimilating information enabled him to form so sound a judgment, and to act with such marvellous sagacity in all his campaigns. His eyes and ears were always open; and his quick perception, instant application, and instinctive adaptation of means to ends, enabled him to surmount all difficulties.
These qualities were conspicuous in the memorable passage of the Douro. The British forces marched more than eighty miles in four days, and, driving the French before them, reached that river on the 12th of May, to find that the bridge had been destroyed on the previous night. Soult naturally believed himself to be secure for the moment, and prepared for a retreat. It would hardly have occurred to any General but Wellesley to attempt the passage of a river, 300 yards wide, with such an absence of means, in the face of an almost equal enemy. The result of this most brilliant operation was the loss of a large proportion of Soult's army, with all his guns and baggage, in his retreat across the mountains towards Orense ; Beresford having, in ably carrying out the views of his chief, defeated Loison, and cut off Soult's line of retreat by Amarante.
But the difficulties with which Sir Arthur had so constantly to contend began soon to be felt. His enemies never gave him so much trouble as his friends. His losses in the field-228 killed, wounded, and missing—had been small for the results obtained; but he had 4000 British soldiers in hospital, and he writes from Coimbra, on the 31st May, to Mr. Villiers :
We are terribly distressed for money. I am convinced that 300,0001. would not pay our debts; and two months' pay is due to the army. I suspect the Ministers in England are very indifferent to our operations in this country.' The disorganization of his army, also, was very great; and he says in the same letter :
'I have long been of opinion that a British army could bear neither success nor failure, and I have had manifest proofs of the truth of this opinion in the first of its branches in the recent conduct of the soldiers of this army.' He had to combine his operations, also, with a Spanish army, commanded by a Spanish General, and he was prevented from advancing against Victor and towards Madrid until the 27th of
Life of Lord Combermere,' vol. i. p. 289.
ust it hients anaitain, to be The cheurs of
night ais aides-de-camps position in
June, forty-six days after his victory at Oporto. He reached Placencia on the 8th July with 21,000 men and 30 guns, to which force about 4000 men were subsequently added. Beresford was to protect him from Soult and Ney, Vanegas to hold Sebastiani in check. But the Spaniards would not furnish the supplies promised, and old Cuesta was utterly impracticable. How aggravating must it have been to such a man as Wellesley, while devoting all his talents and energies to the cause of Spain as well as that of Great Britain, to be compelled to act in concert with a commander like Cuesta! The one thought nothing of sleeping in his clothes, and writing at all hours of the night and morning; the other could not be disturbed, any more than his aides-de-camp, so early as seven o'clock, and went to reconnoitre the enemy's position in a coach and six! Wellesley was nevertheless calm and confident when Victor, having retreated sufficiently to obtain the necessary reinforcements and supplies, attacked the combined army with 55,000 men at Talavera. When the Duque d'Albuquerque, who was in command of a Spanish division, sent him word that Cuesta was about to pass over to the enemy, he quietly directed Col. Donkin, who brought the message, to return to his duty. After his 19,000 of half-starved British and German troops had repulsed nearly 30,000 of the best French troops, and inflicted upon them a loss of 7000 killed and wounded and 17 guns, he was, however, obliged to retire, and once more to leave to their fate the Spaniards, who could not afford the required co-operation, and would not even furnish indispensable supplies.
The quality of the British troops (in whom active service had made a great improvement) and the confidence of their leader were here tried to the uttermost. Jomini bears testimony to the fact that it restored to the British the reputation which had so much declined during the previous century. The French had done their worst, near even to Madrid, and had only met with the most serious losses. But Sir Arthur experienced several narrow escapes. "A cannon-ball cut off a bough from a tree close to his head, two bullets passed through his clothes, and one spent ball struck him in the shoulder.'
The impression produced in different quarters by the battle of Talavera was strangely various. The city of London referred in a petition to the “rashness, ostentation, and useless valour' of our great commander. The Ministry gave him to understand that the whole responsibility, as well as the conduct, of the contest rested upon him. The opposition attacked him with great violence, Lord Grey sneered at him for advancing into a country, fighting a battle, claiming a victory,' and then being ‘in two days obliged to retreat, and to leave his sick and wounded in the hands of the enemy.' Lord St. Vincent agreed with him that Talavera had not really been a victory at all; and Lord Grenville was of opinion that Sir Arthur had been very rash,' and · had given no very favourable specimen of his talents excepting on the field of battle.' The • Moniteur' asked why, if Sir Arthur Wellesley had been created Viscount Wellington of Talavera, Lord Chatham was not raised to the dignity of Duke of Walcheren. The French Emperor, who had been delighted at the proceedings in the British Parliament, sent the English newspapers containing them to the Emperor of Russia. Astonished at the extreme imprudence of a man who could trust himself with 30,000 men in the midst of the French armies, he was at the same time aroused, as after Vimiero, to the necessity for fresh exertion. The following extracts from the nineteenth volume of the Napoleon Correspondence,' recently published in Paris, will serve to show his feelings on this subject. He sees what a chance has been missed, and contemplates, in writing on the 18th August to Clarke (Comte d'Hunebourg), what might have been done :
Schønbrunn, 18 April, 1809. "What a magnificent opportunity has been missed! 30,000 English at 150 leagues from the coast before 100,000 of the best troops in the world! My God! what is an army without a head ?'
He reckons without his host in writing to the Comte de Champagny, as to the losses of the British forces on the 20th August, 1809:
At the battle of Talavera the English had a third of their army hors de combat. They numbered 30,000; they have lost 10,000 men.'
He discovers the truth from the publication of Wellesley's despatch, and expresses himself in terms of displeasure in writing to Clarke on the 25th August :
*You will see by the report of the English General Wellesley that we have lost twenty guns and three standards. Express my astonishment to the King and my dissatisfaction to Marshal Jourdan, that they have sent me des carmagnoles, and that, instead of informing me of the true state of affairs, they present me with scholastic amplifications. . . . . That the fact is I have lost the battle of Talavera. , .... That in Spain affairs are undertaken without maturity and without knowledge of war; that on the day of action they are devoid of joint action, of projects, of decision.'
He asks for information as to his losses, and indicates with great naïveté in doing so the difference between the French