Casualties and losses
British - 6, 268
Spanish - 1,200
French - 7,389
Castile and Andalusia, 1809–1810
Alba de Tormes
Battle of Talavera
Battle of Talavera (27–28 July 1809) was fought just outside the
town of Talavera de la Reina,
Spain some 120 kilometres (75 mi)
southwest of Madrid, during the Peninsular War. At Talavera, an
Anglo-Spanish army under Sir Arthur Wellesley combined with a Spanish
army under General Cuesta in operations against French-occupied
Madrid. The French army withdrew at night after several of its attacks
had been repulsed.
After Marshal Soult's French army had retreated from Portugal, General
Wellesley's 20,000 British troops advanced into
Spain to join 33,000
Spanish troops under General Cuesta. They marched up the
to Talavera, some 120 kilometres (75 mi) southwest of Madrid.
There they encountered 46,000 French under Marshal Claude Victor and
Major-General Horace Sebastiani, with the French king of Spain, Joseph
Bonaparte in nominal command.
The French crossed the
Alberche in the middle of the afternoon on
27 July. A few hours later, the French attacked the right of the
Spaniards and the British left. A strategic hill was taken and lost,
until, finally, the British held it firmly. At daybreak on
28 July, the French attacked the British left again to retake the
hill and were repulsed when the
29th Foot and
48th Foot who had been
lying behind the crest stood up and carried out a bayonet charge. A
French cannonade lasted until noon when a negotiated armistice of two
hours began. That afternoon, a heavy exchange of cannon fire started
ahead of various infantry and cavalry skirmishes. Early in the
evening, a major engagement resulted in the French being held off. A
cannon duel continued until dark. At daylight, the British and Spanish
discovered that the bulk of the French force had retired, leaving
their wounded and two brigades of artillery in the field. Wellesley
was ennobled as
Viscount Wellington of Talavera and of Wellington
for the action.
1 Preliminary movements
2 Opposing armies
2.1 The Allied Army
2.2 The French Army
6 Popular culture
On 27 July, Wellesley sent out the 3rd Division and some cavalry under
the command of George Anson to cover Cuesta's retreat into the
Talavera position. But when Anson's cavalry mistakenly pulled back,
the French rushed in to surprise and inflict over 400 casualties on
Rufane Donkin's brigade, forcing them to fall back. That night, Victor
sent Ruffin's division to seize the hill known as Cerro de Medellín
in a coup de main. Two of Ruffin's three regiments went astray in the
dark, but the 9th Light Infantry routed Sigismund Lowe's KGL brigade
(1st Division) and pushed forward to capture the high ground. Alertly,
Hill sent Richard Stewart's brigade (2nd Division) on a counter-attack
which drove the French away. The British suffered some 800 casualties
on the 27th.
During the evening of 27th, French
Dragoon squadrons were riding close
to the Spanish position firing their carbines at Spanish skirmishers.
Suddenly, without orders, Cuesta's entire Spanish line fired a
thunderous volley at the French Dragoons. The French were outside the
range of the Spanish muskets, and little harm was done to them. Four
Spanish battalions threw down their weapons and fled in panic.
Wellesley wrote, "Nearly 2,000 ran off on the evening of the
27th...(not 100 yards from where I was standing) who were neither
attacked, nor threatened with an attack, and who were frightened by
the noise of their own fire; they left their arms and accoutrements on
the ground, their officers went with them, and they... plundered the
baggage of the British army which had been sent to the rear."
While a majority of the panicked troops were brought back, many
hundreds continued to flee, taking some rear echelon British with
Battle of Talavera
Battle of Talavera order of battle
The Allied Army
Wellesley's British army consisted of four infantry divisions, three
cavalry brigades and 30 cannon, totaling 20,641 troops. The
infantry included the 1st Division under John Coape Sherbrooke
(6,000), the 2nd Division led by Rowland Hill (3,900), the 3rd
Division commanded by Alexander Mackenzie (3,700) and the 4th Division
(3,000) under Alexander Campbell. Henry Fane led a brigade of heavy
cavalry (1,100), while
Stapleton Cotton (1,000) and George Anson (900)
commanded light cavalry brigades. There were three British (RA:
Lawson's Company, Sillery's Company, Elliot's Company) and two King's
German Legion (KGL) batteries (Rettberg, Heise) with six guns apiece.
Cuesta's Spanish army of 35,000 was organized into five infantry
and two cavalry divisions, plus about 30 artillery pieces, some 12lb
guns. The 28,000 infantry were in José Pascual de Zayas y Chacón's
1st Division (7 battalions) and Vanguard (5 battalions), Iglesias's
2nd Division (8 battalions), Portago's 3rd Division (6 battalions),
Manglano's 4th Division (8 battalions) and Juan Procopio Bassecourt y
Bryas's 5th Division (7 battalions). Henestrosa and the Duke of
Alburquerque led the 6,000 horsemen of the 1st and 2nd Cavalry
Divisions and there were 800 artillerymen.
The French Army
While Joseph nominally led the French Army, his military adviser
Jean-Baptiste Jourdan actually exercised command over their
37,700 infantry and artillerymen, 8,400 cavalry and about 80
Victor's I Corps included the infantry divisions of François Amable
Pierre Belon Lapisse
Pierre Belon Lapisse (6,900) and Eugene-Casimir
Villatte (6,100), plus Louis Chrétien Carrière Beaumont's 1,000-man
light cavalry brigade.
Sebastiani's IV Corps consisted of his own infantry division (8,100),
Jean-Baptiste Cyrus de Valence's Poles (1,600) and Jean François
Leval with his German-Dutch division (4,500). Christophe Antoine
Merlin led the IV Corps light cavalry brigade (1,200).
Marie Victor de Fay, marquis de Latour-Maubourg
Marie Victor de Fay, marquis de Latour-Maubourg (3,300) and Édouard
Jean Baptiste Milhaud (2,350) commanded the two heavy dragoon
divisions of the Cavalry Reserve.
Madrid Garrison included part of Jean-Joseph, Marquis Dessolles's
division (3,300), the King's Spanish Foot Guards (1,800) and two
regiments of cavalry (700).
In the morning, it could be seen that the bulk of Cuesta's army held
the right while the British formed the left. The Spanish right was
anchored on the city of Talavera on the
Tagus River and followed the
course of the Portina stream. In the centre the British had built a
redoubt, which was backed by the 4th Division and in which they placed
a battery of four 3lb light cannons. Further to the left, the
Medellín hill was held by the 1st Division, with the 2nd Division to
its left. The 3rd Division plus Fane's and Cotton's cavalry formed the
reserve. On the far left, Bassecourt's Spanish division was positioned
on some high ground near the Sierra de Segurilla. Anson's brigade
covered the valley between the Medellín and the Segurilla, supported
by Alburquerque's Spanish horsemen.
Joseph and Jourdan massed Victor's I Corps on the French right,
holding the hill of Cerro de Cascajal. Sebastiani's corps held the
centre, while Latour-Maubourg and the
Madrid Garrison stood in
reserve. On the French left, Milhaud's horsemen faced almost the
entire Spanish army. Opposite the Medellín, the Cascajal bristled
with 30 French cannon.
Victor urged his superiors for a massive attack, but Joseph and
Jourdan chose to peck away at the Anglo-Spanish position. At dawn, the
guns on the Cascajal opened up, causing some loss among the British
infantry formed in the open. Having learned the hard way about the
destructive power of French artillery, Wellesley soon pulled his
soldiers back into cover.
Again, Ruffin's division attacked the Medellín. Each battalion was
formed in a column of divisions with a width of two companies and a
depth of three. (French battalions had recently been re-organized into
six companies.) Each regiment's three battalions advanced side-by-side
with only a small gap between units. This would make each regimental
attack roughly 160 files across and nine ranks deep. When Ruffin's men
got within effective range, the British emerged from cover in two-deep
lines to overlap the French columns. Riddled by fire from front and
flank, and with their rear six ranks unable to fire, the French
columns broke and ran.
Victor shifted Ruffin's survivors to the right against the Segurilla
and supported them with one of Villatte's brigades. Lapisse,
Sebastiani and Leval (from right to left) then launched a frontal
attack against the British 1st and 4th Divisions. Alexander Campbell's
men and the Spanish (notably the:
Cavalry Regiment El Rey
Cavalry Regiment El Rey ) Leval's
attack, which went in first. Lapisse and Sebastiani then advanced in
two lines using the same regimental columns that Ruffin had employed.
Henry Campbell's Guards brigade (1st Division) routed the French
regiments opposite them, then charged in pursuit. Running into the
French second line and intense artillery fire. The Guards and the
Germans with them were routed in their turn, losing 500 men, and
carried away Cameron's brigade with them. Seeing Guards and his centre
broken, Wellesley personally brought up the
48th Foot to plug the
hole caused by the dispersal of Sherbrooke's division. Backed by
Mackenzie's brigade (3rd Division), the 48th broke the French second
line's attack as the Guards rallied in the rear. Lapisse was mortally
A map of the final French attack
The main French attack having been defeated, Victor pushed Ruffin's
men into the valley between the Medellín and the Segurilla. Anson's
cavalry brigade was ordered to drive them back. While the 1st KGL
Hussars advanced at a controlled pace, the
23rd Light Dragoons soon
broke into a wild gallop. The undisciplined unit ran into a hidden
ravine, hobbling many horses. Those horsemen who cleared the obstacle
were easily fended off by the French infantry, formed into squares.
23rd Light Dragoons charged past the squares and ploughed into
Beaumont's cavalry, drawn up behind Ruffin. The British dragoons lost
102 killed and wounded and another 105 captured before they cut their
way out. After the battle, the mauled regiment had to be sent back to
England to refit. However, this ended the French attacks for the day.
Joseph and Jourdan failed to employ their reserve, for which they were
bitterly criticized by Napoleon.
The French, in this hard-fought set-piece battle, lost 7,389: 944
killed, 6,294 wounded, 156 prisoners. The Allies lost more: 7,468.
The Spanish casualties were about 1,200 and British casualties
were 6,268, including 800 killed, over the two days of
fighting. This was approximately 25% of the British force,
compared to only 18% of the French, although it is clear that the
brunt of the French attack fell on the British. Many of the wounded on
both sides were burnt to death when the dry grass of the battlefield
caught fire. The next day, the 3,000 infantry of the Light Division
reinforced the British army after completing a famous march of 42
miles (68 km) in 26 hours.
Meanwhile, Marshal Soult advanced south, threatening to cut Wellesley
off from Portugal. Thinking that the French force was only 15,000
strong, Wellesley moved east on 3 August to block it, leaving 1,500
wounded in the care of the Spanish. Spanish guerillas captured a
message from Soult to Joseph that Soult had 30,000 men and brought it
to Wellesley. The British commander, realizing his line of retreat was
about to be cut by a larger French force, sent the Light Brigade on a
mad dash for the bridge over the
Tagus River at Almaraz. The light
infantry reached there on 6 August, just ahead of Soult. By the 20th
of August, all British forces had withdrawn across the mountains and
for the next six months, until 27 February 1810, Wellesley's forces
took no part in the hard fighting in southern
Spain and along the
Portuguese border, despite numerous invitations from the Spanish.
The Spanish had also promised food to the British if they advanced
back into Spain, but Wellington, with an army incapable of living off
the land like the French and without its own transport, did not trust
his ally to provide these essentials and made general excuses blaming
the Spanish for various deficiencies of their government and army.
In the event of the retreat the British abandoned nearly all of their
baggage and ammunition as well as the artillery captured from the
French at Talavera.
The Spanish made another attempt to take Madrid, with Wellesley still
refusing to participate, and they were ultimately badly defeated at
the battle of Ocaña in November 1809.
Historian Charles Oman, in volume II of his History of the Peninsular
War, calls the Talavera campaign a failure for the Anglo-Spanish
allies, placing the blame on various Spanish errors while dismissing
much of the criticism of Wellesley and the British, suggesting there
was no reason to imagine a concentration of the French forces opposing
them. Oman also attributes some of the failure to Wellesley's
ignorance of the conditions in
Spain at the time. At the start of the
campaign Wellington received the promised provisions while both the
French and the Spanish were suffering severe shortages of food. He
complained more about the failure of the Spanish to provide transport
for the provisions than food attributing this to maliciousness on the
part of the Spanish, apparently unaware that there was no transport to
be had for any army in that area.
After this battle Wellesley was created
Viscount Wellington of
Talavera is the setting for Sharpe's Eagle, the first book written in
Bernard Cornwell's "Sharpe" series, and is depicted in the conclusion
of the film adaptation of the same name.
^ Gates, p. 185, Wellesley and Cuesta had emerged triumphant, but
Talavera was a Pyrrhic victory.
^ Gash, Norman, Wellington: Studies in the Military and Political
Career of the First Duke of Wellington. Manchester University Press,
1990, ISBN 0-7190-2974-0, p. 95, "Talavera had been a Pyrrhic
victory and the campaign strategy had failed."
^ Titan: The Art of British Power in the Age of Revolution and
Napoleon. University of Oklahoma Press; 31 May 2016 [Retrieved 11
February 2018]. ISBN 978-0-8061-5534-0. p. 207. "Although the
allies won a tactical victory by holding their ground during those two
days of savage fighting, they did not tarry."
^ Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon. Yale
University Press; 1 October 2008. ISBN 978-0-300-14768-1. p. 22.
"while on other occasions a tactical victory might prove fruitless,
when other considerations intervened and forced the victorious army to
retreat, as after Talavera and Busaco."
^ Britain As A Military Power, 1688-1815. Routledge; 4 January 2002
[Retrieved 11 February 2018]. ISBN 978-1-135-36080-1. p. 207.
"...and the victory at Talavera had led to no gains."
^ a b c d e f Napier, p. 218.
^ Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty
and Other Figures, 1492–2015, 4th ed.. McFarland; 9 May 2017
[Retrieved 11 February 2018]. ISBN 978-1-4766-2585-0. p. 154.
"Talavera gained the British no strategic benefit, however."
Napoleon and Wellington: The Battle of Waterloo- and the Great
Commanders who Fought it. Simon and Schuster; 2001 [Retrieved 11
February 2018]. ISBN 978-0-7432-2832-9. p. 56. "Napoleon
therefore decided, especially once Wellington was forced by the sheer
weight of numbers against him to retreat back into Portugal, to
portray Talavera as a French victory."
^ Battle Honours of the British Army (1911). Andrews UK Limited; 30
March 2012 [Retrieved 11 February 2018]. ISBN 978-1-78150-731-5.
p. 167. "...but the fact of our retreat, coupled with the abandonment
of the sick and wounded, have induced the French to claim Talavera as
a French victory"
^ a b Gates, p. 490-491.
^ Gates, p. 492, Oman, p. 648.
^ Holmes, p. 142.
^ Gurwood, The Dispatches, V, p.85
^ Napier, p. 215, says 6,000 Spanish troops did not return for the
battle and there were no cannon in the redoubt.
^ Gates, p. 490-491, Oman, p. 646.
^ Oman, p. 647.
^ Gates, p.182.
^ Mullié, C. (in French) Biographie des célébrités militaires des
armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850/M (Biography). Retrieved 1
^ Fortescue, p. 248.
^ Oman, p. 513-514. 4 battalions of Spanish troops ran off the evening
of the 27th and on the 28th "... many hundreds were still missing...".
^ Oman, p. 651, agrees closely with Napier on individual returns,
differing on total giving 5,363 (Napier's total of individual return
is 5,365). Napier does not explain his total of 6,268 but says
specifically that the British lost 5,422 on the second day, leaving
846 lost on the 27th. Oman gives 832 lost on 27th and 4,521 on the
28th (Oman's states his total as 5,363 it is actually 5,353).
^ Oman, vol. III, p. 2.
^ Oman, vol. III, p. 5.
^ Napier, p. 226.
^ Oman, vol. II, p. 478-480, "The failure of the Talavera campaign
...". Also Napier, p.228.
^ Oman, p. 459.
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