Let thine own times as an old story be."
BY ROBERT SOUTHEY, ESQ. LL.D.
HONORARY MEMBER OF THE ROYAL SPANISH ACADEMY, OF THE
ROYAL SPANISH ACADEMY OF HISTORY, OF THE ROYAL
INSTITUTE OF THE NETHERLANDS, OF THE
CYMMRODORION, OF THE MASSACHUSETTS
HISTORICAL SOCIETY, ETC.
A NEW EDITION.
IN SIX VOLUMES.
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE-STREET.
Lord Wellington was perfectly informed of Marmont's plans ; the only thing doubtful was the strength of the enemy, and upon that head reports were as usual so various, that he determined to see them, being certain of his retreat, whatever their superiority might be, and ready to profit by any opportunity which might be offered. As soon, therefore, as the French commenced their movements with the convoy of provisions from the Sierra de Bejar, and from Salamanca, he collected his army in positions from which he could either retire or advance without difficulty, and from whence he could see all that was going on, and ascertain the force of the hostile army. The third division occupied a range of heights on the left of the Agueda, between Fuente Guinaldo and Pastores, having its advanced guard on the heights of Pastores, within three miles of Ciudad Rodrigo. The fourth division was at Fuente Guinaldo, which position had been strengthened with, some works. The light division was on the right of the Agueda, its right resting upon the mountains which divide Castille and Extremadura. The left, under General Graham, who, having joined Lord Wellington's army, had succeeded Sir Brent Spencer as second in command, was posted on the Lower Azava; D. Carlos d' España and D. Julian Sanchez observed the Lower Agueda, and Sir Stapleton Cotton, with the cavalry, was on the Upper Azava in the centre. The fifth division was in the rear of the right, to observe the Pass of Perales, for General Foy had collected a body of troops in Upper Extremadura.
On the 23rd, the enemy appeared in the plain near the city, and retired again : the next morning they advanced in considerable force, and before evening collected on the plain their whole cavalry, to the amount of 6000, and four divisions of infantry ; the rest of their army was en camped on the Guadapero, immediately beyond the hills which surround the plain ; and on the following day an immense convoy, extending along many miles of road, entered the town under this formidable escort. On the 25th, fourteen squadrons of their cavalry drove in our posts on the right of the Azava. General Anson's brigade charged them, pursued them across the river, and resumed the posts.
But their chief attention was directed toward the heights on the left of the Agueda ; and they moved a column in the morning, consisting of between thirty and forty squadrons of cavalry, fourteen battalions of infantry, and twelve guns, from Ciudad Rodrigo, against that point. The cavalry and artillery arrived first, and one small body sustained the attack. A regiment of French dragoons succeeded in taking two pieces of cannon ; the Portuguese artillery men stood to their guns till they were cut down ; and the guns were immediately retaken by the second battalion of the fifth regiment under Major Ridge.
When the enemy's infantry were coming up, Lord Wellington saw they would arrive before troops could be brought to support this division, and therefore he determined to retire with the whole on Fuente Guinaldo. The 77th, which had repulsed a charge of cavalry, and the second battalion of the 5th, were formed into one square, and the 21st Portuguese regiment into another, supported by General Alten's small body of cavalry, and by the Portuguese artillery. The enemy's horse immediately rushed forward, and obliged our cavalry to retire to the support of the Portuguese regiment. The 5th and 77th were then charged on three faces of the square ; Lord Wellington declared, that he had never seen a more determined attack than was made by this formidable body of horse, and repulsed by these two weak battalions. They halted, and received the enemy with such perfect steadiness, that the French did not venture to renew the charge.
In the evening, Lord Wellington had formed his troops into an echellon, of which the centre was in the position at Guinaldo, the right upon the pass of Perales, and the left at Nave de Aver. In the course of that night and of the ensuing day, Marmont brought his whole army in front of the position. Fuente Guinaldo stands on an extensive plain, and from the convent there the whole force of the enemy, and all their movements, could be distinctly seen. The force was not less than 60,000 men, a tenth part being cavalry, and they had 125 pieces of artillery. There was no motive for risking a battle, for the happiest result would only have been a profitless and dearly-purchased victory, as at Albuhera.
Lord Wellington therefore retired about three leagues. No movement was ever executed with more ability in the face of a superior enemy ; . . yet even this, performed with consummate skill and perfect courage, without hurry, without confusion, and almost without loss, presented but too many of those sights which make the misery of a soldier's life. The sick and hungry inhabitants of the villages were crawling from their huts, too well aware of the fate which awaited them if they trusted to the mercy of Buonaparte's soldiers; women were supplicating our troops to put their children in the provision cars ; and the sick and wounded were receiving medical assistance, while they were carried over a rugged and almost impassable road.
Lord Wellington formed his army, after this retreat of twelve miles, with his right at Aldea Velha, and his left at Bismula : the fourth and light divisions with General Alten's cavalry in front of Alfayates, the third and seventh in second line behind it. Alfayates, though now one of the most wretched of the dilapidated towns in Portugal, was once a Romish station, and has since been considered as a military post of great importance. It is about a league from the border, standing so as to command an extensive view over a beautiful, and in happier times a fertile, country. Here Lord Wellington stood by the castle (one of the monuments of King Diniz), observing the enemy with a glass.
Marmont had intended to turn the left of the position at Guinaldo by moving a column into the valley of the Upper Azava, and thence ascending the heights in the rear of the position by Castillejo ; from this column he detached a division of infantry and fourteen squadrons of cavalry to follow the retreat of the allies by Albergaria, and another body of equal strength followed by Forcalhos. The former drove in our piquets at Aldea da Ponte, and pushed on to the very entrance of Alfayates. Lord Wellington, with General Stuart and Lord Robert Manners, stood watching them almost too long ; for the latter, who retired the last of the three, was closely pursued by ten of the enemy's dragoons, and might probably have been taken, if his horse, being English, and accustomed to such feats, had not cleared a high wall, and so borne him off.
General Pakenham, supported by General Cole, and by Sir Stapleton Cotton's cavalry, drove the enemy back through Aldea da Ponte upon Albergaria; the French being reinforced by the column which had marched upon Forcalhos advanced again about sunset, and again gained the village, from which they were again driven. But night had now come on; General Pakenham could not know what was passing on his flanks, nor was he certain of the numbers which might be brought against him ; and knowing that the army was to fall back farther, he evacuated Aldea da Ponte during the night. The French then occupied it ; and Lord Wellington, falling back one league, formed his army on the heights behind Soito, having the Sierra das Mesas on their right, and their left at Rendo on the Coa. Here ended his retreat. Marmont had accomplished the object of throwing supplies into Ciudad Rodrigo, and could effect no thing more.
Lord Wellington was not to be found at fault. He had fallen back in the face of a far outnumbering enemy, without suffering that enemy to obtain even the slightest advantage over him. The total loss of the allies on the 25th amounted to twenty-eight killed, 108 wounded, twenty-eight missing. On the 27th, fourteen killed, seventy-seven wounded, nine missing. The hereditary prince of Orange was in the field, being then for the first time in action. While the British took their position behind Soito, The French retired to Ciudad Rodrigo, and then retire separated, Dorsenne's army toward Salamanca and Valladolid, Marmont's towards the pass of Baños and Plasencia.