In the Battle of Badajoz
(16 March - 6 April 1812), the Anglo-Portuguese Army
The Anglo-Portuguese Army was the combined British and Portuguese army that won the Peninsular War, under the command of Arthur Wellesley. The Army is also referred to as the British-Portuguese Army and, in Portuguese, as the Exército Anglo-Luso or the Exército Anglo-Português.The Anglo-Portuguese...
, under the Earl of Wellington
Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KG, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS , was an Irish-born British soldier and statesman, and one of the leading military and political figures of the 19th century...
, besieged Badajoz
Badajoz is the capital of the Province of Badajoz in the autonomous community of Extremadura, Spain, situated close to the Portuguese border, on the left bank of the river Guadiana, and the Madrid–Lisbon railway. The population in 2007 was 145,257....
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...
and forced the surrender of the French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...
The siege was one of the bloodiest in the Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...
and was considered a costly victory by the British, with some 3,000 Allied soldiers killed in a few short hours of intense fighting as the siege drew to an end, and as many as 4,000 allied Spanish civilians, including many women and children, massacred by the allied troops after the battle.
After capturing the frontier towns of Almeida
Almeida is a municipality in Portugal with a total area of 518 km2 and a total population of 7,784 inhabitants. Located in Riba-Côa river valley, Almeida is an historic town in Beira Interior....
and Ciudad Rodrigo
Ciudad Rodrigo is a small cathedral city in the province of Salamanca, in western Spain, with a population of about 14,000. It is the seat of a judicial district as well....
in earlier sieges, the Anglo-Portuguese army moved on to Badajoz to capture the town and secure the lines of communication back to Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...
, the primary base of operations for the allied army. Badajoz was garrisoned by some 5,000 French soldiers under General Philippon
Armand Philippon , sometimes called Phillipon, was a French soldier during the French Revolution and the subsequent First French Empire....
, the town commander, and possessed much stronger fortifications than either Almeida or Ciudad Rodrigo. With a strong curtain wall covered by numerous strongpoints and bastions, Badajoz had already faced two unsuccessful sieges and was well prepared for a third attempt, with the walls strengthened and some areas around the curtain wall flooded or mined with explosives.
The allied army, some 27,000 strong, outnumbered the French garrison by around five to one and after encircling the town, began to lay siege by preparing trenches, parallels and earthworks to protect the heavy siege artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...
, work made difficult by prolonged and torrential rainfalls. As the earthworks were prepared, the French made several raids to try to destroy the lines advancing toward the curtain wall, but were repeatedly fended off by the famed British 95th Rifles while simultaneously being counter-attacked by line infantry.
With the arrival of heavy 18 lb (8.2 kg) and 24 lb (10.9 kg) howitzers, the allies began an intense bombardment of the town's defences whilst one of the defensive bastions was seized by redcoats from General Thomas Picton
Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton GCB was a Welsh British Army officer who fought in a number of campaigns for Britain, and rose to the rank of lieutenant general...
's 3rd Division. The capture of the bastion allowed more extensive siege earthworks to be dug and soon a maze of trenches were creeping up to the high stone walls as the cannons continued to blast away at the stonework. By April 5 two breaches had been made in the curtain wall and the soldiers readied themselves to storm Badajoz. The order to attack was delayed for 24 hours to allow another breach to be made in the wall. News began to filter to the allies that Marshal
The Marshal of France is a military distinction in contemporary France, not a military rank. It is granted to generals for exceptional achievements...
Soult was marching to relieve the town and an order was given to launch the attack at 22:00 on April 6.
The French garrison were well aware of what was to come, and mined the large breaches in the walls in preparation for the imminent assault.
Storming of the city
With three large gaps in the curtain wall and with Marshal Soult marching to the town's aid, Wellington ordered his regiments to storm the town at 22:00 on the 6th and the troops made their way forward with scaling ladders and various tools. The first men to assault the breach were the men of the Forlorn Hope
A forlorn hope is a band of soldiers or other combatants chosen to take the leading part in a military operation, such as an assault on a defended position, where the risk of casualties is high....
, who would lead the main attack by the 4th Division and Craufurd's Light Division while diversionary attacks
Feint is a French term that entered English from the discipline of fencing. Feints are maneuvers designed to distract or mislead, done by giving the impression that a certain maneuver will take place, while in fact another, or even none, will...
were to be made to the north and the east by Portuguese and British soldiers of the 5th Division and Picton's 3rd Division.
Just as the Forlorn Hope were beginning their attack, a French sentry was alerted and raised the alarm. Within seconds the ramparts were filled with French soldiers, who poured a lethal hail of musket
A musket is a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun, fired from the shoulder. Muskets were designed for use by infantry. A soldier armed with a musket had the designation musketman or musketeer....
fire into the troops at the base of the breach. The British and Portuguese surged forward en masse
and raced up to the wall, facing a murderous barrage of musket fire, complemented by grenades, stones, barrels of gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...
with crude fuses and even bales of burning hay.
The furious barrage devastated the British soldiers at the wall and the breach soon began to fill with dead and wounded, over whom the storming troops had to struggle. Despite the carnage the redcoats bravely continued to surge forward in great numbers, only to be mown down by endless volleys and shrapnel from grenades and bombs. In just under two hours, some 2,000 men had been killed or badly wounded at the main breach, while countless more men of the 3rd Division were shot down as they made their diversionary assault. General Picton himself was wounded as he climbed a ladder to try to reach the top of the wall. Everywhere they attacked, the allied soldiers were being halted and the carnage was so immense that Wellington was just about to call a halt to the assault when the soldiers finally gained a foothold on the curtain wall.
Picton's 3rd Division finally managed to reach the top of the wall and simultaneously link up with men of the 5th Division, who were also making their way into the town. Once they had a foothold, the British and Portuguese soldiers were at an advantage. Seeing that he could no longer hold out, General Philippon withdrew from Badajoz to the neighbouring outwork of San Cristobal; however, he surrendered shortly after the town had fallen.
With success came mass looting and disorder as the redcoats turned to drink and it was some 72 hours before order was completely restored. The wanton sacking of Badajoz has been noted by many historians as a particularly atrocious conduct committed by the British Army: many homes were broken into, property vandalised or stolen, Spanish civilians of all ages and backgrounds killed or raped, and many officers were also shot by the men they were trying to bring to order. Captain Robert Blakeney wrote:
'The infuriated soldiery resembled rather a pack of hell hounds vomited up from infernal regions for the extirpation of mankind than what they were but twelve short hours previously - a well-organised, brave, disciplined and obedient British Army, and burning only with impatience for what is called glory'
Despite this, some historians have defended the British soldiers' conduct by arguing that the aftermath could not have been avoided considering the ferociousness of the battle. Ian Fletcher argues:
Let us not forget that hundreds of British troops were killed and maimed by the fury of the respective assaults, during which men saw their comrades and brothers slaughtered before their very eyes. Should we really condemn them for feeling some degree of bitterness, for wanting to vent their anger upon somebody? The storming of a fortress is not the same as a battle where men expect casualties to occur. But when a force was asked to storm a fortress when practicable breaches had been formed, such casualties would have been deemed unnecessary. Given the enormity of the task facing the stormers in the Peninsula, I for one begrudge them none of their feelings of anger and desire for revenge.
On the other hand, Myatt writes:
Presumably one can return to the laws of war which, imprecise though they were, did at least suggest propriety of a surrender when a practicable breach had been made, to which Phillipon might very justifiably have retorted that practicable was not a recognisable description of breaches which two of the best divisions in the British Army had failed to make any impressions, even though the extent of their effort can be measured by their losses
Most of the victims (up to 4,000 dead), however, were not the French soldiers occupying the city, but Spanish civilians the British had been fighting to liberate. Many British soldiers were flogged as punishment and a gallows was erected but no one was hanged.
When dawn finally came on April 7, it revealed the horror of the slaughter all around the curtain wall. Bodies were piled high and blood flowed like rivers in the ditches and trenches. When he saw the destruction and slaughter, Wellington cried at the sight of British dead in the breaches and bitterly cursed the British Parliament
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...
for granting him so few resources and soldiers. The assault and the earlier skirmishes had left the allies with some 4,800 casualties. Numbers differ between 4,924 and 4760 The elite Light Division had suffered badly, losing some 40% of their fighting strength.
The siege was however, over, and Wellington had secured the Portuguese–Spanish frontier and could now move against Marshal Marmont at Salamanca
Salamanca is a city in western Spain, in the community of Castile and León. Because it is known for its beautiful buildings and urban environment, the Old City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. It is the most important university city in Spain and is known for its contributions to...
- Ian Fletcher: Fortresses of the Peninsular War Osprey Publishing.
- Fletcher, Ian: In Hell before Daylight: The Siege and Storming of the Castle of Badajoz, March–April 1812. Spellmount Ltd ISBN 1873376-26X
- Fletcher, Ian: Wellington's Regiments: The Men and Their Battles, 1808-15. The History Press Ltd. ISBN 1873376065
- Frederick Myatt: British Sieges of the Peninsular War Staplehurst 1995 ISBN 0-946771-59-6
- Julian Paget: Wellington's Peninsular War - Battles and Battlefields London 1996 ISBN 0 85052 603 5
- Jac Weller: Wellington in the Peninsula 1808-1814 London 1962 ISBN 0 7182 0730 0