Monday, October 12, 2015

Salamanca 1812: Some Eyewitness Accounts

by Jacqueline Reiter

The Peninsular War is somewhat out of my remit. My research interest, the 2nd Earl of Chatham, did not serve there (having irretrievably blotted his copybook at Walcheren in 1809: he was never employed again). Several of his former aides-de-camp, however, did go to the Peninsula and kept their former superior officer up to date with behind-the-scenes information on the campaign.

Battle of Salamanca from Wikimedia Commons

On 22 July 1812, Arthur Wellesley, Lord Wellington fought a battle against French Marshal Marmont in the vicinity of Salamanca. The extremely bloody battle (more than 5000 casualties on the British and Portuguese side, and about 13,000 on the French side) was a resounding victory for Wellington, although, for a variety of reasons, that victory was not immediately followed up.

Three officers connected with Chatham were heavily involved in the campaign of 1812. Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Hollis Bradford had been Chatham's aide in the Eastern District and at Walcheren, and Colonel Andrew Francis Barnard of the 95th Rifles had been with Chatham in the Southern District. General William Henry Pringle, who took command of General Leith's division during the battle, was married to Chatham's favourite niece, Harriot Hester. The three of them all left interesting accounts of the famous battle and its aftermath.

1. Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Bradford

 Lieutenant-Colonel Bradford (1781-1816) was an Assistant Adjutant-General at Salamanca. On 10 September 1812 he wrote a very long letter to Lord Chatham reporting on the battle and its immediate aftermath.[1] Bradford was obviously impressed by the British efforts and rather less so by those of the Portuguese. Of the Spanish, the less said the better.
My dear Lord,

You will have received with March's dispatch [2] the account of our late operations which have been attended with more success than the most sanguine could have expected, & have been more interesting & instructive than any thing this army had before witnessed in the Peninsula.

... No-one ever doubted that an English army could fight, & now it must be admitted they can also manoeuvre, & may be trusted to attack as well as defend. I never saw more coolness & obedience to orders than was shewn by that part of the Army with which I was engaged on the 22d of July, & the Portuguese, animated by the example of the British, did all that could be expected of them ... Whenever the Portuguese met with a check which on some point was the case, they rallied in a very creditable manner.

... Our late successes & rapid advance to the Capital, (so unexpected) really appeared like a dream. Had Marmont contented himself at Salamanca, with turning us at a respectful distance which would have answered his purpose quite as well (as he never wish'd to fight), we shou'd have had no Battle, & Lord Wellington would have retired beyond the Agueda, & at this moment we might have been at the old work of guarding the Frontier.

... After looking at each other across the River for several days, during which time Marmont was amusing himself with various manoeuvres which appear'd to have no effect, he at length play'd us a trick which compleatly succeeded. After being join'd by Bonnet ... & his Army being encreased, to about 45,000 men, he prepared to recross the River. ... About 2000 Men as it afterwards appeared cross'd ... & by lengthening out their Column made the appearance of a considerable Body. This Feint had compleat success & induced Lord Wellington who was of course extremely jealous of his Communication with Salamanca, to put the whole Army in motion to its left. Marmont was prepared for this, & the moment our Troops were withdrawn from before Tordelalosa he cross'd his Army at that Place, & moved by Narva del Rey to Castrejon where he came up on the 18th of July with your 4th [3] & Light Division & Cavalry, with which Lord Wellington made a stand to see whether the enemy was bringing up all his Force. This brought on an affair which terminated very creditably to us.

... On the morning of the 20th ... the Enemy moved off to his Left to turn our Right & gain the great Road to Salamanca at Cantalpino. The moment Lord W[ellington] perceived their object he moved us by a short Line to Cantalpino. During this movement the two Armies were within range of Cannon, & perfectly in sight of each other, the French marching along a ridge of Hills & we in the Plain ... This parallel Movement was extremely well conducted on both sides and was as fine a military Spectacle as can be imagined.

... Early the next morning (the 21st) their
[the French] Army appeared on the Right of Babillafuente about a League & a half from us & shortly after were seen moving to their Left & crossing the Tormes at the Ford of La Huerta.

When about half their Columns had passed the River we began to move & cross'd the Tormes at the Ford of El Canto & S[an]ta Martha. ... On the 22nd we were brought up in a Position, as soon as the Enemy appeared in Motion. The Event of this most glorious day Your Lordship must by this time be so well acquainted with, that I can have very little to add to the information you have already received. Lord Wellington's dispatch has not quite explained the cause of the check the 4th Division met with nor has he, I think, done justice to that part of the 6th Divn which came up to their support, particularly Genl Hulse Brigade whose Conduct as well as that of its General was most distinguish'd. The attack made by the 3rd & 5th Divisions was completely successful & they carried every thing before them, but the 4th had greater difficulties to encounter, their left Flank, where was station'd a Portuguese Brigade, being quite en l'air in consequence of the failure of Genl Pack's attack on one of the Hills call'd the Arepiles [sic - Arapiles].

... Lord Wellington left Madrid about a fortnight since & by our last accouonts the 4th he was at Valladolid from whence Bonnet with about 15,000 men had retired in the direction of Burgos, where our Army were preparing to follow him. It is said that the remains of Marmont's Army does not exceed altogether 23,000 men.

... You will expect to hear of great Exertions making by the Spaniards but I am sorry to say they are as slothful as ever. The specimen we have had of the much talked of Gallician Army does not lead us to expect a great deal from them.

I have lately changed my Divn and am now with the 4th.[4] ... The 3rd Light Divn are at Madrid, where
[Andrew Francis] Barnard is the gayest of the gay. ... I have seen a great deal of Pringle since he join'd the army. He had a most fortunate Escape on the 22nd July. His horse was kill'd under him & before he fell received 7 Balls.

... Should your Lordship have had patience to get to the conclusion of this tremendous long Letter pray have the goodness to give my kindest regards to Lady Chatham & to thank her for the present which Lord Charles Manners delivered to me.

Believe me to be ever
My dear Lord
Your most faithful & obliged
HH Bradford

2. Major-General William Henry Pringle

Pringle (ca 1771 - 1844) had more to say on the subject of his "fortunate Escape" in a letter home to his wife, Harriot Hester, written on 23 July 1812, the day after the Battle of Salamanca. Pringle's Brigade was one of the two that were lucky enough to capture an Eagle from the French.

Those of you of a squeamish disposition, or those of you against violence committed upon animals, would probably do best to look away now.[5]
Alba de Tormes, 23 July 1812

I write you these few lines my adored Harriet in hopes of being able to send them with Lord Wellingtons dispatches, to tell you that I am perfectly well, & have escaped unhurt from a severe & bloody Action we had yesterday, in which my Brigade was much engaged. The Action ... ended most gloriously for us,
[and] in the entire rout of the French, who now I think will be quiet for some time ...

From Gen[era]l Leith [6] being wounded early in the Action, I succeeded to the command of the Division ... The fortune de la Guerre was particularly favourable to me, as I had some narrow escapes. My Horse was shot under me, in seven places, & my sword shot from my side, without my being in the least hurt. Your Bay Mare met with an honorable death in the field of Battle, but I cannot tell you how much I regret the poor animal, both from her being your property, & from the suffering & exertions she made for me. After having her Eyes shot out, & seven Bullets in different parts of her body, she continued to carry me for near an hour, before she died ...

My Brigade took an Eagle, among other Trophys
[sic] from the French, & I was very well satisfied with their conduct. If you should see Lord Chatham tell him his two battalions behaved extremely well, & fortunately have not met with much loss.[7]

... You may be now perfectly at ease, as the French have got such a drubbing they are retiring as fast as they can. ... Give my love to the dear Children, & I am for ever, your faithful & affectionate Husband WH Pringle.
3. Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Francis Barnard

Barnard (1773 - 1855) commanded a light brigade at Salamanca. He wrote to Chatham on 28 November 1812 to explain why very little had happened, and why the British army had retreated back into Portugal as a result of a subsequent meeting between portions of the French army. The Spanish forces do not seem to have impressed Barnard any more than they did Bradford.[8]

Sir Andrew Francis Barnard in later years
from Wikimedia Commons
My dear Lord,

The campaign has closed for the winter and we are once more in our quarters behind the Ajueda. The hardships which we have undergone during the latter part of our retreat has
[sic] served to reconcile us to the Cottages of the frontier of old Castile which we might otherwise have felt uncomfortable after inhabiting the palaces of Madrid.

I have no doubt but what our retreat which is the necessary consequence of the union of the French armys
[sic] will by some be magnifyed [sic] into a disaster, but the country which we occupied is such an open plain that no part of it affords a position which will delay the advance of an enemy very superior in numbers and particularly in cavalry for a day.

It is true the Tormes had fortune favored us might for some time have afforded a considerable obstacle, but unluckily for us the weather was obstinately fine for some days during our stay at Salamanca by which it became fordable in every point, and with equal bad fortune the sky began to pour torrents the very hour that we commenced our retreat and continued so till we arrived in the neighborhood of Ciudad de Rodrigo.

... Notwithstanding our
[cause?] has not the same brilliant effect that it had when Lord Wellington dated his dispatches from Madrid yet on the whole more has been effected during the campaign than was expected at the commencement of it and our late retreat has been the consequence of our success. ...

The greatest part of Spain has been abandoned by the French and all their ports of communication destroyed but in consequence of these circumstances the whole of their force is united and we are obliged to retire, and unfortunately we cannot resume the offensive untill spring for want of forage. Soult and King Joseph [9] are now on their way to Madrid, which hitherto the French have not ventured to retain. ... The Spaniards get worse and worse little assistance can be expected from them. The French hold their armys
[sic] in such contempt that they cannot even make a diversion in our favor ...

I have many thanks to return for your kind letter which was transmitted to me by Hood, it makes me blush for having been so idle a correspondent but Madrid is of all places the most seducing and most calculated to employ every moment of the 24 hours in doing nothing. ... I beg to be most kindly remembered to Lady Chatham and remain with the greatest regard and respect.

My dear Lord
Your faithfull & Obliged Humble Servant
A F Barnard

Notes and References

[1] Henry Hollis Bradford to Lord Chatham, 10 September 1812, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/365 f 227
[2] Lord March, later 5th Duke of Richmond, was one of Wellington's ADCs
[3] Chatham was Colonel of the 4th "King's Own" Regiment of Foot
[4] Commanded by Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, who had been wounded at Salamanca, temporarily commanded by Major-General William Anson
[5] William Henry Pringle to Harriot Hester Pringle, 23 July 1812, John Rylands Library Pringle MSS Eng MS 1273 f 5
[6] Lieutenant General James Leith was in command of the 5th Division. Pringle took over command when he was wounded
[7] A reference to the two battalions of the 4th "King's Own", who formed a significant part of the brigade under Pringle's command
[8] Andrew Francis Barnard to Lord Chatham, 28 November 1812, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/365 f 174
[9] Napoleon's brother Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain


Jacqueline Reiter has a Phd in 18th century political history. She is currently working on the first ever biography of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, due to be released by Pen & Sword Books in September 2016. When she finds time she blogs about her historical discoveries at, and can be found on Twitter as

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