Wellington: A Personal History

By Christopher Hibbert | Go to book overview

19 Retreat to Portugal 1812

'Oh, by God, it was too serious to say anything.'

THERE WAS NO TIME for Lord Wellington to rest on his laurels, though. The French were still in Spain and the key town of Burgos was still in their hands. He set out for Burgos in September; and, at the sight of its strong fortifications, the confidence he had felt in Madrid deserted him. 'Matters go on well,' he had written while there, 'and I hope before Christmas, if they turn out as they ought, and Boney [who had invaded Russia in June 1812] requires all the reinforcements in the North, to have all the gentlemen safe on the other side of the Ebro.'1 But how, he began to wonder. He doubted that he had the means to take the castle at Burgos which was 'very strong'. 2

Moreover the French governor of Burgos was considered to be 'a very clever fellow' who knew his business only too well; and, to add to Wellington's concern, a strong enemy force was reported to be marching fast towards him. He realized that he would soon have to 'discontinue this operation in order to collect the army'. 3

Before doing so, however, he mounted an attack upon a hornwork which, after the loss of over 300 casualties, fell into his hands. Encouraged by this expensive success, he decided to attack the fortress itself, even though it had not yet been bombarded and only eight heavy guns had so far been brought up for this purpose. Predictably, the attack on the fortress failed; and almost 200 more casualties were incurred.

It was now clear that if Burgos were to be taken, an orthodox siege would be required. But as trenches were dug and mines ineffectively exploded, the autumn rains poured down, flooding the siege works. Transport, unusually under his command, was inadequate; so was the army's siege equipment; and, worst of all, ammunition was running short.

After a more satisfactorily placed mine blew a wide breach in the wall, storming parties were sent forward again; and, after further loss of life, they gained a foothold in the outer defences of the fortress.

-126-

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Wellington: A Personal History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Author's Note and Acknowledgements xi
  • I - 1769-1815 1
  • 1 - Eton, Dublin and Angers 1769-87 3
  • 2 - An Officer in the 33rd 1787-93 9
  • 3 - The First Campaign 1794-5 13
  • 4 - A Voyage to India 1796-8 17
  • 5 - The Tiger of Mysore 1799 23
  • 6 - The Governor of Mysore 1799 30
  • 7 - The Sultan's Palace 1800-1 36
  • 8 - Assaye 1802-5 41
  • 9 - Return to London 1805-6 47
  • 10 - Kitty Pakenham 1790-1806 54
  • 11 - Ireland and Denmark 1806-7 58
  • 12 - Portugal 1808 66
  • 13 - Board of Enquiry 1808 77
  • 14 - Across the Douro 1809 82
  • 15 - 'A Whole Host of Marshals' 1809 - 10 92
  • 16 - From Bussaco to El Bodon 1810-11 101
  • 17 - Life at Headquarters 1810-12 108
  • 18 - Badajoz, Salamanca and Madrid 1812 117
  • 19 - Retreat to Portugal 1812 126
  • 20 - From Vitoria to the Frontier 1812-13 133
  • 21 - St Jean De Luz 1813 144
  • 22 - In London Again 1814 151
  • 23 - Paris and Vienna 1814-15 160
  • 24 - Brussels 1815 167
  • 25 - Waterloo 1815 174
  • II - 1815-52 187
  • 26 - The Ambassador 1815 189
  • 27 - Cambrai and Vitry 1815-18 202
  • 28 - Stratfield Saye 1818-20 213
  • 29 - King George IV and Queen Caroline 1820-1 220
  • 30 - Husband and Wife 1821 226
  • 31 - Vienna and Verona 1822-4 241
  • 32 - St Petersburg and the Northern Counties 1825 - 7 251
  • 33 - The Prime Minister 1828-9 264
  • 34 - Battersea Fields and Scotland Yard 273
  • 35 - The Death of the King 1829-30 278
  • 36 - Riots and Repression 1830-2 287
  • 37 - A Bogy to the Mob 1832 296
  • 38 - Oxford University and Apsley House 1832-4 306
  • 39 - Lady Friends 1834 313
  • 40 - The Foreign Secretary 1834-6 319
  • 41 - Portraits and Painters 1830-50 326
  • 42 - Life at Walmer Castle 1830-50 338
  • 43 - The Young Queen 1837-9 348
  • 44 - Grand Old Man 1839-50 357
  • 45 - The Horse Guards and the House of Lords 1842-50 367
  • 46 - Hyde Park Corner 1845-6 373
  • 47 - Disturbers of the Peace 1846-51 378
  • 48 - Growing Old 1850-1 385
  • 49 - Last Days 1851-2 394
  • 50 - The Way to St Paul's 1852 399
  • References 405
  • Sources 426
  • Index 439
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