The March

  • Charles J. Esdaile
  • Philip Freeman
Part of the War, Culture and Society, 1750–1850 book series (WCS)


The campaign of Burgos has its origins in the very difficult strategic situation in which Wellington found himself in the autumn of 1812. At first sight, however, to speak in such a fashion seems somewhat surprising. Thus, far from being in trouble, the Anglo-Portuguese army of the Duke of Wellington was ostensibly riding the crest of the wave. Indeed, Wellington and his men were fresh from an impressive series of victories. Having repelled a major French invasion of Portugal in 1810, they had frustrated further French offensives in 1811, and then in January 1812 advanced into Spain, capturing the strategically important border fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, defeating the chief French field army at the battle of Salamanca on 22 July and finally liberating Madrid on 12 August. Yet, as witness, perhaps, the somewhat haggard and preoccupied Wellington that stares forth from the preliminary sketch drawn of him by Francisco de Goya shortly after his entry into the capital, all was not as it seemed. With every step that the French were driven back, more and more of their troops were released from the task of holding down their conquests in the face of the incessant Spanish resistance, and thus it was that by the end of the summer Wellington was faced with two impressive masses of French troops, each of which were bigger than the forces he could muster to face them, one of them in the area stretching from Burgos to Pamplona and the other in the Levant around Valencia.


Strategic Situation Surly Movement Preliminary Sketch French Troop British General 
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  1. 1.
    R. Long to C. Long, 2 August 1812, cit. T.H. McGuffie (ed.), Peninsular Cavalry General, 1811–1: The Correspondence of Lieutenant-General Robert Ballard Long (London, 1951), p. 212.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For a general account of the strategic situation in the wake of the Battle of Salamanca, see C.J. Esdaile, The Peninsular War: A New History (London, 2002), pp. 401–11.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    For an account of the siege of Astorga, see A. García Fuertes, El sitio de Astorga de 1812: una ofénsiva para la victoria (Astorga, 2012).Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    See Oman, Peninsular War, V, p. 362. Oman is particularly scathing about the howitzers, which he erroneously throughout refers to as 24-pounders (although 24 pounds was indeed the weight of the projectiles, in the British service howitzers were classified by their calibre), saying that they were useless for battering work. So they were, of course, but that was never their purpose; see ibid., VI, p. 25. The precise weapon at issue was probably the so-called ‘heavy’ or ‘royal’ five-and-a-half inch howitzer: dating back to 1780; this could fire ball, shell or canister and had an effective range of about 1,000 yards. Meanwhile, the 18-pounders were probably a weapon introduced by the artillery reformer, Thomas Blomefield, in 1796; significantly lighter than the 24 pounder guns that were the normal option for siege work, they were much used in the Peninsula on account of their superior mobility. See A. Dawson, P. Dawson and S. Summerfield, Napoleonic Artillery (Ramsbury, 2007), pp. 104–5, 170.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    Jones, Journal, I, p. 292. Officers in the Royal Engineers were specialists in the art of fortification and siege warfare. The Royal Military Artificers, however, should not be thought of as sappers but rather as highly trained craftsmen, it being their job to carry out such tasks as repairing gun carriages and fashioning the wooden platforms on which heavy guns were usually placed when in battery. At Burgos, however, such was the shortage of engineering personnel that they had to be pressed into service in the trenches as foremen. In this capacity, however, they apparently showed great courage. Though only one of them — a Corporal Devlin — was killed, all eight became casualties, while the efforts of two of them in particular survived to become part of the annals of the Royal Sappers and Miners: ‘Private Patrick Burke … was remarked for his usefulness and resolution in the explosion of a mine, and Private Andrew Alexander for his valour in leading the workmen to crown the crater of a mine on the enemy’s glacis before the breach.’ See T. Connolly, The History of the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners (London, 1855), I, p. 187.Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    W. Napier, History of the War in the Peninsula and the South of France (London, 1828–1840), V, pp. 261–2. A word of explanation may be necessary here. The troops mentioned as being under the command of General Clinton consisted of the Sixth Division. Left behind to hold Valladolid when Wellington marched on Madrid, this force had fallen back southwards as soon as Clausel had advanced to relieve his beleaguered garrisons. As for the troops commanded by General Foy, these consisted of the relief force that was actually dispatched to Astorga, Zamora and Toro, Clausel having halted with the main body of the Army of Portugal at Valladolid. What Napier is proposing, meanwhile, is that Wellington should either have marched directly on Valladolid or, more daringly, that he should have headed for Burgos so as to cut Clausel’s communications, whereas in reality he headed to Arévalo to pick up Clinton, and only then turned back towards Valladolid, by which time Foy had managed to rejoin Clausel, the result being that the Army of Portugal was left with a clear line of retreat to Burgos. Wellington, then, had certainly played it safe — it has to be said that Napier’s suggestions would have been by no means devoid of risk — but he was also going to be sorry afterwards. As for the three French garrisons that had provoked Clausel’s counter-offensive, those of Zamora and Toro were brought off from the midst of their assailants, whereas that of Astorga surrendered to the Spaniards just two days before Foy appeared before its walls.Google Scholar
  7. 28.
    McGrigor, Autobiography (London, 1861), p. 303.Google Scholar
  8. 37.
    see C.J. Esdaile, Outpost of Empire: the French Occupation of Andalucía, 1810–1812 (Norman, OK, 2012), pp. 355–95 passim. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Charles J. Esdaile and Philip Freeman 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles J. Esdaile
    • 1
  • Philip Freeman
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LiverpoolUK

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