Battle of Fuentes
de Oñoro 3rd – 5th
Battle of Fuentes
3rd – 5th
close of 1810 and the opening campaign of the new year, Massena’s army had
suffered the indignation of a long series of defeats. The battle of Busaco in
September 1810 showed that Wellington’s army could stand their ground. The
French were stopped in their tracks in front of the Torres Vedras lines and when
the time came to retire the French suffered many rearguard conflicts, Sabugal,
Redinha and Casal Nova to mention but few.
de Onoro was Massena’s last attempt to relieve the beleaguered fortress of
Almeida and redeem himself against an extremely confident and spirited opponent.
A quick glance at any map of the battle shows plenty
of changes of dispositions and troop movements over a period of three
Plans of the Battle
matters, the basic scenario can be outlined as follows.
On day one (3rd May), all the fighting took place in the
village of Fuentes. Massena ordered the leading
division of the 6th Corps, Ferey’s ten battalions, to storm the
village by direct frontal attack. Wellington had
posted 28 light companies, picked from the allied battalions, into the village
under the command of Lt Col Williams.
These were also
supported by the 2/83rd battalion. There was a very sharp conflict
and the French pushed the allies through houses. The light companies rallied
around the church and Wellington sent a further three fresh battalions into the
fight. (1/71st, 1/79th & 2/24th under Cadogan).
Massena then reinforced the village with a further 4 battalions but could
not drive their enemy away. The combat ceased with the fall of night and Massena
had lost 642 men compared to the defenders who had only suffered 259 casualties.
most of day two in reconnoitering the Enemy’s position.
There was some lively fusillade across the brook in the village but the
French commander was devising a new plan.
He was going to hit Wellington’s right
flank hard. On the evening of the 4th Massena began his movements (
see Fortesque’s map). The bulk of his army moved
further south ready to advance on the allied flank in the morning.
guerrileros division under Julian Sanchez occupied Wellington’s extreme right
flank at Naver de haver, the 7th division under Houston was next in
line and had taken up position behind the village of Poco Velho. It was these
two divisions that were first hit and both had to retreat in rapid order when
the French cavalry attacked. Wellington sent the light
division and Cotton’s cavalry southward to cover the retreat and show some face
in front of the enemy’s advance.
There was much
fighting in and around the village of Poco Velho and the light division made an
unorthodox retrograde movement in the form of retiring squares keeping their
aggressors firmly at bay. Indeed, the whole of Wellington’s centre had to turn
to right angles to face the new threat, the right flank was now refused.
The fight now fell into two distinct sections – the attack on the village
of Fuentes by Drouet’s & Ferey’s three divisions and the assault on the right
flank with Montbrun’s cavalry followed by Marchand & Mermet’s infantry.
divisions to the north were only there as a demonstration and very little
happened in that part of the field throughout the entire three days.
In the confusion, Capt Norman Ramsey with two horse guns became entangled
with the French Dragoons and Chasseurs and, for a moment, were cut off from the main
line. Ramsey made a mad dash cutting through the
French and with the help of a squadron of the 14th Lt Dragoons
eventually managed to extricate themselves out of danger.
and Craufurd’s divisions safely back behind lines, Wellington’s new position was
impregnable and the French attack on the right was not pursued and the fighting
petered out. The attempt to storm Fuentes ended around 1400hrs when it became
obvious, after serious losses, that the allies could not be shifted easily from
a barricaded and prepared village.
The defenders of Fuentes lost 800men whilst their assailants had lost
about 1300. The losses for the rest of the army were
852 Allies and 892 French.
Massena had not
relieved the garrison of Almeida which was abandoned five days later and he was
criticised for not pressing the right flank harder. He was superceded in command
shortly after the battle by Marshall Marmont. The former was never again to
command an army. After the battle Wellington remarked that his line was
stretched too far to Poco Velho and if ‘Boney’ had been there all would have
been lost. He also asked for money to rebuild Fuentes. However, the victory did
much to sustain the British government’s handling in the Peninsular war and
as an aside the battle used to be depicted on five
Headquarters at Freineda, Portugal
During the winters of 1811-1812 and 1812-1813,
Wellington's headquarters was in a small Portuguese village about 25 kilometers
from the Spanish border.
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