Soult’s first idea was to try and relieve his isolated
troops that had been blockaded in the fortified town of Pamplona. The string
of actions that subsequently took place became known as ‘The Battle of the
Pyrenees’. This offensive lead to the battles of Maya. Roncesvalles and
Sorauren, but although Wellington’s army was initially caught off guard, Soult
had over stretched his limits and was eventually compelled to withdraw back to
the French border. There, he sprung up a line of defensive works which ran
parallel along the Bidassoa river. The allied army quickly followed up but
Wellington would not venture any further north until the French-held garrison
of San Sebastian had fallen.
Map of Siege of San Sebastian
The fortified town over looking the bay of Biscay was
blockaded by the British on the 28th June and although the first assault,
carried out on the 25th July, had proved unsuccessful, Soult knew it could not
hold out for much longer. He therefore prepared for a general advance over the
Bidassoa in the hope that he could march to relieve the garrison and leave a
considerable dent in the enemies western flank.
This bold undertaking took place on the 31st August 1813 and
became known as the battle of San Marcial, taken from the heights that stood
immediately in front of Soult’s advance and was eventually checked on.
Unbeknown to the French Marshal, Wellington’s second and successful assault on
San Sebastian took place at exactly the same time as
the battle for the heights of San Marcial. This was to be the
last French operation on Spanish soil.
The French army was divided into three Corps. The western
Corps was commanded by Lt - Gen. Reille, the centre Corps was under Lt - Gen.
Clausel and the eastern Corps under Lt - Gen. D’Erlon. Coincidentally, both
Wellington and Soult initially intended the eastern flank to be a
demonstration. However, the troops in that area became over zealous and
entangled themselves in a pointless melee. The French had no serious
intentions and, throughout the course of the day, released the ground as the
allies pressed forward. The main action was in the west. At 0800hrs Reille’s
Corps crossed the Bidassoa and endeavoured to gain the heights of San Marcial.
Once taken, the road would lay open for the relief of San Sebastian, but the
heights were stubbornly defended by the Spanish and despite many attempts to
take the position it was not until 1500hrs that Soult decided to call off his
The Bridge at
Vandermaesen in trouble.
Clausel’s centre Corps consisted of three divisions. (Taupin,
Darmagnac and Vandermaesen’s divisions). These crossed the fords of the
Bidassoa in the early hours of the morning and began to swing to the west in
order to support and eventually join up with Reille’s troops who, for all
intents and purposes, should have been advancing over the heights of San
Marcial. A combined effort in this quarter could of seen Wellington’s army
recoil and a direct path left open to San Sebastian. It was a brilliant manoeuvre but, unfortunately for Soult, it did not work.
The allied army were in an excellent position and their morale had been
boosted by the way the campaign had been generally running in their favour. To
cap it all, their was a dreadful storm which swelled the river and made the
fords, which they had passed in the morning, totally unfordable in the
When Clausel ordered the retreat around mid - afternoon, it appears that, the
rear brigades of Taupin and Darmagnac’s divisions and the whole of
Vandermaesen’s division were caught stranded on the wrong side of the river.
The isolated French may have been forced to surrender to the British who now
Plan of Operations
www.Napoleon-series.org Map Archive
Vandermaesen was in a desperate situation, the only course
left open to him was 5 miles away, via a small stone bridge at Vera.
Unfortunately, although there had been French troops in the area for some
days, no one had thought to take the bridge and it now lay in hands of the
British light division. However, fortunately for the French, the light
division was under the temporary command of an incompetent general and he had
only posted 100 men of the 2/95th Rifles on the bridge itself whilst the
remainder of the division were at least half a mile away on the heights of
Santa Barba. Vandermaesen’s men reached the bridge
at about 0300hrs on the morning of 1st September only to find that the access
was blocked by a barricade and a double sentry. They also noticed that on the
opposite bank were a number houses, one of which, closest to the bridge, was
heavily fortified; although with more than 5000 men at his disposal, and
hardly a Englishman in sight there should not have been a problem in passing
to the other side.
The bridge is approached by a narrow winding track and as a
party of Frenchmen began to advance, the British sentries found they could not
raise the alarm as the wet weather had so dampened their firearms, that the
powder would not ignite. This allowed Vandermaesen’s troops to rush the
barricade and gain a foothold on the bridge before the Riflemen in the houses
had chance to stop them.Despite the fact that Vandermaesen had an overwhelming
numerical superiority, Cadoux’s tiny band of men held onto the bridge for more
than 2 hours. But numbers prevailed in the end and just before dawn the houses
were forced. Cadoux and sixteen men were
killed, three other officers and forty three men were wounded out of one
hundred men. In the confusion some of the French
managed to file over the bridge and began firing on the defenders of the
fortified building from their own side. Vandermaesen himself grew steadily
impatient and was killed leading a desperate charge against the bridge and the
total French casualties far exceeded that of the Rifles at around 231 men.
Memorial stone situated on the bridge Captain
Bibliography and notes.
Cadoux’s unenviable predicament was first immortalised into
the annuals of history in the ‘Autobiography of Sir Harry Smith’. Smith
blames brigadier Skerret for leaving Cadoux with an insufficient picket at the
bridge, claiming that he himself told Skerret to reinforce the position.
Although there are two versions as to why Cadoux was left unaided; the other
being in the commander’s defence, referring to the fact that Cadoux had been
told to retire but did not do so. The general consensus with most of the
contemporary diarists however, is that if the bridge had been reinforced, and
the passage blocked, the French would of been compelled to lay down their arms
when daylight came.
All of the 95th Rifle Memoirs make some note of the incident
but the most important authorities for obtaining an overall picture of things
must be Sir Harry Smith’s account and Sir Charles Oman’s history of the
Peninsular war. Whereas the best conjectural story of the events that lead up
to Cadoux’s defence of the bridge comes from Georgette Heyer in her novel
(based on fact) entitled, ‘The Spanish Bride’. First published in 1940. To
gain an even fuller picture it may be necessary to consult all the available
narratives in order to fill in some of the voids left by others. For this
purpose the following is a list of significant references that exhibit minor
details, which in turn, may or may not be transferred onto a wargaming
Surtees - 25 years in the Rifle
According to Surtees, Cadoux was killed almost instantly
‘as he had imprudently mounted his horse on the first alarm’. Surtees also
states that a company of his own battalion 3/95th commanded by a lieutenant
Travers were posted ‘ a short distance in the rear to support him’. Surtees mentions breastworks and entrenchment’s on the south side close to the
bridge. These works were previously set up by the Spanish General Longa and
now the French were making good use of them. Surtees also mentions that in the
morning the French had brought down some mountain guns but to little effect.
Journal of F. S. Larpent.
Larpent was captured and
made prisoner at the battle of San Marcial close to Vera but his escort
managed to cross the Bidassoa at a ford before the river swelled. He was taken
to General Clausel’s HQ where, during the night, he could hear the firing at
the bridge. Larpent says that General Longa had ‘Knocked off the parapet
of the bridge, and dug a trench’.
W. Napier. History of the Peninsular
War. Vol. 5.
Napier clearly states that
it was 3 O’clock in the morning and the passage was defended until daylight,
‘ when a second company and some Cacadores came to their aid’
Napier continues, ‘The French reserve
left at Vera, seeing how matters stood, then opened a fire of guns against the
fortified house from a high rock just above the town; their skirmishers
approached it on the right bank, while Vandermaesen plied his musketry from
the left bank’.
Maj. G. Simmons - A British Riflemen.
Simmons talks about the French advance over the Bidassoa in
the morning but more interestingly says that after Cadoux fell the company was
obliged to retire a little distance and kept up a fire on the enemy who
continued to file over the bridge.
Moorsom - History of the 52nd Light
Although a broad history
concerning a particular battalion in the light division, he describes the
barricade at the bridge as being, ‘partially blocked up with casks filled
with stones, leaving only a narrow passageway for a man’.
The Recollections of Rifleman Harris.
Harris describes Cadoux as ‘effeminate and
lady like in manners’ and goes on to recall a rather surprising tale. ‘he
wore on his finger a ring worth 150 guineas. As he lay dead on the field, Orr,
one of our Riflemen, observed the sparkling gem and immediately resolved to
make a prize of it, but the ring was so firmly fixed, Orr could not draw it
from the finger so, whipping out his knife, he cut the finger off by the
joint. After the battle, Orr offered the ring for sale amongst the officers.
On enquiry, the manner in which he had obtained was learned. As a consequence,
Orr was tried by court - martial and sentenced to receive five hundred lashes,
which sentence was carried into execution’.
Looking at the
showing how narrow it is.
The rear brigades of Taupin’s and Darmagnac’s divisions and
the whole of Vandermaesen’s division were stranded on the wrong side of the
river. (Oman Vol. 7 P.54.) Taupin’s casualty returns
show 128 men drowned when re-crossing the Bidassoa at night. (Oman Vol. 7
For the purposes of the game we shall assume that Taupin and
Darmagnac’s troops managed to cross the river, further downstream, or played
little part in the action at the bridge, and confine the availability of
French troops, that can be brought to Cadoux’s bridge, to just Vandermaesen’s
5th division. Vandermaesen’s men amount to an
impressive 5,575, but can only be brought to the bridge in a maximum of half
battalion strengths at any one time. This is due to the narrow confinements of
the defile and could be the main reason why Cadoux’s men hung on for so long
against such overwhelming odds.
If it seems fit, there can also be a contingency plan for
one or two Frenchmen getting across the river and thereby adding to the
British plight by firing from the right bank or north side.
But there must also be a percentage option for a commander casualty.
Example - the death of Vandermaesen himself could cause considerable chaos in
the French ranks.
The game starts at 3:00 am and first light is at 5:30 am.
When dawn comes, if the bridge is still holding out, then some French
skirmishers can come down from the side of Vera, but the British can likewise
Vera seen from the
ridge above Cadoux's bridge is the one closest to us.
Order of Battle.
5th Divisional commander:
4th Leger - 645
34th Ligne - 590 men
40th Ligne - 2 Btns.,
590 men per Btn.
59th Ligne - 660 men
27th Ligne - 660 men
59th Ligne - 660 men
130th Ligne - 2 Btns., 590
men per Btn.
Captain D. Cadoux’s company:
2/95th Rifles - 60 men.
Captain Hart’s Platoon:
2/95th Rifles - 40 men.
Reinforcements at dawn.
Lieutenant Travers company:
3/95th Rifles - 60 men.
2 x companies of 1st
Portuguese Cacadores. 180 men.
Losses at the bridge.
42 - killed, 185 - wounded,
Total - 231.
2/95th - 17 killed, 42
wounded, 2 missing.
3/95th - 2 killed, 10
Cacadores - 6 killed, 14
wounded, 2 missing.
Total - 95
from around the action:
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First published Portsmouth