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Sabugal 3rd April 1811:


The combat of Sabugal. 3rd April 1811.

Massena’s army lay in front of the lines of Torres Vedras through the winter of 1810 / 1811 until March 5th when the starved and depleted French army began their arduous march back across the border to the occupied fortress of Cuidad Rodrigo in central Spain. Wellington was anxious to inflict a serious blow upon the Marshal and closely followed the retreating army in the hope of permanently evicting their adversary, once and for all from Portugal. The allied vanguard clashed with the French rearguard on several occasions during  Massena’s long haul back to the relatively safe environs of Rodrigo.

The contending armies met at Pombal on 11th of March, then again at Redina on the 12th, Cazal Novo on the 14th and finally at Foz d’ Aronce on the 15th. The casualties at these clashes were minor but when Massena halted at Sabugal toward the end of the month, Wellington was sure he could gain a decisive action. Wellington singled out the Corps most closest to him hoping that if the attack was carried out with surprise at dawn he could collapse Reynier’s 2nd Corps before either the 6th or 8th Corps could turn around to support. Unfortunately, the early morning fog and the heavy rain later in the morning put paid to any ideas of a complete victory. 

Beckwith and Drummond’s brigades of the Light division were assigned to sweep wide and roll up the left of Reynier’s troops who were posted on a long line of ridges just east of the village of Sabugal. Beckwith’s brigade was hindered by the dense fog and marched round too soon, they became embroiled with the nearest units of Merle’s division on the ridge and twice were driven back down the hill to take refuge among enclosures. The fog which now turned into blinding rain obscured much of what was going on on the battlefield.  If Merle had realised that the troops opposed to him were vastly inferior in numbers to his own he would of surely turned the table rapidly. It was’nt until Drummond’s 2nd brigade came up that the French finally gave way.

During this fierce struggle Reynier brought up seven more battalions of the 17th Leger and 70th Ligne and for a moment put Beckwith’s men into  great jeopardy. At this moment the fog and rain lifted, whereupon both Commanders could suddenly see the imminent danger both armies were in. The allied 3rd division Probably saved the day by marching at double pace onto the centre of the ridge and attacked the 17th and 70th in their flank. Reynier could now see the allied 5th division entering the village and decided to give the order to retire. Wellington gave the order to halt and not pursue the enemy, he was unclear as to where the other French Corps were. The sound of gunfire may of alerted them to come to the rescue. 

Losses for the French were 750 compared to that of the allies of only 179. 

Oman criticises Sir William Erskine for not lending support to their beleaguered combatants on the ridge, and at one point even tried to order the Light division not to advance.



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