Coordinates: 36°22′19″N 6°10′35″W
Map of the environs of Cádiz (c. 1813)
The Battle of Barrosa (Chiclana, 5 March 1811) was part of an unsuccessful manoeuvre to break the siege of Cádiz in Spain during the Peninsular War. During the battle, a single British division defeated two French divisions and captured a regimental eagle.
Cádiz had been invested by the French in early 1810, leaving it accessible from the sea, but in March of the following year a reduction in the besieging army gave its garrison of Anglo-Spanish troops an opportunity to lift the siege. A large Allied strike force was shipped south from Cádiz to Tarifa, and moved to engage the siege lines from the rear. The French, under the command of Marshal Victor, were aware of the Allied movement and redeployed to prepare a trap. Victor placed one division on the road to Cádiz, blocking the Allied line of march, while his two remaining divisions fell on the single Anglo-Portuguese rearguard division under the command of Sir Thomas Graham.
Following a fierce battle on two fronts, the British succeeded in routing the attacking French forces. A lack of support from the larger Spanish contingent prevented an absolute victory, and the French were able to regroup and reoccupy their siege lines. Graham's tactical victory proved to have little strategic effect on the continuing war, to the extent that Victor was able to claim the battle as a French victory since the siege remained in force until finally being lifted on 24 August 1812.
In January 1810, the city of Cádiz, a major Allied harbour and the effective seat of Spanish government since the occupation of Madrid, was besieged by French troops ofMarshal Soult's I Corps under the command of Marshal Victor. The city's garrison initially comprised only four battalions of volunteers and recruits, but the Duke ofAlburquerque ignored orders from the Spanish Junta and instead of attacking Victor's superior force, he brought his 10,000 men to reinforce the city. This allowed the city's defences to be fully manned.
Under pressure from widespread protests and mob violence the ruling Spanish Junta resigned, and a five-man Regency was established to govern in its place.[a] The Regency, recognising that Spain could only be saved with Allied aid, immediately asked the newly ennobled Arthur Wellesley, Viscount Wellington, to send reinforcements to Cádiz; by mid-February, five Anglo-Portuguese battalions had landed, bringing the garrison up to 17,000 men and making the city effectively impregnable. Additional troops continued to arrive, and by May, the garrison was 26,000 strong, while the besieging French forces had risen to 25,000.
Although the siege tied up a large number of Spanish, British and Portuguese troops, Wellington accepted this as part of his strategy since a similar number of French troops were also engaged. However, in January 1811, Victor's position began to deteriorate. Soult ordered Victor to send almost a third of his troops to support Soult's assault onBadajoz, reducing the besieging French army to around 15,000 men. Victor had little chance of making progress against the fortress city with a force of this strength, nor could he withdraw—the garrison of Cádiz, if let loose, was large enough to overrun the whole of Andalusia.
Prelude to battle
Portrait of Thomas Graham
from the frontispiece of his biography by Alexander M. Delavoye published in 1880
Following Soult's appropriation of many of Victor's troops, the Allies sensed an opportunity to engage Marshal Victor in open battle and raise thesiege of Cádiz. To that end, an Anglo-Spanish expedition was sent by sea from Cádiz south to Tarifa, with the intention of marching north to engage the French rear. This force comprised some 8,000 Spanish and 4,000 British troops, with the overall command ceded to the Spanish General Manuel la Peña, a political accommodation since he was widely regarded as incompetent. To coincide with la Peña's assault, it was arranged that General José Pascual de Zayas y Chacón would lead a force of 4,000 Spanish troops in a sally from Cádiz, via a pontoon bridge from the Isla de León.
The British contingent—an Anglo-Portuguese division commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Graham—sailed from Cádiz on 21 February 1811, somewhat later than planned. Graham's forces were unable to land at Tarifa due to bad weather and were forced to sail on to Algeciras, where they disembarked on 23 February. Joined by a composite battalion of flank companies under Colonel Browne, the troops marched to Tarifa on 24 February, where they received a further reinforcement from the fortress garrison there. By 27 February, they were joined by la Peña's Spanish troops, who had left Cádiz three days after Graham and, despite encountering similar weather difficulties, had succeeded in landing at Tarifa.
To further strengthen the Allied ranks, a force of Spanish irregulars under General Beguines had been ordered to come down from the Ronda mountains by 23 February and join the main Anglo-Spanish force. Unaware of the delays in sailing, Beguines had advanced as far as Medina-Sidonia in search of the Allied army; unsupported, and embroiled in skirmishes with Victor's right flank, he returned to the mountains. General Cassagne, Victor's flank commander, informed the Marshal of the developing threat. Victor responded by sending three infantry battalions and a cavalry regiment to reinforce Cassagne, and ordering the fortification of Medina-Sidonia.
Having concentrated, the combined Allied force began marching north towards Medina-Sidonia on 28 February, and la Peña now ordered Beguines's irregulars to join them at Casas Viejas. Once there, however, Beguines's scouts reported that Medina-Sidonia was held more strongly than had been anticipated. Rather than engaging the French and forcing Victor to weaken his siege by committing more of his troops to the town's defence, la Peña decided that the Allied army should march across country and join the road that ran from Tarifa, through Vejer and Chiclana, to Cádiz.
Map of the route taken by the Allied forces on the campaign
This change of plan, combined with further bad weather and la Peña's insistence on marching only at night, meant the Allied force was now two days behind schedule. La Peña sent a message to Cádiz informing Zayas of the delay, but the dispatch was not received and on 3 March, Zayas launched his sally as arranged.[b] A pontoon bridge was floated across the Santi Petri creek and a battalion sent across to establish a bridgehead prior to the arrival of the main force. Victor could not allow the Cádiz garrison, which still numbered about 13,000 men, to make a sortie against his lines while he was threatened from outside, so on the night of 3–4 March he sent six companies of voltigeurs to storm the bridgehead entrenchments and prevent a breakout. Zayas's battalion was ejected from its positions, with 300 Spanish casualties, and Zayas was forced to float the pontoon bridge back to the island for future use.[c]
Marshal Victor had, by now, received intelligence from a squadron of dragoons that had been driven out of Vejer, informing him of the strong Anglo-Spanish force making its way up the western road from Tarifa. In conjunction with the aggressive action of the Cádiz garrison, this led him to conclude that the approaching troops were heading for Cádiz; their line of march was therefore predictable, so he prepared a trap. General Eugène-Casimir Villatte's division was sent to block the neck of the peninsula on which the western road ran, preventing access to the Santi Petri creek and the Isla de Léon. Two other divisions, under the commands of Generals François Amable Ruffin and Jean François Leval, were ordered to conceal themselves in the thick Chiclana forest in position to attack the flank of the Allies as they engaged Villatte's division.
After another night march, on 5 March the Allies reached a hill to the south east of Barrosa, the Cerro del Puerco (also referred to as the Barrosa Ridge). Scouts reported the presence of Villatte's force, and la Peña ordered his vanguard division to advance. With the aid of a fresh sortie of Zayas's troops from Cádiz, and reinforced by a brigade of the Prince of Anglona's division, the Spanish drove Villatte's force across the Almanza Creek. La Peña refused his vanguard permission to pursue the retreating French, who were consequently able to regroup on the far side of the creek. Graham's Anglo-Portuguese division had remained behind on the Cerro del Puerco to defend the rear and right flank of la Peña's main force.
Map of the battle, from Alison's History of Europe