Sir William Napier
Those veterans had won nineteen pitched battles and innumerable combats; had made or sustained ten sieges and taken four great fortresses; had twice expelled the French from Portugal, once from Spain; had penetrated France, and killed wounded or captured two hundred thousand enemies — leaving of their own number forty thousand dead, whose bones whiten the plains and mountains of the Peninsula.
on the Peninsular War.
In 1808, after Bonaparte overthrew the monarchs of Spain and Portugal, an expedition under Sir Arthur Wellesley which was originally intended to attack the Spanish possessions in Central America was diverted to Portugal. Wellesley won the Battle of Vimeiro while reinforcements landed at nearby Maceira Bay. Wellesley was superseded in turn by two superiors, Sir Harry Burrard and Sir Hew Dalrymple, who delayed further attacks. Instead, they signed the Convention of Sintra, by which the French evacuated Portugal (with all their loot) in British ships. Although this secured the British hold on Lisbon, it resulted in the three generals' recall to England, and command of the British troops devolved on Sir John Moore.
In October, Moore led the army into Spain, reaching as far as Salamanca. In December, they were reinforced by 10,000 troops from England under Sir David Baird. Moore's army now totalled 36,000, but his advance was cut short by the news that Napoleon had defeated the Spanish and captured Madrid, and was approaching with an army of 200,000. Moore retreated to Corunna over mountain roads and through bitter winter weather. French cavalry pursued the British Army the length of the journey, and a Reserve Division was set to provide rearguard protection for the British troops, which were engaged in much fighting. About 4,000 troops separated from the main force and marched to Vigo. The French caught up with the main army at Corunna, and in the ensuing Battle of Corunna in January 1809, Moore was killed; the remnant of the army was evacuated to England.
In 1809, Wellesley returned to Portugal with fresh forces, and defeated the French at the Second Battle of Porto, driving them from the country. He again advanced into Spain and fought the Battle of Talavera and the Battle of the Côa. He and the Spanish commanders were unable to cooperate, and he retreated into Portugal, where he constructed the defensive Lines of Torres Vedras which protected Lisbon, while he reorganised his Anglo-Portuguese Armyinto divisions, most of which had two British and one Portuguese brigades.
The next year, when a large French army under Marshal André Masséna invaded Portugal, Wellesley fought a delaying action at the Battle of Bussaco, before withdrawing behind the impregnable Lines, leaving Massena's army to starve in front of them. After Massena withdrew, there was fighting for most of 1811 on the frontiers of Portugal, as Wellesley attempted to recover vital fortified towns. A British and Spanish force under Beresford fought the very bloody Battle of Albuera, while Wellesley himself won the Battle of Sabugal in April, and the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro in May.
Major British battles of the Peninsular War
In January 1812, Wellesley captured Ciudad Rodrigo after a surprise move. On 6 April, he then stormed Badajoz, another strong fortress, which the British had failed to carry on an earlier occasion. There was heavy fighting with very high casualties and Wellesley ordered a withdrawal, but a diversionary attack had gained a foothold by escalade and the main attack through the breaches was renewed. The fortress was taken, at great cost (over 5000 British casualties), and for three days the army sacked and pillaged the town in undisciplined revenge.
Soon after the assault on Badajoz, Wellesley (now raised to the peerage as Marquess Wellington) marched into northern Spain. For a month the British and French armies marched and counter-marched against each other around Salamanca. On 22 July, Wellington took advantage of a momentary French dispersion and gained a complete victory at the Battle of Salamanca. After occupying Madrid, Wellington unsuccessfully besieged Burgos. In October, the army to retreated Portugal. This "Winter Retreat" bore similarities to the earlier retreat to Corunna, as it suffered from poor supplies, bitter weather and rearguard action.
In spring 1813, Wellington resumed the offensive, leaving Portugal and marching northwards through Spain, dropping the lines of communication to Lisbon and establishing new ones to the Spanish ports on the Bay of Biscay. At the Battle of Vitoria the French armies were routed, disgorging an enormous quantity of loot, which caused the British troops to abandon the pursuit and break ranks to plunder. Wellington's troops subsequently defeated French attempts to relieve their remaining fortresses in Spain. During the autumn and winter, they forced the French defensive lines in the Pyrenees and crossed into France, winning the Battle of Nivelle, the Battle of Nive and the Battle of Orthez in February 1814. In France, the discipline of Wellington's British and Portuguese troops was far superior to that of the Spanish, and even that of the French, thanks to plentiful supplies delivered by sea.
On 31 March 1814, allied armies entered Paris, and Napoleon abdicated on 6 April. The news was slow to reach Wellington, who fought the indecisive Battle of Toulouseon 10 April.
Once peace agreements had finally been settled, the army left the Peninsula. The infantry marched to Bordeaux for transportation to their new postings (several to North America). Many Spanish wives and girlfriends were left behind, to general distress. The cavalry rode through France to Boulogne and Calais.