April 5 1812: A Canadian at the Siege of Badajoz

On April 5, 1812, Édouard-Alphonse d’Irumberry de Salaberry, a Canadian serving in Spain, may have awoken with an uneasy sense that this would be the last day that he would see the light fall on the stonewalls of the Badajoz fortress. His fellow soldiers later claimed that he had a “premonition of danger” that day, but it would have been a very foolish soldier who did not sense mortality that morning knowing that he would soon have to storm the fortress. 

Édouard-Alphonse d’Irumberry de Salaberry had made a longer journey than most to reach Badajoz. He was born in Beauport, in Lower Canada, on June 20, 1792.  He was the son of Ignace-Michel-Louis-Antoine d’Irumberry de Salaberry and Françoise-Catherine Hertel de Saint-François. The De Salaberry family was prominent in the colony. The family even had attracted a royal patron in the person of Prince Augustus, the fourth son of George III, who served in Quebec from August 1791 to January 1794. The Prince had become close to the de Salaberry family and had been asked to be Édouard's godfather at his baptism. His godmother was the Prince's mistress, Thérèse-Bernardine Mongenet. When, on July 16, 1806, a 14 year old Édouard went to England, he was able to stay with his godfather, the Prince now known as the Duke of Kent.

Édouard's father, Louis de Salaberry, had thus been able to negotiate his family into a  prominent position among the colony's elite English and French families. This negotiation involved gaining entry into the system of British imperial patronage. It was an entry paid by  the service of his four sons in the British military. It was a price that was to prove steep as only one of his four sons would survive their father. His son Maurice-Roch died of fever in India in 1809. François-Louis followed, dying in 1811 serving with the Royal Scots. Édouard would survive to April 6, 1812 when he would be killed on the final assault on Badajoz by British and Portuguese troops. The only son to survive was Charles-Michel who, in the War of 1812, would lead French Canadian and Mohawk troops at the battle of Chateauguay defeating a threatened American invasion. 

It was the Duke of Kent that had sponsored the four brothers into the army. In London, the Duke also paid for Édouard's fees for a private tutor and attendance at the Royal Military Academy. Around 1809, Édouard trained in surveying before beginning his service as a military engineer. In 1810, Édouard was commissioned into the Royal Engineers and shipped to the Iberian Peninsula. 

On May 1, 1811, Édouard was promoted to first lieutenant. He appears to have arrived with his division at Cuidad Rodrigo the very night that the city was taken by Wellington. He then moved with the armies south arriving on March 16 at Badajoz when its siege began.  Édouard would find at Badajoz another officer with a connection to the Canadian colonies. One of his fellow officers was Acting Captain Francis Gwillim Simcoe of the 3rd Battalion, 27th Foot from the 4th Division, who was the son of Lieutenant-General John Graves Simcoe, the founder of York in Upper Canada.  

Édouard, as part of the Royal Engineers, would have been involved in the construction of the series of trenches necessary to place the siege guns closer to the walls of the fortress.   Édouard served under the command of Captain John A. Williams in the 4th Brigade. By April 5 the siege guns were close enough to the walls. Constant firing had created two breaches located in the two southeastern bastions of the fortress known as the Santa Maria and Trinidad. The breach at the Trinidad bastion was about 150 feet wide. The breach of the Santa Maria was about 90 feet wide. Édouard would then know that an attack would be imminent. He would also know that the Royal Engineers would be with the first troops  charging into the breaches in the stonewalls of Badajoz.  


The above posted is based on the information found in the very interesting article by John R. Grodzinki “Universally Esteemed by His Brothers in Arms:” Lieutenant Edward de Salaberry, R.E. at Badajoz, 6 April 1812" that can be found here. In addition, from the entry for "Édouard-Alphonse d’Irumberry de Salaberry"  in the Canadian Dictionary of Biography   which can be found here

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting learning a bit more about de Salaberry before he served in Canada.