July 21 1812: Armies Approach Salamanca

On July 21, 18123, Wellington writes to the Earl Bathurst, the Secretary of State, about the maneuvers of his army in relation to the French army of Marshall Marmont, confusingly, known as the Army of Portugal. Earlier in the year, Wellington had advanced into Spain and captured Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo. Marshal Marmont and his  Army of Portugal was now in front of him between Toros and Tordesillas, near Salamanca. The armies for weeks had engaged in various maneuvers, shadowing each other in an attempt to gain an advantage. On July 21 1812 both armies are marching towards Salamanca. Wellington writes: "I have therefore determined to cross the Tormes, if the enemy should; to cover Salamanca as long as I can; and above all, not to give up our communication with Ciudad Rodrigo; and not to fight an action, unless under very advantageous circumstances, or it should become absolutely necessary." Wellington's letter is reproduced below.

 General the Earl of Wellington, K.B., to the Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State.
Cabrerizos, near Salamanca, 21st July, 1812.

MY LORD, In the course of the 15th and 16th the enemy moved all their troops to the right of their position on the Duero, and their army was concentrated between Toro and San Roman. A considerable body passed the Duero at Toro on the evening of the 16th; and I moved the allied army to their left on that night, with an intention to concentrate on the Guareña.

It was totally out of my power to prevent the enemy from passing the Duero at any point at which he might think it expedient, as he had in his possession all the bridges over that river, and many of the fords; but he recrossed that river at Toro in the night of the 16th, moved his whole army to Tordesillas, where he again crossed the Duero on the morning of the 17th, and assembled his army on that day at La Nava del Rey; having marched not less than ten leagues in the course of the 17th.

The 4th and light divisions of infantry, and Major General Anson's brigades of cavalry, had marched to Castrejon on the night of the 16th, with a view to the assembly of the army on the Guareña, and were at Castrejon under the orders of Lieut. General Sir Stapleton Cotton on the 17th, not having been ordered to proceed further, in consequence of my knowledge that the enemy had not passed the Duero at Toro, and there was not time to call them in between the hour at which I received the intelligence of the whole of the enemy's army being at La Nava and daylight of the morning of the 18th. I therefore took measures to provide for their retreat and junction, by moving the 5th division to Torrecilla de la Orden; and Major General Le Marchant's, Major General Alten's, and Major General Bock's brigades of cavalry to Alaejos.

The enemy attacked the troops at Castrejon at the dawn of day of the 18th, and Sir Stapleton Cotton maintained the post without suffering any loss till the cavalry had joined him. Nearly about the same time the enemy turned, by Alaejos, the left flank of our position at Castrejon.

The troops retired in admirable order to Torrecilla de la Orden, having the enemy's whole army on their flank, or in their rear, and thence to the Guareña, which river they passed under the same circumstances, and effected their junction with the army.

The Guareña, which runs into the Duero is formed by four streams, which unite about a league below Canizal, and the enemy took a strong position on the heights on the right of that river; and I placed the 5th, 4th, and Light divisions on the opposite heights, and had directed the remainder of the army to cross the Upper Guareña at Vallesa, in consequence of the appearance of the enemy's intention to turn our right.

Shortly after his arrival, however, the enemy crossed the Guareña at Castrillo, below the junction of the streams; and manifested an intention to press upon our left, and to enter the valley of Canizal. Major General Alten's brigade of cavalry, supported by the 3rd dragoons, were already engaged with the enemy's cavalry, and had taken, among other prisoners, the French General de Carrié; and I desired Lieut. General the Hon. L. Cole to attack with Major General William Anson's and Brigadier General Harvey's brigades of infantry, the latter under the command of Colonel Stubbs, the enemy's infantry, which were supporting their cavalry. He immediately attacked and defeated them with the 27th and 40th regiments, which advanced to the charge with bayonets, Colonel Stubbs's Portuguese brigade supporting; and the enemy gave way; many were killed, and wounded; and Major General Alten's brigade of cavalry having pursued the fugitives, 240 prisoners were taken.

In these affairs, Lieut. General the Hon. L Cole, Major General V. Alten, Major General W. Anson, Lieut. Colonels Arentschildt of the 1st hussars, and Hervey of the 14th light dragoons; Lieut. Colonel Maclean of the 27th, and Major Archdall of the 40th; Colonel Stubbs, Lieut. Colonel Anderson, commanding the 11th, and Major de Azeredo, commanding the 23rd Portuguese regiments, distinguished themselves.

 The enemy did not make any further attempt on our left, but having reinforced their troops on that side, and withdrawn those which had moved to their left I brought back ours from Vallesa.

On the 19th, in the afternoon, the enemy withdrew all the troops from their right, and marched to their left by Tarazona, apparently with an intention of turning our right. I crossed the Upper Guareña at Vallesa and El Olmo, with the whole of the allied army, in the course of that evening and night; and every preparation was made for the action which was expected on the plain of Vallesa on the morning of the 20th.

But shortly after daylight the enemy made another movement, in several columns, to his left along the heights of the Guareña, which river he crossed below Cantalapiedra, and encamped last night at Babila-fuente and Villoruela; and the allied army made a corresponding movement to its right to Cantalpino, and encamped last night at Cabeza Vellosa, the 6th division and Major General Alten's brigade of cavalry being upon the Tormes at Aldea Lengua.

During these movements, there have been occasional cannonades, but without loss on our side

I have this morning moved the left of the army to the Tormes, where the whole are now concentrated; and I observe that the enemy have also moved towards the same river near Huerta.

The enemy's object hitherto has been to cut off my communication with Salamanca and Ciudad Rodrigo, the want of which, he knows well would distress us very materially The wheat harvest has not yet been reaped in Castille, and even if we had money, we could not now procure any thing from the country, unless we should follow the example of the enemy, and lay waste whole districts in order to procure a scanty subsistence of unripe wheat for the troops.

It would answer no purpose to attempt to retaliate upon the enemy, even if it were practicable. The French armies in Spain have never had any secure communication beyond the ground which they occupy; and provided the enemy opposed to them is not too strong for them, they are indifferent in respect to the quarter from which their operations are directed, or on which side they carry them on.

The army of Portugal has been surrounded for the last six weeks, and scarcely even a letter reaches its commander; but the system of organized rapine and plunder, and the extraordinary discipline so long established in the French armies, enable it to subsist at the expense of the total ruin of the country in which it has been placed; and I am not certain that Marshal Marmont has not now at his command a greater quantity of provisions and supplies of every description than we have. Any movement upon his flank, therefore, would only tend to augment the embarrassments of our own situation, while it would have no effect whatever upon that of the enemy; even if such a movement could have been made with advantage as an operation purely military: this, however, was not the case, and when the French attempted to turn our right, I had the choice only of marching towards Salamanca, or of attacking the enemy in a position highly advantageous to him, which, for several reasons, I did not think expedient.

I have invariably been of opinion, that unless forced to fight a battle, it is better that one should not be fought by the allied army, unless under such favorable circumstances as that there would be reason to hope that the allied army would be able to maintain the field, while those of the enemy should not.

Your Lordship will have seen by the returns of the two armies that we have no superiority of numbers, even over that single army immediately opposed to us; indeed, I believe that the French army is of the two the strongest; and it is certainly equipped with a profusion of artillery double ours in numbers, and of larger calibres. It cannot be attacked therefore in a chosen position, without considerable loss on our side.

To this circumstance, add that I am quite certain that Marshal Marmont's army is to be joined by the King's, which will be 10,000 or 12,000 men, with a large proportion of cavalry, and that troops are still expected from the army of the North, and some are ordered from that of the South; and it will be seen that I ought to consider it almost impossible to remain in Castille after an action, the circumstances of which should not have been so advantageous as to have left the allied army in a situation of comparative strength, while that of the enemy should have been much weakened.

I have therefore determined to cross the Tormes, if the enemy should; to cover Salamanca as long as I can; and above all, not to give up our communication with Ciudad Rodrigo; and not to fight an action, unless under very advantageous circumstances, or it should become absolutely necessary.

Since I wrote to your Lordship on the 14th, I have learnt that General Drouet had not crossed the Guadiana, nor had he moved in that direction. Lieut. General Sir Rowland Hill therefore still remains at Llerena.

The siege of Astorga continues. General Santocildes had detached a division of 4000 infantry under General Cabrera, to Benavente. General D'Urban, with the Portuguese cavalry, joined on the left of the allied army, on the 17th instant.

The enemy abandoned and destroyed the fort of Mirabete on the Tagus, on the 11th instant, and the garrison marched to Madrid to form part of the army of the Centre. They were reduced to five days' provisions.

From all that I have seen and heard, I am quite certain that the King is making every effort to collect a body of troops to oppose us.

I have the honor to be, &c. 

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