The Battle of Barossa

From Britishbattles.com

War: Peninsular War
Date: 5th March 1811

Place: Outside Cadiz in Southern Spain

Combatants: British, Portuguese and Spanish against the French

Generals: The nominal commander of the British, Portuguese and Spanish was General La Peña. A British officers, Lieutenant General Thomas Graham conducted the battle. The French were commanded by Marshal Victor.

The Battle of Barossa
The Battle of Barossa

Size of the armies: The total British, Portuguese and Spanish force was 15,000 men. Graham commanded 5,200 British and Portuguese. There were 9,600 Spanish. The French force that attacked the British and Portuguese contingent was around 7,000.

Uniforms, arms and equipment: Uniforms, arms, equipment and training:
The British infantry wore red waist jackets, white trousers, and stovepipe shakos. Fusilier regiments wore bearskin caps. The rifle regiment wore dark green jackets.
The French army wore a wide variety of uniforms. The basic infantry uniform was dark blue.
The French artillery dressed in uniforms similar to the infantry, the horse artillery in hussar uniform.
The standard infantry weapon across all the armies was the musket. It could be fired three or four times a minute, throwing a heavy ball inaccurately for a hundred metres or so. Each infantryman carried a bayonet that fitted on the muzzle of his musket. 

The British rifle battalion carried the Baker rifle, a more accurate weapon but slower to fire, and a sword bayonet.

Field guns fired a ball projectile, by its nature of limited use against troops in the field, unless closely formed. Guns also fired case shot or canister which fragmented, but was effective only over a short range. Exploding shells fired by howitzers, as yet in their infancy, were of particular use against buildings. The British had ‘shrapnel’ a fragmenting form of shell, used against troops.

Winner: The aim of the raid, which was to destroy the French siege works, was not achieved, but heavy casualties were inflicted on the two French divisions and the British, Portuguese and Spanish force was able to return to Cadiz unimpeded. The British consider the battle a victory

Account: In January 1810 Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Soult advanced south into Andalusia and captured Seville, the city from where the Spanish Cortes had been attempting to direct the war against the French. Soult delayed to continue the French advance on the important port of Cadiz, giving time to the Duke of Albuquerque to slip into the city and hold it against the French. Cadiz reached by an isthmus, was impregnable when fully garrisoned. Joseph left Soult to begin a desultory siege of the city and returned to Madrid. 

Map of the Battle of Barossa 5th March 1811
Map of the Battle of Barossa

The garrison of Cadiz was increased by further Spanish, British and Portuguese troops brought in by sea, the British and Portuguese contingent commanded by Lieutenant General Thomas Graham.
In early 1811 Soult took a substantial part of his Andalusian army north to Badajoz. It was decided to seize the opportunity to disrupt the French siege works outside Cadiz by an attack from the rear.
Graham and the British and Portuguese contingent took ship along the coast, ending in Algeciras, across the bay from Gibraltar. Graham was joined by troops from the Gibraltar garrison, in particular a battalion formed from the flank companies of the garrison, commanded by Major Brown of the 28th Foot.

La Peña arrived and, having a larger contingent, took command. La Peña ordered the army to march along the coast to the West, towards Cadiz. Criticism is mounted against La Peña that he marched the troops too hard and kept changing their destination.

Sergeant Masterman of the 87th Irish Foot capturing the eagle of the 8th of the Line at the Battle of Barrosa: the first eagle captured by the British Army

Rather than fulfilling the purpose of the expedition, which was to destroy as much of the French siege works as possible, La Peña resolved to march along the coast and hurry back into Cadiz with the assistance of the Spanish force waiting on the far side of the San Petri River.

The French were moving south to intercept La Peña’s force. Graham intended to hold a position on the Barossa Ridge, an area of high ground leading to the coast, some 3 miles short of the San Petri River crossing, but La Peña ordered him to march on, leaving a rear guard of a battalion and the few cavalry he had, while five Spanish battalions would join them to hold off the French. Graham gave this job to Brown with his battalion of flank companies and marched on to the West.

Soon Brown found himself threatened by two French divisions. He hastened to leave the ridge sending a message to Graham. Graham turned his British Portuguese column about and hurried back, sending on an order to Brown to recover his position on the Barossa Hill.

Graham led his battalion of flank companies into the attack up the hillside, suffering 236 casualties in his assault on the French. Coming up on Brown’s right, Colonel Dilkes’ brigade of Foot Guards attacked up the hill. The French sent down two counter-attacks, both of which were beaten off, the Foot Guards and Brown’s battalion forcing their way to the summit.

The Battle of Barossa  

Wheatley’s brigade (1st/28th Foot (less flank cos), 2nd/67th Foot, 2nd/87th Foot) assaulted Laval’s division on Brown’s left, his 2,600 men pitted against 4,000 French. Laval sent his division against the British in four columns. The British battalions waited until the French were within 50 yards and firing from line, two deep, decimated the French columns. The final blow was a charge by a squadron of King’s German Legion Hussars. The battle had lasted just one and a half hours.

Throughout, La Peña and his Spanish troops held aloof, leaving the British and Portuguese to fight alone. Had, at the very least, the Spanish cavalry joined the German Hussars the French losses would have been disastrous.

Once the French had been driven off Graham’s force resumed their march along the coast and crossed the river back into Cadiz. No attempt was made to destroy any of the French siege works.

British Regiments: 

Royal Artillery
1st Guards, the Grenadier Guards *
Coldstream Guards *
3rd Guards, the Scots Guards *
9th Foot, from 1882 the Norfolk Regiment and now the Royal Anglian Regiment
28th Foot, from 1882 the Gloucestershire Regiment and now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment *
47th Foot, from 1882 the Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment
67th Foot, from 1882 the Hampshire Regiment and now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment *
82nd Foot, from 1882 the South Lancashire Regiment and now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment
87th Foot, from 1882 the Royal Irish Fusiliers and now the Royal Irish Regiment *
95th Rifles, from 1882 the Rifle Brigade and now the Royal Green Jackets *
* These regiments have Barossa as a battle honour.

British order of battle:
General Officer Commanding: Lieutenant General Thomas Graham
1st Brigade: commanded by Brigadier General Dilkes
2nd/1st Guards, 2nd/Coldstream Guards (2 Cos), 2nd/3rd Guards (3 Cos), 3rd/95th Rifles (2 Cos).
2nd Brigade: commanded by Colonel Wheatley
1st/28th Foot (less flank cos), 2nd/67th Foot, 2nd/87th Foot
Gibraltar Flank Battalion formed from 1st/9th Foot, 1st/28th Foot, 2nd/82nd Foot
Cadiz Light Bn. Formed from 2nd/47th Foot, 3rd/95th Rifles.
Portuguese Flank Battalion formed from 1st/20th and 2nd/20th Line Regiment.
Artillery: commanded by Major Duncan
10 guns of Hughes’ and Shenley’s batteries.

1st Guards lost 10 officers and 210 soldiers killed and wounded
The Coldstream Guards lost 3 officers and 54 soldiers killed and wounded
3rd Guards lost 2 officers and 99 soldiers killed and wounded
The Royal Artillery lost 8 officers and 46 soldiers killed and wounded
9th Foot lost 4 officers and 64 soldiers killed and wounded
28th Foot lost 8 officers and 151 soldiers killed and wounded
47th Foot lost 2 officers and 69 soldiers killed and wounded
67th Foot lost 4 officers and 40 soldiers killed and wounded
82nd Foot lost 2 officers and 97 soldiers killed and wounded
87th Foot lost 5 officers and 168 soldiers killed and wounded
95th Rifles lost 4 officers and 62 soldiers killed and wounded

French Casualties: The French lost 3,500 against the 1,200 British casualties.

Follow-up: Graham was furious at the failure of La Peña to support him and the way in which the Spanish general had conducted the raid. The Spanish Cortes awarded Graham the position of Grandee of the First Class which he refused, resigning his post as commander of the British and Portuguese forces in Cadiz and returning to the main army in Portugal.

Anecdotes and traditions:
  • Lieutenant General Thomas Graham of Balgowan was a Scottish Landowner and keen cricket player. While in France after the Revolution Graham’s wife died. A French mob treated his wife’s coffin with considerable disrespect. Enraged, Graham at the age of 45 raised a regiment at his own expense in his home county of Perthshire, the 90th Foot, becoming its colonel. The 90th became a light infantry regiment and was known as the “Perthshire Grey Breeks” from the colour of the soldier’s trousers. Prevented from further promotion by the Duke of York’s regulations any earlier, Graham became a Major General at the specific dying wish of Sir John Moore. Graham subsequently became Wellington’s second in command and a peer as Lord Lyndoch.
  • At Barossa Sergeant Patrick Masterson captured the first French eagle to be taken in battle, from the 8th of the Line, and was commissioned. One of the French regiments to take a prominent part in the battle was the 45th of the Line, which was to lose its eagle to the Royal Scots Greys at Waterloo.
  • Masterson’s regiment, the 87th Foot, were known in the Peninsular for their battle cry “Faugh a Ballagh”, the Irish for “Clear the way”. Following Barossa the regiment was “recommended to the Prince Regent” who awarded them the title of “Prince of Wales’ Own Irish Regiment” and directed that they wear an eagle on their colours and appointments.
  • Major Brown led his battalion into the attack singing his favourite song “Hearts of Oak”, or so it is said.
  • After the battle only two officers from the 28th Foot remained unwounded. See the picture by Matania of those officers toasting the King at supper that evening.