General Graham: Covering the Siege of Badajoz

General Graham - Copy

General Graham

Having spent the winter months, whenever his military duties allowed, enjoying one of his favourite pursuits, hunting the fox, Graham was on the scene when Wellington reconnoitred Ciudad Rodrigo on the 7th January.

He played no active part in the siege and assault, however.  As he wrote to his brother-in-law, Lord Cathcart on the 21st January:

‘Charles [Cathcart’s son] will be in despair at having missed assisting at, or at least seeing, the assault of Ciudad Rodrigo.  This last was all I had, for instead of its being stormed by detachments employed in succession from their cantonments for 24 hours, Lord Wellington determined that the divisions on duty, and the next to come on, should make the attack as soon as the breach was practicable.’

Consequently, it was the 3rd and light divisions, rather than Graham’s 1st division, which had the glory of taking Ciudad Rodrigo.  Nevertheless, Wellington wrote to Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, on the 20th January:

‘Lieut.-General Graham assisted me in superintending the conduct of the details of the siege, besides performing the duties of the General-Officer commanding the 1st division, and I am much indebted to the suggestions and assistance I received from him for the success of this enterprise.’

Wellington’s next objective was Badajoz, but in order to keep the French uncertain of his intentions he sent the heavy guns to Badajoz while the rest of the army remained on the border of Leon.  Wellington himself finally left Frenada (his headquarters) on the 5th March, by which time all but one of his divisions, the 5th, along with Victor Alten’s cavalry and two independent Portuguese brigades, had marched south.  These remaining troops joined him during the next fortnight.

On the 10th March Graham received a letter from Wellington, informing him that along with Lieutenant General Hill (whom Graham had first met as a young officer at Toulon in 1793) he was to be invested with the Order of the Bath.  Two days later Graham rode to Elvas to be knighted by Wellington in front of the senior officers of his division.

By the 16th March the first of the investing troops were in position, and the siege began in earnest on the 17th.  Graham, however, was placed in command of the larger of two covering forces, the other being under the command of General Hill.  Graham’s command comprised the 1st, 6th and 7th divisions, and Slade and Le Marchant’s cavalry, 19,000 men in total.  His orders were to cross the Guadiana and advance in the direction of Seville by the main route, which would take him through Santa Marta and Villafranca.  At the same time Hill was to take possession of Merida.  Their joint objective was to drive two corps of Soult’s army, under Drouet d’Erlon and Daricau, away from Badajoz towards the Sierra Morena.

General Jean Baptiste Drouet d’Erlon

Nearing Santa Marta, Graham’s force encountered the outposts of Drouet’s force.  D’Urban, in command of the Portuguese cavalry, recorded in his journal how the French ‘marched in good order, however, and no occasion offered of making an impression upon them, so that they got clean off.’  Nevertheless, this encounter persuaded Drouet to withdraw to Villafranca.

Graham assumed that Drouet would now march southwards to Llerena, on the way to Seville.  He decided on a night march on the 18th in order to catch the French unawares, but when the allied advance entered the town on the 19th they found it deserted by the French.  Instead of marching south, Drouet had marched east to join Daricau.

The march itself proved memorable, even though its objective was not achieved.  Private Wheeler of the 51st, in a letter to his family, described how

‘As the greatest part of our march lay across fields, and over walls, hedges and ditches, we were tumbling about like drunken men.  Besides it rained all night, so that in the morning we looked more like navigators than soldiers…We dashed into the town exalting in the thought that we should surpize the frog eating rascals in their beds.  But we were deceived, there was not a Frenchman in the town.’

Graham now halted at Zafra, although he sent his cavalry forward to Usagre and Fuente Cantos.  On the 21st, though, he received an intercepted dispatch from Drouet to Reymond, whose brigade had been cut off by the allied advance.  This instructed Reymond to advance to Llerena, whereupon Graham decided to send his infantry back to the town at the time when the French could be expected to reach it.

This meant another night march.  According to D’Urban

‘The March was made in the best possible order – the arrival exactly timed, – when just at the moment of branching off, and as the morning broke – something too like a Panic was occasioned at the Head of the 7th and 1st divisions by the appearance of a few French Dragoons and by the galloping back of some of the Staff and Orderlies.  A confused firing took place in Column! without object.  General disorder ensued, and half-an-hour’s delay was occasioned.  This aided the escape of the enemy…’

Wheeler described how, because it was

‘very dark this caused some confusion at the head of the Regiment which soon spread through the whole Division.  The Chasseurs [Britannique] followed us, and began firing, our paymaster and an Hospital Assistant who was in the rear of our Regt. received the fire of the Chasseures [sic].  The Hospl. Assistant was killed and our paymaster was severely wounded in the shoulder.  Add to this the barking of about 200 dogs, and you will be able to form some sort of a notion what kind of bother we were in.’

Graham was one of those who had to gallop to safety through this chaos.

On the 27th Graham, who was now marching east, received another intercepted dispatch, this time from Reymond to Drouet, which made clear that the former was making for Fuente Ovejuna in order to join Drouet by a circuitous route.  Graham made another night march but the French were warned by local sympathisers and effected their departure before the allies arrived.  Reymond was then able to join forces with Drouet and Daricau.

Fresh orders from Wellington reached Graham on the 30th.  These informed him that he should abandon the pursuit of Drouet and Daricau because Marshal Soult, to whose Army of the South they belonged, was concentrating his forces at Seville preparatory to marching for the relief of Badajoz.  This advance would leave Graham vulnerable to attack, so he was now to retire to Fuente de Maestre, Almendralejo and Villafranca, which he reached on the 2nd April.

Marshal Soult

Soult was expected to be at Llerena by the 4th, before advancing on Albuera, which Graham occupied on the 5th.  At the same time Hill was ordered to march towards this position and combine his forces with Graham.  On the night of the 6th, while Graham’s forces remained in position to resist a French advance, they could hear the roaring of the guns, and realised that Badajoz had been taken.

The fall of Badajoz sent Soult back to Andalusia.  Graham sent two of his cavalry brigades, under Sir Stapleton Cotton, in pursuit, and on the 11th April they had a successful encounter with the French cavalry which constituted Drouet’s rear guard at Villa Garcia.

General Sir Stapleton Cotton

The following day Graham wrote to Wellington:

‘I have the honour to transmit to your Lordship the enclosed report of Sir Stapleton Cotton, giving details of a brilliant and successful attack against the enemy’s rear guard.  It must be unnecessary for me to call your Lordship’s attention to the distinguished ability with which the Lieut.-General planned and conducted this enterprise, so admirably seconded by the gallantry and judgement of Major-General Le Marchant and Lieut-Colonel Ponsonby, as well as the great exertion of the officers and men of the two brigades employed on this service.’

Lieutenant Tomkinson of the 16th recorded in his diary how

‘We came down the hill in a trot, took [a] wall in line, and were in the act of charging when the 5th Dragoon Guards came down on our right, charged, and completely upset the left flank of the enemy, and the 12th, 14th, and 16th advancing at the same moment, the success was complete.  The view of the enemy from the top of the hill, the quickness of the advance on the enemy, with the spirit of the men in leaping the wall, and the charge immediately afterwards, was one of the finest things I ever saw…

‘We killed about 53 of the enemy in the charge from Villa Garcia of the 5th Dragoon Guards, and in our pursuit to Llerena took one lieutenant-colonel, 17th dragoons, two captains, one lieutenant. 132 rank and file, with the same proportion of horses.’

This was a satisfying conclusion to Graham’s command of the covering force.


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