May 01 2012
The Anglo-Portuguese army finally took Badajoz at the third attempt on the 6th April 1812, and almost immediately there was a difference of opinion as to who had actually taken the place. Obviously, looking at the whole picture, there can be little doubt that each of the four divisions involved in the events of the 6th April had a part to play. However terrible the slaughter at the breaches, without the desperate efforts of the 4th and light divisions which held most of the garrison at the Santa Maria and Trinidad bastions it is unlikely that the two escalades would have had any hope of success.
Nevertheless, it was the escalades which enabled Wellington’s men to get into the town and thus the rivalry which quickly developed involved the claims of the 3rd division at the castle and the 5th division at the San Vincente bastion.
The 88th Regiment (3rd Division) escalading at the castle.
The 30th Regiment (5th Division) escalading at the San Vincente Bastion.
General Sir Thomas Picton
To be more specific, the rivalry between these two divisions had its origins in events at the Battle of Buçaco, eighteen months before, when both General Picton of the 3rd Division and General Leith of the 5th had claimed the honour of playing the crucial role on the right of the allied line. This rivalry had simmered between the two generals ever since.
General Sir James Leith
In order to resolve the question, “Who took Badajoz?” it is necessary to examine the case for each of the two escalades.
Focusing on the 3rd division first, the following points need to be considered:
- the 3rd division had successfully escalated the castle before the fifth division had even set up their ladders at San Vincente;
- they were able to hold the castle against the garrison’s attempts to re-take it;
- according to Lamare, the engineer at Badajoz, the loss of the castle seriously affected the morale of the garrison;
- according to Captain McCarthy, serving as an engineer with the 3rd division, possession of the castle allowed the other divisions to enter the town.
The case for the fifth division includes the following facts:
- the 3rd division were not able to leave the castle because the French had posted a gun outside the only exit point;
- the governor, General Philippon, crossed the river to San Christobal only after the 5th division’s successful escalade;
- according to Captain Jones of the Engineers although the escalade of the castle made the fall of Badajoz ultimately inevitable, it had no immediate effect on the overall defence of the town, while the success of the fifth division brought French resistance to an end;
- once the fifth division were in the town, the other divisions could enter, the 4th and light at the breaches and the 3rd from the castle, where the gun was abandoned.
Perhaps part of the answer to the question depends upon what is meant by taking Badajoz. There is no doubt that the 3rd division was the first to establish a foothold on the defences (the castle, which was to have been the final French point of resistance), while the 5th division was the first into the streets of Badajoz. It is also unarguable that the allied possession of the castle would have led to the eventual fall of Badajoz. But, as Jones pointed out, that fall came all the quicker because of the successful escalade of San Vincente.
I would be interested to hear your opinion on “Who took Badajoz?”
Wellington surveys the carnage after Badajoz has fallen