Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KG, KP, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS (1st May 1769 – 14th September 1852), was one of the leading British military and political figures of the 19th century. Often referred to as “The Duke of Wellington”, he led a successful military career during the Napoleonic Wars.
Starting his career in 1787 as a commissioned officer in the infantry, before seeing his first action in the Flanders Campaign, Wellesley rose in rank by purchasing his first four commissions, as was common practice in the British Army for wealthy officers. His continued rise in status and fame thereafter was the result of his ability as a commander.
Between the years of 1794 and 1815 Wellesley participated in a number of military campaigns where he achieved tactical, strategic, and decisive victories in India and across six countries of western Europe. He faced many of Napoleon’s marshals, but his best known battle was at Waterloo in 1815 where he led an Anglo-Allied force to a decisive victory over Napoleon I. It was to be his last battle.
There is speculation by historians and biographers about how many battles Wellington actually participated in during his career, . Military historian, Ian Fletcher, identifies twenty-four major battles and sieges involving the British Army between 1808 and 1815 with Wellington in command of seventeen. Military historian, Mark Adkin, comments that “Wellington had fought in some twenty-four battles and sieges prior to Waterloo”. Although this is easily contested, the precise number of battles may never be known. It can be established from records, dispatches and reports dating back to the events that he was present in at least fifty separate military actions, including an assortment of meeting engagements, pitched battles, sieges, skirmishes and minor engagements, throughout his career. He also ordered countless other remote engagements mostly whilst serving in the Napoleonic Wars, during which Britain played a major role in securing Europe against French occupation, between 1805 and 1815.
Commissions and promotions
Wellington was gazetted ensign on 7 March 1787, in the 73rd (Highland) Regiment of Foot, and became an aide-de-camp in October. He purchased his commission to lieutenant on 25 December 1787, in the 76th Regiment. As a junior officer he transferred to the 41st Regiment soon after to avoid duty in the East Indies, and in June 1789 transferred again, to the 12th (Prince of Wales’s) Light Dragoons cavalry regiment. He obtained his commission to captain on 30 June 1791, in the 58th (Rutlandshire) Regiment, having served the regulation minimum of three years, and again to major on 30 April 1793, in the 33rd (First Yorkshire West Riding) Regiment, having served six years. He purchased his final commission to lieutenant-colonel on 30 September 1793, at the age of 24. From there on further promotion could only be attained through seniority, per Army Regulations.
In September 1794, Wellesley experienced his first battle, against the French, at the Battle of Boxtel with the 33rd. His promotion to colonel, on 3 May 1796, came by seniority, and in June he was sent with the 33rd to India. In 1799 he fought in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War, commanding three victorious actions with the British East India Company. After winning the war, and serving as governor of Seringapatam and Mysore, Wellesley was promoted to major-general on 29 April 1802, although he did not receive the news until September. Whilst in India he wrote of his regiment “I have commanded them for nearly ten years during which I have scarcely been away from them and I have always found them to be the quietest and best behaved body of men in the army.”
Wellesley gained further success in India during the Second Anglo-Maratha War of 1803–05, and in 1806 Wellesley succeeded the Marquis Cornwallis as Colonel of the 33rd, which he held until 1813. By 1807, Napoleon’s attempt to prevent continental Europe from trading with Britain had resulted in all but Sweden, Denmark and Portugal closing their ports. In June 1807, Napoleon pressured Denmark further, resulting in the British naval bombardment of Copenhagen and seizure of the Danish fleet to prevent it from falling into French hands. Wellesley’s brief role against Danish land forces at the Battle of Køge helped secure Denmark. Wellesley later disapproved of the bombardment, saying “we might have taken the capital with greater ease”. He was promoted to lieutenant-general on 25 April 1808, and in June was given command of 9,000 men set to invade revolutionary Spanish America. But in 1807, Napoleon had invaded Portugal, via Spain, intent on preventing its continued trade with Britain, but replaced the Spanish royal family with his own brother, Joseph Bonaparte, in May 1808. In Madrid, the Spanish resisted the French occupation, leading the Portuguese to call on British support. In August 1808, Wellesley entered the Peninsular War with 15,000 men.
When the head of the British forces in the Peninsula, Sir John Moore, was killed in the Battle of Corunna in January 1809, the British Army having been driven from the Peninsula in disarray, Wellington sent the Secretary of War a memo insisting that a British force of no less than 30,000 British troops should be sent to defend and rebuild Portugal’s military strength. His proposal was approved and he re-embarked to Lisbon on 16 April 1809, where he was appointed to head of the forces in Portugal – a motion supported by the government and Prince Regent George IV, as Wellington did not hold seniority.
On 31st of July 1811, he was promoted to general, although it only applied in the Peninsula. His final promotion to field marshal came on 21 June 1813, following his success at the Battle of Vitoria which had broken the remaining French hold in Spain. Wellington was awarded with a Marshal’s baton – partially designed by the Prince Regent himself – the first of its kind in the Britain Army.
Wellington was appointed head of all British forces from April 1809, following the death of Sir John Moore, and due to the second invasion of Portugal by the French he remained to continue the Peninsular War for a further five years, engaging the French armies across Portugal, Spain, and north into France until Napoleon’s abdication in 1814. He returned to Europe in 1815 appointed overall commander of the Anglo-Allied forces of the Seventh Coalition, better known as the Hundred Days, following Napoleon’s escape from exile and attempt to retain power.
Despite many battles to his name, over twenty-one years of duty, it would be shortly after the battle at Waterloo upon hearing of approximately 50,000 casualties dead or dying that he wept, saying “I hope to God I have fought my last battle”. It had been a close victory at such great cost that it broke his fighting spirit, and marked the end of his long service overseas with a notable military career. He returned to British politics and became a leading statesman. He was appointed Master-General of the Ordnance (1819–27) and Commander-in-Chief of the Forces (1827–28/1842–52), but Wellington did not fight again.
Wellington’s understanding of logistics was to prove valuable in leading an expeditionary force against the French invasion of Portugal and Spain. He was adept at planning long marches through unknown territory, understanding that he not only had thousands of men to manage efficiently, but that a huge amount of supplies were required to adequately feed and sustain his army. Secure supply lines to the Portuguese coast were of vital importance if he was to maintain his ability to fight the French.
In April 1809, Wellington returned to Portugal with 28,000 British and 16,000 Portuguese troops under his command – the French Army of Spain numbered 360,000. Despite many French troops having been dispersed to garrisons across Spain or located to protect supply and communication lines, even with the Portuguese Army and militia, and remnants of the Spanish Army and guerillas to support him, Wellington faced overwhelming odds. Throughout the Peninsular War the number of soldiers enlisted in Britain never exceeded 40,000, including the King’s German Legion (KGL) and British-trained Portuguese Army. At Waterloo, of his roughly 73,000 strong army, only around 26,000 (36 percent) were British. Many British politicians were opposed to the war in Europe and favoured withdrawal, which hampered its will to muster a larger force to defeat Napoleon. This served in sharpening Wellington’s awareness that a defensive strategy was essential, initially, to ensure the British Army survived.
Wellington faced armies formed from the disbanded French Grande Armée, once an overpowering force, which having conquered Europe and expanded the French Empire had been led by Napoleon and his marshals since 1804. It had been reformed into smaller armies from October 1808, under the command of his brother Joseph Bonaparte and several marshals, in order to secure Portugal and Spain. Wellington arrived in Lisbon in 1809 with an army composed mostly of volunteers, “the scum of the earth” as he termed them. Unlike French troops, British troops were better trained and were required to repeatedly practice firing with live rounds before encountering combat. Napoleon only personally visited Spain once, between October 1808 and January 1809, taking most of his Guard and many élite troops with him when he left – the remaining troops became a second line in quality, experience and equipment – new recruits were often not French.
Wellington’s army consisted of four combat arms: Infantry, cavalry and artillery. Engineers also played a valuable role in the Peninsula, such as the building of the Lines of Torres Vedras – a defensive line of forts built to protect Lisbon – and making preparations for any sieges throughout the war. Wellington’s main combat arm was his well-trained infantry. He never had more than 2,000 cavalry before 1812 and his cannons, although highly competent, were inferior to French guns in both number and quality. It was with this force that Wellington aimed to defend Portugal until he took to an offensive strategy in 1812, beating the French at the Salamanca. He advanced on to Madrid, arriving on 12 August 1812 – Joseph Bonaparte had abandoned the capital after the defeat at Salamanca.
The Spanish government made Wellington commander-in-chief of all allied armies, providing an extra 21,000 Spanish troops after Salamanca. Although not completely undefeated he never lost a major battle. His greatest defeat came at the Siege of Burgos in 1812, where he had hoped to prevent French forces concentrating. After losing 2,000 men and causing only 600 French casualties he was forced to raise the siege and retreat, calling it “the worst scrape I was ever in.” Retiring to winter quarters, where he received reinforcements that brought his regular army up to 75,000 men, Wellington began his final offensive in June 1813. He advanced north, through the Pyrenees, and into France itself. The French were no longer fighting to keep Spain but to defend their own border.
Ultimately, between the battles of Roliça (August 1808) and Toulouse (April 1814), the war against the French lasted for six years, with Wellington finally managing to drive the French from the Iberian Peninsula. Shortly thereafter, on 12 April 1814, word reached Wellington that Napoleon had abdicated on 6 April. The war on the Peninsula was over. Wellington and his army had marched over an estimated 6,000 miles (9,656 km) and fought in many engagements through Portugal and Spain, the consequences of which helped bring the downfall of Napoleon, resulting in peace across Europe.
There are a large number of battles attributed to Wellington. Although many leave the impression that he was present or in command at those actions, it was sometimes the case that he entrusted other officers to engage the enemy, such as at remote locations, and that he could not have attended them all in person. Similarly, Wellington was not usually in command of rear guard actions, during advances or retreats, despite his army engaging in them often. Engagements where the lack of his presence is absolutely certain, or where his position is unconfirmed by records and accounts, are not included in his battle record.
15th Sep 1794-Flanders Campaign-Battle of Boxtel
27th Mar 1799-Fourth Anglo–Mysore War-Battle of Mallavelly
5th Apr – 4th May 1799-Fourth Anglo–Mysore War-Battle of Seringapatam
6th Apr 1799-Fourth Anglo–Mysore War-Battle of Sultanpet Tope
8th–12th Aug 1803-Second Anglo-Maratha War-Battle of Ahmednagar
23rd Sep 1803-Second Anglo-Maratha War-Battle of Assaye
28th Nov 1803-Second Anglo-Maratha War-Battle of Argaon
15th Dec 1803-Second Anglo-Maratha War-Siege of Gawilghur
29th Aug 1807-English Wars-Battle of Køge
17th Aug 1808-Peninsular War-Battle of Roliça
21st Aug 1808-Peninsular War-Battle of Vimeiro
10th–11th May 1809-Peninsular War-Battle of Grijó
12th May 1809-Peninsular War-Second Battle of Porto
27th Jul 1809-Peninsular War-Combat of Casa de Salinas
27th–28th Jul 1809-Peninsular War-Battle of Talavera
27th Sep 1810-Peninsular War-Battle of Buçaco
11th Mar 1811-Peninsular War-Battle of Pomba
12th Mar 1811-Peninsular War-Battle of Redinha
15th Mar 1811-Peninsular War-Combat of Foz de Arouce
29th Mar 1811-Peninsular War-Combat of Guarda
3rd Apr 1811-Peninsular War-Battle of Sabugal
3rd–5th May 1811-Peninsular War-Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro
5th May – 16th Jun 1811-Peninsular War-Second Siege of Badajoz
25th Sep 1811-Peninsular War-Battle of El Bodón
27th Sep 1811-Peninsular War-Combat of Aldea da Ponte
7th–20th Jan 1812-Peninsular War-Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo
16th Mar – 6th Apr 1812-Peninsular War-Third Siege of Badajoz
17th–27th Jun 1812-Peninsular War-Siege of the Salamanca Forts
18th Jul 1812-Peninsular War-Combat of Castrillo
22nd Jul 1812-Peninsular War-Battle of Salamanca
19th Sep – 21st Oct 1812-Peninsular War-Siege of Burgos
25th–29th Oct 1812-Peninsular War-Battle of Tordesillas
10th–11th Nov 1812-Peninsular War-Combat of Alba de Tormes
17th Nov 1812-Peninsular War-Combat of Huebra, San Muñoz
21st Jun 1813-Peninsular War-Battle of Vitoria
7th Jul – 8th Sep 1813-Peninsular War-Siege of San Sebastián
26th–28th Jul 1813-Peninsular War-First Battle of Sorauren
28th–30th Jul 1813-Peninsular War-Second Battle of Sorauren
2nd Aug 1813-Peninsular War-Combat of Echalar
7th Oct 1813-Peninsular War-Battle of the Bidassoa
10th Nov 1813-Peninsular War-Battle of Nivelle
9th–12th Dec 1813Peninsular War-Battle of the Nive
15th Feb 1814-Peninsular War-Battle of Garris
27th Feb 1814-Peninsular War-Battle of Orthez
20th Mar 1814-Peninsular War-Battle of Tarbes
8th Apr 1814-Peninsular War-Combat of Croix d’Orade
10th Apr 1814-Peninsular War-Battle of Toulouse
16th Jun 1815-Hundred Days-Battle of Quatre Bras
18th Jun 1815-Hundred Days-Battle of Waterloo
Sourced from Wikipedia