Battle Honour on The Royal Green Jackets Cap Badge
At the Battle of Vittoria (21st June in 1813) a British, Portuguese and Spanish army under General the Marquess of Wellington broke the French army under Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan near Vitoria in Spain, eventually leading to victory in the Peninsular War.
In the July of 1812, after the Battle of Salamanca, the French had evacuated Madrid, which Wellington’s army entered on 12th of August 1812. Deploying three divisions to guard its southern approaches, Wellington marched north with the rest of his army to lay siege to the fortress of Burgos, 140 miles (230 km) away, but he had underestimated the enemy’s strength and on the 21st of October he had to abandon the Siege of Burgos and retreat. By the 31st of October he had abandoned Madrid too, and retreated first to Salamanca then to Ciudad Rodrigo, near the Portuguese frontier, to avoid encirclement by French armies from the north-east and south-east.
Wellington spent the winter reorganising and strengthening his forces. By contrast, Napoleon withdrew many soldiers to rebuild his main army after his disastrous invasion of Russia. By the 20th May in 1813 Wellington marched 121,000 troops (53,749 British, 39,608 Spanish and 27,569 Portuguese from northern Portugal across the mountains of northern Spain and the Esla River to outflank Marshal Jourdan’s army of 68,000, strung out between the Douro and the Tagus. The French retreated to Burgos, with Wellington’s forces marching hard to cut them off from the road to France. Wellington himself commanded the small central force in a strategic feint, while Sir Thomas Graham conducted the bulk of the army around the French right flank over landscape considered impassable.
Wellington launched his attack at Vitoria on 21st of June, in four columns. After hard fighting, Thomas Picton’s 3rd Division broke the enemy’s centre and soon the French defence crumbled. About 5,000 French soldiers were killed or wounded and 3,000 were taken prisoner, while Wellington suffered about 5,000 killed or wounded. 151 cannons were captured, but Joseph Bonaparte, erstwhile King of Spain, narrowly escaped. The battle led to the collapse of Napoleonic rule in Spain.
The battlefield centres on the Zadorra River, which runs from east to west. As the Zadorra runs west, it loops into a hairpin bend, finally swinging generally to the southwest. On the south of the battlefield are the Heights of La Puebla. To the northwest is the mass of Monte Arrato. Vitoria stands to the east, two miles (3 km) south of the Zadorra. Five roads radiate from Vitoria, north to Bilbao, northeast to Salinas and Bayonne, east to Salvatierra, south to Logroño and west to Burgos on the south side of the Zadorra.
Jourdan was ill with a fever all day on the 20th of June. Because of this, few orders were issued and the French forces stood idle. An enormous wagon train of booty clogged the streets of Vitoria. A convoy left during the night, but it had to leave siege artillery behind because there were not enough draft animals to pull the cannons.
Gazan’s divisions guarded the narrow western end of the Zadorra valley, deployed south of the river. Maransin’s brigade was posted in advance, at the village of Subijana. The divisions were disposed with Leval on the right, Daricau in the centre, Conroux on the left and Villate in reserve. Only a picket guarded the western extremity of the Heights of La Puebla.
Further back, d’Erlon’s force stood in a second line, also south of the river. D’Armagnac’s division deployed on the right and Cassagne’s on the left. D’Erlon failed to destroy three bridges near the river’s hairpin bend and posted Avy’s weak cavalry division to guard them. Reille’s men originally formed a third line, but Sarrut’s division was sent north of the river to guard the Bilbao road while Lamartinière’s division and the Spanish Royal Guard units held the river bank.
Wellington directed Hill’s 20,000-man Right Column to drive the French from the Zadorra defile on the south side of the river. While the French were preoccupied with Hill, Wellington’s Right Centre column moved along the north bank of the river and crossed it near the hairpin bend behind the French right flank.
Graham’s 20,000-man Left Column was sent around the north side of Monte Arrato. It drove down the Bilbao road, cutting off the bulk of the French army. Dalhousie’s Left Centre column cut across Monte Arrato and struck the river east of the hairpin, providing a link between Graham and Wellington.
Coming up the Burgos road, Hill sent Morillo’s Division to the right on a climb up the Heights of La Puebla. Stewart’s 2nd Division began deploying to the left in the narrow plain just south of the river. Seeing these moves, Gazan sent Maransin forward to drive Morillo off the heights. Hill moved Col. Henry Cadogan’s brigade of the 2nd Division to assist Morillo. Gazan responded by committing Villatte’s reserve division to the battle on the heights.
About this time, Gazan first spotted Wellington’s column moving north of the Zadorra to turn his right flank. He asked Jourdan, now recovered from his fever, for reinforcements. Having become obsessed with the safety of his left flank, the marshal refused to help Gazan, instead ordering some of D’Erlon’s troops to guard the Logroño road.
Wellington thrust James Kempt’s brigade of the Light Division across the Zadorra at the hairpin. At the same time, Stewart took Subijana and was counterattacked by two of Gazan’s divisions. On the heights, Cadogan was killed, but the Anglo-Spanish force managed to hang on to its foothold. Wellington suspended his attacks to allow Graham’s column time to make an impression and a lull descended on the battlefield.
At noon, Graham’s column appeared on the Bilbao road. Jourdan immediately realised he was in danger of envelopment and ordered Gazan to pull back toward Vitoria. Graham drove Sarrut’s division back across the river, but could not force his way across the Zadorra despite bitter fighting. Further east, Longa’s Spanish troops defeated the Spanish Royal Guards and cut the road to Bayonne.
With some help from Kempt’s brigade, Picton’s 3rd Division from Dalhousie’s column crossed to the south side of the river. According to Picton, the enemy responded by pummelling the 3rd with 40 to 50 cannon and a counter-attack on their right flank, still open because they had captured the bridge so quickly, causing the 3rd to lose 1,800 men (over one third of all Allied losses at the battle) as they held their ground. Cole’s 4th Division crossed further west. With Gazan on the left and d’Erlon on the right, the French attempted a stand at the village of Arinez. Formed in a menacing line, the 4th, Light, 3rd and 7th Divisions soon captured this position. The French fell back to the Zuazo ridge, covered by their well-handled and numerous field artillery. This position fell to Wellington’s attack when Gazan refused to cooperate with his colleague d’Erlon.
French morale collapsed and the soldiers of Gazan and d’Erlon ran for it. Artillerists left their guns behind as they fled on the trace horses. Soon the road was jammed with a mass of wagons and carriages. The efforts of Reille’s two divisions, holding off Graham, allowed tens of thousands of French troops to escape by the Salvatierra road.
The Allied army lost about 5,000 men, with 3,675 British, 921 Portuguese and 562 Spanish casualties. French losses totalled at least 5,200 killed and wounded, plus 2,800 men and 151 cannon captured. By army, the losses were South 4,300, Centre 2,100 and Portugal 1,600. There were no casualty returns from the Royal Guard or the artillery.
French losses were not higher for several reasons. First, the Allied army had already marched 20 miles (32 km) that morning and was in no condition to pursue. Second, Reille’s men valiantly held off Graham’s column. Third, the valley by which the French retreated was narrow and well-covered by the 3rd Hussar and the 15th Dragoon Regiments acting as rearguard. Last, the French left their booty behind.
Many British soldiers turned aside to plunder the abandoned French wagons, containing “the loot of a kingdom”. It is estimated that over one million pounds of booty (perhaps £100 million in modern equivalent) was seized, but the gross abandonment of discipline caused an enraged Wellington to write in a dispatch to Earl Bathurst, “We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers”. The British general also vented his fury on a new cavalry regiment, writing, “The 18th Hussars are a disgrace to the name of soldier, in action as well as elsewhere; and I propose to draft their horses from them and send the men to England if I cannot get the better of them in any other manner.” (On the 8th of April 1814, the 18th redeemed their reputation in a gallant charge at Croix d’Orade, shortly before the Battle of Toulouse.)
Order was soon restored, and by December, after detachments had seized San Sebastián and Pamplona, Wellington’s army was encamped in France.
The battle was the inspiration for Beethoven’s Opus 91, often called the “Battle Symphony” or “Wellington’s Victory”, which portrays the battle as musical drama. The climax of the movie The Firefly, starring Jeanette MacDonald, occurs with Wellington’s attack on the French centre. (The film used music from an opera of the same name by Rudolf Friml, but with a totally different plot.)
Commander-in-Chief: Lt Gen (local General) Arthur Wellesley, 1st Marquess of Wellington
Total Allied Forces: 81,136 (68,222 infantry, 7,715 cavalry, 5,199 artillery and train)
Artillery: Lt Col Alexander Dickson (4,307 gunners and train, approx. 90 guns
Reserve Artillery (Lt Col Julius Hartmann)
Webber-Smith’s troop RHA
Parker’s battery RA
Arriaga’s Portuguese battery
Right Column, Lt Gen Rowland Hill
2nd Division, Lt Gen William Stewart
1st Brigade, Col. the Hon. Henry Cadogan, (2,777 total) 1/50th Foot, 1/71st Foot 1/92nd Foot,
coy. 5/60th Rifles.
2nd Brigade, Maj Gen John Byng, (2,465 total) 1/3rd Foot, 1/57th Foot, 1st Provisional Bn. (2/31st and 2/66th Foot), coy,
3rd Brigade, Col. the Hon. Richard O’Callaghan, (2,530 total) 1/28th Foot, 2/34th Foot, 1/39th Foot
coy. 5/60th Rifles.
Portuguese Brigade, Brig Gen Charles Ashworth, (3,062 total) 6th Portuguese Line (2 bns), 8th Portuguese Line (2 bns), 6th Caçadores.
Portuguese Division Maj Gen Francisco Silveira, Count of Amarante, (5,287 total)
1st Brigade, Brig Gen Hippolita da Costa (2,49 total) 2nd Portuguese Line (2 bns) 14th Portuguese Line (2 bns).
2nd Brigade, Brig Gen Archibald Campbell (2,795 total) 4th Portuguese Line (2 bns) 10th Portuguese Line (2 bns) 10th Caçadores.
Maj Gen Pablo Morillo (4,551 total) Unbrigaded, eón, Unión, Legión, Bailén, Vitoria, 2nd Jaén.
Cavalry (1,847 total)
Light Cavalry Brigade, Maj Gen Victor Alten (1,005 total) 4th Light Dragoons, 1st Hussars KGL.
Heavy Cavalry Brigade, Maj Gen Henry Fane (842 total) 3rd Dragoon Guards, 1st Dragoons.
Artillery Maj. Joseph Carncross, Beane’s troop RHA (attached to Cavalry)
Maxwell’s battery RA (attached to 2nd Division)
Tulloh’s 2 Portuguese batteries of Cunas and Mitchell (attached to Portuguese Division).
Total Right Column: 22,519 (20,672 infantry, 1,847 cavalry)
Right Centre Column, Lt Gen Lowry Cole
4th Division Lt Gen Lowry Cole (7,286 total)
1st Brigade, Maj Gen William Anson (2,395 total) 3/27th Foot,1/40th Foot, 1/48th Foot, 2nd Provisional Bn. (2nd & 2/53rd Foot).
coy. 5/60th Rifles
2nd (Fusilier) Brigade, Maj Gen John Byne Skerrett (2,049 total) 1/7th Fusiliers,20th Fusiliers, 1/23rd Fusiliers, coy. Brunswick Oels Jäger.
Portuguese Brigade, Col. George Stubbs (2,842 total) 1th Portuguese Line (2 bns) 23rd Portuguese Line (2 bns), 7th Caçadores
Light Division Maj Gen Charles Alten (5,484 total)
1st Brigade, (2,597 total) 1/43rd Light Infantry, 1/95th Rifles, 3/95th Rifles (5 coys.) 3rd Caçadores.
2nd Brigade, Maj Gen John Ormsby Vandeleur (2,887 total)
1/52nd Light Infantry, 2/95th Rifles (6 coys.) 17th Portuguese Line, 1st Caçadores.
Cavalry (4,417 total)
Household Cavalry Brigade, Lieut-Col. Robert Hill (870 total) 1st Life Guards, 2nd Life Guards, Royal Horse Guards.
Light Cavalry Brigade, Col. Colquhoun Grant (1,624 total) 10th Hussars, 15th Hussars, 18th Hussars.
Heavy Cavalry Brigade, Maj-Gen William Ponsonby(1,238 total) 5th Dragoon Guards, 3rd Dragoons, 4th Dragoons.
Portuguese Cavalry Brigade, Brig-Gen. Benjamin d’Urban (685 total) 1st Portuguese Dragoons, 11th Portuguese Dragoons, 12th Portuguese Dragoons.
Artillery Maj Augustus Simon Frazer
Ross’ troop RHA (attached to Light Division)
Gardiner’s troop RHA (attached to Cavalry)
Ramsay’s troop RHA
Sympher’s battery KGL (attached to 4th Division).
Total Right Centre Column: 17,817 (13,400 infantry, 4,417 cavalry)
Left Centre Column, Lt Gen George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhousie
3rd Division, Lt Gen Thomas Picton (7,455 total)
1st Brigade, Maj Gen Thomas Brisbane (2,723 total) 1/45th Foot, 74th Foot, 1/88th Foot,
3 coys. 5/60th Rifles.
2nd Brigade, Maj Gen Charles Colville (2,272 total) 1/5th Fusiliers, 2/83rd Foot, 2/87th Foot,
Portuguese Brigade, Maj Gen Manley Power (2,460 total) 9th Portuguese Line (2 bns),
21st Portuguese Line (2 bns), 11th Caçadores.
7th Division, Lt Gen the Earl of Dalhousie (7,297 total)
1st Brigade, Maj Gen Edward Barnes (2,322 total) 1/6th Foot, 3rd Provisional Bn. (2/24th & 2/58th Foot), 7 coys. Brunswick Oels Jäger.
2nd Brigade, Col. William Grant (2,538 total) 51st Light Infantry, 68th Light Infantry, 1/82nd Foot,
Portuguese Brigade Maj Gen Francisco Le Cor (2,437 total) 7th Portuguese Line (2 bns),19th Portuguese Line (2 bns), 2nd Caçadores.
Artillery, Maj Richard Buckner
Cairnes’ Battery RA (attached to 7th Division)
Douglas’ Battery RA (attached to 3rd Division).
Total Left Centre Column: 14,752 infantry
Left Column, Lt Gen Thomas Graham
1st Division, Maj Gen Kenneth Howard (4,854 total)
1st (Guards) Brigade, Maj Gen the Hon. Edward Stopford (1,728 total) 1/Coldstream Guards 1/3rd Guards, coy. 5/60th Rifles.
2nd Brigade, Col. Colin Halkett (3,126 total) 1st Line Bn, KGL, 2nd Line Bn, KGL, 5th Line Bn, KGL
1st Light Bn, KGL, 2nd Light Bn, KGL.
5th Division. Maj Gen John Oswald (6,725 total)
1st Brigade, (2,292 total)
3/1st Foot, 1/9th Foot, 1/38th Foot, coy. Brunswick Oels Jäger.
2nd Brigade, Maj Gen Frederick Philipse Robinson (2,061 total) 1/4th Foot, 2/47th Foot, 2/59th Foot
coy. Brunswick Oels Jäger.
Portuguese Brigade, Brig Gen Frederick William Spry (2,372 total) 3rd Portuguese Line (2 bns)
15th Portuguese Line (2 bns), 8th Caçadores.
Independent Portuguese Brigades, (4,689 total)
Pack’s Brigade, Maj Gen Denis Pack (2,297 total) 1st Portuguese Line (2 bns), 16th Portuguese Line (2 bns), 4th Caçadores.
Bradford’s Brigade, Maj Gen Thomas Bradford (2,392 total) 3th Portuguese Line (2 bns),24th Portuguese Line (2 bns), 5th Caçadores.
Col. Francisco de Longa (3,130 total) Unbrigaded, 1st Iberia, 2nd Iberia,3rd Iberia, 4th Iberia,
Guardias Nacionales, Húsares de Iberia, Salcedo’s Guerilla Corps.
Cavalry (1,451 total)
Light Cavalry Brigade, Maj Gen George Anson (819 total) 12th Light Dragoons, 16th Light Dragoons.
Heavy Cavalry Brigade, Maj Gen George Bock (632 total) 1st Dragoons KGL, 2nd Dragoons KGL.
Dubordieu’s battery RA (attached to 1st Division)
Lawson’s battery RA (attached to 5th Division).
Total Anglo-Portuguese Forces: 20,849 (19,398 infantry, 1,451 cavalry)
Commander-in-Chief: King Joseph Bonaparte
Chief of Staff: Marshal Jean Baptiste Jourdan
French Army total: 69,212 (51,645 infantry, 11,002 cavalry, 6,565 artillery and train, 151 guns)
Army of the South GD Honoré Gazan
1st Division, GD Jean François Leval (4,844 total)
1st Brigade, GB Georges Alexis Mocquery (2,579 total) 9th Légère, 24th Ligne.
2nd Brigade, GB Jacques Polycarpe Morgan (2,099 total) 88th Ligne, 96th Ligne.
One battery (166).
3rd Division GD Eugene-Casimir Villatte (5,874 total)
1st Brigade, GB Antoine Rignoux (2,578 total) 27th Légère, 63rd Ligne.
2nd Brigade, GB Étienne Nicolas Lefol (3,113 total) 94th Ligne, 95th Ligne.
One battery (183)
4th Division, GD Nicolas François Conroux (6,589 total)
1st Brigade, GB Jean-Pierre-Antoine Rey (3,669 total) 32nd Lignem, 43rd Ligne.
2nd Brigade, GB (2,717 total) 55th Ligne, 58th Ligne.
Artillery One battery (193).
5th Division (detachment) (2,927 total)
1st Brigade, GB Jean-Pierre Maransin (2,927 total) 2th Légère, 45th Ligne.
6th Division GD Augustin Darricau (5,700 total)
1st Brigade, GB Louis Paul Baille de Saint-Pol (2,711 total) 21st Légère, 100th Ligne.
2nd Brigade, GB Victor Urbain Remond (2,984 total) 28th Légère, 103rd Ligne.
One battery (240)
1st Cavalry Division GD Pierre Benoît Soult (1,502 total) 2nd Hussars, 5th Chasseurs à Cheval,10th Chasseurs à Cheval, 21st Chasseurs à Cheval, Horse Artillery battery (169).
2nd Cavalry Division GD Jacques Delaistre de Tilly (1,929 total) 2nd Dragoons, 4th Dragoons, 14th Dragoons, 17th Dragoons, 26th Dragoons, 27th Dragoons.
3rd Cavalry Division GD Alexandre, vicomte Digeon (1,692 total) 5th Dragoons, 12th Dragoons. 16th Dragoons, 21st Dragoons, Horse Artillery battery (177).
Auxiliary Troops (1,883 total) Artillery Reserve: Two batteries (370), Artillery Park: (713), Engineers: (630), Gendarmerie: (105), Wagon Train: (65).
Total Army of the South: 33,511 (25,377 infantry, 5,123 cavalry, 3,011 auxiliary)
Army of the Centre, GD Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Comte d’Erlon
1st Division GD Jean Barthélemy Darmagnac (4,472 total)
1st Brigade, GB David Hendrik Chassé (1,794 total) 28th Ligne, 75th Ligne.
2nd (German) Brigade, GB Neuenstein (2,678 total)2nd Nassau Infantry, 4th Baden infantry,Frankfort Infantry.
2nd Division GD Louis Victorin Cassagne (5,209 total)
1st Brigade, GB Braun?, 16th Légère, 8th Ligne.
2nd Brigade, GB Jacques Blondeau, 51st Ligne, 54th Ligne.
1st Cavalry Division GD Anne-François-Charles Trelliard (1,038 total) 3th Dragoons, 18th Dragoons, 19th Dragoons, 22nd Dragoons.
2nd Cavalry Division GD Antoine Sylvain Avy (474 total) 27th Chasseurs à Cheval, Nassau Chasseurs à Cheval.
Auxiliary Troops (830 total) Artillery: Three batteries (501), Engineers: (131), Wagon Train, etc.: (198).
Total Army of the Centre: 12,023 (9,681 infantry, 1,512 cavalry, 830 auxiliary)
Army of Portugal, GD Honoré Charles Reille
4th Division, GD Jacques Thomas Sarrut (mw) (4,802 total)
1st Brigade, GB Joseph François Fririon, 2nd Légère, 36th Ligne.
2nd Brigade, GB Jean Baptiste Pierre Menne, 4th Légère, 65th Ligne.
Artillery One battery
6th Division GD Thomas Mignot de Lamartinière (6,711 total)
1st Brigade, GB (2,567 total) 118th Ligne, 119th Ligne.
2nd Brigade, GB (3,968 total) 20th Ligne,122nd Ligne.
Artillery One battery (176)
1st Cavalry Division GD Julien Augustin Joseph Mermet (1,801 total)
1st Brigade, GB Jean Baptiste Théodore Curto (902 total) 13th Chasseurs à Cheval,
22nd Chasseurs à Cheval.
2nd Brigade, (unknown commander) (899 total) 3rd Hussars, 14th Chasseurs à Cheval, 26th Chasseurs à Cheval.
2nd Cavalry Division GB Pierre François Joseph Boyer(1,471 total) 6th Dragoons, 11th Dragoons
15th Dragoons, 25th Dragoons.
Auxiliary Troops (2,455 total) Reserve Artillery: Four foot and one horse batteries (390),
Pontoniers: (773), Engineers: (195), Gendarmerie: (174), Wagon Train: (933).
Total Army of Portugal: 17,240 (11,337 infantry, 3,272 cavalry, 2,631 auxiliary)
King Joseph’s Spanish Army
Royal Guard (French) GB Nicolas Philippe Guye (2,805 total)
Infantry (2,380 total) Guard Grenadiers, Guard Tirailleurs, Guard Voltigeurs.
Cavalry (425 total) Guard Lancers, Guard Hussars.
Troops of the Line (Spanish) Gen Casapalacios (2,833 total)
Infantry (2,070 total) Castile, Toledo, Royal Foreign Regiments.
Cavalry (670 total) 1st Spanish Chasseurs à Cheval, 2nd Spanish Chasseurs à Cheval
Army of the North Mixed detachment (800)
Artillery One battery (93)
Total King Joseph’s Spanish Army: 6,438 (5,250 infantry, 1,095 cavalry, 93 artillery)
Date 21st of June 1813
Location Vitoria, Spain
Result Decisive Allied victory
France Jean-Baptiste Jourdan
Casualties and losses
8,000 dead, wounded or captured
All 151 guns captured or destroyed.
King Joseph’s baggage train captured.
Date 21st of June 1813
Location Vittoria, Spain
Result Decisive Allied victory
Commanders and leaders
Marquess of Wellington
United Kingdom Thomas Graham
United Kingdom Rowland Hill
United Kingdom Lord Dalhousie
Luís do Rego Barreto
Casualties and losses
5,158 dead or wounded
Sourced from Wikipedia