« PreviousContinue »
supply this army with specie. From this statement your Lordship will observe that it is not improbable that we may not be able to take advantage of the enemy's comparative weakness in this campaign for the want of money. I think it most probable, however, as I have explained in my letter of the 11th to my brother, that a great effort will be made, by a concentration of the whole of the enemy's force, when the harvest will be on the ground, to weaken the impression which our early successes have made; and this is the reason why I am anxious for a diversion on the eastern coast.' (Vol. vii. p. 318.)
It is not surprising that the anger of Wellington should have been aroused at such treatment as this, though at no time in the campaign of 1810 did his confidence in himself desert him. The following passage expresses the state of his feelings when, with Massena before him, he had vainly attempted to induce the Cabinet to carry on the war with energy and honour:
'There is a despondency among some, -a want of confidence in their own exertions,- an extravagant notion of the power and resources of the French, and a distaste for the war in the Peninsula, which sentiments have been created and are kept up by correspondence with England, even with Ministers and those connected with them.
All this is uncomfortable. With the exception of Beresford, I have really no assistance; I am left to myself, to my own exertions, to my own execution, the mode of execution, and even the superintendence of that mode; but still I don't despair. I am positively in no scrape; and if the country can be saved, we shall save it. Government have behaved with their usual weakness and folly about reinforcements, and I shall get none of those which have been promised me, but the Duke of Brunswick's infantry instead.' (Vol. vi. p. 589.)
Notwithstanding these discouragements, however, a great outwork of the Peninsula was wrested permanently from the invader in this immortal campaign of Wellington. From this time we incline to think that the absolute conquest of the Peninsula was beyond the strength of the French armies — at least, in the actual mode of their organisation. It is true that their hold on Spain grew tighter, that no inconsiderable party in that country began to favour the rule of Joseph, and that Wellington failed in 1811 to penetrate beyond the Spanish frontier. But, vast as were their forces on paper, and formidable if for an instant united, the French commanders were paralysed in their efforts for the want of money and magazines; and although they occupied five-sixths of Spain, they had no means of crushing the enemy who, from his impregnable lair in Portugal, lay watching the opportunity to attack them. From the same cause, the French armies for the most part were isolated from each other, and were full of vices of insubordination and
indiscipline; and the following letter, written in 1811, when their power in Spain appeared at the highest, and before one draft had been sent to Russia, gives a clear notion of the elements of weakness which sapped the strength of these proud legions and threatened the domination they were upholding :
I have had a good deal of information lately respecting the state of the French armies; and I have no doubt but that Napoleon is much distressed for money. Notwithstanding the swindling mode in which his armies are paid, the troops are generally ten and eleven, and some of them twelve months in arrears of pay. Provisions are never paid for, and it is acknowledged by the French officers themselves that their system has turned into a desert the finest provinces of Spain. . . . It is impossible that this fraudulent tyranny can last. If Great Britain continues stout, we must see the destruction of it.' (Vol. vii. p. 233.)
But though Portugal had been saved in this campaign, the Government, in their relations with Wellington, continued their mean and timid policy. They complained of the vast cost of the war, insisting on charging sums to this account with which it really had nothing to do, exacted from their general a statement of the destination of all his reinforcements, and kept him under galling restrictions with respect to promotions and other arrangements. The failure at Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigoa failure due, in a great degree, to their own neglect to provide siege tools increased their sense of the hopelessness of the contest; and this was aggravated by the doubtful issue of Fuentes de Onoro and Albuera. Throughout 1811 we find Wellington complaining bitterly of this vexatious and ruinous pusillanimity :
'I agree entirely in opinion with you that it is desirable, nay necessary, to reinforce this army at an early period to a large amount, and of this opinion I have repeatedly apprised Lord Liverpool in some public despatches, and in many private letters: but after what has been stated to you, you will hardly believe that I have now scarcely the force which was originally promised me, which was to be 35,000 infantry. Then when the last reinforcements were sent out, not only was I told that I was to expect no more, but I was desired to send home some of the troops in case Massena should retire. I even begged to borrow 10,000 men from England or Ireland for a short period, which was refused; and then they tell you that I don't apply for specific numbers to perform specific operations.
What I have already written will show you how the facts stand respecting my applications, and I will now state how they stand respecting objects. Before the siege of Almeida I urged in the strongest terms to be reinforced; I pointed out from whence I could be reinforced; and stated the probability that if I were reinforced, I could save everything.' (Vol. vii. p. 41.)
The following is Wellington's candid estimate of Albuera and Fuentes de Onoro:
'The battle of Albuera was a strange concern. They were never determined to fight it; they did not occupy the ground as they ought; they were ready to run away at every moment from the time it commenced till the French retired; and if it had not been for me, who am now suffering from the loss and disorganisation occasioned by that battle, they would have written a whining report upon it, which would have driven the people in England mad. However I prevented that.
'Lord Liverpool was quite right not to move thanks for the battle at Fuentes, though it was the most difficult one I was ever concerned in, and against the greatest odds. We had very nearly three to one against us engaged; above four to one of cavalry; and, moreover, our cavalry had not a gallop in them, while some of that of the enemy was fresh and in excellent order. If Boney had been there we should have been beaten.' (Vol. vii. p. 177.)
When war between France and Russia grew imminent, the Government, still incredulous of the importance or the real state of the Peninsular contest, desired to withdraw our army altogether, and to land it somewhere in the north of Europe, to act upon the flanks of Napoleon. This scheme, if carried into execution, would probably have been completely abortive; but fortunately Wellington's counsels prevailed; and the result signally vindicated his wisdom. Beyond dispute, in 1814, the diversion on the Pyrenean frontier powerfully aided the success of the allies; and the following letter, written in 1811, deserves notice for its deep sagacity:
'But the principal point on which I wished to write to you is the disposal of this army, supposing that there should be a general breeze in Europe. I think that you have miscalculated the means and resources of France in men, and mistaken the objects of the French Government in imagining that, under those circumstances, Buonaparte will be obliged or inclined to withdraw his army from Spain. He will not even reduce it considerably, but he will only not reinforce it. If I am right, the British army cannot be so advantageously employed as in the Peninsula. Of that, I trust, there is no doubt. If the British army is not employed in the Peninsula, that part of the world would soon be conquered; and the army which would have achieved its conquest, reinforced by the levies in the Peninsula, would reduce to subjugation the rest of the world. But that is not exactly the view which you have taken of the subject. You appear to think it probable that Buonaparte would be inclined or obliged to withdraw from the Peninsula; and you ask, what would I do in that case? I answer, attack the most vulnerable frontier of France, that of the Pyrenees. Oblige the French to maintain in that quarter 200,000 men for their defence; touch them vitally there, when it will certainly be im
VOL. CXVI. NO. CCXXXV.
possible to touch them elsewhere, and form the nations of the Peninsula into soldiers, who would be allies of Great Britain for centuries." (Vol. vii. p. 245.)
Lord Wellesley resigned in January 1812, disgusted at the lukewarm support his brother was receiving from the Government, and perhaps instigated by personal resentment. From a very interesting paper in these volumes (vol. vii. pp. 257-288.) it seems that some at least of his colleagues had little scruple how they assailed him :
'The friends of Ministers now had recourse to very unhandsome means of stemming this tide of popular feeling towards Lord Wellesley by depreciating his character, and circulating all possible reports to his disadvantage. As soon as it was rumoured that Lord Wellesley had resigned, a variety of reports were circulated respecting the cause, and the partisans of Mr. Perceval's government did not scruple to state publicly that it was the failure of an intrigue to obtain the office of Prime Minister. Lord Wellesley was applied to by his parliamentary friends for information to enable them to answer the inquiries with which they were assailed, and to contradict the injurious reports they heard in every quarter. They urged him to give them a short statement of his motives for retiring in writing for the greater accuracy. Lord Wellesley refused to write any statement, saying that the only place in which a full explanation could be given with propriety was in his place in Parliament, and that in the meanwhile he wished them to confine themselves to a general answer, viz. that he had retired because his advice was not listened to respecting the Peninsula and other matters.' (Vol. vii. pp. 266. 277.)
The following is Wellington's commentary on the subject:-'I have received your letters of the 4th and 7th. I had already written to you about your retirement from office. In truth the republic of a cabinet is but little suited to any man of taste or of large views. I believe that the Government are not aware of the difficulties in which I am constantly involved from defects and deficiencies of all descriptions; nor of the shifts to which I am obliged to have recourse to get on at all. I am not a competent judge of the resources of the British Empire, but I am convinced that if Great Britain had carried on the war in the Peninsula with the same generosity, not to say profusion of supply, with which other wars had been supported, matters would now have been in a very different state.' (Vol. vii. p. 307.)
In 1812, a new aspect was given to the Peninsular contest, and though retarded and even endangered, the final issue began to show itself. The French armies in Spain had been much weakened by heavy drafts for the Russian war, while they still retained their isolated positions; the long line of their communications from Bayonne absorbed considerable masses of their troops; and the Spanish frontier was ill guarded by the separated forces of
Soult and Marmont, who disliked each other and had different objects. The English general issued from Portugal; attacked Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, and took those fortresses in the face of the marshals; and having established a base in Spain, advanced against the army of Marmont and defeated him with much loss at Salamanca. This blow struck at the vital point, -the line of the French communications with Madrid - laid bare the real weakness of the invasion; and had Wellington been properly seconded by a strong diversion from the eastern coast, and received adequate reinforcements, he would probably have crushed the French armies of the north, and driven those of Valencia and Andalusia in hurried retreat behind the Ebro. Disappointed, however, in these respects, he was only able to penetrate to Madrid, and detach a part of his force to Burgos; and the army of Andalusia under Soult, having broken through the feeble barrier which Ballasteros had placed in its way, and joined those of the North and Centre, the English general was driven to a retreat which, but for the eircumspection of his foes, had wellnigh terminated in a great disaster. The campaign proved in a striking manner how weak was the hold of France upon Spain, and caused the final evacuation of Andalusia; but, though brilliant, it was chequered with peril; and even its success was not nearly commensurate with what Wellington had hoped to accomplish.
From the following, written in March 1812, we see that Wellington was confident of success long before the battle of Salamanca:
'It appears that the state of home politics is not very satisfactory, and that people in England are but little prepared for the great part they might act on the approaching scene. But it cannot be helped : we must do the best we can with the instruments which we have at command.
'I give you no news from hence. You are aware of the great operation which I have in hand. If I should succeed, which I certainly shall, unless those admirably useful institutions, the English newspapers, should have given Buonaparte the alarm, and should have induced him to order his marshals to assemble their troops to oppose me, Spain will have another chance of being saved.' (Vol. vii. p. 303.) We quote this brief résumé of this campaign from an officer ' of rank,' dated Freneda, 2nd December 1812, the rather as the extent of the danger incurred during the retreat from Burgos has hardly been sufficiently noticed: :
'Our failure at Burgos was unfortunate; but even if we had taken it, we could not possibly have kept so forward a position, particularly as the army of Portugal had received considerable reinforcements, and the armies of the South were concentrated and moving on our