Barrosa Campaign, February-March 1811

Barrosa Campaign, February-March 1811

Barrosa Campaign, February-March 1811

The Armies
The March
The Battle
The Aftermath


The campaign that led to the battle of Barrosa demonstrated the weakness of the French position in Andalusia during the two and a half years that they occupied the province. The French had invaded Andalusia at the start of 1810, and had overrun almost the entire province, but arrived outside Cadiz two days behind a Spanish army under the Duke of Albuquerque. Once the island city of Cadiz was properly garrisoned it was almost impossible for the French to take it from the land, while British naval power made it unlikely that the French Toulon fleet would be risked in an attack on the city. The siege of Cadiz would last for almost as long as the French occupation of Andalusia, beginning on 5 February 1810 and ending on 24 August 1812 in the aftermath of the battle of Salamanca and King Joseph’s flight from Madrid.

Worse was to come. The British and Spanish quickly built up the garrison of Cadiz until it contained over 25,000 men. With the British fleet securely in command of the seas around Spain, and most of the inner and outer harbours of Cadiz in allied hands, supplies could flow freely into the city, allowing this large garrison to be maintained indefinably. As a result Soult was forced to keep Marshal Victor’s I Corps in the siege lines around Cadiz to prevent the garrison breaking out into southern Andalusia. Even this did not entirely remove the danger. The British and Spanish made repeated use of their command of the sea to land expeditions behind Victor’s lines and even further afield. Most of the time these were only minor expeditions, for the allies knew that if they did make a serious attack on Victor’s lines then Soult could bring enough troops together to overwhelm them, but in January 1811 Soult launched an invasion of Estremadura at the head of nearly 20,000 men. To raise this field army he had had to take troops from all of his subordinates – Victor lost most of his cavalry and a regiment of infantry. Soult also left a power vacuum behind him by failing to make any one of his subordinates his deputy during his absence. This may have been a result of the ever-present rivalry between Napoleon’s marshals, for Soult would have had to give this role to Victor, as a fellow marshal. Napoleon certainly believed this rivalry was the main reason why no overall commander was left behind in Andalusia.

The British and Spanish at Cadiz soon discovered that Victor’s force had been reduced, and that Soult was heading into Estremadura. The Spanish Regency suggesting taking advantage of this to launch an attack on the French lines. General Graham, then commanding the British troops in Cadiz, agreed to take part in this attack. The allies decided to ship their field army down the coast to one of the smaller ports still in British or Spanish hands, then advance along the coast to threaten the rear of Victor’s lines. It was hoped that he would respond by pulling a large part of his corps out of the lines around Cadiz and taking them south to deal with this threat. This in turn would allow the troops still in Cadiz to attack the depleted French lines. It was hoped that these combined attacks would force the French to at least temporarily abandon the siege.

The Armies

The allied army would be made up of three components, two of them Spanish and one Anglo-Portuguese. The main Spanish contribution was to be 8,000 regular troops from the garrison of Cadiz, under the command of General Manuel La Peña, a commander with a terrible track record. At the battle of Tudela (23 November 1808), while in command of two of the five Spanish divisions involved, he had watched from a distance of only three miles while the right wing of the Spanish army suffered a heavy defeat. He would repeat this performance at Barrosa, although with less disastrous results.

The second Spanish contingent was made up of 1,600 irregular troops under the command of General Beguines. These had been operating in the Sierra de Ronda (inland from Marbella), but joined the Allied expedition after it landed in southern Andalusia.

The Anglo-Portuguese force was made up of 5,000 British and Portuguese troops under the command of General Thomas Graham. He had been given the authority to refuse to take part in any expedition in which he was not the supreme commander, but on this occasion he was willing to serve under La Peña. Graham was a remarkable figure, with a career quite unlike that of any other British general of the Napoleonic Wars. At the start of the French Revolution he was a 44 year old Member of Parliament, but by chance he happened to be in the south of France with his seriously ill wife. After her death he narrowly escaped from the chaos of the revolution. On his return to Britain he had raised a new regiment, the 90th Regiment of Foot (Perthshire Volunteers), and had then gone to the Mediterranean as a volunteer aide-de-camp. He had eventually gained a regular commission in the army, and had served as one of Sir John Moore’s aide-de-camps during the Corunna campaign, and in 1810 had been rewarded with command of the British troops at Cadiz.

Despite having lost troops to Soult, Victor still had 15,000 men left in his I Corps. He also had 1,000 artillerymen, 800 engineers and sappers and 1,600 marines present in the siege lines. Of those 15,000 men Victor left 2,000 in the siege lines, while 3,100 were at Medina Sidonia. Victor would fight at Barrossa with only 10,000 men, split into the divisions of Villate, Leval and Ruffin.

The March

The two contingents sailed separately. The British left Cadiz on 21 February, heading for Tarifa. Heavy winds forced them past that port, and they landed at Algesiras, in Gibraltar Bay, before marching back along the coast to Tarifa. The Spanish sailed on 24 February and were all ashore at Tarifa by 27 February. This put them just over 40 miles behind the French lines, and with a choice of two routes back towards Cadiz. One led along the coast, through Vejer de la Frontera and Conil and on to the southern tip of the Isle de Leon. This route had the advantage that it would allow La Peña to establish contact with the garrison of Cadiz, but would also allow Victor to fight close to his own lines, reducing the amount of time that the siege works would be vulnerable. The other led inland to Medina Sidona, and would have placed the British and Spanish directly behind Victor’s headquarters. Victor would have been forced to come out his lines to deal with this direct threat to his position.

La Peña originally intended to take the inland road, and the allied column got as far as Casas Viegas, two thirds of the way from Tarifa to Medina Sidonia. There the leading Spanish troops discovered and defeated two companies of French troops. From his prisoners La Peña discovered that Medina Sidona was garrisoned by 3,000 French troops. This should have good news – the whole point of the expedition was to force a battle, and Victor would have been forced to come to the assistance of these troops if they had been attacked, but La Peña did not see it that way, and on the morning of 3 March the allied army abandoned its position at Casas Viegas and returned to the coast road.

This move certainly confused Victor, who began to receive reports placing the allies on both roads. At the same time it was clear that the garrison of Cadiz was preparing to make its move. On the night of 2-3 March General Zayas threw a bridge of boats across the southern end of the Rio de Santi Petri (the strip of water that separated the Isla de Leon from the Spanish mainland), and created a strong bridgehead at the tip of the Bermeja peninsula (between the Atlantic and the Almanza Creek), protected by the heavy guns in the castle of Santi Petri. Victor responded by sending six companies of voltigeurs to storm the bridgehead on the following night. Zayas managed to save the boat bridge, but lost his bridgehead on the mainland.

Despite believing himself to be facing 26,000 men, Victor decided to set a trap for the allies. It was clear that La Peña was intending to advance along the coast, past the village of La Barrosa and onto the Bermeja peninsula, in order to make contact with the garrison of Cadiz. This would leave the British and Spanish troops dangerously stretched out along the single narrow coastal road. Victor decided to post Villatte’s division on Bermeja peninsula, with orders to delay the allied advance. Leval and Ruffin were posted at Chiclana, three miles inland. Once the allies were engaged with Villatte’s division, Leval and Ruffin would attack them from the flank

The Battle (see also main article)

On the morning of 5 March the allies marched right into Victor’s trap. After a night march they reached the beach just south of the village of La Barrosa, and the hill of Cerro del Puerco. Soon after dawn the allied cavalry reached the top of the Cerro del Puerco, from where they could see Villatte’s division blocking the road to Cadiz. La Peña decided to attack at once to clear the road, and sent Lardizabal’s division to make the attack. Villatte and Lardizabal had similar numbers of men, and this first Spanish attack failed. La Peña then sent in reinforcements, while Zayas attacked Villatte in the rear from the Isla de Leon. Sensibly Villatte retreated east across the Almanza Creek.

The allies were now in a reasonably strong position at the southern tip of the French lines, with the Spanish on the Bermeja peninsula and Graham at Barrosa and on the Cerro, but La Peña decided that his army was too stretched out, and ordered Graham to move north, away from Barrosa. Five Spanish and one British battalion would form a rearguard on the hill. After protesting this order, Graham reluctantly moved off, following a forest track.

When Victor learnt of this movement he decided to spring his trap. Leval was sent to attack Graham in the woods, Ruffin to seize the hill and the French cavalry to block the coastal road south of Barossa. The five Spanish battalions on the hill were under orders to follow Graham off the hill, and so when the French attacked withdrew. The one British battalion remained for a little longer, before being forced to follow.

Victor had not achieved his main aim, of hitting the allies while they were stretched out along the shore, partly because the allied army was much smaller than he had believed and therefore much more compact. However he was now in a good position to trap them on the Bermeja peninsula, and force them to retreat back into Cadiz. He was prevented from achieving this by Graham. The moment he discovered what was happening, Graham decided to turn back and launch a counterattack. A line of skirmishers was sent back immediately, to hold the French off for long enough for the main force to turn back. Two separate battles developed – one between Leval’s division and Wheatley’s brigade and one between Ruffin’s division and Dilke’s brigade. Both developed in a similar way. The line of skirmishers suffered heavy casualties, but held the French up for long enough for the rest of Graham’s men to form their lines. The French attacked in columns, and were beaten off, eventually retreating back to the east.

The Aftermath

The battle of Barrosa was a triumph for the British army. A superior French force was repulsed, and the French had suffered the heavier casualties. Ruffin and Laval lost 244 dead, 1,684 wounded and 134 missing (a total of 2,062 casualties), which Graham lost 201 dead and 1,037 wounded (a total of 1,238 casualties). The French also lost 337 men in the early clash with La Peña’s men, who had suffered similar losses. The French were thrown into a state of some panic – at a council of war on the day after the battle they decided to abandon their lines if the allies made any serious attack on them.

Fortunately for Victor no Allied attack came. La Peña had behaved dreadfully during the main part of the battle on 5 March. For two hours Graham was fighting only two miles from the Spanish position, but instead of coming to his aid La Peña decided that the British had no chance to avoid defeat, and refused to advance to support them, much to the frustration of General Zayas. On the morning of 6 March Graham announced that he could no long serve under La Peña, and the British troops returned to the Isla de Leon. On the evening of 7 March La Peña followed. Despite winning the battle they had been seeking, this argument between the allies meant that Victor was able to resume the siege. In the aftermath all three commanders claimed a victory, even La Peña. By the time the dust settled Graham had been moved from Cadiz to join Wellington in Portugal, after having fallen out with the Spanish Regency, while La Peña had been removed from his command, while the siege of Cadiz would continue for another year, only ending in August 1812 after the French had suffered a much more serious defeat at Salamanca.


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Battle of Barrosa

The Battle of Barrosa (Chiclana, 5 March 1811) was part of an unsuccessful manoeuvre to break the siege of Cádiz in Spain during the Peninsular War. During the battle, a single British division defeated two French divisions and captured a regimental eagle.

Cádiz had been invested by the French in early 1810, leaving it accessible from the sea, but in March of the following year a reduction in the besieging army gave its garrison of Anglo-Spanish troops an opportunity to lift the siege. A large Allied strike-force was shipped south from Cádiz to Tarifa, and moved to engage the siege lines from the rear. The French, under the command of Marshal Victor, were aware of the Allied movement and redeployed to prepare a trap. Victor placed one division on the road to Cádiz, blocking the Allied line of march, while his two remaining divisions fell on the single Anglo-Portuguese rearguard division under the command of Sir Thomas Graham.

Following a fierce battle on two fronts, the British succeeded in routing the attacking French forces. A lack of support from the larger Spanish contingent prevented an absolute victory, and the French were able to regroup and reoccupy their siege lines. Graham's tactical victory proved to have little strategic effect on the continuing war, to the extent that Victor was able to claim the battle as a French victory since the siege remained in force until finally being lifted on 24 August 1812.

The Battle of Barrosa 1811

But then the Spaniards wanted to throw Graham's force into a reckless battle against the French. If the battle was won, the siege of Cadiz would be lifted if the battle was lost, Cadiz would be rendered defenseless and the Spanish government left at the mercy of the invaders.

The opposing forces met on the heights of Barrosa in one of the most savage encounters of the Peninsular War. At stake were the very survival of the Spanish nation and the future course of the war against Napoleon.

The Battle of Barrosa is the first book to examine this crucial campaign in detail and to reveal its true historical importance.

Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade imprint, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in history--books about World War II, the Third Reich, Hitler and his henchmen, the JFK assassination, conspiracies, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, gladiators, Vikings, ancient Rome, medieval times, the old West, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

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Barrosa Campaign, February-March 1811 - History

Grehan, John and Martin Mace. The Battle of Barrosa 1811: Forgotten Battle of the Peninsular War. Barnsley, UK: Pen and Sword, 2012. 224 pages. ISBN# 978184848269. Hardcover. $35

The Battle of Barrosa 1811 is a bit of a misnomer. Although the book covers that bloody battle, it is much more than that. It is a history of the Spanish and British defense of southern Spain from 1810 to 1812, in particular the city of Cadiz. By the spring of 1810, virtually all of Spain had fallen to Napoleon&rsquos armies, except for Cadiz, a port city of about 75,000 people. For almost 30 months the city withstood an epic siege that reflected the ups and downs of the Spanish people&rsquos struggle against the might of the Napoleonic Empire.

The authors assert that Cadiz was the key to the Peninsular War. Their hypothesis is that as long as an independent Spanish government held the city, the Spanish people would continue to resist the French invaders. Should the city fall, Spanish resistance would inevitably fail. The Battle of Barrosa examines the siege by exploring how the Spanish ability to hold the city was dependent on British support. Spanish pride made accepting British help difficult and the relationship between the two countries throughout the siege was stormy at best and never reached the level of willing alliance that existed between Britain and Portugal. The Battle of Barrosa draws heavily on primary sources to show the frustration of the British commander and how he repeatedly tried to forge a cohesive and unified strategy for defeating the French. Sir Thomas Graham, the commander of the British forces, finally asked to be relieved and was transferred to Wellington&rsquos Army in 1811.

In addition to chronicling the political maneuvers of the siege, The Battle of Barrosa also details the military side of it. The authors start at the very beginning and show how if the French had attacked immediately they would have been able to take the city quite easily. However, they were distracted by the prospects of an easy conquest of Seville. By the time they turn their attention to Cadiz, the Spanish had begun to organize the defense of the city and British reinforcements had arrived. Once again the authors draw on British primary sources to tell the story of the day-to-day struggle with building fortifications and walls, bombardments, attacks, and counter-attacks.

Although the focus of the book is on the siege of Cadiz, this is not to say The Battle of Barrosa ignores the battle for which the book is name. Instead the battle is considered just one of many events that were so essential to defeating the besieging forces. About half the book is devoted to the Barrosa Campaign that lasted about ten days. The goal was to defeat the French forces around Cadiz, which had been weakened when Marshal Soult, the overall French commander in southern Spain, departed with a large part of the army to relieve Badajoz, which was under siege by the British and Portuguese. In a rare show of unity, the Spanish and the British agreed to cooperate in an attack on Marshal Victor&rsquos Corps, which was still in the siege lines at Cadiz. The campaign climaxed at Barrosa Hill, where British and Portuguese forces were caught in a long column. The ensuing battle saw neither side being able to bring an overwhelming force to bear, so it became a slugging match that the British eventually won.

The authors skillfully use primary sources to place the reader in the midst of the action that saw unparalleled gallantry on both sides and the taking of a French Eagle by the British in combat.

The Battle of Barrosa includes three maps which are both extremely detailed and easy to read &ndash a rarity in many histories! One that I found quite useful was the map pinpointing all the batteries, forts, and strongpoints of both the besieged and besiegers. The book closes with a guide to the battlefield and siege works as they are today, plus appendices giving orders-of-battles for the various forces involved in the siege and the Barrosa Campaign.

The Battle of Barrosa is a well written account of an often overlooked, but important aspect of the Peninsular War. It is the best account of the battle written in English that I know of it. The fact that the authors provide so much detail on the siege of Cadiz is an added bonus!


A supplement to VOl VIII of Fortescue’s classic British army history shows the maps of the main engagements of the Peninsular War.


1. Barrosa, March 5, 1811. Inset-small map for campaign of Barrosa, February-March 1811. 2. Sabugal, April 3, 1811. 3. Fuentes de Onoro: first and second days, May 3-4 1811. 4. Fuentes de Onoro: third day, May 5, 1811. 5. Albuera. May 16 1811: first position. 6. Albuera, May 16, 1811: the final attack. 7. The Campaign on the Agueda, August-September 1811. 8. Arroyo Molinos, October 18, 1811. 9. Tarifa, December 22, 1811-January 4, 1812. 10. Ciudad Rodrigo, January 9-19, 1812. Inset-Plan and Section of the Great Breach. 1. Badajoz, March 17-April 6, 1812. Inset-Four sections of the Fortifications enlarged Plan of the East Front. 12.The Forts of Salamanca June 17-27, 1812. 13. Operations round Salamanca, July 1812. 14. Salamanca, July 22, 1812: the beginning of Marmont’s manoeuvre. 15. Salamanca, July 22, 1812: Wellington’s attack. 16. Burgos, September 19-October 21, 1812. 17. Operations round Salamanca, November 1812. 18. The Lake Frontier of Canada and the United States. Inset-the Frontier on the Niagara River.
19 General Map of Spain and Portugal, 1807-1814. 20. Massena’s Retreat, January-April 1811
21. The Portuguese Frontier, for operations of Wellington and Beresford, April-August 1811. Inset-Plan: Cavalry affair at Campo Mayor, March 25. Map: Position on the Caia, June-July 1811. 22. Spain: Operations, January-November 1812 (Northern Sphere). 23. Spain: Operations, January-November 1812 (Southern Sphere). Inset-Plan and Sections for the attack on the French posts covering the bridge at Almaraz, May 1812.

Barrosa Campaign, February-March 1811 - History

Barrosa (Chiclana), March 5, 1811

Cádiz had been invested by the French in January 1810 by a 25,000-strong French army commanded by Victor, but in March of 1811 a reduction in the besieging army gave its Anglo-Spanish garrison an opportunity to lift the siege. Their plan was to ship an expeditionary force 100 km south along the coast from Cádiz so as to launch an attack against Victor from inland.

The force comprised 4,000 British under Graham, 8,000 men of two Spanish divisions led by Lardizabal and the Prince of Anglona, four squadrons of cavalry under Col. Samuel Ford Whittingham - an English officer serving with the Spanish army - 1,000 infantry from Gibraltar and 1,600 Spaniards from an irregular force led by Beguines. The overall command was given to Lapeña, the senior officer at Cádiz. After several chaotic night marches, Lapeña diverted from his original intention and decided to march by the coast road towards Cádiz. Victor prepared a trap in the plain between the town of Chiclana and Barrosa Hill (known now as the Loma de Sancti-Petri). Using one division under Villatte to block the road into Cádiz, Victor kept two divisions under Leval and Ruffin out-of-sight in readiness to make a surprise flank attack that fell on the single Anglo-Portuguese rearguard division under the command of Sir Thomas Graham.

Following a fierce battle on two fronts, the British succeeded in routing the attacking French forces. Although some Spanish units also participated in the fight, Lapeña does not support his ally and thus prevented a smashing French defeat. The French were able to regroup and reoccupy their siege lines so the Graham's tactical victory proved to have little strategic effect and the siege remained until finally being lifted on 24 August 1812 .

- Lipscombe Nick (2010), 'The Peninsular War Atlas', Osprey

- Fortescue, J.W (1917) 'A History of the British Army', Volume 8

- López Fernández, JA'Chiclana 1811. La defensa de Cádiz' Guerreros y Batallas nº 65, Almena Editorial

- Martínez Valverde, Carlos (1961) 'El movimiento envolvente contra la línea francesa frente a Cádiz en 1811 y la batalla de Chiclana', Revista de Historia Militar nº 8, pp 65-112

- Napier, W.F.P. (1833) 'History of the war in the Peninsula and in the south of France , from the year 1807 to the year 1814', Volume 3

- Oman , Charles (1911), 'A History of the Peninsular War: Volume IV', Greenhill Books 2004

- Queipo de Llano y Ruiz de Saravia, José María, Conde de Toreno (1835), 'Historia del levantamiento, guerra y revolucion de España, Volumen 4

12 Battalions/1 Regiments/2 Batteries

C-i-C Victor (-/-)

1st Division Ruffin (-/¶)

1st Brigade Barrois (-1/-)

1/24th Line Reg R/E/SK2

2/24th Line Reg R/A/SK1

2nd Brigade Chaudron (-/-)

1/Grenadiers V/E/SK2

2/Grenadiers V/E/SK2

1/96th Line Reg R/A/SK1

2/6th Foot Artillery Foot/3 cannons/ Medium/ 1 How

2nd Division Leval (+1/-)

1st Brigade Meunier (+1/ *)

1/54th Line Reg R/E/SK2

2/54th Line Reg R/A/SK1

3/Elite (Gren+Volt) V/E/SK2

2nd Brigade Laplane (-/-)

1/8th Line Reg R/E/SK2

2/8th Line Reg R/A/SK1

1/45th Line Reg R/A/SK1

2/8th Foot Artillery Foot/2 cannons/ Medium

Dragoons Dermoncourt (+1/-)

1st Dragoon Reg R/E/Sh/Pu

2/9th Leg Reg R/E/SK2

Britsh . Army Moral 34 Break point 11

13 Battalions/2 Regiments/3 Batteries

1st Brigade Dilkes (-1/¶)

Spanish Cruz Murgeon(-/-)

Milicia de Ciudad Real S/A/SK1

Bateria (2 light guns) Foot /1 cannon/Medium

2nd Brigade Wheatley (+1/*)

Battery1 Foot /2 cannons/Medium

Battery2 Foot /3 cannons/Medium

Cavalry Whittingham (+1/*)

Granaderos a Caballo (3 sq) S/A


Baggage units Several wagon models representing the Spanish baggage of the beach road.

All French units are on the table. The duration of the game is 16 Turns. British are the first side. There are not geographical objectives.

The wavering Lapeña (Scenario rule)

According to Oman , Lapeña did not support the British during the battle and only the Cruz Murgeon’s brigade, entrusted to Graham, fought along his allied. However, according other accounts (Fortescue, Arteche) the Begines’s brigade did participate in the fight against the Dermoncourt’s outflanking force, so that brigade is included as Reinforcements.

To simulate the Lapeña’s wavering efforts, the Reinforcement arrival test (p. 91) is carried out with an additional -1 modifier. The Reinforcements will arrive deployed at the C3 end road.

The irregular flankers (Scenario rule )

In the actual battle, part of the Barnard's flankers (4 coys. of 3/95th Rifles) and 2 coys. from the 20th Portuguese fought in skirmish order to cover the deployment of the Wheatley’s brigade. Meanwhile, the remaining Barnard elements (2 coys. of the 47th Foot) acted as supporters for the British artillery. To simulate this behaviour:

(a) All the light elements of the Wheatley brigade (Barnard's Flankers and the 2 coys. of the 20th Portuguese) have been amalgamated into a single large unit, made Irregular as per the 'Creating Irregular Units' Optional Rule (p 74), and whose statistics are V/I/SK3 (+)

(b) This unit will use the 'Half Battalion Deployed' Optional Rule (p 74) slightly modified: the unit may break off four (instead two) bases as SK bases, to enhance skirmishers for other friendly regular infantry, while retaining two (instead four) bases to function as a small unit.

(c) The four skirmish bases will be used as Irregulars fighting in line when necessary. However, a gap of until 1/2 BW will be allowed between adjacent bases to increase the front of the unit.

(d) The SK power of the Wheatley's brigade will be not marked with SK bases .

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It's very easy to get quality ebooks )

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The Battle

In January 1811 almost a third of the French troops blockading Cádiz were sent north to Badajoz to reinforce an assault on Badajoz and the Allies sensed an opportunity to lift the siege of the city. It was decided to send 12 000 troops &ndash 8 000 Spanish and 4 000 British - by sea from Cadiz to Tarifa, intending to attack the French from the south-east. At the same time 4 000 troops were to launch an attack from the city. The Spanish General Lapeña was put in charge of the land assault.

The British contingent led by Lieutenant-General Graham set sail on 21 February, later than planned but three days ahead of the Spanish force. They were unable to land at Tarifa due to bad weather. Instead, they landed at Algeciras and had to march to Tarifa where they met up with Lapeña&rsquos troops. Also to join the attack was a Spanish troop of irregulars who marched down from Ronda. Unaware of the delays in Cádiz this troop advanced to Medina Sidonia expecring to meet Lapeña&rsquos forces. After several skirmishes with the French army and with no allies in sight they retreated back into the mountains.

The French Marshal Victor now realised that an attack was imminent, fortified Medina Sidonia and sent further troops to defend it. Thus when the Anglo-Spanish force moved towards the town with the intention of attacking it their scouts informed Lapeña that it was defended more strongly than they had expected. He ordered the Allied army to march down to the road from Vejer to Chiclana and to follow this along the coast. This change of plan, and further bad weather, put the attack behind schedule. A message was sent to Cádiz to delay the attack from the city but it arrived too late and on 3 March a pontoon bridge was floated across the Sancti Petri creek to establish a bridgehead ready for the Cádiz force to launch its attack. Victor reacted quickly and stormed the bridgehead driving the troops back into the city.

Victor&rsquos scouts alerted him to the advance along the Vejer road so he positioned a battalion to the north-west of Chiclana blocking access to Sancti Petri where the Allies would have to cross the water to get to the La Isla (modern-day San Fernando) and thence to Cádiz. Two further divisions were hidden in the thick pine forests nearby. (These were later to be named Pinar de los Franceses &ndash Pinewoods of the French).

On 5 March the Allies reached the ridge where the Barceló hotel now stands. Aware only of the French divison in the open, Lapeña attacked and with the help of a further sortie from Cádiz was able to drive the French across the creek. However he failed to pursue them further, allowing them to regroup. Graham had remained on the ridge at the south of the beach to protect the Allies&rsquorear. Although ordered to move north Graham refused fearing the ridge of high ground &ndash the Barossa ridge - would be quickly occupied by the French leaving the rear of his forces exposed to artillery fire. He left a force on the ridge to defend it and advanced with a smaller force, keeping to the cover of the woods.

On seeing the ridge relatively undefended Victor ordered one division to storm the ridge and sent another to ambush Graham in the woods. After fierce fighting the ridge was taken by the French General Ruffin. Graham, still marching north, received reports of the fighting and realised that the Allies were in danger of being overrun. He disregarded Lapeña&rsquos orders and turned his division to face the French. To buy the time he needed to reorganise his troops he ordered an attack on the ridge by the &ldquoFlankers&rdquo battalion, led by General Browne, comprising only 536 men. Another battalion was sent to delay the advance of additional French forces marching to the ridge from the east.

The Flankers faced a force of 4 000 men and artillery and within a few minutes half the battalion were dead. The remainder took cover in the trees and while a second attack by a brigade led by General Dilkes kept the French occupied the Flankers were able to reform. The French artillery could not fire on Dilkes&rsquos troops who used the cover of the trees and almost reached the top of the ridge. Ruffin&rsquos vastly superior force launched a counter-attack expecting to drive Dilkes and the surviving Flankers back down the slope but the British held their line in a fierce exchange of musket fire. Marshal Victor, who had by now reached the ridge himself, brought up a further two reserve battalions to join the attack but the thin British line held firm. In fact, Dilkes began to advance up the hill and the French forces gave way in some disarray. Victor tried to pull back in an orderly fashion to relaunch the attack but Browne&rsquos Flankers, now reformed, advanced up the ridge subjecting Victor&rsquos&rsquos Reserves to such a barrage of fire that they broke ranks and fled. The remaining French troops soon followed.

Meanwhile General Barnard who had been sent east by Graham engaged the French division under General Laval. He succeeded in holding up its advance as planned but once reorganised after the initial shock of coming under attack Laval pushed forward. However the delay had given time for further troops to come to Barnard&rsquos aid, and the French advance was slow. Laval had some 3 800 men facing only 1 400 but he believed, from the ferocity of the fighting, that the Allied force was much greater. Cavalry charges followed by the &ldquorolling volleys&rdquo of the British infantrymen &ndash lines two or three deep of musketmen fired in succession, each line reloading as the others aimed and fired, created a relentless barrage of fire which was far more effective than the haphazard shooting of the French &ndash prevented Laval from deploying his troops properly and his superiority of numbers counted for nothing. After the first real exchange of fire the French 8th Ligne had lost half its men and its regimental standard, or eagle, was captured by the Royal Irish Fusiliers the first French eagle to be captured in the Peninsular War. After several further attacks the French divisions were overcome and their troops fled eastward.

Marshal Victor was able to halt this shambolic rout and by deploying two battalions to cover their rear he made a more organised retreat. However Graham&rsquos men, although exhausted, attacked the French again, supported by artillery and a squadron of hussars. The already demoralised French offered only token resistance before fleeing once again.

All this time Lapeña had remained at Sancti Petri, supposedly defending the approach to La Isla. On hearing of Graham&rsquos attack he believed that it would be unsuccessful and refused to send troops to his aid. Even when he learned that the French had been defeated he would not allow any of the Spanish forces to help pursue the French, even though his own generals pleaded to be allowed to.

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