The 29th Foot heroes of Talavera

 

A grenadier and a private of the light company of the 29th Foot

A grenadier and a private of the light company of the 29th Foot

Having driven Marshal Soult’s French army from Portugal, General Sir Arthur Wellesley’s 20,000 British troops advanced into Spain to join forces with 33,000 Spanish troops under General Cuesta. They marched up the Tagus valley to Talavera de la Reina, about 120 km southwest of Madrid. There they encountered 46,000 French under Marshals Jourdan and Victor with the French king of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte in nominal command. On the 23rd July the combined Allied force lost an opportunity to defeat the French corps of Victor at Talavera, because Cuesta insisted that the Spanish wouldn’t fight on a Sunday!

Battle-of-talavera-28th-july-1809-william-heathThe French crossed the River Alberche in the middle of the afternoon on 27 July. A couple of hours later, the French attacked the right of the Spanish and the British left. The dominant feature of this battlefield was a hill about a mile distant from Talavera, upon which Wellesley’s left flank rested.  The hill was taken and lost, until, finally, the British held it firmly. At daybreak on 28 July, the French attacked the British left again to retake the hill and were repulsed when the 29th Foot (the Worcestershire Regiment) who had been lying behind the crest stood up and charged up the slope at the double with bayonets fixed and forced the French off the hill. A French cannonade lasted until noon when a negotiated armistice of two hours began. That afternoon, a heavy exchange of cannon fire started ahead of various infantry and cavalry skirmishes. Early in the evening, a general engagement resulted in the French being held off. A cannon duel continued until dark. At daylight, the British and Spanish discovered that the bulk of the French force had retired, leaving their wounded and two batteries of artillery in the field.

The 29th Foot at Talavera

The 29th Foot at Talavera

The French lost 7,389: 944 killed, 6,294 wounded, 156 prisoners. The Allies lost : 7,468. The Spanish casualties were about 1,200 and British lost 6,268, including 800 killed, over the two days of fighting.  Many of the wounded on both sides were burnt to death when the dry grass of the battlefield caught fire.

After the action Wellesley wrote to Viscount Castlereagh:  … “I wish very much that some measure could be adopted to get more recruits for the 29th Regiment.  It is the best regiment in this Army”……..

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