This post is for my Brother-in-Law. This is but a cursory glimpse of the battlefield and as such I make no attempt at describing the battle as there are many knowledgeable commentators on the internet who have already done so.
The battle seems to be one of the less commented on battles of the Peninsular Campaign, but it is regarded as perhaps Wellington’s (‘Nosey‘), most significant in that it finally cemented his reputation as an offensive general, within the military and political establishment back in England, as a gifted field commander.
The French General of Division, of the 1st Infantry Division, Maximilien Foy, made the following entry in his diary several days after the battle:
“This battle is the most cleverly fought, the largest in scale, the most important in results, of any that the English have won in recent times. It brings up Lord Wellington’s reputation almost to the level of that of Marlborough. Up to this day we knew his prudence, his eye for choosing good positions, and the skill with which he used them. But at Salamanca he has shown himself a great and able master of manoeuvring. He kept his dispositions hidden nearly the whole day: he allowed us to develop our movement before he pronounced his own: he played a close game: he utilized the oblique order in the style of Frederick the Great.”
It was a bloody conflict that essentially began at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon and lasted until darkness fell, although the decisive fighting took part in the early stages of the battle and it was later said the Wellington ‘defeated an army of 40,000 in 40 minutes‘.
The battle was the scene of one of the most destructive cavalry charges of the Napoleonic era when Major-General John Le Marchant’s, 5th Heavy Brigade effectively destroyed eight battalions of French infantry, of which many sought shelter from the heavy sabres of the Dragoons within the British lines. Le Marchant was shot in the spine and killed in a final charge of the action.
Allied (British and Portuguese) casualties were 5,214, while the French losses were in the order of 7,000 killed, or wounded and 7,000 taken prisoner.
For anyone interested in the Peninsula Campaign I would highly recommend the excellent memoirs of Benjamin ‘Ned’ Harris, a Rifleman of the 95th, from Dorset.
Memorial to the Battle of Arapiles on 22nd July, 1812, situated on the sumit of Arapil Grande