|The Struggle for Sea Power|
|by M. B. Synge|
|Book IV of the Story of the Worlds series. Focuses on the age of empire and world colonization. The histories of European colonies in America, Australia, South Africa, and India are related. Also covered are the Revolution in America, the French Revolution, and campaigns of Napoleon. Ages 12-18 |
THE VICTORY OF TALAVERA
"Greatest, yet with least pretence,
Great in council and great in war,
Foremost captain of his time,
Rich in saving common-sense,
And, as the greatest only are,
In his simplicity sublime."
 WHILE Sir John Moore lay dying on the field of Coruna, Napoleon was galloping off with all speed to Austria. But he
left orders with his generals, that they were to finish driving the English from the Peninsula and subdue the
country. He made not the slightest doubt, that all would soon be accomplished, and that his brother Joseph
would rule undisturbed over his new Spanish kingdom. But as Sir Arthur Wellesley once more stepped upon the
scene, the eyes of Europe became riveted upon the conflict, that now threatened to overthrow that power.
It was but three months after Coruna, that the greatest soldier England could now produce landed at Lisbon.
Three French armies, under tried generals, confronted him in Portugal and Spain. It was against Soult at
Oporto, that Wellesley determined to strike his first blow. So he marched northwards till he came to the river
Douro, which rolled rapidly between him and the enemy at Oporto. The march had been quick, and Soult was
 strangely unprepared for what now happened. Mounting a hill opposite the town, Wellesley hastily surveyed the
situation. There was no bridge over the Douro, no boats visible on the banks. But the river must be crossed.
Presently it was discovered, that a barber from Oporto was crossing over in a tiny boat. This was instantly
seized, and, springing in, an English officer rowed back across the stream to the farther bank, where he found
four old barges stranded in the mud, which he towed across.
"Let the men embark," said Wellesley hastily.
As the English dragged their guns up the hill on the opposite side, Soult discovered what had happened. He had
been completely surprised, and nothing was left him, but to retreat with all the speed possible. At four
o'clock in the afternoon, it is said that Wellesley ate the dinner prepared for Marshal Soult in Oporto.
With Soult in full flight, and Oporto, the second town in Portugal, in English hands, Wellesley determined to
push on towards Madrid. The Spanish army under old Cuesta now joined him; but Cuesta proved a sore trial to the
English commander. On June 27 the English and Spanish armies entered Spain, and Wellesley's troubles began. He
had crossed the boundary with the full assurance that food should be found for his troops. But Spanish promises
proved to be worthless, and the English were nearly starved. Horses died by
 hundreds, and the British soldiers were led on, complaining bitterly of their treatment. At last they reached
Talavera, a picturesque old town on the Tagus, some seventy-five miles to the south of Madrid. Cuesta now
proved hopeless. While Wellesley was discussing matters of the highest importance with him, the old man would
fall asleep. On July 22, Wellesley found that a single French army was within striking distance, and Cuesta at
last agreed to attack him next day, before other French troops joined him. Wellesley was arranging the plan of
battle for the morrow, when the old Spanish general rose and went off to bed. The British were under arms at
three next morning, but Cuesta did not get up till seven. Then he arrived at the British camp in a coach with
six horses, to say that, as it was Sunday, he must decline to fight. Later in the day, he was induced to
examine the ground for the coming battle; but he soon alighted from his coach-and-six, sat down under the shade
of a neighbouring tree, and went off to sleep.
"If Cuesta had fought, when I wanted him, it would have been as great a battle as Waterloo, and would have
cleared the French out of Spain," said Sir Arthur Wellesley pitifully, when speaking of Talavera.
Cuesta's obstinacy cost him dear. Three French armies now joined forces—making some 50,000 in all—and held the
road to Madrid. Among the
 French leaders was Joseph Bonaparte, fighting for his kingdom.
At two o'clock on the afternoon of July 27 the battle of Talavera began. Perhaps the chief feature in it was
the flight of the Spaniards. "They fired one far-off and terrific volley into space, and then, before its sound
had died away, no less than 10,000 of them, or nearly a third of Cuesta's entire force, betook themselves to
flight. The infantry flung away their muskets, the gunners cut their traces and galloped off on their horses:
baggage-carts and ammunition waggons swelled the torrent of fugitives." And behind them all Cuesta, in his
carriage drawn by nine mules, followed hard. All that day the battle lasted. Towards midnight the firing died
away, but only to be renewed on the morrow. Right through the day the battle raged, until, when night again
fell, Wellesley stood victorious on the battlefield of Talavera, though 6000 of his men lay dead or dying
around him. The loss of those brave lives was not in vain.
"The battle of Talavera," says one, "restored to the successors of Marlborough the glory which for a whole age
seemed to have passed from them."
The defeat of his army made Napoleon change his mind about the bravery of British troops and the ability of
"It seems this is a man indeed, this Wellesley," said Napoleon when the news reached him at Vienna.
 In this the whole world agreed with him. England showered honours on her hero. He was made a peer, with the
titles of Baron Douro of Wellesley and Viscount Wellington of Talavera.
Henceforth the "ugly boy Arthur" is known to history as the Duke of Wellington. This is he—
"Who never sold the Truth to serve the hour,
Nor palter'd with Eternal God for power;
Whose life was work, whose language rife
With rugged maxims hewn from life;
Who never spoke against a foe."
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