|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 |
WELLINGTON'S VICTORIES IN SPAIN
"For this is England's greatest son,
He that gain'd a hundred fights,
Nor ever lost an English gun."
WHILE Napoleon was marching on his ill-fated expedition to Russia, Wellington was wresting Spain from the grip of
France. The hardly won victory of Talavera had not been much use, and the English had been obliged to fall back
on Portugal in face of the huge French armies, which threatened them on all sides. The winter of 1810 was spent
by Wellington, in securing Lisbon against the vast armies of Napoleon.
To the north of the capital, run two rugged lines of mountains stretching from the coast, washed by the
Atlantic Ocean, to the mouth of the river Tagus. No less than 7000 Portuguese peasants were set to work, to
build forts and construct earthworks, to turn these mountains into natural defences for Lisbon. Bristling with
 famous Lines of Torres Vedras, as they are called, formed a formidable barrier. The summer of 1810 found
Marshal Massena, of Wagram fame, in command of the French army destined by Napoleon for the conquest of
Portugal. In the ranks were 70,000 hero veterans of Marengo and Austerlitz.
"We will drive the English into the sea," they said with confidence, as they took fort after fort on their
Wellington awaited them on the heights of Busaco, thus barring the road to Lisbon.
"There are certainly many bad roads in Portugal, but the enemy has taken decidedly the worst," said Wellington.
From their high perch, the English could see Massena's great host marching onwards, their bayonets gleaming,
their helmets sparkling in the valley below. It was still cold grey dawn on the morning of September 29, when
the splendid French troops swept bravely up the steep face of the hill of Busaco. The English grimly awaited
them at the top. Neither side was wanting in courage. But it was only a few minutes, before the unhappy heroes
of Austerlitz were rolling down the steep face of Busaco, the slopes of which were soon thick with dead and
Massena now heard for the first time of the Lines of Torres Vedras, that tremendous barrier, which made it
impossible for him to reach Lisbon. He
 had been warned of Wellington's work, but not of the existence of the hills.
"Yes, yes," he said angrily, as the truth dawned on him, "Wellington built the works, but he did not make the
For six weeks he camped hopelessly before the Lines, his army wasting with disease and starvation. Not till
30,000 soldiers had perished did he retreat, leaving Wellington triumphant behind his lines. The bitter winter
passed; spring gave way to summer, summer to autumn, and still the conflict in Portugal raged on. It was not
till the winter of 1812, that Wellington was able to turn his attention to Spain. His way was barred by the two
great frontier fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, to the north and south of the river Tagus. Secretly
and hastily, Wellington laid his plans to besiege the most northerly of these, Ciudad Rodrigo. It was strongly
defended by the French, but the English smote it with strokes so furious and with such "breathless speed" that
it fell in twelve days. It was midwinter; the rivers were edged with ice, snow lay on the ground, bitter blasts
blew over the ramparts, the nights were black dark, but Wellington was undaunted.
The siege began on January 8. It ended on the 19th with a tremendous assault. Up the black face of the grim
fortress swarmed the English in the dark night. Racing over broken stones, scrambling over huge rocks, upwards
they rushed till the
sum-  mit was gained and the French garrison driven back.
"It was the rush of the English stormers up the breaches of Ciudad Rodrigo, that began the fall of the French
Leaving a Spanish garrison in possession of the fortress, Wellington now with "heroic madness" pushed on for
the next attack. Badajoz stood on a rocky ridge of extraordinary strength. Twice the English had already tried
to take it: twice they had failed. But Wellington was "strong in his own warlike genius, and in the quality of
the troops he commanded."
On the stormy night of March 17 the siege began. On April 6 an assault was ordered. At 10 o'clock on that still
dark night the English troops stood firm and ready for the attack. No less than five assaults were to be made
at different points: each was equally heroic in its mad rush to the top under fire. But hour after hour of that
terrible night passed away, and still the stormers had not taken Badajoz.
"Why do you not come into Badajoz," cried the French from the top, to the English below, who gazed upwards at
the grim height bristling with French guns, unable to advance, refusing to retreat. Wellington watched, his
face grey with anxiety, for the cost in human life was tremendous. It was not till daylight, that the men
gained the heights, and the French commander, who had been badly
 wounded, surrendered. In that wild night-fight Wellington had lost heavily; and as he gazed on the slope,
strewn with the dead bodies of his soldiers, he burst into tears.
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