Friday, 2 January 2009

The dead of Colbert at Cacabelos (january 3, 1809)

The action at Cacabelos (León), 3 January 1809, was a minor British victory during Sir John Moore’s retreat to Coruña. It was fought between the British rearguard and the lead elements of Marshal Soult’s pursuing army. The purpose of the British stand was to give Moore time to destroy the stores at his main supply depot at Villafranca, six miles to the west. See two accounts of theis small action, the first near contemporary and the second more recent:

Annals of the Peninsular Campaigns, from MDCCCVIII to MDCCCXIV (by Thomas Hamilton, Edited by Carey & Lea, 1831). pages 51-52

'Since the affair of the twenty-eighth, no engagement had taken place. On the third of January, the advanced-guard of the enemy were seen advancing on Cacabelos. The town is divided by a rivulet (River Cua), along the banks of which part of the reserve was stationed. On a hill, about half a league in front, were posted the 95th Rifes, and the piquet of cavalry. The General ordered the 95th to retire, through the town by a bridge.
While this order was executing, the French cavalry came on in force, driving the piquet before them, and, charging the rear companies, which had not yet crossed the bridge, succeeded in making some prisoners. The enemy, imagining they had thrown our rear guard into confusion, immediately advanced a body of dismounted chasseurs, who, dashing forward through the stream with great spirit, attacked the 95th, which had barely gained time to extend in skirmishing order.
The regiment received the attack with admirable steadiness, and, retreating up a hill in rear of the town, took post among some vineyards, from which they continued to gall the enemy by a well-directed fire. From this position the French cavalry attempted to dislodge them, but without success. The95th again repulsed them ; and they retreated with the loss of a considerable number in killed and wounded. General Colbert, an officer of great gallantry and distinction, was among the number of the former. '

Corunna 1809. Sir John Moore's fighting retreat. Philip Haythornhwaite. Campaign 83. Osprey Military Publishing, 2001

Colbert advanced at the head of his brigade, drove back the 15th Hussars and overran the detachment of the 95th, taking 48 prisoners, Moore's secretary, John Colborne, and others of his staff out reconnoitring, had to ride for their lives. The remainder of the outlying British troops crowded over the bridge in some confusion, and Colbert, perhaps not realizing the strength of the force before him, attempted to charge after them. Many got across the bridge, but came under heavy cross-fire from the 95th, 52nd and 28th firing from behind stone walls, and from the artillery.
One British participant remarked that 'I never saw med ride more handsomely to destruction', until 'we poured it into right and left, and they went down like clockwork'. The cavalry was driven back, leaving the road 'absolutely choked with their dead' according to Blakeney of the 28th, and among these was Colbert.
He had led the charge but was shot dead by Rifleman Thomas Plunket of the 95th, a noted 'character' and a splendid marksman. (It was said that Plunket was urged to shoot Colbert by Paget himself, with the promise of a purse of money if he succeeded; though others rejected so base a motive or claimed that it was Thomas Graham who made the offer). All the British lamented Colbert's fall, as Charles Steevens of the 20th remarked, 'Colonel Ross, and all of us who witnessed it, were very sorry, as he seemed to be a remarkable gallant fellow; but, alas!, is the fate of war".

The combat finished as darkness fell, after the involvement of the accompanying French infantry, General Merle’s division. Both sides lost around 200 men in the fighting, which gave the British the time they needed to destroy their supply depot at Villafranca. The rearguard was retired by Moore, and the retreat to Coruña continued.

No comments:

Post a Comment