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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

WELLINGTON'S DISPATCHES

http://www.wtj.com/archives/wellington/
PENINSULA AND WATERLOO: 1808 - 1815

These British Army dispatches give a fascinating insight into the nature of operations in the Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns during the Napoleonic Wars. They also reveal a thoughtful yet stern Arthur Wellesley, whose many concerns as commander-in-chief included the needs of his officers, the feeding of his men and endless negotiations with British, Spanish and Portuguese leaders. The ravages of politics however, did not leave these dispatches unmarked. In at least one instance – the Battle of Albuera – Wellington ordered his officers to re-write their combat reports in order to present more optimistic impressions than those really existing in the field. He sometimes attached detailed correction notes for leaders back in England. The final result were two series of dispatches: those crafted for public and political consumption, and those written to inform his superiors of actual events.

The Peninsular campaigns of 1808 through 1814 were a grueling series of struggles which strained the resources of all the major participants. The resulting battles were not the easy victories that are often imagined today, and on various occasions all of the major combatants suffered defeats and lost opportunities. Certainly it was only after he arrived in Spain that Wellington came to appreciate the full value of the many captured French documents regularly passed on to headquarters by the Spanish. Much like later eras when good intelligence made a difference, the details of British Intelligence successes and the people responsible for them were only vaguely alluded to in the text of these dispatches. 

A number of contemporaries criticized Wellington for treating his men's lives as "no more than mice in an air pump," but he was also known to have agonized over losses suffered at numerous battles, so the former accusation is unlikely. It should be remembered that there commonly was a need to capture enemy fortresses by storm before regional French forces could mobilize. This sometimes forced Wellington to make bloody bids for success before his numerically superior enemies combined their full strength against him. His apparent habit of giving preferential treatment to high-born officers might have contributed to the varying opinions of his motives. Ultimately most people understood that regardless of these other issues, Wellington was a vital link in the string of successes enjoyed by the multinational Allied armies that served in Spain and Belgium between 1808 and 1815. 

His Royal Highness the Commander in Chief to Lieut. General the Hon. Sir A. Wellesley, K.B.
'Horse Guards, 14th June, 1808.
Sir,
'His Majesty having been graciously pleased to appoint you to the command of a detachment of his army, to be employed upon a particular service, I have to desire that you will be pleased to take the earliest opportunity to assume the command of this force, and carry into effect such instructions as you may receive from his Majesty's ministers.
' The force, which his Majesty has been pleased to place under your command, consists of the following corps:-
With Major General Spencer
Royal Artillery.
Royal Staff Corps.Detachment
29th Foot.
*32nd Footlst Battalion
*50th Foot1st Battalion
*82nd Foot1st Battalion
To proceed from Cork
*5th Foot1st Battalion
*9th Foot1st battalion
*38th Foot1st Battalion
*40th Foot1st Battalion
60th Foot5th Battalion
*71st Foot1st Battalion
*91st Foot1st Battalion
95th four companies
4th Royal Vet.Battalion
And the staff appointed to this force is composed as follows - Major General Spencer, Major General Hill, Major General Ferguson, Brig. General Nightingall, Brig. General Fane, Brig. General Catlin Craufurd.
'On all subjects relating to your command, you will be pleased to correspond with me, and you will regularly communicate to me all military transactions, in which you may be engaged, reporting to me all vacancies that may occur in the troops under your command; and as the power of appointing to commissions is not vested in you, you will be pleased to recommend to me such officers as may appear to you most deserving of promotion, stating the special reasons, where such recommendations are not in the usual channel of seniority.
' As the regiments marked thus ( *), under your command, have second battalions attached to them, and which remain in this country, it is necessary that I should acquaint you, that the first battalions under your orders being, composed exclusively of the senior officers of their respective ranks, such vacancies as may occur therein, by promotion or casualty, must unavoidably be supplied by officers from the second battalions, who will be ordered immediately to join, on such vacancies being made known to me.
'Should you have occasion to recommend any gentlemen for an ensigncy, you will be pleased to make known his address, in order that, if his Majesty should be pleased to confirm the recommendation, he may be directed to join the corps immediately on his appointment.
' You will transmit, monthly, returns of the troops under your command, to the Secretary at War, and to the Adjutant General, for my information; and you will strictly adhere to his Majesty's regulations, in regard to the pay, clothing, and appointments of the troops; and your special attention must necessarily be directed to their discipline, and to the interior economy of the different corps, which is so essential, not only to the comfort of the soldier, but to the preservation of his health, under every change of climate to which he may be exposed.
' Under the head of pay, I have to direct your attention to the instructions of the Paymasters General to their deputy, respecting the usual stoppages being deducted from the pay of the several Staff officers, and to which you are requested to give the most punctual attention.
' You wild be vested with the usual powers of convening General Courts Martial, upon which subject 1 have to observe that, as great inconvenience has arisen to the service from officers commanding on foreign stations having permitted prisoners to return to England prior to the proceedings and opinion of the Court Martial having been submitted to the King, I have to request that, in all cases, where any person whatever may be tried by a General Court Martial, and where your powers are not sufficient to enable you to decide finally upon the proceedings, opinion, and sentence of the Court, that you do not permit the prisoner to return to England until his Majesty's commands shall have been duly communicated to you through the proper channel for that purpose.
' I have likewise to acquaint you, that as many General Officers, from the best motives, have taken upon themselves to commute sentences of capital punishment to transportation for a term of years, or for life, when it is found that no such power is delegated by his Majesty, and, consequently, that the whole of the proceedings may be thereby rendered nugatory, it will be necessary that your particular attention should be given to the powers granted to you by his Majesty's warrant on this subject, in order to prevent you from inadvertently falling into a similar irregularity.
' It is particularly desirable that the officer, and the head of the Quarter Master General's staff, should be directed to keep a Journal, or other memorandum, descriptive of the movements of the troops, and occurrences in which they are: engaged; as also, that he should take and collect plans of the harbours, positions, or fortified places, in which the troops may be, for the purpose of being transmitted to me and lodged in the military depôt.
' In all points where any question or doubt may arise, and in which you may be desirous of receiving further and more specific instructions, you will always find me ready to pay the earliest attention to your representations.
I am, &c.
FREDERICK,


' Lieut. gen. Sir A. Wellesley, K.B.' ' Commander in Chief. Viscount Castlereagh, Secretary of State, to Lieut. General the Hon. Sir A. Wellesley, K.B.
' Downing Street, 21st June, 1808.
Dear Sir,
' Our accounts from Cadiz are bad; no disposition there or in the neighbourhood of Gibraltar to move; General Spencer returning to Gibraltar: the proceedings, however, in the northern provinces, were not then known It is material to know the effect produced by that effort which may be hourly expected.
' The Cabinet are desirous of postponing, till they hear again, their final decision on your instructions, being unwilling you should get too far to the southward' whilst the spirit of exertion appears to reside more to the northward.
' Hitherto no time, in fact, has been lost, as your equipment cannot be assembled at Cork for some days. The arms and cavalry transports are not yet got to Portsmouth, and it is better to bring the whole together, than to trust to junctions on the coast of Spain.
' You will have the goodness to order the transports to be kept fully victualled whilst in port, that you may carry with you a full supply.
I am, &c.
' CASTLEREAGH.


Lieut. General the Hon. Sir A. Wellesley, K.B., to Major General Hill .
' Dublin Castle, 23rd June, 1808
My Dear Hill,
' I rejoice extremely at the prospect I have before me of serving again with you, and I hope that we shall have more to do than we had on the last occasion on which we were together.
' I propose to leave town for Cork as soon as I shall receive my instructions from London. I understand that every thing has sailed from England which is to go with us; and the horses belonging to the Irish commissariat will be at Cork, I hope, before the transports shall have arrived, in which they are to be embarked. Let me hear from you if you learn any thing respecting them. The dragoons are to come direct from England to the rendezvous, and will not detain us at Cork.
' I enclose a list of the names of the officers appointed to be Deputy Assistant Adjutants and Quarter Masters General. Major Arbuthnot will probably be in Dublin this day, and I shall send him to Cork immediately, and you will put him in charge of the Adjutant General's department. You will put the senior of the list of Assistant Deputy Quarter Masters General in charge of that department, and give him the enclosed return of camp equipage and stores embarked in the Grinfield transport. I had understood that I was to have had stores of this description for 8000 men; and I shall be obliged to you, if you will desire the head of the Quarter Master General's department to inquire whether there are in the transport any more camp equipage stores besides those contained in the enclosed return.
'I beg you to arrange for the embarkation of the Deputy Assistant Adjutants General, and the Deputy Assistant Quarter Masters General: probably they and the Commissaries had best go in the horse ships
' I understand there is a vessel at Cork to carry 36 horses for the officers, besides those intended for the commissariat horses; and I shall be obliged to you if you will desire that spare room may be kept for my horses, and those of my aides de camp, which will arrive at Cork in a day or two.
' There remains nothing now but to brigade the troops, which may be a convenience for the present, and give us the assistance of the General Officers in the different arrangements which may be necessary on board the transports. But what we shall do now can only be temporary, as the whole corps must necessarily be new modelled when we join General Spencer. The Veteran battalion must be put out of the question, as that corps must go into the garrison of Gibraltar.
' The corps might be brigaded as follows:-The 95th and the 5th bats. of the 60th; the '5th, 9th, and 38th; the 40th, 71st, and 91st. You will alter this arrangement, if the corps belonging to your brigade are not put together, and you will put such (if all the corps of your brigade are not embarked for this service) corps as you please with the 9th. Let General Fane then command the Light Brigade; General Craufurd the Highlanders; and General Ferguson, who belongs to Spencer's corps, that brigade which has been, and will hereafter be yours. The Veteran battalion to report to General Fane, until it shall be otherwise disposed of.
' Pray let me hear from you, and acquaint me with all your wants, and whether I can do any thing for you here. You will readily believe that I have plenty to do, in closing a government in such a manner as that I may give it up, and taking the command of a corps for service; but I shall not fail to attend to whatever you may write to me.
' Believe me, my dear Hill, &c.
' ARTHUR WELLESLEY, K.B.,


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