Reflections on war and warfare: week 20 (14 – 20 July 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

17-20 July 1812 Prelude to the Battle of Salamanca
Following the capture of Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo in 1812, Wellington advanced into Spain where he was confronted by Marshal Marmont, commanding the army known as the “Army of Portugal”. In the weeks and days leading up to their engagement at the battle of Salamanca, on 22 July, the two armies often marched close together with Marmont continually outmanoeuvring Wellington’s forces and threatening the Allied supply line.

17 July 1812 – “The Army concentrated near Fuetelapeña. In the evening of this day it was discovered that we had been outmanoeuvred and the enemy had actually crossed a great force at the bridge of Tordesillas and the ford of Pollos. Marmont deserves great credit for the way in which he carried out the deception. For along time he kept constantly moving troops to his right, repaired the bridge at Toro and made good the ford at that place, crossed over small bodies constantly towards our left and kept us in alarm for our communications that way.”

18 July – “The enemy advanced in force, our troops retiring and concentrating near Cañin in some irregular strong ground. They advanced with great spirit taking care never to commit their cavalry supporting them (and they supporting each other) with artillery and infantry.”

19 July – “Towards evening the enemy made a move to the left which obliged us to take the ground to our right, and the next morning we offered him battle and expected an attack.”

20 July – “To Cabezavellosa. The enemy again moved to the left and we made a very long march, both armies moving in parallel lines, the enemy keeping the heights and cannonading our people with little effect.”

MS 300/7/1 Transcript by S.G.P.Ward of Scovell’s Peninsula diary, 17-20 July 1812


19 July 1918 Resentment over conscription legislation
As a result of numbers of volunteers falling to approximately 80,000 per month after the Dardanelles expedition, the government felt forced to intervene. Initially the ‘Derby scheme’ was introduced, which involved door-to-door visits to gather men to serve if needed, with assurance that bachelors would be called up before married men. However, this measure proved inadequate and in January 1916 the Military Service Act was introduced. It introduced conscription of single men aged 18-41, extended to married men in May of that year.

“I sat down to a half hour talk in which I did not get my way, namely to see that English born Jews be allowed the option of not joining the Jewish Regiment, and that a chaplain be approached to the Jewish Battalion.”

MS 132 AJ 322 1/4 Letter from Basil Henriques to his mother, 19 July 1918


20 July 1852 The Cape frontier wars

In December 1850 there was another outbreak of hostilities in the ongoing Cape frontier wars, in this case created in part by the policies imposed by the British Governor Sir Harry Smith. Chief Maqoma of the Xhosa led a guerrilla campaign in the valleys and forested mountains of Waterkloof against the British. From this base he was able to plunder surrounding farms and torch homestead. Maqoma inflicted heavy losses on forces under Sir Harry Smith’s command, notably that of the 74th Highlanders. By early 1852 George Cathcart was sent to replace Smith, taking up command in March. His brief was to crush the insurgents, a task he applied himself to with dedication and by February 1853 the chiefs surrendered. Captain Edward Wellesley’s letters give insights into the way the realities of warfare in the Cape.

“A large assemblage of Kafirs having been reported at Auckland the site of one of the destroyed military villages, the Governor sent a force and went himself; we found a number of huts which were destroyed but the Kafirs and any cattle they may have had escaped… On the 7th of this month a movement was made against the Kafirs under Macomo [Maqoma] in the Waterkloof, we left this and formed a camp on the Kroome river under the Kroome range from whence we ascended the Kroome and united with the Rifle Brigade at the tope and bivouacked on the heights. On the following day, we passed through a forest which divides the Waterkloof from Fuller’s Hoek and reached an open space familiarly called the Horseshoe, this is an open plateau something the shape of what it is termed and the best fighting ground I have seen for Kafirs… It is a melancholy spot, the graves of many poor soldiers dotted about, and you are pointed out the spot where many officers fell amongst them being Fordyce who commanded the 74th Highlanders and was a brave and distinguished officer. We however met with no opposition either passing through the Forest or emerging on the plain and having joined another column which had been operating on this side, in concert destroyed a large number of huts on the edge of the Waterkloof and in a skirmish one man of the Rifle Brigade was killed… The next day we returned to Fort Beaufort.”

MS 63 A904/3/19 Letter from Captain Edward Wellesley to his brother Richard, 20 July 1852

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