April 6 1812: Storming of Badajoz

On April 6, 1812, Wellington ordered his troops to storm  the town of Badajoz. Wellington’s plan involved a combination of direct attacks on the breaches walls of the fortress and two diversionary attacks to the north. Major-General Charles Colville’s 4th Division with 3,500 men was to attack the breach at the Trinidad Bastion. While Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Barnard and the Light Division with 3,000 men were to attack the smaller breach at the Santa Maria bastion. Two further attacks were to be made further north by the 3rd Division against the castle of Batajoz. The 5th Division would lead the main attack on the Saint Vincent bastion near the Guadiana River at the north western side of Badajoz. 

Édouard-Alphonse d’Irumberry de Salaberry, the Royal Engineer from Lower Canada, would be with the 4th Division that would accompany the Light Division on the attack at Santa Maria. There were two other officers at Badajoz with connections to the Canadian colonies. As I mentioned in my earlier post, Captain Francis Gwillim Simcoe was also present. He was the son of Lieutenant-General John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. Captain Francis had spent some of his youth in Upper Canada though he was born in England.  [1].

John R. Grodzinki [2]describes the actual attack on Batajoz this way:  
On 6 April, at 2100 hrs, the Light Division assembled near a small bridge over the Calamon, a brook tributary of the Rivellas, about 1,000 yards from the breaches, before moving forward until it was about 300 yards from the breaches.Everyone waited in silence for the assault to begin. Suddenly the air was broken by a voice “giving orders about the ladders…so loud it might have reached the ramparts.” Luckily, “nothing beyond croaking frogs responded to the ill-timed voice.” The town clock then struck ten and the French sentries along the walls called out successively, as the British soldiers laying in wait figured to report “All’s well in Badahoo.” A fireball then rose from the bastion of Santa Maria and fell near the axe and crowbar parties, which was quickly extinguished with two shovelfuls of earth.
Shortly afterwards a suppressed whispering announced that the forlorn hope was moving ahead and two minutes later the assault parties advanced. The ladder party provided by the 52nd crept quietly through the broken palisades of the covered way. Led by Ensign George Gawler and accompanied by Edward de Salaberry, the soldiers soon reached the ditch and planted six ladders against the counterscarp, the outer wall of the ditch, just in front of the salient part of an unfinished ravelin, a small defensive work just in front of the curtain wall. Edward, Gawler and “about twelve or fifteen men were” in the ditch, when, “with a blinding blaze of light and a regular chorus of explosions of all kinds, the enemy’s fire opened.” The ladder party pushed up the unfinished ravelin hoping to find a way to the centre breach, but the summit proved impassable due to incessant fire from the Santa Maria bastion, which “poured incessant charges of grape.”
Men now flowed into the ditch, while others crowded along the edge trying to get in. Officers and men from different regiments became intermingled and a series of rushes were mounted, in a vain attempt to enter one of the breaches. The French engineers fired a series of fougasses, improvised mines constructed by making a hollow in the ground and filling it with explosives and projectiles; mines and powder barrels hidden in the ditch, logs rolled down the walls, tar barrels and artillery fire. A horrible scene ensued as scores of men were slain, scorched or disabled. Many were drowned when they jumped into a flooded portion of the ditch. Casualties mounted, particularly among the leaders. Lieutenant Harvest from the forlorn hope was dead as was Major O’Hare. Captain Fergusson received a nasty head wound. Only two officers of the advance escaped unhurt. By cruel mischance, both Williams and Edward de Salaberry, responsible for leading the storming party into the breach also fell. It is not certain which went first, whether they fell leading the men forward or in trying to rally them, but the outcome was the same; Williams was severely wounded and Lieutenant Edward de Salaberry was dead. The loss of these two men, who knew the topography of the breaches “had the most serious effect during the rest of the storm.”
This horrible check was followed by a brief pause before the main bodies of each division reached the edge of the ditch and began moving in. The troops suffered severely as they dribbled over the counterscarp. Order collapsed as soldiers from both divisions became intermingled, and the engineer officers leading the 4th Division, Captain William Nicholas and Lieutenant Anthony Emmett[35] tried to move men into the Santa Maria breach. Emmett soon fell, severely wounded, while Nicholas “made incredible efforts to fore his way with a few men into” the bastion, leading at least two rushes, receiving at least four wounds. He was hit again[36] leading about 70 men in a third effort and had to be dragged off the field to get medical attention. Upwards of 40 attacks were made to get though the breaches in the bastions. Many of these were uncoordinated and involved fewer than a company at a time. Most were shot down before they reached the breach. As midnight approached, the attacks began to peter out, as the men stayed in the ditch, unable to advance and unwilling to retreat. In two hours, the 4th and Light Divisions had suffered almost 2,000 casualties from a combined total of 6,500 men. Shortly thereafter, Wellington ordered both divisions withdrawn. For the French, it appeared Badajoz would hold.
Ironically, while the main attack had failed, the secondary attacks met with complete success. The 3rd Division also moved off at 2200 hrs, crossed the Rivellas and despite facing strong pressure, got their ladders onto the wall and there men into Badajoz. A brigade of the 5th Division also scaled the walls successfully and moved into the town. The situation had changed dramatically and as British troops now poured in and the garrison surrendered at 0700 hrs on 7 April 1812....
...Among the many dead that lay near the mouth of the Santa Maria breach was Edward de Salaberry. Near him lay a comrade in arms that also knew Canada well, Acting Captain Francis Gwillim Simcoe of the 3rd Battalion, 27th Foot from the 4th Division, son of Lieutenant-General John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. Francis was born in England and spent a portion of his childhood in Upper Canada and Quebec before joining the army in 1808. The young Simcoe was no stranger to Badajoz, having been there briefly during the fall of 1809.

1. An earlier version of this post stated that Captain Alexander Macnab, from York,  had also fought at Badajoz. This is not accurate. Captain McNab,  though born in Norfoldk Virginia, had settled with his father, after the American Revolution, in Lower Canada and later in York. Captain McNab was posted in the Peninsula but probably did not fight at Badajoz thought his battalion did.  The second battalion of the 30th Foot did  escaladed the walls of the San Vincente bastion. McNab did die in the battle of Waterloo in 1815.  See "Canadian Peninsular and Waterloo Man: The Story of Captain Alexander Macnab, 2/30th Foot" by John R. Grodzinski which can be found here.
2.  The above posted is based on the information found in the very interesting article by John R. Grodzinki “Universally Esteemed by His Brothers in Arms:” Lieutenant Edward de Salaberry, R.E. at Badajoz, 6 April 1812" that can be found here. In addition, from the entry for "Édouard-Alphonse d’Irumberry de Salaberry"  in the Canadian Dictionary of Biography  which can be found here

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