Gateway to the Classics: The Struggle for Sea Power by M. B. Synge
The Struggle for Sea Power by  M. B. Synge

Spain for the Spaniards

"Not stirring words, nor gallant deeds alone,—

Plain patient work fulfilled that length of life;

Duty, not glory—service, not a throne,

Inspired his effort, set for him the strife."

—Clough (Wellington).

M UCH had been done by Wellington, in the capture of these two strongholds, but much yet remained to do. Spain must be wrested from the grip of the French, and he must fulfil his commands.

While Napoleon and his Grand Army were starting on their fatal march to Moscow, Wellington was already advancing into Spain. On July 22 he met the French army at Salamanca, a very old hill-city, famous in the days of Hannibal 222 years B.C. This battle has been summed up by a Frenchman as the "battle in which 40,000 men were beaten in forty minutes." Wellington himself considered it one of his greatest victories. Let us watch him during the day of battle. Shortly after mid-day he entered a farmyard, where food was prepared for him. Stumping about and munching his food, Wellington was constantly looking at the French army, where important movements were taking place. Suddenly mounting in haste, he galloped to a spot of observation. Closing his spy-glass with a snap, he said to the Spaniard at his side, "My dear Alava, the French are lost."

The French Marshal had made a serious blunder. Wellington saw his chance had come.

"Ned," he cried to his brother-in-law in command of some troops, "d'ye see those fellows on the hill? At them, and drive them to the devil." Then to his nephew, afterwards the famous Lord Raglan, he said, "Watch the French through your glass: I am going to take a rest. When they reach that copse near the gap in the hills, wake me."

He lay down in his cloak on the heath, among the sweet gum-cistus flowers, and was soon fast asleep.

Between three and four, they wakened him as he had ordered. Before it was dusk, the French army was defeated. Through the moonlight Wellington pressed after the flying foe. The victory was complete: the way to Madrid was clear. Just a month before Napoleon entered Moscow, Wellington entered Madrid. The Spaniards in the capital threw themselves weeping at his feet, hailing him as their deliverer from the French.

But Spain was not yet delivered from the French. Large armies and tried generals from France still threatened the English, and Wellington had to leave Madrid. England was complaining bitterly of her general. For five years he had been fighting, and it seemed as if the French gripped Spain as tightly as ever. Money and precious lives had been sacrificed. Napoleon would soon return victorious from Russia, and all chance of saving Spain would be at an end.

Wellington spent the winter in Portugal preparing for a final overthrow of the French. Joseph Bonaparte was now in command, having quarrelled with his brother's marshals.

And so, when the vines began to shoot and the wheat was ankle deep, British drums and bugles sounded a long farewell to Portugal, for this must be the last campaign in the Peninsula. It is said when Wellington, at the head of his well-trained army, crossed the Douro into Spain, he turned round on his horse, and, taking off his hat, cried, "Farewell, Portugal: I shall never see you again!"

Then on he marched, his iron will more determined than ever, on towards the Pyrenees to cut off Joseph, who had left Madrid for the last time, in his brief and troubled reign.

"I looked beyond the limits of Spain," said Wellington as he marched on. "I knew the impression my advance would make on Europe."

Joseph's army now filled the valley of Vittoria—70,000 strong. He still might escape over the Pyrenees back to France. But Wellington took care to block the royal road to France.

At dawn on the morning of June 22, the battle of Vittoria began. By evening, the unfortunate King Joseph was flying from the field, and Wellington, standing victorious on the scene of action, was watching the retreating French. As far as the eye could reach, fields and hillsides were covered with a flying multitude of soldiers and camp-followers. The streets of Vittoria were blocked with waggons and carriages. The rout was complete: the splendid French army was shattered.

The spoil that fell to Wellington was enormous. It was the result of five years' plunder in Spain. Chests of money, baggage, gunpowder, plate, pictures, were left behind. A general rush took place to seize the forsaken treasure, and soon the plain was strewn with things; while the soldiers, that night, marched about the camp arrayed in turbans and plumes, carrying about French monkeys, lap-dogs, and parrots.

When Napoleon heard of the disaster, he was furious.

"What is going on in Spain?" he cried. "Joseph could have collected a hundred thousand men: they might have beaten the whole of England."

"Tell Joseph," he added later, "his behaviour has never ceased to bring misfortune on my army for the last five years. It is time to make an end of it. There was a world of folly in the whole business."

No wonder poor Joseph vanished from history. He sailed away to America, where he ended his days in peace. Once he was offered the crown of Mexico.

"I have worn two crowns: I will not risk a third," he answered pathetically.

So after five years of dogged perseverance Wellington stood on the summit of the Pyrenees—a conqueror.

Napoleon at last had found a rival.

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