Combat of Garcia Hernandez, 23 July 1812

The combat of Garcia Hernandez (23 July 1812) was a rearguard action that came in the aftermath of the battle of Salamanca, and saw one of the most impressive achievements of Wellington's cavalry.

In the aftermath of the battle most of the retreating French travelled along the road that led from Alba de Tormes, where they had crossed the Tormes, to Garcia Hernandez and then Penaranda. General Foy, whose division had survived the battle largely intact, formed the rearguard.

On the Allied side Wellington sent troops along all possible lines of retreat, but sent the largest force along the road to Garcia Hernandez. He even accompanied this force, determined to push the defeated French as hard as possible. He was with Anson's light dragoons, with Bock's heavier cavalry close by, and the 1st and Light Divisions following behind.

When the British appeared, Foy ordered his chasseurs  to form up on a hill to the north of Garcia Hernandez, with some infantry hidden on the right. The rest of the infantry resumed the retreat. Wellington, who could only see the French cavalry, ordered Anson to attack with his light cavalry. Anson sent the 11th and 16th Light Dragoons to deal with the chasseurs. As the British advanced, the French cavalry turned and fled. The 1st Heavy Dragoons from Bock's King's German Legion, which had just arrived on the battlefield, pursued, but to its surprise came under attack from a French infantry battalion in square.

The French now had four infantry squares, two each from the 6th Leger and 76th Line, a total of 2,400 men. One of the battalions from the 76th had fired on the Heavy Dragoons. The 3rd Heavy Dragoons, following a little behind, decided to attack the square as the men were already moving at speed and were close by. The French fired one volley at 80 yards, mortally wounding the commander of the 76th, and a second at 20 yards, but then a fatally wounded horse crashed into their ranks and broke the line. Some of the Dragoons were able to break into the square using the gap this caused, and the square collapsed. Most of the infantry surrendered, including sixteen officers and all but 50 of the men.

The two battalions from the 6th Leger, seeing the fate of the 76th, began to retreat up a steep hill. The second squadron of the 1st Dragoons caught up with the rear battalion while it was still moving, but the survivors formed a rough square at the top of the hill. They were then charged by the 2nd Dragoons and part of the 1st Dragoons, and once again the square was broken, despite the charge having been made uphill. Once again many prisoners taken, but this time the survivors were able to seek refuge with the four remaining battalions of Foy's division, two each from the 39th and 69th Line.

A disorganised but enthusiastic mass of German dragoons attempted to charge one of the squares of the 69th, but this time they were fought off with some cost.

In all Wellington's men lost 127 officers and men, including 52 killed and 69 wounded, from a total of 770 men. The French lost around 1,100 men.

Wellington's men were too exhausted to do any more. Foy was able to retreat safely, until six miles further on he ran into long-awaited reinforcements from the French Army of the North, and these fresh troops took over the rearguard role. 

Salamanca 1812 - Wellington's Year of Victories, Peter Edwards. A look at Wellington's campaigns of 1812, from the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz to the triumph at Salamanca, the failure at Burgos and the retreat back to Portugal at the end of a year that saw the French permanently forced out of large parts of Spain. A good account of this campaign, copiously illustrated with carefully used eyewitness accounts. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 February 2018), Combat of Garcia Hernandez, 23 July 1812 ,

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