Combat of Puente Larga, 30 October 1812

The combat of Puente Larga (30 October 1812) was a rearguard action during Hill's retreat from Madrid, and helped win time for the Allies to evacuate Madrid and escape across the mountains to the north-west without difficulty.

In the aftermath of the battle of Salamanca, Wellington had occupied Madrid, forcing King Joseph to flee to Valencia. Marshal Soult had to abandon Andalusia and eventually joined Joseph. In the meantime Wellington moved north, where he became bogged down outside Burgos, leaving General Rowland Hill with a large part of the army to watch Soult and Joseph.

Soult and Joseph finally began to move in mid October. Hill slowly pulled back, until by 30 October most of his army was safely to the north-west of Madrid. A small rearguard, Skerrett's brigade, was left to defend the Puente Larga, a long bridge over the River Jarama, south-east of Madrid.

The southern end of the bridge was overlooked by rising ground, the northern end, where Skerrett was posted, linked to a causeway that ran to the plateau of Valdemoro, nearer to Madrid. Skerrett's engineers had attempted to blow the bridge, but had only managed to create a partial breach, with one parapet and part of the footway still intact.

After this failure Skerrett had a breastwork built across the northern end of the bridge and posted two companies from the 95th Rifles and part of the 2/47th there. His other troops were placed in the shelter of the causeway, which protected them from French artillery. His reserve was posted half a mile along the causeway. In total he had around 4,000 men.

Soult's advance brought him to Peunte Larga. He spent most of 30 October trying to find another way across the river, but without success. Eventually he ordered Reymond's division to try and force its way across the river. For several hours all this produced was an artillery and musketry dual across the river, but eventually the British guns ran short of ammo and stopped. At this point Soult ordered the 12th Leger to try and cross the river. They came under heavy musket fire and had to fall back before reaching the breach. The same happened to a second attack a few minutes later.

After this second failure Soult halted the attack and began to prepare for a full scale assault on the following morning. However overnight Skerret withdrew, reaching Madrid early on 31 October. Soult failed to take advantage of this, and instead stopped after hearing a rumour that Wellington was heading for Madrid. This gave Hill a full day's head start and allowed him to cross the Guadarrama Pass without incident. The first French troops reached Madrid on 1 November, and the first infantry on 2 November.

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 (3 April 2018), Combat of Puente Larga, 30 October 1812 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_puente_larga.html

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