Combat of Usagre, 25 May 1811

The combat of Usagre (25 May 1811) was a minor cavalry battle during Marshal Soult’s retreat after the battle of Albuera. Having failed in his attempt to come to the aid of the siege of Badajoz, Soult had retreated back towards Andalusia, with the Allied cavalry following close behind. What Soult was unable to discover was if any Allied infantry was following close behind, and so when he reached Llerena, Soult decided to send Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry back to attack the Allied advance guard, in the hope that the French cavalry would be able to push the Allied cavalry back onto any infantry. Latour-Maubourg took ten regiments of cavalry from the brigades of Bron, Bouvier de Éclats, Vinot and Briche, giving him a force 3,000 strong. This strong French force was able to push back the most advanced Allied cavalry, some Spanish horse under Penne Villemur, from Villa Garcia back to Usegre, where Latour-Maubourg found the main force of Allied cavalry.

Marshal Soult
Portrait of Marshal
Jean-de-Dieu Soult

The Allies were significantly outnumbered. General Lumley had 2,200 men, made up of three regiments of British cavalry (900 strong), four small Portuguese regiments (about 1,000 strong) and 300 men from Penne Villemur’s force. However the Allied did have a very strong position. The town of Usagre was located on the southern side of a stream which runs through a clear ravine. The Allied cavalry was located on the northern bank of the stream, which could be crossed either on the main road bridge, or on a pair of fords, one to each side of the town. Lumley responded to the appearance of the French by sending a detachment across each ford to watch the flanks of Latour-Maubourg’s force. When he realised how large the French force was, Lumley pulled those forces back to the north bank, inadvertently revealing the location of the northern ford (on the Allied left or the French right).

Latour-Maubourg was facing with a potentially dangerous situation. The Allied cavalry was clearly present on the far side of the stream, but it was hidden behind the sky-line, and so he had no idea how strong a force he was facing. He decided to launch a two-pronged attack on the Allies. Briche’s brigade was sent north, to cross the ford on the French right, with orders to attack the Allied left. Once he was in place, Latour-Maubourg planned to send his main force across the bridge, hopefully trapping the Allies between two forces.

The main weakness in this plan was that the two parts of the French army had no way to communicate with each other. Briche found the ford, but it was strongly held by Otway’s Portuguese cavalry, and so Briche was forced to move further north in a futile attempt to find another ford. Unfortunately Briche did not send a messenger back to Latour-Maubourg to inform him of the delay, and so after waiting for over an hour Latour-Maubourg began to cross the bridge.

Lumley waited until two of the three regiments in Bron’s brigade had crossed the bridge, and then launched a full scale attack with the 4th Dragoons, the 3rd Dragoon Guards, Madden’s Portuguese and Penne Villemur’s Spaniards. The isolated French regiments were almost completely destroyed, suffering 250 killed and wounded and losing 78 prisoners, amongst them the colonel of the French 4th Dragoons. Of his original ten regiments, only six were now with Latour-Maubourg.

Lumley resisted the temptation to attack Latour-Maubourg in Usagre, recognising that the French had just as strong a defensive position as the Allies had enjoyed. Usagre became the front line for the next month, with the town remaining in French hands, while Soult made Llerena his base. Lumley’s victory at Usagre prevented Soult from discovering that the Allied infantry was in fact some way behind the cavalry, having needed nearly a week to recover from their victory at Albuera.

A History of the Peninsular War vol.4: December 1810-December 1811 - Massena's Retreat, Fuentos de Onoro, Albuera, Tarragona, Sir Charles Oman. The main focus of this fourth volume in Oman's history of the Peninsular War is the year long duel between Wellington and the French on the borders of Portugal, which saw the British make a series of attacks across the border, most of which were repulsed by strong concentrations of French troops. Despite the apparent lack of progress, this was the period that saw the French lose the initiative to Wellington.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (4 April 2008), Combat of Usagre, 25 May 1811 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_usagre.html

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