Siege of Olivenza, 9 April-15 April 1811

The siege of Olivenza of 9-15 April 1811 saw the town liberated by an Anglo-Portuguese force only three months after it had been captured by the French. The Anglo-Portuguese army of Marshal Beresford had crossed the Guadiana River by the morning of 8 April, and on the next day Beresford moved east to Olivenza, the first fortress on the Spanish side of the river. This was a very weakly defended place, with fortifications over 100 years old that had been breached twice in the last ten years (once in 1801 and more recently during the siege of 11-22 January when the French had captured the town), and a garrison of only 450 men. Quite why General Latour-Maubourg, the French commander in Estremadura, had decided to defend the town is not at all clear.

If he was hoping to delay Beresford the plan backfired. Cole’s 4th Division was partly immobilised by a lack of shoes, and so Beresford decided to leave them to besiege Olivenza, while he used the rest of the army to force Latour-Maubourg out of Estremadura. The British took the same approach to the capture of Olivenza as the French had. On the night of 11 April they captured a ruined lunette south of the walls, and used it as the site for their gun batteries. The only real delay was caused by the lack of heavy guns. They had to be brought from Elvas, and then carefully transported across the Guadiana on a flying bridge. Six 24-pounder guns were in place by the end of 14 April, and opened fire on the next morning. After each gun had fired seventy rounds, a breach had been opened in one of the bastions of Olivenza. Cole then summoned the governor to surrender, and aware that he was massively outnumbered he surrendered. The Allies captured 9 officers and 357 men still fit to fight and 96 sick. On the next day the 4th division, having finally been re-shoed, left to rejoin the main army, leaving a small Portuguese garrison in Olivenza, with orders to retreat if the French approached.

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 (25 March 2008), Siege of Olivenza, 9 April-15 April 1811 ,

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