July 22, 1812
Both armies were just outside Salamanca. It was hot and humid, particularly after a heavy thunderstorm the night before. Wellington, aware that French reinforcements were expected, was planning to retreat back to Ciudad Rodrigo. Marmont, the French commander, was eager to do battle before the arrival of the reinforcements so that he could claim all the credit for defeating Wellington.
However, Wellington received reports (no doubt from his Exploring Officers) that French troops were taking up positions on the slopes of two steep hills, the Arapiles (south of Salamanca). Wellington saw the danger immediately and ordered the French repulsed, sending two infantry divisions to take position below the ridge of the closer hill. Having seen the dust in the distance from the supply wagons on their way to Ciudad Rodrigo and believing that the British were in retreat, Marmont didn’t realize that most of Wellington’s troops were still hidden behind the ridge. Wellington ordered up two more divisions from Salamanca.
At midday, Wellington descended the near hill and joined his senior staff for a very late breakfast at a nearby farm where they had a good view of the area. Because of bullets flying from nearby skirmishes, the meal had to be moved to a safer place. Wellington paced the wall of the farmyard, scanning the area with his spyglass. When finally persuaded to eat some bread and part of a roast chicken, he grabbed one of the chicken legs and ate it with one hand while continuing to study the area between the two ridges with his spyglass.
At 2:00, he rose from the table with a whoop of delight, throwing the chicken leg over his shoulder and shouting, “By God! That will do!” and ran to his horse, ordering his men to follow him.
French troops were marching through the gap of the two ridges—exactly what he had been hoping to see. Turning to his Spanish aide-de-camp, Miguel Ricardo de Alava y Esquivel, he remarked, “Mon cher Alava, Marmont est perdu!” (My dear Alava, Marmont is lost!)
Marmont had made a fatal error in judgment and Wellington knew he was in a perfect position to crush the French.
Wellington struck hard and fast, taking the French by surprise. Marmont was badly wounded by an exploding shell and carried to the rear. Other French senior officers were killed or severely wounded, and the French had no chance to re-group.
The main battle took less than an hour. It was later said that Wellington had “defeated 40,000 men in 40 minutes.” Wellington himself took a ball in the thigh, but his holster took most of the hit, leaving him with a minor wound.
Unfortunately, most of the remaining French army managed to escape across the Tormes River, due to a failure of the Spanish commander abandoning his post against orders.
The night after the battle, the residents of Salamanca, having seen most of the conflict, came out onto the battlefield with provisions for the men, who had gone without eating and drinking for nearly a day while fighting a battle under the grueling Spanish sun.
Lost and Found Lady
Catalina lives near the battlefield outside a town called Las Torres. After the battle, she finds a wounded British soldier on the road and takes him to a place of safety where she can tend to his head wound. The British soldier is Rupert Ellsworth, one of Wellington’s Exploring Officers. The pair are immediately drawn to each other, but Rupert knows there’s no future for them, having promised his father he would marry a suitable English girl. A devout Catholic, Catalina is not a whore to be loved and abandoned. Still, Rupert cannot help but wish he could sweep her away from her disagreeable family. After he returns to his company, they both wonder if they will ever see each other again.
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