Battle of Garcia Hernandez


Battle of Garcia Hernandez

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Garcia Hernandez


caption=Map of the battle
partof=Peninsular War
date=July 23, 1812
place=Garcihernandez, Spain
result=Anglo-German victory
combatant1=flagicon|France French Empire
combatant2=flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom
commander1=Maximilien Foy
commander2=George Bock
strength1=4,000
strength2=1,770
casualties1=1,100-1,600 casualties
casualties2=116-127 casualties
In the Battle of Garcia Hernandez on July 23, 1812, two brigades of Anglo-German cavalry led by Major-General George Bock defeated 4,000 French infantry led by Major-General Maximilien Foy. In what would otherwise have been an unremarkable Peninsular War skirmish, the German heavy dragoons achieved the unusual feat of breaking two French squares.

Background

The previous day, the Anglo-Allied army commanded by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington had won a decisive victory over a French army led by Marshal Auguste Marmont in the Battle of Salamanca. Foy's division was the only French unit not engaged in the battle and it was acting as rearguard on July 23.

Battle

Bock's 770-strong heavy cavalry brigade, consisting of the 1st and 2nd King's German Legion (KGL) Dragoons, led the pursuit of the French. In support of Bock were the 1,000 troopers of George Anson's British light cavalry brigade (11th, 12th and 16th Light Dragoons). [Glover, p 380] As the Anglo-Germans approached, Maj-Gen Curto's French cavalry fled. Foy arranged his eight battalions on a hill in square. He had two battalions each of the 6th Light, and the 39th, 69th and 76th Line Infantry Regiments. [Smith, p 381]

Bock's dragoons charged a square belonging to a battalion of the 6th Light. The French held their fire too long. Their volley killed a number of horsemen, but a mortally wounded horse carrying a dead dragoon crashed into the square like a kamikaze. [Keegan, p 154] The horse fell, kicking wildly, knocking down at least a half-dozen men and creating a gap in the square. Captain Gleichen rode his horse into the gap, followed by his troopers. The square broke up and most of the men surrendered. [Beamish, p 81ff] [Oman, p 101]

A second square farther up the hillside was soon charged. Shaken by the first square's disaster, the men flinched when the dragoons rode into them. Soon the men in the second square were running for their lives, except those who surrendered. Foy quickly pulled back the rest of his troops. Anson's horsemen mopped up the battlefield.

Results

Foy lost 200 killed and wounded, and 1,400 captured. Bock lost 54 killed and 62 wounded. The very high proportion of killed to wounded was due to the "deadly effect of musketry at the closest possible quarters." [Oman, p 102] Another authority gives 52 Germans killed, 69 wounded and 6 missing and 1,100 total French casualties. [Smith, p 381]

Commentary

The breaking of a steady square was a rare event. A French infantry battalion in square formed up in a bayonet-studded hedgehog either 3-ranks or 6-ranks deep. (A British square was 4-deep.) If a square stood its ground without flinching and fired with effect, it could withstand the best cavalry. When infantry squares were broken by cavalry in the Napoleonic Wars, it was usually because:
* the infantry were of poor quality
* the infantry were tired, disorganized or discouraged
* it was raining, making it difficult for the infantry to fire effectively
* the infantry fired a poorly aimed volley
* the infantry waited too long to fire

At Garcia Hernandez, the last event occurred, leading to the extraordinary accident of a dead horse and rider smashing into the square.

Literature

* Beamish, N. Ludlow. "History of the King's German Legion" Vol 2 (reprint) Naval and Military Press, 1997. ISBN 0-952201-10-0
* Glover, Michael. "The Peninsular War 1807-1814." London: Penguin, 2001. ISBN 0-141-39041-7
* Keegan, John. "The Face of Battle." London: Vintage, 1977.
* Oman, Charles. "Wellington's Army, 1809-1814." London: Greenhill, (1913) 1993. ISBN 0-947898-41-7
* Smith, Digby. "The Napoleonic Wars Data Book." London: Greenhill, 1998. ISBN 1-85367-276-9

References


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