1709-05-07 – Battle of La Gudiña
After the defeat at the Battle of Almansa in 1707, the British were in a desperate situation. They had little or no presence in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula and their weight and influence in the war was little or non-existent. It was at that moment that the Earl of Galway made a formal request to London requesting reinforcements and London responded by sending 25,000 men of which approximately 8,000 were sent to Portugal under Galway and the rest to Catalonia.
In the past, besides his defeat at Almansa, the Earl of Galway had twice attempted to conquer the city of Badajoz without success. Knowing that the French had withdrawn their troops because of the defeats suffered by Louis XIV in the Spanish Netherlands and the threat to his homeland, Galway crossed the border near the fortress of Campomayor in the vicinity of Badajoz with his Anglo-Portuguese army (composed of 12,000 Portuguese and 8,000 British). As the huge convoy of supplies crossed the Caya River, the Anglo-Portuguese found that the vanguard of the Spanish cavalry occupied a position in the fields of La Gudiña.
The Anglo-Portuguese infantry lines were more extended as they had more infantry. The British contingent took the left flank of the second line.
The Bourbons had more and better cavalry.
Both armies had about 20 pieces of artillery.
Description of Events
Moving from the town of Elvas and crossing the Caya River (Caia in Portuguese) the Anglo-Portuguese army faced the Spanish army. On 7 May 1709, both forces met on the "plain of La Gudiña".
The Allied army, which had laid up to nine bridges across the Caya River, was prepared for the fight. In the centre were deployed the troops of the Marquis of Fronteira, although his men did not get to see the Spanish infantry so they did not know what was happening on the battlefield. On the left flank, the first line was commanded by the Count of San Juan and the second line, with three British regiments, was under the command of the Earl of Galway. In this way, they sought to extend their flank taking advantage of their numerical superiority and thus overcome the opposite flank of the enemy.
The battle began at 3:00 p.m. on May 7, when the Allies were completing the crossing of the river.
After several Spanish attacks designed to attract the Anglo-Portuguese forces, the Marquis de Bay, who had positioned the Spanish cavalry on the right flank, defeated the Portuguese cavalry easily. He then launched an attack on the Portuguese troops of the front line. The highly experienced and well-trained Spanish cavalry forced the Portuguese to retreat and although the Count of San Juan desperately tried to reorganize his troops, the task proved to be impossible and he was captured by the cavalry along with many of his men and an artillery battery.
Lord Galway then launched an attack with three regiments to try to retake the battery but the Spanish dragoons dismounted and engaged in combat against them forcing the British to retreat into a building. It was at that moment that Lord Galway rode a horse and fled. Two British officers were captured and the British regiments were virtually wiped out.
The first and second Anglo-Portuguese line fled and the centre of the formation, left without cavalry support, also fled before the Spanish cavalry even reached their position, abandoning on the battlefield personal items, equipment and weapons. The Allies fled across the Caya River again but without destroying the bridges in their retreat. The Spanish cavalry chased them and killed about 1,500 men and captured another 1,000 men.
The Spanish infantry barely intervened, the battle being a typical cavalry combat, with similar actions of vigorous charges such as those that had given victory to the Bourbons at Almansa in 1707.
In this battle, the Bourbon lost 400 men killed or wounded, including Colonel Antonio de Leyva, who was killed (he would be buried with all honors in the church of the Jesuit Fathers, the former Convent of Santa Catalina). The following regiments particularly distinguished themselves during this battle: Salazar Cavalry; Osuna Dragoons, who drove the British cavalry back; and Sheldon-Irlandais Cavalerie, who cut off the retreat, forcing three British regiments to surrender.
The Portuguese and British suffered a severe defeat, losing about 1,700 men killed or wounded, and some 2,300 taken prisoners. The Spanish also captured 17 cannon, 15 colours or standards, as well as tents, and baggage. Of the 2,300 prisoners, the greater number, around 1,500, were British troops, and the remainder, or 800, were Portuguese. The highest ranking British officers made prisoners, were Major-General James Barry, 4th Earl of Barrymore; Nicholas Sankey; Brigadier-General Thomas Pearce, the 2nd Colonel of the Regiment of Galway (unidentified unit), with Major Thomas Gordon of that corps; Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Meredith of the Stanwix's Foot, and Lord Henry Pawlet, Aide-de-Camp to the Earl of Galway; the latter nobleman, (unfortunate here as at Almansa,) after having a horse shot out from under him, only escaped with difficulty.
The Allies were thus disappointed in their plan to capture Badajoz through their superior numbers. By the end of this campaign, they had the additional mortification of witnessing above 30 leagues (lieues) of the Portuguese territory placed under contribution by the Marquis de Bay, whose army lived off of his adversaries,
The Marquis of Bay tried to surround Olivenza for a siege, but the Portuguese, whose army covered the border, managed to pass ammunition and food into the city, so he had to abandon the idea.
The news sent home from Portugal by the British seem to have mostly discredited them. A contemporary London annalist says: "For my part, I think the stories, and excuses, sent us from thence, are as mean, and poor, as our fighting, and conduct, seem to be." In this victory, which led to such satisfactory results for Philip V of Spain, Brigadier Henry Crofton with his Regiment of Dragoons of 4 squadrons, was in the first line of the Spanish right wing of cavalry, which by its impetuous charge upon their Portuguese opponents, it is stated, that "all the cavalry of the two lines of the enemy's left was, in less than half an hour, broken, overthrown, and put to flight."
Order of Battle
Allied Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: General Marquis de Fronteira and General Earl of Galway
- according to a Portuguese account: 35 bns and 13 cavalry rgts
- according to Spanish sources: 24 bns and 16 cavalry rgts
- according to British sources: 9,200 Portuguese foot, 3,000 Portuguese horse and 2,800 British infantry (15,000 men in total).
Artillery: 18 to 20 pieces commanded by the Marquis de la Fronteira, Captain-General of the Alentejo
Franco-Spanish Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Alexandre Maître, Marquis de Bay
Summary: 24 battalions and 47 squadrons (in 16 rgts according to Portuguese sources) with 16 to 20 artillery pieces under Lieutenant-General Carlos de Boysloge
Among the infantry were the famous Reales Guardias Valonas under the command of the Duke of Abre. Some of the most select units and the best Bourbon generals of the time were part of the Bourbon army, such as Lieutenant-General Alonso de Escobar, Governor of the Plaza de Badajoz, Brigadier Feliciano de Bracamonte, or Baltasar de Moscoso, Count de las Torres, colonel of the regiment Moscoso Cavalry.
Arre caballo – Guerra de Sucesión Española. Campañas en 1.709
Extremadura militar – La Batalla de La Gudiña, 7 mayo 1709
Forum Defesa – Batalha de Caia, primeira parte
Dinos Antoniadis for the initial version of this article