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Busaco - 3 September 1810

INTRODUCTION

This was the second battle in our Peninsular War Campaign.  Following the fall of Almeida, the French pushed on towards Coimbra via the route Tondella-Mortagon-Sula.  By 2 September 1810, a British screening force composed of the Light Division led by Robert Craufurd was pushed back to the village of Sula, at the foot of the Serra de Busaco, by a superior French force estimated at corps strength.  Their exact strength unknown, the British lay in wait on the reverse slope of Busaco ridge. 

[Click on any of the images to get a full-sized pic.]

THE BATTLE

As morning dawned on 3 September, the French opened their thrust with their cavalry and a division of infantry on the Mortagon-Sula road.  The Light Division holding Sula was charged by a brigade of French cavalry.  The charge was repelled.  This was followed up by a French infantry assault, which was also beaten back with ease.  A third attempt with combined infantry and cavalry finally forced the Lights to retire.  It was here that Craufurd fell, in a desperate attempt to rally his troops.  Picton rushed down from his position on the ridge to steady the Lights.  Meanwhile, British scouts on the ridge spotted a French advance up the subsidiary road - Mortagon-Palheiros - to the south of Sula.  

The French next formed their artillery into a Grand Battery facing Sula.  The effect was devastating!  In 2 volleys, the French artillery reduced the Light Division to half strength.  Picton was hit by a piece of flying shrapnel.  In the face of such devastating fire, the Lights had no choice but to retire up Busaco ridge, with 3rd Division in support and RHA covering their left flank.

The dust cloud on the Palheiros road resolved itself into a cavalry brigade and 2 French infantry divisions.  Seeing their flank threatened, the British Heavy Cavalry charged and sent the French cavalry flying.  But the French were dangerous at bay, and though caught by the heavies in the rear, the British horses were winded and made easy meat for the more nimble French mounts.  The British charge was repulsed, but it bought them time to move 2 divisions into place on the ridge.

 

Back on the Sula road, the French cavalry charged the RHA batteries covering the retreat of the Lights.  Sweeping through shot and shell, the French Dragoons destroy the leading RHA battery, but are blown to bits by the next RHA battery further up the ridge.

 

Daunted by the prospect of having to assault at least three British divisions on top of Busaco ridge, the French decide to pull back.

The battle was inconclusive.  The French retired in good order and suffered minimal casualties.  Although the British held the ridge and prevented a breakthrough to Coimbra, they suffered relatively heavy casualties - losing Craufurd, a large proportion of the Lights and a significant number of heavy cavalry.

British and French command teams - Wahj (Wellington) and Arjun (Ney) are not shown.