Battle of Nivelle

The Battle of Nivelle (10 November 1813) took place in front of the River Nivelle near the end of the Peninsular War (1808–1814). After the Allied siege of San Sebastian, Wellington's 80,000 British, Portuguese and Spanish troops (20,000 of the Spaniards were untried in battle) were in hot pursuit of Marshal Soult who had 60,000 men to place in a 20-mile perimeter. After the Light Division, the main British army was ordered to attack and the 3rd Division split Soult's army into two. By 2 o'clock, Soult was in retreat and the British in a strong offensive position. Soult had lost 4,351 men to Wellington's 2,450.

Battle of Nivelle
Part of the Peninsular War
Bataille de la Nivelle

Gravure of the battle
Date10 November 1813
Location
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
France French Empire United Kingdom United Kingdom
Portugal
 Spain
Commanders and leaders
France Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult United Kingdom Duke of Wellington
United Kingdom Baronet of Woodbrook
Strength
60,000 80,000
Casualties and losses
4,351 killed or wounded 2,450 killed or wounded

Background

In the Siege of San Sebastian, the Anglo-Portuguese stormed and captured the port at the beginning of September 1813. In the Battle of San Marcial on 31 August, Soult failed to break through the Spanish defences in his final attempt to relieve the siege. The French army then fell back to defend the Bidassoa River, which forms the French-Spanish frontier near the coast.

At dawn on 7 October the Anglo-Allied army overran the French river defences in the Battle of the Bidassoa in a surprise crossing. During this action, the allies also captured several fortified positions in the area of La Rhune mountain. Both sides lost about 1,600 men in these actions.

Disposition

Battle of Nivelle map
A map of the battle

Arrayed in front of the course of the River Nivelle, whose route was marked by a series of hills on which the French had built strong defensive positions or redoubts, was the French army under Marshal Soult. Soult's lines stretched from the shores of the Atlantic on the French right flank to the snow-covered pass of Roncesvalles on the left, a perimeter of about 20 miles. With only 60,000 men, Soult was stretched to an almost impossible point. This also means that he could not hold troops back as reserves, something which may have turned the tide of the battle. As Soult moved back to his base at Bayonne, his position strengthened but he was not quick enough and Wellington caught him up.

The French position was dominated by the Greater Rhune, a gorse-covered, craggy mountain nearly 3,000 feet high. Separated from the Greater Rhune by a ravine, roughly 700 yards below it, is the Lesser Rhune along the precipitous crest of which the French had constructed three defensive positions. If the French defences on La Rhune could be taken Soult's position would become very dangerous as it would open him to attack from all elements of the British three point pincer plan.

Wellington's plan was to distribute troops along the whole of Soult's line but make his main attack in the centre. Any breakthrough in the centre or the French left flank would enable the British to cut off the French right Flank. So, Wellington ordered that the British left (attacking the French right) would be led by Sir John Hope and would involve the 1st and 5th Divisions as well as Freire's Spaniards. Beresford would lead the main Allied attack against the French centre with the 3rd, 4th, 7th and Light Divisions, while on the British right (attacking the French left ) Hill would attack with the 2nd and 6th Divisions, supported by Morillo's Spaniards and Hamilton's Portuguese. Wellington decided to attack on 10 November.

Battle

The battle started just before dawn as the Light Division headed towards the plateau on the summit of the Greater Rhune (the summit had been garrisoned by French troops but they had fled after the skirmish on the River Bidassoa, fearing to be cut off from their own army). The objective of the division was to sweep the three defensive forts the French had constructed out of the battle. They moved down into the ravine in front of the Lesser Rhune and were ordered to lie down and await the order to attack. After the signal from a battery of cannon, the offensive began. It started with the men of the 43rd, 52nd and 95th - with the 17th Portuguese infantry Regiment in support - storming the redoubts on the crest of the Rhune. Despite this being a risky move and the men being almost exhausted, the surprise and boldness of the British sent the French fleeing towards other forts on other hills.

John Colborne
John Colborne

While the 43rd and 95th were dealing with the French on the Rhune, there still remained one very strong star-shaped fort below on the Mouiz plateau which reached out towards the coast. This was attacked by Colborne's 52nd Light Infantry, supported by riflemen from the 95th. Once again, the French were surprised and the British succeeded. They had, in the French eyes, appeared from the ground at which point, in danger of being cut off, the French soldiers quickly fled leaving Colborne in possession of the fort and other trenches without loss of a single fatal casualty.

Shortly, the main British assault began with the nine divisions fanning out over a five-mile front. When the 3rd division took the bridge at Amotz, all French resistance broke as any communication between the two halves of Soult's army was now impossible. The French resistance melted away and soon they were in full retreat (by 2 o'clock they were streaming across the Nivelle) having lost 4351 men to Wellington's 2450.

Further reading

  • Jones, John T. (1818), Account of the War in Spain and Portugal, and in the South of France: From 1808, to 1814, Inclus, Egerton, pp. 346–355
  • Pagnet, Julian (2005), "Chapter 31:The Battle of Nivelle", Wellington's Peninsular War: Battles and Battlefields (illustrated, reprint ed.), Pen and Sword, pp. 211–216, ISBN 9781844152902
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Events from the year 1813 in France.

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The 7th Infantry Division was an infantry division of the British Army, first established by The Duke of Wellington as part of the Anglo-Portuguese Army for service in the Peninsular War, and was active also during the First World War from 1914–1919, and in the Second World War from 1938–1939 in Palestine and Egypt.

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In the Battle of the Nive on 9–13 December 1813, Marshal Jean-de-Dieu Soult's army failed to drive Wellington's forces away from Bayonne. After the Nive, bad weather imposed a 2-month pause in military operations, during which time the French confined the Allied forces to an area south and west of the fortresses of Bayonne and Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. To break out of the region, Wellington launched an offensive toward the east in February, pressing back Soult's left wing. A column under Rowland Hill encountered Harispe's division at Garris. The next action was the Battle of Orthez.

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General Sir Charles Grene Ellicombe KCB (3 August 1783 – 7 June 1871) was an English General and a Royal Engineer, reaching the rank of Colonel Commandant within the Corps. He was created one of the first Companions of the Order of the Bath, and advanced to the honour of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.

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General George Whichcote (1794 - 26 August 1891) was a senior officer in the British Army.

He was born the fourth son of Thomas Whichcote, 5th Baronet of Aswarby Park, Lincolnshire. After attending Rugby School he enlisted as a volunteer in the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot and received a commission as an ensign in 1811.

That same year he sailed on HMS Pompee to join the British army in the Spanish peninsula, where his regiment, together with the 43rd and the 95th regiments, formed the Light Division.

After taking part in the Battle of Sabugal in April and in the Battle of El Bodón in September he assisted in the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo and the Battle of Badajoz in 1812. Made a lieutenant in July he was present at the battles of Battle of Salamanca and Vittoria, where the 52nd carried the village of Magarita. He took part with his regiment in the combats in the Pyrenees in July and August, the Battle of Vera in October, the Battle of Nivelle in November, the Battle of the Nive in December, the Battle of Orthes in February, 1814 and the fighting at Tarbes in March. At the final Battle of Toulouse in April, he was the first man in the British army to enter the town when, having observed the French retreat when in command of an advanced picket, he pressed on to take possession of the town. At the end of the war the regiment was put on garrison duty at Castelsarrasin on the Garonne, and afterwards was sent to Ireland.

Whichcote then took part in the Battle of Waterloo, where the 52nd completed the rout of the Imperial Guard. When the 52nd was afterwards ordered to Botany Bay, Whichcote exchanged into the Buffs. In 1818 he was promoted captain, and in 1822 exchanged into the 4th Dragoon Guards, where was made major in 1825, lieutenant-colonel in 1838, and colonel in 1851. In 1825 he was placed on half-pay and made major-general, promoted to lieutenant-general in 1864, and full general on 5 December 1871.

He died on 26 August 1891 at Meriden, near Coventry, where he had resided since retiring from active service, and was buried in St Laurence's churchyard there on 31 August, one of the two surviving officers of the English army who had been present at Waterloo. In 1842 he had married Charlotte Sophia, the daughter of Philip Monckton. They had no children.

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General Sir John Wilson (1780–1856) was a British Army officer who served in the Peninsular War, and was acting Governor of British Ceylon in 1831.He entered the British Army as an ensign in the 28th Foot in 1794 and was promoted lieutenant the following year.

He fought in the Capture of St Lucia and of St Vincent in 1796. In July of that year he was captured and exchanged in Guadaloupe, but was captured again in 1797. He was however able to rejoin his regiment in Gibraltar and take part in the Capture of Minorca in 1798. In 1799 he was given the command of a company in the newly formed Minorca Regiment which was posted to Egypt in 1801, where Wilson took part in the Battle of Alexandria. He was promoted Major in 1802.

In 1808 the Minorca Regiment, now renamed The Queen's Own German Regiment, was sent to Portugal, where Wilson was severely wounded at the Battle of Vimiero. In 1809 he was back on the Peninsular as part of the Loyal Lusitanian Legion under Sir Robert Thomas Wilson, harassing the French in the vicinity of Ciudad Rodrigo. In 1810 he was made Chief of Staff under Silveira, a Commander of the Portuguese troops. In 1911 he was made Governor of the province of Minho.

In 1813 he rejoined Wellington's army, commanding a Portuguese brigade at the Siege of San Sebastian, the Passage of the Bidassoa and the Battle of Nivelle. He was again severely wounded near Bayonne. He was made brevet colonel and knighted in 1814, and made a CB the following year.

Promoted Major-general in 1825, Wilson commanded the British troops in Ceylon from 1831 to 1839, acting as governor for a short period. He was made KCB in 1837 and promoted Lieutenant-general in 1838.

In 1835 he fought a duel with Charles Marshall, the Chief Justice, which took place in the Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo, once a plantation.In 1836 he was given the colonelcy of the 82nd Foot, transferring to the 11th Foot in 1841, a position he held until his death. He was promoted full general on 20 June 1854.

He died in his London home in 1856.

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Lieutenant General Sir Manley Power, KCB, ComTE (1773 – 7 July 1826) was a British military leader who fought in a number of campaigns for Britain and rose to the rank of Lieutenant General. He is chiefly remembered for leading a brigade of Portuguese troops under The Duke of Wellington in the Iberian Peninsular War. He is also remembered for jointly causing the removal of Sir George Prevost, governor-in-chief of British North America, for Prevost's refusal to press the attack on Plattsburgh, New York, in 1814, during the War of 1812. After his active military service Sir Manley Power was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Malta.

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To prevent Marquess of Wellington's army invading France in 1813, Marshal Soult built a line of fortifications and entrenchments along the river Nivelle from the sea inland to fortified rocks on Mount Mondarrain. The lines were breached during the Battle of Nivelle 10 November 1813.

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Nicolas François Conroux, Baron de Pépinville (17 February 1770 – 11 November 1813) became a division commander during the Napoleonic Wars and was killed fighting the British in southern France. In 1786 he joined the French Royal Army and by 1792 he was an officer in an infantry regiment. During the French Revolutionary Wars he fought at First Arlon, Second Arlon, Fleurus, the 1796 campaign in southern Germany, Valvasone, and the 1798 invasion of Naples. In 1802 he was given command of an infantry regiment.

After leading his troops at Austerlitz in 1805, he was promoted to general officer. He led a brigade at Heilsberg, Friedland, Aspern-Essling, and Wagram. After being promoted again, he commanded a division in Spain at Fuentes de Onoro, Bornos, Vitoria, the Pyrenees, San Marcial, and the Bidassoa. He was fatally wounded at the Battle of Nivelle and died the following day. His surname is one of the Names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, on Column 16.

Nivelle (disambiguation)

Nivelle may refer to:

Nivelle, a commune in northern France

Nivelle River, a river in southwestern France

Nivelle Offensive, a 1917 Allied attack on the Western Front in World War I.

Nivelles, a town in central Belgium

Battle of Nivelle, a battle fought in 1813 near the river Nivelle

Robert Nivelle (1856–1924), French artillery officer who became Commander-in-Chief of the French Army on the Western Front in 1916.

Sir John Hamilton, 1st Baronet, of Woodbrook

Lieutenant-General Sir John James Hamilton, 1st Baronet (4 August 1755 – 24 December 1835) was a British officer of the Honourable East India Company, the British Army and during the Napoleonic Wars the Portuguese Army who saw action across the world from India to the West Indies and was honoured for his service by both the British and Portuguese royal families. Of noble Irish descent, related by birth to the first Earl Castle Stewart and by marriage to the Earl of Tyrone, Hamilton's extensive career and brave service was widely recognised during his life and after his death.

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Field Marshal Sir William Shearman Rowan, (18 June 1789 – 26 September 1879) was a British Army officer. He served in the Peninsular War and then the Hundred Days, fighting at the Battle of Waterloo and taking part in an important charge led by Sir John Colborne against the Imperial Guard when he was wounded. He later assisted Colborne in Colborne's new role as Acting Governor General of British North America during the rebellions by the Patriote movement in 1837. Rowan returned to Canada as Commander-in-Chief, North America in which role he made an important conciliatory speech in response to the burning of the Parliament Buildings in Montreal by an angry mob in April 1849.

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