HL Deb 10 February 1812 vol 21 cc704-7 704
The Earl of Liverpool rose in pursuance of notice to move the Thanks of the House to lord Wellington, for the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo. In the consideration of questions of this nature, there were two points, his lordship observed, which more particularly called for attention, namely, the importance of the place wrested from the enemy, and the value of the effort used to obtain possession of it. He did not mean to say, that either of these might not, in some cases, be a sufficient ground for voting the Thanks of the House, but in the present instance, both considerations combined to call upon the House to confer that high honour. Of the importance of Ciudad Rodrigo, there could be no doubt; it was the only fortress of note on the north-eastern frontier of Portugal, and on the north-western frontier of Spain. It was originally erected by the Spaniards as a point of defence against any invasion from Portugal, and also as a place of arms to facilitate offensive operations in that country, and the circumstances connected with the current of the river on which it was placed, rendered it in both points of view highly important. By its capture, the defence of Portugal was rendered complete, and at the same time a way was opened into almost the centre of Spain.
—Having thus mentioned the importance of this fortress, he thought it necessary to state a few circumstances, to shew why the capture of it by the enemy in 1810 could not be prevented. It was well known, as stated by the French commander in chief himself, that the French force destined for the attack on Portugal, was 110,000 men; of this force 27,000 laid siege to Ciudad Rodrigo. Lord Wellington at that time had only with him 17,000 British, and 14,000 Portuguese, the latter completely untried. The British commander in chief never lost sight of the importance of relieving the place, if possible, and to the last moment had the object in view, but the Portuguese troops being then completely untried, it became a consideration of prudence how far it was advisable to try them under circumstances peculiarly disadvantageous. It was also to be considered, that the allied army must have fought the enemy with the Agueda in their rear, and that even if they had defeated the covering army, still, with the river in their rear, and embarrassed as they neces- 705 sarily would be with wounded, it was more than doubtful whether any advantage could thus be gained. The defence of Portugal was also of the greatest importance; it was not merely one point that was to be attended to, but the ultimate defence of the country, and lord Wellington being certain that he could effectually defend Portugal by having resort to the lines of Torres Vedras, it was essential not to run the hazard of wasting unprofitably the troops through whom that defence was to be made. After marshal Massena had retreated from Portugal, lord Wellington's attention was again called to Ciudad Rodrigo, but his operations in that quarter were interrupted by those of the enemy in Estremadura, to which province the pressure of the war was necessarily for a time removed. Subsequently to the cessation of these movements, other circumstances operated to delay the attack upon Ciudad Rodrigo. It was well known that there was no bridge over the Agueda near Ciudad Rodrigo, except the bridge of the place itself; and at certain seasons of the year, the river was so much swollen by the mountain torrents, that it became impracticable to throw any bridge over it. Lord Wellington also judged it expedient, before laying siege to Ciudad Rodrigo, to have Almeida as a depot, for which purpose it was necessary that the fortifications should be restored, and he was happy to state that Almeida was now in a respectable state of defence.
—In the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo there were many circumstances which must be highly satisfactory. When the enemy laid siege to it in 1810, they completed the investment on the 10th of June, and the place did not surrender by capitulation till the 11th of July. Lord Wellington invested the place on the 8th of January, and this, it should be remembered, under all the disadvantages of a siege, in the depth of winter, and the place was taken by storm on the 19th of that months In recounting this, it was a subject of no ordinary satisfaction to observe the skill and ability manifested by the engineer and the artillery. Thus completing the proof that in every branch of our military service our superiority was decidedly manifest—our infantry, our cavalry, our engineers, our artillery, our commissariat, all were proved to be decidedly superior—a superiority resulting from a wise system at home carried into practice by the wisdom, the skill, and the exertions of our commander in chief 706 in Portugal. The enemy no longer vaunted of superiority, no longer boasted of driving British troops into the sea, it being now apparent to all the world, that with British hearts in British bosoms we maintained a decided superiority in whatever element we fought.
—The capture of Ciudad Rodrigo, whilst it was of essential importance to those great interests which we were engaged in supporting, was a blow to the enemy which he did not expect. It was not conceived possible that Ciudad Rodrigo could have been taken in 11 days. The calculation made upon scientific rules was, that it might hold out for 24 or 25 days. Lord Wellington, however, was aware of the importance of rapidity, and the most unparalleled exertions were made, which were happily crowned with success. The enemy had not the slightest expectation of such an event, and he knew that marshal Marmont calculated in being in good time on the 29th of January to relieve the place—for which purpose the French commander was collecting troops from different quarters, and to do this necessarily weakened the force in other parts.
—Whether, therefore, they considered the importance of the place itself, the indefatigable exertions used to achieve its capture in so short a time, or the importance of the success with a view to further operations which were planned by lord Wellington, he thought their lordships must agree that the commander and the army deserved their thanks. Whatever opinions there might exist as to the policy of our operations in Portugal, he thought there could be no difference of opinion as to the skill and ability of the commander in chief, or the bravery and spirit of the army which he commanded: Justice, as well-as policy, demanded that they should uphold the honour and the character of our commanders and our armies. To do this was true policy; for let it not be forgotten, that to our officers and to our army, who so skilfully and so bravely defended Portugal and defeated the enemy, we most be indebted, if the necessity should arise, for the defence of our own shores. His lordship concluded by moving the Thanks of the House to general lord viscount Wellington, for the skill, ability, and indefatigable exertions, and consummate wisdom manifested by him in the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo.
§ This motion was agreed to nem. dis as were also motions of Thanks to lieutenant general Thomas Graham, second in com- 707 mand, and the other general officers, and to the engineers of the royal corps of artillery, and the officers of the royal artillery, and Portuguese artillery; likewise an acknowledgment of the services of the non-commissioned officers and soldiers.—The earl of Liverpool took the opportunity in the course of moving the votes of Thanks, to pay a tribute to the merits of major general Mackinnon, who unfortunately fell at Ciudad Rodrigo; and to express a hope, that the Monument to be erected to his memory would be as lasting as his fame. The Thanks were ordered to be communicated by the Lord Chancellor.