The Chancellor of the Exchequer
, in rising to move the Thanks of the House to lord Wellington and the officers and soldiers under his command, for the skill and valour, so eminently displayed in the battle of Talavera, could not refrain from expressing painful regret at the symptoms of opposition which were incidentally manifested in that House, and which had previously been manifested elsewhere, He was the more grieved at this opposition, because he thought it could not he denied that the action for which he was about to move their thanks, was one of the most splendid that had ever graced or distinguished our military annals, that had ever shed lustre upon the British arms. Whether they considered the numbers, the bravery, or the discipline of the enemy, the more would they be inclined to think highly of that consummate skill and conduct, and that invincible intrepidity which obtained a victory over them. It was not a victory such as they saw gained by the French over the raw levies of unarmed Spanish peasants, but a victory over the veterans of France—men bred to war, inured to hardships—accustomed to conquer, and led by the most able generals of that country. At the present crisis, too, he hoped gentlemen would consider the necessity of establishing and maintaining the honour, encouraging the spirit and rewarding the services of our gallant army and its commander. When he reflected how desirable it was to cherish the military spirit, by bestowing on ability and valour the due meed and reward, he could not help again looking 278 for an unanimous vote on this occasion. Gentlemen, whoever they were, that might have intended to oppose this motion, would, he trusted, well weigh the reasons of their opposition, before they suffered themselves to be led into it. He intreated of them to examine their own minds, and see if they were not actuated, more or less, by party considerations, and not by feelings which should induce them to withhold their approbation from such distinguished merits of the soldier and the commander. He earnestly begged of gentlemen seriously to consider this; and so extremely anxious was he to remove out of the way every disputable matter and question which could occur, that he should carefully abstain from every thing that in his view of the subject, could, by possibility, lead to any difference of opinion. With this view he should abstain from all mention of the general plan and conduct of the campaign, as well as from every thing else connected with it likely to give rise to difference, and should bring nothing within the view of the House, but the battle of Talavera itself. He should look at it with a view solely to the consideration of the ability of the general, matched only by the gallantry of the soldier, and of the gallantry of the soldier to be equalled only by the skill, ability, and enterprize of the general. He begged it, however, to be understood, that he did not give up the vindication of the whole campaign. He should be ready to assert the merits of it, whenever called on to do so; and to maintain not only the policy of its plan and execution, but its actual utility to the general interests of the Spanish people. At present, therefore, he should only generally state the grounds on which he conceived our brave army entitled to the thanks of the House, and he would perhaps have to beg the indulgence of the House to reply to such objections as should be made. The splendid service done at Talavera was so great and so fresh in the recollection of the House, that it was unnecessary for him to go into particulars; and he should consequently confine himself to a very few facts. Lord Wellington, after his return from the north of Portugal whence he had so gallantly expelled the French under Soult, proceeded to and arrived on the Tagus on the 12th of June. Here he halted till the 27th of the same month, and then broke up from Abrantes to Plasencia. On 279 his march, he was joined by Cuesta, with whom he settled a combined plan of operations in order to attack Victor, drive him beyond the Alberche, and defend the south of Spain. Connected, with this, a simultaneous movement on Madrid was to be made by Venegas and the army under his command. This movement, however, was not made. On the 27th, the French began the attack on the division under gen. Hill, posted upon a height. They were partially successful at first, but the manner in which they were immediately repulsed, and the position regained at the point of the bayonet, was fresh in the memory of everyone, and required no eulogy from him.— On the 28th, the attack was renewed on the whole British line, and was met with equal steadiness and gallantry. Never was there a more glorious display of valour and skill than that by which an army of double their numbers was repulsed by our brave troops, and a splendid victory was obtained; a victory so decisive, so glorious, that there could not, by possibility, be a difference of opinion upon it in this country, in Spain, in Portugal, or even in France. He called, then, on the House to reward with its highest honours, this brilliant achievement, and he particularly called on a right hon. gent. whom he did not then see in his place (Mr. Windham,) to exert all his eloquence, to procure an unanimous vote on this occasion, as he had done on that of the battle of Maida, which Talavera so nearly resembled. The right hon. gent. in his eloquent speech on that occasion, told them, that their thanks were justly due and ought to be given for the invaluable acquisition of military fame and glory on that memorable day, and not to be regulated by any consideration for the attainment of ulterior objects. He was not able to excite a similar feeling by any thing he could say; but he again called on the right hon. gent. to do now what he had then done, and use his persuasive powers in obtaining an unanimous vote for Talavera, as he had for Maida, where the glory and the result were the same. Every splendour of that day was renewed and repeated at Talavera; and the same applause of the House was due to both. He would trespass no farther, but conclude by moving, "That the Thanks of this House be given to lord viscount Wellington for the distinguished ability displayed by him on the 27th 280 and 28th of July last, in the glorious battle of Talavera, which terminated in the signal defeat of the forces of the enemy."
§ Lord Milton
said that though he entertained a high opinion of the gallantry of lord Wellington, and notwithstanding this was called a glorious victory, he felt him-felt under the necessity of proposing an amendment to the motion that had just been made. He could not consider the battle of Talavera as an isolated question, but as connected with other important topics, and the general policy and conduct of the campaign. It was not his wish to anticipate future debates, by entering into detail—and the more particularly, because he felt his incompetence to form an opinion on military topics; yet he could form an opinion, in some measure, from the event of the campaign. No one felt more strongly than he did the services, or was inclined to bestow higher praise on the valour of our troops; and he also agreed with the right hon. gent. on the necessity of encouraging their military spirit by every incitement that the approbation of that House or the gratitude of the country could supply. But he did not think this was the way to do it. They had got into the habit of voting thanks on all occasions, and it was now almost an insult not to vote them. From their frequency their Votes of Thanks lost their value, and ceased to be any longer an honour or a reward. When he looked to the result of the campaign, he saw that it was not attended with advantages, but on the contrary was highly disastrous to the country. He must take into his consideration, before he voted thanks, how it was that sir Arthur Wellesley found himself compelled to fight the enemy: it was not sufficient to say, that he got out of danger with great skill, He should have the same ability in avoiding it. What thanks would the House bestow on an admiral, who first ran his fleet among rocks and shoals, and then evinced great skill and ability in getting them off again? Yet, the case of sir Arthur Wellesley was precisely similar, he had imprudently brought his army into a critical situation —he was forced to give battle. He was attacked by the enemy; and while, in the general orders, it was styled a decisive victory, followed by a precipitate retreat, it appeared from our general's own dispatches, that the enemy retired in good order beyond the Alberche. What could his Majesty's ministers have meant by blazoning that battle in such terms of 281 triumph and exultation; as the dispatches of the general by no means warranted? By these Votes of Thanks, almost all administrations wished a lustre to be reflected on themselves. He did not say this was the case at present, but he had formerly seen it so. It was painful to him to say much against what he was not willing to call a victory; but yet was ready to acknowledge was highly glorious to the troops, and to the skill of the commander, on the day of action. But he could not consent to a Vote of Thanks for bravery, displayed merely in the day of battle. He had voted for the thanks on account of the battle of Vimeira; but were that vote again to give, as explained and illustrated by the battle of Talavera, he should pause before he would give it in the same way. The ambition of sir Arthur Wellesley was conspicuous in both: he seemed to have fought merely for a peerage, certainly more with such a view than was consistent with the conduct of a good and prudent commander. When they were told to consider the question as an isolated one, did the right hon. gent. mean to ask them to leave out of their consideration the 3,000 men left wounded on the field of battle, of whom 1,500 afterwards fell into the hands of the enemy? Did he mean them to leave out of their consideration, that, since the battle, our army had not been able to resume offensive operations. It was remarkable that not one dispatch from this army had been published since that dated from Truxillo, on the 21st of August. Had no dispatches been received from the army, or were ministers afraid of communicating their contents to the public? The whole campaign was wrapped in mystery, and he was determined to have information, before be voted honours. Upon ail these grounds as he must protest against the Vote of Thanks to the general, he should move as an amendment, "That the Thanks of the House should be given to the officers and troops who served under lord Wellington, for their undaunted courage and gallantry on the 27th and 28th of July, in the battle of Talavera. But while the House gave this praise to the officer; and men, for their Undaunted courage and gallantry, they had to lament that the army since that period had been unable to resume active operations. They had also to lament, that, after the battle, they had suffered the enemy to pass two days in inactivity, without attacking them, and also for having allowed themselves to be cut off at the bridge of Arzobispo."
§ Mr. Vernon
rose to second the amendment. The hon. gent. commenced a maiden speech of considerable ability, by expressing the high respect he entertained for the military talents and character of lord Wellington. He was ready to admit, that the country was already indebted to that noble and gallant officer for many great and signal services; and that it might justly look up to him for the performance of still more eminent services hereafter. But whilst he was thus forward to do justice to the general military merits of lord Wellington, he felt himself conscientiously bound to vote against the original motion, because whatever distinguished military talents may have been displayed during the action, he must ever condemn the temerity which had exposed a British army to the dreadful alternative of a conflict against a superior force, or absolute destruction, in a precipitate and disastrous retreat: before he should proceed more immediately to the question he felt it necessary to notice an insinuation, which had been thrown out by the right hon. gent. (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) that the gentlemen on this side of the House were actuated by party motives on this occasion, and wished by refusing the thanks of that House to the general, to cast a reflection on the ministers who had employed him. If private honour and a sense of public duty could not secure them against such a bias, motives of prudence and policy would; because unquestionably nothing could more effectually lower their characters in the estimation of the public, or degrade them in their own, than such a surrender of every principle of justice and generosity to the purposes of party. When he looked to the circumstances of the action, he could not contemplate the extraordinary valour of the army without admiration; but in proportion as he admired the firmness and bravery of the army, he was bound to give way to regret, that it should have been not only unprofitably employed but unnecessarily exposed. Lord Wellington might have learned more discretion from the experience of sir John Moore's incursion into Spain; he might have derived salutary information from the recorded opinions of that great and justly lamented general; he ought to have been prevented from a precipitate advance into Spain with another British army by the example of the disastrous consequences, and unfortunate circumstances of the retreat to Corunna. 283 Lord Wellington had not the same excuse nor the same incitement as sir John Moore to penetrate into Spain; because he was invested with large limits of discretion, and had no officious and impertinent interference to encounter. He was not goaded on to the certain hazard and probable sacrifice of his army by the intemperate representation of a political agent, nor insulted in his own camp by the presence of a suspicious Frenchman impudently authorised to controul him in the command and disposal of his army. He had not to contend against the arrogant dictates of a rash and presumptous diplomatist, of blind but obtrusive zeal, seeking by a display of devotion to the cause of the Junta to establish a claim to a Spanish marquisate. The campaign in Spain, however, was only a part of the general system of ministers, and it became the House therefore before it sanctioned the conduct of lord Wellington, to consider how he had acquitted himself of the responsibility reposed in him. If he could confine his view to the battle of Talavera alone, he would be sorry to disturb the unanimity of the vote; but he could not allow that it was a positive merit in a general to fight against an enemy much superior in number. On the contrary it was usually considered the part of a good general to avoid being forced into an unequal conflict. He could not allow lord Wellington to be justified by his own wrong, and consequently should not consent to thank that general for having extricated himself, with distinguished ability he would allow, but with great loss and difficulty, from the consequence of his own rashness and imprudence. Upon what ground did lord Wellington calculate that his 25,000 men would be able to cope with 100,000 Frenchmen in the heart of the Peninsula? But it had been said, that the French armies had been checked by this battle—but the real result of the battle of Talavera was, that our army was checked in its proposed march to Madrid, for which important service Joseph Buonaparté had thanked his troops. Lord Wellington had no resources equal to the accomplishment of the enterprise he had undertaken, and the real object of the march appeared to be to shelter the planners of the Expedition from the charge of impotence and inactivity, and would be well illustrated by a passage in Hudibras, concluding with the lines—To pot the rabble in a flame,And keep their governors from blame.284 It was stated that if two things had occurred, we should have succeeded better. If the Spanish Junta had not acted as they did, and if the Spanish General had done his duty, the success would have been more complete. All this, however, might have been foreseen; but if the object of the march into Spain was to attack the French army under Victor, as soon as Cuesta refused the co-operation which was promised, it was the duty of lord Wellington to have retreated. The campaign of sir John Moore was a melancholy warning of what was to be expected from penetrating into the heart of Spain. He never had looked on the situation of Spanish affairs with any very sanguine hopes; and when against the great superiority which France possessed in armies, and in able and experienced officers, the resources of Spain were stated to consist in her loyalty and religion; he feared for her fate. There were some systems of religion, such as those which inculcate predestination, that inspire an extraordinary contempt of danger: but he did not know that such was the character of that sort of religion to which the Spaniards were bigotted. Neither did he calculate much upon their loyalty to such a sovereign as Ferdinand the Seventh, who had voluntarily thrown himself into the hands of the enemy, and might be said to have resigned his crown. If he saw the crown and the altar surrounded with equal laws, and if he saw the spirit of liberty the animating principle and bond of union among Spaniards, then he should not despair of that country. He believed that was the principle which dictated the heroic resistance of Gerona and Saragossa. The exertions which the patriots of Saragossa made was not without its reward. As long as the Ebro should traverse the province of Arragon, so long would the immortal fame of the heroes of Saragossa adorn the history of the country. He was not, however, for deserting the Spaniards altogether. He would wish to send them every thing we could assist them with, except a British army. Upon all the grounds he had stated, he felt bound from a sense of his duty to second the amendment of his noble friend.
§ Mr. Matthew Montagu
passed a high encomium on the eloquent display of talent, which had been made by the hon. gent. who spoke last. It was the first time that gentleman had spoken in the House, but he had evinced an ability and energy 285 which reflected the highest credit on his acquirements. He, however, could not help expressing his regret, that he should have chosen a subject so ill calculated to place these abilities in an eminent point of view, and have entered into a censure on a noble lord, whose services to his country had been so brilliant and so universally admitted. The hon. gent. had inveighed against the accusation of being guided merely by party feelings in forming his opinions, yet, through the whole course of his argument he had not adduced a single circumstance, nor assigned any just ground on which opposition could be fairly made to the Vote of Thanks to lord Wellington. It had been also urged, that the whole conduct of ministers had been disgraceful and impolitic. He could not see upon what basis such a charge could be founded, except from party considerations. What had been their conduct with respect to Spain? They saw a free people struggling for their liberty, and with an alacrity which conferred on them the highest credit, they endeavoured to supply those requisites which were necessary to promote their success; they wanted a military commander—one was sent; they wanted troops—troops were sent; they wanted money—money was sent; and they wanted good counsel, which was also given them; but the hon. gent. said they had neither religion, patriotism, nor politics to guide them in this conduct. When it was determined that a military officer should be sent to Spain and lord Wellington had arrived there; he would ask, would it be prudent for that officer to remain hovering on the coast, and not endeavour to drive the enemy from the heart of the country? Was he to remain inactive; or in what manner was he to assist, our allies? Was it not expedient that he should form a co-operation with the Spaniards, and did he not adopt, such plans as were most likely to be attended with ultimate success? Surely if a failure took place in consequence of a want of energy and unanimity in the Spaniards, such a circumstance was not to detract from the glory of lord Wellington's achievements, nor dim that lustre which the brilliancy of his actions had reflected on his military character. That gallant lord was not answerable for such failures. He could only rely on his own skill, he set a noble example to our allies, and endeavoured to instill into their hearts that spirit which could alone 286 enable them to resist the despotism of a tyrant. His exertions were unhappily distinguished by no lasting success, and the effect of his operations was destroyed by the pusillanimity of his co-operating forces. This, however, could not be deemed a ground of objection to him. In the field of Talavera, he had performed wonders: surrounded by every difficulty he fought and conquered a French force of twice the magnitude of his own, and placed the character of the British arms on a basis of superiority unequalled by all the world. The hon. gent. then entered into a discussion of the conduct of ministers, which he said was guided only by that patriotic desire for the interests of their country that had distinguished their administration. He saw no ground of complaint, nor had they any reason to be ashamed of the policy they had adopted. They stood up in the face of the country in support of the cause of England and of Europe against the despotic sway of an usurper, and had followed the principles of that great statesman, Mr. Pitt, by wisely keeping the war at a distance from their own door. He concluded with a declaration of his admiration of the talents and character of lord Wellington, and of his most hearty concurrence in the original motion.
§ General Tarleton
never rose with feelings of more pain than on this occasion; because he meant to oppose the vote of thanks to a brother officer. He begged leave to begin his speech by saying a few words of himself. He had been attacked with the foulest obloquy, for the part he had taken with respect to the Vote of Thanks for the battle of Vimiera; but he could assure the House, that his conduct in that instance had been, as it would be in this, dictated by feelings of duty and a love for his profession. Lord Wellington appeared to him to have advanced into Spain upon his own responsibility; and he would ask any hon. gent. who heard him, whether he had acted the part of a prudent general in having done so? It was obvious that his object was to have moved upon Madrid; because Joseph Buonaparté would not have brought his body guards to support Victor, nor left Madrid with a hostile population and without any adequate force to keep down that population, if not for the purpose of covering his capital. General Junot had done the same, when he advanced against sir Arthur Wellesley in Portugal. When lord Wel 287 lington arrived at Taiavera, and formed a junction with Cuesta, he was in want of stores, means of transport, food, and provender; but if he had advanced upon Madrid, he would have encountered more difficulties, and sustained multiplied loss. The allied army consisted of about 50,000 men; the Spaniards occupying the right, and the English the centre and left. The Spanish position was covered by vineyards in front, which enabled them to repulse the attack of the enemy, which commenced upon the right. No man could say that this repulse was not of great service to the English army, because, if the Spanish position had been forced, it was clear that the right of the English army would have been turned; and general Cuesta had acted with wisdom in not advancing from his position into broken ground, where he would have been exposed to the superior manœuvres of the enemy. Having dwelt at some length on the circumstances of the battle, the hon. general contended, that upon the whole it was to be considered a repulse but not a defeat of the enemy, because the French continued in their positions two days after the action. He next came to the accounts of the action contained in the dispatches of lord Wellington, which were he must contend vain-glorious, partial, and incorrect. Vain-glorious, as every man who read them would perceive; partial, because, though they contained some praise of the Spaniards, that praise was not adequate to their services; and incorrect, because almost every line contained a statement which the circumstances of the case did not bear out. But he would ask what had been said, and what done, and what represented by the ministerial prints, and rumours at the time? The battle of Talavera was compared to that of Agincourt. But in the latter, the situation of the king before the battle was perilous, and by the victory he gained a crown. Whereas by the battle of Talavera Ferdinand the Seventh lost a crown. It had been said in another place, that the actions of lord Wellington were as glorious as those of the illustrious ancestors of any noble peer. That brought him to the consideration of the great duke of Marlborough, who had carried the military glory of this country to the highest pitch. The hon. general then enumerated the distinguishing features of the battles of Blenheim and Malplaquet, in order to shew that the battle of Talavera was not 288 to be compared with either. The most important advantages were the result of the victories of the immortal Marlborough, but what benefit had been derived from, the boasted victory of Talavera? Had lord Wellington made a movement in advance to follow up the victory? Had he not been obliged to a precipitate retreat after abandoning his sick and wounded, and exposing the Spanish army to the danger of having its retreat cut off? He was convinced that lord Wellington had been deficient in information, both as to the amount and situation of Soult's army, and as to the extent of those armies with which he was nearly surrounded; and though he was ready to do every justice that his feeble language could enable him, to the brilliant valour, steady discipline, and persevering gallantry of the generals, field officers, and troops who fought under him, he could lay his hand upon his heart and say, that he could not conscientiously vote, that the Thanks of that House should be given to lord Wellington.
said, he was sure it would not be considered extraordinary by the House, that he rose, upon the present occasion, to offer some remarks. It was impossible that he should not feel, in common with the House, the weight which any objections must have in such a case, when coming from an hon. general, who must be supposed to carry all those professional partialities about him, which would disincline him from obstructing, without strong grounds indeed, the honours of a distinguished brother officer. It was impossible not to hesitate, when the gallant general in the discharge of a public duty felt himself called upon, not only to refuse the thanks of that House to lord Wellington, but even to lend his countenance to the attempt to convert a vote of thanks into the heaviest censure that could be passed upon a most meritorious officer. He must protest in the outset against the practice of referring to the operations of a whole campaign on a question confined to the merits of a single but glorious and memorable action. But whilst he thus protested against such a principle, he felt that he should be doing great injustice to lord Wellington, if he omitted to enter upon the consideration of the whole campaign, the merits of which were such as to reflect the highest honour upon that noble officer. In April, lord Wellington found himself at the head of 25,000 men in Portugal. His instructions 289 directed him to rescue and defend Portugal, but. he was at liberty to combine, and co-operate in the execution of a plan of operations with any of the Spanish general in command of the armies in the adjoining provinces, always however looking to the defence of Portugal as the grand object of the Expedition and the most important duty he had to perform. Soult at that period occupied the North, whilst Victor, after hiving beaten Cuesta at Medellin, menaced the South of that kingdom. The wish to drive the enemy out of Portugal attracted his attention to the North: the entreaties of Cuesta invited him to act against Victor; and his own anxiety to carry into speedy and full effect the instructions under which he was to act, rendered the option difficult. He, however, decided for the North, leaving 12,000 men, under general M'Kenzie, on the Tagus to watch the motions of the enemy in that quarter. He should not dwell upon the merits of the brilliant manner in which that service was performed; because, though there might be persons in this country who might dispute the question, the enemy had done ample justice to the merits of that decisive operation by comparing it to the most brilliant achievements of their own emperor. After this signal service lord Wellington returned towards the South with the same celerity, which had marked his victorious progress against Soult. If he had then remained inactive at Abrantes, what would have been the feeling of his country? What, indeed, had actually been that feeling? Did not gentlemen remember how lord Wellington had been run down for his inactivity during the short time he remained at Abrantes to recruit and refresh his army? They all saw from the statement in the public papers, from the very voice of the country at large, the impatience with which that short interval of repose was regarded; the universal cry was, "why did he stay at Abrantes?" He mentioned this circumstance, not to shew that the public cry should have any effect upon an officer, charged with the execution of an important trust, but merely to exemplify what difficulties an officer, so circumstanced, had to contend with, when the public voice might be urging him to an act which might afterwards be questioned, and imputed to him as an error. But if lord Wellington had advanced from Abrantes before the harvest had been collected in, neither his own troops, nor 290 those of Spain, with which he was to co-operate, could possibly have found subsistence.
The principle upon which lord Wellington had acted and was expressly instructed to act, was in the first instance to provide for the defence of Portugal, by the expulsion of the French corps from that country. Having accomplished that object, he was bound to co-operate with Cuesta, so far as that was practicable without losing sight of the defence of Portugal. In proceeding to Talavera. Lord Wellington expected to give such a shock to Victor's corps, that it would not easily recover from, before he should be re-summoned to the defence of the north of Portugal. This advance to co-operate with Cuesta, for the purpose of securing for the Spaniards the line of defence on the Lower Tagus, was connected with the main object of relieving Portugal from the pressure of Victor's army. The victory he gained gave to Spain the line of the Tagus, had the effect of producing the evacuation of the Northern provinces, and enabled our allies to rescue from the grasp of their invaders, the fleet stationed at Ferrol, which was now safely moored at Cadiz. If lord Wellington had not been prevented by the infatuation of the Spanish general, from attacking Victor on the 23d, there was every reason to suppose that he would have obtained a glorious and decisive victory, in which case the junction which had afterwards been effected of French corps would have been prevented, and the allied army in a condition to make head against the enemy in any direction. But though lord Wellington had advanced into Spain under a determination to co-operate with Cuesta only so far as was compatible with the security of Portugal, he was not bound necessarily to avoid Madrid if a favourable opportunity of effecting a decisive blow there, should have been presented to him. Besides he could state it as a positive fact that before he left Abrantes, he had heard of the battle of Aspern, and must naturally have concluded, that that was the moment at which Spain would be likely to make an effort for her liberties, if any effort she was determined to make. His object, therefore, was to assist Spain as much as possible in that most critical juncture, and, at the same time, to keep in view the defence of Portugal, which was the principal object of his attention: and so far was he from abandoning, that 291 object on his advance into Spain, that, as he had already stated, he told Cuesta that he could not go farther with him than the Alberche, until he should be apprised of the situation and designs of the French armies in the North. So, far, therefore, from being ignorant upon this point, or having acted without the necessary intelligence, as he had been charged with, he actually limited his operations, in consequence of his information.—He had now brought the operations down to the situation of the British Army at Talavera, previous to the battle. Not only the Spanish army under Cuesta was to have co-operated with the British army with which it had formed a junction, but the corps of Venegas, as Cuesta informed lord Wellington, was to move simultaneously upon Arganda, and make a diversion in favour of the operations of the allied army. Instead, however, of proceeding in that direction which would have enabled Venegas to prevent General Sebastiani's force from uniting with Victor's, he unfortunately advanced to Toledo, which left the enemy at liberty to concentrate all his forces and bring the whole combined to bear upon the British Army. Here be would beg of those gentlemen, who regarded the movement of lord Wellington as so rash, to look a little at the movement of Soult, and consider but for a moment the peculiar circumstances that attended it. It might not be unnecessary, in passing, to state that the force of Soult on his advance to Placentia, did not consist of 70,000 but of 34,000 men, and that not more than 4,000 of them belonged to Soult's original corps, being the whole that escaped with him from the North of Portugal without baggage, artillery, or ammunition. The army of Soult then was composed principally of the corps of Ney and Mortier, and the corps which had been stationed at Burgos, the command of all which when united necessarily devolved upon Soult, in consequence of his being senior Marshal to Ney and Mortier. With this concentrated force Soult proceeded to the South, evacuating the North of Spain, where he left the Gallician army in his rear. He then passed by the corps of the Duke del Parque at Cividad Rodrigo, whilst he was flanked by the Portuguese army 15,000 strong under Marshal Beresford at Campo Majoran, the Spanish frontier. It would be obvious upon the slightest consideration that this advance of Soult was an extremely ha- 292 zardous movement, and not to have been expected upon any sound military principles. Lord Wellington, therefore, would not have been justified in contracting the sphere of his own operations from any apprehension of a movement on the part of Soult under such circumstances of peril and discouragement. So far, then, from being liable to the charge of rashness, lord Wellington's conduct he would contend was characterised by consummate skill, energy, and prudence. He had never put himself in a situation from which he might not at any time have been able to regain his former position in Portugal. The line of his march placed him in a condition either to fight Victor and Sebastiani, or to attack Soult in the possible event of his advancing upon him. Whatever might be the course of the campaign the judicious choice of his position enabled lord Wellington to play the great game, he had to manage, with advantage. The course pursued by Soult had not come upon him by surprise. Lord Wellington was fully aware, that, however improbable, such a movement was not impossible, and consequently without contemplating its certainty, had taken measures to meet every contingency. He had concerted with Marshal Beresford the means of rendering the Portuguese army instrumental in defeating or retarding the progress of Soult, if he should attempt to move towards the South. The strong pass of the Puerto Pico was guarded by a Portuguese force, whilst the Spaniards undertook to defend the pass of Banos: and if the latter had maintained their position, Soult would not have been able to bear against the allied army. But the British army had never been so closely pressed by the force under Soult as gentlemen seemed to think. The retreat of lord Wellington was regular and unmolested, and consequently it was not true that he had been hotly pursued b y Soult It was certainly true that Soult moved along the same line with him; and if he waited for Soult, Soult must as certainly have overtaken him; but there being no danger of that, on the contrary, there being always a long interval between them, no pressure could be said to exist. There was nothing therefore upon the face of the campaign to deprive lord Wellington of his well-earned honours—(Hear! hear!)—There was nothing that could impeach his prudence, or expose him to the charge of audacity and rashness, beyond that 293 spirit of enterprise which a British commander ought to possess. A battle more distinguished he did not know of in the military annals of this country; for, however the hon. general might call their attention to battles, too remote to be perfectly understood, he would defy him to point out, in modern times, one of a more brilliant and distinguished character. It would require more ingenuity to do this, than the hon. general appeared to him to have yet displayed. Never, perhaps, was so close an action, so vigorously maintained or so long contested. It often was the case that some fortunate event suddenly and unexpectedly turned the fate of the field, without any long continued exertion of the powers of the armies; the battle of Talavera was not of that description, as every inch of ground was disputed, and it was by a long and bloody perseverance, and that against superior numbers, that the fortune of the day was decided. By the same unfortunate fatality, however, by which Spanish councils were characterised, the advantage of the victory was not improved. The attack was commenced at one o'clock in the day, and it was at the close of evening that that great exploit in the recovery of his former position was performed by general Hill, which was, no doubt, in their recollections. Night interrupted the conflict, and the two armies remained in their positions in sight of each other waiting the return of light to renew the battle. It was during that awful interval that the distinguished general at the head of the British army enjoyed some repose, and sound it was known to have been, a repose, which none but a great man could enjoy during the short but anxious intermission of an obstinate and sanguinary battle. From this sound repose lord Wellington rose in the morning of the 28th to a renewal of the engagement and a further display of his own ability and the resistless intrepidity of his gallant army. The contest was then continued till twelve o'clock, when an interval of two hours rest from the work of destruction, was employed by the troops on both sides in removing their respective dead from the scene of action; and then it was that those whose arms were before uplifted for mutual havock met at the stream which intervened between their mutual positions, and shook hands in token of their reciprocal admiration of the bravery, and skill and firmness displayed on both sides. 294 He had to congratulate the country upon the restoration of that generous feeling and high spirit which had heretofore characterised the conduct of soldiers in civilised warfare.—He congratulated the country on this circumstance; he congratulated the world, that, in these days, the rage of war did not subdue and extinguish those feelings of generosity which were the ornament of human nature; and that if some of our brave troops did fall into the hands of the enemy, they fell into the hands of an enemy who knew how to respect them. To say that such an effort of skill and ability, such an acquisition of British glory, was not calculated to call forth the admiration of the House of Commons, was an attempt to introduce a feeling into that House, which he conceived it the duty of every member to resist. The loss of that day was much dwelt upon—the loss of that day he regretted as much as any man, but he deprecated that mode of painful searching, which was calculated to injure and unnerve the military energy of the country; if such feelings were to become general, they would be reduced to the necessity of ceasing altogether from opposition to the French, and giving up the character which they were so well calculated to maintain—that of a great military power. But the gentlemen who dwelt so anxiously upon this head, were in the habit of running away from the fact. There was no circumstance more to the honour of lord Wellington, than that such a difficult and enterprising campaign was concluded with such little comparative loss. This was the proudest testimony which could be given of the talents of a Commander. He should feel it his duty, at a future day, to call for the returns; at present, if he might credit what he had heard, without consulting them, our loss during the whole campaign in Portugal and Spain, including the 1,500 wounded, who fell into the hands of the enemy, did not exceed 6,000 men. So that lord Wellington had performed a march of 1200 miles, and fought a battle, unexampled for its heroism, with a loss which, under the circumstances, must be considered trifling. On the contrary, what was the loss of the enemy; that enemy; whose fate gentlemen were so much in the habit of contrasting with lord Wellington's? The enemy's loss did not amount to less than 10,000 men. He hoped that they should never again hear of such contrasts, unless they were drawn 295 in favour of the British general. Soult, with all the eulogiums pronounced upon his retreat, did not carry with him a single cannon and but a third of his army from Portugal. There was one topic more, to which he should advert; which was the dignity conferred upon lord Wellington, in the title conferred by his Majesty. The hon. general had said, that he fought for it at Talavera, he, lord C. would say, that he had fought for it all over the world; it was not in Talavera alone his fame was established, he had fought in all quarters, generally opposed by greater numbers, but always victorious. He did not know how honours could be more usefully bestowed, than upon such men and such services; and so long as the principle upon which he was advanced was acted upon, there was no likelihood of the peerage being disgraced. It was true, and fortunate for the country, that honours were frequently bestowed, during the late and present wars, for great military excellence; but that was rather a, proof of the talents and bravery of the country, than of the debasement of its honours. While they lamented the losses inevitable in war, let them also remember the advantages—let them remember that the army, with its present experience, was worth tenfold what it was before, and that if, from an unlucky circumstance, it had failed in its object, in no one instance had it been defeated or disgraced. We now appeared before the eyes of Europe, not merely as we had been heretofore considered, a mere naval power, we were also a military one; recognized as such by an enemy, who had experienced our might in our victories, and those often, when, with inferior numbers, we beat the best and most experienced of his troops. Upon the whole view of the case, he deprecated the notion, that the country was disgraced, and thought, that, for every reason on which it became them to decide, they should agree in giving the thanks to lord Wellington.
§ Mr. Whitbread
congratulated lord Wellington that he had found such an able panegyrist as the noble lord who had just spoken, and the noble lord himself, on the display of eloquence he had made, which, if not contradicted by the dispatches themselves, might have amounted to a defence of his own conduct while in office. He (Mr. W.) was not one of those whom the noble lord had described as too vehement in lamentation; at the 296 same time, he could not withhold a tear when he thought of the fate of so many brave soldiers, and the quantity of British blood that had been spilt in a sacrifice to incapacity and folly. They were told, in a whimsical way, that the English were niggards of applause to those who had fought their battles; but he would appeal from the charge to the fact; from the accuser to the history of the country. Was there ever a period when merit was more liberally rewarded than by this generous people, during the last and present wars? There was no man of those, whose political sentiments he disapproved whom he would oppose so reluctantly, as the very distinguished officer he was now compelled to oppose. The noble lord had mixed up the general with the army, and then demanded whether such actions as had been performed should be refused the thanks of parliament? With an utter contempt of dates, he had made a case, unsupported by events, to bolster up his own statement. He (Mr. W.) was no military man; but when he could oppose the noble lord, upon the authority of lord Wellington himself, he thought, he might venture to dispute the points with him. The noble lord had stated, that the principal object was the defence of Portugal; he believed it was not. He also spoke of the expulsion of Soult, and drew a comparison between the British and French commanders. They were not to try Soult, but they were to try lord Wellington, with respect to his claim upon the thanks of that House. It had been said, that lord Wellington had heard of the battles of Aspern and Esling, while at Abrantes, but how could he think that that battle would operate to draw off the French at such a distance? But did the noble lord mean to say, that the French were unprovided with magazines? Was it the practice of Buonaparté to be so?—At all events, if the noble lord could issue his orders, with such effect, in the different countries through which he passed, he then might proceed without magazines, and provide himself as he advanced. But the contrary was the case; his army was famishing. It had been mentioned, somewhere, as an honour to the general, that he conquered, with half-famished troops, the well-fed and luxurious troops of the enemy. Could a greater charge be brought against him? Why did he take them there to be famished. But it seemed he had instructions that were dis- 297 claimed before; they were now avowed, however, in order to afford some credit to the Portland administration, to enable them to say, "this is the greatest general—that was the greatest army, in the world—and it was we who sent them out!". On forming the junction with Cuesta, they were to attack the enemy the next day, but found that he was gone. But while lord Wellington accused general Cuesta of delay, he ought to have stated the grounds of it; and, in not doing so, he did that general an injustice, As to the attack upon general M' Kenzie's party in the wood, it had every appearance of being unexpected. The Spaniards, to whom he allowed no praise, whom he represented as taking no part in the battle, he was nevertheless necessitated to mention no less than five times in his dispatch; and it was rather too much to say, that he had contended with double his number. He had even mentioned a Spanish general, who was wounded in bringing up his inactive infantry to assist in the battle. There were, undoubtedly, prodigies of valour displayed by the British; but even in the famous charge of the 23d regiment of dragoons he thought that the general was much to blame.—There was almost a gulph between them and the enemy, when they made the charge, and many were lost in consequence. This should have been known before: the ground should have been reconnoitered. Lord Wellington had bravery; he had skill upon other occasions; but that he should be thanked, as a skilful commander for his conduct upon that day, he would deny. He himself had called the victory a repulse, and the name was more appropriate. It was the intention to march to Madrid, and even to fight a battle beyond it. He could not conceive why Ferrol should be evacuated in consequence of the battle of Talavera. He denied that there was any other retreat for the army than that through Deiletosa; and represented their condition as most deplorable, many of them not having tasted food for eight and forty hours previous to the battle, and hundreds having perished on the road, from mere famine, during the retreat. He would not agree to give a premium to rashness. The Spanish cause was now more hopeless than ever. Where, then, was the advantage of the victory? He could not agree that the army was become stronger since, than before its losses, and regarded our late continental efforts, 298 as calculated to sink the military character of the country, though they had raised that of the soldiery, whose gallantry was indisputable.
vindicated the military character of lord Wellington, and said they might as well accuse him of not being able to answer the first question in the catechism, as of ignorance or precipitation. He had displayed, on the contrary, the greatest skill, though his plan had not succeeded to the utmost extent, owing to Sebastiani's corps not having been detained by Venegas. The Spaniards had not taken his advice as they ought. He was a most consummate general, and deserved the greatest honours the country could bestow.
wished to make a few remarks on one or two points touching the Conduct of the battle of Talavera. Lord Wellington had projected an attack on the army of Victor on the 23d, which, had it been acceded to by general Cuesta, must have terminated in the annihilation of that corps. On the 24th Victor retreated, and was pursued as far as Olala. On the 26th the Spanish army retreated to the left bank of the Alberche, and then it was that the dispositions made by lord Wellington not only secured the subsequent glorious victory to his own troops, but preserved the Spanish army. It had been observed that lord W. did not expect the battle; in the first instance he did not: how could he when Victor had retreated? It was the Spanish army brought them back upon him, and then his presence of mind furnished a barrier to every difficulty. As to his personal conduct he could only say, that he was every where during the fight, and always in the hottest of the action; and in expressing his approbation of the motion, he was sure he but expressed what was the general feeling of the army.
§ Mr. Windham
observed, that the arguments he had heard did not divest him of the opinion, that the battle of Talavera was a glorious victory. Honourable gentlemen on the opposite side spoke of feeling: he believed, when the victory was first announced in this country, there was not a man but. gloried in it. He was afraid we had got too much military special pleading, that would argue merely on the result, not the valour and generalship shewn. It put him in mind of a story of a wag, who was asked, how he came by a visible fracture on his face? "Why, I beat "him, and he beat me, but I gave in 299 "first;" so with the French; as the victory was claimed on both sides; but they came first, and were repulsed. In the case of a fortress, the garrison could not do more than repulse the army that invaded it; that is, the enemy left it when they pleased; and were they not to be thanked for preserving the fortress against a superior enemy, although not able to follow them? Then, would you say, lord Wellington did not gain a victory, because he was not able to harass them in their retreat? He had heard, in the course of debate, what had been done, and what might have been done; but was it necessary that a problem in Euclid, which had been proved, should be called in question in that House. Then it had been substantiated that the battle of Talavera was a victory; and why should they prevent it from operating on their minds as such? They had no advantage from the victory of Corunna, except that the army were able to save themselves. If lord Wellington had acted imprudently before the battle, it ought not to retract or withdraw as much as the weight of a feather from the victory he had obtained. It had been argued, that, although he might be an able general in battle, yet he was not capable of conducting a campaign, for he had not secured a retreat. Such arguments proved themselves to be altogether fallacious; for he had shewn that he had a retreat, and that too by retreating in safety, after shewing that he could do something. The right hon. gent. then proceeded to state, that although France had generals of great skill, yet had they not run great risks, and secured a battle, that the breaking of a thread might have prevented them from achieving? But to take a view of the question under the general head, the unproductive consequences were not to be put in comparison with the military glory we had obtained. It might be asked, would an engagement, that only acquired military glory, prove advantageous to the country? He would answer, yes; if military valour was necessary for national strength; and he conceived it of much more service to the nation at large, than the taking of a sugar island, or a ship at sea: 10 or 15 years ago, their army was considered as nought; it was thought, on the continent, that we might do something at sea; that we were a kind of sea animal. Our achievements in Egypt first entitled us to the name of a military power; the battle of Maida con- 300 firmed it; and he would not give the battles of Vimeira, Corunna, and Talavera, for a whole Archipelago of sugar islands. The whole feelings and powers of the country had changed in their military capacity. They began to feel they wanted something more than a navy to support them. There never was an action in this world, but some persons might sit down and investigate it, and find some fault; but they were not to give credit to the criticisers. He was sorry that such a letter as had been sent by lord Wellington to the government had ever been written. As to the Spaniards, he believed it set forth nothing but what was true; but it went to proclaim glory which did not belong to him. It was like a sea engagement. And as it could not be contended that the hull of a vessel had nothing to do with the guns which gained the victory; or like a spear that inflicted a wound, could it be said that the staff was not of service? so with the Spanish army; they did all that was required of them, they kept their position. The victory in itself must have been of use to the Spanish cause, for it shewed them that a British army was invincible, and the victory well deserved the honour of the reward moved to be bestowed on it by that House.
concurred in the vote of thanks; but asked, what would have been the situation of the army, if ministers had given the same kind of discretion to a commander of a less enterprising and active spirit?
§ General Montagu Mathew
gave his most hearty concurrence to the vote of thanks to his noble friend; and added that he was proud he could call him countryman, whose glorious and great achievements he could only compare to those of marshal Lannes.
said, he was aware that the vote he should give would not be consonant with the feelings of the House. He knew little of military affairs, and he believed the major part of the House were in the same situation; yet they were the persons who were to approve or disapprove. He did not wish, at that late hour of the night, to enter into the merits of the battle of Talavera; but this he knew, the British troops fought, and were not able to maintain their ground. He thought the victories in Egypt and Maida were sufficient to establish our military fame, 301 without sending lord Wellington to hazard the treasure of the country, the valuable lives of their soldiers, where no possible good could result from it. That the battle of Talavera was fought with intrepidity, no man could doubt. But the duties of a soldier and a general were very different. The first, inspired with the duty and love he owed his country, was willing to undergo all privations, was even careless of his life; where danger was there he flew; but the duty of a commander was quite different. He ought to be careful that the soldier should suffer no privations, that he should not endanger his life without actual necessity, and unless the service of his country required it. Was lord Wellington thus careful? This was a plain fact, on which every man of understanding could come to a conclusion, whether vested with military knowledge or not. He would not detract from the merits of those who fought under lord Wellington; he was sensible they did as much as men could do, and no honour their country could confer on them would be equal to their deserts. He concluded by saying, that he would give his support to the amendment.
felt it impossible to conceive why assent to the motion should be withheld. On no other provocation, than that government had called on the House to speak the sentiments of gratitude which warmed almost every heart in the country, the House was required, through the medium of the proposed amendment, to censure the noble lord whose conduct was the subject of discussion, and to pronounce him, instead of the exalter of the honour of his country, the wanton waster of her best blood. He lamented the loss that had taken place in the battle of Talavera as much as any man; but war was a game that could not be played without risks and losses. It had been said that the House had been too prodigal of their approbation in recent times. We lived in an age so full of splendid achievements, that it was feared the spring of honour might be dried up. This was indeed a source of high exultation, and one in which he trusted the country would long have to indulge.
§ Sir T. Turton
rose, amidst a loud call for the question, and said a few words in avour of the Vote of Thanks.
Strangers were then ordered to with- 302 draw: but the House did not divide, of course the Vote of Thanks to lord Wellington was carried. After which the House resolved,—1. "That the Thanks of this House be given to lieut. general sir John Cope Sherbrooke, knight of the most honourable order of the bath, to lieut. general William Payne, to lieut. general sir Stapleton Cotton, baronet, to lieut. general Rowland Hill, to major-general Christopher Tilson, to brigadier-general Alexander Campbell, to brigadier-general Henry Frederick Campbell, to brigadier-general Richard Stewart, to brigadier-general the hon. Charles Stewart, to brigadier-general Alan Cameron, to brigadier-general Henry Fane, to brigadier-general George Anson, and to brigadier-general Edward Howorth, and the several other officers, for their distinguished exertions on the 27th and 28th of July last, in the memorable battle of Talavera, which terminated in the signal defeat of the forces of the enemy.—2. That this House doth highly approve of, and acknowledge, the distinguished valour and discipline displayed by the non-commissioned officers and private soldiers of the forces serving on the 27th and 28th of July last, under the command of lieutenant-general lord viscount Wellington, in the glorious victory obtained at Talavera; and that the same be signified to them by the commanding officers of the several corps, who are desired to thank them for their gallant and exemplary conduct."