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Battle of Toulouse

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Battle of Toulouse

Postby post captain » April 10th, 2014, 7:36 am

Today 10th April is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Toulouse, 4 days after Napoleon's abdication.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Toulouse_(1814)
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Re: Battle of Toulouse

Postby jasonubych » May 6th, 2014, 10:03 pm

Sergeant Ross of the 42nd and the Kings Colour

Anton from the Black Watch describes the Battle for Toulouse in detail in his memoirs; http://archive.org/stream/wellingtonsme ... 6/mode/2up

The 42nd suffered terrible casualties, here Anton describes the shattered regiment as they must retire to save their colours.

" It cannot be for an instant supposed that all this could have been effected without very much deranging
our ranks, and as the enemy had still a powerful force, and other works commanding this, time would not
permit of particularity, and a brisk independent fire was kept up with more noise than good effect by our
small groups upon our not yet defeated enemy. Our muskets were getting useless by the frequent discharges,
and several of the men were having recourse to the French pieces that lay scattered about, but they had
been as freely used as our own, and were equally unserviceable. Our number of effective hands was also
decreasing, and that of the again approaching foe seemed irresistible."
Two officers (Captain Campbell and Lieutenant Young) and about sixty of inferior rank were all that
now remained without a wound of the right wing of the regiment that entered the field in the morning.
The flag was hanging in tatters, and stained with the blood of those who had fallen over it. The standard cut in
two, had been successively placed in the hands of three officers, who fell as we advanced ; it was now borne by
a sergeant
, while the few remaining soldiers who rallied around it, denied with mire, sweat, smoke, and blood,
stood ready to oppose with the bayonet the advancing column, the front files of which were pouring in destructive
showers of musketry among our confused ranks. To have disputed the post with such overwhelming
numbers, would have been the hazarding the loss of our colours, and could serve no general interest to our
army, as we stood between the front of our advancing support and the enemy ; we were therefore ordered to
retire.

The story caught my eye because of the sergeant, on the discharge papers of Sergeant Donald Ross from Tain, Ross-Shire,
under General Conduct is written the following; "Good, and that he was in possession of the kings colour of the regiment when wounded at Toulouse, where every officer of the corps with the exception of four was killed or wounded."
Sergeant Ross had served in the 42nd since 1802 and went on to fight at Waterloo where he was wounded at Quatre Brass, retiring in 1817 aged 40.

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Re: Battle of Toulouse

Postby Josh&Historyland » May 7th, 2014, 11:20 pm

Great story Jason, could be a scene out of a movie, Anton did a good job.

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Re: Battle of Toulouse

Postby Andrew » May 8th, 2014, 9:44 pm

I'm far from being an expert on this battle, but I'm not sure how we Brits claim it as a victory?
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Re: Battle of Toulouse

Postby Josh&Historyland » May 10th, 2014, 11:15 pm

It's hard to explain I guess.

At the end of the Battle Beresford seized the heights of Calvinet and began rolling up the French line from the right, the French counterattack failed to hold the allies who after a quick seesaw took control of some vital redoubts. Wellington did still have troops uncommitted though he said he wouldn't deploy the Light Division, Hill's Division though effectively pinned down was a considerable fighting force on the left.

With his right under threat, and uncommitted and unbroken enemy formations opposing his left and centre any more troops Soult might have ordered to block Beresford would weaken other points of his line, therefore he very sensibly withdrew. I say sensible because he didn't know Wellington didn't want to commit fresh troops, and because though many histories focus on the beating the allies took, the French were also taking strain, and in its present state, Soult couldn't actually do much more to Wellington than he already had.

I think technicality that helps the whole allied victory thing along is in terms of pitched battle the idea that victory is qualified by two main results. 1 the surrender or destruction of the opposing army as a fighting force, or 2 The control of the field. (paradoxically some people count victory by amount of men lost and objectives attainted, these are the only real claims the French have to victory but it's all a little grasping)

In this case the French withdrew behind the fortifications of Toulouse then evacuated it a few days later. Leaving Wellington first with control of the battlefield and then the city. Also the subsequent armistice and end to the war, completely let Soult off the hook, what would have happened had the war continued is anybody's guess but wars are not won by retreats.

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Re: Battle of Toulouse

Postby Andrew » May 12th, 2014, 5:57 pm

Josh,

my challenge was part of my personal crusade to get people to take a more balanced, objective approach to military history. One where we take the aims, capabilities, actions etc of both sides into account when considering the outcomes of battles and campaigns; and not basing our judgments on the accounts and jingoistic attitudes of one particular side. I am therefore playing devil’s advocate rather than simply condemning your views or those of renowned historians (particularly those who have based their accounts solely on the accounts of one side), so please don't see this as a personal challenge.

So, looking at Toulouse:

Wellington wished to take Toulouse as it was a strategically important city in the south of France; it was also essentially Royalist in sympathy.

Soult did not want to hold Toulouse, although it was an important depot (particularly for artillery). If he had stayed in the city and undergone a siege his army would have eventually been forced to surrender. And, as a Royalist city, he had little to gain from holding it. His main aim was to join Suchet’s forces to give himself a viable army with which to challenge the British; his own army was smaller than Wellington’s and far inferior in quality. He had numerous half-trained and reluctant conscripts and many barely uniformed or trained National Guard, having sent many veteran formations to Napoleon in the north. So why did he fight for it? It was a geographically strong defensive position and offered the chance to give Wellington a bloody nose whilst giving Suchet time to join him (the orders for this had already been sent off).

Wellington wished to take possession of the city. At the end of the battle he had failed to achieve this; the field was in the hands of the French. Soult would have been able to continue the fight the next day as the position the British did have some possession of was only the outer defences; stronger defensive positions lay behind (the canals, rivers and city walls, some of which had already defied some British attacks). Soult evacuated the city because he did not wish to hold it at all costs; he moved to join Suchet as planned. Soult had cleverly balanced his inferiority of numbers by occupying a strong position.

Whilst the casualty returns may be a ‘little grasping’, Wellington suffered more casualties than Soult; I’m not sure whether the French ever achieved this in any other major battle in the Peninsular.

It is rather speculative to suggest the end of the war let Soult off the hook; as I say, he was on his way to join up with Suchet’s troops; Napoleon’s most successful commander in the Peninsular who commanded a smaller, but more coherent and experienced force than Soult. Together they may well have fancied their chances.

For me the result was: strategic victory for Wellington (final possession of Toulouse), tactical victory for Soult (denied Wellington Toulouse until he chose to leave it).

Still unconvinced? Now let’s reverse the position and look at Bussaco.

Wellington chose to stand at Bussaco to give Messena a bloody nose; the position itself was not one he had to hold beyond the action (like Soult at Toulouse). He had a numerically inferior army which included untried Portuguese units (similar position in reverse to Soult at Toulouse). He chose a strong geographical position to compensate (like Soult at Toulouse). He defeated all French attempts to storm his position and then abandoned it (similar to Soult...). At the end of the fighting the British were in possession of the battlefield, but then left it to the French to continue their own retreat (to the lines of Torres Vedras) (...).

Seems to me that the result was a strategic victory for Messena (able to continue his advance into Portugal) and a tactical victory for Wellington; but all British accounts award a convincing victory to Wellington.

As to ‘wars are not won by retreats’, what was Wellington doing before and after Bussaco; retreating...
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Re: Battle of Toulouse

Postby Josh&Historyland » May 12th, 2014, 10:31 pm

I play devils advocate all the time no challenge taken. I'm down right arbitrary in some cases such as Corunna. ;)

In reply and in the same spirit therefore.

1: I highly doubt Wellington's objective was to take the city the same day as fighting the battle, his main objective was to defeat the French army, and if he did this convincingly then the fall of the city would be an added bonus, since the French held their ground until forced off this did not happen until the next day. I argue that even if the French had been beaten worse, they usually retreated in some kind of form, they would still have been able to escape to the city and Soult withdrew because he seeing the citation he could gain no more by fighting on, if he did stand he would get trapped totally, so as you say he withdrew to join Suchet,

2: Suchet was the only Marshal to come out of Spain with any credibility, his army being the most successful because it operated away from the major theatre, his reputation though excellent puts me in mind that Massena had such a reputation when he was in command, and Soult would have been in charge anyway when they joined up, their chances would have been good, but French chances had always been good in most of their battles.

3: The question of Bussaco is almost always brought up with Toulouse, no problems with that, but my point is that on both occasions the French army only outmanoeuvred the Alles the day after the main battle had been lost, in the case of Toulouse, Soult gave up his outworks, and at Bussaco Massena failed to take the position, whereas Wellington did force Soult from his ground.

4: you appear to be counting the maneuvers the day after the main battle to be part of the same action, I would say that unless battle in joined again that next morning that battle has ended. Soult was not able to defend against all attacks because his right was turned, Wellington did hold against all attacks, then the position was indirectly outflanked and his communications threatened so he withdrew.

5: Wars are not won by retreats, if Wellington had kept retreating he would have lost, but he had always planned to retreat to his lines and thus the retreat ended at Torres Vedras, the retreat won nothing but the ability for the army to stand, in my book it is the stand that counts. Soult's retreat would have created the environment for a stand but his odds of winning such an engagement were against him given his past record.

All in all I agree that it was a tactical victory for Wellington as whether Soult chose to abandon the field or was forced to or both, he retreated inside the inner fortifications of the city itself, so losing the battle. Strategically he kept his army alive and evaded destruction, and got it out to link up with reinforcements, but is that a victory? did he put Wellington into retreat after he stopped him as Wellington did to Massena at Torres Vedras? To me it seems less of a victory for the French more a continuation of the campaign.

So again no personal challenge just my thoughts, I do like to give an even handed account and I would advocate for the French if I saw a conclusive victory, but though for me the margin is slight, Wellington does just manage to tip the balance in the allies favour.

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Re: Battle of Toulouse

Postby Andrew » May 14th, 2014, 7:12 am

Josh,

I don't want to drag this out any longer by replying to all your points; my aim was to examine two different perspectives and I think we have done that.

The issue of retreats is a good one though. In most armies, the definition of a retreat is not 'to run away to avoid destruction', but 'to manoeuvre into a position that will create the conditions to be able to re-assume the offensive'. Clearly this is to try and put a positive 'spin' on it whilst accepting that it is the offensive that wins wars. At Toulouse, Soult retreated to join Suchet in order to gather enough strength to be able to face Wellington on more equal terms. At Bussaco, Wellington retreated to defend Lisbon before re-taking the offensive and driving Messena out of Portugal.

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Re: Battle of Toulouse

Postby Josh&Historyland » May 14th, 2014, 11:46 am

Andrew.

I agree, I think we have aired all the points necessary, and I don't think much more on the qualification of victory can be said without straying into "What if Scenarios", exactly my thoughts in retreats. It's been a good discussion, not allot of people focus on Toulouse or the latter campaigns in Spain and France.

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