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4 page Autograph Letter Signed (ALS) to the
British Minister in Lisbon - Sir Charles Stuart, KCB, later Lord Rothesay

"I have a sad account to give you of our expedition to Tarragona"

Major General William Henry Clinton sits aboard ship on the 14th of June following one
 of the truly great debacles of the Peninsular War. He writes to review in detail,
with his friend Sir Charles Stuart, the terrible, ignominious conduct of the
Commander in Chief, Sir John Murray - as he puts it:"

"All that
can be said is, that this army’s yet entire, but it is disgraced, &
we have lost already a great Sensible Campaign in doing worse than nothing."


W. H. Clinton

"Our Cannons executed on the 11th thus the Enemy’s fire was put under, on this Day there was reason to suppose the Enemy had felt the Effects of our artillery – and all of the breastwork was reported in a practicable state for storming – all was arranged for the attack when Sir John ordered us to hold place, and on the 12th after various orders & counter orders the Army was ordered to embark"

"had Admiral Hallowell’s advice been followed every Gun & all our Stores would also have been brought off. As it was we have left 19 pieces of Ordnance & a considerable quantity of Engineers & other stores"

"The Enemy in the place were so apprehensive of us & that we were practicing some Ruse de Guerre that not only did they not send one man of the Garrison after us, but they continued during the whole Night firing shot & shell at our Batteries"

                                                                                  On Board HMS ??????
                                                                                  between Tarragona & Balaguer
                                                                                  14 June 1813

Dear Charles

I request you to do the favor to forward the accompanying letters to my brother (General Sir Henry Clinton)

I have a sad account to give you of our expedition to Tarragona – We landed there on the 3rd Inst [this same month June] a fine army with plenty of stores - & ready to undertake the siege of a place very weakly and, as we had reason to suppose, badly garrisoned -  - composed consisted of about 1600 men of which 600 of the 20th Reg’t of French infantry, the rest of Detached from many Regiments. With every exertion applied & we know has been made by the Navy in disembarking our Stores & Cannon – Our Cannons? executed on the 11th thus the Enemy’s fire was put under, on this Day there was reason to suppose the Enemy had felt the Effects of our artillery – and all of the breastworks was reported in a practicable state for storming – all was arranged for the attack when Sir John ordered us to hold place, and on the 12th after various orders & counter orders the Army was ordered to embark – at first it was intended to have saved all the Guns and ammunition etc. but at 2 o’clock P.M. Sir John swayed by the opinions of timid counselors determined on abandoning all & contenting himself with the getting his troops safe on board – In this he succeeded – and what has? since happened, have ? that had Admiral Hallowell’s advice been followed every Gun & all our Stores would also have been brought off. As it was we have left 19 pieces of Ordnance & a considerable quantity of Engineers & other stores –

The Enemy in the place were so apprehensive of us & that we were practicing some Ruse de Guerre that not only did they not send one man of the Garrison after us, but they continued during the whole Night firing shot & shell at our Batteries -

All that can be said is, that this army’s yet entire, but it is disgraced, & we have lost already a great sensible Campaign in doing worse than nothing – We hear Lord W[illiam] Bentinck embarked on the 21st Ulto [ultimo or preceding month in this case May] since then we have heard nothing of him –[note: he showed up 3 days later on the 17th with Lord Exmouth's (Admiral Pellew) fleet in order to support the siege and promptly relieved Murray].  

                                                            Believe me to be
                                                                Dear Sir Charles
                                                               Your faithful humble Servant

                                                                        W. H. Clinton

[To: Sir Charles Stuart, KB, His Britannic Majesty's
Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary - Lisbon]


This is an interesting but, as General Clinton writes, a "sad" tale. It was June of 1813 in the Peninsula and Wellington was about to commence his final push against the French in Spain, driving them over the Pyrenees by the winter with major victories at Vitoria, Pamplona and San Sebastian. In order to effect his strategy, Wellington determined on a landing on the East coast of Spain where there was already a beachhead at Alicante and the British Fleet was in close call from not only Toulon, but also Mahon at Minorca. This would keep Marshall Suchet and his Army in Valencia pinned down and unable to reinforce against his attack against Joseph Bonaparte and the French Armies in the Northwest of Spain. Originally Major General William Henry Clinton (not to be confused with his younger brother Lt. General Henry Clinton, nor with his august father, General Henry Clinton, of the American Revolutionary War) was appointed Commander of the Army in Eastern Spain in December of 1812, this after several successful operations in Sicily and the taking of Madeira earlier in the war. But Major General Campbell was subsequently sent out and ranked Major General Clinton in seniority and Clinton was given command of the 1st Division. Subsequent to that, in March of 1813, Sir John Murray was sent as Commander in Chief of the Tarragona Expedition. Providing Naval support and transport was Admiral Hallowell Carew.

On June 3rd, 1813 the British landed 16,000 troops in Salou Bay some six miles south of Tarragona and soon joined up with General Francisco Copons' 7,000 troop Spanish Division and they faced off against 1,600 French and Italian soldiers holding Tarragona (as is confirmed in Clinton's letter); one of the more lopsided encounters of the war. The French Commander, General of Brigade Antoine Marc Augustin Bertoletti's garrison included a battalion each from the French 20th Line Infantry and the 7th Italian Infantry Regiments, two companies of artillerists and some French sailors. The defenses had not been restored since Suchet had captured the town in the first Siege of Tarragona in 1811. The 1,600 men were too few to man the outer walls, so Bertoletti abandoned them and pulled his men back into the old town. He left small garrisons in two outworks, the Bastion of San Carlos and Fort Royal.

Clinton's 1st Division was made up of the 1/58th Regiment of Foot and 2/67th Regiment of Foot, the 4th King's German Legion and 2 battalions of the Sicilian Estero Regiment. General John Mackenzie's 2nd Division was made up of the 1/10th Regiment of Foot, 1/27th Regiment of Foot and 1/81st Regiment of Foot, De Roll's Swiss and the 2nd Italian Regiment. The cavalry force included two squadrons each of the 20th Light Dragoons and the Brunswick Hussars. The Calabrian Free Corps and the 1st Italian Regiment were unbrigaded. Murray's 19 (as reported by Clinton) heavy siege guns were the same ones that Wellington used to breach the walls during the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo and at the Battle of Badajoz in 1812. Rufane Shaw Donkin served as Murray's chief-of-staff.

By the 11th, Murray's Artillery had decimated the breastworks and Clinton was prepared to storm the outer forts, when news arrived that Suchet was headed north from Valencia with a force of 8,000 and General Mathieu was headed south from Barcelona with about 6,000 men. Murray vacillated and "ordered and counter ordered" all day and "swayed by the opinions of timid counselors", finally cancelled the attack on the now defenseless forts and instead had all the troops re-embarked on the transport ships. Such was his fear of being trapped between the two French forces, that he abandoned the artillery and engineering equipment and stores so as to evacuate his men although they were not under attack, except for a desultory ragged fire from the forts. Despite Admiral Hallowell's urging to give him twelve hours and he could load the ordnance and stores, Murray ordered the guns spiked and all left behind. Clinton was the last off the beach. Perhaps the most surprised of all were the French defenders who, as Clinton notes, suspected a Ruse de Guerre, so unlikely was a retreat.

Had Murray given Hallowell his 12 hours, he would have learned that Suchet, afraid of an attack on Valencia, had turned back south and Mathieu upon meeting Copons' bridgehead north of Tarragona and learning he faced 23,000 Allied troops similarly turned and headed back north to Barcelona. But instead Murray told Copons "Good luck" and sent him into the mountains to the west to fend for himself. However, humiliated and despondent that he had abandoned the siege and campaign without cause, Murray tried for redemption and re-landed his troops on the day after this letter, the 15th, near the Castle de Balaguer (see Map below), and was going to try for some saving grace. He even requested General Copons to return with his troops to support this second effort, which Copons obligingly did. Unfortunately, by leaving the field at Tarragona, Bertoletti was able to quickly send a messenger to the retreating Mathieu who turned around again and marched into Tarragona unopposed on the 16th. Hearing this, Murray, again, the consummate cautionary, ordered his troops, again, re-embarked, and again sent Copons into the wilderness. But this sad comedy of errors was mercifully cut short of the 17th when the bulk of the Mediterranean Fleet arrived to support the siege and invasion of Tarragona with Admiral, Lord Exmouth, Pellew in Command of the Navy and General William Bentinck in Command of the Army. Murray was summarily relieved of his command and Clinton was promoted in his place. However, with adequate French forces now in place and the element of surprise long gone, not to mention the cannons and stores, the British forces returned to Alicante.

After the war Murray was court martialed and as his defense insisted that the entire expedition was only intended as a feint and diversion which he accomplished for a short time (although Suchet did later escape to the west and north) and Wellington was able to seriously best Joseph and the French at Vitoria on June 21, 1813 without Suchet coming to his aid. Murray further commented that he could not see losing a single soldier's life when even if the had taken the town, they would have in turn been cut off and besieged by the French. This of course ignores the total dominance of the Mediterranean by the British Navy for troops and supplies, and also raises the question of how 23,000 troops in a fortified town with adequate ordnance and supplies could not have held off, and held in place for much longer, the 15,000 French troops from Suchet and Mathieu and effected a re-embarkation at a later time, if necessary, from the city by sea. In the event he was generally acquitted for political reasons and was found guilty only of abandoning his artillery. He felt this was vindication and applied for a Knighthood in the Order of the Bath - he was never so obliged. Clinton went on to command the Eastern Army in Spain, but by then the theater had moved north to the Pyrenees and he saw little further action on the Peninsula.

Interesting observation concerning this letter. 1) Clinton confirms the 1600 man force defending Tarragona. 2) He reports the breastworks decimated and all was prepared for a storming. 3) That 19 not 18 pieces of artillery were left from the siege train (Southey, Napier and others had it at 18). 4) He reports that the forts continued to fire through the night of the 11th-12th while others report no fire from the outer forts.

[General sources from Napier, Southey, Oman, Glover, Gates & DNB]

Biographical Note

General Sir William Henry Clinton

(23 December 1769 - 23 December 1846)

CLINTON, Sir WILLIAM HENRY (1769-1846), general, elder son of General Sir Henry Clinton the elder, K.B., was born on 23 Dec. 1769. He commenced his career as a cornet in his father's regiment, the 7th light dragoons, to which he was gazetted on 22 Dec. 1784. He was promoted lieutenant on 7 March 1787, captain into the 45th regiment on 9 June 1790, and lieutenant and captain in the 1st or Grenadier guards on 14 July 1790. He served in the campaign of 1793 in Flanders with his battalion, and was promoted captain and lieutenant-colonel on 29 Dec. 1794. He was next employed with Doyle's abortive expedition, and in 1796 became aide-de-camp to the Duke of York, in which capacity he acted, with but one slight intermission of regular duty in Ireland, until June 1799. In that year he was sent on a secret mission to the Russian generals Korsakoff and Suwarrow, and returned in October in time to take up his old appointment on the duke's staff at the Helder, and it was his duty to bear the news of the armistice of Alkmar to England. In June 1800 he was appointed to act as deputy quartermaster-general at headquarters during the absence of Colonel Anstruther in Egypt, and on 1 Jan. 1801 he was promoted colonel. In June of that year he was selected to command a secret expedition, and on 23 July following he took possession of the island of Madeira, which he governed as a brigadier-general until the conclusion of the peace of Amiens in 1802. In April 1803 he was appointed military secretary to the commander-in-chief, and on 26 July 1804 quartermaster-general in Ireland. In May 1807 he was sent on a secret mission to Sweden, and on 25 April 1808 he was promoted major-general, but he was not sent upon foreign service until the beginning of 1812, when he was ordered to Sicily. He there commanded the division at Messina until September 1812, when he proceeded to Alicante to take command of the troops on the east coast of Spain. He was, however, superseded by Major-general Campbell in December 1812, who was in his turn superseded by Sir John Murray in March 1813, when Clinton took the command of the 1st division. This division he commanded at the battle of Castalla on 13 April 1813, but from that time he failed to live in harmony with Sir John Murray. That most unsuccessful general managed to quarrel with the admiral commanding, Admiral Hallowell, his second in command, Clinton, and his quartermaster-general, Colonel Donkin, and it is to this disunion that the failure of the British army to take Tarragona was due. Lord William Bentinck took command of the army in the east of Spain on 17 June 1813, and on leaving it he sent Sir John Murray to England and again gave Clinton the command-in-chief. The general had now no very difficult task; his wary enemy, Suchet, was obliged to fall back on France because of the advance of Wellington in the west, and Clinton had only to watch him, and then to form the blockade of Barcelona. At the conclusion of the war, Clinton was made colonel of the 55th regiment, and promoted lieutenant-general, and in January 1815, on the extension of the order of the Bath, he was made a G.C.B. He now took some part in politics. He had been elected M.P. for Boroughbridge with his brother in 1806 in the interest of the Duke of Newcastle, and after sitting for that place till 1818 he was in that year elected M.P. for Newark in the same interest, and sat for that town till 1830. In 1825 he received the office of lieutenant-general of the ordnance, which he held till 1829, and in December 1826 he received the command of the division of five thousand men which was sent to Portugal to maintain order there, and brought them back in April 1828. On 22 July 1830 he was promoted general, and in the same year he resigned his seat in the House of Commons, and retired to his country seat, Cockenhatch, near Royston in Hertfordshire, where he died at the age of seventy-six, on 23 Dec. 1846. Clinton married in 1797 Lady Dorothea Louisa Holroyd, youngest daughter of John Holroyd, first earl of Sheffield, and by her had a family of two sons, both officers in the Grenadier guards, and two daughters.

[Excerpt from Dictionary of National Biographies 1887]



Document Specifications:  A very fine handwritten ALS letter signed by Major General William Henry Clinton and datelined "On Board the H.M.S. ??? between Tarragona & Balaguer 14 June 1813". Folded letter measures 7" tall x 4˝" wide (177mm x 116mm). On a single sheet 7" x 9" bifolium into four pages, of batonne laid paper, partial watermarked "S & C WISE". A rare wardate written letter by Major General Clinton as he watches his Commander in Chief Sir John Murray inexplicably abort a successful Campaign against Tarragona and abandon all the ordnance and stores ashore.  Clinton is from the famous Clinton British Military family, his brother also being a General and his father Sir Henry Clinton had been Commander in Chief of the American Station in New York during the Revolutionary War. War date letters from the Peninsula War are scarce and letters like this with a scathing first hand account of arguably the most embarassing defeat of the Peninsular War are rare in the marketplace. Very Fine to Extremely Fine condition, Autograph Letter Signed (ALS).

From the Sir Charles Stuart, KB, GCB, PC, KTS, Correspondence. Stuart was His Britannic Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal during the greater part of the Peninsular War (10 January 1810 to 26 May 1814). He was a personal friend and confidante of Wellington and Nelson, a sitting member of the Portuguese Regency (the only British Subject in the war ever permitted to hold an official position in a foreign government while also representing Britain), and later ambassador to the Netherlands, France, the Brasils and Russia. He was, following the war, made Baron Stuart de Rothesay, the
Count of Machico and Marquess of Angra. The most important foreign diplomat of the Peninsular War, his archive of diplomatic, military and intelligence dispatches are second only to Wellington's Dispatches.

 Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.

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