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Price: $4,500
BSL Item: 1810-Wellington-Craufurd Letter




Autograph Letter Signed to Brigadier General Robert Craufurd
Placing him in the Line of Battle between Generals Leith and Hill

Standing Astride the Heights at the Redoubt of Sobral, Wellington writes to one of his ablest commanders, Brigadier General Robert Craufurd of the Light Division. In it, he expresses concern about keeping his troop levels from being depleted by men reporting to hospitals, and then lays out his strategic thinking. He carefully places General Craufurd to General Rowland Hill's left and General Sir James Leith's right. A formidable front line. A scarce documented letter from Wellington's published dispatches, describing Wellington's thoughts as he waits out the French Army and General Masséna, who will shortly begin their retreat from his Defensive Masterpiece - The Lines of Torres Vedras. Here is a wonderful handwritten and signed letter documenting a crucial turning point in the Peninsular War - where Wellington turns the French spear and as Historian Charles Oman writes "at Sobral, the Napoleonic tide attained its highest watermark".




Field Marshal His Grace Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,
KG, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS, PM (1769 – 1852)

Autograph Letter Signed to Brigadier General Robert Craufurd

While we usually type a transcription of the letter at this point ,
as this particular letter is recorded in the Duke of Wellington's
Book of Dispatches, as edited by Gurwood, we simply attach
a scan from that page (Volume IV, page 350). This is the original
letter, entirely in Wellington's own hand.

Redoubt of Sobral October 23rd 1810
7  A.M.


From the 14 Volume Wellington's Dispatches and General Orders
Volume IV page 350
See below for a copy of the memorandum referred to (not included with this letter).


An important handwritten letter, signed by Wellington, as he stood on the heights of Mount Sobral on the morning of October 23rd, 1810 and wondered what the French and General Masséna would do. He first dealt with the growing problem of troops reporting ill and even feigning ill and issued a General Order (see below) regarding this situation. Then he states his desire to reward Craufurd for his ability and to increase his troop strength but laments the flood of senior general officers arriving from Britain, most quite inferior to Craufurd in terms of ability and courage. The Trancoso here referred to is not the Trancoso of the Mondego Valley, but rather more likely Trancoso de Cima or Trancoso de Baixa which were on the Lines. He also refers to S. Jago dos Velhos which is likely today's Santiago dos Velhos behind the Lines. He then places Craufurd between Hill and Leith - some of his other very trusted commanders to hold the stretch from Alhandra to Arruda to Sobral de Monte Agraço.

Historical Notes


The Lines of Torres Vedras were a parallel series of linked forts, redoubts, batteries and embrasures, built in secrecy in the mountains of the north to defend Lisbon during the Peninsular War; named after the nearby town of Torres Vedras. Wellington ordered the building of the Lines of Torres Vedras, as a defensive system designed to slow the invasion of the Lisbon peninsula and possibly buy time for the British Army to embark on ships if necessary. The first line was constructed by Portuguese workers between November 1809 and September 1810. The work was supervised by Colonel Fletcher, assisted by Major John Jones, 11 British officers, two KGL officers and four Portuguese Army engineers. The cost was around £100,000, one of the least expensive but most remunerative military investments in history.

Here is an excerpt from Recollections of a Peninsular Veteran - Chapter VI by Lt.-Colonel Joseph Anderson, C.B., Knight of Hanover, of the 78th, 24th, and 50th Regiments :

"The surrender of these two important strongholds [Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida] encouraged the enemy to renew their advance, so that in the beginning of September [1810] Lord Wellington commenced his able and well-devised retreat on the Lines of Torres Vedras, within thirty miles of Lisbon. The Portuguese army under General Beresford and the Spaniards under the Marquis de la Romana, retreating on our flank for the same destination, all believed that we were making the best of our way to our ships for embarkation, and with the full intention of finally quitting the country. So secretly had the works of the Lines of Torres Vedras been carried on, that only rumours of their existence were heard, and those only by very few officers of high rank. It was even said that neither the English nor Portuguese Government knew anything positive about these works nor where they were constructed, and I remember well that most of our officers laughed at the idea of our remaining in Portugal, and heavy bets were daily made, during our retreat, on the chances or the certainty of our embarkation. But different indeed were the results, and all the world soon acknowledged the master-mind of our most noble and gallant commander."

The Anglo-Portuguese army was forced to retreat to The Lines after the Battle of Buçaco. The French (under Marshal André Masséna) discovered upon their arrival at The Lines a barren land (under the scorched earth policy - although not as complete as Wellington would have liked) and an enemy behind an impenetrable defensive position. Masséna's leading forces generally arrived at the Lines on 11 October 1810 and shortly afterwards stormed the town of Sobral. After attempting to wait out the enemy, Masséna was forced to order a French retreat to Santarem, starting on the night of 14 November 1810. Marshal Masséna began his Portuguese campaign with his army (l'Armée de Portugal) at 65,000 strong. By the time he reached Torres Vedras, he had 51,000 men (after losing 4,000 at the Battle of Buçaco and 5,000 at Coimbra to Trant and 5,000 more too sick to fight). When he finally reached Spain the next spring, he had lost 25,000 men. It was one of the coldest and wettest winters ever seen in Portugal and killed many of the French forces. They were also hit by severe illness and disease killing the soldiers in their thousands. The Allies on the other hand were reinforced by fresh British troops in early 1811 and renewed their offensive. They left The Lines and did not return for the rest of the Peninsular War.

The four lines of Torres Vedras had forts strategically placed in the top of hills, controlling the roads to Lisbon and using the natural obstacles of the land and flooded plains. The first line, with an extension of 46 km, binds Alhandra to the estuary of the Sizandro River. The second line, 13 km to the south, has 39 km and binds the Póvoa de Santa Iria to Ribamar. The third line consisted of a defensive perimeter with 3 km, from Paço de Arcos to the Tower of Junqueira, protecting a beach of embarcation (St. Julian's) about 40 km to the south of the second line. In seven months, 108 forts and 151 redoubts were built, with ravelins, detached batteries, etc. The three lines were furnished with 1,067 pieces of artillery and provided with 68,665 men, one of the most efficient systems of field blockhouses in military history. Behind them was the field army of 50,000 Anglo-Portuguese regulars, able to manoeuvre against the invaders. The fourth line was built south of the Tagus in the Altos of Almada to hinder a possible invasion coming from the Alentejo region, with an extension of 8,000 yards (7.3 km): It had 17 redoubts and covered trenches, 86 pieces of artillery, defended by marines, and orderlies of Lisbon, for a total of 7,500 men. Substantial portions of The Lines still survive today, albeit heavily decayed.

In 1810 a newly enlarged French Army under Marshal André Masséna invaded Portugal. British opinion both at home and in the army was uniformly gloomy - they must evacuate Portugal. But Wellington first slowed the French down at Buçaco, then blocked them from taking the Lisbon peninsula by his magnificently constructed earthworks, the Lines of Torres Vedras, brilliantly assembled in complete secrecy, and with flanks guarded by the Royal Navy. The baffled and starving French invasion forces retreated after six months. Wellington followed and, in several skirmishes, drove them out of Portugal, except for a small garrison at Almeida, which was placed under siege.


Biographical Note

Major General Robert Craufurd
May 1764 – 23 January 1812

Robert Craufurd, or "Black Bob" as he was also called due to his dark moods, was, along with Rowland Hill, one of Wellington's most trusted commanders; one of the few to which were given independent commands and forces to do what needed to be done. His death at Ciudad Rodrigo in January of 1812 was a devastating loss for Wellington.

Craufurd was born at Newark Castle, Ayrshire, the third son of Sir Alexander Craufurd, 1st Baronet. He was educated at Harrow School (1779), and later at Göttingen University (1787). He entered the army as an ensign in the 25th Regiment of Foot in 1779, was promoted lieutenant in 1781, and captain into the 75th Regiment of Foot in 1783. He served with this unit in India in Lord Cornwallis's campaigns against Tipu Sultan between 1790 and 1792, establishing a reputation as a good regimental officer. In the early 1790s, Craufurd returned to Europe and was employed on attachment, under his brother Charles, with the Austrian armies operating against the French, remaining there after Charles was severely wounded. He returned to England in December 1797 and was promoted lieutenant-colonel. In 1798 he was appointed deputy quartermaster-general in Ireland, and his services during the suppression of the uprising there, especially his contribution to the operations against General Humbert's French corps, were praised by General Lake. In 1799 he acted as Britain's military attaché to General Suvorov's headquarters during his campaign in Switzerland. He served on the staff in the expedition to The Helder in the Netherlands.

On 6 February 1800 he married Mary Frances Holland (d. 1842), daughter of the architect Henry Holland of Hans Place, Chelsea, London. They had three sons and a daughter. In 1802 he was elected Member of Parliament for East Retford in Nottinghamshire through the influence of his brother Charles, who had married the dowager duchess of Newcastle (whose family owned the borough). Craufurd was promoted colonel on 30 October 1805 and gave up his seat in 1806 in the hope of going on active service.

In 1807 he was sent to South America under General Whitelock and he took command of a light brigade, consisting of a battalion of the 95th rifle regiment and the light companies of several other battalions. His brigade led the advance upon Buenos Aires and, in the attack on the city, achieved its objectives. During this expedition he acquired a reputation as a leader of light troops and, in October 1807, sailed with Sir David Baird for the Iberian peninsula at the head of a light brigade. Baird's corps joined Sir John Moore's army at Mayorga on 20 December, and Craufurd's command was repeatedly engaged, especially at Castro Gonzalo on the 28th. On 31 December the light division was ordered to leave the main army for Vigo, where it embarked for England. In 1809 Craufurd returned to the Peninsula, with the rank of brigadier-general, to take command of the Light Division (43rd, 52nd and 95th). While on his way to join the army of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the duke of Wellington), he heard rumours that during the battle of Talavera on 27–28 July, Wellesley had been killed. The march which followed is one almost unparalleled in military annals. The three battalions of the Light Division started in full marching order, and arrived at the front on the day after the Battle of Talavera, having covered 62 miles on foot in twenty-six hours. Beginning their career with this famous march, these regiments, and their chief, under whom served such men as Charles and William Napier, Shaw and Colborne, soon increased their reputation as one of the best corps of troops in Europe, and almost every engagement following added to their laurels. Craufurd's operations on the Côa and Águeda in 1810 were daring to the point of rashness; the drawing on of the French forces into what became the Battle of the Côa in particular was a rare lapse in judgment that almost saw his removal from command. Although Wellington censured him for his conduct, he at the same time increased his force from brigade-strength to division-strength by the addition of two picked regiments of Portuguese Caçadores. The winter of 1810-1811, Craufurd spent in England, and his division was poorly commanded in the interim by another officer, Sir William Erskine. When Craufurd reappeared on the field of the battle of Fuentes d'Onoro, it was to the cheers of his men. In the fighting the light division again played a distinguished part, covering the change of front which Wellington found it necessary to make when outflanked by the French. Craufurd was promoted major-general on 4 June 1811 and, in the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo the following winter, led the light division in the attack on the smaller breach when the fortress was stormed on 19 January. At the very beginning of the assault he was mortally wounded in the abdomen and he was carried out of action by his staff officer, Lieutenant James Shaw-Kennedy of the 43rd, and, after lingering four days, he died on 23 January 1812. He was buried in the breach itself. His death was marked by tributes in both houses of parliament, and, at public expense, a monument was erected to him and General Mackinnon, who was killed in the same siege, in St Paul's Cathedral, London. One of the quickest and most brilliant, if not the very first, of Wellington's generals, he had a fiery temper, which rendered him a difficult man to deal with, but to the day of his death he possessed the confidence and affection of his men in an extraordinary degree. As his friend, the fellow soldier George Napier concluded: “Brilliant as some of the traits of his character were, and notwithstanding the good and generous feelings which often burst forth like a bright gleam of sunshine from behind a dark and heavy cloud, still there was a sullenness which seemed to brood in his innermost soul and generate passions which knew no bounds.”(Napier, 225)

Plaque commemorating the death of Major General Robert Craufurd,
at the site of the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain


Arthur Wellesley, the son of the Earl of Mornington, was born in Dublin in 1769. After being educated at Eton and a military school at Angers, he received a commission in the 73rd Infantry. Eventually Wellesley obtained the rank of captain and became aide-de-camp to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1797 Wellesley was sent to India where his elder brother Richard Wellesley had been appointed Governor-General of India. While Napoleon was gaining victories in Egypt, Wellesley was dispatched to deal with Tippoo Sahib of Mysore. As brigade commander under General George Harris he impressed his superiors throughout the Seringapatam expedition and was made administrator of the conquered territory. Wellesley returned to England in 1805 and the following year he was elected as the MP for Rye in Sussex. A year after entering the House of Commons, the Duke of Portland appointed Wellesley as his Irish Secretary. Although a member of the government, Arthur Wellesley remained in the army and in 1808 he was sent to aid the Portuguese against the French. After a victory at Vimeiro he returned to England but the following year he was asked to assume command of the British Army in the Peninsular War. In 1809, following his victory at Talavera in Spain, Arthur Wellesley was made Viscount Wellington. In 1812 the French were forced out of Spain and Wellesley reinforced his victory against the French at Toulouse. In 1814 Wellesley was granted the title, the Duke of Wellington. He was then put in command of the forces which defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in June, 1815. Parliament rewarded this military victory by granting Wellington the Hampshire estate of Strathfieldsaye.

In 1818 the Duke of Wellington returned to politics when he accepted the invitation of Lord Liverpool to join his Tory administration as master-General of the Ordnance. In 1829 Wellington assisted Robert Peel in his efforts to reorganize the Metropolitan Police. In 1828 Wellington replaced Lord Goderich as prime minister. Although Wellington and the Home Secretary, Robert Peel, had always opposed Catholic Emancipation they began to reconsider their views after they received information on the possibility of an Irish rebellion. As Peel said to Wellington: "though emancipation was a great danger, civil strife was a greater danger". King George IV was violently opposed to Catholic Emancipation but after Wellington threatened to resign, the king reluctantly agreed to a change in the law.

Document Specifications: Letter is 4 pages on a single bifolium (folded in half) sheet. It is written on wove paper and each page measures ≈ 185mm wide x 225mm high or 7¼" x 8¾" and shows the watermark "G JONES/1809". It is autograph signed "Wellington" and dated October 23rd, 1810 and is written entirely in his own hand. Condition: The Paper and Ink are in very fine condition with some toning and spotting, and some separations at the folds with some older archival tape reinforcements, especially on page 4, including a small tear. Handwritten letters by Wellington to Craufurd are extremely rare in the marketplace, especially as Craufurd died in action at the taking of Ciudad Rodrigo in January of 1812.







Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.

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