Major Philip Grant The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)) is writing a new biography of Thomas Graham, later General Sir Thomas Graham, Lord Lynedoch. Here follows his Report on a Visit to the Battlefield of Barrosa
The scene of General Thomas Graham’s great victory
over the French in the Peninsular War – 5 March 1811
This is an account of a visit (November 2015) to the site of the battle and a quest to find the memorial battlefield monument. It should be said at the outset that this is by no means a simple task and requires persistence. The location is not signed any more than most of the surrounding roads which are neither named not numbered. The entire area has been developed, by-and-large tastefully and sympathetically, but the topography has been altered out of all recognition.
The Battle of Barrosa took place midway through the Peninsular War (1807 – 1814). French troops occupied much of the Iberian Peninsula (hence the name of this particular phase of the Napoleonic Wars). Wellington had withdrawn many of his meagre forces to winter camps. The Allies (mainly Spanish, British and Portuguese) occupied the main Spanish port of Cadiz which was besieged by the French. Stalemate had been reached: neither side could use the port to any advantage. Nor could any of the troops engaged there be used for any other purpose.
By the beginning of 1811 Napoleon had withdrawn some of his troops from the region to fight in Russia. Here was an opportunity for the Allies to inflict a blow against the French. The main action took place on the hill of Barrosa and between it and the Torre del Puerco signal tower. They lie some 6 miles / 10 kilometres south west of the town of Chiclana which itself is a similar distance east of Cadiz.
Now is not the time or the place to give another account of the battle: the aim is to aid those who would like to visit the scene and study the battlefield. And here is the first health warning: the battle is known locally as the Battle of Chiclana and the hill is known as the Loma (hill) del Puerco. La Barrosa now describes the whole area and the beaches which are now such a popular holiday resort. The Torre (tower) del Puerco stands on the seashore about midway along the magnificent sandy beaches which stretch for about 6 miles / 10 kilometres south from the Sancti Petri river. The river mouth at the north end is marked by another of these signal towers, the Torre Bermeja.
Inland there are few natural features. In 1811 there would have been some farms and maybe the odd hamlet but nothing more. For the most part the land is scrubby heath dotted with many of the typical pines trees which in places form large clumps and shady woods The hill of Barrosa (Loma del Puerco) is the highest of a few modest folds but is significant because it is the highest of these.
Graham’s forces – about a division in strength – wrested its commanding heights by defeating a French force roughly twice as strong. The top of the hill, today marked as a View Point (Belvedere Loma del Puerco – Punto Mágico Loma del Puerco in Spanish) is marked with the symbol of a camera on some tourist maps. Here on the ‘magic point’ stands the fine monument which is pictured here. And below the stone there is an account in four languages. It is well worth the journey.
To find the spot it is probably as well to visit first the tourist office and / or local museum in Chiclana. The staff at both are most helpful, though it is probably the case that few have actually made the journey to the site themselves. But beware (second health warning) their maps tend to be schematic and are far from the standard of Ordinance Survey. (They do not, for instance, have a scale.) The downside of visiting Chiclana first is that it makes finding the battlefield marker more difficult and Chiclana itself is a nightmare of one way narrow streets with few helpful signs.