On this day 1811…the Battle of Barrosa5th March, 2014 by Rupert Millar
On 5 March 1811 a battle was fought in Spain that would later give its name to a now world-renowned Australian vineyard region.
The Battle of Barrosa or Chiclana was fought between an Anglo-Spanish army under generals Thomas Graham and Manuel la Peña and their French opponent, Marshal Victor.
The French had been besieging Cadiz since 1810 but had reduced the size of their army there, as they needed troops for other operations.
The allies seized the opportunity to break the siege and landed 15,000 men – mostly Spanish but also Graham’s Anglo-Portuguese division – in a position where they could march to Cadiz and attack the French in the rear.
However, Marshal Victor’s scouts and piquets caught wind of the naval landings and laid a trap.
He attacked the single Anglo-Portuguese division with two of his own at a place called Barrosa Ridge, placing his men on the high ground and appearing on the flank of the British division.
With the majority of the Spanish troops in retreat, Graham turned his 5,000 men against the 10,000 French and in a bloody fight drove them from the ridge in a surprise tactical victory.
To add further laurels to the Anglo-Portuguese units that took part, during the fight the French lost one of their “Eagles”, a metal figurehead carried by each regiment.
It was captured from the French 8th Ligne by sergeant Patrick Masterson of the British 87th (Prince of Wales’ Irish), who cut down its protector sous-lieutenant Edmé Guillemin to win the trophy.
It was the first to be taken during the Peninsular War and even though the battle did not break the siege of Cadiz and is not as famous as Busaco, Albuera or Salamanca, it was roundly celebrated at the time.
Many years later in the 1830s, a veteran of the battle, Colonel William Light, was governor of South Australia.
Finding a valley with no name he decided to name it after the engagement and even though a clerical error means it has gone down in history as the “Barossa” not the “Barrosa” Valley, remember the 87th and the taking of the eagle of the 8th next time you open a bottle of Shiraz.
This story first appeared as part five of the Wine and Warfare series.