On this day 1811…the Battle of Barrosa

5th 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 by Baron Louis-François Lejeune

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, Colonel William Light who served on the staff of general Graham after the battle, was serving as governor of South Australia. When asked if he could provide a suitable name for a valley north of Adelaide 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.

The following British regiments hold ‘Barrosa’ as a battle honour on their colours or in their regimental history (the honour was usually bestowed upon a  constituent regiment which now only exists after many years of amalgamation, some battles are now honoured under the wider recognition “Peninsular” for want of space). Some equally, such as the Royal Anglian Regiment also bear the honour “Douro” for their part in the Second Battle of Porto in 1809:

The Grenadier Guards
The Coldstream Guards
The Scots Guards
The Rifles
The Royal Irish Regiment (the descendent of Masterson’s 87th)
The Royal Anglian Regiment
The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment
The Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment

This story first appeared as part five of the Wine and Warfare series.

One Response to “On this day 1811…the Battle of Barrosa”

  1. James Kelly says:

    Thank you for this historical item. As a born South Australian, we hold Col William Light highly in our development of our city of Adelaide. I lived my younger years in the suburb of Colonel Light Gardens….and a direct descendent of the first fleeters to South Australia in 1836.

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