Battle of Garris
|Battle of Garris|
|Part of Peninsular War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Jean Isidore Harispe||Marquess Wellington|
|Casualties and losses|
300 killed and wounded |
|170 killed and wounded|
The Battle of Garris or Battle of Saint-Palais (February 15, 1814) saw an Allied force under the direct command of Arthur Wellesley, Marquess Wellington attack General of Division Jean Harispe's French division. The French defenders were driven back into the town of Saint-Palais in confusion. Because of this reverse, the Allies were able to secure a crossing over the Bidouze River during this clash from the final stages of the Peninsular War.
After the Battle of the Nive near Bayonne, Marshal Nicolas Soult's French army tried to pen Wellington's Allied army in the extreme southwest corner of France. To do this, Soult positioned his divisions in a line running from the fortress of Bayonne on the west to the fortress of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the southeast. Facing south, three divisions held the line of the Adour River from Bayonne to Port-de-Lanne. Facing southeast, four divisions defended the Joyeuse River from the Adour to the village of Hélette.
Wellington's began his offensive on February 14 by sending Lieutenant General Rowland Hill with 20,000 men against the French left wing. In the face of this threat, Harispe's division at Hélette abandoned the line of the Joyeuse and fell back toward the Bidouze River at Saint-Palais. The next unit to the north, General of Division Eugene-Casimir Villatte's division, threatened by Lieutenant General Thomas Picton's 3rd British Division, also backpedaled to the Bidouze.
Just east of Saint-Palais, Harispe found a defensible position at Garris (Basque Garrüze). He deployed his division on a long ridge and awaited the Allied onset. The only escape route was the single bridge over the Bidouze at Saint-Palais. Late in the afternoon, Major General William Pringle's brigade of Lieutenant General Sir William Stewart 2nd British Division came up to the position, but merely skirmished with the French.
But Wellington was on hand and sent peremptory orders to attack. Pringle's two battalions formed into close column, attacked and soon reached the top of the ridge. The French defenders gamely counterattacked but failed to drive away the British. Meanwhile, Major General Pablo Morillo's Spanish division and Major General Carlos Lecor's Portuguese Division began to envelop the outnumbered French soldiers. Harispe ordered a withdrawal. With the Portuguese closing in on the bridge, the French retreat soon became a stampede to safety. Most made it across the bridge but the Allies captured some men on the east bank. The French lost 300 men killed and wounded and 200 prisoners. The Allies suffered 170 casualties, including 40 Portuguese. In a melee with the 81st Line, the 1/39th lost 43 men.
The rout demoralized Harispe's division. The French general was unable to rally his soldiers in Saint-Palais and had to retreat further west. Consequently, the Anglo-Allied army breached the line of the Bidouze. Though the French engineers managed to set off demolition charges on the bridge, the work was done poorly and the Allies soon had the bridge back in operation. Soult recalled two of his divisions from north of the Adour and reformed his line on the Gave d'Oloron River with six divisions. The next major clash would be the Battle of Orthez.
- Glover, Michael. The Peninsular War 1807-1814. London: Penguin, 2001. ISBN 0-14-139041-7
- Smith, Digby. The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill, 1998. ISBN 1-85367-276-9
- Glover, p 312. Glover is the major source.
- Glover, p 313
- Glover, p 314
- Smith, p 497. Smith writes that the 1/28th and 1/39th were engaged. Glover says the 1/28th and 2/34th were engaged and that the 1/39th was away drawing new uniforms.