THE 43RD FOOT’S ROLL IN THE BATTLE OF VITTORIA
The 43rd Foot were light infantry, trained to march much faster than ordinary infantry so they could move quickly into battle. The regiment had been in Portugal and Spain since 1809 and were part of the Light Division of Lord Wellington’s army. By 1813, with many French troops withdrawn by Napoleon due to heavy losses in Russia, Wellington was ready to drive the French from Spain. His army unexpectedly advanced across difficult country, catching the retreating French army of Joseph Bonaparte on the Plains of Vittoria on the road to the Pyrenees.
Hoping to annihilate the French, Wellington split his army into four columns to outflank and trap them. He led the 4th and Light Divisions himself against the French centre and the 43rd were sent to urgently capture an undefended bridge across the River Zadorra and advanced at the run and found themselves within 100 yards of the enemy who, fortunately, did not attack.
As the French withdrew, the 43rd supported the attack on the village of Ariyez as Wellington drove the French back towards Vittoria. The entire French transport, stuffed with looted wealth, was captured. Joseph Bonaparte fled, leaving his baggage and carriage in the street. While part of the British army started looting, the 43rd marched steadily through and camped beyond Vittoria. Though the French army escaped, almost all of its artillery was captured.
The 43rd went on to drive the French across the Pyrenees and invaded France itself, ending with victory at the Battle of Toulouse.
The Battle of Vittoria in 1813