Friday, March 19, 2010

The Battle of the Nive

The Battle of the Nive was fought between 9 and 13 December 1813. It covers a wide area south of Bayonne. Marshal Soult held that city with 67,000 men and Wellington was determined to take it with his 64,000 men. Wellington’s plan was to close in on Bayonne from the east as well as from the south, because this would threaten Soult’s line of withdrawal. However this meant that the allied army would be divided by the river Nive, and Soult would take full advantage by moving his army from one bank to the other via Bayonne.

It is a large area to cover, even in a car. It is also very difficult to get an overall view of the battle area. Perhaps the best place to start is at the village of Mouguerre. On a steep hill overlooking the village is the Croix de Mouguerre, a memorial to Marshal Soult and defence of Bayonne. In the map above the village is on the extreme right just below the name Byng.

The monument is obviously a favourite picnic site with locals. We visited on a Sunday, and the car park was full and families spread around enjoying the sun and the view.

The first French attack was on the left, or west, of the river Nive. It caught the allied army by surprise, and isolated bodies fought desperately to allow for reinforcements to be brought up. The light division played an important part in this battle, as did the village of Arcangues. This was to be the scene of the most desperate fighting as the French were held and then driven back. The church and graveyard would play a vital role in the battle.

On 10 December 1813 the church was held by the 43rd regiment, part of the famous light division. The light division had been pushed back by four French divisions. The French deployed a battery about 400 yards from the church. The defenders were deployed behind the church wall and inside the church itself both on the choir gallery and the tower. The church was hit about eight times, but the fire of the defenders was so accurate that the enemy gunners were forced to flee and abandon their 12 guns. The photograph was taken from the artillery position looking towards the church

The church is a very popular tourist attraction, and on the day we were there the large car park was full. However I am not sure whether that is because of the events of 1813 or simply because it is a very beautiful and well preserved old Basque church.

1 comment:

  1. Good post - I had the pleasure of visiting Bayonne as part of a family holiday in 2007 - a lovely town, a bit of a disappointment as far as a battlefield visit though! :o)

    Blog posts are here:

    ..and the actual visit here: