Iberian Peninsula

Napoleonic Wars in the Iberian Peninsula: Battles in Spain during 1808



Other battles and skirmishes fought in the Iberian Peninsula

The battles discussed below are those fought outside the areas of the British/Portuguese thrusts or focus. Most are those with only Spanish and French troops involved. The Spanish had from 100,000 to 160,000 men under arms during this period. Their activities, defensive, as siege troops, and on offense, allowed the British and Portuguese allies to take the field as an effective offensive force.

In my research I find little good said about the Spanish armies during the war on the Iberian Peninsula from 1807 thru 1814. Mostly that seems to be justified. They were often inefficient. At least once the rear retreated in panic after a terrific volley... by their own front line, and this while the French were still out of range.

They did on occasion however succeed very well, and they never quit fighting unlike the armies in the other nations that Napoleon occupied. They rarely surrendered a city without a siege, and usually fought fiercely even after the city walls were breached. One notable exception is Madrid itself that surrendered on December 12th when Napoleon himself approached.

French lines of communication were rarely secure. This is the war where the term and fighting style Guerilla ( pronounced Gway-ree-ya, Spanish for little War) was developed. This allowed the English and the improving Portuguese troops to fight without ever having the entire attention of the French focused on them.

Fall of Barcelona February 29th, 1808--French victory

Barcelona was the first Spanish city to be occupied by French troops. In the final months of 1807 Napoleon became angry at the Portuguese while attempting to close the last of the European ports to the British. Spain was in some political chaos at this point and Napoleon purposely made it worse to allow himself to take over the country.

He acquired Spanish permission for French troops to march through Spain toward Portugal. They took advantage of the proximity and the created political environment to seize frontier forts in the Pyrenees, such as Pamplona, on the 16th of February 1808. By the 29th of February they reached and took Barcelona.

Dos de Mayo Uprising, May 2nd, 1808

This does not really count as a battle, though there were shots fired.At this point Barcelona, Madrid and much of the north were occupied by French troops. The royal family and minister Godoy had been lured to Bayonne, France and induced to abdicate. Murat, brother-in-law to Napoleon was in charge of the troops and government at Madrid. At the end of April there was a riot in Toledo, and then in Madrid there were rumors that the last member of the royal family still in Spain, Don Antonio, was to be kidnapped and sent to Bayonne.

A large gathering around the Palace, reacted when a carriage arrived, cut the traces and attacked guards and Murat's aide-de-camp. The revolt became general with isolated French soldiers in Madrid attacked and killed. Cavalry and guns from the encampment outside the City were soon deployed and many citizens of Madrid were killed or injured. A final assault on the city gates was defeated near sundown. The next day 40 of the captured rioters were executed in the Prado.

This scene was somewhat repeated in other places 3 weeks later in other parts of Spain, and the rebellious sentiment made conquering and ruling the Spanish difficult.

Battle at Alcolea (Alcolia) Bridge, Defense of Cordova June 7, 1808 -- French victory

The conquest of Spain by the French at this point is in its earliest stages. The country is occupied but not subdued. There has been the revolt, Dos de Mayo, put down brutally. To deal with what Napoleon has been told are trouble spots, Dupont has been ordered to move on Cordova and Seville. Dupont marched on Andujar with 13,000 troops, arriving June 5th, and then pushing on to Cordova.

Opposing him is Don Pedro de Echavarri with 1,400 regular troops, 12,000 volunteers, mostly armed peasants and 8 guns. Echavarri drew his force before the bridge of Alcolia(Alcolea) over the River Guadalquivir. Dupont's men were rather green being recent conscripts but this made no difference in the outcome. They were more than a match for the Spaniards and in only minutes of battle they routed Echavarri's forces who fled past Cordova making no attempt to man defenses at the city.

As Dupont approached Cordova, there were a few shots fired from the city. Dupont took this as an excuse to refuse their surrender, and the town was stormed, and looted, with the attendant murder and rape. This first real battle of the subjugation/revolt in Spain showed the attitudes and behavior of the troops on both sides. There were to be many such atrocities and acts of brutality by all sides in the conflict.

Despite the victory, the unrest and general uprising isolated DuPont. His patrols were massacred, communications became impossible. He soon abandoned Cordova and pulled back to the plains around Andujar.

Battle at Bridge of Cabezon, over River Pisuerga, June 12th, 1808 -- French victory

Marshal Bessieres, in charge of French forces in Northern Spain, sent General Merle to Satander and then on to deal with the Spanish forces at Vallodolid. They united with the forces of General Antoine Lasalle and met the forces of Spanish General Cuesta on the road between Vallodolid and Burgos.

Lasalle, in command, prepared to take his 9,000 troops against Cuestas 5,000. At this point, to Lasalle's delight, Cuesta began to cross the bridge and deployed with his back to the river.The defeat of Cuesta took only minutes. Lasalle then led his cavalry across the river and entered Valladolid as Cuesta's remaining troops fled on beyond the city. At the cost of less than 50 men one of the most important cities in the north of Spain was taken.

Battle at Bruch Pass June 6th and again June 14th 1808 -- Spanish Victorys

During an attempt to suppress revolt in Catalonia the French General Duhesme was given several tasks. He dispatched General Schwartz toward Lerida and Manresa from Barcelona on the 5th of June, 1808. Schwartz was halted at Bruch pass on the 6th of June. He hastily retreated in some panic and called for reinforcements.

Duhesme recalled General Chabran with 3,000 troops to aid in forcing the defile. They tried a second time on June 14th 1808 and again failed this time they retired back to Barcelona and gave up the attempt on Manresa and Lerida.

The First Siege of Saragossa, June 15th - August 13th 1808 -- Spanish victory

The struggle for the city of Saragossa began during the approach of French General Lefebvre-Desnouettes toward the city. He had 2 gun batteries, 1,000 horse, and 5,000 infantry on the march. He met Spanish General Lazan with 2,000 troops and 3,000 armed peasants at Tudela on June 8th 1808. Lefebvre scattered the Spanish who retreated to Mallen and offered battle again. This time they were routed with heavy losses.

As the French continued, Spanish General Palafox himself moved north with 6,000 troops, 150 cavalry and 4 guns. He drew his forces into a line at Alagon. With only 500 regulars in his 6,000 they too were soon overwhelmed by Lefebvre. Palafox retreated to Saragossa, followed by the French who arrived at the city on June 15th.

Lefebvre assumed that a quick assault would have similar results to his previous battles. He was wrong. They began a bombard of the Spanish earthworks. They did get into the city behind a charge of their Polish cavalry but were repulsed. The Polish cavalry themselves sped to the city centre ahead of any support and suffered heavy losses getting there and then back out. A second French charge against the city had similar results, with the total time in the city measured in minutes.

They retired and waited on reinforcements which began to arrive on the 21st. Lefebvre had one success when a force of 4,000 approached the city in relief. Lefebvre took half of his force and his 3,000 met 4,000 Spanish destroying their force such that only 1,000 made it to Saragossa.

French General Verdier arrived with 3,500 more troops and took command. He had siege guns to begin a bombardment on June 30th. The moved forward gradually taking some outlying buildings. The began a large bombardment and a 3 pronged assault through breaches on August 4th. The French lost 2,000 while taking about half of Saragossa. Despite heavier losses Palafox had by nightfall pushed them out of all but separated sections of the city.

Verdier continued bombardments using up his large amounts of ammunition but gave up and ordered a withdrawal on the 13th of August 1808.

Battle at Gerona, June 20th 1808 -- Spanish victory

French General Duhesme at the end of June in 1808 was attempting to end the rising and unrest of Spanish in Catalonia. He left Barcelona with 6,000 troops up the coastal highway toward Gerona. He met a large number of somatenes (local militia, named after the somaten, or village alarm-bell) at Mataro who reformed at his rear as he passed cutting his communication.

Upon reaching Gerona and demanding surrender, which was refused, he attacked. He had no guns, nor the support for a siege so an assault was his only real option for taking the city. When he was beaten back from his assault, he retreated to Barcelona, leaving a brigade under General Chabran to hold Mataro.

1st Battle of Valencia June 28th 1808 -- Spanish victory

The French Marshal Moncey left Madrid with 9,000 troops toward Valencia. He took a more difficult route hoping to avoid strong Spanish forces, and succeeded. He arrived at Valencia and rolled in the city's outposts. He faced 20,000 men, mostly armed peasants and expected them to fail before his experienced men in a determined assault.

He was wrong. He lost 1,000 men in two attacks. Without siege guns, with the surrounding countryside under arms, and not knowing the location of the Spanish in the field under Cervellon, he retired toward Madrid along the Almanza road. Moncey left hoping to meet and defeat Cervellon but they missed each other as Cervellon was waiting along his previous route.

Battle of Baylen July 16-19, 1808 -- Spanish victory

The battle of Baylen was a battle lost, not a battle won, though the Spanish would remind themselves of the victory with pride for the next several years. Dupont was forced to surrender after both forces made several mistakes over several days of manouvering.The Spanish began with some 30, 000 troops which General Castaños divided into 3columns, 12,000 to himself to march on Andujar, 12,000 to General Reding to seize Mengibar and then to swing to a attach on Dupont's rear. The other 8,000 were commanded by Coupigny were to go through VillaNeuva on there way toward the French.

The Spanish believed that Dupont had 14,000 troops with only flank guards in the line of march for the two columns. The first assault took place on the 14th driving French pickets from the Guadalquivir River at Mengibar. Dupont responded with only small adjustments and waited. The next day the Spanish found that the French forces were nearer 20,000 and that Vedel had an entire division at Mengibar causing Reding to halt. This weak attack by Reding led Dupont to underestimate the Spanish forces there and contributed to his mistakes later.

Dupont feared the forces under Castaños, and the weakness of the fight against Vedel caused him to underestimate Reding's force. He called Vedel to support his own position. On the 16th, Castaños repeated his assault without pressing the attack. The Spanish under Coupigny pressed no real attack at Villa Neuva, but Reding utilized all of his 10,000 Spanish at Mengibar to defeat the French forces left under Gobert when Vedel left. Reding crossed the Guadalquivir River thus turning the French flank.

At Andujar Dupont outnumbered Castaños forces and had better cavalry and guns, but did nothing. He split sending Vedel back toward Reding, while Dupont himself would hold Andujar. At Mengibar, Vedel mistook the deployments and attacks of the Spanish and marched toward an attempt at cutting French communication lines toward Madrid without verifying where all of the Spanish troops were deployed. By noon on the 18th he discovered his mistake and began a march back toward Mengibar.

Now it was Castaños turn to make a misjudgment. He assumed that most forces were still around Andujar, and meant to make a frontal feint with his other columns to attack the rear. This left Vedel with 11,000 French marching to the scene of the approaching battle. Before battle could be joined, Dupont finally began a retreat toward Baylen and the marching Vedel. He blundered into Reding's Spanish.

As Dupont arrived at the scene he sent in his men as they arrived with the to be expected results for small assaults. Despite this on the 3rd assault, they nearly broke through the Spanish line, but had no reserve to exploit the breakthrough. Dupont retreated down slope and began to sue for terms. At this point Vedel arrived at Reding's rear and began an attack, but halted when he found that Dupont was agreeing to a surrender. His 11,000+ troops joined Dupont's 8,200 in a surrender instead of escaping.

Battle of Medina de Rio Seco, July 14th, 1808 -- French victory

This battle was another example of the Spanish General Cuesta's poor tactical sense. He was in command of a force of 21,000 infantry, 600 calvary and 20 guns. He put the forces under General Blake obliquely to his front and left a gap between them and his forces. They were opposed by 12,200 infantry, 1,200 cavalry and 40 guns under the French General Bessières.

Bessières began a cautious attack on Blake and sent a division under Mouton against Cuesta. He sent his cavalry into the widening gap while pressing a frontal attack and artillery fire on Blake. He soon broke Blake's forces who fled west in disorder across the Sequillo river. He then turned to deal with a retreating Cuesta.

Cuesta failed to retreat. Instead Bessières met an attack. The Spanish were caught in a terrible crossfire and routed, with Cuesta fleeing to Medina. The Spanish together lost over 3,000 and their guns, compared the French los of barely 500 casualties.

Siege of Gerona, July 24th - 1808 -- Spanish victory

General Duhesme returned to Gerona through stiff opposition to meet with French General Reille who had been sent by Napoleon as reinforcements to Catalonia. This time they had siege guns and proceeded to "invest" the fortress rather than storm it. They took their time, and it was August 12th before they even got close enough to properly bombard the walls.

Reille and Duhesme ignored the problems in the rest of the province and this led to their defeat a few days later. Barcelona was blockaded by the somatenes and Spanish General Caldagues arrived at Gerona unhindered to join the somatenes. He attacked the besieging troops, was joined by a sortie from the garrison on the 15th of August. Reille's forces performed well, escaping without serious losses. Overnight on the 16th the French destroyed their stores and siege guns retreating in different directions to their respective bases.

Note: November 3rd 1808

Napoleon reaches Bayonne to take command of the forces in Spain having sent 130,000 troops.

Battle at Gamonal & Burgos, November 10, 1808 -- French victory

Napoleon with his Imperial troops began a counter offensive on the 10th of November 1808 after having spent several weeks behind the Ebro River. Marshal Soult commanding the French II Corp advanced toward Burgos starting at daybreak of the 10th. On arriving at the village of Gamonal, Marshal Soult found Spanish forces under General Belvedere across the road. He moved forward 2 infantry brigades and 5,000 cavalry under cover of the woods there and without waiting for the rest of his Corp engaged, and broke Spanish before they could form squares in defense. Five Spanish battalions were immediately trampled and swept from the field .Generals Lasalle and Mouton attacked the Spanish left and front completing the rout.

The Spanish had 2,500 casualties, dead and wounded, 1,000 captured, lost 12 standards and all of its ordnance, some 30 guns, compared to a few dozen French casualties. The French followed the fugitives to enter and secure Burgos which was almost entirely abandoned by its inhabitants.



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