Battle of Somosierra
November 1808
The charge of "these gallant warriors ...
can hardly be paralleled in the annals of war...
The charge itself, viewed as a simple military operation,
was extravagantly rash ..."
- William F.P. Napier (

Battle of Somosierra.
Picture by W.Kossak. 1. Napoleon's march on Madrid.
- - Spanish troops at Somosierra. >
- - The batteries. >
- - French troops at Somosierra. >
- - Map. >
2. The charge.
- - The French and Spanish infantry exchanged musket fire. >
- - "Poles, take the cannons !" >
- - The first battery. >
- - The second battery. >
- - The third battery. >
- - The fourth battery was captured, lost and recaptured. >
3. On Madrid !
4. Myths and Legends.

"Pire's [French] cavalry advanced and then retreated. 'It's impossible !' - Pire exclaimed. The Emperor cracked his riding-whip. 'Impossible ? I don't know the meaning of the word !' "Poles, take the cannons !" Kozietulski led the Poles with the cry "Forward, you sons of dogs, the Emperor is looking at you !" The artillery and musket fire decimated the leading troop. "Nearly the whole of the squadron was laid low ... I only saw one trumpeter left standing, motionless in the midst of the firing which was still going on. The poor child was weeping for his squadron..." The cannons were silent. Awed Emperor Napoleon saluted the Poles: "I proclaim you my bravest cavalry !"

"Spain ... must be French"
- Napoleon

Napoleon's march on Madrid.
"The emperor, at the head of 45,000 men,
resumed his march to Madrid on 22 November."
Gates - "The Spanish Ulcer"

French troops in Peninsula in 1807.
Picture by M.Orange Why had He invaded Spain ?
There were several reasons; desires to extend the benefits of the French Revolution, dreams of conquests, and hatred of the Bourbons. Napoleon said to Roederer: "Spain ... must be French. ... I have dethroned the Bourbons for no other reason than it was in the interest of France to assure my dynasty. ... I have the rights of conquest: call whoever governs Spain king ... viceroy or governor general, Spain must be French."

In summer 1808 however approx. 18,000 French soldiers marched into captivity in what became known as the capitulation of Baylen. The French under General Dupont were defeated by the Spaniards. It was the greatest defeat the Napaoleonic empire had ever suffered. Napoleon was furious.

The Emperor gathered his corps and entered Spain. Gates writes: "The emperor, at the head of 45,000 men, resumed his march to Madrid on 22 November. Comforted by the success of the maneuvres in the north and east, he pushed on to the Somosierra Pass, which he found defended by some 9,000 troops, hastily gathered together by General San Juan. The Spanish corps was an extemporised formation, consisting of units of the 'Army of the Centre' left by Castanos in the capital, and a hotchpotch of odd battalions, volunteers and levies. Nevertheless, strongly entranched at the head of the pass, they constituted a formidable barrier to the French advance and the task dislodging them was obviously going to be a tedious affair." (Gates - "The Spanish Ulcer' p 104)
Napoleon sent cavalry scouts to collect more information about the enemy. William Napier writes: "The French patrols sent towards the Somosierra ascertained, on the 21st, that above 6,000 men were intrenching themselves in the gorge of the mountains ..." (Napier - "History of the War in the Peninsula 1807-1814" p 278)

Spanish troops at Somosierra.
"... the task dislodging them [Spaniards]
was obviously going to be a tedious affair."
Gates - "The Spanish Ulcer"

Spanish infantry of the Napoleonic Wars.
Picture by Funcken. On picture:
1 - Soldier of the Patria Regiment, 1808
2 - Officer of the Santa Fe Regiment, 1808
3 - The Muerte Regiment, 1808
4 - Soldier of line infantry, 1805
5 - Soldier of the Regiment of Fernando VII, 1808
6 - Soldier of the Victoria Regiment, 1808
7 - Soldier of the Valencia light infantry
(Lilianne et Fred Funcken - "The Napoleonic Wars: The French Garde Imperiale, the Armies of the German Duchies, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Poland" Arms and Uniforms, Part 2)

Napoleon's army marching on Madrid was faced with 21,000 Spanish troops. Of this force 9,000 men were dispatched west to guard the Guadarrama Pass. Approx. 3,000 occupied an advanced post at Sepulvida, and 9,000 men were on the heights of Somosierra. (Sources vary on the strength of the Spanish troops from 6,000 to 15,000).

The quality of Spanish troops varied from poor to good. The militia was generally of poor quality, but some regulars were fine troops. There were numerous examples of bravery of the Spanish regulars. For example on 29 October "The First Regiment of Catalonia ... received the attack with the greatest coolness and kept up a very regular fire by platoons, maintaining their position against an enemy nearly 5 times their number ... The most veteran troops could not possibly have displayed more soldeirlike firmness or more sangfroid in action ..." (- W.Parker Carroll to Castlereagh, Nov 1808)

According to Arteche
According to Lt. Col. Salazar
Guardias Walonas (500) - Wallon Guard
de la Reina (927) - Queen's Own
Irlanda (1.180) - Irish Regiment
Córdoba (1.300)
Corona (1.040)
Badajoz (560)
Jaén (1.300)
Milicia Provincial de Toledo (500)
Milicia Prov. de Alcázar de S.Juan (500)
Voluntarios de Sevilla (400)
1. Voluntarios de Madrid (1.500)
2. Voluntarios de Madrid (1.500)
Guardias Wallonas 3er bat. (500) - Wallon Guard
Reg. Infanteria de la Reina (927) - Queen's Own
Reg. Infanteria de Córdoba (1,300)
Reg. Infanteria de la Corona (1,039)
Reg. Infanteria de Badajoz (566)
Reg. Infanteria de Jaen (350)
Reg. Milicia Provincial de Toledo (500)
Reg. Milica Provincial de Alcazar de S.Juan (500)
Reg. Voluntarios de Sevilla (500)
Voluntarios de Madrid: 1er regimiento (1,500)
Voluntarios de Madrid: 2º regimiento (1,500)

Infanteria de la Reina (3 bat.) - Queen's Own
Infanteria de Córdoba (3 bat.)
Infanteria de la Corona (2 bat.)
Milicia Provincial de Toledo (1 bat.)
Milicia Provincial de Jaen (1 bat.)
Milicia Provincial de Jerez (1 bat.)
Milicia Provincial de Ecija (1 bat.)
Milicia Provincial de Ronda (1 bat.)
600 cavalrymen Reg. Principe (200)
Reg. Voluntarios de Madrid (200)
? cavalry
22 guns and 200 gunners 16 guns and 200 gunners ? artillery

The Spanish troops at Somosierra were led by Don Benito San Juan. Benito de San Juan served as a Lieutenant-Colonel of Hussars of Estremadura during the War of the Oranges. He was promoted to the rank of Colonel. Soon afterwards he was again promoted, this time to the rank of Brigadier. In 1805 promoted to the rank of mariscal (in fact a general's grade), he became the General Inspector of Infantry and Cavalry. During the Peninsular War Benito de San Juan assumed the command over the major part of the Spanish forces defending Madrid. Knowing the weakness of his corps, much inferior to the French army, he prepared a plan of indirect defence of the Spanish capital by defending the Somosierra pass on the road leading towards it.

Six guns were placed on the road,
forming three batteries of 2 guns each.
In reserve, on the summit stood 10 guns.

Map of Somosierra Pass The Spaniards prepared their positions well. At Cereze de Abajo was their advance post: 200 mounted Madrid volunteers and few hundreds of militia.
Six guns were placed on the road, forming three batteries of two guns each. The first battery of 2 4pdr guns stood behind a stone bridge. The gunners were protected from infantry fire by a small earthwork. In front of the bridge and across the road was a ditch. It was an obstacle for cavalry and artillery.
Approx. 700 m behind the first battery stood the second battery. Approx. 1,000 militia took positions on both sides of the highway. In reserve, on the summit stood 2,000 militia and 10 guns. The line infantry however was deployed mainly on the road between Somosierra and Madrid.

Adolph Thiers in L'Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire, de Segur in Victoires et Conquetes and William Napier in History of the War in the Peninsula claimed that all guns were placed in one battery.

Other authors, for example Marian Kujawski, gives 16 guns in four batteries 4 guns each.

The French troops at Somosierra.
Lasalle pushed forward the French cavalry
but the Spanish advance guard threw them back.

Guard Lighthorseman. 
Picture by Rousellot, France. Napoleon advanced on Madrid with 45,000 men. Napoleon left Burgos with Marshal Victor's I Army Corps and part of the Imperial Guard under Marshal Bessieres. Lasalle reported that the enemy at Somosierra is 25,000-men strong. Lasalle pushed forward the French cavalry but the Spanish advance guard threw them back.

The Emperor thought that two infantry divisions should be enough to capture the pass and defeat the enemy. On November 29th one squadron of Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval attacked the Spanish advance guard at Cereze de Abajo. The guardsmen however were unable to move further.

Seeing the cavalry alone unable to make progress, the Emperor sent in the advance guard under GdB Lebrun. It consisted of the following troops:
- Guard Lighthorse Regiment (Poles)
- 6 companies of French voltigeurs drawn from various infantry regiments
These forces captured Spanish prisoners and learned about enemy's strength and positions. The next day, at 5 am in the morning, Napoleon with his escort and Marshal Victor moved toward Somosierra. The Emperor attentively examined the scene although thick fog blanketed the mountains.

At 7 am arrived three regiments of French infantry;
- 9th Light "The Incomparable"
- 24th Line
- 96th Line
- 6 guns of Guard Artillery moved forward to support the infantry.

Taking prisoner at Somosierra.
Picture by J.Kossak Napoleon ordered one platoon of Poles to capture a prisoner (see picture). The Poles did do, brought one and he was soon interrogated.

It was getting dark. A Pole standing by the fire lit his pipe in the Emperor's presence. 'You might at least thank His Majesty for the priviledge' his officer scolded. "I'll thank him up there" replied the trooper pointing to the Somosierra Pass.


Map of battle of Somosierra 1808

Map of battle of Somosierra 1808

Map of the battle of Somosierra on a Spanish website >>


"... talk of the charge of Somosierra evoked the same reactions in Warsaw
as mention of the charge of the [British] Light Brigade in London.
The flower of the nation's youth was thought to have perished
in a distant land for the sake of a courageous gesture.
In fact, the exemplary sacrifice of those few men ensured
the passage of a whole army." Gates - "God's Playground. ..." 1982, p 301

The Battle.
"Forward, you sons of dogs,
the Emperor is looking at you !"
- Officer Kozietulski

French at Somosierra Picture: Somosierra by W.Kossak.
(On the left, heavy columns of French infantry. In the center small troop of French infantry led by a mounted officer waving his hat. In the right upper corner, French infantry led by an officer on foot, advancing up the slope. In the center of the picture is a small white bridge. To the left of the bridge Napoleon on white horse followed by staff officers. To the right of the bridge, dark mass of cavalry: Guard Lighthorse and behind them Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval.)

Arriving at Somosierra Napoleon sent half squadron of Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval along the highway. These dashing and swaggering men were Napoleon's escort and for this reason they became the most known troop in the entire French army. Napoleon wore uniform of colonel of this regiment. The Chasseurs were fired upon by 2 guns of the first Spanish battery and quickly withdrew. The Spanish cannonballs began reaching Napoleon and his staff.

The French and Spanish infantry exchanged musket fire.
"The French [infantry] ... commenced a warm skirmishing fire,
which was as warmly returned ..." - William Napier

French infantry in skirmish 
order at Somosierra.
Picture by W.Kossak. At 8 am the Emperor ordered Marshal Victor's three infantry regiments to attack. Lachoque mentions 9 am as the beginning of the battle.
The first moved 96th Line Regiment covered with chain of skirmishers. The men could not see 50 paces ahead.

The Spanish militia and artillery poured a hail of missiles into the French and arrested their advance. The 9th Light, nicknamed "The Incomparable" for their bravery, and the 24th Line, covered with skirmishers moved against the flanks of the enemy. The Spaniards have opened musket fire. The French were forced to strengthen their skirmish line with fresh companies but were unable to make a breakthrough. "The French wings, spreading over the mountain side, commenced a warm skirmishing fire, which was as warmly returned, while the frowning battery at the top of the causeway was held in readiness to crush the central column, when it should come within range." (Napier - "History of the War in the Peninsula 1807-1814" p 27p)

A dense fog, mingled with the smoke, settled down upon the defile. Between 11 am and noon the sun pierced through the fog.

"Poles, take the cannons !"
- Napoleon

It was not clear if Napoleon wanted the Poles
to take only the first battery or all batteries.

Charge at Somosierra.
Picture by Jerry Kossak. Lachoque writes: "Pire's cavalry advanced and then retreated. 'It's impossible !' - Pire exclaimed. The Emperor cracked his riding-whip. 'Impossible ? I don't know the meaning of the word !' he raped." (Lachoque - "The Anatomy of Glory" p 135)

Annoyed with lack of progress Napoleon rode toward the Poles and ordered them to charge. He knew the shock of a massed charge by sword-wielding horsemen is a powerful psychological weapon. But it was not clear if he ordered the cavalry to take only the first battery or all batteries. The first battery caused a lot of problems for the French infantry while the other batteries were far away and invisible in the fog.
According to Kozietulski who commanded one squadron of the lighthorsemen, when they passed by, Napoleon shouted: "Poles, take the cannons !" (Polonais, prenez moi cez canons !")

On 30th Nov the III Squadron (3rd & 7th Company) of Guard Lighthorse consisted of 216 of all ranks, including 5 trumpeters (3 Frenchmen and 2 Poles). They were all rookies, it was their first battle. The commander of the squadron was not present, instead they were under the temporary command of Kozietulski, commander of the II Squadron.
Jan Kozietulski.
The Hero of Somosierra. Jan-Leon-Hipolit Kozietulski (1781-1821) was a Polish noble. In 1812 at Horodnia, Kozietulski saved the life of Napoleon himself by charging between the Emperor and the assaulting Cossacks. His uniform, pierced with a Cossack lance and stained with blood, is preserved to this day in museum in Warsaw. In 1814 he was made the commander of the French 3e Régiment des Eclaireurs de la Garde Impériale. In Poland Kozietulski is known as "The Hero of Somosierra."

The first battery and the ditch.
The canister shattered the head of the squadron
while cannonballs ploughed through the narrow column.

The charge was done in a column of 4s. They started down the road in a column, four men abreast, officers and file closers at intervals. They were almost 1 km away from the enemy and the fog screened their advance. De Segur writes: "I was hoping that in their astonishment at our audacity the enemy would aim badly; that we should have time to dash into the midst of their guns and bayonets and throw them into disorder. But they aimed only too well !"

As the first bullets ripped through the air (fired by Spanish skirmishers) the Poles began to drop. Next they received the first artillery salvo at 300-400 m. The canister shattered the head of the squadron, and the disordered troop halted. They were forced to trample over the fallen bodies of their comrades. Some struggled with wounded and panicking horses.

It took 1-2 min for the officers to put order in the ranks and continue the charge. Despite the fog it was close enough for the gunners to see the formation of the cavalry. They immediately loaded their cannons with solid cannonballs. These projectiles ploughed through the long column. The wounded horses and men fell down, and the whole squadron became one mangled, disordered and hideous mass of death. Officer Rudowski was hit by a musketball and killed on the spot. Those in the tail of the column dismounted.

Officer Kozietulski was in front and urged his young cavalrymen to move forward. The Spaniards were loading their pieces again when the Poles moved over and around an earthwork and attacked them. After hand-to-hand fight the the first battery was taken. Some of the gunners and supporting them troops were sabered down. No quarters were given.

The second battery and the bridge.
Riderless horses, as the men dropped,
still kept their places in the column.

Fog and powder smoke covered the highway. Kozietulski's squadron moved up against the second battery, positioned few hundreds meters away. The III Squadron was no longer a well aligned unit, and the distinction between platoons was gone. In this point Kozietulski's squadron was joined by one platoon led by officer Niegolewski.

The Spaniards poured in a discharge of musketry and the second battery joined in. The discharge wrought fearful havoc. Men and horses were dropping singly or by twos. Riderless horses, as the men dropped, still kept their places in the column. Officer Krzyzanowski was killed, Kozietulski's horse was hit by musketball and fell down.
Dismounted Kozietulski was badly bruised and Captain Dziewanowski took the commandand, they kept going. Despite the losses there was neither pause nor hesitation and the cannons of the second battery spoke no more.

The third battery.
Eventually what was left of the Poles
went with such a right good cheer,
bang through the stubborn enemy
which they cut right and left like sheep.

The guardsmen moved up the road and against the third battery. The cannons roared - officer Rowicki's head was taken off by cannonball, Captain Dziewanowski had shattered leg and broken arm, his body was bruised and bleeding. Terrified riderless horses thundered out of the smoke.

Eventually what was left of the Poles went with such a right good cheer, bang through the gunners which they cut right and left like sheep. They hacked at the enemy who hunched their heads between their shoulders. There was not much resistance from the Spanish militia but the regulars, and especially the gunners were formidable foes.

The fourth battery was captured, lost and recaptured.
The Spanish gunners defended their pieces
to the very last before being cut down.

Battle of Somosierra.
Picture by Louis Lejeune, France. Only 30-40 Poles on exhausted horses moved against the fourth 10-cannon battery deployed on the very summit. The Spaniards opened fire and officer Krasinski was one of the first being hit. Wounded stumbled back through the muddle of bleeding horses and their dead and dying friends.

Niegolewski's platoon took the lead and rushed forward. The Spanish gunners defended their pieces to the very last before being cut down. The Poles captured the battery but only few were still mounted. Niegolewski looked around and asked Sergeant Sokolowski "Sokolowski ! Where are our boys ?" - "All are killed" the sergeant replied.

Niegolewski's group drove back one group of Spanish infantrymen and militia although other groups continued firing and Niegolewski's horse was hit. He fell down and was bayoneted. Despite 9 bayonet wounds and one saber cut he was still alive. The enemy thought he was dead and went through his pockets in search of money.
Behind Niegolewski the struggle continued unabated and the brave Spaniards retook the fourth battery. The Poles were forced to withdraw toward the third battery. The Spanish success however was shortlived.

When Napoleon noticed that the Poles were not halted by the first battery he sent in his personal escort to support them. These fresh troops were: platoon of Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval and platoon of Guard Lighthorse (of I Squadron)
They hastily moved forward and passed by the three captured batteries. Two fresh platoons caught up at the third battery with the handful of Poles under Niegolewski. Together the assaulting troops had 150-200 men and readied for assault. The overall cammand fell to Tomasz Lubienski.

The cannons were silent but the Spanish infantry was everywhere and getting stronger. The Poles and Frenchmen charged and dispersed the enemy. The fourth battery was recaptured.

After 10-15 minutes arrived on the summit voltigeurs of the 96th Line Regiment. The short of breath Frenchmen did find Niegolewski and brought him near captured cannons where French doctors took care of his wounds.
Everywhere the dying and the dead, the Poles, Spaniards and the Frenchmen were mixed indiscriminately. The smoke-begrimed, powder-blackened, exhausted soldiers shared their scant supply of water with the wounded and suffering. The Poles suffered heavy casualties, for example according to Pierre Dautancourt 57 were killed and wounded, according to others up to 100. Many of the wounded were later taken into hospital in Madrid.

The commander of the Imperial Guard, Marshal Bessieres, followed the advancing troops and soon was at the top of the pass. With Bessieres arrived more Poles and several companies of French voltigeurs. They were sent along the highway in pursuit of the retreating enemy. French voltigeurs combed the rocky area on both sides of the road. Then came battalions of the French line infantry.

Awed Emperor saluted the Poles 
after their charge. 
Picture by Kossak. Awed Emperor Napoleon saluted the Poles: "I proclaim you my bravest cavalry !"

The Foot Grenadiers of Imperial Guard (senior regiment of Napoleon's infantry) drained a bumper in the honor of the Poles.

British author William Napier writes: "This surprising exploit ... can hardly be paralleled in the annals of war... The charge itself, viewed as a simple military operation, was extravagantly rash ...The Somosierra being forced, the imperial army came down from the mountains ..." (Napier - "History of the War in the Peninsula 1807-1814" pp 279-280)


"The Somosierra being forced,
the imperial army came down from the mountains ..."
- Napier

On Madrid !
French patrols reached the outskirts
of Madrid on December 1.

Napoleon in Spain.  
Picture by Hippolyte Lecomte San Juan moved his corps back to Madrid. French patrols reached the outskirts of Madrid on December 1. San Juan made an attempt to defend the capital, but French artillery barrage brought the Spanish defence to grief. Madrid surrendered before Napoleon.

Albert-Jean-Michel de Rocca writes: "On the 2nd December, in the morning, the Emperor Napoleon proceded the main body of his army, and arrived, with the cavalry only, on the heights, close to the capital of Spain. Instead of the order one commonly perceives on approaching fortified towns, where all the circumstances of war are foreseen, instead of that silence, which is only interrupted by the deep and lengthened call of 'Sentry, take heed !' by which the sentinels, placed around a rampart, make sure of each other's vigilance, were heard the bells of the 600 churches of Madrid, ringing in continued peals, and, from time to time, the sharp cries of the mob, and the quick roll of the drum.
The inhabitants of Madrid had only thought of their defence 8 days before the arrival of the French armies, and all their preparations were marked by precipitation and inexperience. They had placed artillery behind sandbags and barricades, or raised entrenchements, in haste, with bales of wool or cotton. The houses, at the entrance of the princpal streets, were filled with armed men, placed behind mattresses, at the windows.
One of Marshal Bessieres' ADCs was sent, according to the custom, in the morning, to summon Madrid. He narrowly escaped being torn to pieces by the inhabitants, when he proposed their submitting to the French, he owed his life to the protection of the Spanish troops of the line.
The Emperor employed the evening in reconnoitring the environs of the city, and in fixing his plan of attack.
The first columns of infantry having arrived, at 7 PM, a brigade of the 1st Division, supported by 4 pieces of artillery, marched against the suburbs, and the sharpshooters of the 16th Regiment seized the great burying ground, after having dislodged the Spaniards from some advance houses. The night was employed in placing the artillery, in making every preparation for an assault on the following day. ... and on the 3rd, at 9 AM the cannonade began. Thirty cannons under the command of General Senarmont, battered the walls of the Retiro, while 20 pieces of the Imperial Guard, and some light troops, made a false attack in another quarter, to distract the attention of the enemy, and to oblige him to divide his forces. ...
At 11 AM, our soldiers already occupied the important posts of the observatory, the china manufactory, the great barracks, and the Palace of Medina Coeli. Masters of all the Retiro, the French might have burned Madrid in a few hours. The cannonadew then ceased to be heard, the progress of the troops was stopped in every direction, and a third envoy was sent into the place. It was of consequence to the Emperor to conciliate the capital of the kingdom he destined for his brother. ... At 5 PM General Morla ... and Don B. Yriarte ... came back with the French envoy. They were conducted to the Prince of Neufchatel's tent. They demanded a suspension of arms during the 4th that they might have time to persuade the people to give themselves up. The Emperor reproached them with the greatest appearance of anger, for not executing the treaty of Baylen, and for the massacre of the French prisoners in Andalusia. ....
Meantime the inhabitants refused to lay down their arms, and they continued to fire upon the French ... the inhabitants, without any discipline, ran up and down the streets tumultuously, vociferating for orders, and accusing their leaders of treason. General Castellar and the other military men of rank left Madrid during the night, with the regular troops, and 16 pieces of cannon. On the 4th December ... General Morla and Don de Vera came back to the Prince of Neufchatel's tent and at 10 AM the French troops took possesion of Madrid." (de Rocca, - pp 45-48)


Adolphe Thiers was gifted and interesting statesman and historian.
Although his research was undoubtedly wide-ranging,
its results are by no means always accurate.

Myths and Legends.
Participants of the charge effectively
countered Adolph Thiers' and de Segur's
partially fictional accounts.

Trumpeters of Guard Lighthorse 
in Paris. Picture by Rousselot, France. There were several authors who described the battle of Somosierra, one of them was Philippe de Segur. His "Histoire et Memoires" appeared in 1873 in unchanged form after death of its author. Segur's memoirs were issued so late because earlier were met with strong opposition from the participants of the charge: Andrzej Niegolewski, Jozef Zaluski, Wincenty Szeptycki, Wiktor Lubanski, Walenty Zwierkowski, Wincenty Toedwen, Tomasz Lubienski and others.

The participants also protested against Louis Adolphe Thiers’ description of the Somosierra charge in his famous "Histoire du Consulat et de l’Empire".

Officer Niegelewski, participant of the charge, left a valuable memoires Les Polonais a Somosierra en Espagne en 1808. He effectively countered Adolph Thiers' and de Segur's accounts. Thiers agreed with Niegolewski and promised to make the necessary corrections but actually never did it.

Niegolewski wrote not only in Polish but also in French, so his account became known for French and other historians. There is also a very accurate description of the charge left by Pierre Dautancourt. So this is very surprising that there are still authors taking the easy way and using Thiers' and de Segur's fictional (and quite entertaining) accounts of the battle. For example George Blonde La Grande Armee published in Paris in 1979 see p 224, and even Sir Oman.

Myth: the Poles were armed with lances.
Fact: they received lances in the next year.

Myth: the were only 80-125 cavalrymen attacking the batteries.
Chandler gives only 88 Poles. He writes: "Despite the greatest gallantry, 60 of the 88 horsemen who attempted this task were killed and wounded by the Spanish cannons." (Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars" p 415, publ. 1993)
"... irritated by the delay, [Napoleon] turned to his escort squadron - 87 Polish horsemen - and ordered them to take the position for him with a frontal attack. ... Napoleon immediately sent forward Montbrun with 1,000 more cavalry." (Gates - "The Spaish Ulcer" 104)
Fact: there were more than 200 men in the III Squadron. Additionally there were I Squadron and platoon of French Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval. The total strength was approx. 450 cavalrymen, not incl. the French voltigeurs.

Myth: it was the I Squadron, and not the III, that captured the Spanish batteries.
Fact: it was the III Squadron, that captured the first, second, third and the fourth battery. Then they were forced to withdraw from the last battery. The I Squadron and platoon of French Guard Chasseurs-a-Cheval then arrived and helped the III Squadron to recapture the fourth battery. The I Squadron and the Guard chasseurs pursued the fleeing Spanish troops.

Myth: "Seeing Niegolewski laying besides the captured cannons, the Emperor pinned his own Legion of Honor on him."
From (Robert Burnham, 2005): "The Emperor was soon at the top of the pass. Seeing Lieutenant Niegolewski laying besides the guns he tried so valiantly to capture, the Emperor pinned his own Legion of Honor on him."
Fact: none of the Poles was awarded with Legion of Honor on the battlefield. Several days later NCO Jakub Dabczewski was awarded for being the first who reached the enemy's cannons. Niegolewski was awarded almost three months after the battle, on March 10th 1809.

Myth: the charge was led by Colonel Krasinski, commander of the Regiment.
(According to Krasinski himself and to William Napier.)

William Napier wrote: "General Krasinski as suddenly rallied them, and covered by the smoke and the morning vapor led them sword in hand up to the mountain. As these gallant horsemen passed, the Spanish infantry on each side fired ..." (- Napier p 27p)
Fact: Krasinski was sick and the entire regiment was commanded by a Frenchman, Pierre Dautancourt, a senior officer in this regiment and second in command. In the moment when the III Squadron began charging, Dautancourt was in the rear with the I, II and IV Squadron.

Myth: the charge was led by de Segur
(according to de Segur himself).

Fact: de Segur was wounded during a reconnesaince and taken to the rear. While surgeon Ivan was taking care of his wound de Segur was wounded again. This was confirmed by several witnesess. For example in Sep 1818 Pierre Dautancourt wrote that de Segur was wounded twice before the battle and didn't participate in the charge. According to Dautancourt the charging squadron was led by Kozietulski.
However the the author of Victoires et Conquetes (where de Segur was one of the editors) pressed Dautancourt to change this part of his story. When in 1821 the description of the charge in Victoires et Conquetes was published in Polish 'Wanda' many officers of Guard Lighthorse incl. Pierre Dautancourt, Niegolewski, Lubienski, and Szeptycki, all participants of the charge, responded and gave their own descriptions.
All of them wrote that de Segur didn't take part in the charge, he was wounded in earlier reconnesaince and stayed in the rear. They also wrote that although de Segur's description of the charge is entertaing it is not correct.

Myth: the charge was led by General Montbrun
(according to Napoleon's Bulletin, Thiers and Barbot).

Gates writes: " ... Napoleon immediately sent forward Montbrun with 1,000 more cavalry." (Gates - "The Spaish Ulcer" 104)
According to Pierre Dautancourt the brave Montbrun was with Napoleon and his staff. Then Montbrun was sent with order to the Poles to attack the pass but didn't lead the charge. When Montbrun learned about the claims in Bulletin he had a good laugh.

Myth: the charge was led by officer Lubienski
(according to Lubienski himself).

In the very end of the charge Lubienski brought the I Squadron to recapture of the last fourth battery. Lubienski's squadron then pursued the enemy.
So if not de Segur, not Krasinski, not Montbrun, and not Lubienski then who led the attack ? The attackers were led by officers in the rank of captain and lieutenant not by colonels and generals.
These officers, one after another came down wounded. There was not a single commander who led them from the beginning to the end of charge. The III Squadron was led by Captain Kozietulski when they took the first battery. Kozietulski lost horse and was replaced by Captain Dziewanowski. Dziewanowski took the second battery but was seriously wounded in front of the third battery. Dziewanowski was replaced by Captain Piotr Krasinski. Krasinski captured the third battery and was wounded. Then officer Lubienski brought up the I Squadron.

Sources and Links.

Bielecki - "Somosierra 1808"
Gates - "The Spanish Ulcer"
Bielecki - "Szwolezerowie Gwardii"
Napier - "History of The War In The Peninsula 1807-1814"
Kukiel - "Dzieje Oreza Polskiego w Epoce Napoleonskiej, 1795-1815"
de Rocca - "In The Peninsula With A French Hussar"

Napoleonic Wars (maps)
Bitwa pod Somosierra
Schlacht bei Somosierra
La bataille de Somosierra
Baron Jan Leon Hipolit Kozietulski
Los Voluntarios de Madrid 1808-1814. (Somosierra photo gallery).
Travel to Somosierra

French Infantry ~ Guard Lighthorse

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Napoleon, His Army and Enemies