The Spanish Ulcer
"...and war to the knife was declared upon the French.”
-Christopher Summerville
"Some of the Spanish chiefs wore French uniforms stripped from corpses
and even decorated their horses' manes with the Legion of Honor."
Lachoque - "The Anatomy of Glory" p 189

The Third of May 1808: 
The Execution of the 
Defenders of Madrid,
by Francisco Goya. 1. Introduction.
- - - Secret convention between Russia and France. >
- - - The invasion of Portugal "was an armed parade, not a war." >
- - - "Spain ... must be French." >
2. The French army.
- - - Quality of French soldiers in Spain. >
- - - Napoleon seemed to ignore the food question. >
3. The Spanish army.
- - - Positive opinions about the Spanish army. >
- - - Negative opinions about the Spanish army. >
4. Madrid: blood on the streets.
5. French occupation: rape, pillage, and drunkenness.
6. Spanish vs French: battles, sieges and combats.
7. Baylen, 1808: Spanish victory.
8. "The lion in the fable tormented to death by a gnat". The Guerilla War.
9. The British in Peninsula. Viva os Ingleses valerosos !"
- - - Royal Navy. >
- - - Moore's failed campaign. >
- - - Wellington's long and succesful campaign. >
10.The Spanish Ulcer.

"It was neither armies nor fortresses that were to be conquered in Spain,
but that one, yet multiplied sentiment which filled the whole people.
It was the inmost soul of each and every one that resisted the blow -
which neither ball nor bayonet could reach."
- de Rocca, officer of the French hussars

Introduction: The War in Spain and Portugal.
Books which cover the Peninsular War have been disappointing.
Many are accompanied by an irritangly jingoistic - or blatantly unimpartial - style,
a common failing is to concentrate almost exclusively on the campaigns of Wellington
and his immediate opponents. The conflict waged against the French by other British
generals and the Spanish army, although crucially important,
is dismissed in a few brief comments.

The Spanish War of Independence (called Peninsular War in English speaking world) pitted Spain, Great Britain, and Portugal against Napoleonic France. The war began when French troops occupied Portugal in 1807 and Spain in 1808. It was the first large-scale guerilla war, from which the English language borrowed the word. It was a war of contrasts; a war fought in the icy passes of the high Pyrenees and on the burning wastes of the Sierra Morena. It was a war of infinite cruelty.

According to David Gates, books which cover the Peninsular War have been disappointing. Many are accompanied by an irritangly jingoistic - or blatantly unimpartial - style, a common failing is to concentrate almost exclusively on the campaigns of Wellington and his immediate opponents. The conflict waged against the French by other British generals and the Spanish army, although crucially important, is dismissed in a few brief comments. This betrays a failure to grasp the very core of the military and political problems confronting the French.
It can - and often does - even call into question the title of the book: a work which only tells selected parts of the story cannot accurately be described as a history of the war, particularly when ommissions frequently include the bulk of the 5 years of major campaigns that occurred in the Peninsula's southern and eastern reaches.
Just because relatively few British troops were involved in them, they are not to be dismissed as insignificant.

How the French authors present the war in Spain. UNDER CONSTRUCTION ....

Secret convention between Russia and France.
The alliance between Russia and France
rendered the rest of Europe almost powerless.

Napoleon and Tsar Alexander at Tilsit
determine the future of Europe. The treaty of Tilsit in 1807 ended war between Russia and France and began an alliance between the two empires which rendered the rest of Europe almost powerless.

The Peninsular affair began in 1807, through a secret convention signed by Prince Kurakin and Talleyrand. It contained, among other things, the following stipulations:
Art. I. Russia is to take possession of European Turkey, and to extend her possessions in Asia.
Art. II. The Bourbon dynasty in Spain and the house of Braganza in Portugal will cease to reign. Princes of the Bonaparte family will succeed to both of these crowns.

The Emperor believed there, in Peninsula, to be sound strategic and economic reasons for intervening. Portugal was not involved in the embargo of British goods and Spain was only a half-hearted participant.

The invasion of Portugal "was an armed parade, not a war."
"Godoy and Napoleon advocated immediate partition of Portugal."
- David Gates

The conflict between France and Portugal was precipitated when Portugal refused to comply with Napoleon's Continental System. By a secret convention reached at Fontainebleau (1807) Spain agreed to support France against Portugal. In summer 1807, France and Spain pressurised Portugal to align with France against Britain. Portugal, an old friend of Britain, was reluctant, and was also mindful that any conflict with the old friend could lead to Britain seizing her South American colonies. (The Portuguese empire was the earliest and longest lived of the colonial Western European empires. In the 18th century, Portuguese colonial ambitions centred in Brazil and a few bases in Africa and Asia)
"The French force destined to invade Portugal, was already assembled in Bayonne ... It was commanded by General Junot, a young man of a bold, ambitious disposition, but of greater reputation for military talent than he was able to support; and his soldiers, principally conscripts, were ill-fitted to endure the hardships which awaited them." (Napier - “History of the War in Peninsula 1807-1814” p 25)

French infantry enters Portugal in 1807 by M. Orange Junot thrusted down the Tagus Valley to Lisbon. The French troops found the terrain barren and inhospitable. According to Portugal is split in two by its main river, the Tagus (Tejo). Northern landscape is mountainous in the interior areas with plateaus. The South area between the Tagus and the Algarve features mostly rolling plains with a climate somewhat warmer and drier than the cooler and rainier north. Portugal is one of the warmest European countries. In mainland Portugal, yearly temperature averages are about 15º C (55° F) in the north and 18ºC (64°F) in the south.

Jean-Baptiste Lemonnier-Delafosse, an officer of light infantry in the division of General Heudelet described his entry to Portugal: "The French army entered Portugal with 6 days' worth of supplies in each soldier's haversack, and on top of that w few wagons. It was, therefore, without any proper magazines, and soon it found itself without food of any sort. Nevertheless, it was necessary to live. Once the initial resources had run out ... a regular system of marauding was organized ... Woe be to the peasant who was caught by such an expedition ! ... When the troops were operating in places they did not know, guides were needed. If no-one came forward at their call, someone would be seized at random."

Fortunately for Junot's troops, however, the Portuguese offered no resistance and on Nov 30, with only 1,500 men about him, Junot entered Lisbon - having covered 300 miles in only 14 days ! Lisbon contained 250,000 inhabitants and was a large city despite the fact that in 1755 earthquake and tsunami killed more than a third of capital's population.

When the French troops marched on Lisbon, the royal family of Bragança fled to Brasil without resisting. They were escorted by British squadron. Godoy and Napoleon advocated immediate partition of Portugal. The civil authorities in Lisbon collaborated with the French, but the Portuguese people took matters into their own hands. Already in December a serious riot erupted in Lisbon. Gates writes: "Ordering the dissolution of the tiny Portuguese army, he [Junot] then begun a programme of exactions which the infuriated population, lacking weapons and leaders, were powerless to resist. A sinister calm fell over Portugal and Napoleon began preparing his next move." (Gates - "The Spanish ulcer" pp 8-9)
One observer noted that "The invasion was an armed parade, not a war."

Captain of Portuguese Cacadores in 1811, 
by Carlos Ribeiro On picture: captain of Portuguese Cacadores in 1811, by Carlos Ribeiro.
The Portuguese infantry were brave, steady and respected by English and French alike. Polish officer Chlapowski of Napoleon's Guard cavalry described the Portuguese soldiers as "small, gaunt, but very tough breed." They were the most efficient in mountain warfare. One French officer remarked that the Portuguese bragged less than English and Frenchmen and so got less credit for their service.
The Portuguese cavalry however was not as good as the infantry. Napier writes that the abuses and desertions in the Portuguese cavalry "had been so great that one division was suppressed."

"Spain ... must be French" - Napoleon
The ease with which Junot's troops had seized Portugal
lulled the Emperor into a false sense of conquest.

Carlos IV, King of Spain The ease with which Junot's troops had seized Portugal lulled the Emperor into a false sense of conquest. He was excessively optimistic in calculating some of the benefits he hoped to gain from Spain. Doubtlessly fascinated by Spain's history of splendour, Napoleon was convinced that the country was excessively wealthy when, in fact, she was virtually bankrupt. According to Summerville “In 1807 Spain was one of the most backward nations of Europe …”

French troops were gathering along the French-Spanish border. Officer Chlapowski of Napoleon's Guard Lighthorse writes: "I spent 3 days in Bayonne, just at the time when the old Spanish king, Charles IV, his queen, and the Prince of Peace [Godoy] were leaving for Valencay, where the Emperor was to imprison them. ... The Emperor also invited Ferdinand to Bayonne, but refused to recognize him as king and packed him off to Valencay as well. ... The Emperor and Empress lived in the palace of Marac a quarter of a mile from the city on the road to Pamplona. ... A battalion of Old Guard Grenadiers were camped in tents by the chateau, so close that only a carriage could pass between them and the wall.
Right beside them were 200 Basques from the Pyrenees, who had formed a guard of honor for the Emperor. Their costume was a short blue jacket, short black breeches ... They were fine looking, lively people, and reputedly good shots. Five hundred paces further on along the Pamplona road was a squadron of our Polish Guard Lighthorse under Cpt. Dziewanowski. ...
There can be no frontier in Europe which so starkly divides two such markedly different countries. ... On one side of the Bidassoa the people are short, cheerful and lively, and on the other side [Spanish] tall, serious and dreary. On the French side, little houses ... are scattered here and there, over more or less flat countryside, while on the far side stands the town of Irun, hewn from the local stone, with high mountains behind it into which the road climbs immediately on leaving the town, twisting and turning upwards from peak to peak until it reaches Vittoria ... There wass a post rider, a Spaniard in his great cape, galloping along in front of me. His horse's bridle was covered with bells, so at night, although I could not see him, I could always hear him. Spanish post horses are marvellous mounts ... " (Chlapowski/Simmons - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" pp 33, 35)

The French began a series of maneuvers to secure Spain for France. On the pretext that they were reinforcements for Junot, large numbers of French troops entered Spain and seized Pamplona and Barcelona. It allowed fresh troops to pour across the Pyrenees with complete impunity. Godoy responded by recalling the Spanish troops aiding Junot and advising the Royal family to leave Madrid for the Americas. The Spanish people, however, blamed him for the situation and the announcement of the Royal family's departure provoked a major riot. Order was restored when Prince Ferdinand proclaimed that the unpopular minister had been dismissed and taken into protective custody. This, however, was interpreted as further defence of Godoy by the king and fresh riots errupted. Charles agreed to abdicate in favour of Ferdinand.

On 23rd March 1808 the French entered Madrid and refused to recognize Ferdinand as the rightful monarch. French officer de Marbot wrote: "On the 23rd Murat entered Madrid at the head of Marshal Moncey's corps. The new king had called upon the people to give a good reception to his friend Napoleon's troops. He was punctually obeyed; we saw nothing but friendly faces among the vast and curious crowd."


"But it was easy to perceive how astonished they were
[the Spaniards] at the sight of our young infantry soldiers.
The moral effect was wholly to our disadvantage,
and as I compared the broad chests and powerful limbs
of the Spaniards who surrounded us with those
of our weak and weedy privates,
my national pride was humbled."
- French officer, Baron de Marbot

The French Army in the Peninsula.
"It is certainly astonishing that the enemy [French]
have been able to remain in this country so long;
and it is extraordinary instance of what a French army can do."
- Wellington

French infantry pursuing 
Wellington's army in 1812. 
Picture by Motte. On picture: "the French arrived [at Tordesillas], sixty ... headed by Captain Guingret, a daring man, formed a small raft to hold their arms and clothes, and plunged into the watre, holding their swords with their teeth, swimming and pushing their raft before them. Under protection of a cannonande they crossed this great river, though it was in full and strong water, and the weather very cold, and having reached the other side, naked as they were, stormed the tower: the Brunswick regiment then abandoned the wood, and the gallant Frenchmen remained masters of the bridge." (Napier - "History of the War in the Peninsula 1807-1814" Vol IV, p 138)

Central Europe was the primary theater of war (with few short breaks for Italy and Spain) and this is not surprising that the largest armies, and the best troops led by the best commanders fought there most of the time. Napoleon spent few years in Italy and only few months in Spain.

  • In Spain the French army campaigned for 11 years (1793-1795, 1807-1814).
  • In Italy they campaigned for 14 years (1792-1801, 1805, 1809, 1813-1814).
  • In central Europe the French campaigned for 18 years (1792-1801, 1805, 1806, 1807, 1809, 1812, 1813, 1814, 1815).

    The first French 'Army of Spain' had 160,000-170,000 men, organized in five army corps, each with own staff, artillery, cavalry and engineers.
    Corps - General de Division Junot [25,000 men in 22 battalions and 7 squadrons]
    Corps - General de Division Dupont [24,000 men in 21 battalions and 15 squadrons]
    Corps - Marshal Moncey [29,000 men in 47 battalions and 12 squadrons]
    Corps - Marshal Bessieres [19,000 men in 27 battalions and 9 squadrons]
    Corps - General de Division Duhesme [12,500 men in 14 battalions and 9 squadrons]
    Imperial Guard - General de Division Dorsenne [3,000 infantry and 1,700 cavalry, ???? artillery and engineers]
    Troops joining army in summer 1808 [48,000 men]

    In the following years the army was steadily growing in numbers. In July 1811 there were 355,000 French soldiers [290,000 effectives] in Peninsula.

    Quality of French soldiers in Spain.
    Bloodbaths like Eylau, wiped out much of the cream of the French army
    and by the time the Peninsular War was in full swing
    many of the troops that had won Austerlitz and Jena
    were dead.

    French drummer According to David Gates there was a tremendous variety in the quality of soldiers that Napoleon committed to the Peninsula at various stages of the war. The first French army to march into Spain in 1808, for example, was predominantly composed of inexperienced conscripts.
    Baron de Marbot writes: "But it was easy to perceive how astonished they were at the sight of our young infantry soldiers. The moral effect was wholly to our disadvantage, and as I compared the broad chests and powerful limbs of the Spaniards who surrounded us with those of our weak and weedy privates, my national pride was humbled. Though I did not foresee the disasters which would arise from the poor opinion of our troops on the part of the Spaniards, I was sorry that the Emperor had not sent into the Peninsula some veteran regiments from the Army of Germany."
    Bessiers' corps contained just 2,000 reasonably seasoned soldiers, whilst the cavalry was particularly weak, out of 12 troopers, a mere 1,250 had had any real previous experience. Junot's "Army of Portugal" was little better either, only half approached veteran status. Bloodbaths like Eylau, wiped out much of the cream of the French army and by the time the Peninsular War was in full swing many of the troops that had won Austerlitz and Jena were dead.

    Students of Napoleon's central European campaigns will be struck by the relatively small numbers of cannon employed in Spain. This is largely explained by the terrain and a chronic shortage of horses. The atrocious roads and mountainous topography of Spain and Portugal, were unsuited for larger number of guns. The terrain greatly deterred the French from employing heavy cavalry. Consequently, apart from a tiny handful of provisional cuirassiers, the heaviest mounted troops consistently used were dragoons.

    "A young French conscript, Phillipe Gille, provides a detailed account of the inadequate manner in which French soldiers were rushed to the front. Mobilized in France in 1808, Gille apparently did not even receive his musket until arriving at the Spanish border. There he joined a provisional unit composed of fellow conscripts, crossed the border, and soon engaged in combats with guerilla. Eventually his unit merged with similar ad-hoc formations to make up Dupont's ill-fated army. Near the Spanish town of Jaen they faced their first formed opposition from Spanish regulars. In spite of their inexperience, the conscripts formed line, advanced with trailed arms, received a close range volley, charged at the bayonet, and routed the Spanish. While such intrepid shock action worked against poorly trained Spanish infantry, it was ill-suited for more professional opponents such as the British. ...
    During the Peninsula years, how large a numerical contribution to the French armed forces were conscripts such as Gille? For the decisive years 1808 to 1812, French annual conscript calls ranged from 181,000 to 217,000. During 1810 and 1811, when France was at peace in the rest of Europe, the majority of these conscripts went to the Peninsula and substantially diluted the quality of the French forces serving there.
    Simultaneously, troop quality declined further as veterans suffered some of the nearly 100,000 casualties sustained in the Peninsula in 1810-1811. The impact of this dilution is clearly stated by General Anne Savary. Savary's report on the 1809 Battle of Essling, where he fought with troops substantially better than the average Peninsula soldier, observes, "if instead of troops consisting of war levies [raw conscripts], we had opposed to them such soldiers as those of the camp of Boulogne [the Grande Armée], which we might easily have moved in any direction and made to deploy under the enemy's fire without any danger their being thrown into disorder". Innumerable Peninsular battlefields demonstrated this need....
    The problem worsened as the Peninsula became a secondary front.
    A typical Peninsula regiment of 2,500 men would send 120 to 200 men back to France as a depot unit, 50 to the artillery, 10 to the gendarmes, and 12 of the best men to the Imperial Guard. These subtractions, coupled with the unprecedented guerilla-inflicted losses experienced in the never secure rear areas, seriously eroded the staying power of the infantry regiment. It got worse in 1811 and thereafter when Napoleon withdrew the best troops from the Peninsula to prepare for the Russian invasion." (James Arnold - "A Reappraisal of Column Versus Line in the Peninsular War")

    Napoleon seemed to ignore the food question.
    The scattered state of the French army in Spain
    rendered its situation desperate, and that
    the slowness of Sir Arthur Wellesley saved it several times.

    War in Peninsula In Peninsula the French met serious problems while the Emperor seemed to ignore the food question. In 1812 Marshal Marmont complained to Napoleon: "... the English army is always concentrated and can always be moved, because it has an adequate supply of money and transport. 7,000 to 8,000 pack mules bring up its daily food ... His Majesty may judge from this fact the comparison between their means and our's -we have not 4 day's food in any of our magazines, we have no transport, we cannot draw requisitions from the most wretched village without sending thither a foraging party of 200 strong; to live from day to day, we have to scatter detachments to vast distances, and always to be on the move ... Lord Wellington is quite aware that I have no magazines, and is acquinted with the immensely difficult character of the country, and its complete lack of food resources ... He knows that my army is not in a position to cross the Coa, even if nobody opposes me, and that if we did so we should have to turn back at the end of 4 days, unable to carry on the campaign ..."

    To live, the French troops had to disperse and, once they were scattered, they were easy prey for enemy. Wellington writes: "The more ground the French hold down, the weaker will they be at any given point." The French marshals came to realise that large armies simply starved and smaller armies were defeated. French General Thiebault writes that the scattered state of the French army in Spain rendered its situation desperate, and that the slowness of Sir Arthur Wellesley saved it several times.

    The French troops were known for their skills of extracting provisions locally - much to the annoyance of local population. Wellington: "It is certainly astonishing that the enemy [French] have been able to remain in this country so long; and it is extraordinary instance of what a French army can do. It is positively a fact that they brought no provisions with them, and they have not received even a letter since they entered Portugal. With all our money and having in our favour the good inclinations of the country, I assure you that I could not maintain one division in the district in which they have maintained not less than 60,000 men and 20,000 animals for more than two months."
    "In contrast, the Allies, particularly the British, seem to have been peculiarly inept at surviving without plenty of supplies. Even in times of minor food shortages, indiscipline erupted on a vast scale. The British divisions went to pieces in the lean days after Talavera for example - and as late as the Waterloo campaign of 1815, we find Wellington commenting to his Prussian friends that 'I cannot separate from my tents and supplies. My troops must be well kept and well supplied in camp ..." (- Gates)

  • ~

    "... irrespective of the quality of their men, the Spanish armies
    constituted a threat that the French quite simply could not ignore.
    Any sizeable concentration of enemy soldiers had to be engaged,
    or at least contained, by a sufficiently strong force of Imperial troops;
    otherwise they were free to go on the rampage with impunity.
    Consequently, a collosal percentage of the French army' was
    rendered unavailable for operations against Wellington because
    innumerable Spanish contingents kept materialising all over the country.
    - Gates "The Spanish Ulcer"

    The Spanish Army.
    "The Spaniards were a religious and warlike
    but not a military people ..."
    - Officer de Rocca, French 2nd Hussar Regiment

    Spanish infantry, by Funcken Spanish soldiers, picture by Funcken:
    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
    8 -Soldier of light infantry, 1805
    (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)

    The Spanish army comprised of the following troops:
    - 2 Foot Guards regiments, each three battalions of 1,000 men
    - 35 line infantry regiments, each three battalions of 700 men
    - 10 foreign line infantry regiments (1 Neapolitan, 3 Irish, 6 Swiss)
    - 12 light infantry battalions, each six companies of 200 men
    - 43 militia battalions, each of 600 men
    - 4 provincial grenadier regiments, each two battalions of 800 men
    Cavalry. Due to a chronic lack of horses, the 15,000 cavalrymen had only 9,000 mounts.
    - 2 Horse Guards regiments, each five squadrons of 120 men
    - 12 heavy cavalry regiments, each five squadrons
    - 6 light dragoon regiments, each five squadrons
    - 6 hussar regiments, each five squadrons
    - 6 horse batteries
    - 13 foot batteries
    - 21 fortress batteries
    - 1,000 sappers and engineers

    These troops were organized into seven armies and one reserve.
    In autumn 1808 the situation was as follow:
    Army of the Centre - General Castanos [45,000 men in 69 battalions and 60 squadrons, ? guns]
    Army of Galicia - General Blake [37,000 men in 79 battalions and 4 squadrons, 38 guns]
    Army of Aragon - General Palafox [23,500 men in 32 battalions and 5 squadrons, 5 guns]
    Army of Estremadura - General Belvedere [12,500 men in 14 battalions and 7 squadrons, 24 guns]
    Army of Granada - General Reding [11,500 men in 12 battalions and 4 squadrons, 6 guns]
    Army at Somosierra - General San Juan [11,500 men in 20 battalions and 6 squadrons, 22 guns]
    Reserves - 51,000 men They were stationed in various points of the country, including the Balearic Islands.

    Positive opinions about the Spanish army.
    In 1810, the French forces in the Peninsula totalled 325,000 men,
    but only about 1/4 of these could be spared for the offensive - the rest [3/4]
    were required to contain the Spanish insurgents and regulars (!)

    Spanish infantry, 
picture by Funcken. "It has been the practice of many historians to pour scorn on just about everything the Spanish forces did and a good deal of this criticism is justified. However, the fact remains that without the Spanish Army it is doubtful that the Allies would have won the war. Whilst it is true that their soldiers and generals performed badly on a large number of occasisons, it is also the case that Spanish units behaved outstandngly well on others: Baylen, Tamames and Alcaniz are all examples of clear-cut Peninsular victories by indigenous armies and, at San Marcial, in 1813, a major Imperial offensive was brought ot a complete standstill by the determined Spanish troops that lay in its path. Indeed, by the later months of the war, the Spanish were providing some units of extremely good quality ...
    Ironically, the point most often neglected about the Spanish army was its greatest contribution to the Allied cause. At the outset of the Peninsular conflict there were well over 100,000 men on the service's rolls and by 1812, despite innumerable calamities, there were still 160,000 regular troops in being. This vast army was larger than the Portuguese and British divisions combined. Admittedly, many of the soldiers had neither the training nor equipment for open combat, but they did prove most valuable in such operations as blockades and sieges, releasing thousands of better troops for more demanding undertakings elsewhere. Without this support, it is difficult to see how the depleted Anglo-Portuguese field army would have been able to take the offensive and, consequently, victories such as Salamanca would have become impossible.
    Furthermore, irrespective of the quality of their men, the Spanish armies constituted a threat that the French quite simply could not ignore. Any sizeable concentration of enemy soldiers had to be engaged, or at least contained, by a sufficiently strong force of Imperial troops; otherwise they were free to go on the rampage with impunity. Consequently, a collosal percentage of the French army'was rendered unavailable for operations against Wellington because innumerable Spanish contingents kept materialising all over the country.
    In 1810, for example, when Massena invaded Portugal, the Imperial forces in the Peninsula totalled a massive 325,000 men, but only about 1/4 of these could be spared for the offensive - the rest [3/4] were required to contain the Spanish insurgents and regulars. This was the greatest single contribution that the Spaniards were to make and, without it, Wellington could not have maintained himself on the continent for long - let alone emerge triumphant from the conflict." (Gates - "The Spanish Ulcer" pp 33-34)

    The quality of Spanish troops varied, from very poor to good. The militia was generally of poor quality, but some regulars were fine troops. 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, November 1808)

    For some Polish officers the Spanish soldiers were brave but poorly led by their officers. "Some regiment which looked like black hussars, which I had never seen before, drew particular attention to themselves. Their attack failed, and was doomed from the start as they had begun to gallop at 1,000 paces and so were exhausted by the time they had covered half this distance.
    A regiment of French dragoons was sent out against them, but advanced only at a walk, and seeing that they would not reach it, it halted and sent out skirmishers, who were able to catch up with a dozen or so of the more poorly mounted hussars. Yet each of these, whether wounded or dismounted, fought on to the death, which proves these were valiant soldiers but they lacked experienced officers." (Chlapowski - p. 43)

    Negative opinions about the Spanish army.
    "I cannot say that they do anything as it ought to be done,
    with the exception of running away
    and assembling again in a state of nature."
    - Napier

    The Spanish forces and their leaders are usually described (by the French and British) as useless, cowardish, poorly trained and disciplined, stupid etc. etc. They supposedly amounted to nothing and lost every battle they have fought. For example William Napier in "History of the War in Peninsula" writes that the Spaniards "being divided in corps, under different generals of equal authority, they could execute no combined movement with rapidity or precision, nor under any circumstances could they unite more than 40,000 men at any given point... The generals had lost nothing of their presumption, learnt nothing of war ... " and "Her [Spain] efforts were amongst the very smallest causes of his [Napoleon] failure. Portugal has far greater claims to that glory."
    Antonio Moliner Prada ( described Napier in Esdaile's “Popular Resistance in the French Wars” on page 100 as "extremely anti-Spanish".

    Napier writes: "I come now to another topic, which is one of serious consideration. ... That is the frequent, I ought to say constant and shameful misbehaviour of the Spanish troops before the enemy ... In the battle of Talavera, in which the Spanish army with very trifling exceptions was not engaged, whole corps threw away their arms and ran off in my presence when they were neither attacked nor threatened with an attack, but frightened I believe by their own fire ... I mean the infantry - it is lamentable too see how bad that of the Spaniards is. ... It is said that sometimes they behave well; though I acknowledge I have never seen them behave otherwise than ill. ... Nothing can be worse than the officers of the Spanish army...
    I cannot say that they do anything as it ought to be done, with the exception of running away and assembling again in a state of nature. The Spaniards have neither numbers, efficiency, discipline, bravery or arrangements to carry on the contest." (Napier - Vol V, p 381)


    On 2nd May disorders began in all of Madrid, and only in the evening
    the French were again masters of the city. The French were attacked
    by the people of Madrid because it protected the hated Godoy.

    Madrid: blood on the streets.
    "The Mamelukes, dashing scimitar in hand into the dense mass (of civilians),
    sent a hundred heads flying in a trice, and opened a way for the Guard Chasseurs
    and Guard dragoons, who set to furiously with their sabres." - de Marbot

    Murat Murat, a simple and unsophisticated soldier, squabbled with the Regency Junta by Ferdinand to govern in the absence of the king. On 2nd May disorders began in all of Madrid, and only in the evening the French were again masters of the city. The French were attacked by the people of Madrid because it protected the hated Godoy (one of the ministers of the Spanish sovereign Charles IV who had taken shelter in France). Godoy's house was broken into and sacked, his Guard hussars dispersed by the King's body-guard.

    On May 3rd - a day Francisco Goya would commemorate in one of his most famous paintings - French soldiers fired into the Madrid crowds who had attacked them. Some Spaniards were captured and executed by the French.

    Madrid 1808 Chlapowski of Napoleon's Guard Lighthorse writes: "There were no more than 4,000 infantry in Madrid, the Fusiliers of the Guard, 12 artillery pieces and 200 Mamelukes at the Royal Palace. The cavalry of the Guard was stationed in villages 1 to 1.5 miles from the city ... The inhibitants collected in the key areas around the city, armed with long swords and knives. Many had firearms. Most of them gathered in the city center at the square called the Puerto del Sol, but they were also milling around in the side streets. They shot at officers riding past with orders. Murat's ADC, Gobert, was stabbed several times in the legs as he fought his way through the Puerto del Sol, but despite this he made it right across town to the Fusiliers, who straight away marched to the arsenal. They took it without a shot and dispersed the crowd which had taken a few old artillery pieces, but did not know how to fire them. About 2,000 peasants and citizens were captured." (Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer" p. 36, translated by Tim Simmons)

    Spanish hero. 
Madrid 1808. Baron de Marbot described what he saw: "While defending the dismounted dragoon, I had received a blow from a dagger in my jacket sleeve, and two of my troopers had been slightly wounded. My orders were to bring the divisions to the Puerta del Sol, and they started at a gallop. The squadrons of the guard, commanded by the celebrated Daumesmil, marched first, with the Mamelukes leading.
    The riot had had time to increase; we were fired upon from nearly all the houses... We lost there several men, among others the terrible Mustapha, that Mameluke who went near to catching the Grand Duke Constantine at Austerlitz. ... In the Puerta del Sol we found Murat engaged with a huge compact crowd of armed men.... The Mamelukes, dashing scimitar in hand into the dense mass, sent a hundred heads flying in a trice, and opened a way for the Guard Chasseurs and Guard Dragoons, who set to furiously with their sabres.
    The Spaniards, rolled back from the square, tried to escape by the many wide streets which meet there from all parts of the town, but they were stopped by other French columns whom Murat had bidden to rendezvous at that point. There were also partial combats in other quarters, but this was the most important, and decided the victory in our favour. The insurgents had 1,200 or 1,500 men killed and many wounded, and their loss would have been much greater if Murat had not given the order to cease firing."

    When this massacre became known, an insurrection broke out in other parts of Spain, namely Asturias, and soon afterward embraced the whole country. It is to be remarked that this first spontaneous rising originated with the people, while the 'better' classes had quietly submitted to the foreign yoke.


    The devastation was such the soldiers quipped
    that even a crow flying over the ruined country
    would have to carry its own provisions.

    French occupation: rape, pillage, and drunkenness.
    The French did not or could not distinguish between
    guerrilla and civilian. Hence innocent civilians
    killed in reprisal or revenge.
    "... number of towns whose inhabitants were accused of
    firing on the French ... experienced appaling massacres."

    French cuirassiers raping Spanish nuns. 
Picture by La Roche. The civilian population were treated by the French in a manner that ranged from the merely boisterous to downright brutal. Rape, pillage, murder, thievery, drunkenness and anything else were common. "... the number of towns whose inhabitants were accused of firing on the French - most notably, Medina de Rio Seco and Chinchon - experienced appaling massacres. To decribe this policy as genocide - a term that can certainly be applied in other contexts, most notably the Vendee - would be to go too far.
    Many French officers were, in fact, keenly aware that their aim had to be driving a wedge between the insurgents and the populace as a whole and struggled hard to keep their men under control, whilst further restraints were often exercized by the civilian officials who became involved in the various anti-bandits tribunals established by such rulers as Joseph Bonaparte." (Esdaile - "Popular Resistance in the French Wars" p 12)

    But still many French officers and generals looked for loot and women, with both seduction and rape being frequent occurrences. Some generals brought their wives which angered Napoleon. In July 1813 Napoleon wrote to General Clarke: "Give orders that all the wives ... (and) all the loose women, including those who go dressed as men, ... be removed beyond the Garonne immediately."

    French infantry
fighting in church.
Campaign in Spain. Wherever the French soldiers went the Church's property was expropriated and the religious orders dissolved. The French did not or could not distinguish between guerrilla and civilian. Hence innocent civilians killed in reprisal or revenge.
    The enraged soldiers often went on a frenzy of carnage. Napoleon attempted to improve the situation. For example "before the Young Guard hit the road to Spain for on-the-jog training, the conscripts received a very modern-seeming orientation, stressing the Spanish attitude toward such matters as religion and women ..." (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne" pp 194-195)

    Despite more or less genuine efforts to maintain discipline, the soldiers supplemented their rations by living off the country, fed their campfires with furniture, window frames, doors and fencing, and made off with a wide variety of valuables and trinkets.

    The supplies of food and uniforms were unsufficient. The soldiers began wearing captured Spanish uniforms. The Baden infantry replaced their leather helmets with the ones of British 23rd Regiment of Light Dragoons, which had lost half their men in a foolish charge at Talavera. The French 13rd Cuirassier Regiment had no armor and wore brown Spanish jackets.


    The only battle to have a real impact on European diplomacy
    and where won Wellington was Vitoria.
    The other battle of importance was Baylen,
    being won by the Spaniards.

    Spanish vs French: battles, sieges and combats.

    The Spanish troops fought very well in several battles. After his defeat in 1813 at Ordal Cross, Lord Bentinck stated: "The only good notice I can give is the bravery of the English and Spanish soldiers and the valiant steadiness of the last." According to Miquel Miró in May of 1815, the Spanish soldiers headed by Col. Torres were "all honored with the distinction Cross of the Battle of Ordal with the legend "Rey, Patria o la Muerte" (King, Our Country or Dead). Colonel Antony Bray was distinguished with the highest Spanish military honor: the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando."

    To my surprise there was a high number of battles, sieges, combats and actions fought between the Spaniards and the French. Actually more than between the French and the British.
    - 26 battles, combats and sieges in 1807-1808
    - 19 battles, combats and sieges in 1809
    - 13 battles, combats and sieges in 1810
    - 21 battles, combats and sieges in 1811
    - 10 battles, combats and sieges in 1812
    - 9 battles, combats and sieges in 1813
    - 1 battles, combats and sieges in 1814

      The Spanish troops enjoyed several notable successes over the French.
      - In October 1808 Spaniards under Blake defeated Marshal Lefebvre. (
      (François Joseph Lefebvre was a honest man and brave commander. He was a commander of the Paris troops and supported Bonaparte in his coup d'etat in 1799. In 1806 at Jena, Lefebvre was in command of the infantry of the Guard.)
      - In July 1808 Castanos defeated French corps under Dupont (
      (In 1805, as the leader of one of Ney's divisions, Dupont earned distinction at Albeck-Haslach, in which he prevented the escape of the Austrian army from Ulm. At Friedland he won further fame. With a record such as but few of divisional commanders possessed, Dupont entered Spain in 1808 at the head of a corps.
      - In May 1809 the Spanish army defeated Suchet ( at Alcaniz.
      (Suchet was one of the most brilliant of Napoleon's generals. In 1805 and 1806 he increased his reputation at Austerlitz, Jena, Pultusk and Ostroleka. In Spain as commander of the army of Aragon and governor of the province, which, by wise and (unlike that of most of the French generals) disinterested administration no less than by his brilliant valour, he in 2 years brought into complete submission.)
      - In 1809 the Spanish troops defeated Marshal Michel Ney at Ponte Sampaio.
      (Ney was called Brave des Braves ("the bravest of the brave") and is one of the five most popular Napoleonic marshals. He won his greatest fame during the heroic retreat from Russia. In English speaking world Ney is most known for Waterloo.)
      - In October and November 1811 Lacy sent Eroles into France to raid the valley of the Cerdagne. The Spaniards defeated the French National Guard and stole away with cattle and huge contributions of money from the civilians. Napoleon was furious.
      - On 31 August 1813 at San-Marcial the Spanish infantry led by Freire and Longa defeated French infantry. The Spaniards used British style tactics, delivered a volley and charged with bayonets. After a short resistance the French fled.

    1808: Battles, Sieges
    Combats and Actions
    1807/11/04 Pancorbo French under Lefebvre defeated Blake.
    1808/02/16 Fall of Pamplona French under Darmaignac won.
    1808/02/29 Fall of Barcelona French under Lecchci won.
    1808/06/07 Bridge of Alcolea French under Dupont defeated Echavarri.
    1808/06/20 1st Siege of Gerona Spaniards under delRey/Bolívar defeated Duhesme.
    1808/06/14 2nd Battle of the Bruch Spaniards under Pamies defeated Chabran.
    1st Siege of Saragossa
    Spaniards under de Lazan defeated Lefebvre.
    1808/06/26-28 1st Battle of Valencia Spaniards under Saint-Marq defeated Moncey.
    1808/07/14 Medina del Rio Seco French under Bessières defeated Cuesta/Blake.
    1808/07/16 Mengibar Spaniards under Reding defeated Gobert.
    1808/07/22 Bailén Spaniards under Castaños defeated Dupont.
    1808/07-08/20 2nd Siege of Gerona Spaniards under Del Palacio defeated Duhesme.
    1808/10/29 Zornoza French under Lefebvre defeated Spaniards under Blake
    1808/11/05 Valmaceda Spaniards under Blake defeated Vilatte
    1808/11-12/05 Siege of Rosas Spaniards under Reding defeated St. Cyr
    1808/11/07 Guenes French under Villatte defeated Blake
    1808/11/10 Gamonal French under Bessières defeated Belvedere
    1808/11/10 Espiñosa French under Victor defeated Blake
    1808/11/14 Reynosa French under Soult defeated Blake
    1808/11/23 Tudela French under Lannes defeated Castaños
    1808/11/30 Somosierra French under Napoleon defeated San Juan
    1808/12/04 Fall of Madrid French under Napoleon defeated Castelar
    1808/12/16 Cardadeu French under St. Cyr defeated Reding
    1808/12/20 1st Battle of Saragossa French under Moncey defeated Palafox
    1808/12/20 - 1809/02/20
    2nd Siege of Saragossa
    French under Moncey and Lannes defeated Palafox
    1808/12/21 Molins de Rey French under St. Cyr defeated Reding

      In September 1808 the French army was posted in the following manner:
    • Marshal Bessieres with 15,000 men at Brivesca, Pancorbo, Santa Maria and behind Burgos
    • Marshal Moncey with 16,500 men at Milagro, Alfaro, Caparosa and Pampeluna
    • Marshal Ney with 13,750 men at Logrono, Nalda and Najera
    • General Dorsenne's 2,400 men of the Imperial Guard as reserve
    • 6,000 men in Pampeluna
    • 1,500 men in Bilbao
      Guarding the communication lines:
    • 7,000 men in small movable columns
    • General Drouet's 22,000 men watching the valleys of the Pyreneeses
      Total almost 100,000 men present under arms, exclusive of the troops in Catalonia, and when the communications were secured, and the fortresses garrisoned, there remained about 50,000 men disposable on a line of battle extending from Bilbao to Alfaro.
      On October 10th 1808:
    • I Corps (Marshal Victor) - 33,900 men (incl. 3,000 in hospitals)
    • II Corps (Marshal Bessières) - 33,000 men (incl. 5,500 in hospitals)
    • III Corps (Marshal Moncey) - 37,700 men (incl. 7,500 in hospitals)
    • IV Corps (Marshal Lefebvre) - 26,000 men (incl. 2,100 in hospitals)
    • V Corps (Marshal Mortier) - 26,700 men (incl. 1,900 in hospitals)
    • VI Corps (Marshal Ney) - 38,000 men (incl. 5,000 in hospitals)
    • VII Corps (General St.Cyr) - 42,100 men (incl. 3,550 in hospitals)
    • VIII Corps (General Junot) - 25,700 men (incl. 3,500 in hospitals)
    • Reserve - 42,400 men (incl. 3,550 in hospitals)
    • Movable columns for defence of the frontier of France - 8,860 men (incl. 146 in hospitals)
    • Artillery and engineers coming from Germany - 3,440 men
      On 25th October the French had in Spain 298 battalions (on average 835-men each), and 184 squadrons (on average 245-men each). There were also 34,500 men in hospitals and 33,400 men were detached.

      The Spanish troops consisted of:

    • 75,500 men of the first line divided into three masses
    • 57,000 men of the second line
      Napier writes that these numbers "prove the monstrous exaggeration put forth at this time to deceive the Spanish people and the English government. The Spaniards pretended that above 140,000 men in arms were threatening the French positions on the Ebro, whereas less than 76,000 were in line of battle, and those exceedingly ill-armed and provided. The right under Palafox, held the country between Zaragoza and Sanguessa on the Aragon River, the centre, under Castanos, occupied Borja, Taranzona, and Agreda; the left, under Blake, was posted at Reynosa, near the sources of the Ebro."
      In October, November and December the Spanish troops were distributed as follow:
    • Blake's Army - 30,000 infantry, 100 cavalry, 26 guns
    • Castanos' Army - 24,500 infantry, 2,200 cavalry, 48 guns
    • Palafox's Army - 17,500 infantry, 500 cavalry, 20 guns
    • Belvedere's Army - 11,150 infantry, 1,100 cavalry, 30 guns
    • Romana's Army - 8,000 infantry

    1809: Battles, Sieges
    Combats and Actions
    1809/01/13 Uclés French under Victor defeated Venegas
    1809/02/18 Igualada French under St. Cyr defeated Castro
    1809/02/19 Valls French under St. Cyr defeated Reding
    1809/02/20 2nd Battle of Saragossa French under Lannes defeated Palafox
    1809/03/17 Meza de Ibor French under Victor defeated Del Paarque
    1809/03/21 Miajadas Spaniards under Henestrosa defeated Subervie and Bordesoulle
    1809/03/29 Medellín French under Victor defeated Cuesta
    1809/05-12/11 3rd Siege of Gerona French under Verdier and Augerau defeated Alvarez
    1809/05/05 Monzon Spanish under Perena defeated Habert
    1809/05/21 Alcaniz Spanish under Blake defeated Suchet
    1809/05/22 Santiago Spanish under Carrera defeated Macune
    1809/06/08 Ponte Sampaio Spanish under Norona defeated Ney
    1809/06/15 Maria French under Suchet defeated Blake
    1809/06/18 Belchite French under Suchet defeated Blake
    1809/08/08 Arzobispo French under Soult defeated Albuquerque
    1809/08/11 Almonacid French under Sebastiani defeated Venegas
    1809/10/18 Tamames Spaniards under Del Parque defeated Marchand
    1809/11/19 Ocaña French under Soult defeated Areizago
    1809/11/29 Alba de Tormes French under Kellerman defeated Del Parque

    On October 1st 1809, King Joseph Bonaparte's army consisted of:

  • - 180,800 men under arms
  • - 10,500 men detached
  • - 46,100 men in hospitals
  • - 23,200 cavalry horses and 8,060 "draught horses"

    1810: Battles, Sieges
    Combats and Actions
    1810/02/20 Vich French under Souham defeated O'Donnell
    1810/03-04/21 Siege of Astorga French under Junot defeated Santocildes
    1810/03/25 El Ronquillo French under Gazan defeated Ballesteros
    1810/04-05/13 Siege of Lerida French under Suchet defeated Conde
    1810/04/15 Zalamena French under Mortier defeated Ballesteros
    1810/04/20 Margalef French under Harispe defeated O'Donnell
    1810/05/16-24 Siege of Mequinenza French under Suchet defeated Carbon
    1810/05/26 Aracena French under Mortier defeated Ballesteros
    1810/05-07/10 Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo French under Ney & Massena defeated Herrasi
    1810/08/11 Villagarcia French under Girard defeated La Romana
    1810/09/14 La Bispal Spaniards under O'Donnell defeated Schwartz
    1810/11/03 Baza French under Milhaud defeated Blake
    1810/12/16 - 1811/01/02
    Siege of Tortosa
    French under Suchet defeated Lilli

    On 15th August 1810 the French army in Spain had:

  • - 279,600 men under arms
  • - 25,300 men detached
  • - 47,000 men in hospitals
  • - 41,400 cavalry horses, and 16,600 "draught horses"

    1811: Battles, Sieges
    Combats and Actions
    1811/01/11-23 1st Siege of Olivenza French under Soult defeated Herck
    1811/01/15 Pla Spaniards under Sarsfield defeated Orsatelli Eugenio
    1811/01/24 Villanueva de los Castillejos French under Gazan defeated Ballasteros
    1811/01-03/10 1st Siege of Badajoz French under Soult defeated Imaz
    1811/02/19 Gebora French under Mortier defeated Medizabal
    1811/03/15-16 Siege of Albuquerque French under Latour-Maubourg defeated Cagigal
    1811/03/19 Monjuch French under Mathieu defeated Campoverde
    1811/04-08/19 Siege of Figueras French under Macdonald defeated Martinez
    1811/05/03 Figueras French under Baraguay d'Hilliers defeated Campoverde
    1811/05-07/28 Siege of Tarragona French under Suchet defeated Contreras
    1811/06/05-07 around Almeida French under Marmont defeated Spencer
    1811/06/23 Benavides Spaniards under Santocildes defeated Valletaux
    1811/07/02 1st Combat at Orbigo Spaniards under Santocildes defeated Serras & Bonnet
    1811/07/18 2nd Combat at Orbigo French under Serras & Bonnet defeated Santocildes
    1811/07/25 Monserrat French under Suchet defeated the Spaniards
    1811/09-10/25 Siege of Saguntum French under Suchet defeated Blake
    1811/10/25 Saguntum French under Suchet defeated Blake
    1811/10-11/02 Spanish Raid into France
    Spaniards under Eroles conducted successful raid.
    1811/11/05 1st Combat of Bornos Spaniards under Ballasteros defeated Semele
    1811/12/24 Murviedro French under ??? defeated Spaniards
    1811/12/25 - 1812/01/08
    Siege of Valencia
    French under Suchet defeated Blake

    On 15th April 1811 the French army in Spain had:

  • - 276,500 men under arms
  • - 15,100 men detached
  • - 40,080 men in hospitals
  • - 37,880 cavalry horses, and 11,300 "draught horses"

    1812: Battles, Sieges
    Combats and Actions
    1812/01/09 Valencia French under Suchet defeated Blake
    1812/01-02/02 Siege of Peniscola French under Severoli defeated Navarro
    1812/01/24 Altafulla French under Mathieu defeated Eroles
    1812/02/01 Los Poblaciones French under Conroux defeated Ballasteros
    1812/06/01 2nd Combat of Bornos French under Conroux defeated Ballasteros
    1812/06-08/18 Siege of Astorga Spaniards under Santocildes defeated French
    1812/07/21 Castalla French under Delort defeated O'Donnell
    1812/08/13 Bilbao Spaniards under Mendizabal defeated French
    1812/08/14 Valladolid French under Clausel defeated Santcildes
    1812/08/27-29 Bilbao French under Cafarelli defeated Mendizabal


    1813: Battles, Sieges
    Combats and Actions
    1813/02/11 Tafalla Spaniards under Mina defeated French
    1813/04/11 Yecla French under Harispe defeated Mijares
    1813/04/11-12 Siege of Villena French under Suchet defeated Spaniards
    1813/04-05/12 Siege of Castro-Urdiales French under Foy defeated Alvarez
    1813/06/13 Carcagente French under Suchet defeated Del Parque
    1813/06/23 La Salud Spaniards under Eroles defeated Decaen
    1813/06-10/31 Blockade of Pamplona Spaniards under de Espana defeated Casson
    1813/07/11 Capture of Saragossa Spaniards under Mina defeated Paris
    1813/08/19 Amposta French under Robert defeated Del Parque

    Strength of the French armies in Spain in July 1813:

  • - 156,000 men under arms
  • - 5,900 men detached
  • - 18,650 men in hospitals
    (In mid November: 102 battalions and 74 squadrons.)

    1814: Battles, Sieges
    Combats and Actions
    1814/04/16 Barcelona
    10 days after Napoleon's abdication
    Spaniards under Sarsfield defeated Habert

    Polish infantry 
storming Saragossa The Spaniards rarely surrendered a city without a siege, and usually fought fiercely even after the city walls were breached.

    The siege of Saragossa was very bloody and became known in whole Europe. The number of deaths in the interior of the city [Saragossa] during the siege, including those who were killed by the enemy, has been estimated at upwards of 40,000 human beings.

    The French mines reduced many buildings to ruins. The Spaniards saturated the timbers of many houses with rosin and pitch, and set fire to those which could no longer be maintained, interposed a burning barrier, which often delayed the French and Poles and prevented them from pushing their successes during the confusion that necessarily followed the bursting of the mines.

    The constant bombardment, the explosion of mines, the crash of falling buildings, clamorous shouts, and the continued echo of musketry deafened the ear, while volumes of smoke and dust clouded the air.


    Campaign in Spain. "It would be impossible correctly to describe the spectacle which was then presented by the unfortunate city of Saragossa. The hospitals could no longer admit any more sick or wounded. The burying grounds were too small for the number of dead carried thither; the corpses sewed up in cloth bags were lying by hundreds at the doors of the several churches." (Suchet - "War in Spain")

    "Although ultimately defeated, the defenders of Saragossa had once more covered themselves with glory and had given the invader a demonstartion of fanatical, national resistance. It was a demonstration the French army was never to forget and, at Gerona and elsewhere, it was to inspire Spaniards to maintain replica struggles that have few parallels in the history of war." (Gates - "The Spanish Ulcer" p 128)




    Below is a British poem "The Siege of Saragossa"
    published in The Morning Chronicle in April 1809:

    While prostrate slaves, to virtue dead,
    Kiss the foul track where tyrant's tread,
    Still Freedom lifts her dauntless head
    In sacred Saragossa.

    The practis'd tools of grasping power
    Around her walls in legions lour,
    Walls little fit in trying hour
    To profit Saragossa.

    But native valour, noble pride,
    Arrange her heroes side by side,
    A rampart that defies the tide,
    Which threatens Saragossa.

    Each house a fortress to defend,
    Father and Son refuse to bend,
    And sights are seen which hearts might rend,
    In struggling Saragossa.

    Not so with thee, thou pride of Spain!
    Carnage and ruin spread in vain;
    Still Sons of Arragon remain
    To fight for Saragossa.

    In house by house, in street by street,
    The Franks a brave resistance meet;
    Hopeless and baffled they retreat—
    Huzza! for Saragossa.

    Again returns Napoleon's horde
    With all the horrors of the sword,
    The Thunder-cloud, with havoc stor'd,
    Hangs over Saragossa.

    Arragonese! so brave, so true,
    If ever branch of laurel grew,
    That branch should form a wreath for you,
    Who fought in Saragossa.

    Again to vast exertion call'd,
    By shot, shell, and explosion gall'd,
    Firm stood thy Sons and unappall'd,
    Unequall'd Saragossa!

    Though wasting flames around thee curl'd,
    Thou bursting mines to ruin hurled,
    Defiance still her flag unfurled,
    In gallant Saragossa.

    O'erwhelm'd by numbers and o'ercome,
    No hand to parley beat the drum,
    Still true at heart, sullen and dumb,
    Fell, glorious, Saragossa.

  • ~

    After victory at Baylen the Spanish troops
    proudly proclaimed themselves the
    "conquerors of the conquerors of Austerlitz."

    Battle of Baylen 1808: Spanish victory.
    The news about French defeat at Baylen
    sent shock waves throughout Europe.

    Swiss grenadier In May 1808, the whole Spain was up in arms against the French. Juntas led the revolts from Aragon to Galicia, and from Catalonia to Asturia. Despite this situation Murat continued to send relatively optimistic reports to Napoleon and so, the Emperor was badly misinformed about the true nature of the war. To deal with the supposedly weak and isolated trouble spots, Napoleon drew up a plan which Murat put into operation. Large army was to be kept at and around Madrid, while Dupont's corps was to move on Cordova and Seville.
    Dupont's corps when it first entered Spain was about 25,000 men, of these 21,000 were fit for duty. It was strengthened by a provisionary regiment of cuirassiers, a marine battalion of the Guard, and the two Swiss regiments of Preux and Reding.

    "General Dupont was entrusted with the pacification of Andalusia in southern Spain by Napoleon, but after sacking Cordoba the French commander found himself faced by a massive popular rising and the 30,000-strong army of General Reding. Instead of retreating over the Sierra Morena immediately, Dupont unwisely lingered in the plain of Andujar, and when at last he did decide to retire, his column, burdened by wounded and loot, found the road toward distant Madrid threatened by the Spaniards." (Chandler- "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars" p 39)

    "Along the line of march, and in the town of Andujar, where he arrived the evening of the 18th, Dupont found terrible proofs of Spanish ferocity: his stragglers had been assasinated, and his hospital taken; the sick, the medical attendants, the couriers, the staff officers, in fine, all who had the misfortune to be weaker than the insurgents, were butchered, with circumstances of extraordinary barbarity, and upwards of 400 men had perished in this miserable manner since the fight of Alcolea." (Napier - “History of the War in Peninsula 1807-1814” p 88)

    Map of Bailen Campaign in 1808 On 19th July 1808 the Spanish troops defeated Dupont at Baylen (Bailén, Bailen). The battle went wrong for the French already in the beginning. "The Spanish General had 25.000 regular infantry, 2,000 cavalry and a very heavy train of artillery. Large bodies of armed peasantry, commanded by officers of the line, attended this army, and the numbers varied from day to day, but the whole multitude that advanced towards the Guadalquivir could not have been less than 50,000 men." (Napier - p 90)

    General Dupont sent Chabert's brigade (3.000 infantry) west of Baylen against Spanish positions. But Coupigny's division threw back the attackers. Dupont feared that Spanish troops led by Castaños will attack him from the rear and ordered a fresh attack. French brigade of heavy cavalry drove through 2 Spanish battalions but was forced to withdraw. Chabert's brigade was again repulsed and Schramm's brigade (2,000 Swiss) were thrown back by Reding's Spanish division.

    At 8am the French attacked again but without success. Pannetier's brigade (3,500 infantry) was forced to fall back by Reding's troops. At about 12.30 pm Dupont led a last and desperate attack against the centre of the Spanish line. In front marched the Marines of Imperial Guard. But this attack also failed, Dupont was wounded, some battalions disintegrated while the Swiss deserted to the enemy. Henri Lachoque writes: "Towards evening Dupont placed himself at the head of the Guard Marines who were ployed in column along the road. Sword in hand and followed by his staff, he ordered the drummers to beat the charge and advanced. What remained of his division moved forward under a withering fire. Dupont was wounded, the marines' attack repulsed, and some of the Swiss, refusing to fight against their compatriots, deserted to the enemy." (Lachoque - "The Anatomy of Glory" p 128)

    The Spanish division led by La Peña closed in on the French rear Dupont sued for a ceasefire. After prolonged negotiations, the French surrendered on condition that his troops would be shipped back to France. Approx. 12.000-18.000 French soldiers laid down their arms; and 2.000 were dead and wounded on the battlefield. The Spanish casualties were less than 1.000 killed and wounded.

    The postbattle terms of surrender included the repatriation of the French army back to France. Arguing that a repatriated French army would simply be marched back into Spain to fight again, the British convinced Spain to renege on its promise. The Spaniards dumped the POWs on the deserted island of Cabrera, which had insufficient food, water, shelter and medical facilities. Thousands of POWs died from malnutrition and disease. The French held on the hulks in Britain also suffered greatly.

    French surrender at Baylen 1808 The news about French defeat at Baylen sent shock waves throughout Europe. The Spanish regiments proclaimed themselves the "conquerors of the conquerors of Austerlitz." Napoleon was furious: "The capitulation of Baylen ruined everything. In order to save his wagons of booty, Dupont commited his soldiers to the disgrace of a surrender that is without parallel."

    Nowhere was the news of Spanish successes more welcome than in London. Past enmities were forgotten, as British society went mad with fabulous notions of Hispanic heroism and zeal. The press launched a popular campaign in support of the Spaanish rebels. British enthusiasm turned to delirium, however, when deputies from Supreme Junta arrived in London seeking aid. The Spanish deputies ask for cash and they got it - 1.5 million in silver as well as 120,000 muskets and 100,000 uniforms. It was after Baylen that the revolution came to a head, and that part of the high nobility who had accepted the Bonaparte dynasty or wisely kept back, came forward to join the popular cause. Napier writes: "It is truly astonishing that Dupont, who from his rank must have been well acquainted with Napoleon's Italian campaigns, should have caught so little of the spirit of his master. And then the capitulation of General Vedel, after his retreat was actually victory by himself, without any great imprudence ! Joseph called Dupont's capitulation a 'defection". (- Napier p 97)

    Front cover of book: "Bailén 1808"
    Picture: Surrender of General Dupont. ( -
    Artcle: "La Batalla de Bailen. La primera derrota ..." ( -
    Map of battle of Baylen, 1808 ( -
    British cartoon: "Spanish Patriots attacking the French Banditti at Baylen" (
    Diorama of battle of Baylen (


    "The lion in the fable tormented to death by a gnat
    gives a true picture of the French army in Spain."
    - Abbé de Pradt

    The Guerilla War in Spain (1808 - 1814)
    The Peninsular War is called Napoleon's Vietnam.
    This was one of the most successful partisan
    wars in history and was where the word guerrilla
    was first used in this context.

    Guerillas attack 
on French convoy. Picture: guerillas attack on French convoy. Picture by: ???

    "The War of Independence did not produce on the Spanish side great generals ... The true giants ... were the leaders of those intrepid bands that almost from the very beginning made the war in Spain a nightmare for the Napoleonic armies." (G. Lovett- "Napoleon and the Birth of Modern Spain")
    The Spanish word guerilla means "little war". Vittorio Scotti-Douglas writes: "Whether irregular warfare holds - together with prostitution - the dubious merit of being the most ancient form of human activity is something that can never be known for certain. However, all that need concern us here is that it is a very old and well-established way of fighting, usually employed against overwhelming odds.

    Spain is Europe's second most mountainous country and only Switzerland has a higher terrain. The central 2/5 of the country is primarily high plains crossed by mountain ranges and rivers. It is a perfect place for a guerilla warfare.

    It is impossible to argue that the guerillas were models of discipline, it is also difficult to show that they were of very much value in military terms. In places where the French could not deploy their cavalry (dragoons) the guerillas were able to gain the occassional success, whilst they were also able to put up a good show behind the walls of such towns as Gerona and Roses. Gerona even came to rival Saragossa as the embodiment of Spanish patriotism. Antonio Moliner Prada writes: "As sentinels and pickets, too, they were fine, but every time they had to confront the French in open battle they were swept away with heavy losses."

    In the mountainous Spain, the French transport wagons could only be dragged with difficulty and toil, by hill and hollow, over roots, rocks and stumps. Nature had formed the country for a war of ambuscades and surpirses, and no pains were spared to guard against them. William Stothert of the 3rd Foot Guards wrote about the guerillas: "... they are incited to attack the enemy's convoys and straggling parties as much by the hope of plunder as from patriotism." There were also quite few Englishmen (stragglers, deserters etc.) captured by the guerillas and either killed, sold or exchanged for weapons, money or gold.

    French dragoons searching for 
Spanish guerillas. 
Picture by Mark Churms. Napoleon, failing to grasp the nature of the revolt in Spain, issued orders to the marshals which incl. the usual talk of 'flying columns', making examples', 'utilising the Spanish authorities' and so on. He assumed that the French troops would be capable of holding the territory and be free to release units for service in other theaters.
    However, these calculations were unrealistic, for example Ney tried frantically to crush the opposition but without success. He virtually gave up attempting to pacify the southern reaches of Galicia, he had to deploy entire brigades to keep a grip on Lugo, Corunna and Ferrol. Two brigades were absorbed in pacyfying the Mondonedo district. The drain of occupying and garrisoning their conquests was weakening the French and their offensive capabilities.

    The population of whole provinces took up arms and made a partisan warfare, as in Galicia and Asturias. Antonio Moliner Prada writes: " Citizens of Igualada, Manresa and other neighbouring towns raised such a force in the Bruc mountains with the aim of halting General Schwartz's march on Zaragoza. The skirmish, which took place on June 6, had the desired effect and suceeded in putting the imperial troops to flight. Made famous by the incident of the so-called 'drummer of Bruc', this was an important psychological victory - it was, indeed, the first defeat that Napoleon's army suffered in Spain - and was to become symbol repeatedly exploited by the civil and military authorities in their anti-French propaganda campaign."

    Soldier Mignolet of 1st Regiment of Tirailleurs of Young Guard wrote home: "We are surrounded by 40.000 Spanish brigands whom we must fight every day - and the situation gets no better, but worse. Their bands grow bigger every year, for we burn their towns and villages ... " (The few regiments of Young Guard left for Spain in October 1809)

    Not only local peasants formed the guerilla bands. There was also an assortment of freebooters, deserters, smugglers and bandits who were organized into ad hoc regional private armies. The guerrillas carried on the war as their own cause, independently of all foreign influence and to their own interest. They made no formidable appearance as a body, but were nevertheless extremely dangerous to the French. As an opportunity offered itself the most daring among the civilians came out and joined the guerrillas. It was not uncommon to see them standing out a whole day in sight of a vigilant enemy, in order to intercept a carrier or to capture supplies. It was in this way that the younger Mina captured the Viceroy of Navarra, appointed by Joseph Bonaparte, and that Julian made a prisoner of the commander of fortress at Ciudad Rodrigo.
    Rovira captured the great citadel of San Fernando de Figueres. Antonio Moliner Prada writes: "Thus, at the head of 2,000 irregulars, on the night of 9 April 1811 Rovira got into the fortress with the help of three young Catalans who had secured employment in its magazines. Having knocked out the Neapolitan troops defending the gate and detained the sleeping governor, the Spaniards found that they had taken 850 prisoners ... 16,000 muskets, immense supplies of clothing and shoes, and 400,000 francs."

    The Last Cartridge -
picture by Keith Rocco The guerrillas ambushed French convoys, attacked French encampments, and pounced upon, dodged, and fought French columns. Local guides could not be trusted unless their families were held hostage for their good behaviour. It was best to move quickly and by night. Lists of casualties included many "ambushed" and "disappeared". Couriers and convoys could get through only under strong escort from one fortified post to another.
    The passage of the French troops across Spain and Portugal became disruptive. The French were obliged to be constantly armed against an enemy who, continually flying, always reappeared, and was everywhere without being actually seen. Abbé de Pradt described the situation "It was, neither battles nor engagements which exhausted the French forces, but the incessant molestation of an invisible enemy, who, if pursued, became lost among the people, out of which he reappeared immediately afterward with renewed strength. The lion in the fable tormented to death by a gnat gives a true picture of the French army in Spain." On few occassions the guerrillas aped the army and swelled their corps to several thousands men. This however gave the French considerable advantage. Rendered incapable by their great numbers to conceal themselves, and to suddenly disappear without being forced into battle, the guerrillas were dispersed and disabled for a length of time. The activities of guerillas required enormous numbers of French troops to simply protect messengers, escort supply trains, and hold the territory. These wild warriors held down 250,000 of Napoleon's troops. Especially busy were the French dragoons. But their mission was a mission impossible; the roads were poor, the terrain was difficult, the populace was hostile and the guerillas were elusive.

    The French had great difficulties with communicating with each other, it resulted slower concentration of troops. Napier writes: "..the French could never communicate with each other nor combine their movements, except by the slow method of sending officers with strong escorts; whereas, their adversaries could correspond by post, and even by telegraph an advantage equal to a reinforcement of 30,000 men." (- Napier p 129)

    Wellington writes: "The French armies have no communications and one army has no knowledge of the position or of the circumstances in which the others are placed, whereas I have knowledge of all that passes on all sides." Scores of vital messages failed to get through and, for example, hardly any of the correspondance between King Joseph and Marmont reached destination, with the result that, the marshal was unaware that Joseph' Army of the Centre was en route to join him, and, consequently, went ahead and fought the Battle of Salamanca with 15,000 men less than he might have had.
    Wellington and the British troops. Likewise, on a number of occassions, Wellington owed his salvation to the intelligence role of the guerillas. Gates writes: "Immediately after Talavera ... [Wellington] confidently marched off to attack what he believed to be only 10,000 French troops with a force of 18,000-strong. In fact, the Imperial 'detachment' consisted of three entire army corps and numbered well over 50,000 men. Had Wellington not received a timely warning of his miscalculation from the guerillas, it is extremely probable that in the ensuing battle both he and the British army would have ceased to be active factors in the scenarios of the Peninsular war. As it was, he was able to retreat in time." (- Gates, p 35)
    "If Moore's operations were being conducted with a sure grasp of the positions and intentions of the enemy, it was in large part due to the guerillas' capture of large numbers of French couriers." (Esdaile - "The Peninsular War" p 148)

    War in Peninsula The Spaniards were fired up by priests who were terrified by the fate that had fallen upon their brethren in France. The Spanish clergy was hostile not only to the French atheists and occupants but also to English "heretics". Local peasants sometimes had hidden all their kids having been told the English would eat them.

    Sometimes the priests led the peasants against the French troops. Jomini writes: "When Ney's corps replaced Soult's at Corunna, I had camped the companies of the artillery-train between Betanzos and Corunna, in the midst of four brigades distant from the camp from two to three leagues, and no Spanish forces had been seen within fifty miles; Soult still occupied Santiago de Compostela, the division Maurice-Mathieu was at Ferrol and Lugo, March and's at Corunna and Betanzos: nevertheless one fine night the companies of the train-men and horses- disappeared, and we were never able to discover what became of them: a solitary wounded corporal escaped to report that the peasants, led by their monks and priests, had thus made away with them." ( Jomini - "The Art of War.")

    Facing in Spain by seemingly endless struggles that entailed a great deal of danger but precious little glory, the once loyal soldiers of the emperor grew cynical and resentful, with the result that their willingness to sacrifice their lives fell off dramatically.

    Still worse, perhaps, frightened, harassed and frustrated, the troops became increasingly undisciplined and engaged in acts of revenge or casual brutality. Esdaile writes: "Also problematic in this respect was an increase in desertion that provided the Allies with an important source of manpower whilst simultanously augmenting the need for new conscripts; by 1813, for example, the Duke of Wellington had no fewer than three regiments of cavalry and seven battalions of infantry that were recruited in whole or in part from foreign deserters, whilst substantial numbers of deserters also appear to have been serving with the famous guerilla commander, Francisco Espoz y Mina" (Esdaile - “Popular Resistance in the French Wars” p 202)

    Horrors of war in Spain.  
Picture by Goya The war was fought with extreme brutality. ( In Catalonia, the guerillas subjected tens and perhaps hundreds of captured French soldiers and officers to torture and humiliation before killing them. One of the guerilla leaders, Merino, specialized in castrating captured French officers. Another leader, Chacarito, had no other pleasure than rape and torture. He was the terror of Castille. A captive Frenchman might be buried with only his head above ground, to be used as a pin in a bowling match. After the battle of Salamanca some Spaniards had dug up the body of a French general and were mutilating it; the English "rescued it."

    The guerilla war in Portugal is poorly researched. According to Charles Esdaile "there is no discreet study of her insurection and guerilla movement at all, the only information that we have coming from British accounts of the Peninsular War. Yet these are in reality all but useless: written by historians interested only in the doings of Wellington's army, their treatment of the subject is at best superficial. To take Oman, for example, all he does in this respect is to copy out various passages from the memoirs of French soldiers who fought in the successive invasion armies of Junot, Soult and Massena ... Setting aside the fact that we do not in any sense 'get inside' the resistance, relying on French memoirs as a source for the Portuguese insurection is a risky step. ... Similar remarks, meanwhile, can be made with respect to Spain. Here, too, the memoirs of French veterans are not to be relied upon, or, at least, taken at face value. Thus, in the first place, emphasising the guerilla war was a convenient way of explaining away French defeat in Iberia: the victors of Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland had only been worsted because they were confronted by an enemy who did not fight fair." (Esdaile - "Popular Resistance in the French wars" pp 207-208)

    Horrors of war in Spain.  
Picture by Goya "In so far as the world of the Anglo-Saxon historiography was concerned, Oman's magisterial conclusions set a seal of approval on the guerillas, the eighty years that have passed since the publication of the last volume of his work having been accompanied by a veritable chorus of praise. On all sides the many populists who chose to write about the Peninsular War leapt to acknowledge the exploits of the guerillas. To quote Longford, for example: 'Spain was to be saved ... not by grape-shot, greybeards and grandees, but by a hardy guerillas and the sudden flash of the knife ... Even the basic force of 200,000 veterans which Napoleon was compelled to keep, year after year, in Spain would never be safe from the noon-day ambush and things that went bump in the night.' Charles Esdaile continues "It was not just the writers of popular history who echoed the general refrain, however. Amongst historians of greater pretention Oman's theories have also been accepted without question and even pushed to fresh lengths. 'It was above all,' wrote David Chandler, 'the interaction of Wellngton's operations with those of the guerilla bands that ... made the French problem wholly intractible ... Even with 320,000 men the marshals could not both contain the diffuse ... 'war of the flea' and at the same time ... meet Wellington's latest foray deep into their territory.'
    John Tone, whose study of the guerillas of Navarre is by far the most detailed work that the English language boasts on the subject, writes: "Armed peasants made chaos of French communications and performed other tasks of value to both English and Spanish regular forces. Partisans scoured the countryside of French spies and symphatizers and brought a continuous stream of information to the Allies. The guerillas also effected a kind of psychological warfare in which the French had to be constantly on the alert, while the Allied armies could rest securely in the midst of a vigilant peasantry. The guerilla war was a long and demoralizing nightmare for France. ... In guerilla country, the French governed only where they could actually have troops in place. ... War in Spain did not pay Napoleon as it had in other parts of Europe. On the contrary, guerilla action made the occupation of Spain a constant burden and made the Spanish war unwinnable." (John Tone - "The Fatal Knot: the Guerilla War in Navarre and the Defeat of Napoleon" p 5)


    It is a curious fact that by the mere force of circumstances
    the Spanish Catholics were driven to an alliance with protestant England,
    a power which the Spaniards were accustomed to look upon as
    the incarnation of the most damnable heresy.

    The British in Peninsula.
    The campaign in Spain "was to the Napoleonic wars
    what North Africa was to the WW2, an arena of British failure,
    redeemed by victory only when the enemy broke one of the great
    laws of war: NEVER INVADE RUSSIA."
    - 'The Economist' Oct 3rd 2002, London

    In 1812 Lord Paget was captured 
by French dragoons. Picture by Dubourg On picture: in 1812 the second in command of the British army, Lord Paget, was captured by French dragoons. In 1809 the first in command, Wellington, was almost captured at Combat of Casa de Salinas.

    It is a curious fact that by the mere force of circumstances the Spanish Catholics were driven to an alliance with protestant England, a power which the Spaniards were accustomed to look upon as the incarnation of the most damnable heresy, and little better than the Grand Turk himself became ally. Napier writes: "As early as April, General Castanos, then commanding the camp of San Roque, had entered into communication with Sir Hew Dalrymple, the Governor of Gibraltar. He was resolved to seize any opportunity that offered to resist the French, and he appears to have been the first Spaniard who united patriotism with prudent calculation - readily acknowldging the authority of the Junta of Seville, and stiffling the workings of self-interest, with a virtue by no means common to his countrymen at that period." (Napier - “History of the War in Peninsula 1807-1814” p 36)

    Britain profited from the campaign of 1809 after Napoleon had been compelled to leave Spain hurriedly to take command in Germany. Had he been able to remain on the Peninsula, it is probable the campaign in Spain would have turned out very differently. The Emperor might well have broken Spanish resistance and driven Wellington into the sea. (Rothenberg - "The Emperor's Last Victory" p 27)

    Wellington's corps in Spain was viewed by Russia, Prussia and Austria as of little importance, and the Allies generals saw no British troops in the main theater of war facing the Emperor himself. The Allies asked Great Britain to send troops into central Europe, to fight the French, but the Government refused.

    According to some British authors, it was Wellington's army, and not the Spaniards, was the primary cause of victory in Spain. Without the British, the guerillas would do more harm to the Spanish people than to the enemy. Napier writes: "That the guerilla system could never seriously affect the progress of the French, is proved by the fact, that the constant aim of the principal chiefs was to introduce the customs of regular troops; and their success against the enemy was proportionate to their progress in discipline and organization. There were not less than 50,000 of these irregular soldiers, at one time, in Spain; and so severely did they press upon the country tha it may be assumed as a truth, that if the English army had abandoned the contest, one of the surest means by which the French could have gained the good will of the nation would have been extirpating of the partidas." (- Napier Vol II, p 128)

    Royal Navy.
    Without the Royal Navy, Britain's campaign in Peninsula
    could never have been waged and certainly not with the success
    that was eventually achieved.

    British ship-of-the-line According to David Gates without the Royal Navy, Great Britain's campaign in Spain and Portugal could never have been waged and certainly not with the success that was eventually achieved. He writes: "As well as ferrying troops to and from the war zone, the fleet transported virtually all the gold, equipment, food and munitions used by the Allied armies and guerillas. ... Moreover, whereas the lack of any naval support of their own confined the French to moving via the appalling Peninsular roads, the Allied forces could frequently transport men and material by sea; a method that was invariably safer, cheaper and quicker.
    This provided them with enormous advantages in the fields of logistics and strategy. ... Eternally threatened with landings on the sea-shore, their [French] army had to detach thousands of badly needed troops to patrol beaches, garrison ports and man coastal batteries. In 1810, for example, two Allied squadrons - based on Ferrol and Corunna - tied down some 20,000 Imperial soldiers along the Biscay coast.
    A further 20,000 soldiers were needed to invest the naval base at Cadiz, and several thousands more spent their time fruitlessly chasing Allied detachments that constantly embarked and disembarked along the Andalusian coast. Very few of these men ever saw an enemy ship or soldier, but they had to be deployed to counter the possible threat of attack. Furthermore, the sea-shore guards frequently became targets in themselves. Required to patrol enormous lengths of coastline, they were invariably thin on the ground and easy prey for amphibious forces composed of thousands of men. Many small detachments were annihilated before assistance could arrive ..." (Gates - "The Spanish Ulcer" p 29)

    During 1811 the British-Portuguese army did not share the fate of that of Massena, was almost entirely the responsibility of the Royal Navy. In sharp contrast to the Allied army, the French supply network was constantly disrupted by guerilla bands and the rebellious population.
    Consequently, the operations of the French army were repeatedly undermined or delayed by shortages of such basic equipment as munitions, horses, weapons and money. Unable to rely on their forces being adequately supplied by convoy, French marhsals had to resort to extracting provisions locally - much to the annoyance of the populace.

    American flag in 1812. The total naval dominance lasted until 1812, when the USA interfered, albeit indirectly, on the side of the French. In 1812 the war with USA broke out and American privateers ( arrived on European and African coast. The Royal Navy was forced to devote hundreds of warships to a blockade of the American coast. "Then the American privateers, being unmolested, ran down the coast of Africa, intercepted the provision trade from the Brazils, one of the principal resources of the army, and emboldened by impunity infested the coast of Portugal, captured 14 ships loaded with flour off the Duoro, and a large vessel in the very mouth of the Tagus. These things happened when the ministers were censuring and interfering with Wellington's commercial transactions, and seeking to throw the feeding of his soldiers into the hands of British speculators; as if the supply of an army was like that of a common market !" (Napier - Vol IV, p 185)

    The French naval vessels, backed by a powerful force of privateers and American ships, instigated a relentless campaign againt British vessels, and by summer 1814, about 800 merchantmen had been sunk, damaged or captured, many of them in home waters. Gates writes: "With ships like USS 'Argus' rampaging up and down the English Channel (, Wellington's formerly smooth supply system was appreciably disrupted."

    Moore's failed campaign.
    The British were defeated at
    and forced to leave Spain.

    General Moore. General Sir Moore's corps arrived at Maceira Bay on the 24 August with the following troops: Fraser's Division (4 British btns.), Murray's Division (4 German btns.), Paget's Division (2 German and 1 British btn. and German cavalry regiment), and artillery (2 German and 2 British batteries).

    This campaign began as follow: General Moore left a garrison in Lisbon of 10,000 men and entered Spain with 20,000 to aid the Spanish. His command was to be augmented with 16,000 more under General Baird being sent through Corunna. Moore hoped that his action will disrupt Napoleon's offensive and draw his attention away from Portugal. In the beginning of September arrived reinforcements. The British government designated another army (under Baird) to go to Peninsula and decided to assist the Spanish armies in the field. Moore arrived at Salamanca and after hearing of the defeat of Blake's Spaniards at Espinosa, the annihilation of Army of Estremadura and the destruction of Castaños at Tudela, he was having second thoughts about his own campaign. He rejected the entreaties of the Supreme Junta and ordered a withdrawal to Portugal. On Dec 5th however Moore received news that the population of Madrid offered resistance to the French army. A letter arrived from General La Romana, in which the Spaniard assured Moore that he had rallied Blake's divisions and was ready to take the field with 23,000 men. A captured dispatch revealed the isolation of Marshal Soult's scattered corps. Moore decided to strike a blow at the French communication lines at Burgos and guarding them Soult's troops and thus oblige Napoleon to relinquish his grip on Madrid. However, much of the information Moore received was incorrect. Madrid had surrendered to Napoleon on Dec 4th and on Dec 11th Moore received gloomy information about it.

    Napoleon pursued the British corps 
through snow and the Guadarrama Mountains. 
Picture by Pape Napoleon already had been aware of Moore's army at Salamanca and was hurrying northwards. On Dec 19th three British deserters from the 60th Foot (actually they were Frenchmen captured at Trafalgar and enlisted in the British army) reached the French outposts with news that Moore's army had been in Salamanca as late as Dec 13th. However, the chances of catching the British were slim. "Setting the weather aside, Moore was so far to the north that it was unlikely that a force from Madrid would ever have been able to cut him off. The emperor's only chance, indeed, was that his opponent would be caught unawares, but Moore was well aware of the danger and fled westwards as soon as he got news that Napoleon was on the march, whilst he had also long since requested that his transports should be sent round from Lisbon to La Corunna. Vigorous action on the part of Soult, it is true, might just have slowed Moore down enough to allow Napoleon's forces to get behind him, but the marshal elected to wait for the first reinforcements that were being sent up to him from Burgos and then was slowed down by pouring rain ..." (Esdaile - "The Peninsular War")

    Realising what Moore had in mind, the Emperor saw a golden opportunity to swing into his rear, while Soult contained him frontally. The British army would be encircled and destroyed. Napoleon took his army towards the Guadarrama Pass and in appalling weather led through the mountains. On December 30th, the main French army began crossing the Esla River, and Marshal Soult entered Leon. Napoleon pushed forward. Unfortunately the cares of his vast empire were plucking at his coattails. He received news of political intrigues at Paris and that Austria was again mobilising her large army. The Emperor was needed in France. On January 17th he began a breakneck ride for Paris, arriving there on the 24th.

    French cavalry with captured 
British infantryman.
Picture by Woodville. Soult was left with only 16,000 infantry and 3,500 cavalry. He pressed Moore hard, but ran no unnecessary risks. The British general sent his light troops through Orense to Vigo, where they embarked on the 17th. General La Romana moved southward. At midnight, after the destruction of the remaining stores and 500 horses, Moore ordered his army back on the Corunna road. Other than for the rearguard and the Guards the discipline of many of the British regiments disintegrated. Moore finally halted in Corunna. Marshal Soult began to collect his scattered troops for battle. However, the appearance of British warships and transport fleet and the detonation of 4,000 barrels of gunpowder - convinced the Frenchman that the British's escape was imminent. Realising that he could delay no longer, re resolved to attack immediately. In the battle Moore was mortally wounded. General Hope pressed the embarkation. Benjamin Miller writes: "As we drifted down the harbour we saw hundreds of our soldiers, which had been doing duty in the garrison, sitting on the rocks by the water's side … waving their hats and calling for the boats to take them off …" The British had almost finished the embarkation by morning, when French artillery came into action from cliffs overlooking the bay. Cpt. Gordon writes: "The French … opened a cannonade upon the shipping in the harbour, which caused great confusion amongst the transports. Many were obliged to cut their cables, some suffered damage by running foul of each other, and 5 or 6 were abandoned by their crews and drifted on shore." The expedition reached England between 21 and 23 June, having lost some 8,800 men. "The people of Portsmouth looked on in horror at the spectacle that was emerging from the harbour. The British expeditionary force had returned home, but there was no grand parade through the streets, no pomp or colour, no tale of victory. What appeared seemed rather to be the mere wreckage of an army." (Esdaile - "The Peninsular War" p 140)

    With the Spanish armies defeatd and the British driven from the country, the winter 1808 seemed full of promise for the French troops. The projected invasion of Portugal - delayed by Moore's interference - could now go ahead. However, the interminable guerilla warfare continued to occupy vast numbers of French troops and the ever resilient Spaniards were soon raising new troops to fling into the fray.

    Meanwhile fresh British troops were landing in Peninsula. Edward Costello of 95th Rifles writes: "... after a tolerably pleasant voyage we anchored off Lisbon [28 June 1809]. From thence, in a few days, we proceeded in open boats up the River Tagus, and landed about 4 miles from Santarem, where we encamped for the night. On the following day we marched into the city of Santarem amid the cheers of its inhabitants, who welcomed us with loud cries Viva os Ingleses valerosos !" (Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns" p 17)
    On landing at Mondego Bay, Wellington (Wellesley), heard the welcome news of the great Spanish victory at Baylen and, later, General Spencer arrived with units drawn from the Mediterranean.

    Wellington's long and successful campaign.
    "Viva os Ingleses valerosos !"

    Wellington raised the reputation of the British army
    to a level unknown since Marlborough.

    British infantry By May 1809, the French armies were victorious almost everywhere in Spain. Victor advanced on Badajoz, defeating Cuesta at Medellin. Soult occupied northern Portugal, but halted at Oporto to refit his army before advancing on Lisbon. In April Wellesley took command of the British army in Portugal, plus a new, British-trained Portuguese army. Wellington was a skilfull tactician, and later he earned reputation for being a cautious general who only fought defensive actions from positions of overwhelming strength (named by some Fabius The Cunctator).

    As strategist Wellington was one of the best in Europe. Striking north, he surpised Soult and drove him into the interior. With Portugal in revolt all around him, Soult seemed doomed, but escaped by a daring march through the mountains to Orense. Wellesley then turned on Victor and advanced up the Tagus River together with Cuesta. Victor retired to Talavera, where Joseph joined him with the French reserves. Wellesley repulsed Victor in a 2-day battle, but had to retreat hurriedly when Soult, Ney, and Mortier emerged from the mountains to his left rear.

    Peninsula in 1808 In 1810 Soult rapidly cleared all of southern Spain except Cadiz, which he left Victor to blockade. Massena took Ciudad Rodrigo, and forced Wellington back through Almeida to Busaco, where Wellington offered battle. Goaded by his headstrong corps commanders, Massena made an unsuccessful frontal attack. The next day, he turned Wellington's flank, and the latter thereupon retired - devastating the countryside as he went - into a previously fortified position called the "Lines of Torres Verdes."

    De Rocca writes: "The French sought, in vain, to provoke Lord Wellington to come out and give them battle. That modern Fabius [Fabius The Cunctator] remained immovable in his lines, and coolly contemplated his enemies below him, from the top of his high rocks." (de Rocca, - p 177)

    In 1811 Massena grimly held his starving army before Lisbon for a month, then fell back to Santarem, where Wellington did not choose to attack him. In March, with supplies exhausted, Massena managed a skillful retreat on Salamanca, with Ney again displaying a savage talent for rear-guard fighting. Soult, meanwhile captured Badajoz. Victor was defeated at Barrosa by Graham, but the cowardice of La Pena made it a fruitless success, and Victor soon renewed the blockade.

    In April, Wellington besieged Almeida. Massena advanced to its relief, attacking Wellington at Fuentes de Onoro ( The French claimed victory, because they won the passage at Poco Velho, cleared the wood, turned the British right flank, obliged the cavalry to retire, and forced Wellington to relinquish 3 miles of ground. The British also claimed victory because the village of Fuentes was in their hands and their object (covering the blockade of Almeida) was attained. The French, without being in any manner molested, retired.
    Outgeneraled, Wellington was saved only by the innate toughness of his troops and Bessieres' failure to support Massena. Bessiers led the cavalry of Imperial Guard and refused to obey orders from Massena. After this battle, the Almeida garrison escaped through the British lines by a night march. Napier writes: "In the battle of Fuentes Onoro, more errors than skill were observable on both sides ..." (Napier - Vol III, p 87)

    Picture: British infantry storming Badajoz, by Mark Churms.

    Part of Wellington's army had besieged Badajoz, until Soult forced it to retire on Albuera. There, Soult outmaneuvered Beresford, but could not quite win the battle, and so retired to Seville. Wellington joined Beresford and unskillfully renewed the siege of Badajoz. Marmont (who had replaced Massena) joined Soult, and Wellington retired - but soon appeared before Ciudad Rodrigo. In September, Marmont crowded him back and reprovisioned that fortress.

    During 1810-1811, the majority of the French annual conscript calls of 180.000-200.000 conscripts went to Spain and dramatically lowered the quality of the French troops. The lack of seasoned officers caused replacement battalions and squadrons returning to Spain to be led by inexperienced officers of reserve formations and second rate troops. Additionally Napoleon considered the war in Spain so insignificant that he rarely bothered to bring to it his military genius, relying instead on his marshals and simultaneously launching his disastrous Russian campaign of 1812.
    The French armies were commanded by the bowlegged and grumpy Soult, the growing bald and irresponsible Ney, and the well educated Marmont who outmarched and often outmaneuvered Wellington.

    Between September 19 and October 21 Wellington besieged Burgos but failed to capture it and retreated to Portugal being pursued by the enemy and losing several thousands men
    Napier writes: "The French gathered a good spoil of baggage ... According to muster-rolls, about 1,000 Anglo-Portuguese were killed, wounded and missing ... but this only refers to loss in action; Hill's loss between the Tagus and the Tormes was, including stragglers, 400, and the defence of Alba de Tormes cost one hundred. If the Spanish regulars and partidas marching with the two armies be reckoned to have lost a 1,000 which considering their want of discipline is not exaggerated, the whole loss previous to the French passage of the Tormes will amount perhaps to 3,000 men. But the loss between the Tormes and the Agueda was certainly greater, for nearly 300 were killed and wounded at the Huebra; many stragglers died in the woods, and Jourdan said the prisoners, Spanish, Portuguese and English, brought to Salamanca up to the 20th Nov, were 3,520. The whole loss of the double retreat cannot therefore be set down at less than 9,000, including the loss in the siege.
    Some French writers have spoken of 10,000 being taken between the Tormes and the Agueda, and Souham estimated the previous loss, incl. the siege of Burgos, at 7,000. But the King in his dispatches called the whole loss 12,000, including therein the garrison of Chinchilla, and he observed that if the cavalry generals, Soult [not the marshal] and Tilley, had followed the allies vigorously from Salamancathe loss would have been much greater. ... On the other hand English authors have most unaccountably reduced the British loss to as many hundreds." (Napier - "History of the War in the Peninsula 1807-1814" Vol IV, p 155)

    Despite the heavy losses suffered during retreat, the year of 1812 was a good year for Wellington, his troops captured Cuidad Rodrigo and Badajoz and defeated Marmont at Salamanca.
    The effect of Salamanca was to convince the British Government finally that the war in Spain should be continued. This battle partially dispelled Wellington’s reputation for being a cautious general who only fought defensive actions from positions of overwhelming strength. For Napoleon however, losing in Spain in 1812 or 1813 would have meant little if there was a decisive victory in Germany or Russia.

    In August Wellington entered Madrid. By the way, one of several acts that soured relations between the British and the Spanish during the Peninsula War was the destruction of the famous ceramic factory in Madrid, wool factory, and Roman Bridge at Alcantara by Wellington's troops.

    In 1813 Wellington's army advanced against Joseph and Jourdan. In June Wellington (75,000-90,000) he routed the French (50,000-60,000) at Vittoria. After Vittoria Wellington failed to pursue effectively and the French recovered. He now shortened his communications by shifting his base of operations to the northern Spain coast, and began operations against san Sebastian and Pampeluna, at first unsuccessfully. Soult was given command of all French troops in Spain and advanced through western Pyrenees, but was finally repulsed. Wellington captured San Sebastian, later invading southern France as far as Bayonne. Soult fought and almost won at Toulouse, the last battle of the war. Suchet evacuated Valencia, but defeated two British expeditions from Sicily.

    British infantry Enjoying many advantages over the French, Wellington achieved a record of victory perhaps unmatched in the history of the British army. The British infantry performed gallantly especially when placed on a strong defensive position. Wellington's Portuguese and German troops were steady and respected by British and French alike. In the English speaking world, Wellington's campaign in Peninsula became the most popular napoleonic campaign among wargamers.

    However, despite the advantages and victories in pitched battles, Wellington's campaign in Peninsula was "the most protracted campaign of the period". Claims were made that "the Peninsular War had been pursued with insufficient vigour."

    General Wellington Battles alone don't win this type of wars. British military historian Hart writes: "... the presence of the British Expeditionary Corps was an essential foundation... Wellington's battles were materially the least effective part of the operations. By them he [Wellington] inflicted a total loss of some 45,000 men only - counting killed, wounded and prisoners - on the French during the 5 years' campaign... whereas Marbot reckoned that the number of French deaths alone during this period averaged 100 a day. Hence it is a clear deduction that the overwhelming majority of the losses which drained the French strength, and their morale still more, was due to the operations of the guerillas..." (Hart - "Strategy" 1991, pp 110-111)
    "... the Spanish 'nation in arms' ... may have lacked the polished professionalism of the British Light Division but, in the long run, they probably inflicted considerably more damage on the French forces than all of Wellington's pitched battles combined. The sieges of Gerona alone cost the Imperial armies over 20,000 casualties and, exclusively from sickness and guerilla raids, the French forces in the Peninsula lost approx. 100 men per day for over 4 years, a total of some 164,000 casualties. It is, therefore, easy to see how the war in Spain bled the French army white ..." (- Gates)


    "I am bound to admit that the fundamental mistakes
    lie at my own door." - Napoleon on St. Helena

    The Spanish Ulcer.
    Losing in Spain in 1812 or 1813 would have meant little
    if there was a decisive victory in Germany or Russia.

    Could the Spaniards win the war without British money and Wellington's British-Portuguese army ?
    Probably. One has only to look at the example of Soviet Invasion of Afganistan ( to realize that armies - with facilities and innovations beyond anything that Napoleon could ever have dreamt of - were strained by the type of warfare that he encountered in the Peninsula.
    The Soviet invasion of Afganistan took place in 1979. Soviet Russia had population of 140 mln. while Afghanistan's population was 28 mln. For comparison Napoleonic France had population of 30 mln, and Spain had 10 mln.

    For France the war in Spain was if not a sideshow, it was of a secondary importance, with the exception of couple of years. Losing in Spain in 1812 or 1813 would have meant little if there was a decisive victory in Germany or Russia. Henri Lachoque writes: "No matter how grave affairs became in Spain Napoleon considered them of secondary importance. The principal danger lay in the east." (Lachoque - "The Anatomy of Glory" p 195)

    The war however had the greatest importance for the Spanish and Portuguese people. Without their determination to fight the French there would be no British expeditionary corps. There would be no resistance. After Napoleon's definite defeat, King Ferdinand VII, was restored to the Spanish throne and reigned with rigid absolutism.

    A. Nuñez and G.A. Smith

    Nine years later, in 1823, the French army managed a military promenade through Spain to overthrow an upstart Spanish constitutional government and restore Ferdinand's absolute authority. Approx. 100,000 French troops captured Madrid. Most of the Spaniards welcomed them, and there was only little fighting. The French freed Ferdinand, who had been taken from Madrid as a captive, and placed him on the throne. Unexpectedly, he took ruthless revenge on his opponents, revoked the 1812 constitution and restored absolute monarchy to Spain.

    Sources and Links.

    Brandt - "In the Legions of Napoleon: Memoirs of a Polish Officer in Spain..."
    Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars" 1993
    Costello - "The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns"
    Esdaile - "The Peninsular War"
    Esdaile - “Popular Resistance in the French Wars” (2005)
    Chlapowski - "Memoirs of a Polish Lancer"
    Esposito, Elting - "A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars."
    Gates - "The Spanish Ulcer: A History of the Peninsular War"
    Jomini - "The Art of War"
    Napier - “History of the War in Peninsula 1807-1814”
    Nina Consuelo Epton - "The Spanish mousetrap: Napoleon and the Court of Spain"
    Oman - "A History Of The Peninsular War"
    Sanudo - "La crisis de una alianza - la campaña del Tajo de 1809"
    Smith - "The Prisoners of Cabrera: Napoleon's Forgotten Soldiers, 1809-1814"
    Summerville - "March of Death"
    Tranie, Lachouque - "Napoleon's War in Spain"
    Map from The Department of History at the United States Military Academy