Peninsular War

gigatos | December 30, 2021


The Spanish War of Independence was the longest conflict of the Napoleonic Wars and was fought on the Iberian Peninsula by an alliance of Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom against the First French Empire. The war began with the occupation of Spain by the French army in 1808 and ended in 1814 with the defeat and retreat of the French troops. This conflict is called in French sources campagne d”Espagne or guerre d”Espagne (in Spanish sources Guerra de la Independencia Española) and in Anglo-Saxon and Portuguese sources respectively Peninsular War and Guerra Peninsular (“Peninsular War”).

The Spanish War of Independence was one of the first wars of national liberation in which guerrilla warfare (a term that was coined for this war) was practiced. The war was characterized by the failure of the numerous French forces to pacify the Iberian Peninsula from the increasing activity of Spanish irregular troops, who could rely on a mountainous and desert territory. The French troops in Spain, superior in the direct clashes against the regular Spanish forces, were however forced to a nerve-wracking work of control of the rear, of the communication routes and of the main centers, often present in high mountain spurs, continuously threatened by the guerrilla actions of the irregular Spanish units. The French army therefore was not able to crush the resistance and to obtain decisive results; also the brief direct intervention of Napoleon in Spain, even if characterized by a series of victories, did not resolve the situation in a definitive way.

Moreover, in Portugal (historical ally of Great Britain) intervened a British army under the command of General Arthur Wellesley (future Duke of Wellington) that, slowly strengthened by the Portuguese troops, engaged large enemy forces, repeatedly repulsed the French and gradually extended the liberated territory, leaving the guerrillas free to wear down the occupying army. Consequently, during the war, a series of offensives and counter-offensives followed one another with exhausting advances and retreats, interspersed with non-decisive battles that, if they did not allow the Duke of Wellington to obtain great successes until 1813, also prevented the French forces, superior in number but dispersed throughout the territory and led by generals in constant rivalry, from destroying or forcing the evacuation of the British army and from firmly occupying Portugal and some regions of Spain. In the last year of the war, with the French forced to reduce their forces due to the disastrous Russian campaign, the army of the Duke of Wellington was finally able to launch the decisive offensive, entering Spain and forcing the French to abandon the Iberian Peninsula and retreat beyond the safe Pyrenean foothills.

The war completely destroyed the economies of Spain and Portugal and led to a period of civil wars, between liberalism and absolutism until 1850, led by officers trained in the Spanish War of Independence. The weakening of these countries made it difficult to control the South American colonies and led to the independence of the old Spanish colonies from Spain and Brazil from Portugal.

French invasion of Portugal

In the meetings of Tilsit with Tsar Alexander I, at the end of the war of the fourth coalition, Napoleon had already foreseen the necessity of occupying Portugal in order to extend to that country the system of the continental blockade, officially organized after the decree of Berlin of 21 November 1806 to exclude British ships and goods from continental ports. In these circumstances, Portugal assumed great importance: almost a protectorate of Great Britain, which controlled trade, economic and financial life, the country, where the British had also made substantial investments, was above all a major smuggling base and an important support point for the Royal Navy. The emperor openly expressed his anger towards the house of Braganza for Portugal”s behavior and its refusal to comply with the clauses of the continental blockade; on his return from Tilsit, on July 29, 1807, he gave the first orders to organize a body of troops in Bordeaux under the command of General Jean-Andoche Junot for a possible expedition to the Iberian Peninsula and a military occupation of Portugal.

Increasing French pressure on Portuguese Prime Minister António de Araújo to enforce the continental blockade and oust the British from the country had no effect; de Araújo employed delaying tactics to avoid a break, but on October 12, 1807, Napoleon decided to take action and ordered General Junot to enter Spain and march on Lisbon with his army of 22,000 soldiers; the border was crossed at the Bidassoa River on October 18; war was officially declared on October 22. General Junot advanced through the territory of Spain, which, ruled by the powerful and unpopular prime minister Manuel Godoy, was formally allied with France and at war with Britain since December 1804. Military operations unfavorable to the Spanish, the defeat of Trafalgar and the British attack on the colonies of South America, had weakened the position of Godoy, who had also engaged in secret negotiations with the British. After the defeat of the Fourth Coalition, the prime minister hastily returned to align himself with Napoleon, joined the Continental Blockade on February 19, 1807, sent a body of troops to Hamburg in August 1807 to collaborate with the French and especially welcomed the emperor”s plans to conquer Portugal.

On October 27, 1807 was then concluded the Treaty of Fontainebleau between Spain and France, which defined the division of Portugal: in the north would be organized a Kingdom of Lusitania for the King of Etruria, which would in turn give his Tuscan state to France, the south would go to Spain, while the center with Lisbon remained for the moment in suspense. As General Junot”s army advanced at top speed through Spain, three Spanish divisions also entered Portugal north of the Duero, south of the Tagus, and in the Algarve. General Junot”s march, which was extremely difficult due to the lousy weather, terrain, lack of roads, and scarcity of supplies, found no opposition from the Portuguese troops, and on December 1, 1807, the French entered Lisbon without a fight, after advancing 480 kilometers in fourteen days. In the meantime, Regent John, having concluded an agreement with the British that provided for the cession of Madeira and the evacuation of British stores in the country, had embarked in haste with the court on November 29 on British ships to move to Brazil. Admiral Dmitry Seniavin”s Russian fleet from the Mediterranean Sea, stranded in Lisbon, would also later be transferred to Britain. General Junot took possession of the country, captured the remnants of the Portuguese army, which he sent to France, and imposed a strong tribute; however, he did not introduce a series of social and administrative reforms and the civil code as prescribed by Napoleon, and merely established a Portuguese legion; perhaps he aimed to obtain sovereignty over the central part of Portugal.

Plots and intrigues in Spain

Considering the risky situation of General Junot”s army, isolated in Portugal at a great distance from the French border, and the necessity to militarily support his operations, Napoleon had begun almost immediately to plan and implement the sending to Spain of additional corps of troops hastily organized with “provisional regiments” of conscripts, sailors, Parisian guards and with foreign troops. Since October 12, 1807 a corps, under the command of General Pierre Dupont, had been formed and transferred in November in Old Castile; in January 1808 a corps under the command of Marshal Jeannot de Moncey occupied Burgos, then General Georges Mouton entered Spain with a third corps. In February 1808 the French occupied San Sebastián and Pamplona.

The problem of Spain had been the subject of discussions, proposals and intrigues for a long time within the circle of Napoleon and the French leaders; the emperor and many of his collaborators, considered Spain disastrously governed by an inept dynasty and by corrupt and mediocre politicians incapable of developing the resources and wealth of the nation. They also believed that the huge Spanish colonies in the Americas constituted a kind of rich El Dorado that would be important to exploit for the benefit of France. There was no lack of people willing, even in the hope of obtaining personal benefits, to take the initiative to impose radical reforms on the ally in the Iberian Peninsula, organizing a complete social and administrative restructuring. Marshal Joachim Murat was among these and the same Charles Maurice de Talleyrand proposed to take decisive action. Finally, in Spain there was no lack of supporters of a close collaboration with France; among the nobility and the liberal Iberian bourgeoisie there were the so-called afrancesados, favorable to Napoleon and eager for administrative and economic reforms aimed at the modernization of the State.

Napoleon”s decisions and choices regarding Spain were also influenced and favored by the internal contrasts within the Iberian leadership where the so-called “Escorial plot” was already underway, organized by the heir to the throne Ferdinand with the support of the Duke of Infantado and Canon Juan Escoiquiz, to depose Godoy and oust his father Charles IV from the throne. To this end, the conspirators planned to secure the support of France by arranging a diplomatic marriage of Ferdinand with a French princess. On October 11, 1807, Ferdinand addressed a letter to the emperor at the request of French Foreign Minister Jean-Baptiste Champagny, who had learned of these intrigues. Napoleon evidently saw the possibility of obtaining dominance over Spain by means of this dynastic combination, which would have transformed Ferdinand into an instrument of the French.

The discovery by Godoy and Charles IV of the Escorial”s plot changed the situation again; at the end of October 1807 Ferdinand was arrested together with his accomplices, however he requested the help of Napoleon who, very irritated, denied any involvement in the plot, and therefore began to consider a second option to obtain the predominance in Spain. Frightened by the emperor, Charles IV hurried to free his son, while Napoleon, considering Ferdinand completely discredited as heir to the throne, began to study possible new candidates, and on December 2, 1807 he asked his brother Joseph about this matter. However the emperor seems to have been still uncertain about the best solution; in March 1808 he apparently returned to consider with favor the possibility of using Ferdinand.

Extension of the French occupation

In the meantime the reinforcement of the French troops in Spain and their progressive occupation of other provinces continued; a new corps under the command of general Guillaume Philibert Duhesme penetrated from the Eastern Pyrenees into Catalonia and occupied Barcelona and Figueras; in March 1808 marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières arrived in Burgos to take the superior command of the troops in that region; finally marshal Joachim Murat was appointed by the emperor supreme commander of the Army of Spain and reached Madrid on March 23, 1808 with other troops. These new advances and the constant increase in numbers of French troops began to worry Godoy, who, more and more uncertain and doubtful about Napoleon”s intentions, decided to recall the Spanish troops from Portugal and transfer them to Andalusia. Even among the population spread a lively uneasiness, there were rumors that Godoy and the royal family were willing to leave the capital, repair to Cadiz and then sail to the Americas.

The so called motin de Aranjuez of March 17-18, 1808 provoked a new evolution of the events; a military revolt, originated by an aristocratic conspiracy combined with the popular discontent, brought to the dismissal of Godoy, who was imprisoned, and to the abdication of Charles IV on March 19, 1808. After having been informed of these events, Napoleon decided to go to Bayonne, evidently with the intention of taking advantage of the confused Spanish situation; in practice, after Charles” abdication, he considered the Spanish throne vacant and on March 27th proposed to his brother Louis to become king. On April 15 the emperor reached Bayonne; previously Charles IV had asked for the intervention of Marshal Murat, complaining about the violence he had suffered, and Napoleon therefore ordered the marshal to send both Charles and Ferdinand to Bayonne; he intended to settle the matter personally.

While the two royal princes did not offer resistance and were transferred to Bayonne, the news of their departure and the French violence and oppression, triggered a patriotic reaction and exploded the popular revolt in the streets of Madrid. On May 2 and May 3, 1808 a violent uprising against the French troops provoked bitter clashes in the city and many victims; Marshal Murat crushed with great energy and brutal methods the popular revolt that cost about 300 victims; mass shootings of the rebels were carried out. Napoleon did not seem very impressed by this news that he considered a local episode, he remained convinced that the mass of the Spanish population would easily submit to the new French order. The emperor also took advantage of the tragic events in Madrid to terrorize Charles and Ferdinand, breaking any resistance. On May 5, after a meeting characterized by Napoleon”s threats, Ferdinand returned the crown to his father Charles IV who, in turn, intimidated and demoralized, delivered it in Napoleon”s hands; the whole Spanish royal family was interned in Valençay and the emperor, after Louis and Jerome”s refusals, forced Joseph to accept the Spanish throne. Marshal Murat, who had hoped to obtain this title, received instead the kingdom of Naples, left free by Joseph.

Napoleon, even before the arrival of his brother in Madrid, proceeded to set up a junta, drawn from the Spanish liberal classes, which from June 15 to July 7 met in Bayonne and drew up a constitution based on similar documents adopted in the vassal kingdoms of the Great French Empire; in the hope of limiting the hostility of the Church, Catholicism was maintained as the state religion and the Inquisition was not suppressed. Joseph arrived in Madrid on July 20, 1808; meanwhile, the kingdom was in revolt and the national and popular uprising had spread to all regions of the Iberian Peninsula and threatened French dominance.

The uprising of Spain

The insurrection did not begin immediately after the departure of Charles and Ferdinand; the first city to rise, almost a month after the facts of Bayonne, was Oviedo, followed on June 6 by Seville; the insurrectional juntas that led the rebellion declared war on France; the uprisings were characterized by summary violence against the French and looting, in Valencia about 300 Frenchmen were brutally killed; in a short time seventeen insurrectional juntas were constituted, mainly located in the northwest, in the south and in Aragon. The insurrection immediately involved the popular masses; the motivations of the rebels were linked to the feeling of dynastic loyalty, to the strong national spirit, to xenophobia and to elements of religious fanaticism traceable to the historical tradition of the struggle against the Moors. The populations, economically backward and isolated in rugged and mountainous territories, were dependent on the doctrine of the local clergy that inculcated since 1789 the hatred towards the French atheists and considered “ministers of the devil”.

The growing presence of the French troops had a decisive influence to stimulate the xenophobia of the population, however the insurrection broke out at first in the regions, Asturias, Galicia and Andalusia, where Napoleon”s soldiers had not yet arrived; it was the Spanish nobles and clergy who took charge of informing the popular classes of the facts happened elsewhere and triggered the general uprising. The Spanish noble class, nationalist and conservative, strongly supported the uprising in which they saw the possibility of reestablishing their authority and privileges and preventing revolutionary social and administrative reforms; since the democratic and liberal bourgeois class was relatively weak, the nobles, large landowners, could easily raise the peasants against the occupiers. The role of the clergy was equally important; Napoleon actually considered it decisive, speaking of “an insurrection of monks.” Although some members of the high clergy supported the new Bonapartist regime, the approximately 60,000 secular and 100,000 religious present in Spain urged and instructed the popular classes to revolt, favoring phenomena of fanaticism. In the churches Napoleon was described as “the king of darkness”, “Apollyon, that is destruction, the designated of the Apocalypse”; he recruited in churches and convents. In addition, some cardinals and bishops seem to have concretely directed the propaganda and the diffusion of the insurrectional intentions and had an important role in the juntas.

In all Spain a bloody guerrilla warfare spread by local chiefs that soon became famous and feared; the juntas organized militias that, not very suitable for open field fights, were effective in annoying and weakening the occupying troops; the war against the French was immediately characterized by serious acts of violence, brutality, tortures and atrocities against prisoners; the French troops answered with ruthless repressive measures with destruction of villages, reprisals on the population, summary executions. Moreover, besides the militias enlisted by the juntas and the guerrillas, Spain also had at its disposal a large regular army that could endanger the French army dispersed on the territory; the strongest units of the Spanish army were concentrated at the time of the insurrection in Galicia and Andalusia and it was in these two regions that the power of the insurrectionary juntas was especially strengthened. The junta of Galicia took control of Asturias, León and Old Castile, while the junta of Seville proclaimed itself “supreme junta of Spain and the Indies” and on June 15, 1808, seized the French naval squadron anchored in Cadiz.

French defeats

In February Napoleon had boasted that 12,000 men would be enough to conquer Spain; but on June 1, 1808, the French army in the Iberian Peninsula already consisted of 117,000 soldiers who would be reinforced by an additional 44,000 men by August 15. These troops were insufficient to control the situation and, moreover, consisting mainly of recruits hastily organized into “provisional regiments,” sailors, guards, and foreign contingents, were of mediocre quality, far inferior to the Grand Army remaining in Germany. The organization and provisions were also poor, and the troops, lacking in means and scattered in a desolate and hostile territory, were immediately in trouble. Moreover, in Madrid Marshal Murat, initially very optimistic, showed little energy and, debilitated by the so-called “colic of Madrid”, a form of gastroenteritis that afflicted the French troops, on June 12 asked the Emperor to be replaced. However the responsible of the French defeats was mainly Napoleon himself who, convinced of the superiority of his troops and devaluing the danger and efficiency of the Spanish, decided to disperse the units in all directions to conquer simultaneously the various provinces insurgent.

Consequently, while the 23,000-man corps of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières occupied Santander, Valladolid and Bilbao, in Aragon, General Verdier repulsed with 10. 600 soldiers against the Spanish troops of General Jose Palafox, conquered Tudela and besieged Zaragoza on June 10, 1808; Marshal Moncey marched towards the Mediterranean Sea with 10,000 men with the objective of taking Valencia and General Duhesme with 11,000 soldiers went to Catalonia and put Gerona under siege. Above all, Marshal Murat sent the corps of General Dupont, made up of 20,000 men, to invade Andalusia with the objective of “restoring tranquility to Andalusia and, dare I say it, to Spain forever”.

Very soon some French contingents found themselves in difficulty; Saragossa was harshly defended by the soldiers and by the population, on June 2nd a French attack was rejected, thanks also to the courage of the inhabitants of the city; on August 13th Napoleon”s troops resolved to lift the siege, temporarily renouncing to conquer the city. In Catalonia the general Duhesme had to renounce to the siege of Girona and it was rejected and blocked in Barcelona, while also the marshal Moncey, lacking of materials and equipments could not conquer Valencia and it folded to north of the Tagus.

The clear victory of Marshal Bessières in the battle of Medina de Rioseco on July 14, 1808 seemed instead to strengthen Napoleon”s optimism and consolidate the French positions in northern Spain. Marshal Bessières routed with 11,000 soldiers the Spanish army of Generals Gregorio Cuesta and Joaquín Blake with a series of frontal infantry attacks and cavalry charges. The battle ended with the rout of the Spaniards and the sacking and the French reprisals against soldiers and Franciscan monks, Napoleon wrote of a battle that “decides the affairs of Spain”. The emperor was in grave error, within a few days a catastrophe would have ended the French invasion of Andalusia and completely changed the situation in Spain.

General Dupont had begun to advance from Toledo on May 24, 1808 towards Cadiz; after having crossed the Guadalquivir on June 7, he conquered Cordova, where he let his troops plunder and despoil the city. Loaded with booty, the French army, after having learned of the presence of the Spanish army of the general Francisco Javier Castaños, the 19 June folded on Andújar to wait for the arrival of the divisions of reinforcement. The Spanish, with a skillful maneuver, succeeded on July 17 to cut off the retreat of the French at Bailén. General Dupont, with his troops exhausted by the clashes under a torrid climate, was not able to open a passage and therefore decided to surrender, while the reinforcement troops that had at first reconquered the Bailén gorge were also included in the surrender. On July 22, 1808 the battle of Bailén ended with the capitulation of General Dupont and 17,000 French soldiers, causing a dramatic turn of events.

Joseph Bonaparte and the French command, shocked by the disaster, ordered a general retreat to the Ebro, abandoning Madrid and nullifying all the conquests made in the north by Marshal Bessières. Europe was shaken by this first major defeat of the French armies, whose advance seemed unstoppable. The news of the Spanish insurrection favored the war party in Austria and showed the importance of the popular patriotic sentiment in inspiring the national resistance; the battle of Bailén and the other successes of the Spanish insurrection favored the resumption of the anti-French hostility of the continental powers and the subsequent constitution of the Fifth Coalition against Napoleon.

British intervention in the peninsula

The British Foreign Minister George Canning, resolute and tenacious, immediately understood the possibilities that opened up for Great Britain thanks to the insurrection and decided to support the uprising in Spain, promising on June 12, 1808 his support to the junta of Asturias and providing funding and materials; Moreover, the British politician decided to organize an expedition to reconquer Portugal and to send in a second time another body of troops in Galicia; the conservative government also obtained the political support of the whig opposition, favorable to the Spanish revolt and to its character of popular and national insurrection.

The situation of the French army of General Junot in Portugal in the meantime had become immediately critical due to the Spanish uprising that interrupted its connections with Madrid; the insurrection also extended to the Portuguese population and the Spanish troop corps deployed in Oporto withdrew to Galicia. General Junot therefore had to concentrate his troops in Lisbon, trying to maintain control of the strategic centers of Almeida and Elvas, which covered his lines of communication.

On August 1, 1808 the British army led by General Arthur Wellesley, consisting of 13,000 soldiers, took land at the mouth of the Mondego River and surprised the French troops; a first clash at Roliça ended with the British victory on August 17 and the French General Henri-François Delaborde was repulsed; in turn on August 21 General Junot, without concentrating his forces, attacked frontally with less than 10. 000 men the positions of the Anglo-Portuguese army of General Wellesley but in the battle of Vimeiro he was repulsed and defeated and found himself in a serious tactical situation. He decided on August 30, 1808 to conclude with the new British commander who had just arrived to replace General Wellesley, General Hew Dalrymple, an evacuation agreement which foresaw that the entire French army of 25,000 soldiers would leave Portugal without fighting and would return to France without taking part in the war.

The Sintra Convention successfully concluded for the British the first phase of the war in the Iberian Peninsula, but it was the cause of strong controversy in Great Britain; Generals Dalrymple and Burrad and Wellesley himself, who had opposed the agreement, were recalled and subjected to an investigation for having allowed the evacuation without fighting of the French army apparently in a critical situation. In reality, the agreement also had advantages for the British, who freed Portugal without the need for further battles and opened the road to Madrid to the Anglo-Portuguese army, even though the French corps of General Junot, who had just returned home, would have resumed its place in the French line-up and fought the 1809 campaign.

The two French defeats of Bailén and Sintra caused a sensation in Europe and showed for the first time that the French were not invincible, stimulating the resumption of the warlike intentions of the continental powers defeated in the previous wars; moreover, the character of popular resistance for Spanish independence assumed by the war in the peninsula excited the liberal currents in Great Britain and also on the continent, alienating many consents to the French. The European aristocracy actually felt a certain mistrust for the popular Spanish resistance, but was ready to exploit propaganda movements of resistance, using them to consolidate their power.

The defeats in the peninsula shook the confidence of Napoleon and convinced him of the danger of the situation for the French dominance in Europe because of the intervention in Spain. The emperor therefore decided to intervene personally to reinforce the prestige of France and to strategically resolve the situation by defeating his new enemies and the British army. To this end, the Grand Army would have had to move en masse to the south of the Pyrenees to launch, under the command of Napoleon, a decisive offensive; it was then necessary a new agreement with Tsar Alexander to agree on his cooperation to curb in Germany the possible Austrian or Prussian revenge ambitions during the time in which the bulk of the French army would have to leave German territory to move to Spain.

The Great Army in Spain

In spite of the favorable situation, the political leaders of the Spanish uprising did not know how to take advantage of the propitious moment following the victory of Bailén and the bewilderment of Joseph and the remaining French forces that had hastily fallen back on the Ebro; only on August 12, 1808 Spanish troops, advancing from Valencia arrived in Madrid, while General Castaños arrived with limited forces on August 23. Above all there was a great administrative disorganization and the numerous provincial juntas constituted for the insurrection did not succeed to find a stable agreement and were immediately in strong conflict between them. Galicia and Asturias disputed the power, general Gregorio Cuesta assumed an autonomous position with the junta of Old Castile, in Seville, proposed not to advance on the capital and to limit itself to administer Andalusia, the junta of Granada operated autonomously. Finally, on the initiative of the Junta of Murcia, led by the Count of Floridablanca, a Central Junta was constituted consisting of thirty-five delegates, mostly nobles and priests, from the provincial administrations, which met on September 25, 1808 in Aranjuez but that, engaged in procedural and constitutional problems, could not work effectively because of the contrasts between the conservative currents of Floridablanca and the liberal ones of Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos. A ministry was organized but due to the rivalry between the generals, a commander in chief was not appointed. The regular army was not adequately strengthened, recruitment was insufficient, and many weapons and materials supplied by the British were not used.

The situation was not better in Portugal where General Dalrymple, before being recalled, had reorganized the regency appointed by Prince John; despite the recall of the regular troops, due to the scarcity of means only 13,000 Portuguese soldiers could be organized, while the mass conscription (ordenance) was completely devoid of weapons. The only truly efficient force was therefore the British expeditionary corps, which was also hampered by logistical and administrative problems. Consisting of 20,000 soldiers, the expeditionary corps was now led by the capable General John Moore, but did not move until October 1808 and was unable to coordinate its operations with the Spanish insurrectionary juntas; in Galicia, at the end of October a second British corps of 13,000 men landed under the command of General David Baird.

In the meantime, on the Ebro Joseph, assisted by Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, had scattered his weak forces, 65,000 soldiers, from Biscay to Aragon; Napoleon had words of bitter irony for the ineptitude of his lieutenants who in the Iberian peninsula, appeared confused and weak. The emperor met Tsar Alexander in Erfurt on September 27 and, after a series of talks, the two sovereigns concluded on October 12 a new precarious agreement to stabilize the situation on the continent during Napoleon”s absence and avoid threats of war from Austria. So the Grand Army, which had remained on Prussian territory after the victories of 1806 and 1807, was brought back west of the Elbe and on October 12, 1808, was officially disbanded. The emperor left in southern Germany two corps grouped in the “Army of the Rhine” under the command of Marshal Louis Nicolas Davout and with the rest of his forces, about 160,000 men of the “Army of Spain” divided into six army corps in addition to the Imperial Guard, entered the Iberian Peninsula to launch a decisive offensive. Napoleon arrived in Vitoria on November 5 and assumed command.

Upon Napoleon”s arrival, the Spanish army was deployed on a very large front, organized into two main groupings with General Joaquín Blake”s Army of Galicia on the Ebro and General Castaños” Army of the Center around Tudela; in between was a third, smaller formation approaching from Extremadura under the command of General Galluzo. Much further back were the 20,000 British of General Moore, who were just beginning to move, and the 12,000 soldiers of General Baird who had landed in Galicia. Napoleon organized a maneuver in order to shatter this too wide line-up, even if he had at his disposal only a part of his forces at the moment; in the center the marshal Nicolas Soult, after having assumed the command of the II army corps, attacked and defeated completely the 10 November in the battle of Gamonal the army of general Galluzo and marched immediately on Burgos and Valladolid, that were conquered by the French troops.

Having reached a dominant central position, Napoleon could then devise two circumventing maneuvers on the sides to destroy the separate corps of the Spanish army; the difficulties of communication, terrain, climate, and some errors of his lieutenants did not allow the perfect execution of his plans. On the right, Marshal François Joseph Lefebvre, commander of the IV corps, and Marshal Claude Victor, commander of the I corps, in violent rivalry with each other, failed to cooperate and attacked too soon the forces of General Blake, who therefore was not engaged and, after being defeated at the battle of Espinosa de los Monteros on November 10 and 11, was able to retreat and escape destruction.

Also the second manoeuvre of the Spanish right wing against the army of general Castaños did not achieve all the results expected by the emperor. The Spanish general was attacked and defeated in the battle of Tudela on November 23 by a French grouping that descended the course of the Ebro under the command of Marshal Jean Lannes, consisting of the 3rd Corps of Marshal Jeannot de Moncey and other reinforcement troops, but in the meantime the Marshal Michel Ney, who with the VI corps had to come from behind going up the Duero, was delayed by the bad roads and did not arrive in time to close the trap, also because of the too early attack of Marshal Lannes. The Army of the Center of General Castaños suffered a heavy defeat with serious losses, but it was not destroyed and its remains flowed back en route to Calatayud and Cuenca.

In spite of these partial results, Napoleon had broken up the Spanish line-up and therefore, while Marshal Soult occupied Santander on November 16 and at Burgos covered the army”s communications, he was able to march directly on Madrid, finding limited opposition. On November 30 at the Somosierra gorge, the Spanish resistance of 20,000 soldiers of General Benito de San Juan was overcome after a bitter battle in which the Polish cavalry units stood out. On December 4, 1808 Napoleon entered with his troops in Madrid; the streets of the city were deserted and the population welcomed the arrival of the French army with a hostile silence. Napoleon settled in Chamartin and, supplanting his brother Joseph, immediately took important administrative decisions with the aim of obtaining the support of the liberal Spanish bourgeoisie: he abolished the inquisition, reduced by one third the number of convents, confiscated church property, abolished internal customs and feudal rights.

Retreat of General Moore

In the meantime, British General John Moore had joined up with General David Baird”s corps, which had landed in Galicia in October and was concentrating its forces north of Salamanca; the Spanish corps of General Pedro La Romana, coming from Denmark, had also landed in Asturias, and joined up with the British. General Moore took the bold initiative to go on the offensive with his small army and marched against Marshal Soult”s corps, which was deployed in an isolated position to cover Burgos, to defeat it and threaten the lines of communication of the bulk of the French army.

Napoleon was informed late of this sudden advance of General Moore and on December 20 he immediately organized a maneuver to cut off the British army and destroy it; while Marshal Soult was engaging the enemy, he marched with the corps of Marshal Michel Ney, the Imperial Guard and the cavalry towards Salamanca and Astorga to get around him. The advance in forced stages through the Sierra de Guadarrama in winter was very difficult and the troops gave signs of impatience; Napoleon personally intervened to push the soldiers forward and accelerate the movement.

In spite of the commitment of the emperor, the insufficient energy shown by Marshal Soult allowed General Moore, who suddenly became aware of the dangerous situation, to escape; on December 24 the British began a precipitous retreat towards the Atlantic coast to avoid being surrounded. The British retreat was very difficult, but despite the losses and fatigue, General Moore managed to avoid the disintegration of his army; the French troops arrived at Astorga on January 3, 1809, and here Napoleon ceded command to Marshal Soult for the last phase of the pursuit, before returning to Valladolid. While Marshal Ney”s corps remained in Astorga, Marshal Soult”s corps attacked on January 7 in Lugo, but the British once again managed to disengage and reached the port of La Coruña on January 11, 1809 where they remained waiting for ships to be placed in safety.

On the 15th and 16th of January the French army of Marshal Soult attacked the British positions in La Coruña in order to prevent the evacuation; the Marshal”s hesitations and the tenacity of the defenders allowed General Moore to successfully complete the boarding of most of his soldiers. The British army had to burn its depots, abandon heavy weapons and materials, numerous prisoners were captured by the French and the same General Moore was mortally wounded, but overall the army, although very tried, returned to Britain where it would soon return to action In the Iberian Peninsula remained only a British troop of 10,000 men in Lisbon.

In the meantime, in the other Spanish provinces, the operations continued autonomously; Marshal Lannes, after having descended the Ebro, rejoined Marshal Moncey”s corps in front of Zaragoza and resumed the difficult siege of the fortress. The defenses of Sargozza, entrusted to General Jose Palafox who galvanized the resistance and refused any negotiation, were reinforced by the participation of the population and proved difficult to overcome. The assault to Saragossa gave place to clashes of great violence; the Spanish troops fought fiercely, supported by the inhabitants; after having employed a month to conquer the walls, the French had to rake the houses and the ruins with long and bloody fights; the clashes ended only on February 20th 1809 after the French troops had crushed, at the cost of serious losses, the last nuclei of resistance of the defenders, exhausted by hunger and diseases. The city was devastated and plundered, more than 48,000 Spaniards died of disease and the total losses of the defenders, civilians and military, were 108,000 people.

In January 1809, the other French corps consolidated Napoleon”s conquests and pushed back the weak Spanish regular forces that remained in the field; Marshal Lefebvre advanced across the Tagus and pushed back General Galuzzo”s army. To beat back the troops of the Duke of Intifado”s Army of the Center which, under the command of General Venegas, were concentrating south of Madrid, Marshal Victor took the offensive and on January 13, 1809 defeated and dispersed the Spanish army at the Battle of Uclés.

On January 17, 1809 Napoleon left Valladolid to return to Paris, the Austrian rearmament became threatening and it was believed that a new war in Germany was imminent, the emperor could not stay still in Spain for the news of obscure political maneuvers devised by Charles de Tallyerand and Joseph Fouché that perhaps also involved Murat and that seemed to threaten the stability of the regime. Napoleon”s Spanish campaign therefore ended with important but not definitive results, the Spanish army had been shattered and Joseph had returned to Madrid, the British had been defeated and forced to evacuate the peninsula, but because of the distances, the impassable terrain and the climate Napoleon”s maneuvers had been slowed and hampered, allowing his enemies to avoid destruction. If Napoleon had been able to stay, in a short time even Lisbon and Cadiz would have been reached, but in his absence, operations remained in the hands of the marshals who, poorly cohesive, hostile to each other and prey to strong rivalry and ambition, failed to collaborate effectively. The emperor had therefore to leave in Spain to complete the conquest and suffocate the resistance, large forces that were no longer employable for the main European front against the new anti-French coalitions.

Second invasion of Portugal

Napoleon remained optimistic about the general situation in the peninsula; upon his departure, after the disastrous evacuation of General Moore”s troops, only 10,000 British remained in Portugal under the command of General John Francis Cradock, who seemed intent on retreating in turn. The French forces remaining in Spain after Napoleon”s departure amounted to 193,000 soldiers, of which more than a third were deployed in the western regions of the country, available for offensive actions. The emperor gave precise instructions to his generals to launch a new definitive offensive in Portugal. While Marshal Ney”s corps remained in Galicia, Marshal Soult would march on Lisbon with 23,000 soldiers, where he would join Marshal Victor”s corps, which would descend the course of the Tagus, and General Lapisse”s corps.

In the meantime, strong disagreements had arisen between the British political leaders; General Moore”s army had returned to Britain greatly weakened; the opinion of its commander, before his death on the field at La Coruña, had been clearly pessimistic about the possibility of maintaining an expeditionary corps permanently in the Iberian Peninsula. It was the Minister of War Robert Castlereagh who took the initiative and, despite the criticism of the opposition, on April 2, 1809 decided to bring the army back to Portugal under the command of General Arthur Wellesley who, after being consulted by the Minister, had promised to succeed with 30,000 men to defend a bridgehead in the Iberian Peninsula. The sending of the expeditionary corps was, however, hindered by developments in Europe where the war of the Fifth Coalition exploded; the British government decided to organize another expedition to Walcheren to help the Austrians and therefore the contingent of troops available to General Wellesley was reduced.

In March 1809 Marshal Soult began the second invasion of Portugal; he advanced, despite a strong resistance of the Portuguese troops, reorganized by British general William Beresford, towards Oporto; in the first battle of Oporto the French marshal attacked frontally and overcame the enemy defenses, conquering the city on March 29, 1809; instead of continuing on Lisbon, the marshal remained stationary on the spot and became involved in dark intrigues, hoping perhaps to become king of Portugal, ran rumors of a possible king Nicolas (the army protested and discontent came to the point of causing a conspiracy, with the involvement of the British. While Marshal Soult lingered in Oporto, Marshal Victor fought in Medellín on March 28 and pushed back the Spaniards of General Gregorio Cuesta on the Guadiana but, after joining forces with General Lapisse, he was unable to cross the Tagus, whose Alcántara bridge had been destroyed, and could not continue to Portugal.

In these conditions the British general Arthur Wellesley could land without difficulty with his expeditionary corps on April 22, 1809, concentrate his forces of 26,000 men in Coimbra and take the offensive against the disunited troops of his opponents. On May 12, Marshal Soult was attacked by surprise and had to beat a retreat, abandoning Porto. (The French troops were in dire straits and the marshal, threatened by General William Beresford”s Anglo-Portuguese corps that had crossed the Duero further north, fell back through the mountains without artillery. The French, instead of concentrating to face the British, abandoned Galicia, Marshal Ney retreated to León, while Marshal Soult reached Zamora.

General Wellesley, taking advantage of the lack of resolve and cohesion of his adversaries, could then turn against Marshal Victor”s forces, although, due to organizational difficulties and misunderstandings and disagreements with the Spanish army of General Gregorio Cuesta, he did not resume operations until June 27. Faced with the British offensive, Marshal Victor decided to retreat from his exposed position on the borders of Portugal and retreated to Madrid where he joined the corps of General Horace Sébastiani; in the meantime, from Paris, Napoleon had given instructions to Marshal Soult to concentrate his corps and those of Marshal Ney and Marshal Mortier, march from the north, through the Sierra de Gredos, behind the British and intercept their line of retreat. However, Marshal Victor and General Sébastiani, without waiting for Marshal Soult”s maneuver, convinced King Joseph, who had arrived in the field, and his military advisor, Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, to attack General Wellesley, deployed on the solid positions of Talavera de la Reina, on July 28.

The French attacks were repeatedly repulsed and the general was praised for his defensive victory at the Battle of Talavera and was named Duke of Wellington, although soon the approach from the north of Marshal Soult”s forces threatened his lines of communication and therefore he had to organize a difficult retreat to Badajoz, after crossing the Tagus. Marshals Soult and Victor rejoined but, instead of resuming the offensive and marching on Lisbon, they decided to return to divide their forces and gave up operating together. General Sebastiani headed immediately with his corps to the south and defeated at the battle of Almonacid August 11, 1809 the Spanish army of General Francisco Venagas, coming from Murcia.

In this phase also General Wellington had to complain about the scarce collaboration of the Spaniards, who refused to nominate him commander in chief, and the independence of Generals Cuesta and Venagas; therefore, he, very disappointed by the behavior of his allies, preferred to continue to retreat to Portugal to reorganize his forces, tried by the retreat during which they had had to abandon many wounded, and to concentrate his efforts on the strengthening of the defensive positions. General Wellington correctly foresaw that Napoleon, victorious against the Fifth Coalition, would soon organize a new offensive against the British army and occupy Portugal; he began to organize an entrenched camp and solid fortifications to protect Lisbon and face this new threat.

On the contrary, the Spanish Central Junta (Junta Suprema Central) in Seville did not share the pessimism of the Duke of Wellington, who continued to support it only reluctantly despite the efforts of his brother Henry Wellesley, the British political representative on the spot, and ordered an untimely general offensive against the French to reconquer Madrid, which ended with disastrous results for the Spanish. From Andalusia, General Juan Carlos de Aréizaga advanced in the direction of the Tagus, but was intercepted and routed by Marshal Soult”s army at the Battle of Ocaña on November 29, 1809; the Spanish suffered the loss of 5,000 dead and wounded and 13. 000 prisoners The previous day, November 28, General Diego Del Parque”s Army of Extremadura had also been routed by General François Étienne Kellermann at the Battle of Alba de Tormes and had to abandon Salamanca.

Confident after these victories, King Joseph and Marshal Soult convinced Napoleon to authorize an invasion of Andalusia, counting on taking possession of many resources and a rich booty; in reality the French advanced without meeting much resistance from the regular forces; even the reception of the population was surprisingly calm. Cordova was reached peacefully on January 27, 1810; General Sébastiani entered Granada and Malaga without fighting. However, Marshal Soult convinced Joseph to march on Seville, delaying the advance on Cadiz; Seville, abandoned by the Central Junta, was easily occupied on February 1, but the Junta managed to escape and take refuge on February 3, 1810 in Cadiz, which was fiercely defended against Marshal Victor”s troops. While Joseph returned to Madrid, Marshal Soult settled in Seville, resuming his personalistic programs of exploitation and depredation.

Third invasion of Portugal

The decision of Joseph and Marshal Soult to invade Andalusia proved to be a mistake, to control the territory and maintain the siege of Cadiz remained blocked three French corps, thus weakening the troops available for the offensive in Portugal that Napoleon was organizing for 1810. The emperor after having defeated the Fifth Coalition seemed free to return to Spain with the mass of his forces and destroy or force the evacuation of the British army of the Duke of Wellington, but, engaged in his complex diplomatic maneuvers and in the organization of his second marriage, he could not decide to leave and limited himself to send 140,000 soldiers of reinforcement in the Iberian Peninsula. In the middle of 1810 the French army in Spain counted 360,000 men, of which about 130,000, according to the plans of the emperor, should have been engaged in the new offensive against Portugal under the orders of the expert marshal Andrea Massena.

Even the situation of the Duke of Wellington was not without difficulties; on the contrary, the general had to face great organizational problems and the concrete consequences of the serious political contrasts present both at home and among the different authorities in the peninsula. At the end of 1809 the government of the prime minister Duke of Portland had fallen due to the violent personal contrasts between ministers Canning and Castlereagh, which had led to a formal duel from which the former had been wounded. The new government formed by Spencer Perceval with Richard Wellesley, the general”s brother, at the foreign ministry, was weak. The Duke of Wellington was also exposed to criticism; when news of Marshal Masséna”s offensive reached him, he was warned to avoid at all costs the loss of the army, even at the cost of an evacuation; reinforcements and economic financing were limited, as they were indispensable to the British troops who paid in coin for all the materials and equipment they procured on the spot.

A determining element of the Duke of Wellington”s ability to resist in the Iberian peninsula and to engage important French forces was instead the possibility of using Portugal as a base of operations, which allowed the supplying of the army by sea and which cooperated in a concrete way. In spite of the corruption and conservatism of the local aristocracy, the regency of Portugal, controlled by the envoy Charles Stuart, collaborated closely with Great Britain; General William Beresford was in charge of reorganizing the Portuguese army, which in 1810 grew to 56,000 soldiers and which, framed and trained by British officers, participated in the operations and reinforced Wellington”s troops. Cooperation with the Spaniards was much more difficult; until 1812 they refused to put their forces under the orders of the British general; the authority of the Central Junta which, repaired to Cadiz, had been transformed, after the convocation of the Cortes in September 1810, first into a Council of Regency and then into an Executive Committee, was very limited; inefficient and corrupt, it was marked by strong internal rivalries, furthermore, the provincial juntas, especially that of Old Castile and that of Seville, exercised autonomous authority and did not follow central directives; the guerrillas were, to a large extent, independent. The junta”s attempts to organize a solid regular army, first with the mass conscription of 1809 and then with the general conscription of 1811, failed completely; due to shortages of materials and organization, and the modest adherence of the population to the calls, the regular forces never exceeded 100,000 men.

However, in the absence of the emperor, not even the French were able to overcome their political, strategic, and operational difficulties; Joseph, despite the presence of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan as military advisor, was unable either to exercise civil and administrative authority or to firmly coordinate military operations, despite the adherence to the regime of some Spanish notables, the so-called Josefinos, such as Mariano Luis de Urquijo, Miguel José de Azanza, François Cabarrus, and the establishment of a bureaucracy. The economic and financial situation was deplorable and the generals in the provinces did not receive the resources to supply their armies; more and more isolated and independent did not cooperate with each other and were in constant rivalry; Napoleon from Paris, often diramò strategic directives that on the field sometimes prove inexecutable and increased the confusion.

Marshal Massena for his offensive in Portugal could only gather 60,000 men because of the necessity to occupy Asturias and to safely control Old Castile and Biscay, missions that were entrusted to General Bonnet and that required strong contingents of troops. The available forces proved to be insufficient for the mission and moreover the marshal did not organize an adequate system of provisions and warehouses, instead he waited for the harvest to get supplies and initially he limited himself to send Marshal Ney to conquer the strongholds of Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo that fell after a valid resistance on July 9. Finally, in September 1810, Marshal Massena began his offensive in the direction of Coimbra, but he immediately found himself in difficulty due to the scarcity of supplies; the territory had been abandoned by the population and the Portuguese authorities had evacuated all goods on the basis of the order that provided to make the vacuum in front of the enemy and to destroy the materials that could not be transported.

General Wellington could therefore wait for the enemy forces to wear out during the advance and deployed on the hilly position of Buçaco where on September 27, 1810 Marshal Masséna attacked him frontally without success. After this battle of Buçaco, the French marshal decided to maneuver to get around the enemy positions and General Wellington hastened to retreat to the so-called “lines of Torres Vedras”, previously prepared to protect Lisbon. This was a system of fortifications on three lines, the first of which measured 40 kilometers in length and consisted of 126 strongholds, armed with 247 cannons; General Wellington”s army was made up of 33,000 British, 30,000 Portuguese and 6,000 Spanish and, being supplied by sea, could not be put in difficulty by a siege.

Moreover, Marshal Massena was lacking of materials for a long siege and was increasingly in difficulty for the serious problems of supply; he still had 35,000 soldiers that were reinforced only by 10,000 men of General Jean-Baptiste Drouet d”Erlon. After some months of useless waiting, Marshal Massena, whose troops were very weakened by the lack of provisions, decided to abandon the positions in Torres Vedras and on March 5, 1811 began to withdraw from Portugal and headed towards Salamanca, prudently pursued by General Wellington. The British general decided to march on Almeida to regain the important stronghold, and Marshal Masséna made a last attempt and went on the offensive to try to defend the city; on May 5, 1811 the battle of Fuentes de Oñoro was fought. The French repeatedly attacked the British lines but, despite some success, this time they also failed to get the better of them and were still repulsed. Marshal Massena”s offensive failed because of his insufficient determination but also because of objective difficulties, lack of means and the lack of collaboration of other French generals. The Marshal was recalled on May 17, 1811 by a disappointed Napoleon and replaced in Salamanca by Marshal Auguste Marmont.

In the meantime Marshal Soult had finally attempted a diversion to support Marshal Massena; the French commander routed the Spanish army of Extremadura in the battle of Gebora on February 19, 1811 and on March 11 conquered the fortress of Badajoz; soon in this sector intervened a body of British and Portuguese troops under the command of General Beresford sent by General Wellington, reassured by the retreat of Marshal Massena, who forced the French to retreat and besieged in turn Badajoz. Marshal Soult returned to the offensive and maneuvered to face the enemy; on May 16 in the violent and bloody battle of Albuera the French attacks put in difficulty the Anglo-Portuguese but they were finally repelled by the forces of General Beresford. Shortly afterwards the main army of General Wellington joined the Anglo-Portuguese but in this phase the concentration of the French forces was completed with the arrival from Salamanca of the army of Marshal Marmont that joined the troops of Marshal Soult. The two marshals, however, instead of taking the initiative and risk a major battle on the spot, preferred to give up and soon the two concentrations were dissolved. General Wellington headed undisturbed towards Ciudad Rodrigo to attack the stronghold, but finally, while Marshal Soult was returning to Andalusia with his army, Marshal Marmont approached the British and the British general preferred to suspend operations and return prudently to Portugal, after obtaining good results and having thwarted the French offensive programs.

General Wellington”s successes

General Wellington”s ability to remain in the peninsula, to repel the repeated French offensives and to inflict serious setbacks on Napoleon”s lieutenants, stemmed primarily from his military skill, his tenacious and solid personality capable of understanding the important strategic implications of his continental diversion and of assessing the best tactical decisions to adopt in order to face the enemy. The British general believed that it was possible to remain in the peninsula and progressively wear down the French by exploiting the qualities of his small army made up of regular soldiers who were few in number but experienced, well trained in shooting and subjected to a strict discipline; he adopted effective battle tactics, based mainly on the defensive, on targeted shooting in line, on the exploitation of the terrain to strengthen his positions. The impatient and aggressive French generals continued to follow offensive methods and were therefore often defeated by the general”s tactics, which inflicted heavy losses on them and disorganized their plans. After weakening the French, the British troops at the opportunity also took the offensive and the general was able to maneuver skillfully gaining ground or forcing his opponents to retreat.

Also the characteristics of the ground, mountainous and arid, of the climate and of the ways of communication, very limited and in bad conditions, influenced the conditions of the war and favored the British; the army of general Wellington suffered a lot for the lack of provisions and for the diseases, but the general was able to get supplies by sea and, paying in cash, he could obtain goods and provisions from the population much more easily. The French troops suffered even more and resorted to violence and looting to take possession of materials and provisions; without deposits and warehouses and little supplied by the country, the French armies, led by generals who in turn indulged in corruption, venality, plundering, broke up, the desertions multiplied and spread throughout the territory irregular bands and independent groups formed by stragglers of all armies that raged in the countryside and mountains. General Wellington was able to take advantage of the French supply difficulties; he was always careful to maintain connections with his base of operations and to return to Portugal after each campaign to replenish his supplies, while he devastated the territory in front of the French offensives, which then progressively ran out for lack of means as had happened to Marshal Masséna.

Having repulsed the feared French offensive in Portugal, General Wellington, who had also received reinforcements, decided, after a brief pause, to resume the initiative; he now had the local numerical superiority given that Marshal Marmont”s army consisted of only 35,000 men; furthermore, Napoleon, being busy organizing the Russian campaign, had no way to intervene directly to reduce the discipline and cooperation of his marshals, and on the contrary had to call back a part of the troops in Spain. Joseph was worried about possible surprises of the British and urged unsuccessfully Marshal Soult to evacuate Andalusia to reinforce the main front to cover Madrid.

Therefore, Wellington was able to go on the offensive from January 7, 1812, having organized sufficient materials and provisions to conduct a winter campaign; the French, lacking the means, were surprised and the first stages of the new campaign were favorable to the British. However, the offensive of General Wellington was slowed down by the need to conquer the strongholds on the Portuguese border, Ciudad Rodrigo, which fell on January 19, and especially Badajoz, which resisted until April 6, defended by the brave General Philippon. These were difficult sieges concluded with bloody assaults that cost many losses to the British, who lacked equipment and siege troops. Exhausted by the difficulties and losses, the British troops looted and devastated the strongholds, indulging in uncontrolled violence and brutality on the inhabitants. During this period, Marshal Marmont, not receiving support from Marshal Soult, renounced to intervene to unblock the besieged strongholds.

At this stage of the war, the British and Spanish also began operations in other sectors of the Iberian Peninsula that engaged French forces, reducing the available contingents on the Portuguese border. Astorga was besieged by the Spanish; Admiral Home Riggs Popham attacked the coast of Biscay, defended by the troops of General Auguste Caffarelli; General William Bentinck, commander in Sicily, sent a body of British troops under the command of General Frederick Maitland, who landed in Alicante and faced the army of Marshal Louis Gabriel Suchet who, advancing from Aragon, had occupied, with a series of successful operations of conquest and pacification, Lerida, Tortosa, Tarragona, Sagunto, where he defeated the army of General Blake, and Valencia, which he conquered on January 9, 1812, where he captured the same General Blake, 18. 000 prisoners and 392 cannons

While these secondary operations were developing, General Wellington resumed the offensive on June 14 and forced Marshal Marmont to retreat, after crossing the Duero; however, the Marshal managed to concentrate his forces, drew troops from Asturias, and with a successful maneuver crossed the river again and forced the British general to retreat to Salamanca. Marshal Marmont after this success became more aggressive and continued to outflank the enemy; on July 22, 1812 he attacked the British positions in the Arapiles, but the maneuver was unsuccessful, the French troops dispersed and General Wellington counterattacked successfully. The battle of Salamanca ended with a clear British victory, Marshal Marmont was wounded at the beginning of the clashes, the French troops lost 14,000 men and retreated; General Bertrand Clauzel took command and managed with great difficulty to bring the remains of the army to Burgos, giving up the defense of Madrid.

General Wellington marched on the capital without defense that he reached on August 6, then, while Joseph and Marshal Jourdan repaired to Valencia to join Marshal Suchet, he advanced towards Burgos that, however, under the leadership of General Dubreton, validly supported the siege. In September 1812 finally Marshal Soult evacuated Andalusia and marched to the north with his army, after having linked up with a part of Marshal Suchet”s forces; from the north descended General Joseph Souham”s troops to threaten the rear of the Anglo-Portuguese army blocked in Burgos. On October 21, General Wellington, who risked being cut off by the converging advance of the French armies, gave up the siege and began to fall back, crossed the Tormes and headed back to Portugal. Marshal Soult, who had concentrated all the forces, did not attack him energetically and limited himself to follow him with the cavalry during the long and wearisome retreat; on November 2, 1812 Joseph returned to Madrid, but the campaign ended with a satisfactory balance for the allies, who had inflicted heavy losses to the enemy, forcing him to abandon Andalusia.

General Wellington had therefore obtained important results during his three years of command in the Iberian peninsula; despite the organizational and political difficulties, and the numerical superiority of the French troops, the British commander continued to protect Portugal; the Spanish insurrectional junta had regained control of Andalusia, Galicia and Asturias; a large enemy army, led by some famous marshals, had been held back and worn out in the peninsula. However, as the French historian Georges Lefebvre points out, in spite of the successes, Wellington”s operations in Spain, from the overall political-military point of view for the time being, had not had any decisive influence: in spite of the Iberian engagement that held back a large part of his troops, Napoleon had equally defeated the Fifth Coalition in 1809 and in 1812 had invaded Russia with a massive army. In case of a French victory in the Russian campaign, the situation of General Wellington and the Spanish would have become really critical. Napoleon himself apparently did not give excessive importance to the Spanish events; on September 6, 1812, reached on the battlefield of Borodino by the news of the British victory at Salamanca, he was convinced that it was more advantageous for France that the British army stayed in Spain, without making diversions on the French or German coasts while he was in front of Moscow.

The catastrophe in Russia had negative consequences for the French also in Spain; Napoleon, forced to organize in all haste a new army, recalled a part of the troops present in the Iberian peninsula, also the marshal Soult, in contrast with the king, returned to France. Moreover, in Biscay and Navarre, the Spanish rebel forces had severely engaged the army of General Clauzel, leaving available as a mass of maneuver at the disposal of Joseph and his military expert, Marshal Jourdan, only 75,000 soldiers dispersed between Madrid and Salamanca, divided between the armies of General Honoré Gazan, General Jean-Baptiste Drouet d”Erlon and General Honoré Charles Reille.

The Duke of Wellington could then take the offensive on May 15, 1813 with his army increased to 70. The British general attacked with his right wing towards Salamanca and above all with his left wing he crossed the Duero river and bypassed the enemy”s line-up; joined by the Spanish troops present in Galicia, he threatened to cut the French communications and Joseph and Marshal Jourdan decided to start a strategic retreat, evacuating Madrid. The situation of the French in Spain, in spite of Napoleon”s optimism, was more and more critical; guerrilla warfare was spreading and communications across the Pyrenees were very precarious; in order to safeguard the lines of connection the French had to commit five divisions on the road from Burgos to the frontier, just when the Anglo-Portuguese army had reached Palencia, north of Valladolid.

In a strategic move Wellington moved his supply base from Lisbon to Santander. Anglo-Portuguese forces took Burgos in late May and then outflanked the French army while forcing Joseph Bonaparte into the Zadorra River Valley. At the Battle of Vitoria on June 21, Joseph”s 65,000 men were intercepted by 53,000 British, 27,000 Portuguese, and 19,000 Spanish. Wellington pursued and drove the French out of San Sebastián, which was sacked and set on fire.

The allies pursued the French in retreat arriving to the Pyrenees at the beginning of July. Marshal Soult was given the command of the French forces and he began a counter-offensive inflicting two defeats to the Allied generals in the battles of Maya and Roncesvalles. It was however strongly rejected by the Anglo-Portuguese and had to retreat after the defeat in the battle of Sorauren (28 July – 30 July).

This week-long military campaign, known as the Battle of the Pyrenees, represented the best part of Wellington”s action in Spain. The opponents” forces were balanced, he was fighting far away from his supply lines, the French were defending their territory, and yet he managed to win with a series of maneuvers rarely equaled in a war.

On October 7, after Wellington received news of the reopening of hostilities in Germany, the Allies arrived in France by fording the Bidasoa River. On December 11, the siege of a desperate Napoleon led to a separate peace with Spain with the Treaty of Valençay, by which Napoleon would recognize Ferdinand as King of Spain in exchange for a complete cessation of hostilities. But the Spanish had no intention of believing Napoleon and continued the fighting.

The Spanish War of Independence continued with Allied victories at Vera Pass, the Battle of Nivelle and the Battle of Nive near Bayonne (December 10 – December 14, 1813), the Battle of Orthez (February 27, 1814) and the Battle of Toulouse (April 10, 1814). The latter battle was fought after Napoleon”s abdication.

During the war, the British aided the Portuguese militia and Spanish guerrillas who had mowed down thousands of French soldiers: supporting local forces cost them far less than having to equip their own soldiers to face the French in a conventional war. This tactic proved to be very effective during the course of the war, but it had advantages and disadvantages for both sides. While guerrilla warfare stimulated the patriotic spirit of the Spanish against the French troops, it also created problems for the peasants through forced conscription and looting. Many of the Spanish partisans were in fact outlaws or profiteers whose purpose was to enrich themselves through predation, although later the authorities tried to organize the guerrilla warfare militarily and many partisans were framed in regular army units. An example of this policy was the “Cazadores Navarra” led by Francisco Espoz y Mina.

The idea of framing the guerrillas into a more conventional armed force had both positive and negative effects. On the one hand, uniforms and military discipline would get them off the streets and reduce the number of stragglers; on the other hand, the more disciplined they were, the easier it was for the French to locate and capture them. Only a few partisan leaders decided to actually go over to the regular troops: most of them did so only to gain army officer status, receive pay, food, and equipment.

In the absence of a capable and charismatic commander such as Wellington, the fighting style of the guerrillas remained the same as it had been prior to joining the regular army, that is, it was based on individuality. Most attempts by the Spanish forces to achieve a change in mentality were unsuccessful and the militiamen continued to fight as guerrillas.

In this way, on the other hand, acting as commandos scattered throughout the territory, they were able to engage the French soldiers much more. Moreover, they saved on maintenance and equipment costs, while the constant damage caused by the guerrilla warfare progressively demoralized the French military structure; the first among the regular European forces to have to face a force of guerrillas strongly motivated (if not by patriotic sentiment, by religious sentiment or by the desire to get rich), who knew perfectly the territory in which they operated and who enjoyed the support of the local population among which they could return to hide if necessary.

On the role of guerrilla warfare in the story of Spanish independence, Carl Schmitt has written pages that have contributed to review and update not only the role of guerrilla warfare in conflicts, but also the very categories of the concept of politics. In fact, Schmitt writes: “The Spanish partisan re-established the seriousness of war, and precisely in the face of Napoleon, therefore on the defensive side of the old continental European states, whose old regularity, by now reduced to a conventional game, was no longer up to the new, revolutionary Napoleonic regularity. The enemy became again a real enemy, and the war a real war”.

Espionage played a crucial role in the British prosecution of the war after 1810. The Spanish and Portuguese guerrillas devoted themselves to capturing French couriers carrying often confidential communications. From 1811 onward these messages were often partially or completely encrypted. Georges Scovell, from Wellington”s retinue, had the task of deciphering these messages. At the beginning the ciphering was very rudimentary and it was easy to figure out the meaning of the messages. Starting from 1812 were used much more complex ciphering systems, but Scovell was able to decipher them giving a great advantage to the allied troops who could know in advance the movements of French troops and the results soon began to show it. The French did not realize that their code had been revealed and they continued to use it until the battle of Vitoria when the deciphering tables were found by them among what was captured from the enemy.

The Spanish War of Independence meant Portugal”s traumatic entry into the modern era. The transfer of the Court to Rio de Janeiro began the process that led to the independence of Brazil. The skillful evacuation by the fleet of more than 15,000 people from the court and the state administration was a blessing for Brazil and, at the same time, a liberation in disguise for Portugal, as it freed up precious energy for the reconstruction of the country. Portugal”s governors, appointed by the king in exile, had little impact on the French invasions and subsequent British occupation.

The role of the Minister of War, Miguel Pereira Forjaz was unique. Wellington described him as “the only statesman in the peninsula.” With Portuguese personnel he managed to build a regular army of 55,000 men and 50,000 were assigned to the national guard (milicias) and a variable number in reserve in case of need that reached the figure of about 100,000 men.The nation at arms had, on Portugal, an impact similar to what the French Revolution had had on France. A new political class, which had experienced the discipline and hardships of war against the French Empire, was aware of the need for independence. Marshal Beresford and 160 officers were retained after 1814 to lead Portugal”s army while the king was still in Brazil. Portuguese policy hinged on the project of a Luso-Brazilian United Kingdom, with the African colonies to provide the supply of slaves to Brazil for crops and Portugal to handle the trade. By 1820 this project proved impossible to realize. Portuguese officers who had participated in the Spanish War of Independence expelled the British and started the revolution in Porto on August 24. However, liberal institutions were not consolidated until after the civil war between 1832 and 1834.

King Joseph was initially pleased with the Frenchification of the Spanish people because he believed that collaboration with France would lead to modernization and freedom. One example had been the abolition of the Spanish Inquisition. However, clergy and patriots began an agitation among the populace that became widespread after the first examples of repression by the French army occurred in Madrid in 1808. These signs had the ability to anger the people. French sympathizers were exiled to France following the French troops. The painter Francisco Goya was one of them, and after the war he had to take refuge in France to avoid arrest and perhaps even lynching.

The pro-independence portion of the population included both conservatives and liberals. After the war, they became embroiled in the clash of the Carlist Wars as the new King Ferdinand VII, “the Desiderate” (later “the traitor king”), revoked all liberal changes made by the independent Cortes in order to coordinate national efforts to resist the French invader. He restored absolute monarchy, prosecuted and put to death every person suspected of liberalism, and, as his final misdeed, altered the laws of royal succession in favor of his daughter Isabella II, thus starting a century of civil wars against supporters of the first legal heir to the throne.The liberal Cortes had approved the Spanish Constitution of 1812 on March 18, 1812, which was later annulled by the king.

In the Spanish Colonies of America, Spaniards and Creoles in local military juntas had sworn allegiance to King Ferdinand. This experiment in self-government later led the libertadores (liberators) to promote the independence of the Spanish colonies on American soil.French troops had requisitioned many of the extensive properties of the Catholic Church. Churches and convents were used as stables and living quarters, and many works of art were shipped to France, leading the Spanish cultural heritage to considerable decay. The Allied armies plundered cities and countryside. Wellington recovered some of these works and offered to return them, but Ferdinand told him to keep them.Another important effect of the war was the severe damage done to the country”s economy, which could only be eliminated after more than a century.

in English:


  1. Guerra d”indipendenza spagnola
  2. Peninsular War
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