Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Army of Estremadura at Talavera 1809

Dionisio Alvarez Cueto's excellent depiction of a Spanish soldier at Talavera in the Bourbon white uniform

As I am about to start work on the Spanish forces at Talavera, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the Spanish army of this period and the time leading up to it.

When looking at modelling the Spanish forces, the time period can be quite informative as the Spanish uniform, if it could be called that, was in a massive state of flux with the problems caused by the destruction of bases and magazines and the means to keep an army supplied with arms. ammunition and food, let alone uniforms.

The state of dress for the Spanish seems to go through three loosely defined periods, with the early war (1808-09) seeing the period when the original Bourbon Royal uniform could be seen on the battlefield, together with some more exotic examples of, very often, French inspired dress. The mid war (1810-11) when the remnants of Bourbon uniform became mixed with French and British uniforms together with traditional peasant clothes that the recruits turned up in; and the late war period (1812-14) starts to see the impact of British supplies with units able to adopt a more uniform appearance, and with the French bell topped shako look still popular with some.

I use the term "loosely" because the ability to identify the dress of specific units at specific times is limited; and I see numerous questions on forums asking about the dress of Spanish troops at such and such period. A lot of the time we are left to best or educated guess work, and I will be working to those norms as well. In addition to the changing appearance of Spanish troops the unit organisations would also see change, with British and French systems being adopted with a similar level of variability.

With the popular uprising against the French in Madrid on the 2nd of May 1808, the French found themselves with too few troops to control and hold the whole country. In the turbulent months that followed, with the collapse of the Spanish government, many regional junta's were formed in areas free of French occupation.

With the eviction of French forces from Madrid later that year, the Central or Supreme Junta was formed to coordinate the fight against the French. Initially it enjoyed the confidence and cooperation from the provincial juntas, but the reoccupation of Madrid by Napoleon forced it to flee to Seville and from there it failed to fully exert its previous authority over the others.

With little central control each junta started to raise an army to fight the French which, when combined with the lack of coordination and the petty regional jealousies, often led these early attempts at resistance to regular defeat. However these ad hoc Spanish forces, though defeated and dispersed into the many mountain ranges in Spain, never capitulated and quickly and enthusiastically rallied around the hard core of regulars; with other conscripts and volunteers quickly replacing those lost to the enemy or who joined the guerrilla bands.

This resilience to defeat and a determination to take the war to the French convinced the British government to act in their support.

The regular Spanish army had been consistently neglected in the years before 1807. Organised much like other western- European armies of the late 18th century, in 1808 it consisted of 137,000 men including 30,000 militia.

Line & some Militia Fusiliers
In theory line infantry regiments had three battalions of four companies, twelve companies in total, of which two were grenadiers, normally forming half the compliment of the first battalion.

Spanish Light Infantry
Light infantry battalions had six companies.

Spanish Heavy Cavalry
The mounted regiments consisting of heavy cavalry, dragoons, cazadores and hussars, had five squadrons each and there were four regiments of artillery providing, on paper, forty artillery batteries, thirty four field and six horse.

Spanish Foot Artillery
There were forty-two regiments of provincial militia in the peninsula, each of one battalion, with one regiment of two battalions in Mallorca and a battalion in the Canary Islands. In theory from 1805 these units dressed as the line regiments in white with red facings, but there are references to many units being dressed in the more common brown cloth instead

Many militia units are recorded as being in brown clothing
rather than the regulation white with red facings
With all the defeats suffered in 1808, the regular army's organisation collapsed, with new units spontaneously appearing all over Spain, Spanish forces became a mixture of pre 1808 dressed units in their white uniforms, but with brown and blue becoming more common.

The Army of Estremadura that fought at Talavera was made up of troops from four sources. The first group came from the army that was thoroughly beaten at the battle of Gamonal near Burgos in November 1808 as part of Napoleon's personally led invasion campaign.

Spanish Army of Estremadura
Battle of Burgos/Gamonal
l0th November l808

Commanding General: General Blake (absent?)
Interum Commanding Officer: Mariscal de campo Conde Belveder

lst Division: General de Alos
4/Spanish Guard Regiment (980)
Provincial Grenadiers of Estremadura (l/2 bn)(500)
l/,2/Majorca Infantry Regiment (2)(l,460)
2nd de Cataluña (l,050)
Tiradores (Sharpshooters) (l coy)(170)
Voluntarios de España Cavalry Regiment (3)(360)
Horse Battery (4 guns)(62 men)
Sappers (l/2 bn)(254 men)

2nd Division: General Henestrosa
4/Walloon Guard Regiment (300)
l/,2/Volunteers of Badajoz (2)(l,475)
Sappers & Miners (254)
lst Hussar Regiment (3)(298)
2nd Horse Battery (6 guns)(92 men)

3rd Division:
2nd Hussar Regiment (Lusitania) (300)
Batallon de escolares de Benavente (500)
Provincial de Tuy (l)(450)
Foot Battery (4 guns)(30)

Battle of Gamonal - 10th November 1808

Battle of Burgos/Gamonal 1808

The second part came from the remains of the small army led by General San Juan, that had vainly attempted to prevent Napoleon's march on Madrid at Somisierra, the General being lynched for suspected treason by his routing army.

Charge of the Polish Light Horse at Somosierra Pass
Battle of Somosierra 1808

Spanish Forces Defending Somosierra
Army of the Reserve
November l808

lst Voluntarios de Madrid (l,500)
2nd Voluntarios de Madrid (l,500)
Guardias Walonas (500)
Jaen Infantry Regiment (2)l,300)
l/,3/Corona Infantry Regiment (2)(l,039)
Cordoba Infantry Regiment (l,300)
Badajoz Infantry Regiment (566)
l/,3/Irlanda Infantry Regiment (2)(l,l86)
Reyna Infantry Regiment (2)(927)
Provincial de Toledo (500)
Provincial de Alcazar (400)
3/Voluntarios de Sebilla (400)
Principe Cavalry Regiment (2)(200)
Alcantara Cavalry Regiment (l00)
Montesa Cavalry Regiment (l00)
Voluntarios de Madrid Cavalry Regiment (2)(200)
Artillery (22 guns, 200 gunners)

Thirdly, there were hastily raised, poorly trained and equipped levies, and finally four regular dismounted cavalry regiments sent to the area to procure horses and equipment.

In time I aim to put the whole army together, but initially I propose to start with units that played a significant role in the Battle of Talavera. I have put together an order of battle with notes on the units, with a particular focus on, in bold, the units I will model first. My notes determine what the unit is, which will generally define the look of the unit with, line infantry in Bourbon pre 1808 uniform, light infantry in the pre 1808 blue uniform illustrated above, etc My first battalion of line infantry will have half the battalion as grenadiers to represent the regimental grenadier component. For more information on the look of these units follow the link at the bottom for a PDF of information.

The two divisions, 3rd and 5th, will show the look of most of the infantry and the selected cavalry units will do their bit to add plenty of colour to my allied army and include the more active components of the Spanish forces at Talavera.

Spanish Army of Estremadura (Battalions & Squadrons)
Commanding General: Lieutenant-General de la Cuesta
Second in Command: Lieutenant-General de Eguia
Major-General of Infantry: Major-General de Alos
Major-General of Cavalry: Major-General de Villalba
Artillery Commander: Brigadier-General Rodrigues
Engineer Commander: Brigadier-General Zappino

Day dress uniform for a Spanish Lieutenant General
Illustration - Jose Maria Bueno
Vanguard: Brigadier-General Zayas
2nd Volunteers of Catalonia - Light Infantry
2/Cazadores de Barbastro (l) - Light Infantry
Cazadores de Campo-Mayor (l) - Light Infantry
Cazadores de Valencie y Albuquerque (l) - Light Infantry in kilts
2/Cazadores Voluntarios de Valencia (l) - Light Infantry in green jacket, pants, dolman with helmet

Catalonian Light Infantry
lst Division: Major-General Marques de Zayas
Cantabria Infantry Regiment (3) - Line Infantry
Granaderos Provinciales (l) - Militia Grenadier
Canarias Infantry Regiment (l) - Militia Infantry
Tiradores de Merida (l) - Light Infantry in Shakos
Provincial de Truxillo (l) - Militia Infantry

2nd Division: Major-General Iglesias
2nd Majorca Infantry Regiment (l) - Militia Infantry
Velez-Malaga Infantry Regiment (3) - Line Infantry
Osuna Infantry Regiment (2) - Volunteer Line Infantry
Voluntarios Estrangeros (l) - Volunteer Line Infantry
Provincial de Burgos (l) - Militia Infantry

Officer & Grenadier of the Imperial de Toledo Regt
3rd Division: Major-General Marquis de Portago
Bajadoz Infantry Regiment (2) - Volunteer Line Infantry
2nd Antequera Infantry Regiment (l) - Volunteer Light Infantry in Shakos
Imperial de Toledo (l) - Volunteer Line Infantry in Shako
Provincial de Badajoz (l) - Militia Infantry
Provincial de Guadix (l) - Militia Infantry

Officer of the Irlanda Infantry Regiment
4th Division: Major-General Manglano
Irlanda Infantry Regiment (2) - Line Infantry (Foreign Regiment in Blue Coats)
Jaen Infantry Regiment (2) - Line Infantry
3rd Seville Infantry Regiment (l) - Volunteer Line Infantry in Shako
l/Leales de Fernando VII (l) - Volunteer Line Infantry in Shako
2nd Volunteers of Madrid (l) - Volunteer Line Infantry in Shako
Voluntarios de la Corona (l) - Line Infantry

Officer & Fusilier of the 3rd Seville Infantry Regiment
5th Division: Major-General Bassecourt
Real Marina, lst Infantry Regiment (2) - Line Infantry
3/Africa Infantry Regiment - Line Infantry
Murcia Infantry Regiment (2) - Line Infantry
l/Reyna Infantry Regiment - Line Infantry
Provincial de Siguenza (l) - Militia Infantry

Standard Bearer and Fusilier of the 2nd Volunteers of Madrid. 
I am going to have to get that Colour made to order

lst Division: Lieutenant-General de Henestrosa
Rey Cavalry Regiment - Regular Line
Calatrava Cavalry Regiment - Regular Line
Voluntarios de Espana - Regular Cazadores
Cazadores de Seville - Volunteer Cazadores
Reyna Cavalry Regiment - Regular Line
Villaviciosa Cavalry Regiment - Regular Dragoon
Cazadores de Madrid - Volunteer Cazadores

Almanza Dragoons
2nd Division: Lieutenant-General Duquede Albuquerque
Carabineros Reals (l) - Regular Line
Infante Cavalry Regiment - Regular Line
Alcantara Cavalry Regiment - Regular Line
Pavia Cavalry Regiment - Regular Dragoon
Almanza Cavalry Regiment - Regular Dragoon
lst Hussars of Estremadura - Volunteer Hussars (Blue coat, scarlet breeches & pelisse, green hanging cloth on colpack)
2nd Hussars of Estremadura - Volunteer Hussars

Cazadore Light Cavalry
Spanish Totals:
4l Infantry Battalions (28,000)
2 Cavalry Divisions (6,000)
Artillery (30 guns)(800)
1 battery of 6 x 12lbr
1 battery of 8 x 8lbr
2 batteries of 6 x 8lbr
1 battery of 4 x 4lbr horse artillery

The Spanish army of the Napoleonic period poses a lot of challenges to the wargamer looking to capture the look of these troops, and we are often forced to make decisions based on incomplete information. That together with the overall poor battle performance probably puts some off from playing them.

Personally I think they are a fantastic looking army with the variety and mixture of dress adding to the feast for the eyes. The performance and rating of the troops makes playing them well, a real challenge to wargame, but again I think that adds to the attraction. Some Spanish units performed extraordinarily well and occasionally their armies were able to defeat French armies in open battle. Part of the attraction for me will be to randomise the quality of these troops so you are never sure which Spanish army has turned up, and I can't wait to have them out on the table.

There are more sources than ever available about the Spanish armies of this period. My own list is not exhaustive and a simple search on the net will reveal plenty of others.

Sources, among others, I have used include:

The Osprey Men at Arms series 321, 332 and 334 by Rene Chartrand & Bill Younghusband
The Armies of Spain & Portugal 1808-14, G.F. Nafziger
Osprey Campaign 253 - Talavera 1809
Talavera - Wellington's First Victory, Andrew W Field
Great Battles of History Refought, Talavera - Richard Partridge & Mike Oliver
The Spanish Ulcer - David Gates
The Peninsular War Atlas - Nick Liscombe

The following is not my information and I can't find the blog to attribute it to, so I have put it on a PDF for others to use and I've added illustrations from my own research. If you know who put this together let me know and I will attribute it appropriately.

Next up the 1st Battalion Badajoz Infantry Regiment.


  1. Superb article on the Spanish army! Terrific resource.

    1. Thanks Jonathan, I hope it helps and inspires others to have a go with the Spanish. I'm really looking forward to playing them.

  2. Very interesting! I am completing my spanish army, with militias (love this kind of troops) and your post is simply excellent!

    1. Cheers Phil.
      Good man, my first unit will be up at the end of the week.

  3. Brilliant jonathan,
    Looking forward to watching this project unfold!

    I've always been interested in the peninsular campaigns and the Spanish uniforms. Interested to see all the figures you use.

  4. Thanks Paul, you and me together. The figures are selected, I've just got to get them painted.. Still an army starts with the first unit and the first one is done.

  5. There is a listing of the regular Army units that never received the white uniforms, but kept their previous blue ones. Are you aware of it? I have the article at home in a french lavish magazine, "Soldats du Napoleon" I think.

    1. Hi Joaquín,
      No I haven't seen that. If you have the details for this army, I would be very interested, particularly the battalions in Bassecourt's division. Please put them on the blog and I'll publish the details for others to use.

  6. JJ, this was a great post. I'm slowly painting my own figs as i follow your posts, plans, etc. Im not nearly as fast as you but was curious what figures you'll use for the Spanish troops?

    1. Hi A.P. thank you. My Spanish will be AB in the main, with additional items from Warmodelling. There has been a bit of a "hiccup" with Warmodelling recently and it has proven difficult to get hold of figures in the UK but I am hoping that will resolve itself fairly soon. Saying that I managed to pick up a few useful packs yesterday.

      I will detail what figures and components I have used as I produce each unit, and drop me a line if you think I can help.

  7. Excellent resource- many thanks for sharing. I've been painting white uniforms all day and you have come to my rescue for the rest of the army!
    Gracie's Amigo

    1. Hi Mike, glad you found it useful. I feel your pain as I too am currently working through Spanish brown uniforms galore. I think I will have to add to this post as I am discovering new stuff as I go, and I have Joseph's Guard to look at as well.

  8. Great to see another Spanish enthusiast in 15/18mm.

    1. Hi Steve, thank you and welcome to the blog. When it comes to Napoleonics I think 18mm has so much to offer it's not hard to get enthusiastic and I am really looking forward to getting stuck into Bassecourt's Spanish regulars

      I love your own little corner of cyberspace which has inspired my own efforts. I took copious notes on your Albuera research all filed away ready for when I get to 1811.


  9. I've really enjoyed exploring your site as I'm planning to re-fight Talavera. Sorry to trouble you but the above link to 'Painting the Spanish army at Talavera' PDF doesn't seem to be working :( Don't suppose you could restore it.



    1. Hi Martyn,
      Thank you and no problem. It looked like the link had lost its way so I have rewired it and it seems to be working now.

      Best of luck with your re-fight.


  10. JJ, I've been following your blog for a few years now. I wanted to let you know how valuable it is. I'm developing a scattering of Spanish units for Talavera but not strictly rebuilding the whole army or intending to re-fight it. I just bought Cronin and Summerfield's Spanish Army of the Earlier Penininsular War (two volumes) and will be using your articles and downloaded paper. Just wanted you to know that six years on and this sort of research and posting is still highly valuable. Thanks for sharing your painstaking research.

    1. Hi and thank you, and it’s really great to hear from a fellow enthusiast for all this stuff!

      My Talavera project was a real labour of love going back some forty plus years when I first flicked through a library copy of Sir Charles Oman’s history at school, recounting the events of the battle and thinking I might like to game that one day.

      Well one thing leads to another and then you find yourself learning a lot about the Spanish army than you ever thought you would do, to bring a project to fruition, so it’s great to hear that the same information is feeding someone else’s passion.

      I wish you joy in your own particular corner of this fascinating hobby and thanks very much for your comment, much appreciated.