Saturday, 19 October 2019

Battle of Bailen - Peninsular War Tour 2019

Corunna Retreat - Peninsular War Tour 2019
Battles and Actions in the Tagus Valley(Alcantara and Almaraz Bridges) - Peninsular War Tour 2019
Battles and Actions in the Tagus Valley, Battle of Talavera - Peninsular War Tour 2019
Badajoz, The French Siege and Allied First, Second and Third Sieges - Peninsular War Tour 2019
Cavalry Actions in Estremadura - Peninsular War Tour 2019
Elvas and the Battle of Albuera - Peninsular War Tour 2019

Having completed our look at Badajoz, Elvas, Albuera and some of the key cavalry combats in the area Carolyn and I headed south towards the coast, where we intended to enjoy a week of R & R at our place in Murcia, before heading north to visit Burgos and Vitoria prior to catching the ferry back to dear old Blighty.

However our journey across the Sierra Morena was going to take us past the famous town of Bailen and so we planned in a night's stop over before reaching the coast.

During this holiday the focus was very much on the Anglo-Portuguese led actions of the Duke of Wellington's main army, sometimes in conjunction with Spanish forces in the area of operations, and these actions took us past many sites where Spanish armies alone fought the French; however time and often the fact that the battlefields were often built over meant that I could not include them in this series of posts.

However as Bailen was en-route and because of its significance to the war and the Napoleonic era as a whole I felt that it needed to be included; where the myth of Imperial French invincibility was ended with the result of drawing Britain into the war alongside Portugal and Spain to liberate the peninsula from French control.

Oman's map depicting southern Spain and the position of Baylen (Bailen), en route for Dupont's French army, originally tasked with the capture and subjugation of the Spanish naval harbour at Cadiz, where remnants of the French fleet defeated at Trafalgar were based, curtailing his march at Cordoba when the French ships surrendered to the Spanish on the 10th June after a short bombardment.

Hubris, or the pride in ones capabilities over the enemy, is the classic scenario that characterises a lot of disastrous military failure, so well demonstrated at the Battle of Saratoga, in the woods of New York, as a second rate British army under General John Burgoyne effectively got itself surrounded and cut off by an enthused and patriotic rebel army, and forced to surrender, completely changing the course of the American War of Independence, and drawing in France and other European nations eager to take advantage of what had been a British civil war within one of its own colonies.

Similarly we see a second rate French army surrounded in the south of Spain, cut off from relief and unable to fight its way through a similarly enthused and patriotic Spanish force, forced to seek terms and similarly turning upside down the course of not only the Peninsular War, but eventually the whole Napoleonic struggle itself, as others eager to see Napoleon's downfall, took full advantage of what had been a coup to replace the leadership of an Imperial French ally and create an Imperial French subject kingdom.

History repeating itself? Surely not!

The Surrender of Bailen by Casado del Alisal, depicting the meeting between Generals Castanos and Dupont. The look on the French soldiers tell you everything about the situation.

Charles Esdaile in his history 'The Peninsular War' described the scene at the close of the Battle of Bailen, 16th to the 19th of July 1808.

'Apart from the groans of the wounded, the battlefield had all but fallen silent in the sun of the midsummer afternoon. Along the high road that stretched towards the Spanish positions lay scattered the bodies of the last French reserves - a battalion of sailors* who had made a final heroic  effort to break through - whilst what was left of the rest of the army huddled in the scanty shade provided by the olive groves and ilex trees that covered the slopes that they had breasted early that morning.

Utterly exhausted and tortured by heat and thirst, the troops could fight no more. Wounded in the hip while leading forward the last charge, the French commander suddenly heard the crackle of musketry from the direction of the bridge over which his troops had marched on the way to the battlefield, and knew that the game was up. Calling a trusted aide-de-camp, he therefore dispatched him in the direction of the Spanish lines with instructions to negotiate a truce.

Four days later nearly 18,000 prisoners were marching into captivity in what became known as the capitulation of Bailen. Spain was overjoyed, Britain exultant, France dismayed, and Napoleon outraged.

It was the greatest defeat the Napoleonic empire had ever suffered, and, what is more, one inflicted by an opponent for whom the emperor had affected nothing but scorn. What then had gone wrong?'

*Quote from 'The Peninsular War' by Charles Esdaile, 'Frequently described as marines, this unit - the Marines de la Garde - was in fact composed of boatmen, having been raised to ferry Napoleon and his staff across the Channel in the invasion of Britain that was planned in the period 1803 - 1805.

Oman's depiction of the situation with Dupont's main force having had its flank turned by Reding and Coupigny at Mengibar now finds that force behind it at Bailen with other Spanish forces under Castanos threatening its rear as it turns about and tries to force a way through to join with Vedel at La Carolina and the French line of communication to Madrid through the mountains beyond.

Our journey through Aldalusia into the Province of Jean, via the Sierra Morena and another chain of mountains on our way to our house in Murcia would see as pass through yet more amazing country as the open plains gave way to mountains, giving way to rolling hills covered in olives, with the temperature getting hotter and hotter the further south we travelled.

By the time we reached our hotel in the small village of Guarroman (see the map above) and stepped out of the car to retrieve our cases from the boot, we were subjected to a wall of dry heat, leaving the pleasant cool of our air conditioned car and noticing the car outside temperature gauge registering 42 degrees C.

Oman's depiction of the battle lines before Bailen with General Vedel's force shown approaching the rear of the Spanish line but unable to prevent a French capitulation.

Guarroman is right at the heart of the Battle of Bailen, situated, as it is, on the main road from La Carolina to the town along which General Dominique Vedel attempted to fight his way through to the beleaguered army of General Dupont.

General de Division Dominique Honore Antoine Vedel. The decisions made by
this general officer sometimes beggar belief, making one bad decision after another
and would play a fundamental part in the downfall of the French at Bailen.

Not only that but the Hotel Palacio Del Intendente where we stayed is a former 18th century palace that was used as a French field hospital during the battle and supposedly where General Jaques-Nicolas Gobert died on the night of the 16th-17th July 1808 after being wounded in the head by a musket ball whilst trying to rally his men during the battle fought close to the town as Reding's Spanish division fought their way to Bailen.

The shady precinct offering much needed relief from the heat outside our hotel in Guarroman

In June 1808 Spain was in turmoil due to the uprising that followed the Dos de Mayo uprising in Madrid on the 2nd May that saw the French occupation forces brutally suppress the resistance by Spanish patriots and the violence that erupted in opposition to Napoleon Bonaparte's plans to subjugate Spain into just another kingdom for one of his family to rule.

The emperor had seriously underestimated the likely response from the Spanish once they understood what his plans were for them and based on that underestimation had sent into Spain a French army woefully under prepared in terms of experience and training and weak in numerical terms (90,000 men to deal with 114,000 Spanish regular troops plus insurgents), composed as it was of primarily second-line troops.

General Foy in his writings about the war described the Army of Spain thus;

'The troops ... had neither the consistency nor the vigour which are requisite for high enterprises; the materiel from which they were formed was the refuse of the great armies which remained undiminished in the presence of Europe.

The officers were of two kinds, the one torn from the depots where they were waiting to be disbanded on half pay ... the others very young, just from school, whose inexperience stood in need of being guided by good examples.

There were few non-commissioned officers, and few subjects from which they could be made. The cavalry consisted of nothing but young soldiers and young horses. The infantry was not composed of homogeneous elements; one battalion had only four or six companies, (French battalions at this time were nine companies strong) while another .... had eight or ten.

After the legions of reserve and ... supplementary regiments had been created, then came 'marching regiments', in which were crowded together the forgotten ... detachments, the returned deserters and the men from the hospitals. No corporate spirit ... vivified these aggregations, formed today to be dissolved tomorrow ... Unacquainted with each other, unknown to their officers, whose names, even they knew not, taken little care of, badly subsisted and irregularly paid, (the soldiers') existence was fluctuating and precarious, like that of the ephemeral corps of which they formed a part.'

The Hotel Palacio del Intendente, a former 18th century palace, used as a French field hospital during the Battle of Bailen and our stop over during our visit.

As for their training, one account gave a clear example of the problems this gave rise to;

'On the fifteenth of March, we held exercises on a plain outside of town (of Valladolid), and General Malher was killed by a ramrod that a soldier had foolishly left in the barrel of his musket. An immediate inspection was carried out to discover the ... culprit: eighteen ramrods were missing from the section of the line the shot had been fired from.'

Not only were the French troops not to the standard ideal for the tasks ahead, but so to the general officers, with three of the four corps commanders never having commanded any force larger than a division, which included General de Division Pierre Dupont de l'Etang, a veteran, experienced officer who had served at Valmy, Marengo, Ulm and Friedland.

General de Division Pierre Dupont de l'Etang, commanding the French corps at Bailen.

In an effort to bring order to the chaos Napoleon instructed Marshal Murat, commander of the French army in Spain, in Madrid, to send out French flying columns to secure key parts of the country and suppress any further resistance to French rule.

One such flying column was under the command of Dupont  who marched with 20,000 troops across the Sierra de Morena with orders to suppress the local area and capture the harbour of Cadiz, thus securing the remnants of the French fleet that had survived the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and were now under threat of capture by the Spanish garrison.

As Dupont advanced into the south of Spain he, like his comrades in other parts of the peninsula, was experiencing, for the first time, the particularly distinguishing aspect of war in Spain, namely the unrelenting pressure of dealing with partisans and that French forces commanded no further than the range of their muskets.

Advancing on and later sacking Cordoba, after defeating a small force of levies that attempted to block his advance, Dupont received news that, after a short cannonade, the French fleet in Cadiz had surrendered on June 10th and by the 19th he had retreated from Cordoba to Andujar worried by the seemingly growing threat to his line of communications back to Madrid as partisan activity increased.

Oman described Dupont's position thus;

'Deeply troubled by the interruption of his communications with Madrid, and by the growing strength displayed by the Spanish army in his front, he had resolved that it was necessary to draw back to the foot of the Sierra Morena, and to recover at all costs his touch with the main French army in the capital. 

He kept sending to Murat (or rather to Savary, who had now superseded the Grand-Duke) persistent demands for new orders and for large reinforcements. Most of his messengers were cut off on the way by the insurgents, but his situation had become known at head quarters, and was engrossing much of Savary's attentionmore of it indeed than Napoleon approved. 

The Emperor wrote on July 13 that the decisive point was for the moment in Castile, and not in Andalusia, and that the best way to strengthen Dupont was to reinforce Bessieres.'

Esdaile in his book, speculates as to why Dupont halted the advance at Cordoba and later Andujar, where he contented himself with contacting the 6,000 strong division under General Dominique Vedel sent from Madrid with orders to hold Bailen and also sending out a punitive expedition to sack Jean, the nearest insurgent capital.

Lieutenant General Francisco Javier Castanos, commanding the Spanish army at Bailen, in his favourite
uniform as colonel of the Africa Regiment.

Perhaps the thought of a potential Marshal's baton convinced Dupont that he should not so openly withdraw to a more secure position on the French side of the Sierra Morena and shorten his communication with Madrid, settling instead to hold a line above the River Guadalquivir in the face of a growing threat south of it from a Spanish army under Lieutenant General Francisco Castanos of some 33,000 regulars supported by partisans from Jean.

In addition, he probably took solace that a further division of 5,000 French troops under General Jacques Gobert had been dispatched from Madrid to further bolster the position at Bailen, arriving there on the 7th July.

The foyer of our hotel with doors to the rooms on the floor above, all nicely modernised but retaining the period feel of the original building

Oman criticises Dupont's decision to go on the defensive against Castanos, by trying to hold the fifteen mile wide line of the River Guadalquivir, open as it proved to being turned and thus cutting the main French force off from its line of communication through the mountains, instead of falling back to the mountain passes above La Carolina where his flanks would have been more secure as indeed would his line of retreat.

A map on the wall of Guarroman at the time of the battle of Bailen prepared by the French and showing the layout of the village at that time

Oman described the situation and Spanish plans as their army drew near in early July 1808;

'On July 11 the Spanish generals held a council of war at Porcuna, and drew out their plan of operations. Since the enemy seemed to be still quiescent, they resolved to attack him in his chosen position behind the river.

Castanos, in person—with the divisions of Jones and La Pena, 12,000 strong—undertook to keep Dupont employed, by delivering an attack on Andujar, which he did not intend to press home unless he got good news from his second and third columns.

Meanwhile, six miles up the river, Coupigny with the second division, nearly 8,000 strong, was to attempt to cross the Guadalquivir by the ford of Villa Nueva. Lastly, Reding with the first division, the best and most numerous of the whole army, 10,000 strong, was to seize the ferry of Mengibar and march on Baylen. Here he was to be joined by Coupigny, and the two corps were then to fall upon the rear of Dupont's position at Andujar, while Castanos was besetting it in front. It was their aim to surround and capture the whole of the French division, if its general did not move away before the encircling movement was complete. 

Meanwhile the flying column of Cruz-Murgeon, about 3,000 strong, was to cross the Guadalquivir below Andujar, throw itself into the mountains in the north, and join hands with Reding and Coupigny behind the back of Dupont.

Our hotel is on the main road through the town from La Carolina to Bailen

This plan, though ultimately crowned with success, was perilous in the highest degree. But Castanos had seriously underestimated the total force of Dupont, as well as misconceived his exact position.

He was under the impression that the main body of the French, which he did not calculate at more than 12,000 or 14,000 men, was concentrated at Andujar, and that there were nothing more than weak detachments at Mengibar, Baylen, or La Carolina. These, he imagined, could not stand before Reding, and when the latter had once got to the northern bank of the river, he would easily clear the way for Coupigny to cross. 

But as a matter of fact Vedel had 6,000 men at Mengibar and Baylen, with 3,000 more under Gobert within a short march of him. If the Spanish plan had been punctually carried out, Reding should have suffered a severe check at the hands of these two divisions, while Dupont could easily have dealt with Castanos at Andujar. Coupigny, if he got across at Villa Nueva, while the divisions on each side of him were beaten off, would have been in a very compromised position, and could not have dared to push forward. But in this curious campaign the probable never happened, and everything went in the most unforeseen fashion.'

Modern day Guarroman looking towards La Carolina. The layout hasn't changed much from that of the French map in the hotel, but the outskirts are now a little further from the centre of town.

After a fantastic dinner in a most unusual restaurant up the road from our hotel and a great night's sleep after our long drive the previous day, we had a quick breakfast prior to exploring the history of our hotel and Guarroman.

The modern day town follows very much the layout of that the French troops under General Vedel would have passed through as they marched to the sound of distant gunfire beyond the olive clad hills to the west of the main street.

Here they would be met by a blocking force of Coupigny's Spanish division of some 7,000 troops and a Spanish delegation under a flag of truce announcing General Dupont's surrender, to which Vedel sent back the reply;

"Tell your General, That I care nothing nothing about that, and that I am going to attack him."

Dupont later sent Vedel a secret communication telling him to retreat, but when the Spanish discovered this they threatened to execute their French prisoners if Vedel did not surrender to them immediately, to which General Vedel complied despite having a secure route to retreat along, through Guarroman and La Carolina to the mountains beyond.

Looking down the road from Guarroman towards Bailen and the intervening hills covered in olives over which General Vedel's troops fought Coupigny's Spanish division and in particular an Irish battalion supported by two guns, before being told to surrender in line with the terms offered to General Dupont at Bailen.

Having seen the map of the town prepared by the French during their occupation of the area in 1808, it was easy to determine the extent of it then and to immediately identify other buildings close to our hotel that were likely veterans of that time, including the public library, a converted grain warehouse back then.

Another veteran from the time of the battle is Guarroman Public Library which occupies this 18th century former grain warehouse

After looking around Guarroman, we headed off to Bailen, which, as well as lying close to the battlefield, hosts a modern museum dedicated to it, and, as you can imagine, is a celebration of an important success in the long distressing War of Independence, as the Spanish describe the Peninsular War.

The impression is that the Battle of Bailen is to the Spanish and the city of Bailen, as Borodino is to the Russians, Waterloo is to the British and perhaps Austerlitz is to the French, and although this particular battle was on a much smaller scale, its impact on the period, it could be argued, was as great as the others, if not more so.

The Museo de la Batalla de Bailen in Bailen, a modern, air-conditioned exhibition of the battle, fought close by.

The steel frieze captures the scene from Casadi del Aisal's portrait, depicted above, of Dupont's surrender to Castanos

An entrance lobby is used to explain the history of the Peninsular War leading up to the French invasion and the battle

Returning to the course of the battle itself, perhaps the 13th of July was the golden opportunity for Dupont to have snatched a victory from the annals of history as the Spanish army divided on his front to put into action their somewhat complicated plan of attack, but instead he was content to observe events unfold from behind his less than secure position on the Guadalquivir.

Oman picks up the account;

'On July 14 Reding appeared in front of the ferry of Mengibar, and pushed back beyond the river the outlying pickets of Liger-Belair's detachment. He made no further attempt to press the French, but Dupont, disquieted about an attack on this point, ordered Gobert to bring down the remains of his division to Baylen, to join Vedel. 

Next morning the Spaniards began to develop their whole plan: Castanos appeared on a long front opposite Andujar, and made a great demonstration against the position of Dupont, using all his artillery and showing heads of columns at several points. Coupigny came down to the river at Villa Nueva, and got engaged with a detachment which was sent out from Andujar to hold the ford.

Reding, making a serious attempt to push forward, crossed the Guadalquivir at Mengibar and attacked Liger-Belair. But Vedel came up to the support of his lieutenant, and when the Swiss general found, quite contrary to his expectation, a whole division deployed against him, he ceased to press his advance, and retired once more beyond the river.

Nothing decisive had yet happened: but the next day was to be far more important. The operations opened with two gross faults made by the French: Dupont had been so much impressed with the demonstration made against him by Castanos, that he judged himself hopelessly outnumbered at Andujar, and sent to Vedel for reinforcements. He bade him send a battalion or two, or even a whole brigade, if the force that he had fought at Mengibar seemed weak and unenterprising. This was an error, for Castanos only outnumbered the French at Andujar by two or three thousand men, and was not really to be feared. 

But Vedel made a worse slip: despising Reding overmuch, he marched on Baylen, not with one brigade, but with his whole division, save the original detachment of two battalions under Liger-Belair which remained to watch Mengibar. Starting at midnight, he reached Andujar at two on the afternoon of the sixteenth, to find that Castanos had done no more than repeat his demonstration of the previous day, and had been easily held back. 

Cruz-Murgeon's levies, which the Spanish general had pushed over the river below Andujar, had received a sharp repulse when they tried to molest Dupont's flank. Coupigny had made an even feebler show than his chief at the ford of Villa Nueva, and had not passed the Guadalquivir.

This particular part of the exhibition is translated into French and English for foreign visitors

But Reding, on the morning of the sixteenth, had woken up to unexpected vigour. He had forded the river near Mengibar, and fallen on Liger-Belair's detachment for the second time. Hard pressed, the French brigadier had sent for succour to Baylen, whither Gobert had moved down when Vedel marched for Andujar.

The newly arrived general came quickly to the aid of the compromised detachment, but he was very weak, for he had left a battalion at La Carolina and sent another with a squadron of cuirassiers to Linares, to guard against a rumoured movement of the Spaniards along the Upper Guadalquivir. He only brought with him three battalions and 200 cavalry, and this was not enough to contain Reding. 

The 4,000 men of the two French detachments were outnumbered by more than two to one; they suffered a thorough defeat, and Gobert was mortally wounded. His brigadier, Dufour, who took over the command, fell back on Baylen, eight miles to the rear. Next morning, though not pressed by Reding, he retired towards La Carolina, to prevent himself being cut off from the passes, for he credited a false rumour that the Spaniards were detaching troops by way of Linares to seize the Despena Perros.'

With his line on the Guadalquivir shown to be the weak position it was and now having the enemy in his rear, Dupont's position was unhinged and presented the French general with two options, to either fall back on Bailen and hope to force a way through to his supports around La Carloina to reopen his communications or to turn with the bulk of his force on the remains of Castanos's army before Andujar and seek to destroy that part of the Spanish army.

Once having likely, easily disposed of Castanos, making good use of the French commanders superiority in cavalry, it would have proven a simpler task to then turn on Reding's forces around Bailen without any interference from other quarters.

As Oman suggests, a more enterprising officer may well have chosen the latter option, but Dupont cannot be accused of being enterprising and so settled on complying with the Spanish plan by abandoning his positions and falling back to Bailen with Castanos cautiously following in his wake.

A Grenadier officer of the Jean Regiment

The Bailen Museum is a curious mix of replica items, principally uniforms and equipment of the period, dioramas of the battle and troops involved alongside portraits of Spanish and French generals involved in the battle; together with some interesting examples of period items including maps, drill books, and battlefield finds that are unique to the Spanish involvement in the war and this early battle fought during it.

The depiction of the Spanish Bourbon army is relatively rare in Napoleonic exhibitions, and even though these are replica sets of uniforms I very much enjoyed being able to take in the look of the Spanish army from this period in spite of the fact that troops in the field were very unlikely to have dressed quite as they appear here.

Spanish style Cantiniere, women attached to the various regiments as sutlers or canteen keepers

Following his victory over General Gobert's small force, General Reding, as Oman mentions, did not follow up the retreating French and instead fell back behind the small River Gudiel where Gobert had attempted to hold him up.

Now seemingly faced with Spanish troops in front of him and behind, Dupont faced the choice to advance against either Spanish army with his full force and likely defeat them in detail making best use of the advantage he had in cavalry.

Dupont however decided to split his force, opting to hold Castanos at Andujar whilst detaching Vedel with extra cavalry, ordering him to advance on Bailen and defeat Reding.

A fusilier from the Jean Regiment, part of Reding's 1st Division

On the 17th July, Vedel marched, as ordered on Bailen, only to find no Spanish troops in occupation and, supposing that they had continued their march up the road via La Carolina to block the mountain passes, he set off in pursuit.

Vedel, having not left sufficient troops to hold Menjibar on the 15th was now adding to his incompetency by not using his cavalry to find the Spanish before setting off on his march, oblivious to knowing exactly where the enemy was.

Artwork by Dionisio Alvarez Cueto, illustrates the more likely appearance of the Spanish troops after several months operating in the harsh Spanish climate, and the disruption to supplies caused by the French invasion.The Africa Regiment were Castanos's own and were in La Pena's reserve division.

Foreign units of infantry in the Spanish army were usually dressed in blue, this example is of Reding's 3rd Swiss Regiment part of General Reding's 1st Spanish Division

Having spent the 17th resting his troops behind the River Gudiel, Reding was now joined by General Coupigny and 2nd Division, and together on the 18th July they crossed the river and entered Bailen, which was empty of French troops, that he assumed would have been holding it.

Thus the Spainsh made camp preparatory to making an attack on Dupont's rear in his positions around Andujar.

Swiss troops serving on both sides would confront each other at Bailen. Two regiments of Swiss, the 4th (Barbou's Division) and 3rd (Vedel's Division) served in the French army and Reding's 3rd Swiss in the Spanish 1st Division.

In front of Andujar, Dupont was becoming increasingly worried as no attack materialised from Castanos's army facing him and he was becoming increasingly aware of Spanish troops operating in his rear.

By the evening of the 17th July, Dupont received news that Vedel had continued his march towards La Carolina and the mountain passes and wishing to shorten the line between his two forces he resolved to abandon Andujar and march to Bailen; which took longer than normal, given that the French were now marching with a very large baggage train carrying the spoils of the towns sacked by them along the route.

Worse still, Dupont was completely unaware of Reding's troops occupying Bailen and was not in a march order prepared for battle, seeing his column led by the Legions of Reserve, leaving his better quality troops towards the rear, believing Castanos to be the principle threat.

An interesting depiction of a grenadier in the Reina (Princess) Regiment, in the 1802 Line Infantry uniform that temporarily replaced the white, until resentment among the regiments saw the authorities revert back to the traditional white in 1805. The Reina were also part of Reding's 1st Division.

The situation was set up perfectly for the armies of Dupont and Reding to literally bump each other at dawn on the 19th July in front of Bailen, with neither army expecting to meet the other, which varies from the account given by Oman suggesting the Spanish were already in occupation of their ridge line position when Dupont's force arrived.

It was only the firing from opposing pickets, as the Spanish skirmishers were driven in by the advancing French column that Reding's army was alerted to their arrival and the main force moved quickly into line of battle atop the ridge in front of Bailen.

Likewise the surprise was just as complete for the French as they had to quickly shake out into line of battle from what had been a column of march, with no expectation of meeting the enemy.

A grenadier from the Cordoba Regiment serving in General Felix Jones' 3rd Spanish Division 

Unfortunately the position of the manikins prevented a good look at the ornately decorated bags on the back of the grenadier bearskins

Oman provides this description of the battlefield;

'The little town of Baylen is situated in a slight depression of a saddle-backed range of hills which runs southward out from the Sierra Morena. The road which leads through it passes over the lowest point in the watershed, as is but natural: to the north and south of the town the heights are better marked: they project somewhat on each flank, so that the place is situated in a sort of amphitheatre. 

The hill to the south of Baylen is called the Cerrajon: those to the north the Cerro del Zumacar Chico, and the Cerro del Zumacar Grande. All three are bare and bald, without a shrub or tree: none of them are steep, their lower slopes are quite suitable for cavalry work, and even their rounded summits are not inaccessible to a horseman. The ground to the west of them, over which the French had to advance, is open and level for a mile and a half: then it grows more irregular, and is thickly covered with olive groves and other vegetation, so that a force advancing over it is hidden from the view of a spectator on the hills above Baylen till it comes out into the open.

The wooded ground is about two and a half miles broad: its western limit is the ravine of a mountain torrent, the Rumblar (or Herrumblar, as the aspirate-loving Andalusians sometimes call it). The road from Andujar to Baylen crosses this stream by a bridge, the only place where artillery can pass the rocky but not very deep depression.

It is necessary to say a few words about the ground eastward from Baylen, as this too was not unimportant in the later phases of the battle. Here the road passes through a broad defile rather than a plain. It is entirely commanded by the heights on its northern side, where lies the highest ground of the neighbourhood, the Cerro de San Cristobal, crowned by a ruined hermitage.

The difference between the approach to Baylen from the west and from the east, is that on the former side the traveller reaches the town through a semicircular amphitheatre of upland, while by the latter he comes up a V-shaped valley cut through the hills.'

Drummer in the Jean Regiment

With their surprise encounter of one another, both armies were all haste to get their respective line set up, and in attempt to buy the French army more time to deploy off the march, Dupont ordered one of his cavalry brigades to immediately attack the Spanish centre.

The French attack was driven off with some loss, but bought time for the rearward French units to get forward and deploy;

Oman picks up the account;

'Reding and Coupigny were somewhat surprised by the bicker of musketry which told them that the French had fallen upon their outposts. But fortunately for them their troops were already getting under arms, and were bivouacking over the lower slopes of the hills in a position which made it possible to extemporize without much difficulty a line of battle, covering the main road and the approaches to Baylen. 

They hastily occupied the low amphitheatre of hills north and south of the town. Reding deployed to the right of the road, on the heights of the Cerro del Zumacar Chico, Coupigny to its left on the Cerrajon. Their force was of a very composite sort—seventeen battalions of regulars, six of embodied militia, five of new Andalusian levies  .....

Finally, as a necessary precaution against the possible arrival of Vedel on the scene from La Carolina, Reding placed seven battalions far away to the east, on the other side of Baylen, with cavalry pickets out in front to give timely notice of any signs of the enemy in this quarter. These 3,500 men were quite out of the battle as long as Dupont was the only enemy in sight.

A copy of the portrait of General Castanos held in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, as seen above

Before it was fully daylight General Chabert and his brigade had thrust back the Spanish outposts. But the strength of the insurgent army was quite unknown to him: the morning dusk still lay in the folds of the hills, and he thought that he might possibly have in front of him nothing but some flying column of insignificant strength. Accordingly, after allowing the whole of his brigade to come up, Chabert formed a small line of attack, brought up his battery along the high road to the middle of the amphitheatre, between the horns of the Spanish position, and made a vigorous push forward. 

He operated almost entirely to the south of the road, where, opposite Coupigny's division, the hill was lower and the slope gentler than further north. To dislodge 14,000 men and twenty guns in position with 3,000 men and six guns was of course a military impossibility. But Chabert had the excuse that he did not, and could not, know what he was doing. His attempt was of course doomed to failure: his battery was blown to pieces by the Spanish guns, acting from a concentric position, the moment that it opened. His four battalions, after pushing back Coupigny's skirmishing line for a few hundred yards, were presently checked by the reserves which the Spaniard sent forward. Having come to a stand they soon had to retire, and with heavy loss. The brigade drew back to the cover of the olive groves behind it, leaving two dismounted guns out in the open.

Behind Chabert the enormous convoy was blocking the way as far back as the bridge of the Rumblar. Five hundred wagons with their two or four oxen apiece, took up, when strung along the road, more than two and a half miles. Dupont, who rode up at the sound of the cannon, and now clearly saw the Spanish line drawn up on a front of two miles north and south of the road, realized that this was no skirmish but a pitched battle.'

Replica Colonel's uniform of the Africa Regiment as worn by General Castanos.

Fearing that at any moment he would hear the thundering guns of Castanos opening up behind him, Dupont felt compelled to act quickly and prepare a second French attack to dislodge the enemy to his front;

Oman continues his account;

'With some difficulty the Swiss battalions, Dupre's brigade of light cavalry, and Prive's dragoons pushed their way past the convoy and got into the open. They were terribly tired, having marched all night and covered fifteen miles of bad road, but their general threw them at once into the fight : Pannetier's brigade and the Marines of the Guard were still far to the rear, at or near the bridge of the Rumblar.

Dupont's second attack was a fearful mistake: he should at all costs have concentrated his whole army for one desperate stroke, for there was no more chance that 6,000 men could break the Spanish line than there had been that Chabert's 3,000 could do so.

But without waiting for Pannetier to come up, he delivered his second attack. The four Swiss battalions advanced to the north of the road, Chabert's rallied brigade to the south of it: to the right of the latter were Prive's heavy cavalry, two and a half regiments strong, with whom Dupont intended to deliver his main blow. 

They charged with admirable vigour and precision, cut up two Spanish battalions which failed to form square in time, and cleared the summit of the Cerrajon. But when, disordered with their first success, they rode up against Coupigny's reserves, they failed to break through. Their own infantry was too far to the rear to help them, and after a gallant struggle to hold their ground, the dragoons and cuirassiers fell back to their old position.

When they were already checked, Chabert and Schramm pushed forward to try their fortune: beaten off by the central battery of the Spanish line and its infantry supports, they recoiled to the edge of the olive wood, and there reformed.

The French were now growing disheartened, and Dupont saw disaster impending over him so closely that he seems to have lost his head, and to have retained no other idea save that of hurling every man that he could bring up in fruitless attacks on the Spanish centre.

Lieutenant Generals bicorne with red plume, together with general officers sword

The two gold stripes on the waist sash of this Spanish senior officer identifies his rank as a Lieutenant General

A Spanish Lieutenant General in service dress

He hurried up from the rear Pannetier's brigade of infantry, leaving at the bridge of the Rumblar only the single battalion of the Marines of the Guard. At eight o'clock the reinforcements had come up, and the attack was renewed. 

This time the main stress was at the northern end of the line, where Pannetier was thrown forward, with orders to drive Reding's right wing off the Cerro del Zumacar Grande, while the other battalions renewed their assault against the Spanish centre and left. But the exhausted troops on the right of the line, who had been fighting since daybreak, made little impression on Coupigny's front, and Reding's last reserves were brought forward to check and hold off the one fresh brigade of which Dupont could dispose.

The fourth attack had failed. The French general had now but one intact battalion, that of the Marines of the Guard, which had been left with the baggage at the bridge over the Rumblar,
to protect the rear against the possible advent of Castanos. 

A Spanish Field Marshal in service dress

The three stripe sash of a Spanish Field Marshal

As there were still no signs of an attack from that side, Dupont brought up this corps, ranged it across the road in the centre of the line, and drew up behind it all that could be rallied of Chabert's and Pannetier's men. The whole formed a sort of wedge, with which he hoped to break through the Spanish centre by one last effort.

The cavalry advanced on the flanks, Prive's brigade to the south, Dupre's to the north of the road. Dupont himself, with all his staff around him, placed himself at the head of the marines, and rode in front of the line, waving his sword and calling to the men that this time they must cut their way through [12.30 p.m.].

All was in vain: the attack was pressed home, the marines pushed up to the very muzzles of the Spanish cannon placed across the high road, and Dupre's chasseurs drove in two battalions in Reding's right centre. But the column could get no further forward: the marines were almost exterminated: Dupre was shot dead: Dupont received a painful (but not dangerous) wound in the hip, and rode to the rear. Then the whole attack collapsed, and the French rolled back in utter disorder to the olive groves which sheltered their rear. 

The majority of the rank and file of the two Swiss regiments in the centre threw up the butts of  their muskets in the air and surrendered—or rather deserted—to the enemy.'

An example of the uniform worn by the Spanish foot artillery crews, here sporting the undress or forage cap. Spanish guns were typically blue-grey, yellow-green or a natural wood as depicted here and were of the French designed Gribeauval weights and carriages. The Army of Andalusia was estimated to have had about twenty-five guns.

If Dupont thought he still had one more throw of the dice to make, firing from his rear soon convinced him otherwise;

'At this moment, just as the firing died down at the front, a lively fusillade was heard from another quarter. Cruz-Murgeon's light column, from the side of the mountains, had come down upon the Rumblar bridge, and had begun to attack the small baggage guard which remained with the convoy. 

All was up. Cruz-Murgeon was the forerunner of La Pena, and Dupont had not a man left to send to protect his rear. The battalions were all broken up, the wearied infantry had cast themselves down in the shade of the olive groves, and could not be induced even to rise to their feet. Most of them were gasping for water, which could not be got, for the stream-beds which cross the field  were all dried up, and only at the Rumblar could a drink be obtained. 

Not 2,000 men out of the original 11,000 who had started from Andujar could be got together to oppose a feeble front to Reding and Coupigny. It was only by keeping up a slow artillery fire, from the few pieces that had not been silenced or dismounted, that any show of resistance could be made. When the attack from the rear, which was obviously impending, should be delivered, the whole force must clearly be destroyed.'

French grenadier officer and Cuirassier trooper

The 700 strong 2nd Provisional Cuirassiers were attached to General Gobert's division

With his options used up, Dupont rapidly sent forward a deputation to Reding to ask for terms and with his own troops similarly displaying signs of exhaustion under a increasingly hotter midday sun, not knowing if or when Vedel might show up in his rear, Reding was only to glad to grant an armistice.

However Reding did not have the authority to agree terms and so a deputation had to be sent off in search of Castanos.

All this activity took time and it was into the mid-afternoon as the two armies waited in the heat, and still there was no sign of General Vedel, who would have had plenty of time to have covered the sixteen miles back from La Carolina and now his division numbered some 9,000 men, including those of the dead General Gobert, a force more than capable of bringing relief to Dupont's beleaguered army.

One French observer noted the effects of the heat;

'The heat got worse every moment; there were points when I thought I was going to suffocate.'

Normal field dress in 1808 for a French fusilier in a line infantry regiment, with the simple lozenge style shako plate as displayed in the battlefield relics.

The 1812 look for French Voltigeurs not exactly how they would have appeared at Bailen

Vedel was in fact on the march back from La Carolina having realised his error and had set out at 05.00 on the 19th July, only covering the first eight miles of his march in five hours, and then allowing the troops to halt, rest and cook a meal at Guarroman; thus it was that his march didn't recommence until 14.00, and that despite the noise of battle that could be clearly heard over the intervening hills between him and Bailen.

As his march got going the sound of battle would have dissipated, similarly it seems having a similar effect on the rapidity of Vedel's march, as it took him another three hours before he came in sight of the small rearguard force of Reding's army posted on the hills overlooking the road behind Bailen.

Nice replica of the cow hide French back-pack

In the time taken for Vedel to reach the edge of the battlefield, the damage to any hope of Dupont's French army salvaging anything from the impending disaster had been well and truly done, and there is no account of why it took the French commander so long to arrive.

Ignoring Spanish protests that an armistice had been agreed, Vedel launched his men into the attack, taking 1,000 prisoners and only breaking off when ordered to do so by Dupont.

Portrait of Lieutenant General Theodor von Reding, was born in Schwyz in Switzerland  in 1755.
He was an energetic leader and played the key role in defeating Dupont at Bailen, dying of wounds in April 1809 received at the Battle of Valls.

Major General Coupigny commanded Spanish 2nd Division

General de Brigade Dupre, commanded a Provisional cavalry brigade of two regiments of Chasseur a Cheval

As the day drew to a close, 2,000 of Dupont's troops lay dead or wounded, and about 800 had changed sides. The remaining men were broken and demoralised, bereft of food and water.

Several days of complex negotiations followed, but on the 23rd July 17,635 French soldiers laid down their arms, and Dupont handing over his sword to Castanos is reported to have said;

'You may well, General, be proud of this day; it is remarkable because I have never lost a pitched battle until now - I who have been in more than twenty.'

Apparently Castanos was ready with an immediate repost, stating;

'It is the more remarkable because I was never in one before in my life.'

General de Division Dupont

A French or Spanish artillery carriage wheel holds pride of place, as a veteran of the battle

It seems the Spanish authorities had no intention of honouring the terms of the French capitulation. The terms stated that officers and men alike were to be repatriated to France by sea, whilst the former were to be permitted to retain their personal baggage; however few of the men taken at Bailen would ever return to France, with half of them starving to death on the barren Balearic island of Cabrera after a prior period of confinement on the  hulks in Cadiz harbour.

However Dupont, Vedel and a few other senior French officers were repatriated to face the music from a furious emperor.

French battlefield finds including a rather fine sabre-briquet, standard issue to French infantry and not much use except for chopping firewood as its name suggests.

Of course given the problems that plagued the French Army of Spain outlined in the earlier description of its troops and officers and the willful blindness to those shortcomings displayed by the emperor, it is not surprising to see his reaction to the defeat and his unwillingness to acknowledge his own part in the whole affair.

The emperor in no mood to understand what had happened, or a desire to make sure something similar could not happen again, let forth a furious tirade against those he deemed responsible, stating;

'In all the history of the world there has never been anything so stupid, so inept or so cowardly ... From the very dispatch of General Dupont, one can see perfectly that everything has been the result on the most inconceivable incompetence.'

Both Dupont and Vedel were arrested on their return to France, sent before a court-martial and being found guilty as charged, stripped of their rank, titles and imprisoned.

Of course, no matter what Napoleon did to those he made scapegoat for his own mistakes, there was nothing he could do to stop the damage done to the aura of Imperial French invincibility as outlined by Esdaile;

'Based though his Spanish policy had been on a series of errors and miscalculations, the empire had been seriously compromised. Thus, in Germany nationalists were comparing Palafox with Arminius; in Prussia proponents of a fresh war were claiming that there was no reason why their countrymen should not match the examples of the Spaniards; and in Austria a war party was dreaming of stirring up a Spanish style uprising in the recently lost Tyrol'

The Irlanda Regiment button indicates Reding's 1st Division troops on the battlefield at Bailen

A mixture of  French regimental buttons and badges, perhaps a bugle motif of the 18e Leger. The provisional battalions in Dupont's army were likely cadres from various different regiments as mentioned in Foy's account above.

To his credit Napoleon recognised the necessity of rapidly taking the situation in hand by putting together plans for a second invasion of Spain by the Grande Armee led by himself that would bring some necessary perspective to the fact that at Bailen the French army was little more than a mass of ill-organised raw recruits.

The Spanish army, as it was, was no match for the emperor's veterans in a pitched battle and that popular civilian resistance in urban centres and harassing guerrilla resistance in the countryside would not be enough to prevent the nation of Spain being subsumed into the French empire without a standing army able to contest French dominion.

In late 1808 it was difficult to see where that standing army would come from as French armies stormed across the frontier into Spain, chasing all before them and with the British forced to retreat at Corunna and Madrid occupied by Napoleon's brother, Joseph as de facto King of Spain.

A fine model of Bailen at the time of the battle

In the short term, Bailen muffled the reality that Spain would not survive until she acquired substantial foreign aid and was able to field effective armed forces to defend her territory.

One observer of the battle had this to say;

'I believe no one was more surprised at the result of Bailen than Castanos himself ... I knew Dupont afterwards ... a very able man, but he took fright and did not understand the Spaniards. Later in the war the French would have marched over the Spaniards instead of capitulating to them. Their general would have said, 'Retirez vous, coquins!'


Wellington would witness for himself the effects of Bailen on other Spanish commanders and officers keen to emulate the success of Castanos, oblivious to the somewhat unique circumstances at that battle and unwilling to acknowledge or ignorant of the limited capabilities of their often young, ill-trained and inexperienced soldiers.

He is reported to have said jokingly to his Spanish allies;

'Now this is not Baylen - don't attempt to make it a battle of Baylen!'

A nice display model of Bailen using Fantassin 18mm figures, a few examples of which are in my own collection. The French are nearest to camera with Reding and Coupigny's line deployed in front of the town

Spanish regulars in their 1802 look uniforms

The dragoons of General Frescia's French 4th Division attempt to turn the Spanish left

The Provisional Cuirassiers support the dragoons in the attack on the Spanish left

They might look like Marines of the Guard but they aren't!

Dupont launches another desperate attack in the centre

A rather nice depiction of a standard bearer in the Spanish Dragoons

Small arms and musket balls recovered from the battlefield.

Following our visit to the museum, we headed off to the battlefield itself, now rather similar to Talavera, having a major new road cutting across the field of battle parallel to the old road shown in Oman's map below.

Oman's map of the battle with the spot I took my pictures from indicated by the yellow marker amid the lines of General Chabert's infantry. As indicated on Oman's map the area is still largely covered in Olive trees.

As with most of the battle sites visited, a little homework is required to identify the minor roads and tracks that still exist today that were nearly all present at the time of the battle, and allow the interested viewer to get away from the 21st century vista and enter that seen over two hundred years before.

Wide angle vista of the battlefield of Bailen looking directly towards the Spanish positions of General Reding on the slopes in front of the town

The description given by Oman of the battlefield being rather like an amphitheatre, sprung readily to mind when stood at the centre of Dupont's line looking up at the low lying ridge that encompasses the French position.

Reding's 1st Division occupied the slopes directly ahead with Coupigny's 2nd Division deployed to the right of picture further along the ridge

Looking towards the French left occupied by General de Brigade Pannetier's brigade of Paris Garde and 3rd Legion of Reserves

Not only that but our visit was in late June and already the weather was starting to mimic that mentioned by observers of the battle, of the tremendous heat that builds up after midday; and a nearby house, from where I took my pictures, echoed to the sound of happy children playing in an outside pool that only seemed to emphasise the distress of the soldiers caught up in this battle.

The map of the battle from the museum indicates the principle routes of attack made by Dupont's army that were beaten back by Reding's line. I can vouch for the sweltering heat as described, noting its ferocity on the day I took these pictures.

As you can see the land has changed little in the last two centuries and I was really pleased to be able to see this pivotal battle site and equally pleased to get back into a fully air-conditioned car ready to continue our drive to the coast in Murcia.

View towards the French left rear and the ground from where Castanos was advancing with the balance of the Spanish army of Andalusia.

Sources referred to in this post;
The Peninsular War - Charles Esdaile
History of the Peninsular War Vol 1 - Sir Charles Oman

Next up, following a week of much needed R & R in Murcia enjoying sun sea and sand together with some great cuisine, Carolyn and I headed north to Burgos and Vitoria before catching our boat home and so I will post on those two interesting visits to conclude this series of posts.

In addition, the house is getting back to normal and I am looking forward to getting some pictures up of my new Iroquois and Butlers Rangers recently added to the AWI collection.


  1. What a wonderful overview of this famous battle, informative and complete post!

    1. Hi Phil, thank you, glad you enjoyed the read.


  2. An absolutely brilliant series of posts. Thankyou so much for such detailed visits -

    1. Hi Graham,
      Thank you, its been fun sharing a passion with other similarly enthused people and your comments are much appreciated.


  3. Very interesting - thank you. I knew little about Bailen before reading this and it's one of the few "Peninsular War" sites I haven't visited. I've visited the general area at least twice but never really appreciated the location of the battlefield - I'll know for next time!

    1. Hi Jeremy,
      Great and thank you.
      Bailen is a curious 'game changer' of a battle and one that really stands out in the long six years of the war, proving to be a two edged sword for the Spanish in that it did not help curb the enthusiasm for Spanish commanders to take a more circumspect approach when facing much better French armies after it, but it was undoubtedly the catalyst that brought Britain into the conflict that would be the salvation for the wider Peninsular and become the drain on Imperial French strength from thence forward.

      My advice when visiting is to pick a slightly cooler time of year, and see if you can find the bridge over the River Rumblar, as I didn't have time to find it and I would like to know if it is the original bridge and still in situ.