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Spanish Army (Peninsular War)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A painting depicting a column of Spanish troops during the Peninsular War, painted by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau.
A painting depicting a column of Spanish troops during the Peninsular War, painted by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau.

The Spanish Army of the Peninsular War refers to the Spanish military units that fought against France's Grande Armée from 2 May 1808 (the Peninsular War began 27 October 1807 with the Franco-Spanish invasion of Portugal[1]) to 17 April 1814[2]) a period which coincided with what is also termed the Spanish War of Independence (Guerra de la Independencia Española).

These regular troops were supplemented throughout the country by the guerrilla actions of local militias which, in the case of Catalonia, ran to thousands of well-organised "miquelets", or "somatenes", who had already proved their worth in the Catalan revolt of 1640 and in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714),[3] while in Andalusia, they were more modest in number, and sometimes little more than brigands who were, in some cases, feared by French troops and the civilian population alike[citation needed] but which were nevertheless a constant source of harassment to the French army and its lines of communication, as were the numerous spontaneous popular uprisings. So much so, that by summer 1811, French commanders deployed 70,000 troops only to keep said lines open between Madrid and the border with France.[4] A list drawn up in 1812 puts the figure of such irregular troops at 38,520 men, divided into 22 guerrilla bands.[5]

At some battles, such as the Battle of Salamanca, the Army of Spain fought side-by-side with their allies of the Anglo-Portuguese Army, led by General Wellesley (who would not become the Duke of Wellington until after the Penininsular War was over).[6]


Under the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, which divided the Kingdom of Portugal and all Portuguese dominions between France and Spain, Spain agreed to augment, by three Spanish columns (numbering 25,500 men), the 28,000 troops Junot was already leading through Spain to invade Portugal. Crossing into Spain on 12 October 1807, Junot started a difficult march through the country, finally entering Portugal on 19 November. The three columns were as follows:

  • General Caraffa's 9,500 men were to assemble at Salamanca and Ciudad Rodrigo and cooperate with Junot's main force.
  • General Francisco Solano's column of 9,500 soldiers, which was to advance from Badajoz to capture Elvas and its fortress, invaded Portugal on 2 December 1807.
  • General Taranco's 6,500 troops occupied Porto on 13 December. The general died the following January, and on 6 June 1808, when news of the rebellion in Spain reached Porto, the new commander of the garrison, General Belestá, arrested the French governor, General Quesnel,[7] and his 30-man dragoon escort and joined the armies fighting the French.

Irregular troops

Following on from other related decrees, on 17 April 1809, the Junta Central issued orders for all able-bodied patriots to join the Corso Terrestre (literally, "Land Corsairs").[8] By the following August, the Corso Terrestre of Navarra, initially comprising fifteen men, led by Francisco Xavier Mina, had carried out a series of successful ambushes, and soon consisted of 1,200 infantry troops and 150 cavalry, now known as the Primero de Voluntarios de Navarra ("First Volunteers of Navarra"). By November 1811, Juan Palarea Blanes, known as "El Médico", based in La Mancha, had raised both the Husares Francos Numantinos, a light cavalry unit, and the Cazadores Francos Numantinos, a light infantry unit, both of which were incorporated into the 4th Army in 1813, with the cavalry unit later joining Espoz y Mina's division in Navarre.[8]

May – November 1808

The jubilation following General Castaños' mid-July victory at Bailén was short-lived, and General Merlin's sacking of Bilbao, on 16 August 1808,[9] caused much popular discontent throughout the country, which was aimed specifically at the Juntas and the generals.

On 5 September, a war council was convened, attended by General Cuesta; Castaños; Llamas; la Peña; the Duque del Infantado, representing General Blake; and another officer (unknown) representing Palafox. Cuesta, as the senior general, attempted to persuade Castaños to join him in leading a military government separated from the Juntas, but Castaños refused. Then, having tried, to no avail, to persuade his colleagues to name him commander in chief, Cuesta stormed out of the meeting.[10] Having taken matters into his own hands, he would later be arrested and relieved of his command, only to have it restored shortly afterwards.[11]

On 10 November, the Junta Central published its manifesto, dated 28 October 1808, in which, among other declarations, it declared its intention of maintaining a force of 500,000 troops, together with 50,000 cavalry.[10]

According to the manifesto, the existing diverse regiments and corps of the Spanish Army would be organised into four large corps, presided over by a Junta Central de Guerra (Central War Board), to be headed by Castaños, as follows:

  • Army of the Left (Ejército de la izquierda): Comprising the Army of Galicia (under Blake), the Army of Asturias (under Acevedo), and General La Romana's men from Denmark, and as many enlisted men they could raise from the Cantabrian mountains and the other mountainous regions they passed through.[10]
  • Army of the Right (Ejército de la derecha or Ejército de Cataluña): Comprising the troops and people from Catalonia, together with the divisions that had disembarked from Portugal and Mallorca, and those sent form Granada, Aragón and Valencia.[10]
  • Army of the Centre (Ejército del centro): Would be made up of the four divisions from Andalucia (under Castaños), together with those of Castile (under Cuesta), Extremadura and those of Valencia and Murcia that had entered Madrid under Llamas. It was hoped that the British forces would join this Army in the event that they decided to advance up towards France.[10]
  • The Army of the Reserve would comprise Palafox, Saint March and O'Neill's Valencia division.

Autumn Campaign (1809)

The Junta Central's Autumn Campaign was politically motivated,[12] and despite Del Parque's victory at Tamames in October, the Spanish Army's subsequent defeats at the battles of Ocaña and Alba de Tormes led to the Junta's fall at the beginning of 1810.[4]

The campaign was to be carried out by the Army of Estremadura, under the Duke of Alburquerque's much depleted force of 8,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry, as he had had to transfer three divisions of infantry and twelve regiments of cavalry to reinforce the Army of La Mancha, under Venegas, and which, after its defeat at Almonacid, had been reduced to only 25,000 men.

The Army of La Mancha now comprising some 50,000 men, the Junta removed Venegas (who had taken over from Cartaojal, sacked for his incompetence at the Battle of Ciudad Real in March) replacing him with Aréizaga, who was able to bring the force up to 48,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry and 60 cannon, making it one of the largest forces Spain had ever created.

The Army of the Left which, in theory, was 50,000 strong (although only 40,000 of them actually took part in the campaign), was formed from La Romana’s Army of Galicia, with Ballasteros’s Army of the Asturias and the Del Parque's troops. The latter was given command of this Army.


On 22 September 1812, the Cortes named Wellington generalissimo (supreme commander) of the Spanish armies. The commander of the 4th Army, General Ballesteros, was arrested and relieved of his command in October 1812, and exiled for protesting Wellington's command and trying to instigate an uprising.[13] By mid-1813, Spain's regular forces consisted of some 160,000 troops, around a third of which were fighting alongside Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese Army.[13]

  • 1st Army: By June 1813, the Army of Catalonia, now known as the 1st Army, under General Copons, comprised 16,000 men. Pedro Agustin Giron, until then in command of the Army of the Centre, would be named commander of the Army of Catalonia that August.[14]
  • 2nd Army: When Blake's Army of Valencia, now known as the 2nd Army, surrendered to Marshal Suchet at Valencia, at the beginning of 1812, it comprised 28,000 men. Of these, some 7,000 were able to escape capture, and by June 1813, its new commander, General Elio, had over 30,600 troops under him.[13]
  • 3rd Army: The Army of Murcia, rose from some 5,500 men at the beginning of January 1812 to 12,600 men under the Duke del Parque in June 1813. By April 1814, the Prince of Anglona had 21,000 men under him.[13]
  • 4th Army: The 4th Army (whose previous commander, Ballesteros, had been relieved of his command in October 1812, and exiled for protesting Wellington's command) was attached to Wellington's forces. In August 1813, Freire was promoted to general and succeeded Castaños, who had been called to the Cortes,[14] in command of the 35,000 troops of the Fourth Army.[13]
  • 5th Army:

See also


  1. ^ Glover 1974, p. 45.
  2. ^ Glover 1974, p 335. Denotes the date of the general armistice between France and the Sixth Coalition.
  3. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 566
  4. ^ a b Bowen, Wayne H. and José E. Alvarez (2007) A Military History of Modern Spain: From the Napoleonic Era to the International War on Terror, pp. 20–21. Greenwood Publishing Group. At Google Books. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
  5. ^ Esdaile, Charles J. (2004) Fighting Napoleon: Guerrillas, Bandits and Adventurers in Spain, 1808-1814, p. 108. Yale University Press At Google Books. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
  6. ^ Elliott, George (1816). The Life of the Most Noble Arthur, Duke of Wellington. London: J.Cundee. p. xiii–xiv.
  7. ^ Foy, Maximilien (1829) History of the War in the Peninsula, Under Napoleon: To which is Prefixed a View of the Political and Military State of the Four Belligerent Powers, Volume 2, pp. 432–3. Treuttel and Würtz, Treuttel, jun. and Richter. At Google Books. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
  8. ^ a b Chartrand, René (2013) Spanish Guerrillas in the Peninsular War 1808-14. Osprey Publishing. At Google Books. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
  9. ^ Napier, William Francis Patrick and Mathieu Dumas (1828) Histoire de la guerre dans la Péninsule et dans le midi de la France, depuis l'année 1807 jusqu'a l'année 1814, Volume I, p. 287. Treuttel et Würtz At Google Books. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d e (in Spanish) Rodríquez García, Francisco (1865) Crónica del Senoría de Vizcaya, pp. 93–95 At Google Books. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  11. ^ Rodriguez, Jose Manuel and Arsenio Garcia Fuentes "Biography: Gregorio García de la Cuesta". Translated by Caroline Miley for the Napoleon Series Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  12. ^ Rickard, J (2008). "Spanish Junta's Autumn Campaign, October-November 1809" Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  13. ^ a b c d e Chartrand, René (1999) Spanish Army of the Napoleonic Wars (3): 1812-1815, pp. 3–5. Osprey Publishing. At Google Books. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
  14. ^ a b (in Spanish) Muñoz, p. 420. "El 12 de agosto fue relevado del mando del cuarto ejército español el General Castaños, por haberle llamado las Córtes á desempeñar su plaza de Consejero de Estado, sucediéndole el Mariscal de Campo Manuel Freire, y destinado al ejército de Cataluña al de igual clase Don Pedro Agustin Giron, Comandante general del Centro. Castaños, que conoció el pretesto con que la Regencia le separaba del mando, escribió en estos términos al Ministro de la Guerra: 'Tengo la satisfacción de entregar al Mariscal de Campo Freire, sobre la frontera de Francia, el mando del ejército que he tomado en Aldea Gallega, delante de Lisboa.'"


  • Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Miquelets" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 18 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 566.
  • Glover, Michael (1974). The Peninsular War 1807–1814: A Concise Military History. Penguin Classic Military History (published 2001). ISBN 0-14-139041-7.
  • Muñoz Maldonado, José (1833). Historia política y militar de la Guerra de la Independencia de España contra Napoleon Bonaparte desde 1808 á 1814. Tomo III, escrita sobre los documentos auténticos del gobierno por el Dr. D. José Muñoz Maldonado. Madrid: Imprenta de D. José Palacios.
  • Guia de Forasteros en Madrid para el año 1821. Imp. Nacional, 1821. At Google Books (provides dates and formation of regiments, etc.)
This page was last edited on 16 April 2021, at 07:27
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