Battle of Medina del Rio Seco

Battle of Medina del Rio Seco

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Medina de Rioseco
partof=the Peninsular War


caption="Escena de la Guerra del Francès", 1808, by Josep Bernat Flaugier.
date=July 14, 1808
place=North of Valladolid, Spain
result=French victory
combatant1=flagicon|France First French Empire
combatant2=flagicon|Spain|1785 Kingdom of Spain
commander1=Jean-Baptiste Bessières
commander2=Joaquín Blake
Gregorio de la Cuesta
strength1=14,000 regulars,
40 gunsGates, p. 79]
strength2=21,900 regulars and militia,
20 guns
casualties1=500 [Gates, p. 80] –1,100 dead or wounded
casualties2=1,100 dead,
2,000 wounded or missing,
150 captured

The Battle of Medina de Rioseco was fought during the Peninsular War on July 14, 1808 and resulted in the defeat of the only Spanish army capable of defending Old Castile against the French.

ituation in northern Spain

Recent French operations in the region had come far short of Napoleon's expectations. In June, Marshal Bessières' flying column had tried to march on Santander to secure French communications in Galicia and guard the coast against a possible British landing. Overwhelmed by the mass resistance of the region, Bessières had been forced to turn back. Napoleon committed more troops and formulated a new strategy. In July he ordered Bessières to renew his eastern offensive.

Snaking toward the French was General Blake who, in an uneasy partnership with General Cuesta, supplemented his Army of Galicia with a motley levy of militia and regulars from isolated provincial garrisons. Between them the two Spanish generals commanded about 24,000 men. Cuesta insisted on assuming supreme command and ordered a march toward Valladolid, his old seat of command as Captain General of Old Castile, from which he had been ejected after his rout at Cabezón. Blake, a professional officer of considerable talent, [Chandler, p. 625] questioned the wisdom of facing the Grande Armée in an open field. [Gates, p. 78] By July 14 Cuesta had drawn up the Spanish force near Medina de Rio Seco, with Blake commanding the frontal position on a small elevation.

Bessières, meanwhile, had rapidly concentrated some 14,000 men and a powerful artillery detachment and marched to meet the Spaniards.

The battle

If any blame is to be found for the defeat it must rest squarely on Cuesta, who for reasons not quite clear refused to deploy his portion of the army against the enemy and planted his divisions far to the rear. Blake, separated from Cuesta by a glaring gap, faced off against the French with his flanks uncovered and his line of retreat far from secure. [Gates, p. 78]

Bessières immediately understood his enemies' weakness and moved to seize the central position, allowing him to dispatch the two Spanish wings in detail by keeping Cuesta at bay with a screening force while elements of two divisions stormed the ridge. Blake fought back with determination, stretching his brigades to the right to ward off encirclement and inflicting over 500 French casualties. Bessières' cavalry reserves then charged into the gap and tore into Blake's flank, cracking his fragile force and driving it west in rout. Bessières was robbed of a complete victory only by a single battalion of regular troops from Navarre which stood its ground against the swarming cavalry while Blake's army escaped.

Before Bessières could turn on Cuesta, the Spanish general, rather than follow Blake in retreat, formed his troops into columns and hurled them uphill at the Imperial army, now drawn up on the ridge. The leading Spanish grenadier battalions struck determined blows against the French centre before being caught in a murderous crossfire and brusquely forced off the ridge, convincing Cuesta to sound his long overdue retreat.

Aftermath

Following Medina de Rioseco Bessières easily captured León and Zamora. The French were guilty of savage reprisals against both the Spanish prisoners and the populace of the neighboring cities – which ironically, had been among the very few not carried by popular uprisings.

Bessières' victory marked a great improvement to the strategic position of the French army in northern Spain. A delighted Napoleon asserted, "if Marshal Bessières has been able to beat the Army of Galicia with few casualties and small effort, General Dupont will be able to overthrow everybody he meets."

A few days later, Dupont's entire corps was broken in battle at Bailén and captured by General Castaños. With 20,000 French troops erased from the map, the French command panicked and ordered a general retreat to the Ebro, undoing Bessières' hard-fought gains.

Notes

References

*Chandler, David G. "The Campaigns of Napoleon." New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. ISBN 0-02-523660-1
*Gates, David. "The Spanish Ulcer: A History of the Peninsular War." Da Capo Press 2001. ISBN 0-306-81083-2


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