Battle of Ocana

Battle of Ocana

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Ocaña
partof=the Peninsular War

date=November 19, 1809
place=Ocaña, near Madrid, Spain
result=Decisive French victory
combatant1=flagicon|France French Empire
commander1=Nicolas Soult
commander2=Juan de Areizaga
casualties1=2,000 dead or wounded
casualties2=4,000 dead or wounded,
14,000 captured

In the Battle of Ocana or "Ocaña" (November 19, 1809), French forces under Marshal Soult and King Joseph Bonaparte inflicted upon the Spanish army its greatest single defeat in the Peninsular War. General Areizaga's Spanish army of 51,000 lost nearly 19,000 killed, wounded, prisoners and deserters, mostly due to the superb French use of their cavalry.


William Napier writes: "The Spaniards came on at a trot, and Sebastiani directed Paris, with a regiment of light cavalry and the Polish lancers, to turn and fall upon the right flank of the approaching squadrons, which being executed with great vigor, especially by the Poles, caused considerable confusion, with the Spanish general endeavored to remedy by closing to the assailed flank." [Napier, Vol II, p 247]

The strategic consequences were also devastating, as it destroyed the only force capable of defending southern Spain; the area was overrun over the winter in the Andalusia campaign.


The Spanish campaign in the autumn of 1809 called for their armies to lunge at Madrid from both north and south. The French were nearly surprised by the southern thrust. By November 9, the southern army was within 35 miles of Madrid with only 7,000 French troops blocking them. Then Areizaga lost his nerve and halted for three days. He then pressed on toward Madrid but ran into two French divisions and pulled back. Several days of fruitless countermarching found the thoroughly alerted French concentrated and moving to intercept the Spanish army. [Glover, p 115]


Areizaga commanded 51,000 men [Chandler, p 319] in eight infantry and four cavalry divisions, with 60 cannon manned by 1,500 artillerists. Other authorities give the Spanish 60,000 [Glover, p 115] or 56,500 men [Smith, p 335] ;Spanish infantry
* L. Lacy's 1st Division (7,700): 9 battalions of Burgos, Alcala, 1/Espana, 1/Loxa, 1/Seville, Provincial of Cordova, Prov. of Chinchilla.
* Gaspar Vigodet's 2nd Division (7,100): 9 bns. of Corona, Military Orders, Ronda, Alcazar, Ciudad Real, 1/Guadix.
* P. Giron's 3rd Division (5,200): 8 bns. of 1/Guards, 2/Guards, 2/Cordova, Gailen, Prov. of Jaen, Prov. of Toledo.
* F. Castejon's 4th Division (6,400): 8 bns. of 1/Malaga, 5/Seville, 2/Loxa, Bujalance, Xeres, 3/Cordova, Velez Malaga Cazadores.
* N. Zerain's 5th Division (5,900): 7 bns. of Barbastro Cazadores, 2/Espana, 2/Seville, 2/Madrid, Provincial of Granada, 3/Walloon Guards.
* N. Jacome's 6th Division (7,600): 9 bns. of Badajoz, Jaen, Alpujarras, 4/Seville, Prov. of Malaga, Prov. of Ecija, Estremadura Tiradores.
* Francisco Copons's 7th Division (5,100): 6 bns. of Murcia, Real Marina, Africa, Reyna Regts.
* José Zayas's Vanguard (6,000): 7 bns. Cantabria, Valencia Volunteers, 2/Majorca, Prov. of Plasencia, Prov. Grenadiers, Espana Vols.

;Manuel Freire, Spanish cavalry (5,800)
* Juan Bernuy (1st): Rey, Infante, Almanza, Estremadura Carabineers and Lancers, Madrid Vols.
* Jose Rivas (2nd): Pavia, 1st and 2nd Estremadura Hussars, Toledo Cazadores.
* Miguel March (3rd): Montesa, Reyna, Santiago, Principe, Cordova, Alcantara.
* V. Osorio (4th): Farnesio, Lusitania, Espana, Granada Cazadores, Fernanda VII Grenadiers. [Smith, p 335] [Zimmermann, p 25]

King Joseph led the French army in name only. Actual command over the 24,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry, 1,500 artillerists and 50 cannon was exercised by Marshal Nicolas Soult. Two army corps, three cavalry divisions and the Central Reserve formed core of the army. ;Horace Sébastiani's IV Corps:
* Division Leval: 2 battalions each of Holland, 2nd Nassau, Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt "Erbprinz" Regts., 1 bn. Frankfurt.
* Division François Werlé‎: 2 bns. each of 4th, 7th and 9th Poles.
* Five artillery batteries.
* 3rd Dutch Hussar, Polish "Vistula" Lancer Regts.

;Marshal Édouard Mortier's V Corps:
* Division Jean Baptiste Girard: 3 bns. each of 17th Light, 40th, 64th, 88th Line. 4 bns. 34th Line.
* Division Honoré Gazan: 3 bns. each of 21st and 28th Light, 100th and 103rd Line.
* Five artillery batteries.

;Cavalry and Central Reserve:
* Division Édouard Milhaud (1,800): 5th, 12th, 16th, 20th, 21st Dragoon Regiments.
* Division Paris (1,000): 10th and 26th Chasseur, Westphalian Light Horse Regts.
* Division Beauregard (1,500): 10th Hussar, 21st Chasseur, 13th and 22nd Dragoon Regts.
* Royal Guard cavalry (700): King's Spanish Chasseur, 27th Chasseur Regts.
* Jean Dessolles's Central Reserve (7,000): Royal Guard: 4 Guard battalions, 51st and 55th Line. Brigade Rey: 12th Light, 43rd Line. [Smith, p 335]

Cavalry action

On November 18, one of the largest cavalry actions of the Peninsular War took place. Three of Freire's divisions, 4,000 horsemen, attempted to clear a route of retreat for the Spanish army. The French deployed with Paris's light cavalry in the front line and Milhaud's dragoons in the second line. Paris charged, broke the Spanish first line, and was checked when Freire brought up his reserves. At this juncture, Milhaud's dragoons attacked and drove the Spanish cavalry from the field. The French lost less than 100 men, while Spanish losses were in the hundreds, with 80 captured. [Zimmermann, p 22]


West of Ocaña town, Areizaga placed Zayas's Vanguard and Rivas's cavalry. From Ocaña to the east, the Spanish commander aligned his center and right. The right flank, which hung in air, was held by Freire's remaining three cavalry divisions. From there to Ocaña, Lacy, Castejon, Giron and Vigodet held the front line. Their battalions were arranged in a double line. In reserve behind Castejon stood Jacome's men, Zerain supported Giron and Copons backed up Vigodet.

The Royal Guard and one brigade of Dessolles stood facing Ocana across a deep ravine. The next unit to the east was Louis Rey's brigade of Dessolles. Gazan and Girard of the V Corps, Leval and Werlé of IV Corps, and the cavalry completed the line to the east. Soult massed 30 cannons near Dessolles and the V Corps' positions. [Zimmermann, p 22-23]


The massed battery pounded the Spanish center as Leval attacked Castejon and Werlé went in against Lacy. At first the Spanish swung their line back. Then, as the IV Corps halted to wait for artillery to be brought up, the two Spanish divisions surged forward into musket range and opened fire. The Dutch, Germans and Poles began to edge rearward. Soult ordered up Girard's division to support the wavering IV Corps battalions.

While this was going on, Milhaud's dragoons, supported by Beauregard and Paris, moved rapidly toward the vulnerable Spanish right flank. Screened by olive groves, they suddenly appeared in front of Freire's command. The French charged and soon routed the Spanish horsemen. Milhaud, Paris and Beauregard neatly wheeled their squadrons and tore into the unprotected flank of Lacy's infantry. Soult sent the French line forward. The massed battery savaged the Spanish line with renewed fury.

Faced by the threat of infantry pressing their front while cavalry slashed into their flank, the Spanish divisions collapsed one after another and bolted for the rear. At this crisis, Dessolles and the Royal Guard dashed across the ravine and burst into Ocaña, severing the Spanish left from their disintegrating center and right. As the Spanish army streamed away, only Zayas's division remained intact to cover the retreat. Soult's cavalry pressed the pursuit and broke Zayas later in the day.


The French captured 14,000 Spaniards, 50 cannon, 30 flags and the entire baggage train. Another 4,000 were killed and wounded. French losses were 2,000 killed and wounded. Paris was killed and Girard wounded. [Smith, p 335] This catastrophe temporarily laid Spain open to French domination. The northern Spanish army was beaten a week later at the Battle of Alba de Tormes.


* Chandler, David. "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars." NY: Macmillan, 1979. ISBN 0-02-523670-9
* Glover, Michael. "The Peninsular War 1807-1814." London: Penguin, 2001. ISBN 0-141-39041-7
* Napier, William. "History of the War in the Peninsula 1807-1814."
* Smith, Digby. "The Napoleonic Wars Data Book." London: Greenhill, 1993. ISBN 1-85367-276-9
* Zimmermann, Dick. "The Battle of Ocana," Wargamer's Digest magazine. v. 6, no. 1, Nov. 1979.


External links

* [ Napoleonic Guide description]
* [ Napoleon, His Army and Enemies]
* [ The Vistula Uhlans - Picadors of the Hell]

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