Siege of Burgos


Siege of Burgos

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Siege of Burgos


caption=
partof=Peninsular War
date=September 19 - October 21, 1812
place=Burgos, Spain
result=French victory
combatant1=flagicon|France French Empire
combatant2=flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom
flagicon|Portugal|1707 Portugal
commander1=Jean Louis Dubreton
commander2=Marquess of Wellington
strength1=2,000
strength2=35,000
casualties1=304 killed,
323 wounded,
60 captured
casualties2=550 killed,
1,550 wounded

At the Siege of Burgos, September 19 to October 21, 1812, the Anglo-Portuguese army led by General Marquess of Wellington failed to capture the castle of Burgos from its French garrison under the command of Brigadier General Jean Louis Dubreton.

Background

Wellington's great victory at the Battle of Salamanca on July 22, 1812 undermined the French position in Spain. On July 30, his army reached Valladolid, northwest of Madrid. In a panic, King Joseph Bonaparte ordered Marshal Nicolas Soult to abandon Andalusia in the south of Spain and join with him to resist the Allied forces. At first, Soult refused to give up his petty kingdom in the south.

On August 11, Maj-Gen Anne François Treilliard's dragoon division fought an inconclusive skirmish with the Allies at the Battle of Majadahonda northwest of Madrid. At first, the French dragoons routed Brig-Gen Benjamin D'Urban's Portuguese cavalry. Reinforced by Maj-Gen George Bock's King's German Legion (KGL) heavy dragoons and some infantry, the Allies drove the French back. The next day, King Joseph evacuated Madrid and the Anglo-Portuguese entered the city in triumph. On August 13, the Retiro forts surrendered to Wellington, yielding 2,000 prisoners, clothing, equipment and the eagles of the 13th Dragoons and the 51st Line Infantry Regiments. [Smith, p 386]

Harassed by Spanish guerillas, Joseph retreated all the way to the east coast city of Valencia, which was held by Marshal Louis Suchet. Wellington knew that if Joseph and Soult joined forces, his position in central Spain would become perilous. He counted on the autumn rains keeping the Tagus River high and preventing Joseph and Soult from threatening his southern flank. He also hoped that Spanish forces under Francisco Ballasteros and an Anglo-Sicilian force under Lieut-Gen Thomas Maitland would keep the French army busy in the south. He knew that the capture of Burgos would help secure his northern flank.

iege

Accordingly, the 35,000-man Anglo-Portuguese army laid siege to the castle of Burgos on September 19. For heavy artillery, Wellington had only three 18-lb cannon and 1,300 rounds. [Glover, p 210] Admiral Sir Home Popham of the Royal Navy offered to land more heavy guns at Santander, but Wellington declined to use this resource because he felt that he had limited time. After costly assaults at the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, he was loath to mount a massive attack.

Dubreton's 2,000-man garrison included 2 battalions of the 34th Line, 1 battalion of 130th Line, 1 artillery company and 1 sapper company. Throughout the siege, he conducted a highly aggressive defence. An assault captured the San Miguel hornwork on September 20, with 421 British and 198 French casualties. Attacks on September 23 and 29 failed to carry the castle. [Smith, p 397] Rain flooded the siege trenches. Mines were exploded under the walls, but with little effect. At the time, the British army's sapper corps (then called Military Artificers) was ridiculously small. At Burgos, there were only 5 engineer officers and 8 sappers. One of the sappers was killed and other 7 wounded. [Oman, p 286] Wellington wrote, "This is altogether the most difficult job I ever had in hand with such trifling means." [Glover, p 210] Finally, on October 2, Wellington requested two 24-lb cannon from Santander, but they would fail to reach Burgos in time. [Smith, p 297]

On August 25, Soult raised the Siege of Cadiz and began to fall back to the northeast toward Valencia. Ballasteros refused to obey his orders to obstruct Soult's move. The 8,000 Anglo-Sicilians at Alicante on the east coast remained completely inert during this crisis. By October 3, Soult and Joseph joined and concentrated 61,000 Frenchmen and 84 artillery pieces for the retaking of Madrid. Defending Madrid and the line of the Tagus was Lieut-Gen Rowland Hill with 31,000 Anglo-Portuguese and 12,000 Spaniards. Wellington was 150 miles north of Madrid at Burgos, dangerously separated from Hill's army. To make matters worse, the Tagus was not a serious military obstacle because of unexpectedly low water. [Glover, p 211]

In the north, Maj-Gen Joseph Souham's 41,000-man Army of Portugal was swollen to 53,000 by tranferring 6,500 infantry and 2,300 cavalry from the Army of the North and by 3,400 reinforcements from France. Souham began closing in on Wellington's outposts. Wellington later wrote, "I had no reason to believe the enemy were so strong till I saw them. Fortunately, they did not attack me: if they had, I must have been destroyed." [Glover, p 213]

Aftermath

Wellington raised the siege of Burgos on October 21. He quietly slipped away, undetected by the French until late on October 22. The following day, the drawn Battle of Venta del Pozo was fought. Wellington retreated to the southwest, closely pursued by Souham. Several actions occurred during the retreat including one at Tordesillas.

Meanwhile, after a clash at Tajuna, Hill evacuated Madrid and fell back to the west. Joseph re-entered the city on November 2. The retreat continued until the two Anglo-Portuguese armies joined in the neighborhood of Alba de Tormes on November 8. On November 15, Soult's 80,000 Frenchmen faced Wellington's 65,000 Allies on the old Salamanca battlefield. But Soult did not attack, so Wellington retired to Portugal for the winter.

It appeared that all of Wellington's efforts in 1812 had been for nothing. Yet, his Anglo-Portuguese army had gained a moral ascendancy over the French that it would never relinquish. [Glover, p 222] The stage was set for the decisive campaign and Battle of Vitoria in 1813.

References

* Chandler, David. "The Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars." Macmillan, 1979.
* Glover, Michael. "The Peninsular War 1807-1814." Penguin, 1974.
* Oman, Charles. "Wellington's Army 1809-1814." Greenhill, 1913, 1993.
* Smith, Digby. "The Napoleonic Wars Data Book." Greenhill, 1998.

Footnotes


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