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"The battle of Bailen." Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP14 Feb 2012 12:31 p.m. PST

The most important battle at the Penninsula when for first time a Napoleonic Army was completely defeated.
This became from a Spanish magazine "RESEARCHING & DRAGONA" that went out of business some years ago.


Very interesting to wargame involving many troops with different and beautifull uniforms. Different quality of troops from both sides too.

Alfons Cánovas site show very accurate info about that important battle.


In case of translation you could used.|en|

In any case, I'm to your disposal to help with the translation.

Hope you enjoy!.


15th Hussar14 Feb 2012 1:39 p.m. PST

Beautiful map, Armand…Thanks for sharing it.

If there are others in the series you might have, I hope you post them from time to time also!

MajorB14 Feb 2012 1:47 p.m. PST

The most important battle at the Penninsula

I think there are some that would dispute that.

Lord Hill14 Feb 2012 2:32 p.m. PST

Vitoria? Nah, must have been Bailen that kicked the French out of Spain.

Gazzola14 Feb 2012 3:00 p.m. PST

The series also covered the Battle of Medina de Rio Seco 1808, where the French defeated the Spanish. It is spread out in R & D Vol 11, No 3, 1997, and R & D Vol 8, No 21, 2003. Bailen was in 1997 issue. They are in Spanish so they will need translating.

Gazzola14 Feb 2012 3:13 p.m. PST

Another Spanish publication which may be of interest to anyone looking at Balien is 'El Ejercito De Andalucia En La Guerra De La Independencia by Carlos Caceres Espejo, published in 1999. Again, this is in Spanish and needs translating.

Edwulf14 Feb 2012 3:58 p.m. PST

12 000 hombres. Sounds so much more bad ass that way.

21eRegt14 Feb 2012 7:19 p.m. PST

Actually Bailen was critical to the continuing resistance against the French. That and it showed that a French army could be decisively defeated (not just checked) in the field. Now the world just had to wait a year to be shown that Napoleon could be defeated and completely dispel the myth of French invincibility. So yes, without Bailen there might never have been a Vitoria. (Which is not all *that* much to be proud of considering the numeric and qualitative edge.)

Gazzola15 Feb 2012 3:51 a.m. PST


I'm not sure that the Spanish would have not continued to wage war had they lost at Bailen. They won a handful of actions but they lost most of their battles, yet they still continued to fight on. Not sure if Bailen inspired them or gave them a sense of false hope, that they could always win. Perhaps they were inspired more by the British winning all the time in the Peninsular. But, to their credit, they didn't give in.

summerfield15 Feb 2012 4:24 a.m. PST

Thanks it may sort out the confusion on the OOB and numbers. I will have a look at home.

Whirlwind15 Feb 2012 5:53 a.m. PST

Am I right in thinking this puts the action back where it was supposed to be before – with the Spanish on the top of the ridge?


21eRegt15 Feb 2012 10:10 a.m. PST

@Gazzola – I think Bailen gave the world real hope that the French could be beaten. Up till then the French hadn't endured many set backs and no "game changers." So there may have been some false hope generated, but along with real hope. Even in England where they could view the Spanish as someone that wouldn't just roll over. The guerilla war wasn't exacting a huge toll yet.

And in July, 1808 the British army wasn't winning all the time, anywhere. Vimerio is a month away and recent forays to Argentina and Copenhagen in 1807 had done little to create a sense of confidence in British arms or good will world-wide.

In the end we'll never know for certain what would have been different if Dupont had blasted through de la Cuesta's position and escaped, but I do believe it to be a turning point in the Peninsula War.

Gazzola15 Feb 2012 10:30 a.m. PST


As amazing as Bailen was, I don't think it was a turning point, certainly not for the French. I don't think they viewed the Spanish regular army differently after that particular battle.

If I remember rightly, the British won at Maida in 1806. That didn't make much of a difference either. They were both seen as one-offs at the time. In terms of turning points in the Peninsular, I would suggest the Battle of Bussaco 1810 or Barrosa 1811. One where the French failed to force the British from the high ground and one where the British did force the French from the high ground. Or indeed Albuera 1811, when the Spanish held their ground and saved the day.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2012 11:04 a.m. PST

Hope my friend Basileus66 read this thread and that he will enlighten us a bit more about this issue, but from my own experience not only by books, but by living in Spain some years, the battle of Bailen is and was in the hightest consideration of that country. Even at world level, these firs turn of the "unbeaten" Napoleon Armies was taken as great news.
This wasn't a set back for a brigade or a Division, it was the destruction of a whole Army and the surrender of a Marshal of France with many other important Generals and some veteran units like the Guard Marines.
Bailen move Napoleon to invade Spain again with himself at the head of his Armies.
The set backs on Portugal never move him to made a campaing like that one.

Yust my opinion.


Rod MacArthur15 Feb 2012 11:09 a.m. PST

IMHO Bailen was important, because without that victory, and Vimeiro in Portugal a little later, the political will would probably not have been there to continue the struggle to remove the French from the Peninsula.


von Winterfeldt15 Feb 2012 1:11 p.m. PST

The unlucky Dupont was no Marshall of France – as his "army" – was mostly composed of conscripts and provisional formations, he had only 4 pdr guns with him, he was heavily out numbered and in a hopeless position.
Still a very important victory achieved by Spanish troops.
In case one likes to learn much more about Bailen – I strongly recommend to read the books by Titeux about Dupont.
They are available at google books.

basileus6615 Feb 2012 2:39 p.m. PST

Some caveats about Dupont being outnumbered:

He had been already defeated by Reding's 12,000(*) men when Castanos reached the battlefield with the main army. Dupont had tried to dislodge Reding's troops from the hills on the north all the morning and early afternoon, and failed.

Without doubt, his decission to surrender was a consequence of the presence of Castanos' army in his rear, but the battle itself matched similar numbers of combatants.

Certainly, Dupont had conscripts in his ranks… as Reding had. And both had some very good troops too. Actually, from a wargaming point of view, Bailen was a very balanced battle.

As for the decissivenes of the battle:

All the narrative of victory that support the will of the Spaniards to continue the struggle against Napoleon in the years of 1809 to 1811 came from the victory at Bailen and the first siege of Zaragoza. You only need to read the letters of the period. In the darkest hours of the war, when Valencia had surrerended and all seemed lost, when some in governmental circles started to sound if it would be possible to negotiate a surrender with the French, the memory of Bailen sustained those who wanted to continue the fight.

The documental evidence is very strong in that regard. If Bailen would have been less decissive than it was, it's very probable that the resistance would have collapsed in late 1811-early 1812, i.e. before Napoleon would have started his Russian campaign. Moreover, Wellington would have been forced to retreat to Lisbon once again. I do not doubt that he could have sustained his army there as long as he would have wanted. Of course, there is some doubts that the government in Britain would have consented to the expenditure if the prospect would have been so lame as it would have been with a Spain pro-French or at least pacified by them.

In the short term, Bailen had an decisive effect: it caused panic between the French in Madrid. The retreat beyond the Ebro river and the humiliation felt by Napoleon practically forced that the Emperor would came to Spain to deal with the rebels himself. That, as you know, was the decissive event that lead to the Austrian Kriegsrat to force Archduke Charles' hand and prepare the plans to attack France's ally Bavaria, starting the war of 1809.

The accumulation of French defeats in Spain -Bailen and the surrender of Junot in Portugal being the most humiliating, although the last one somehow spent because the political naivety of the British generals that negotiated the Cintra's convention- plus the setback at Aspern-Essling probably had a strong impact on the other European states, especially in Russia.

According Zamoyski, the Tsar Alexander took courage from the resistance in Spain. Apparently he thought that if a small country -small compared with Russia, of course- could resist the French for four years, then Russia could resist forever. In that sense, again, Bailen had a decissive impact.

Was it a turning point? No, it wasn't, but paraphrasing Churchill: it was the end of the beginning. In that sense, in my opinion, it deserves a place between the decissive battles of the Napoleonic wars.

Best regards

(*) I have some doubts about the real numbers involved. 12,000 men would be in the high end of the spectrum. My guess, from what I have seen in reports written shortly after the battle, is that 10,000 would be nearer to the actual number of men actually under arms that morning in the Spanish side.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2012 9:33 p.m. PST

Promotion of Dupont from General to Marshal, my fault.
Antonio, MANY THANKS for your guidance here.


von Winterfeldt16 Feb 2012 12:10 a.m. PST

I don't think that the battle was balanced, it was much in favour of the Spanish, the artillery alone, against the Spanish 12 pdr guns, Dupont had only 4 pdr guns, also he had a bit a problem with some of his own Swiss troops who did not like to fight against the Swiss in Spanish service, both can be read in the work of Titeux and Maag (he is covering the Swiss in Spain and Portugal)
I agree with Basileus 66 about the effect, it was a very important victory

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP16 Feb 2012 11:14 a.m. PST

The Army of Dupont was morally unbalanced due to the large plunder they had done in Granada and other places being that there was a greater concern for guarding convoys to the product of plunder instead of fight a great battle. Also, another problem of moral was because in there began the first acts of savagery by the Spanish and soon followed by the French. Finally, Dupont forced to surrender units that not only were not in danger of being surrounded, but they had won against the Spanish and arrived as reinforcements.
Bravery from part of the spanish troops had been shown in many battles, but was Bailen the one which managed to won a important victory and agree with Basileus66 that if not, probably Joseph Napoleon rules Spain and Wellington could never invade France from Spanish borders.


von Winterfeldt16 Feb 2012 1:36 p.m. PST

There wasn't more concern than to guard convoys than to fight, this is the typical myth making, good books on that story like those of Titeux or Balangy are as usual ignored.

basileus6616 Feb 2012 2:15 p.m. PST

I am not familiar with Titeux or Balangy. Actually, most of the info I have on the battle comes from archival sources -Spanish and French reports and letters, mostly-. For me Bailen is not a main interest. It only happened that I know about the topic for finding documents related to the battle while researching other topic. So, please, that nobody take what I say as the Gospel. It's not. It's just a reasonable explanation after what I have seen in the sources. In history, as any researcher knows, "reasonable" and "truth" are not exactly synonims!

What can be glimpsed from there is that Dupont, effectively, didn't use all his available forces to break through the Spanish position. It's also true that many of those troops were tied to the convoys in the rear. What it's more debatable is the reason why those men were in that place. From what can be collated from the sources it was a mix of bad march discipline, Dupont's fears to being caught in the rear by Castano's main army and a traffic jam provoked by the excesively big convoy for the road that was being used, what caused the problem.

As for the balance, well, I have explained my position in that regard. I strongly suspect that the figure of 12,000 men for Reding is too high, and that his numbers were probably around the 10,000 men mark. At Bailen the Spanish had a major advantage -that von Winterfeld has not mentioned- and that is that they controlled the sources of fresh water, while the French only had what they carried in their bottles. If you are familiar with the area, you will know what means to march and fight in July in Southern Spain. The heat is unbereable. Temperatures around 35-37ºC are common. In the central hours it can reach even 40ºC in the sun. Most sources mention the heat as particularly brutal in the day of the battle. In some sense, the French suffered at Bailen what the Crusaders suffered at Hattin: a fight in the sun, in the middle of the Summer, and with their enemies controlling the access to fresh water.

Old Bear16 Feb 2012 5:52 p.m. PST

The Army of Dupont was morally unbalanced…

I don't know what it means but 'morally unbalanced' is a great term.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP16 Feb 2012 9:42 p.m. PST

Yes, I had forgot the advantage of the water.
It was very important to break down the french too.
Thanks Antonio.
I was there in July and the heat even prevent you to breathe well.


Whirlwind17 Feb 2012 11:15 a.m. PST

I think it should be borne in mind that the British government's decision to support Spain and Portugal was taken well before Baylen. The strategy of assistance was already well under way by this point.


basileus6617 Feb 2012 5:47 p.m. PST


And nobody is denying that. What is being argued is that without a victory as Bailen the Spanish would have, plausibly, surrendered, and the British would have been forced to leave the Peninsula or, if Wellington would have had the chance to implement his Torres Vedras plan, to stay fixed in Lisbon. Probably.

Whirlwind18 Feb 2012 12:19 a.m. PST


I'm not sure that Baylen in and of itself was the reason the Spanish nation didn't throw in the towel, certainly not in terms of the actual strategic effect and maybe not in terms of the moral lift.


basileus6618 Feb 2012 12:53 a.m. PST


I can only say what transpires from the sources. In those, Bailen is a constant. Even as late as January 1812 the Bailen-effect still played, according what can be read in the letters, newspapers and reports from the period, in the will to continue the resistance. Of course, you can disagree with that interpretation, and I am not saying that Bailen was the only cause of the continued resistance, but the sources are very consistent in that regard.

Best regards

XV Brigada18 Feb 2012 3:35 p.m. PST

Old Bear said;

>The Army of Dupont was morally unbalanced…<

>I don't know what it means but 'morally unbalanced' is a great term.,

Perhaps he might set a precedence and consider helping somebody for whom English is not their first language instead of poking fun.

Indeed any positive conribution would be very welcome.

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