March 28th, 1809 – Battle of Medellín

In the Peninsular War, the Battle of Medellín was fought on March 28th, 1809 and resulted in a victory of the French under Marshal Victor against the Spanish under General Don Gregorio Garcia de la Cuesta. The battle marked the first major effort by the French to occupy Southern Spain, a feat mostly completed with the victory at the Battle of Ocana later in the year.

Battle of Medellín

The cannonade began around 1 p.m. and Cuesta ordered the attack about an hour later. The Spanish initially had a great deal of success, repelling an impatient cavalry charge on their left flank by a brigade of Latour-Maoubourg’s dragoons and prompting both French wings to keep falling back, all while their skirmishers unleashed deadly fire into the French ranks. Lasalle’s position was a bit dangerous, since the Guadiana at his back meant his 2,000 cavalry and 2,500 infantry could not fall back more than a mile. Three Spanish cavalry regiments hovered around the bank of the Guadiana and attempted to turn the French left, but Lasalle and his men held on to their tenuous positions.

Batalla_de_MedellinBy this point in the battle, both French flanks had retreated far enough to be within easy supporting distance from Villatte’s division. Latour-Maubourg’s western sector was reinforced with the 94th Line infantry regiment and a battalion of grenadiers. The ten French guns in this part of the battlefield also stabilized the situation as they consistently outperformed their Spanish counterparts. Spanish infantry, however, kept pushing forward and created many problems for Latour-Maubourg’s men, who were arrayed in squares to protect themselves against cavalry charges and consequently had limited firepower. As the Spanish threatened to capture the French guns, Latour-Maubourg ordered the dragoons to attack once more. This time, the charge succeeded. The French dragoons defeated three Spanish cavalry regiments, who fled the field and left their infantry isolated, prompting them to flee as well. Since Cuesta had no reserves, a breach of this magnitude was just about the worst that could happen to his fragile line.

Events now unfolded quickly. Lasalle had been reinforced with seven infantry battalions from Villatte, and once he saw the Spanish routing to the west he too ordered a powerful counter-attack. The 2nd Hussars regiment, accompanied by a regiment of Chasseurs à Cheval, smashed the Spanish cavalry, reformed, and charged at the once-again abandoned Spanish infantry in the eastern flank. Lasalle’s fresh battalions also attacked frontally and French dragoons were now rolling over the center of the Spanish army, which attempted to flee in any way it could. Many were brutally killed in this chaotic retreat and Cuesta’s army effectively ceased to exist.

Battle of Medellín 2A large part of the Spanish army, mostly on the right flank, was totally encircled, with no room to move. The French gave no quarter to Spanish soldiers, standing or surrendering, and during the rest of day they killed all of prisoners taken. Entire units were totally annihilated, Spanish bodies covering large extensions of the field.

It had been a disastrous day for Cuesta, who nearly lost his life in the battle. Some estimations put the number of Spanish killed at 8,000 men, counting both battle and after battle killings, and about 2,000 captured, while the French only suffered about 1,000 casualties. However, during the next days the French undertakers buried 16,002 Spanish soldiers in mass graves. On top of that, the Spanish lost 20 of their 30 guns. It was Cuesta’s second major defeat at the hand of the French after Medina del Rio Seco in 1808. The battle saw a successful start to the French conquest of Southern Spain.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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