Volume II
CHAPTER 48

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“Dupont has dishonoured our colours.
What ineptitude! How contemptible!
The capitulation he signed has
compromised the interests of his army
as it is without warrant from the English
agents who were in the enemy camp.”

(Napoleon, on the subject of
General Dupont de l’Étang)

If, as he was reluctantly entered Spain, Joseph had known what had happened further south practically on the same day, he would very likely have turned his back on Madrid and returned to Bayonne to join his brother.

The central character of this disastrous affair which was to have incalculable consequences for Napoleon is Major General Count Pierre Dupont de l’Étang.

A POTENTIAL MARSHAL



General Dupont de l’Étang
(1765-1840). Napoleon
relieved him of his command
and had him incarcerated in
the Fort of Joux, in the Jura region of France.

Dupont, who was then aged forty-three, had a brilliant military career behind him. In 1805, his victory in front of Ulm over the troops commanded by General von Melas led to the capitulation of the town on 20 October. Two days later, he captured the 25,000 men commanded by Prince Ferdinand of Austria as they attempted to escape. Also worth mentioning here is his conduct during the Prussian campaign in 1806 with the decisive role he played in the capture of Lübeck and, finally, the following year, his distinguished conduct during the battle of Friedland, on 14 June 1807.

General Foy (1775-1825), who also served in Spain and was the author of “Histoire de la Guerre de la Péninsule sous Napoléon” (History of the War in the Peninsula under Napoleon), described him in the following terms:

“There was not a single major general in the empire that ranked above Dupont. The opinion of the army, in agreement with the sovereign’s benevolence, rated him in the first place in the militia. And when he left for Andalusia, there was no one to doubt that he would find his marshal’s baton in Cadiz.”

So Napoleon had not entrusted a beginner with the mission of going to Cadiz to liberate what remained of the French fleet commanded by Admiral Rosily (who had replaced de Villeneuve), which was blocked by an English squadron since the defeat of Trafalgar. And in addition to this mission, to restore peace in Andalusia which like the other Spanish provinces was in a state of dangerous turmoil.

Dupont left Toledo on 24 May and after crossing the arid plains of La Mancha, he arrived at Andujar on the River Guadalquivir on 2 June.

Admiral Rosily-Mesros (1748-1832)
who, in 1771-1772, had explored the South Seas


The port of Cadiz. Since the defeat of Trafalgar,
on 21 October 1805, what remained of the
French fleet was blocked by an English
squadron which cruised in front of the
port to prevent them from escaping


A few days later he was informed that Admiral Rosilly had been forced to surrender which annulled the first part of his mission – and also that a number of armed bands, regular troops and peasants were assembling around him. He passed this information on to Murat, then still in the Spanish capital, before heading for Cordoba.

THE CAPTURE OF CORDOBA

On 7 June, Dupont encountered the Spanish at the Alcolea bridge, over the Guadalquivir, and defeated them which cleared the road into the town for his troops.

All along the way the French had been victims of terrible atrocities committed by the Spanish, which were similar to those mentioned in the previous chapter.

In order to save Cordoba from being stormed by soldiers who were exasperated by thirst and hunger, Dupont sent a messenger to the corregidor asking him to surrender without offering any resistance, and assuring him that the inhabitants and their possessions would be safeguarded.


The town of Cordoba and the Roman bridge with its sixteen arches. The looting of the town by Dupont’s soldiers who were worn out by heat and thirst was to earn them the ferocious hate of the entire population of Andalusia

The only answer to this proposition was a hail of bullets, so the doors of the town were broken down by cannon-shot and the troops invested Cordoba. And the houses and churches from which shots had been fired were plundered. Some readers may be shocked upon reading this, but it should be remembered that a church from which shots are fired becomes nothing more than a small fort and can no longer be considered as a holy sanctuary.

Dupont has often been criticised for this breach of discipline and for giving his soldiers a free rein during three days, and later on for reasons of propaganda the disorders were greatly exaggerated. However, Dupont soon managed to restore discipline in the town, and he granted safeguards to the convents, public institutions and to private individuals who asked for them.

But Dupont was not to remain long in Cordoba as the junta of Seville which had apparently not been discouraged by the French victory at Alcolea had raised an army of 40,000 men commanded by General Javier Castaños.

Fearing for the security of his lines of communication, Dupont headed for Andújar, some 80 kilometres east, where he received orders from Savary – who had just replaced Murat – to stay where he was and to await for the arrival of the 6,000 men of Vedel’s division, who were to be reinforced by a further 3,000 men from Gobert’s division.


General Javier Castaños (1756-1852), the nominal victor of the battle of Baylen

AN EXHAUSTED ARMY

Dupont was in a difficult situation. Reduced to inaction, he was unable to feed his men who were exhausted by the heat – it was 40° during the day – and from suffering thirst.

On 16 July, Vedel, after leaving the Gobert division behind at Baylen took up position at Mengibar, south east of Andújar.

On the same day, Castaños and Reding, a Swiss in the service of Spain, who commanded the 1st Division made up of excellent Swiss soldiers, attempted to cross the Guadalquivir, first at Andújar, then at Mengibar. Both attempts failed.

As he thought that Vedel only faced a very small enemy force, Dupont asked him for reinforcements. And it was here that Vedel made his first grave mistake: he left his position to join his commander. In doing so, he allowed Reding to occupy Mengibar and cross the river. In simple terms, the French were outflanked.

Gobert became aware of the situation and in spite of his limited force he lost no time in leaving Baylen to attempt to stop Reding, but he was mortally wounded.

THE VICTOR, CASTAÑOS,
DEMANDS UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER


Vedel, with the support of other generals, then suggested launching a counter attack. But in vain.

It was a day of shame for Napoleon’s Grand
Army which was forced to capitulate for the first time. A word which until then had been reserved for France’s enemies. The diplomatic
repercussions of this defeat were incalculable. Left, Castaños, wearing a white uniform

It seems that at that moment Dupont’s intention was still to negotiate his retreat towards Madrid. But Castaños who knew the French troops were worn out and dying of thirst demanded an unconditional surrender.

As for Vedel, he considered the truce did not concern him as he had not been defeated and decided simply to ignore it and cross the Sierra Morena again.

Dupont then sent him one of his officers ordering him to conform to his decision. And that was when Vedel made his second fatal error: he obeyed.

On 22 July, the twenty articles of the terms of surrender which contained four additional articles was signed at Andújar. With a stroke of his pen, Dupont erased his past glory. There would never be a Marshal Dupont de l’Étang.

For the first time, the soldiers of the invincible Grand Army had been defeated and their commander had led them to capitulate.

FALSE MANOEUVRES AND MISTAKEN ORDERS

Dupont was annoyed to see Vedel arrive unexpectedly with all his troops instead of the few battalions he had asked him for and he instructed him to leave again immediately and return to Baylen to redeem the situation, and once his mission was acomplished to return to Andújar.

From that moment on, there was a succession of false manoeuvres, of wrong interpretations and/or execution of orders which would be much too long to explain in detail here, but all of which would ultimately lead to a fatal conclusion.

Upon arriving in Baylen, Vedel, who saw no enemy in sight thought that Reding had left and was now heading north. Without seeking any further proof, he chased off in pursuit, leaving the heights around Baylen unoccupied. The Spanish lost no time in taking advantage of the situation.

Now the French army was cut in two. Dupont had to re-establish communications with Vedel at all costs.

THE LEGEND OF DUPONT’S 2,000 CARTS
FILLED WITH BOOTY


Instead of setting off immediately, Dupont postponed his departure for a day so that according to some authors – he could keep the booty which had been seized at Cordoba. As this concerns one of Napoleon’s generals, some people with their usual lack of scruple have asserted that the convoy was phenomenal with some 2,000 carts. A parenthesis is called for here.

One Spanish source which cannot be suspected of any sympathy or indulgence, La Relacion de los generales, oficiales y tropes de la division Dupoont que rendieron las armas al ejército Espagñol, gives the precise number of wagons in the convoy: eight wagons carrying tools, one hundred and thirty-eight caissons and sixteen carts, which was certainly not excessive for transporting the wounded and weaponry.

When French troops arrived before Baylen, the 16,000 men of the divisions commanded by Reding and Marquis de Coupigny (a detestable French royalist who fought against his own country) had already taken up position on the heights. Below, the 7,000 French soldiers were trapped in an overheated basin. And the 7,000 men in question were mostly young recruits who were exhausted and worn out by hunger and thirst.

Without giving them time to take up their positions, the Spanish immediately attacked Dupont’s men who were outnumbered two to one.

On 19 July, at noon, 2,000 French soldiers were already out of action.

In view of the physical exhaustion and the collapsed morale of his troops, Dupont asked for a truce, which was accepted, and he sent an aide de camp to inform Vedel.

Vedel, who had heard the cannon-fire from a distance of approximately twenty kilometres, had already decided to return where he came from, and in spite of the news of the truce, he attacked and dispersed the division commanded by Coupigny. Dupont was then forced to send him a messenger with a precise order telling him to cease fire.

DAY OF SHAME

General Theodor de Reding de Biberegg (1755-1809 at Tarragone). A Swiss officer in the service of Spain, he was the real victor of Baylen

The 23 July was a day of shame. The 8,248 men commanded by Dupont were, unfortunately, rapidly joined by the 9,393 men in the Vedel division and they marched past their victor with, however, the honours of war.
On the dried up ground of Andalusia they left behind 2,600 men, of which 1,500 died through lack of medical aid.

As for Spanish, they claimed to have lost no more than 735 dead and 243 wounded (although some sources invert these figures).

Proudly, Castaños had new flags made bearing the inscription: “To the victors of the victors of Marengo, Austerlitz and Jena.”

But did he know or was he merely pretending to be unaware of the fact that the poor devils who laid their arms down in front of him were mostly newly conscripted men, young soldiers without any experience of warfare?

In his Hisoire du soulèvement, de la guerre et de la révolution d’Espagne (1836) (History of the Uprising, the War and the Revolution in Spain), Count Toréno brings the Spanish victory – and the part played by Castaños – back into proportion.

“The victory was the result of such a combination of circumstances that it seemed to belong to the realm of chance. The Spanish generals who took part in this engagement would assert this.”

And another author who was just as lucid, wrote:

“Weighed in the scale of reason, the victory was almost prodigious.”

Unfortulately, the battle of Baylen which was of little, or no importance, was to have incalculable consequences for the French Empire.

Castaños now raved as he wrote to the junta of Seville, on 24 July: “I thought heaven had sent me a dream”. As for the European monarchies, it was as if a veil had suddenly been torn: the unvanquished were not invincible.

THE INFAMOUS CONDUCT OF
THE JUNTA OF SEVILLE

This illustration shows the inhabitants of Seville prostrating themselves on the ground in a fanatical fashion as a religious procession goes by. Tens of thousands of soldiers in Napoleon’s army fell victims to this fanaticism and they were tortured and massacred with savage cruelty.

According to the terms of the capitulation, the French prisoners of war were to be “put aboard vessels with Spanish crews, and transported to France, to the port of Rochefort” (article 6), repatriated, and protected by the Spanish Army “against any hostile operation” (article 7).

But both of these clauses were to be violated, and the ignominy of the junta of Seville and of the English Admiralty was to turn their captivity which was iniquitous into one long martyrdom which would last for several years.

The story of the suffering endured by these French soldiers captured at Baylen will be the subject of our next chapter.

 

To be continued…