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Encyclopedia > Battle of Somosierra
Battle of Somosierra
Part of the Peninsular War

Surrender of Madrid by Antoine-Jean Gros. Oil on canvas, 1810. Madrid fell in the aftermath of the defeat at Somosierra.
Date: November 30, 1808
Location: Somosierra Pass, north of Madrid, Spain
Result: French victory
Casus belli: {{{casus}}}
Territory changes: {{{territory}}}
Combatants
France Spain
Commanders
Napoleon I of France Benito de San Juan
Strength
45,000 20,000 infantry
16 guns
Casualties
Unknown 250 dead or wounded
Peninsular War: Second French Invasion, 1808–1809
PancorboValmacedaBurgosEspinosaTudelaSomosierra – Saragossa – Ciudad-Real – Alcañiz – TamamesOcana

The Battle of Somosierra was a battle of the Peninsular War that took place on November 30, 1808 at the Somosierra pass in the Sierra de Guadarrama north of Madrid. It was a victory for the French under Napoleon and led directly to the fall of Madrid on December 4. The most famous episode of the battle was a spectacular Polish cavalry charge led by Jan Kozietulski. The Peninsular War (1808–1814) (known as War of Independence in Spain as French Invasions in Portugal and as Guerre dEspagne in France) was a major conflict during the Napoleonic Wars, fought in the Iberian Peninsula with Spanish, Portuguese, and the British forces fighting against Napoleonic French. ... Download high resolution version (2560x1811, 450 KB) Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... Napoleon on the battlefield of Preussisch-Eylau (detail), 1808. ... 1810 was a common year starting on Monday (see link for calendar). ... November 30 is the 334th day (335th on leap years) of the year in the Gregorian calendar, with 31 days remaining, as the final day of November. ... 1808 was a leap year starting on Friday (see link for calendar). ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Casus belli is a Latin expression from the international law theory of Jus ad bellum. ... Napoleon I of France, by Jacques-Louis David Napoleon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a general of the French Revolution, and the ruler of France as First Consul (Premier Consul) of the French Republic from 11 November 1799 to 18 May 1804, then as Emperor of the... The Peninsular War (1808–1814) (known as War of Independence in Spain as French Invasions in Portugal and as Guerre dEspagne in France) was a major conflict during the Napoleonic Wars, fought in the Iberian Peninsula with Spanish, Portuguese, and the British forces fighting against Napoleonic French. ... Combatants France Spain Commanders Charles de Lefebvre Joaquín Blake Strength 24,000 19,000 Casualties 300 dead or wounded 600 dead or wounded The Battle of Pancorbo was one of the opening engagements in Napoleons invasion of Spain. ... Combatants France Spain Commanders Claude Victor Joaquín Blake Strength 13,000 24,000 Casualties 300 dead or wounded 300 captured 50 dead or wounded The Battle of Valmaceda took place on November 5, 1808, during Lieutenant-General Blakes retreat from superior French armies in Cantabria. ... The Battle of Burgos was fought on November 7, 1808, and resulted in a French victory under Marshall Soult against the Spanish under General Belveder. ... The Battle of Espinosa was fought on November 10, - 11, 1808 at Cantabrian mountains and resulted in a French victory under General Victor against the Spanish under Lieutenant General Blake, leading his army of Galicia. ... The Battle of Tudela was a battle during the Peninsular War fought on November 23, 1808 near Tudela, Spain. ... The Battle of Ciudad-Real was fought on March 27, 1809, and resulted in a French victory under General Sebastiani against the Spanish under General Cartojal. ... Combatants France Spain Commanders Louis Gabriel Suchet Joaquín Blake Strength Unknown Unknown Casualties 1,500 dead or wounded 300 dead or wounded The Battle of Alcañiz resulted in the defeat of General Suchets French army on May 23, 1809 by a Spanish force under General Blake. ... Combatants France Spain Commanders Michel Ney Unknown Strength 12,000 regulars Unknown Casualties 2,000 dead or wounded 300 captured Unknown The Battle of Tamames was a sharp reversal suffered by part of Marshal Neys French army under General Marchand in the Peninsular War. ... In the Peninsular War, the Battle of Ocana was fought on November 19, 1809 and resulted in a victory of the French under Marshall Soult against the Spanish under General Don Juan de Arizagua. ... The Peninsular War (1808–1814) (known as War of Independence in Spain as French Invasions in Portugal and as Guerre dEspagne in France) was a major conflict during the Napoleonic Wars, fought in the Iberian Peninsula with Spanish, Portuguese, and the British forces fighting against Napoleonic French. ... November 30 is the 334th day (335th on leap years) of the year in the Gregorian calendar, with 31 days remaining, as the final day of November. ... 1808 was a leap year starting on Friday (see link for calendar). ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Napoleon I of France, by Jacques-Louis David Napoleon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a general of the French Revolution, and the ruler of France as First Consul (Premier Consul) of the French Republic from 11 November 1799 to 18 May 1804, then as Emperor of the... December 4 is the 338th day (339th on leap years) of the Gregorian calendar. ... Volunteer Representative Squadron of City of Poznan in uniforms of 15th Poznan Uhlans Regiment Polish Cavalry (Polish kawaleria) can trace its origins back to the days of Mediæval mounted knights. ... Jan Kozietulski Baron Jan Leon Hipolit Kozietulski (b. ...

Contents


Situation before the battle

By late November 1808, the French juggernaut had overwhelmed and destroyed both wings of the Spanish popular army. To complete his reconquest of Spain, Napoleon advanced on Madrid with 45,000 men of his Grande Armée. The Spanish Army (Ejército de Tierra in Spanish; literally, Land Army) is one branch of the Spanish armed forces, in charge of land operations. ... La Grande Armée (in English, the Big or Grand Army) is the French military term for the main force in a military campaign. ...


General San Juan mustered an ad hoc army of militia, reservists, and various regular regiments reeling from earlier defeats; in all about 20,000 men, to defend Madrid. In order to screen the many approaches to the city, San Juan was obliged to deconcentrate his already greatly outnumbered forces. Under his orders, 9,000 men were dispatched west to guard the Guadarrama pass while 3,500 occupied an advanced post at Sepulvida, leaving only 9,000 men and 16 guns on the heights of Somosierra. A militia is a group of citizens organized to provide paramilitary service. ...


Somosierra pass

The nature of the terrain and the tenacity of the Spaniards initially worked in their favour. On the evening of November 29 the brigade at Sepulvida repulsed a French attack, inflicted heavy casualties, and escaped from overwhelming French numbers in the gathering darkness. November 29 is the 333rd (in leap years the 334th) day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ...


The next morning, Napoleon advanced his infantry directly toward the pass while small detachments crept up the flanks. Exchanging musket volleys with the defenders, the French made slow but measurable progress toward the enemy guns.


The Polish charge

Cavalry charge in Somosierra gorge on a 1907 painting by Wojciech Kossak. Oil on canvas. 96 x 141 cm.
Cavalry charge in Somosierra gorge on a 1907 painting by Wojciech Kossak. Oil on canvas. 96 x 141 cm.

Because the Spanish forces could not easily be outflanked by infantry movement, and Napoleon was impatient to proceed, he ordered his Polish Light Horse escort to charge the Spaniards and their fortified artillery batteries. His reasons to do it and the effects of the charge are quite controversial. ImageMetadata File history File links Szarza_w_wawozie_Somosierry. ... ImageMetadata File history File links Szarza_w_wawozie_Somosierry. ... 1907 (MCMVII) was a common year starting on Tuesday (see link for calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Wednesday of the 13-day-slower Julian calendar). ... Wojciech Kossak, self-portrait. ... Volunteer Representative Squadron of City of Poznan in uniforms of 15th Poznan Uhlans Regiment Polish Cavalry (Polish kawaleria) can trace its origins back to the days of Mediæval mounted knights. ...


The placement of Spanish cannons

Don Benito San Juan had 16 cannons in his disposition. In some western accounts, based mostly on relations of French officers, it is assumed that all this cannons were placed in the very top of the Somosierra way. However, it was not the case. All the cannons placed on the top would not cover whole the terrain, only some 600-700metres, and would allow French to march undisturbed through 3/4 of the way.


However, relations do report that Napoleon, when looking on the battlefield, was under artillery fire. Also reports of Chevaux-Légers mention not one, but FOUR batteries. Aslo reports of captured Spanish prisoners before the battle mention that Don Benito had cannons in few batteries, not one. The first one was defending the entrance to the Somosierra way, then two others placed on the way and fourth, the last, placed on the top. It was usually assumed that all batteries had four cannons, but the pass was too narrow for that to be possible. French artillery, when ordered to fire, could not use more than two cannons on the time. Also Kozietulski and Chlopicki, two Chevaux-Légers participating in the charge, clearly stated that in the first battery they took TWO cannons. So, the first three batteries were two cannons each, for more there was simply no place. The fourth was the largest and had ten cannons. French officers, who after the charge saw it, clearly memorised only those last, the largest battery, maybe they even not see or not noticed the others. This mistake is still repeated in many western works, even written by respected historians.


Napoleon's orders

There are no writtern orders of Napoleon. Kozietulski, who was commanding the 3rd squadron at the day, mentioned he only received order "letka jazda klusem" (spelling as in original, in English: "light cavalry ride") and only passing by emperor position they've heard "Polonais, prenez-moi ces canons" - "Poles, take THOSE cannons".


Many western authors assumed that Napoleon simply went out of his mind, ordering Poles to charge against one large battery of 16 cannons, over few kilometres of extremely difficult terrain. However, as seen above, there was not ONE, but FOUR batteries, and only one, the bottom one, was firing and stopping infantry progress.


It seems that Napoleon ordered taking only FIRST battery, to open way for his infantry. Also Kozietulski seemed to understand this order that way, because when he lost his horse after taking first battery he reported to the emperor that he fulfilled his orders (acc. to his relation written directly few days after the battle, that this, the relation which is most reliable since not affected by later controversies). Taking first battery was difficult, but within cavalry capabilities. However, after taking first battery Chevaux-Légers found themselves under fire from other battery, so they had two choices: to withdraw, or to attack further. Dziewanowski, who took the command after Kozietulski lost his horse, decided to press the attack. After taking second and third battery situation was repeated and finally squadron took all batteries. However, only few Chevaux-Légers reached the last battery and Spanish were able to recapture it. It was then when Napoleon saw the chance and immedietely used it, sending another squadrons. Those squadrons had it much easier task, since first three batteries were already taken, but still they had to capture the last one.


Who commanded the charge

13th bulletin mentioned that Chevaux-Légers were commanded by Montbrun. It's not true; both Polish charge participants and Datancourt in his relation stressed that this was not the case. Datancourt mentioned in his relation that Montbrun in conversations with him himself was laughing from that idea. Yet French historian Thiers gave him the honours of leading the charge, which caused the protest by Polish living participants of the charge.


Also de Segur in his memories wrote that he was commanding the charge, but his relations were often described as unreliable and again both Datancourt and Poles denied his role.


First charge was led by Kozietulski, but he lost his horse after taking first battery. Only then squadron was joined by Niegolewski, who with his soldiers was on reconeissance. Then charge was commanded by Dziewanowski, and when he fell from the horse, Krasinski. The charge to last battery was led by Niegolewski, who then survived almost by miracle when Spanish attacked the cannons and recaptured then (he received nine wounds from bayonnettes and wound on the head; he himself stated he was shot at in the head (!), but in documents it is mentioned it is wound from a sabre).


The second charge was led by Lubienski, who then tried to give himself the whole glory, trying to minimise the role of the third squadron (while Niegolewski tried to show that he took the canons and Lubienski had it so easy so Spanish were shooting at him with candies).


Charge effects

French officers tried to minimise effect of the Polish charge, saying that all the success should be given to French infantry of Ruffin. Yet still 13th bulletin of Great army mentioned lead role of Polish Chevaux-Légers. It must be also stressed, that even first charge was able to took all four batteries, even if the success was temporary and the last was quickly recaptured, which allowed French infantry to press their attack, and that the second charge took the last battery again which caused en-masse retreat of Spanish Andalusian irregular militia and in the effect retreat of the whole army. It must be noted that Spanish artillery men were unusually brave and that they preferred to die than abandon their position - but no Polish relation mentioned any fight with Spanish militia. Militiamen just left their position seeing how seemingly easily Poles took the artillery positions. In the fog they couldn't see how few Poles were on the top.


To summarise, the Somosierra charge was a spectacular success achieved with minimal cost from the viewpoint of Napoleon - even though Polish losses were relative high (see below).


Number of soldiers charging

Usually it is said that the number of Poles taking part in the charge was 125, or 140; However, the registers of the unit clearly show that the state of the squadron was about 216. To that number must be added members of other squadrons, in total about 450. The number of 80 found sometimes is about only the first charge against first battery - before the squadron was joined by Niegolewski with his soldiers returning from recoinessance.


Polish losses

The unit registers show the deaths (not counting the officers) 12 Poles from 3rd squadron (plus 2 others who died from wounds), and 2 from 1st squadron and 4 from 2nd squadron (plus one who died later from wounds). With officers, total losses were 18 dead and 11 wounded, from which 5 later died from wounds. Those were large losses, but all Polish squadrons were operational within few days after the battle. Datancourt mentioned in his relation 57 dead and wounded. The Poles were probably much helped by the fog, which made it harder for Spanish to target them. While large losses, it was still relatively low cost for such spectacular victory.


Aftermath

San Juan raced his army back to Madrid. Although the victory at Somosierra was more accurately the result of a combined infantry and cavalry attack, with the infantry bearing the heavier fighting, later accounts, Napoleon's included, placed all the emphasis on the gallant Polish charge.


French patrols reached the outskirts of Madrid on December 1. General San Juan made a half-hearted and futile attempt to defend the capital, and on December 24, a devastating French artillery barrage brought the Spanish defence to grief. San Juan surrendered his remaining 2,500 regulars; the 20,000 civilians under his banner dispersed; and the French entered Madrid for the second time that year. December 1 is the 335th (in leap years the 336th) day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ... December 24 is the 358th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (359th in leap years). ...


  Results from FactBites:
 
Jan Kozietulski - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (443 words)
Baron Jan Kozietulski (1781 - 1821) was a Polish noble, military commander and an officer of the armed forces of the Duchy of Warsaw during the Napoleonic Wars.
Jan Leon Hipolit Kozietulski was born July 4, 1781 in Skierniewice in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
During the battle of Somosierra, Kozietulski was one of the commanders to lead the Polish cavalry against the Spanish artillery and infantry.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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