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Encyclopedia > Battle of Vittoria

The Battle of Vitoria was fought on June 21, 1813 during the British, Portuguese and Spanish troops, with 96 guns, under The Duke of Wellington, and 58,000 French with 153 guns under King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jourdan.


In July 1812, after the Battle of Salamanca, the French had evacuated Madrid, which Wellington's army entered on August 12, 1812. Deploying three divisions to guard the capital's southern approaches, he then marched north with the rest of his army to lay siege to the fortress of Burgos, 140 miles away, but he had underrated the enemy's strength and on October 21 he had to abandon the siege and retreat. By October 31 he had abandoned Madrid too, and retreated first to Salamanca then finally to Ciudad Rodrigo, near the Portuguese frontier, to avoid encirclement by French armies from the north-east and south-east.

Spending the winter reorganising and strengthening his forces, Wellington marched his troops from northern Portugal across the mountains of northern Spain and the Elsa river, by May 20, 1813, to outflank Marshal Jourdan's army of 58,000 strung out between the Douro and the Tagus. The French retreated to Burgos, with Wellington's forces marching hard to cut them off from the road to France.


Finally, Wellington launched his attack at Vitoria on June 21, in three columns. After hard fighting Thomas Picton's 3rd Division broke the enemy's centre and soon the French defence crumbled. Their retreat became a rout, with the losses of 8,000 killed or wounded and 2,000 prisoners, compared to Wellington's 4,500 killed or wounded. 152 guns and much booty were also taken in this battle that ended Napoleon's rule in Spain. By December, after detachments had siezed San Sebastian and Pamplona, Wellington's army was encamped in France.

The battle was the inspiration for Beethoven's Opus 91, often called the "Battle Symphony," or simply "Wellington's Victory", while portrays the battle in a form of a musical drama.

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