Saturday, 12 March 2011

The French siege of Badajoz (1811)

The Spanish fortress of Badajoz was, along Elvas in Portugal, the key for the southern invasion corridor between Spain and Portugal. At the start of 1811 Badajoz was in Spanish hands, thus preventing the French armies in southern Spain from intervening in Portugal. The Marshall Soult's invasion of Extremadura in 1811 was a necessary previous step in order to enter in Portugal to help Massena, camped in front of the Torres Vedras Lines (incidentally it originated the decreasing of the strenght of French forces besieging Cadiz, that triggered the Allied combined operation leading to the battle of Barrosa/Chiclana). During his approach, Soult was forced to detach the Gazan division to chase the Ballesteros's small Spanish force menacing the left flank of the invasion force (See the battle of Villanueva de los Castillejos). Left with a very weakened force, Soult took the minor fortress of Olivenza (See the Siege of Olivenza). All those events produced an unexpected delay in the Soult's plans that on the long term impeded him to help Massena.

Badajoz in 1811-1812 was protected by some of the strongest fortifications in Spain including a castle. The town was built on the southern bank of the Guadiana River (see the map taken from the Lipscombe's Peninsular War Atlas ) including two outlying forts – the Picurina Fort to the east and the Pardaleras Fort to the south of the town. The town was overlooked by the Fort of San Cristobal on the northern bank of the Guadiana and a Tete du Pont Fort protected the bridge connecting this bank with the town.

The French siege can be divided into four phases:

(1) From 27 January until 5 February the garrison (5,000 men under the General Rafael Menacho y Tutlló) stood alone, while Soult’s army slowly came back together. Soult had initially 6,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and part of his siege train (ten companies of artillery and six of sappers), with the rest trailing behind him on the mountain roads. The Gazan division was still chasing Ballesteros one hundred and twenty miles to the south.

(2) On 6 February a Spanish relief army under General Mendizabal, breaking the French blockade, but this phase ended when the Spanish suffered a major defeat (See the battle of the Gevora 19 February 1811).

(3) The third phase saw the French re-establish their blockade, while General Menacho continued to conduct an active defence of the town. On 11 February the French had captured the Pardaleras fort, but it had not proved to be as valuable as they had expected, and was under constant bombardment from Badajoz. It took the French until 24 February to open their first gun battery by the fort, and their trenches only began to advance towards the walls on 28 February. By 3 March the French were ready to break the counterscarp and get into the ditch, but another Spanish sortie drove them back. One of the victims of this sortie was Menacho, killed while watching the attack. His replacement by General José Imaz marked the start of the fourth phase of the siege.Imaz was a much less active confident commander. Under his command no more sorties were made.

(4) On 8th March, after Soult received the news of the Massena's evacuation of his positions and the landing of Allied forces in the rearguard of the French leading to the battle of Barrosa/Chiclana, the attack on the walls made rapid progress: the counterscarp was destroyed, and a French gun battery was able to open fire on the walls from only sixty yards. By the morning of 10 March a breach seventy feet wide had been opened in the walls. At 9 am a parlementaire was sent into Badajoz to summon Imaz to surrender.

He responded by holding a council of war to decide if the defence should continue. Although Badajoz was now blockaded, semaphore messages could still be received from Elvas, and on 9 March Imaz had been informed that a relieving Anglo-Portuguese 15,0000 strong force under General Beresford was on its way. During the council of war he kept this information secret, even though most of his officers suggested that the defence should only go on if a relief force was on its way. Unaware that Beresford was on his way, thirteen of Imaz’s voted to capitulate. Imaz himself voted to fight on, and them immediately opened negotiations with the French representative.

On 3pm on 10 March Imaz surrendered. The French occupied the forts on the northern shore that day, and the city itself on the following day. 7,880 Spanish troops marched into captivity on the morning of 11 March. Another 1,100 were too sick to leave the hospital, and the Spanish suffered a total of 1,851 casualties. The French had suffered 2,000 casualties, but had captured one of the strongest fortresses in Spain, and a key position on the Portuguese-Spanish border. It would take the British three sieges to recapture the city, which finally fell into Allied hands in April 1812.

Taken from History of War and from Badajoz 1811-1812 the best site about the Bicentenial of the Badajoz events during the Peninsular War.


  1. Hi Rafa - how about having a go at playing a siege scenario?


  2. Hi
    Maybe an assault on a breach or asimilar. I think that a classical siege in theis era would be very bored