Ciudad Rodrigo and Duke of Wellington go together, but I didn’t feel qualified to deal with this subject so commissioned a post from Jeremy!Read more: Capture of Ciudad Rodrigo
Duke of Wellington
Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), 1st Duke of Wellington,1 must have been an extraordinary man. He was a very successful military man who was also twice Prime Minister of the UK.
Capture of Ciudad Rodrigo
In January 1812 the then Viscount Wellington led a combined British-Portuguese Army out of Portugal in a drive to secure a route across northern of Spain and undermine the French position in Spain.2 The fortress town of Ciudad Rodrigo,3 defended by a small force of Napoleon’s Imperial Army, barred the road.
Arriving on 6 January, in the bitter cold of a Castilian winter, to lay siege to the town, Wellington found his own position overlooked by a French redoubt on the 600 metre hill of Grand Teson, about half a mile north of the town.
The city’s defensive walls must have looked as impressive as they do today but an inspection with his Chief Engineer showed that they were poorly constructed. Moreover, he knew that the French garrison consisted of only about 2000 men.
Surprisingly, given his reputation for meticulous care, even for a cautious nature, two days later he ordered the storming by night of the French redoubt on Grand Teson. Its success enabled him to position his artillery in a good position to engage the town’s defences.
North west of the town
For about 10 days, he focussed on repelling sorties from the town and breaching the walls with artillery fire, concentrating on the northwest and north of the town where the ground was more favourable to infantry assault, and where the Imperial Army had themselves breached the wall close to the Cathedral during the French capture of the town two years previously, thus weakening the defences. Today you can still the artillery damage caused to the façade of the cathedral just inside the northern walls.
Learning that a larger French force was in the offing, Wellington decided on an early assault and, on the night of 19 January, launched an assault with 11,000 men through both breaches opened by his artillery. A small plaque on the wall by the cathedral square still records the assault on that day.
Initially there was determined resistance, particularly at the northwestern breach, but the assault through the weakened defences at the cathedral square allowed the British troops to attack the defenders from the rear as well as their front and the town was swiftly taken, although British casualties had been quite high – two generals were killed.
Surrender in the Plaza Mayor
The formal French surrender was accepted next day in the Plaza Mayor.
Sadly, between the successful assault and the surrender, there occurred a shameful episode when out of control British troops went on the rampage, sacking the town and attacking, killing and raping its inhabitants who, being Spanish, were allies of the British. It took some hours to restore control.
The victory opened the possibility of an invasion route from Portugal into Spain. It also saw Wellington raised from Viscount to Earl in the English peerage and created Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo by King Ferdinand VII of Spain. The current Duke of Wellington still holds that Spanish title.
The capture of Ciudad Rodrigo in the winter of 1812 must have been extremely unpleasant for the soldiers as the winters in this part of Spain are fierce. Perhaps that makes success even more remarkable?
- Duke of Wellington: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Wellesley,_1st_Duke_of_Wellington ↩︎
- The storming of Ciudad Rodrigo: https://www.britishbattles.com/peninsular-war/storming-of-ciudad-rodrigo/https://www.britishbattles.com/peninsular-war/storming-of-ciudad-rodrigo/ ↩︎
- British Battles: https://www.britishbattles.com/peninsular-war/storming-of-ciudad-rodrigo/#:~:text=Background%20to%20the%20Storming%20of,side%2C%20for%20a%20French%20invasion ↩︎