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© 2019 by Zack White and the NapoleonicWars.net team.

The Peninsular War

 

The Capture of Ciudad Rodrigo

At the start of 1812, the initiative in the Peninsular War had swung firmly in Wellington’s favour. His focus was on Ciudad Rodrigo, with his Light Division poised to surround the city when the opportunity arose, he had been patiently waiting for the French Army of Portugal, based around Salamanca, to disperse. Wellington estimated the fortress city on the Spanish-Portuguese border would take between 24 and 36 days to capture. He therefore needed to be sure that the French could not concentrate in time to fight him before the city fell.

Wellington’s opportunity came when, in mid-December Marmont reluctantly complied with orders to send troops to assist the French expedition in Valencia. Despite the bitterly cold mid-winter weather, Wellington collected his army and began the siege on 8th January. That night, troops from the Light Division took an outlying redoubt with limited loses, and digging on the trenches to approach the city and protect the artillery batteries began immediately.

In This Section

Map of the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo

By Manuel F. V. G. Mourão

Progress with the siege was remarkably swift. The repairs which had been made to the fortress by the French after they captured it in 1810 proved to be over poor quality, as the mortar holding the stones in the old breaches was little better than clay and crumbled under the bombardment.

In total 5 batteries were used by Wellington’s forces to huge effect over the 12 day siege, with the French being unable to repair the damage due to the constant rate of fire from the British guns. Despite this, the French garrison of 2000 men were able to make strong preparations to hold the Great Breach, though they did not have the time to do the same for the less breach.

By the 19th January, however, Wellington was satisfied that the two breaches in the city’s walls were climbable, and laid plans for the attack. His 3rd Division would assault the Great Breach, in the wall’s North-West corner, whilst the Light Division could attempt to break into the city at the Lesser Breach (in the Northern Wall). Diversionary attacks would also be made to the east by Pack’s Portuguese brigade, to the west by the 94th and 5th Regiments, and to the South across the Agueda river which ran beneath the city’s walls by O’Toole’s Portuguese brigade.

Progress with the siege was remarkably swift. The repairs which had been made to the fortress by the French after they captured it in 1810 proved to be poor quality, as the mortar holding the stones in the old breaches was little better than clay and crumbled under the bombardment.

In total 5 batteries were used by Wellington’s forces to huge effect over the 12 day siege, with the French being unable to repair the damage due to the constant rate of fire from the British guns. Despite this, the French garrison of 2000 men were able to make strong preparations to hold the Great Breach, though they did not have the time to do the same for the less breach.

By the 19th January, however, Wellington was satisfied that the two breaches in the city’s walls were climbable, and laid plans for the attack. His 3rd Division would assault the Great Breach, in the wall’s North-West corner, whilst the Light Division could attempt to break into the city at the Lesser Breach (in the Northern Wall). Diversionary attacks would also be made to the east by Pack’s Portuguese brigade, to the west by the 94th and 5th Regiments, and to the South across the Agueda river which ran beneath the city’s walls by O’Toole’s Portuguese brigade.

The French made a determined effort to defend the city, holding the British off at the Great Breach, although Light Division managed to break through at the Lesser Breach after some vicious fighting. The diversionary attacks were also very successful, and forced the French to abandon their positions in order to avoid being surrounded.

With the fighting over, the troops, who had become split up from their officers in the confusion of the attack, ran amok in the city overnight, quickly becoming drunk, and plundering many of the houses. Officers tried to restore order, but three houses were set on fire. By dawn however, the troops were back under control, though none seem to have been punished.

In all the French had lost around 700 men killed or wounded, with the remaining 1300 of the garrison being made prisoner. The Allies had lost around 200 killed, and another 900 wounded, mostly in the storming of the city. The most famous of the casualties was Robert Craufurd, of the Light Division, who was mortally wounded whilst commanding his troops at the Lesser Breach. He died a few days later, and was deeply mourned by his men, who buried him at the Lesser Breach.

Robert Cruafurd

at the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo

By Archibald Forbes and Arthur Griffiths 

Courtesy of the British Library

 

News of the fall of Ciudad Rodrigo was widely celebrated in Britain when it arrived in February. Parliament honoured Wellington by making him an Earl, and the victory helped to demonstrate that he held the ascendency in Spain. Even those in Parliament who had criticised the war were coming to realise that Wellington was achieving remarkable success in the Peninsula. By a stroke of good luck, the majority of the French siege guns were in Ciudad Rodrigo when it fell, totalling 153 guns. One of the gates to Spain was in Wellington’s hands, and the French had little prospect of taking it back.

 

Up Next: The Siege of Badajoz

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Interested in Learning More?

 

Tim Saunders, The Sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo 1810 and 1812: The Peninsular War (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military, 2018)

 

Rory Muir, Wellington: The Path to Victory (Yale: Yale University Press, 2013), Chapter 26

 

Charles Oman, A History of the Peninsular War: Volume V (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914), Section XXXII, Chapter 1

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