Army of Galicia

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The Army of Galicia (in Spanish, Ejército de Galicia) was a Spanish military unit that took part in the Peninsular War against Napoleon’s French Grande Armée.

Peninsular War War by Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom against the French Empire (1807–1814)

The Peninsular War (1807–1814) was a military conflict between Napoleon's empire and Bourbon Spain, for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war began when the French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, previously its ally. The war on the peninsula lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814, and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.

Napoleon 18th/19th-century French monarch, military and political leader

Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French as Napoleon I from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815 during the Hundred Days. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over much of continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.

The Grande Armée was the army commanded by Napoleon I during the Napoleonic Wars. From 1805 to 1809, the Grande Armée scored a series of historic victories that gave the French Empire an unprecedented grip on power over the European continent. Widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest fighting forces ever assembled, it suffered terrible losses during the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and never recovered its tactical superiority after that campaign.


Created by the Supreme Junta towards the end of June 1808 [1] to hold the Spanish left wing along the Cantabrian mountains against Napoleon's forces, it had a paper force of 43,000 regulars. Command was first given to General Blake, and then, in November 1808, to General La Romana.

In the Napoleonic era, junta was the name chosen by several local administrations formed in Spain during the Peninsular War as a patriotic alternative to the official administration toppled by the French invaders. The juntas were usually formed by adding prominent members of society, such as prelates, to the already-existing ayuntamientos. The juntas of the capitals of the traditional peninsular kingdoms of Spain styled themselves "Supreme Juntas", to differentiate themselves from, and claim authority over, provincial juntas. Juntas were also formed in Spanish America during this period in reaction to the developments in Spain.

Cantabria Autonomous community and province of Spain

Cantabria is an autonomous community in northern Spain with Santander as its capital city. It is recognized as a historic community and is bordered on the east by the Basque Autonomous Community, on the south by Castile and León, on the west by the Principality of Asturias, and on the north by the Cantabrian Sea.

A regular army is the official army of a state or country, contrasting with irregular forces, such as volunteer irregular militias, private armies, mercenaries, etc. A regular army usually has the following:

Battle of Medina del Rio Seco

Following the defeat of General Gregorio García de la Cuesta’s small and inexperienced Army of Castile at the Battle of Cabezón, which had forced Cuesta to abandon his seat of command at Valladolid to General Lasalle and escape to Benavente, Blake was ordered to combine the troops of his newly formed army with what was left of Cuesta’s forces. Blake had initially turned down a request to do so as the troops were still undergoing training and far short of their full numbers. Setting off with 27,000 foot soldiers and 150 cavalrymen, and after having left troops at different garrisons along the way, especially to guard the gorges, [2] by the time Blake met up with Cuesta at Benavente, their combined forces totalled 22,000 men. [3]

Gregorio García de la Cuesta Spanish general and noble

Gregorio García de la Cuesta y Fernández de Celis was a prominent Spanish general of the Peninsular War.

The Battle of Cabezón was an engagement early in the Peninsular War on 12 June 1808 between a small Spanish militia force, based in Valladolid, and a detachment of Marshal Bessières' French Army Corps under General Lasalle.

Benavente, Zamora Place in Castile and León, Spain

Benavente is a town and municipality in the north of the province of Zamora, in the autonomous community Castile and León of Spain. It has about 20,000 inhabitants.

Moreover, imposing his seniority against the younger Blake's objections, Cuesta claimed supreme command and insisted on a foolhardy march on Valladolid to reclaim his lost city. [2] Setting his columns marching on July 12, he laid his new, combined force vulnerable to a French counterattack. Paralyzed by disunity of command, the Spanish troops were defeated on 14 July at the Battle of Medina del Rio Seco, [4] mainly due to Cuesta having failed to close the gap between his troops and Blake's.


On 11 October 1808, Blake personally entered Bilbao, forcing General Merlin [5] to retreat 32 kilometres (20 mi) up the valley of Durango to Zornosa. Merlin had entered the city the previous August to suppress the revolt against King Joseph and in doing so, had, in the words of the king himself, ensured that the "fire of insurrection was quenched with the blood of twelve hundred men". These numbers were likely exaggerated as according to the source cited they fire bombed Bilbao port and took vessels from the city. [6]

Christophe Antoine Merlin French officer

Christophe Antoine Merlin became a French division commander during the Napoleonic Wars. He joined a volunteer regiment in 1791 and fought against the Kingdom of Spain in the War of the Pyrenees. After becoming an officer in the 4th Hussar Regiment, he participated in the Rhine and Italian campaigns. In 1805 he was promoted general of brigade and fought in Italy and in the 1806 Invasion of Naples. Later he became an equerry to Joseph Bonaparte when that individual headed the Kingdom of Naples.

Durango, Biscay Municipality in Basque Country, Spain

Durango is a town and municipality of the historical territory and province of Biscay, located in the Basque Country, Spain. It is the main town of Durangaldea, one of the comarcas of Biscay. Because of its economical activities and population, Durango is considered one of the largest towns in Biscay after the ones that compose the conurbation of Greater Bilbao.

Battle of Pancorbo

Following the French retreat from the disaster at the Battle of Bailén (16–19 July 1808), Blake took up positions opposite the enemy on the banks of the Ebro. On 31 October, the 24,000 men of Marshal Lefebvre's IV Corps attacked Blake's 19,000 men at Pancorbo. By retreating swiftly, Blake was able to prevent being trapped by Napoleon's planned envelopment and annihilation of the Spanish flank.

Battle of Bailén battle

The Battle of Bailén was fought in 1808 by the Spanish Army of Andalusia, led by Generals Francisco Castaños and Theodor von Reding, and the Imperial French Army's II corps d'observation de la Gironde under General Pierre Dupont de l'Étang. This battle was the first ever open field defeat of the Napoleonic army. The heaviest fighting took place near Bailén, a village by the Guadalquivir river in the Jaén province of southern Spain.

Ebro river in the Iberian Peninsula

The Ebro is a river on the Iberian Peninsula. It is the second longest river in the Iberian peninsula after the Tagus and the second biggest by discharge volume and by drainage area after the Douro.

The IV Corps of the Grande Armée was a military unit during the Napoleonic Wars. It consisted several different units and commanders.

Battle of Valmaseda

Napoleon, reaching Vitoria on 8 November, [5] to take matters in hand personally, had dispatched Lefebvre and Victor in pursuit of Blake, with Victor having orders to outmanoeuvre Blake and sweep across his line of retreat. The French were careless and allowed their forces to disperse during the pursuit. On 5 November, Blake surprised his enemies again when, at Valmaseda, he suddenly turned on his pursuers and attacked the French vanguard, inflicting a defeat on the leading division. When another French corps approached, Blake went west once more to evade encirclement.

Battle of Espinosa

Having successfully managed, with the help of the Royal Navy, to reach Santander with 9,000 men, of the 15,000-strong Division of the North stationed in Denmark, Romana was given command of the Army of Galicia on 11 November 1808.

However, that same day, still effectively under Blake, the Army of Galicia was severely beaten at Espinosa de los Monteros, 100 kilometres (62 mi) away in the Cantabrian Mountains, where Blake had chosen to make another stand on 10 November. Victor, trying to avenge himself for his earlier humiliations at the hands of Blake, spent the day recklessly flinging his divisions against the Spanish troops without success. The next day, however, a well-coordinated French attack shattered Blake's centre and routed his army.

Blake lost 3,000 men in the battle, and many thousands more were dispersed in the confusion of retreat. Knowing his Army of Galicia to be irreparably shattered, Blake marched west into the hills, outdistancing his pursuers, under Soult, and managing to carry out important rearguard actions to help General Moore's retreat to Corunna.

Blake reached Léon on 23 November with only 10,000 men and command was then passed to General La Romana, who took command of the new Ejército de la Izquierda on 26 November. The following year, in July 1809, this army would also incorporate the Asturian regiments under Francisco Ballesteros.

Battle of Villafranca (17 March 1809)

On 17 March 1809, De la Romana’s troops defeated the French at the Battle of Villafranca, a garrison at Villafranca del Bierzo.

Following the defeat of Marshall Ney at the Battle of Puente Sanpayo (7–9 June 1809), Marshal Soult abandoned his attempts to re-establish French rule in Galicia, and when Soult moved against the British on the Portuguese frontier, Romana was able to drive the French from Asturias as well.

Battle of San Marcial

At the Battle of San Marcial (31 August 1813), the IV Ejército (IV Army), also known as the Army of Galicia, and under the orders of General Manuel Freire de Andrade, defeated Marshal Soult in what would be his last major offensive against the allied forces led by Wellington. Freire, promoted to general, succeeded Castaños, who had been called to the Cortes, at the beginning of August 1813. [7]

See also

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  1. (in Spanish) Blake, Joaquín (1858) Apuntes históricos sobre las operaciones del ejército de... Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  2. 1 2 Thiers, Adolphe (1812) Historical Works, Volume 3, p. 171. A. Fullarton At Google Books. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  3. (in Spanish) De Toreno, Conde (1839) Historia del levantamiento, Guerra y revolución de España, pp. 196–7 At Google Books. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  4. Gates, David (2011) The Napoleonic Wars 1803-1815. Random House At Google Books. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  5. 1 2 (in Spanish) Rodríquez García, Francisco (1865) Crónica del Senoría de Vizcaya, pp. 93–95 At Google Books. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  6. Napier, William Francis Patrick and Mathieu Dumas (1828) Histoire de la guerre dans la Péninsule et dans le midi de la France, depuis l'année 1807 jusqu'a l'année 1814, Volume I, p. 287. Treuttel et Würtz At Google Books. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  7. (in Spanish) Muñoz, p. 420. "El 12 de agosto fue relevado del mando del cuarto ejército español el General Castaños, por haberle llamado las Córtes á desempeñar su plaza de Consejero de Estado, sucediéndole el Mariscal de Campo Manuel Freire, y destinado al ejército de Cataluña al de igual clase Don Pedro Agustin Giron, Comandante general del Centro. Castaños, que conoció el pretesto con que la Regencia le separaba del mando, escribió en estos términos al Ministro de la Guerra: 'Tengo la satisfacción de entregar al Mariscal de Campo Freire, sobre la frontera de Francia, el mando del ejército que he tomado en Aldea Gallega, delante de Lisboa.'"