Battle of Alba de Tormes

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Battle of Alba de Tormes
Part of Peninsular War
Alba de Tormes, Salamanca, Espana.jpg
View of Alba from across the river Tormes
Date26 November 1809
Result French victory
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg Kingdom of Spain
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg François Kellermann Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg Duke del Parque
16,000, 12 guns 32,000, 18 guns
Casualties and losses
300 to 600 3,000, 9 guns

In the Battle of Alba de Tormes on 26 November 1809, an Imperial French corps commanded by François Étienne de Kellermann attacked a Spanish army led by Diego de Cañas y Portocarrero, Duke del Parque. Finding the Spanish army in the midst of crossing the Tormes River, Kellermann did not wait for his infantry under Jean Gabriel Marchand to arrive, but led the French cavalry in a series of charges that routed the Spanish units on the near bank with heavy losses. Del Parque's army was forced to take refuge in the mountains that winter. Alba de Tormes is 21 kilometres (13 mi) southeast of Salamanca, Spain. The action occurred during the Peninsular War, part of the Napoleonic Wars.

First French Empire Empire of Napoleon I of France between 1804–1815

The First French Empire, officially the French Empire, was the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte of France and the dominant power in much of continental Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. Although France had already established an overseas colonial empire beginning in the 17th century, the French state had remained a kingdom under the Bourbons and a republic after the Revolution. Historians refer to Napoleon's regime as the First Empire to distinguish it from the restorationist Second Empire (1852–1870) ruled by his nephew as Napoleon III.

François Étienne de Kellermann French cavalry general

François Étienne de Kellermann, 2nd Duc de Valmy was a French cavalry general noted for his daring and skillful exploits during the Napoleonic Wars. He was the son of François Christophe de Kellermann and the father of the diplomat François Christophe Edmond de Kellermann.

Tormes river in Spain

The Tormes is a Spanish river, that starts in Prado Tormejón, in the mountain range of Gredos, Navarredonda de Gredos, province of Ávila. It crosses the provinces of Avila and Salamanca, ending at the Duero river, at a place known locally as Ambasaguas, after 284 kilometres (176 mi). This river is not able to provide the water supply to the population during summer and for this reason, the dam of Santa Teresa was constructed in 1960, with a capacity of 496 million cubic metres (402,000 acre⋅ft) to regulate and assure the water supply in summer, as well as to moderate high flows in winter. Also it has the dam of Villagonzalo and the Almendra Dam, near to where it joins the Duero.


The Spanish Supreme Central and Governing Junta of the Kingdom planned to launch a two-pronged attack on Madrid in the fall of 1809. In the west, Del Parque's Army of the Left enjoyed some success against Marchand's weak VI Corps. When the Spanish general learned that the other offensive prong had been crushed at Ocaña, he turned around and began retreating rapidly to the south. At the same time, Marchand was reinforced by a dragoon division under Kellermann. Taking command, Kellermann raced in pursuit of the Army of the Left, catching up with it at Alba de Tormes. Not waiting for their own foot soldiers, the French dragoons and light cavalry fell upon the Spanish infantry and defeated it. Marchand's infantry arrived in time to mop up, but the cavalry had done most of the fighting. Del Parque's men retreated into the mountains where they spent a miserable few months.

The Supreme Central and Governing Junta of the Kingdom formally was the Spanish organ that accumulated the executive and legislative powers during the Napoleonic occupation of Spain. It was established on 25 September 1808 following the Spanish victory at the Battle of Bailén and after the Council of Castile declared null and void the abdications of Charles IV and Ferdinand VII done at Bayonne earlier in May. It was active until 30 January 1810. It was initially formed by the representatives of the provincial juntas and first met in Aranjuez chaired by the Count of Floridablanca, with 35 members in total.

Madrid Capital of Spain

Madrid is the capital and most populous city of Spain. The city has almost 3.3 million inhabitants and a metropolitan area population of approximately 6.5 million. It is the third-largest city in the European Union (EU), surpassed only by London and Berlin, and its monocentric metropolitan area is the third-largest in the EU, smaller only than those of London and Paris. The municipality covers 604.3 km2 (233.3 sq mi).

The VI Corps of the Grande Armée was the name of a French military unit that existed during the Napoleonic Wars. It was formed at the Camp de Boulogne and assigned to Marshal Michel Ney. From 1805 through 1811, the army corps fought under Ney's command in the War of the Third Coalition, the War of the Fourth Coalition, and the Peninsular War. Jean Gabriel Marchand was in charge of the corps for a period when Ney went on leave. In early 1811, Ney was dismissed by Marshal André Masséna for disobedience and the corps was briefly led by Louis Henri Loison until the corps was dissolved in May 1811. The VI Corps was revived in 1812 for the French invasion of Russia and placed under Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr. It entirely consisted of Bavarian soldiers at that time. After the disastrous winter retreat the corps was virtually destroyed. In 1813 during the War of the Sixth Coalition it was recreated with reorganized French troops. Marshal Auguste Marmont took command of the corps and managed it until Emperor Napoleon's abdication in 1814. It took part in many battles including Dresden and Leipzig in 1813. During the Hundred Days, Georges Mouton, Count de Lobau commanded the VI Corps at the Battle of Waterloo.


By the summer of 1809, the Spanish Supreme Central and Governing Junta of the Kingdom was coming under harsh criticism over its handling of the war effort. The Spanish people demanded that the ancient Cortes be summoned and the Junta reluctantly agreed. But it was difficult to restore the old assembly and bring it into session. Ultimately, the Cádiz Cortes would be set up, but until that day arrived the Junta exercised power. Anxious to justify its continued existence, the Junta came up with what it hoped would be a war-winning strategy. [1]

Undeterred by the fact that Arthur Wellesley, Viscount Wellington refused to contribute any British soldiers, the Junta planned to launch a two-pronged offensive aimed at recapturing Madrid. They replaced Pedro Caro, 3rd Marquis of la Romana with Diego de Cañas y Portocarrero, Duke del Parque as commander of the troops in Galicia and Asturias. Del Parque soon massed 30,000 troops at Ciudad Rodrigo with more on the way. South of Madrid, Juan Carlos de Aréizaga assembled over 50,000 well-equipped men in the Army of La Mancha. The main efforts of Del Parque and Aréizaga would be aided by a third force that operated near Talavera de la Reina under José Miguel de la Cueva y de la Cerda, Duke of Albuquerque. The 10,000-man Talavera force was designed to hold some French units in place while the main armies thrust at Madrid. [2]

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington 18th and 19th-century British soldier and statesman

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, was an Anglo-Irish soldier and Tory statesman who was one of the leading military and political figures of 19th-century Britain, serving twice as Prime Minister. His victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 puts him in the first rank of Britain's military heroes.

Pedro Caro, 3rd Marquis of la Romana Spanish military personnel (1761-1811)

Don Pedro Caro y Sureda, 3rd Marquis of la Romana was a Spanish general of the Peninsular War.

Galicia (Spain) Autonomous community of Spain

Galicia is an autonomous community of Spain and historic nationality under Spanish law. Located in the northwest Iberian Peninsula, it includes the provinces of A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra.

In the fall of 1809, Del Parque's Army of the Left numbered 52,192 men in one cavalry and six infantry divisions. Martin de la Carrera's Vanguard Division counted 7,413 soldiers, Francisco Xavier Losada's 1st Division had 8,336 troops, Conde de Belveder's 2nd Division was made up of 6,759 men, Francisco Ballesteros's 3rd Division numbered 9,991 soldiers, Nicolás de Mahy's 4th Division comprised 7,100 troops, and Conde de Castrofuerte's 5th Division counted 6,157 men. All infantry divisions included 14 battalions except the 3rd with 15 and the 5th with seven. The Prince of Anglona's Cavalry Division included 1,682 horsemen in six regiments. Ciudad Rodrigo was provided with a garrison of 3,817 troops and there was an unattached 937-man battalion. [3]

Francisco Ballesteros Spanish general

Francisco Ballesteros emerged as a career Spanish General during the Peninsular War.

Jean Gabriel Marchand was drubbed at Tamames. General Jean Gabriel Marchand.jpg
Jean Gabriel Marchand was drubbed at Tamames.

With Marshal Michel Ney on leave, Jean Gabriel Marchand assumed command of the VI Corps, based at Salamanca. The corps had been forced to quit Galicia earlier in 1809 and had been involved in the operations in the aftermath of the Battle of Talavera in July. After hard campaigning and a lack of reinforcements, VI Corps was not in a good condition to fight. Furthermore, Marchand's talents were not equal to those of his absent chief. Del Parque advanced from Ciudad Rodrigo in late September [4] with the divisions of La Carrera, Losada, Belveder, and Anglona. Filled with scorn for his Spanish adversaries, an overconfident Marchand advanced on the village of Tamames, 56 kilometres (35 mi) southwest of Salamanca. In the Battle of Tamames on 18 October 1809, the French suffered an embarrassing defeat. [5] The French lost 1,400 killed and wounded out of 14,000 soldiers and 14 guns. Spanish casualties were only 700 out of 21,500 men and 18 cannons. After the battle, Del Parque was joined by Ballesteros' division, giving him 30,000 troops. As the Spanish advanced, Marchand abandoned Salamanca and Del Parque's men occupied the city on 25 October. [6]

Michel Ney French soldier and military commander

Marshal of the Empire Michel Ney, 1st Duke of Elchingen, 1st Prince of the Moskva, popularly known as Marshal Ney, was a French soldier and military commander of German origin who fought in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He was one of the original 18 Marshals of the Empire created by Napoleon. He was known as Le Rougeaud by his men and nicknamed le Brave des Braves by Napoleon.

Jean Gabriel Marchand French general

Jean Gabriel Marchand, 1st Count Marchand went from being an attorney to a company commander in the army of the First French Republic in 1791. He fought almost exclusively in Italy throughout the French Revolutionary Wars and served on the staffs of a number of generals. He participated in Napoleon Bonaparte's celebrated 1796-1797 Italian campaign. In 1799, he was with army commander Barthélemy Catherine Joubert when that general was killed at Novi. Promoted to general officer soon after, he transferred to the Rhine theater in 1800.

Salamanca Place in Castile and León, Spain

Salamanca is a city in western Spain that is the capital of the Province of Salamanca in the community of Castile and León. The city lies on several hills by the Tormes River. Its Old City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. With a metropolitan population of 228,881 in 2012 according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), Salamanca is the second most populated urban area in Castile and León, after Valladolid (414,000), and ahead of León (187,000) and Burgos (176,000).

Marchand retreated north to the town of Toro on the Duero River. Here he was joined by François Étienne de Kellermann with 1,500 infantry in three battalions and a 3,000-trooper dragoon division. Kellermann took command of the French force and marched upstream, crossing to the south bank at Tordesillas. Reinforced by General of Brigade Nicolas Godinot's force, Kellermann challenged Del Parque by marching directly on Salamanca. The Spaniard backpedaled, giving up Salamanca and retreating to the south. In the meantime, the guerillas in Province of León became very active. Kellermann left the VI Corps holding Salamanca and raced back to León to stamp out the uprising. [7]

Albuquerque managed to pin down some French troops near Talavera as planned, but when he found out that Aréizaga's army had been cut to pieces at the Battle of Ocaña on 19 November, he wisely withdrew out of reach of the French. Meanwhile, Del Parque heard of the march of Godinot's and General of Brigade Pierre-Louis Binet de Marcognet's brigades toward Madrid. Though he had been instructed to join Albuquerque, he instead moved on Salamanca again, hustling one of the VI Corps brigades out of Alba de Tormes. [8] Del Parque occupied Salamanca on 20 November. [9] The French general withdrew behind the Duero and again rendezvoused with Kellermann. Hoping to get between Kellermann and Madrid, Del Parque thrust toward Medina del Campo. On 23 November at that town, Marcognet's brigade returned from Segovia while General of Brigade Mathieu Delabassée's brigade arrived from Tordesillas. At this moment, Del Parque's columns hove into view and there was a skirmish at El Carpio. The French horsemen initially drove back the Spanish cavalry but were repulsed by Ballesteros' steady foot soldiers fighting in squares. This event prompted Marcognet and Delabassée to retreat. [10]

On 24 November, Kellermann massed 16,000 French troops on the Duero near Valdestillas. Badly outnumbered, the French prepared to defend themselves. But on this day the Army of the Left received news of the Ocaña disaster. [11] Understanding that this dire event meant that the French could spare plenty of soldiers to track down his army, Del Parque bolted to the south, intending to shelter in the mountains of central Spain. [12] On 25 November, Del Parque slipped away so suddenly that Kellermann did not even begin his pursuit until the next day. For two days, the French were unable to catch up with their adversaries. But on the afternoon of 28 November, their light cavalry found the Army of the Left camped at Alba de Tormes. [11]


Francois de Kellermann Kellermann, Francois Etienne.jpg
François de Kellermann

Believing that he was out of Kellermann's reach, Del Parque grew careless. He allowed his army to camp in a bad position astride the Tormes River. The divisions of Ballesteros and Castrofuerte bivouacked on the east bank while the divisions of Anglona, La Carrera, Losada, and Belveder were in the town and on the west bank. Since the cavalry pickets were posted too close the camp, they did not give adequate warning of the arrival of the French. Riding with his light cavalry advance guard, Kellermann determined to attack at once. He feared that if he waited for Marchand's infantry, the Spanish would have time to establish a defensive line behind the Tormes. The decision meant that unsupported French cavalry would be attacking a much larger force of Spanish cavalry, infantry, and artillery. [11]

The reinforced VI Corps included Marchand's 1st Division, General of Division Maurice Mathieu's 2nd Division, General of Brigade Jean Baptiste Lorcet's light cavalry brigade, and Kellermann's dragoon division. The 1st Division included three battalions each of 6th Light Infantry Regiment, and the 39th, 69th and 76th Line Infantry Regiments. The 2nd Division counted three battalions each of 25th Light, 27th Line, and 59th Line, plus one battalion of the 50th Line. Lorcet's corps cavalry comprised four squadrons each of the 3rd Hussar and 15th Chasseurs à Cheval Regiments. The dragoon division was made up of the 3rd, 6th, 10th, 11th, 15th, and 25th Dragoon Regiments. Kellerman had no more than 3,000 cavalry and 12 guns immediately available. [13] [14]

Princesa Line Infantry Regiment (left) and Catalonia Light Infantry Regiment (right) Knotel III, 31.jpg
Princesa Line Infantry Regiment (left) and Catalonia Light Infantry Regiment (right)

La Carrera's division consisted of three battalions each of the Principe and Zaragosa Line Infantry Regiments, one battalion each of the Barbastro, 1st Catalonia, 2nd Catalonia, and Gerona Light Infantry Regiments, one battalion each of the Vitoria, Escolares de Leon, Monforte de Lemos, and Muerte Volunteer Regiments, and one foot artillery battery. Losada's division included two battalions each of the Leon and Voluntarios de Corona Line Infantry and Galicia Provincial Grenadier Militia, one battalion each of the 1st Aragon and 2nd Aragon Light Infantry, two battalions of the Betanzos Volunteer Regiment, one battalion each of the Del General, 1st La Union, 2nd La Union, and Orense Volunteer Regiments, one company of National Guards, and one foot artillery battery. [9] [15] [16]

Belveder's division comprised the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Rey, Seville, Toledo, and Zamora Line Infantry, two battalions each of the foreign Hibernia Line and Lovera Volunteer Regiments, one battalion each of the Voluntaros de Navarre Light Infantry, and Santiago Volunteer Regiments, and one foot artillery battery. Anglona's division had the regular 2nd Reyna (Cavalry or Dragoon), 5th Borbon Cavalry, 6th Sagunto Dragoon, and Provisional Regiments, the volunteer Llerena Horse Grenadiers and Ciudad Rodrigo Cazadores, and one horse artillery battery. [15]

Ballesteros' division consisted of three battalions of the Navarra Line Infantry and two battalions of the Princesa Line Infantry Regiments, one battalion each of the Oviedo Militia and the Candas y Luanco, Cangas de Tineo, Castropol, Covadonga, Grado, Infiesto, Lena, Pravia, and Villaviciosa Volunteer Regiments, and one foot artillery battery. Castrofuertes' division was made up of one battalion each of the Tiradores de Ciudad Rodrigo, 2nd Ciudad Rodrigo, and Ferdinand VII Volunteer Regiments, and Leon, Lagroño, Toro, and Valladolid Militia, and one artillery battery. One battalion formed Del Parque's headquarters guard. Mahy's 4th Division was detached from the army at the time of the battle. [15]

The Spanish divisions on the east bank hastily formed front against the French, with La Carrera's division holding the left flank, Belveder's the center, and Losada's the right flank. The 1,200 sabers belonging to the Prince of Anglona covered the entire front. To face the threat, Del Parque put as few as 18,000 men [17] or as many as 21,300 infantry, 1,500 cavalry and 18 artillery pieces in line. [9]

Kellermann quickly formed his eight regiments in four lines, with Lorcet's two light cavalry regiments in the first line and the six dragoon regiments in the three supporting lines. Storming forward, the 3,000 horsemen burst through Anglona's cavalry and crashed into the Spanish right-center. The attack broke up all of Losada's and part of Belveder's formations. About 2,000 Spaniards threw down their muskets and surrendered, the rest fled across the bridge. The French also seized a battery of artillery. Del Parque was unable to bring up his other two divisions because the span was packed with panicked soldiers. Instead, he deployed them along the river to cover the retreat of the others. [17]

During the crisis, the men in La Carrera's and part of Belveder's divisions were able to form into brigade squares. Kellermann organized a second attack against the unbroken squares but the Spanish soldiers held steady and repelled the French cavalry. Since his infantry were still far in the rear, Kellermann tried to fix the enemy squares in place by launching partial charges. For two and a half hours, this tactic succeeded in pinning down the Spanish soldiers on the west bank. Marchand's infantry and artillery finally appeared on the horizon. Realizing that his men would be annihilated by a combined arms attack, La Carrera ordered an immediate retreat. The French cavalry rushed forward and inflicted further losses, but most of the Spanish troops got away over the bridge in the fading light. Marchand's leading brigade cleared some of Losada's rallied men out of the town of Alba and captured two more artillery pieces. [17]


Del Parque ordered his army to retreat under cover of darkness. During the operation, a group of panicky horsemen caused a stampede in the marching columns and the three divisions that fought were badly scattered while other soldiers deserted. [18] The Spanish suffered 3,000 killed, wounded, and captured, plus nine cannon, five colors, and most of their baggage train. The French suffered between 300 and 600 killed or wounded in the action, including General of Brigade Jean-Auguste Carrié de Boissy wounded. [9]

Del Parque established his winter headquarters at San Martín de Trevejo in the Sierra de Gata and began reassembling his troops. He had led 32,000 men at Alba de Tormes, but a month later could only gather 26,000 soldiers. This suggests that 3,000 men deserted the colors after the battle. Worse was to follow. In the desolate district where the army was quartered, the starving troops were sometimes forced to subsist on acorns. By mid-January, 9,000 died or were rendered unfit by hunger and illness. [18]

The Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington wrote in disgust,

I declare that if they had preserved their two armies, or even one of them, the cause was safe. But no! Nothing will answer excepting to fight great battles in plains, in which their defeat is as certain as the commencement of the battle". [19]

The repercussions of the Ocaña and Alba de Tormes defeats were disastrous for the Spanish cause. With the Spanish armies severely weakened, Andalusia was exposed to French invasion. Wellington, who as late as 14 November was optimistic, now became anxious that the French might invade Portugal. [20]

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  1. Gates 2002 , p. 194.
  2. Gates 2002 , pp. 194–196.
  3. Gates 2002 , p. 494.
  4. Gates 2002 , p. 196.
  5. Smith 1998 , pp. 333–334. This source also listed Ballesteros' division in the Spanish order of battle.
  6. Gates 2002 , pp. 197–199.
  7. Gates 2002 , p. 199.
  8. Oman 1996 , p. 97.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Smith 1998 , p. 336.
  10. Oman 1996 , p. 98.
  11. 1 2 3 Oman 1996 , p. 99.
  12. Gates 2002 , p. 204.
  13. Smith 1998 , p. 336. This authority omitted the 6th and 11th Dragoons, listed Lorcet as leading only the 3rd Hussars and 15th Chasseurs, and stated that the other four dragoon regiments were part of Kellermann's division.
  14. Oman 1996 , pp. 535, 538. This source listed Kellermann's division as consisting of the 3rd, 6th, 10th, and 11th Dragoons, and the 15th and 25th Dragoons as part of Lorcet's command.
  15. 1 2 3 Oman 1996 , p. 527.
  16. Pivka 1979 , pp. 239–242. This source identified which regular units were line or light infantry, or heavy cavalry or dragoons.
  17. 1 2 3 Oman 1996 , p. 100.
  18. 1 2 Oman 1996 , p. 101.
  19. Glover 2001, p. 116.
  20. Gates 2002 , pp. 205–206.

Coordinates: 40°50′N5°30′W / 40.833°N 5.500°W / 40.833; -5.500