The Battle of Los Yébenes (24 March 1809) was the clash of the Regiment of Polish Lancers of the Legion of the Vistula with multiple regiments of Spanish cavalry, near the Spanish village (today municipality) of Los Yébenes.The heavily outnumbered Polish regiment, led by Colonel Jan Konopka, was attacked by surprise and almost defeated by the larger Spanish force.
The Legion of the Vistula was a unit of Poles in the service of Napoleonic France, one of the larger Polish legions of the Napoleonic period.
Los Yébenes is a municipality located in the province of Toledo, Castile-La Mancha, Spain. According to the 2006 census (INE), the municipality has a population of 6,341 inhabitants.
Jan Konopka was a lieutenant in the Kościuszko Uprising, captain of the Polish Legions in Italy, regiment commander in the Legion of the Vistula, as well as general of the French Army and the Duchy of Warsaw. Konopka has been described as "a brave man with cold mind in combat."
General Valance's Polish Divisionof the Corps of Gen. Horace Sébastiani left Toledo on 20 March and marched south-west in order to take Andalusia. On the evening of 23 March they stopped to rest in the town of Mora. The lancers (591 men in 4 squadrons ) could have spent the night in nearby Orgaz at the foot of the mountains, but Colonel Konopka chose instead the large village of Los Yébenes (also called Yevenes or Ivenes), which the Poles had recognized as a comfortable place to rest during their previous patrols in that area. However the place was very difficult to organize for defense. As an eyewitness, soldier of the Regiment Sergeant Kajetan Wojciechowski, wrote:
Toledo is a city and municipality located in central Spain; it is the capital of the province of Toledo and the autonomous community of Castile–La Mancha. Toledo was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive monumental and cultural heritage.
Andalusia is an autonomous community in southern Spain. It is the most populous and the second largest autonomous community in the country. The Andalusian autonomous community is officially recognised as a "historical nationality". The territory is divided into eight provinces: Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Seville. Its capital is the city of Seville.
Mora is a town and municipality in Toledo province, in the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha, Spain. The area is most famous for the abandoned ruins of the San Marcos de Yegros monastery of the Order of Santiago, located northeast of the town of Mora about 10 km on the Calle de los Dolores in the village of Paraje de Yegros.
This position was extremely dangerous for cavalry, because the only way out of the valley zigzagged through the mountain, from which any step to the right, where sky-high rocks were hanging over our heads, or to the left, because of abyss under our feet, was impossible to make, and it was the only way we had take if attacked by the enemy.
According to this description, the resting place for the night was a poor choice, because it could easily turn into a death trap for sleeping soldiers, who had no space to form themselves for the battle, and no safe way of retreat. In fact, the valley was vast enough to fight a battle of large forces, but for a single regiment going up against a whole army, it was very disadvantageous.
Colonel Konopka might have chosen such a place to spend the night because neither the French nor the Poles knew about Spanish forces concentrating nearby.The regiment's companies were quartered throughout the village along with the wagons of the supply column. In the center of the village stayed the fifth company under Captain Jan Szulc. This company on that night was the service detachment of the regiment. Around the village pickets were posted.
A picket is a soldier, or small unit of soldiers, placed on a line forward of a position to provide warning of an enemy advance. It can also refer to any unit performing a similar function.
The night of the 24th was foggy. The sentries heard suspicious sounds and informed the colonel, "but he calmed all his officers, assuring them that the enemy was several days march from here, near the Guadiana river";he was mistaken, since facing him and hidden by the fog was the new Army of La Mancha, commanded by Count de Cartaojal, who at seven in the morning mounted an attacking front against the Lancers, who at that moment had just got out of bed.
The Guadiana River, or Odiana, is an international river defining a long stretch of the Portugal-Spain border, separating Extremadura and Andalucia (Spain) from Alentejo and Algarve (Portugal). The river's basin extends from the eastern portion of Extremadura to the southern provinces of the Algarve; the river and its tributaries flow from east to west, then south through Portugal to the border towns of Vila Real de Santo António (Portugal) and Ayamonte (Spain), where it flows into the Gulf of Cádiz. With a course that covers a distance of 829 kilometres (515 mi), it is the fourth-longest in the Iberian peninsula, and its hydrological basin extends over an area of approximately 68,000 square kilometres (26,000 sq mi).
Lancers of the 5th company engaged their enemies at once. The rest of the regiment was forming in disarrayed squadrons by the church in the center of the village. Suddenly the fog lifted and the Poles caught sight of dense ranks of the Spanish cavalry, and two batteries of horse artillery as well. Colonel Konopka, seeing great predominance of the enemy, gave the only possible order which was to retreat toward the main French force.
Squadrons turned around and - in the marching column - rushed toward Orgaz, with the colonel and major Andrzej Ruttie in the front. The 5th company protected the rest of the column as the rearguard.
Soon the lancers, led by Konopka, met two regiments of the Spanish cavalry. Konopka cried: "Forward, boys!"and then the foremost 8th company men leveled their lances attacking furiously. It was the Royal Carabineers Regiment (Spanish carabineros reales), one of the better regiments in the Spanish Army who blocked the narrow road on the edge of a precipice without any chance to go forward or back.
It was a merciless fight. Lancers were prevailing with their lances, and carabineers, armed with swords, were – from the very beginning – condemned to defeat. In the terrible melee, where only few soldiers could fight back the attacking Poles, the carabineers, pressed between their attackers and the following Spanish regiment, had no chance. Some hurled themselves in despair into a stony river while others tried to climb the rocky slopes above. Those on the road died.
The lancers' attack completely surprised the Spanish soldiers, who moments before were absolutely sure they would prevail. Now, seeing their front lines smashed by the enemy, they began to move back, and those in last ranks started to retreat. The lancers were pressing, and soon they hewed their way to a wider part of the road. There, separated from the Spanish soldiers, they went into gallop.
Colonel Konopka, along with Major Ruttie and dozen of lancers, left the regiment, which finally reached the open field, and began to form defense lines to repulse the Spanish cavalry, which flowed out from the canyon. The Polish colonel safely reached Mora, where the main forces of General Valance stayed, convinced that the regiment was lost. The regiment however, led by one of the squadrons' COs, Captain Telesfor Kostanecki, fought its way through the enemy's lines, and in a roundabout way – by Consuegra – arrived few hours later in Mora.
In the battle of Yébenes the regiment of Polish Lancers suffered significant losses. Lieutenant Stanisław Moszyński (Molzinski) was killed.Captains Jan Szulc and Kajetan Stokowski, as well as Lieutenant Stawierski and surgeon Jan Gryll, all wounded, were taken prisoners (the retreat was so difficult that the regiment could not evacuate its wounded). Overall, between 8 March and 15 April the regiment lost 89 men. Subtracting from that the 47 who were taken prisoner and noting that subsequent losses of the regiments were negligible if any, the remaining number of lost lancers was 42, which was probably the number killed in the clash of Yébenes.
The regiment also lost all of its wagons of the supply train, and along with them all four squadrons' banners, gifts from Napoleon's wife, Joséphine de Beauharnaiswhen the regiment was still in Italy in 1802. The loss of the banners was recognized by lancers as an infamy. They decided - for honour's sake - to wash it away as soon as possible. The lancers' defeat became known all over Spain. It was probably the only defeat from the Spanish forces during all Peninsular War that truly hurt them, and dented their fame. In the nearest future "los infernos picadores" with all their impulsiveness and bravery would try to regain their former reputation among the ranks of the Armée d'Espagne.
The chance to avenge their honour came very soon. On 27 March 1809, in the battle of Ciudad Real they took the bridge, crushed four squares of Spanish infantry, and put them to flight. The next day in the Battle of Santa Cruz de Mudela, the lancers, without waiting for the rest of the Corps, crushed the same Spanish forces once again. On 18 September 1809, the mere presence of the "Hell Lancers" during the Battle of Ocaña, led to the same carabiñeros reales regiment leaving the battlefield.
At the beginning of May, Colonel Konopka left the regiment and traveledto France. He stayed for some time in Sedan, which was the seat of the recruiting squadron, and returned to the regiment after fifteen months. The real effect of losing the standards was a refusal to give new ones to the regiment (even after their impressive victory in the battle of Albuera ), but as Wojciechowski writes about the battle - There had finished our penance for the standards lost in Jovenes. On 18 June 1811, regiment was stripped from the Vistula Legion and redesignated as the 7e Régiment de Chevaulégers-lanciers of the regular French army.
Wojciechowski later wrote about the fate of the lost banners:
When I jumped off my mount, I took Kazaban to one side and asked him why our Colonel, always so brave and perspicacious in all the previous combats, had completely lost his head today, and was complaining to our General about how our regiment was lost. He did not understand these complaints, because he was sure that the whole regiment was out of danger. Kazaban took a deep breath, took my hand and said to me,
'You are probably right, and our regiment is out of danger, but nevertheless something worse has happened. We have lost the standard of our regiment, the emblem we received in Italy many years ago during the French revolution. The emblem that Napoleón wanted to change when he became Emperor and the regiment opposed, because it felt so strongly about it: this emblem was our four standards.'
'What the devil are you telling me?’ I shouted. 'I am sure that we left them in the depot at Madrid!’
'Yes', he said, 'the covers and the poles have gone, but I put the standards with my own hands, in the greatest secrecy, in a saddlebag that was in the Colonel’s wagon. That wagon was left on the other side of the big mountain and I am sure it has been captured by the Spaniards'.
I was stunned. I knew the consequences of this accident for the whole regiment. In this case our regiment would merely exist, and we Lancers, no matter how brave we might be, would be deprived of all reward or promotion.
It was true, the regiment lost its banners against explicit orders, according to which they should have been kept in safety of the regimental depot behind the lines. As a result, the regiment was not included – despite the recommendation of Joachim Murat – in the Imperial Guard and never obtained new ones.
In his report, the Spanish commanding officer, Count Cartaojal wrote on 29 March (it was published in Spanish papers 1 April) about losses of the Polish lancers:
98 men, including prisoners of war and 3 officers, and also a banner, horses, lances and equipment.
In a later note to the Supreme Junta of Seville he added:
Two more banners of the Polish regiment were taken in Los Yebanes; we found [them] on an officer killed in the battle.
From his own words, it appears that Cartaojal took three of four regimental banners, and that two of these were in possession of a lancer, who – knowing the worth of them – tried to save them, but was killed during the fight. The fourth banner was most likely burned with the wagon train, when nobody could expect it.
The fates of the three banners from the end of the battle to the moment when two of them were hung as trophies in the Royal Chapel of Saint Francis Cathedral in Seville are unclear, but a few still existing documents offer some possible hypotheses.
Probably all three banners were in the possession of the staff of the Spanish Army, without any desire to present them in public until the battle of Albuera, when the British allies were "massacred" by the Vistula Lancers – exactly the same troops who had lost their banners in the clash of Yevenes. It is quite possible that the Spanish command decided to show the forgotten banners at this particular moment, as banners taken at Albuera, to heighten the morale of Spanish troops, who were passed over in silence in the British battle report.
This is probably how one should understand the words about "taking the Polish banners by the Regiment of Murcia", in General Lardizabal's report. However, the statement was false, as Spaniards did not take any standards or banners at Albuera, and in particular any banner of any squadron of the Polish lancers. Therefore, the note most likely refers to the banners from Yevenes.
Seven days later, Sebastian Llano, aide-de-camp of the Spanish general Blake, presented himself before the Cádiz Cortes with a trophy – the banner of the 3rd squadron – and said: "... of the three standards taken from our enemies, I have the honour to present to Your Excellencies this one, as the homage to the Nation you represent". This banner was hung in the San Felipe Neri church in Cádiz, but later it vanished without a trace.
In 1889, J. Gestoso of Seville published - in the series "National Glory" - a colour reprint of the banner of the 1st squadron, along with the information that it was kept in "the Royal Chapel of Saint Francis in this town", as the "memorabilia" of the Battle of Bailén. A year later the same author, in his "Seville Guide", mentioned two Polish banners in the Royal Chapel, again connecting them with Bailén, unaware that Polish lancers were not involved in that battle; moreover that all trophies taken during that battle by the Spaniards were recovered by king Joseph Bonaparte in 1810.
Today, in the cathedral of Seville, there is only the banner of the 2nd Squadron, because the one which belonged to the 1st Squadron was removed (in unclear circumstances) around 1910 to the Musée de l'Armée in Paris, where it is kept without mention that it was a trophy of the Spanish forces.
Finally, there is also the fate of Colonel Konopka, who – against explicit orders – placed the regiment's banners in the wagons of the train. He risked a lot, even the loss of his position, but it looked like nothing happened: his travel to France (surely connected with the investigation into the case) took a long time, but without any visible consequences. After the Battle of Albuera – he was supposedly nominated a French General and Baron, and disappeared from the Vistula Lancers forever.
Soon, as the grosmajor,he became the instructor "of the lance" in the 1st Polish Light Cavalry Regiment of the Imperial Guard. During the Invasion of Russia, he gained the command of the newly created 3rd Lithuanian Light Cavalry Regiment of the Guard, but in October 1812, during the banquet in Słonim the day before the march out, was taken prisoner by the Russians. His imprisonment destroyed his health, and he died in the middle of January 1815 as the newly nominated brigadier-general of the army of the Congress Poland.
The Battle of Berestechko was fought between the Ukrainian Cossacks, led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, aided by their Crimean Tatar allies, and a Polish army under King John II Casimir. It was a battle of a Cossack rebellion in Ukraine that took place in the years 1648–1657 after the expiration of a two-year truce. Fought from 28 to 30 June 1651, the battle took place in the province of Volhynia, on the hilly plain south of the Styr River. The Polish camp was on the river opposite Berestechko and faced south, towards the Cossack army about two kilometers away, whose right flank was against the River Pliashivka (Pliashova) and the Tatar army on their left flank. It is considered to have been among the largest European land battles of the 17th century.
The Battle of Ciudad Real was fought on 27 March 1809 and resulted in a French victory under General Sebastiani against the Spanish under General Conde de Cartojal.
The Battle of Mormant was fought during the War of the Sixth Coalition between an Imperial French army under Emperor Napoleon I and a division of Russians under Count Peter Petrovich Pahlen. Enveloped by cavalry led by François Étienne de Kellermann and Édouard Jean-Baptiste Milhaud and infantry led by Étienne Maurice Gérard, Pahlen's outnumbered force was nearly destroyed, with only about a third of its soldiers escaping. Later in the day, a French column led by Marshal Claude Perrin Victor encountered an Austrian-Bavarian rearguard under Anton Leonhard von Hardegg and Peter de Lamotte in the Battle of Valjouan. Attacked by French infantry and cavalry, the Allied force was mauled before it withdrew behind the Seine River. The Mormant-Valjouan actions and the Battle of Montereau the following day marked the start of a French counteroffensive intended to drive back Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg's Allied Army of Bohemia. The town of Mormant is located 50 kilometres (31 mi) southeast of Paris.
The Battle of Ocaña was fought on 19 November 1809 between French forces under Marshal Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult, Duke of Dalmatia and King Joseph Bonaparte and the Spanish army under Juan Carlos de Aréizaga, which suffered its greatest single defeat in the Peninsular War. General Juan Carlos de Aréizaga's Spanish army of 51,000 lost nearly 19,000 killed, wounded, prisoners and deserters, mostly due to the French use of their cavalry. Tactically, the battle was a Cannae-like encirclement of the Spanish army. The strategic consequences were also devastating, as it destroyed the only force capable of defending southern Spain; the area was overrun over the winter in the Andalusia campaign.
Honoré Théodore Maxime Gazan de la Peyrière was a French general who fought in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.
The Battle of Albuera was a battle during the Peninsular War. A mixed British, Spanish and Portuguese corps engaged elements of the French Armée du Midi at the small Spanish village of Albuera, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) south of the frontier fortress-town of Badajoz, Spain.
Uhlans were Polish light cavalry armed with lances, sabres and pistols. The Polish Uhlans became the model for many general-purpose cavalry units throughout Europe in the early 19th century as use of traditional heavy cavalry declined. The title was later used by lancer regiments in the Russian, Prussian, Saxon, Austrian and other armies.
A lancer was a type of cavalryman who fought with a lance. Lances were used in mounted warfare by the Assyrians as early as 700 BC and subsequently by Greek, Persian, Gallic, Chinese, and Roman horsemen. The weapon was widely used in Asia and Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by armoured cavalry, before being adopted by light cavalry, particularly in Eastern Europe. In a modern context, a lancer regiment usually denotes an armoured unit.
The 9th Queen's Royal Lancers was a cavalry regiment of the British Army, first raised in 1715. It saw service for three centuries, including the First and Second World Wars. The regiment survived the immediate post-war reduction in forces, but was amalgamated with the 12th Royal Lancers to form the 9th/12th Royal Lancers in 1960.
The Battle of Reims was fought at Reims, France between an Imperial French army commanded by Emperor Napoleon and a combined Russian-Prussian corps led by General Emmanuel de Saint-Priest. On the first day, Saint-Priest's Russians and General Friedrich Wilhelm von Jagow's Prussians easily captured Reims from its French National Guard garrison, capturing or killing more than half of its defenders. On the second day, an overconfident Saint-Priest carelessly deployed his forces west of the city, not grasping that Napoleon was approaching with 20,000 troops. Too late, Saint-Priest realized who he was fighting and tried to organize a retreat. In the battle that followed, the French army struck with crushing force and the Allies were routed with serious losses. During the fighting, Saint-Priest was struck by a howitzer shell and died two weeks later.
The Polish Legions in the Napoleonic period, were several Polish military units that served with the French Army, mainly from 1797 to 1803, although some units continued to serve until 1815.
The 12th Royal Lancers was a cavalry regiment of the British Army first formed in 1715. It saw service for three centuries, including the First World War and the Second World War. The regiment survived the immediate post-war reduction in forces, but was slated for reduction in the 1957 Defence White Paper, and was amalgamated with the 9th Queen's Royal Lancers to form the 9th/12th Royal Lancers in 1960.
The 1st Horse is a cavalry regiment of the Indian Army, which served in the British Indian Army before independence. The regiment was raised in 1803 as Skinner's Horse by James Skinner as an irregular cavalry regiment in the service of the East India Company. It was later renamed the 1st Bengal Lancers.
In the Battle of Usagre on 25 May 1811, Anglo-Allied cavalry commanded by Major-General William Lumley routed a French cavalry force led by Major-General Marie Victor Latour-Maubourg at the village of Usagre in the Peninsular War.
Wilenska Cavalry Brigade was a unit of the Polish Army, created on 1 April 1937 out of the 3rd Independent Cavalry Brigade. Its headquarters were stationed in Wilno, with some regiments garrisoned in the neighboring towns. In late 1930s it consisted of these units:
The Battle of Warsaw was fought on 31 July 1705 near Warsaw, Poland, during the Great Northern War. The battle was part of a power struggle for the Polish–Lithuanian throne. It was fought between Augustus II the Strong and Stanisław Leszczyński and their allies. Augustus II entered the Northern war as elector of Saxony and king of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and had formed an alliance with Denmark–Norway and Russia. Stanisław Leszczyński had seized the Polish throne in 1704, with the support of the Swedish army of Charles XII of Sweden. The struggle for the throne forced the Polish nobility to pick sides; the Warsaw Confederation supported Leszczyński and Sweden, and the Sandomierz Confederation supported Augustus II and his allies. The conflict resulted in the Polish civil war of 1704–1706.
The 1st Polish Light Cavalry Regiment of the Imperial Guard was a formation of Polish light cavalry that served Emperor Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars.
There was an Old Guard Régiment de Chasseurs à Cheval from 1804; the Company of Mamelukes first raised in Egypt in 1799, also attached to the Old Guard, similar to the First (1807) and Second (1810) Régiments de Chevaux-lanciers, known respectively as the Polish Blue and Dutch Red Lancers of the Guard; and three regiments of Eclaireurs raised in 1814, four more Gardes d'Honneur and the Légion de Gendarmerie d'Elite, going back to 1804.
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.