Battle of Ocaña

Last updated
Battle of Ocaña
Part of the Peninsular War
Batalla de Ocana.jpg
Date19 November 1809
Location Ocaña, near Madrid, Spain
Result Decisive French victory
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg  Spain
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Joseph Bonaparte
Flag of France.svg Nicolas Soult
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg Juan Carlos de Aréizaga
24,000 infantry
5,000 cavalry [1]
50 guns
45,000 infantry
7,000 cavalry [1]
60 guns
Casualties and losses
1,700-2,000 killed or wounded [2] 4,000-5,000 killed or wounded [3]
14,000-26,000 captured [4]
45 guns captured [5]

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.

France Republic with mainland in Europe and numerous oversea territories

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

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.

Juan Carlos de Aréizaga Spanish general

Juan Carlos de Aréizaga was a Spanish general, who fought in the Peninsular War.




The Spanish campaign in the autumn of 1809 called for their armies to lunge at Madrid from both north and south. They called for assistance from Arthur Wellesley, Viscount Wellington, but after experiencing a lack of cooperation from the Spanish during the Talavera campaign the British general refused. The French were nearly surprised by the southern thrust. By 9 November, the southern army was within 35 miles of Madrid with only 7,000 French troops blocking them. Then Aréizaga lost his nerve and halted for three days. He then pressed on toward Madrid but ran into two French divisions and pulled back. Several days of fruitless countermarching found the thoroughly alerted French concentrated and moving to intercept the Spanish army. [6]

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington 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.

Battle of Talavera battle

The Battle of Talavera was fought just outside the town of Talavera de la Reina, Spain some 120 kilometres (75 mi) southwest of Madrid, during the Peninsular War. At Talavera, an Anglo-Spanish army under Sir Arthur Wellesley combined with a Spanish army under General Cuesta in operations against French-occupied Madrid. The French army withdrew at night after several of its attacks had been repulsed.

Spanish Army

Aréizaga commanded 51,000 men [7] in eight infantry and four cavalry divisions, with 60 cannon manned by 1,500 artillerists. Other authorities give the Spanish 60,000 [6] or 56,500 men [8]

Spanish infantry [8] [9]
Gaspar de Vigodet Spanish military officer and colonial governor

Gaspar de Vigodet (1747–1834) was a Spanish military officer with French roots who served as last Royalist Governor of Montevideo.

Pedro Agustín Girón Spanish general and politician

Pedro Agustín Girón y de Las Casas, 1st Duke of Ahumada, 4th Marquess of Amarilas, GE, OCIII, OSRP, LCSF (1778–1842) was a Spanish military officer and politician. The son of a general, he fought against the French during the French Revolutionary Wars. During the Napoleonic Wars he became a general officer and again fought the French. In later life he held military and political positions.

José Pascual de Zayas y Chacón Spanish general

José Pascual de Zayas y Chacón (1772–1827) was a Spanish divisional commander of great skill and daring and a leading Spanish Army figure in the Peninsular War. He is renowned for his initiative at the Battle of Albuera.

Manuel Alberto Freire de Andrade y Armijo, Spanish cavalry (5,800)
Cavalry Regiment El Rey

The Cavalry Regiment El Rey (Spanish: Regimiento de Caballería El Rey is the oldest cavalry regiment in the Spanish Army, distinguishing itself on several occasions during the Peninsular War. They are known bestn for there charge at the Battle of Talavera where they dealt the decissive blow against General Jean François Leval's German Division.

French Army

King Joseph led the French army in name only. Actual command over the 24,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry, 1,500 artillerists and 50 cannon [1] was exercised by Marshal Nicolas Soult. Two army corps, three cavalry divisions and the Central Reserve formed core of the army.

IV Corps Horace Sébastiani
V Corps Marshal Édouard Adolphe Casimir Joseph Mortier
Cavalry and Central Reserve


Cavalry action

On 18 November, one of the largest cavalry actions of the Peninsular War took place. Three of Freire's divisions, 4,000 horsemen, attempted to clear a route of retreat for the Spanish army. The French deployed with Paris's light cavalry in the front line and Milhaud's dragoons in the second line. Paris charged, broke the Spanish first line, and was checked when Freire brought up his reserves. At this juncture, Milhaud's dragoons attacked and drove the Spanish cavalry from the field. The French lost less than 100 men, while Spanish losses were in the hundreds, with 80 captured. [10]

William Napier writes of the cavalry action before the battle: "The Spaniards came on at a trot, and Sebastiani directed Paris, with a regiment of light cavalry and the Polish lancers, to turn and fall upon the right flank of the approaching squadrons, which being executed with great vigor, especially by the Poles, caused considerable confusion, which the Spanish general endeavored to remedy by closing to the assailed flank." [11]


West of Ocaña town, Aréizaga placed José Pascual de Zayas y Chacón's Vanguard and Rivas's cavalry. From Ocaña to the east, the Spanish commander aligned his center and right. The right flank, which hung in air, was held by Freire's remaining three cavalry divisions. From there to Ocaña, Luis Roberto de Lacy, Castejon, Pedro Agustín Girón and Vigodet held the front line. Their battalions were arranged in a double line. In reserve behind Castejon stood Jacome's men, Zerain supported Giron and Copons backed up Vigodet.

The Royal Guard and one brigade of Dessolles stood north of Ocaña, facing across a deep ravine. The next unit to the east was Louis Rey's brigade of Dessolles. Gazan and Girard of the V Corps, Leval and Werlé of IV Corps, and the cavalry completed the line to the east. Soult massed 30 cannons near Dessolles and the V Corps' positions. [12]


On 19 November, the massed battery pounded the Spanish center as Leval attacked Castejon and Werlé went in against Lacy's division. At first the Spanish swung their line back. Then, as the IV Corps halted to wait for artillery to be brought up, the two Spanish divisions surged forward into musket range and opened fire. The Dutch, Germans and Poles began to edge rearward. Soult ordered up Girard's division to support the wavering IV Corps battalions.

While this was going on, Milhaud's dragoons, supported by Woirgard and Paris, moved rapidly toward the vulnerable Spanish right flank. Screened by olive groves, they suddenly appeared in front of Freire's command. The French charged and soon routed the Spanish horsemen. Milhaud, Paris and Woirgard neatly wheeled their squadrons and tore into the unprotected flank of Lacy's infantry. Soult sent the French line forward. The massed battery savaged the Spanish line with renewed fury.

Faced by the threat of infantry pressing their front while cavalry slashed into their flank, the Spanish divisions collapsed one after another and bolted for the rear. At this crisis, Dessolles and the Royal Guard dashed across the ravine and burst into Ocaña, severing the Spanish left from their disintegrating center and right. As the Spanish army streamed away to the south, only Zayas's division remained intact to cover the retreat. Soult's cavalry pressed the pursuit and broke Zayas later in the day.


The French captured 14,000 Spaniards, 50 cannon, 30 flags and the entire baggage train. Another 4,000 were killed and wounded. French losses were 2,000 killed and wounded. Paris was killed and Girard wounded. [8] This catastrophe temporarily laid Spain open to French domination. The northern Spanish army was beaten a week later at the Battle of Alba de Tormes. The way was open for the French conquest of Andalusia.


  1. 1 2 3 Napier, p.249.
  2. Napier gives 1,700, p.250.
  3. Napier gives 5,000, p. 250.
  4. Gates, p. 203. Napier gives 26,000, p. 250.
  5. Napier, p.250.
  6. 1 2 Glover, p 115
  7. Chandler, p 319; Napier, p.249, gives 45,000 infantry, 7,000 cavalry.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Smith, p 335
  9. Zimmermann, p 25
  10. Zimmermann, p 22
  11. Napier, Vol II, pp. 248-249.
  12. Zimmermann, p 22-23


See also

Coordinates: 39°57′N3°30′W / 39.950°N 3.500°W / 39.950; -3.500

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