Battle of Valencia (1808)

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Battle of Valencia
Part of the Peninsular War
El Crit del Palleter.jpg
El Crit del Palleter by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1884): "Yo, Vicent Doménech, un pobre palleter, li declare la guerra a Napoleó. ¡Vixca Ferran VII i mort als traïdors!"(I, Vicent Doménech, poor baker though I be, hereby declare war on Napoleon. Long live Ferdinand VII and death to traitors!)
Date26–28 June 1808
Location Valencia, Spain
Result Spanish victory
Belligerents
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg Spain Flag of France.svg French Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg Conde de Cervellón
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg Felipe Augusto de Saint-Marcq
Bon Adrien Jeannot de Moncey
Strength
1,500 regulars,
6,500 militia,
11,000 civilians
Total: 19,000
9,000 regulars [1]
Casualties and losses
1,100 dead or wounded [1]

The First Battle of Valencia was an attack on the Spanish city of Valencia on 26 June 1808, early in the Peninsular War. Marshal Moncey's French Imperial troops failed to take the city by storm and retreated upon Madrid, leaving much of eastern Spain unconquered and beyond the reach of Napoleon.

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.

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.

Madrid Capital of Spain

Madrid is the capital of Spain and the largest municipality in both the Community of Madrid and Spain as a whole. 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), smaller than only 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).

Contents

Rebellion

By the summer of 1808 large parts of Spain had rebelled against the French invaders, but Napoleon believed that he was facing a series of minor insurrections. Accordingly, he ordered a number of small columns to be sent out from Madrid to deal with the rebels.

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.

Marshal Moncey was given a column of 9,000 men to restore order in Valencia. Moncey had a choice of routes. The longer slow route led via Almansa, while the shorter quicker route cut across mountains. Moncey shared Napoleon’s belief that he was facing a local insurrection, and chose to take the quicker mountain route.

The French were faced by a much wider revolt against their occupation of Spain. The Valencian Junta had a force of 7,000 regular troops and a much larger number of levies and volunteers with which to oppose the French. The commander of the Spanish force, the Conde de Cervellon, expected Moncey to take the easier route, and so left the mountain passes almost undefended. Moncey was able to sweep aside small Spanish forces at the River Cabriel (21 June) and the Cabrillas defile (24 June), arrived outside Valencia on 24 June.

The Arrival at Valencia

The city was not entirely undefended. Three battalions of regular troops, supported by 7,000 Valencian levies, all under the command of Don José Caro, a naval officer, were defending a position at San Onofre, four miles outside the city. Moncey was forced to spend most of 27 June fighting this force, eventually forcing it to retreat back into the city.

Valencia was not defended by modern fortifications. Instead, the city was surrounded by a wet moat and its medieval walls. However, the surrounding area was very flat, and the Spanish were able to flood it, forcing Moncey to concentrate his attack on a limited number of gates on the southern side of the city. The defenders outnumbered the French. There were around 20,000 armed men in Valencia, of whom around 1,500 were regulars and 6,500 levies with at least a little training. They also had a number of artillery guns, which were well placed to protect the gates. The gates were also protected by barricades built up over the previous few days.

Moncey was not expecting the Spanish to put up a serious fight at Valencia. On 28 June he ordered two brigades to attack the city, one against the gate of San José and one against the gate of Quarte. Both attacks failed, although the French did reach the front of the barricades. Moncey then attempted to use his field artillery to bombard the Spanish defences, but his guns were soon silenced by the Spanish guns within the city.

Moncey then ordered a second assault, this time against three gates (San José, Quarte and Santa Lucia). This attack was also beaten off, with higher casualties than the first. Moncey simply did not have enough men to capture Valencia when faced with such determined resistance. The French had not expected to be assaulting a defended city, so Moncey’s column contained no siege guns.

Moncey's Failure

After the failure of this second assault, Moncey realised that the situation was hopeless. He was also aware that the Spanish army that he had bypassed by crossing the mountains would be approaching. He decided to abandon the expedition to Valencia, and move back towards Madrid. This time he decided to take the Almanza road. There was always the chance that this would produce an open battle, which the French were confident they would win. In the event the Spanish moved to defend the mountain passes, believed that the French would return by their original road, and the two armies missed each other again.

The Outcome

Estimates of the French losses at Valencia vary wildly, from as low as 300 up to 2,000. They were probably nearer 1,100, with 800 wounded and 300 dead. Moncey’s failure in front of Valencia was the first indication that the Spanish would prove to be very determined defenders of fortified positions. It was soon overshadowed by the disastrous French defeat at Baylen on 19 July, which saw a French army under General Dupont defeated in open battle, but it played just as important a role in ending any chance of a quick French victory in Spain.

Notes

  1. 1 2 Gates, p. 57

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References

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