Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo (1812)

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Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo
Part of the Peninsular War
Second Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo.jpg
British infantry storm the fortress at Ciudad Rodrigo during Wellington’s campaign in Spain.
Date7 to 20 January 1812
Location Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain
Result Allied victory
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Flag Portugal (1750).svg Portugal
Flag of France.svg French Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Viscount Wellington
Flag Portugal (1750).svg Luís do Rego Barreto
Flag of France.svg Jean Léonard Barrié
36 heavy cannon
153 cannon
Casualties and losses
318 dead,
1,378 wounded
529 dead or wounded,
1,471 captured

In the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, (720 January 1812) the Viscount Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese Army besieged the city's French garrison under General of Brigade Jean Léonard Barrié. After two breaches were blasted in the walls by British heavy artillery, the fortress was successfully stormed on the evening of 19 January 1812. After breaking into the city, British troops went on a rampage for several hours before order was restored. Wellington's army suffered casualties of about 1,700 men including two generals killed. Strategically, the fall of the fortress opened the northern gateway into French-dominated Spain from British-held Portugal. An earlier Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo occurred in 1810 when the French captured the city from Spanish forces.

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.

Anglo-Portuguese Army

The Anglo-Portuguese Army was the combined British and Portuguese army that participated in the Peninsular War, under the command of Arthur Wellesley. The Army is also referred to as the British-Portuguese Army and, in Portuguese, as the Exército Anglo-Luso or the Exército Anglo-Português.

Jean Léonard Barrié, was a French general of the Napoleonic era.


Preliminary operations

A map of the siege Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo (1812) map.jpg
A map of the siege

As part of his strategy in Spain, Napoleon ordered Marshal Auguste Marmont to send 10,000 troops to help Marshal Louis Suchet's forces capture Valencia and 4,000 more to reinforce the central reserve. When Wellington received news that Marmont's Army of Portugal sent forces eastward, he moved in bad snowstorm conditions, [1] on Ciudad Rodrigo and arrived in the area on 6 January, with Wellington surveying the approaches with the chief engineer Lt. Col. Fletcher CRE next morning. [2]

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 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 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.

Ciudad Rodrigo municipality in Castile and León, Spain

Ciudad Rodrigo is a small cathedral city in the province of Salamanca, in western Spain, with a population in 2016 of 12,896. It is also the seat of a judicial district.

Sir Richard Fletcher, 1st Baronet British Army officer

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Richard Fletcher, 1st Baronet was an engineer in the British Army known for his work on the Lines of Torres Vedras. He fought in the French Revolutionary Wars and Peninsular Wars, and was mentioned in dispatches a number of times, most notably for his actions at Talavera, Busaco, Badajoz and Vitoria. Fletcher was twice wounded in the line of duty before being killed in action at the Siege of San Sebastian.

Ciudad Rodrigo was a second class fortress with a 32-foot (9.8 m) high main wall built of "bad masonry, without flanks, and with weak parapets and narrow ramparts." The city being dominated by the 600-foot (180 m) high Grand Teson hill to the north, the French built a redoubt there. Barrié's 2,000-man garrison [1] was far too weak to properly man the defences. The French garrison included single battalions of the 34th Light and 113th Line Infantry Regiments, a platoon of sappers and only 167 artillerists to man 153 cannons.

The fortress was invested, and on the night of 8 January, the Light Division stormed and took the Grand Teson redoubt by surprise. [2] and began digging trenches to and positions for, the breaching batteries. Digging in the rocky soil at night caused a peculiar hazard. When a pickaxe struck a stone, the resulting spark drew accurate French fire. By 12 January the trenches to battery positions were complete and the batteries were being installed. [3] Wellington received a message concerning Marshal Marmont's movements and decided the siege must be undertaken rapidly. The Santa Cruz Convent, to the right, was stormed on 13 January by the KGL [4] and one company of the 60th. The defenders made a vigorous sortie at 11am on 14 January with 500 men, as the troops were being relieved, this sortie was repulsed, and that night an escalade was mounted against the San Francisco Convent, on the left, by men from the 40th Regiment of Foot which was successful, all French troops falling back inside the town walls. [3] The batteries, which opened fire at 4pm on 14 January, included thirty-four 24-lb and four 18-lb siege cannon. [1] Work began on the second parallel, to provide closer batteries and a safe covered route for assaulting troops. [3] In five days, the guns fired over 9,500 rounds and opened two effective breaches, one, called the great breach in a wall and a smaller one in an exposed tower. [5] Wellington ordered an assault for the night of 19 January.

Investment (military) Military term for surrounding an enemy position

Investment is the military process of surrounding an enemy fort with armed forces to prevent entry or escape. It serves both to cut communications with the outside world, and to prevent supplies and reinforcements from being introduced.

Kings German Legion military unit

The King's German Legion (KGL) was a British Army unit of mostly expatriate German personnel during the period 1803–16. The Legion achieved the distinction of being the only German force to fight without interruption against the French during the Napoleonic Wars.


Escalade is the act of scaling defensive walls or ramparts with the aid of ladders, and was a prominent feature of siege warfare in medieval times. It was one of the most direct options available for attacking a fortification, but was also one of the most dangerous.

The storm

Major-General Thomas Picton's 3rd Division was ordered to storm the greater breach on the northwest while Robert Craufurd's Light Division was sent against the lesser breach on the north. Diversionary attacks by Denis Pack's Portuguese brigade would probe the defences at the San Pelayo Gate on the east and across the Agueda River on the south. All told, Wellington planned to use 10,700 men in his assault.

Thomas Picton Welsh general who served in the British Army

Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton, a Welsh officer of the British Army, fought in a number of campaigns for Britain in the Napoleonic Wars. According to the historian Alessandro Barbero, Picton was "respected for his courage and feared for his irascible temperament". The Duke of Wellington called him "a rough foul-mouthed devil as ever lived", but found him capable.

3rd Division (United Kingdom) regular army division of the British Army

The 3rd Division is a regular army division of the British Army. It was created in 1809 by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, as part of the Anglo-Portuguese Army, for service in the Peninsular War, and was known as the Fighting 3rd under Sir Thomas Picton during the Napoleonic Wars. The division fought at the Battle of Waterloo, as well as during the Crimean War and the Second Boer War. As a result of bitter fighting in 1916, during the First World War, the division became referred to as the 3rd (Iron) Division, or the Iron Division or Ironsides. During the Second World War, the division fought in the Battle of France including a rearguard action during the Dunkirk Evacuation, and played a prominent role in the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944. The division was to have been part of a proposed Commonwealth Corps, formed for a planned invasion of Japan in 1945–46, and later served in the British Mandate of Palestine. During the Second World War, the insignia became the "pattern of three" — a black triangle trisected by an inverted red triangle, created by Bernard Montgomery to instil pride in his troops.

Robert Craufurd Scottish soldier

Major-General Robert Craufurd was a British soldier. After a military career which took him from India to the Netherlands, he was given command of the Light Division in the Napoleonic Peninsular War under the Duke of Wellington. Craufurd was a strict disciplinarian and somewhat prone to violent mood swings which earned him the nickname "Black Bob". He was mortally wounded storming the lesser breach in the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo on 19 January 1812 and died four days later.

Launched at 7 pm, the assault met determined resistance in the great breach. The men assaulting the small breach had less problems and managed to get through the wall and behind the defenders of the great breach, making further resistance hopeless, the assault was completely successful. [5] There had been two cannons embedded in the wall of the greater breach that caused most casualties in the storming. The 88th Connaught Rangers Regiment took one of the guns [6] while the 45th Nottinghamshire Regiment took the other. Allied losses in the assault were 195 killed and 916 wounded, although amongst the dead were Major-Generals Henry MacKinnon and Robert Craufurd. [6] The victory was somewhat marred when the British rank and file, who were upset by the 562 casualties suffered during the storming of the town, thoroughly sacked the city, despite the efforts of their officers and the fact the civilians were Spanish and therefore allies of the British. [1]

88th Regiment of Foot (Connaught Rangers)

The 88th Regiment of Foot was an infantry Regiment of the British Army, raised in 1793. Under the Childers Reforms it amalgamated with the 94th Regiment of Foot to form the Connaught Rangers in 1881.

Major-General Henry MacKinnon, was a British soldier. He commanded the 45th Regiment of Foot, 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot, and 88th Regiment of Foot in the Napoleonic Peninsular War under the Duke of Wellington. He was killed by the explosion of an enemy magazine during the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo on 19 January 1812.

Strategic consequences

The French garrison lost 529 killed and wounded, while the rest were captured. The French Army of Portugal lost its entire siege train among the 153 captured cannon. The rapid loss of Ciudad Rodrigo badly upset the calculations of Marmont who believed the town would hold for three weeks, which would give him enough time to concentrate a relief force at Salamanca. It fell in less than two weeks and Marmont, with his 32,000 troops, decided not to try to recapture it as he needed the troops to defend other towns and fortresses. [1]

Wellington received an earldom and a generous pension from the British. The Spanish made him Duque de Ciudad Rodrigo. [6]

The capture of Ciudad Rodrigo opened up the possibility of a northern invasion corridor from Portugal into Spain. It also allowed Wellington to proceed to Badajoz on the southern corridor, whose taking would be a much more bloody affair.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "The Sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo 1810 & 1812" (PDF).
  2. 1 2 Porter, Maj Gen Whitworth (1889). History of the Corps of Royal Engineers Vol I. Chatham: The Institution of Royal Engineers. pp. 280–281.
  3. 1 2 3 Porter, Maj Gen Whitworth (1889). History of the Corps of Royal Engineers Vol I. Chatham: The Institution of Royal Engineers. pp. 282–283.
  4. Beamish p 31
  5. 1 2 Porter, Maj Gen Whitworth (1889). History of the Corps of Royal Engineers Vol I. Chatham: The Institution of Royal Engineers. pp. 284–285.
  6. 1 2 3 Desmond Bowen. Heroic Option: The Irish in the British Army.