Joseph Bonaparte - John S. C. Abbott

The War in Spain Continued

In July of 1809 Joseph was in Madrid, with an army of about forty thousand men. The rest of the French army was widely dispersed. The Duke of Wellington thought this a favorable opportunity to make a rapid march and seize the Spanish capital. Collecting a force of eighty-five thousand troops, he pressed rapidly forward to Talavera, within two days' march of Madrid. Joseph, being informed of the approach of this formidable allied army, and that they were expecting still very considerable re-enforcements, resolved to advance and attack them before those new troops should arrive. By great exertions he collected about forty-five thousand veterans, and on the 27th of July found himself facing his vastly-outnumbering foes, very formidably posted among the groves and hills of Talavera. For two days the battle raged. It was fearfully destructive. The allied army lost between six and seven thousand men. The French between eight and nine thousand. The tall grass took fire, and, sweeping along like a prairie conflagration, fearfully burned many of the wounded. The Spaniards and Portuguese were easily dispersed. They seemed to care but little for the conflict, regarding themselves as the paid soldiers of England, fighting the battles of England. But the British troops fought with the determination and bravery which has ever characterized the men of that race.

At the close of the second day's fight the French troops drew off in good order, and encamped about three miles in the rear. Though unable to disperse the army of Wellington, Joseph had accomplished his purpose in so crippling the enemy as to arrest his farther advance, and thus to save Madrid. Joseph waited in his encampment for the arrival of Soult, Ney, and Mortier, who were hastening to his aid. Wellington, finding that he could place but very little reliance upon his Portuguese and Spanish allies, decided to retreat, abandoning his wounded to the protection of some Spanish troops whom he left as a rear-guard, who in turn abandoned the sufferers entirely and returned to Portugal.

The British complained bitterly of the lukewarmness and even treachery of their Spanish allies. Alison gives utterance to these complaints in saying:

"From the moment the English troops entered Spain, they had experienced the wide difference between the promises and the performance of the Spanish authorities. We have the authority of Wellington for the assertion that if the Junta of Truxillo had kept their contract for furnishing two hundred and forty thousand rations, the Allies would, on the night of the 27th of July, have slept in Madrid. But for the month which followed the battle of Talavera their distresses in this respect had indeed been excessive, and had reached a height which was altogether insupportable. Notwithstanding the most energetic remonstrances from Wellington, he had got hardly any supplies from the Spanish generals or au thorities from the time of his entering Spain. Cuesta had refused to lend him ninety mules to draw his artillery, though at the time he had several hundred in his army doing nothing. The troops of all arms were literally starving. During the month which followed the junction of the two armies, on the 22nd of July, they had not received ten days' bread. On many days they got only a little meat without salt, on others nothing at all. The cavalry and artillery horses had not received, in the same time, three deliveries of forage, and in consequence a thousand had died, and seven hundred were on the sick list.

"These privations were the more exasperating that, during the greater part of the time, the Spanish troops received their rations regularly, both for men and horses. The composition of the Spanish troops, and their conduct at Talavera and upon other occasions, was not such as to inspire the least confidence in their capability of resisting the attack of the French armies. The men, badly disciplined and with-out uniform, dispersed the moment they experienced any reverse, and permitted the whole weight of the contest to fall on the English soldiers, who had no similar means of escape. These causes had gradually produced an estrangement, and at length a positive animosity between the privates and officers of the two armies. An angry correspondence took place between their respective generals, which widened the breach."

A few skirmishes ensued between the contending parties until the 3rd of November, when Joseph, with thirty thousand men, encountered fifty-five thousand Spaniards. The odds in favor of the Spaniards was so great that they rushed vigorously upon the French. A battle of four hours ensued. The Spanish army was broken to pieces, dispersed, trampled under foot. Twenty thousand prisoners, fifty-five pieces of cannon, and the whole ammunition of the army were captured by the French.

"Wearied with collecting prisoners," says Alison, "the French at length merely took the arms from the fugitives, desiring them to go home, telling them that war was a trade which they were not fit for."

From this conflict Joseph returned in triumph to his capital. It seemed for a time that no more resistance could be offered, and that his government was firmly established. Wellington was driven back into Portugal, and loudly proclaimed that he could place no reliance upon the promises or the arms of the Spaniards or the Portuguese.

Napoleon had returned from the triumphant campaign of Wagram. Again he had shattered the coalition in the north, and was upon the pinnacle of his greatness. The total failure of Wellington's campaign had greatly disappointed the British people. The Common Council of London petitioned Parliament for an inquiry into the circumstances connected with this failure.

"Admitting the valor of Lord Wellington," they said in their address, "the petitioners can see no reason why any recompense should be bestowed on him for his military conduct. After a useless display of British valor, and a frightful carnage, that army, like the preceding one, was compelled to seek safety in a precipitous flight before an enemy who we were told had been conquered, abandoning many thousands of our wounded countrymen into the hands of the French. That calamity, like the others, has passed without any inquiry, and, as if their long-experienced impunity had put the servants of the Crown above the reach of justice, ministers have actually gone the length of advising your majesty to confer honorable distinctions on a general who has thus exhibited, with equal rashness and ostentation, nothing but a useless valor."

Still, after an angry debate, in which there was very strong opposition presented against carrying on the war in Spain, it was finally decided to prosecute hostilities against Napoleon in the Peninsula with renewed vigor. The advocates of the measure urged that there was no other point in Europe where they could gain a foothold to attack Napoleon, and that by protracting the war there, and drawing down the French armies, they might afford an opportunity for the Northern powers again to rise in a coalition against the new regime. These views were very strenuously urged in the House of Lords by Lord Wellesley, Lord Castlereagh, and Lord Liverpool. The vote stood sixty-five for the war, thirty-three against it. It was resolved to concentrate the whole force of England for a new campaign in the Peninsula. One hundred millions of dollars were voted to the navy, one hundred and five mil-lions to the army, and twenty-five millions for the ordnance. The British navy engaged in the enterprise consisted of a thousand and nineteen vessels of war. In addition to these forces, the English were to raise all the troops they could from Spain and Portugal, offering them the most liberal pay, and encouraging them to all those acts of guerrilla warfare for which they were remarkably adapted, and which might prove most annoying to the French communications.

Napoleon, to meet the emergency, had in the Peninsula an army of two hundred and eighty thousand men ready for service. Slowly the months of the year 1810 rolled away over that wretched land. There were battles on the plains and among the hills, sieges, bombardments, conflicts hand to hand in the blood-stained streets, outrages innumerable, pestilence, famine, conflagration, misery, death. The causes of the conflict were clearly defined and distinctly understood by the leading men on each side. Never was there a more momentous question to be decided by the fate of armies. England was fighting to perpetuate in England and on the Continent the old regime of aristocratic privilege. France was fighting to defend and maintain in France and among the other regenerated nations of Europe, the new regime of equal rights for all men. The intelligent community everywhere distinctly comprehended the nature of the conflict, and chose their sides. The unintelligent masses, often blinded by ignorance, deluded by fanaticism, or controlled by power, were bewildered, and swayed to and fro, as controlled by circumstances.

The year 1811 opened sadly upon this war deluged land. It would only lacerate the heart of the reader to give an honest recital of the miseries which were endured. No one can read with pleasure the account of these scenes of blood, misery, and death. Equal bravery and equal determination were displayed by the French and by the English, and, alas for man, there was probably much conscientiousness on both sides. There were religious men in each army, men who went from their knees in prayer into the battle. There were men who honestly believed that the interests of humanity required that the government of the nations should be in the hands of the rich and the noble. There were others who as truly believed that the old feudal system was a curse to the nations, and that a new era of reform was demanded, at whatever expense of treasure and blood. And thus these children of a common father, during the twelve long months of another year, contended with each other in the death-struggle upon more battle-fields than history can record.

Joseph, in view of this slaughter and this misery, was at times extremely wretched. He knew not what to do. Nothing can exceed the sadness of some of his letters to his brother. To abandon the conflict seemed like cowardice, and might prove the destruction of the popular cause all over Europe. To persevere was to perpetuate blood and misery. Seldom has any man been placed in a position of greater difficulty, but the integrity, the conscientiousness, and the humanity of the man were manifest in every word he uttered, in every deed he performed.

"My first duties," said Joseph, "are for Spain. I love France as my family, Spain as my religion. I am attached to the one by the affections of my heart, and to the other by my conscience."

Napoleon, wearied with these incessant wars, which were draining the treasure and the blood of France, thought that if he could connect himself by marriage with one of the ancient dynasties, he could thus bring himself into the acknowledged family of kings, and secure such an alliance as would prevent these incessant coalitions of all dynastic Europe against France. In March, 1810, the Emperor, having committed the greatest mistake of his life in the divorce of Josephine—a sin against God's law, though with him, at the time, a sin of ignorance and of good intentions—a mistake which he afterward bitterly deplored as the ultimate cause of his ruin—married Maria Louisa, the daughter of the Emperor of Austria. This union seemed to unite Austria with France in a permanent alliance, and for a time gave promise of securing the great blessing which Napoleon hoped to attain by it. On the 20th of March, 1811, Napoleon wrote to Joseph:

"MONSIEUR MON FRERE,—I hasten to announce to your Majesty that the Empress, my dear wife, has just been safely delivered of a prince, who at his birth received the title of the King of Rome. Your Majesty's constant affection towards me convinces me that you will share in the satisfaction which I feel at an event of such importance to my family and to the welfare of my subjects.

"This conviction is very agreeable to me. Your Majesty is aware of my attachment, and can not doubt the pleasure with which I seize this opportunity of repeating the assurance of the sincere esteem and tender friendship with which I am," etc.

On the same day, a few hours later, he wrote again to his brother giving a minute account of the accouchement, which was very severe. He closed this letter by saying:

"The babe is perfectly well. The Empress is as comfortable as could be expected. This evening, at eight o'clock, the infant will be privately baptized. As I do not intend the public christening to take place for the next six weeks, I shall intrust General Defrance, my equerry, who will be the bearer of this letter, with another in which I shall ask you to stand godfather to your nephew."

In May, Joseph, accompanied by a small retinue, visited Paris, to have a personal conference with his brother upon the affairs of Spain. He was much dissatisfied that the French marshals there were so independent of him in the conduct of their military operations. The result of the conversations which be held with his brother was, that he returned to Spain apparently satisfied. He entered Madrid on the 15th of July, in the midst of an immense con-course of people. The principal inhabitants of the city, in a long train of carriages, came out to meet him, a triumphal arch was constructed across the road, and joy seemed to beam from every countenance. He immediately consecrated himself with new ardor to the administration of the internal affairs of his realm.

There was very strong opposition manifested by the people of England against the Spanish war. There were many indications that the British Government might be forced, by the voice of the people, to relinquish the conflict. Animated by these hopes, Joseph announced his intention of calling a Spanish congress, in which the people should be fully represented, to confer upon the national interests. Wellington was thoroughly disheartened. His dispatches were full of bitter complaints against the incapacity of the British Government. Napoleon, in his address to the legislative body on the 18th of June, 1811, in the following terms alluded to the war in Spain:

"Since 1809 the greater part of the strong places in Spain have been taken, after memorable sieges, and the insurgents have been beaten in a great number of pitched battles. England has felt that the war is approaching a termination, and that intrigues and gold are no longer sufficient to nourish it. She has found herself, therefore, obliged to alter the nature of her assistance, and from an auxiliary she has become a principal. All her troops of the line have been sent to the Peninsula.

"English blood has, at length, flowed in torrents in several actions glorious to the French arms. This conflict with Carthage, which seemed as if it would be decided on fields, of battle on the ocean or beyond the. seas, will henceforth be decided on the plains of Spain. When England shall be exhausted, when she shall at last have felt the evils which for twenty years she has with so much cruelty poured upon the Continent, when half her families shall be in mourning, then shall a peal of thunder put an end to the affairs of the Peninsula, the destinies of her armies, and avenge Europe and Asia by finishing this second Punic War."

At the close of the year 1811 Napoleon stood upon the highest pinnacle of his power. Coalition after coalition had been shattered by his armies, and now he had not an avowed foe upon the Continent. The Emperor of Russia was allied to him by the ties of friendship; the Emperor of Austria by the ties of relationship. Other hostile nations had been too thoroughly vanquished to attempt to arise against him, or, by political regeneration, had been brought into sympathy with the new regime in France.

The English, aided by their resistless fleet, still held important positions in Portugal. They however had no foothold in Spain excepting at Cadiz, situated upon the island of Leon, upon the extreme southern point of the Peninsula. The usual population of the city of Cadiz was one hundred and fifty thousand. But this number had been increased by a hundred thousand strangers, who had thrown themselves into the place. About fifty thousand troops under Marmont were besieging the city. The garrison defending Cadiz consisted of about twenty thousand men, five thousand of whom were English soldiers. The British fleet was also in its harbor, with encouragement and supplies. Here and there predatory bands occasionally appeared, but this was nearly all the serious opposition which was then presented to the reign of Joseph. The French lines encompassing the city were thirty miles in length, extending from sea to sea.

To the great chagrin of England, the Spanish leaders in Cadiz convened a Congress, which formed a constitution, called the Constitution of 1812, far more radically democratic than even Napoleon could advocate for Spain. Wellington was exceedingly vexed, and complained bitterly of this conduct on the part of the men whose battle he assumed to be fighting. "The British Government were well aware," says Alison, "while democratic frenzy was thus reigning triumphant at Cadiz, from the dispatches of their ambassador there, the Honorable H. Wellesley, as well as from Wellington's information of the dangerous nature of the spirit which had been thus evolved, that they had a task of no ordinary difficulty to encounter in any attempt to moderate its transports."'

Joseph grew more and more disheartened. All his plans for the pacification of the country were baffled. On the 23rd of March, 1812, he wrote to his brother from Madrid as follows:

"SIRE,—When a year ago I sought the advice of your Majesty before coming back to Spain, you urged me to return. It is therefore that I am here. You had the kindness to say to me that I should always have the privilege of leaving the country if the hopes we had conceived should not be realized. In that case your Majesty assured me of an asylum in the south of the Empire, between which and Mortfontaine I could divide my residence.

"Events have disappointed my hopes. I have done no good, and I have no longer any hopes of doing any. I entreat, then, your Majesty to permit me to resign to his hands the crown of Spain, which he condescended to transmit to me four years ago. In accepting the crown of this country, I never had any other object in view than the happiness of this vast monarchy. It has not been in my power to accomplish it. I pray your Majesty to receive me as one of his subjects, and to believe that he will never have a more faithful servant than the friend whom nature has given him.

The resignation was not then accepted, and circumstances soon became such that Joseph felt that he could not with honor withdraw from the post he occupied.

The Spaniards looked with great distrust upon the Duke of Wellington, who was the embodiment of the principles of aristocracy, the more to be feared in consequence of his inflexible will. The English deemed the re-enthronement of Ferdinand VII. and his despotic sway essential to the success of their cause. The uncrowned King and his brother Don Carlos were living very sumptuously and contentedly, chasing foxes and hares at Valencay, and cutting down the park to build bonfires in celebration of Napoleon's victories.

The British Government, alarmed in view of the democratic spirit unexpectedly developed by a portion of the Spanish allies, sent a secret agent, Baron Rolli, a man of great sagacity, address, and intrepidity, to persuade Ferdinand to violate his pledge of honor, to escape from Valencsay, and place himself at the bead of the Spaniards who were in opposition to Joseph. It was hoped that this would awaken new enthusiasm on the part of the Church and the advocates of the old regime, and that it would check the spirit of ultra democracy which was threatening to sweep every thing before it.

The nearest approach to an honorable deed to which Ferdinand ever came, was in the very questionable act of revealing the plot to the French Government. Rolli was arrested and sent to Vincennes. The democratic leaders in Cadiz were so incensed against what Alison calls "the orderly spirit of aristocratic rule in England," that, burying their animosity against the French invasion, they almost welcomed those foreign armies, who bore every where upon their banners "Equal Rights for all Men." They opened secret negotiations with Joseph, offering to surrender Cadiz to the French troops, and to secure the entire submission of the whole peninsula to the government of Joseph if he would accept the radical Constitution of 1812 in place of the more moderate Republicanism of the Constitution of Bayonne. The hostility of the Spanish generals and soldiers to Wellington and the English troops was bitter and undisguised.

But more bloody scenes soon ensued. Napoleon, deeming the war in Spain virtually ended, had been induced to withdraw large numbers of his troops, and to embark in his fatal campaign to Moscow. Thus Russia became allied to England, and a new opportunity, under more favorable auspices, was afforded to renew the war in Spain. England concentrated her mightiest energies upon the Peninsula against the remnants of the French army which Napoleon had left there. The Emperor, with all his chosen troops, composing an army of over five hundred thousand men, was on the march thousands of miles toward the north. On the 9th of May, 1812, the Emperor left Paris, to place himself at the head of his troops in Dresden. The war in Spain was now urged by the British Government with renovated fury. The mind is wearied and the heart is sickened, in reading the recital of sieges, and battles, and outrages which make a humane man to exclaim, in anguish of spirit, "O Lord, how long! how long!" Equal ferocity was upon both sides. French, English, Spanish, and Portuguese soldiers, maddened by passion and inflamed with intoxicating drinks, perpetrated deeds which fiends could scarcely exceed. Tortosa, Tarragona, Mauresa, Saguntum, Valencia, Badajoz, Ciudad Rodrigo, and a score of other places, testified to the bravery, often the tiger-like ferocity, of the contending parties, and to the misery which man can inflict upon his brother. man.

Physical bravery is the cheapest and most vulgar of all earthly virtues. The vilest rabble gathered from the gutters of any city can, by a few months of military discipline and experience in the horrors of war, become so reckless of danger that bullets, shells, and grape-shot are as little regarded as snowflakes. Robber bands and piratic hordes will often fight with ferocity and desperation which can not be surpassed. It is the cause alone which can ennoble the heroism of the battle-field. In these terrific conflicts, especially when the French and the British troops were brought into contact, there often were exhibited all the energy and desperation of which human nature is capable.

As the Emperor set out on the Russian campaign, he invested Joseph with the command of the armies in Spain. These troops were widely dispersed, to protect different points in the kingdom. But few could be promptly rallied upon any one field of battle. The Emperor, burdened with the expense of his immense army, and far away amidst the wilds of Russia, could give but little attention to the affairs of Spain, and could send neither money nor supplies to his brother, who was so uneasily settled upon an impoverished throne. As days of darkness gathered around the Emperor, a sense of honor prevented Joseph from abandoning his post. His troops were everywhere in a state of great destitution and suffering. His humane heart would not allow him to wrest supplies from the people, who were often in a still greater state of poverty and want.

Battle of Malaga


Marshal Massena had entered Portugal with an army of seventy-five thousand men. Reduced by sickness and destitution, he was compelled to withdraw with but thirty-five thousand men. Thus the English army, no longer held in check, occupied Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz.

Three thousand men were left in garrison at Ciudad Rodrigo. Forty thousand men under Wellington besieged it. After opening two practicable breaches, Wellington summoned a surrender. The French general, Barrie, replied:

"His Majesty, the Emperor, has intrusted me with the command of Ciudad Rodrigo. I and my garrison are resolved to bury ourselves beneath the ruins."

The place was taken by assault, the British troops rushing into the breaches with courage which could not have been surpassed. The French, after losing half their number, were overpowered. The victorious British soldiers, forgetting that the inhabitants of the city were their allies, pillaged the houses and the shops, and committed every conceivable outrage upon the inhabitants. Sir Archibald Alison thus describes the scene:

"The churches were ransacked, the wine and spirit cellars pillaged, and brutal intoxication spread in every direction. Soon flames were seen bursting in several quarters. Some houses were burned to the ground, others already ignited. By degrees, however, the drunken men dropped down from excess of liquor, or fell asleep; and before morning a degree of order was restored."

Advancing from Ciudad Rodrigo, Wellington, at the head of a force then numbering sixty thousand men, laid siege to Badajoz, crossing the Guadiarra above and below the city. The garrison in the city consisted of but forty-five hundred combatants. The trenches were opened upon the night between the 17th and 18th of March. There was no more desperate fighting during all the wars of Napoleon than was witnessed within and around the walls of Badajoz. The British lost five thousand officers and men ere the city was captured. Again had the Spaniards bitter cause to mourn over the victory of those who called themselves their allies. As the British troops rushed into the streets of this Spanish city which they had professedly come to rescue from the government of Joseph Bonaparte, Alison says:

"Disorders and excesses of every sort prevailed, and the British soldiery showed, by their conduct after the storm, that they inherited their full share of the sins as well as the virtues of the children of Adam. The disgraceful national vice of intemperance, in particular, broke forth in its most frightful colors. All the wine shops and vaults were broken open and plundered. Pillage was universal. Every house was ransacked for valuables, spirits, or wine; and crowds of drunken soldiers for two days and nights thronged the streets, while the breaking open of doors and windows, the report of casual muskets, and the screams of despoiled citizens resounded on all sides."

The throne of Joseph was now enveloped in gloom. To add to his trouble and anguish of spirit, a dreadful famine afflicted Spain. But the British fleet, in undisputed command of the seas, could convey ample supplies to the army of Wellington, and British gold was lavished in keeping alive the flames of insurrection. Troops were landed at various points, and resistance to the French was encouraged by every means in the power of the British Government. At Madrid every morning there were found in the streets many dead bodies of those who had perished during the night. The French in the capital, animated by the benevolent spirit of Joseph, imposed upon themselves the severest sacrifices to succor the perishing. The situation of Joseph had become deplorable. The best troops were withdrawn for the Russian, campaign. Those which remained were starving, and without means of transport. A new government, under the protection of the English, was organized at Cadiz, and guerrilla bands were springing up in all directions.

Joseph had but about twenty thousand troops in the vicinity of Cadiz, with which force be could be but little more than a spectator of events as they should occur. Wellington had a highly-disciplined army of sixty thousand men, independent of the guerrilla bands whom he could summon to his aid.