Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo (1812)
|Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo|
|Part of the Peninsular War|
British infantry storm the fortress at Ciudad Rodrigo during Wellington’s campaign in Spain.
| United Kingdom
|Commanders and leaders|
|Viscount Wellington||Jean Léonard Barrié|
36 heavy cannon
|Casualties and losses|
|529 dead or wounded,
In the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, (7–20 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.
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 on Ciudad Rodrigo and invested the place on 8 January.
Ciudad Rodrigo was a second class fortress with a 32-foot high main wall built of "bad masonry, without flanks, and with weak parapets and narrow ramparts." The city being dominated by the 600-foot high Grand Teson hill to the north, the French built a redoubt there. Barrié's 2,000-man garrison 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.
On 8 January, the Light Division stormed and took the Grand Teson redoubt and began digging positions for the breaching batteries. Digging in the rocky soil at night caused a peculiar hazard. When a pickax struck a stone, the resulting spark drew accurate French fire. The Santa Cruz Convent was stormed on 13 January by the KGLand one company of the 60th; the San Francisco Convent fell on 14 January. The batteries, which opened fire on 14 January, included twenty-three 24-lb and four 18-lb siege cannon. In five days, they fired over 9,500 rounds and opened two effective breaches. Wellington ordered an assault for the night of 19 January.
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.
Launched at 7 pm, the assault was completely successful. There were two cannons embedded in the wall of the greater breach that caused the most casualties in the storming. The 88th Connaught Rangers Regiment took one of the guns 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. The victory was somewhat marred when the British rank and file thoroughly sacked the city, despite the efforts of their officers.
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 he had enough time to concentrate a relief force at Salamanca on 1 February. Ironically, Suchet successfully wound up the Siege of Valencia before Marmont's reinforcements arrived.
The capture of Ciudad Rodrigo opened up the 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.
- Beamish p 31
- Beamish, North Ludlow, History of the King’s German Legion Vol.2 Naval and Military Press (reprint 1997 ISBN 0-9522011-0-0)
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- Glover, Michael, The Peninsular War 1807-1814 Penguin, 1974.
- Smith, Digby, The Napoleonic Wars Data Book Greenhill, 1998.