Following a point made by Dean I have been looking more closely at Napoleon's correspondence for the end of July 1808. I find that I had failed to note the significance of his change of address from Bayonne to Bordeaux. On going to Bayonne at the beginning of events he announced that he was intending to visit Spain and after Bailen he made a point of writing to both Clarke and Joseph that the event made it now impossible for him to go to Spain but what I missed is that he had already left and was heading back to Paris via the south-west of France.
My source is The confidential correspondence of Napoleon Bonaparte with his brother Joseph vol 1; (http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433069330409;view=1up;seq=14) which is an English translation.
Napoleon was directing operations from Bayonne up till July 21st though the delay in transmission between Bayonne and Madrid was causing problems. At this point, Bessieres had won a battle at Medina de Rio Seco, Moncey had failed to take Valencia and had retreated and communication with Dupont at Andujar had been lost for some days. \in this position, Napoleon decided that he could leave the Spanish border and leave the affairs of Spain in the hands of Joseph and Savary.
From Bayonne July 21st, he wrote "I start tonight for Pau"
He wrote from Tarbes July 23, Auch 24th, Toulouse 25th
From Pau, July 28, he replied to a question from Joseph about the command:
"It is you who command, I have already told you so; I will say so in my general orders. Savary acknowledges it in his reports to the Chief of Staff , when he says that he shall not move without your orders..” Later in the same letter he wrote, “The military movements of Savary make me shrug my shoulders; he makes nothing but false moves.”
From Agen July 30th “It is inconceivable that after reaching San Clemente, Marshal Moncey should have retired upon Ocana. The conduct of this officer is inconceivable.His movement has been unfavourable to all parties, but especially to general Dupont, since the provinces of Murcia and of Valencia cease to be threatened.”
I shall be at Rochefort on the 3rd and probably on the 7th or 8th at Nantes.
From Bordeaux July 31st he wrote a letter of which the second line is often quoted, but not always in context.
I have received your letters of the 24th, 25th, and 26th. The style of your letter of the 24th does not please me. To die is not your business, but to live and to conquer, which you are doing , and shall do.
I shall find in Spain the Pillars of Hercules, but not the limits of my powers
Troops and succours of every description are on their way towards you. Your forces are more by one-third than are necessary, if they are well managed. Excepting the preposterous retreat of Moncey from San Clemente upon Ocana, and his deplorable council of war, I am well content with my troops.
Savary is a man of intelligence and of courage, who has erred in his general arrangements because he has not been used to command in chief, but who, nevertheless, is stronger than any of those whom you have about you. Caulaincourt did what was perfectly right at Cuenza. The city was pillaged: this is one of the rights of war, since it was captured while the defenders were still in arms. Russia has recognised you; the letter announcing it has been despatched to Count Stroganoff. On reaching Paris I shall learn that Austria has done the same. Your position may be painful as king, but, as a general, it is brilliant. There is only one thing to fear: take care not to impair the spirit of the army – not to sacrifice it to the Spaniards. No measures are to be kept with ruffians who assassinate our wounded, and commit every kind of horror; the way in which they are treated is quite right. I have told you already, and I repeat it, since the glorious victory of Medina de Rio Seco, which so promptly settled the question of Spain, Marshal Bessieres is absolute master of the North. I am glad to see that you have not sent Morlot’s division to Marshal Bessieres, as was suggested. You must support Dupont. Make yourself easy as to the result. I am not surprise at what has happened; if I had not expected it, should I have sent 150,000 men into Spain, and raised two conscriptions, and spent 80 millions? I would rather have lost a battle than have had to read Moncey’s report. My health is good. I reached Bordeaux this morning. I am going to Rochefort.”
So, get this clear, having launched his armies into Spain to put Joseph on the throne and having completely underestimated the scale of the opposition he has now left for France leaving his non-military brother and a general of division, in whom he does not seem to have a lot of confidence, in charge. His only practical instruction is to recommend that the Spanish should be severely punished and to commend the pillaging of the cities. Can someone explain to me how these are the actions of a responsible commander?
Next day he got the news of Bailen - the news that punctured the bubble.