The Capitulation of Bailén according to an Eyewitness of the Battle
Transcription by: Juan A. Patrón Sandoval
Translated by Caroline Miley
This relates to an anonymous six-page manuscript, whose original is in the possession of D. Francisco Cano Trigo, who got it from the hands of his grandfather. He found it inside a book in a house at 26 Calle Real de San Fernando, in the former Isla de León, where it seems that some Spanish officers were lodged during the Peninsular War.
The document in question describes the true circumstances which resulted in the humiliating capitulation of the French general Pierre Antoine Dupont before the Spanish general Francisco Javier Castaños, after finally being defeated at the celebrated battle of Bailén. Although it was a memorable battle, which has been the subject of numerous studies, the publication of this document will doubtless contribute some details not devoid of interest.
What follows is a literal transcription of the document, eliminating the contractions and correcting the grammar (orthography, accents and punctuation) of the original text to make it easier to read and understand.
Seville, 30 July 1808
On the 19th we gave battle, the most lively and bloody that I have seen. Dupont’s Division, which amounted to about 12,000 men, wanted to retreat from the city of Andújar before being caught between two fires, which was our plan, but his efforts were too late. He withdrew precipitately at 8 in the evening and arrived in the vicinity of Bailén at 2 in the morning, at which hour Reding’s and Coupigni’s divisions started to get under way to pour from Bailén and attack Dupont at Andújar, while the other two, Lapeña’s and Jones’, attacked him before the river. Dupont’s unexpected march surprised our troops at Bailén, but as soon as daylight enabled them to make out objects, our artillery began to make such havoc of the enemy columns that it stopped them, and obliged him to turn around his vanguard, consisting of 1,200 men, with two pieces of artillery that 4 or 5 shots of ours dismounted, and so Reding’s and Coupigni’s troops were deployed in battle.
The enemy’s plan was to reunite Dupont’s Division with another 9,000 men of General Vedel’s, that were on the Guarroman, two more leagues above Bailén. To do so, they made three general attacks and some other particular ones at several points where they might be able to break our line; but they could not do this anywhere, in spite of the intrepidity with which they attacked, using fine tactics; they had 2,200 dead and some 400 wounded. By 12 o’clock they were already exhausted, and a capitulation was being discussed, when the two divisions that had been before Andújar arrived behind the enemy’s rear, which, knowing of the precipitate wihdrawal of the enemy from the town, got on the march at dawn to pursue and attack them, where they reached them; the troops had hardly got in sight of the enemy when they fired 4 cannon shots in the air, to warn our divisions at Bailén. The enemy gave up its aggression and surrendered, seeing itself between two fires without any way of escaping.
This happened so effectively because they were so terrified that they rushed out officers of their General Staff, to ask for capitulation to one or another division of our army, and of course the shelling stopped. Villoutreys, the Emperor’s senior aide-de-camp, came to talk, to know what capitulation would be granted. He was told that if they did not give in at discretion they would be put to the sword. He came back a second time with General Marescot, the most famous engineer in Europe, to persuade Castaños of the harshness of the capitulation that was proposed, but General Lapeña and the Assistant Quartermaster-General replied that he could not go ahead and speak with Castaños, since it would not introduce any subject other than that of the present conversation, and produce nothing but a useless waste of time, and that the last orders given were to continue the attack. They could return to their camp with knowledge which would not admit of any other discussion, since they had come with full powers to sign the capitulation. They returned at last, offering that it would not take more time for the plenipotentiary to arrive, to extend the powers and return to treat.
This reply was not purely a threat, since Lapeña’s and Jones’ troops had indeed already been given the order to attack Dupont. They had taken up the attack position because Vedel’s Division, which was at Guarroman, not having been part of the sacred contract of suspension of hostilities while the discussion lasted, had moved on Bailén, taking the two battalions of Jaén prisoner, with two artillery pieces. These did not resist, rigorously observing the terms of the truce. At last General Dupont, seeing that he had no remedy but to capitulate for his life, sent General Chabert, at 3 in the afternoon, with full powers to sign the capitulation, ordering General Vedel to give back both the battalions and the artillery pieces which had been so vilely taken prisoner, and which shortly returned to occupy the point at Guarroman which they had left.
At this juncture Castaños received a paper intercepted on the march, that two French officers brought from Madrid, which contained the order from the Duke of Rovigo (General Savary) to Dupont, ordering him to reunite his division with Vedel’s. He was to leave a regular detachment in the passes of the Sierra Morena, and move with forced marches to rejoin the entire force, with the French troops from Madrid, to oppose the Army of Galicia, relinquishing territory as far as the Andalucías. The information could not have been more timely at this point.
As soon as the plenipotentiary Chabert arrived, accompanied by General Marescot as a witness to the capitulation that was about to take place, the Emperor’s senior aide-de-camp and other senior aides-de-camp began to deal with the capitulation of Dupont and his division, which had been locked up; but Castaños said that the capitulation had to include Vedel’s division and all the French troops from La Mancha to the interior of Andalucía. They resisted this proposal because Vedel had not been in the combat and was in a position to attack or retire at will, with no-one to hinder him. After some argument, Castaños, to get the session concluded, said that because General Marescot (*), whom he particularly knew from the French campaign, was there as a witness and gave his word of honour to reveal no secrets that he let him in on, if, after being given some information, he was of the opinion that Castaños should agree to only Dupont’s division capitulating, he would agree to it, but it would not be at discretion. Then he privately gave him the Duke of Rovigo’s letter to read. In conclusion he told Marescot that in his opinion, he would be failing in his most sacred duties if he did not insist on Vedel’s division capitulating as he required. It was this, then, that gave some grace to Dupont’s troops. They capitualted on the terms that they would all be prisoners of war, laying down their arms; only the officers would keep their swords, on their word of honour, and the soldiers their knapsacks; that Vedel’s División would give up and deposit its arms, artillery and munitions, which would be returned at the time of its embarkation at Rota, from where another división would go to Rochefort. Dupont’s division as prisoners, exchanging men according to proportion, and Vedel’s free.
(*) Marescot, who was Inspector General of Engineers, went to Madrid accompanied by our Brigadier of Engineers Giraldo, passing from Cádiz to the Campo of Gibraltar. They arrived at Dupont’s division befor the attack on Córdoba and had nothing to do with this operation.
So it was decided, they signed the treaties and already the Andalucías are free of the French, Napoleon’s famous eagles being in our power, with about 7,000 muskets, some 30 artillery pieces, etc… and making their way to Rota are some 15,000 French. Among them are 19 generals, prisoners of war from Dupont’s division, three others having died in various encounters. These people’s pride has yielded up to the final humiliation of 8,000 men laying down their arms, among them the famous Corps of Cuirassiers, another of the Imperial Marine Guard, another of the Guard of París and another of the gendarmerie, selected from among all the other Infantry and Dragoons, which are also very good but which I am not mentioning. Three imperial eagles, a standard, Reding’s and Preux’ four flags, their breastplates and numerous other selected helmets and sabres have come to Seville to be a trophy at the great tomb of San Fernando, to whom the celebrated Castaños dedicated the battle of Bailén, which is nothing but a glorious triumph of our arms.
It did not seem to be the work of men. The artillery fired its shot as though by hand and when the enemy believed that we battered them with forty pieces, only ten had fired; they were so terrified of the guns that they did not stop to cry out. In truth, we couldn’t imagine it being such a good decision by them to dismount fourteen pieces; the artillerymen stayed at their posts with such firmness that they were stabbed by the enemy cavalry, having to defend themselves with machetes. It is worth relating that a Texas artilleryman, having killed a cuirassier, took his bag and seeing that it was full of silver, took it to present it to General Reding. Enemy corpses covered the battlefield to twenty paces from our line; it can be said that not a shot was wasted, the soldiers suspending fire in their operations to keep their power for decisive point-blank range. So the artillery wreaked horrible destruction and in the nine hours of battle there was not a moment’s doubt of victory. The Walloon Battalion, the Regiment of Military Orders and the Tercios of Texas did prodigies, the military engineers distinguished themselves greatly and it’s not necessary to weigh up the firmness and valour of our troops, who distinguished themselves and were covered in immortal glory, having easily won Napoleon’s imperial eagles, whose triumph no nation can count except the Spanish heroes.
It only remains to say that Dupont’s Division fought with all possible advantages:
1st of having surprised our troops as to the time of beginning.
2nd of having had more artillery.
3rd of its vantage point, because it gained it beforehand when we had withdrawn our advance and were entering in column by the Royal Road.
4th of having more combatants, because they consisted of 12,000 men and our two divisions, although composed of a total of 14,000 men, had to detach a considerable corps to keep watch on Vedel’s division, which was at the rear of our line.
5th of the quality of the troops, because the enemy’s were well seasoned and in good condition, while most of ours were under fire for the first time and consisted of very inexperienced, although disciplined, civilians.
6th in short, it is always the one who attacks who is attacked.
I come back to saying that it was all a prodigy which did not seem to be the work of men.
We were secure of the position of the Sierra Morena. At Manzanares there were 550 French cavalry with some 300 sick, who were all included in the capitulation, so that the land from Manzanares to the ports of Andalucía could be counted as free and cleared of enemy.
And how will they be satisfied now to insult the worthy Castaños in those vile terms, that in bestial ignorance they dared to profane the noblest, wisest and most heroic, so worthy a Spaniard. He not only saved the Andalucías, but wasn’t it perhaps that the memorable Battle of Bailén was enough to cut short all the plans of the tyrant of Europe? Enough of this, they are not worthy but that Castaños should leave them alone and bid farewell to the absurdity of their ignorant and foolish whims. It is not necessary for Castaños to command an army to be the good soldier he has always been, he did not have to prove his valour and patriotism and so on, what they are worth will become known. Then, these feeble spirits’ tears and desperation will confess, albeit late, that greed for frivolous booty is very despicable when one is dealing with military ideals and very coarse plans that don’t belong in thick heads.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2007