The duke of Wellington and the command of the Spanish Army.
|List of Figures Preface Acknowledgements|
1 An Unhappy Alliance:1
2 The Making of a Generalissimo:27
3 Protest and Retreat, September-November 1812:59
4 An Interlude at Cádiz: 85
5 From Cádiz to Vitoria, January-June 1813:108
6 Crisis in the Pyrenees, July-December 1813:136
7 Victory and Retribution, January-June 1814: 166
Appendix 1: Organisation of the Spanish Army, November 1812 :182
Appendix 2: Organisation of the Spanish Army, July 1813:186
Notes and References:190
|Charles J. Esdaile:The Making of a Generalissimo:|
From the earliest days of the Peninsular War, British observers found a solution to the disorder that characterised the Spanish war in the appointment of a commander-in-chief. As early as 20 August 1808, Lord Castlereagh wrote to Sir Hew Dalrymple, “It appears to me that if there were means of making the whole Spanish force now in arms unite under a common head . . . so large a body might be assembled against the French . . . position as to render it untenable. It is my wish therefore that upon the subject you would take the earliest means of consulting General Castaños and other leading military men.”1 The fragmentation of the Spanish army into a number of independent provincial forces had be en a reflection of the heterogeneous leadership of the patriot cause. Once a new government had been formed, the British supposed that it would proceed to the appointment of a commander-in-chief.2 Such hopes raid no attention to the circumstances that had produced the Spanish uprising. Though directed against the French, it had also been a political revolution of which the army had been a major casualty. Many senior officers had be en murdered or imprisoned, whilst the important role which it had enjoyed in the governance of Bourbon Spain had been brought to an end. From May 1808 onwards, political authority lay in the hands of a civilian oligarchy whose attitude towards the military had always been one of jealousy and resentment.
Having once succeeded in subordinating the general s to their Control, Spain’s new rulers were most unwilling to restore them to any measure of their former influence. Justification for such a course was found in claims that in the last resort the authority of a general must be founded upon the bayonets of his troops rather than upon the consent of the people. It therefore followed that the war effort must inevitably suffer should the generals be in Charge, for the Spaniards would be fighting for tyranny rather than liberty, and thus have no reason to sacrifice their all.3 Suspicion of the military was inflamed still further by the activities of General Cuesta, who not only erected a personal dictatorship in Old Castile, but also attempted to defy the Junta Central.4 Though Cuesta's actions had been repudiated by his fellow generals, they had nevertheless caused great alarm. Cuesta was eventually forced to surrender, but he had still dealt a serious blow to the chances of the appointment of a commander-in-chief.5 Even supposing that the political climate had been more favourable, a further obstacle existed in personal jealousies that divided the Spanish generalato. In addition to men who had already held high rank before 1808 such as Castaños and Cuesta, it now contained commanders such as Blake and Palafox who had risen to prominence as a direct result of the uprising. The tension that was certain to be engendered by such a situation was inflamed by events that had taken place during the first campaigns of the war. Blake and Cuesta, for example, were bitterly divided by the mutual recriminations that followed their defeat at Medina de Río Seco (14 July 1808). As is suggested by the failure of a council of war that was convened in Madrid for this very purpose on 5 September 1808, it was futile to expect the military to settle upon a common candidate for the supreme command. 6Nor did matters improve thereafter. As Henry Wellesley complained in March 1811:
“There is not a general officer in the service of Spain whose character has not in some way or other suffered in the opinion of his countrymen. by the events of the revolution. One is objected to because he took the constitutional oath at Bayonne, another because he accompanied Joseph Bonaparte to Madrid, a third for having been present when that city capitulated, a fourth because he was a member of the Central Junta or of the [first] Regency. All these generals have their partisans and followers in the different armies so that if one of them happens to be appointed to a command he is certain of finding two thirds of his army prepared to counteract his views, to undermine his reputation, and, by every species of intrigue and misrepresentation, either to compel him to resign his command, or to conduct himself in such a manner as to render his removal . . . a matter of necessity.”7
The general’s inability to offer a coherent alternative left the Junta Central free to take the control of strategy into its own hands. Rather than appointing a single general to command the motley collection of provincial forces that were assembling on the Ebro to oppose the impending French counter-attack, it decreed the formation of “a general military junta which shall . . . propose the plans most appropriate for ridding the country of our perfidious enemies”.8 The British were furious. As Lord William Bentinck, who had been sent to liase with the Junta Central, complained:
“The Spanish government have come to the strange resolution of making the command separate and independent of each other. You will observe by a comparison of the strength of these divisions with that of the French army that each is very inferior in effective force to that of the French army concentrated before them . . . In consequence, the power of uniting and combining these different bodies . . . to be lodged in some one person became indispensable for the salvation of the whole . . . The non-appointment of General Castaños as commander-in-chief is the more extraordinary as he happens to be without a competitor . . . It is also much to be desired in as much as his various great and good qualities ensure the utmost harmony.”9
In accordance with these views Bentinck submitted a formal protest to the president of the Junta Central, the Conde de Floridablanca:
“Where is the man of common sense who hesitates about the necessity of a supreme junta which shall direct all the various and dispersed resources and energies of the state into one centre of union and movement? All the juntas are willingly sacrificing their own personal consequence for this important national object. If this is indispensable in the civil government, are not the reasons for a supreme authority in the army even more striking? If . . . all these different corps were each of them superior to the French army . . . not much danger would arise . . . But . . . the most able distribution and the most hearty co-operation of the whole force will not be more than sufficient for the expulsion of the French. Let the Spanish troops consider themselves invincible. But let not the Spanish government be deluded by the same opinion …”10
“The public opinion expects such an appointment. The same good sense that has universally required a head to the government will also require a head to the army. It may be right for the supreme council to nominate the commanders of the different corps. But one person upon the spot can be entrusted with the disposition of the different parts of the army according to existing circumstances. The French will not refer their operations to a Spanish council of war where all the different commanders mar quietly agree upon what is best to be done. In war much is uncertain and the movements of the French will be quick. They can only be met by the same quickness, combination and union . . . The commander-in-chief alone can make the decisions..”.
A1though it is hard to see how anything could have saved the Spaniards from Napoleon's retribution, there is no doubt that the absence of a commander-in-chief made a material contribution to the subsequent débácle. Yet the Junta Central still did not appoint a generalísimo for fear that such a move would lead to the downfall of the revolution. Cut off from the provinces of Old Castile, Galicia and Asturias by the advance of the French armies, the Junta had delegated its authority in those provinces to the Marqués de la Romana, who had replaced Blake as commander of the Army of the Left. However, the Marquess was bitterly opposed to the Spanish revolution, which he regarded as an outbreak of jacobinism.11 Practically his first action had been to refuse to recognise the new government.12 In May 1809 he overthrew the Junta of Asturias, and would have gone on to dispose of that of Galicia as well had not the Junta Central forestalled him by calling him to Seville to fill a vacancy in its ranks.13 If the government's intention in doing so had been to stifle La Romana by implicating him in its actions, then it was to be sorely disappointed. In October 1809 the Marquess published a manifesto in which he denounced the Junta Central and demanded the formation of a regency, of which he undoubtedly envisaged himself as the president.14 Nor was La Romana the only general who was plotting against the government. Throughout 1809 the Conde de Montijo and Francisco Palafox (the younger brother of the defender of Zaragoza) were implicated in a series of conspiracies whose aim was the overthrow of the Junta Central. In January 1810 their efforts finally bore fruit in a rebellion in Seville that brake out in the wake of its evacuation by the government.15 A1though the success of the conspirators was overtaken by the fall of Seville and the Junta Central' s surrender of power into the hands of a regency in Cádiz, the new régime showed no disposition to accept the principle of a commander-in-chief. Indeed, in June 1810 a permanent general staff was established with the specific purpose of providing the government with the means to implement the control of strategy to which it aspired.16