It commenced on 27 January 1811, despite the fact that Gazan's infantry division of 6,000 men, which was escorting the siege-train, would not arrive until 3 February. The previous day, Soult had sent General Latour-Maubourg's six cavalry battalions across the Guadiana to blockade the fortress's northern approach.
Prelude to the siege
In order to draw some of the Allied forces away from Masséna and the Lines of Torres Vedras, Soult had led an expedition of 20,000 men into Extremadura with the aim of capturing the Spanish fortress at Badajoz.
Dividing his army into two contingents, he advanced into Extremadura via the two main passes leading from Andalusia into the Guadiana valley, with the intention of rejoining at Almendralejo. Although the columns commanded by Latour-Maubourg had been confronted by 2,500 Spanish and Portuguese cavalry near Usagre on 3 January 1811, it was only a screen covering the retreat beyond the Guadiana of a Spanish infantry division commanded by General Mendizabal. Latour-Maubourg was therefore able to take up his position near Almendralejo and await the arrival of Soult's second French column.
Siege of Olivenza
Not yet being able to besiege so strong a fortress as Badajoz because of his reduced force, Soult changed his original plans and sent his light cavalry under Brigadier General André Briche to take Mérida and leaving four squadrons of dragoons at Albuera to watch the garrison at Badajoz, he marched with the remainder of his army to invest Olivenza. Arriving on 11 January, Soult was confronted with a strongly garrisoned, but untenable, fortress. The heavy French artillery finally began to arrive on 19 January, and by 22 January, a poorly-repaired breach in the fortress's walls had been reopened. The garrison surrendered on 23 January, with over 4,000 Spanish troops from the Army of Extremadura taken captive.
Soult was now in an even more difficult position: although he had a large contingent of cavalry (4,000-strong), he needed to deploy two battalions to escort the prisoners taken at Olivenza back to French-held Seville, leaving him only 5,500 infantry. Moreover, although the siege-train had begun to arrive, Gazan's infantry division had not. Despite these problems, Soult decided to besiege Badajoz in hopes that Wellington would send reinforcements to the Spanish fortress and thereby reduce the Allied forces facing Masséna at the Lines of Torres Vedras.
Notes and references
- Gates 1986, p. 245.
- Oman 1911, p. 41.
- Oman 1911, p. 38.
- Glover 1974, p. 142.
- Oman 1911, pp. 31–32.
- Oman 1911, p. 32.
- Oman 1911, p. 35.
- Wellington had previously advised General Pedro Caro de La Romana, commander of the Spanish Army of Extremadura, either to destroy the fortification at Olivenza or to repair its defences and fully garrison it; La Romana in turn had instructed Mendizabal to slight the fortress, but Mendizabal ignored this order and instead reinforced the garrison with four infantry battalions.
- Oman 1911, pp. 36–37.
- Oman 1911, pp. 37–38.
- Napier, Sir William (1831). "History of the War in the Peninsula". Frederic Warne and Co. http://www.archive.org/details/historyofwarinpe03napiuoft. Retrieved 9 October 2007.
- Oman, Sir Charles (1911). "A History of the Peninsular War: Volume IV, December 1810 to December 1811". Greenhill Books. ISBN 978-1-85367-618-5.
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