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Peninsular War

The War Continues

The Spanish rose in revolt throughout the country. When the insurrectionists captured (July 23) a French force dispatched to seize Seville, King Joseph evacuated Madrid (Aug. 1) and withdrew beyond the Ebro. Another French force was repelled by José de Palafox in his heroic defense of Zaragoza (June–Aug.). In Portugal, where revolt had also broken out, a British expeditionary force under Arthur Wellesley (later duke of Wellington) landed in Aug., 1808, and defeated Junot at Vimeiro (Aug. 21). Cut off from Joseph's army, Junot negotiated a convention at Cintra (Aug. 30), surrendering Lisbon in return for repatriation of his troops by British ships.

With Sir John Moore as commander in chief, the British invaded Spain, thus beginning a long series of seesaw campaigns. Napoleon hastened to Spain, stormed Madrid (Dec. 3, 1808), had Marshal Lannes lay siege to Zaragoza, and ordered Marshal Soult to pursue Moore, who had retreated into Galicia. Soult was stalled long enough at A Coruña (Jan. 16, 1809) to permit the British to embark. Zaragoza, which Palafox had held for two months at a huge cost in lives, fell in Feb., 1809. In April, Wellesley arrived in Lisbon to take charge of the British and Portuguese forces there. He drove the French out of Portugal, invaded Spain, and with the help of a Spanish army defeated the French under Joseph at Talavera (July 27–28).

Driven back into Portugal by André Masséna at Bussaco (Sept., 1810), Wellesley retired behind a strong fortified line centered at Torres Vedras, which Masséna's forces attempted to penetrate (Oct.–Mar., 1811). Lacking supplies, Masséna retreated into Spain (Mar.–Apr., 1811); meanwhile Soult had marched north from Cádiz to join Masséna, but their junction was prevented by Wellesley and William Carr Beresford at Fuentes de Oñoro and at Albuera (May, 1811). Nevertheless, the French controlled all of Spain in 1811, with the exception of the numerous guerrilla bands operating out of the mountains, which continuously sapped French forces. There were atrocities on both sides.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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