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Bailén and a soggy Andalucia

Bailén is a small town in the Jaen province of Andalucia with a population of about 18,000. On a sodden Saturday morning it didn't look that interesting. We were there to check out another one in my series (a series of two and a half so far) of important Spanish battle sites.

You may remember that Napoleon was a pretty successful military commander and that in his brief time as Emperor of France (1804-1815) his Grande Armeé gave most of the European powers a good hammering. The French Army got the reputation of being invincible, unstoppable. Of all the European armies that might stop the French in their tracks one of the most unlikely was the Spanish but that's exactly what happened.

Napoleon had manged to install his brother on the Spanish throne and the Spaniards didn't like it. They were in open revolt and, what's more, they seemed determined not to fight fairly. The Spanish used what we now describe as guerilla tactics. It's a name that comes from the way the Spanish fought the French - little war. Napoleon decided that enough was enough and sent four columns into different parts of Spain to subdue the revolt. He reckoned that each column, which contained around 20,000 men, would be more than a match for any force the Spanish could raise. He was wrong.

The contingent that went South was the smallest. General Pierre Dupont had about 13,000 men under his command though he was later re-inforced by some 6,000 soldiers commanded by Dominique Vedel. General Francisco Castaños on the Spanish side had gathered some 34,000 soldiers. Castaños was the commander in chief but much of the actual battle strategy was seen through by the Swiss General Theodor von Reding who had, amongst his troops, a thousand Swiss and nearly 2,000 Irish soldiers.

The battle of Bailén took place in July 1808. The French were outnumbered in the first place and they made lots of tactical mistakes added to which the local poulation hindered French attempts to get hold of sufficient drinking water in the middle of a heatwave. Be that as it may, when the battle was over and the dust had settled the French surrendered and the Spanish had won.

The museum that we went to had wall boards that told the story well enough. We were the only visitors. There were a few dummies wearing uniforms, a model of the battlefield and videos taken at one of the re-enactment battles but if it was adequate it wasn't exactly exciting. The important thing though was that we went there. Another tick on the list.

By the way I have some tips should you ever decide to visit the area around Baeza, Jaen and Linares from Cartagena.

First of all get up early enough so that the four hour journey (plus obligatory lunch stop) gets you there before dusk - sightseeing at night is a bit duff. Do not get a punctured tyre only an hour from home as it will add significantly to the journey time. Finally, and this is very important, go at a time when it is not raining so heavily that your partner suggests that the best course of action would be to abandon your car and swim for your lives.


  1. Interesting, and particularly enjoyed the last paragraph! Particularly of interest to me because General José de San Martín is the great hero in Argentina whose tactical thinking in battle outwitted and overthrew the Spaniards thus paving the way for independence from Spain, and we were always taught at school that San Martín was taken to Spain as a small boy, and when he grew up joined the Spanish army, fighting with great distinction at Bailén. And I know nothing about Bailén, which you have now put right. Interesting that he fought for and against the same nation. Nice post.

  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.


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