The battle of Tamames of 18 October 1809 was the first Spanish battlefield victory in the Peninsular War since Alcaniz (23 May 1809), and the most significant since Baylen, right at the start of the war. It was the only significant success during the Spanish Junta’s autumn campaign of 1809. This campaign involved two main armies – the Army of the Left, under the Duke Del Parque, whose job was to pull the French reserves away from Madrid, and the Army of La Mancha, which was expected to take advantage of this to make a dash for the Spanish capital. Del Parque had a large but not very experienced army to carry out his role. At its core was the 27,000 strong Army of Galicia, half of which was made up of the veterans who had served under La Romana, and the other half of new recruits. They were reinforced by 9,000 men from the Asturias, and 9,000 raw recruits raised around Ciudad Rodrigo by Del Parque. In theory he had 50,000 men, although only 40,000 of them were ever really available to him. At the start of October Del Parque had yet to join up with the Asturians, and did not feel that the levies from Leon were ready for combat, and so when he made his first move he took three Galician infantry divisions, 20,000 strong, 1,500 cavalry and eighteen guns. On 5 October he advanced from Ciudad Rodrigo to Tamames, and took up a strong position on the hills above the village.
The nearest French force was the weak 6th Corps at Salamanca, temporarily under the command of General Marchand. He had 12,000 infantry, 1,200 cavalry and fourteen guns, so was significantly outnumbered, but other French armies had won victories over much larger Spanish armies. On 17 October Marchand left Salamanca, hoping to catch the Spanish. The next afternoon, when he arrived at Tamames, Marchand found the Spanish arrayed in line of battle, ready to fight.
Del Parque had posted his army on the hill above Tamames, with Losada’s division on the right, the steepest part of the hill and La Carrera’s vanguard division on the left, the weakest part of the line, with Belveder’s division in reserve behind La Carrera. The cavalry, under the Prince of Anglona, was posted to the left of the line, guarding the left flank of the army. Marchand quickly realised that the Spanish left was the weakest part of the line and decided to send one infantry brigade (Maucune) and most of his cavalry to attack La Carrera, while a second infantry brigade (Marcognet) attacked the Spanish centre. His third brigade (Labassée) was held in reserve.
The problem with Marchand’s plan was that he did not make his attack on the Spanish left strong enough. Maucune’s brigade saw off the Spanish cavalry, and managed to break through La Carrera’s division, but then came up against the intact Spanish reserves. Belveder’s men opened up to left La Carrera’s division pass though it, and then closed up to face the French. Maucune was outnumbered by three to one on ground that was unsuited to cavalry, and his attack came to a halt.
When Maucune broke through La Carrera’s division, the French launched their attack on the Spanish right, but with much less success. Losada’s division held its ground, and the French column came to a halt when it was only three quarters of its way up the hill. After standing and taking fire for some time, the French turned and fled. Losada’s men, supported by Spanish light troops from Tamames, launched a counterattack, which forced the French back onto their reserves, and then pulled back into their original position on the hills. Seeing the defeat of the French left, Maucune abandoned his vulnerable position and pulled back from the hillside. The French had suffered 1,300 casualties, including 18 officers killed, and the 76th had lost its eagle. The Spanish had only lost 713 killed and wounded. Realising that the battle was lost, Marchand retreated back towards Salamanca, but then abandoned the city, and on 25 October Del Parque entered the city in triumph.
This was the only success during the Junta’s campaign. The Army of La Mancha failed to take advantage of a short lived chance to reach Madrid, and after some indecisive manuevering was destroyed at Ocaña on 19 November. When he discovered this, Del Parque was forced to abandon his successful campaign, and retreat back into the mountains. On the way he suffered a minor defeat at Alba de Tormes (28 November 1809), but a winter in the mountains would inflict far more casualties than the French, and by the spring of 1810 less than 20,000 men remained in the Army of the Left. Worse was to follow, for the defeat of the Army of La Mancha had left Andalusia almost undefended, and in the spring of 1810 the French invaded, capturing Seville and forcing the Spanish Junta to flee to Cadiz.
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