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The combat of Ocaña of 11 November 1809 was a minor French victory early in the Spanish Junta’s autumn campaign of 1809. The Spanish plan was for two armies to threaten Madrid, one from the west which would draw away the French reserves and then one from the south, which would attempt to capture the city. This second force, the Army of La Mancha under General Areizaga, needed to move quickly if it was to avoid being trapped by superior French forces, and at first Areizaga performed well, moving at an average rate of 15 miles per day from 3-8 November, reaching La Guardia, only thirty five miles south of Madrid on 8 November. Once there he briefly lost his nerve, possibly because he had discovered that Marshal Victor’s corps was at Toledo, from where it could threaten his flanks and rear, but on 11 November Areizaga began to move forwards again.
The small town of Ocaña was defended by five regiments of Milhaud’s dragoons and Sebastiani’s division of Polish infantry. Areizaga sent his entire cavalry force, 5,700 strong, supported by Zayas and the Vanguard division to push the French out of Ocaña. The French cavalry were outnumbered by three-to-one. The Spanish cavalry outflanked them on both wings, and forced them to retreat behind the six battalions of Polish infantry. The Spanish cavalry attempted to attack the squares, but soon realised that they needed to wait for their infantry to arrive. Zayas did not arrive until four in the afternoon, and the Spanish commanders decided to wait until the next day to launch their attack. Overnight the French evacuated the town and retreated to Aranjuez. The French and Poles suffered only 50 casualties during the fighting, while the Spanish cavalry suffered close to 200 casualties, suggesting that they had made at least one determined attack on the infantry squares.
On the following day Areizaga moved his main force to Ocaña, and considered attacking the French position at Aranjuez, but eventually decided that he needed to move further east to reduce the threat from Victor’s corps. The Spanish would make a half hearted attempt to cross the Tagus at Villamanrique, before retreating back towards Ocaña, where they would suffer a heavy defeat (battle of Ocaña, 19 November 1809).
|A History of the Peninsular War vol.3: September 1809-December 1810 - Ocana, Cadiz, Bussaco, Torres Vedras, Sir Charles Oman. Part three of Oman's classic history begins with the series of disasters that befell the Spanish in the autumn of 1809 and spring of 1810, starting with the crushing defeat at Ocana and ending with the French conquest of Andalusia and capture of Seville, then moves on to look at the third French invasion of Portugal, most famous for Wellington's defence of the Lines of Torres Vedras.|
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