Teodoro Reding was a Swiss general who entered Spanish service before the French invasion of 1808. He was largely responsible for the first Spanish victory during the uprising, at Baylen on 19 July 1808, a victory that encouraged resistance to Napoleon in Spain and across Europe.
At the start of the Spanish uprising Reding was appointed to command a division in the army of Andalusia under General Castaños. This army was opposed by a French army under General Dupont, which had crossed the mountains from Madrid, and then on 7 June 1808 had defeated a Spanish army at Alcolea, before moving on to sack Cordova.
As the Spanish army approached, Dupont withdrew from Cordova, and took up a new position on the Guadalquiver River, stretched out from Andujar to Mengibar. Castaños believed that the French army was concentrated at Andujar at the west of the line, and so decided to split his army into three. His own column would conduct a holding operation at Andujar, a second column would attack at Villa Nueva, and a third column, under General Reding, would attack at Mengibar, seize the ferry there and advance to Baylen, blocking Dupont’s line of retreat.
Eventually this was exactly what happened, but to a certain extent the Spanish success was due to a combination of luck and poor French leadership. The French army was actually much bigger than Castaños believed, and was not concentrated at Andujar. In fact the French had 6,000 men under General Vedel at Mengibar and Baylen
On 14 July Reding launched his attack against the French at Mengibar, pushing them back across the river, but following no further. The French responded by moving another 3,000 men to Baylen. On 15 July Reding made his first attack across the river, but discovered that he was facing an entire infantry division rather than the scattered outposts he had expected to face, and retreated back across the river. On the same day Castaños attacked Dupont at Andujar. Dupont rather panicked, and called for help from Vedel. Reding’s poor showing on 15 July convinced Vedel that there were only weak Spanish forces at Mengibar, and so he moved all but two battalions of his division to support Dupont.
On 16 July Castaños repeated his attack at Andujar, once again without success, but Reding’s attack at Mengibar was a complete success. The French retreated back to Baylen, and then on the next morning moved even further off to La Carolina, in the belief that Reding was attempting to slip past him to block the mountain passes.
At this point the Spanish were in a very vulnerable position. Dupont had most of his army at Andujar. He could have attacked either Castaños or Reding and defeated half of the Spanish army before the other half could interfere, but instead he split his own army in half, and sent 6,000 men under General Vedel to Baylen. When he reached Baylen, Vedel discovered that the rest of the French army had moved on the La Carolina, and decided to follow them.
The next morning found the French split in two, and Baylen undefended. Reding had now been reinforced, and had 17,000 men in his force. He prepared to assault Baylen, but found the place empty. On the night of 18 July he camped around Baylen, with the intention of marching west to attack Dupont in the rear.
On the night of 18 July Dupont finally abandoned his position at Andujar, with the intention of reunited his army. Instead he found Reding’s army camped across the road to Baylen. This was Reding’s moment of glory. On the morning of 19 July the French launched a series of desperate attacks on the Spanish lines, each time only used part of their available forces. After one final attack just after noon, the French were forced to request a ceasefire, and opened surrender talks. On the next morning Dupont signed the capitulation of Baylen, and for the first time one of Napoleon’s armies marched into captivity.
In October 1808 the Central Junta appointed Reding to take command of all the Granadan troops in the Army of Andalusia, and take them to join the Catalans besieging Barcelona. This force of 15,000 men left Granada on 8 October, by 22 October had only reached Murcia, and so did not reach Barcelona until November. By this point General Vives had been appointed Captain-General of Catalonia. Vives was slightly more active that his predecessor, but even he only made two attempts to tighten the siege, moving to the Llobregat River close to the city on 6 November, and pushing in the last French outposts outside the city on 26 November.
By now a relief force under General St. Cyr was on its way from France. Vives remained inactive outside Barcelona while St. Cyr besieged Rosas, missing a great opportunity to block his progress in the coastal mountains. Only after St. Cyr had bypassed Gerona did Vives finally detach some men from his army, sending a division under Reding along the main road towards Gerona. Reding reached Granollers, and then paused.
On 15 December St. Cyr emerged from the mountains onto the main road. Now finally Vives left the lines outside Barcelona, joining Reding with another brigade. The combined force now contained 9,000 men. On 16 December St. Cyr attacked Vives and Reding at Cardadeu, and broke through the Spanish army. When news of this defeat reached the Spanish force outside Barcelona it withdrew from the siege lines and took up a new position on the west bank of the Llobregat River, west of the city.
While Vives escaped to the coast, Reding remained with the army, and was eventually able to restore some order. While St. Cyr completed his march into Barcelona, Reding managed to rejoin the Spanish forces on the Llobregat. This was not a strong position, and Reding was in favour of retreated back to the next line of mountains, but when he asked Vives for his permission to move the captain-general told him to defend the Llobregat unless he felt he could not do so, effectively passing the buck back to Reding.
In response Reding decided to stand and fight, but as he only made this decision on the night of 20-21 December it didn’t really have any significance, for on the morning of 21 December St. Cyr attacked the Spanish in their positions at Molins de Rey, and forced them to retreat back towards Tarragona.
The Junta now lost patience with Vives, and promoted Reding to take command of the army of Catalonia. Having raised the siege of Barcelona, St. Cyr was not ready to risk attacking Tarragona, and so he occupied the plains around Barcelona, giving Reding time to rebuild his army.
This encouraged Reding to plan yet another in the long sequence of over-ambitious attempts to encircle French armies, ironically encouraged by his own success at Baylen. He split his army into two, posting the left wing at Igualada under General Castro, and retaining the right wing under his own command at Tarragona. The plan was to outflank the right wing of the French and attack them division by division.
This plan could only have worked if St. Cyr had been as ineffective as Dupont had been, but he was a far better general that his unfortunate colleague. Once it was clear that the Spanish force had been split, he concentrated three of his four divisions and attacked Castro at Igualada (17-18 February 1809). After a short combat the Spanish left wing was dispersed, and St. Cyr turns south, aiming to join with his fourth division to destroy Reding’s part of the Spanish army.
When he learnt of the defeat at Igualada, Reding decided to move north to aid Castro. Over the next few days the two armies swapped positions, and by 24 February St. Cyr, with two divisions, was between Reding and his base at Tarragona.
On the evening of 24 February Reding began a night march, which brought his force of just under 12,000 men to Valls by the morning of 25 February. There he found Souham’s division defending the town, which was located a little to the east of the River Francoli. As the Spanish crossed the river, Souham formed his army up into two lines on the plains north of the town. The battle of Valls began with the Spanish slowly pushing Souham back to the town. By noon Reding’s entire army was across the river, and he could have slipped away to Tarragona, or attacked Souham’s badly outnumbered troops. Instead he chose to rest his men, possibly to allow his rearguard to catch up but more likely because they had just carried out a night march followed by a battle.
This delay was fatal. Soon after the fighting died down, St. Cyr arrived at the head of a force of cavalry. Believing that strong reinforcements must have arrived, Reding decided to pull back onto the hills on west bank of the river to fight a defensive battle. This gave St. Cyr’s second division time to reach Valls. Just after four the French launched a classic revolutionary wars attack, in four brigade strong columns. The Spanish line held its nerve until the French infantry were within a hundred yards, and then broke and fled.
Reding responded by leading a cavalry charge against the French right. After early success, the Spanish cavalry were soon overwhelmed. Reding himself only escaped after suffered three sabre wounds. He was able to make his way off the battlefield and back to Tarragona, but he died of his wounds in April.