General Marie-François, comte Caffarelli, 1766-1849

Marie-Francois Caffarelli (1766-1849) was a French general who rose to command the Army of the North in Spain during the Peninsular War, but without great success.

Caffarelli served in the Sardinian army before the Revolution, but joined the French army in 1792.

He fought at Marengo as part of the Consular Guard.

In 1805 he was promoted to général de division, and he was present at Austerlitz. He also served Napoleon as an aide and as a diplomat.

In October 1810 he was given command of the Division of the Reserve of the Army of Spain.

He was later promoted to command the Army of the North, which had the task of securing the Biscay region and the main roads back to France. This was a difficult task, made worse by Wellington’s successful Salamanca campaign, and by the presence of a Royal Navy squadron along the coast.

The Royal Navy squadron was commanded by Captain Home Popham, who wanted to cooperate with the Spanish and harass the French. Wellington approved his plans, and hoped that they would prevent Caffarelli sending reinforcements to Marmont’s Army of Portugal.

In July-August 1812 the British and Spanish besieged Santander. Caffarelli moved to lift the siege, but on the night of 2-3 August, before he arrived the garrison broke through the Allied lines and joined his army. By then Caffarelli had learnt of Wellington’s victory at Salamanca, and couldn’t afford to remain in an exposed position, so he made no attempt to retake Santander, and instead retreated to his base at Vittoria. The Allies then attempted to take Bilbao, but this time Caffarelli was able to raise a large enough army to recapture it. He attacked on 27 August (second combat of Bilbao), and after three days of fighting recaptured the city.

In the aftermath of the failed British siege of Burgos, Caffarelli joined with the main French armies in the north of Spain, to push Wellington back. The arrival of his troops near Burgos was one of the factors that led Wellington to abandon the siege. Caffarelli’s troops took part in the combat of Venta del Pozo and Villadrigo (23 October 1812), but the French were unable to take full advantage of their superior numbers at this point, and the British were able to continue their retreat. A few days later Caffarelli returned to his own province, leaving Souham too weak to risk an attack on Wellington’s retreating army.

He lacked the resources and possibly the energy to cope with the dangers posed by the Spanish guerrillas, and was replaced by Clausel in January 1813.

After Napoleon’s first abdication in 1814 Caffarelli escorted the Emperor and the King of Rome to Vienna.

In 1815 he joined Napoleon once again, and in the aftermath of his second abdication he remained out of favour until 1813, when he was ennobled as a peer of France.

His brother General Louis Marie Joseph Maximilien Caffarelli was one of Napoleon’s closest associates during the Egyptian campaign, but died after having his arm amputated as a result of injuries suffered at the siege of Acre.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 June 2018), General Marie-François, comte Caffarelli, 1766-1849 ,

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