The combat of Miajadas of 21 March 1809 was the second of two minor Spanish victories during their retreat from the Tagus during the Medellin campaign. At the start of March General Cuesta’s Army of Estremadura had been guarding the crossing points over the Tagus at Almaraz, on the main road from Madrid to Lisbon, but on 17 March Marshal Victor had defeated the Spanish right wing at Meza de Ibor. Cuesta had been forced to retreat back across the mountains towards the Guadiana River. He had briefly considered making a stand at the pass of Santa Cruz, but had then decided to continue south into the Guadiana valley, where he was expected to find reinforcements. His cavalry, under General Henestrosa, was left behind to form a rearguard.
The French pursuit was led by General Lasalle’s cavalry. By now the French had learnt that they did not need to take the Spanish cavalry all that seriously – it had not performed well in the early battles of the Peninsular War, but for once that French confidence was misplaced. The first setback came on 20 March at Berrocal, when the Spanish charged the leading French squadron causing 25 casualties before withdrawing, but this did not reduce French confidence.
On the next day the French were approaching the village of Miajadas, where Cuesta had left the highroad to Badajoz to head towards Medellin and his reinforcements. Henestrosa realised that a gap had opened up between the leading French regiment, the 10th Chasseurs, and the rest of Lasalle’s cavalry. He decided to set a trap for the French. A small force of cavalry was posted on the road in front of Miajadas, in the expectation that the French would attack on sight. Two complete cavalry regiments were hidden on each side of the road, ready to attack the French from the rear.
The cavalry regiments chosen, the Infante Regiment and the Almanza Regiment, had been part of the “hostage corps”, the Spanish army that had been sent to the Baltic while France and Spain were allies. This would be their first taste of combat since returning to Spain, and they would perform well. Colonel Subervie, commanding the 10th Chasseurs, fell straight into the Spanish trap, charging the small cavalry force outside Miajadas. The two Spanish regiments then launched their attacks, and inflicted heavy casualties on the French cavalry, before they were able to escape from the trap. The Spanish then retreated before they could be trapped by the rest of Lasalle’s cavalry.
The Chasseurs lost 63 killed and 70 wounded in the brief combat. Lasalle was forced to advance rather more carefully over the next few days, giving Cuesta time to join up with some of his reinforcements at Albuquerque. This gave him the confidence to attack Victor’s army at Medellin on 28 March, in what soon turned into one of the most costly Spanish defeats of the Peninsular War. While Cuesta’s poor tactics on the day must take much of the blame for this retreat, the two cavalry squadrons that had fought at Miajadas broke and fled at a crucial moment, sadly restoring the poor reputation of the Spanish cavalry.
|A History of the Peninsular War vol.2: Jan.-Sept. 1809 - From the Battle of Corunna to the end of the Talavera Campaign, Sir Charles Oman. Part two of Oman's classic history falls into two broad sections. The first half of the book looks at the period between the British evacuation from Corunna and the arrival of Wellesley in Portugal for the second time, five months when the Spanish fought alone, while the second half looks at Wellesley's campaign in the north of Portugal and his first campaign in Spain. One of the classic works of military history.|
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