Siege of Cuidad Rodrigo

Siege of Cuidad Rodrigo 7-20 January 1812 marks the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo in the Peninsular War when General Viscount Wellington’s 40,000 British & Portuguese overcame Brigadier General Jean Barrié’s 1,800 French. 

General Viscount Wellington : The Future Duke of Wellington

In 1812, Napoleon demanded all marshals in Spain contribute to the Valencian campaign. 

Napoleon’s Marshal Auguste Marmont, who was based in northern Portugal, marched east with 10,00 troops. He left a token force behind to defend Ciudad Rodrigo. 

View of the Castle. CC BY-SA 3.0

Learning this, Wellington rapidly marched on Ciudad Rodrigo arriving on the 6th of January.

Ciudad Rodrigo had 2 walls. The 32 ft (9.8m) inner wall had bad masonry, weak parapets & narrow ramparts. Marmont left only 1,552 infantry (34e Légère, 133e Ligne). 

For comparison, the old Spanish garrison was 5,000 men. 168 gunners

crewed 153 guns. The 600 ft (180m) Grand Teson hill north of the city dominated the area. Barrié built a redoubt there. He left 55 men. At 20:00, 8 January, 8 British & 2 Portuguese companies seized it. In 20 minutes, they lost 3 dead & captured 48 French.

A map of the siege

Next day, the siege began. Wellington planned to install a 33 gun battery on the hill. This would cover a new trench to Little Teson, a smaller hill closer to the city. There, a new battery would breach Ciudad Rodrigo’s walls. He would storm the city. 

His engineers worked day & night. 

The cold was terrible. 

Rocky ground impeded progress. In the night, pickaxes often struck sparks. French gunners fired on these lights. On 12 January, the Grand Teson battery was completed.

The homage tower as seen from the City Walls (east). CC BY-SA 3.0

Next day, Wellington heard Marmont was returning. In fact, he was unaware of the siege until 15 January. On 13 January, 300 men (60th Foot, King’s German Legion) stormed Santa Cruz Convent, southwest of Little Teson.

They seized it, losing 37 dead/wounded. A 27-gun battery was built. On 14 January, 500 French sallied forth & retook the convent. Before they could spike the guns, Graham’s division drove them back inside. The battery opened fire. That night, the 40th Foot seized San Francisco Convent, east of Little Teson.

Over 5 days, British guns fired 9,500 rounds. 2 breaches were opened – a large one in the city’s northwest corner & a small one in the north wall. Wellington planned the assault for 19 January.

10,700 men took part.

Pack’s brigade would feint an attack on the east wall, drawing off defenders. Craufurd’s Light Division would take the small breach. Picton’s 3rd Division would take the great breach. Campbell’s brigade would scale the west outer wall. He’d move around the inner wall & attack the outer main breach from behind.

The attack began at 19:00. The 83rd Foot provided covering fire. Col. O’Toole led the 2nd Caçadores & 83rd Light Company over the south wall. They seized a battery trained on Santa Cruz. The 5th & 77th Foot marched from Santa Cruz & toward the outer west wall.

An excited officer let out a battle cry. Alerted, the French fired on them. Despite this, the party scaled the wall, followed by the 83rd & 94th. Campbell reached the main breach. Due to his small numbers, he couldn’t go further.

The City Walls, built by Ferdinand II of León in the 12th century.

As Picton’s division reached the main breach, a French magazine exploded. It killed or wounded 150. 2 French guns opened fire. Despite heavy losses, the 3rd overcame the breach. Due to a mistiming, Picton attacked before Craufurd.

As a result, Craufurd’s men rushed forward, ahead of the engineers meant to clear the way. Not knowing the small breach’s location, they halted. The French inflicted heavy losses.

Finally, the Light Division located & seized the breach.

With the city lost, Barrié surrendered to Lt. Gurwood of the 52nd’s Light Company. The assault cost Wellington 105 dead, 394 wounded. Despite the city population being Spanish, his enraged men brutally sacked it.

They refused all orders to stop. Their conduct worsened when a large store of rum was located & consumed. The deprivations lasted all night before Wellington regained control of them.

He’d lost 250 dead, 1,100 wounded, including Craufurd. 


Shot through the lung, he died on the 24th. Barrié lost 529 dead/wounded, the rest captive, & all his guns & stores.

Marmont believed Ciudad Rodrigo would hold for 3 weeks. He’d hoped to concentrate a relief force at that time.

As it was, he did not try to retake it.

Wellington was raised to an Earldom. The Spanish ennobled him as “Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo.” In conclusion, the way was now open for the British to Badajoz, gateway to Spain.

Siege of Cuidad Rodrigo Written by Garrett Anderson

Siege of Cuidad Rodrigo

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