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First Siege of Zaragoza
Part of the Peninsular War
Suchodolski Assault on Saragossa.jpg
Assault on the walls of Saragossa, by January Suchodolski
Date15 June – 14 August 1808
LocationZaragoza, Spain
Result Spanish victory
Commanders and leaders
9,500[1] 6,500
Casualties and losses
3,500 killed, wounded or captured[2] 5,000 killed, wounded or captured[2]

Map (1868) of the First Siege of Zaragoza

The First Siege of Zaragoza (also called Saragossa) was a bloody struggle in the Peninsular War (1807–1814). A French army under General Lefebvre-Desnouettes and subsequently commanded by General Jean-Antoine Verdier besieged, repeatedly stormed, and was repulsed from the Spanish city of Zaragoza in the summer of 1808.

Historical context

When the Dos de Mayo (2 May) uprisings took place in Spain in 1808, Napoleon at first thought that they were a series of isolated uprisings and despatched a number of small columns to quell them. In North Eastern Spain Marshall Bessières assigned General Lefebvre-Desnouettes to quell the revolt in Aragon. Eventually his column included 5,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry and two artillery batteries. Lefebvre quickly discovered, however, that the revolt was much more widespread than had been believed.

The Spanish side was led by General José de Palafox who was the second son in an aristocratic Spanish family. He was appointed Captain-General of Aragon in late May. He successfully raised a force of 7,500 troops but was handicapped by the lack of experience of these troops with only about 300 experienced cavalry and a few gunners.

Palafox made a few attempts to stop the French from even reaching Zaragoza. His elder brother the Marquis of Lazan attempted to stop them at Tudela on 8 June 1808 and again at Mallen on 13 June 1808. Palafox then sent out a force of 6,000 but was defeated again at Alagon on 14 June 1808 and Palafox himself was wounded. Finally the remaining Spanish forces retreated into Zaragoza.

Order of Battle

The below is the order of battle during the siege of the forces involved.[3]

French Army

  • Forces commanded by Général de Division Charles, Comte de Lefebvre-Desnouettes
  • 4 Mounted Squadrons (reserve)
  • 2nd Division, Corps of Observation of the Pyrenees
    • Division Headquarters — commanded by Général de Division Jean-Antoine Verdier
    • 5 Marching Squadrons (3rd, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 9th)
    • 3rd Infantry Regiment of the Vistula Legion (2 battalions)
    • 5th Infantry Regiment of the Portuguese Legion (2 battalions)
    • 14th Provisional Infantry Regiment (3 battalions)
    • 4th Marching Battalion
    • 7th Marching Battalion
    • Battalion from the National Guard of the Upper Pyrénées
    • Battalion from the National Guard of the Lower Pyrénées
    • 1 Unidentified Infantry Battalion
    • 36 Artillery Guns
  • Lefebvre-Desnousettes Division
    • Division Headquarters — commanded by Général de Division Charles, Comte de Lefebvre-Desnouettes
    • 11th Marching Squadron
    • 14th Infantry Regiment (2 battalions)
    • 15th Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
    • 44th Infantry Regiment (2 battalions)
    • 47th Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
    • 70th Infantry Regiment (1 battalion)
    • 1st Infantry Regiment of the Vistula Legion (2 battalions)
    • 1st Supplementary Regiment of the Légion de Réserve (2 battalions)
    • 2nd Supplementary Regiment of the Légion de Réserve (2 battalions)
    • 6th Marching Battalion
    • Caçadores of the Portuguese Legion (1/2 battalion)
    • 24 Artillery Guns

Spanish Garrison

The siege

In the first assault the French broke into the western part of the city and their allies Polish troops of Legia Nadwiślańska broke through the Gate of Carmen and took the monastery of the same name, while Polish cavalry broke through the Santa Engracia Gate and fought their way into the center of the city. However, due to complete lack of support from the French they were ordered to leave downtown and retreat (for which Polish cavalry commander colonel Jan Konopka literally called French troops "cowards").[4]

On 4 August the French began a heavy artillery bombardment and silenced the Spanish guns and made several breaches in the walls. At 2pm Verdier launched a massive assault with thirteen battalions in three columns and penetrated deep into Zaragoza. Verdier demanded Palafox's surrender to which he replied "War to the knife".[5]

In total the French had 3,500 casualties during the siege. Spanish losses of 2,000 were admitted at the time; however, a figure of 5,000 is more probable.[6]


In Polish history, the sieges of Zaragoza, as well as the earlier Haitian Revolution and later Battle of Somosierra, became cultural icons and are often brought up as examples of terrible political misuse of Polish soldiers by Napoleonic France. The Poles had allied with France and supported Napoleon to fight Prussia, Russia and Austria - the countries that partitioned Poland a few years earlier. Having lost their own country to invading powers, they objected to fight the nations or countries that were fighting for their own freedom too. Polish general Chłopicki commended col. Konopka for the decision to not fight Spanish civilians and giving up Zaragoza's downtown when the French couldn't break through and secure it (which basically ended the first siege). Chłopicki, who later lead the charge of Polish troops during the second siege of Zaragoza, also forbade his troops to fight Spanish civilians,[7] unless directly attacked (thus enormously upsetting French commanders, like gen. Foy). Basically, the Poles fought on the French side because Napoleonic France was the only warrant to the existence of the Duchy of Warsaw and Napoleon promised to eventually help resurrect Poland, but their hearts were on the Spaniard's side. This excruciating dilemma and fate of the Legiony Polskie has been the subject of poetry as well as fierce discussions in many Polish books and publications since the beginning of 19th century.

The siege was portrayed in the 1950 Spanish film Agustina of Aragon.

See also


  1. Charles J. Esdaile in The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars by Gregory Fremont-Barnes (main editor) (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006) 871.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Charles J. Esdaile in The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars by Gregory Fremont-Barnes (main editor) (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006) 872.
  3. Smith, p. 265.
  4. Dobiecki W., "Colonel's letter to gen. Tanski in memoirs of Legion's Cavalry 1808-1812" (Polish: "Pismo pułkownika do ś.p. generała Kazimierza Tańskiego jako pamiętnik o pułku jazdy Legionów 1808-1812"), printed in "The Times Monthly, 1859, vol.15" (Polish: "Czas. Dodatek miesięczny", 1859, t.XV")
  5. "Guerra y cuchillo", which words later went on the back of the medal issued to the defenders of Zaragoza
  6. this section based on Rickard, J (17 January 2008), First siege of Saragossa, 15 June-14 August 1808
  7. Foy Maximilien-Sébastien, "History of the Peninsular War under Napoleon" (French: "Histoire de la guerre de la Péninsule sous Napoléon, précédée d'un tableau politique et militaire des puissances belligérantes, par le général Foy"), Paris 1827

External links

Coordinates: 41°39′00″N 0°53′00″E / 41.65°N 0.88333°E / 41.65; 0.88333

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