The Battle of Bailén was contested in 1808 between the Spanish Army of Andalusia, led by Generals Francisco Castaños and Theodor von Reding, and the Imperial French Army's II corps d'observation de la Gironde under General Pierre Dupont de l'Étang. The heaviest fighting took place near Bailén (sometimes anglicized Baylen), a village by the Guadalquivir river in the Jaén province of southern Spain.
In June 1808, in the midst of widespread uprisings against the French occupation of Spain, Napoleon assembled a number of flying columns to pacify Spain's major centres of resistance. The Emperor ordered Dupont to force his way south through Andalusia to Cádiz, which harboured Admiral François Rosily's squadron, confident that with 20,000 men the general would topple any Spanish opposition he met. Events proved otherwise; Dupont found the invasion of Andalusia's hostile countryside more than his small corps could accomplish and withdrew from Córdoba in July, retracing his steps to the north of the province to await reinforcements. Meanwhile, General Castaños, commanding the Spanish field army at San Roque, and General von Reding, Governor of Málaga, travelled to Seville to negotiate with the powerful Seville Junta—a patriotic assembly committed to resisting the French incursions—and to turn the province's combined forces against the French.
Dupont's failure to leave Andalusia proved disastrous. Between 16 and 19 July, Spanish forces converged on the French positions stretched out along villages on the Guadalquivir and attacked at several points, forcing the confused French defenders to shift their divisions this way and that. With Castaños pinning Dupont downstream at Andújar, Reding successfully forced the river at Mengibar and seized Bailén, interposing himself between the two wings of the French army. Caught between Castaños and Reding, Dupont attempted vainly to break through the Spanish line at Bailén in three bloody and desperate charges, losing more than 2,500 men.
His counterattacks defeated, Dupont called for an armistice and was compelled to sign the Convention of Andújar which stipulated the surrender of almost 18,000 men, making Bailén the worst disaster and capitulation of the Peninsular War, and the first major defeat of Napoleon's Grande Armée. When news of the catastrophe reached French military authorities in occupied Madrid, the French commanders ordered a general retreat to the Ebro, abandoning much of central Spain. France's enemies in Spain and throughout Europe cheered at this first check to the hitherto unbeatable Imperial armies—tales of Spanish heroism inspired Austria and showed the force of nation-wide resistance to Napoleon, setting in motion the rise of the Fifth Coalition against France.
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