Today on November 23, 1808, French Imperial forces decisively beat the rebellious Spanish army at the Battle of Tudela.
The Battle of Tudela was part of the Peninsular War between the French Empire and a coalition of Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain. The long and bloody war lasted six years, causing significant casualties on both sides. Tensions reached a boiling point on May 2, 1808, and Napoleon was determined to suppress the growing resistance quickly. After a series of initial failures, the emperor decided to leave Paris and take personal command over the army. His first objective was to recapture Madrid and force the rebel leaders to capitulate. While marching towards the Spanish capital, he became increasingly concerned about his flanks being exposed to enemy attack. The conflict had now escalated into large-scale guerrilla attacks, which were funded and supported by Great Britain.
Napoleon ordered his trusted friend, Marshal Jean Lannes, to march ahead and preemptively attack the Spanish army. The rebel forces were under the command of General Castanos. Lannes pursued the enemy with 31,000 soldiers and eventually intercepted with them near Tudela (located in the Navarre region of Spain). The Spanish lines were hastily assembled that morning and were ill-prepared to fight against Napoleon’s disciplined military machine. Lannes’ advanced with only one of his two columns and quickly exposed holes in the enemy line. The French heavy cavalry under Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes charged through the gaps, causing widespread panic.
The right flank collapsed first, which caused the entire army to start retreating. Lannes managed to kill over 4,000 Spanish soldiers while capturing another 3,000. Most of the army narrowly escaped the battlefield as the mountainous terrain prevented the cavalry from further pursuit. The Spanish commanders submitted to Napoleon during a formal surrender ceremony. The French victory at the Battle of Tudela established a clear path towards the Spanish capital. Madrid capitulated to Napoleon only a few weeks later on December 4, 1808. He subsequently began planning for the reconquest of Portugal.