Will Anyone Defend General Cuesta?

May 2018
491
Michigan
#1
General Gregorio de la Cuesta is often criticized for his conduct in the Peninsular War. Even The Spanish Ulcer by David Gates, probably the most objective work on the Peninsular War, calls out Cuesta for his gross incompetence during the Talavera campaign (although Gates does give credit to Cuesta in a few instances where he acted bravely or even smartly).

The Spanish army often gets a bad rap during the Pensinular War, and even though it is largely justified (the Spanish Army was, in all honesty, quite bad) they still managed to win at Bailen and a few other battles without any British troops.

I personally wouldn't defend Cuesta beyond what Gates did in The Spanish Ulcer, but I am wondering if anyone has a different perspective. I could see someone defending him on the following lines:

-By fate, he is often compared next to Wellington, who was IMO the greatest general of his generation. Pretty much anyone but a Napoleon, Suvurov or Davout will come out wanting if compared to him: even very good generals like Massena and Soult lost much of their military reputations to Wellington.

-Are the Anglo sources from which we study the Peninsular War giving a fair shake to Cuesta?

-What was Cuesta's miltiary record before the Peninsular War? Although scarce on details, it looks like he successfully commanded units in the early French Revolutionary Wars.
 
Feb 2016
4,127
Japan
#2
The Spanish Army has been neglected for years and best troops and Generals had been sent from Spain to Germany to assist the French.

Cuesta was not without talent. He’d won victories against the French... 1793-95... I can’t remember the names but they were divisional size actions.

By the time he was expected to lead a Spanish army it was in a very degraded state... his biggest issue seems to have been his poor quality forces and his bad attitude towards British allies. This might have been xenophobia or natural antipathy and suspicion of a former enemy. His conduct before and after Talavera was very poor...

He was loathed by the British. Hence his really bad reputation.
His reputation amongst the Spanish I believe is more balanced... a talented soldier, poor politician, thrown into bad situations. Brace but arrogant.
 
Likes: frogsofwar
May 2018
491
Michigan
#4
The Spanish Army has been neglected for years and best troops and Generals had been sent from Spain to Germany to assist the French.

Cuesta was not without talent. He’d won victories against the French... 1793-95... I can’t remember the names but they were divisional size actions.

By the time he was expected to lead a Spanish army it was in a very degraded state... his biggest issue seems to have been his poor quality forces and his bad attitude towards British allies. This might have been xenophobia or natural antipathy and suspicion of a former enemy. His conduct before and after Talavera was very poor...

He was loathed by the British. Hence his really bad reputation.
His reputation amongst the Spanish I believe is more balanced... a talented soldier, poor politician, thrown into bad situations. Brace but arrogant.
From what I've gathered, it seems that he might be comparable to Joseph Hooker in a way: Hooker was actually a very good Corps commander in the ACW, and what was likely a traumatic brain injury from a cannonball on the day of Chancellorsville may have made an otherwise talented officer literally "knocked out of his mind."

However, like Cuesta, Hooker's military reputation suffers because he lost so badly to Lee at Chancellorsville.

I am pleased to see that the Marquis of Londonderry at least tries to give him a fair shake with his quote that opens the page you linked: He never won a battle, but always arranged to be in the fight himself, sharing the risk with his men. It sounds like Cuesta would have made a great Sergeant Major, but not General.
 
Nov 2010
7,273
Cornwall
#5
There are 3 different versions of everything in the Peninsula war - British, Spanish and French. If you read the British versions the Spanish were either incompetent or non-existent. If you read the Spanish versions it's called the Guerra de la Independencia and anything British/Wellington is largely incidental, Bailen being greater than Leipzig and Borodino put together. Not read any French but you can bet it's another take.

I have a Spanish version at home which details a number of interesting engagements (can't remember which title) unknown in Britain. It certainly throws new light but is just so biased and dismissive of anything British to the point of ridiculousness.

But I think to get near to the truth you need to take in all 3 versions!
 
Likes: frogsofwar
Jan 2015
5,230
Ontario, Canada
#6
I could try to defend Cuesta but a lot of his actions are indefensible. He wasn't a particularly skilled or experienced general and frequently engaged in competition with his peers. But that said, many of his actions could be explained circumstantially. In particular that there did not exist a clear chain of command and his actions had to be approved by the Junta. His requests for supplies and reinforcements or even support from another army were not really approved by the Junta or they did so with lethargy. They also ordered him about and questioned his decisions. Therefore it is no surprise that his coordination with the British was so terrible. He neither had the means to support their goals nor did they have the same strategic and operational goals either.
 
Likes: frogsofwar
May 2018
491
Michigan
#7
I could try to defend Cuesta but a lot of his actions are indefensible. He wasn't a particularly skilled or experienced general and frequently engaged in competition with his peers. But that said, many of his actions could be explained circumstantially. In particular that there did not exist a clear chain of command and his actions had to be approved by the Junta. His requests for supplies and reinforcements or even support from another army were not really approved by the Junta or they did so with lethargy. They also ordered him about and questioned his decisions. Therefore it is no surprise that his coordination with the British was so terrible. He neither had the means to support their goals nor did they have the same strategic and operational goals either.
The circumstances add some explanation to his actions, but I agree they far, far from exonerate him.

Perhaps this is a rare occasion when obviously biased British sources were pretty close to the truth when castigating a bad allied general.
 

Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
4,935
Canary Islands-Spain
#8
The Spanish war effort during the Peninsular War is one very curious in history. A constant state of warfare, experience, massive losses but victories as well, didn't led to the rise of a fine staff of generals. At the end of the war, the best Spanish commander were average at best, and at that point if someone can be praised is Morillo. All other Spanish generals failed miserably through the war, with some good success and then very bad defeats: Cuesta, Blake, Zayas, Venegas etc Only Marquis de la Romana didn't suffer bad defeats, but that's because he actually avoided combat at any cost, and remained in Galicia as much as possible. In this case is the opposite to Cuesta, he wasn't as good as British source says, but he deployed a kind of Wellingtonian cautious strategy

However, no other army had to face what the Spanish army experienced in the Napoleonic Wars. While reading about this conflict, I find similar situations to that of the Soviet armies against the Germans in 1941
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
4,623
Portugal
#9
There are 3 different versions of everything in the Peninsula war - British, Spanish and French.!
Sorry to disagree, but quite often there are 4 :)

Since we are talking about the Iberian Peninsula, and I am biased Portuguese, I think that we all can take a guess what is the 4th different version…

And the analysis of 4 different perspectives gives a wider view of any situation.
 
May 2018
491
Michigan
#10
Sorry to disagree, but quite often there are 4 :)

Since we are talking about the Iberian Peninsula, and I am biased Portuguese, I think that we all can take a guess what is the 4th different version…

And the analysis of 4 different perspectives gives a wider view of any situation.
Are there any Portuguese perspectives on Cuesta?
 

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