Ciudad Rodrigo is a fortified city in the province of Salamanca in western Spain. It is located on the right bank of the River Águeda. It is surrounded by two hills known as the Lesser and GreaterTesons.
Rodrigo, along with Badajoz, guarded the invasion routes from Portugal into Spain. The cities had to be taken if Wellington and his British and Portuguese army were to campaign deep into Spain. Rodrigo was garrisoned by 2,000 well armed French troops.
The siege of Ciudad Rodrigo began on the night of 8 January 1812. About 450 men from the Light Division seized the French redoubt on the Grand Teson. The next day the attacking forces began to building siege works on the Grand Teson.
By the 13th of January, the first parallel trench had been finish. Siege guns were placed to fire on the walls of the city. A second parallel was started on the Little Teson. It was too close to the Convent of Santa Cruz with its French outpost. Wellesley ordered a King's German Legion brigade to attack and take the French outpost. In response, the French commander of Ciudad Rodrigo ordered an attack. Five hundred French troops came out of the city, engaged the attacking forces and recaptured the Convent of San Francisco. The British rallied, drove the French back into the city and, as night came, recaptured the convent.
By 18th of January, the British and Portuguese had created two breaches in the walls of the city. Four batteries were firing twenty-two 24-pound guns and one 18-pound gun against the main breach and seven 24-pound guns against the lesser breach.
By the 19th of January, over 9,550 shells had been fired against city. The two breaches were about 200 meters apart. The main breach was 30 metres wide. The smaller breach was about 10 metres. Wellington judged the time right and gave the order for the final attack.
Robert Burnham, in "The Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo Spain" describes the assault :
At 7 p.m. the attack began with the Cacadores rushing across the bridge and capturing the outpost. The two other regiments quickly accomplished their mission and the way was clear for the main attack. The main assault consisted of Major General McKinnon's brigade which was preceded by 150 men carrying bags of hay that were to be thrown into the ditch. There they were met by heavy defensive fire that stunned the assaulting force. About this time, the 5th and 95th Regiments had just finished their mission of clearing the faussebraie and in their enthusiasm continued onto the main breach. They actually reached it before the main assault force! McKinnon's Brigade followed closely behind them and all were stopped by the cuts made at the top of the breach. There they were came under a devastating fire from the two guns that swept the breach with canister at close range. As the British reeled in confusion, the French fired a mine buried in the breach! This massive explosion stunned the attackers for a moment and caused heavy casualties among their leaders. The British soon rallied and through heroic efforts, succeeded in silencing the two guns and capturing the breach. The way was open into the town!
The Light Division staged itself behind the Convent of San Francisco prior to its assault on the lesser breach. Despite the large number of senior officers directing it, this attack was mismanaged from the very beginning. The force carrying the bags of hay got lost and the forlorn hope attacked the faussebraie thinking it was the main wall. Once the breach was located, the main assault force quickly made its way up it with little resistance. The French defenders retreated to the town square and soon surrendered.
Ciudad Rodrigo was now in the British hands and nothing could stop the victorious troops. The next 12 hours was a wild orgy of looting, raping, drinking, and pillaging. Vast fortunes were made overnight by the plundering soldiers (who quickly spent it on liquor) and no one was safe, including their own officers. By the next morning the soldiers were brought under control and the task of repairing the damage was begun.
The British had about 1100 killed and wounded during the siege. In the assault itself, casualties among the British forces was not particularly heavy among the enlisted soldiers with about 100 killed and another 400 wounded. Officer casualties were high though, with 59 of them being killed or wounded. Casualties among the senior officers were especially high. General Craufurd, commander of the Light Division, was mortally wounded, while General McKinnon, commander of the assault force, was killed in the explosion that rocked the main breach. General Vandeleur, commander of the brigade making the assault on the lesser breach also was wounded seriously. Of the 1900 men in the French garrison, about 600 were casualties during the siege.
The capture of Ciudad Rodrigo upset French plans and strategic position. It helped opened up the northern invasion corridor from Portugal into Spain. Wellington was to move onto Badajoz.
The experience of the inhabitants of Ciudad Rodrigo was to be more immediate and horrible. Allied troops lost all discipline, possibly as a result of the high number of officers killed, and began to burn, rampage, plunder and rape.