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Suchet: War in Spain
Chapter 2a - Battle in Arragon
View of the condition of Spain.—Organization of the Guerillas.—Various engagements.—Actions fought at San Juan de la Pena and at Nuestra Senora del Tremedal.—Capture of Venasque.—Successive occupation of Arragon.


GENERAL SUCHET having returned to Saragossa on the 1st of July, he bent his endeavours, within the limits of his command, to the object of availing himself of the local and still recent influence created by the events which have just been related. But his efforts were counteracted by the general reaction of the public mind throughout the Peninsula. The Spaniards are, of all men, the most susceptible of excited feelings, consequently the most credulous, and at the same time the most prone to doubt or disbelieve; they readily placed dependence upon reports, and as readily rejected them according as they favoured or ran counter to their hopes and wishes. The candid account given by general Blake of his defeat at Belchite, compelled them to admit that the French had just obtained a signal success in Arragon. The central junta of Seville attempted to revive the spirits of the nation by accounts of a more cheering nature. The victory of Eckmülh, the capture of Ratisbon and of Vienna had failed to make due impression ; but the battle of Essling, the breaking down of the bridges on the Danube, and the necessity in which the French army was placed of halting on the bank of that river, afforded, as they alleged, a sure presage of its proximate and unavoidable destruction. At the same period of time, and on a less distant scene of action, the successive evacuation of Portugal, Gallicia and Asturias, the hope of recovering possession of Madrid, and the combined march of the English and Spanish armies for the purpose of effecting a junction on the banks of the Tagus, excited the Spaniards to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, and accelerated the organization of the numerous levies which were arming against us in every part of the Spanish Peninsula.

The victories of Maria and Belchite had not wholly eradicated from Arragon the effect produced in that province by the circumstances just adverted to. Blake's army had disappeared; his materiel and magazines had fallen into our hands; he had no longer any grand depot or point of junction. It must, however, be admitted that, notwithstanding its numerical strength, and the great pains bestowed to the object of giving it a formidable appearance, that army was a mere auxiliary in the cause it came to defend ; and the insurrection, profiting by the losses of the regular army, soon became far more dangerous to the enemy. The remains of Blake's army having returned home or dispersed itself through the country, served to keep up and reinforce the Guerilla bands already formed, which were thus recruited by the accession of experienced officers and of well-trained soldiers. They re-appeared more formidable and numerous than before: armed bands, the existence of which was hitherto unknown, sprung up amongst the mountains of Calatayud, and in the defiles adjoining Huesca and Barbastro. There it was that this new system of resistance was brought into action in the north of Spain, which was afterwards so skilfully wielded by some of its chiefs, and which defended the country in a far more effectual manner than the regular war carried on by disciplined armies, because it was more consistent with the nature of the country and the character of its inhabitants. This is a truth which the geographical form of Spain places beyond a doubt, and which is borne out by her history from the time of Sertorius to the present day.

Considered in a geographical and physical point of view, Spain is in many respects as much connected with Africa as with Europe; there can exist no doubt of the fact, when glancing at a map of the Mediterranean we behold near the peninsulas of Greece and of Italy the Spanish Peninsula stretching out her hand as it were, to join the extreme point of Africa, which seems to be a mere continuation of the territory of Spain, notwithstanding the dissimilarity of names and the strait which separates them. On consulting all historical accounts, it will be seen that the fate of both countries presents a resemblance no less striking than their territory. The Romans went so far as to confound them under a common denomination. That portion of Africa which borrowed from Tingis (Tangier) the name of Tingitana, has sometimes received the appellation of Hispania transfretana (Spain beyond the strait). The Phoenicians, and Carthagenians were attracted from Africa by the wealth of Boetica; the Vandals, who are said to have left their name to the province of Andalusia, and afterwards the Goths crossed the strait for the purpose of establishing themselves on the opposite coast of Africa ;wtjand, at a later period, the Moors or Saracens again brought rulers from Africa to exercise their sway over Spain, from whence they were banished by the last revolution which that country underwent less than three centuries ago.

If we next direct our attention to those countries, not as they formerly were, but as they are at the present day, we cannot avoid discovering many traits of resemblance between them. Through the difference which the religion, the government, and the laws have created in the manners, the costume, and the language of their respective inhabitants, we find that the physical and terrestial affinities, the soil, the water, the system of agriculture are still the same in two neighbouring countries which a long series of events have estranged from each other. Thus it is, that the same burning sun parches the coast of Barbary, as well as Andalusia, and the Algarves. The mountains, barren of trees, no longer attract the clouds or storms. The plains, and frequently the vallies, are visited with droughts. It is no doubt true, that wherever the ressources of art have been combined with fertilising streams, the result has been highly successful in bringing forth abundant harvests. Adjoining these fertile tracts, however, we find immense deserts, or else desplobados, the extent of which the eye vainly attempts to measure ; and the mind gives way to despondency at the aspect of a space equally barren and dreary in every direction. If we proceed to the summit of some of those mountains which traverse Spain from one extremity to the other, we find under a constantly burning sun, high lands devoid of culture, and barren slopes, of which no animated object ever breaks the uniformity. Nothing arrests the eye except a river or a brook, which is seen in the distance winding its course at the bottom of a valley, and is lined with a verdant border, along which the beholder traces the crops, the plantations and the dwellings of man. A coloured map representing the form of every valley, the blue waters, the borders of rivers lined with a green tint of varied breadth, would exhibit a faithful picture, and point out the real condition of that territory, which, although nearly equal in extent to France, scarcely contains and supports a third part of our population.

One might thus embrace at a glance, and, as if by anatomical process, the veins and arteries of that immense body, which, though lacking plumpness, still retains all its nerves and muscles, if such a comparison may be allowed, and presents in its structure a work evidently formed for grace and vigour.

The Spanish peninsula, in fact, leaning as it does upon solid foundations, is covered with lofty chains of mountains extending in all directions, and appears like a vast promontory between the two seas that wash its shores. Gently declining towards the east and west, it naturally divides itself into two unequal slopes, the one to wards the Ebro, and a few small rivers flowing in the direction of the Mediterranean, the other carrying to the ocean, the waters of the Guadalquivir, the Guadiana, the Tagus and the Douro. Proceeding inland from the sea-shore, some low plains of admirable fertility and cultivation, form the basis of this amphitheatre. One ascends through vallies cultivated as huertas below the waters, and as secanos above them, thus reaching the first chain of mountains. Beyond these mountains, however, there is no descending as usual into a valley; one enters into immense plains supported by the internal plateau of country. Whole provinces, the two Castilles, La Mancha, and all the centre of Spain, are placed in that elevated region. The centre is further crowned by other chains, bearing to the very clouds their snow-capt tops, which a summer of six months' duration will not always melt away.

The result of this conformation is, that the waters must sink deep into the ground, before they can force their way to the sea. Whilst the rivers in the north of Europe reach their mouths after a long course through the country, and across lakes and swamps, the rivers in Spain, together with the streams flowing into them, rush down by rapid descents from deep and rugged gullies, presenting picturesque and wild scenery, and narrow and difficult passes at every step of their progress. It is impossible to travel the distance of a few leagues in that country, without meeting one or many of those defiles, like the Thermopilae, or the Caudine forks, in which two or three hundred men would be sufficient to arrest the march of whole armies. The ravines are generally dry, and yet impassable. The large rivers present no means of communication; navigation is frequently interrupted by various obstructions. A few canals, dug in the midst of popular opposition, are seldom used except for purposes of irrigation. Two royal main roads, connected by a small number of inferior causeways, run from the capital to Bayonne, Valencia, and Barcelona. They cross over streams and brooks by means of handsome bridges, and are neither injured by the rains nor by the rolling of vehicles, in a country where every thing is transported on the backs of mules, and where the service of post horses is scarcely known. In every other direction, the communications are extremely difficult, the provinces are isolated from each other, the towns and villages separated by immense distances, and built upon heights, or inclosed within walls, surrounded by splendid forests of olive-trees, but rarely by cottages or country houses. Whole tracts of land are covered with broom and heath, Those uncultivated spots serve, no doubt, to feed immense flocks of sheep, whose fine wool is a source of wealth to the Spaniards, though they can only render it available by the aid of foreign industry; but the really useful cultivation, that which contributes to support and increase the population, is confined within very narrow limits. The hand of man disdains to plant; combustible materials are wanting in the midst of numberless and still unexplored coal-mines ; and in a fertile country which is favourable to every species of production, and where the numerous poor are without means of subsistance, the potatoe is neglected; nor is any attempt ever made to introduce, or propagate it.

It will readily be admitted that a country so peculiarly adapted to a defensive warfare, inhabited as it is, by men no less remarkable for their active and sober habits than for their courage and intelligence, can with difficulty be conquered. Various nations have successively invaded it. History exhibits them seizing upon Spain after long and sanguinary wars, establishing their dominion on various points, without being able wholly to subdue the Spaniards, and defeated at last, or driven out as much by the constancy of the inhabitants as by the usual inconstancy of fortune.

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