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Suchet: War in Spain
Chapter 2c - Battle in Arragon


Those successes, which had cleared the frontier of Arragon adjoining Navarre, led us to proceed on a similar plan of operations towards the frontier of Catalonia. The 117th regiment returned to the Cinca, whilst a part of the garrison of Jaca drove back in the same direction the bands of Broto and of Fiscal. Perena, Pedrosa, and Baget rallied their troops between the Cinca and the Noguera. Renovales overtook them and assumed the chief command. It was of importance that we should oppose the formation of such an assemblage of troops near our own lines. General Habert was ordered to attack it, and advanced towards Fonz on the 23rd of September. Colonel Robert, whilst marching to the enemy, felt it necessary to resort to a stratagem, in order to induce him to quit his unassailable position. After a few weak attempts, he feigned a retreat, and drew the insurgents after him, when rapidly turning round, he overtook them and put the greater part to the rout : general Habert was advancing at the same time upon the village of Fonz, and taking possession of it at the point of the bayonet. The bands were almost completely dispersed; and the chiefs returned to Lerida and Mequinenza. The whole left bank of the Ebro was restored to order and submission, and the French army was enabled to extend its cantonments and its influence.

The general in chief availed himself of the circumstance to form a secure establishment on the Cinca. He caused Fraga and Monzon to be occupied by general Habert. The first of these towns had a wooden bridge over the Cinca, which facilitated a passage at all seasons. This was rendered an important position, owing to the vicinity of Lerida and Mequinenza; it was accordingly fortified with some field works on the height of the left bank which commands the bridge and the town. At the distance of a few leagues above Fraga, and on. the same side of the river, stands the town of Monzon, commanded by a castle, which the French had occupied the preceding year, and had afterwards abandoned, it being of no advantage for their operations; but its situation now gave it far more importance. It was in a good condition, had several buildings bomb-proof, and solid ramparts. A small garrison was placed in it with the necessary ammunition and provisions ; and as the river was at some distance, a tete-de-pont was constructed on the left bank, by the establishment of a flying bridge. This operation, and the result of the engagement at Fonz, enabled us to make preparations with a view to our taking possession of Venasque and of the corregimiento of Benavarre, the last in the province of Arragon, in a north eastern direction. The Catalonians having joined a great number of disperses from Arragon, made an attempt to defend the town; they moved towards Graus which was occupied by colonel Lapeyrolerie, with nine hundred mountain chasseurs. That officer advanced in person to attack them without a moment's delay.

He commenced his march through Roda, on the 17th of October, reascending the Isavena, drove them on that and on the following day, from one position to another, and came up to their main body on the 19th. But the fires of the bivouacs were no sooner lighted, than he discovered that the insurgents were collecting very considerable forces, and that he was hemmed in on all sides, as if in a trap, in the midst of the numerous defiles which he had before and behind him. He immediately determined upon the course he was to adopt. Persuaded that irregular troops never display much intrepidity or watchfulness during the night, he resolved to open himself a passage by forcing at the point of the bayonet the enemy's line which prevented his retreat, and to avoid firing a single shot. He took up arms at the hour of two in the morning, and in the utmost silence, formed his troops into columns, and sent forward as an advanced guard colonel Roquemaurel, with four companies of chasseurs of the Pyrenees. This daring officer forced his way through the Spaniards, who were taken by surprize and driven in; terror spread amongst them to a certain distance. In the first moment of alarm, they fled instead of rallying; and the column passed through, and rapidly moved off without losing a single man. Colonel Lapeyrolerie brought the whole of his troop back to Graus. He had the satisfaction to find that his sick and wounded had remained undisturbed ; during his absence, the inhabitants of the town had saved them from the fury of an armed band of the vicinity, which had come up with the intention of putting them to death. This trait of humanity was often renewed in Arragon after that period.

Fraga and Candasnos, into which we had just thrown small garrisons, were attacked by Guerilla bands from Mequinenza; but their attempts proved abortive. At the same time, the Spanish general Lavalle collected fourteen hundred men at Batea, and on the 16th of October he marched upon Caspe, which colonel Dupeyroux occupied-with a battalion of the 115th regiment. The Spanish advanced guard immediately seized upon the Capuchine convent, a commanding position at the entrance of the town. Whilst the battalion was taking up arms, colonel Dupeyroux resolutely advanced against the convent with no other troops than the company of grenadiers, and took possession of it before the Spaniards could find time to recover from their surprise, or to stand their ground; he then instantly repaired to the head of the enemy's column, threw it into disorder, and compelled it to retreat. He was, however, severely wounded on the occasion.

A band of smugglers who were spreading terror through the country in the neighbourhood of Belchite, was surprised at Lecera during the night, and completely roused by captain Monnot of the artillery.

General Chlopiski had been sent towards Daroca with the 1st regiment of the Vistula, part of the 2nd regiment and the cuirassiers. He defeated on the 12th of October the troops of Molina, which had formed a junction with the regiments of Soria and of the Princeza. Colonel Kolinowski pursued and drove them beyond Ojos-Negros; general Chlopiski pushed forward as far as Molina. General Buget marched upon Arnedo and Soria, for the purpose of dispersing the armed bands. Returning afterwards to Navarre, he went in pursuit of young Mina, who at the head of two hundred men stopped the convoys on the road to Pampelona, and afforded a prelude of the part in which he since acquired so much celebrity.

In Spain the churches and convents are, generally speaking, vast and solid edifices which, if standing in an advantageous position, offer great resources for a defensive warfare. After the fall of Paniza and of Nuestra-Senora del Aguila, the insurrectionary troops on the right bank of the Ebro formed a junction in the church of Nuestra Senora del Tremedal, situated on an almost inaccessible mountain, which Villacampa had occupied and intrenched, beyond the town of Molina, in the heart of the Sierra d'Albarracin, near the sources of the Tagus, the Xucar and the Guadalaviar. The troops thus collected experienced the same reverses as the armed band of San Juan de la Pena, colonel Henriod received orders to make himself master of the position. He left Daroca on the 23rd of November with his regiment, the 14th of the line, eight companies of the 2nd regiment of the Vistula, the 13th of cuirassiers, two pieces of cannon, a howitzer, and one hundred and fifty Arragonese conductors of carts and mules loaded with provisions. These forces did not exceed 1,700 men. He came to bivouac on the 24th at dusk, in the village of Ojos Negros, the defile of which he found occupied by some of Villacampa's troops. A few companies of skirmishers, which he detached upon his flank during the night with orders to gain the woody summit of the mountain of Villar de Saz, determined the enemy to abandon the defile on the 25th at day-break, to fall back upon Origuela, and from thence upon the position ofthe Tremedal. The Spanish forces amounted to nearly 5,000 regular soldiers, besides a number of armed peasants, who had been collected at the sound of the tocsin, and who lined all the adjoining woods, with a view to threaten our rear and surround us, if our attack should fail of success. They entertained no doubt of the victory, general Villacampa having availed himself of the advantages of the position to excite confidence in his troops. The mountain of the Tremedal forms a kind of crescent three quarters of a league in length; it rises upwards of 600 feet above the Molina and the small town of Origuela, built upon its bank in a narrow gorge at the extremity of a barren plain two leagues in extent, which runs in the direction of Villar de Saz. The nearest branch of the crescent terminates in a circular platform, on which spot stands the monastery and its appendages. The summit is surrounded with needles and rocks, forming as it were a parapet with embrasures. Its flanks lined with fir trees give a sombre and imposing appearance to that isolated mountain. The roads of Albarracin, Daroca and Molina meet at the town of Origuela, where a bridge has been constructed ; the convent has no other communication than a by-way winding in the rear of the mountain and terminating at the road of Albarracin, and a steep path which descends in a direct line to the bridge and the town. Moats had been dug and abatis formed in every direction.

On reaching that position at eleven o'clock in the morning, colonel Henriod despaired of carrying it by main force in the open day, and determined to manoeuvre for obtaining possession of it. He first attacked the extremity of the mountain, which he made a feint to turn by the road leading to Albarracin, with the greatest part of his troops. This attack, which he did not seriously intend to follow up, was continued during the whole day; its only object being to induce the enemy to withdraw his forces from the convent and send reinforcements to the opposite side. Towards dusk, the colonel marched upon Origuela with six companies of choice troops moving in column, with a piece of artillery and a howitzer, rapidly passed through the town which had been deserted by its inhabitants, crossed the bridge, established himself on the plateau beyond it at the foot of the declivity, compelled all the troops that had descended from the convent into the by-road to return from whence they came, and opened a brisk fire from his two field-pieces, whilst by the aid of the lights which he had ordered to be kept up in the bivouacs in his rear, our baggage and line faced about and took the road to Daroca. This movement could not fail to deceive the enemy, and to persuade him that we were taking advantage of the night to effect our retreat.

At this moment the six companies, being formed into three columns, without cloaks or knapsacks, and with their muskets slung in their shoulder belts, as they had been strictly enjoined not to fire, clambered up in silence by that side of the mountain most difficult of access, against which no demonstration had been made, and which its ruggedness must have led the enemy to consider beyond the reach of attack. On arriving at the summit, they stopped to regain breath, and waited for the signal agreed on. The firing had completely ceased on both points of attack ; the Spaniards imagined we were in full retreat, and were rejoicing at their fancied success. On a sudden the six companies, headed by captain Parlier, rushed through' the embrasures or spaces between the rocks, charged the Spaniards at the point of the bayonet, and converted their acclamations of victory into cries of terror. Those who escaped death fled in every direction. Villacampa attempted in vain to rally a few soldiers; they were deaf to his entreaties; his sword was broken in the struggle, and he was hurried along by the fugitives. The provisions with which the buildings were abundantly supplied fell into our power. But we could neither remove them nor remain in the position we had just wrested from the enemy; and our safety required that we should destroy them. The church contained a considerable quantity of powder and fire works ; the explosion was tremendous. The sparks were thrown to a great distance, set fire to some parts of the neighbouring woods, and even reached the town itself which might have been burned to ashes had not our soldiers, in the absence of the inhabitants, arrested the progress of the flames. This volcano, which threw its glare over the surrounding mountains to a considerable distance, was a signal for the dispersion of all the armed bands which had collected amongst them. The enemy lost nearly 500 men; on our side we had only to deplore the loss of a few gallant soldiers, so completely were the Spaniards taken by surprise and panic-struck. The success was owing to the skill of colonel Henriod. The circumstance which most attracted the notice of the general-in-chief was that without being arrested in his progress by the strength of the position or the superiority of numbers, he nevertheless did not allow himself to be carried away by that inconsiderate ardour which overlooks all obstacles; he did not purchase by torrents of blood, as is too often the case in a state of warfare, the possession of a barren rock, which he would have to abandon as soon as it should fall into his hands. His measures were, on the contrary, marked by wisdom as well as valour, and he made up by skilful manoeuvring for the smallness of his forces.

Other engagements of minor importance took place on various points of Arragon; and although we omit to notice them, they were attended with honour and utility to us, as they had the effect of establishing the superiority of the soldiers of the 3rd corps, and daily impressed the minds of the inhabitants with that fact, which they were now taught by 'their own experience, the only monitor to whose dictates they paid any deference. This tedious petty warfare was attended with the advantage of forming good officers, and inuring them to the duty of acting on detached services; and had the effect of developing those talents which subsequently raised many of them to the ranks of distinguished generals.

In the month of November, general Suchet completed the submission of Upper Arragon, by the capture of the town of Venasque. Captain Roquemaurel was sent against it with the battalion of the 64th and the chasseurs of the Ariege; he forced the positions in the valley. penetrated into the town, surrounded the fort, the garrison of which, being intimidated by the inhabitants, compelled the governor to open his gates. This success afforded fresh means of communication with France, and enabled us to disarm the vallies of Venasque, Gistain, and Bielsa ; a depot of ammunition was destroyed in an adjoining convent on the frontier of Catalonia. With a view to secure a similar result on the right bank of the Ebro, the general-in-chief availed himself of the approach of an expeditionary corps sent under general Milhaud from Madrid to Cuenca, in the mountains of Castille. He repaired in person to Teruel with a division on the 25th of December, and sent some troops forward as far as Ruvielos, where the insurrectionary junta had taken shelter in its flight towards Valencia. Teruel and Albarracin were the only parts of Arragon to which the 3rd corps had not yet penetrated. The occupation of those two influential towns operated as a complete triumph over Spanish incredulity. The appearance of our troops, their deportment and discipline, their language and acts of authority filled the inhabitants with astonishment, and made them curse Villacampa and the juntas who drove them into a war, and were unable to afford any assistance in the struggle. This part of the country surrendered a quantity of arms and ammunition, and we imposed upon it the same contributions as we had established in the remainder of Arragon. In this manner we secured by degrees the neutrality, and eventually the obedience of the inhabitants. Their proud spirit, which could neither bend to arbitrary conduct nor brook an insult, was not insensible to the value of a government in which power was tempered by justice, and they resigned themselves with a good grace to the burdens entailed by a state of things which it was not in their power to avert.

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