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Suchet: War in Spain
Chapter 3a - Expedition to Valencia
Occupation of Andalusia by the French armies.—Improvement of the public mind in Arragon.—Disturbances in Navarre.— The younger Mina.—General Suchet orders him to he pursued.—He repairs to Pampelona.—Uncertainty respecting the future destination of the 3rd corps.—The king orders a movement upon Valencia.—March towards that city.—Battle of Alventosa. — Arrival before Valencia.—Return to Arragon.—Mina is taken prisoner.


THE year 1810 opened under the most favourable auspices. The events which had preceded it led the way for the most brilliant period of the Spanish war, and held out the most flattering hopes for the future.

The war in Germany which had attracted the whole attention of France, during the year 1809, and called for the exertions of its resources, had been honourably concluded. By the treaty of peace signed at Vienna, on the 14th of November, that portion of the continent had again been restored to tranquillity, and France had acquired an alliance that could not fail to augment her power and influence. The evacuation of Walcheren by the English, on the 24th of the same month, relieved the emperor from all uneasiness respecting a diversion which would have absorbed the means he intended to direct against the Spanish Peninsula. The armistice of Znaim had no sooner been concluded, than reinforcements were sent thither, which did not amount, at the close of the year, to less than thirty thousand men.

By the arrival of those first troops, the army of Madrid obtained fresh successes, for which we were still more indebted to the misunderstanding between the English and Spanish generals. Ever since they had separated on the Tagus, and the English had fallen back upon the Guadiana, the two Spanish armies of Estremadura, and La Mancha, amounting together to 50,000 men, under the command of general Arizaga, having again moved towards the Tagus, in the direction of Madrid, came to offer battle in the plains of Ocana, where they were completely routed on the 16th of November, whilst the English army was in its cantonments round Badajos, and remained indifferent to the movements and the defeat of its allies. The armies of Galicia and of Asturias, under the command of the duke del Parque, were defeated on the 28th, by general Kellermann, in the position of Alba de Tormes, near Salamanca.

Gerona had capitulated on the 10th of December, and by the termination of that obstinate siege, the 7th corps, the command of which had just been transferred from general Gouvion Saint-Cyr, to marshal Augereau, was left at liberty to undertake other operations in Catalonia.

These repeated successes induced the government of Madrid to send the French army into Andalusia, which the total absence of fortified places seemed to hold out to us as an easy conquest. At this period, the English themselves had abandoned the Guadiana and the environs of Badajos. On the 1st of January 1810, the whole of their army had re-entered Portugal, where it took up a position near Almeida in the province of Beira. The remains of the Spanish army defeated at Ocana, defended the passes of the Sierra-Morena. They were attacked and routed on the 20th of January; the French entered Grenada on the 28th, and Seville on the 1st of February; on the 5th they reached Chiclana, opposite Cadiz, where they stopped. Andalusia was compelled to submit; but the island of Leon was in a state of defense. The Spanish army retreated to it, and was reinforced by an English division, under the orders of general Graham. In vain were summons to surrender sent into Cadix, which had become the asylum of the central junta, and of the insurrectionary government. This resistance prevented the complete occupation of Spain.

The 3rd corps had also obtained a share, however small, of the reinforcements arrived from. France. In the early part of January 1810, it amounted to nearly twenty thousand men, of which number, 4,000 soldiers of all arms had been detached to garrison the castles of Saragossa, Alcaniz and Monzon, and to occupy the districts of Jaca, Venasque, and Tudela. Several detachments coming from the depots in the interior of France, and whole battalions belonging to the 3rd corps, were marching to join it, and the minister announced their arrival in regular succession. As this augmentation of forces was no longer required against Guerillas which were daily defeated, notwithstanding their numbers, and their obstinate resistance, general Suchet had it in his power to undertake the sieges of Lerida, Mequinenza, and Tortosa, the neighbourhood of which proved very harassing to the province of Arragon, by favouring along the frontiers a spirit of insurrection, and the incursion of armed bands.

In other respects, the presence of a disciplined army, and the organization of a regular system of internal administration had considerably improved the condition of the province. The inhabitants gradually resumed their peaceful occupations, and appeared to yield ready compliance to our wishes. We had no other enemies to apprehend than the bands of Guerillas or organized corps formed beyond the frontiers of Arragon, which were sheltered by the three above mentioned towns, and found in them a secure asylum after their defeat, it being impossible to destroy them without first adopting serious operations against those fortresses' Three corps in particular, which acted with steadiness, and in common concert, presented to us on three points of the frontiers of Arragon, a system of resistance occasionally of an offensive, but mostly of a defensive character; the first corps, under brigadier-general Perena, on the left bank of the Ebro, occupied the line of the Noguera, and manoeuvred round Lerida; the second on the right bank, under brigadier-general Garcia Navarro, manoeuvred in advance of Tortosa, and preserved the line of the Algas; the third, or left corps, under general Villacampa, overran the mountains of Albarracin and Cuenca. Those chiefs bent their endeavours to the object of keeping up by forced recruitings the nucleus of regular corps, which they had been enabled to collect and organize. Out of 40,000 soldiers who had been raised and equipped in Arragon, at the commencement of the insurrection, there scarcely remained 7 or 8,000; of this residue, 2,000 had been carefully drafted by Villacampa into the regiments of Soria, and of the Princeza, 2,500 into the battalions of the line, or of volunteers at Tortosa, 800 into the regiment of America, which maintained possession of Mequinenza, and the remainder into Doyle's regiment at Lerida.

Nevertheless, the position of the 3rd corps in Arragon rendered all attempts against the interior of the province wholly unavailing. Teruel and Daroca were occupied by general Laval with the 1st division, Alcaniz and Caspe by general Musnier with the 2nd division, and Fraga, Monzon and Barbastro by general Habert, with the 5th light infantry, and the 116th and 117th regiments. The Spanish generals, though always in the presence of our troops, and ready to take advantage of the least neglect on our part, were in the two first months of 1810 losing a portion of their activity, or of their influence. A great number of young men quitted their standards, and came to re-people the villages where our protection was extended to them. Our partizans were proportionably on the increase. The corregidors and alcaldes, whom we made responsible for the maintainance of public tranquillity, ventured at last to give open support to an administrative system, which was gradually gaining ground, and a government far less ephemeral than it had been represented to them. A former chief of a band of smugglers, belonging to Barbastro, was the first to set this example of confidence, by binding himself to afford a more effectual support to the French cause. He solicited permission to raise at his own expense a company of foot gendarmes, and offered, as a pledge for his good conduct, his family, and a fortune of 2,000,000 of reales. Notwithstanding the danger of placing arms in the hands of the people, general Suchet determined to accept this offer, persuaded that such a company, if well organized, led by a proper chief, thoroughly acquainted with the country, and having a natural intercourse with it, would render more effectual services than a whole battalion, and be the terror of all the armed bands of the interior of the province. In a short time, those small scattered corps, chiefly composed of malefactors, were unable to conceal any of their movements from our knowledge. Daily reports enabled us to follow them in their most secret places of resort. Several were surprised at Alvalate, and at other points round Barbastro and Monzon. This circumstance, and the severe measures resorted to against the recruiting parties who excited the young men to return to the Spanish armies, produced a salutary impression, the effect of which would, no doubt, have been more lasting and extensive, had it not been for the fresh cause of disturbance which manifested itself on the frontier of Navarre.

This province, through which the 3rd corps had kept up its communications with Paris and Madrid had enjoyed such perfect tranquillity during the first year of the war, that its roads were completely unobstructed, and the artillery was transported from Pampelona, for the siege of Saragossa, without escort, or the smallest opposition from the inhabitants. But whether owing to a vicious administration, and the weakness or venality of its agents, to the misunderstanding which subsisted between the superior authorities of Pampelona, the insufficiency of the troops left at their disposal, or perhaps to all these causes combined, the spirit of insurrection had gradually gained ground in that province. Without fortresses, without depots, or any ostensible means of support, armed bands were formed in the interior, augmented their numbers with impunity, and spread themselves in every direction; at this period, they intercepted the roads and carried off our couriers; it may be said, in short, that the authority of the governor of Navarre did not extend beyond the glacis of his capital.

A young student of the name of Mina, who had left that city in 1809, was the first promoter of these scenes of disorder. He at first placed himself at the head of a few armed men, obtained some slight advantages, which stimulated him to fresh exertions, and he succeeded in bringing many prisoners to Lerida. His activity and zeal attracted the attention of the governor of that town, who supplied him with arms, ammunition, and reinforcements. Shortly afterwards, his commission of appointment to a command, and the pair of colours which he received from the junta of Seville, were the means of his raising a regular band of soldiers, with which he continued his warlike exertions and his system of annoyance. Avoiding every serious engagement, and never attacking unless his position and his numbers promised him the advantage, he was shortly enabled to measure his forces with large detachments, and to seize upon our convoys. His activity, his energy, the rigid severity he exercised towards every Spaniard convicted or accused of having rendered us the slightest service, however compulsory it might have been, enabled him to assume a formidable attitude, and ensured the secrecy of all his operations. Whether he placed himself in ambuscade at the Carrascal, a dangerous wood between Tafalla and Pampelona, where he often attacked us, or marched forward to surprise our advanced posts, or retreated to elude our pursuit ; he was dreaded and treated with deference wherever he appeared, but never discovered or betrayed. He soon acquired so much power over the country, that in the month of January the government of Navarre deemed itself justified in entering into a negotiation with him, as with a regular general, for the exchange of prisoners, and even admitted some officers into Pampelona, who were the bearers of his flags of truce.

This alarming success in a province adjoining France, soon attracted the attention of the French government, who were thereby thwarted in their projects of sending forward the 3rd corps. The destruction of so troublesome a Guerilla chieftain became a preliminary measure of the utmost consequence. General Suchet accordingly received, at the same time with a commission which invested him with full powers, an order to commence immediate operations in Navarre, with a view to quell the disturbances to which it was a prey.

He sent general Harispe in pursuit of Mina, with the 114th regiment of the line. This officer proceeded towards the Cinco-Villas in the beginning of January, and advanced upon Mina, who occupied Sanguessa, whilst 400 Polish soldiers quitted Tudela, moved in the same direction, and a column of 800 men left Pampelona for the purpose of co-operating in that movement. As Mina had already on some occasions approached the frontiers of Catalonia, two battalions were despatched to the upper vallies towards Ainsa and Medianoz, in order to deprive him of that retreat, with directions to attack or drive him back wherever he might present himself, and in any case to intercept him on his way to the Cinca. The general in-chief repaired in person to Huesca, in order to secure the due execution of those measures; but they proved unnecessary, Mina declined to fight, and left Sanguessa a short time before the arrival of general Harispe and his junction with the Polish troops. He feigned to take up a position at Monreal; he was favoured by the delay in the arrival of the column expected from Pampelona, and when general Harispe moved forward to surround and attack him, Mina, whose rear was unobstructed, escaped by a rapid march, and boldly advanced to the attack of Tafalla with 1,000 infantry and 200 cavalry, at the moment when his appearance was least expected. He felt no difficulty in obtaining possession of the town: but the weak garrison established in a barrack resolutely defended it, and resisted his summons and his attacks; he withdrew the following morning in another direction, after having occupied during a whole day our line of communication.

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