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Suchet: War in Spain
Chapter 3b - Expedition to Valencia


This bold attempt induced us to redouble our exertions. General Harispe availing himself of the circumstance that a division had just arrived from France under the command of general Loison, who occupied Logrono and the upper Ebro, directed the column to join him which had quitted Pampelona, and occupied, by means of his detachments, the towns of Sanguessa, Sos, Lodosa, and Puente la Reyna, as well as the principal passes of the Arga, of Arragon, and of the Ebro. He scoured the country with several moveable columns, provided with small pieces of mountain cannon, which were carried on the backs of mules, allowed Mina's troop no respite, followed it wherever it took up a position, pursued it in its retreat, and finally drove it into the mountains, where the difficulty of subsisting, and the severity of the season, compelled it at last to disperse. This chieftain concealed the arms of his men, sent the greater part back to their homes, effected his own escape by wandering from one sheepfold to another, was on the point of being taken with seven men who formed all his escort, and only escaped by assuming a disguise. Shortly afterwards, he exhibited a trait of his adventurous character, by posting himself, in the garb of a peasant, on the high road near Olite, and in the midst of a group, for the purpose of seeing general Suchet, who was on his way from Saragossa to Pampelona.

This general reached the capital of Navarre on the 20th of January. There had long existed a fatal misunderstanding between the military governor and the duke de Mahon, the viceroy sent from Madrid. The clashing of their respective authorities was the cause or the occasion of it; and the want of system, resulting from this misunderstanding, gave rise to great remissness and disorder in every branch of the service. The avarice of the agents of a vicious administration took advantage of these circumstances. Any further endurance of the evil would compromise the very safety of the place, where treachery was imperceptibly finding its way. Musket shots were every day fired upon the glacis, and in the very residence of the vice-roy, whom it was attempted to intimidate. The general-in-chief began by removing the civil authorities, and enjoined such measures as he deemed best calculated to check the hostile feelings of the inhabitants. He issued severe regulations, the object of which was, to disarm the adjoining country, and to prevent fresh levies of young men. The dispersion of Mina's troop was favourable to the success of those measures; it was hoped they would restore to Navarre that state of tranquillity which it had for upwards of a year, uninterruptedly enjoyed.

Another and a no less important motive for the visit of the general-in-chief to Pampelona, which was even the secret object of it, was one of paramount consideration with him, connected as it was with the future operations of the 3rd corps. This was, the inspection of the parks of artillery, and of every thing requisite for carrying on a siege. He found the arsenal in good condition, a numerous artillery in readiness for use, and the gunpowder and other manufactories in full activity. We were indebted for those efforts to the exertions of colonel d'Auguereau of the artillery, the success of which was mainly promoted by the vice-roy's zeal.

General Suchet, however, had scarcely organized the administration of Navarre, when general Regnier entered Spain with a corps of troops, and with directions to occupy that province, and to complete its pacification. The troops of the 3rd corps returned to Arragon, in order to make way for Lagrange's division. Colonel Plicque having been despatched to upper Arragon, a part of the country familiarly known to him, he overtook and dispersed Sarraza's band in the direction of Ainsa. About the same time, general Habert, who was stationed on the Cinca with the 3rd division, was engaged in superintending the works of the fort of Monzon, and the repairs of the bridge of Fraga. Colonel Rouelle of the 116th regiment, having been attacked at the latter point by the garrison of Mequinenza, gallantly defeated it. Shortly afterwards, general Verges, who was stationed at the same spot with the 121st regiment, sustained a similar attack at the head of four companies of chosen troops, who drove the Spaniards back as far as Torriente, and compelled them, after a running fight, to re-enter the fortress. General Musnier, who was placed along the line of the Algas, brought up the 115th regiment against a few battalions of the garrison of Tortosa, which had advanced as far as Orta, and put them to the rout, after giving them a lesson well calculated to render them more circumspect for the future.

Such was the situation of Arragon and of Navarre at the moment when general Suchet, having returned to Saragossa, was preparing to carry those orders into effect, which were about to give a new direction to his future operations. Happy had it been if uniformity and singleness of purpose had distinguished it ! No sooner had the emperor returned to Paris, than the prince of Neufchatel, whose attention had been absorbed by other objects during the campaign of Wagram, resumed the title and functions of head of the staff of the French armies in Spain. There still existed, however, a regulation which left the chief command in the Peninsula to king Joseph. Thus, on the one hand, general Suchet was still bound by the ties of obedience to the court of Madrid in whatever related to military matters; and, on the other, he had secret orders to render an account of the financial administration of Arragon to the prince and the French ministers only. He was not to make those instructions known at Madrid, unless he should be under the necessity of revealing them.

The first letters of the prince of Neufchatel related to the operations of the 3rd corps beyond the frontiers of Arragon. The emperor had, no doubt, imagined that, after the capture of Gerona, the 7th corps was fully competent to reduce the other fortresses of Catalonia ; he therefore pointed out to general Suchet the conquest of Valencia as the next object of his operations. With a view to this distant expedition, the 3rd corps was to be raised to thirty thousand men. In consequence of those orders, a considerable supply of biscuit was got in readiness; we bestowed our attention to the forming of magazines, and raising the means of transport; reports were sent to Paris relating to the personnel and the materiel of the artillery and the engineer corps ; an additional supply of several field-pieces, of reserves, and of artillery horses, was forwarded to Laval's division at Teruel. These arrangements were completed by the end of January, when general Suchet, on leaving Pampelona, received from the head of the staff an intimation that he was to prepare for a different course of operations. The prince appeared to have indefinitely postponed the expedition to Valencia, and left the general-in-chief at liberty to lay siege to Leridaor Tortosa, the choice of either being left to his own judgment; the 7th corps was to approach the lower Ebro, and the 3rd corps was to proceed to meet it, whilst the 8th corps would occupy Logrono and the upper Ebro. The latter corps, however, which was organizing under the orders of the duke d'Abrantes, shortly quitted Navarre, on its way to join the army of Portugal; and it will be seen, that the corps in Catalonia, the movements of which were wholly unknown to us, effected its junction at a very late period, in a very imperfect manner, and only for the space of a few hours. This affords a fresh proof, if any such were necessary, of the difficulty and danger of distant co-operations during a war.

It was neither an easy nor a ready task for general Suchet to countermand and reframe all his preliminary arrangements. He sent advice to Madrid and Paris at the same time, what were his movements or his views, what means of action he had at command, or what obstacles to encounter. He was aware that the king was informed by the emperor of the various measures enjoined to the 3rd corps; and in this kind of uncertainty in which he was then thrown by existing circumstances, he fancied that the French government had not yet laid down a definitive plan. The instructions which he received, partook more of the character of projects for his consideration, than of orders for carrying them into execution. He was in immediate expectation of their being confirmed and followed up, when an unforeseen occurrence came to add to his state of perplexity, which a circumstance of great weight had the effect of removing. King Joseph being desirous of availing himself of the influence which the rapid successes obtained in Andalusia were calculated to exercise over the minds of the inhabitants, and of the secret intercourse which he kept up in the city of Valencia, conceived the design of taking possession of that capital, and of the province. The head of the king's staff, the marshal duke of Dalmatia, by a despatch dated Cordova the 27th of January, which reached Saragossa on the 15th of February, ordered general Suchet to advance upon Valencia by rapid marches, in two columns, the one by Teruel and Segorbe, the other by Morella, San-Mateo, and the road along the sea-shore. The despatch added, that the army. of the south would send a detachment towards Murcia, for the purpose of co-operating in the principal movement ; and it expressed a sanguine expectation, that Valencia would open its gates.

On the receipt of such precise orders, general Suchet had scarcely any alternative left to him. He had not yet received any instructions from Paris which relieved him from the obligation of obeying the commander-in-chief of the army in Spain. True it is, that at the same time an imperial decree of the 8th of February had raised Arragon into a separate government, placed the province in a state of siege, and directed that all the military and civil powers should centre in the governor-general. This very decree, however, although it gave an almost absolute authority to general Suchet, did not in any manner infringe upon his intercourse with Madrid, the orders emanating from thence being imperative upon him in respect to purely military operations, agreeably to an explanatory letter of the prince of Neufchatel, under date of the 9th of February. But the courier who was the bearer of the despatch, containing the decree and the letter, was taken prisoner on his way through Navarre, a very common occurrence, which was, however, on this occasion, attended with very unexpected consequences. The positive orders from the French government to the chief of the 3rd corps only arrived at a later period, and at a moment when insurmountable obstacles stood in the way of their being carried into effect. Not obtaining from Paris the replies to his despatches which he had so earnestly solicited, and having moreover been called in by repeated orders from Cordova, general Suchet deemed it incumbent upon him to undertake the expedition to Valencia, whatever doubts he might entertain of its successful issue, since he was about to proceed without any besieging train, and was leaving armed bands in his .rear which were on the watch to intercept his communications.

Being anxious to clear as much as possible his line of march, he gave orders to general Laval, on the 16th of February, to attack Villacampa's corps, and drive it out of Arragon. That general came up with the enemy's advanced posts at Villastar, within a short distance of Teruel, and soon afterwards with all his forces at an intrenched position near Villel in front of the Guadalaviar. He immediately caused him to be attacked by general Chlopiski, whilst colonel Kliski was manoeuvring with four companies along the heights of Villel. The intrenchments were carried; the Spaniards took to flight and escaped by re-crossing the river; a great number were drowned, others taken prisoners, and the remainder dispersed amongst the mountains of Castille.

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