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


Immediately after this engagement, which would keep off Villacampa for a time, the general-in-chief repaired to Teruel on the 26th of February. He collected at this place Laval's division with Paris' brigade, amounting in all to twelve battalions, as well as the regiment of cuirassiers, two squadrons of hussars and one of lancers. General Habert brought at the same time six battalions and 150 hussars from Monzon to Alcaniz. He was ordered to repair to Morella on the 27th of February, and proceed by San Mateo and Cabanis to Villareal or Nulès, either of which two places he was to reach on the 2nd of March. General Musnier was left with eight battalions and 250 horse to occupy Saragossa and keep Arragon under subjection; general Verges was on the line of the Cinca, and general Buget on the right bank of the Ebro.

The castles of Saragossa, Alcaniz, Monzon, Venasque, and Jaca were provided with garrisons, arms, and every kind of ammunition ; the towns of Saragossa and Tudela were protected by some field-works, and rendered proof against a coup-de-main. Our affairs were thus left in a promising condition during the absence of the army, our line of communication being alone liable to attack. At this period, however, ten battalions were on their march from France under the order of general Montmarie, who brought a reinforcement of conscripts for each of the regiments of the 3rd corps. Instructions were left behind, directing that column, consisting of about 4,000 men, to push on as far as Daroca, in order to maintain the communication of the army with Arragon during the march to Valencia. Fortified barracks were established at Teruel; and colonel Plicque, with a detachment of infantry, was directed to maintain that post and to protect the convoys and couriers from obstruction on their way through the country.

Our columns had left Teruel ; general Habert, who had the longest march to perform, had already proceeded a considerable distance on his way, and was no longer in communication with the army, when on the 1st of March, at the moment of quitting Teruel, the general-in-chief received the duplicate of the decree of the 8th of February, with a despatch bearing date the 18th of that month, enjoining him to lay siege to the towns of Lerida and Mequinenza. This order came too late; the movement which the king had directed was already in a course of execution. It is an undeniable truth that in time of war, more than under any other circumstance, a knowledge of the existing state of things is so indispensably requisite, that without such knowledge, it is utterly impossible to fix the moment of acting, and equally so to form a just estimate of that state of things, at a distance of 200 or 300 leagues from the scene of action. The first law for an army being the law of self- preservation, it is absolutely necessary, on all occasions, to submit to whatever course that paramount condition may dictate. General Suchet could neither order general Habert to fall back, nor leave him unsupported in the heart of the kingdom of Valencia. He therefore determined to continue his movement, and resigned himself to the chances of an enterprise which it was no longer in his power to recall.

The first march of our troops brought them to Sarrion, and in front of Alventosa, where the Valencian army had taken up a position behind the deep ravine through which runs the small stream called the Minjares. It had the appearance of an immense ditch intersecting the plain, and was only seen on coming close up to its sides, which rose perpendicularly, and within half a gun-shot of each other. The road cut along the declivity of the left bank, and connecting the elevated lands of Sarrion with the bridge of Alventosa, was interrupted by a ditch thirty feet broad, and was protected by the musketry of the right bank. On the other side of the Minjares, the village of Alventosa was grouped round an isolated rock, crowned by the ruins of an old castle, which, together with the village, were occupied by the enemy and formed their advanced guard. The Valencian army, covered by this natural intrencliment and advanced post, was drawn up on the plateau in the rear. It had on its right the bridge and village of Puenseca, and Manzaneraon its left. That army might have amounted to 10 or 12,000 men; in spite, however, of its formidable attitude and well-chosen position, we were fully convinced that it would not risk a battle on the frontier, at a time when general Habert's column was marching along the sea-shore, on its way to attack Valencia. It was much more probable that it would confine itself to watch or obstruct our movements, and hold itself in readiness, under every circumstance, to cover the threatened capital. These considerations determined the general-in-chief to manoeuvre in such a manner as would at least enable him to force the Valencian army from its position, if he should not succeed in bringing it to an engagement.

He had remarked, on his arrival, that the left of the Spaniards was inadequately supported, and that on approaching the source of the Minjares, the valley presented less difficulties for an advanced movement ; he determined to direct his principal attack to that point. On the 2nd of March, he ordered general Laval to attack before day-break the passage of the Manzanera, whilst generals Harispe and Paris would draw off the enemy's attention by a false attack upon his right, and by demonstrations and a heavy fire of artillery against the centre; the ditch was to be filled up as soon as the enemy should be dislodged from the village of Alventosa. Agreeably to these arrangements, general Laval forced the passage of the Manzanera; he then marched in a direction to enable him to out-flank the enemy, by reaching the plateaus of the right bank. The 4th regiment of hussars having descended into the valley, forded the river near the bridge of Alventosa, and rapidly gained the height at the moment when general Laval's movement was inducing the enemy to retreat. The cavalry availed itself of their hesitation to rush upon the village; the enemy's advanced guard evacuated it in the utmost haste, as well as the castle, which was defended by six pieces of heavy artillery. The retreat, or to speak more correctly, the flight of the Valencians was the immediate consequence of this success, and four field-pieces fell into our hands. The enemy was pursued as far as Las Barracas ; another piece of artillery and some baggage were taken at the defile of Xerica; we also found four pieces of cannon at Segorbe, which was completely deserted, the inhabitants having evacuated the town on our approach.

In our advance upon Murviedro on the 3rd of March, we quitted the barren country which separates Arragon from the kingdom of Valencia. On leaving those dreary table-lands, that dry atmosphere, those rugged and wild roads, a delightful country opened to our view, where an almost perpetual spring, a highly productive vegetation, a state of cultivation which rivals the natural fecundity of the soil, combined to excite our admiration. We were at last entering the plains of Valencia, where orange and lemon-trees present the most cheerful picture, and embalm the air with their perfume. General Habert reached Villareal at the same time. He had marched across mountains covered with snow, routed a corps of 4,000 Valencians at Morella, and seized upon the fort, in which he found 1,500 muskets. On the 3rd, he placed himself in communication with the general-in-chief; but the junction of both columns could only be effected at the spot where the two roads meet which lead to Valencia, the one along the seashore, the other by Teruel and Segorbe. When we entered Murviedro, a delightful little town situated at the foot of the rock of ancient Saguntum, a deputation came to present us with the keys. and to announce the submission of the inhabitants. We visited with all the eagerness of curiosity those celebrated ruins which so strongly recalled the days of Rome and of Hannibal. The object most worthy of notice was an old theatre in a good state of preservation, which the Spanish government carefully kept in repair. But no military works had yet been erected on the rock of Saguntum. We found here and there, amongst aloes and fig-trees, some vestiges of ruined walls, fragments of altars and sculptured stones, but not the least trace of defensive preparations. There was nothing to indicate that two years afterwards this position would offer to the same army an obstinate resistance, of which a siege and a battle would be the consequence.

The junction of the troops having taken place at Murviedro, they would have found no insuperable difficulty in marching back to Arragon, to which province they were re-called by the orders received from Paris. But the expectation which the despatches from Cordova had held out, of the friendly feelings of the inhabitants, was considered by the general-in-chief as making it imperative upon him to advance to the very ramparts of a city towards which he had already made so much progress. The reports which he received from other quarters, represented that a movement in favour of the French, within the walls of Valencia, was highly probable as soon as their forces should come in sight of it. The example of Madrid and of Seville, might find its imitators; he did not, however, wholly indulge this flattering hope ; neither would he expose himself to the reproach of having caused the failure of the expedition; a reproach he could not have escaped, if after having entered upon the attempt, he had not endeavoured to follow it up.

Murviedro is at the distance of only four leagues from Valencia. General Habert took the lead, and advanced as far as the suburb of Sera- nos After compelling all the Spanish out-posts to retreat into the city, he seized upon the left bank of the Guadalaviar. The chief of battalion Matis, of the 117th regiment, was sent to the port, called the Grao and took possession of it, as well as of the stores of English and Spanish merchandise collected there. General Laval established himself at Benimamet on the right. Valencia is situated on the right bank, with an enclosure of ramparts flanked with towers; the bridges were protected with intrenched heads, excepting the two that communicated from the suburb of Seranos to the town. Our reconnoitring parties, as they approached, were met a all points by a heavy fire of artillery.

The 3rd corps remained for the space of five days before that extensive city, which it could neither invest nor attack. No favourable movement manifested itself in the interval, and the letters and summons addressed by the general- in-chief to the governor, were wholly unattended to. We soon learned, on the contrary, that the popular excitement was displaying itself in an opposite sense. The archbishop and a number of persons suspected of favouring us, were arrested. Three gallows were erected in the great square for the purpose of striking terror into the people, and a colonel baron de Pozzoblanco was hung under pretence of being a traitor. The news of the advance of a French corps upon Murcia, had indeed been announced from Seville; .but that movement did not take place; the same spirit, moreover, which had broken out in Valencia, manifested itself in its vicinity. General Suchet accordingly adopted the determination not to prolong his absence from Arragon. Previously, however, to his return, he resolved to chastise the armed bands which were collecting around him; and although he had not one half of the 3rd corps before Valencia, to maintain a bold attitude in the midst of that hostile population.

Colonel Henriod marched upon Liria with the 14th regiment, and quelled every disturbance. General Boussard was sent on the 8th of March to Castellon de la Plana with 200 cuirassiers and 300 chosen foot soldiers. He met 2,000 armed peasants at the bridge of Villareal, behind the Minjares, and instantly ordered a charge ; a great number were killed, and the remainder took to their heels.

The army broke up its encampment on the 10th of March, at the entrance of the night, and forming itself' into a single column, resumed the road to Segorbe and Teruel, which was already threatened or intercepted by hostile detachments. So early as the 7th of March, general Villacampa deeming the moment to be favourable when the army was at a distance, had proceeded towards Teruel and penetrated into the town. The garrison of 400 men, under the orders of colonel Plicque, had been under the necessity of shutting itself up in the fortified barracks of the seminary.

Villacampa was informed that a detachment of 150 men, escorting four pieces of mountain artillery and some boxes of ammunition had left Daroca on its way to join the army. He immediately detached some of his forces to surround it. The convoy thus attacked in an extensive plain, a league from Teruel, and having a very inefficient commander, retreated in disorder to a venta, where the whole were taken, with the exception of a few horsemen, who escaped to Torremocha. Shortly afterwards, Villacampa caused an attack to be made upon a company of Polish soldiers who occupied the post of Alventosa; the commanding officer, who had had nothing- else to do but to shut himself up in the old castle, or retreat to the adjoining post of Las Barracas, adopted the very worst course, that of defending himself in the open country, on the plateau of the right bank of the Minjares; his handful of soldiers were surrounded and taken prisoners.

In the meanwhile, the castle of Teruel was closely blockaded. In the absence of artillery, the enemy resorted to other means, such as sending summons, keeping up a regular fire of musketry, and demonstrations of an under-ground attack. The seminary and an adjoining convent, forming together the barracks were situated on the wall of enclosure. The position on the country side was highly advantageous, owing to the declivity of the ground on which these buildings were erected. On the side of the town they were completely isolated, excepting at one extremity, where the convent came in contact with a large square tower, the lower part of which served as a gate to the town, and the upper part as a steeple to the church of St. Martin. This tower had a full command of the barracks, and of all the adjoining streets; it ought therefore to have formed part of the system of defence. It communicated, through the first story, with the church by the organ gallery, which should have been occupied and barricaded.;but this precaution was neglected, We had allowed the clergy the full use of the church, which was the chief parish church of the town, and divine service continued to be celebrated there as usual.

Availing themselves of this circumstance, the enemy contrived to enter the church, and scaled the organ gallery. They were now about to seize upon the tower, and the internal defense of the barracks would accordingly have become useless, had it not been for captain Leviston of the engineers, who rushed upon the Spaniards at the head of a few sappers, drove back all those who were in the gallery, and in the church, and either killed or took prisoners those who had found their way to the steeple. The siege was now changed for a second time into a blockade, and on the 12th of March, the head of the column of general Paris, forming the advanced guard of the army returning from Valencia, was descried beyond Sarrion. Villacampa now determined to retreat. The arrival of the general-in-chief on the following day, the 13th, completely restored our line of communication. He repaired on the 17th to Saragossa, to which place the artillery, Habert's division, and part of the cavalry, directed their march. Paris' brigade proceeded to Montalvan; and Laval's division was left to occupy Teruel, Daroca and Calatayud, as well as to oppose the forces of Villacampa and of the Valencians, during the operations which were about to engage the attention of the 3rd corps on the left bank of the Ebro. Availing himself of the moment when the line of the Cinca had been left unprotected, Perena had advanced along' both banks to the attack of Monzon, and of the tete-de-pont; general Verges, however, having arrived from Fraga, defeated and compelled him to retreat. This was a fortunate, though a casual occurrence; the movement of general Verges was the effect of a concentration of forces, which had been ordered by the general- in-chief in conformity with the plan of operations he had laid down for the siege of Lerida. The enemy then occupied Fraga, destroyed a few intrenchments we had raised there, and set fire to the bridge.

In the meantime, the successive departure of the French troops from Navarre had enabled Mina to rally his followers, renew his incursions, and again advance towards the Cinco Villas in Arragon. The general-in-chief sent general Harispe against him with fresh troops drawn from Saragossa, whilst the chief-of-battalion Deshorties quitted Jaca with the battalion of chasseurs of the Ariege, and advanced by way of Verdun, to bar the entrance of the upper vallies. Thus driven back to the right bank compelled to quit Arragon, and fly for shelter to Navarre, where general Dufour, the successor of general Regnier, had taken possession of all the passes, and being hemmed in on all sides, Mina, early in April, fell in the midst of the French advanced posts, was taken prisoner and sent to France.

This event relieved the French army from the annoyance of a very enterprising Guerilla leader, and calmed for some time the disturbances in Navarre. We shall soon find his uncle Espoz y Mina succeeding him, and gradually taking a still higher flight than the young student his nephew had ever done.

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