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Suchet: War in Spain
Chapter 4c


If the result had corresponded with this language, and if the characters who appear on the public scene could be judged at the tribunal of history by the words they have spoken, the above might be worthy of being quoted at the same time with the remarkable expressions which Rome and Sparta have handed down to our admiration. General Suchet perceived that other means should be resorted to for accomplishing his object, and thenceforward endeavoured to make a prompt and vigorous display of them. The prisoners were sent to Monzon under a strong escort, and from thence, by way of Saragossa and Jaca, to the frontiers of France. Their march through Arragon had a salutary influence over the inhabitants, who became more quiet and submissive when they had ocular demonstration of O'Donnells defeat. The battering train was immediately procured from Monzon, moveable hospitals were formed, every means got in readiness to afford assistance to the wounded, and we were enabled to open the trenches at the end of the month of April.

The regular siege of a town was at that period a novel operation for most military men. Nevertheless, the 3rd corps had served its apprenticeship at Saragossa, and the general.-in-chief expected much from the courage and attachment of his troops. He more particularly relied upon the talents of the two officers who commanded the artillery and the engineers; a right understanding between the heads of those two important branches of the service is an indispensable condition for carrying on a siege with any prospect of success. General Valee united to the practice of his art a scientific knowledge of the duties of an artillery officer and a military man; for the formation of a battering train, and the keeping it in good order, we were wholly indebted to him. On the other hand, colonel Haxo, of the engineers, had caused tools to be made in Arragon, with the assistance of some funds for which he had applied to the commander-in-chief. This measure of precaution, so useful in a country where all resources of the kind were to be created, mainly contributed to the success of the siege. During the events which had occurred from the investment of the place, he bestowed his attention on every preparatory measure. He caused the canals to be closed which communicated with the town, and inundated a part of the ground where the attack was to be carried on; and he requested that orders might be given for driving back into the town the last advanced posts which the garrison still held outside the gates. Accordingly, during the night from the 26th to the 27th of April., some companies of skirmishers boldly approached the front of the Magdalen, without firing a shot ; several of the men even came close up to the wall. The enemy's advanced posts took to flight, and a sharp fire of musketry was kept up by the contending parties. The same operation having been repeated during the two following nights, and round the whole enclosure of the town, the besieged relinquished all further attempts to retain possession of their out-posts, a circumstance which enabled the engineer-officers to approach the place, and minutely reconnoitre the front of attack, as well as the access to it. The attack was proposed to be made on that front which had been assaulted by the duke of Orleans, when he carried the town 103 years before ; a course which was adopted on the present occasion. The trench was to begin on the right, near the road of the Cross, and in front of a rivulet or azequia; to run across the road to Balaguer, and to extend nearly as far as the Segre to the left, so as to embrace and surround the whole of that front, from the bastion of the Magdalen to the bastion of the Carmen. The breach was to be made in the latter, on two sides at once.

In the evening of the 29th of April, sixteen hundred armed soldiers without knapsacks, each man provided with a pick-axe and shovel, were assembled behind the extremity of the back part of the trench, terminating at the post called the Cross, and standing within about four hundred toises of the place. At nightfall, they were successively led from thence by the engineer officers to the site where the work was to be carried on, which they immediately commenced. Although so closely exposed to the enemy's fire, without any other protection than the darkness of the night, and the silence which they maintained, they exerted themselves with the greatest alacrity to get the work in a sufficient state of forwardness to afford them complete shelter by day-break. Two select companies, divided into four sections, were placed beyond the pioneers, flat on their faces with centinels kneeling before them with crossed bayonets. Another select company occupied a flank position on the left bank; and a reserve battalion in the rear was to march rapidly forward, and afford assistance to any point where our soldiers might be attacked or give way. Every chief, every officer of a company, was acquainted with the general instructions as far as they concerned him ; and the soldier himself, in his perilous situation, was apprised of the duty he had to perform, and of the assistance there was at hand, on the first signal that might be given. During this first siege, general Suchet endeavoured to put in practice all those arrangements for carrying on the service of trenches, which the wisdom of old regulations had established, and of which reflection, as well as experience, had confirmed the utility. All the nineteen battalions encamped before Lerida, supplied in turn every day, either as pioneers or as guards of the trenches, a certain number of men, in one or more companies, each consisting of eighty men, commanded by their respective officers. These minute precautions were productive of a salutary effect. The commander-in-chief feeling satisfied that a company may be animated, as well as a regiment or a battalion, by the esprit-de-corps, that lever which operates so powerfully amongst soldiers, gave by that arrangement, to those who were employed at the. trenches, a greater degree of solidity and steadiness than is usually found in an ordinary service performed by detachments. He also deemed it preferable to select for pioneers the soldiers of the centre companies, in order to reserve for the grenadiers and skirmishers the special duty of keeping watch over the works, an honourable commission which belonged to their primitive institution. The general order regulated every morning the service of the following day, in such a manner, however, as that the time for working and for taking rest should, as nearly as possible, be equally apportioned to all. It is well known that the infantry is the main source from whence all other branches of the service are supplied. The respective corps which composed it had already furnished pioneers, to be incorporated with the sappers ; the artillery had applied for several companies of infantry, to do duty as auxiliary artillery-men; other services, which did not admit of being suspended, frequently required detachments and excursions. All those measures stood in need of being closely inquired into and placed in harmony with each other. If order and regularity are always useful in war, they are at no time more so than during a siege.wtj

The opening of the trenches, which was superintended by colonel Haxo and the officers and soldiers of the engineer corps, was effected under the orders of general Buget, assisted by colonel Rouelle, captain Meyer, first aid-de-camp of the commander-in-chief, the major of the trench Douarche, &c. The night operation was successfully carried on; the enemy discharged a few fire balls and grape shot, but at random and with very little effect. They had an opportunity of perceiving at day break from their ramparts the development of the works, which already placed the besiegers beyond their reach. The parallel was at 140 toises from the place; it was completed during the night of the 30th of April, and could be made instantly available to the construction of batteries. Of these three were originally erected. The first, consisting of four eight-inch mortars on the extreme right of the parallel, was intended for the purpose of annoying the batteries of the castle. The second, of four pieces of cannon, twelve long pounders, was to destroy, or at least to batter down the right flank of the bastion of the Magdalen, so as to render the contiguous flank unavailing for the defence of the bastion of the Carmen. The third, which was of six pieces of cannon, sixteen pounders, was to effect a breach on the left face of the bastion of the Carmen, through which it was intended to penetrate into the town. The trenches were inundated with rain; it required great exertion to drain off the water, by leading them to a canal, the course of which was turned off. Two cheminements were commenced on the bastions of the Magdalen and of the Carmen ; the parallel was extended on the right towards the foot of the castle, and on the left by a new cheminement towards the bastioned intrenchiment, forming the projection of the Carmen. The second trench of the left cheminement served to erect a fourth battery, of two pieces of cannon, sixteen pounders, and two six-inch howitzers, the object of which was to batter in front the upper and lower right face of the bastion of the Carmen, and on the back part of the trench, the left face of the same bastion, as well as the adjoining curtain. Some Spanish sharp-shooters, who were gliding along the left bank of the Segre, annoyed by their fire the left of the parallel, by attacking it in the rear. The 117th took up more advanced positions, drew together its posts, and put an end to the enemy's petty excursions. The garrison had not yet made any attempt upon our works. At five o'clock in the evening of the 4th of May, after an uninterrupted fire from all the batteries of the castle and of the town, 5 or 600 men sallied forth from the battery of the Carmen ; they rapidly moved towards the left of the parallel and the battery No. 4, which had not a moment's time to place itself in a state of defence. The pioneers and two companies of the trench guard retreated to the point where the first night's work had terminated. Captain Bugeon of the 121st regiment, rallied at this place his company of grenadiers, attacked the enemy who were in possession of the left of the works, and compelled them to fall back. An obstinate engagement took place, in which captain Bugeon ran his sword through the body of a Spaniard, who was engaged in a personal contest with the lieutenant of sappers, Leclerc ; our pioneers of the centre and our reserve having instantly advanced, the Spaniards took to flight, and re-entered the town in the utmost confusion by the gate of the Carmen, after having had to sustain the fire of all our infantry. A few Spaniards had shewn themselves at the same time outside the gate of the Magdalen; but we were on our guard, and the firm attitude shewn by our troops at this point of the trench, prevented the enemy from attacking them..

On the 5th and 6th of May, a trench was opened on the left between the battery No. 4 and the river, as a substitute for a place d'armes in case of any sortie. As some straggling sharpshooters still succeeded in annoying our pioneers from the bank of the Segre, with a view to get rid of them, we determined to open a cheminement on the left of the Segre, so as to obtain possession of the bank; three winding trenches were pushed forward; advantage was taken of a canal for irrigation which crossed the road to Barcelona, and after having dried it up and cleared it, we converted it into a parallel against the tete-de-pont. The company of horse-artillery encamped with the 117th regiment commenced on that side a battery for an eight-pounder and a howitzer; the Spaniards had some field-pieces on the bridge which this battery was destined to attack. The right of the parallel was extended to the foot of the castle, as far as a small hill, under cover of which we placed a platoon of soldiers to defend that much exposed point. It was found necessary to employ a quantity of gabions in this work, and to bring earth in baskets for the purpose of filling them. We were thus enabled to foresee what difficulties we should have to contend with in any future attack, if we had to besiege the castle when the town should have fallen into our hands.

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