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Suchet: War in Spain
Chapter 4d


At 5 o'clock in the morning of the 7th of May, the artillery opened its fire ; the batteries No: 2, 3, and 4 soon dismounted four of the pieces of cannon which defended the bastions of the Carmen and of the Magdalen. The battery No.1 threw shells into the castle ; two field howitzers, placed on the extreme right in front of the camp of the l2lst regiment, and facing the gate of St. Martin, opened upon the town, whilst our light artillery on the left bank returned the fire of the artillery which the enemy kept up from the bridge over the Segre. But the fire from the castle was now directed against our batteries Nos. 2 and 3, dismounted three pieces of cannon, and left twenty artillery-men hors de combat; this circumstance compelled us to slacken our fire. The enemy's fire became more active in consequence; the four pieces dismounted in the bastions of the town were replaced, the howitzers belonging to the 121st regiment were silenced; captain Brador, commanding the battery No 1, was killed by a cannon ball, and soon afterwards that battery was thrown into confusion by the bursting of a shell in the midst of it. The besieged were encouraged by this success, which suspended for a time the progress of our attack ; 300 men sallied out of the town through the new gate that very night, glided along the wall as far as the right of the parallel, surprised and drove back the platoon of soldiers on duty. They afterwards penetrated into the trenches as far as the road leading to the . gate of the Magdalen. But the pioneers having quickly taken up their arms, rallied behind a curtain which bordered the road, and some chasseurs of the 5th light infantry advanced against the enemy's left flank. The Polish chef de bataillon Schutz, and lieutenant Regnault of the 114th regiment, came up in haste with a reserve consisting of a handful of gallant soldiers; the enemy fled and was pursued beyond the trenches, which he precipitately evacuated. In this imprudent pursuit, the company of the 114th lost an officer and several grenadiers, owing to the enemy's fire of grape-shot; and lieutenant Bordieres, an aid-de-camp of the commander-in-chief, and an officer of uncommon bravery, received a severe wound, of which he died a few days afterwards. The Spaniards lost nine men taken prisoners, and eight killed, amongst whom was an artilleryman, who had provided himself with four fire lances, which were intended to set fire to our mortar battery.

On the following day captain Monnot, who commanded the artillery of the left bank, was struck dead by a cannon ball. The continuance of the rains, and the effects produced by the fire from the castle, which was levelled at our works, did not however arrest their progress. General Valee repaired the injury we had sustained, restored the batteries, and re-armed them, in order that we might batter in breach with more success than we had hitherto done. Two new batteries were erected, the one denominated No. 5, on the left of the road to Balaguer, consisting of four mortars recently sent to us, the other. No. 6, consisting of two howitzers, and placed between battery No. 4 and the Segre. A second parallel was opened between the cheminement of the two recently-attacked bastions, with the double object of getting nearer to the points where a breach was to be effected, and of pushing forward the batteries Nos. 2 and 3, in order to screen them from the fire of the castle, which became less dangerous in proportion as it took a more downward direction. But as the latter operation would necessarily take up some time and protract the siege, it was determined not to undertake it, unless it were absolutely called for. I he number and calibre of our battering train were augmented. A last battery of four howitzers, denominated No. 7, was added to the rest, in a position where the ground offered a natural shelter. The object of it was to multiply the crossfires directed against the castle, and thereby to afford to the batteries in breach, the means of producing the effect which was expected of them. These works of the artillery and engineer corps were carried on from the 8th to the 12th of May. The commander-in-chief encouraged them by his presence, and by the distribution of rewards amongst the pioneers. He caused the breastworks to be lined with bags of earth, especially those in the second parallel, and ordered that sharp-shooters should bestationed behind the battlements, in order to keep up a constant fire against the artillery-men of the enemy's batteries. At nine o'clock in the morning of the 12th our batteries, eight in number, consisting of fifteen pieces of cannon, and nineteen mortars or howitzers, re-commenced firing. The front of the castle and the bastion of the Ascension, supported by field-pieces established on the bridge, warmly returned to the fire of our battery No. 4, though for a very short time and without success. Our artillery, which was served with great steadiness and precision, obtained the advantage, dismounted the cannon of the bastions of the Magdalen and of the Carmen, and quickly opened breaches; each gun fired upwards of a hundred shot in the course of the day. A case of howitzers and grenades in the bastion named Louvigny, burst with a loud explosion the confusion which this accident occasioned in the castle, afforded us a decided advantage. Towards evening, the two breaches of the Carmen appeared to be wide and accessible; some Swiss deserters penetrated through them during the night, and repaired to our trenches: we learned from them that trenches were cut, and batteries erected in the streets of the town, in anticipation of our making an assault,

This circumstance attracted the particular attention of the commander-in-chief. Contrary to the expectation he had entertained at the commencement of the siege, he saw that the governor, instead of isolating himself and preparing for the defence of the castle, persevered in defending the town, although the moment had arrived when it behoved the latter to come to terms of capitulation. This was, no doubt, the effect of the influence exercised over his councils by the armed population, who, acting under an excitement of feelings very inconsistent with prudence, served as auxiliaries to the garrison. The French general accordingly determined to carry, without any further delay, the two redoubts, and the horn-work erected on the plateau of Garden, to which we have already had occasion to allude. The extensive space of ground which they covered, might, at the moment of the assault of the town, have become an asylum for the inhabitants, whereas, his intention was to compel them to seek refuge in the castle, for the express purpose of shortening the siege and of lessening its calamities. In the night of the 12th general Verges, with a battalion of the 114th, four select companies of the 121st, and 100 pioneers armed with tools, was directed to carry the redoubts of San-Fernando and del Pilar; general Buget, with six select companies, and a few sappers, led by captain Foucaud, was ordered to attack the horn-work, by penetrating through a breach which had been discovered on the right branch, and which it was possible to approach under cover of a ravine; the chef-de-bataillon Plagniol, of the engineer corps, was to advance at the same time towards the front of that work, with two select companies, and 400 pioneers. At midnight, the three columns began to move, notwithstanding the brightness of the moon rather obstructed their operations; some engineer officers sappers were proceeding with them, and ladders had been provided for the occasion. The redoubt del Pilar was instantly carried, as it had been on the former occasion; the enemy hastily withdrew, and flying towards the horn-work, fell upon the column of the chef-de-bataillon Plagniol who charged them, followed in pursuit, and came up to the ditch of the work, which only contained a very small guard of soldiers. Our men planted their ladders for the purpose of descending, and immediately prepared to scale the redoubt. The sappers proceeded to force the entrance gate; sergeant Maury mounted on the back of a grenadier, got over the gate, and broke it open with his axe and both columns penetrated into the work; for the corps of general Buget having lost its way in the ravine, had returned to the point occupied by the chef-de-bataillon Plagniol. The Spaniards endeavoured in their retreat to rally behind a corps-de-garde; but they were forced to retreat to the covered way of fort Garden. In the meanwhile, the redoubt of San Fernando had made a more protracted resistance. Two companies of the 121st succeeded at first in establishing themselves on the counterscarp, and kept up a continued fire to prevent the enemy from showing themselves above the parapets ; two other companies rushed into the ditch and fixed the ladder to the scarp. After an obstinate struggle, in which captain Montauban of the engineers received a mortal wound, our soldiers penetrated into the redoubt, but they could only obtain possession of it after having put the garrison to the sword, they having persisted in making a desperate resistance after they were driven back and deprived of all hopes of escape; at last however, a lieutenant and twenty men laid down their arms. Our loss consisted of about 100 men killed or wounded. Of the 300 Spaniards, not more than sixty escaped destruction.; we took five pieces of cannon. The engineer officer hastened to secure the position of our soldiers in the works they had just succeeded in carrying by this nocturnal attack. The commander-in-chief, who watched its progress and directed every movement, instantly gave the requisite orders on the spot, for our ulterior operations; and on the approach of day he returned to the trenches, for the purpose of striking the decisive blow.

The artillery had continued firing upon the castle during the night; on the 13th it resumed its attack against the Carmen, and endeavoured to widen the breaches. With a view to facilitate the assault, the corps of engineers contrived to cut steps in the second parallel, in order that the troops might the more easily rush forward, and collected on the back of the trench the necessary materials for the lodgments to be formed on the breaches, as soon as they should have been carried. The enemy, on the other hand, made preparations for a general sortie, for the purpose of retaking the horn-work of Garden that very night; but they were not allowed time to carry their intention into effect.

In the afternoon, the order was given for the assault, and general Habert, who jointly with colonel Rouelle commanded the trench, received the plan of the intended attack. The select companies of the 5th regiment of light infantry, of the 116th sappers, and the pioneers of the 115th regiment, and of the 1st regiment of the Vistula were assembled in the second parallel ; the commander in chief placed himself, with the reserves, at the central point of the trenches. At the hour of seven, which was shortly before nightfall, he ordered the signal to be given by four bombs fired at the same time. Our firing instantly ceased, and the troops rushed forward. Some of the companies were to penetrate through the principal street which runs parallel with the quay and the river, others on the right, towards the gate of the Magdalen, whilst some miners should proceed in the same direction, along the outward wall, for the purpose of blowing up the gate, and thereby giving admittance to as many troops as it might be found necessary to introduce.

The impetuosity of the assailants at first bore down all resistance on the breaches. Presently, a dreadful fire of musketry played upon the heads of our columns, in conjunction with the guns from the castle and the bridge; they were at first thrown into confusion, but general Habert hurried them along by beating the charge. Colonel Rouelle received a bayonet wound in the attack on the main street. The lieutenant of miners, Romphleur, had great difficulties to encounter before he could succeed in forcing open the gates of the Magdalen. On the left, captain Vallentin of the engineer corps, moved rapidly forward along the projection of the Carmen, towards a gate which separated him from the quay, and which it was necessary to pass under the fire of grape shot from a piece of artillery on his flank, and the musquetry from the houses. The sergeant of sappers, Baptiste, regardless of almost certain death, climbed the gate, and threw it open to the troops, who rushed upon the quay. The Spaniards who were defending the trenches cut in the main street, found themselves completely turned. At the same moment, general Harispe, who had orders to act as soon as we should be masters of the breach, and the engagement should have been transferred to the interior of the town, attacked the tete-de-pont on the left bank. The commander-in-chief sent forward the reserves, and personally crossed the breach in order to direct the movement. This display of force did not allow the Spaniards to persist any longer in their defence , and put an end to a sanguinary strife, which would thenceforth have been carried on in the dark. The bridge, the quay, and the streets were left covered with dead bodies , and the garrison began to retreat towards the castle..

The commander-in-chief aimed at a much more important result than his efforts and the gallantry of his troops had just achieved. It would have been an infinitely more useful object to avoid, if possible, the necessity of besieging the castle. He made colonel Robert enter the town through the bridge with the 117th regiment, and sent him in the direction of the gate of Saint-Anthony. From that moment, all the troops, by a simultaneous movement towards the centre, and a well-sustained fire of musketry, endeavoured to drive the garrison and the inhabitants from street to street and house to house, towards the elevated part of the town and towards the castle, in which latter it was our object to compel them to seek shelter. The firing from the castle upon the town, by increasing the danger and the terror of the inhabitants, contributed to hurry them along pell-mell with the troops, towards the ditches and bridges. Pursued by our soldiers, they hastened to reach the enclosure and to shut themselves up in it, the governor not having had time to order their being driven back, or courage to enforce such an order. Our mortars and howitzers never ceased firing the whole of the night nor during the morning of the following day. Each bomb being aimed at the narrow space in which this crowd had taken refuge, fell upon groups of soldiers and unarmed men all huddled together, and spread destruction and disorder among them. It was natural that the efforts of the governor and of the most determined men should be checked by the presence of the women, the children, the aged men, and the unarmed peasantry, who suddenly fell from the height of popular phrensy into discouragement and a dread of death. These measures were attended with as prompt and decisive an effect as general Suchet had anticipated. A white flag was hoisted on the turret at noon of the 14th; and shortly afterwards, the bearer of 'a flag of truce came to propose the surrender of the castle and to sue for terms of capitulation. The commander-in-chief sent general Valee and colonel St. Cyr Nugues of the staff, to the castle, and colonel Haxo of the engineers, to fort Garden, for the purpose of concluding and signing that capitulation, by which both garrisons were to be allowed the honours of war. They filed off through the breach, laid down their arms, and remained prisoners.

By the conquest of Lerida we obtained possession of 133 pieces of cannon, 1,000,000 of cartridges, 100,000 pounds of gunpowder, 10,000 muskets, ten standards, and a great number of magazines. But the trophy which of all others, was of the highest value to the conqueror, was the setting at liberty thirty-three French officers of the army of Catalonia, who were found in the castle, and who embraced their deliverers in a transport of joy which will easily be accounted for. The besieging army lost about 200 killed and 500 wounded, either in the works and the assault, or in the engagements which took place from the 12th of April, the day on which the town was invested, until the 14th of May, when we took possession of it.

The loss of the garrison during the siege, was estimated at about 1,200 men. The prisoners amounted to 7,748 soldiers and officers, according to the statement which was drawn up, and which accompanied the despatch conveying the official report and the capitulation.

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