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Suchet: War in Spain
Chapter 5a
Regulations adopted subsequent to the taking of Lerida.— Skirmishes during the siege of that place.—Investment of Mequinenza. —Opening of the trenches.—Taking of the town.—Establishment of the batteries.—Opening of the fire upon the fort. — Capitulation.—Capture of the fort of Morella in the kingdom of Valencia.


THE establishment of order in Lerida, and the occupation of that portion of Catalonia which is under its influence, were the first objects that occupied the attention of general Suchet. He halted for several days in the town, during which he gave the requisite directions for filling up the trenches, repairing the breaches, and putting every part of it, once more in a complete state of defence. Several houses that were built close to the walls had suffered greatly from fire, and from the shells thrown into the town, and of this circumstance the general took advantage to forbid their being re-built. He made it his special study to restore confidence to the inhabitants, to whom he promised every protection, both in respect to their persons, and their property, and he not only protected the clergy from injury, but restored them to the exercise of their sacred functions. There had been a central junta established in the town, which had served to foment the excitation among the people of the province, and to such a height had that excitation been carried, during the siege, that when we entered the town, we found nailed to one of the gates, the heads of two artillery officers who had been massacred on suspicion of keeping up a correspondence with the French The commander-in-chief assembled the members of the central junta, and assured them, that these two officers had been innocently put to death, since not one of the whole besieging army knew any thing about them; he stated to them at the same time, that a great many of the inhabitants had demanded, that they should be put on their trial, as guilty of numerous acts of cruelty and of barbarity, but he added, that faithful to his engagements, which he had agreed to in signing the capitulation, he would not allow any act of revenge to be attempted against them. He required from them, however, in the course of fifteen days, a general statement of their receipts and expenditure during the siege, that it might be printed and published, to satisfy the numerous complaints of the inhabitants. By this measure, and by their temporary detention in their respective houses, the commander-in-chief preserved the lives of these, over whom the capitulation had extended its inviolable shield. At the same time, he selected a corregidor, and a new junta from among the most respectable people in the place, and lastly, he nominated baron Henriod, colonel of the 14th regiment of infantry of the line, a man of firm and prudent character, governor of the town, the forts, and the province at large. The preservation of our first conquest in Catalonia deserved to be the more carefully attended to, that at the very time of the assault of the 13th May, several masses of troops and of Somatens were advancing on Segre Alto, and Noguera, for the purpose of disturbing our operations, or in the hope that by pressing upon us during a somewhat lengthened siege, we might be straitened in provisions.

The upland vallies of Catalonia are quite a nursery of bold and active soldiers, and it was necessary to disperse as speedily as possible a considerable body of troops, to which the vicinity of general Campoverde with a corps of regulars, gave courage and support. Even previous to the 18th of May, 800 miquelete had marched against Venasque, when they were repulsed, and driven back into the valley of Aran. The chef-de-bataillon, Renouvier, who commanded at Jaca, directed at the same time an expedition upon Arens, where he took 150 prisoners; and general Habert marched to Talarn and Tremps, where the main body of the Somatem was stationed, and against Campoverde, who occupied the mountains of Lliniana. Colonel Robert, who had orders to attack the Somatens with the 117th regiment, turned the Col. d'Ares, though very strongly defended, advanced rapidly on the bridge at Tremps, which he turned, routing the enemy that defended it, and taking a great many arms, and a large quantity of ammunition,. Thus, instead of being in a condition to support the insurgents, Campoverde found his retreat menaced by the march of general Habert, who had directed his troops on Pons and Lentorn, and interposed between him and Cervera; he retreated rapidly in the direction of Cardona, Colonel Robert, who, to his merits as a soldier, united talents of another order, was charged with the pacification of the country, and he speedily contrived to render this fertile province one of the most valuable resources of the 3rd corps' d'armee.

During the siege of Lerida, Arragon also was the object of fresh attempts on the part of the enemy. The marquis of Lazan, brother to general Palafox, took possession of Alcaniz early in May, and pressed hard on the citadel there. Captain Wikoski, with his small garrison of 300 men, made an honourable defence. The enemy had driven a mining gallery close to the walls, when a soldier of the 114th, named Roland, got himself lowered by a rope from one of the embrasures, with a view to roll a howitzer shell into the gallery; he was fortunate enough to get into the fort again, without being hurt, though exposed to a very sharp fire of musketry. The explosion destroyed the Spanish works, and thirteen of their men perished under the ruins. The brave Roland received the cross of the legion of honour for this action. General Laval immediately sent general Montmarie to the succour of the castle of Alcaniz. The latter, with 1,500 men of the 14th and 3rd of the Vistula, 500 cavalry, and three field-pieces, did not hesitate to attack 5,000 men, though intrenched behind the bridge, and in the houses of the town, the walls of which were regularly loop-holed. He passed the stream with the water to the cartouch belts, charged the Spaniards, and drove them from street to street, whilst the cavalry wheeled round to attack them in the rear. They would have been surrounded, had they not saved themselves by a prompt retreat.

On the side of Calatayud, on the 13th May, the chef de bataillon, Petit, at the head of 315 men of the 14th, and thirty-two gendarmes while guiding a convoy of provisions to Saragossa, was attacked by Villacampa who had received information of his movements, and who by an exceedingly rapid march, succeeded in shutting him up in the defile of el Frasno. Petit saw the impossibility of forcing a passage in the face of forces ten times more numerous than his own; he therefore drew up his men in close column, and making a bold push towards the left, he arrived at the village of Paracuellos, in good order. The convoy of 300. mules was necessarily abandoned. The Spaniards pressed on him from all sides, but he contrived notwithstanding that he was himself wounded, a circumstance which damped neither his firmness nor intrepidity, to struggle through a fight not more unequal than obstinate, until he gained Savinan. The Spaniards kept firing furiously at the two flanks of the column, and charging it now in the front, now in the rear, and every moment his little handful of men was becoming less, by the dropping of some of its number at length these brave fellows having exhausted all their powder, dashed through the Xalen, charged the village of Arandija, which they took at the point of the bayonet, and there maintained their position, notwithstanding a final and furious attack, until they saw their enemies retire in despair of carrying it. The loss they had sustained was extremely great; their brave commander, Petit, had been thrown from his horse, and falling beyond the line of the column was taken, and along with him 141 of these gallant men, among whom were twelve of the gendarmes, who perished, or were taken. The commander-in-chief bestowed a just and merited eulogium on the conduct of the 194 soldiers who returned, the greater part severely wounded, and took immediate measures for getting Petit, their leader, exchanged; but what was his extreme affliction, when he learned that that gallant officer had been assassinated! On the evening of the combat, he was sitting by a fire in the camp of the enemy, and getting his wounds dressed, while a crowd of Spanish officers who surrounded him, were looking on him with admiration, when a ruffian taking advantage of the darkness, approached him from behind, and stabbed him through the body with a bayonet. The officers who witnessed this act of cowardice inflicted the most summary punishment on the perpetrator, the just reward of a deed that nothing could excuse, but which they could neither foresee nor guard against. Navar alcalde, of el Frasno, a respectable old man, who had followed the French column, and who also fell into the hands of the Spaniards, was burned alive;—this may serve as a specimen of the fury that animated our enemies.

General Chlopiski, from Daroca, had pursued Villacampa as soon as he ascertained that he was in motion, and having sent back his artillery to Carineno, that he might be less encumbered, arrived at el Frasno on the 14th, the morning after the battle. Villacampa had then moved, but he resolved to follow him without delay ; he directed colonel Lafosse, with the 44th regiment, upon Catalayud and Setina, while he himself marched on Xarava, with forty hussars and fifty cuirassiers ; ( his infantry could not keep up with him) and got up with Villacampa's rear-guard there, and took 174 prisoners. On the l7th he marched on Campillo, and thence on Molina; he then took the direction of Cuenca, but it was found impossible to trace the fugitives any further. A manufactory for arms was destroyed at Molina, and a great number of gun-barrels, some blacksmiths' vices, and some bar iron , were carried to Saragossa. Every report went to prove that the army of Villacampa was in a state of complete dispersion, and 600 of his soldiers, who had fled from the ranks, and abandoned their arms, presented themselves before Calatayud. This was the sixth time that the young fellows had been seen coming back to their homes, and yet even then it was impossible to reckon on their resolution to remain there. It must be confessed that the means adopted by the chiefs of the bands to make them join the army again, surpassed in vexatiousness and cruelty any thing that can be imagined..

About the same time at Ayerba, forty foot gendarmes of the 9th battalion, who, like all the stations for communication on either bank of the Ebro, occupied an intrenched post, which they had orders to defend to the last extremity, were unexpectedly attacked by 300 men coming from Navarre. After sustaining with great coolness the attack of their assailants, they shut themselves up, and thus repulsed all their assaults. The Spaniards succeeded in setting fire to their barracks, but the gendarmes retired into a small building that was fortunately isolated, and there, as in a redoubt, maintained themselves with invincible steadiness, until the enemy, vanquished by the resolution of these forty gallant fellows, thought fit to retire. The commander-in-chief took pleasure in the orders of the day, to advert to the numerous proofs of courage that were displayed by the soldiers of the 3rd corps; nor did he fail in all such cases, to make known the names of every commander, officer, and soldier that merited that distinction. Such a publicity produced the happiest effect on the minds of the soldiers, and on those of the natives also.

The morning after his entry into Lerida, general Suchet had directed the 421st regiment to march by the left bank of the Segre towards Mequinenza. The siege of this fort and that of Lerida were so intimately connected, that two months before the French government had directed them both to be undertaken at the same time. The means of accomplishing this were, however, wanting; and motives that were easy to be appreciated had determined the commander-in-chief to begin with the siege of Lerida. As soon as the troops began to approach Mequinenza, as a preliminary he despatched his aid-de-camp, captain Ricard, who was instructed to offer very advantageous terms of capitulation, but they were rejected, although the fall of Lerida must have naturally discouraged the little garrison, by taking away all hopes of being relieved.

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