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Suchet: War in Spain
Chapter 6b


Laval's division, which was 6,000 strong, left Alcaniz at the end of June, after placing a garrison in the fort of Morella and ensuring the defences and provisioning of that point. They advanced from that place on San Mateo, followed by general Boussard, who commanded a battalion of infantry, 500 cuirassiers, and six pieces of light artillery. General Laval, after proceeding for some time in the direction of Valencia, pushed directly and rapidly forward upon Tortosa. The chef-d'escadron Mesclop, who commanded the advanced guard of the cavalry, pressed close up to the place by the banks of the river, and surrounded in so doing a part of the Spanish troops that remained without the town and made several prisoners. All the remaining Spaniards retreated into the place by the tete-de-pont, before which general Laval had taken up his position. On the 3rd July the investment was formed on the right bank, and on the 4th he extended his right as far as Amposta, and took possession of the ferry on the high road from Barcelona to Valencia, his left the meanwhile touching on Xerta. General Boussard, with his corps of observation, was stationed on the Cenia in order to serve as an advance guard against the Valencians.

During the double movement of the 1st and 3rd divisions, the general of brigade, Paris, had advanced as far as Mora, at which town the commander-in-chief fixed his head quarters on the 6th of July. Without waiting for the completion of the new road, he proceeded to occupy Miravet, Pinel and Las Armas, and thus placed himself in communication with general Laval, and also arranged so as to communicate with the troops of general Habert. Two flying bridges, which general Valiee caused to be brought down from Mequinenza, were established at Mora and Xerta for the purpose of connecting the one bank of the river with the other. The general immediately had a tete-de-pont constructed at each of these points and the whole of the vessels on the river, from Mora and above, as far as the mouth were seized. An attempt was made to burn the bridge of boats at Tortosa, by sending down during the night, by favour of the current, some barks laden with fascines which were smeared with pitch and fired, but without success. The works on the road were carried on with the utmost activity, and the formidable defile of Las Armas was at length rendered practicable. Had the army of Catalonia been in a condition to act as that of Arragon was, it ought at this time to have been in front of Tarragona, or at least on the way to it; general Suchet was led to hope that such would be the case from the despatches of the prince of Neufchatel, but he had no certainty that it would. The delay was beginning to render him uneasy, although it was readily explained by the difficulty of direct communication, when on the 9th of July he received through an emissary the positive intelligence that marshal Macdonald with his corps d'armee was before Gerona.

From that moment the position of general Suchet before Tortosa, was no longer the same ; he even regretted that he had been tempted to invest it, but as he felt persuaded that a retreat might be attended with fatal consequences, he determined to maintain himself where he was,
and to endeavour, by redoubling his efforts, to resist the attempts which he was sure O'Donnell would not fail to make against him. That general had under his command an army of 22,000 men, and it was more than likely as he was left free to act as he pleased, that he would direct on the Ebro a portion of his forces, and that, aided by the garrison of Tortosa, and by the army of Valencia, he would disturb the operations of the siege, which from that time was necessarily converted into a mere blockade of the right bank.

From the 6th to the 8th of July, Laval's division bad been occupied in intrenching themselves, although interrupted in their labours by two sorties of the garrison, which they repulsed with equal vigour and firmness. On the 10th, a division of the enemy encamped at Falset, attacked our posts at Tivisa, and surprised the rear guard of one of our reconnoitring parties, which were returning after taking some thirty prisoners. Lieutenant Adoue, who commanded this rear-guard, kept his ground intrepidly for several hours, although completely surrounded on all sides, and thus gained time for succour to be sent to him ; he lost the half of his little troop, but he brought back the remainder to the camp. The next morning the attack was renewed on the troops that we had at the tete-de-pont at Mora. Colonel Kliski, who was sent with ninety-six lancers to support the infantry that were opposed to a greatly superior force, charged the Spaniards boldly, drove them back, and killed a great many of them. On the 12th the commander-in-chief directed general Paris to attack them in front, whilst general Habert manoeuvred by the mountains on their flanks. In order to get a fixed position before this division of the enemy, which constituted general O'Donnell's advanced guard, general Habert, together with the brigade of general Abbe, established himself at Tivisa, an advantageous post in advance, on the left bank of the Ebro, and communicating both with Mora and Ginestar, on the route to Xerta. On the same day (the 12th) a fresh sortie was made by the garrison of Tortosa by about 1,500 men ; they forced back the advanced posts of our blockading corps that lay before the hamlets of Jesus and Roquetta. Greneral Laval, at the head of the 4th regiment, soon checked this attempt of the enemy, and he was so well seconded by general Chlopiski with the grenadiers of the Vistula, that the Spaniards, after being driven back to their palisades, were forced to fall back precipitately into the town, leaving several dead and prisoners behind them, and having a great many wounded, whom they carried. off.

The object of these three sorties of the garrison of Tortosa, made in such rapid succession, was to harass our blockading corps, by keeping them in constant motion, whilst the enemy's forces from Tarragona and Valencia, made demonstrations and planned movements for the purpose of attracting our attention to other quarters. The commander-in-chief thought it advisable in consequence, to strengthen the tete-de-pont at Xerta, for the purpose of facilitating the manoeuvres of the troops from the one bank to the other; he fitted it up accordingly for the reception of several battalions. In the meanwhile the Valencians thought fit to advance against Morella, under the orders of general O'Donohu, but general Montmarie, who was detached for that purpose, speedily raised the blockade of the fort, and at the same time revictualled it.

Soon after this, a note from general Lacombe St. Michel, governor of Barcelona, announced that marshal Macdonald was busily occupied in making, dispositions for the siege of Tarragona, and thence it was fair to conclude that the Spaniards would speedily make a last and grand effort to raise the blockade of Tortosa before Macdonald's approach. In fact, on the 30th of July, Henri O'Donnell marched to Falset with the regiment of Antequerra, the Walloon guards, and 300 of the cavalry of Sant' Jago, with that view. Having collected about 10,000 men lie attacked general Habert at Tivisa about noon. The number of French in possession at that place, was about 5,000 only, but they were ably commanded and habituated to victory; they repulsed the attack without the slightest confusion, and compelled O'Donnell to retreat. He lost a great number of his men, but did not the less attend to another part of his design, which was to march on Tortosa. This officer, who had been nominated commander-in-chief of the army of Catalonia, and who was invested with very extensive powers, was a man of great energy, and possessed, at the same time, much activity and courage; in his army he was lavish in promoting and cashiering, and was in the habit of conferring rank and decorations on the field of battle.

On the 3rd of August, having drawn up in Tortosa some columns of picked men, to whom he addressed, in the presence of the people of the town a speech, in order to stir up their enthusiasm, he sallied out by the tete-de-pont at four o'clock in the afternoon, and marched straight forward on our intrenchments without firing a musket. Our advanced posts were drawn in by this brisk attack, but they soon recovered from their surprise; the men in the camps hastily took up their arms; general Laval put himself at the head of the troops, and while the several points attacked were sustaining themselves as well as they could, he led a column straight against the enemy's centre, and thus threatened his retreat by the tete-de-pont. This bold manoeuvre changed in a moment the aspect of the contest; the Spaniards fell back, and were pursued with great vigour. They were pressed on every side, and got back to the town in complete disorder, leaving behind them a great number of killed and wounded, besides 220 prisoners, almost all of them cavalry.

A letter found on the person of a colonel of the regiment of Grenada, who had been taken prisoner on the 6th of August, in the environs of Lerida, confirmed the reports of Uldecona, which bad led us to fear, about the same time, a new movement on the part of the Valencians. The combination of these efforts though tardily made, appeared to general Suchet, who constantly reckoned on the immediate march of the duke of Tarentum, to indicate an intention of preventing the junction of two French armies. He resolved, in consequence, to make a powerful effort to get rid of the Valencians also, after having repulsed O'Donnell. With the 12,000 men that he had under his command, all of them old soldiers and full of confidence, he found himself perfectly able, if not to undertake the siege of Tortosa without the assistance of the army of Catalonia, at least to make head both in manoeuvring and in fighting against the 30,000 Spaniards, who, from Tarragona and Valencia were continually harassing him and interrupting his operations with more obstinacy than concert. We had not begun any works at the spot where we lay - we had no battering train collected near the town, and could march, in consequence, without difficulty and without fear against any enemy, whether on the right or on the left of the Ebro. To engage the troops that were destined to succour Tortosa was, besides, the best preparatory step that the general could adopt for ensuring the success of the siege.

In consequence of this resolution, he despatched general Harispe with some troops of reserve to the 1st division, gave the head quarters at Mora in charge to general Rogniat, and appointed general Paris to the command of the tete-depont; the whole of general Habert's division was removed to Xerta, and he himself set out on the 13th of August to join the division of Laval. He left to the blockading corps what troops were necessary for that purpose, and taking with him eleven battalions, partly of the Ist and partly of the 3rd division, 800 horse that had been assembled on the l4th at Uldecona, marched to meet the army of Valencia. General Caro, who comanded that army, instead of making the attack which he had contemplated was encamped at Cervera ; as soon as he heard of our troops having abandoned the blockade in order to attack him, he immediately took up a position and awaited our approach. A reconnoitring party of 100 hussars routed his advanced guard and pursued them as far as Vinaros; the hussars were commanded by the chef d'escadron, Galbois, an officer belonging to the staff of his highness the major-general. At Vinaros there was a keenlycontested rencontre, in which we lost captain Charron of the 4th hussars, who was run through the body with a lance ; we took fifty-two prisoners and a stand of colours..

General Caro's position was well chosen. The approach to it was difficult; his right rested on Benecarlo, and his left on San-Mateo, in such a way as to render him master of the two grand communications with Valencia. General Suchet was in hopes that the enemy would wait for him there, and with these hopes he advanced by Calig with ten battalions and his field train, while at the same time, be kept his cavalry ready to act as occasion required. The enemy, however, on our approach, withdrew on Alcala do Chisvert, whither we followed him, leaving a few troops before Peniscola to watch the garrison. General Harispe succeeded in coming up with his rear guard, on which the army once more presented itself in array drawn up in two lines, and we began to form in order to attack it: but without waiting for the completion of our dispositions, the Spaniards dispersed, and continued their retreat rapidly, but without disorder, in different directions. We made a few prisoners, and but a few. It was useless to prosecute farther a movement the object of which was no longer attainable; our troops, therefore, took once more the route to Tortosa, and on the 20th of August the commander-in-chief re-entered his head quarters at Mora. An aid-de-camp of marshal Macdonald arrived there at the same time from Reuss, by way of Falset; he stated that the enemy had precipitately abandoned those two points, and the whole of the neighbouring country on the approach of the army of Catalonia. Had the duke of Tarentum intended to commence the siege of Tarragona, it would have been necessary to take with him his battering train, and he should have had magazines established beforehand, instead of which, his troops found the plain of Tarragona so completely exhausted that they had the greatest possible difficulty in subsisting even for a few days. O'Donnell had carried off all the grain, and as soon as he saw the 7th corps establishing themselves at Reuss and in the environs, he took up a position for starving them by occupying, with the troops he commanded, Tarragona Valls, and the Col de Ribas, in such force, that although he could not at any of these points stand a general attack, yet he could check detachments and intercept convoys.

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