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Suchet: War in Spain
Chapter 7a
Suspension of the operations of the siege of Tortosa. — Espos Y Mina in Navarre. — Affairs at Alventosa and Fuenta Santa. — Continuation of the blockade. — Meeting of a junta at Mora. — Battle at Falset. — Battle at Ulldecona. — Arrival of the 7th corps and marshal Macdonald.

THE removal of the army of Catalonia once more postponed the opening of the siege of Tortosa, and in relation to the subsistence of the army, very much augmented the difficulty of that operation. The two months which subsequently passed away were not destitute of incidents, in the province of Arragon, on the one side and on the other; in the army of the lower Ebro there were a number of military events which, as they are directly connected with our future narrative we shall briefly describe. If some of those affairs in detail appear to have lost their interest, it must be recollected that the commander-in-chief made it his study and bad succeeded in persuading all the individuals under his command wherever they were or however posted, that every one of them was of sufficient importance to be watched and appreciated. Even now, though so long a time has since elapsed, it constitutes a large portion of his enjoyment to let them know that he has never forgotten them, and that their services are ever present to his recollection.

At the period of the equinox some rains fell, which appeared to favour the navigation of the Ebro. On the l7th September, we attempted to put in motion a convoy of boats laden with artillery, with a view to their conveyance from Mequinenza to Xerta. The Neapolitan battalion which was established at Flix, was sent to the left bank, to protect the passage of the guns, where it was attacked by a strong column of the enemy. The soldiers of the battalion did not stand the attack, although the nature of the ground offered every facility of resistance or retreat. They allowed themselves to be surrounded, and then threw down their arms. Their commander, Labrano, made every effort in his power to prevail on them to fight, but in vain; he himself, with all his officers, was taken, after being wounded in the action ; fortunately the convoy, from want of water, had not been able to leave the port. On the 21st it was detained by the same cause, at the moment its safe transit was ensured by a new disposition. The commander-in-chief was willing to afford to the remainder of Pignatelli's brigade an opportunity of wiping out the affront that they had suffered in the presence of an army accustomed to conquer, and where a generous spirit of emulation animated the whole corps, both Frenchmen and foreigners. Eight hundred Neapolitans, joined to 800 of the soldiers of the 116th, attacked the enemy, who occupied in force the heights on the left bank ; the Neapolitans took the lead in the attack, and showed the greatest courage ; the Spanish positions were carried, and the enemy put to flight.

About this time, 30,000 men coming from France, entered Biscay and Navarre. General Reilly intended at first to profit by their stay, for the purpose of destroying the bands, and to clear the frontiers of Arragon of their visits, but he had no time to effect his purpose, as these troops were almost all sent into Portugal. A new partisan, Espoz y Mina, the uncle and successor of the younger Mina, who has since become much more celebrated than his nephew, by the high talents which practice rapidly developed, had just assumed the command of the whole of the Guerillas of Navarre, and had taken up his station in the Cinco Villas. From that moment none of our strong posts remained unthreatened, and frequent attacks compromised the small garrisons who occupied them. Afterwards, however, the chef d'escadron of the gendarmerie at Exea, and the Polish captain, Venzesky, at Tarragona tried what a stand would effect, they resisted Mina successfully. The 12th and 14th. squadrons of gendarmerie, which were attacked at Graus and at Benavarre, defended themselves most bravely, and general Buget, at Fuente-Montanana, routed and dispersed the chiefs of the party Cantarero and Solana, who were perpetually making incursions into that part of the frontiers.

A more serious movement than these petty attacks was, however, in preparation on the right bank of the Ebro. General Suchet had received information that the regency of Cadiz intended to assemble on the frontiers of Castille, a junta, consisting of the count of Sastago, the marquis of Aguelar, the bishop of Barcelona, and two canons of Saragossa, in order that they might there do their utmost, by favour of the influence their vast estates in Arragon gave them, to produce an insurrection in the province. General Carabajal had also joined Villacampa, had assumed the chief comand, and rallied under his colours all the troops and bands of the country. It was essential to prevent this combination or to rout them before their numbers were formidable. General Chloptski was taken from the blockading camp for that operation, which was one that demanded as much activity as vigour. After a rapid march, he reached Teruel on the 30th, at 5 o'clock in the evening, with seven battalions and 400 horses, driving before him the corps of Villacampa ; general Carabajal had hardly arrived at the place when he was compelled to retreat; he left Teruel with his artillery at 2 o'clock. General Chlopiski, whose infantry required a few hours of repose, made a halt for a short time in the town. He, in the meantime, greatly to their satisfaction, sent away 1,000 peasants not yet armed, who had been compulsorily levied for the purpose of serving in the Spanish army. At midnight he re-commenced his march, and on the 31st, at 9 o'clock in the morning, he got up with the rear guard of the enemy beyond the great ravine of Alventosa. The whole success of his expedition depended on its rapidity, he therefore charged the enemy the moment be came up with them, captured six field pieces, six caissons with their harness, and took prisoners at the same time, a company of light artillery. One hundred chests of cartridges were exploded, and eighty horses and mules taken with the cannon which they drew, were sent to join our artillery. The dispersion of the enemy was complete, notwithstanding, in a few days, Villacampa, who had retired upon the mountain of Fuente Santa, rallied his troops afresh; Carabajal and the other chiefs hastened to join him there, and brought reinforcements of every kind. The prospect of raising an insurrection in Arragon was again entertained, and general Chlopiski saw that if he was to clear the country, and obey the instructions given to him, be must get up with Villacampa, and defeat him.

On the 12th of November, he drove in the vanguard of the Spaniards to Villastar, which is in advance of Villel, and established himself before the Fuente Santa, which the enemy occupied in force, his position being intrenched and his corps echeloned and leaning on the Guadalaviar, and upon a series of inaccessible precipices. About one o'clock of the day, after having drawn up his troops he gave the signal for attack. Two battalions of the 121st, commanded by colonel Millet, with the voltigeurs and grenadiers of the Ist of the Vistula, conducted by the chef de bataillon, Fondzelski, marched in array under the orders of colonel Kliski, having for their second line colonel Kozinowski, with the fusileers of the second of the Vistula; the rest of the troops were kept in the rear, in order to be used as a reserve for the troops that attacked, and to assist them if necessary. The fire of the enemy was terrible; the Spaniards, indeed, always opposed us most obstinately from behind intrenchments, or in positions where they could not be turned. Colonel Millet had no sooner arrived at the bottom of the hill than his horse was shot under him; he then led his troops on foot, and in so doing a ball carried away a finger of his right band; his advance was Dot checked by that accident, but in a minute or two after, a ball struck him and knocked him down; it was at first thought he was killed, but he speedily scrambled tip again and put himself at the head of his men, who despite of every obstacle, continued to clamber up the steep under a most tremendous fire. The Poles, meanwhile on the right, displayed a degree of courage not less exemplary. Neither the precipitous ascent, nor the resistance of the enemy could keep back our intrepid fellows, who, after a most sanguinary contest, took possession of all the positions of the enemy, and reached the top of the mountain as conquerors. Terror and route led to the immediate disappearance of the Spanish army; they threw down their arms with precipitation and made for the bridge of Libras in great disorder. The bridge which was encumbered with the fugitives, broke down under their weight, and a large number of them were drowned. The loss of the vanquished was very considerable, and ours was not less than 130 men disabled, and a Polish officer and five men of the 121st were killed. Colonel Millet, who had just obtained the command of this regiment, made, it will be perceived, a most brilliant debut; and the regiment as well as its leader, were thenceforth to the end of the war, well worthy of being ranked among the brave of the army of Arragon.

After this rapid expedition, general Chlopiski returned with his brigade to Tortosa, while colonel Kliski remained in charge of 1,200 men, to defend the right bank of the stream against Villacampa. While these engagements were taking place, on a sudden on the 1st of November, after having been so long and anxiously waited for, the waters of the Ebro began to rise. We were eager, of course, to take advantage of this circumstance, and to embark at Mequinenza the remainder of the materials required for the siege. Seventeen barks set out on the 3rd at six o'clock in the morning, escorted by a body of troops on each bank of the stream. In a short time, however, the rapidity of the current, in spite of every attempt that could be made to retard the advance of the convoy, hurried it on, and when it came before Ribaroya it had drifted a great way ahead of the escorts : it was, in consequence, attacked by 700 Spaniards in a narrow defile, before our troops had time to overtake it. Compelled to give way to the fire of the enemy, the boats steered for the right bank, but two of them were caught in the current, and drawn by its violence within the powers of the enemy, and the gunners who were on board were, in consequence, made prisoners. Lieutenant Janney, a distinguished pupil of the polytechnic school, saved himself by swimming, and regained the right bank..

The enemy meanwhile continued their attack on the convoy. Colonel Raffron and captain d'Esclalbes, aid-de-camp to general Vallee, displayed as much presence of mind as bravery; fifty artillery men, who were ably posted for the purpose, returned for two hours the fire of the musketry on the left bank until the arrival of the escorts, and also of general Abbe, who marched up the stream from Garcia with a column of troops. The Spaniards burnt the two boats and then retreated - the mortars that formed their lading were, however, got out of -the river, in the course of the next and following day, without damage. In this affair sixteen artillery men were killed or taken, and one Neapolitan soldier was killed and ten wounded; some of the Arragonese boatmen were wounded; during the contest they had displayed as much zeal as courage.
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