Go to WTJ Information Page Go to WTJ Portal Go to WTJ War Series Go to WTJ Archives Go to WTJ Articles Go to WTJ Gaming Go to WTJ Store Go to WTJ Home Page
Suchet: War in Spain
Chapter 7b

From the 4th to the 7th the recession of the waters again placed the convoy in a hazardous situation. The commander-in-chief determined on a diversion from Mora to succour it. General Abbe was reinforced, and by several sharp attacks kept the enemy at a distance from the river; general Habert, with the same object, was directed on Falset with 1,500 men, to occupy the attention of the Spanish troops. Habert surprised two of the enemy's camps, as well as a flying hospital. Lieutenant du Fillion, with eighty carbiniers of the 5th light infantry, stood repeated charges of the Spanish cavalry, and on every occasion drove them back. Under favour of these efforts, the convoy kept descending, although not without difficulty, (in passing the bar at Flix, two more boats were wrecked, although their cargoes were saved) and at length arrived at its destination. Thus, on the 9th of November, the artillery and the engineers found themselves, in spite of all the obstacles, that had been opposed to them, in possession at Xerta, partly by water carriage, partly by land carriage, of every thing that was necessary, and were ready whenever they were called on, to commence the siege.

While matters were in this state of forwardness, however, the governor of Barcelona, in a letter dated 20th of November, informed the commander-in-chief that general Macdonald had gone to Gerona. The situation in which these impediments placed the besieging army, became daily more difficult, for although we had contrived, up to that date, by very great efforts to ensure subsistence for our soldiers, it appeared quite impossible to make provision for the lack of forage for our horses employed in the cavalry, artillery, and in the transport service. A combination of events augmented our difficulties, at the moment when we conceived we had arrived at the end of them. During the forced stagnation, which arose out of this state of things, general Suchet convoked at Mora, a junta consisting of the principal authorities of Arragon, among whom were the heads of the clergy, who next to the grandees of Spain, are the richest proprietors in that kingdom, and in concert with this junta, concerted such measures, as well for the pressing necessities of the army, as for its future wants, as will be more fully detailed in the following chapter. With a view to second the approach of the army of Catalonia, which was from day to day expected, the commander-in-chief determined on an expedition against Falset; this took place on the 19th November; general Habert proceeded directly thither, with the 115th, and the hussars, of the 4th, whilst general Abbe, with the 116th, advanced against the right of the position, and the chef de batailIon, Avon, who was posted at Garcia, marched against its left, for the purpose of engaging the enemy's attention, and dividing his force. This manoeuvre should have procured us a great number of prisoners, but the rapidity of the attack on the centre, did not leave us time for that purpose. The camps were carried after a sharp but brief resistance, in which the enemy had fifty men killed; but the combat was terminated by the approach of general Abbe towards the route of Reuss. The enemy was pursued into Falset, and beyond it; their magazines, ammunition, and a great number of muskets fell into our hands, as well as three hundred petty officers and besides fourteen superior officers among whom were the count de Canada, mayor of Grenada, and brigadier Garcia Novarro, ex-governor of Tortosa. In one of the cavalry charges connected with this affair, there was an individual contest between the leaders of the two troops, that is not undeserving of notice. The officer of the Spanish cavalry, a man of lofty stature, menacingly challenged the lieutenant of hussars, Pate, a brave soldier, who had previously lost an eye during the war. The challenge was accepted, and the combat between the two troops, was for a moment, as if by tacit accord, suspended, in order that its issue might be the better observed. In a very short time the two leaders were hand to hand, and fortune favouring the Frenchman, the Spaniard was thrown from his horse, and our hussars charging at that instant, routed and dispersed the detachment of Spanish cavalry.

On the 26th of November, a flotilla that had come from Peniscola, advanced to attack our posts at Rapita and Alfaques, whilst the governor of Tortosa, with whose knowledge it took place, made also some demonstrations as if lie meant to disturb us at Amposta, and at the mouth of the Ebro. On the night of the 26th the commander-in-chief of the Valencian army, general Bassecourt, advanced to attack general Musnier at Ulldecona. A column of infantry was directed on Aleanar, for the purpose of attacking Ulldecona, on the right; another set out from Traiguera, and marched behind the mountains in order to take up a position at LasVentallas, in the rear of the road that leads to, and so cutting off our communication with Tortosa. The mass of the attacking force advanced direct upon Vinaros in front, and when it was near, a fresh column of infantry was detached to the left, to occupy the height that commanded Ulldecona. General Musnier had just received, by the return of his reconnoitring parties on the right, information of the approach of the enemy, and was issuing orders to the troops at Ulldecona, to stand to their arms when general Bassecourt, who hastened the march of his cavalry, during the obscurity of the night arrived at the camp of a battalion of the 14th which covered the town, having previously driven in our advanced posts. Our men immediately sallied out of their barracks, drew up in the twinkling of an eye, and without any direction, and merely the cry of 11 the Spaniards!" checked the advance of the enemy by an admirably kept up fire. The colonel of the queen's regiment with a great number of others were wounded, and remained abandoned by their companions, who fell back to take up a more distant position.

At the same moment, general Musnier, together with generals Boussard and Montmarie, advanced with the hussars, the cuirassiers, and the 114th regiment of the line; day beginning to dawn, discovered to us the whole of the heights in the neighbourhood on the right and left covered by the enemy. Colonel Esteve of the 14th of the line, with one of his battalions, was immediately directed against an old tower on the summit of the hill, of which the Spaniards had taken possession. His assault was so impetuous, that he dislodged them from their position. He had with him but a mere handful of hussars, he made his soldiers cast off their knap-sacks, and dashing- onwards with great swiftness overtook the Spaniards, put them to the rout, and made 300 prisoners. The detachment of the enemy that had been placed in the rear of Ulldecona, at Las Ventallas, was no sooner aware of this, than it withdrew in the direction of the mountains. Meantime, general Montmarie marched in the direction of Alcanar, and general Boussard, at the head of the cuirassiers, advanced by the high road. The Spaniards now retired, and took up a position behind Cenia, but it was not difficult to perceive that, although they had thus rallied, they could not withstand a vigorous attack. General Musnier therefore combined his forces, and advancing directly upon the enemy he threw the cuirassiers by a rapid movement into the road from Venaros to Benecarlo. The cuirassiers got to their station in good time to intercept and pick up the fugitives, for the dispositions we had made speedily converted the retreat of the Spaniards into a complete rout. They immediately dispersed, threw away their arms, and the majority of them escaped by favour of the woods and ravines; more than 1,500 were however taken by the cavalry. General Bassecourt sought an asylum In Peniscola.

Whilst our advanced guard was thus engaged, general Harispe, who lay before Tortosa, being informed of the movements of the enemy by sea, had sent captain Sieyes with a detachment and some artillery to the succour of the posts of Rapita; that officer ably acquitted himself of this commission. The enemy's vessels, kept in check by our howitzers, were afraid to attempt any thing, and ultimately retired in the direction of Peniscola. The garrison and population of Tortosa expected a happy issue of their double assault, and the fort during the whole day kept up a brisk fire on our camps, without however attempting a sortie.

A rather numerous column of prisoners who had been taken in the different affairs, in the end of November were sent to France by way of Saragossa and Jaca, under the escort of a party, commanded by Haxo general of engineers, who had been summoned to Paris by government. This officer, who bad assisted general Laval in the arrangements for the blockade of Tortosa, left with the commander-in-chief, when he set out a plan of attack, which at a later period was put in practice.

The commander-in-chief, having succeeded in transporting the whole of this artillery to Tortosa, was anxious to employ the same means which had been used in doing so, to ensure a supply of provisions for the army of Catalonia, and to form magazines for it at Mora. On the 27th of November thirteen boats laden with grain started from Mequinenza to descend the Ebro. Fearful of not being able to keep pace with the convoy, the detachments appointed to escort it, got before it, and general Abbe with the 116th, marched up to the left bank from Vinebre, as high as Flix and Ribaroya. Six hundred Spaniards who had concealed themselves in the neiohbourhood of Mequinenza, contrived to elude our soldiers, notwithstanding all their precautions, and to attack the boats before they could get up with the escorts. Sixty-six men belonging to the garrison of Mequinenza, partly gunners, and partly infantry, had been placed in eschelon at a little distance merely to ensure the safe departure of the boats. They were commanded by captain Cory of the 121st, and by lieutenant Guillardin of the artillery. These brave fellows, notwithstanding the inequality of their numbers, rushed forward to protect the boats which had pushed over to the right bank, under the protection of the musketry, of their directors who had landed for that purpose. The whole of the Spanish attack was then turned against the handful of men oil the left bank. An obstinate combat was the consequence, which lasted for several hours ; our men bravely defended themselves with the butt ends of their muskets, and with their bayonets, until both their ammunition and their strength were exhausted. At length the Spaniards having received news of the near approach of our reinforcements, and irritated at their losses, made a last attempt; the officer of artillery was killed, together with fifteen men, and captain Cory and the whole of the detachment, the greater portion of them wounded and disabled, were taken, except one or two who threw themselves into the river and escaped by swimming. The convoy was saved and arrived at Mora next morning; even this advantage however did not console the general for the loss of brave men who were well worthy of a better fate.

At length, after such long expectation, general Suchet saw the moment at hand, when his army, which had lain six months before Tortosa, might commence the siege of that place. In order to acquire a new title to glory, our soldiers had only to exert their wonted courage. On the 2d of December marshal Macdonald apprised them that he had got a large convoy safely conducted to Barcelona, that he had left in that place a garrison of 6,000 men, and that general Baraguey d'Hillier was at Gerona, and Figueres with 14,000 the greater part of whom were effective, and ready to take the field ; and lastly, that he himself was on the eve of marching towards the Lower Ebro, with 15,000 men : in fact, the marshal arrived at Mora on the 13th.

General Suchet had made every preparatory arrangement; Habert's division was close to Xerta, together with the reserves of the artillery and engineers ; the army of Catalonia on arriving at the position which we had occupied, immediately established itself there, and general Suchet having concerted with the duke of Tarentum the measures be intended to pursue, removed his head-quarters to Xerta.
  Copyright © 1996-2003 by The War Times Journal at www.wtj.com. All rights reserved.