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 9b
Taking of the fort of San Felipe at the col de Balaguer. – Return of the army of, Arragon. – The Arragonese are favourably disposed towards the army. – Partial engagements – Preparations of defence at Valencia and Tarragona. – Various actions on both banks of the Ebro.

The regency and the juntas of Castille and Valencia, were exerting every endeavour to carry off all the corn from the province of Arragon. This project, which was entertained for the first time when it was found that our army was concentrating on the lower Ebro, was no longer a mystery. The gazettes of Valencia loudly proclaimed it, and its effects were beginning to be felt. The price of corn had already rapidly increased in Saragossa. It was found necessary to compel the monopolisers, who naturally endeavoured to profit by the high prices, to pay the contributions in kind. Arragon was a complete granary to us ; it fed our army whilst besieging the towns of Lerida and Tortosa; from Arragon we had it in our power to procure the means of subsistence for the troops on the lower Ebro, or before Tarragona, which were destined to support marshal Macdonald's operations.

Notwithstanding the severest injunctions, we had failed, up to the 30th of January, in procuring any rations from the administrative authority of Tortosa. The impossibility of finding a single quintal of straw, within a circuit of ten leagues round the place, greatly impeded our means of transport, which were already circumscribed and nearly exhausted. The presence of the commander-in-chief at Saragossa, and that of the troops on the principal points of the province were soon productive of a salutary influence, by preventing the grain from being removed out of the country, and by supporting the local administrations, whilst they carried into effect the orders that emanated from the French authorities.

This was more particularly the period at which the system of administration, established by the commander-in-chief, improved by experience, and strengthened by the submission or assent of the inhabitants, assumed that solidity which was indispensable towards providing for the exigencies of a corps d'armee destined to proceed upon remote operations. It will not, in our opinion, be superfluous to develop it in some of its details, as an event claiming a share of importance amongst those which we have undertaken to describe: this will therefore, form the subject of the succeeding chapter. We will first conclude the narrative of some military occurrences which took place in the interval that elapsed between the sieges of Tortosa and Tarragona.

On the 19th of December Villacampa, who was collecting all his forces on the side of Ojos-Negros, had met with a severe check. Colonel Kliski being informed that a detachment of cavalry had advanced as far as Blancas, set out from Daroca during the night with a column of lancers and cuirassiers, and two battalions of the 121st regiment of the line, and of the lst regiment of the Vistula, led by colonel Kozinowski. By a rapid march of ten hours, which was effected without the knowledge of the enemy, he routed the advanced posts and surprised their detachment in the village. The Spaniards had barely time to mount their horses; a few were killed and wounded; and the remainder, amounting to 150 men, including seven officers, fell into our hands with their horses, arms, and baggage. This dexterous coup-de-main was the more honorable to colonel Kliski, as we had seldom had the good fortune to take any Spanish cavalry prisoners in the open country during the whole course of the war, so circumspect was their mode of attacking us.

Villacampa retreated; since the month of January, however, I'Empecinado, another chieftain who had obtained some successes in Castille, had approached the province of Arragon, and forming a junction with the corps of Villacampa, had taken up a position at Checa, between Molina and Albarracin. These fresh forces amounted to about 2,000 infantry and 500 cavalry, and although they were on the other side of the frontier, might have greatly annoyed us in Arragon, had not a part of our troops been rendered available by the fall of Tortosa, and returned back to that province as we have already mentioned. General Suchet despatched general Paris from Saragossa with a column of troops against those two chiefs; and with a view to ensure the success of this operation, sent orders at the same time for general Abbe, to break up from Teruel for the purpose of outflanking the position of Checa, and prevent, if possible, the enemy from dispersing as heretofore without coming to an engagement.

General Paris reached I'Empecinado within a few leagues of Molina, ordered the cuirassiers to charge, and completely routed his advanced guard. The enemy retreated towards Villacampa's position; general Paris followed with the determination to bring him to an engagement, overtook him on the 31st of January, and instantly prepared to attack, without waiting the arrival of general Abbe, and regardless of the numbers of the enemy and of the advantageous position which he occupied on the mountain in advance of the village. At day-break, the column, preceded by sharp-shooters, marched up to the position in spite of the snow and ice which impeded their progress; during the night, a detachment had made a flank movement towards the village. The 121st regiment and the Ist of the Vistula, displayed no less gallantry than at Fuente Santa; and the Polish lancers vied with the cuirassiers in steadiness and bravery. The Spaniards being forced from their position, and finding themselves cut off from the village, which was their natural place of retreat, disbanded and took to flight. Generals Paris and Abbe only effected a junction at Frias on the 4th of February ; when they continued together in pursuit of the retreating enemy, for the space of two days, without allowing them any respite. They afterwards separated for the purpose of giving effect to an important part of their instructions. General Abbe marched against the Empecinado, who was at Cuenca, kept possession of this town during forty eight hours, captured some stores, drove before him general Carbajal and his staff who had retreated to Moya, put to flight the insurrectionary junta of Arragon, and destroyed a considerable depot of arms. General Paris, on the other hand, pursued Villacampa, in the direction of Alvalate de las Nogueras and of Canaveras, was on the point of surprising him, by a forced march, in the night from the 7th to the 8th February, proceeded towards Beteta,, Cobeta, and Paralejos,, places situated amongst the mountains, and containing manufactories of arms, which had been kept constantly at work ever since the breaking out of the war. He destroyed and burned the arms and tools, and broke up the establishments. This expedition, which kept two of our brigades in the province of Castille for a period of twelve days, was only productive of a few hundred prisoners ; but the destruction of the manufactories of arms was of more real service to us than the momentary dispersion of the two hostile corps of troops. Continually did those numerous bands of Guerillas by which we were surrounded, re-appear in the open plain; they were rather dispersed than defeated, and never yielded to despondency.

After the fall of Tortosa, the Spaniards did not fail to perceive that Tarragona or Valencia would soon be attacked by one or other of' our armies. The Valencians had, accordingly, given up all idea for the present of molesting the army of Arragon, and directed their whole attention to the defence of their territory and of their capital. They were carrying on very important works at Murviedro upon the rock of ancient Saguntum, were mounting guns upon the castle of Oropesa, and cutting broad and deep ditches in the roads and principal defiles. Valencia had become a point of still greater importance for the regency since the investment of Badajos and the fall of Tortosa. Nevertheless, although we might not then have found much difficulty in obstructing the defensive preparations making by the inhabitants of Valencia, which might prove so seriously detrimental to us at a later period, we were unable to undertake any thing in that quarter, until Tarragona should have fallen into our hands. Experience had demonstrated the necessity of prudence and harmony in all our operations, in order to triumph over a people who are elated at ,the least success, and never depressed but for a short time by the most signal reverses of fortune.

Catalonia was exerting the most strenuous efforts to expedite and complete the immense fortifications undertaken at Tarragona. The whole attention of the two French generals was justly directed to this city ; the marshal duke of Tarentum had reconnoitred it in the month of January. During the night from the 7th to the 8th of February, general Habert proceeded by a rapid march from the col de Balaguer with a hundred hussars and a few companies of skirmishers, made some prisoners within three leagues of Tarragona, obtained information respecting Campoverde's army which occupied Reuss, Villaseca and Canonge, and returned without allowing the enemy time to pursue or overtake him..

This little piece of bravado excited the spleen of general Campoverde who shortly afterwards made an attempt against fort San-Felipe, and endeavoured to drive colonel Robert in his camp from Perello. At four o'clock in the morning of the 3rd of March, six thousand men made an attack upon two thousand, who retreated with great steadiness notwithstanding their being surrounded, and repelled several charges of cavalry. Generals Habert and Bronikowski having received timely notice of this circumstance, came in all haste from Tortosa with the 116th regiment, the cuirassiers, and some pieces of cannon. The gallant 117th regiment maintained an unequal fight until their arrival ; but the Spaniards no sooner saw the reinforcement than they rapidly retreated. During this engagement, a rear guard of 2,000 men had been left by general Campoverde before the fort of San-Felipe, and had lost no time in erecting a battery which kept up a brisk fire against the fort; but the latter returned the fire, and soon silenced the battery.
  Copyright © 1996-2003 by The War Times Journal at www.wtj.com. All rights reserved.