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Suchet: War in Spain
Chapter 9c

This circumstance did not prevent the enemy from sending an officer as the bearer of a flag, of truce, who had the audacity to offer the chef-de-bataillon, Durand, the commandant of the fort, a sum of 60,000 francs in gold, with a promise that he should be conveyed in safety to England, where he would not fail to be employed, provided he would consent to open the gates. Such a proposal implied a thorough ignorance of the high sense of honour which animated the French army. The bearer of the flag of truce was dismissed with scorn, and was wholly indebted for his safety to the respect shewn to his character, and to the rights of nations. Campoverde with all the forces he had brought with him for this coup de main, returned to Tarragona without obtaining any result from their movement.

The fort of la Rapita having been placed in a state of defence, did not disappoint the expectations entertained of it, and rendered us at this time the essential service of securing to us the possession of the mouth of the Ebro. Two privateers, one of which was armed at Tortosa, the other at Barcelona, captured and brought in some vessels laden with rice and other provisions.

Called upon to fight at all the points occupied by the 3rd corps, our soldiers were constantly engaged in isolated encounters, the success of which was determined by the advantage of position or of numbers, more or less vigilance or activity of the officers, and occasionally even by the mere effect of chance ; nor did victory uniformly reward their courage. We will not disguise the fact that the enemy obtained the advantage over us on several occasions. It is by speaking in an impartial manner, that we hope to give a correct idea of the war in Spain, so different from what we had waged for the last twenty years in every other part of Europe.

The Spanish armies had for some time past, received a fresh impulse and activity by the recruiting system, or by being supplied with men, horses, funds, and ammunition; in Arragon, we could not fail to discover on all hands that the local effect of our successes was fast diminishing. Notwithstanding the fall of Badajoz, which the marshal duke of Treviso had taken after a glorious siege of thirty-five days, a far more serious event, the evacuation of Portugal by the prince of Essling, restored confidence to the Spaniards, revived their hopes, and excited them to renewed efforts at resistance, with the aid of the English army. The inhabitants of Arragon, and of some other provinces which were tired of the war, of its burdens, and its vicissitudes, took very little part in such measures. The heads of armies, however, as well as the Guerilla leaders, either received or conveyed the impulse with the greatest alacrity, and availed themselves of the opportunity to augment their forces, and extend their operations. Mina, who had been unable to molest the 3rd corps during the three sieges we had lately undertaken, re-appeared in Arragon on the 7th of April, and advanced towards the Cinco-villas. The commandant of the small town of Sos, sent to Sadava for assistance, as he had only a squadron of gendarmerie to defend himself. 126 foot and 23 mounted gendarmes, were sent to him on the 8th. This small troop met, within half a league of Sadava, 900 of the enemy's troops. Yielding to the impulse of courage, they charged the enemy, routed and pursued them for an hour, until Mina having come up to the support of his advanced guard, and perceiving that our detachment was inferior in numbers, and unsupported by any reserve, assumed the offensive. Animated with the confidence with which they were inspired by their recent success, our brave gendarmes instead of retreating, resolutely withstood the attack. But they were soon surrounded and overwhelmed by superior numbers ; they were annihilated after three hours' fighting, all those who were not killed having been taken prisoners. General Suchet regretted the loss of those gallant and choice men, but he lauded their courage, and held it up to the army as an example worthy of imitation. With a view to avert such disasters, he ordered general Chlopiski to proceed in pursuit of Mina, with a column of' 200 hussars and 1,000 grenadiers or skirmishers of the 114th regiment and of the 2nd regiment of the Vistula. This officer discovered Mina on the 15th of April at Biota, followed him in the direction of Sofuentes and Castillescar, and still driving that chief before him as far as Coseda, pressed him so closely that the band of Navarrese dispersed in disorder, throwing away their arms and ammunition, and withdrew from our frontiers considerably weakened in numbers, and in the utmost consternation.

In the beginning of February, a detachment of the garrison of Fuentes, consisting of fifty men of the 1st and 2nd regiments of the Vistula, was employed in collecting supplies at the village of Azuera, near Belchite. Milawski, the officer who commanded the detachment, having neglected to adopt the usual military precautions, was surprised in bed at one o'clock in the morning, by a daring Guerilla chieftain, who was hovering in the very centre of the province of Arragon. The fifty men were all carried off, except two who succeeded in effecting their escape. Such an occurrence had never before taken place in the 3rd corps. Our detachments had, sometimes, yielded to superior numbers; but they never allowed themselves to be taken by surprise, so indispensable was watchfulness admitted to be on all hands, and so habitual had it become to us. The order of the day addressed to the army on the 12th of February, was couched in the following language: The commander-in-chief signifies to M. Milawski his displeasure at this officer having, omitted to adopt proper military precautions, and occasioned the loss of forty-eight gallant men of the 3rd corps, by such culpable neglect! This was the first, and it also proved the last time that count Suchet was under the necessity of publicly noticing the fault of a Polish officer, whilst he was daily called upon to congratulate the generals of that gallant nation, on the courage and zeal displayed by their officers and soldiers.

On the 11 th of April, a column had been sent from Ulldecona, where we had a cantonment of cavalry, to Vinaros and Benicarlo, in order to enforce obedience to some requisitions for supplies. A body of the enemy's cavalry, supported by infantry, advanced through San-Mateo, and attempted to surprise 100 horsemen who had remained at Ulldecona in perfect security. Lieutenant Delmart, at the head of a few hussars, made a rapid movement against the enemy's advanced guard, charged, and completely routed it. The chef d'escadron, Rubichon, with eighty cuirassiers, followed the hussars, and suddenly found themselves in the presence of 500 Spanish cavalry, who broke up their ground with the intention of coming up to them. This officer immediately cried out to his troops to charge, without reckoning the numbers of the enemy. The encounter was alike sudden and desperate. The Spanish horsemen could not resist the shook ; they were broken in ; lost in a few moments about fifty of their number, and betook themselves to flight. The enemy's infantry was pursued for some time across the woods and mountains. The cuirassiers of the 13th regiment uniformly sustained their character for boldness and decision; this occasion furnished a fresh proof of it, which was highly honourable to M. Rubichon, their commander.

On the 4th of April, colonel Dupeyroux, of the 115th of the line, being on his way from Teruel to Morella, with 1,000 soldiers of his regiment, learned that 1,500 Valencians had advanced as far as the small town of Cantavieja, in the heart of the mountains. He marched against the enemy without a moment's hesitation; found them posted in a narrow defile in front of Cantavieja, and resolutely attacked them, without allowing them time to recover from their surprise: he had ordered, at the same time, the position to be turned by 150 skirmishers, who, crossing some steep heights, proceeded to place themselves on the flank and in the rear of the Valencians. This was the signal for their retreat ; they dispersed, and were pursued for upwards of six leagues. Colonel Cevallos, their commander, did not bring back twenty men of the corps to Castellon de la Plana.

The 3rd corps d'armee, after having pacified Arragon, and entered upon the work of bringing lower Catalonia under subjection, by the capture of Lerida and Tortosa, had still to contend against the different armed bands by which it was surrounded, whilst waiting until the operations for the siege of Tarragona could be carried into effect. The marshal duke of Tarentum had returned to Barcelona to which place he was recalled by the general aspect of affairs in Catalonia. The Catalonian mountaineers attempted to establish themselves in the town of Balaguer, at the gates of Lerida ; Colonel Henriod directed captain Lecomte, of the grenadiers of the l4th regiment, with 500 men of his battalion, twenty dragoons, and a four-pounder, to drive them from that position, which possessed some importance, on account of its bridge over the Segre. This officer ordered the occupation, during the night from the 30th to the 31st of March, of the roads through which the Catalonians would have to retreat, and made a brisk attack upon the town before day break. After an obstinate defence, the Catalonians were defeated and found themselves involved in a fresh encounter during their flight. The dragoons with lieutenant Bignon, their commander, greatly distinguished themselves..

We collected 600 muskets ; a great number of Spaniards were either killed or taken prisoners, and scarcely 2 or 300 succeeded in effecting their escape. This event restored tranquillity, for a short time, to the vicinity of Lerida, and the fertile plains of Urgel, the resources of which it was of such vital interest for us to preserve, with a view to provide for the subsistence of the army.
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