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Suchet: War in Spain
Chapter 10a
The 3rd corps ceases to be a burden to France – Exhausted state of Arragon – Statistical details respecting that province – The Arragonese are called to take a share in the administration of the country – Ordinary contributions – Extraordinary contribution – Payment of the troops – Removal of the extraordinary contribution – Organization of the district of Tortosa – Imperial caual in Arragon – Hospitals ; police – Supplies collected in Arragon during the sieges – Meat market – Arrival of an intendant-general from Paris – Results of an administration of two years' duration.

This chapter embraces a connected series of administrative operations, comprising a period of thirty months, that is to say, a part of 1909, and the years 1810 and 1811 - Nevertheless it has found a place between the siege of Tortosa and that of Tarragona, though subsequent to the latter in chronological order. The order of matters has, however, appeared to claim the preference on this occasion, over that of dates. Whilst the army of Arragon was concentrated at a distance, and in front of a city on the point of being besieged, it stood more particularly in need of being supplied with provisions, since it could no longer proceed in quest of them. The administration of Arragon was, therefore, from that moment, the basis on which it relied for its successes, and for its very existence. We have no doubt that the sieges undertaken by that army will be better understood, if attention be first bestowed upon this chapter.

IT has been asserted, that the art of conquering is of no avail, unless combined with the art of procuring means of subsistence for the troops. This is a truth which cannot be denied, when we consider of what those mighty assemblages of men denominated armies consist; what consumptions of all kinds are called for by a state of war; how advantageous it is for the inhabitants of a country, that the soldiers should be furnished with what they might otherwise forcibly seize upon, and how it behoves a general to preserve them in health, strength, and courage, on which, in the day of battle, may possibly depend the success of an engagement which might decide the fate of a campaign. We trust that we shall be able to furnish a fresh proof of this, and to establish the fact, that the regular administration of an army, and the proper application of the resources of the country which it retains under its sway, should be considered as its most powerful auxiliaries.

The administration of the English armies during the war in the Peninsula, has been quoted as a model worthy of imitation. It is, indeed, an undoubted truth, that they penetrated into Portugal and Spain without being burdensome to the inhabitants : they distributed a profusion of money on their way : provisions, means of transport, every thing was paid for. But their position did not bear the slightest analogy to ours; they acted in the character of allies, and had the advantage over us of possessing a fleet which held undisputed possession of the ocean and of the coasts. By this means, they received from England every kind of assistance which a wealthy and powerful government could supply ; or else they felt no difficulty in procuring, at an exorbitant rate, whatever they stood in need of. At the same time, their administration, whilst it paid for every thing that was consumed by the troops, had the power of introducing, through every harbour of the Peninsula, the produce of English industry or commerce - the supply of arms, clothing, and equipments for the Portuguese and Spanish armies, enabled it to receive and export more money than it had occasion to expend, or at least to make its allies debtors for very considerable sums. As France possessed no such means of drawing from the Peninsula the treasures which it laid out in the country for the maintenance of its armies, French coins were seen every where in circulation, whereas English money was seldom to be met with. The British government, by this wise mode of proceeding, has obtained an important result; its land forces, after many signal defeats, have succeeded of late years in almost rivalling the glory acquired by its fleets, and claim a distinguished rank among European armies.

Our situation in Arragon was materially different; we were, from the very outset, surrounded by a hostile population, and could not venture to send a boat down the Ebro without an escort of soldiers. At that very period, however, the French government, instead of upholding our administrative measures, left them to their fate and to the resources which the country itself might afford. Notwithstanding these difficulties, if general Suchet, without failing in the mission assigned to him of defeating and conquering his opponents., succeeded on the one hand in pacifying an oppressed and exasperated country, and on the other in providing for the pay and subsistence of the army, laying siege to several fortified places, and lodging a sum little short of 8,000,000 of francs in the public treasury at Madrid, we are warranted in maintaining that the system of administration, to which these successes were mainly to be attributed, need not shrink from a comparison with that pursued by the English armies. The various circumstances which tended to promote their successes in Spain, so far from proving of any advantage to general Suchet, actually proved serious obstacles to his progress. The following details will show what persevering efforts were required to overcome them. In the spring of 1809, the calamities of the war pressed heavily upon Arragon, which had been groaning under them for nearly a twelve month ; the destructive siege of Saragossa had diminished the population, ruined commerce and industry, deprived agriculture of its crops and of its cattle. To fill the measure of distress, a numerous Spanish army debouched towards Alcaniz, drove back one of our divisions, and threatened Saragossa. Such was the state of affairs on the 19th of May, when general Suchet came to assume the command of the 3rd corps. His attention was at first limited to the object of rallying the troops, reviving their drooping spirits, infusing into them a proper discipline, and afterwards leading them against the enemy whom they succeeded in defeating and expelling from the province of Arragon.

After having happily terminated this first expedition, he endeavoured to calm the public mind, to restore order in every branch of the administration, and to repair, to the best of his power, the evils attendant upon the war. Ever since our entrance into Spain, France had sent the funds requisite for the payment of the troops and the general exigencies of the service ; it had supplied every article of clothing and field equipment the country which we occupied had only provided us with the bare means of subsistence; and if we interfered in the civil administration, we confined ourselves to the promoting the collection of the contributions imposed on account of the Spanish government.

On a sudden, an order directing that war should feed the war, effected a change in the state of our relations with a province which was just struggling to repair its ruins. On the 9th of February, 1810, the commander-in-chief received from the prince major-general the following letter: -

" General Suchet,
The emperor desires me to make known to you his intention that you should employ the revenues of the country, and even impose extraordinary contributions, if necessary, with a view to provide for the pay and subsistence of your corps d'arme'e, it being no longer in the power of France to defray these expenses. France is Impoverished by the removal of the enormous sums of money which the public treasury is constantly sending to Spain - the country which you occupy, and which is possessed of abundant resources, must henceforth supply the wants of your troops."

This letter was accompanied with another of the same date and of the following tenor:

" General, I transmit to you an extract of the emperor's decree relative to the formation of the government of Arragon, of which his majesty confides the command to you, with the title of governor. You will lose no time in officially communicating the clauses of this decree to the several local authorities, and from that moment you will conform to the emperor's orders therein contained. You will make known to me the period at which you shall have entered upon the exercise of your new functions. His majesty relies upon your wonted energy which will enable you to derive from the national resources all the advantages that may fairly be expected from them, and especially to prevent their becoming, in the smallest degree, available to the insurgents.

" Agreeably to the emperor's intentions, you are to continue addressing to the staff of the army your reports respecting military operations, and the situation of the provinces belonging to your government; but with regard to the systems of local administration, justice, police, and finances, you can only receive orders from the emperor, which it will be my duty to transmit direct to you. Consequently, &c. &c."

It was easy to foresee the numerous obstacles that would necessarily oppose the execution of such a system; but there was no course left but to obey. The commander-in-chief thenceforth used all his endeavours to acquire a correct knowledge of the resources he could apply to the pay, subsistence, and other wants of the army.

Previously to the invasion, Arragon derived from its soil a sufficient quantity of corn, wine, and oil, to meet its demands; it even exported to Catalonia and Navarre a considerable portion of those articles. Oppressed, however, for nearly two years by the requisitions of several national and foreign armies, that province was impoverished; agriculture was considerably impaired; a great number of vines and olive trees had been destroyed - the enormous consumption of sheep, the only species of cattle which offers a means of subsistence in that country, had nearly exhausted all the breed. Albarracin was the only place in the whole province where a manufactory of coarse cloths was to be seen; not a single loom was at work; there still existed a tan-pit; but a pair of shoes could not be had under nine francs, nor a pair of boots under fifty.

The financial condition of the province was still more deplorable, as money was considered the sinew of war, the Spanish government had not neglected measures that were calculated to remove it from general circulation. The exintendant of the province had carried away to Seville 3,000,000 of francs, the proceeds of patriotic donations and contributions collected previously to the siege of Saragossa. The wealthiest families had emigrated, and removed all the ready money they could obtain. A million of reales, and 3,000 marks of plate, derived from the suppressed convents, had just been transmitted to count Cabarrus, the minister of finances at Madrid. The royal treasury of Spain was indebted 500,000 reales for expenses, and did not possess a single real wherewith to face its engagements. All taxable objects were fast disappearing; the local administrations were partly dissolved; several sources of public wealth were dried up; and the annual pay of the army alone required 8,000,000 of francs, for which we had to call upon a country which, in its most prosperous days, never paid more than 4,000,000 to the Spanish government.

The above is a faithful picture of the state of affairs. The decree respecting the formation of the military governments was scarcely made known, when every one began to comment upon it ; and the most intelligent Spaniards fancied they could discover through the clauses upon which the official object of that act principally relied a motive of far greater importance. It was supposed that a misunderstanding existed between the cabinets of Madrid and of the Tuileries, and that the emperor contemplated the extension of the boundaries of France to the banks of the Ebro. Those fears could only add to the embarrassment of our position; had the commander-in-chief considered it of a transient nature, he might easily have provided for the wants of the moment by the most expeditious course, a compulsory one, and instantly seize upon the main resources of the country. Nevertheless, having been appointed governor of Arragon, he felt the necessity of acting upon a different principle. It behoved him not only to avoid exhausting the province, but even to retrieve its resources by his fostering care ; his first object was, accordingly, to restore public confidence. He acted in this respect with more prudence than the Spanish government. In consequence of the repeated orders of M. Cabarrus, the minister of finance the plate of Nuestra-Senora del Pilar was to be sent off to Madrid. This church which was held in veneration by the Spaniards, and enriched with the gifts of many sovereigns, possessed a great number of vases, candlesticks, and statues, in massive gold or silver. The people of Saragossa set a great value on their being preserved; and the commander-in-chief took upon himself not to allow of their removal. This first feature of an administration which indicated a respect for property, was duly appreciated by the Arragonese. The commander in-chief's conduct, on this occasion was not thrown away upon them; it greatly contributed to calm the excitement of a province agitated by political convulsions, and by the wants which were inseparable from a state of warfare, at a time when the very laws of war had been trampled upon.

With a view the more correctly to illustrate the following statement, it has appeared to us that some historical and statistical details respecting the province of Arragon would not be superfluous in this place.

Arragon is the ancient Celtiberia of the Romans. The Goths converted it into a province of Spain. When that part of the kingdom submitted to the Moorish yoke, the inhabitants retreated to the Pyrenees, and established amongst those mountains a petty state, known under the name of Sobrarve, which was afterwards incorporated with the kingdom of Arragon.

At a later period, the provinces of Catalonia and Valencia were under the dominion of that kingdom; the former was annexed to it in 1137, by the marriage of Raymond de Berenger, count of Barcelona, with Petronilla, the daughter of king Don Ramiro, and heiress of the crown of Arragon. The latter was taken from the Moors by, king Don Jaime, in 1238. Those three provinces formed, with the Balearic islands, what was called La Coionilla, or the sinall crown. On the occasion of the marriage of Ferdinand of Arragon with Isabella of Castille, they were annexed to the crown of Spain.

Arragon Proper was divided into thirteen corregimientos, or districts, named as follows:

Tarrazona, Borja, Calatayud, Daroca, Albarracin, Teruel, Alcaniz, Benavarre, Barbastro, Huesca, Jaca, Cincovillas. and Saragossa. Each corregimiento was under the superintendence of a magistrate, called corregidor, whose various functions afford too clear a proof of the confusion which existed in Spain at that period, with respect to the distribution of powers. We shall convey a sufficient idea of this fact by observing, that the duties devolving upon that functionary comprised the several branches of justice, police, finances, and war, and that the titulary magistrate was dependent upon the governor of the province as well as upon the real audiencia, or court of appeal.

Saragossa was an archbishoprick, which had for suffragans the bishops of Albarracin, Barbastro, Huesca, Jaca, Tarrazona, and Teruel.

The court of appeal, called the real audiencia, held its sittings in Saragossa. It consisted of two civil courts and a criminal one. Justice was administered in the first instance under the presidency of the corregidors, by the alcaldes of towns and villages, who were in many instances appointed by the lords of the manor.

In former times, the provinces of Arragon, Catalonia, and Valencia were subjected to a system of contribution known by the name of provincial revenues. Philip V substituted the land tax for it, better described by the name which it bears of unica contribucion. Those three provinces are indebted for their subsequent prosperity to an alteration imposed upon them by way of punishment. This contribution is founded upon the basis of an estimate of the produce of lands and of property in general. It might, in most respects, have been compared with our rental book, had it not included in its provisions the income derived from commerce, from manufacturing industry, and even the amount of the profits, or the wages of the manufacturer and daily labourer. The administration of the customs and the general revenue comprised the collection of import and export duties upon certain merchandise, and the exclusive sale of such things of which the government had reserved to itself a monopoly; such as tobacco, lead, sealing wax, sulphur, gunpowder, playing cards, stamped paper, salt, and even papal bulls. The revenues derived from the post office and from couriers were established on the same footing as in France. The government received one and a half per cent upon the revenues of corporations, consisting of the privilege of farming out the right to grind corn, to make oil, to establish tolls upon rivers, and to retail bread, wine, meat, and other articles of primary necessity; lastly, by a pontifical decree of the month of October, 1801, Pius VII had granted to Charles IV the ninth part of the church tithes. The total amount of these taxes in the province of Arragon was estimated, in 1787, at fifteen millions nine hundred thousand reales de vellon, or about four millions of francs. The real is the fourth part of a peceta, the current coin of the kingdom, which is worth rather more than the livre of twenty sols.
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