The Battle of Saguntum
25th October 1811
I could not have believed in the possibility of such conduct if I had not seen it with my own eyes - Mahy
Having completed the conquest of Catalonia (or at least those parts of it that he was able to garrison), Marshal Suchet was advancing down the east coast of Spain towards Valencia. In his path stood the ancient fortress of Saguntum, newly patched up and garrisoned by 2,500 resolute defenders. Two attempts to storm this place were beaten off with great loss, forcing Suchet to resort to a slow siege and blockade.
Meanwhile, in Valencia, an army was gathering to come to the relief of the beleaguered garrison. General Joaquim Blake's veterans of Albuera would be joined by the (Valencian) 2nd army and the (Murcian) 3rd army to bring 28,000 men into the field against Suchet's 20,000. Whatever Blake's misgivings, the people of Valencia demaded action in keeping with the gallant stand being made at Saguntum.
Spanish Plans and Deployment
Blake came up with an ambitious plan - he would attack Suchet's army south of Saguntum, pinning it in place while the remainder of his force would make a flanking move, enveloping the French right and encircling their army.
For the pinning attack he selected the veteran divisions of Lardzibal, Zayas and Loy, suported by half the Valencian cavalry under Caro and Velasco's raw "Division of Reserve". Altogether about 10,500 men supported by 3 batteries of artillery.
The attack on the left would be conducted by Miranda and Villacampa's Valencian divisions, led by Charles O'Donnell. This attack would be supported by the remaining Valencian cavalry under San Juan whilst the Murcian army acted as a reserve under Mahy. Altogether the left wing comprised 13,000 men and 18 guns.
Finally, Obispo's 3,400 strong Valencian division, acting independently, was to advance from Naguera and fall on the French right rear. Two Murcian battalions under Colonel O'Ronan were detached to form a junction with this force.
Suchet was faced with the problem of meeting this attack whilst preventing the Saguntum garrison from sallying forth and destroying his siege train and works. To this end he posted Balathier's Italian brigade (4 batts) and two battalions of the 117th Line from Habert's division to continue the blockade. Furthermore, Compère's three weak Neapolitan battalions and chasseurs were stationed in Gilet to guard against any deep flanking move.
This left just 16,000 men to face Blake's approaching army. Suchet deployed Habert and Harispe on the three mile wide plain between the Mediterranean and the heights of Sancti Espiritus. St Paul's Italians and the French cavalry formed the reserve.
On the right, the brigade of Robert took up a strong position in the hills, suppoerted by the Napoleone dragoons. On seeing the Spanish approaching his right in force, Suchet strengthened it by detaching the two battalions of the 44th Line from Harispe's division under Chlopiski. As the senior brigadier, Chlopiski took command of this wing of the army.
Disaster on the Flank
The Spanish forces approached the thin line of Frenchmen guarding Suchet's right with O'Donnell's divisions formed into two massive columns. However, as they began to drive in the French skirmishers, Chlopiski countered with a charge delivered by his whole command. Robert's brigade smashed into the front and left of Villacampa's division sending then running back the way they had come. Next, the Italian Napoleone dragoons charged into Miranda's now exposed left while the 44th poured volleys into their front and right. Within minutes the whole Spanish force was completely routed.
St Juan's cavalry brigade attempted to halt the French advance and restore order to the Spanish lines, but they were soon sent packing by the Italian Dragoons, riding roughshod over the wavering Murcian supports. Most of them did not wait to meet the advancing French foot and joined the rout. General Mahy managed to steady two battalions - from the Cuenca nad Molina regiments - to act as a rearguard, but the remainder of his wing was either scattered or captured by the jubilant (but exhausted) French.
Obispo's force, eventually arriving on the extreme left, retreated the same way it had come.