The Battle of Saguntum
25th October 1811

[Marshal Suchet]

Marshal Suchet's Account

On the 24th, the army of general Blake was formed in order of battle half-way between Valencia and Murviedro. The right consisted of Zayas' division; it had arrived by the road along the sea-shore, and occupied the heights of Puig, which were lined with artillery. A Spanish flotilia supported by an English corvette, stood along the coast, and flanked the line of the Spanish army. On the left of general Zayas, Lardizabal's division had advanced by the high road as far as the Carthusian convent; it formed the centre with the cavalry under general Caro, which leaned against Miranda's division. The latter, with the divisions of generals San-Juan and Villacampa, formed, under general Charles O'Donnell, the left of the army. This wing extended behind a ravine called del Picador, in a parallel line with the road of the Calderona, as far as the hill called los Germanels, thereby covering the load leading to Betera; its reserve consisted of the corps of general Mahy, and its extremity was further flanked, at some distance, by Obispo's division, in the direction of Naquera.

Marshal Suchet found himself placed in the alternative of either abandoning his artillery and raising the siege in order to seek a more favourable field of battle, or to fight between two fortresses, against superior numbers, and with scarcely any chance of being able to etfect a retreat. But, in spite of the serious disadvantages of this position, he did not hesitate to accept the battle on a spot in advance of Saguntuln. The plain which extends from Valencia to Murviedro is considerably contracted near the latter town, between the sea and the heights of the Val-de-Jesu, and of Sant-Espiritu; on this plain we determined to encounter the enemy. The line of battle was formed of Harispe's division, which was made to take up a position in front of his camp, with its right adjoining the mountains, and its left reaching the high road, and of Habert's division which occupied the left of general Harispe, between the load and the sea. Behind these divisions were ranged, in second line, general Palombini with part of the Italian infantry, and general Boussard as a reserve, with the 13th regiment of cuirassiers,and the 24th regiment of dragoons. General Robert, with his brigade and the Napoleon dragoons, was stationed on the extreme right, at the gorge of Sant-Espiritu. On discovering the arrangements of the enemy,who had moved considerable forces towards his left, the marshal deemed it proper to keep general Chlopiski detached from the main body, with the 44th regiment, with a view to his reinforcing general Robert, and occupying the crest of the mountains. This general, having thus assumed the command of the right wing, was ordered to defend to the last extremity the defile leading from Betera to Gilet. This was a point of the highest importance; if the French army had lost it, the loss of the battle must have necessarily followed, and perhaps every means of retreat would have been cut off. In order the more effectually to protect it, general Compere,at the head of the Neapolitans, took possession of Petres and Gilet, and was thereby enabled to watch the road leading to Segorbe.

The marshal was unwilling that the garrison of Saguntum should indulge the hope of his being compelled to interrupt the siege in consequence of the battle which was about to take place. The engineer corps had succeeded in forming a lodgment within three toises of the foot of the breach, and the artillery had mounted a battery of nine 24-pounders, three howitzers, and six mortars. Four Italian battalions and two battalions of the 117th regiment were left before the fort, and placed under command of general Bronikowski. At an early hour on the 25th of October, the fire from our breach-batteries was re-opened; and at a short distance from, and within sight of the fort, our army, ranged in line of battle, quietly awaited the attack of the Spanish army, which was advancing to meet it. The marshal had proceeded to the Ostalets near Pouzol,with a view to his forming a more accurate opinion of the enemy's movements in the midst of the olive and carob trees, which bear the resemblance of a forest,and cover those plains with the richest culture. He had scarcely left that spot, when our line of sharp-shooters extending along the whole front, fell back as soon as the enemy's divisions were put in motion. He noticed on the right an isolated eminence which is detached from tire heights in advance of the Val-de-Jesu, and commanded the ground upon which Harispe's division was about to be engaged. Having determined to occupy it without a moment's delay, he repaired thither with the utmost speed, with the fifty hussars composing his escort. He ordered at the same moment Harispe's division to advance with a view to establish his right on that eminence. But the time which our infantry employed ill marching over the ground which separated them from the eminence was not lost by the Spaniards, who hastened to the same spot, ascended and took possession of the eminence, our hussars being unable to offer any effectual resistance. The enemy instantly planted some cannon on the spot.

Being forestalled on this point, we perceived at the same moment the Spanish columns advancing upon the high road, and in the direction of Pouzol, with a regularity and determination which they had not yet displayed on any former occasion in the open field. These first movements gave to their army, on its march, an attitude of confidence and superiority which appeared a sure presage of success; such was, at least, the impression produced by that spectacle upon the garrison of Saguntum intently watching, from the summit of the rock, the event which was about to determine its fate. On perceiving the advance of the army destined to relieve it, the garrison fancied that the hour of its rescue was at hand. The soldiers broke out in loud acclamations, and threw their shakes into the air. They paid no attention to our artillery, although their shouts were deadened by its roar. During the whole of the engagement the artillery continued to batter the ramparts; but the besieged appeared totally indifferent to the progress of the breach.

On arriving in front of the eminence, Harispe's division immediately attacked it, the 7th of the line being placed in columns by battalion, and the 116th regiment with the 3rd regiment of the Vistula having deployed in echelons at a short distance in the rear. It was of the utlnost consequence that we should obtain possession of the eminence in question, and it behoved the French army to commence the battle by a resolute blow, which might have the effect of paralysing the enthusiasm just displayed by the Spaniards. The generals placed themselves at the head of the columns, and the troops ascended the hill at a moderate pace, and withoot firing a shot; they met the most determined resistance, and a sanguinary conflict took place as soon as they reached the summit of the eminence. General PÔris was seriously wounded, as well as the aides-de-camp Peridon and Troquereau; general Harispe, colonel Mesclop, and several officers had their horses killed under them. The gallant 7th regiment commanded by major Durand, after withstanding the enemy's fire, reached the summit with crossed bayonets, drove back the Spaniards, and compelled them to retreat in disorder as far as the ravine of the Picador. Geneeral IIarispe's division remained in possession of the spot.

Meanwhile the left of the Spaoiards was setting itself in motion against general Chlopiski, whilst Zayas was debouching from Pouzol on their right, and appeared to be manoeuvring with a view to outffank our left and to approach the town of Murviedro. This effbrt of general Blake's two wings, at the moment when we were obtaining the advantage in the centre, determined marshal Suchet to follow up that advantage to the utmost of his power, and to cut the enemy's army in two in the middle. He calculated that generals Robert and Chlopiski would effectually resist the attacks made upon them from the favourable position in which they were placed. He contented himself with desiring general Habert to keep the division of Zayas in check; and, leaving cuirassiers in their position as a reserve, he ordered general Palombini, who was in the second line, to advance to the attack. The Spaniards, having been driven from the height, wee pursued by general Harispe as far as the plain; but their troops were not slow in rallying; they again stood their ground, attacked us in turn with the assistance of their cavalry under generals Loy and Caro, and marched forward a second time with the determination of recovering possession of the eminence. The chef d'escadron Duchaud, commanding the artillery of Harispe's division, moved forward to encounter the mass of Spanish infantry, and succeeded for a moment by a fire of grape-shot in arresting their progress. Our hussars, in their attempt to support him were charged and driven hack. Our artillery was attacked by the enemy sword in hand, and a few pieces of cannon fell into their power. This moment might have proved fatal to us had our infantry given way; but the 11Gth made a timely alteration in its movement, and defeated the charge by a well sustained fire which they kept up with unflinching steadiness. The marshal hastened up to the cuirassiers. being well aware of what he might expect from such a reserve, he addressed them in a few words expressing of his esteem and confidence, reminded them of Margalef, and the other places where their impetuous charge had decided the victory in our favour. Whilst he was speaking these words of encouragement, a ball struck him in the shoulder; fortunately the wound was not of a serious nature; he remained on horseback and without a moment's delay sent general Boussard forward against the Spanish cavalry. General Palombini, in his advance along the right of the high road, was already placed in such a situation as to have it in his power to fire upon the rear of that cavalry which already fancied itself' secure of victory. The cuirassiers charged and drove it back upon the infantry. We not only recovered our artillery, but a part of the enemy's caanon fell into our hands. Generals Harispe and Palombini, by a movement in advance, completed the defeat of the Spaniards. The centre of general Blake's army was irretrievably broken. The cavalry escaped with difficulty after encountering a severe loss; the infantry had many men put hors de combat independently of those who laid down their arms. General Caro was wounded and, fell into our hands, with a brigadier-general and two other officers. He was brought to marshal Suchet during the action, together with four standards and five pieces of cannon.

After having struck a decisive blow and broken the enemy's attack, the marshal had yet to crown his success by operating upon the wings. General Habert was ordered to attack general Zayas. The latter, although isolated by Lardizabal's retreat, maintained an obstinate fight in which we suffered a severe loss. The young aide-de-camp de Billy ilad his arm shot off by a cannon ball. General Habert took possession of the village of Pouzol, by sending forward general Montmarie with the 5th light regiment and the 116th of the line, and proceeding in person against the enemy with a battalion of the 117th and a troop of dragoons. The Spaniards, being forced from their position in the village, retreated, leaving eight hundred prisoners in our hands. Colonel Delort, having very seasonably proceeded in all haste towards the high road with the principal part of the 24th regiment of dragoons, broke through the fugitives, overtook the infantry under general Lardizabal, attacked it sword in hand, followed in pursuit as far as the Carthusian convent beyond the ravine of the Picador, and took two pieces of cannon. Whilst these occurrences were taking place, general Zayas was moving towards the heights of Puig, where general Blake, the commander-in-chief of the Spanish army, had remained during a part of the day, having from thence a full view of his army from one extremity to the other of the field of battle; he had left there a brigade of artillery under brigadier-general Velasco. General Habert was ordered to dislodge Zayas from those ileights. General Montmalie advanced in front of them, wllilst general Palombini was proceeding along the right. The battalion of the 117th regiment, led by captain Passelac, reached the summit, carried the position, and took five pieces of cannon which defended it. Zayas effected his retreat towards the Grao of Valencia by the road along the seashore.

Our right wing had been equally successful in another direction. At the commencement of the action, Obispo's division had advanced by the road of Naquera, threatening our flank, with a view to reach the defile of Sant-Espiritu; general Robert had kept it in check, and repeatedly defeated it. General Chlopiski contented himself, at first, with watching the corps of general Mahy and Villacampa's division, which were in front of his positions. But when he found them preparing to attack himin front, he formed his infantry iinto into masses, kept his cavalry in readiness to charge, and at the moment when the Spanish infantry descended from the heights of the Germanels, and began to deploy in the plain, he gave colonel Schiazzetti the signal to attack. The latter, accompanied by the chef d'escadron Saint-Joseph, aid-de-camp to the commander-in-chief, hastened forward at the head of the Italian dragoons, routed the advanced guard, and rushed upon the enemy's line, which he broke, and threw into disorder. This was the signal for general Chlopiski to advance; the enemy were not allowed time to rally and to form anew; part of them being cut off and put to the sword, were under the necessity of laying down their arms. At this moment general Harispe made his appearance, in full pursuit of the other divisions under general O'Donnell, which he had completely routed. He united to his own corps the troops of general Chlopiski, and began a close pursuit of general Mahy, who had taken up a position in the rear with the troops he had been able to rally, and he at last forced him to quit the field of battle, and to make a precipitate retreat towards Betera. Our cavalry arrived in time to compel several battalions to lay domn their arms, previously to crossing the torrent of Caraixet. The marshal, after having had his wound dressed on the field of battle, proceeded in person to Betera during the night, and ordered the pursuit of the enemy to be kept up until the hour of ten. He did not return to the camp at the foot of the rock of Saguntum until he had acquired the certainty that all the Spanish corps had recrossed the Guadalaviar. The French army took up a position at Puig, Alvalate, and Betera. Its loss amounted to a hundred and twenty-eight men killed, and five hundred and ninety-six wounded. The loss of the enemy exceeded a thousand men placed hors de combat. They suffered a further loss of four thousand six hundred and eighty-one prisoners, including two generals, forty superior officers, and two hundred and thirty officers of inferior rank, besides four standards, four thousand two hundred muskets, mostly of English manufacture, and twelve pieces of cannon with their caissons.

This engagement appeared to have decided the fate of Saguntum; the Spanish army was disabled for a long time from making an offensive movement; independently of which circumstance, the progress of the siege had never been suspended. Our artillery had widened the breach, and on the 26th in the morning, the tower and its two protecting flanks offered a wide passage through which several men could mount abreast to the assault. The marshal resolved to take advantage of the state of despondency into which the result of the battle must have necessarily thrown the garrison. After the losses it had experienced, it found itself deprived of its last prospect of relief. This was, therefore, a favourable moment for offering terms of capitulation.

The marshal wrote to propose to the governor that he should surrender the fort, announcing to him, at the same time, the defeat of general Blake's army, and the impossibility of his ever obtaining any assistance from that quarter. He offered to receive at his head-quarters an officer belonging to the garrison, if he would send one who enjoyed his confidence, adding, that be would place that officer in communication with the prisoners taken on the preceding day, that he might satisfy himself of the correctness of the facts.

A lieutenant-colonel of artillery was the bearer of general Andriani's reply. He was conducted to general Caro, and was shewn the prisoners, the standards, and the cannon taken by our army. These proofs, and the declarations of his own countrymnen, clearly demonstrated to him, what had been the result of the late defeat. In consequence of this officer's report, the governor determined to treat for terms; the capitulation was signed at nine o'clock the same night; at that hour, and by the light of the moon, the garrison left the fort as prisoners of war, and, according to the terms agreed upon, filed off by the breach, which was yet so difficult of access, that our sappers were under the necessity of cutting a slope to facilitate the descent of the Spaniards. They amounted to two thousand five hundred and seventy two men. We took possession of the fort, in which we found seventeen pieces of cannon, six standards, two thousand four hundred muskets, eight hundred thousand cartridges, ten thousand pounds of gunpowder, besides a supply of provisions and ammunition.

Thus terminated the siege of Saguntum, twenty-one days after the opening of the trenches. Notwithstanding the exertions of the artillery and engineer corps, we could by no means have relied upon the success of a fresh assault. It was clearly demonstrated to us by an inspection of the place that we had neither been mistaken in our choice of the point of attack, nor respecting the nature of the difficulties we had to contend with The existence of obstacles which we could only have hitherto surmised at a distance, was now proved beyond all doubt. The taking. of the advanced work, would not have secured to us the possession of the reduit. The professional skill displayed in the attacks, and the valour of our troops, might still have been unavailing, and this arduous siege might never, perhaps, have been brought to a successful close, except through the exhausted state to which the garrison must eventually have been reduced, or the want of provisions, had it not been for the result of the battle of Saguntum. More skilled in the art of war than Henry O'Donnell had proved himself at Margalef, general Blake had marched to the relief of the place at the moment when the works of the beslegers were considerably advanced; and he had driven his adversary to the necessity of fighting in a disadvantageous field of battle. Fortune, it is true, proved unfavourable to him; but he was left in a condition to defend Valencia, with an army still formidable in point of numbers, though veakened by the loss of several thousand men, and especially by the fall of Saguntum, which became a useful point-d'appui for the French army.

Source

I am indebted to Howie Muir for copying the above text and sending it to me.