Saturday, June 26, 2010

Battle Of Maria, 15th June 1809

After his defeat at the Battle of Alcañiz on the 23rd of May General Suchet fell back to Zaragoza, where he tried to reorganise his battered III Corps. However the Spanish led by Captain General Joaquin Blake lingered for several days at Alcañiz waiting for reinforcements before taking any further action.

Once his reinforcements arrived Blake, with a force that now totaled over 20,000 men, finally felt strong enough to move and so marched against Zaragoza intending to take it from Suchet and free Aragon from French control. Alcañiz had convinced him that his army could successfully fight a defensive battle against the French, so rather than advance along the main road from Alcañiz to Zaragoza, along the Ebro, he decided to cut west across the mountains to the Huerba valley, and then advance north along that river towards Zaragoza. The move to the Huerba threatened Suchet’s lines of communications north west towards Tudela and onwards to France. He would have to either abandon Zaragoza without a fight, or attack the Spanish on ground of their own choosing.

By 14th June Blake had reached the Huerba, and his outposts were within ten miles of the Zaragoza. For some reason he had deliberately divided his army in two. One division, under General Areizaga, was advancing down the right bank of the Huerba, while the other two divisions, under Blake, were on the left bank. The two armies were separated by a gap of six or seven miles and by the river.

Suchet had been active since the battle, concentrating all his forces on Zaragoza and restoring the III Corps somewhat shaken morale. Hearing of Blake's approach Suchet decided to come out to give battle. Of the 10,500 men available to him, 1,000 were left to guard Zaragoza against any surprise attack, 2,000 were posted on the right bank of the Huerba under Laval with orders to stop, or at least slow down, any attack by Areizaga. This left Suchet with 7,500 infantry, 800 cavalry and twelve guns to attack Blake’s two divisions.

So on June 14th the two sides found each other along the river Huerva near Cadrete on the road between Maria de Huerva and Zaragoza. The Spanish Areizaga Division (6000 men and 8 guns) was at Botorrita, a league back, after they had captured a French supply convoy. However Blakes remaining force of over 14,000 men including 1,000 cavalry and seventeen cannons still heavily outnumbered Suchet's force.

Suchet seeing the sluggishness of the Spaniard's decided at this point to wait a day for the arrival of promised reinforcements in the shape of Roberts with 3,000 men.

On the morning of 15 June Blake’s army formed up in line of battle on a series of ridges that run down from the hills towards the Huerba. Roca’s division was on the northern-most ridge to the left of Venta Real with the cavalry on his right in the plain, Lazano was in the second line with the artillery filling the gaps in the two lines and with a small force on the right bank of the Huerva covering the bridge over the Arroyo Salado.

The French formed up on another line of hills one mile to the north. Suchet then held his ground, ignoring the initial movement of the Spanish forces on his left flank, waiting for the promised 3,000 reinforcements, which by now were only a few miles from the battlefield.

Despite wishing to fight a defensive battle, Suchet’s inactivity provoked Blake into launching an attack on the French lines. At around 2pm Blake ordered a strong attack on Suchet's right by Roca reinforced with two regiments Lazano, in an attempt to out flank Musinier's division. Suchet seeing the danger responded by ordering the Polish lancers under Liski to attack the flank of the advancing columns, while the 114th Regiment of the line attacked from the front, the Spanish attack was soon repulsed. Suchet seeing the temporary disruption in Blake's left flank decided to launch a general counter attack in the center and left across the ravine with the 114th Line, 155th Line and the 1st Vistula Regiment. However the attack was stalled by fire from artillery located on the plateau and then repulsed by infantry fire from reinforcements ordered up by Blake forcing Suchet to commit his limited reserves to stabilize the situation, Harispe fell wounded. A heavy hail storm which began at 3pm brought limited visibility and halted operations at this point but the Spanish still firmly held the advantage.

During this hailstorm the French reinforcements (166th and 117th Regiments) finally arrived at the Abbey of Santa Fé, behind the French left. This convinced Suchet to launch a second attack, this time using his left to attack the Spanish right close to the Huerba. Three French infantry battalions under Habert's were used to soften up the Spanish lines, before the French Hussars and Cuirassiers of Wathier charged through gaps in the French lines. O'Donojou's cavalry fled without offering any resistance, exposing the infantry on the Spanish right. The French cavalry turned on this infantry, destroying Blake’s right wing, and taking a battery stationed by the bridge over the Arroyo Salado blocking his line of retreat back towards Areizaga. Brigadier O'Donojou and Colonel Menchaca were both taken prisoner.

Habert didn't follow the cavalry but instead turned on the flank of the Spanish center and finally, the Spanish troops broke and fled, Blake managed to partially save the situation. He formed a new line across the ridge, at ninety degrees to his original line, and conducted a fighting retreat, eventually escaping to the south at nightfall. Despite this his army had suffered dreadfully, losing 1,000 dead and at least 3,000 wounded, as well as 400 prisoners, three flags and 17 guns. The French suffered between 700 and 800 casualties.

Somewhat to Suchet’s surprise, the Spanish did not immediately abandon their campaign. Blake’s army concentrated at Botorita upstream from Maria, joining the Areizaga division, and then spent the next day in that position. Suchet responded by attempting to turn both Spanish flanks, but failed, and Blake was able to begin a retreat south-east across the mountains towards Belchite unhindered by the French. His army began to disintegrate during the retreat – 3,000 men deserted in two days, but despite arriving at Belchite with only 12,000 men, Blake decided to attempt to fight a third battle. This time his army simply collapsed, and when it came back together another 2,000 men had disappeared. The French grip on Saragossa had been saved.

Suchet's OOB
Blake's OOB

A History of the Peninsular War vol.2: Jan.-Sept. 1809 - From the Battle of Corunna to the end of the Talavera Campaign, Sir Charles Oman.

The Spanish Ulcer, A History of the Peninsular War, David Gates

Batalla de Maria

Battle Of Maria


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