Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Action at Margalef - 23rd April 1810

The action at Margalef took place on 23rd of April 1810, between Spanish and Swiss troops of General O'Donnell, who were trying to lift the siege of Lerida and the French and Polish troops under Marshal Suchet that encircled that town.

After the defeat at the Battle of Vic, General O'Donnell had managed to gather 15,000 men at Tarragona ready to attempt to lift the siege of Lerida whenever a suitable opportunity presented itself. Passing though Momblanch with eight thousand infantry, six hundred cavalry, a battery of artillery and 1500 local militia, he camped at Vinaxa about 25 miles from Lerida. Suchet hearing that O'Donell was now at Tarragona decided to move quickly dispatching Musnier's division to Tarragona leaving only Harispe's weak division behind at the bridgehead with 300 Hussars. On April 22nd O'Donnel recieved a note from General Garcia Conde the commander of Lerida, saying that, Suchet's had been drawn off and the beseiging force was weak, with only 300 cavalry in the vicinity. He decided to seize the moment and attack the forces encircling the town, the plan called for the forces inside the town to simultaneously sally out trapping the French between the two forces.

The Battle
On the morning of 23rd O'Donnell reached Juneda, 15 miles from Lerida, and after a halt of two hours, resumed his march at midday with the advanced guard made up of the 4,000 men of General Ibarrola's division and the cavalry leaving the 3,000 men of General Pirez's division to follow up later.

Four miles from Juneda stood the ruined village of Margalef, beyond which the Plain of Margalef extended all the way down to Lerida. O'Donnel could see no covering force around Lerida and trusting in Conde's information, he descended from the hills and crossed the plain in three columns, one following the high road and the other two marching on the right and left.

The centre column outstripping the flank columns, soon pushed back the outposts of General de Division Harispe; but that General gathering together the 4e Hussars and the voltigeurs of the 116e and 117e turned to face the Navarro Brigade, which was leading the column, he immediately charged with his three hundred hussars upon the centre Spanish column, so suddenly, that it was thrown into confusion, and after a short exchange with Harispe's voltigeurs which were following up in support, retired towards Margalef, to which place, the flank columns also retreated, yet in good order. During this skirmish, the garrison sallied over the bridge, but the 117e infantry stood firm, and the besieged, seeing the rout of O'Donnel's force, returned to the town.

Unknown to O'Donnel, Suchet had heard news of his advance on Lerida and had made a forced march back taking the Reserve Brigade to Belaguer and directing Musnier to Alcoteletge, three miles north of the bridge into Lerida, which he reached on the evening of the 22nd. On the 23rd Musnier, hearing the firing, guessed the state of affairs, and marched at once with the brigades of Paris (121e leading) and Verges (1e Vistula leading) and the four hundred men of the 13e Cuirassiers from Alcoteletge across the plain towards Margalef, hoping to cut off the Spaniards' retreat.

Meanwhile O'Donnel who had rallied his troops at Margalef, seeing Musnier approaching realised he couldn't withdraw in time and so formed line of battle on the Despuig brigade, having the artillery on the right and the cavalry on the left, with the remnants of the Navarro brigade rallying behind them but his second division was still someway in the rear. The 13e Cuirassiers and a battery of horse artilery, came up at a quick pace, a cannonade commenced, and the Spanish cavalry rode forward, when the Cuirassiers, commanded by General Boussard, charged hotly, and forced them back on the line of battle in such a manner that the latter wavered, and Boussard, observing the confusion, came with a rude shock upon the flank of the infantry. The Walloon guards made a vain effort to form square, but the confusion was extreme, and finally nearly all the Spanish infantry threw down their arms or were sabred. The Cuirassiers, elated with their success, then met and overthrew a Swiss regiment, forming the advanced guard of the Pirez division finally coming up; the main body of the latter however checked their fury, and O'Donnel then retreated in good order, and without further loss to the defile of Momblanch.

This action, although not discreditable to O'Donnel, was very unfortunate. The plain was strewed with carcasses ; three Spanish guns, three flags, General Despuig, eight colonels, and above five thousand men were captured; and the next day the prisoners, being first ostentatiously marched under the walls of the town, were shown to a Spanish officer who had been detained on the 19th, after which he was dismissed by the road of Cervera, that he might spread the news of the defeat.

Order of Battle
Spanish, General O’Donnell

1st Division, General Ybarrola
 Brigade, Brigadier Garcia Navarro
  Regiment d’Infanteria de Línia Aragaon (2 bns)
  Regiment d’Infanteria de Línia Valencia (1 bn)
  Regiment d’Infanteria de Línia Voluntarios de Daroca (1 bn)
 Brigade, Brigadier Despuig
  Regiment d’Infanteria Guardias Valonas (2 bns)
  Regiment d’Infanteria de Línia Santa Fe (1bon)
  Regiment d’Infanteria de Línia Fieles Zaragozanos (1 bn)

2nd Division, General Pyrez
 Regiment d’Infanteria Suís Wimpffen(2 bns)
 6 Batallions (Militia?)

 1/2 Squadron de Cuirassers
 1/2 Squadron de Caçadors Maestranza de Valencia
 1 Squadron de Hussares de Valencia
 1 Squadron de Hussares de Granada

 3 Canons

Army d'Aragaon, General Suchet

2e Division, Général de division Musnier
 1e Brigade, Général de brigade Pâris
  115e Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne (3 bns)
  1er Regiment Infantry de la Legion de Vistula (2 bns)
 2e Brigade, Général de brigade Vergés
  114e Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne (1 bns)
  121e Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne (3 bns)
 Reserve Brigade, Général de brigade Ruget
  114e Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne (2 bns)
  3e Régiment d'Infanterie de la Legion de Vístula (1 bn)
3e Division, Général de division Harispe
 1e Brigade, Général de brigade Habert
  5e Régiment d'Infanterie de Légère (2 bns)
  116e Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne(2 bns)
  117e Régiment d'Infanterie de Ligne(3 bns)

Cavalry, Général de brigade Boussard
 4e Régiment de Hussards (4 Squadrons)
 13e Régiment de Cuirassers (3 Squadrons)
 Régiment Lancier de Polenais (1 Squadron)

Artillery, General de Brigade Vallèe
 4 Batteries Foot Artillery
 1 Battery Horse Artillery

Engineers, Colonel Haxo
 1 cie de Pontoniers
 1 cie de Artisians
 1 cie de Mineurs
 2 cie de Sapeurs

French losses:
23 dead
82 wounded

Spanish Losses:
300 dead and wounded
5,167 prisoners

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