Monday, September 06, 2010

Action at Bruc 6th June 1808

The burning of the papers
The situation created by an insurrection in the city of Lleida on 28th May 1808 concerned both the French and Spanish authorities in Barcelona and so on the 1st June 1808 Jose de Ezpeleta, Captain General of Catalonia, was dispatched with the Reg. d'Infanteria de Línia 'Extremadura' to restore order in Lleida, whilst at the same time Antonio Garcia Conde was sent with the 1/2nd 'Reales Guardias Españolas' and a squadron of the Reg. de Cavalleria de Línia 'Borbon' to Villafranca del Penedès for the same purpose. The next day the two companies of Reg. d'Infanteria suïssa nº 1 "Wimpfen" in Barcelona were sent to Tarragona to rejoin their regiment.

On Thursday 2nd June of 1808, a popular revolt began in Manresa, led by the local Governor Francisco Quince, sparked by the burning of official papers sent by the central authorties in Barcelona. In Lleida a local Junta was formed to govern and defend the city, headed by Bishop Jeroni Maria de Tores with the ultimate goal being to drive the French army out of Spain. The Extremadura Regiment never reached Lleida, and at Tarrega they decided to join the military insurrection. On the 4th Vic also revolted followed by Cardona on the 5th.

In the face of this revolt General Duhesme, then commanding the Corps of Observation of the Eastern Pyrenees, feared that his lines of communication back to France might be cut at any moment, with the towns of Roses, Girona and Hostalric all occupied by Spanish forces of very questionable loyalty to the central government in Madrid, and whom he believed were about to join the insurrection. His problems were exacerbated by the receipt of a number of confusing and conflicting orders. The first a written order from Berthier to send Chabrán's Division to Saragossa to cooperate with Marshal Moncey, the second a verbal order from Berthier to send the division instead to Valencia to cooperate with Moncey and the third from Murat to send Chabrán's Division along with the 3e Provisional Cuirassiers to occupy Tortosa, half way between Saragossa and Valencia, where they were to remain and only if they failed to occupy Tortosa were they to fall back to Valencia to join up with Moncey.

General Duhesme resolved these conflicting orders by deciding to send two columns, one under General Chabrán consisting of 5 battalions of the Brigade Goullus with the 3e Provisional Cuirassiers to Valencia via Tarragona, Tortosa and Nules, and the second under the orders of General François Xavier de Schwarz with one battalon 2e Regiment d'Infanterie de ligne Suisse, two battalions 1e Régiment d’Infanterie de ligne Neapolitan, one battalion d'Infanterie de lígne Italienne, one squadron 3e Provisioanl Cuirassier, one squadrons of 2e Chasseurs a Cheval Neapolitàn, and one section of the 11e compagnie d’Artillerie a Pied Italienne (2 pieces of 4lbr) to Saraggosa via Igualada, Manresa, Cervera and Lleida.

The order issued by Duhesme to the generals was:
"The Generals Chabrán and Schwartz will leave tomorrow, the 4th June, commanding the two flying columns, the make up of these two columns is indicated in the margin. General de Division Chabrán, with the Generals Goullus and Bessières under his orders, commands the first column of 4,000 infantry and 200 cavalry with their corresponding artillery. They will go to Tarragona which they will occupy, leaving a garrison of a thousand men. Incorporate in to the division the regiment swiss Wimpffen giving orders to it colonel as necessary including threats of using force in case of resistance to this by its officers. Continuing to march by Tortosa to Valencia arriving on the 22nd. At Nules open the attached paper where you will find instructions concerning the combined operations with the Marshal Moncey who will be found that day near that city with a corps of 10,000 men.

General Schwartz will go via Molins de Rei and Martorell to Manresa with the second column of 3,800 men of all arms. In that city impose a levy of 750,000 francs payable within 48hrs and which will serve to meet the expenses of the division. He will act to punish the leaders of the rebellion, but forgive them, claiming the mercy of the Emperor. At the same time destroy the gunpowder mills sending the existing stock to Barcelona, protected by a detachment of 100 cavalry as far as Esparreguera where they will be relieved and return to their division.

The division will immediately leave by Cervera for Lleida in front of said city make several demonstrations. In case of seizing the city leave a garrison of 500 men. Incorporate in to the divison the detachment of swiss and impose a levy of 600,000 francs. Wasting no time move on Saragossa. In Bujaraloz open the attached paper where you will find details of the combined operations with General Lefebvre who you will find on the 19th, and no later, at Saragossa. The levy from Lerida will be made available to the General."

On the 4th the two columns left Barcelona, the first in the direction of Tarragona and the second towards Lleida. Although these orders were supposed to be a secret, the threat to the towns of Manresa and Igualada was evidently so widely known that by that afternoon news of the columns departure had already reached those towns and a general call to arms was issued by the somatenes. At the same time the new authorities of Igualada sent Antonio Franch and Joseph de Olzinelles to Vilafranca del Penedes to ask the local governor, John de Toda to supply then with weapons.

The Somatenes and Migueletes were traditional Catalan defence organizations. The professional army having all but disappeared after Duhesme's troops had taken Barcelona, the "Corregimental" (local) Juntas and the Catalan High Junta (constituted formally at Lerida on 18th June 1808), promoted the formation of Miguelete Tercios and a general Somatén. Throughout the war, both forms of grouping were adopted by the military themselves, and their actions often overlapped with those of the guerrilla groups.

The migueletes were really a paramilitary militia, mercenary and voluntary in nature, recruited by the local authorities or war juntas with the aim of carrying out special actions or of reinforcing regular troops. Unlike the somatenes, which only operated close to their respective towns and villages, the migueletes were mobile and independent and had a hierarchy similar to that of the army. In practice, migueletes and somatenes are often confused with traditional forms of military organisation.

Somatenes on the heights above Bruch
First Action at Bruc (see detailed map at end)
Schwartz arrived at Martorell on the 5th, he remained there for the whole day due to a violent rain storm which allowed time for the somatenes of Manresa and Igualda to organise. A group of about 100 Igualada somatenes under the command of Juan and Jaime Llimona and Antonio Franch y Estalella, armed with a mixture of axes and muskets, left Igualada for Bruc de Dalt, together with a detachment of 24 men of the Reg. d'infanteria suïssa nº 1 "Wimpfen" permanently stationed in Igualada, led by Lieutenant Don Franz Krutter Grotz. They were joined by a similar sized group of somatenes from Manresa led by Francisco Riera, Maurico Carrio and Augurio Parera y Soler (a distinguished Capitan of the somatenes in the war against the French in 1793) and a group of Reales Guardias Valonas, deserters from the Barcelona garrison under the command of Sergeant Major Don Justo de Bèrriz and Capitán Don Carlos Vicente. The Igualada group cut the Camino Royale near Can Solà de la Roca a kilometer west of the Can Macana junction, whilst the Manresa group cut the Can Macana road somewhere above the junction, a further abattis was thrown across the road at Caseta Peones just east of the junction.

On the morning of the 6th, General Schwartz with his troops quit Martorell, leaving behind a half dozens riders to maintain communication with Barcelona, but had to stop again for a few hours at Collbató because of further heavy rain storms, reaching the village of Bruc de Dalt just around 11:00am.

Beyond Bruc de Dalt, the famous pass of del Bruch, which public works have today converted into a pleasant and picturesque landscape, was at the time a wild land of ridges, rough ground, rocks, ravines, thickets and thick pine forests. About 2 Km beyond Bruch de Alt just before the junction of the Carretera de Igualada with the Camino de Manresa, at the point that is today the Caseta Peones, the road makes a turn forming a natural amphitheater, whose bottom was inaccessible and the slopes were an impenetrable pine forest with rocky massifs on the top. This formed a narrow gorge through which, the column would have to pass and in those pine forests the somatenes hid waiting to surprise their opponents.

The French column was advancing from Collbató preceded by a small avantgarde, made up of 3e Provisional Cuirassiers, oblivious to any possible danger. As they approached Bruch de Baix, near the Pou del Glac, they received musket fire from 8 somatenes in the house of D. Emilio Pascual, these were actually the first shots fired against the French. Schwartz then deployed the right wing of his troops, which crossed over the torrente to 'old' Bruch on the other side and continued to advance parallel to the main column as far as the middle of Bruch, sacking the village as they went, however seeing that there was no further resistance he pulled the right wing back across the torrente at the place called 'el juego de trucos' and the column continued up the road, in to Bruch De Dalt, and then to the plain at Pla de la Cova just beyond Bruch de Dalt which they reached at around 11:00am.

The Cuirassiers, who had continued their march without any scouts to alert them to any possible surprises, in spite of the 'reminder' they had been given at Pou del Glac, entered the gorge about a kilometer ahead of the main body. Suddenly the Cuirassiers were brought to a halt by a barricade that had been thrown across the road, at the same moment they received a devastating fusillade from the direction of the forest to their right, where the somatenes had lain in ambush, that played along the whole length of the cavalry column. Momentarily confused by the ambush, the thick forest making it difficult to see the quantity or quality of their attackers, and unable to deploy in the narrow pass, many Cuirassiers were cut down before they turned and fled back towards the main body of the column (The cavalry were to lose 60 men during the day, with 30 horses being delivered by the somatenes to Lleida after the battle).

General Schwartz reacted quickly, the column was halted and again the 2e Suisse battalion was ordered up, and preceded by a cloud of skirmishers, he launched them in a strong attack column against the somatenes in the pass. The somatenes under pressure from the French, who were superior both in numbers and arms gave way, with the majority, retreating up the Can Masana towards Manresa whilst a smaller group retreated towards Igualada and the barricade at Can Solà de la Roca. The French chased the larger group of somatenes for 1.5km as far as the Casa Masana which lay at the junction of the Manresa and Montserrat roads, seizing that building before finally calling a halt.

Casa Masana
At 12:00pm believing the danger had now passed, Schwartz gave orders to his now halted column to prepare food for the troops, leaving the avantgarde at the Casa Masana, with the main body of the column still just beyond Bruch De Dalt at Pla de la Cova.

The battle was however, far from over, the somatenes from Manresa as they withdrew met another group of about 200 somatenes just arriving from the direction of Manresa consisting of a unit of about a 100 men under the command of Captain José Viñas from Sampedor and another of 60 men from Sallent led by their Vicar, Ramon Mas, and 40 others from the area of Bages, all good shots, and encouraged by these reinforcements, the somatenes decided to return to the positions now held by the French.

The Casa Masana had become the rallying point for the head of the column after the pursuit was called off, as with the main body the troops had halted for lunch and with the somatenes in full retreat towards Manresa no further trouble had been anticipated. The French position at this point was actually quite precarious, over 3km separated the head of the column from the main body, they were not visible to each other and with the somatenes able to use the mountain paths of the Montserrat to move around safely and unnoticed they could cut the road at any point they liked between Cassa Massana and Pla de la Cova.

About 1:00pm the returning somatenes surprised the French outposts and drove them back, the building was attacked from all sides and the route back down the Camino was threatened, after a firefight the building was taken and the French retreated back down the hill in some disorder, those that didn't manage to escape were either killed or surrendered there.

As the French retreated down the Can Masana pursued by the somatenes, another group moved down the paths along the Montserrat back down towards the junction and the Pla de al Cova. Schwartz seeing the Catalans now approaching from all directions formed up the column in a large square and slowly fell back to a farm close to Bruch de Alt. The constant ringing of the all church bells in the vicinity worried Schwartz, who feared that he could now be facing a general uprising, according to legend the sound of drums echoing in the mountains also convinced Schwartz that the "Extremedura" Infantry Regiment was approaching and with minute by minute the fire of the Somatens becoming heavier and more effective Schwartz took the decision to abandon his mission and fall back to Barcelona. The retreat was initially unhurried and in good order but as they sound of battle reached the various hamlets and villages the numbers of somatenes grew steadily.

At about 5:00pm, just below Bruch de Baix, the column reached Pla del Alzinar, a flat open area between Bruch de Baix and Collbató, Schwarz felt that here he would be able to make effective use of his superiority in numbers and drive the somatenes off, so he turned to face them and for two hours engaged in a firefight but with little result. The somatenes continued to make effective use of their knowledge of the local terrain to be able to fire at the French whilst exposing themselves to little danger, so with a lively fire showing no signs of abating Schwartz was forced to resume the retreat but the hour was now getting late.

They eventually reached Esparraguera around 10:00pm still in good order, they tried to fortify the place so that they could defend themselves in anticipation of support from Barcelona. However they discovered that the village's main road which runs for a kilometer was blocked by a barricade made of furniture, carts, beams and all sorts of objects and led by Pedro Morrall, the people were at the windows, on rooftops, in the corners, ready to fight. The avantegarde suffered heavy losses as it tried to make it's way into the village forcing General Schwartz to divide his force into two columns and bypass the village on either side.

About 1.5 kilometers outside Esparraguera the river Abrera, normally little more than a dry river bed but now in full flood due to the heavy rains, is spanned by a small wooden bridge. A group of somatenes commanded by the Vicar of Olesa, Juan Boada had attmepted to destroy the bridge by setting fire to it but this was only partially successful and around 1:00am the column proceeded to cross. However at some point whilst the column was crossing the bridge collapsed and in the confusion in the dark many were killed or wounded, one of the two guns was either thrown into the river bed or left stranded on the wrong side of the river along with some ammunition cassions, a lot of time was spent in trying to recover the gun but it was eventually decided to abandon it as order completely broke down in the column and still under fire from the somatenes they fled.

The Spaniards continued to harass the retreating French all the way to the gates of Martorell which were reached at about 4:00am, the French didn't halt there but continued their flight to San Feliu de Llobregat, located a few kilometer's from Barcelona, where they arrived on the morning of June 7th, 1808 in a pitiful condition. French losses were put at 320 dead, 600 wounded whilst for the Catalans a mere 20 dead and 80 wounded.

It was a major psychological victory, the first defeat Napoleon's army suffered in the Peninsular, before Bailén, and was to become a symbol repeatedly exploited by the civil and military authorities in their anti-French propaganda campaign. From the point of view of organising their defence, following the Bruc battle, other villages which had previously not raised somatenes, like Vilanova and la Geltrú quickly did so.

Knowledge of the local terrain, particularly in the hills, enabled the somatenes and migueletes
to cause the French army heavy losses. With the aid of the local population, the Catalan patriots carried out a defensive war of attrition, accepting no real battle unless they had clear numerical superiority. The ability of the Catalans to mobilise in the countryside and in the defence of towns under siege was noted by French Oficers from the start.

The first Catalan somatén was formed in early June 1808. Citizens of Igualada, Manresa and other neighbouring towns raised a somatén in the Bruc mountains with the aim of halting General Schwartz's march. The skirmish, which took place on June 6, had the desired effect and succeeded in putting the French Imperial troops to flight. Beyond legend and the myth of the "Drum of Bruc", the participation of the Swiss Wimpffen regiment in the action should be noted, with the detachment commanded by Lieutenant Francisco Krutter preparing an ambush for the French, as well as that of other regular troops, many of them deserters from Barcelona. Their participation was also decisive in the second action at Bruc on June 14th, led by Joan Baget, a scribe from Lleida, in which besides the Manresa and Igualada somatenes there was participation by the Cervera and Lleida tercios, among which there were several Swiss companies, more than 500 men, dressed as peasants, even down to their Catalan barretina caps.

Order of Battle

French (3,800 men)
General de Brigade Schwartz
2e Regiment d'Infanterie Suisse(1 bn) Colonel Castella de Berlens 580 men
1e reg. d'Infanterie de lígne Neapolitàn (2 bns) Colonel Pegot 1,944 men
1e reg. Italian Royal Velites (1 bn) 519 men
3e reg. Provisional Cuirassiers (1 esq.) 200 men
Artillery: 1 section 11e Cie. Italienne 2 canons de 4 lbs 85 men
Train d'Artillerie de la Garde Italienne 59 men

The Catalan OB is fairly vague, the figure widely quoted is up to 2,000 by the end of the action but right or wrong it is difficult to see how such an estimate could ever have been made. At least 500 were involved during the initial fighting around Buch and as time went on more joined the fight but the action had no overall control, groups or individuals simply turned up and got involved, all you needed was a man with musket and knowledge of the terrain. Over the years politics has also heavily impacted the OB with various towns wishing to play up there own participation or to down play or play up depending on the point of view the involvement of regular spanish units in the action.

Catalan (start 250; end 2,000 men)
Detachment permanent d’Igualada del Regiment Suís núm. 1 "Wimpffen" (24)
   Tinent don Franz Krutter Grotz
Detachment del 2n. batalló de "Reales Guardias Valonas"
   Sergent major don Justo de Bèrriz i capità don Carlos Vicente
Sometens d'Igualada (100)
   Antoni Franch, Josep d'Olzinelles, Joan i Jaume Llimona
Sometens de Manresa (100)
   Maurici Carrió, Francesc Riera i Augurí Parera i Soler
Sometens de Sampedor (100)
   Josep Viñas
Sometens de Sallent (63)
   Mossèn Ramon Mas
Other somatens or volunteers - Barges (40) Bruc (22)

El Timbaler del Bruc
The most famous of the 'myths of Bruch' is El Timbaler del Bruc, according to legend a drummer boy from Sampedro, rejected by the somatens as too young to serve, marched to Bruc and the sound of his drum echoing in the mountains convinced the French that a large regular force was approaching and caused them to retreat to Barcelona. The reality is this legend didn't arise until some time after the battle, and Laffaille states it was the sound of the church bells not the drums that worried Schwartz. However it is not inconceivable that there might have been a localised effect at some point and there were two drummers on the battlefield.
Armour piercing bullets
One explanation for the devastating effectiveness of the first volleys on the Cuirassiers, according to legend, is that the somatenes due to lack of resources had to make their musket balls out of iron and this enabled them to penetrate the 'armour' of the Cuirassiers.

Detailed Map of Action at Bruc:
The attached map is dated 1949 which predates all of the major road works that have significantly changed the battlefield topography, although clearly there have been some changes between 1808 and 1949 you will find that the basic topography is the same. Click the image below to display the full size image, please note this image is very large and the file size is over 7Mb, the original was over 35Mb so this is the best I can do. This map will be useful if you wish to stage a refight of the action at Bruc.

To be continued in 'Second Action at Bruc 14th June 1808'

Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia, Tomo 44 (1904), pp.333-351.
Popular resistence in catalonia: somatenes and migueletes in the French War: Antonio Moliner Prada
Cercle Català d'Història
Primeres Accions Armade
Forces emfrontades en la Guerra del Frances (1808-1814) 2.- l’Exercit Imperial a Catalunya
Forces emfrontades en la Guerra del Frances (1808-1814) 3.- l'Exercit Espanyol
Miqelets a la Guerra del Frances (1808-1814)
La Acciost del Bruch en ï8o8.
Les Batalles del Bruc
La nación falsificada By Jesús Laínz
Les Batailles de la « Guerra de La Independencia » vues par les Espagnols (3)
Historia del levantamiento , guerra y revolución de España Libro Cuarto
Primera batalla del Bruc
Segona batalla del Bruc
Primer Combate del Bruch (6 de junio de 1808)
Mémoires sur la campagne du corps d'armée des Pyrénées-Orientales - G. Laffaille
Journal des opérations de l'armée de Catalogne, en 1808 et 1809
Guerra de la independencia, historia militar de España de 1808 á 1814 Tome II José Gómez de Arteche y Moro
A History Of The Peninsular War Volume 1 Oman

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