Army of the Eastern Pyrenees

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Army of the Eastern Pyrenees
Vista El Pertus.jpg
View from Fort de Bellegarde in the Pyrenees. Spanish territory is in the right foreground; the rest belongs to France. During the fighting, the French first lost, then regained Bellegarde.
Active 1793 - 1795
Country First French Republic
Type Army
Role Operations in the eastern Pyrenees
Engagements War of the Pyrenees
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Eustache Charles d'Aoust
Jacques Dugommier
Dominique Pérignon

The Army of the Eastern Pyrenees (Armée des Pyrénées orientales) was one of the French Revolutionary armies. It fought against the Kingdom of Spain in Rousillon and Catalonia during the War of the Pyrenees. The army was formed a few days after Spain invaded France in April 1793. The Peace of Basel on 22 July 1795 ended the fighting and the army was dissolved on 12 October that same year.

After a dismal first year of fighting, the army's fortunes improved and it started to win victories. Its successes, together with the victories won by the Army of the Western Pyrenees, forced Spain to sue for peace. The war took a severe toll on the commanders of the Army of the Eastern Pyrenees. One general died in battle, at least three were executed by the Committee of Public Safety, and one was arrested and released but later died of disease at the front.

Formation[edit]

The execution of King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette outraged the ancient monarchies of Europe. Even so, it was the First French Republic that declared war on its ancient ally Spain on 7 March 1793. Spain joined the War of the First Coalition and invaded Rousillon on 17 April 1793.[1] In response, National Convention divided the Army of the Pyrenees into two parts on 30 April 1793. The Army of the Eastern Pyrenees was assigned to defend the department of Pyrénées Orientales (formerly Rousillon) while the Army of the Western Pyrenees held the department of Pyrénées Atlantiques in the southwestern corner of France.

History[edit]

1793: Invasion and defeat[edit]

War of the Pyrenees, Eastern Pyrenees

At first the war went badly for France. The Spanish army of Captain General (CG) Antonio Ricardos invaded France on 17 April 1793, driving a French garrison from the town of Saint-Laurent-de-Cerdans. On 20 April, the Spanish commander routed 1,800 French soldiers from Céret and crossed the Tech River.[2] The French army's first commander, General of Brigade (BG) Claude Souchon de Chameron was dismissed on 13 May. Accused of plotting to join anti-government forces, Souchon went to the guillotine on 12 April 1794.[3] On 19 May, Ricardos defeated General of Division (MG) Louis-Charles de Flers at the battle of Mas Deu, fought near Trouillas and Thuir. After their victory, the Spanish army moved south to reduce the Fort de Bellegarde. The Siege of Bellegarde occupied the invaders until the place fell on 24 June.[4] After Ricardos' 15,000 Spaniards met the 12,000 soldiers led by de Flers at Niel on 17 July, the Spanish withdrew.[5] Removed on 6 August by the all-powerful Representatives-on-mission, de Flers was guillotined on 22 July 1794, in the last spasm of the Reign of Terror.[6]

MG Luc Siméon Auguste Dagobert won a minor action at Puigcerdà in the Cerdagne on 28 August.[7] When Ricardos advanced menacingly on Perpignan, the department capital, army commander MG Hilarion Paul de Puget-Barbantane deserted his post in an act of cowardice. MG Eustache Charles d'Aoust took charge and led the army in an attack on two Spanish divisions which Ricardos sent to encircle Perpignan from the west. D'Aoust inflicted a serious defeat on Lieutenant General (LG) Juan de Courten and LG Jerónimo Girón-Moctezuma, Marquis de las Amarilas at the Battle of Peyrestortes on 17 September.[8] Ricardos rallied his army to beat Dagobert at the Battle of Truillas on 22 September.[9] Arrested after his defeat, Dagobert spent several months in prison. He returned to the army the following spring in a subordinate role, but died of fever on 18 April 1794. On 3 October, Ricardos repulsed an attempt by d'Aoust to attack his camp at Le Boulou.[10] MG Louis Turreau sustained a defeat at the Battle of the Tech (Pla-del-Rey) on 13–15 October.[11] A Portuguese division joined the Spanish in time to win a combined victory over d'Aoust at the battle of Villelongue-dels-Monts on 7 December.[12] A Spanish corps commanded by LG Gregorio García de la Cuesta drove the French out of the port of Collioure on 20 December.[13] D'Aoust was denounced by his fellow generals Turreau and François Amédée Doppet,[14] and arrested by Representatives Édouard Milhaud and Pierre Soubrany. Charged with malice and disability in January, d'Aoust fell victim to the guillotine on 2 July 1794.

1794: French victories[edit]

Jacques Dugommier

On 16 January 1794, the French government appointed MG Jacques François Dugommier to lead the army. The victor of the Siege of Toulon began a thorough reorganization of the ill-used Army of the Eastern Pyrenees. Dugommier established supply depots, hospitals, and arsenals, and constructed roads. After receiving reinforcements from the Toulon army, he counted a field army 28,000 strong, backed by 20,000 garrison troops and 9,000 untrained volunteers. Dugommier formed his troops into three infantry divisions under MG Dominique Pérignon, MG Pierre Augereau, and MG Pierre Sauret. He placed MG André de la Barre in charge of his 2,500 cavalry troopers.[15] Both Pérignon and Augereau, as well their subordinates BG Claude Victor and Colonel Jean Lannes, later became Marshals of France under the First French Empire.[16]

In March 1794, both Ricardos and his successor CG Alejandro O'Reilly died, leaving LG Luis Firmin de Carvajal, Conde de la Union in command of the Allied army. LG Don Juan Forbes led the Portuguese contingent. Dugommier launched an offensive, winning conclusively at the Battle of Boulou from 29 April to 1 May 1794. Within a month, the French recaptured Collioure and drove the Allied army south of the Pyrenees. Bellegarde proved to be a much tougher nut to crack and its 1,000 surviving defenders only capitulated on 17 September.[17] During the siege, Pérignon fought the Spanish at La Junquera on 7 June, in an action that saw the death of La Barre.[18] De la Union's attempt to relieve Bellegarde failed at the Battle of San-Lorenzo de la Muga on 13 August.[19] In a decisive French victory at the Battle of the Black Mountain (Capmany) on 17–20 November, both Dugommier and de la Union were killed in action.[20] Pérignon took command of the army and continued the invasion of Catalonia. He quickly secured the surrender of Figueres and its powerful San Fernando (Sant Ferran) fortress with 9,000 Spanish prisoners.[21]

1795: War ends[edit]

Pérignon

The Siege of Roses lasted from the end of November until 4 February 1795 when the Spanish fleet evacuated the garrison by sea. Unhappy that Pérignon did not advance farther into Spain, the government replaced him with MG Barthélemy Schérer in May.[22] LG José Urrutia y de las Casas promptly defeated Schérer's attempt to cross the Rio Fluvià at the battle of Bàscara on 14 June.[23] Cuesta beat the French in minor actions at Puigcerdà and Bellver in late July, before news of the Peace of Basel reached the front.[24] On 12 October 1795, the army ceased to exist. Of the army's soldiers, one cavalry regiment and 17 demi-brigades were immediately sent to the Army of Italy. One regiment of cavalry and 18 infantry battalions were retained to defend the border. One regiment of cavalry, 12 battalions of infantry, and other elements were first reorganized in the south of France, then sent to reinforce the Army of Italy.[25]

Commanders[edit]

The leaders of the Army of the Eastern Pyrenees and their dates of command are listed as follows.[25]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Durant, p 53
  2. ^ Smith, p 45
  3. ^ French wikipedia Claude Souchon de Chameron
  4. ^ Smith, p 48
  5. ^ Smith, p 49. Smith calls Niel a French victory though French losses were much heavier.
  6. ^ French wikipedia Louis-Charles de Flers
  7. ^ Smith, p 53
  8. ^ Prats, Peyrestortes
  9. ^ Smith, pp 56-57. Smith misspells d'Aoust as "Davout". Louis-Nicolas Davout was under arrest at this time and did not fight in the Pyrenees.
  10. ^ Smith, p 57
  11. ^ Prats, Turreau
  12. ^ Smith, p 63
  13. ^ Smith, p 64
  14. ^ Prats, Banyuls
  15. ^ Ostermann-Chandler, pp 406-407
  16. ^ Horward-Chandler, pp 192-193
  17. ^ Smith, p 91
  18. ^ Ostermann-Chandler, p 407
  19. ^ Smith, pp 88-89
  20. ^ Ostermann-Chandler, p 408
  21. ^ Smith, p 96
  22. ^ Ostermann-Chandler, pp 409, 413-414
  23. ^ Smith, p 103
  24. ^ Smith, p 104
  25. ^ a b French wikipedia Armée des Pyrénées orientales

References[edit]

Printed materials[edit]

External references[edit]