War of the Pyrenees
|War of the Pyrenees|
|Part of the War of the First Coalition|
The Panissars blockhouse, looking south from the Fort de Bellegarde into Spain. The town of La Junquera is left of center and Montroig (Black Mountain) is in the center distance.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Louis de Flers||Antonio Ricardos|
|Casualties and losses|
The War of the Pyrenees, also known as War of Roussillon or War of the Convention, was the Pyrenean front of the First Coalition's war against the First French Republic. It pitted Revolutionary France against the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal from March 1793 to July 1795 during the French Revolutionary Wars.
The war was fought in the eastern Pyrenees, the western Pyrenees, at the French port of Toulon, and at sea. In 1793, a Spanish army invaded Rousillon in the eastern Pyrenees and maintained itself on French soil through April 1794. The French army drove the Spanish back into Catalonia and inflicted a serious defeat on it in November 1794. After February 1795, the war in the eastern Pyrenees became a stalemate. In the western Pyrenees, the French began to win in 1794. By 1795, the French army controlled a portion of northeast Spain.
The war was brutal in at least two ways. First, the Committee of Public Safety decreed that all French royalist prisoners be executed. Second, French generals who lost battles or otherwise displeased the all-powerful representatives-on-mission were sent to prison or the guillotine with alarming frequency. Army of the Eastern Pyrenees commanders and generals were especially unlucky in this regard.
On 21 January 1793, the National Convention of France executed King Louis XVI of France by guillotine, enraging the other monarchs of Europe. France was already at war with Habsburg Austria, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont. Since winning the Battle of Jemappes, the French army occupied the Austrian Netherlands. Emboldened, the government decreed annexation of the territory (modern Belgium), provoking a diplomatic break with Great Britain. On 1 February, France declared war on Britain and the Dutch Republic. On 7 March, France declared war on her ancient ally Spain.
At the outbreak of war, King Charles IV of Spain appointed Captain General Antonio Ricardos to command the Army of Catalonia in the eastern Pyrenees. Ricardos invaded the Cerdagne and captured Saint-Laurent-de-Cerdans on 17 April 1793. Three days later, he routed a French force Céret on the Tech River. In despair, the elderly French commander in charge of Rousillon, General Mathieu Henri Marchant de La Houlière committed suicide. On 30 April, the French government split the Army of the Pyrenees into the Army of the eastern Pyrenees and the Army of the western Pyrenees.
In the Battle of Mas Deu on 19 May, Ricardos defeated General of Division (MG) Louis-Charles de Flers. This allowed the Spanish to invest the Fort de Bellegarde on 23 May. The Siege of Bellegarde ended when the French garrison surrendered on 24 June. In the Battle of Niel on 17 July, de Flers turned back the Spanish, though French losses were heavier. On 28 August, MG Luc Siméon Auguste Dagobert defeated a Spanish force under General Manuel la Peña at Puigcerdà in the Cerdagne.
In September, Ricardos sent two divisions under Lieutenant General (LG) Jerónimo Girón-Moctezuma, Marquis de las Amarilas and LG Juan de Courten to cut off the fortress of Perpignan. But MG Eustache Charles d'Aoust rallied the French to win the Battle of Peyrestortes on 17 September. This represented the farthest Spanish advance in Rousillon. Five days later Ricardos defeated Dagobert at the Battle of Truillas, before falling bach to the Tech valley. Ricardos repulsed d'Aoust at Le Boulou on 3 October. The Battle of the Tech (Pla del Rey) on 13–15 October saw the Spanish repel the assaults of MG Louis Marie Turreau. A 5,000-man Portuguese division led by LG João Forbes joined Ricardos in time to defeat d'Aoust at the Battle of Villelongue-dels-Monts on 7 December. LG Gregorio García de la Cuesta captured the port of Collioure from the French on 20 December.
Ricardos died on 13 March 1794, and Spanish success died with him. CG Alejandro O'Reilly died ten days after the man he was to succeed, and LG Luis Firmin de Carvajal, Conde de la Union was appointed to command the Army of Catalonia instead. The Army of the eastern Pyrenees also had a new commander in MG Jacques François Dugommier. At the Battle of Boulou from 29 April to 1 May, Dugommier drove de la Union's army south of the border, forcing the Spanish to abandon all their artillery and trains. Collioure fell to the French in late May and LG Eugenio Navarro's 7,000-man Spanish garrison became prisoners. The French royalist defenders fled in fishing boats before the surrender to avoid execution. Dugommier imposed a blockade on Bellegarde starting on 5 May. The inconclusive Battle of La Junquera was fought on 7 June. In the Battle of Sant Llorenç de la Muga on 13 August, MG Pierre Augereau repulsed a Spanish attempt to relieve Bellegarde. The fortress fell on 17 September after the Spanish garrison was starved out. On 17 to 20 November, the climactic Battle of the Black Mountain saw both Dugommier and de la Union killed in action. MG Dominique Catherine de Pérignon took command of the French and led them to victory. Figueres and its San Fernando (Sant Ferran) fortress quickly fell to the French with 9,000 prisoners.
MG Pierre François Sauret successfully concluded the Siege of Roses on 4 February 1795. An attempt by MG Barthélemy Louis Joseph Schérer to cross the river Fluvià on 14 June was defeated by LG José Urrutia y de las Cases at the Battle of Bàscara. After peace was signed, but before word reached the fighting front, Cuesta recaptured Puigcerdà and Bellver from the French on 26 and 27 July.
Historian Digby Smith lists no battles in the western Pyrenees for the year 1793. However, a number of clashes occurred, including actions fought by Colonel Bon-Adrien Jeannot de Moncey's 5th Light Demi-brigade at Chateau-Pignon on 6 June, Aldudes in June, and Saint-Jean-de-Luz on 23 July.
On 5 February 1794, MG Louis Dubouquet successfully defended the fortified Sans Culottes Camp on a hilltop near Hendaye against 13,000 Spanish infantry and 700 cavalry and artillery led by Lieutenant General (LG) José Urrutia y de las Cases. Spanish casualties numbered 335 while French losses are unknown. On 3 June, a 2,300-man French brigade commanded by General of Brigade (BG) Lavictoire stormed the Casa Fuerte position at Izpegi Pass (Col d'Ispeguy) 13.5 airline km west of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The 1,000 defenders, including a battalion of the Spanish Zamora Infantry Regiment, three companies of the Aldudes Rifles, and the French Émigré Légion Royal battalion, lost 94 killed and wounded, plus 307 captured. The losses of the French brigade, part of Mauco's division, were described as "light". The same day, Colonel Jacques Lefranc's 2,000 French republican troops seized the Izpegi Ridge.
On 3 March 1794, the bordering villages of Sara, Itxassou, Ascain, and another 9 Basque villages were declared "ignoble" by the Republican authorities after 74 young residents, instead of watching the border for the French army, fled south to the Spanish Basque region. All the village inhabitants were held accountable for the runaway, and draconian measures were imposed on them. All inhabitants of the villages age 3-88 were crammed in carts like criminals, and carried off to the Landes of Gascony, men and women were segregated, and their valuable possessions seized or burnt. The victims of the massive deportation may amount to several thousands and in 5 months some 1,600 had died, 600 from Sara. In a few years time, many survivors managed to come back home.
Near Bera (Vera) on 23 June, Captain General Don Ventura Caro with 8,000 infantry and 500 cavalry and artillery tried unsuccessfully to oust a French force from a fortified position atop Mont Calvari. The Spanish suffered 500 killed and wounded, plus 34 captured. The French admitted 30 killed and 200 wounded. On 10 July, BG Antoine Digonet with a brigade of 4,000 troops overwhelmed the Zamora Infantry and the Légion Royal defending Mount Argintzu (Mont Arquinzu). The height is located at , 10 km south of Elizondo. Spanish losses numbered 314, including French royalist commander LG Marquis de Saint-Simon badly wounded. On this occasion, the French republicans executed 49 French royalist prisoners.
On 23 July, the Army of the Western Pyrenees attacked Spanish fortified positions with the divisions of MG Moncey, MG Henri Delaborde, and MG Jean Henri Guy Nicolas de Frégeville. Though MG Jacques Léonard Muller commanded the army at the time, Moncey exercised tactical control of operations during the Battle of the Baztan Valley. In the fighting near Elizondo and Doneztebe (Santesteban), Moncey overran the Spanish defenses. The French then followed the Bidasoa River northward in late July to seize the heights of San Marcial and the town of Hondarribia (Fuenterrabia) near the coast. In the latter operation, Moncey captured LG Don Vicente de los Reyes, 2,000 Spanish soldiers, and 300 cannon on 1 August. Moncey followed this exploit by capturing San Sebastián without resistance on 3 August, with an additional 1,700 Spanish soldiers and 90 cannon falling into French hands. Soon after, the French also captured the town of Tolosa. Moncey was soon promoted to army commander.
On 14 August 1794, the Territorial Council of Gipuzkoa met on a diet in the coastal town of Getaria with the support of the San Sebastián bourgeoisie, followed by tense negotiations with senior officials of the French army. Besides embracing the French revolutionary ideas, the council made a formal petition—detachment from the Kingdom of Spain, respect for the region specific laws, allegiance of Gipuzkoa to France, free Catholic practice, and a set of rules for the management of war related circumstances. However, with negotiations leading to the Peace of Basel being in place, the representatives of the National Convention in the French army Jacques Pinet and Jean-Baptiste Cavaignac refused to accept the demands, and the Gipuzkoan representatives were imprisoned or exiled. Given the circumstances, another diet was held in Mondragón on 13 September, where the attending regional representatives decided this time to support Ferdinand VII, and mustered an autonomous provincial militia against the French army. However, soon on in an unspecified date, the more diplomatic Moncey restored the governing institutions of Gipuzkoa. The news of the declaration issued in Getaria by the Gipuzkoan representatives spread like fire to Madrid and sparked outrage in Spanish ruling circles and press, who lashed out at the Basque province and its inhabitants. Not only that, after the imprisonment in Bayonne, the Gipuzkoan representatives were persecuted by Spanish authorities and tried on high treason charges and "unpatriotic behaviour".
From 15 to 17 October, Moncey, launched a broad front offensive from the Baztan valley and the Roncevaux Pass to the south in the direction of Pamplona. The Battle of Orbaitzeta saw clashes at Mezkiritz (Mezquiriz), Orbaitzeta, Lekunberri, and Villanueva. The 46,000-man French army drove back 13,000 Spanish troops under the command of LG Pedro Téllez-Girón, 9th Duke of Osuna with 4,000 casualties and the loss of 50 cannon. French losses are unknown. The arms foundries at Orbaitzeta and Eugi, as well as the Spanish navy's mast store at Irati, fell to the French. However, the onset of winter weather and the outbreak of disease caused operations to be suspended for the year. A final clash occurred at Bergara on 7 November when the French inflicted losses of 150 killed, plus 200 men and one cannon captured on a 4,000-man division led by Cayetano Pignatelli, 3rd Marquis of Rubí. The town was sacked, and a detachment of the territorial militia led by Gabriel Mendizabal, who was to be promoted to general during the Peninsular War, made a failed attempt to recapture it.
During the winter Moncey reorganized his army, which had lost 3,000 men to disease. He finally secured a siege train and, in June 1795 12,000 reinforcements arrived from the Army of the West. Moncey's offensive began on 28 June and it soon drove back LG Crespo's Spanish forces. Vitoria fell to the French on 17 July and Bilbao two days later. When news of the Peace of Basel arrived in early August, Moncey had crossed the Ebro and was preparing to invest Pamplona.
Spanish forces took part in the Siege of Toulon, which lasted from 18 September to 18 December 1793. The French were led by Dugommier while the Anglo-Spanish defenders were commanded by Admirals Juan de Lángara, Federico Gravina, and Samuel Hood, and General Charles O'Hara. The Allies abandoned the port after a young officer of artillery, Napoleon Bonaparte took the fleet's anchorage under cannon fire. The French navy lost 14 ships of the line burned and 15 more captured. French casualties numbered 2,000 while Allied losses were twice as great. Afterward, the victors massacred up to 2,000 French royalists taken as prisoners.
The Action of 14 February 1795 in the Gulf of Roses was a defeat for the French navy.
The Peace of Basel ended the War of the Pyrenees on 22 July 1795 with Moncey close on the gates of Pamplona, with the Basques fearing an abolition of the self-government, and the Spanish Prime Minister Manuel Godoy panicking at the prospect of the still autonomous Basque region switching allegiances to France and detaching from Spain. Ultimately Spain gave up on the eastern two thirds of the Hispaniola in exchange for keeping Gipuzkoa. Additionally, at the behest of Moncey and the Committee of Public Safety (Jean-Lambert Tallien), an annex was added to the treaty by which the Spanish Basques and specifically the Gipuzkoans who had shown sympathies for the French were given guarantees of receiving no reprisals from Spanish authorities—prime minister Manuel Godoy—and so was agreed. Notwithstanding this provision, at least the city council of San Sebastián was arrested and put to a court-martial trial in Pamplona held as of February 1796.
An alliance convention between France and Spain was signed at the Second Treaty of San Ildefonso on 19 August 1796. All in all, it was a victory for the French Republic. Portugal remained in combat, however, as peace was not concluded with the Portuguese.
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- Smith, p 87. Smith calls the battle "Mount Arquinzu".
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