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03. Battle of Alagon - After Action Reports

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03. Battle of Alagon - After Action Reports

Post  Mr. Digby on Sun Jul 21, 2013 12:57 pm

June 30 1808. "Our most complete victory yet in the struggle against the Spanish," - quote from a letter sent by Marshal Murat to Napoleon in Paris, 3 days after the battle.

"D**n those cavalry. D**n them all!" - General Palafox, on riding back to Zaragosa.

"Retreat you say? The French have won? Where?" - Spanish General Lazan, defending the Grisons bridge.

"Chaaaaaaaaaarge!" - an unknown French Chasseur a Cheval lieutenant, 10th Regt, Lagrange's brigade.

Replay here.

Three battles fought alongside each other at three small (and usually idyllic and rural) stone bridges across the narrow but deep Rio Jalon, a trbutary of the Ebro, north west of Zaragosa. There was a bridge each at the roads near the villages of Grisons in the north, Osetra in the centre on the Alagon highway and Nuez in the south.

The French and Spanish had been watching each other across this river for several days and when the French deployed for battle on the morning of the 30th, General Palafox had a good idea where his strong units were and moved his defending forces accordingly.

The first battle - Grisons.

Marechal Jean-Baptiste Bessieres had assigned Pierre Hugues Victoire Merle's small French division with a single brigade of Legions de Reserve and Battalions de Marche troops of Joseph Yves Manigault-Gaulois (5 Btns) to assault the northern-most bridge, supported by a battery of 8 guns (4pdrs and 6-inch howitzers) and with the 5 sqns of heavy cavalry (cuirassiers and dragoons) of Jean Gregoire Barthelemy Rouger de Laplane's brigade of Lasalle's cavalry division in support. Opposite him was the weak division of Teniente General Conde de Lazan with a single brigade of infantry commanded by Francisco Javier Mina with 2 regular btns of the Soria regt and 4 volunteer btns. Servando Teresa de Mier led a small cavalry brigade of 2 sqns and there was a battery of 4 4pdr guns in support.

Manigault-Gaulois ordered his men to make a rapid initial attack and they stormed across the bridge quickly before their guns had spent time softening up the defenders and before Laplane's cavalry had moved up in support. This attack was thrown back with heavy losses at a stone wall at the base of the ridge Lazan was defending, the 4th sqn Cazadores de Fernando VII capturing the colour and many men of the 1st btn de Marche as it's men swam across the river to get away. The Cazadores were immediately attacked in turn by the 4th btn 4th Legion de Reserve and in their turn scattered, losing many men prisoner and their colour. A gallant captain and a handful of men made their escape with the French flag they had captured earlier. The remaining French btns were driven back over the river although the 4th btn 3rd Legion de Reserve fought a confused close-quarter fight among some trees north of the bridge against the Lanceros de la Almunia. The French lost 38 men and the Lancers 50 in this messy encounter, but the French infantry were thrown into flight and ran from the battle north towards the Ebro.

Lagrange's heavy cavalry now arrived on the west end of the bridge and what was left of Manigault-Gaulois' brigade rallied behind them while the guns exchanged shots across the valley. Lazan still had all 6 of his btns ready for battle although both btns of the Soria regiment had taken heavy losses at the stone wall. Barely 15 minutes had passed since the French began their attack.

After a 5 minute bombardment the French resumed their attack, the 2nd btn de Marche rushing across the bridge only to be beaten in a melee at the stone wall by the 3rd btn Soria. The French routed back across the river. The French would not be stopped this second time however and the cavalry joined in the attack, smashing into the Spanish ranks and causing heavy losses to the 1st btn 1st Cacadores de Fernando VII, Volunteers de Daroca and 2nd btn Zaragosa Volunteers. Soon the Spanish infantry were reeling back up the hill and the French had secured the wall.

The Lanceros de Almunia charged the 5th Sqn de Marche of dragoons on the dirt road leading from the bridge, south along the riverbank and were repulsed. The Lanceros fled the field. The Spanish though would not give up and a melee between the 2nd Btn de Marche and the last fresh Spanish unit, the Btn de Izquierda saw another French formation dispersed and swimming back across the river in panic.

The 5th Sqn de Marche of dragoons now charged Capitan Busco's battery and took several guns. A curious disconnect now occurred; the last 2 French btns were exhausted and falling back again towards the bridge harassed by 2 Spanish volunteer units, while the French cavalry had all moved north around Busco's guns. The 4th Btn 4th Legion de Reserve also gave up the fight and routed back over the river. Manigault-Gaulois had only one unit remaining and he fell back across the bridge where he could at least support Merle's battery.

The Spanish infantry had now retreated to the crest of the ridge, the Voluntaires de Daroca having thrown down their muskets and fled off towards Zaragosa. Lagrange took his remaining 4 sqns and set off up the road through Grisons village towards Alagon, going past Lazan's left flank. Lazan for his part still held his hill and the bridge and the Izquierda btn later retook Captain Busco's lost guns.

Lazan was contemplating counter-attacking to take the French battery when a breathless and blood-spattered courier arrived from General Palafox to announce that the centre had collapsed and he should march his division at once to Zaragosa. Lazan set off, one of only three small coherent formations left to the Spanish. Merle did not follow up although Lagrange took his brigade into Alagon town where his troopers intercepted a good number of retreating Spanish from the battle at the Osetra Bridge, including 3 of Listra's guns.

The second battle - Osetra.

Jean Babtiste Quesnel du Torpt commanded the 2nd division of Marechal Bessieres' corps. It had two brigades; Nicolas Ducos with 8 btns and Just Pasteur Sabatier with 7. All were provisional regiments made up of the 4th (depot) battalions of regular regiments the 1st to 3rd btns of which were operating elsewhere in Europe. Ducos commanded the 13th and 14th Provisional Regiments and Sabatier the 17th and 18th. Du Torpt's division had a battery of 6 8 pdrs and 2 6-inch howitzers and for this attack, Maarechal Bessieres had also attached Joseph Lagrange's brigade of light cavalry from Lasalle's cavalry division; the 4 sqns of the 10th Chasseurs a Cheval (one of only 2 proper French regular cavalry regiments in Spain) and the 1st sqn du Marche of Hussars.

Facing this powerful force the Capitan General of Aragon, Brigadier Jose Rebolledo de Palafox y Melzi had positioned his strongest division, that of Teniente General Juan O'Neylle, a renegade Irishman who lived to fight anyone allied to the hated English or an enemy of Catholic France. O'Neylle (or O'Neille) had 2 brigades commanded by Juan Galan and Enrique Jose Valdepenas, both of 4 btns and with a mix of regular and volunteer soldiers though also present was a btn of Spanish Royal Guards, imposing in their white coats, tall bearskins and fearsome mustachios. To O'Neille's 6 6pdr guns Palafox had added 6 more, the batteries of Listra and Palmareas making an imposing gun line atop the ridge that dominated the shallow valley and the bridge below. The final formation of O'Neille's command was the cavalry brigade of Manuel la Pena, a brash, arrogant young officer, who had come to Palafox's attention, it's rumoured, because he was a finer rider of women than of horses and owned several of each in his stable.

The French attack here was affected by the hill slope of the cornfield du Torpt had deployed his guns in; it's convex curve prevented his gunners from hitting the enemy troops that were deployed behind the stout stone wall of a farm and water mill that stood hard upon the east bank and which Valdepenas had occupied with 2 of his btns.

Ducos was given the honour of the assault and seeing that the Spanish were drawing forwards both more infantry and cavalry to the bridge and that du Torpt's guns would not have much effect for a while, he was given permission by Marechal Bessieres to attack, his 14th provisional regt making the assault with its 1st, 4th and 2nd btns which advanced over the bridge with drums beating at 11:13, the time at which Manigault-Gaulois' first attack further north had already been beaten back with heavy loss.

The 2/14th charged against the 3rd Btn 2nd Valencia Regt, a regular battalion, while taking a withering fire from that unit and the 2nd Fusileros de Aragon both battalions occupying the farm at the bridge. The 2/14th took 90 casualties but inflicting 60 on the 2nd Valencia pushed them back from the walls. The 1/14th now rushed over the bridge and rapidly forming a column of divisions, hurled themselves at the Fusileros de Aragon, but they were driven back, retreating in confusion back over the bridge to rally on the far bank.

Due to either a confusion of orders or a killed messenger the 4/14th battalion stalled on the French side of the river and for several precious minutes the 2/14th fought alone on the Spanish side. Ducos had to ride back personally, cannon balls and musket shot flying past his head to order it forwards. The 1/14th had rallied and also returned. General La Pena had brought up the 3rd Sqn Dragoons del Rey and these charged into the 1/14th just as it returned to the east bank and while still shaky from its first retreat. The dragoons chopped the French unit to pieces, capturing or wounding 390 men in moments and capturing the battalion's colour. The dragoons then charged the 2/14th on the farmyard wall and a ferocious melee followed, lasting about 2 minutes, at the end of which both sides fell back but this pushed the 2/14th back across the river.

The 4/14th btn reached the far bank and attempted to deploy south facing more Spanish infantry but their nerve broke and they retreated back across the bridge. Ducos, seeing more enemy units crowding forwards around the farm halted the 3/14th and called off the attack. The 2/14th fell back with 200 casualties, but 100 dragoons had also fallen and the sqn of del Rey routed back through Alagon and off down the Zaragosa highway.

There was a break in the fighting while Ducos rallied his broken battalions and moved his second regiment forwards. Du Torpt shifted his battery across the side-valley to the south to try and get a better angle on the defenders at the farm's walls but there was no good shot of them on that side either so the guns returned to the north, moving forwards in the cornfield and down the slope where they finally secured a good view of the farm and began a heavy bombardment.

Ducos sent a courier to Bessieres offering to attack again with his second regiment but asking that Lagrange's cavalry attack with him this time.

Fifteen minutes of artillery bombardment followed and during this the 2nd and 3rd Btns of Voluntarios de Aragon suffered 100 casualties between them and were forced to withdraw from the farm. The French too also took heavy losses from the Spanish guns as they waited to attack. Ducos now observed a curious sight - 3 sqns of Spanish cavalry with La Pena leading them were riding away to the south, towards the fight at the Nuez Bridge. Ducos reported this to du Torpt and suggested a second attack at once while the enemy had almost no cavalry.

At 11:40 Ducos led in the second assault with his 13th regiment and the 3/14th which had been held in reserve during the first attack. The 3/14th charged first and hit the Fusileros de Aragon, sending them back in fine style and occupying the walled enclosure. The 1/13th came across in support as did the 1/10th Chasseurs.

The 3rd Btn Reales Guardias Espanoles now counterattacked and threw back the 3/14th with 200 casualties. The Chasseurs charged the Spanish guards but they too were sent back across the river with 70 empty saddles out of 110 men. The guards lost 60 men in both fights. It looked like the Guardias, after all the criticisms dumped on them as "court toys" were finally earning their pay. The 1/ and 2/13th French though were now across the bridge and had deployed right to occupy the stone walls. A ferocious firefight developed between the 1/13th and the 3rd btn Voluntarios de Aragon, posted uphill further to the right.

The 2/10th Chasseurs arrived next however and hit the Guardias as they were reforming, crashing into them from the left flank and inflicting 160 casualties within seconds without any loss. The guards caved in and ran back up the Alagon road into a mix of other supporting Spanish units - 1st btns Voluntarios de Aragon and Voluntarios de Zaragosa and the 1st Btn Extremadura regiment (regulars). The Chasseurs now completely lost their heads and crashed into a mix of these units. The 2/10th was almost completely destroyed by the Aragon Volunteers, losing their colour and 75 men but the guards lost almost 600 casualties in a couple of minutes.

The 3/10th Chasseurs now advanced at the trot across the bridge strewn with groaning bodies, scattered equipment and chunks of broken stonework. Forming a column by troops they advanced briskly up the main road into the maelstrom and coming through the smoke collided with 1st Extremadura btn causing terrible casualties. The Extremadurans fled, 3/10th having the highest casualty claim of any unit in the battle - 544 enemy accounted for in just a few minutes. These 3 squadrons, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of the 10th Chasseurs effectively destroyed Juan Galan's brigade.

All of the 13th regt was now across the river and holding the farmyard and buildings, with the 3 weakened btns of the 14th coming across in support. The 3/13th charged the 3rd Btn 2nd Valencia but was defeated, retreating back across the river but that was the last Spanish success. Palafox ordered O'Neille to withdraw and the artillery limbered up to get away and the remaining infantry fell back in an ever widening arc around the French bridgehead. Lagrage now committed his last 2 squadrons, the 4/10th Chasseurs chasing off after some retreating guns and the sqn de Marche of Hussars charging and routing 3rd Btn 2nd Valencia, inflicting 500 casualties.

Three of Palmareas' guns got away by taking a by-road through some woods to the south but Laplane's cuirassiers and dragoons now arived along the road out of Alagon to complete the destruction of O'Neille's division.

The third battle - Nuez.

This was a story of complete disaster for the Spanish, though they got away with forces intact - if in the wrong direction. This action saw the weak division of the Marques de Obispo with one brigade, that of Simon Espoz with 6 btns, 5 of them raw volunteers, and a 4 gun 4 pdr battery. Obispo had no cavalry and faced a wholly cavalry force of the firey - some say crazy - hussar, Antoine Charles Louis de Lasalle; 4 march squadrons of dragoons under Pierre Antoine Courvallier and a battery of 6 4 pdrs. The action was dominated by the French artillery which was well-sited on rising ground and pounded serious casualties on two of Espoz' battalions before Courvallier even advanced. Thirty minutes into the barrage the French dragoons advanced and seemed to brush the Spanish infantry aside with relative ease, capturing Tranco's guns. Obispo, Espoz and 3 of his battalions at least made an organised withdrawal to the south.

Colonel La Pena arrived at the end of the action, though his 3 sqdns were far to the rear having had no opportunity to be of use in either the battles at the Osetra or Nuez bridges. They were at least an uncommitted force and would help hold back the French pursuit, allowing some units to retreat to Zaragosa.

Casualty returns have yet to be fully assessed but Spanish losses are going to be severe as the pursuit was pressed hard by the fresh and uncommitted cavalry of Malmaison's brigade (5 more Chasseur squadrons of the 2nd regt) and the unused 7 btns of Sabatier's brigade at the Osetra bridge.

French: 500 killed, 500 missing, 2000 wounded, of which Manigault-Gaulois' brigade 150/150/700 and Ducos' brigade 230/250/1000.

Spanish: 900 killed, 800 missing, 4000 wounded, of which O'Neille 400/500/2000, Lazan 200/200/900 and Obispo 200/200/800.

The other Martin - Charles Reille, le dernier Maréchal de France.

"Any hussar who has not got himself killed by the age of 30 is a jackass." - Antoine Charles Louis Lasalle, commander of Napoleon's light cavalry, killed in battle at Wagram 6 July 1809, aged 34.

"I had forgotten there was an objective." - Generallieutenant Mikhail Borozdin I
Mr. Digby

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