Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

 

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Marshal Suchet and the Siege of Valencia

By Dominique Contant, Robert Ouvrard, and Jonathan Cooper

Editor's Note: The following article arose out of a discussion on the Napoleon Series' Discussion Forum about the conduct of Marshal Suchet during the siege of Valencia. After much debate, the above three authors said that they could prove their position with documentary evidence. They present this evidence using primary source material which isoffered in as full a form as possible to the readers. One of the great things about the Napoleon Series is that many of our contributors are from different countries and that they come together to assist each other in research. This article is an example of this. It is co-written by gentlemen from France, Austria, and the United States. A copy of this article in French can be found at the following site: Suchet et le siège de Valence Enjoy!

"There is no one there but Suchet who does well with his tasks. If I had two commanding generals like him to lead my troops in Spain, this war would already be finished; but there each wants to complete his own projects and not mine." (Napoléon - 1812)

"It was the pillaging [of the generals] which made me lose Spain, with the exception always of Suchet, whose conduct was exemplary." (Napoléon at Saint-Helena)

"Suchet was someone to whom character and spirit had surprisingly accrued. … If I had had Suchet in Grouchy's place, I would not have lost Waterloo." (Napoléon at Saint-Helena)

"What one noticed about Suchet was, in sum, a great aptitude for organization and administration, the rare talent to lead troops by example and to gain their attachment as much by his firmness as by his desire for fame from fine actions" (D. Lacroix)

"A very distinguished military leader and very capable administrator, he found in the rich provinces of Spain the means of providing abundantly for all the services of his army, without over-pressing the people. It was possible for him to have his troops observe an exact discipline and to inspire the confidence of the inhabitants." (Joseph Bonaparte)

 

Autumn 1811

Napoleon had already fixed his gaze upon Russia. He would have liked very much to finish this ruinous and useless war in Spain with a few decisive strikes.

The armies of Portugal under Marmont, of Andalusia under Soult, and the Center under Joseph had already announced disastrous results. Only the army of Aragon and Catalonia would shine, under the command of Suchet, who there would win his Marshal's baton and his titles of nobility.

In the light of the documents which retrace the siege of Valencia - October 1811 to January 1812 - let us discover if Suchet well deserves the consideration and prestige with which many historians honor him.

We think that the reading of the documents which are placed at our disposal must always be done within the context of the historical era and be accompanied by explanatory notes, lest we risk incorrect interpretations.

Such has been the aim of our work.

The Siege of Valencia

[See also: the French Order of Battle]

After the capture of Murviedo and the capitulation of Sagonte, Suchet, who had just received a bullet wound to the shoulder, was firmly established on the banks of the Guadalquivir, upon which stands Valencia.

Of the 22,000 men who were technically under his command, he could count on less than 15,000. Some troops were scattered, protecting the main roads, others were found in garrisons at Segorbe, Morella, Sagonte and Oropesa or were detailed to escort convoys of prisoners.

Napoleon had decided to make an end of Blake's army, and accordingly had given orders to Marmont, Soult and Joseph to support Suchet. Suchet was to receive these reinforcements: Reille from Navarre, Montbrun from the Army of Portugal and Darmagnac of the Army of the Center, to invest the city of Valencia and to destroy the army of Blake and O’Donell.

Taking the Convent of Saint Claire in the suburbs of Valencia as solid point of support, Suchet remained in observation of the city for nearly two months. The reinforcements finally arrived on 24 December 1811 and Suchet decided that the time had come to invest the city.

Using the troops of Reille on one side and those of Harispe on the other, Suchet began his manoeuvre of encirclement with by crossing the Guadalquivir, while the Italian troops occupied the Spanish from the front. Despite difficult conditions and under enemy fire, the pontooneers and the engineering officers established points of passage.

Becoming aware of Suchet's encirclement, the Spanish troops under General Mahy fled from Manisses toward Cattaroja and Lake Albufera. Blake and his 15,000 men retreated to Valencia without them.

On the night of 28 December 1811, Blake, in desperation, attempted a sortie across the upstream or Saint Joseph bridge. This attempt was vigorously repulsed. Discouragement grew among the garrison and there were numerous deserters. On the night of 30/31 December, a second sortie failed thanks to the vigilance of Severoli's Italian division. Three thousand workers commanded by General Pannetier dug the parallel trenches that permitted the troops to place Valencia under canon fire while remaining covered themselves. In the following days mortars and howitzers were deployed by Baron Valée: several batteries were organized facing the Spanish at the Capuchins and Saint Vincent. During the night of 5/6 January Suchet ordered the systematic bombardment of the city, leading to numerous popular demonstrations demanding a capitulation.

On principal, Blake refused the first summons for a capitulation, but saw with dismay the increasing the number of French batteries. Blake finally yielded and on 9 January 1812 signed the Act of Capitulation for the city of Valencia. General Robert, who was named Governor of Valencia, and Major Bugeaud entered into the city with 1,200 grenadiers and elite light infantry to take possession of the citadel and the magazines. To prevent any pillaging or any excess against the population, the majority of the troops remained outside of the city.

As was his custom, firm and capable, Suchet was intransigent with regard to the rebels' leadership, noble with regard to Blake's troops, and attentive to the needs of the city's population. Blake, for his part, departed from Valencia with the honors of war on the morning of 10 January and remained a prisoner of war at Saumur until the first abdication in 1814.


 


Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2003; updated July 2004.

 

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