Research Subjects: Biographies


 

Spanish Artillery Officers during the War of Independence

Translated by Caroline Miley for the Napoleon Series

Editor's Note: This paper first appeared in the Spanish language website GUERRA DE LA INDEPENDENCIA ESPAÑOLA 1808-1814. The editors have kindly given the Napoleon Series to publish it in English. For those who can read Spanish, the original version of the article can be seen at: ALGUNOS OFICIALES DE ARTILLERÍA DURANTE LA GUERRA DE LA INDEPENDENCIA

During the expedition of the Spanish troops to the Danish fjords, initiated in 1807 with the object of collaborating with the French under the Prince of Pontecorbo, our soldiers were commanded by the Marqués de la Romana. The arrival of news of events in Spain made the Spanish decide to escape from those inhospitable places, trusting themselves to the Artillery Corps officers José Guerrero, Joaquin Lamor, Pablo Ventades and Manuel Zacarés, who were charged with investigating and then preparing the way for the long flight to be made. It would be less dangerous if it could be made by ship, because then they would avoid the constant disquiet that would be doomed to accompany a return by land, since it would doubtless be impossible to avoid continuous encounters that would end up grinding down the Spanish troops.

Lamor and Ventades managed to embark the twenty-five pieces of artillery that had been brought from Spain in British ships. The missions that were entrusted to Guerrero and Zacarés failed, because they were captured by the French. Guerrero was entrusted with observing the remaining troops of Marshal Bernadotte, Prince of Pontecorbo, with the aim of preventing any harassment of the Spanish during their flight. Nevertheless, someone suspected him and he was captured, although they could not extract any information from him about what was happening, nor what was his true mission. The French did not hesitate to maltreat him most severely, subjecting him to a cruel session of beating, after which he was locked up for twenty-nine long days in an unbearable cold jail, eating the bread and water that was occasionally put into the cell with great difficulty. Finally taken to internment in France, he managed to escape in 1812, arriving in Spain and being incorporated into the troops who defended the cause of Peninsular Independence.

Zacarés was also taken to a camp in France and somewhat later, in 1814, managed to escape, reaching the Russian lines more easily, perhaps due to his knowledge of the German language. In Russia, thanks to the aid given by Bethencourt during the winter campaign in Moscow, he was put at the head of half of the Czarist vanguard artillery. Later, at Lorena, he commanded the artillery of Toul and finally, because of the good results he had got, was made head of the flying artillery of Cossacks of the Don, directing the Russian artillery in the battle and assault of Nemours. When the war against Napoleon ended, he returned to Spain in 1815.

Spain had had its weapon since the war began, that is, the many heroic officers who left the lecture halls of Segovia and made the sublime effort that ranked them among the most emulated men. So it was with captains Daoiz and Velarde, the first artillerymen to fall defending the national cause. Luis de Power, also a captain, followed them, falling in front of his battery in the fortified town of Bilbao on the 16 August 1808, when he defended a convoy of peasants who attempted to get under the protection of the walls and were surprised half a league away. The battery was finally taken and Power was murdered when the French seized the redoubt.

Lieutenant José Escalera was in the Uclés unit, where the fierce fighting occurred on 13 January 1809 that had such an unhappy outcome, and was the reason General Venegas had to undertake a disorderly retreat which culminated in the Spanish troops being taken by surprise. Escalera, harassed by the French, did not accept the surrender that was offered him and preferred to fight with supreme daring, ending up dead of bayonet wounds in that huge enemy attack. On the pontoon bridge at Aranjuez Lieutenant Miguel Panes, who was in charge of two 8-pounders, finally succumbed to the tremendous wounds he had received on 5 August 1809. In spite of their seriousness he did not leave off encouraging his men, nor allowed them to retreat until he was relieved of command, which could not be done, and was the reason for his exemplary death.

During the siege which the French imposed on the fortified town of Tarragona during the 1811 Campaign, eleven artillery officers died who left names to remember written in blood on the walls of the citadel: Lieutenant Colonel Joaquín Arnau; Captain Joaquín Lirón de Robles; Lieutenants Luis Ambert, José del Barco, José Carcelén, Francisco Cárdenas, Celestino Gastón, Pedro Ladrón de Guevara, Juan Martínez Junquera, Francisco de la Peña. On 26 January 1811, during the defence of Badajoz, the retired Lieutenant Miguel Monturvel of the Canarias Brigade, who was very old, commanded one of the most dangerous positions on those walls and was wounded several times, in both legs and an arm. When they wanted to take him to an aid station he refused, staying at the front of his battery until the moment he was left lifeless.

At Zaragoza during the last siege, the Adjutant of Artillery Francisco Betbezé, Captain Juan Cónsul, Miguel Forcallo, Jose Ramirez Zambrano, and Second Lieutenant José Saleta fell. At Gerona, Field Marshal Joaquin Mendoza, graded Captain, Lieutenant Salustiano de Gerona and Second Lieutenant José Urrio died.

There were many great acts, such as  what General Loygorri did during the battle of Alcañiz on the 23rd May 1809 when in command of the Spanish artillery, that under his well-directed fire decided the victory of the Spanish troops. During the progress of the battle the French suffered 1500 losses, whereas General Blake’s troops only lost 300. The discipline and composure of the Spanish artillerymen allowed the enemy to come close, to unlikely distances, which enabled them to sweep the enemy columns with much more effective fire, leading ultimately to a complete demoralization that caused the final disaster for the French troops. The behaviour of Loygorri’s artillerymen left a memorable record for those who have dedicated themselves to studying this battle. It is believed that it helped General Loygorri to attain the rank of Field Marshal, and the greater glory of having been the first senior officer of the Corps of Artillery to whom the honoured Cross of San Fernando was awarded.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2004

 

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