Sunday, 2 January 2011

The end of the Tortosa siege

The end of the siege of Tortosa was the first event that took place in 1811 during the Peninsular War.
Tortosa was in the road between Tarragona and Valencia, both in Spanish hands and important targets for the French, so its possession would allow the french to cut the communications between the Spanish armies of Catalonia and Valencia.
Tortosa was defended by a garrison 7,179 strong (including 600 artillerymen). The city was built on the east bank of the Ebro, at the foot of four hills, with the lower town on the valley bottom and the upper town on the lower slopes of the hills. The garrison was commanded by the General Miguel de Lili e Idiaquez, Count of Alacha.
The town was besieged by the General Suchet, commander of the French Army of Aragon, with 14,000 men, 52 heavy guns, 30,000 rounds of ammunition and 90,000lb of powder. Suchet arrived outside Tortosa on 16 December 1810 and decided to attack the southern wall of the town, where the soft soil would make it easier to built siege works. This area would also prove to out of sight from Fort Orleans, allowing the French to work virtually unhindered. Suchet’s main targets were the bastion of San Pedro, closest to the river, and the demi-line El Temple, while a false attack would be made against Fort Orleans to prevent its guns from interfering with the siege works.
Preparations for the false attack took place between 16-18 December, and work on the main siege works began on the night of 20-21 December. Under the cover of darkness 2,300 French soldiers threw up a basic entrenchment only 160 yards from the San Pedro. The Spanish only realised what had happened on the next morning. On 21 December they attempted to destroy the French trenches by bombardment, and with a sortie, but both efforts failed. The French engineers were able to make very rapid progress, and by 25 December their trenches had reached the glacis of San Pedro.

After a delay caused by two Spanish sorties, on 29 December the French opened fire with 45 heavy guns in ten batteries. The nearest Spanish guns were soon silenced, and on the night of 29-30 December the French were able to open their third parallel, on the brink of the ditch, and only 25 yards from the wall. Suchet used this advanced position to begin firing mortar shells into the city.
On 31 December the French engineers were working in relative safely in the ditch, placing mines under the walls of the bastion. That night a new battery was built in the third parallel, containing four 24-pounder guns. On the morning of 1 January, before these guns had even opened fire, the count of Alacha raised the white flag, but his conditions don't were accepted by Suchet.

On 2 January the French heavy guns opened up at short range, and had soon created a breach in the walls. Once again Alacha raised the white flag, but Suchet continued to prepare for a never needed assault.
Suchet took the bold step of presenting himself at the gates of the citadel and demanding to see Alacha. In a face-to-face meeting Suchet threatened to offer no quarter if the garrison did not surrender, and under great pressure Alacha agreed, signing the capitulation on a gun carriage.
French troops took control of the citadel, and then moved through the city looting it. Alacha was vilified after the end of the siege. The Catalan Junta tried him for treason, condemned him to death in his absence (he was a prisoner in France), and executed his effigy.

I must acknowledge to Nick Lipscombe the use of one of the maps of his Peninsular War Atlas. I am sorry for any inconveniences caused for it


  1. Rafa - this stuff is gold dust - posts like this are really appreciated in the non-Spanish-speaking world.

    Thanks very much


  2. Thanks Tony!
    I hope I will continue to post about during the Peninsular this year. Albuera and Fuentes de Oñoro bicentennials are coming!

  3. Well Rafa, Are you planning to game this one, it looks very interesting.


  4. Hi John
    No, Tortosa is not on my planning ahead, because a siege is not very rewarding in terms of tabletop wargmaing!. I am researching for the battle of Gevora instead

  5. Rafa,

    I see you have used one of my maps from my Peninsular War Atlas - I am happy for you to do this provided you acknowledge the source. Can I ask you to do this please. Nick Lipscombe

    1. Sorry for the inconveniences. I have added the acknoledgement