ALMENAR 1710

From the surrender of Lerida until 1710, there were not any more large- scale military actions on the Eastern Peninsular front, because the Bourbon army was not able to launch major campaigns against Catalonia, given its precarious situation on the other fronts that had to be defended. However, in 1710 Philip’s troops began a campaign, this time aimed at definitely conquering Barcelona. Unfortunately for the Bourbon interests, the Allies had rebuilt their army, thanks largely to the massive arrival of recruits and money from England. Therefore, when the Bourbon forces tried to advance into Catalan territory through the Urgell region, they failed to achieve fruitful results. Despite the long blockade of the town of Balaguer, the Bourbon army could not conquer it, and the Allies received constant reinforcements during the spring and summer of 1710. So the Bourbon commander, the Marquis of Villadarias, had to withdraw to the outskirts of Lerida to prevent his weary troops, who had also suffered several epidemics, from suffering greater hardships.

The Bourbon retreat Because of the alarm generated by the arrival of reinforcements at the Allied camp, what have initially been an organized retreat, finally turned into an exhausting march that decimated the Bourbon army.

Prelude Among the information provided in Lord Mahon’s work, written in the 19th century, an interesting document stands out written by General Stanhope on July 31st 1710, and addressed to the Earl of Sunderland. The letter explains with complete clarity the conditions under which the Battle of Almenar took place, and also the role played by the English troops. The first thing that is reflected in this letter is Stanhope’s aggressiveness, in broad contrast to the caution showed by both King Charles III and Guido von Starhemberg. In view of Stanhope’s urgent need to attack, the Allies adopted a compromise solution by posting some troops under the command of the English officer to act in the vanguard of the army (Lord Mahon, 1832, appendix cxi-cxv).

My lord,

Three days after the date of my last to your Lordship, which went by Mr. Craggs, our succours joined us about nine in the morning, upon which a council being called, it was strenuously urged by the English, Dutch, and Palatines, to march immediately to Lerida, in order to force the enemies to a battle, by cutting them off from that place: but the King and Mareschal strongly opposed, and showed themselves determined not to venture any thing. Their pretence for not doing it was, that the enemies’ army might get to Lerida, and cross the river before we could be up with them; which afterwards proved to be otherwise, since they did not get over the river, by twelve hours, so soon as was pretended they would. Our next thought was to cross the Segre at Balaguer, and push to get over the Noguera, to which purpose I was despatched with eight squadrons of dragoons, and 1000 grenadiers, with which I marched at midnight, and took post at Alfaraz [Alfarras], on the Aragon side of the Noguera, at six in the morning of the 27th.

The enemies had commanded ten squadrons of horse, 1000 grenadiers, and seven battalions of foot, to prevent our taking post: but notwithstanding that they had much less way to march, the negligence of their commanding officer, the Duke of Sarno, made them come late; for we did not discover them till nine in the morning: and when they did discover us, instead of attacking us, they possessed themselves of Almenara [Almenar], a village on the Noguera, about two miles below Alfaraz, where we were. About noon, our left wing of horse passed the river, which I formed on a plain about cannon shot from the river, between which plain and the river was a deep valley. By this time the enemies’ horse came up space and formed before me about eighteen squadrons, which I was going to attack, when the Mareschal came up and prevented, seeming still determined not to hazard any thing.

The troops on both sides were gradually accumulated in the vicinity of Almenar, deployed with their cavalries above the town, on the high plateau overlooking the entire area.

The battle

After repeatedly asking the King and Starhemberg for permission, Stanhope finally gave the order to attack at dusk, just when all the Allied army had crossed the Noguera river at Alfarras. It is worth noting this, unknown even to Stanhope, because this is why Starhemberg took so long to give him permission to attack. A defeat of the Allied cavalry when half the troops had not yet crossed the river would have been extremely dangerous for the Allied army.

I herefore marched to them with the left wing, which consisted of twenty-two squadrons, which were formed in two lines, and a corps de réserve of four squadrons; the ground we were drawn up in, not allowing us to make a greater front. So soon as we began to move, the squadrons of the enemies which had come down the rising I mentioned, retired to their line. When we got up that rise, with my first line consisting of but ten squadrons, we found the enemy drawn up in two lines, the first of twenty two squadrons and the second of twenty, with two battalions of foot betwixt their lines, and a brigade of foot on their right. I was therefore forced, so soon as I came in presence, to make a halt to get up some squadrons from the second line, the ground where the enemies were being so much wider than that which I had marched from; besides that getting up the hill had put our line in some disorder.

It is noteworthy how Stanhope guided the march of horse regiments because, despite the substantial number of troopers involved (about 4,000), he managed to stop and reform them, all in full view of the enemy, showing the great experience, calmness and courage of the Allied officers. Another important aspect was the sun’s position, which lit the battlefield from behind the Allies in such a way that the Bourbon horsemen did not realize of the magnitude of the Allied attack. This is not something that can be undervalued, as the dust raised by the four thousand trotting horses would have magnified the effect of the sunlight, while undermining the morale of the defenders, who could not see exactly what was falling on them. This is highlighted by an anonymous source, a horseman of Lord Raby’s regiment who was present at the battle (Falkner, 2005, p. 223):

About an hour before the sun set on the 16th day of July 1710, our squadrons had orders to advance, the left [of] our army being a great deal nearer to the enemy than our right, therefore our right wing was obliged to advance as fast as our horses could go. The sun then was not above a quarter of an hour high [per sobre de l’horitzo] when the left began to engage and the right was soon and behold how like lions our men fell upon them with sword in hand.

Despite the initial reservations of some Allied commanders, the attack was very successful. Although some points of resistance faced up to the attackers, the line of Bourbon cavalry was broken up by such a fierce attack led by the English commander.

The enemies were so good as to give us the time we wanted; we brought up six squadrons and put our line in good order, which consisted thus of sixteen in all: six English, four Dutch, and six Palatines. Mr. Carpenter and I were on the left; Mr. Frankenberg, the Palatine General, and Major- General Pepper, on the right. So soon as ever we were thus formed we attacked them; and, by the blessing of God, broke their two lines, which consisted of forty-two squadrons.

On the right were the Gardes du Corps and other choice regiments, which did not do ill, but their left made no resistance. I cannot sufficiently commend the behaviour of all the troops that were engaged, which never halted till we had driven their horse off the plain, beyond their infantry, which was in the valley; and if we had had two hours’ day light more, your Lordship may be assured that not one foot soldier of their army could have scaped. The night gave them an opportunity to retire to Lerida, which they did in such confusion, that they threw away their tents, lost good part of their baggage, and some of their cannon, and have continued ever since encamped within and about the glacis of Lerida. The Duke of Anjou and all his Generals were in the action.

Consequences of the victory

As a result of the fight and the chaotic withdrawal of the Bourbon army, an odd situation took place in which King Philip was escorted by Catalan troops. The event is explained in the Bourbon letter collected by Castellvi and it had no major consequences, but it does show how the Bourbon officers mistrusted even the Catalans in their ranks.

Despite the swift action, the battle was extremely hard, according to Stanhope. The fact that two Allied colonels died is quite relevant, because it demonstrates that high-ranking officers put themselves at risk in combat, especially horse regiment officers, and often had a higher percentage of casualties than other soldiers (Lord Mahon, 1832, appendices CXI-CXV).

I am sorry, now, my Lord, to tell you, that this action has cost her Majesty very dear, in the loss of two young men of quality, who would have made a great figure in this country, and done it great service,- my Lord Rochford and Count Nassau. Lord Rochford had joined us with his regiment from Italy but the day before; and he brought it in so good order, and set them so good an example, that, though they had to do with the best troops of the enemy, they beat them. I have often had occasion to mention Count Nassau to your Lordship: he was this day on the left of all, at the head of his own regiment, which was outflanked by several squadrons, and exposed to the fire of their infantry; notwithstanding which disadvantages he broke what was before him, and, after so vigorous an action, was unfortunately killed by a cannon from a battery of our own. Enclosed I send your Lordship the list of what other officers have been killed and wounded.

Out of the six squadrons of her Majesty’s troops which were engaged, viz. two of Harvey’s, two of Nassau’s, two of Rochford’s we have 200 men killed and wounded, and four out of five of them with swords. A Palatine regiment which was on our left, and a Dutch regiment which was in the centre, have likewise suffered considerably; the others had better fortune, having met with little opposition. The commanding officers of all nations signalised themselves; and it has been of no small use to me, who had been very little conversant with the treble service, to have the assistance of Mr. Carpenter, who was with me during this whole action, and did not a little contribute to the good success of it..

As for the Bourbon army, the defeat had reduced its cavalry, and especially its morale, which was decisive for the further development of the campaign. Moreover, the defeat at Almenar confirmed that without the help of Louis XIV and the French forces, Philip was unable to keep the Spanish territories under control, given the threat posed by the Allies.

Defeat at Brihuega

After the victory of Almenar, the Austriacist army continued to advance into Aragon, where some weeks later it had a decisive victory against the Bourbon army. Philip’s troops broke up and, as happened in 1706, the Allies were again able to choose their strategic goals and achieve them without hindrance from opponents.

Spurred on by English officers, and particularly by James Stanhope, the Austriacist troops advanced into Castile to dominate the centre of the Iberian Peninsula, and especially its capital. Philip had to flee Madrid for the second time and Charles was finally crowned King of Spain. However, in the long term this strategic decision was one of the Allies’ worst mistakes during the war, although it seemed quite an interesting option in the autumn of 1710.

On one hand, lack of connection with the Austriacist territories of Aragon, Valencia and Catalonia disrupted both communications and the logistics line for the Allies, which were very elongated and highly vulnerable to Bourbon dragoons raids. On the other hand, failure to close the passes connecting France and the Iberian Peninsula allowed Louis XIV to send a large contingent of troops to his grandson. These troops were under command of the Duke of Vendome, and to finally restore the situation, another French army under the command of the Duke of Noailles invaded the north of Catalonia to threaten the Austriacist territories. Since the bulk of the Allied army was in Castile, it was an optimal situation for the Bourbon’s interests, because there was no Allied force large enough to fight with. This offensive therefore further destabilized the precarious strategic situation of the Allies.

Noailles decided to besiege Girona at the end of 1710, with the intention of smoothing the way to Barcelona. The Allies were certainly surprised by the fact that the siege began in December, as it was unusual to conduct offensive actions in late winter. Given the serious strategic situation, the Austriacist commanders decided to retreat to Catalonia to pass the winter there. The English contingent took a different route from the rest of the army, and was surprised and surrounded by Bourbon forces in Brihuega, where they surrendered a few days later. In turn, Starhemberg, the supreme Allied commander, met the entire Bourbon army in Villaviciosa, when trying to help the English (not knowing that they had already surrendered). Both sides claimed victory in the muddled battle that took place on December 10th. However, the clash left Vendome’s army so damaged that Starhemberg was able to retreat to more optimal positions in the Segarra area.

The demarcations of the armies were not much changed during the following campaigns, because the 1710 campaign went on well into the following year and Vendome did not move until summer of 1711. The attempt to cross the Allied defensive line culminated in the Battle of Prats de Rei and the subsequent siege of Cardona, two Allied victories that left the Bourbon army badly damaged and withdrawing again to Lerida. But the English army was no longer present in Catalonia after the surrender of Brihuega, except for some small units. In the Iberian Peninsula there were no significant battles in 1712-1713, due to the opening of peace negotiations, as mentioned throughout the book.

In addition, the Imperial army was solidly defeated by Marshal Villars’ troops in Denain, and the war situation quickly deteriorated for the Austriacist side, as, for their part, the English and the Dutch were negotiating agreements with the Bourbons.

The Treaty of Utrecht ended the English intervention in Catalonia, and shortly afterwards the final chapter of the War of the Spanish Succession began: the Catalan campaign of 1713-1714.

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