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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter XVIII


AFTER the Emperor's marriage he appointed me Commander-in-chief of the Army of Catalonia and Governor-General of the Principality. I had a very strong objection to the manner in which war was carried on in Spain; my objection had its root in the dishonesty—or what in high places is called policy—which caused the invasion of the country; however, the noble and courageous resistance of its inhabitants triumphed over our efforts and our arms. I obeyed, nevertheless, and started. I led a very active life, that was as odious as it was exhausting. The enemy were ubiquitous, and yet I could find them nowhere, though I travelled through the length and breadth of the province. The only important result of the campaign was the siege and capture of Tortosa by General Suchet, whose operations I covered.

The next campaign, that of 1811, commenced with a fresh series of marches and provisioning of fortresses. I received orders to lay siege to Tarragona, but I had neither means nor sufficient force; the Army of Arragon had all. I therefore proposed to the Government that a portion of my troops should be provisionally handed over to General Suchet, so that he should experience no embarrassment, and that there should he unity of command. My plan was approved, and I returned to Barcelona to keep an eye upon everything. I had scarcely arrived there, when I heard that the - Spaniards had surprised and taken the castle of Figueras, a place almost impregnable. It was my arsenal; my artillery, ammunition, provisions, regimental baggage, everything was stored there. Want of supervision lost us the place. But the Spaniards had not time to remove as prisoners the garrison they had so strangely surprised. We collected hastily all our scattered detachments, and invested the fortress. I wrote most pressing letters to General Suchet to restore to me the troops I had placed at his disposal, but only one messenger reached him, either at Lerida or Saragossa, although the distance from Barcelona was but slight.

This event caused a great sensation, and increased excitement in the Peninsula, especially in Catalonia, while it also stimulated the activity of our opponents, their efforts and their courage. The Spaniards tried to throw reinforcements into the castle and to secure the prisoners, but they were repulsed.

The Emperor ordered that I should he summoned from Barcelona. It was necessary to detach 5,000 or 6,000 men from the investing force to cross the country. At the first receipt of the news I had formed the plan of going to Figueras with an escort of fifty cavalry; but so much pressure was brought to bear upon me, and so much was said to dissuade me from so rash and dangerous an enterprise, that I yielded and waited for the detachment.

On arriving I found orders to push on the siege vigorously, but my guns and ammunition were all inside. I asked for others, but they could not be supplied. I had therefore to Content myself with investing and surrounding the fortress with lines, armed with field-guns; not to attack it, but to prevent sorties or assistance. I remembered the famous siege of Alesia, and I caused analogous works, allowing for the difference of locality, to be made. Each corps was ordered to cover itself, and I had excited their emulation by my constant presence and my encouragements. I spared myself neither labour nor fatigue. We had already spent two months and a half round the place, which seemed quite decided not to surrender as long as the provisions held out, and there was any hope of succour.

We had now reached July i; the date is well imprinted Oil my memory, as I then had my first attack of gout. It lasted a long time, but although horribly severe, my moral nature suffered more than my physical from this paralysis.

I had succeeded in surrounding the place so closely that nothing, not even a cat, could have passed. General Guillot, a prisoner in the place, although he was closely watched, found means to send me information by some Spaniards, whom he had seduced by promises of large rewards. I thus knew the strength of the garrison, the amount of provisions, and could calculate almost to a day when the surrender would be made.

Our troops kept a very sharp look-out, as we expected almost daily to he attacked from outside. The Spaniards made demonstrations, and announced the landing of English troops. More than once, in fact, we had observed a large number of transports at sea. The Spanish Commandant, discovering General Guillot's communications, had his messenger shot, and tried and condemned to death the General and several other officers, but he dared not execute them. I was informed of what was going on, and threatened the Spanish General with reprisals.

Notwithstanding the limitation of the rations, the end was near. Out of regard for such of our prisoners as were sick, but who could be moved, he caused them all to be brought out and laid on the glacis. According to my information, the place could not hold out beyond August 15 or 20. I felt certain that the garrison would try to make a way for themselves through my lines; all my dispositions were made accordingly. It was the more necessary to redouble our vigilance, as we were already weakened by sickness.

I thought that the Spaniards would select August 1, the Emperor's birthday, for their sortie. We kept the day with great rejoicing, having prepared some grand fireworks, of which the crowning-piece was to be a general fusillade directed against the town, with shells and grapeshot.

Nothing stirred during the night, but next morning the fire from the fortress slackened. We observed considerable movement on the ramparts, which was continued the following day. As no messenger appeared, it remained evident that a vigorous sortie was contemplated, and we got ready to give it a warm reception.

It did take place eventually on a dark night, and in the profoundest silence; but the unevenness of the ground caused the head of the columns to waver, and made their weapons jingle, and this attracted the attention of our advanced outposts. They hastily fell back upon our lines, and, moreover, without lighting some little piles of sticks, as they had been told to do, in order to throw light upon the scene. It was to be presumed, and it eventually proved, that the Spaniards would attack with swords, as a single discharge, showing where they were, would have sufficed to attract all our forces to them. We awaited their approach, and as soon as they opened the attack we threw some hand- grenades amongst them; but the powder was damaged, and only gave out a thick, colourless smoke. [I had ordered some Bengal fire from Toulouse, but it only arrived after the place had surrendered. —Marshall MacDonald.]

This attempted sortie was brave, and did honour to the General and his garrison ; it was repulsed after several attempts on their part. They did not expect to meet so many obstacles; even the abattis stopped them. From the summit of the ramparts it was easy to misjudge them, they looked like so many little bushes. The Spaniards lost a large number of killed, wounded, and taken prisoners; on our side no one had a scratch.

Next day the enemy ran up the white flag, and sent a j5arlementaire to treat for the surrender. I accorded them the honours of war. The garrison laid down their arms and remained prisoners; out of respect for their bravery, the officers retained their swords.

I transferred my quarters to the town, where shortly afterwards my attack of gout was followed by one of fever. Being unable to continue to exercise my command, I asked for a successor, who was granted me. I returned to Paris, only just able to walk on crutches.


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