Battle of Figueras, 17-20 November 1794

The battle of Figueras (17-20 November 1794) was the decisive battle in the eastern Pyrenees during the War of the Convention and saw the French smash a Spanish army that was defending the Lines of Figueras, exposing Catalonia to invasion. For the first year of the war the fighting had taken place on the French side of the mountains, but on 30 April-1 May the Spanish were forced out of their camp at Le Boulou and retreated back across the Pyrenees is some disorder. The French missed a chance to inflict a second, more important defeat on them on Spanish soil and instead spent most of the summer besieging the border fortress of Bellegarde, which fell on 17 September.

This gave the Spanish time construct a formidable defensive position which ran from Sant Llorenç de la Muga to Llançà. The formidable fortress at Figueras was behind the centre of the line, which was protected by more than 90 redoubts. The gigantic military camp of Llers sat behind the Spanish left and centre (just to the north-west of Figueras). By November General La Union had 50,000 men to man the defences, giving him slightly more men than his French opponent, General Dugommier.

Despite the strength of the Spanish fortifications Dugommier believed that he could fight his way through them. His plan was to send General Augereau through the mountains on the Spanish left in an attempt to outflank, or at least roll up, the Spanish line. The Spanish would be prevented from moving reinforcements to their left by smaller attacks on their right and centre.

Augereau began his march on 16 November, and after nearly eighteen hours in the mountains emerged on the Spanish left early on 17 November. General Courten, commanding the Spanish left, called for reinforcements, but when they failed to arrive he was forced to retreat back from San Lorenzo and by the time he stopped Augereau had cleared the right bank of the river all the way to Les Escaules. At that point, realising that the rest of the French army hadn't made any progress, Augereau halted his advance.

The reason for that failure soon became clear. A Spanish shell had exploded just above General Dugommier, fatally wounding him. This left the French army without a commander, and one would not be appointed until the following day, when a representative from the Committee of Public Safety appointed General Pérignon to the post.

Pérignon took two days to examine the state of the armies, and then adopted Dugommier's plan, but with an even strong right wing. The new attack began at four in the morning on 20 November. Augereau captured most of the remaining defensive works on the Spanish left, and after five hours of fighting the Spanish line was broken in several places.

The French were also successful in the centre, where Adjutant General Bon and General Guillot combined to capture the stone-built redoubt of Notre-Dame-del-Roure and with it the village of Pont de Molins. During this fighting the Conde de La Union was also killed, and with their commander dead and their line broken the Spanish army broke and fled, leaving 10,000 men dead, wounded or captured. The Spanish right, on the coast, only narrowly escaped being trapped in its entirety. Another 9,000 Spanish troops were captured when the city of Figueras surrendered on 27 November, after offering no more than token resistance.

The defeated Spanish army finally made a stand around Gerona, but the French didn't follow them. Most of the French army went into winter quarters around Figueras, while a detachment became involved in a two month long siege of Rosas, on the coast to the east. Dugommier's death meant that he entered the ranks of the heroes of the revolution, with his name inscribed in the Pantheon in Paris.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (3 March 2009), Battle of Figueras, 17-20 November 1794 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_figueras.html

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