Battle of Truillas, 22 September 1793

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The battle of Truillas (22 September 1793) was a major Spanish victory in the eastern Pyrenees that saw them defeat a French attempt to drive them away from Perpignan and back towards the mountains. Although it had been the French who declared war, it was the Spanish who moved first, attacking across the Pyrenees in April 1793. The Spanish commander, General Ricardós, was perhaps a little too careful, and over the next two months he missed a number of opportunities to capture Perpignan. When he did finally attack the city, on 17 July, the French were much more organised than in April or May, and his overcomplicated attack was repulsed. He then attempted to establish a line of fortified camps around Perpignan, and in early September he came close to isolated the city, but on 17 September the French attacked the northern part of the Spanish lines, and forced them retreat back to the south of the city (combat of Peyrestortes).

The new Spanish line ran between the River Reart and the town of Thuir. Their right was based around a fortified camp at Mas-d'Eu, close to the river, The centre was at Ponteilla and Truillas and the left was at Thuir.

The defence of Perpignan was entrusted to the Army of the Eastern Pyrenees. Like every French army of this period, this army suffered from frequent changes of commander. When it was first created it was commanded by General Flers. He was then replaced by General Barbantane, and when the Spanish threatened to isolate the city he in turn was replaced by General Dagobert.

In 1793 Dagobert was 75, but he was still an active vigorous commander who had been conducting a successful campaign in the mountains. In the time it took him to reach his new army Generals d'Aoust and Goguet, with the encouragement of the representatives of the Convention in the city, had won the victory at Peyrestortes. Relations between Dagobert and his lieutenants were strained from the start, and probably played a part in the defeat that was to come. All of the French commanders were in favour of attacking the new Spanish position, but while Dagobert wanted to outflank it through the mountains the representatives, d'Avoust and Goguet all wanted to mount a frontal attack and Dagobert was forced to go along with this plan.

Dagobert decided to attack in three columns of equal strength. Goguet, with the right, was to use part of his column to attack Thuir and the rest to make an outflanking movement through Sainte-Colombe, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, towards Ricardós's headquarters at Truillas.

On the left d'Aoust was to advance along the Reart and attack the Spanish right at Mas-d'Eu. Once he had broken through the Spanish lines he was then to attempt to cut off their retreat.

Dagobert was to command the central column, which would attack Ponteilla and Trouillas.

When the French columns began to advance Ricardós decided that the main attack was going to hit Thuir, at the left of his line. Accordingly he left General Crespo, with 3,000 men, to defend the Reart, while General La Union, the Duke of Ossuna and Ricardós with the reserves moved towards Thuir. When d'Avoust's 4,000 men appeared on his right Ricardós refused to believe that they posed a real threat, and continued to deploy to the left.

If all three French columns had attacked as planned, then Ricardós's faulty dispositions might have led to a major Spanish defeat, but Dagobert was badly led down by d'Avoust. He advanced slowly towards the weak Spanish right and never mounted a serious attack. This allowed Ricardós to defeat the French right and centre in turn.

Goguet's and Dagobert's columns both made their attacks as planned, but with very different results. In the centre Dagobert captured the redoubts and fortifications that covered the ravine of Truillas and broke into the Spanish camp, where he became involved in a battle with the reserves. Only the failure of the French left prevented Dagobert from breaking through the Spanish lines.

Ricardós's move to the left meant that Goguet found himself attacking a much strong force than he had expected. He was also faced with a well sited battery of twelve 24-pdr guns. Goguet made three attempts to capture these guns. The first, led by the Regiment of Champagne, ended when that regiment was almost exterminated by grapeshot from the 24-pdrs, and the second and third attacks made little more progress. The flank attack made slow progress despite coming under fire from both La Union's and Ossuna's guns, but it was then charged by some elite Spanish cavalry led by Ricardós in person, and the attack collapsed.

This meant that Ricardós was free to turn back to deal with the crisis in his centre. Just as Dagobert was about to break through the Spanish reserves, Ricardós's cavalry attacked both of his flanks, while the Compte de La Union's infantry attacked the French rear. Three battalions in the French centre were completely surrounded, and the Spanish took a large number of prisoners. Dagobert himself managed to form some of his troops into squares, and conducted a steady retreat back to the heights of Canohès, four miles to the south-west of Perpignan. There he met up with d'Aoust's undamaged column and the survivors of the failure on the right, and the retreat ended. The French lost somewhere between 3,000-6,000 men during the battle, the Spanish only 1,500.

The Spanish didn't benefit from their victory. Ricardós decided that his camp at Mas-d'Eu was no longer tenable, and ordered a retreat to La Boulou, five miles to the south on the Tech River. This remained the main Spanish position until the end of April 1794, when they were finally forced to retreat back across the Spanish border.

On his return to Perpignan Dagobert argued with the representatives of the Convention, resigned as commander of the Army of the Eastern Pyranees and returned the mountains, where he continued to harass the Spanish. He was replaced by d'Avoust, who made two attacks on the Spanish camp at Boulou before being replaced by General Turreau. Turreau was then replaced by General Doppet, who was in turn replaced by General Dugommier. It would be Dugommier who forced the Spanish to retreat from La Boulou.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 February 2009), Battle of Truillas, 22 September 1793 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_truillas.html

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