Combat of Espolla, 27 October 1793

The combat of Espolla (27 October 1793) was a Spanish victory that ended a poorly conceived French attempt to capture the port of Roses early in the War of the Convention. The war began with a Spanish offensive that briefly threatened to capture Perpignan, but by the end of September the Spanish had retreated to a fortified camp at Le Boulou. The Spanish held a line than ran along the Tech, ending at Argelès, just short of the coast.

In the first half of October the French made two unsuccessful attacks on this camp, which triggered one of a series of changes of command in the Army of the Eastern Pyrenees. General d'Aoust was blamed for the failures at Le Boulou and was replaced by General Turreau (d'Aoust was luckier than his colleagues in the north, for instead of being arrested and executed he resumed command of a division).

Turreau had to share power with two representatives of the Convention, who had the political power to overrule him. Turreau wanted to concentrate his troops to the north of the River Tet, which runs through Perpignan, leave outposts on the Reart to the south of the city, and go onto the defensive, but the representatives wanted him to remain on the attack. Representative Fabre had developed a plan for an attack on the Spanish port of Roses, eight miles south of the French border, and he now insisted that Turreau carry it out.

Six thousand men in three columns were allocated to this expedition. The plan was for them to cross the coastal spur of the Pyrenees in three columns, join up on the Spanish side of the mountains to attack the camp at Espolla, and then advance south-east towards Roses. The left, under General Delatre, was to advance from Banyuls-sur-Mer. The right, under General Clausel, was to advance on Canallops. The centre, under General d'Aoust, who had overall command of the expedition, was forced to advance along three minor tracks across the mountain.

The expedition set off on 27 October. Things soon went wrong. The attack on Espolla was meant to take place the same day, but at the time that had been set for the attack hardly any of the French force was in place. The left and right columns were both still crossing the mountains, and D'Aoust had lost one of his three small columns. D'Aoust wanted to postpone the attack to give the rest of his small force time to appear, but Fabre, who had accompanied the army, insisted that the attack be carried out as planned. Fabre gave the signal for the attack and led the charge himself, but his revolutionary zeal wasn't enough to overcome the Spanish numerical superiority and the French were soon forced to retreat back into the mountain valleys, with the Spanish in pursuit.

The diversionary attack on Ceret was no more successful. General Dagobert, accompanied by Representative Cassaigne, advanced on the town in two columns. The Marquis de Coupigny, who commanded the Spanish forces in the town, led the garrison out to defeat the first French column while Dagobert, with the second column, reached the town. Just as at Espolla, Dagobert wanted to cancel the attack, but the representative insisted that it was carried out. The French pushed the Spanish outposts back into the town, but were then forced out by some cavalry under the Marquis de Trùxillo. The Spanish infantry then returned from defeating the first column, and even Cassaigne realised that the French would have to retreat.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 February 2009), Combat of Espolla, 27 October 1793 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_espolla.html

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