The combat of Igualada (17-18 February 1809) saw the French defeat the left wing of an ambitious Spanish offensive aimed at recapturing Barcelona. The Spanish had been conducting a long siege of Barcelona during the summer and autumn of 1808, but they had been forced to abandon that siege after suffering a defeat at Cardadeu on 16 December 1808 at the hands of General St. Cyr. They had then been driven away from the vicinity of Barcelona after a second defeat at Molins del Rey on 21 December 1808, and had been forced to regroup around Tarragona.
After his daring dash across the mountains to Barcelona, St. Cyr was not willing to risk an early advance against Tarragona, and so the Spanish were able to rebuild their army. General Vives, the captain-general of Catalonia, was replaced by General Reding, who soon had 30,000 men at his disposal. Meanwhile St. Cyr, who had initially occupied a large area around Barcelona, had slowly been forced to pull his 23,000 men back towards the city.
This encouraged Reding to plan a new offensive. As was so often the case at this point in the war the Spanish plan was massively over-ambitious. He split his army into two, posting his left wing at Igualada, under General Castro, and his right wing at Tarragona, 35 miles apart as the crow flies, but nearer to sixty miles apart on the mountain roads. Ever since their victory at Baylen, the Spanish generals had been obsessed with plans for grand envelopments. Reding was planning to take advantage of his greater numbers to attack each of the French divisions simultaneously.
This plan would only have worked if St. Cyr had not responded to it, but of course he was not willing to fall into the Spanish trap. He decided to concentrate his troops against the Spanish left and smash Castro’s division before Reding could come to his aid. He would then be free to turn back to deal with Reding.
St. Cyr’s plan came close to disaster. On 15 February he began to move three of his divisions against Castro. On the same day the Spanish began to concentrate their forces in preparation for their own offensive. The first clash came on 17 February. St. Cyr had sent his three columns along different routes towards Igualada. The weakest of those divisions, under General Chabot, made the quickest progress, which exposed it to attack by 4,000 of Castro’s men. Chabot was forced to retreat, losing a number of prisoners, before he was reinforced by the second division under General Pino.
On the next day the two armies were facing each out across the Noya River. While the main forces skirmished there, St. Cyr send out an Italian brigade under General Mazzuchelli to outflank the Spanish position. When Castro received this news, he abandoned his position and retreated in some disorder. His main force managed to escape through Igualada, while the rearguard had to flee towards Manresa to the east. The rapid Spanish retreat prevented the French from taking many prisoners, but they did capture Castro’s main supply dump, and had apparently dispersed Reding’s left wing. St. Cyr was now free to turn south to deal with Reding’s main force, defeating him at Valls on 25 February 1809.
|A History of the Peninsular War vol.2: Jan.-Sept. 1809 - From the Battle of Corunna to the end of the Talavera Campaign, Sir Charles Oman. Part two of Oman's classic history falls into two broad sections. The first half of the book looks at the period between the British evacuation from Corunna and the arrival of Wellesley in Portugal for the second time, five months when the Spanish fought alone, while the second half looks at Wellesley's campaign in the north of Portugal and his first campaign in Spain. One of the classic works of military history.|
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