The combat of Villafranca of 30 March 1810 was the first of two defeats that ended a French attempt to capture the city of Tarragona, the last major fortress in Catalonia to remain in Spanish hands. Despite having received orders from Napoleon to take part in the siege of Lerida, Marshal Augereau, commander of the French troops in Catalonia, decided to attack Tarragona. At the end of March he moved a large part of his army to the town of Reus, twelve miles north west of Tarragona, leaving a battalion and a half of troops at Villafranca, half way between Tarragona and Barcelona, and a brigade of infantry at Manresa, to the north of Barcelona.
By 1810 Tarragona was surrounded by strong defences, while its garrison had just been strengthened by the 6,000 men of Henry O’Donnell’s Army of Catalonia. When the French summoned the city to surrender, the demand was refused. Rather than thinking of surrender, O’Donnell was actually planning to attack the isolated French detachments at Villafranca and Manresa. Before the French could establish a blockade of the city, O’Donnell dispatched a column under General Juan Caro to carry out this mission.
The Spanish attacked the French detachment at Villafranca at dawn on 30 March 1810. The French were caught by surprise, and the entire 800 strong garrison was killed or captured. Caro himself was wounded during the fighting, and was forced to hand command over to the Marquis of Campo Verde. He went on to win a nearly as complete victory at Manresa on 5 April, forcing Augereau to abandon the attack on Tarragona. Within a week he had moved his headquarters away from Barcelona, a move that would lead to his removal from command.
|A History of the Peninsular War vol.3: September 1809-December 1810 - Ocana, Cadiz, Bussaco, Torres Vedras, Sir Charles Oman. Part three of Oman's classic history begins with the series of disasters that befell the Spanish in the autumn of 1809 and spring of 1810, starting with the crushing defeat at Ocana and ending with the French conquest of Andalusia and capture of Seville, then moves on to look at the third French invasion of Portugal, most famous for Wellington's defence of the Lines of Torres Vedras.|
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