Rout of Belchite, 18 June 1809

The rout of Belchite of 18 June 1809 was a French victory than ended General Blake’s attempt to recapture Saragossa in the summer of 1809. Having won the first major Spanish victory since Baylen at Alcañiz on 23 May 1809, Blake had then attempted to outflank the French at Saragossa by marching his army of 25,000 men (20,000 of whom were with the army and the rest sick or detached) into the Huerba valley, from where he could threaten Suchet’s lines of communications with Burgos and France. Blake had reached within ten miles of Saragossa, but he had then split his army in two, with the halves separated by six miles and the River Huerba. At the battle of Maria, 15 June 1809, Suchet had defeated Blake’s half of the army, and forced him to retreat. By the time the Spanish army reached Belchite, Blake only had 12,000 men left, having lost 4,000-5,000 at Maria and the rest during the retreat.

Despite having lost half of his original men, Blake decided to offer battle at Belchite. At Alcañiz and Maria Blake had found strong defensive positions, but at Belchite his army was in a much more vulnerable position. The Spanish right was perhaps the strongest part of the position, on a hill north of the town. The centre was posted on the low ground in front of the town, but was protected by olive groves and stone walls. The Spanish left was the weak point in the line, posted on a gentle exposed hill.

By the time he reached Belchite Suchet had managed to bring together 13,000 men, more than at any point since he had taken command of 3rd Corps in May. He quickly identified the Spanish left as the week point in Blake’s line, and sent Musnier’s division of infantry and regiment of cavalry to attack in directly, while Habert’s infantry brigade was sent to march around the Spanish right, which was otherwise not attacked.

The moment Musnier’s men reached the Spanish lines, Blake’s left wing broke and fled back into Belchite, taking shelter behind the same walls that were protecting the centre of the Spanish line. The Spanish right collapsed even more quickly. A French shell hit a caisson behind one of the Spanish artillery batteries, which exploded. The cry of “treason” spread along the Spanish line, and Blake’s entire army attempted to escape through Belchite to reach the river bridge behind the town.

The Spanish collapse was so sudden and so rapid that the French were unable to really take advantage of it. The fleeing Spanish troops closed the town-gates, which delayed the French for some time. One Spanish battalion is said to have made a stand in the centre of the town, further delaying the French pursuit. Finally they too had to cross the narrow bridge across the Aguas. This time Blake’s army split in two. His Aragonese and Catalan troops rallied around Tortosa, while his Valencian troops made for Morella. Although the battle itself had been short and not very costly, another 2,000 Spanish troops disappeared during the retreat, leaving Blake with less than 10,000 men by the end of June.

 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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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (21 April 2008), Rout of Belchite, 18 June 1809 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/rout_of_belchite.html

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