The siege of Calatayud of 26 September-4 October 1811 was a significant victory for the Spanish guerrillas over the French garrison of Calatayud. In the autumn of 1811 Marshal Suchet’s main army was engaged in the invasion of Valencia, and General Blake, the Spanish commander in the area, had called for help from the guerrillas. The bands of Juan Martín (El Empecinado) and José Durán combined to answer his call. While part of El Empecinado’s band attacked the garrison of Molina, their main force, consisting of 5,000 infantry and 500 cavalry, attacked the important French stronghold of Calatayud. This was the main French position in the mountains of western Aragon, but it was only held by a few companies of French troops and a recently arrived Italian battalion.
On 26 September the Spanish attacked the town, and forced the French to retreat into their fortified position, in the convent of La Merced, taking a large number of French prisoners during the fighting. The Spanish then split in two. Durán concentrated on the siege of the convent, while El Empecinado took up a position in the defile of El Frasno, on the road to Saragossa, to stop any French reinforcements reaching the town.
The French responded by sending a column of 1,000 men under Colonel Gillot to break the siege, but this force was grossly inadequate for the task. It was repulsed by El Empecinado, and Gillet was captured. The siege itself progressed rapidly, despite Durán’s lack of any heavy artillery. To make up for his lack of guns, he used a series of mines to destroy the convent piece by piece. One mine destroyed a corner of the convent, and a second mine, set off on 3 October, created a massive breach in the walls. On 4 October the French garrison surrendered.
The guerrillas did not hold Calatayud for long. On 5 October a French column under Reille arrived from Navarre, to find them gone. After Reille left the town, the guerrillas returned, but then Severoli’s Italian Division from Saragossa advanced towards the town, and on 12 October Empecinado and Durán evacuated the town for the second time. Their impressive achievement in captured Calatayud disrupted the French position in Aragon, but made no different to Blake at Valencia. The French garrison in Aragon was significantly stronger than the Spanish had believed, and so Suchet did not need to send any troops back to restore order, despite a second disaster between Ayerbe and Huesca on 16 October, when a column of 800 Italian troops was destroyed.
|A History of the Peninsular War vol.5: October 1811-August 31, 1812 - Valencia, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, Salamanca, Madrid, Sir Charles Oman Part Five of Oman's classic history of the Peninsular War starting with a look at the French invasion of Valencia in the winter of 1811-12, before concentrating on Wellington's victorious summer campaign of 1812, culminating with the battle of Salamanca and Wellington's first liberation of Madrid.|
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