The combat of Yecla (11 April 1813) was a French success at the start of the Castalla campaign that saw Suchet’s Army of Valencia split the Allied army facing them on the Xucar, giving Suchet a chance of inflicting a serious defeat on Murray’s army of Alicante (Peninsular War).
In the spring of 1813 Sir John Murray’s Allied army of Alicante was involved in a standoff with Marshal Suchet’s Army of Valencia, which held the line of the Xucar River. In theory Murray greatly outnumbered Suchet, but his army was a mix of British, Sicilian, Spanish and allied troops of varying quality, and he had limited control over many of the Spanish troops. In March he seriously considered launching an amphibious assault on Valencia, but only an initial diversionary attack towards Albeyda (15 March 1813) was actually carried out before news from Sicily forced him to cancel the attack.
By April Suchet had come to the conclusion that Murray was no longer planning any immediate attack. Murray’s army was still rather scattered, with one division around Albeyda and his main force at Castalla, some way to the south. In the west Murray’s left was in contact with part of the Spanish army of Murcia, which had Mijares’s division posted at Yecla.
Suchet decided to use almost all of his field army to attack around Murray’s left wing, cut him off from his Spanish allies, and destroy his main force around Castalla. He successfully moved most of his troops in secrecy to Fuente la Higuera, on his far right. He then split the force into two. Habert’s division and Musnier’s division were to advance into the gap between Murray and the Spanish, heading for Villena, while six battalions from Harispe’s Division were to attack the Spanish at Yecla.
Harispe attacked Mijares at dawn on 11 April. The Spanish only had four infantry battalions and one cavalry squadron present, so were badly outnumbered. Mijares quickly realised this, and ordered a full scale retreat west towards the mountains at Jumilla. Harispe responded by ordering his hussars and dragoons to attack the retreating Spanish. The two leading Spanish battalions (Jaen and Cuenca) escaped without suffering many losses, but the rear two (the 1st Burgos and Cadiz regiments) were caught by the cavalry. They formed squares, and were able to repel the first two French attacks, but they were broken by the third attack. Between them the two Spanish battalions lost 400 dead and 1,000 captured. The French only reported 18 dead and 61 wounded.
News of this battle reached Sir John Murray and the Spanish General Elio at Villena by noon of 11 April. They also discovered that a second, larger, French force, was heading directly for them. Luckily for the Allies, Murray had brought Colonel Adam’s ‘light brigade’ with him. Murray headed back to Castalla to join his main force, while Adam was ordered to defeat the bass of Biar for as long as prudence permitted. At the same time he ordered his scattered units to concentrate at Castalla. Elio left a battalion in the castle of Villena, and attempted to concentrate his own troops.
On 12 April Suchet arrived outside Villena, and after a brief bombardment the garrison surrendered. He was thus only ten miles away from Castalla, with only Adam’s light brigade in his way. Murray’s forces were still scattered, and for a short time it looked as if Suchet would be able to reach Castalla before Murray was able to concentrate his men. However Adam fought a very skilful rearguard action (combat of Biar), forcing Suchet to delay his attack until the following day. By this point Murray’s forces were in place, and he was able to win a defensive victory at Castalla.