The siege of Fort San Felipe de Balaguer (4-7 June 1813) was the one success during Murray’s disastrous attempt to capture Tarragona in the summer of 1813, and saw a small Anglo-Spanish force capture a fort that blocked the best road from Tortosa to Tarragona, making it harder for Marshal Suchet to intervene in the siege.
General Sir John Murray was the commander of the largely Anglo-Sicilian army of Alicante, which had landed in eastern Spain in an attempt to support Spanish resistance in the area and provide a distraction to aid Wellington’s main army. However it had become involved in something of a stalemate in the area north of Alicante, facing Marshal Suchet’s army. At the start of the Vittoria campaign, Wellington put in place a series of diversionary activities, one of which was an amphibious assault on Tarragona.
Murray gathered his force at Alicante in late May, and landed eight miles south of Tarragona on 2-3 June. His main worry was that Suchet would bring all of his army north from the Alicante front, and would join up with French forces coming from the north to crush him.
In 1813 the main road from Tortosa to Tarragona, ran directly along the coast. About twenty miles south-west of Tarragona it crossed the Col de Balaguer, running between the sea and a rocky mountain (roughly where the modern railway runs, while the current roads are further inland. If Murray could block this route, then Suchet wouldn’t be able to intervene so quickly. The French were aware of this weak point in the lines of communication, and had built Fort San Felipe de Balaguer to guard it. This was a small square fort, sixty yards in size and defended by one company and 12 guns, a total of 150 men.
Murray decided to send the 2/67th and De Roll-Dillon’s battalion, under Colonel Prevost, to seize the Col de Balaguer, and if possible take the fort. Prevost was also given two Spanish battalions, provided from the Army of Catalonia.
Prevost reached the fort on 3 June and decided that it would need to be bombarded. His own field guns were ineffective, so he asked for help from the fleet. Sailors from HMS Invincible managed to get two 12-pounders and a howitzer into a position 700 yards from the fort, and opened fire. This first bombardment was ineffective and more guns had to be moved ashore and then hoisted onto rocks 300 yards from the fort. Finally on the evening of 7 June a shell from a mortar in the new position triggered an explosion in one of the magazines. By this point one third of the garrison had already been wounded, and the French commander surrendered. On the Allied side casualties were low, only 1 officers and 4 men dead and 39 wounded.
This success blocked Suchet’s best route to Tarragona, but it would have little impact on the course of the campaign. Murray was already convinced that massive French armies were rushing towards him, and abandoned the siege without making a serious attempt to capture the city. Prevost’s force was picked up by Murray’s fleet on 14 June, although Murray then briefly landed his army in the same place, but soon lost his nerve once again and continued his retreat.