|First Siege of Zaragoza|
|Part of the Peninsular War|
Assault on the walls of Saragossa by January Suchodolski, oil on canvas, 1845. (National Museum in Warsaw)
|Commanders and leaders|
| 8,500 regulars,|
| 500 regulars,|
|Casualties and losses|
The First Siege of Zaragoza (also called Saragossa) was a bloody struggle in the Peninsular War (1807–1814). A French army under General Lefebvre-Desnouettes and subsequently commanded by General Jean-Antoine Verdier besieged, repeatedly stormed, and was repulsed from the Spanish city of Zaragoza in the summer of 1808.
The Peninsular War (1807–1814) was a military conflict between Napoleon's empire and Bourbon Spain, for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war began when the French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, previously its ally. The war on the peninsula lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814, and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.
France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.
Charles, comte Lefebvre-Desnouettes or Lefèbvre-Desnoëttes became a French officer during the French Revolutionary Wars and a general during the Napoleonic Wars. He later emigrated to the United States.
When the Dos de Mayo (2 May) uprisings took place in Spain in 1808, Napoleon at first thought that they were a series of isolated uprisings and despatched a number of small columns to quell them. In North Eastern Spain Marshall Bessières assigned General Lefebvre-Desnouettes to quell the revolt in Aragon. Eventually his column included 5,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry and two artillery batteries. Lefebvre quickly discovered, however, that the revolt was much more widespread than had been believed.
The Spanish side was led by General José de Palafox who was the second son in an aristocratic Spanish family. He was appointed Captain-General of Aragon in late May. He successfully raised a force of 7,500 troops but was handicapped by the lack of experience of these troops with only about 300 experienced cavalry and a few gunners.
Palafox made a few attempts to stop the French from even reaching Zaragoza. His elder brother the Marquis of Lazan attempted to stop them at Tudela on 8 June 1808 and again at Mallen on 13 June 1808. Palafox then sent out a force of 6,000 but was defeated again at Alagon on 14 June 1808 and Palafox himself was wounded. Finally the remaining Spanish forces retreated into Zaragoza.
Zaragoza itself was protected by two medieval walls and two rivers – the Ebro river to the north-east and the Huerva to the south – but the west was exposed to attack. The strength of the city, though, was in its maze of strongly built defensible buildings with narrow lanes easy to block with barricades.
The Ebro is a river on the Iberian Peninsula. It is the second longest river in the Iberian peninsula after the Tagus and the second biggest by discharge volume and by drainage area after the Douro.
Lefebvre reached Zaragoza on 15 June 1808. At this time he was badly outnumbered by the Spanish, who had around 11,000 troops although only half had experience of battle from the Alagon defeat.
The next day Lefebvre assaulted the western wall of the city expecting that the Spanish would collapse quickly.
In the first assault the French broke into the western part of the city and their allies Polish troops of Legia Nadwiślańska broke through the Gate of Carmen and took the monastery of the same name, while Polish cavalry broke through the Santa Engracia Gate and fought their way into the center of the city. However, due to complete lack of support from the French they were ordered to leave downtown and retreat (for which Polish cavalry commander colonel Jan Konopka literally called French troops "cowards").In this first assault the French suffered around 700 casualties and Poles lost about 50 troops (killed or wounded - mainly infantry and few cavalry).
The Legion of the Vistula was a unit of Poles in the service of Napoleonic France, one of the larger Polish legions of the Napoleonic period.
The Gate of Carmen is a gate located in Zaragoza, Spain. It was declared Bien de Interés Cultural in 1908.
The Abbey of Santa Engracia was a monastery in Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain, established to house the relics of Saint Engratia and the many martyrs of Saragossa. The date of 392 was traditionally claimed as a foundation date, which was linked with the travels of Saint Paulinus. The church was believed to have been sited on the spot of the martyrdom of Engratia.
Palafox himself was not present on that day. He had left to raise additional troops in Upper Aragon to attack Lefebvre's lines of communication. Palafox raised an additional force of 5,000 troops but these were defeated at Épila on the 23–24 June 1808 and Palafox returned to Zaragoza with only an additional 1,000 troops.
Alto Aragon is the northern-most territories or highlands of Aragon, flanking the Pyrenees and includes the Aneto Mountain, the highest peak in the entire Pyrenean chain. The term Alto Aragon, or highlands, is used to contrast with the Bajo Aragon, referring to the lowlands or flat plains of Aragon which roughly begins around the Somontano county of Huesca stretching south to the Ebro river basin.
The Battle of Épila was fought on July 21, 1348 near Zaragoza, in what is now Spain, between the supporters of the Union of Aragon and King Peter IV, led by Don Lope de Luna. This battle was the culmination of a long confrontation between a large segment of the nobility and the people of Aragon against the king, ending with the decisive defeat of the Union.
The French, however, received more substantial reinforcements with a force of 3,000 led by General Jean-Antoine Verdier arriving on 26 June 1808. As General Verdier was senior to Lefebvre he took over command of all the troops. Further reinforcements continued to arrive including some siege artillery.
On 28 June 1808 Verdier attacked Monte Terrero on the southern bank of the Huerva river. Monte Terrero was a hill that dominated the south of Zaragoza and should have been strongly fortified but was not. As a result, the hill was captured with ease and the Spanish commander, Colonel Vincento Falco, was subsequently court-martialled and shot.
Now that Monte Terrero was in his hands, Verdier was able to use it as a base for his siege artillery. Starting from midnight on 30 June 1808 thirty siege guns, four mortars, and twelve howitzers opened fire on Zaragoza and kept firing continuously.
A second assault was made by the French on 2 July 1808 with twice the strength of the first assault. Although the fixed defences in Zaragoza had suffered heavily from the bombardment, the barricades were still intact and Palafox had returned to take command.
The French penetrated the city in several places but were unable to make any further progress and once again were forced to retreat. This assault became famous for the story of the Maid of Zaragoza: Agustina Zaragoza. Her lover was an artillery sergeant at the Portillo Gate. The entire crew of his gun were killed before they could fire off their last round. Agustina ran forward taking the lighted match from her dead lover's hands and fired the cannon. The French were hit by a round of grapeshot at close range and their attack was broken. Palafox said he personally witnessed this event and Agustina was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant.
During this assault on 2 July 1808 the French suffered 200 dead and 300 wounded. Verdier therefore decided not to make any further assaults and settled down for a siege. Unfortunately for him he had insufficient men to fully blockade the city and the Spanish were able to be supplied from the north bank of the Ebro river most of the time.
In the second half of July the French concentrated on capturing the Capuchin and Trinitarian convents of San Jose, which were to the west of Zaragoza. By 24 July 1808 these were all captured by the French.
On 4 August the French began a heavy artillery bombardment and silenced the Spanish guns and made several breaches in the walls. At 2pm Verdier launched a massive assault with thirteen battalions in three columns and penetrated deep into Zaragoza. Verdier demanded Palafox's surrender to which he replied "War to the knife".
By evening the French had taken half of the city but the Spanish counter-attacked and pushed the French out except for a small wedge surrounded by the Spanish.
By this time the French had suffered around 462 killed and 1,505 wounded. The Spanish had suffered similar or even higher losses but still outnumbered the French.
The fighting continued for several days but the assault had effectively failed ensuring the failure of the siege. On 19 July 1808 a French army under General Dupont were forced to surrender at Bailén and this made both sides realise the French would have to retreat. Palafox halted his offensive operations, but Verdier responded with an artillery bombardment to use up all the ammunition he could not carry away.
Finally on 14 August 1808 Verdier blew up all the strongpoints he held and withdrew. This was the end of the First Siege of Zaragoza.
In total the French had 3,500 casualties during the siege. Spanish losses of 2,000 were admitted at the time; however, a figure of 5,000 is more probable.
Palafox's resistance made him a national hero, a glory he shared with Agustina Zaragoza and many other ordinary civilians. Zaragoza would endure a second, longer, more famous siege starting in late December. When it finally fell to the French in 1809, Zaragoza had become a city of corpses and smoking rubble: 12,000 people would remain of a prewar population of over 100,000.
Also in Polish history the Sieges of Zaragoza, as well as earlier Haitian Revolution and later Battle of Somosierra became cultural icons and are often brought as examples of terrible political misuse of Polish soldiers by Napoleonic France. Poles have allied with France and supported Napoleon to fight Germany, Russia and Austria - the countries that partioned Poland few years earlier. Having lost their own country to invading powers they objected to fighting the nations or countries that were fighting for their own freedom too. Polish general Chłopicki comended col. Konopka for decision to not fight Spanish civilians and giving up Zaragoza's downtown when French couldn't break through and secure it (which basically ended the first siege). Chłopicki, who later lead the charge of Polish troops during second siege of Zaragoza, also forbade his troops fighting Spanish civiliansunless directly attacked (thus enormously upsetting French commanders, like gen. Foy). Basically Poles fought on French side because the Napoleonic France was the only warrant of the existence of the Duchy of Warsaw and Napoleon promised to eventually help resurrecting Poland, but their hearts were on the Spaniards' side. This excruciating dilemma and fate of Legiony Polskie had been the subject of poetry as well as fierce discussions in many Polish books and publications since the beginning of 19th century.
The siege was portrayed in the 1950 Spanish film Agustina of Aragon .
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The Battle of Tudela saw an Imperial French army led by Marshal Jean Lannes attack a Spanish army under General Castaños. The battle resulted in the complete victory of the Imperial forces over their adversaries. The combat occurred near Tudela in Navarre, Spain during the Peninsular War, part of a wider conflict known as the Napoleonic Wars.
José Rebolledo de Palafox y Melzi, 1st Duke of Saragossa was a Spanish general who fought in the Peninsular War.
The Battle of Valmaseda took place on 5 November 1808, during Lieutenant-General Blake's retreat from superior French armies in northern Spain. Reinforced by veteran regular infantry from General La Romana's Division of the North, Blake's force suddenly turned on its pursuers and ambushed General Victor's errant vanguard under Général de division Villatte.
The Second Siege of Zaragoza was the French capture of the Spanish city of Zaragoza during the Peninsular War. It was particularly noted for its brutality.
Jean-Antoine Verdier was a French General during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
Agustina Raimunda Maria Saragossa i Domènech or Agustina of Aragón was a Spanish heroine who defended Spain during the Peninsular War, first as a civilian and later as a professional officer in the Spanish Army. Known as "the Spanish Joan of Arc," she has been the subject of much folklore, mythology, and artwork, including sketches by Francisco Goya and the poetry of Lord Byron.
Antoine Morlot was a French division commander during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars. After almost eight years of service in the French Royal Army, he became an officer in a local volunteer battalion during the French Revolution. In 1792 he fought with distinction at Thionville and other actions, earning a promotion to general officer in 1793. He was notable for his participation at the Battle of Kaiserslautern where he led a brigade. After another promotion he became a general of division in the Army of the Moselle. In 1794 he led his troops at Arlon, Lambusart, Fleurus and Aldenhoven.
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Pierre-Joseph Habert enlisted in the French army at the beginning of the French Revolutionary Wars and led a division during the Napoleonic Wars. After serving in the army from 1792 to 1797, he fought in Ireland and Egypt, rising in rank to become a colonel by 1802. Under Emperor Napoleon, he led his regiment in the 1805 campaign against Austria. In the 1806-1807 campaign he saw action at Jena, Golymin, Eylau, and Heilsberg and was wounded twice in the last-named battle.
In the Siege of Tarragona from 5 May to 29 June 1811, Louis Gabriel Suchet's French Army of Aragon laid siege to a Spanish garrison led by Lieutenant General Juan Senen de Contreras. A British naval squadron commanded by Admiral Edward Codrington harassed the French besiegers with cannon fire and transported large numbers of reinforcements into the city by sea. Nevertheless, Suchet's troops stormed into the defenses and killed or captured almost all the defenders. The action took place at the port of Tarragona, Catalonia, on the east coast of Spain during the Peninsular War, part of the Napoleonic Wars.
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Agustina of Aragon is a 1950 Spanish historical film directed by Juan de Orduña and starring Aurora Bautista. It is also known by the alternative title of The Siege. It portrays the Spanish patriot Agustina of Aragon, known for her role at the 1808 Siege of Zaragoza against Napoleon's French forces.