Siege of Tarragona (1813)

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Siege of Tarragona
Part of the Peninsular War
Date3–11 June 1813
Location Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain
Result French victory
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom,
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg Spain
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Antoine Bertoletti
Flag of France.svg Louis-Gabriel Suchet
Flag of France.svg Maurice Mathieu
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg John Murray
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Benjamin Hallowell
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg Francisco Copons
Garrison: 1,600
Relief: 14,000
Casualties and losses
98 dead or wounded 102 dead or wounded,
18 siege cannons

In the Siege of Tarragona (3–11 June 1813), an overwhelming Anglo-Allied force commanded by Lieutenant General John Murray, 8th Baronet failed to capture the Spanish port of Tarragona from a small Franco-Italian garrison led by General of Brigade Antoine Marc Augustin Bertoletti. Murray was subsequently removed from command for his indecisive and contradictory leadership.

Tarragona Municipality in Catalonia, Spain

Tarragona is a port city located in northeast Spain on the Costa Daurada by the Mediterranean Sea. Founded before the 5th century BC, it is the capital of the Province of Tarragona, and part of Tarragonès and Catalonia. Geographically, it is bordered on the north by the Province of Barcelona and the Province of Lleida. The city has a population of 201,199 (2014).

Antoine Marc Augustin Bertoletti Italian general

Antonio Bertoletti, also known as Antoine Marc Augustin Bertoletti was a Milanese military officer who served the French Empire as a general of brigade, notably in the Peninsular War.



Murray's Anglo-Sicilian-Spanish army, based on Alicante, inflicted a sharp check on Marshal Louis Gabriel Suchet's corps at the Battle of Castalla in April. After this action, General Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington ordered Murray to attack Tarragona, which is on the east coast of Spain. The port is about 65 miles southwest of Barcelona. Wellington planned to launch his summer 1813 offensive against King Joseph Bonaparte's French armies. By attacking Tarragona, Wellington wished to prevent Suchet from reinforcing Joseph.

Alicante City in Spain

Alicante, or Alacant, both the Spanish and Valencian being official names, is a city and port in Spain on the Costa Blanca, the capital of the province of Alicante and of the comarca of Alacantí, in the south of the Valencian Community. It is also a historic Mediterranean port. The population of the city of Alicante proper was 330,525, estimated as of 2016, ranking as the second-largest Valencian city. Including nearby municipalities, the Alicante conurbation had 452,462 residents. The population of the metropolitan area was 757,085 as of 2014 estimates, ranking as the eighth-largest metropolitan area of Spain.

Battle of Castalla 1813 battle

In the Battle of Castalla on 13 April 1813, an Anglo-Spanish-Sicilian force commanded by Lieutenant General Sir John Murray fought Marshal Louis Gabriel Suchet's French Army of Valencia and Aragon. Murray's troops successfully repelled a series of French attacks on their hilltop position, causing Suchet to retreat. The action took place during the Peninsular War, part of the Napoleonic Wars. Castalla is located 35 kilometers north-northwest of Alicante, Spain.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington British soldier and statesman

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, was an Anglo-Irish soldier and Tory statesman who was one of the leading military and political figures of 19th-century Britain, serving twice as Prime Minister. His victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 puts him in the first rank of Britain's military heroes.

On June 2, Rear-Admiral Benjamin Hallowell Carew's squadron put Murray's 16,000 men ashore at Salou Bay, six miles south of Tarragona. They soon met General Francisco Copons' division of 7,000 Spanish soldiers. On June 3 the Allied army laid siege to the town.

Benjamin Hallowell Carew Royal Navy admiral

Admiral Sir Benjamin Hallowell Carew was a senior officer in the Royal Navy. He was one of the select group of officers, referred to by Lord Nelson as his "Band of Brothers", who served with him at the Battle of the Nile.

Siege military blockade of a city or fortress

A siege is a military blockade of a city, or fortress, with the intent of conquering by attrition, or a well-prepared assault. This derives from Latin: sedere, lit. 'to sit'. Siege warfare is a form of constant, low-intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static, defensive position. Consequently, an opportunity for negotiation between combatants is not uncommon, as proximity and fluctuating advantage can encourage diplomacy. The art of conducting and resisting sieges is called siege warfare, siegecraft, or poliorcetics.


Murray organized his army into one Spanish and two British infantry divisions, some cavalry, 2 British and 1 Portuguese field artillery batteries, plus some unassigned units. General William Clinton's 1st Division was made up of the 1/58th Regiment of Foot and 2/67th Regiment of Foot, the 4th King's German Legion and 2 battalions of the Sicilian Estero Regiment. General John Mackenzie's 2nd Division was made up of the 1/10th Regiment of Foot, 1/27th Regiment of Foot and 1/81st Regiment of Foot, De Roll's Swiss and the 2nd Italian Regiment. The cavalry force included two squadrons each of the 20th Light Dragoons and the Brunswick Hussars. The Calabrian Free Corps and the 1st Italian Regiment were unbrigaded. [1] Murray's 18 heavy siege guns were the same ones that Wellington used to breach the walls during the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo and at the Battle of Badajoz in 1812. [2] Rufane Shaw Donkin served as Murray's chief-of-staff.

Field artillery artillery piece designed to deploy with army units in the field

Field artillery is a category of mobile artillery used to support armies in the field. These weapons are specialized for mobility, tactical proficiency, short range, long range, and extremely long range target engagement.

William Henry Clinton British Army general

General Sir William Henry Clinton was a British general during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars as well as the First Miguelist War. He was also the grandson of Admiral George Clinton and elder brother of Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton.

Kings German Legion military unit

The King's German Legion (KGL) was a British Army unit of mostly expatriate German personnel during the period 1803–16. The Legion achieved the distinction of being the only German force to fight without interruption against the French during the Napoleonic Wars.

Bertoletti's garrison included a battalion each from the French 20th Line Infantry and the 7th Italian Infantry regiments, two companies of artillerymen and some French sailors. [1] The defenses had not been restored since Suchet had captured the town in the first Siege of Tarragona in 1811. In any case, the 1,600 men were too few to man the outer walls, so Bertoletti abandoned the walls and pulled his men back into the old town. He left small garrisons in two outworks, the Bastion of San Carlos and Fort Royal. [3]

Siege of Tarragona (1811) siege

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.


An outwork is a minor fortification built or established outside the principal fortification limits, detached or semidetached. Outworks such as ravelins, lunettes (demilunes), flèches and caponiers to shield bastions and fortification curtains from direct battery were developed in the 16th century. Later, the increasing scale of warfare and the greater resources available to the besieger accelerated this development, and systems of outworks grew increasingly elaborate and sprawling as a means of slowing the attacker's progress and making it more costly. When taken by an enemy force, their lack of rear-facing ramparts left them totally open to fire from the main works.


Copons and his division were sent to the north to block the road from Barcelona. A British force occupied a fort to the south at Balaguer. Instead of immediately storming the two weak outworks, Murray insisted on establishing breaching batteries. By June 7, Fort Royal lay helpless under the bombardment. Yet, Murray decided to wait until June 11 before mounting an assault on the outwork.

Balaguer Municipality in Catalonia, Spain

Balaguer is the capital of the comarca of Noguera, in the province of Lleida, Catalonia, Spain. It is located by the river Segre, a tributary to the Ebre. The municipality includes an exclave to the east.

When he heard Tarragona was attacked, Suchet and 8,000 men began to march north from Valencia. From Barcelona, General of Division Charles Decaen sent General of Division Maurice Mathieu and 6,000 men southward. Suchet planned for the two columns to rendezvous at Reus, 10 miles inland from Tarragona.

Murray became increasingly anxious about the twin French threats. On June 9 he issued secret orders to withdraw from the siege. On June 11, he rode to Copons and found that Mathieu was approaching. Promising to reinforce Copons with British troops, he hastened back to his siege lines. Hearing fresh rumors that both Suchet and Mathieu were bearing down on him, Murray panicked. He abandoned the planned assault and ordered the stores to be sent back aboard ship. Late that night, Murray ordered that the heavy guns to be withdrawn at once. His chief gunner told him it was impossible to bring off the guns in less than 30 hours.

It was all unnecessary. Suchet heard of a Spanish threat to Valencia and retreated. Mathieu brushed with Copons' outposts, found he was facing a combined army of 23,000 men and fell back northward.

Meanwhile, Murray issued a flurry of often contradictory orders. These only added to the confusion and infuriated Hallowell. By the night of June 12, the entire force was taken on board the ships, leaving the 18 siege guns spiked and many stores left behind. Copons was advised to flee into the mountains. An amazed Bertoletti sent a messenger to Mathieu that the coast was clear.

Soon, Murray decided to land his army at Balaguer, which was accomplished on June 15. He convinced Copons to support the second landing, which the Spanish general loyally did. Mathieu force-marched his troops into Tarragona on the following day. When Murray heard that French soldiers were at hand he immediately ordered that his army be re-embarked, to Hallowell's disgust. Copons was left in the lurch once more. On June 18, the Mediterranean Fleet hove over the horizon. Lord William Bentinck relieved Murray of command and the thwarted expedition sailed back to Alicante.


Aside from the 18 lost siege guns, the Anglo-Allies lost 15 killed, 82 wounded and five missing. French losses were 13 killed and 85 wounded. [1] The Tarragona fiasco did not affect Wellington's 1813 campaign, which ended in a decisive Anglo-Allied victory over King Joseph at the Battle of Vitoria on June 21. In 1814, Murray was court-martialled for his conduct before Tarragona. He was acquitted of all charges except that of abandoning his guns without just cause, for which he was admonished by the court. [4]

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  1. 1 2 3 Smith 1998, p 425
  2. Glover 2001, p 274
  3. Glover 2001, p 271
  4. Glover 2001, p 275

Coordinates: 41°06′56″N1°14′58″E / 41.1156°N 1.2494°E / 41.1156; 1.2494