Second Battle of Boulou

The Second Battle of Boulou (29 April to 1 May 1794) was a battle in the War of the Pyrenees, part of the French Revolutionary Wars. This battle saw the French Army of the eastern Pyrenees led by Jacques François Dugommier attacking the joint Spanish-Portuguese Army of Catalonia under Luis Firmin de Carvajal, Conde de la Union. Dugommier's decisive victory resulted in the French regaining nearly all the land they lost to the Kingdom of Spain in 1793. Le Boulou is on the modern A9 highway, 20 kilometres (12 mi) south of the department capital at Perpignan and 7 kilometres (4 mi) north of Le Perthus on the France-Spain border.

The spring of 1794 found the Spanish army holding a slice of French territory south of the Tech River and north of the Pyrenees. The Spanish right wing on the Mediterranean coast was separated from the center and left wing by a mountainous gap. First, Dugommier mounted a successful feint with his right wing that drew Spanish troops away from the center. Then he launched powerful French forces into the gap. These forces circled behind the Spanish center and forced their adversaries to retreat across a difficult mountain pass. The Spanish suffered heavy losses of troops and abandoned their wagon trains and all their artillery.

Background

1793

The year 1793 was a difficult time for the poorly trained French forces defending Rousillon against the Spanish army of Captain General Antonio Ricardos. The Siege of Bellegarde concluded in June with the French surrender of the Fort de Bellegarde, which dominated the key Pass of Le Perthus through the Pyrenees. However, Ricardos was repelled in the Battle of Perpignan on 17 July. The French army revived again under General of Division Eustache Charles d'Aoust to deal their enemies a sharp reverse at the Battle of Peyrestortes on 17 September. Five days later, Ricardos defeated the French at the Battle of Truillas.[1]

Subsequently, the Spanish general fell back to the valley of the Tech River where he repulsed a series of French attempts to drive him back into Spain. D'Aoust tried and failed to oust the Spanish from Le Boulou on 3 October.[1] In the Battle of the Tech (or Pla del Rey) from 13 to 15 October, Ricardos bloodily repulsed the attacks of General of Division Louis Marie Turreau.[2] D'Aoust was defeated again in his 7 December attack on Villelongue-dels-Monts.[3] The Spanish seized Fort Saint-Elme through the treason of its commander[4] and captured the port of Collioure on 20 December, wiping out 4,000 of its garrison of 5,000 men.[5] Soon afterward, D'Aoust was arrested and eventually executed.[6]

New commanders

War of the Pyrenees, Eastern Pyrenees

Fresh from his victory at the Siege of Toulon, General of Division Jacques François Dugommier arrived to lead the army on 16 January 1794. He began a complete reorganization of the army, setting up supply depots, hospitals, and arsenals, and also improving roads. After getting reinforcements from the Toulon army, Dugommier's field army numbered 28,000. These troops were supported by 20,000 garrison troops and 9,000 green volunteers. He formed his field army into three infantry divisions under Generals of Division Dominique Catherine de Pérignon, Pierre Augereau, and Pierre François Sauret. There was a 2,500-strong cavalry division led by General of Division André de la Barre and a reserve headed by General of Brigade Claude Perrin Victor.[7]

A report from 30 April 1794 listed Sauret's Left Division as having a strength of 7,362 infantry and 100 cavalry and Victor's brigade having 2,669 infantry. Auguereau's Right Division consisted of 2,039 infantry and 80 cavalry commanded by General of Brigade Guillaume Mirabel, 4,127 infantry led by General of Brigade Jean Joseph Guieu and a 235-man detachment under Jacques Laurent Gilly. Pérignon directed brigades under Generals of Brigade Dominique Martin, Théodore Chabert, François Point, Louis Lemoine and Hyacinthe François Joseph Despinoy, a detachment led by General of Brigade François Jean Baptiste Quesnel, the Detachment of the Left, la Barre's mixed brigade and an artillery reserve of 150 gunners. Martin led 3,091 infantry, Chabert 2,648, Point 2,774, Lemoine 3,257, Despinoy 1,074 and Quesnel 550. La Barre commanded 1,357 infantry and 1,907 cavalry while the Detachment of the Left (no commander given) numbered 1,994 foot soldiers.[8]

During the winter, Ricardos travelled to Madrid to discuss the campaign. He died there on 13 March 1794, allegedly after having drunk a cup of poisoned chocolate intended for the king's favorite Manuel Godoy.[9] It is more probable that Ricardos died of pneumonia.[10] Ricardos' designated successor, Captain General Alejandro O'Reilly died on 23 March of an intestinal illness before he could reach the front. In the interim, Lieutenant General Jerónimo Girón-Moctezuma, Marquis de las Amarilas assumed leadership over the Army of Catalonia. But in late April, Lieutenant General Luis Firmin de Carvajal, Conde de la Union finally accepted command of the army.[9] Dejected by the weakened state of the army, de la Union had refused army command three times, saying what was needed was an angel and not a man.[11]

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