Suchet at Tarragona

On the sweltering afternoon of Friday, June 28, 1811, French engineers surveyed the 10-meter–wide breach in the wall surrounding Tarragona’s upper town. After two months of sapping siegework and brutal assaults, whilst surrounded by implacable enemies, it now seemed that General Louis Gabriel Suchet and his troops could finally deliver the coup de grace and storm this outpost of such persistent resistance.

The taking of Tarragona, a formidable Spanish fortress and port sited on rocky hills and cliffs and a thorn in the flesh of Napoleon’s armies, was critical to Napoleon’s pacification of Spain. But the stakes were high. Few of Napoleon’s generals could boast of any success in a theatre that had broken career after career. Defeat of the French at a city like this could spell the loss of entire provinces, and would only energize the insurrection that was already sucking blood and treasure from the Napoleonic empire.

Napoleon’s attempt to overrun Portugal and conquer Spain (and simultaneously set his elder brother Joseph on the Spanish throne) had gone badly. The French, faced by nations in arms supported and supplied by British fleets and armies, grimly held on to as much territory as they could as their strength was frittered away in garrisons, escorting convoys, or chasing guerrillas. While achieving success in the field would require stretching scarce resources even further, failure was not considered an option. Napoleon, who did not want to personally risk a return to the quagmire the peninsula had become, berated his unhappy generals and bemoaned their lack of energy and success.

Yet there was hope, in the form of a one-time silk merchant from Lyon, General of Division Louis Gabriel Suchet. Suchet was unusual in that he combined a head for figures and logistics with a genius for military operations, a fortuitous combination that made him ideally suited for independent command. A veteran of twenty years of warfare, Suchet had turned his back on trade and volunteered for the armies of the Revolution, proving himself before Napoleon at Toulon and in the Army of Italy. He had gone on to win fresh laurels at Austerlitz and Jena and, by 1811, he was making his mark in Spain in such a way that Napoleon would later remark that ‘if I had two generals like him to lead my armies in Spain, this war would already be finished’. The desire to build on that good reputation and the promise of new rewards (Napoleon himself had told Suchet that ‘he would find his marshal’s baton within the walls of Tarragona’) spurred the ambitious Suchet on. He was especially keen as the marshalate, that ultimate Napoleonic reward for generalship, had not been bestowed on any general for service in the Iberian peninsula.

General Suchet commander of the Army of Aragon, was a year younger than Napoleon, hard-working and thoroughly practical (to the point of being dour) but with an instinctive ability to command and maintain the respect his subordinates so evidently showed towards him. Strict but fair to his men, he ensured pay, food and discipline worked their charms on his conscripts and disgruntled veterans. To complement these policies, he had been strict with his generals too, holding them to account, organizing the payment and feeding of his troops with a merchant’s eye for detail, and maintaining discipline throughout the ranks despite the unpopularity of this seemingly endless war. Respected because he shared his success, Suchet always gave praise where praise was due (he would refer to his infantry assaulting Tarragona as ‘the best infantry in the world’) and fought for recognition for armies laboring in such a despised theatre.

He had already done much to impose peace on eastern Spain, initially focusing on the province of Aragon. There he had reduced the insurgency (firmly or savagely, depending on one’s point of view; for example he took hostages, punished villages, executed guerrilla commanders and branded their subordinates), tried his utmost to rid the land of bandits and guerrillas, established some law and, significantly from Napoleon’s point of view, set about making the Spanish pay for his war in Spain. Could such methodical success now be tried in Catalonia to the north? If so, almost the entire eastern seaboard of Spain would be securely in French hands.

Napoleon had been impressed. General Suchet had strengthened his grip on Aragon in 1810, and went further by besieging Tortosa that winter. This town was to the north of Aragon in Catalonia, a province which, despite the best endeavors of Marshal Etienne Macdonald and his VII Corps, was still in the throes of anarchic revolt. Convoys were being attacked, columns of troops scattered, counter measures were provoking retaliation and it seemed as though the trouble would spill over the border into France. Tarragona was, to many, the reason why Catalonia still remained bellicose, and the city did indeed play an active part in keeping insurrection alive. It had a substantial Spanish garrison, which marched out to invigorate resistance wherever it could, and, as a port, it received large consignments of British gold, muskets (Britain was to supply 750,000 muskets to Spain in the course of the war) and material aid. The garrison could also be shipped up and down the coast by Great Britain’s Royal Navy. Its capture, and the closure of such avenues of supply, might just isolate Catalonia and bring it to heel.

But Tarragona was a position of Spanish strength. It had an active governor (the Marquis of Campoverde) and an experienced garrison. It had been preparing its defenses for three years and had a good harbor and the garrison that could be fed, supplemented, and supported by sea. Various armies could be quickly summoned to the city’s relief, and insurgents could be directed in sufficient numbers to prove extremely galling to any would-be besieger.

Although General Suchet held firm to the belief that the city must be won if eastern Spain was to be completely secured, he knew he was operating against a background of almost complete French failure in the province. The area around Tarragona had been poor before the war, and was now bankrupt and devastated. There could be no living off the land to furnish the 20,000 rations per day that Suchet’s men might need, and resupply meant running the gauntlet of insurgents and tying troops up in escort duties. General Gouvion Saint-Cyr had tried to blockade Tarragona in early 1809, but had run out of supplies and given up when his own men began to starve. Marshal Augereau failed the same way in 1810. Marshal Macdonald could barely find enough food to maintain his garrison in Barcelona, let alone embark on a protracted operation against Tarragona, some 70 miles distant.

Suchet’s preparations were therefore meticulous. He began with his 14,000–man Army of Aragon. In March 1811, he was granted additional troops,  from VII Corps, most significantly veteran French infantry from the 7th, 16th and 42nd Line infantry regiments, and the 1st Light Regiment, a reliable but unhappy Italian division (they were supposed to be paid by the Kingdom of Italy, but money was in arrears) and some French and Italian cavalry. He also received a small and demoralized Neapolitan division. Between his existing army and these reinforcements, Suchet could spare 19,000 men for his field operations against Tarragona.

General Suchet, buoyed by the growing strength of his force and Napoleon’s confidence, had all his available siege artillery concentrated at Tortosa—located 60 miles to the south of Tarragona—and created a depot for horses and several hospitals. General Joseph Rogniat of the engineers was urged to speed the manufacture of 12,000 picks and shovels, 8,000 gabions (baskets which would contain earth and serve to protect the besiegers) and 100,000 bags of earth. Stores of food were also established to feed the growing army, abundant supplies coming in from pacified Aragon.

Such hasty arrangements were thrown into doubt by the unexpected fall of Figueras to the Spanish on  April 21, 1811. The unhappy Italian garrison, betrayed for money, had been forced into a humiliating surrender and the loss of this important Catalan fortress jeopardized Macdonald’s already precarious hold.

But one French commander’s loss was another’s opportunity. After Campoverde led 8,000 men out of Tarragona to support Figueras, General Suchet, deaf to Macdonald’s pleadings and even though he had not completed his own preparations for the Tarragona campaign, decided to march on Tarragona. An extraordinarily rash decision, it nonetheless prompted Napoleon to exclaim ‘Now that is what a soldier should be!’.

General Suchet’s troops were loaded down with six days’ rations, marched toward Tarragona with convoys of flour and munitions (25,000 roundshot and shells) following on behind. Suchet established his headquarters and depots at Reus on May 2 and prepared to direct the operations of his 19,000 men from there. The French were in sight of Tarragona the following day, the 7th and 16th Line pushing on to the banks of the Francoli river.

Tarragona benefited from a strong natural position. It was on the coast, just above the point where the Francoli river meets the sea. The town boasted a natural harbor, protected by a mole, and, around the port, the commercial lower town had developed. Above this lay the formidable upper town, perched on the cliffs and granite hills above the harbor. Strong walls surrounded the upper town (even dividing it from the lower town) and these were reinforced with carefully sited redoubts. A string of forts ran down to the sea to the north east of the town. The lower town was protected by Fort Royal and numerous bastions designed to protect the harbor. The newly augmented Francoli Fort lay at the south westerly tip of the walls surrounding the lower town and overlooked the mouth of the river of the same name. One outlying defensive position considerably augmented the strength of Tarragona and that was a fort, known as the Olivo, which had been built between 1808 and 1811. It perched 70 meters above sea level on an escarpment some 800 meters north west of the city. It was formidable, surrounded by ditches some seven meters deep and 12 meters wide (crossed at one point by an aqueduct), and it, and its 47 guns, could not be ignored.

Over the next few days Suchet had his Italians threaten the city’s water supply, and then close the road to Barcelona. The bulk of Suchet’s forces crossed the Francoli and were stationed below an outlying fort, called the Olivo, to the north west of the city. General Pierre Habert’s 3rd Division of three regiments completed the encirclement of the place by cutting the road to Madrid that ran over a bridge over the Francoli to the west. British ships, cruising off shore, prevented the French from establishing themselves on the coast. Other French troops assured communications and pursued some insurgents, who had managed to cut the French water supply, and General Jean Nicholas Abbé positioned his brigade in Aragon to monitor activities of the Spanish to the south. Meanwhile, particular efforts were made to prepare field hospitals and organize stretcher bearers, and the troops were made aware of the trouble Suchet was taking in this regard. Such care for his troops was vintage Suchet and had earned him a reputation as a careful;, and caring commander who did not risk his soldier’s lives frivolously. In fact, his sense of astute awareness of what his men needed in order to fight well largely accounted for his success in governing the Spanish province of Aragon.

Now, with their commander again going to such lengths to ensure their welfare, French morale was high as the infantry began taking up position, and the first of the 64 siege guns were wheeled forward and formed into batteries.

The Spanish garrison of 20,000 men, and their British allies, had not sat idly by. Although Campoverde had been defeated on May 3 as he tried to reach Figueras, the British landed numerous raiding parties along the coast in an attempt to further distract the French from their target. They even brought Campoverde and his demoralized army back into Tarragona by sea on May 10. Small bands of regulars under General Don Pedro Sarsfeld (of Irish Jacobite origin) and Baron d’Eroles, supported by many Catalan irregulars, did what they could to menace the French rear. Even so, Suchet, having committed himself to the siege, and having no alternative but to continue if France’s position in eastern Spain was not to suffer, willed his subordinates on and prepared to tighten his hold on the city. And after a thorough survey of the situation he resolved to make first objective the Olivo Fort.

First, though, the French needed to chase the Royal Navy from the coast. At dusk on May 7 engineers began the construction of a battery some 1,200 meters from the Francoli Fort and close by the sea. British ships attempted to delay progress the following day, coming in close and raking the position, but the French had done enough to protect the miners and sappers and, five days later, the redoubt was ready and two 24-pounders were placed to keep the ships at arm’s length. That same day, May 13, Suchet had General Jean Baptiste Salme lead the elite companies from the regiments in his brigade (the 7th and 16th Line), and also those of the 2nd Light and the 4th Italian Line, against the Olivo Fort. A bayonet attack drove the Spanish from some entrenchments before the fort and beat off a gallant Spanish attempt the following day to retake the position. The Spanish did not rest there, launching a much more menacing sortie against the coastal redoubt, aided by British landing parties. This was beaten off, the brusque General Habert rushing to the aid of a defense improvised by the engineers. This was but a precursor to an even larger sortie at dawn on 18 May when some 6,000 infantry began to spill out of the lower town and head for the bridge over the Francoli. The Spanish succeeded in pushing back the 116th Line and the 5th Light until Habert fed in elements of the 117th and stabilized the situation. Suchet then took the Spanish in flank riding alongside the 1st Light as it drove the besieged back inside the city’s defenses.

General Suchet could now focus on the Olivo Fort, the capture of which would strengthen his center and intimidate the Spanish. But the position, perched on top of a rocky escarpment, was extremely difficult to approach. Artillery opened up to suppress the fire of the fort’s garrison as French engineers attempted to get their trenches as close as possible and to establish a forward battery to pound the fort’s walls. While work on such a battery (Suchet judiciously named it after Napoleon’s son, born in March 1811) went ahead, it proved extremely difficult to manhandle the four 24-pounders forward under enemy fire. A Spanish sortie attempted to interrupt the work, but this was turned back by General Salme just before he was hit in the head by a piece of canister and killed.. This tragic setback notwithstanding, two columns of troops prepared to assault the position that night.

Diversionary attacks all along the front began at dusk on May 29. Two assault columns (one composed of men of the 7th Line led by Italian sappers, the other of the 16th Line) were launched against the fort as soon as it was dark. By a stroke of good fortune, and of Spanish confusion, the 16th Line became mixed up with a Spanish reinforcement trying to get into the position. The Spanish managed to close the gate, some French voltigeurs mingled amongst them, and French sappers set about trying to smash their way in while some grenadiers brought ladders forwards and sought to gain the ramparts. The 7th Line had also attempted to set ladders against that part of the wall battered by the siege guns but the ladders had proved too short and the French, suffering heavily from fire by the America Regiment, desperately sought an alternative. They managed to clamber up over some rubble at the point where the aqueduct entered the fort, smash down improvised Spanish defenses with the sappers’ axes and fight their way over a battered redoubt. There, reinforced by 500 Italian grenadiers, Suchet’s men began to eliminate resistance. In a night of fierce fighting, most of the Spanish gunners died defending their pieces and French casualties were also heavy (325 killed or wounded); only some 900 prisoners were marched away. The place was then flooded with French engineers who made it defensible and prepared to turn its guns against Tarragona. Suchet, much regretting the loss of the impetuous Salme, had the position renamed Fort Salme in his honour.

A four-hour truce was offered to the besieged so they could bury their dead, but it was rejected. The Spanish corpses—a health hazard in the heat—were thrown into the ditches and burnt. A Spanish sortie failed to retake the fort the next day. Suchet’s attempts to negotiate with the besieged were all turned down, a disappointment which did not dent Suchet’s determination but one which did point towards a bloody conclusion. The taking of the fort, and French success in positioning guns to drive Royal Navy ships from the harbor, still had little impact on the Spaniards’ will to resist the French. The wounded were evacuated to Menorca, and fresh troops and supplies were brought in, being ferried in on ships’ boats as warships and transports increasingly stood out to sea. Campoverde himself took a small detachment and was transported off on May 31 by the Royal Navy so that he could link up with the Catalans and organize relief. He now left General Contreras, a most determined individual, in charge of a garrison which even now numbered 14,000 men.

The energetic General Sarsfield soon joined them, leaving Baron d’Eroles to sow confusion in the French rear. Contreras had only to play for time. He had been assured of relief, he was well supplied, and the French still had weeks of work before they could mount an assault that might stand any chance of success. Meanwhile, bands of Catalan insurgents sniped and ambushed all along the French rear and began menacing convoys and magazines. The siege work itself was painfully slow, supplies to the French haphazard, and not all the heavy artillery had arrived. The ground was rocky and unsuited for the digging of trenches and, consequently, some 2,000 infantry spent their days filling gabions with earth. Others made use of Suchet’s offer of a reward for retrieving enemy Spanish roundshot (the 5th Light made 400 francs, and gallantly used the money to ease the plight of their wounded), something that raised morale and kept troops occupied during the monotony of a siege.

French engineers were concentrating on the segment of wall around the Francoli Fort. A breach in the upper town followed by a successful assault would have spelt an end to all resistance. An assault into the lower town still meant that the upper town could be sealed off and could continue to resist. But the very geography of Tarragona’s position meant that the only realistic chance the French had lay in first breaching a part of the wall around the southern tip of the lower town. Now that the Royal Navy was being kept at bay, work directed to this end commenced in earnest.

The French had built a lengthy redoubt from their battery by the beach to the bridge over the Francoli and, with the capture of the Olivo Fort, 2,000 laborers could more safely push on with digging those trenches now inexorably zig-zagging their way towards the Spanish positions. By June 7, 25 guns had been moved close enough to open up on the Francoli. The small Spanish garrison, composed of the Almanza regiment, was nearly annihilated, and the fort was reluctantly abandoned. French scouts reported back at 10 o’clock that evening that the place had been evacuated, and the French moved in, taking two 12-pounders. They attempted to push farther, but were savagely beaten back that night by newly-reinforced defenders that lined the traverses that stretched from the Saint Carlos bastion to the sea and by those in the Prince’s lunette. General Sarsfield had been wounded, and the Spanish had suffered heavily, but their line held. The French, however, had gained a foothold in Tarragona and set about exploiting it.

Guns were rushed up to drive the shipping still further off (although ships could still moor on the far side of the mole) and subdue Spanish batteries on the mole. The Spanish launched sortie after sortie, delaying the French and causing heavy casualties. Short nights and hot days did not help. Meanwhile, British ships raked the French, and Tarragona’s artillery caused heavy losses to the infantry and to Suchet’s gunners. An artillery lieutenant even managed to get two light guns forward and decimate some French sappers with canister. It was provocative and showed determination; it was little wonder that French attempts to negotiate a surrender were ignored.

Meanwhile, and of deepening concern to Suchet, the Spanish field armies were now gathering in numbers to attempt the relief of Tarragona. Campoverde, operating with some 6,000 Valencians under Miranda, could start field operations in earnest. Macdonald was in no position to help Suchet, and the situation would soon be critical.

But fate did play its part: On the night of the 16th, the French succeeded in getting into the Prince’s lunette, widening their foothold and capturing the colonel in command. With time in short supply, more troops were needed and Suchet took the risk of calling in General Abbé. Such an augmentation meant there were fresh troops for the projected assault into the lower town, but that the Spanish forces circling around Tarragona had greater freedom of movement as Abbé had been instrumental in pursuing and breaking bands of insurgents biting at Suchet’s heels . It was a terrible gamble.

Batteries were formed to batter the walls around the Saint Carlos bastion but it took a while to get them ready and they only became effective on 21 June. A breach was deemed practicable on the evening of June 21and another began in the wall by the Royal Fort.  As dusk fell, Suchet had 1,500 men prepared for the assault. A column of elite companies from the 116th, 117th and 120th Line darted forward on the left and although the voltigeurs were initially turned back, companies of grenadiers arrived in support and swarmed into the main breach, the Spanish failing to trigger the mines that had been prepared to destroy the attackers. The French managed to reach the walls of the Royal Fort and, at the same time, a column of men from the 1st and 5th Light, and the 42nd Line, arrived at the breach of the Saint Carlos bastion, forcing their way in and pushing into the nearest houses of the lower town. A few hundred Frenchmen darted along the beach in support and reserves were sent against the mole and the harbor. Some 300 men of the 1st Light were sent in support of the men beneath the walls of the Royal Fort and began to clamber up the walls. The Spanish took fright and melted away; their commander, Sarsfield, did what he could to rally his troops and fall back in order as more Spaniards came up in support to prevent the French from beating down the gate into the upper town. By 8 o’clock that evening, however, the lower town was in French hands. The Royal Navy squadron (consisting of the 74-gun Blake, Invincible and Centaur and a number of transports and gunboats) began to make off, almost symbolically raking the French with powerful broadsides as the ships passed out to sea. Fires in the warehouses and houses along the quays added to the melodrama. Few prisoners were taken that night, Suchet reporting that some ‘160, including a few officers, were miraculously saved from the fury of the soldiery, each assault was now infuriating our men beyond measure’.

Suchet, accompanied by the engineer Rogniat, entered the lower town that night and minutely surveyed the Spanish defenses on the morning of June 22. The French had achieved substantial progress, even so, Contreras would not surrender and Suchet noted that he would now be forced to ‘set a terrible example, and have Catalonia and Spain bear witness to the destruction of an entire town’.

Success had, however, sucked Suchet’s men inside the walls just as they were perhaps needed outside. For, in the hills surrounding the city, Campoverde, augmented with additional Catalan irregulars, had at last started to move and had begun to interrupt supplies to the besiegers. Suchet pushed on, securing the lower town and directing his guns at a stretch of wall between the Saint Juan and the Saint Paul bastions protecting the upper town. Sappers began parallels towards the walls, braving the insults of the Spanish garrison and a rain of shot and shell. Progress was at last interrupted by Campoverde’s 10,000 men. Suchet, having postponed intervention, could no longer tolerate being surrounded by an enemy on three sides, and assembled a small field force for use against the Spanish army. He sent his cavalry forward, driving some Spanish outposts in, and marched his infantry in quick pursuit. The Spanish, having failed to surprise Suchet, fell back hastily for reinforcements and Suchet left his cavalry to monitor activity and marched back down to Tarragona. Events were relayed to the governor in Tarragona by lookouts on top of the Royal Navy ships. The Royal Navy took on a more direct role when a force of 1,100 men under Colonel John Byne Skerret put in a brief appearance off the coast. Although Skerret and his staff landed, and toured the ramparts, he did not order his men to disembark from their transports, perhaps intimidated by French control of the mole and the harbor, but, instead, prepared to assist Campoverde and urged him to attack.

Suchet was in the forward trenches when he heard that English officers were inspecting the town and urged his gunners and engineers to make the supreme effort noting that ‘every hour and every day rendered it more and more necessary that we should conquer’. The gunners were now concentrating on opening two breaches in the upper town’s walls using 14 24-pounders. The Spanish fought back, their artillerymen maintaining a heavy fire despite the concentrated French barrage. Suchet was concerned but, in reality, resistance within the upper town was seriously compromised by the weakness of the walls and by delays in getting relief forward. Contreras held a council of war on the evening of 25 June, and made it clear that the city could not hold unless relief arrived in the next few days. A decision was made to attempt to turn the houses running behind the walls into fortified positions, and that the road (the Rambla) running from the Saint Juan gate to the cathedral should be barricaded and houses along it loopholed and prepared for defense. Steps into houses were demolished, barrels of earth positioned across the streets. The Almanza regiment was stationed within the houses, the defense of the main breach was entrusted to the Almeria regiment, the 2nd Savoy Regiment and two battalions of grenadiers. These, well fortified with wine and brandy, were armed with muskets and halberds and Contreras left their ears ringing with a desperate harangue (‘charge the French with such ferocity when first you see them, that they dare not appear a second time’), urging them to charge with their bayonets. Contreras drew up some reserves by the Rosario Gate (perhaps hoping to break out if the worst came to the worst) and waited.

For the French were coming. Suchet, having surveyed the main breach, brought the time for the assault forward to the late afternoon of 28 June, a move greeted with tremendous enthusiasm by the impatient infantry. This breach by the Saint Paul bastion was practicable and steadily widened under an intense bombardment all along the line. Some 300 sharpshooters picked off those Spanish hardy enough to attempt to repair the gap. The battle of the breach commenced.

Suchet was once again in the trenches, reviewing those picked for the assault and walking and talking among the ranks. Three columns were directed at the breach, supported by a reserve of 1,200 men, and additional troops watched the Rosario Gate. The first column to dash forward was hit by canister and wavered; it reached the breach but could not force its way through; decimated by musketry it attempted to go to ground around the breach. Supports rushed forward with bands playing and flags flying, they ran up and over the breach, charging in among the Spanish and driving them furiously back. The right-hand column now clambered up onto the ramparts to outflank the Spanish defenses, while other attackers did the same on the left and prepared to open the Rosario Gate. Around the breach more and more Frenchmen forced their way forward, pushing the Spaniards against their own barricades. The French poured in, Suchet entered the town through the breach and set about directing the final and decisive phase. Now no reserves rushed forward to help the defenders, instead panic gripped the Spanish and they turned to flight. Small bands maintained some resistance in narrow streets, some officers kept their men together, by force of personality or through use of their swords, but most of the besieged turned and fled, hoping to get away and up the coast.

Captain Edward Codrington and his crew, aboard the Blake off Tarragona, watched with despair as the Spanish ‘without the walls, stripped and endeavored to swim off to the shipping, while those within were seen sliding down the face of the batteries; each party thus equally endangering their lives more than they would have done by a firm resistance to the enemy’. The ships were soon to be swamped by refugees (ships’ boats were sent in as close to the shore as possible) while bands of desperate Spaniards tried to flee northwards. Spilling out of the Saint Antonio Gate, many of these were intercepted by Suchet’s Italian division, and many others were overrun and sabred by over-eager dragoons. Little quarter was shown to the Spanish soldiery, Suchet’s ‘terrible example’ now began to play itself out in the streets and alleyways of the city.

Night began to fall as the city was put to the sack. Although many civilians had been evacuated, a good number were now robbed and killed (some 5,000 corpses were to be found in the city, and some 736 houses were badly damaged or destroyed). There was no quarter for those first few hours, although later many inhabitants were spared ‘by the generosity of French officers’ with the less trusting seeking sanctuary in the cathedral. This was also stormed, the French hungry for silver, and infantry overran the place and seized 900 wounded within. Contreras, trying to rally some of his men at the Saint Maxin Gate, was wounded in the stomach by a bayonet thrust, his life spared by a French engineer, and brought before Suchet who, whilst having him treated, blamed him for being the cause of such bloodshed but honored him for being ‘a man of spirit’ and sent him to convalesce at Saragossa. The Spanish general would spend a year in France before escaping and writing a passionate defense of his conduct. The French also marched some 11,800 prisoners away into captivity, taking even more the following week when they seized Villanova. Some 322 undamaged cannon (these had fired 120,000 rounds during the siege) also fell into their hands.

The French preferred counting their spoils to counting their casualties. They had lost 1,218 killed and 3,078 wounded (394 of whom later died, and 900 of whom were mutilated and unable to resume service). Of these some 600 had been from the Italian contingent, the rest were French or Poles.

Even so, it had been a remarkable achievement. General Suchet had kept guerrillas at bay, warded off field armies, almost been besieged himself as he lay siege for two months and stormed a town liberally resupplied and energetically defended. He did not, however, rest upon his laurels. He sent dispatches to Paris (symbolically including the keys of the city to lay ‘at his majesty’s feet’), had the civilian population begin work on filling in trenches and led local dignitaries through the ruins to show them the dire consequences of war and resistance. He then issued orders for the lower town’s fortifications to be dismantled. He would leave a garrison in the upper town (which resisted an Anglo-Spanish siege in 1813, only to be finally evacuated that August) and march against Campoverde. He succeeded in scattering that general’s forces and closing Catalonia’s ports to his enemies so that pacification could begin inland. This was successful enough to allow the formal absorption of Catalonia, albeit briefly, into the French empire in January 1812.

Less than a month after taking and sacking Tarragona, on July 20, 1811, General Suchet was back at Reus and there, waiting for him, was an imperial orderly. He bore a decree naming Suchet Marshal of the Empire, a reward for one of the most difficult, most complex operations carried out by the French in Spain. Suchet, the only peninsular general to be promoted to the marshalate for service in Spain, had found his baton and made his reputation in the ruins of Tarragona.