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Memoirs of the War in Spain

Memoirs of the War in Spain

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Memoirs of the War in Spain

208 pagine
3 ore
Sep 5, 2011


Napoleon’s eagles had triumphed over every adversary faced until his fateful decision to depose the Bourbons from the throne of Spain. He started a war that was to prove fatal to his ambitions, a war with the religious people who knew only the war of the knife. The Spaniards were unsuccessful in prosecuting a war on regular military lines, being crushed in a number of pitched battles against the French forces, but they started a campaign of guerilla warfare that was to make the French gains limited to the ground they stood on. Messengers would be attacked, stragglers murdered, provisions delayed, convoys waylaid. This form of warfare seemed alien to the French and, with the exception of Marshal Suchet in Catalonia, they could find no proper way of subduing the Spanish people.
Michel de Rocca was a young hussar officer in 1808 and arriving early in the Peninsular War. He writes of the constant draining warfare: the need to be constantly on guard, the suspicious actions of the villagers, and the ambushes. Rocca appears to hold a grudge against the attitude of the Spanish, believing the war there to be rather inglorious and unjust; this was not the general feeling in the ranks of the French army, and was probably due to his Swiss ancestry and his association and later marriage to Madame de Staël (a staunch opponent of Napoleon). However, the brutal reprisals of the insurgents and the constant alertness wear him down as time goes on, and he is not unhappy to be removed from the war due to injuries sustained in an ambush.
Author – Albert Jean Michel de Rocca (1788-1818)
Sep 5, 2011

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Memoirs of the War in Spain - Albert Jean Michel de Rocca



IT is unnecessary to say that Rocca's name is already known as a narrator of events that happened during the Peninsular war. The present is the fifth edition of his Memoirs—two editions in French and two in English having already been given to the world. The work has been admired in the original; and, in the only Arose in which it has yet been presented to the English reader, it has not been undervalued. As a faithful relation of proceedings in which the writer had but too intimate an interest—as a picture of the joy and grief of war in which the limner moved and suffered—as a story of romance, where all that is told is true:—it deserves, and has obtained, a favourable reception. It is not merely as a memorial of a conqueror's progress, or as a fragment of history, declaring how a nation will sometimes be rekindled amid its ashes, and, like a taper's expiring flame, emit a blaze of dazzling glory before it is everlastingly extinguished—it is not only as an account of the French war in Spain that Rocca's pages are valuable;—but the freshness and fidelity of personal observation which they exhibit, give them a peculiar excellence—like the fruit which tastes sweeter the fewer hands touch it till it is eaten—or the flower that distils a richer perfume the less it is fingered before its fragrance is inhaled.

Rocca was a Frenchman, and, of course, it is the French account of battles gained and lost that the reader will peruse. But both sides of a question often throw a wonderful degree of light upon a subject; and none that have been interested and delighted with a friendly relation of events, will think it labour lost to peruse a foeman's narrative. The storm is now hushed—the rage of strife is passed—the name and antipathies of enemies have gone into oblivion:—and while, as Englishmen and Frenchmen, we now sojourn together, like fellow-pilgrims, along the lapse of time, we may well mutually listen to each other's tale of wonders. It is reckoned an evidence of Scripture authenticity, that the faults of those characters held up to our esteem are delineated as faithfully as their excellences. These Memoirs vouch their own truth, by the unsparing censures passed therein on French men and French measures that merit reprobation.

They are otherwise entitled to regard, from the manly candour, which makes a hostile hand record, to the glory of Britain, the heroic prowess of her sons. They are praiseworthy for the encomiums they bestow on the enthusiasm of that nation, which, like the giant with whom Hercules combated, no sooner fell prostrate than it again rose in renovated strength. That nation has since lowered its dignity, and fallen low enough; but hope would make us write RESURGAM, in emblazoned letters, on the dark page of Spanish history, when we think of the "olim quod meminisse juvabit."

The grand moral lesson these Memoirs convey, is—that, in the most infelicitous circumstances, no nation need despair. Spain endured incalculable miseries, when she could not withstand, yet would not tolerate, the overpowering might of foreign aggression. It was not the soldier or the ruler who was the only sufferer in the memorable Peninsular war. No class was exempted from its portion of calamity; and tender women, harmless nuns, revered ecclesiastics, and even the youngest and the oldest of all ranks, had reason to bewail their sorrows. But the vortex which ingulfed the nation's peace and happiness, drew down along with them the conqueror's wreath of glory. It was in Spain the French first experienced that they were not invincible; and the first decline of their fortunes may be dated from losses sustained in the Peninsula.

The present Edition has been faithfully translated, and expressly prepared for the Memorials which it accompanies, and which form an unpretending historical series of splendid achievements, each as the world has seen rarely paralleled. They afford the British people an opportunity of drawing their own inferences, and of judging from data therein supplied, how little, or how much, they have reason to contemn all that man can do against them. If they be wise, brave, and faithful, as hitherto, they will be great as in past times, though the whole world be their foes.

Rocca's narrative having been reckoned valuable accompaniment to the other Memorials, it was felt advisable to present it to the Public in a more recommendatory manner than that in which it has hitherto appeared. The former translation seers to have been hurriedly executed, and many instances of inattention might be noticed. A quantity of superfluous matter, which Rocca never wrote, has been added to give the volume a fit octave bulk. The style is often most untastefully literal, and sometimes it has quite an opposite character. An army begins to march when it ought to bivouack. A gallant officer lies nearly two years in bed, when it was against his inclination that he lay so many hours. A certain corps tries to raise a siege when it wishes to take the place. Names, numbers, and dates, are sometimes incorrect. A Spanish army loses, by such misfortunes, five thousand of its amount, and the French are minus eight thousand prisoners.

For the sake of convenience, the work is now divided into chapters, and a table of contents has been added. The voluminous notes contained in the French edition have been omitted, because they are nearly all drawn from English materials, and are already well known. It would have been desirable to have added some further account of the brave man who penned these Memoirs. But all that we can now say of him is, that he was one of the many thousands who fought and bled for the glory of Napoleon—a name which made Europe tremble, and may for ever make her wonder.





Comparison between the Military state of the Germans and Spaniards—Ease of retaining conquests among the former—Difficulty among the latter — Departure from Germany—Journey through France —Arrival in Spain—Position of the Forces in the Peninsula

THE year after the close of that campaign which terminated with the battle of Friedland and the peace of Tilsit, the 2d regiment of hussars, formerly named Chamboran, in which I had the honour to serve, received orders to leave Prussia, and march for Spain. I had thus an opportunity afforded me of comparing two very different kinds of: military service—the war of regular troops, who seldom concern themselves about the matter of dispute, and the resistance of a nation, fighting for existence against a disciplined conquering force.

We were leaving the sandy plains of the north of Germany. We had been engaged with a people almost universally subject to military despotism. The several princes of the Germanic empire, for more than a century, had turned all their attention to the perfection of the military system, in order to establish their authority, and promote their personal ambition. But, in training their vassals to a punctual and minute obedience, they had enervated the national character—the only rampart against foreign invasion, the only invincible bulwark of a nation's strength.

When a province of Germany was conquered by the French, and could no longer obey its sovereign's commands, the lower classes, strangers to freedom of choice, dared not move a step without the impulse of their lords or their governments. These governments became, by conquest, subject to their conqueror's influence; and their lords, accustomed to witness the constant vexations which the people experienced from the soldiery, resigned themselves the more tamely to the evils which war introduces.

In Prussia, the clergy held little ascendency over the people. Among Protestants, the Reformation had destroyed that dominion which the priests still maintain in some Catholic countries, and above all in Spain. Men of letters, who might have influenced public opinion, and made their genius subservient to the prosperity of their country, were rarely called on to intermeddle with public affairs. The sole aim of their ambition was literary renown; and they did not apply themselves to those pursuits and studies which were adapted to the circumstances of the times. The real authority of many of the States in Germany was hinged upon their military systems; and their political existence necessarily depended on the energy or imbecility of their governments.

In the plains of Germany, the nature of the country did not afford such facilities of escape from the yoke of the conquerors, as in other countries of a more barren, marshy, or mountainous nature. Small bodies of troops were sufficient to hold a great extent of conquered country in subjection, and to ensure our armies of their necessary supplies. The citizens could have found no secure places of retreat, had they been disposed to any partial revolts; besides, the Germans being habituated to a quiet and uniform life, are only stimulated to desperate exertions by the complete derangement of their habits.

The war in Germany was wholly carried on between troops of the line, among whom there exists rather rivalry than hatred. From the inhabitants of the conquered countries we had nothing to fear. The success of a campaign depended on the unity of military operations, the ability and perseverance of the chiefs, their sagacity to foresee and anticipate, and in bringing forward, opportunely and promptly, to decisive points of attack, overpowering masses of troops. We were not exposed to those petty skirmishes, which, in regular warfare, only increase particular suffering, without contributing to general advantage; and the capacity of generals was never defeated by individual interference, or popular spontaneous movements.

In Germany we had only to conquer governments and armies:  in the Spanish Peninsula, where we were now carrying our arms, there no longer existed either the one or the other. The Emperor Napoleon had invaded Portugal and Spain—had put to flight or taken captive the sovereigns of these two countries—and had dispersed their military forces. We had nut now to contend with regular troops, every where nearly alike, but with a people who, in their manners, their prejudices, and the very nature of their country, were isolated from every other nation on the Continent. The Spaniards had to oppose to us a resistance the more determined, that they believed the French Government designed to make the Peninsula but a secondary state, subject unalterably to the dominion of France.

Spain, ' in point of knowledge, and skill in social arts, was more than a century in the rear of all other States on the Continent. Its remote and nearly insular situation, and the rigour of its ecclesiastical establishments, had deterred the Spaniards from interfering in those disputes and controversies of the sixteenth century, which had agitated and enlightened Europe. They concerned themselves as little with the philosophical spirit of the eighteenth, to which the French Revolution may in part be ascribed.

However, though the Spaniards were thus sunk in indolence, and though that confusion and corruption which inevitably follow a long despotism were manifest in their administration, still their national character remained unimpaired. Their government, arbitrary as it was, in no respect resembled the absolute military power of Germany; where the eternal prostration of each and all to one was so admirably calculated to paralyze the energies of individual character.

It is tree, indeed, that Ferdinand the Catholic, Charles V. and Philip II., had usurped nearly all the privileges of the Grandees and Cortes, and prostrated the liberty of Spain. But, in spite of the despotism of the sovereigns their successors, the imbecility of government could not wrest from the people a liberty of action, which often rose to insubordination itself.

In the annals of German monarchies, we read only of princes and armies. In Spain, since the time that Ferdinand the Catholic reunited the different kingdoms into one government, there has scarcely a reign passed without the people proving their being and their power in prescribing terms to their masters, or deposing some of the ministers ' or favourites. When the inhabitants of Madrid rose in insurrection, to demand from Charles III., father of Charles IV., the dismissal of his minister Squilaci, the king himself was constrained to appear and appease the people, and to strengthen his influence with the company of a monk holding a crucifix in his band. The court, which had fled to Aranjuez, then endeavoured to march the Walloon guards against Madrid; but the people, killing several, raised the universal shoutSi entraran los Vallones, no reyneran los Borbones. If the Walloons enter, the Bourbons shall not reign. The guards did not enter. Squilaci was dismissed, and order was restored. In Berlin and Prussia, the inhabitants honoured the soldiers of their king in their military capacity, as the soldiers honoured their commanders. In Madrid, the sentinels on duty, in executing their sovereign's orders, gave way to a common citizen.

The revenues of the crown being very limited, few troops could be maintained. With the exception of some privileged companies, the regiments of the line were incomplete, ill paid, and ill disciplined. Ecclesiastics were the only powerful efficient militia of Spanish kings. They restrained and dispersed the riots of the populace by the artillery of words from their altars; and by the standards of pontifical ornaments and relics.

The lofty and steril mountains which run throughout and around Spain, were inhabited by a warlike, indomitable people, always armed to carry on their contraband traffic, and trained to repulse the regular troops of their nation, often sent in pursuit of them.

The people of Spain were almost wholly go versed by the clergy. Their priests were inimical to the French, not less from patriotism than from interest. They knew well that it was intended to deprive them of their privileges, and to spoil them of their patrimony and their patronage. Their opinion involved that of the community at large. Every Spaniard regarded the public grievance as his personal quarrel. In fine, we had about as many foes to fight, as the Peninsula could number inhabitants.

Other obstacles existed to deprive us of the same facilities of retaining our conquests and securing our communications and supplies, as we possessed in the north of Germany. The mildness of their climate throughout the year was such as to permit living in the open air, and of abandoning their houses, therefore, without any hardship or regret; their mountains afforded them inaccessible retreats; and the sea every where presented opportunities of escape. Besides, the numerous and terrible navy of England gave our enemy the means of increasing their strength, whether for transporting them speedily to our vulnerable points, or of giving wings to their flight, and supplying them with a refuge from the pursuit of our victorious troops.

When we broke up our cantonments in Prussia for the purpose of going to Spain, we believed we were marching on an easy expedition, which would be of short duration. Conquerors in Germany, we never once imagined that any thing could resist us. We never reflected on the unforeseen difficulties which the nature of the country so new to us, and the character of the inhabitants, might present.

Our soldiers never inquired whither they were going. If there were provisions to be had in the country they must visit, it was the only point of view in which they regarded the geography of the earth. Their world had but two divisions—the blessed zone where the vine grows, and the miserable region where it is unknown. Being told, at the commencement of each campaign, that they were called on to strike the last blow at the tottering power of the English, they confounded that power, under every form, with England itself. They judged of their distance from it, by the number of marches they had made. For years, from one end of the world to the other, they had been seeking this remote and visionary country, which still receded as they followed. At length, said they, if the desert divided us from it in Egypt, and the sea at Boulogne, we shall soon reach it by land in crossing Spain.

The Elbe and the Weser being passed, we reached the left bank of the Rhine and France. When we quitted Prussia, in September 1808, the likelihood of a war with Austria had been talked

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