[Albert Jean Michel] 1788-1818 Rocca.

War of the French in Spain, during the reign of the Emperor Napoleon online

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Eastern District of Pennsylvania, to wit :

^;«!i***« BE IT REMEMBERED, that on the eighteenth day of July, in the
*SeAL. || forty-fifth year of the Independence of the United States of America,
Si'iji^^**; A. D. 1820, Thomas Dobson & Son, of the said District, have de-
posited in this office, the title of a Book, the right whereof they claim as pro-
prietors, in the words following, to wit :

" Memoirs on the War of the French in Spain. By M. De Rocca, Officer
' of Hussars and Knight of the Order of the Legion of Honour. Translated
" from the second Paris edition.

In conformity to the Act of the Congress of the United States, entitled, "An
Act for the encouragement of Learning, by securing the Copies of Maps,
Charts, and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of such Copies, during the
times therein mentioned." And also to the Act, entitled. " An Act supplemen-
tary to an Act, entitled, ' an Act for the encouragement of Learning, by secur-
ing the Copies of Maps, Charts and Books, to the Authors and Proprietors of
such Copies during the times therein mentioned,'' and extending the benefits
thereof to the Arts of designing, engraving, and etching historical and other


Clerk of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.


The following narrative gives a lively description
of the mode of warfare by which the Spaniards suc-
cessfully resisted the usurpation of the throne of
their hereditary sovereign, and baiRed by individual
energy the victorious armies of their invaders. It is
evidently the production of a gentleman more con-
versant with the sword than with the pen; but not-
withstanding frequent repetitions and inaccuracies,
the result in part probably of negligence, it contains
an interesting picture of national manners and many
traits of acute observation.

The translator has rarely altered the turn of his
author's expressions; not solely because it was doubt-
ful if this might be done with advantage to the text,
but from the persuasion that versions from one Ian-
gage into another ought to be executed with as close
an adherence to the phraseology of the original, as
the idioms of the two will permit.

These memoirs, as M. de Rocca informs us in a
short advertisement, were in the press in England
before the capitulation of Paris in 1814, and the con-


sequent restoration of the Bourbons. We know not
the causes which induced the author to leave his
native country; his work however would assuredly
have exposed him to some inconvenience there be-
fore the downfal of Napoleon. But, whether he wrote
under the influence of personal feeling, or merely of
sympathy with an unfortunate nation, whose suffer-
ings he had witnessed, there appears none of that
acrimony against the individual whose ambition
caused those sufferings, which too frequently marks
the recent records of that extraordinary man's achiev-

On the subject of another prominent character,
M. de Rocca is more severe; yet he is not singular
in his opinions and animadversions, and his censures
are mild in comparison with those of much more
influential agents of the Bonaparte power. The
French troops in Spain ascribed their want of suc-
cess in a great measure to the mistaken views and
imprudent administration of the chief whom they
were endeavouring to establish on the throne of that
monarchy. The virtues and qualities which in pri-
vate life render this personage respectable and amia-
ble, formed perhaps the most material obstacles to
bis political aggrandizement.

The occasional traits of vanity which present them-
selves in these memoirs will be readily excused in
a young soldier; if a little overstepping of modesty
be ever pardonable, it is iti a yo ! who before the
age when others write man, has already paid the

debt he owes to his country, by shedding his blood
under her banners.

The maxims and cautions dispersed throughout
the work are valuable to the inexperienced soldier,
as the result of practice in different descriptions of
ground and under various circumstances; for there
is perhaps no instruction in the science of war more
impressive, than that which is conveyed through an
entertaining and authentic recital of military adven-

M. de Rocca has subjoined to the narrative of
the events in which he bore himself a humble part,
a history of the campaign of 1810 and 1811 in Por-
tugal; of this it has been justly said that it is " very-
brief and perspicuous." The notes which are an-
nexed to the original consist principally of official
documents laid btrfore the British Parliament; these
are to be found in the periodical publications of
the time, and are therefore omitted in this volume;
reference however is made to their dates, in order
that the curious reader may be enabled to consult

The following pages were ready for the press be-
fore the American translator was aware that there
already existed a version, published some time ago
iji England. He has never heard, however, of its
having found its way to this country, and has no
means of judging of its merit but by a few extracts
in the Edinburgh Review, No. 49. The praise
which the Scottish critics bestow on M, de Rocca's


work justifies the wish of presenting it to the Ame-
rican public in our native tongue, while the speci-
mens which they give of the London translation lead
to the belief that it was executed by one not very
familiar with the French language.




" For the purpose of bringing under the consideration of
our readers, an interesting portion of recent histoiy, we have
selected the present performance, which contains an account
of the invasion of Spain by the French armies, and a general
view of the causes which, notwithstanding a continued series
of reverses, still gave energy to the Spanish cause. The au-
thor, M. de Rocca, had a command in a regiment of French
hussars and a place in the legion of honour. He entered
Spain in the year 1808, along with the troops sent to rein-
force the French armies, which were at that time encamped
on the Ebro, under the command of Joseph; and, except du-
ring a short interval in the year J 809, when he was sent
against the English at Walcheren, he continued in Spain
until the summer of 1810, when he was severely wounded in
an encounter with a party of Spanish guerillas. He relates
chiefly what came under his own personal notice; and as he
seems to be an acute and discriminating observer, his re-
marks, which are always lively, are frequently judicious and
striking. In his account of the campaign, he certainly main-
tains a tone of great impartiality; praising or blaming indif-
ferently the plans and movements of the two contending ar-
mies; while his narrative of military events is enlivened
with some interesting sketches of Spanish manners, and with
an amusing account of his own personal adventures."

" The work concludes with a very brief and perspicuous
account of the campaign in Portugal, which took place after
our author quitted Spain, and which he justly tei'ms ' the
chef-d'ceuvre of a defence at once national and military.' "


THE notice bestowed on the first edition of the
following pages, has induced the translator to offer a
second to the public, and to add some circumstances
respecting the author, M. de Rocca, which had not
come to his knowledge when the work was first
printed in this city. The biography of an agreeable
writer generally excites interest among his readers,
and it is to be regretted that no other source of infor-
mation is within reach, than the scanty one from
which are derived the following particulars: for
these we are indebted to a treatise on the character
and writings of Madame de Htael by her friend and
kinswoman, Madame Necker de Saussure,

Although I am not writing the History of Madame
de Stael, says this lady, I cannot pass over in silence
so important an event as her second marriage. A
young officer of respectable family had become the
object of much attention at Geneva from the accounts
given of his brilliant courage, and from the contrast
between his youthful appearance and the feeble state

of health to which he was reduced by the severe
wounds he had received in Spain. A prodigious
effect was produced on the imagination of this unfor-
tunate gentleman by some kind expressions address-
ed to him by Madame de Sfcael ; the tones of her
voice seemed to have renovated his existence, his
heart was inflamed with the most passionate love,
and he immediately formed the design of rendering
it reciprocal. "I will so love her/' was his decla-
ration to an intimate friend, " that she shall be una-
ble to refuse me her hand." These singular expres-
sions might have been dictated by various motives ;
but the most favourable interpretation cannot but be
given to them by those who witnessed the enthusi-
asm and devotedness of his attachment.

Such lofty pretensions were seconded by favour-
able circumstances. Madame de Stael was unhap-
py and fatigued with persecution ; her soul required
sympathy and support. At the moment w hen her
captivity was becoming more and more irksome, and
the clouds of misfortune thickening around her head,
a new light burst upon her existence, and that bliss,
of which the idea had never forsaken her imagina-
tion as founded on ivedded love, for once seemed
within her reach. Her opinions on this subject are
well known. It was she who had said; "/ will
force my daughter to marry for love.^' The hope
of realizing such a union in her own person, had
never been abandoned. When speaking of the asy-
luia which she purposed to seek at a future day in


England^ she had frequently said, "I experience
the want of tenderness and support; and if 1 find in
that country a man of elevated feelings, to him will
I sacrifice my freedom." Such a man suddenly pre-
sented himself. Doubtless she might have made a
more suitable choice ; but it is precisely in love that
the faculty of choice disappears. It is however cer-
tain that the match was a happy one ; she had not
overrated the character of M. de liocca, in whom
she found tenderness, constant admiration, chivalric
sentiments, a mind naturally poetical, and conside-
rable talents. To all these qualities were superadd-
ed cordial sympathy for his suiferings, and appre-
hension for his existence, which incessantly excited
her emotions and fettered her imagination.

Unquestionably she would have done better if she
had acknowledged her marriage ; but a sort of un-
defined timidity and a natural fondness for the name
which she had rendered illustrious^ restrained her,
while her active mind found employment in combat-
ing the embarrassments attendant on her new situa-
tion. Shall we pronounce that she ought to have
avoided that situation, that her conduct was often
imprudent and incorrect? she would herself have
been the first to admit the justice of the censure ; her
writings as well as her conversations attest her con-
sciousness on this subject. But how shall we describe
her sufferings on the critical occasion, when M. de
Rocca's life seemed in danger from his frequent ma-
ladies ? At Pisa, where he lay almost expiring, she


compared her situation to that of marshal Ney, who
was at that epoch expecting every moment to re-
ceive sentence of death. She often spoke of her in-
tention to write a work, whose title should be : There
is but one irreparable evil in life; tJie loss of the ob-
ject ofone^s love.

This irreparable evil it was the lot of the young
and unfortunate Rocca to undergo. The feeble frame,
which for a little while had served to support an ex-
istence, apparently so robust as madarae de StaePs,
was destined to survive her; but not to survive her
long. Grief soon terminated a life; which had ceased
to be valued by its possessor.





The second regiment of Hussars, formerljr called
that of Chamboran, in which I had the honour of
serving, received, a twelvemonth after the close of
the campaign which terminated with the battle of
Friedland and the peace of Tilsit, orders to leave
Prussia and to proceed to Spain. I had in conse-
quence an opportunity of comparing two kinds of
warfare absolutely different from each other; the one
waged by regular troops who usually take little in-
terest in the object of the quarrel which they are
supporting, — the other a war of resistance, by which
a nation is enabled to oppose victorious and disci-
plined armies.

We were leaving the sandy plains of northern
Germany; we had had to deal with a population sub-
ject, for the most part, to governments essentially
military. The different sovereigns who compose the
German empire, had for more than a century turned
all their attention to perfecting those warlike institu-


tions which might secure their authority and further
their personal ambition; but by accustoming their
subjects to exact and scrupulous obedience, they
had weakened the national character, which is the
only invincible bulwark that nations can oppose to
foreign invasion.

When a province of Germany was conquered by
the French, and could no longer receive the com-
mands of its sovereign, the inferior classes, unac-
customed to consult their own inclinations, durst not
act without the impulse of their governments or of
their nobles; these governments became, by con-
quest, subject to the influence of the victor, and the
nobles, long familiar with the aspect of the tempora-
ry violence which soldiers exercise towards the mass
of the population, endured with resignation the evils
inseparable from v\ ar.

In Prussia the clergy possessed little influence
over the people; the reformation has destroyed, among
the Protestants, that pouer which the priests have
even in our day retained in some Catholic countries,
and especially in Spain. Men of letters, who might
have given a direction to public opinion and have
rendered their acquirements useful to the cause of
their country, were seldom called to take a part in
public affairs; literary reputation was the sole object
of thtir ambition, and the y rarely devofed themselves
to pursuits or studies applicable to the circumstances
of the time. The real strength of the various Ger-
man States rested on their military systems, and

their political existence depended entirely on the
strength or weakness of their administrations.

In the plains of Northern German}', the localities of
the country did not allow the inhabitants to escape
from the yoke of the conqueror, as may be done in
countries of a different description. Small bodies of
troops were sufficient to control large districts, and
to insure the subsistence of our armies. The citizens
would have been unable to find secure places of re-
treat, if they had attempted partial revolts; moreover,
the Germans, accustomed to a tranquil and regular
course of life, never adopt desperate measures until
their national habits have been completely eradicated.

We had nothing to fear from the inhabitants in the
districts conquered by our arms, and the war in Ger-
many was carried on exclusively by troops of the
line, between whom there exists rather an emulation
of skill and valour than a feeling of hatred. The suc-
cess of a campaign depended on the concert of mili-
tary operations, on the activity and perseverance of
the chief officers, and on their skill in foreseeing and
disconcerting one another's plans, and in bringing at
the proper moment and with rapidity, heavy masses
of troops on decisive points of attack. They avoided
all those litde partial rencounters, which in regular
warfare serve only to render some individuals mise-
rable, without contributing to any important advan-
tage; and the plans of the generals were never coun-
teracted by individual opposition, or by spontaneous
insurrections of the inhabitants.


In Germany we had only governments and armies
to overcome; in the Spanish peninsula, whither we
were going, both government and regular troops had
already ceased to exist. The emperor Napoleon had
invaded Portugal and Spain, put to flight or led into
captivity the sovereigns of those two nations, and
disjiersed their military forces. We were not called
upon to combat regular troops, which are every
where much alike, but to fight with a population
which its manners, its prejudices, and the nature of
the country which it inhabits, distinguish from every
other nation of the continent. The Spaniards were
disposed to meet us with a resistance the more ob-
stinate, as they believed that the French government
wished to make the whole peninsula a state of the
secondary order, irrevocably subject to French do-

With respect to mental improvement and social
habits, Spain was more than a century behind the
other continental states. The remote and almost in-
sular situation of the country, and the severity of the
religious institutions, had prevented the Spaniards
from taking part in the disputes and controversies
which had agitated and enlightened Europe during
the sixteenth century; neither had they been affected,
in the eighteenth, by the philosophical spirit, which
was one of the causes of the French revolution.

Although the Spaniards were too much abandon-
ed to indolence, and notwithstanding the disorder
and corruption which prevailed in the administration

of public afFairs, the inevitable consequence of a des-
potism of long standing, their national character had
undergone no alteration; their government, arbitrary
as it was, bore no resemblance to absolute military
power, such as it existed in Germany, wh-^ re con-
stant subjection to the mandates of one person un-
ceasingly compressed the elasticity of individual ex-

Ferdinand the Catholic, Charles the Fifth, and
Philip the Second had, it is true, usurped almost all
the privileges of the Grandees and of the Cortes, and
had annihilated the liberties of the Spaniards; but
the weakness of government, under their successors,
had left at all times to the people, notwithstanding
the despotism of the sovereign, a practical freedom,
which often amounted to insubordination.

In the annals of the German monarchies, we never
read but of the sovereign and of his armies. From the
epoch when Ferdinand the Catholic united the dif-
ferent kingdoms of Spain, scarcely a single reign
had passed without the manifestation on the part of
the people, of their existence and of their strength,
by imposing conditions on their rulers, and by ex-
pelling some of their ministers or favourites. When
the inhabitants of Madrid revolted for the purpose
of requiring from Charles III., father of Charles IV.,
the dismissal of his minister Squilacci, the king was
obliged in person to treat with his subjects, and to
put himself under the protection of a monk, who held
a crucifix in his hand. The court, which had fled to

Aranjuez, afterwards wished to march the Walloon
guards against Madrid; the people killed several of
them, and on all sides was heard, *' Si entraran los
Vallones, no reynaran los Borbones,'*'^* " if the Wal-
loons enter Madrid, the Bourbons shall cease to
reign." The Walloon guards did not enter, Squilacci
was dismissed, and order was restored. At Berlin
and in Prussia generally, the inhabitants respected
the soldiers of their king in their military functions,
as the soldiers themselves respected their officers; at
Madrid, the centinels on post to cause the sovereign'^
orders to be executed, made way for the humblest

The revenue attached to the crown of Spain was
very limited, and but a small number of troops could
be kept on foot; the regiments of the line, with the
exception of some privileged corps, were incomplete,
ill paid and badly disciplined. The priesthood was
the only efficient controlling force which the kings of
Spain possessed; it was through the exhortations of
the ministers of the altar, and by presents of pontifi-
cal ornaments or relics, that they repressed or dis-.
persed popular tumults.

The Spanish priests hated the French both from
patriotism and from self-interest; for they were aware
that it was in contemplation to abolish their privileges,
gnd to deprive them of their property and of their
temporal power. Their opinions carried with them

* Vide, note 1st.

the more numerous portion of the nation; and we
had in fact almost as many enemies to combat, a.s the
peninsula contained inhabitants.

The lofty and barren mountains which surround
and traverse Spain, were inhabited by a warlike po-
pulation, inured to arms from their habits of smug-
gling, and accustomed to defeat the troops of their
own nation, who were frequentiy sent against them.
The unconquered spirit of the inhabitants, the mild-
ness of the climate, which allows them to live almost
the whole year in the open air, and to abandon their
dwellings whenever they think it necessary; the in-
accessible fastnesses of the mountains in the interior,
the sea which beats upon their extensive coasts,—
all these important results of national character, cli-
mate and localities could not fail to afford the Spa=.
niards innumerable facilities for withdrawing from
the oppression of the conqueror, and to double the
effect of their own forces, whether by transporting
them with rapidity to points where the French were
weak, or by enabling them to escape pursuit, when
their enemies were too strong for them.

When we left our cantonments in Prussia to march
into Spain, late in August, 1808, we had reflected
little on the obstacles we were about to encounter in
a country so new to us. We thought we were en-
gaged in an expedition of no difficulty, and of short
duration; having conquered in Germany, we suppo-
sed that nothing henceforward could resist us.
Our soldiers never enquired to what country they


were going, but if there was abundance of provi-
sions at their place of destination; — this was the only
point of view in which they contemplated geog'v.phy.
The world was divided for them into two part-^ —
the fortunate zone, where the vine grows, — yi»d the
detestable zone, which is deprived of that production.
As they were told at the commencement of every
campaign, that they were called out to inflict the last
blow on the tottering power of the English, they
confounded this power in all its forms with the idea
of England herself. They estimated the distance
which separated them from that country by the num-
ber of marches which they had been performing for
many years, from one extremity of the world to the
other, without reaching this kind of imaginary and
distant region, which continually receded before
them. "Well," they would say, "if the desart separat-
ed us from it in Egypt, and the sea at Boulogne, we
shall soon arrive there now by land through Sj^ain."
After having passed the Elbe and the Weser, we
reached the left bank of the Rhme and found our-
selves in France. For two months before, there had
been rumours of an approaching war with Austria,
and when we left Prussia in September, 1808, we
were all persuaded that we were destined for the Da-
nube.' It was with deep regret and almost tears that
our hussars left Germany, that fine country which
they had then conquered, that brilliant theatre of war
from which they carried with them so many glori-
ous recollections, and in which some of them had


tven been fortunate enough to render themselves iil-
dividually beloved.

We traversed France as if it had been a land re*-
cently conquered and subjected to our arms. The
emperor Napoleon had given orders that his soldiers
should be welcomed and feasted every where; depu-
tations came to compliment us at the gates of his
good cities. The officers and soldiers were conducted

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Online Library[Albert Jean Michel] 1788-1818 RoccaWar of the French in Spain, during the reign of the Emperor Napoleon → online text (page 1 of 14)