Albert Jean Michel Rocca.

Memoirs of the war of the French in Spain online

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LONDON : Printed by C. Roworth, Bell-yard, Temple-bar.



[After line 20, j>. 71-]

BEFORE entering Madrid by the Toledo
gate, the Manp anares is crossed by a su-
perb stone bridge, sufficiently broad for
four carriages to pass a-breast with ease.
The length of this bridge, and the number
and height of its arches, would make one
believe at first sight that it was built over
a wide river ; yet the Mancanar6s, exhaust-
ed by daily consumption, scarcely flows,
and in some places is lost in the sand of its



bed. The immense bridges, so frequently
met with in Spain, and other southern and
mountainous countries, are necessary, be-
cause the smallest stream, increased by a
sudden influx, is sometimes instantaneous-
ly transformed into an impetuous torrent.
There exists in Spain a nobility of
cities as well as of men. The Spaniards
preserve so much respect for their old in-
stitutions, that their capital still bears the
name of Villa, or country-town, whereas
some poor villages pride themselves on
that of Ciuda d, or city, either because they
have received this title and the privileges
attached to it, as the reward of some great
proofs of devotion to their country or sove-
reign, or inherited it from the ruined towns
upon which they themselves are founded.
When a Spaniard is asked where he was

born, he answers, I am the son of such a


town; and this expression* which inti-

irately identifies him with the place of his
birth, causes him to attach the more value
to the dignity of his native city. Madrid
contains no Roman or Moorish monuments ;
before Charles V. it was but a country-
residence, or sitio, where the court passed
a few months in the year, as in our days
at Aranjuez, the Escurial and St. Ilde-

line 12, p. 74.]

The inhabitants even of Madrid have all
a grave deportment and a measured walk.
They wear, as I have already said, large
dark-coloured cloaks. The women are in
black, and a large black veil covers al-
most entirely their head and shoulders,
which gave rise to the saying among the
French soldiers, during the first part of
their stay in Madrid, that the city was
peopled only by priests and nuns. The
women are generally short : they are re-

( ri )

markable rather for the grace and elegance
of their figure, than the regularity of their
features. Their step is bold and quick,
the covering of their feet elegant. A Spa-
nish woman never walks out without her
basquinna and mantilla. The basquinna is
a black silk or woollen gown made to fit
close ; the mantilla is a large black veil
which covers the head and shoulders, and
sometimes hides all the face except the
eyes and nose. This part of the dress sets
off still more the paleness of their com-
plexion and the brilliancy of their eyes.
The young women occasionally replace
their mantilla by an inclination of the head
and an easy jerk of the right shoulder and
arm. This very graceful motion furnishes
them with the opportunity of directing, as
if by chance, a look at those who pass or
stand by them. The Spanish women
keep themselves almost always at home,


( vii )

seated behind their grated balconies.
They thence observe all who pass, without
being seen, and in the evening listen to
guitars, and to tender complaints skilfully
expressed in songs. Their rest is some-
times disturbed by the contentions of lo-
vers who walk under their windows in the
narrow streets.

lifter line 3 f p. 7 5.]

Before the French began to mix indis-
criminately with the population of the
city, the inhabitants, male and female, as
soon as the evening bell announced the
Ave Maria, fell on their knees in the
houses, the squares, and even in the mid-
dle of the streets ; the tumult of life was
on a sudden suspended, as if this exten-
sive capital, in which a whole people re-
peated simultaneously the same prayer,
had been for some minutes transformed
into one vast temple.


( viii )

[Bottom of p. 76, after the word "opportunity."]

The infantry was distributed in the con-
vents of the different quarters of the city :
the requisite furniture had not yet been
procured, to avoid being troublesome to
the inhabitants, and attach them to King
Joseph. Our soldiers, subjected in an
enemy's country to the strictest discipline,
had none of the advantages which com-
pensate the rigour of the military state
in regular garrisons. They slept on the
cold stone in the long corridors of the
monasteries ; they were sometimes in want
of the necessaries of life, and cursed the
poverty of the monks whom they had re-
placed, gaily complaining, however, of
being forced to live like capuchin friars.







1 HE second regiment of hussars, for-
merly called Chamboran, in which I had
the honour to serve, received orders to quit
Prussia in order to go to Spain, the year
after the campaign which was terminated
by the battle of Eriedland and the peace
of Tilsit. I thus found myself placed in a
situation to compare two kinds of war
absolutely different; the war of regular
troops, commonly little interested in the
object of the quarrel they maintain, and

B the

( 2] )

the war of resistance which a nation can
oppose to regular conquering armies.

We were called from the sandy plains of
the north of Germany ; we had had to do
with people, subject, for the most part, to
governments whose forms were entirely
military. The different sovereigns who
made up the parts of the Germanic body,
had, for more than a century, turned all
their views towards perfecting those mili-
tary institutions which might secure their
authority and serve their personal ambi-
tion ; but in accustoming their subjects to
a minutely punctual obedience, they had
weakened the national character, the only
invincible bulwark that nations can oppose
to foreign invaders.

When a province of Germany was con-
quered by the French, and could no longer
receive the orders of its sovereign, the in-
ferior classes, unaccustomed to the exercise


( 3 )

of their own free will, dared not to act
without the commands of their govern-
ments or of their liege lords; these govern-
ments became, by the very act of con-
quest, subordinate to the conquerors; and
the liege lords, long accustomed to witness
the hourly vexations which the people ex-
perienced from the soldiery, resigned them-
selves the more easily to the evils which
war brings in her train.

The clergy in Prussia had but little as-
cendancy over the people ; the reforma-
tion has destroyed, among the protestants,
that power which the priests preserve, even
in our days, in some catholic countries ;
and especially in Spain. The men of let-
ters, who might have influenced public
opinion and made their wisdom subser-
vient to the cause of their country, were
but rarely called to take an active part in

B 2 public

public affairs. Literary reputation
the only end of their ambition, and they
rarely addicted themselves to occupation^
or studies applicable to existing circum-
stances. The real power of several states
in Germany rested on their military sys-
tems, and their political existence could
not but depend entirely on the strength or
weakness of their governments.

In the plains of Germany the local cir-
cumstances of the country did not permit
the people to escape so easily from the
yoke of their conquerors as in some other*
countries of a different nature. Small
bodies of troops kept a great extent of
conquered country in awe, and assured our
armies of subsistence. The citizens could
have found no secure retreats if they had
tried partial revolts against us ; besides,
the Germans accustomed to a quiet and


( 5 )

regular life, are only roused to make a
desperate effort by the complete breaking
up of all their ordinary habits.

We had nothing to fear from the inha-
bitants of the countries conquered by our
arms, and the war of Germany had been
carried on solely by armies of regulars;
between whom there exists rather rivalry
than hatred. The success of a campaign
depended on the aggregate of the military
operations, on the activity and perseve-
rance of the commanders, and their skill
in discovering and preventing the plans of
each other, and in bringing with skill and
celerity great masses down on the points
of attack. All those little partial actions
were avoided, which, in war, only increase
the miseries of individuals without contri-
buting to any important advantage; and
the talents of the generals were never

B 3 baffled

( 6 )

baffled by the exertions of individuals, or
by the spontaneous movements of the

In Germany we had only had to subdue
governments and armies ; in the Spanish
peninsula, where we were now to make
war, the government and the army were
already annihilated. The Emperor Napo-
leon had invaded Portugal and Spain, put
to flight or reduced to captivity the sove-
reigns of those two countries and dispersed
their military forces. We were not called
to fight against troops of the line, every
where nearly the same, but against a peo-
ple insulated from all the other continental
nations, by its manners, its prejudices, and
even the nature of its country. The Spa-
niards were to oppose to us a resistance
so much the more obstinate, as they be-
lieved it to be the object of the French


( r )

government to make the peninsula a secon-
dary state, irrevocably subject to the do-
minion of France.

With regard to knowledge and the pro-
gress of social habits, Spain was at least a
century behind the other nations of the
continent. The distant and almost insu-
lar situation of the country, and the seve-
nty of its religious institutions, had pre-
vented the Spaniards from taking part in
the disputes and controversies which had
agitated and enlightened Europe during
the sixteenth century. They scarcely
thought more in the eighteenth of the
philosophical spirit which had been one
of the causes of the revolution in France.

Although the Spaniards were too much
given to indolence, and that there were
found in their administration, that disor-
der and corruption which are the inevi-
table consequences of a long despotism,

B 4 their

( 8 )

their national character had not been sul-
lied. Their government, arbitrary as it
was, bore no resemblance to the absolute
military power existing in Germany, where
the constant submission of each and every
one to the orders of a single one, continu-
ally pressed down the springs of individual
character. Ferdinand the Catholic, Charles
V, and Philip II. had, it is true, usurped
almost all the privileges of the grandees
and of the Cortes, and they had annihi-
lated Spanish liberty ; but the weakness
of government, under their successors, had
always left to thfe people, notwithstanding
the despotism of the sovereign, a practical
freedom which was often carried even to

In the annals of the German monar-
chies, no names were ever heard but those
of the sovereign and his armies. Since
Ferdinand the Catholic bad united the dif-

( 9 )

ferent kingdoms of Spain, scarcely a single
reign had passed in which the people had
not given sensible proofs of its existence
and power by imposing conditions on its
masters, or by expelling their ministers or
their favourites. When the inhabitants
of Madrid revolted, and demanded from
Charles III. the father of Charles IV. the
dismissal of his minister Squilaci, the king
himself was obliged to appear, in order to
compound with the people, and to employ
the intervention of a monk, bearing a cru-
cifix in his hand. The court, which had
fled to Aranjuez, attempted afterwards to
send the Walloon guards against Madrid :
the people killed several, and the cry was,
Si los Vallones entraran, los Borbones no
reinaran if the Walloons enter, the Bourbons
shall not reign. The Walloons did not
enter, Squilaci was dismissed, and order
was restored. At Berlin and in Prussia


( io )

the inhabitants respected the soldiers of
their king, as the soldiers themselves re-
spected their military commanders ; at
Madrid, the sentinels placed on guard, to
attend to the execution of the orders of
their sovereign, yielded the precedence to
the meanest burgess.

The revenues of the crown were very
scanty, and consequently could maintain
but a very limited number of troops. The
regiments of the line, with the exception
of some privileged corps, were incom-
plete, ill paid, and ill disciplined. The
priests were the only powerful executive
militia that the kings of Spain could com-
mand ; it was by the exhortations of the
ministers from their altars, and the presen-
tation of pontifical ornaments and relics
that they repressed and dissipated popular

The Spanish priests hated the French


{ 11 )

from patriotism and from interest; for
they well knew that the intention was to
abolish their privileges, and to deprive
them of their riches and temporal power.
Their opinion swayed that of the greatest
part of the nation. Every Spaniard re-
garded the public cause as his own private
quarrel, and we had, in short, almost as
many individual enemies to fight as the
Spanish peninsula contained inhabitants.
The high and barren mountains which
surround and intersect Spain were peopled
by warlike tribes, always armed for the
purpose of smuggling, and accustomed to
baffle the regular troops of their own coun-
try, which were frequently sent in pursuit
of them. The untamed character of the
inhabitants of the peninsula, the mildness
of the climate, which admits of living in
the open air almost all the year, and thus
to abandon one's dwelling upon occa-

( 12 )

sion ; the inaccessible retreats of the in-
land mountains ; the sea, which washes
such extensive shores ; all the great cir-
cumstances arising from the national cha-
racter, the climate, and local situation,
could not fail of procuring for the Spa-
niards numberless facilities for escaping
from the oppression of their conquerors,
and fov multiplying their own forces,
whether by transporting them- rapidly to
those points on which the French were
weak, or in securing their escape from

When we quitted our cantonments in
Prussia to go to Spain, towards the end of
August, 1808, we had scarcely reflected on
the unforeseen obstacles which we might
encounter in a country so new to us. We
fancied we were marching on a short and
easy expedition: conquerors in Germany,


( is )

did not imagine that any thing was to
stop us in future.

Our soldiers never inquired what coun-
try we were leading them to : but if there
were provisions where they were going,
it was the only point of view in which
they ever considered the geography of the
earth. The world was divided by them
into two parts, the happy zone, in which
the vine grows, and the detestable zone,
which is without it.

Having heard at the beginning of every
campaign that they were called upon to
strike the last blow" at the tottering power
of the English ; they confounded this
power in all its forms with England itself.
They judged of the distance which se
pafated them from it by the number of
marches they had made for so many years
from one end of the world to the other,
without having yet reached this kind of


imaginary and distant country which was
constantly receding from them. At length,
said they, if the desert separated us from
it in Egypt, and the sea at Boulogne, we
shall reach it by land after we have
crossed Spain.

After having passed the Elbe and the
Weser, we reached the left bank of the
Rhine and France. For two months an
approaching war with Austria had been
talked of, and when we quitted Prussia
in the month of September, 1808, we were
persuaded that we were to be sent to the
Danube. It was with deep sorrow and
almost with tears in their eyes that our
hussars quitted Germany, that beautiful
country that they had then conquered,
that land of war from which they bore so
many remembrances of glory, and where
they had even sometimes made themselves
individually beloved.


( 15 )

We traversed France as if it had been
a land newly conquered and subjected to
our arms. The Emperor Napoleon had
ordered that his soldiers should be well
received and feasted every where; depu-
tations came to compliment us at the
gates of his good cities. The officers and
soldiers were conducted immediately on
their arrival to sumptuous banquets pre-
pared beforehand, and on our departure,
the magistrates thanked us again that we
had deigned to spend in one day man}'
weeks' private revenues of their municipal
chests. The soldiers of the grand army
did not lose in France the habit they had
contracted in Germany j of now and then
maltreating the citizens or peasants with
whom they lodged. The allied auxiliaries,
in particular, would not comprehend why
they were not to behave in France as in
an enemy's country ; they said it must be


( 16 )

the custom, as the French troops had hot
behaved otherwise to them in Germany
and in Poland. The inhabitants of the
towns and villages through which we pas-
sed, suffered all patiently till the armed
torrent was drained off. Our troops were
composed, besides the French, of Ger-
mans, Italians, Poles, Swiss, Dutch, and
even Irish and Mameluks ; these stran-
gers were all dressed in their national uni-
forms, and spoke their own languages ;
but notwithstanding the dissimilarity of
manners which raise barriers between na-
tions, military discipline easily united
them all under the powerful hand of one ;
all these men wore the same cockade, and
they had but one shout of war, and one
cry to rally.

We crossed the Seine at Paris, the Loire
at Saumur, the Garonne at Bordeaux ;
there, for the first time since we left Prus-

( 17 )

sia, we enjoyed a few days of rest, while
the rest of the army was employed in
gaining the other bank of the river. We
next traversed the uncultivated tract be-
tween Bordeaux and Bayonne. In these
solitary plains, as in the moors of Prussia
and Poland, the sandy soil no longer re-
sounded under the horses' feet, the regular
and accelerated noise of their iron-shod
hoofs no longer served to renew their ar-
dour. Vast forests of pine and of cork
bound the horizon at an immense distance;
one sees at long intervals single shepherds,
clad in black sheep-skins, mounted on
stilts six or seven feet high, and leaning
on a long pole ; they remain motionless
on the same spot, without ever losing
sight of their flocks which feed around
them on the heath. When the Emperor
Napoleon crossed these wide plains, the
poverty of the country did not permit it

c to

( 18 )

to furnish the usual horse guard of honour :
he was escorted by a detachment of these
shepherds, who, with their tall stilts, kept
pace through the sand with the horses at
full trot.

Some leagues beyond Bay onne we reach-
ed the Bidassoa, a rivulet which bounds
France in the Pyrenees. As soon as one
sets one's foot on the Spanish territory, one
perceives asensible difference in the aspect
of the country, and in the manners of the
inhabitants. The narrow crooked streets
of the towns, the grated windows, the doors
of the houses always carefully shut, the
severe and reserved air of the inhabitants
of all classes, the distrust which was gene-
rally shown towards us, increased the in-
voluntary melancholy which seized us on
our entrance into Spain.

We saw the Emperor Napoleon pass be-
fore he arrived at Vittoria; he was on


( 19 )

horseback ; the simplicity of his green Uni-
form distinguished him amidst the richly
clothed generals who surrounded him ; he
waved his hand to every individual officer
as he passed, seeming to say I rely on
you. The French and the Spaniards were
gathered in crowds on his way ; the first
regarded him as the fortune of the whole
army : the Spaniards seemed willing to
read in his aspect and behaviour the fate
of their unhappy country.

During the last days of October, 1808,
the French army in Spain, commanded by
King Joseph, was successively joined by
the grand army of Germany. It was only
then that we learned, with astonishment,
from our brethren in arms, a part of the
events of the Peninsular war, and the de-
tails of the unfortunate affairs which had
forced the Generals Dupont and Junot to
capitulate in Andalusia, and in Portugal,

c 2 Marshal

( 20 )

Marshal Moncey to retire from before Va-
lentia, and, in short, the whole army to
concentrate itself on the left bank of the


*' King Joseph was at Vittoria with the general staff and
iiis guards. Marshal Moncey, with his corps d'armee, was at
Tafaila, observing and watching the Spanish army of General
Palafox, placed at Sanguessa, on the frontiers of Navarre and
Arragon. The troops under Marshal Ney occupied Logrono
and Guardia; they had before them, in the neighbourhood o
Tudela, on the Ebro, the Spanish armies commanded by the
Generals Castanos and Palafox, who, when united, might be
about 40,000 strong. Marshal Bessieres was at Miranda, on.
the Ebro : on retiring, he had left a garrison in the fort of Pan-
corvo; his position was covered by the numerous and well-
mounted cavalry of General Lassalle, Marshal Lefevre oc-
cupied Durango : the corps commanded by the Marshals Bes-
sieres and Lefevre were opposed to the centre and the left wing
of the Spaniards, under Generals Belvedere and Blake. The
Spanish array of the centre, placed at Burgos, was only from
12 to 14,000 strong. It was to be reinforced by 26,000 En-
glish, who were advancing from Portugal and Corunna, under
Generals Moore and Sir D. Baird. This force was intended to
sustain the army of the right, commanded by General Blake,


The 8th of November, in the night, the
imperial quarters were removed from Vit-

in Biscay, and to keep up the communication with the Spanish
armies in Arragon and Navarre.

The army of General Blake, although 30,000 strong, had
but little cavalry, therefore it dared not come down into the
plains in the neighbourhood of Miranda and Vittoria : it had
quitted its positions between Ona Frias and Erron, to seize Bil-
bao, and it had advanced through the mountains which sepa-
rate Biscay from the province of Alava, as far as Zornosa and
Archandiano, towards Durango, to raise the country and to at-
tack the right, and cut off the communications of the army of
King Joseph. The Spanish armies of Navarre and Arragon
were to make the same movement against the centre and the
left of the French, in order to force them to retire by the road
ofTolosa, or drive them into the defiles of Navarre, towards
Pampeluna. Such were the projects of the Spaniards, and the
situation of affairs, when the Emperor Napoleon took the com-
mand of the armies in Spain.

The 31st of October, the corps of Marshal Lefevre had at-
tacked the army of General Blake, near Durango ; he had re-
pulsed him, ad entered Bilbao the next day. The corps of
Marshal Victor moved, on the 6th November, from Vittoria
to Ordunna ; it was to form, with that of Marshal Lefevre,
ihe right of our army.

c 3 toria

toria to Miranda. The next day the whole
of the centre, of which we were a part,
marched under the immediate orders of
the Emperor. We were to make a pow-
erful attack on Burgos, where the centre of
the Spanish forces were placed, then to
threaten, by advancing rapidly, the flanks
of their armies of the right and left in Bis-
cay, and towards the frontiers of Navarre
and Arragon ; to prevent those armies from
concentrating themselves towards Madrid,
if they retired ; and to cut off, by throw-
ing ourselves on their rear, all their com-
munications, if they attempted resistance.
To effect this, our army of the right,
formed of the corps of Marshals Victor
and Lefevre, were to continue marching
against the army of Blake, who was retir-
ing upon Espinosa, after having been re-
pulsed from Durango and Valmaceda.
Our army of the left, under Marshals Lan-


( 23 )

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