Battle of San Lorenzo, 13 August 1794

The battle of San Lorenzo (13 August 1794) was an unsuccessful Spanish attempt to lift the French siege of the important border fortress of Bellegarde. Bellegarde had been captured by the Spanish on 25 June 1793, after a siege that began soon after they had crossed the eastern Pyrenees, but at the start of May 1794, after spending a year on the French side of the border, the Spanish had been forced to retreat back across the mountains (battle of Le Boulou, 30 April-1 May 1794). Bellegarde was one of the few strongholds to remain in Spanish hands, but on 6 May the French began a blockade of the fortress.

The Spanish commander, General La Union, made a number of attempts to break the blockade, starting with an unsuccessful attack on the right of the French army covering the siege on 19 May. In June he attempted to distract the French with attacks on their extreme right, in the Cerdanya, but these also failed. Finally, in mid-August La Union decided to make another attack on the French covering forces. 

In mid-August the French line ran west from the sea across the Col de Banyuls to Cantallops, then west to La Jonquera (just to the south of Bellegarde), then south-west to Sant Llorenç de la Muga where it turned west again and ran into the mountains.

The French right was posted around the village of Sant Llorenç de la Muga, which they had captured on 6 May. The village contained a foundry, which was apparently the main reason the French chose to push their right out so far to the south. General Augereau had command of around 10,000 men split between the village, the bridge of Grau (a medieval bridge just to the west of the village, now known as the bridge of Sant Antoni), and Terrades mountain, just to the north-east of the village.

La Union allocated four columns for the attack on San Lorenzo. On the right General Courten was to attack the French positions on the mountain, and then advance to support the attack on the foundry. Two columns were to attack the bridge at Grau – Don Joseph Perlasca on the left and General Izquierdo on the right. Finally General Godoy was to turn the French position on the Muga from the left, and advance up the opposite bank of the river to join the two columns at the bridge. While this attack was distracting the French, General Belvio was to attack the camp at Cantallops and attempt to break through to Bellegarde. Other forces were wasted on futile attacks along the entire French line, reducing the force available for the main attack to no purpose.

As was so often the case with Allied plans at this stage in the war against Revolutionary France it this separation into multiple columns caused the failure of the attack. On the Spanish right Courten pushed Lemoine's brigade back into its batteries on the mountain, and then captured those batteries at the point of their bayonets.

Perlasca was also successful, capturing the bridge of Grau, but he was then forced to wait for Izquierdo, but his column was held up by General Bon's chasseurs, and paused when it reached San Lorenzo.  

This delay was fatal to the Spanish plans. Godoy also paused, worried that if he advanced any further around the French flanks he would simply be marching into a trap. General Mirabel, at San Lorenzo, launched a counterattack that drove Izquierdo away from the village and then advanced east along the valley that leads to Torrada village and joined up with Lemoine.

The delay also gave Augereau time to reach the front with Guyeux's brigade. Courten was now isolated on Torrada Mountain, and was forced to withdraw, allowing Lemoine to recapture his guns. When Augereau sent Bon's cavalry to attack Godoy, La Union realised that his plan had failed, and ordered a general retreat. This was protected by a Portuguese division under General Juan Forbes and was carried out in good order. The foundry had been destroyed during the fighting, and so a few days later the French also withdrew from San Lorenzo. 

The attempt to reach Bellegarde also failed. Belvio was attacked by Generals Micou and Causse from Sauret's division, and was forced to retreat south-east to Espolla. This failure effectively doomed Bellegarde, although the garrison didn’t surrender until 17 September.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (3 March 2009), Battle of San Lorenzo, 13 August 1794 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_san_lorenzo.html

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