The battle of Vich of 20 February 1810 was a hard-fought French victory in Catalonia, won by an isolated French division under the command of General Souham. In the aftermath of the third siege of Gerona, Marshal Augereau had marched his army back to Barcelona. Once he reached the city, Augereau discovered that the magazines in the city were empty, and that he would need to return to Gerona to escort a supply convoy back to the city. On 1 February Augereau left Barcelona, after spending just over a week in the city. While he took most of his army along the road past Hostalrich, a division under General Souham was sent on along the road to Vich, to guard against any interference from the Army of Catalonia.
This move rather underestimated the strength of that Spanish army. Under General Henry O’Donnell the army had been reorganised, and now numbered 7,000 infantry and 500 cavalry. O’Donnell was also able to call on around 3,500 of the local levies (the somatenes). His plan was to attack the French from two side – the levies would attack Vich from the east while O’Donnell attacked from the west. In total the Spanish were able to bring 11,000 men to Valls, outnumbering Souham’s 4,000 infantry and 1,200 cavalry by two-to-one.
The fighting began on 19 February when the levies began to attack Souham’s pickets. On the following morning O’Donnell’s main army appeared on the plains outside Vich. Souham was forced to split his army, detaching two of his ten infantry battalions to hold off the levies east of Valls, while the rest of the army focused on O’Donnell’s main force.
O’Donnell’s biggest problem was the poor quality and limited numbers of his cavalry. The battle was dominated by two Spanish attacks, both of which were ended by a French cavalry charge against the Spanish right. The second Spanish attack was the most serious. O’Donnell took advantage of his superior numbers in an attempt to outflank both ends of the French line. He was close to success when Souham sent his entire force of cavalry to attack the Spanish right for a second time. The two Spanish regiments on the right were captured by the French, forcing O’Donnell to retreat back into the mountains. The Spanish suffered 800 casualties during the battle, and lost 1,000 prisoners, but the closeness of the fight is illustrated by the 600 French casualties. Souham himself was amongst the wounded, having been hit in the head. His lose would prove to be a particular disaster for the French, for he had to return to France to recover from his wounds. He would be replaced by General Augereau, the Marshal’s brother, who would soon be placed in command of all military operations in Catalonia, with disastrous results. By the middle of April Marshal Augereau had retreated back to Gerona, and would soon be recalled to France himself.
|A History of the Peninsular War vol.3: September 1809-December 1810 - Ocana, Cadiz, Bussaco, Torres Vedras, Sir Charles Oman. Part three of Oman's classic history begins with the series of disasters that befell the Spanish in the autumn of 1809 and spring of 1810, starting with the crushing defeat at Ocana and ending with the French conquest of Andalusia and capture of Seville, then moves on to look at the third French invasion of Portugal, most famous for Wellington's defence of the Lines of Torres Vedras.|
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