Date 17 September 1793
|200-over 300 1,702-3,500, 26 guns|
Result French victory
|Combatants French First Republic, Spain|
Similar Battle of Truillas, Battle of Emmendingen, Siege of Bellegarde, Battle of Schliengen, Battle of Kaiserslautern
Battle of peyrestortes
The Battle of Peyrestortes on 17 September 1793 saw soldiers of the First French Republic fighting troops of the Kingdom of Spain during the War of the Pyrenees. The French Army of the eastern Pyrenees, temporarily commanded by Eustache Charles d'Aoust defeated two divisions of the Army of Catalonia led by Juan de Courten and Jerónimo Girón-Moctezuma, Marquis de las Amarilas. This Spanish setback in an attempt to capture Perpignan marked the high point of their invasion of Roussillon.
The Spanish army of Antonio Ricardos had occupied part of Rousillon and made an abortive attempt to seize the fortress of Perpignan in July. At the end of August, the Spanish commander sent two divisions on a sweep around the western side of Perpignan in an attempt to isolate the fortress and choke it off from resupply. After an initial Spanish success, the French army commander lost his nerve and failed to respond to enemy moves.
D'Aoust and Jacques Gilles Henri Goguet stepped into the command vacuum and led their troops to attack and rout the two Spanish divisions from their fortified camps. After the battle, the Army of Catalonia found itself back in its original positions. Ricardos successfully defended the Spanish foothold in France during the remainder of 1793. But the following year saw a string of French victories in this part of the French Revolutionary Wars. Peyrestortes is located seven km northwest of Perpignan.
Beginning in April 1793, Captain General Ricardos and his Spanish army brushed aside the badly trained French armies in the department of Pyrénées Orientales. The Siege of Bellegarde concluded with the Spanish capture of the important Fort de Bellegarde on 24 June. Ricardos defeated General of Division Louis-Charles de Flers at the Battle of Mas Deu on 19 May. The two fought again on 17 July in the Battle of Perpignan and the result was a French victory. But after a minor setback, the all-powerful Representatives-on-mission arrested De Flers on 6 August and this led to his eventual execution.
General of Division Hilarion Paul Puget de Barbantane, who was de Flers' successor as army commander, grouped the Army of the Eastern Pyrenees to defend the fortress of Perpignan, the capital and defensive key to the department of Pyrénées Orientales. Ricardos positioned his right wing facing Argelès-sur-Mer, Collioure, and Port-Vendres on the Mediterranean coast. He posted his center around the towns of Ponteilla, Thuin, Trouillas, and Mas Deu, a group of medieval-era structures 2.4 kilometers east of Trouillas. The Spanish left wing faced Mont-Louis in the west. Ricardos' established his headquarters at Trouillas, only 12 km southwest of Perpignan.
While the main armies faced each other near Perpignan, General of Division Luc Siméon Auguste Dagobert's French division carried out independent operations against the Spanish left wing in the Cerdagne. On 28 August, Dagobert won a victory over General Manuel la Peña at Puigcerdà.
Ricardos directed Lieutenant General Jerónimo Girón and his division to cross the Têt River and attack the French camps on the north side between Millas and Perpignan. Girón scored an initial success, driving the French from Corneilla-la-Rivière on 31 August and gaining a foothold on the north bank.
On 3 September, a Spanish probe was turned back at the Mill of Orles near Perpignan by Colonel Charles-Louis Gau de Fregeville's 2nd Hussar Regiment and other troops under Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Banel's command. The next day, Barbantane suddenly withdrew his headquarters from Perpignan to Salses-le-Château. He turned over command of Perpignan to General of Division d'Aoust, who was anxious to fight the Spanish.
Hearing of Barbantane's unmilitary behavior, Ricardos determined to take advantage of the disarray in the French high command. The Spanish commander ordered Girón to march to Peyrestortes via Baixas. On 8 September, Girón occupied Peyrestortes, northwest of the provincial capital. That day, he attacked d'Aoust's Camp of the Union at Rivesaltes and drove the French away after a tough fight. Around the same time, Lieutenant General Juan de Courten's division, including the Walloon Guards, also crossed the Têt and occupied Le Vernet, now a suburb 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north of Perpignan. De Courten set up his defenses behind an irrigation canal, with his 24 cannon covering the road leading north to Narbonne. Word of Barbantane's shift of headquarters also reached Dagobert, and with the agreement of Representative-on-mission Joseph Cassanyes, he quickly put his troops on the road for Perpignan.
While the French regrouped at Salses-le-Château, Girón established a camp on the hill to the south of Peyrestortes with 10,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry. On 12 September, Barbantane suddenly resigned his command and fled to Toulouse where he was arrested, escaped, and took refuge among his supporters in Paris. Until 18 September the army was without an official commander. D'Aoust and General of Brigade Louis Lemoine started constructing redoubts to defend Perpignan. Dagobert's troops began arriving from the Cerdagne to help in the defense.
At 2:00 AM on 17 September, José de Iturrigaray's Spanish artillery brought Perpignan under a heavy bombardment from the direction of Cabestany to the southeast. Ricardos deployed 6,000 troops to support the gunners on the south and west sides of the fortress. At 4:00 AM that morning, d'Aoust fell upon de Courten's division at Le Vernet in four columns. Lemoine led the left column, Colonel Catherine-Dominique de Pérignon commanded the center column including some cavalry under Banel, and General of Brigade Antoine Soulérac directed the right column. An observation force that included Lieutenant Jean Lannes moved to the far left. One of the French columns managed to turn de Courten's flank. After a stubborn fight, the French captured all of de Courten's artillery.
D'Aoust had no authority over General of Brigade Jacques Gilles Henri Goguet and his division, but the two agreed to cooperate. When d'Aoust launched his attack, Goguet advanced from Salses-le-Château to attack Girón's position on Peyrestortes hill. In addition to Goguet, the assault was led by General of Brigade Pierre Poinsot de Chansac. Girón neglected to post troops to defend a ravine, and Goguet exploited this blunder to push his soldiers into a hand-to-hand fight where Spanish firepower counted for little and French élan for much. As the day wore on, French reinforcements kept arriving from Salses-le-Château, giving their attack ever increasing momentum.
The fighting went on even as daylight faded. Soulérac's column joined the attack on Peyrestortes hill. In the confusion and darkness, Rafael Adorno's Spanish cavalry panicked and withdrew. By 10:00 PM, French soldiers broke into the Spanish positions and forced both Girón and de Courten into a disorderly retreat back to Trouillas and Mas Deu.
Historian Digby Smith gives Spanish losses as 52 officers and 1,150 rank and file killed, wounded, and missing out of 6,000 engaged. In addition, the French captured 500 men, 26 cannon, and 7 colors. French losses are given as 200 killed and wounded out of a total of 8,000 troops involved in the fighting. These figures may refer only to the fight between d'Aoust and de Courten. Another source lists Spanish casualties as 800 killed, 1,500 wounded, and 1,200 prisoners out of a total force of 12,000. French losses were 300 killed and an unknown number wounded out of 12,000 engaged. During the action, Pérignon was wounded in the thigh and he received promotion to general of brigade the following day. Whatever the true strengths and losses, this battle represented the deepest Spanish penetration of French Rousillon. After Peyrestortes, Ricardos' Spanish army was forced to fight for territory farther south.
D'Aoust, the hero of Peyrestortes, fell afoul of the suspicious Committee of Public Safety and two rival generals in January 1794. He was arrested and sent to the guillotine on 2 July 1794 during the Reign of Terror. In spite of his strange defection, Barbantane managed to avoid the guillotine, dying in 1828. Ironically, Barbantane is one of the Names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, while d'Aoust's name is not to be found.
A battle memorial commemorating the victory is one km southeast of the village, near the Perpignan-Rivesaltes International Airport. The monument has the following inscription.
A la mémoire de l'armée des Pyrénées-Orientales qui combattirent à Peyrestortes sous la conduite des conventionnels Cassanyes, Fabre, des généraux Daoust et Goguet.
An English translation is as follows. "To the memory of the Army of the Eastern Pyrenees which fought at Peyrestortes under the command of deputies Cassanyes, Fabre, of generals Daoust and Goguet."