Siege of Villena, 12 April 1813

The siege of Villena (12 April 1813) was a quick French victory that briefly appeared to have opened the road to Castalla and the main body of General Murray’s Army of Alicante.

At the start of April 1813 Marshal Suchet’s Army of Valence held the line of the Xucar River, defending Valencia against the Anglo-Sicilian Army of Alicante and the Spanish Army of Murcia. In March Murray had briefly threatened to go onto the offensive, but cancelled his plans after news arrived of political problems in Sicily.

In early April Suchet decided to take advantage of Murray’s scattered deployments and attempt to attack his army before it could concentrate. Murray’s main concentration was at Castalla, but his best Spanish division was isolated around Alcoy, fifteen miles to the north-east. Murray’s left joined up with the Spaniah Army of Murcia, which had a division at Yecla, twenty five miles to the west of Castalla.

Suchet decided to launch his three infantry divisions in an attack around Murray’s left flank. Harispe’s division was sent to attack the Spanish at Yecla, while Habert’s division and Musnier’s division were to attack into the gap between the two armies, heading for Villena.

By chance Sir John Murray was meeting with General Elio, command of the Spanish armies of Valencia and Murcia, at Villena. Murray had 2,500 men from Colonel Adam’s light brigade with him, while Elio had the single infantry battalion of Velez Malaga.

Harispe’s attack hit the Spanish at Yecla soon after dawn on 11 April and won a significant victory, destroying half of the Spanish force and forcing the rest to retreat west. By noon news both of this defeat, and that a larger French force was heading for Villena, reached Murray and Elio. They quickly realised that they had no chance of defending Villena, and split up. Murray headed each to Castalla, while ordering Adam to defend the pass of Biar. Elio ordered the Velez Malaga battalion to defend the castle of Villena, and promised to return as soon as the rest of his army had concentrated.

Suchet arrived at Villena on the evening of 11 April. His leading troops ran into the cavalry screen protecting Adam’s retreat, while his main force concentrated against the castle. Although it was considered to be defensible, it didn’t hold out for long. Suchet opened fire with his field guns late on 11 April. On the morning of 12 April this bombardment blew in the castle gates. Suchet prepared to storm the castle, and sent a parlementaire to summon the garrison to surrender. Much to his surprise, the garrison surrendered without firing a shot, after the troops mutinied and overthrew their officers.

This left Suchet free to march towards Castalla, where Murray’s main body was not yet concentrated. However he was held up for so long by Murray in the pass of Biar that he was unable to attack at Castalla until 13 April, by which time Murray was ready for him.

The Peninsular War Atlas, Colonel Nick Lipscombe. A very impressive achievement, covering the entire Peninsula War from the first French invasion of Portugal to the final campaigns in France, and looking at just about every aspect of the war, not just the familiar campaigns of Wellington. Excellent maps, marred only by the lack of contrast between the colours chosen for Spanish and French units. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 August 2018), Siege of Villena, 12 April 1813 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_villena.html

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