In the battle of Ordal on September 12 and 13, 1813, the corps of the First French Empire, led by Marshal Louis Gabriel Suchet, carried out a night assault on the position occupied by the smaller vanguard of the army of the British and their allies under the general command of Lieutenant General Lord William Bentinck. The Allies, led by Colonel Frederick Adam, were defeated and driven from their position in a ravine near the town of Ordal, mainly because they did not set up outposts. The next morning, during the battle at Villafranca del Penedes, the Allied cavalry faced the pursuing French horsemen. The battles took place during the Iberian War, which is part of the Napoleonic Wars. Ordal and El Lledoner are located on the road between Molins de Rei and Villafranca.
The triumph of Arthur Wellesley, the Marquis of Wellington, at the Battle of Vitoria severely undermined Suchet’s position in Valencia and Aragon. Therefore, the marshal led his soldiers out of there and concentrated them near Barcelona. When the French withdrew, they were followed by Bentinck’s army of 28,000 Spaniards, British, Germans and Italians. Suchet decided to strike at the vanguard of Adam at Ordal with part of his army of 12 thousand soldiers, while 7 thousand people of Charles Mathieu Isidore Deccan advanced from the northeast. After the defeat of the vanguard, Bentinck left Villafranca and retreated to Tarragona. He soon resigned.
Suchet’s victory did not save the French position in Catalonia. As his troops were constantly diverted to defend eastern France, the marshal was forced to retreat into the Pyrenees, leaving behind several garrisons. They were captured one at a time until Barcelona was left in the hands of the French.
After the 9 January 1812 siege of Valencia ended with the surrender of Spain, the French army temporarily suspended operations due to the illness of Marshal Louis Gabriel Suchet. The withdrawal of troops for Napoleon’s planned invasion of Russia made further conquests impossible. Suchet, suffering from the need to stretch his troops too far, has taken little action this year. On July 21, 1812, the commander of one of his divisions, Divisional General Jean Isidore Arisp, struck at General José O’Donnell’s Spanish army in the first Battle of Castalla. This convinced Thomas Maitland to abandon the invasion of Catalonia from both land and sea; instead he landed his small Anglo-allied army in Spanish-controlled Alicante. That summer and autumn, Arthur Wellesley, Marquis of Wellington, defeated the French at the Battle of Salamanca, captured Madrid, but was driven back to Portugal after the siege of Burgos. During these important events, Suchet and Maitland were mostly passive.
After Maitland fell ill in September, he was replaced by Generals John Mackenzie, William Henry Clinton, James Campbell and John Murray. The latter repulsed the attack of Suchet at the Battle of Castalia on April 13, 1813, but, reinsured, retreated after his victory. On Wellington’s advice, Murray launched an attack from the sea in June. During the siege of Tarragona, Murray’s timidity forced him to miss a surefire chance to conquer a weakly defended port. Fearing that Suchet and the divisional general of Maurice Mathieu would come to the rescue, he ordered a hasty retreat, unnecessarily throwing 18 heavy siege guns. Murray was immediately replaced by Lord Bentinck.
Wellington’s decisive victory at the Battle of Vitoria on June 21, 1813 did not allow Suchet to keep the provinces of Valencia and Aragon. Brigadier General Marie Auguste Paris, constantly persecuted by the partisans of Francisco Mina, left Zaragoza on July 10 and fled through the Pyrenees to France. On July 5, Suchet left Valencia and retreated to Tarragona, leaving garrisons in several cities. The French marshal, whom Bentinck practically did not bother, destroyed the fortifications of Tarragona and retreated to Barcelona.
During his retreat at the end of July, Suchet stopped at Villafranca. After staying there for about a month, the French reached the Llobregat River. Bentinck cautiously moved forward to occupy the abandoned territory, reaching Villafranc on 5 September. Finally, the British general joined forces with the Spanish General Francisco Copons y Navia, and now had 28,000 soldiers under his command, scattered between Tarragona, Villafranca and Ordal.
Leaving 10.5 thousand soldiers in Villafranca, in the early morning of September 12, Bentinck accompanied the vanguard of Frederic Adam of 1.5 thousand people east of the pass near Ordal. This position, allowing a good road to be blocked, was well known as an excellent defense. At one time, the Spanish army erected field fortifications there, which were almost completely destroyed in 1810. Moving southeast from San Sadurni d’Anoia, Colonel Torres arrived at the hill near Ordal with 2.3 thousand Spanish soldiers from the division of General Pedro Sarsfeld. A cavalry patrol sent 10 kilometers to the east did not find the French. Before driving back to Villafranca, Bentinck assured Adam that the position was perfectly safe.
Adam’s division consisted of the 2nd Battalion of the 27th Infantry Regiment, one rifle company each from the Swiss De Roll and the 4th Infantry Battalion of the Royal German Legion, one battalion of Calabrian troops and four artillery pieces. Torres commanded the Badajoz, Tiradores de Cadiz and Volunteers of Aragon infantry regiments. Another source instead of Badajoz points to Grenadiers of Ultonia and notes that the unit had only one battalion from each Spanish regiment.
Adam placed the Calabrians on his left flank. Four guns were positioned across the road, supported by two rifle companies and two companies from the 27th. Torres swung his men into a line to the right of the guns. On the far right flank, Adam placed the remaining eight companies of the 27th Regiment. A group of 150 horsemen stood in the rear; these were the hussars of the Black Brunswick regiment. In the evening, Adam ordered his men to sleep at battle posts. He neglected safety by not dispatching patrols and setting up an outpost on the bridge at Lledonera that crossed a deep canyon just over a kilometer from Ordal.
That evening, Suchet set off from Molins de Rei to the west with an army of 12 thousand soldiers, consisting of the 2nd Division of Arisp, 3rd Division of Divisional General Pierre Joseph Habert and cavalry. Arisp’s division consisted of two battalions from the 7th, 44th and 116th line infantry regiments. Abera’s division contained two battalions from the 14th, 16th and 117th line infantry regiments. Suchet’s cavalry in 1750 blades included four squadrons from the 4th hussar, 13th cuirassier and Westphalian Shevoléger regiments, as well as three squadrons from the 24th dragoon regiment. Historian Digby Smith lists Divisional General André Joseph Bussard as Cavalry Division Commander and Brigadier General Meyers as his deputy; probably referring to Bernard Menra Fredalen Meillet de Chauhanse. However, another source claims that Bussar had died a month earlier. Other evidence suggests that Suchet’s cavalry was led by Brigadier General Jacques Antoine Adrian Delors at this time.
The second French column under the command of divisional general Charles Mathieu Isidore Deccan, numbering 7 thousand people, left Martorell and took the path to the southwest. Like Suchet’s column, its goal was to attack Bentinck’s forces at Villafranca. Sources do not indicate the composition of the Dean’s army.
Suchet left Molins de Rei in the early evening. Marching quickly, his troops arrived at Ordal at 11:00 pm. To his surprise he found that the Allies had not bothered to set up outposts. Suchet ferried his troops across the unguarded bridge and sent them up the mountain to the sleeping allies. The suspicious noise interested a Spanish cavalry patrol, who rode up ahead to see what was happening. The cavalrymen were greeted with a musket salvo, which awakened Adam’s people. In front of the Arisp division, Brigadier General Jean Meclos led the battalions of the 7th Line Regiment to attack. Halfway up the slope, the French came across a trench held by four Spanish infantry companies. The defenders retreated to another field fortification higher up the hillside. After more Spaniards joined them, they launched a counterattack that briefly pushed 7th Regiment soldiers back.
When the battalions of the 44th regiment joined them, the soldiers of the 7th again attacked and overturned the defenses of the Spanish redoubt, killing many of its defenders. Suchet brought new troops into battle, sending Abera’s division to the left, and Arisp’s second brigade in support of Meclo. The French attack spread further and further to the left, starting to put pressure on the right flank of the Allies. Thomas Robert Bujot, then captain of the 116th Regiment of the Line, led his troops across the gorge along a narrow path south of the bridge. His battalion arrived ahead of the main body of the 27th Regiment. At the beginning of the battle, Adam was wounded and transferred command to Colonel Reeves, who was subsequently also wounded. Meanwhile, the Spaniards, especially the Tiradores de Cadiz of Colonel Anthony Bray and the grenadiers of Raphael Larruda, fought valiantly under their command. However, the French troops finally outflanked the allies and they could not stand it. When the Allied soldiers began to flee, Suchet sent the 4th Hussars of Delors in pursuit of them. The Braunschweig hussars immediately stopped the pursuers, but they managed to capture all four British guns, which were withdrawn before the end of the battle. In total, the 4th hussar regiment captured about 500 prisoners.
Having lost very few people in battle, the Calabrians under the command of Colonel Carey retreated to the northwest. At night, they collided with the vanguard of the Deccan column and were forced to quickly turn south. Passing behind the advancing column of Suchet, Carey’s soldiers reached the coast, where they were picked up by the Allied ships. Torres’ troops and about 150 men of the 27th Infantry Regiment fled towards San Sadurni and from there reached Villafranca without incident.
Spanish losses amounted to 87 killed, 239 wounded and 132 missing. Adam’s brigade lost 75 killed, 109 wounded and 333 missing. In total, the allies lost 975 people in Ordal. French casualties are estimated at around 300. Another source indicates that the French lost 270 men and that the 27th Infantry Regiment alone lost 360 men. A third source reports much higher losses of the French, 171 killed and 600-700 wounded.
Upon hearing the news of Ordal and discovering that the Dean was advancing from the northeast, Bentinck left Villafranc. On the opposite side of the city, he personally deployed his cavalry as a rearguard. His army of 770 people included two squadrons from the 20th Light Dragoon, Braunschweig Hussars and Sicilian Cavalry Regiments, as well as one detachment of the Foreign Hussars. Allied losses amounted to 25 killed, 69 wounded and 40 missing, for a total of 134 people. French losses amounted to 7 officers and 100 people out of 1,750 in four regiments. This battle ended the pursuit of Suchet.
After the battle, Bentinck admitted defeat in a dispatch to Wellington. He praised the bravery of his British and Spanish soldiers. He then handed command to Lieutenant General William Henry Clinton and sailed back to Sicily. After the war, Torres and Bray were awarded for bravery in battle.
By the end of 1813, Suchet’s forces in Catalonia numbered 46 thousand people. His field forces included the 1st Division of Division General Louis Francois Felix Munier, 2nd Division of Brigadier General Claude Marie Joseph Panntier (3073), 3rd Division of Mathieu (2373), 4th Division of Abera (3975), 5 -th division of divisional general Maximilian Lamarck (4205), 2501 cavalrymen, 3 thousand artillerymen and other troops. The French had 9493 troops in garrisons in Tortosa, Lleida and Sagunto, 1605 in Gerona, 1742 in Figueres, 5844 in Barcelona and 4918 in other small fortresses.
The new Clinton commander refused to contact the insidious Suchet. Since no further hostilities were planned in the near future, the allied army in eastern Spain was divided and sent to reinforce the armies of Sicily and Wellington. In the meantime, Suchet was forced to disband his German units as their states withdrew from the alliance with France. After Napoleon ordered a large number of troops to be sent to defend eastern France, only 17 thousand people remained in Suchet’s field army. He left most of Catalonia, with the exception of Barcelona and Figueres. Thanks to cunning, Officer Juan Van Halen was able to secure the peaceful surrender of 1.9 thousand troops in the fortresses of Lleida, Mequinensa and Monson. Only Brigadier General Louis Benoit Robert, who commanded the Tortosa garrison, did not succumb to the Spanish trick.
In the end, Suchet was forced to retreat to the Pyrenees. By April 1814, his army numbered only 16,110 troops. Of these, the Lamarck division had 8491 people in 11 battalions, the Meclo brigade consisted of 3990 soldiers in seven battalions, the cavalry had 1449 soldiers in seven squadrons, and the artillery had 2,180 artillerymen and 24 guns. Gradually, all the fortifications surrendered to the Anglo-Spanish troops, with the exception of Barcelona, where Abeur offered fanatical resistance. A few weeks after Napoleon abdicated, Abera was finally persuaded to surrender, and the last trace of the French occupation in Spain disappeared.