The Sites of Zaragoza, the Spanish Stalingrad

The Sites of Zaragoza, the Spanish Stalingrad

If the sieges were a rare event in the Napoleonic Wars, those in which the defenders resisted at all costs, against all odds, were even more so. Zaragoza was not Stralsund, Almeida or Magdeburg; instead of modern fortifications of Vauban style, their defenses were reduced to the walls of old convents in which it was necessary to open loopholes for rifles and artillery. The city also did not have a large number of well-trained regular troops; its defenders, although numerous, were largely the neighbors and fellow citizens of the surrounding region who lacked training, to which were added remains of scattered units and even retired elderly officers who dusted off their old uniforms. These defenders did not have a seasoned leader; José de Palafox, a young officer of the Royal Corps Guards without combat experience, was chosen by the energetic people to lead the defense.

Sure of the easy occupation of Zaragoza, the French general took no precautions and dispatched his troops in three columns to the interior of the city. Among these were the lancers of the Legion of the Vistula, the fearsome "picadores del inferno." One of those men, officer Kajetan Wojciechowski, tells in his memoirs that "in the midst of silence, the two parties observed each other. Each one as if he were waiting for the time when his divine sentence would decide the fate of countless families and maybe two great nations. "

What the Poles did not expect, after breaking the resistance in front of the door of Santa Engracia and going into Zaragoza one of their detachments along Carrer del Carmen, was to find barricades in their path and the inhabitants armed and ready to face them. Lance at the ready, the spearmen made their way through the crowd and jumped over the barricades riding their mounts. In their mad charge some fell by the shots of the zaragozanos and others were reached by pots and stones thrown from the balconies. Those who arrived at the Plaza del Portillo came face to face with a crowd of women who, armed with knives, surrounded them, dismounted and stabbed. Only a handful managed to save themselves. The soldier Wincenty Placzkowski would write, amazed, that "almost all [los defensores], males and females, old and young, even children, wore stilettos, and others had them in bed ».

Not only the Poles, but also the French, were perplexed by the participation of Spanish women in the fighting. The Baron de Lejeune, who participated in the second site, observed that "the women of Zaragoza formed companies and distributed themselves in the different neighborhoods, where the defense was necessary, carrying food, ammunition and helping the combatants, assisting the wounded in hospitals made cartridges and supplied men in combat as much as possible. "

The most famous case is that of Agustina de Aragón, but other names have persisted in memory, such as that of María Agustín, who still wounded in the neck of a bullet continued to carry ammunition and brandy to the soldiers, or that of Casta Álvarez, who distinguished himself in the defense of Sancho's door during the general assault of July 2, in which he fought with a bayonet tied to the end of a stick.

In spite of everything, Saragossa won the first place and, in the second, when Napoleon was the owner of Madrid and the Spanish armies had been decimated, he forced two French army corps, which would have been useful at other points, to fight during two months, before a square with improvised and precarious defenses -even barricades were raised with the dead-, one of the most atrocious and agonizing fights of the time, "from house to house, from floor to floor, from room to room, exposing to the explosion of the mines that swallowed them and leaving the ruins of the unfortunate city only when they had become a cemetery ».

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