The Siege of Gerona, 1684 - Part Three

Jose Maria
- On May 20th, the French began their siege and artillery settlement works. In the early morning of the 22nd the wall canvas began to be beaten between the half moons of "Santa Clara" and the "half moon of the Governor", continuing the bombardment until the 24th, firing between 1,500 and 2,000 gunshots of 20 to 36 pounds of field balls. It was considered a miracle of Saint Narcissus that only one soldier and one citizen died during the 3 days bombardment!

Just before the bombardment, some mangas of Spanish musketeers and 40 cavalry men, made a sortie and killed some siege workers and guards, but the French cavalry charged the "storm group" from the city, with little success, because they managed to come back to the city despite some causalities.

After the bombardment, two breaches were made, one 20 feet (6 m) wide and an even larger one easily climbed by fallen rubble. To prevent the assault, the besieged raised a fortified barricade from the Santa Clara bastion to the Governor's crescent, pulling people from both crescents to place them in defense of the barricades. This was protected by the 2,000 best musketeers in the garrison.

In the 2 breaches of the walls, the aforementioned barricades were built, with fascines and gabions, and the Spanish put 8 guns aiming to the wide breaches, the Germans of Von Bek, did a great job in those works. The Bishop of Gerona sent the troops good food and wine, because they did a good job during the bombardment days, building defensive works.

At dusk of May 24th, a French drummer appeared on behalf of Marshal Bellefonds demanding the surrender of the city. otherwise there would be no mercy except for women and children sheltered in churches...Faced with the lack of response, another French drummer arrived, both finally marching with a refusal to such a request.

The Spaniards prepared for an assault, the different Tercios were intermixed in the walls and the barricades (where the walls were breached), in the main barricade, fortified with gabions and fascines there were the main protagonists; General of Artillery Domingo Pignatelli, and the Governor of the city, D. Carlos de Sucre, along Baron Christian Von Bek, and some of the maestros de campo (colonels) of the main Spanish tercios inside the city (Tercio de Sevilla, Tercio de Barcelona, Tercio de Toledo...).

There were other fortified places where the enemy were expected to attack, but it is not possible to describe all of them, but there were even a company of armed priests with the Tercios.

Within an hour of the Spanish refusal of surrender, the French advance took place with 9 regiments with 5,000 or 6,000 men attacking the breaches!

In the successive onslaughts, the Governor's and Santa Clara's crescent moons/bastions fell; the first taken by a Swiss regiment, saw its defenders massacred; the second bastion, conquered by a French German regiment, had better luck in giving these men mercy and taking them prisoner.

the Swiss at Governor's bastion tried to entrench themselves ther with fascines and dead bodies, but the Spaniards threw them grenades, powder charges, musket fire and other fire weapons with shrapnel shots, and finally the Swiss gave up their recently conquered position.

They were repelled from the wall several times with musket shots and gunpowder charges, but they took cover with bodies and demolished materials and resisted. The main breach held up to four enemy advances, entering once up to 200 men, although they were repulsed. After that, some Spanish detachments attacked the crescents firing from the wall and managed to dislodge the enemy.

The Germans in French service who took Santa Clara's bastion, were immediately counterattacked by a student company from the walls, and regular troops, using a bronze cannon with musket balls, inflicting the Germans great damage. That bastion was near a fountain with a statue of Saint Narcissus, the protector of Gerona, so the Spanish, according to contemporary documents, started to shout "fight the heretics!, Viva España, Viva San Narciso! Victoriaaaa!" and charged the confused Germans, who finally lost their position and run away without their weapons.

In the meantime, as these flank bastions fell and were recovered, the main assault took place in the central fortified barricade, where the main leaders were.

The French assault was at follows; hundreds of "Enfants Perdús" or Forlorn hopes were formed, armed the first line or row with helmets, cuirasses, pikes and half pikes, also roundshiers or swordsmen with round shields! second and third lines there were the grenadiers with granadoes and axes, and after those "storm troops" 5000 men.

French attacks were brave, they reached the barricade, but the fire was so intense that non of the broke through the defenses, cannons with musket balls, arquebuss and musket fire and also grenades and hand to hand combat followed... the killing was terrible. The French tried 3 times, in some points even 5 times, but all of them failed.

The French lost their most veteran troops. Nine French flags were taken from them, including the flag of regiment Furstemberg, called the invincible in those times, and they had 3,000 casualties. On the Spanish side, the casualties were estimated at 100 dead and about 500 wounded.

Possibly the French marshal had lost since the beginning of the campaign about a third of his men, about 5,000. Many Germans from the French army deserted and Bellefonds had to confine all his people in Santa Eugenia to avoid escapes between May 26 and 30, hanging two German captains as an example to the others.

Bellefonds needed several days to bury their dead and take all their wounded to Figueras and Bàscara, where they had their hospitals, while the Spanish peasants and the troops dedicated themselves to the dispossession of the corpses. The marshal even commented that “if the King of Spain had this type of vassals in Flanders, so many towns would not be lost…”.

Despite this French defeat at the gates of Gerona, the situation of the campaign did not improve ostensibly for the Spanish, since Bellefonds remained in the Ampurdán with 11,000 men and the possibility of an attack by the French navy on Barcelona caused panic in the city. On the other hand, after a short siege, Cadaqués surrendered on June 26. The councilors of Barcelona, wrote worriedly to the Court asking for more money and men to prevent the fall of Rosas and Camprodon, places without which the whole of northern Catalonia would be irreversibly lost. Tensions between Catalan authorities and the Viceroy soon began, as the former accused the latter of inaction. However, the reality was that lack of means completely limited any offensive action on Bournonville's part. But Bournonville followed the French army at a prudential distance, and limited Spanish reinforcements arrived to Catalonia, from Valencia, Mallorca, Italian possessions and Andalucia.

Finally at this point, the truce came, and soon peace was signed, although war would start again in 1688 between the Grand Alliance and France...