The Battle at the river Ter (Catalonia)
27th May 1694
by Giancarlo Boeri, Josè Luis Mirecki, Josè Palau
The war of the league of Ausburg on the Spanish front (Catalonia) was characterized by a high number of sieges (of particular relevance that of Barcelona in 1697 which practically ended the war), continuous skirmishes and ambushes (especially by the Miquelets to French convoys), naval bombardments (always French) against coastal towns and fortifications and threats of disembarking troops, but a very few field encounters with the full deployment of the two contending armies. The most important episode of a field engagement of relevant proportions was the battle fought on the 27th of May 1694 along the banks and fords of the river Ter near the Puente Mayor in the vicinity of the important town of Gerona. The viceroy of Catalonia, don Juan Manuel Lopez Pacheco Acuña Giron y Portocarrero, marquis of Villena duke of Ascalona, who was also the Captain General of the army, had deployed along the banks of the river Ter practically all the marching troops he could muster to oppose the strong French expeditionary corps, led by the French Marshall duke of Noailles, who wanted to capture Gerona. The two armies were approximately of the same force (20,000 foot and 4-5,000 horse). The French regiments were composed mostly of veteran troops, while the Spanish forces had a very large number of recruits and newly constituted units never tested on the field. In fact in the year 1694 the French king decided to make an effort in Catalonia, and put Catinat's army in Piedmont on the defensive, reserving more troops to the Spanish front.
The French tended to employ in Catalonia Swiss troops (that many times were Protestants and this created additional problems with the population), Irish units and some Militia battalions coming from the bordering provinces, integrated into a good core of French veteran troops. Furthermore the French army was superior in the number of artillery pieces and fire-power, served by good trained officers and crews.
The Spanish infantry was constituted by a core of 5 veteran "provincial" tercios, by a certain number of tercios that each territory of the Crown (Aragon, Valencia, Granada, Catalonia) had to organise for the participation in the war effort. These tercios originally served for about six months during the campaign season, after which the men were sent back to their homes for the winter months. After the first few years of the war they were kept in Catalonia, but normally the strength of the units at the end of the campaign season was dramatically reduced and each year they had to be recruited substantially at the beginning of the new season.
At the end of 1693 following a series of draw-backs and unsatisfactory results of the army of Catalonia, in order to constitute a credible base for the royal standing army, it was decided to create 10 new Provincial tercios, that were organized within the first months of 1694, and most of these were present at the battle at the river Ter. There were also two veteran Italian infantry tercios and two German infantry (in Spanish pay) regiments.
The cavalry comprised 7 "trozos" of horse and a tercio of dragoons. The artillery was served by professional officers and some militia bombardiers; the train was normally contracted with private enterprisers.
According to a report of the viceroy of the 21st of May he was in Girona with 12 tercios and the two German infantry regiments, waiting to be reinforced by four more tercios, seven trozos of cavalry, with 12 field pieces .
The French were between Borrassà and Santa Llogaia with 34 squadrons and 20 field pieces. Having received the expected reinforcements on the 23rd the Spanish army moved to Foxà; the following day they covered the ford of the river Ter at Verges with various patrols of cavalry and a battery of five guns. On the 25th the remaining fords were also guarded, but unadequately, not having the Spaniards enough troops for all the possible fords.
The following day the enemy moved nearer and the Spanish army was divided into three corps for guarding the fords at Verges, Ullà and Torroella. According to the Spanish viceroy "all our army was constituted by 11,900 foot and 4,000 horse which all included make the number of 16,300 (including 400 Miquelets) the greatest part men of no experience who in all their life had never seen a weapon, and forced to serve so that it had been necessary to lead them as prisoners, and a great part of the cavalry without pistols and dragoons with no muskets ..." The marquis of Escalona-Villena was even without carriages for the army, a contract for which arrived at Girona, only after the battle.
The previous days the enemies attempted with no success to force the fording at Verges, and then moved to Ullà and Torroella. On the 27th a dense fog hung over the banks of the river; taking profit of this 2,000 French dragoons and cavalry , followed by a large number of infantry grenadiers, passed unaccounted the river at Torroella de Montgri, and charged portion of the Spanish infantry (4 tercios: Tercio del Casco and de la Costa de Granada, Burgos and nuevo Valladolid) that were at the position and were not entrenched and had been battered by the French artillery from the other side of the river : after the first discharge of their muskets the Spaniards could not oppose effectively the oncoming enemies, they started to flee from the battle camp putting into disorder the remaining of the army; many were killed while they could not effectively oppose the French : in particular the tercios of los Amarillos (Burgos), of the Casco de Granada, of PeñaRubia (Toledo), of Pimienta (nuevo de Valladolid) and of D. Juan de Nuero. A single squadroon (trozo de Rosellon) of Spanish horse, commanded by D. Fernando di Toledo, who died in the battle, tried to halt the enemy, but was overwhelmed by the French, while the remaining of the cavalry withdrew leaving all the infantry without protection. At the notice of this defeat and because a large number of French troops had forded the river and were now positioned in order of battle, the whole Spanish army fell in confusion and the cavalry fled together with the rearguard until reaching Girona. D. Josep Boneu, maestro di campo of the tercio de la Generalitat, kept the calm and at the head of his tercio and of that known as morados [Sevilla], made en effort of ordering them for battle and supported by some of the Spanish cavalry at the orders of the marquis of Grigny General of the Cavalry, faced the French cavalry (Carabiniers) and the following infantry, in this way saving many troops who were fleeing towards Gerona in disorder.
The French made a general advance against the Spaniards, with little opposition, killing many soldiers and capturing baggage and artillery pieces, beside a large number of standards.
According to the official version the Spaniards lost 2,931 foot and 324 horse, among dead, wounded and desertors. According to French sources Spanish losses exceeded 9,000 men including 2,000 prisoners, while their own losses amounted to about 500 . Among the dead in the Spanish field there were the commissary general of the trozo de Rossellon D. Fernando de Toledo, D. Alonso de Granada maestro de campo of the tercio of the Casco of Granada, the count of Peñarubia [tercio de Toledo] and D. Giulio Pignatelli ; on the French side the field marshal Comte de Bourg, and the Dragoons Brigadier Mr de la Salle. In this situation the viceroy had no other choice than sending some troops to Girona and marched with the largest part of his army towards Barcelona, where he remained the whole month of June. In the meanwhile the French sacked over 10 villages in the surroundings of the river Ter.
On the 30th of May, three days after the Spanish defeat at the river Ter, Noailles started the blocquade by land and sea of the fortress of Palamos, that surrendered to the French on the 10th of June.
Giancarlo Boeri, Josè Luis Mirecki, Josè Palau