Army of the western pyrenees

Army of the Western Pyrenees

The defenses of Pamplona, the object of French advances, remained in Spanish control during the war.
Active 1793 - 1795
Country France First French Republic
Type Army
Role Operations in Basque Country and Navarre
Engagements War of the Pyrenees
Jacques Léonard Muller
Bon-Adrien Jeannot de Moncey

The Army of the western Pyrenees (Armée des Pyrénées occidentales) was one of the French armies of the French Revolutionary Wars. From April 1793 until 12 October 1795, the army fought in the Basque Country and in Navarre during the War of the Pyrenees. After indecisive fighting during the first year of its existence, the army seized the Spanish port of San Sebastián in August 1794. By the time the Peace of Basel was signed on 22 July 1795, the Army of the western Pyrenees captured significant portions of northeastern Spain.

The army commanders with the longest tenure were Jacques Léonard Muller, who served from October 1793 to August 1794, and Bon-Adrien Jeannot de Moncey, who served from August 1794 until the army was disbanded. Emperor Napoleon I appointed Moncey a Marshal of France in 1804 during the First French Empire.


The army came into existence by a decree of 30 April 1793, when the Army of the Pyrenees was divided into the Army of the eastern Pyrenees and the Army of the western Pyrenees. This occurred after the outbreak of fighting in the War of the Pyrenees.[1]

When first deployed in spring 1793, the army had 8,000 soldiers organized into two divisions, with a total of 15 battalions (bns) and 18 independent companies. The regular units were the 20th, 80th, and 148th Infantry Demi-brigades (2 bns each) and the 5th Light Demi-brigade. In addition there were the National Guard units, Aldudes bn, 3rd bn/Dordogne, 3rd bn/Landes, 4th bn/Lot-et-Garonne, and Paris Louvre bn. The cavalry regiments were the 18th Dragoons, Volunteers of the Western Pyrenees (12th Hussars), and Bayonne Volunteer Chasseurs (24th Chasseurs à cheval).[2] By mid-1794, effective strength reached 66,000 men. In June 1795 the army comprised 66 battalions and four regiments of cavalry. The army headquarters was first established at Bayonne, then later at Saint-Jean-de-Luz.[1]

The left division, based at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port was commanded by General of Division Pierre François Lambert Lamoureux de Genettière. Wounded, he was replaced on 8 June 1793 by General of Division Louis Dubouquet. In 1794, the army was divided into three divisions, led by Generals of Division Moncey, Henri Delaborde, and Jean Henri Guy Nicolas de Frégeville. The front-line divisions had 31 battalions. In addition, General of Division Jean Mauco commanded a reserve division based at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. In October 1794, a new division was formed, under the orders of General of Division Jean Antoine Marbot.[1]

Moncey was promoted to army command after his brilliant success in capturing San Sebastián on 3 August 1794. He enjoyed relatively good relations with the Representatives-on-mission. In any case, the Reign of Terror ended on 27 July 1794, and with it the French government's practice of sending unsuccessful generals to the guillotine.[3]

At the time of the army's dissolution on 12 October 1795, 18 battalions were retained to garrison the western Pyrenees, while 36 battalions and two cavalry regiments joined the Army of the West to fight in the War in the Vendée.[1]


According to historian Digby Smith, no battles of importance occurred in the western Pyrenees in the year 1793.[4] However, the French republican forces fought a number of skirmishes against Spanish troops and their French royalist allies. Examples include actions fought by the 5th Light Infantry Demi-Brigade on 6 June 1793 at Chateau-Pignon and at Aldudes in June 1793.[5]

On 5 February 1794, Dubouquet successfully defended the fortified Sans Culottes Camp on a hilltop near Hendaye against 13,700 Spanish troops led by José Urrutia.[6] On 3 June, a 2,300-man French brigade led by General of Brigade Lavictoire, part of Mauco's division, stormed the Izpegi Pass (Col d'Ispeguy), 13.5 km west of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The 1,000 defenders included Spanish and French royalist soldiers. The same day, Colonel Jacques Lefranc seized the Izpegi Ridge and other French troops captured positions near the Maya Pass.[7]

On 23 June near Bera, Navarre (Vera), Don Ventura Caro's 8,500 Spanish soldiers were repulsed by a French force defending the fortified Mont Calvari. On 10 July, General of Brigade Antoine Digonet's 4,000-strong brigade drove Spanish and French royalists from their defenses atop Monte Argintzo, 10 km south of Elizondo. The Spanish commander, Marquis de Saint-Simon was badly wounded and 49 captured French royalist prisoners were massacred by the victorious French republican forces.[8]

On 23 July, the Army of the Western Pyrenees attacked the Spanish with the three front-line divisions of Moncey, Delaborde, and Frégeville in the Battle of the Baztan Valley. Army commander General of Division Muller placed Moncey in control of the operation, which overran the Spanish positions near Elizondo and Doneztebe (Santesteban). The French then turned north, following the Bidasoa River northward at the end of July. On 1 August, Moncey seized the heights of San Marcial and the town of Hondarribia (Fuenterrabia), reaching the coast. Cut off by the French, Don Vicente de los Reyes surrendered with 2,000 Spanish soldiers and 300 cannon. On 3 August, Moncey captured San Sebastián and 1,700 more Spanish soldiers plus 90 cannons fell into French hands. Moncey took the town of Tolosa in August and was promoted to command the army on 1 September.[9][10]

From 15 to 17 October, Moncey launched a broad front offensive from the Baztan valley and the Roncevaux Pass toward Pamplona known as the Battle of Orbaitzeta. After clashes at Orbaitzeta in the east, Mezquiriz (Mezkiritz) in the center, and Lekunberri in the west, the French army defeated the army of Pedro Téllez-Girón, 9th Duke of Osuna. An arms foundry north of Orbaitzeta and the Spanish navy's mast store at Irati were captured by the French. A final clash occurred at Bergara before the onset of cold weather and a disease outbreak ended operations for the year.[10][11]

In the winter of 1794-1795 Moncey reorganized his army, which had seen 3,000 men die from disease. He finally received a siege train and 12,000 reinforcements arrived from the Army of the West in June. Moncey began to advance on 28 June and rapidly pressed back Crespo's Spanish forces. The French captured Vitoria on 17 July and Bilbao on 19 July. When news of the Peace of Basel arrived in early August, the Army of the Western Pyrenees was across the Ebro and preparing to invest Pamplona.[12]


Army commanders and their tenure are listed as follows.[1]

  • General of Division Joseph Servan de Gerbey, 1 May - 4 July 1793
  • General of Division Anne François Augustin de La Bourdonnaye, interim, 5–10 July 1793
  • General of Division Pierre Joseph du Chambge d'Elbecq, 11 July - 31 August 1793
  • General of Division Jean Etienne Philibert de Prez de Crassier, 1 September - 4 October 1793
  • General of Division Jacques Léonard Muller, 5 October 1793 - 30 August 1794
    • General of Division Jean Henri Guy Nicolas de Frégeville, temporary, March 1794
  • General of Division Bon Adrien Jeannot de Moncey, 1 September 1794 - 12 October 1795

MG Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, born in Haiti of European and African parents, was appointed commander in chief of the Army in the western Pyrenees by order of the Executive Council on 8 September 1793 and joined the army on 28 October. But the representatives-on-mission opposed his taking command and kept Muller in provisional command, by an order dated 29 October. At the beginning of December, under a new order of the Executive Council, Dumas left the Army of the western Pyrenees without having taken command. Instead, he led a column of reinforcements to the Army of the West.[1]




External references

French World Heritage Encyclopedia, Armée des Pyrénées occidentales

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