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Combat of Linzoain, 26 July 1813
The combat of Linzoain (26 July 1813) was a minor rearguard action fought in the aftermath of the battle of Roncesvalles, and was a British delaying action, greatly aided by a lack of interest in attacking on the part of the French.
On the previous day Soult’s main force, the ‘corps’ of Reille and Clausel, had advanced along two mountain ridges to attack the Allied defenders of Roncesvalles pass. Although the defenders had successfully held the pass all day, that evening General Cole, commander of the 4th Division, decided that the position was too vulnerable to defend, and ordered an overnight retreat. His men slipped away in the dark, and after a night march reached Viscarret, just over five miles from Roncesvalles village.
Cole’s men were given a surprisingly long time to rest. Soult discovered that his enemy had gone early on the morning of 27 July. He decided to split his force, sending Reille west across mountain roads heading for the Col de Velate, while Clausel was sent down the main road to chase Cole. Reille’s march soon turned into a farce. His guides got lost in the fog, and he chosen a path largely at random. This path led then back down into the main valley, and they found themselves near the village of Espinal, about half way between Roncesvalles and Viscarret. Reille decided to ignore Soult’s orders, and follow behind Clausel.
Clausel’s pursuit was fairly leisurely. He took some time to move down from the pass, and then stopped at Burguete, only a mile and a half beyond the village. He sent out cavalry patrols to find the British, and soon ran into Cole’s rearguard near Espinal. The rearguard retreated back towards the main force at Viscarret. Clausel ordered his infantry to pursue, but they didn’t catch up with the British until 3pm, when Taupin’s advance guard found Anson’s brigade near the village of Linzoain (modern Lintzoain). Cole’s division was drawn up in a strong position on the hills overlooking the Erro river near the village. Clausel attempted to push Anson’s light companies back, sending the 31st Leger to attack, supported by a squadron of chasseurs, but these attacks were repulsed. Clausel then decided to wait for his leading two divisions to arrive before he would resume the attack.
On the Allied side General Picton now reached the front, taking command of his and Cole’s divisions. His leading troops were at Zubiri, three miles further to the south-west, and close enough to join Cole. At this point Clausel had 17,000 men and the French were known to have 35,000 men in total, and Picton and Cole decided that it wasn’t worth the risk of attempting to hold a position that could easily be outflanked. Instead he decided to retreat to the San Cristobal heights, the last high ground to the north of Pamplona.
On the French side Soult was aware that he wasn’t strong enough to attack Picton and Cole until Reille reached the front. As a result the rest of the day was spent in a series of minor rearguard actions. By the time the fighting ended, Cole had retreated one mile, and suffered 168 casualties, all but four in Anson’s brigade. The French suffered similar losses, mainly in Taupin’s division.
Cole and Picton held out until dusk. They finally began their retreat once Soult’s men had camped. Cole withdrew through Picton’s division, which became the rearguard. The entire army was on the move by 11pm, and early on the following day reached the village of Zabaldica, close to the southern edge of the mountains. As the column advanced past the village, Cole realised that the mountain to the south-west of the village would be a better defensive position, and was able to convince Picton to change his plans. This decision would later be confirmed by Wellington, and these heights of Sorauren would be the site of the much of the fighting during the resulting First Battle of Sorauren (28 July 1813) & Second battle of Sorauren (30 July 1813).