General Joaquín Blake y Joyes
Of Irish descent, Blake was born at Malaga on September 19th 1759. When he was a boy of 15, on January 10th 1774, he joined the American Regiment of line infantry as a cadet. All Irishmen (or of Irish descent) who were not dishonoured could join the Royal Army as aspirants to officer rank. On September 18th 1775 he was promoted to sub-Lieutenant of Fusiliers. He was especially skilled in training and organization duties, so in 1777 he was appointed Master (teacher) of Cadets of his regiment, a very unusual rank for such a young officer.
When the war against Great Britain began, Blake was assigned first to the blockade of Gibraltar and later to the siege of Mahon. After this city was taken he remained there with his regiment. In this post he was promoted to sub-Lieutenant of Grenadiers in July 13th, 1781. A short time later, on March 1st 1782, he was promoted to Lieutenant of Fusiliers.
After the war he returned to Peninsular Spain, where his posting was changed on June 27th 1784 to the Cadet Academy of Puerto de Santa Maria (Cadiz). He stayed at the Academy until the war against the French Convention broke out. He was promoted to Lieutenant of Grenadiers (June 9th 1787) and later to Captain of Grenadiers (August 12th 1791). When the war broke out he rejoined his regiment to fight against the French armies at Rosellon (Eastern Pyrenees).
It’s well known that he was at the actions of Sare (or Zara) and Urrugne, under the command of General Caro (the uncle of Pedro Caro, Marquis de La Romana). After seeing some action in the second half of 1793 he was assigned to the newly raised regiment of Voluntarios de Castilla as its Sargento Mayor (the rank was equivalent to major or commander, and he also had the duties of quartermaster). After training the men, the new regiment was assigned to Rosellon. Blake was wounded during the assault on Muga (August 19th 1794) and spent some months in hospital. When he recovered he was promoted, in 1795, to Lieutenant-Colonel and posted to the new regiment of chasseurs, the Voluntarios de la Corona. This unit was raised as an elite unit with veteran soldiers and experienced officers from other units, in an attempt to halt the victorious French forces. Blake did well and so was promoted to Colonel on September 4th, 1795. On September 25th he applied to cease active duty, which was granted. He settled in Malaga.
He returned to active duty in 1802, when he was promoted to brigadier (General of Brigade) and given command of the fortress of Ferrol in Galicia.
Following the revolt against the French, the Captain-General of Galicia was killed by a mob, as he was suspected of being pro-French. The new Junta of the Kingdom of Galicia immediately appointed Blake as Commander-in-Chief of the Army of Galicia, formed from all the garrisons in the region and some civilian volunteers. He was also promoted to Lieutenant-General (without previously having been Marshal-General of Division). He ordered his army to proceed to Benavente to join forces with the Army of Castile under the command of General Cuesta. Cuesta was the senior general in the Spanish army, but the Junta issued Blake secret instructions not to submit to him. This order led to disaster when, at Medina de Rioseco (June 14th 1808), the two commanders were unable to co-ordinate their forces against the French. The result was a complete defeat. Cuesta retreated to Benavente, while Blake retired on Astorga.
Blake’s forces did not see any major action until the defeat of Bailén forced the French to retreat towards the Ebro river. Blake pursued the French retreat at a distance. He headed towards Santander and cleaned up the enemy forces in this city and other Northern ports. Here he refused to pass command of his army to the Marquis of La Romana, as he had been ordered. Finally, his force halted at the left bank of the Nervion river in Basque country. Blake’s forces were augmented in number, at the expense of Cuesta’s army, to form the new Army of the Left, whose primary mission was to expel the French from Vizcaya and push them towards San Sebastian and the French border. This was easy to do with the mixed force that Blake had under his command.
Blake pursued the French, retaking Bilbao, but on October 30th he was defeated at Zornoza and had to retreat. The French gave pursuit, but Blake was able to defeat their vanguard at Valmaseda. Still in retreat, Blake’s army was attacked by Marshal Victor at Espinosa de los Monteros on November 10th, and was completely defeated. Worst still, the retreat, made via mountain roads and in bad weather, made the army nearly disintegrate. When its remnants arrived at Reinosa on December 12th, they numbered fewer than 5,000 men and were without equipment. Due this defeat Blake was removed from this command.
Blake was then appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Spanish forces in Valencia and Murcia. Prior to the war these two regions had been exempted from forming militias, so that when the war began they were in bad shape for defence. Blake was sent to build up and train forces, which was what he did best. With this force (when ready) he was ordered to relieve the siege of Zaragoza. Blake’s forces could do nothing to help the city. Nevertheless, on April 7th Blake was appointed as Captain-General of Cataluña, Valencia and Aragon, after the surrender of Zaragoza.
Mortier having left Aragon to support Soult in Northern Castile and Junot having left for France, Marshal Suchet took command of the French forces in Central Aragon, the 3rd Corps, which was not in good shape. Blake saw a chance, and pressed the French with his eye on Zaragoza. On May 23rd Blake defeated Suchet at Alcañiz, but did not press forward, allowing the French to recover and defeat the Spanish at Maria on June 15th. Suchet pursued Blake and was able to defeat him once more at Belchite on June 18th. Blake retreated once more; he managed to keep his remaining forces together and escape the French pursuit.
After these battles Blake focused his attention on the city of Gerona, which had been besieged by the French since June. Many attempts were made to relieve it, but without success. Gerona finally surrendered on December 10th 1809. Blake then ordered his troops to proceed South towards Valencia, as he had no more strongholds in Cataluña or Aragon.
Blake spent the firsts months of 1810 in training his men and in preparing a plan to form a Cuerpo de Estado Mayor (Staff Corps), which didn’t exist in the Spanish Army. This proposal was presented to the Regency Council on May 25th 1810, and was approved on June 9th. As a result, Blake himself was appointed as one of the three Regents on October 28th. His position took effect on December 8th.
At this time the Regency Council as well as the Courts were confined at Cadiz, besieged by Marshal Victor. However, the Regency managed to raise an Expeditionary Army to implement offensive actions against the French.
This Army disembarked at Ayamonte on April 18th 1811. The plan was to march North to join forces with Castaños’ Army of Extremadura and British forces under General Beresford, to stop the French troops under Soult, who had recently conquered Badajoz and Almeida (thus giving them a route to invade Portugal by its Southern third). Blake was in command of the Expeditionary Army.
Here he repeated the mistakes of Medina de Rioseco yet again. Castaños was senior to Blake, but the latter outranked Castaños as Regent. Worst of all, Castaños resigned the high command to the British commander, to avoid the British leaving the campaign (as they had done with Cuesta two years before). So Blake was not of great assistance in the coming battle of La Albuera on June 15th. Even so, for political reasons, he was promoted to Captain-General.
After the victory at La Albuera the Allies pursued Soult, who ordered Seville’s garrison to reinforce him, thus leaving Seville without defences. Beresford suggested that Blake should advance against the city while Castaños and himself were pursuing Soult. Blake did so, but lost too much time assaulting the castle of Niebla, and when he was informed that two French divisions were approaching, he ordered a retreat on July 2nd. He conducted half of the Expeditionary Army back to Ayamonte, were they embarked to return to Cadiz.
Back at Cadiz the Courts appointed Blake as Captain-General of Murcia, Valencia, Aragon and Cataluña. His orders were stop Marshal Suchet, who was marching towards Valencia after having surrendered the cities of Tarragona and Tortosa, thus clearing a way for an advance.
Blake arrived at Valencia on July 12th 1811 with the Expeditionary Army. The troops he commanded were theoretically more than 30.000 in number, but in fact only the two divisions of the Expeditionary Army were in good shape. Furthermore, a disease spread among the soldiers, robbing Blake of more soldiers.
Meanwhile Suchet advanced and besieged Sagunto. Blake assembled his army and attacked Suchet near Puzol on October 25th, but was repulsed. Suchet received reinforcements, Blake none. Suchet pressed on further with these reinforcements and was finally able to surround Blake’s forces at Valencia on December 26th. The Spanish forces tried to break the French lines in a major attack on December 28th, but were repulsed. After this, Blake’s only hope was in an attack by forces outside Valencia, which never happened. Finally Blake agreed to surrender his army on January 10th 1812.
Blake was captured and sent to the castle of Vincennes, where other high-ranking Spanish leaders were held. He was freed in 1814 after the Treaty of Valençay between Napoleon and Ferdinand VII. He returned to Spain but had no further active command.
In April 28th 1815 he was appointed General Engineer of the Army (General Inspector of Engineers of the Army). He saw no more active duty. He was a liberal and so was suspected by the conservatives who supported King Ferdinand, but he was always loyal to the Crown.
Joaquin Blake died at Valladolid on April 27th 1827.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2005
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