Historical Tales: 7—Spanish - Charles Morris

The Hero of the Carlists

Spain for years past has had its double king,—a king in possession and a king in exile, a holder of the throne and an aspirant to the throne. For the greater part of a century one has rarely heard of Spain without hearing of the Carlists, for continually since 1830 there has been a princely claimant named Charles, or Don Carlos, struggling for the crown.

Ferdinand VII., who succeeded to the throne on the abdication of Charles IV. in 1808, made every effort to obtain an heir. Three wives he had without a child, and his brother, Don Carlos, naturally hoped to succeed him. But the persistent king married a fourth time, and this time a daughter was born to him. There was a law excluding females from the throne, but this law had been abrogated by Ferdinand to please his wife, and thus the birth of his daughter robbed Don Carlos of his hopes of becoming king.

Ferdinand died in 1833, and the infant Isabella was proclaimed queen, with her mother as regent. The liberals supported her, the absolutists gathered around Don Carlos, and for years there was a bitter struggle in Spain, the strength of the Carlists being in the Basque provinces and Spanish Navarre, —a land of mountaineers, loyal in nature and conservative by habit.

The dynasty of the pretender has had three successive claimants to the throne. The first Don Carlos abdicated in 1844, and was succeeded by Don Carlos the Second, his son. He died in 1861, and his cousin, Don Carlos the Third, succeeded to the claim, and renewed the struggle for the crown. It was this third of the name that threatened to renew the insurrection during the Spanish-American war of 1898.

This explanation is necessary to make clear what is known by Carlism in Spain. Many as have been the Carlist insurrections, they have had but one leader of ability, one man capable of bringing them success. This was the famous Basque chieftain Zumalacarregui, the renowned "Uncle Tomas" of the Carlists, whose brilliant career alone breaks the dull monotony of Spanish history in the nineteenth century, and who would in all probability have placed Don Carlos on the throne but for his death from a mortal wound in 1835. Since then Carlism has struggled on with little hope of success.

Navarre, the chief seat of the insurrection, borders on the chain of the Pyrenees, and is a wild confusion of mountains and hills, where the traveller is confused in a labyrinth of long and narrow valleys, deep glens, and rugged rocks and cliffs. The mountains are highest in the north, but nowhere can horsemen proceed the day through without dismounting, and in many localities even foot travel is very difficult. In passing from village to village long and winding roads must be traversed, the short cuts across the mountains being such as only a goat or a Navarrese can tread.

Regular troops, in traversing this rugged country, are exhausted by the shortest marches, while the people of the region go straight through wood and ravine, plunging into the thick forests and following narrow paths, through which pursuit is impossible, and where an invading force does not dare to send out detachments for fear of having them out off by a sudden guerilla attack. It was here and in the Basque provinces to the west, with their population of hardy and daring mountaineers, that the troops of Napoleon found themselves most annoyed by the bold guerilla chiefs, and here the Carlist forces long defied the armies of the crown.

Tomas Zumalacarregui, the "modern Cid," as his chief historian entitles him, was a man of high military genius, rigid in discipline, skilful in administration, and daring in leadership; a stern, grave soldier, to whose face a smile rarely came except when shots were falling thick around him and when his staff appeared as if they would have preferred music of a different kind. To this intrepid chief fear seemed unknown, prudence in battle unthought of, and so many were his acts of rashness that when a bullet at length reached him it seemed a miracle that he had escaped so long. The white charger which he rode became such a mark for the enemy, from its frequent appearance at the head of a charging troop or in rallying a body of skirmishers, that all those of a similar color ridden by members of his staff were successively shot, though his always escaped. On more than one occasion he brought victory out of doubt, or saved his little army in retreat, by an act of hare-brained bravery. Such was the "Uncle Tomas" of the Navarrese, the darling of the mountaineers, the man who would very likely have brought final victory to their cause had not death cut him off in the midst of his career.

Few were the adherents of Don Carlos when this able soldier placed himself at their head,—a feeble remnant hunted like a band of robbers among their native mountains. When he appeared in 1833, escaping from Madrid, where he was known as a brave soldier and an opponent of the queen, he found but the fragment of an insurgent army in Navarre. All he could gather under his banner were about eight hundred half-armed and undisciplined men,—a sorry show with which to face an army of over one hundred and twenty thousand men, many of them veterans of the recent wars. These were thrown in successive waves against Uncle Tomas and his handful of followers, reinforcement following reinforcement, general succeeding general, even the redoubtable Mina among them, each with a new plan to crush the Carlist chief, yet each disastrously failing.

Beginning with eight hundred badly armed peasants and fourteen horses, the gallant leader had at the time of his death a force of twenty-eight thousand well-organized and disciplined infantry and eight hundred horsemen, with twenty-eight pieces of artillery and twelve thousand spare muskets, all won by his good sword from the foe,—his arsenal being, as he expressed it, "in the ranks of the enemy." During these two years of incessant war more than fifty thousand of the army of Spain, including a very large number of officers, had fallen in Navarre, sixteen fortified places had been taken, and the cause of Don Carlos was advancing by leaps and bounds. The road to Madrid lay open to the Carlist hero when, at the siege of Bilboa, a distant and nearly spent shot struck him, inflicting a wound from which he soon died. With the fall of Zumalacarregui fell the Carlist cause. Weak hands seized the helm from which his strong one had been struck, incompetence succeeded genius, and three years more of a weakening struggle brought the contest to an end. In all later revivals of the insurrection it has never gained a hopeful stand, and with the fall of "Uncle Tomas" the Carlist claim to the throne seemingly received its death-blow.

The events of the war between the Navarrese and their opponents were so numerous that it is not easy to select one of special interest from the mass. We shall therefore speak only of the final incidents of Zumalacarregui's career. Among the later events was the siege and capture of Villafranca. Espartero, the Spanish general, led seven thousand men to the relief of this place, marching them across the mountains on a dark and stormy night with the hope of taking the Carlists by surprise. But Uncle Tomas was not the man to be taken unawares, and reversed the surprise, striking Espartero with a small force in the darkness, and driving back his men in confusion and dismay. Eighteen hundred prisoners were taken, and the general himself narrowly escaped. General Mirasol was taken, with all his staff, in a road-side house, from which he made an undignified escape. He was a small man, and by turning up his embroidered cuffs, these being the only marks of the grade of brigadier-general in the Spanish army, he concealed his rank. He told his captors that he was a tambor. In their anxiety to capture officers the soldiers considered a drummer too small game, and dismissed the general with a sound kick to the custody of those outside. As these had more prisoners than they could well manage, he easily escaped.

On learning of the defeat of Espartero the city surrendered. The news of the fall of Villafranca had an important effect, the city of Tolosa being abandoned by its garrison and Burgera surrendered, though it was strongly garrisoned. Here Charles V.—as Don Carlos was styled by his party—made a triumphal entry. He was then at the summit of his fortunes and full of aspiring hopes. Eybar was next surrendered, the garrison of Durango fled, and Salvatierra was evacuated.

Victory seemed to have perched upon the banners of the Navarrese, town after town falling in rapid succession into their bands, and the crown of Spain appeared likely soon to change hands. Zumalacarregui proposed next to march upon Vittoria, which had been abandoned with the exception of a few battalions, and thence upon the important city of Burgos, where be would either force the enemy to a battle or move forward upon Madrid. So rapid and signal had been his successes that consternation filled the army of the queen, the soldiers being in such terror that little opposition was feared. Bets ran high in the Carlist army that six weeks would see them in Madrid, and any odds could have been had that they would be there within two months. Such was the promising state of affairs when the impolitic interference of Don Carlos led to a turn in the tide of his fortune and the overthrow of his cause.

What he wanted most was money. His military chest was empty. In the path of the army lay the rich mercantile city of Bilboa. Its capture would furnish a temporary supply. He insisted that the army, instead of crossing the Ebro and taking full advantage of the panic of the enemy, should attack this place. This Zumalacarregui strongly opposed.

"Can you take it?" asked Carlos.

"I can take it, but it will be at an immense sacrifice, not so much of men as of time, which now is precious," was the reply.

Don Carlos insisted, and the general, sorely against his will, complied. The movement was not only unwise in itself, it led to an accident that brought to an end all the fair promise of success.

The siege was begun. Zumalacarregui, anxious to save time, determined to take the place by storm as soon as a practicable breach should be made, and on the morning of the day he had fixed for the assault he, with his usual daring, stepped into the balcony of a building not far from the walls to inspect the state of affairs with his glass.

On seeing a man thus exposed, evidently a superior superior officer, to judge from his telescope and the black fur jacket he wore, all the men within that part of the walls opened fire on him. The general soon came out of the balcony limping in a way that at once created alarm, and, unable to conceal his lameness, be admitted that he was wounded. A bullet, glancing from one of the bars of the balcony window, had struck him in the calf of the right leg, fracturing the small bone and dropping two or three inches lower in the flesh.

The wound appeared but trifling,—the slight hurt of a spent ball,—but the surgeons, disputing as to the policy of extracting the ball, did nothing, not even dressing the wound till the next morning. It was of slight importance, they said. He would be on horseback within a month, perhaps in two weeks. The wounded man was not so sanguine.

"The pitcher goes to the well till it breaks at last," he said. "Two months more and I would not have cared for any sort of wound."

Those two months might have put Don Carlos on the throne and changed the history of Spain. In eleven days the general was dead and a change had come over the spirit of affairs. The operations against Bilboa languished, the garrison regained their courage, the plan of storming the place was set aside, the queen's troops, cheered by tidings of the death of the "terrible Zumalacarregui," took heart again and marched to the relief of the city. Their advance ended in the siege being raised, and in the first encounter after the death of their redoubtable chief the Carlists met with defeat. The decline in the fortunes of Don Carlos had begun. One man had lifted them from the lowest ebb almost to the pinnacle of success. With the fall of Zumalacarregui Carlism received a death-blow in Spain, for there is little hope that one of this dynasty of claimants will ever reach the throne.