Agustina get your gun…

Agustina_de_aragon4redAgustina Raimunda María Saragossa Domènech was just 18 years old when she found herself besieged in the northern Spanish city of Zaragoza in the summer of 1808. Though the city had not seen war for 450 years, the population rose up with much of the rest of the country as part of the Dos de Mayo (2 May) uprising against the French who had seized power in Spain and replaced the rightful monarch with Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte. The rising was mostly quickly and brutally suppressed but Zaragoza held out and Marshal Bessieres, in command of French forces in north east Spain, detached General Lefebvre-Desnouettes with 6000 troops to take the city.
Their first assault was bloodily repulsed but the French were reinforced by 3000 more troops under General Verdier who, being senior to Lefebvre, took command. The second assault on 2 July was more determined and breached the Portillo, an ancient gateway into the city defended by a hodgepodge battery of old cannons and a heavily outnumbered volunteer unit. Agustina’s lover was an artillery sergeant in this unit and she was delivering food to him when she was caught up in the attack.
The story then merges into myth. The Spanish defenders were wavering under the onslaught. Agustina’s lover and his gun crew had been killed before they could fire off their last round. It is said that the young woman ran forward, snatched the lighted match from her dead lover’s hand and fired the cannon. The leading French attackers, hit by grapeshot at point blank range were mown down, the Spanish defenders rallied and the attack was thrown back.
Fierce fighting continued for a few days then dragged on inconclusively for three more weeks before the French abandoned the siege. Though they would be back.
In December of the same year the French returned. Initially under the command of General Junot, the French progressed slowly but in January 1809 command was taken over by Marshal Lannes, one Napoleon’s most competent marshals. He accelerated the attack. The walls were breached at the end of January but rather than surrender, the defenders set about defending the city street by street.
agustina aragonPestilence broke out in the city and by the 19 February the Spanish commander, José de Palafox, sued for surrender. The defence had cost the lives of approximately 20000 soldiers and 35000 civilians. The French lost close on 10000 men, more than half to sickness. The city was a devastated wreck.
Agustina was captured, her baby child killed. But subsequently she mounted a daring escape from captivity and became the leader of a guerrilla band organising harassing raids and attacks on the French occupying army. As the strategic situation deteriorated for the French Army, her role became increasingly orthodox as supplies and training were covertly provided by the Duke of Wellington.
agustina goyaBy now the legend of Agustina of Aragón was folklore.
After the war, she married a doctor and, late in life, she became a familiar sight in Zaragoza as a respectable old lady, wearing medals, who used to go for walks around the Portillo. Agustina died at the age of 71 in Ceuta.
Agustina-de-Aragon-tt0042185-1950-Peris-Arago-es-0Agustina’s heroism became a popular subject for artists both contemporary and later. The only truly identifiable person in Goya’s “The Disasters of War” is Agustina firing her cannon. Modern culture too wouldn’t let go of the legend. Her story was one of the first subject of silent film in Spain when the epic “Agustina of Aragon” was released in 1929. It was followed by a remake in 1950.

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