Marshal Soult's Invasion of Portugal, February-March 1809

Marshal Soult's Invasion of Portugal, February-March 1809

Marshal Soult's Invasion of Portugal, February-March 1809

Map showing the route of Marshal Soult's invasion of Portugal from the occupation of Corunna to the fall of Oporto.Battles are indicated by clickable names and dates

A History of the Peninsular War vol.2: Jan.-Sept. 1809 - From the Battle of Corunna to the end of the Talavera Campaign, Sir Charles Oman. Part two of Oman's classic history falls into two broad sections. The first half of the book looks at the period between the British evacuation from Corunna and the arrival of Wellesley in Portugal for the second time, five months when the Spanish fought alone, while the second half looks at Wellesley's campaign in the north of Portugal and his first campaign in Spain. One of the classic works of military history.

The Spanish Ulcer, A History of the Peninsular War, David Gates. An excellent single volume history of the Peninsular War, which when it was published was the first really good English language history of the entire war since Oman. This is a well balanced work with detailed coverage of those campaigns conducted entirely by Spanish armies, as well as the better known British intervention in Portugal and Spain.

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Marshal Soult's Invasion of Portugal, February-March 1809 - History

In November 1808 the British army led by Sir John Moore advanced into Spain with orders to assist the Spanish armies in their struggle against the invading forces of Napoleon. The army had advanced to Salamanca when Moore eventually judged that the Spanish forces were beaten, and considered that to avoid disaster he must give up and retreat to the coast. Before doing so he seized at an opportunity to threaten Napoleon’s communications with France hoping that he might divert Napoleon’s forces and give other parts of Spain and Portugal a few months respite in which they might reorganise. Napoleon responded with customary swiftness and decisiveness directing his Marshals to try and trap the British, himself leading an army in forced marches in spite of winter conditions. Moore had anticipated that he would have to be ready to make run for the coast and he managed to keep ahead of the pursuing French and avoid entrapment.

When it was clear that he could not catch Moore, Napoleon decided to leave Spain to attend to other pressing matters and left the pursuit of the British to the corps of Marshal Soult. The retreat of the British, closely followed by their French pursuers, took them through mountainous terrain, in dreadful conditions of cold and snow and was marked by exhausting marches, privation, and suffering. At times the discipline of the British broke down but eventually they reached the port of Corunna in north west Spain where they expected to find a fleet to take them back them to England.

The British army arrived in Corunna on 11th January and would have immediately evacuated by sea but found that the transport vessels that had been ordered had not yet arrived.

The French army began to arrive the next day, building up strength as they arrived from the march Soult’s artillery arriving on the 14th January. The long-awaited transport ships also arrived on the 14th and that evening the British evacuated their sick, some horses and some of the guns, cavalrymen and gunners. (The terrain was unsuitable for cavalry, and since they would be of no use in the event of a battle many horses were slaughtered rather than leave them behind for the French.)

Moore had deployed his army, now 14,500 strong, to cover the evacuation by placing the main part of it on a ridge astride the road to Corunna, a mile and a half south of the harbour. A stronger position lay to the south but the British commander considered that he lacked the numbers to defend it properly and had to be content with placing outposts there to slow the approach of the French. The left flank was covered by the river Mero and the left and centre of the ridge was quite defensible. The western and lower end of this ridge was more vulnerable and could be swept by guns on the rocky heights of the loftier range opposite, and the ground further west consisted of more open terrain extending as far as Corunna which might be provide the means of turning the whole position. Moore held two divisions back in reserve a little north and westwards in order to guard the right flank and to prevent a turning movement.

As day broke on 16th January the French were in position on the heights and all through the morning both armies observed each across the valley between them. Moore planned to continue with the embarkation later that day if Soult did not attack. By afternoon Moore considered an attack unlikely and he ordered the first divisions to make their way to the port, the rest of the army would follow at dusk, but shortly after, at 2pm, he learned that the French were attacking.

Soult's plan was to move against the strongly-placed British infantry of the left and centre in order to contain it while the infantry division of Mermet attacked the more vulnerable British right above the village of Elvina. The cavalry was deployed further west near the more open country leading to Corunna. If the attacks succeeded they could seize the western end of the British lines and push on to cut off the bulk of the army from Corunna.

Mermet’s infantry advanced quickly and soon pushed the British picquets from Elvina and attacked the heights beyond. At the same time a French brigade pushed up the valley on the British right in an attempt to turn their flank.

The fiercest fighting took place in and around Elvina as the possession of this village changed hands several times, and the British suffered particularly from the fire of the heavy artillery on the heights opposite. Moore remained in this area to direct the battle ordering one regiment to fire down upon the flank of the French column that was attempting the turning movement and calling up the reserve to meet it. The British commander had just rallied the 42nd regiment that had fallen back from Elvina when he was struck by a cannonball and fell mortally wounded. For a time the British were without a commander, which hampered attempts at a counter attack in this crucial sector, but the fighting continued unabated.

Further west the French cavalry attempted to push forward as part of the flank attack but they were hampered by the rough terrain and eventually driven back by the advance of the British reserves.

Night brought an end to the fighting by which time the French had been repulsed and had returned to their original positions both sides holding much the same ground as before the fight.

Command of the British army had passed to General Hope who decided to proceed with the embarkation as had been the original plan. At around 9pm the British began to silently withdraw from their lines, leaving behind strong picquets who maintained watch-fires throughout the night.

At daybreak on the 17th January the picquets were withdrawn behind the rearguard and went aboard ship by morning most of the army had embarked. When Soult perceived that the British had left the ridge he posted six guns on the heights above the southern end of the bay and by midday they were were able fire upon the outlying ships. This caused panic amongst some of the transports until the battery was silenced by fire from the warships.

Finally, on the 18th January, the British rearguard embarked, the small Spanish garrison under General Alcedo faithfully holding the citadel until the fleet was well out to sea.

As a result of the battle the British suffered around 800 men dead or wounded and the French around 1,500. The most notable casualty was the British commander Sir John Moore who survived long enough to learn of his success.

The British army had been sent into Spain to aid that nation in expelling the French, but they had been forced into a humiliating retreat in terrible winter conditions that wrought havoc with health and morale and resulted in the army degenerating into a rabble. Fortunately for Sir John Moore and his men Marshal Soult's attack at Corunna provided them with the opportunity to redeem their honour and reputation through their defensive victory, by which means the army was saved though at the cost of the British general’s life.

Nevertheless back in England the reaction to news of the battle of Corunna and the safe evacuation of the army was a storm of criticism over Moore’s handling of the campaign, whilst back in Corunna his adversary Marshal Soult took care of Moore’s grave and ordered a monument to be raised in his memory.


Napoleon and Portugal (1807-1812)

Whenever I follow Wellingtons campaign on youtube with battles in Spain or near to Portugal the Torres Vedras get mentioned yet never explained.
I guess these are fortified stone fortifications reasonably close together that can be used to shelter troops and mount canons.

Was it the Portuguese or Wellington that got these built?

Some time ago I wrote a post here: British Embellishment?

“The French could have envisioned it [the Lines of Torres Vedras]. The French coronel of the engineers Charles Humbert Marie Vicent was in Portugal with Junot and made a study, presented in the summer of 1808, about the defence of Lisbon and the possibilities to raise fortifications. And in 1810 a Portuguese priest in Viseu told the French about it.

And it is almost impossible that the Portuguese government didn’t knew it, since almost half of Wellington’s army was Portuguese (with some 8000 Spanish), there was a huge number of Portuguese workers from all around Lisbon working there as well as engineers and that the plan was quite old. Furthermore Portuguese artillery, milicias and ordenaças were used to garrison the lines.

The Portuguese José Maria da Neves Costa presented to the Portuguese government in November 1808 a proposal (probably based on Vicent’s study) to make some topographic works and he begins them in the beginning of 1809 and ends them in February. And in 20 of October 1809, Wellington gives the order to begin the works.”

So the plan was made by José Maria da Neves Costa, probably based on a study by the French Charles Humbert Marie Vicent. Somewhat ironic, isn't it?

Tulius

Mastersonmcvoidson

There were three invasions of Portugal, one in 1807, another in 1809 and yet another in 1810.

The first was mostly successful and was a joint Franco-Spanish effort with the French receiving the central part of Portugal, the Spanish received the south with the north being given to the Spanish as well, intended to become the personal principality for the Spanish nobleman Manuel Godoy.

The invasion was led by Marshal Junot, who marched through Portugal and conquered it with little resistance, but he failed to reach Lisbon before the British evacuated the Portuguese navy, treasury and the royal family, robbing the French of the Portuguese ships and riches. Junot lost many men on the march due to attrition, but conquered Portugal nonetheless. He set up a puppet government and went to work, but his reforms were limited and the occupation was short lived. Several Portuguese guerillas rose up to resist the French and the British landed an expeditionary force under Wellington. Junot was decisively defeated at Vimeiro and signed the Convention of Cintra, which had the British evacuate the French army out of Portugal. The convention is often seen as shameful and something which wasted the opportunity to do more damage to the French, but in the context of the British position the rapid evacuation of the French army cleared Portugal and solidified the coalition foothold in the area. This was very beneficial to the British.

The second invasion was led by Marshal Soult in 1809. The French came from the north and reached as far as Porto, but the Anglo-Portuguese force under Wellington outmanoeuvred them and won a string of victories, forcing the French to withdraw.

The third invasion was led by Marshal Massena in 1810, the main thrust was through central Portugal and almost reached Lisbon. Wellington prepared the Lines of Torres Vedras and initiated a scorched earth policy, making the Portuguese burn their crops and supplies to deny them to the French. This caused considerable plight for the population, but made the invasion considerably more difficult for the French. Wellington won a battle at Bussaco and withdrew behind the Lines of Torres Vedras. The fortifications were strong and difficult to assault directly, so the French had to dig in for a siege. The siege campaign carried on into the winter with the French running out of supplies and suffering greatly from attrition. After suffering massive casualties and failing to conquer Portugal, the French withdrew, all the while being harassed by Portuguese guerillas. The third invasion was a decisive French defeat.

Philliposeur

I don't know if you're aware of Mark S. Thompson's book 'Wellington's Engineers' published in 2015 but, as far as I am aware, it was the first book in English to give consideration to Neves Costa's earlier study. Discussing Wellington's memorandum of 20 October 1809, he states:
"This was an outline of the task which he would have developed through riding through the hills, by talking to the Portuguese and looking at previous analyses of the area, particularly by the French engineer Vincent and the Portuguese engineer Neves Costa."

Dr. Mark S.. Wellington’s Engineers: Military Engineering on the Peninsular War 1808-1814.

Certainly Neves Costa claimed the original idea was his but I wouldn't have thought that Fletcher's designs would have been largely based on his plans as the construction of the lines developed as they were being built. They were far more extensive than originally envisioned, becoming two lines rather than just one with a second line being created in front of the original one. I don't know what Neves Costa actually presented though. Do you have any more details of what they were as it would be interesting to find out?

Thompson also comments that the Portuguese had actually started work on building some fortifications around the city in early 1809 but he does not know if these were based on Neves Costa's study, although he thinks it possible. Although Fletcher was in overall charge of the project, most of the work was supervised by Captain Stephen Chapman who was the commanding Royal Engineer before Fletcher arrived in April. Chapman reported in March that the Portuguese Chief Engineer had presented a proposal for the defence of Lisbon to Beresford so it is pretty certain that Wellington would have known of this.

Plans for the fortification of Lisbon should also be viewed as a part of work started in 1808 by British/KGL and Portuguese engineers to draw up plans for the fortification of a number of locations in Portugal, including Peniche and Coimbra.

Regarding Vincent's proposal, that only really covered the city itself with fortifications on both sides of the Tagus and did not have much on the hills to the North.

Also, and while I'm sure you know about this others might not, as well as the two lines protecting the Lisbon peninsula, other works were constructed, especially around St Julian covering a possible evacuation point and for which, seven officers were already surveying the area in September 1808.

Although not directly referring to the Lines, another point that Thompson makes is that the Portuguese engineers have often been overlooked, at least in English, in studies of the Peninsular war and had a more significant role than is generally realised. Because they were a unified service consisting of both officers and other ranks, they could be, and were, used attached to the Portuguese Brigades in ways which the British could not do with their own until some companies of artificers were sent out from the UK in, I think 1812, followed by the creation of the Royal Sappers and Miners in 1813. There was the Army's own engineering arm, the Royal Staff Corps, but these were mainly concerned with maintaining the transport network, building bridges and repairing roads for example. As with the Portuguese Engineers, their role in the Peninsular is in need of further research.

Tulius

I don't know if you're aware of Mark S. Thompson's book 'Wellington's Engineers' published in 2015 but, as far as I am aware, it was the first book in English to give consideration to Neves Costa's earlier study. Discussing Wellington's memorandum of 20 October 1809, he states:

"This was an outline of the task which he would have developed through riding through the hills, by talking to the Portuguese and looking at previous analyses of the area, particularly by the French engineer Vincent and the Portuguese engineer Neves Costa."

Dr. Mark S.. Wellington’s Engineers: Military Engineering on the Peninsular War 1808-1814.

Certainly Neves Costa claimed the original idea was his but I wouldn't have thought that Fletcher's designs would have been largely based on his plans as the construction of the lines developed as they were being built. They were far more extensive than originally envisioned, becoming two lines rather than just one with a second line being created in front of the original one. I don't know what Neves Costa actually presented though. Do you have any more details of what they were as it would be interesting to find out?

Thompson also comments that the Portuguese had actually started work on building some fortifications around the city in early 1809 but he does not know if these were based on Neves Costa's study, although he thinks it possible. Although Fletcher was in overall charge of the project, most of the work was supervised by Captain Stephen Chapman who was the commanding Royal Engineer before Fletcher arrived in April. Chapman reported in March that the Portuguese Chief Engineer had presented a proposal for the defence of Lisbon to Beresford so it is pretty certain that Wellington would have known of this.

Plans for the fortification of Lisbon should also be viewed as a part of work started in 1808 by British/KGL and Portuguese engineers to draw up plans for the fortification of a number of locations in Portugal, including Peniche and Coimbra.

Regarding Vincent's proposal, that only really covered the city itself with fortifications on both sides of the Tagus and did not have much on the hills to the North.

Also, and while I'm sure you know about this others might not, as well as the two lines protecting the Lisbon peninsula, other works were constructed, especially around St Julian covering a possible evacuation point and for which, seven officers were already surveying the area in September 1808.

Although not directly referring to the Lines, another point that Thompson makes is that the Portuguese engineers have often been overlooked, at least in English, in studies of the Peninsular war and had a more significant role than is generally realised. Because they were a unified service consisting of both officers and other ranks, they could be, and were, used attached to the Portuguese Brigades in ways which the British could not do with their own until some companies of artificers were sent out from the UK in, I think 1812, followed by the creation of the Royal Sappers and Miners in 1813. There was the Army's own engineering arm, the Royal Staff Corps, but these were mainly concerned with maintaining the transport network, building bridges and repairing roads for example. As with the Portuguese Engineers, their role in the Peninsular is in need of further research.

No, I am not aware of Thompson's book. Thanks. I also don’t read about the theme for some time.

The only book that I have in English specifically about the Lines is quite light and non-cademic, it is from Osprey: “The Lines of Torres Vedras 1809-11”, by Ian Fletcher. I don’t recall that I ever fully read it.

There are some Master and Doctoral thesis about the lines with interesting research, many are available online (in Portuguese), but all usually have the abstracts in English.

“A 1ª e a 2ª Linhas de Torres: a valorização do património e o turismo cultural” / “The 1st and 2nd Lines of Torres: the enrichment of the heritage and cultural tourism”, by Marco Noivo, Universidade de Lisboa, available at A 1ª e a 2ª Linhas de Torres: a valorização do património e o turismo cultural

But the reference that I made to José Costa came probably from the “Nova História Militar de Portugal” / “New Military History of Portugal”.

I think had had something about his work, in an appendix or something, I will check to try to answer to your question.


Timeline of the Peninsular War

It was during this period that Wellington’s reputation as a soldier made the transition from “the Sepoy General” to a that of military mind to be reckoned with. Further material on the Peninsular War is to be found at: www.peninsularwar200.org. Additional material is at: www.historyofwar.org, www.peninsularwar.

Britain’s major contribution to the Napoleonic War effort during the period 1808 to 1814 was, almost exclusively, in the Iberian Peninsula in what has been called (by the British) the Peninsular War. It was a long war and a truly joint and multinational effort many of Wellington’s Army commanders and men, who subsequently fought at Waterloo, learned their trade or cut their teeth during these enduring campaigns. The full details of the war, and of the bicentenary commemorative events, can be found at www.peninsularwar200.org

Introduction

Unable to subdue Britain, the paymaster of Napoleon’s continental enemies, because of her mighty navy, Napoleon attempted to strangle her economically through the blockade known as the Continental System. To be effective it had to be applied across the whole of the continent. Thus in 1807, Napoleon joined with his ally Spain (greedy for territorial gains) in occupying the defenceless kingdom of Portugal, the Portuguese royal family being evacuated to Brazil, escorted by British warships. But Napoleon overplayed his hand.

Thinking that the Spanish would not object to the removal of their weak, corrupt Bourbon court, he swelled his garrisons until he was ready to pounce. In February 1808 these soldiers grabbed vital towns and forts from the unsuspecting Spanish. The Bourbons tried to escape to America but soldiers and a mob prevented their escape Charles IV abdicated in favour of his son, Ferdinand. Napoleon was unnerved by this revolution and decided to rid himself of the tiresome royal family altogether. He lured them to Bayonne where Charles repudiated his abdication. The crown was forcibly returned to Charles who immediately offered it to Napoleon. Napoleon promptly put his brother Joseph on the throne.

But on May 2 Madrid rose against the French – in support of the captive Ferdinand, faith and fatherland. It was put down ferociously, and news of the barbarity spread. Despite qualms by conservative Spaniards, the uprising rampaged across the country, and to Portugal. Britain saw an opportunity of establishing a presence in the Iberian peninsula, landing a force in August 1808, which beat the French at Vimeiro on August 21. The Cintra Convention unwisely allowed the vanquished French to return home in British ships with their booty. But the British controlled Portugal. And the French suffered an even more humiliating reverse when they were beaten by Spanish regulars and forced to withdraw to the Ebro. The French were not invincible after all.

Napoleon was incensed. He threw fresh divisions from Germany across the Pyrenees and by the end of 1808 had re-conquered the heart of Spain, and would have taken Portugal had he not been baulked by Austria’s plans to renew the war – which diverted vital troops – and by Sir John Moore’s advance. Although Moore was forced to retreat to Corunna (and Moore killed), his army was evacuated, not annihilated, and time was on Britain’s side.

The new British commander in Portugal, Arthur Wellesley, realised that Napoleon was unlikely to have sufficient forces to over-run Portugal and fight in Germany. The future Duke of Wellington swept across the border towards Madrid, and, together with Spanish regulars, resisted a counter-attack at Talavera (July 1809), but then had to retreat back to Portugal when his rear was threatened by Soult. The Spanish were beaten badly. The campaign highlighted the importance of logistics and supply in this barren landscape – the Catch 22 of Peninsula fighting large armies starved, small ones risked defeat.

Wellington, as he now was, ensured that Portugal was defended by scorched earth and a well-nigh impregnable series of concentric defences before Lisbon – the Lines of Torres Vedras. The French erred in splitting their forces. Joseph took Andalucía with 300,000 troops who should more profitably have combined with Masséna to eject the British. Meanwhile Masséna managed to reach the Lines but halted…and starved. The Marshal retired, eventually losing the crucial fortresses of Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo, commanding the routes to southern and northern Spain respectively.

There followed a series of advances and reversals – Wellington defeated Marmont at Salamanca (Marmont paying the price for thinking Wellington a cautious general), then captured Madrid and besieged Burgos. But Soult’s eventual arrival relieved Burgos and Wellington retreated beyond the Huebra. In May 1813 Wellington returned in strength, took Burgos and decisively beat Joseph at Vitoria. Demoralising French evacuations of Valencia and Aragon, futile counter-attacks by Soult to relieve San Sabastian and Pamplona, led to withdrawal back across the Pyrenees to Toulouse and defeat (April 10, 1814). Wellington had won the Peninsular War, the campaign was over.

Peninsular War Chronology

18 October
French troops cross the Spanish frontier.

30 November
Junot, commanding the invasion of Portugal, occupies Lisbon after setting out in early November from Salamanca. He is made Governor of Portugal.

23 March
The French occupy Madrid.

2 May
Uprising in Madrid prompted by [Madrid commander] Marshal Murat’s attempt to send Charles IV’s daughter to Bayonne. A crowd breaks into the royal palace to prevent her removal but is fired upon. The rebellion begins to spread to other parts of the city. Spanish troops are confined to barracks although some artillery units join the street fighting but are mostly killed. The uprising is brutally suppressed. Hundreds of prisoners are executed. Murat’s revenge provokes wider revolution. Goya commemorates the bloody reprisals in his famous, and revolutionary painting [‘revolutionary in every sense… in style, in subject, and in intention’ – Kenneth Clark] – Los fusilamientos del tres de mayo [The shootings of the third of May]

14 June
Capture of the Rosily Squadron. In Cadiz, a squadron of five French ships of the line and a frigate are surrendered to the Spanish by Admiral Rosily, after a five-day engagement. Rosily had been expecting Dupont’s flying column of 25,000 men to save him but they could not get through. The Spanish Supreme Junta asks the English Admiral blockading Cadiz [Collingwood] to speed their envoys to Britain to negotiate an alliance against Napoleon.

4 July
The British government declares that all previous hostilities between Great Britain and Spain would cease immediately. Foreign Secretary Canning, in accepting the Spanish offer of an alliance, states – ‘Every nation which resists the exorbitant power of France becomes immediately…the natural ally of Great Britain’

14 July
The French, under Bessières, defeat the Spanish, under Cuesta and Blake, at the Battle of Medina de Rioseco. Bessières defeats the only Spanish army capable of stopping the French advance into Castilla la Vieja.

16-19 July
The French flying column [25,000 men], under Dupont, are comprehensively defeated at the Battle of Bailén, in Southern Spain, by the Spanish Army [30,000] of Andalusia under Generals Castaños and von Reding. After losing 2200 killed Dupont surrendered almost his entire army, whose two wings had been fatally split in the battle. The French had been ordered to break through to Cadiz to relieve the Rosily Squadron. Spanish casualties are negligible. It is the first major defeat of Napoleon’s Grande Armée and encourages France’s enemies everywhere, leading to the Fifth Coalition against France. French commanders in Madrid order a precipitate retreat to the Ebro, abandoning much of central Spain.

1-8 August
A British force under Sir Arthur Wellesley lands at the mouth of the Mondego River, Portugal, with 9,000 troops.

17 August
Battle of Rolica where Wellesley defeats Delaborde, the first battle between the French and the British armies. The British Army lands in Portugal at Mondego Bay and attacks a French force coming out from Lisbon. After a battle in which Wellesley’s troops show great ‘enthusiasm’, the French retreat towards their reinforcements.

21 August
Battle of Vimiero. Wellesley defeats Junot. Covering a landing from the sea by the rest of his troops, the British army posted on two hills is attacked by the French army under Marshal Junot. The French are routed by steady, determined British musketry and Wellesley’s firm leadership. The French sue for peace and leave the Peninsula, but Wellesley is recalled home. First Burrard then Dalrymple replace Wellesley.

30 August
Convention of Cintra whereby the vanquished French were (controversially) allowed to return home in British ships with their booty.

30 October
The French evacuate Portugal.

8 November
Napoleon enters Spain with 200,000 men.

4 December
Napoleon occupies Madrid.

10 December
Moore advances from Salamanca.

21 December
British cavalry victory at Sahagun. Leading Moore’s cavalry vanguard towards Burgos, Lord Uxbridge decided to deal with a French cavalry force under General Debelle based at Sahagun. The crucial moment came when the French cavalry mistook Uxbridge’s 15th Hussars for less formidable Spanish horsemen and attacked, only to be routed by a charge from the 400 Hussars. Debelle escaped but he lost 120 men killed and about 160 captured. Uxbridge lost just two dead and 20 injured.

16 January
Sir John Moore killed at the Battle of Corunna. Moore takes the small British army through Portugal and into Spain to support a supposed Spanish uprising and relieve Madrid. When rumours of the uprising prove false, Moore has to retreat over the snow-covered mountains of Galacia pursued by Bonaparte and his army. Though saving Spain from full occupation and conquest by the French, he partially loses control of his army and some drunkenness ensues. At Corunna harbour he stops the French, now under Marshal Soult, but is killed at the moment of victory.

17 January
Moore’s army evacuated. Napoleon leaves the Peninsula and does not return, leaving his brother Joseph and the marshals in charge. Their four separate armies never manage effective co-ordination.

28 March
First Battle of Oporto. The French under Soult rout the Portuguese under Generals Lima Barreto and Parreiras outside the city of Porto [called Oporto by the British]. Soult storms the city and slaughters the inhabitants.

22 April
Wellesley returns to Portugal to take command of British troops, confident he can hold Portugal against the French.

10-11 May
Battle of Grijó. Fought by Wellesley’s Anglo-Portuguese army and the French under Soult. Soult’s divisional commander Mermet, faced with being outflanked by the KGL and 15th Portuguese – and pressed in his centre – withdrew and handed victory to Wellesley.

12 May
Second Battle of Oporto. Wellesley makes a surprise crossing of the Douro at night and captures Oporto, defeating Soult, who retreats after heavy losses.

27-28 July
Battle of Talavera, fought some 120k SW of Madrid. An Anglo-Portuguese army under Wellesley combined with a Spanish army under General Cuesta in an operation against French-occupied Madrid. The Allies intended to isolate and attack Marshal Victor, but King Joseph Bonaparte reinforced him and blunted the Allied offensive. After fierce fighting, in which the British bore the brunt of the French attacks (the Spanish were untrained for set-piece battle), the French army withdrew from the field, but the strategic advantage lay with the French Talavera removed all threat to the capital and bought time for the arrival of French reinforcements to the theatre. Casualties were high on both sides – about 7000. Underestimating Soult’s strength, Wellington marched towards the French until Cuesta forwarded intelligence obtained by Spanish guerrillas, which prompted Wellesley to turn around and retreat to Portugal. Cuesta soon followed. The performance of the Spanish strained the Anglo-Spanish alliance.

4 September
Wellesley created Viscount Wellington

20 October
Wellington starts building the defensive fortifications, the Lines of Torres Vedras. After Talavera, Wellington decided to strengthen Portugal, inspired in part by the Martello Towers along the English Channel. The Lines use blockhouses, redoubts, ravelins etc. The first line was finished in Autumn 1810. In 1812, 34,000 men were still working on them. The cost was around £100,000, money well spent.

26 April – 9 July 1810
First siege and capture of Ciudad Rodrigo by Marshal Ney’s VI Corps. The Spanish FM Herrasti’s 5500-man garrison surrender after Ney’s artillery breached the walls. The French pillage the city. The siege delayed Army Commander Masséna’s invasion of Portugal by over a month.

24 July
Battle of the River Côa. Gen. Craufurd, commanding the Light Div. of 4000 Anglo-Portuguese, errs by choosing to fight Ney’s force of 20,000 (although only 6000 actually attacked) with the unfordable Côa and a single bridge at his back, despite Wellington’s orders to fall back across the river. He is beaten. The French succeed in their objective of forcing the Light Division across the Côa in order to besiege Almeida, but Ney’s repeated assaults over the bridge prove costly.

15-27 August
Siege of Almeida: Masséna, commanding 14,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry and 1000 gunners of Ney’s VI Corps, begins digging siege-trenches in front of Almeida on the arrival of the siege-train and ammunition from Ciudad Rodrigo and Salamanca. By the 24th, more than 100 guns are in position and on the 26th the batteries open fire on General Cox and his 5000-man Portuguese garrison. A shell makes a freak hit, igniting a gunpowder trail that reaches into the main ammunition magazine. The resulting explosion destroys the castle, kills 600 defenders and wounds a further 300. Without gunpowder for his 100 cannon, Cox is forced to surrender.

27 September
Wellington (now Viscount Wellington, after Talavera) occupies the heights of Buçaco, a 10-mile long ridge, with 50,000 men, half British, half Portuguese. Masséna, with 65,000 French troops, attacks five times but does not know the disposition and strength of his enemy because Wellington deploys his men on the reverse slope, where they are protected from artillery, and from view. The attacks, poorly co-ordinated and lacking reconnaissance, are delivered by Marshal Ney’s corps and fail after fierce fighting. French losses are 4,500 against 1,250 Anglo-Portuguese casualties. The Portuguese army’s performance is much improved since English C-in-C Marshal Bereford’s reforms. Wellington continues his retreat. Masséna assumes he will take Lisbon, but the Lines of Torres Vedras are insurmountable.

10 October
Wellington enters the Lines of Torres Vedras.

14 October Masséna discovers Lines and halts.

17 November
Masséna withdraws to Santarem.

5 March
Lieut-Gen Graham, commanding the British and Portuguese garrison in Cádiz, prevails at the Battle of Barrosa, fought to relieve the siege of Cadiz, Britain’s last stronghold in the Iberian Peninsula. Graham planned to raise the siege by attacking the rear of the besieging French (under Victor) with 11,000 men, which included 7000 Spanish under the incompetent General La Peña who was, for political reasons, in overall command. La Peña was subsequently court-martialed, mainly for his refusal to pursue the beaten French (he was acquitted but sacked), who were in disarray and about to destroy their stores. Graham’s unrestrained criticism of his Spanish allies led to his transfer to Wellington’s main army. Tactically, the battle was a British victory and casualties were less than half the French (Victor lost 2500). Graham’s troops beat a French force twice their size despite a forced march. The Spanish lost 400 casualties. Strategically the Spanish failure to follow up the victory allows Victor to reoccupy his siege lines, where the French remain for another 18 months, until Soult orders a general retreat following the Allied victory at Salamanca in June 1812.

11 March
Soult takes Badajoz (unsuccessfully attacked by the French in 1808 and 1809). The Spanish commander, José Imaz, is bribed into surrendering. Badajoz, on the southern invasion route between Portugal and Spain and one of the strongest fortified positions in Spain, is protected by a ring of fortifications, 8 bastions, 5 outlying forts, with two on the northern bank of the Guadiana River.

3-5 May
Wellington defeats Masséna at Fuentes de Onoro. A 3-day fight as the French try to relieve Almeida from Wellington’s siege. Heavily outnumbered in the street fighting and on the plains, Wellington’s army finally wins but he later states: ‘If Boney had been there I would been beat.’ The French blow up Almeida and leave.

6-13 May
First British siege of Badajoz. Marshal Beresford commanding.

11 May
Brennier abandons Almeida to Wellington.

16 May
Beresford defeats Soult at Albuera. Beresford lifts the siege of Badajoz when he receives notice that Soult is approaching, and posts his army 20k SE on the Albuera ridge in a defensive position [Wellington had ordered such a deployment if Soult advanced, when inspecting operations at Badajoz on April 23]. When Soult attacks, the Spanish and Portuguese flee and only the steadfastness of the British – especially the Fusiliers – saves the day. The French are driven from the field and lose 8000 including 5 generals but the British lose 3930 out of the 7640 fighting.

19 May-17 June
Second British siege of Badajoz, abandoned after futile costly attacks against stout defence. The British lacked a proper siege train, engineers, and heavy cannon which were in use at Torres Vedras.

8-19 January
Second siege of Ciudad Rodrigo which ends when Wellington takes advantage of French disorganization and attacks after a short bombardment. The fortress is taken with light losses.

16 March-7 April
Siege of Badajoz, finally taken on April 7. Wellington moves his Anglo-Portuguese army (27,000) south and begins the siege of the well-fortified Badajoz, garrisoned by 5,000 French soldiers under General Philippon, in order to secure the lines of communication back to Lisbon. After a month of foul weather, at 22.00 on April 6 he orders the assault on the formidable walls of the fort, before the bombardment is complete, hearing that French forces under Soult are coming from the south. In a night of destruction, British troops finally break into the city and wreak havoc but 5000 of Wellington’s soldiers are dead, though Spain now lies open. British troops indulged a lust for revenge by raping and murdering the very people they were meant to liberate. Wellington writes to Lord Liverpool: ‘I anxiously hope that I shall never again be the instrument of putting them to such a test as that to which they were put last night.’ I anxiously hope that I shall never again be the instrument of putting them to such a test as that to which they were put last night. But he does – at San Sebastián in 1813.

13 June
Wellington crosses the Agueda and begins the march on Salamanca. His army of about 48,000 men (28,000 British, 17,000 Portuguese and 3000 Spanish) march in three parallel columns covering a front of some ten miles. The left is commanded by Picton, the centre by Beresford and the right by Graham. There are 3500 cavalry but Wellington is short of artillery – he has only eight British and one Portuguese battery (some 54 guns). The army starts the campaign almost bankrupt. The troops’ pay is 5 months in arrears, and the muleteers have not been paid since June 1811. Despite this they began on a high note this was the first offensive into the heart of Spain since 1809, and intelligence gives Wellington confidence in victory.

22 July
Wellington defeats Marmont, with 50,000 troops and 78 guns, at Salamanca. Thinking that Wellington, whose army was mostly out of sight, was retreating, Marmont sent his leading division on the left ahead to outflank Wellington’s right, but when it was a mile ahead of the main force Wellington attacked with his 3rd Div. and overwhelmed the isolated French. He attacked Marmont’s centre with the 4th and 5th Divisions, and cavalry. A bayonet charge, and Dragoons, routed the French and although a Portuguese retreat briefly exposed 4th Div.’s flank, 3 reserve British divisions were hurried forward to repulse the advancing French. The day was won. But the victory was tempered by the failure of Spanish troops under Maj-Gen D’Espana to block the French retreat over the only bridge at Alba de Tormes. D’Espana had withdrawn from the commanding fortress without informing Wellington, so the French escaped. Casualties were 13,000 French to the Allies’ 5000.

12 August
Wellington enters Madrid.

19 September
Wellington begins siege of Burgos.

22 October
Wellington abandons siege of Burgos.

22 Oct-19 Nov
Allied retreat to Portugal

19 November
Allied army arrives at Ciudad Rodrigo.

21 June
Wellington defeats Joseph at Vitoria. Wellington spent the winter of 1812/13 strengthening his forces, while Napoleon withdrew 15,000 veteran troops from Spain to rebuild his main army after the fiasco of the Russian invasion. Wellington marched 121,000 men (50,000 British, 40,000 Spanish, and 30,000 Portuguese) from northern Portugal across the mountains of northern Spain and the Esla River, and by May 20, 1813, had outflanked Marshal Jourdan’s army of 68,000. The French retreated to Burgos, with Wellington hastening to block their route to France. Wellington himself commanded the centre force in a strategic feint, while Graham led the main force around the French right flank over terrain the French thought impassable. After hard fighting, Picton’s 3rd Div. broke the enemy’s centre and soon the French defence crumbled. About 5000 French soldiers were killed or wounded and 3000 taken prisoner, while Wellington lost around 5000 killed or wounded. 152 cannons were captured, but King Joseph escaped – just, fleeing so hurriedly that he left behind all his personal baggage, including his chamber pot. The court escaped with him, but their 12 miles of carriages and treasure were plundered by looting British troops [‘scum of the earth’ as Wellington wrote Earl Bathurst]. The battle signalled the collapse of Napoleonic rule in Spain, and ultimately in France.

Wellington Created Field Marshal,

Soult counterattacks in the Pyrenees. Battles of Maya and Roncesvalles.

25 July
Wellington defeats Soult at Sorauren.

31 August
Graham takes San Sebastian.

Soult repulsed at San Marciai.

7 October
Wellington crosses into France over the river Bidassoa, using secret fords, and surprises the French.

25 October
Pamplona surrenders

10 November
Wellington defeats Soult at the Battle of the Nivelle. Wellington’s 80,000 British, Portuguese and mostly raw Spanish troops drove Soult, with only 60,000 men, across the Nivelle. The Light Div. surprised the French and took their defensive redoubts allowing the 3rd Div. to split Soult’s army into two. By 2 o’clock Soult was in retreat. He had lost about 4,500 men to Wellington’s 2,500. Wellington, ever wary of night attacks, did not pursue or he might have cut off the French right. This victory allowed the Allies to penetrate deep inside France, where the Basques and even French peasants cooperated, because unlike the French army (notorious looters) the British paid for their provisions. Spanish troops however looked to revenge the desecration of their land by France and Wellington sent most back to Spain.

9-13 December
Wellington defeats Soult at the Battles of the Nive, a series of engagements near Bayonne, in which – unusually – Wellington remained mostly with the Reserve, delegating command to Lieutenant-Generals Rowland Hill and John Hope. Wellington’s army was squashed between the Bay of Biscay and the Nive and to manoeuvre he needed to cross to the east bank of the Nive, but in so doing he risked being defeated in detail. A crisis on the west bank was averted when Hope’s forces just held on (despite Portuguese units breaking), aided by Soult’s German troops changing sides when they heard the result of the Battle of Leipzig. At the climax, French troops – despite their 3 to 1 advantage – refused to continue attacks on Hill’s forces on the east bank, demoralised by Hill’s superb, robust defence. Soult reluctantly retreated into Bayonne, having lost 3000 men against Anglo-Portuguese losses of 1750.

27 February
Wellington (37,000 men) defeats Soult (35,000) at the Battle of Orthes. Soult had tried to confine Wellington to the SW corner of France but was out-manoeuvred. The battle opened with Soult successfully counter-attacking an enemy advance, but Wellington changed his plans and converted a holding attack by 2 divisions into a frontal assault, and released his Light Division to drive a wedge between Reille’s right wing and D’Erlon’s two centre divisions – both generals feature at Waterloo. Wellington nearly didn’t – he was unhorsed and hurt when a canister shot hit his sword hilt. Soult was forced to retreat, which became increasing disorganised. French casualties at 4000 were twice those of the Anglo-Portuguese.

6 April
Napoleon abdicates in favour of his son, which the Allies refuse to accept, forcing him to abdicate unconditionally on 11 April. He declares – with a grandiose, if mendacious flourish – ‘The Allied Powers, having stated that Emperor Napoleon was the sole obstacle to the restoration of peace in Europe, Emperor Napoleon, faithful to his oath, renounces, for himself and his heirs, the thrones of France and Italy, and that there is no personal sacrifice, even that of his life, which he is not ready to do in the interests of France.’

10 April
Wellington defeats Soult at Toulouse, a somewhat pointless battle given Napoleon’s abdication on April 6 but the news did not reach the combatants in time.

14 April
French sortie from Bayonne.

17 April
Soult surrenders.

27 April
Bayonne surrenders.

30 May
Treaty of Paris ends the war between France and the Sixth Coalition. Bourbons restored.


Marshal Soult's Invasion of Portugal, February-March 1809 - History

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At the heart of David Buttery&rsquos third book on the Peninsular War lies the comparison between two great commanders of enormous experience and reputation &ndash Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington, and Jean de Dieu Soult. In Soult, Wellesley met one of his most formidable opponents and they confronted each other during one of the most remarkable, and neglected, of the Peninsular campaigns. Soult&rsquos invasion of Portugal is rarely studied in great depth and, likewise, the offensive Wellesley launched, which defeated and expelled the French, has also received scant coverage. As well as giving a fresh insight into the contrasting characters of the two generals, the narrative offers a gripping and detailed, reconstruction of the organization and experience of a military campaign 200 years ago.

I always like a military book that puts the maps at the front of the book for instance reference. This the book does, providing the reader with maps of the geography of Portugal in 1809, the second invasion of Portugal, February-March 1809, the Allied march North, and the Passage of Douro, 12th May, 1809, alongside Soult’s retreat. Also, at the front of the book is an extremely useful and exhaustively detailed timeline, constructing events from 1769, with the birth of Jean de Dieu Soult, the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, the deceleration of war on France by Britain in 1804, to death of Duke of Wellington in 1852. This provides an excellent reference whilst reading through the events as they unfolded in the content of the book.

Jon Sandison

Overall this is an enjoyable read.

Wargames Illustrated - reviewed by Dom Sore

Overall, this book was very interesting. A relatively little known story, with episodes of true heroism, clever strategies, tenacious resistance, and horrible atrocities.

Dr John Viggers, Freelance

In Marshal Soult, Lieutenant General Wellesley faced arguably one of his most formidable opponents in the Iberian Peninsula. The author of this new book argues that the Marshal’s invasion of Portugal is rarely studied in any depth and, similarly, the offensive Wellesley launched, which defeated and expelled the French, has also received only scant coverage. The author follows the course of the campaign, drawing contrasts between the characters and styles of the opposing commanders. Some key episodes include Wellesley’s marked change of strategy as he took command of the allied troops in Portugal, from defence to attack, the liberation of Porto, Portugal’s second city from French occupation, and the dogged recovery of Soult’s army as it fought its way back to Spain. Further, Soult’s attempt to become king of Portugal and the ungracious reaction of Parliament where Wellesley was criticised for recklessness are among numerous other aspects of this previously under recorded episode of the Peninsular War. The book opens with an extensive chronology, followed by a preface.

Also included are 30 monochrome plates, five maps, text notes, a bibliography and an index. A fascinating addition to the Napoleonic bookshelf and surely a ‘must’ for those particularly interest in the Peninsular War. Recommended.

Stuart Asquith, Author

David Buttery has established a reputation as a leading historian of nineteenth-century British military history. He has made a particular study of the Napoleonic and Crimean wars. He has worked in newspapers and museums and has published extensively in many of the leading military history periodicals including the Victorian Military Society's journal, The Leicestershire Chronicle and Military Illustrated. His most recent books are Wellington Against Massena: The Third Invasion of Portugal 1810-1811, Messenger of Death: Captain Nolan and the Charge of the Light Brigade, Wellington Against Junot: The First Invasion of Portugal 1807-1808 and the Waterloo Battlefield Guide.


On this day 1809… the Battle of Porto

/>The French had invaded Spain in 1808 and swiftly routed the forces of the Bourbon king. A British expedition under general Moore sent to support the Spanish had been forced to retreat through the mountains of Galicia in the middle of winter.

Moore got his army away at Corunna but was killed during the battle. It had been a shambolic, ignominious opening to Britain’s continental involvement in the Napoleonic Wars, as so many British military campaigns have started through the ages. It was not a complete disaster however, as the army had avoided complete destruction. They would return but in the meantime the French continued their invasion unchecked.

After Corunna the French turned their attention to Britain’s oldest ally and enthusiastic opponent of Napoleon’s ‘Continental System’, Portugal.

Napoleon had left Spain in early 1809 with 45,000 men. His old enemy Austria was stirring once again and later that spring would invade Italy and Bavaria. He left behind him Marshal Nicolas Soult, with orders to invade Portugal in February.

Melt water and early rains turned the roads of the Minho into quagmires but by March, Soult had fought his way to the town of Porto.

The first battle was a one-sided affair, which ended in a terrible tragedy. With the French forcing the Portuguese regulars back towards the city, thousands of civilians tried to flee from Porto to Villa Nova de Gaia on the opposite bank. They stampeded across the one boat bridge that connected the two towns. Already weakened by Portuguese engineers so they could destroy it should the French win, it collapsed with predictably terrible consequences thousands of townsfolk were pitched into the river and drowned.

Soult captured Porto and with it hundreds of tons of British military equipment left behind by Moore and also 30 British merchantmen “laden with Port wine” which had been unable to leave because of a “persistent North-Wester”.

At this point however, Soult found his lines of communication with Spain were cut after a Portuguese force captured the fort at Chaves. To make matters worse, Soult was now not only surrounded by a hostile populace but in April a new British army under a new commander, Sir Arthur Wellesley, landed in Portugal.

Wellesley immediately pushed up towards Porto and Soult energetically set about destroying all the bridges and bringing over all the boats he possibly could to the north bank of the Douro to deny any form of passage to this freshly arrived and rather dangerous enemy.

For several days therefore the two armies stared at each other across the Douro, the French in Porto, the British in Gaia at a perfect impasse. Wellesley called up boats from nearer the coast while he pondered the best plan of attack and studied the French positions from the garden of the convent on the Serra heights (the Mosteiro da Nossa Serra do Pilar). On 12 May one of his intelligence officers, Colonel John Waters was riding upstream with the prior of Amarante as a translator and guide when he saw a Portuguese in a little boat mid-river, waving frantically at him. The man turned out to be a barber and explained that four large wine barges, that had gone unnoticed by the French, were moored up on the opposite bank. Furthermore the bank was largely unguarded and the bishop’s seminary at the top of the bank (now the former seminary of Largo Padre Baltasar Guedes) would provide a solid defence for the British to occupy while more troops were ferried across.

With the help of the barber and the prior, Water rounded up several local peasants and the little party crossed over the river.

“It was a hazardous undertaking,” wrote Oman, “for one French picquet [patrol] had lately been seen to pass by, and another might appear at any moment.”

The barges are obtained however and taken over to the southern bank.

Oman continues: ‘They turned out to be big clumsy vessels, capable of holding some thirty men apiece.”- they were almost certainly ‘rabelos’ which at the time were owned by local boatmen who offered their services to the Port houses to ferry wine from up-river to the warehouses in Gaia/Porto.

Wellesley immediately acted on the opportunity offered him and set the 3 rd Foot (‘The Buffs’) the task of seizing the seminary and a foothold on the opposite side.

/>A barco rabelo today, very much like those used by the British at the crossing although at the time they were not owned by the Port houses but local boatmen.

Three batteries of artillery were pushed onto the Serra heights to cover the crossing. It was a nervy hour as the first men of the 3 rd made their way over and began to fortify the seminary. It was not until the third trip when close to half the battalion was across that the first shots were heard from the gates.

Too late the French realised the danger. The surprise was total and the British were across the Douro. Marshal Soult was still in bed having breakfast when he was brought the news.

The French began to attack the seminary but their assault was impeded by the covering fire of the British artillery. With the 3 rd foot now all across the battalions of the 66 th (Berkshire) and 48 th (Northamptonshire) followed.

Later in the morning three battalions of the French 70éme Ligne began a more concerted attack but, as Oman relates, “a thousand English infantry, comfortably ensconced behind stone walls, and protected on their flanks by the storm of shot and shell from the opposite bank of the river, could not be easily moved.”

With the French distracted the people of Porto now took a hand in the battle. Wellesley and his staff watched as hordes of people rushed to the riverbank and, taking to the boats and “anything that would float”, began streaming across the Douro to Gaia. Rather than fleeing, the citizens then began taking the men of the brigade of Guards and 29 th (Worcestershire) Foot across to Porto.

The British swept up through the city and took the French attacking the seminary in the flank. With their position completely untenable Soult ordered a retreat which quickly turned into a rout, albeit one that could not be properly exploited by Wellesley due to a lack of available cavalry. It was the only blight on an otherwise brilliant coup de main.

Although the celebration in Porto that night can well be imagined, the prospect of British troops in control of a major wine city was a cause of some concern to British officers – drink being the enemy of discipline.

When allowed to though, the British army got down to drinking as much Port as they could.

Julius von Hartmann, an artillery captain in the King’s German Legion, remembered 20 of his gunners drinking 41 bottles of Port between them in one sitting.

Meanwhile, while the battle of Porto was going on, a young British cavalry officer in the 23 rd Light Dragoons called William Warre was part of a force sent down river to cut off French troops trying to cross the Douro. Warre and his troop got to a bridge over the Tamega river and set up a barricade. What arrived at the bridge however were not a few French stragglers but the entirety of Soult’s retreating army.

Warre wisely decided to fall back. He served throughout the war, mostly on the staff of General Beresford and also supplied Port to Wellesley from his family’s company. He even had to source some wines from stocks in London as, “at Oporto it is impossible to get any old wine.”

That’s presumably because men like Hartmann’s gunners had drunk it all.

In time, among his many accolades and titles, were several Portuguese honours but one he particularly liked and which took precedence in his style behind only Duke and Marquess Wellington, was Marquess Douro.


Unwelcome Guests in Portugal

It is a rare historian who is not inspired by fiction and Bernard Cornwell’s novels really encouraged me to write about the Napoleonic Wars. Sharpe’s Havoc had a plot that really intrigued me with his eponymous hero fighting Napoleon’s armies as Portugal was threatened by a French invasion in 1809. It is an incredible tale and, surprised that so little non-fiction had been written about it, I began to explore the subject further. Studying nineteenth and early twentieth century works confirmed that the 1809 campaign was well worth reading about.

The Second French Invasion of Portugal commanded by Marshal Soult proved very different to General Junot’s remarkably swift incursion in 1807. This time Portuguese sympathies were divided between the two superpowers intervening in their country and Soult encountered serious difficulties from the outset, not least from guerrillas who harried him at every turn. Nevertheless, he tried to win Portuguese support, allegedly with ulterior motives, as many think he intended to claim the crown. Whether he really aspired to become King of Portugal is something that historians have never agreed upon and I had great fun examining this question.


Wellington Against Soult: The Second Invasion of Portugal 1809 Hardcover – 1 August 2016

With "Wellington Against Soult", author David Buttery completes his Peninsula War trilogy on the three French invasions of Portugal, and the respective ripostes by the future Duke of Wellington and his Anglo-Portuguese Army. This particular book covers the second French invasion, in 1809.

The first couple of chapters introduce the Napoleonic Wars, the Peninsular War and the opposing generals. Readers already familiar with the situation can skip ahead to chapter three and the beginning of Marshal Soult's invasion at the head of the French II Corps. Soult maneuvered through limited Portuguese opposition to take the city of Porto. Wellington returned to Portugal in time to take over from General John Craddock, who had already begun a move north from Lisbon with the small British Army in Portugal. Wellington closed on Porto, flanked by Portuguese formations trained by the British General/Portuguese Marshall Beresford.

The heart of the narrative is Wellington's bold assault on the French Army in Porto, using a surprising and opportunistic crossing of the Douro River. After a fierce fight for the city, the combat moves into the mountains of the Portuguese interior and a race against time and increasingly foul weather. A closing chapter evenhandedly assesses the two commanders and their respective performances. The text is supplemented by a small selection of sketch maps and a collection of period illustrations and modern photographs.

Like the two earlier books, "Wellington Against Junot" and Wellington Against Messina", this book is well-written and highly readable. It is likely to appeal to the general reader and to the student of the Peninsular War. Highly recommended to those audiences.


Crossing the Douro, Wellington's amphibious assault.

The 2nd Battle of Porto (sometimes spelt Oporto), also known as the Battle of the Douro or the Crossing of the Douro was fought on 12th May 1809.

Lieutenant-G eneral Arthur Wellesley 's (later the Duke of Wellington) Anglo-Portuguese Army defeated the experienced French general, Marshal Nicolas Soult 's and took back the city of Porto, which Soult's Army had stormed in March 1809, just two months earlier, during the end of the battle Soult's army had slaughtered (at least several) thousands of Portuguese civilians trying to flee the French invasion.

[Map of the Crossing the Douro - British Battles]

Lord Wellesley had returned to Portugal on the 22nd April, having been cleared of all charges following the disastrous Treaty of Cintra, which senior Generals to Wellesley had negotiated, following Wellesley's victories at Rolica and Vimeiro. Within two weeks Wellesley had conceived a new plan to drive the French out of Portugal. With a combined British-Portuguese army of 36,000 men at his command, Wellesley split his force into three part: 12,000 were left behind in Lisbon under General Mackenzie's command to protect the vital capital city. 6,000 were handed to William Carr Beresford with orders to march behind the French front and sever their likely line of retreat, while Wellesley led the remaining 18,000 north from Coimbra to face Soult at Porto.

The main force marched from Coimbra (which is roughly midway between Lisbon & Porto) on the 8th May. By the 11th the French piquets (fighting sentry positions) were cleared from the roads south of Porto. As the French forces that had formed the piquets rushed back into the city, they destroyed the bridge-of-boats, the only remaining crossing point, behind them (since the main bridge had collapsed under the weight of the fleeing Portuguese in a tragic incident). With no means of crossing the river, Soult felt falsely secure in the city of Porto from the river to the south, so directed his army to the west to meet the direction he thought Wellesley's British must surely cross, likely using boats brought up from the coast.


The Battle of Grijo 11th May 1809

An aquatint of the Battle of Grijo in the Museum collection

The Battle of Grijó (10–11 May 1809) was a battle that ended in victory for the Anglo-Portuguese Army commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington)over the French army commanded by Marshal Nicolas Soult, during the second French invasion of Portugal in the Peninsular War. The next day, Wellesley drove Soult from Porto in the Second Battle of Porto.

In the History of the Rifle Brigade, Willoughby Verner describes how the Battalion of Detachments, made from soldiers and officers of multiple regiments who had become stranded with the evacuation of Coruna, fought for the first time near the village of Grijó.

“The infantry of the advance guard consisted of the Rifle Company of the 1st Battalion of Detachments, the Companies of the 43rd and 52nd Light Infantry and the Light Company of the 29th Regiment of Foot, the whole under the command of Major Way of the 29th.”

General Sir Stapleton Cotton with the British Cavalry came in touch with the French at dawn on the 10th, but Major-General Michel Francheschi had some infantry with him and Stewart’s Brigade was delayed and did not come for some time Francheschi thereupon fell back and joined General Mermet at Grijó.

When at daybreak of the 11th it was discovered that the enemy had retired , a pursuit was immediately commenced, and their advance guard, consisting of 4,000 infantry and some squadrons of cavalry, with its front covered by woods and broken ground, was discovered posted on the heights above Grijo.

Wellesley ordered Major-General Rowland Hill, to endeavour to outflank Mermet’s position on the east whilst he with Major-General Paget’s Division advanced. In the afternoon the Light Companies of the 1st Battalion of Detachments attacked Mermet but met with a stiff resistance and lost not a few.

Wellesley now ordered the King’s German Legion to turn the French left and the 16th Portuguese to turn their right and with the rest of Stewart’s Brigade renewed the attack on the wooded heights in the centre above the village of Grijó. Mermet thereupon withdrew…”

In the action fought on the 11th May 1809 , on the heights of Grijo and Calvahos, the casualties in the Regiment were:
Killed 2 Rank and File
Wounded 6 Rank and File

Sir Arthur Wellesley , in his despatch to Viscount Castlereagh wrote: I have also to request your Lordship’s attention to the riflemen, and flank companies of the 29th, 43rd and 52nd Regiments under the command of Major Way , 29th.”When a