The excellent views of the Allied ridge from Massena's position. The only thing wrong with it was that he had absolutely know idea what Wellington's position was on top of and behind it. The battlefield monument can be seen clearly from Massena's position. The steep incline of the ridge can be seen perfectly from this position. Just along the road below the battlefield monument is a very nice, small museum dedicated to the battle with various items relating to it. Portuguese Nine Pounders, used so devastatingly by Artenschildt's gunners above San Antonio de Cantaro 5th Cacadores - Portuguese Light Infantry Officer or sergeant of the 23rd Portuguese Regiment of Infantry Loyal Lusitanian Legion - more about them on our visit to Alcantara and its famous bridge Portuguese Militia or Ordanencas French Charville and Allied Brown Bess Musket, the latter used by British and Portuguese troops Musket rounds recovered from the battlefield Massena thought better of committing Junot's VIII Corps against Bussaco ridge and in the afternoon discovered and captured the route to the north allowing his army to outflank the position and follow the Allied retreat to the Lines of Torres Vedras before Lisbon.
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Allied troops resume the retreat, pictured here crossing the River Mondego in September - St Clair In the next post Carolyn and I follow the route of Massena's retreat from Portugal as his half starved army staggered back to the Spanish border in early with Marshal Ney demonstrating his flare for rear-guard actions and Wellington's Light Division finding themselves missing General Craufurd, away from the army on home leave.
Coimbra was taken, though the bounty of much needed provisions stored in the towns warehouses was not to prove as useful as Massena had hoped and much to his annoyance; as the uncontrolled battalions of Junot's VIII Corps ravaged the town on its passage through, carelessly destroying food-stocks they could not carry and making up for the inability of the Allies to destroy them themselves before they evacuated. Redoubts and forts, close enough to support each other with artillery fire, extended for miles amid the hills and broken country with many of the streams and watercourses dammed, adding flooded areas to further impede an attacker; backed up by long lines of trenches, wooden stakes and barriers designed to slow any progress whilst under fire from the guns within the forts.
Marshal Andre Massena, commander of the Army of Portugal Following a further extensive reconnaissance of the lines and some probing of the defences to test the Allied defence, with Massena personally inspecting the lines himself and growing more and more despondent as he began to appreciate their strength; even coming under fire himself at Arruda whilst walking away from a wall he had just been inspecting a position from with his glass, it became obvious that the French did not have the strength to force the defences backed up as they were by the Allied army.
Their followed the inevitable round of recriminations as to how it was that the Marshal was not informed of the state of Allied defences around Lisbon, with his army now amid hostile country, bereft of supplies in front of an Allied army with full supplies and reinforcement available from the sea. On the 14th November Massena moved his army back from the lines to winter around Santarem on the River Tagus, constructing field works of his own deciding to wait the situation out in the hope of further reinforcements in the spring. Massena received news that on the 14th December, General D'Erlon's IX Corps had arrived at Almeida to reinforce his position, however D'Erlon was in an impossible situation, under orders from the Emperor to not only reinforce Massena but also to use his troops to guard the line of communication to him from the Spanish border, in the end only managing to send forward another 6, men that only added to the problem of inadequate supplies.
If they go, and when they go, their losses will be very great and mine nothing. If they stay they must continue to lose men daily as they do now The French plan was to cross the Mondego at Coimbra, approaching via Pombal and Espinhal, but Colonel Trant's Portuguese Militia held the town behind blown bridges and forced Montbrun's cavalry to turn away with the rest of the army, via Foz d'Arouce.
Map adapted from Oman's history On the 5th March , after months of bickering and conflicting advice from his corps commanders and in the face of expressed opposition from some of them, Massena ordered the French retreat north, but, wanting to keep his options open, with no precise final destination indicated. Retreating in three columns, slowly and quietly, with surplus equipment and unnecessary baggage destroyed, allowing horses to be used for towing guns and with straw dummies and false canon left in forward positions, the French troops trudged north accompanied by hundreds of sick comrades.
The Allies were caught somewhat off-guard by the French withdrawal, with the enemy gaining a day's march on them before the extent of their pull-out was discovered; but the pursuit was commenced as soon as it was discovered, following the trail of smoke columns in the wake of the French army as it seemingly took out its wrath on the Portuguese civilians and their villages that it passed through. Ney's VI Corps performed the role of rearguard and successfully fended off the Allied pursuit several times, finally, deciding to turn and hold the Allied pursuit at Pombal on the 11th March , to delay the Allied advance while Montbrun's advance guard secured Coimbra.
On the 10th March Wellington wrote; "The enemy still continue on their ground in front of Pombal, but not, I think, in the strength they were yesterday. They are still, however, very strong; and my own opinion is, that they will draw off the corps which they have there in the course of this night. If they do not, I propose to attack them there to-morrow. I think it most likely that they will go back as far as Condeixa, where they will collect their force with more ease than they can at Pombal.
The description of the action at Pombal that followed is taken from 'The History of the the Peninsular War - Volume IV' by Sir Charles Oman; ' Ney, apparently having detected the arrival of British reinforcements, then drew back one of his divisions, and left the other Mermet in position on the heights behind the town, with a single battalion holding the lofty but ruined castle which dominates the place. Pombal Castle, built in the 12th century by Gualdim Pais, Master of the Templar Knights, and occupied and badly damaged by French troops in , the castle was restored in The view from the battlements looking to the south with the higher ground behind Pombal visible The French were all retiring up the hill before they could be got at, and only suffered a little from Ross's guns, which were hurried up to play upon the retreating column, as it re-formed in the position beyond Pombal.
By the time that the Light Division had disentangled itself from the burning town, and Picton had crossed the stream on the left, the day was far spent; and Ney retired at his leisure after dark, without having been further incommoded. The British followed, and encamped on the further side of the water, ready for pursuit next morning. One of the modern day bridges as seen from the castle at Pombal. The 3rd Cacadores stormed the bridge and captured the town before Ney counterattacked. On hearing of Sir William's departure for the Peninsular, Wellington wrote to Horse Guards complaining that he "generally understood him to be a madman" , to which the reply came back that, " no doubt he is some times a little mad, but in his lucid intervals he is an uncommonly clever fellow; and I trust he will have no fit during the campaign, though he looked a little wild as he embarked.
I remember that a shrapnel shell removed a whole section of my company. Again Massena impressed upon Ney the importance of holding this ground for as long as possible whilst the retreat of the rest of the army continued.
The town of Redinha proudly displays its Peninsular War heritage with its memorial to the battle close by the road into town. Sadly much of the ridge held by Mermet and the Allied brigades on their approach to it is now under thick forestry or 'wood' as George Simmons described it, with not much prospect of gauging the nature of the ground, and so I focused my attention on the area around the bridge and the higher ground behind it occupied by Marchand. The road leading down from the ridge held by Mermet's division at Point 1 on the map.
The picture illustrates the heavily wooded nature of the terrain in front of the town. The actual force that opposed Montbrun was Trant's militia, 3, men with just six guns and under orders from Wellington to withdraw in the event of the French making a serious attempt to take the town.
By the 12th of March the position at Coimbra was hopeless as the Allied army was now too close to allow the French any time to occupy the town, build a replacement bridge and get 30, men across whilst Ney's rearguard attempted to hold back the Allied pursuit.
ON THE RIO PUERCO DOCUMENT Original (PDF)
Thus Massena was forced to redirect the French route via Condeixa and Miranda de Corvo, bringing together the French army as a whole with the added pressure of so many French troops trying to use the same road. Captain Jean Marbot ADC to Marshal Massena The pressure on the French rearguard was constant and bitter with the cavalry on both sides engaging in small clashes along the route exemplified by the action described by Captain Marbot who was riding with a dispatch from Massena to Ney when he was challenged by a mounted infantry officer to single combat.
He at first ignored the challenge, but when accused by his adversary of cowardice, turned and rode towards him, only to be charged by two hussars who came out from some nearby woods in ambush. He recounted; "I was caught in a trap, and understood that only a most energetic defence could save me So I flew upon the English officer; we met; he gave me a slash across the face, I ran my sword into his throat. His blood spurted all over me, and the wretch fell from his horse to the ground, which he bit in his rage.
Meanwhile the two hussars were hitting me all over Marbot recounted what happened; "The English, never dreaming that the French commander would be thus separated from his army, took our group for a rear-guard, which they did not venture to attack; but it is certain that if the hussars had made a resolute charge, they would have carried off Massena and all who were with him. The rearguard action at Casal Novo, the one place we didn't have time to visit. On the 15th of March the French rearguard again turned to face the Allied pursuit to hold the bridge over the River Ceira at the village of Foz d'Arouce.
Lieutenant Colonel Beckwith of the 95th Rifles now commanded the first brigade in the Light Division, consisting of the 43rd Light Infantry, 3rd Cacadores and four companies of the 95th Rifles We were all hungry and tired. The light rain on the road leading up to the bridge at Foz d'Arouce perfectly matched the description of the weather given buy Lt. Simmons of the attack made by the Light Division on the 15th March He fell as if a sledge hammer had hit him. The hill at the edge of the village, shown on the map, at the road junction seen below. The road junction at the edge of the village with the hill at its centre.
- Rising from Bethany.
- The Die is Cast?
The Light Division entered the village to the right of picture and 3rd Division along the road to the left. One of the men found a dozen pots upon a fire, the embers of which were low and caused the place to escape notice. Here we adjourned, and soon made the fire burn brightly. The men looked about and found several knapsacks; they emptied them at the fireside to see their contents and added to their own kits, shoes and shirts of better quality than their own. In every packet I observed twenty biscuits nicely rolled up or deposited in a bag; they were to last each man so many days, and he must, unless he got anything else, be his own commissary.
We had been very ill-off for some days for bread, so that some of these proved a great luxury. We remained in bivouac.
It seems the French infantry at Foz d'Arouce reacted well to being attacked until they thought their access back across the river would be blocked, causing panic. Perhaps the stress and toil of the retreat following a long and harrowing campaign was taking its toll. It is easy to imagine the French around their fires in the fields either side when Wellington issued his orders to attack.
- Uniform Spaces and Measures: 30 (Fields Institute Monographs);
The bridge in a much better state than during the battle and showing was a significant river the Ceira is even when not in full spate. The loss is mentioned in George Simmons's diary under March Wellington sent it home in July. The plans he devised proved to be the last straw for his army and its command wracked with starvation, sickness and casualties and with senior commanders openly contemptuous of each other and looking to defend their positions from a wrathful Emperor. The action at Foz d'Arouce marked a pause in the Allied pursuit, for not only were the French suffering in their lack of supplies and their inability to 'live off the land' in their usual rapacious ways but the Allies too were outrunning their supplies as mentioned by Simmons, with the Light Division only too happy to relieve the French of the meagre rations that they managed to capture from them.
The Duke of Wellington was forced, through a lack of supplies for his Portuguese troops, to halt the Allied pursuit at Foz d'Arouce. Wellington wrote to the Earl of Liverpool after the action at Foz d'Arouce; "The destruction of the bridge at Foz d'Arouce, the fatigue which the troops have undergone for several days, and the want of supplies, have induced me to halt the army this day Pack's brigade, and Col.
Ashworth's had nothing to eat for four days, although constantly marching or engaged with the enemy. I was obliged either to direct the British Commissary Gen. Ney continued the withdrawal of VI Corps cautiously gaining time for the repairs to be made to the bridge ahead at Ponte de Murcella on the River Alva, before crossing under the cover of VIII Corps following in their wake and avoiding Allied attempts to cut his corps off now that the pursuit had been recommenced.
Supplies continued to be a problem for Wellington causing him to halt the pursuit on several occasions, noting on the 25th March that the French were pressing on towards the Coa, with their left looking likely to cross the river at Sabugal.
However what Wellington didn't know was that Massena had issued new orders to the Army of Portugal on the 22nd March that would surprise the Allies and the French. After a few days rest around Celorico, with the army expecting to march the last twenty miles to Almeida and a resupply, it was instead ordered to march south on Guarda and then on to Belmonte and Alfayates with the ultimate intent of crossing the Tagus and marching on Lisbon via the southern route.
Needless to say, the officers and men of his tired and ragged army received the news with shock and dismay, and Marshal Ney angrily refused to obey the order, explaining the needs of the army and complaining that; "Since you always wait for the moment of greatest danger to make up your mind, I am obliged to prevent the total ruin of the army. A contemporary picture of Sabugal and its castle overlooking the River Coa. Massena then pressed on with his ridiculous plan, stopping at Guarda and sending out reconnaissance patrols to the south to find that the land ahead was barren, as he had been told to expect by his commanders; in addition, D'Erlon had refused to follow him with IX Corps, instead marching to Almeida, and writing to inform Massena that the town only had enough supplies for fifteen days and that Ciudad Rodrigo was in a similar state.