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|Battle of Bussaco|
|Part of Peninsular War|
British and Portuguese infantry deployed in line on the ridge at Bussaco
|Commanders and leaders|
25,000 Portuguese25,000 British
|Casualties and losses|
|1,250 dead or wounded||4,500 dead or wounded|
The Battle of Buçaco (pronounced [buˈsaku] ) or Bussaco, fought on 27 September 1810 during the Peninsular War in the Portuguese mountain range of Serra do Buçaco, resulted in the defeat of French forces by Lord Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese Army.
The Peninsular War (1807–1814) was a military conflict between Napoleon's empire and Bourbon Spain, for control of the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. The war began when the French and Spanish armies invaded and occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 when France turned on Spain, previously its ally. The war on the peninsula lasted until the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon in 1814, and is regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.
Serra do Buçaco is a mountain range in Portugal, formerly included in the province of Beira Litoral. The highest point in the range is the Cruz Alta at 549 m (1801 feet), which has views over the Serra da Estrela, the Mondego River valley and the Atlantic Ocean.
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, was an Anglo-Irish soldier and Tory statesman who was one of the leading military and political figures of 19th-century Britain, serving twice as Prime Minister. He won a notable victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Having occupied the heights of Bussaco (a 10-mile (16 km) long ridge located at 40°20'40"N, 8°20'15"W) with 25,000 British and the same number of Portuguese, Wellington was attacked five times successively by 65,000 French under Marshal André Masséna. Masséna was uncertain as to the disposition and strength of the opposing forces because Wellington deployed them on the reverse slope of the ridge, where they could neither be easily seen nor easily softened up with artillery. The actual assaults were delivered by the corps of Marshal Michel Ney and General of Division (Major General) Jean Reynier, but after much fierce fighting they failed to dislodge the allied forces and were driven off after having lost 4,500 men against 1,250 Anglo-Portuguese casualties.
André Masséna, 1st Duke of Rivoli, 1st Prince of Essling was a French military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He was one of the original eighteen Marshals of the Empire created by Napoleon, with the nickname l'Enfant chéri de la Victoire.
Marshal of the Empire Michel Ney, 1st Duke of Elchingen, 1st Prince of the Moskva, popularly known as Marshal Ney, was a French soldier and military commander who fought in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He was one of the original 18 Marshals of the Empire created by Napoleon. He was known as Le Rougeaud by his men and nicknamed le Brave des Braves by Napoleon.
Jean Louis Ebénézer Reynier rose in rank to become a French army general officer during the French Revolutionary Wars. He led a division under Napoleon Bonaparte in the French Campaign in Egypt and Syria. During the Napoleonic Wars he continued to hold important combat commands, eventually leading an army corps during the Peninsular War in 1810-1811 and during the War of the Sixth Coalition in 1812-1813.
In 1810, Emperor Napoleon I ordered Masséna to drive the British from Portugal. Accordingly, the French marshal began the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo in April. The Spanish garrison held out until 9 July when the fortress fell. The Battle of the Côa was fought soon after. The Siege of Almeida ended suddenly with a massive explosion of the fortress magazine on 26 August. With all obstacles cleared from their path, the French could march on Lisbon in strength.
In the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, the French Marshal Michel Ney took the fortified city from Field Marshal Don Andrés Perez de Herrasti on 10 July 1810 after a siege that began on 26 April. Ney's VI Corps made up part of a 65,000-strong army commanded by André Masséna, who was bent on a third French invasion of Portugal.
In the Siege of Almeida, the French corps of Marshal Michel Ney captured the border fortress from Brigadier General William Cox's Portuguese garrison. This action was fought in the summer of 1810 during the Peninsular War portion of the Napoleonic Wars. Almeida is located in eastern Portugal, near the border with Spain.
Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal, with an estimated population of 505,526 within its administrative limits in an area of 100.05 km2. Lisbon's urban area extends beyond the city's administrative limits with a population of around 2.8 million people, being the 11th-most populous urban area in the European Union. About 3 million people live in the Lisbon metropolitan area, including the Portuguese Riviera. It is mainland Europe's westernmost capital city and the only one along the Atlantic coast. Lisbon lies in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and the River Tagus. The westernmost portions of its metro area form the westernmost point of Continental Europe, which is known as Cabo da Roca, located in the Sintra Mountains.
It was important to delay the French until the defences being built around Lisbon, the Lines of Torres Vedras, could be completed. Using selective demolition of bridges and roads, Viscount Wellington restricted the choice of routes the French could use and slowed the advance of the French troops. At the end of September, they met Wellington's army drawn up on the ridge of Bussaco.
The Lines of Torres Vedras were lines of forts and other military defences built in secrecy to defend Lisbon during the Peninsular War. Named after the nearby town of Torres Vedras, they were ordered by Arthur Wellesley, Viscount Wellington, constructed by Sir Richard Fletcher, 1st Baronet, and his Portuguese workers between November 1809 and September 1810, and used to stop Marshal Masséna's 1810 offensive. The Lines were declared a National Heritage by the Portuguese Government in March 2019.
The ridge, which at its highest rises to 549 metres, lies at right angles to the main road to Coimbra and thence to Lisbon, providing one of the few and certainly the best defensive position on the French route of march.
Coimbra is a city and a municipality in Portugal. The population at the 2011 census was 143,397, in an area of 319.40 square kilometres (123.3 sq mi). The fourth-largest urban centre in Portugal, it is the largest city of the district of Coimbra and the Centro Region. About 460,000 people live in the Região de Coimbra, comprising 19 municipalities and extending into an area of 4,336 square kilometres (1,674 sq mi).
Wellington had brought together six British infantry divisions:
Major-General Robert Craufurd was a British soldier. Craufurd was born at Newark, Ayrshire, the third son of Sir Alexander Craufurd, 1st Baronet, and the younger brother of Sir Charles Craufurd. After a military career which took him from India to the Netherlands, in 1810 in the Napoleonic Peninsular War he was given command of the Light Division, composed of the elite foot soldiers in the army at the time, under the Duke of Wellington. Craufurd was a strict disciplinarian and somewhat prone to violent mood swings which earned him the nickname "Black Bob". He was mortally wounded storming the lesser breach in the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo on 19 January 1812 and died four days later.
The 1st Infantry Division was a regular army infantry division of the British Army with a very long history. The division was present at the Peninsular War, the Crimean War, the First World War, and during the Second World War and was finally disbanded in 1960.
General Sir Brent Spencer was an Anglo-Irish officer in the British Army, seeing active service during the American Revolutionary War and the French Revolutionary Wars. During the Peninsular War he became General Wellesley's second-in-command on two occasions. He fought at Vimeiro and testified in Wellesley's favor at the inquiry following the Convention of Cintra. He led a division at Bussaco and two divisions at Fuentes de Onoro. After the latter action, he had an independent command in northern Portugal. Wellesley, now Lord Wellington, was not satisfied that Spencer was up to the responsibilities of second-in-command and he was replaced by Thomas Graham. Miffed, Spencer left Portugal and never returned. He became a full general in 1825.
In addition, the newly re-trained (by the British under the direction of Lieutenant General William Carr Beresford) Portuguese Army supplied a two-brigade Portuguese infantry division under Maj Gen John Hamilton, and three independent Portuguese brigades led by Brig Gen Denis Pack, Brig Gen Alexander Campbell and Brig Gen John Coleman.
Brig Gen George DeGrey, Brig Gen John Slade, Brig Gen George Anson and Brig Gen Henry Fane led four British cavalry brigades, plus four regiments of Portuguese cavalry. In batteries of six guns apiece, there were six British (Ross RHA, Bull RHA, Thompson, Lawson, two unknown), two King's German Legion (Rettberg, Cleeves) and five Portuguese (Rozierres, Da Cunha Preto, Da Silva, Freira, Sousa) batteries under Brig Gen Edward Howorth.
The Anglo Portuguese army numbered 50,000, with 50% Portuguese troops.
Masséna's army of 60,000 included the II Corps under Reynier, the VI Corps led by Ney, the VIII Corps under MG Jean Andoche Junot and a cavalry reserve led by MG Louis Pierre, Count Montbrun. The divisions of MG Pierre Hugues Victoire Merle and MG Étienne Heudelet de Bierre made up Reynier's corps. Ney's corps had three divisions under MGs Jean Marchand, Julien Mermet and Louis Loison. Junot had the divisions of MG Bertrand Clausel and MG Jean-Baptiste Solignac. Each French corps contained the standard brigade of light cavalry. General of Brigade (BG) Jean Baptiste Eblé, Masséna's artillery chief, commanded 112 guns.
Wellington posted his army along the crest of Bussaco Ridge, facing east. To improve his lateral communications, he had previously ordered his four officers from the Royal Corps of Engineers 262 to cut a road that ran the length of the ridge on the reverse slope. Cole held the left (north) flank. Next came Craufurd, Spencer, Picton and Leith. Hill held the right (south) flank with Hamilton's men attached.:
Masséna, believing he easily outnumbered the British and goaded by Ney and other officers to attack the British position rather than go around it, ordered a reconnaissance of the steep ridge. Very few of Wellington's troops were visible, as they remained on the reverse slope and were ordered not to light cooking fires. The French General planned to send Reynier at the centre of the ridge, which he believed to be the British right flank. Once the II Corps attack showed some signs of success, Masséna would launch Ney's corps at the British along the main road. The VIII Corps stood behind the VI Corps in reserve. While Ney announced that he was ready to attack and conquer, Reynier suddenly had second thoughts, predicting his attack would be beaten.
Reynier's troops struck in the early morning mist. Heudelet sent his leading brigade straight up the slope in a formation one company wide and eight battalions deep. When the leading regiment reached the top of the ridge, they found themselves facing the 74th Foot and two Portuguese battalions in line, plus 12 cannon. The French tried to change formation from column into a line. Pelet says, "The column began to deploy as if at an exercise."But the Allies brought intense musketry to bear. Soon, the French infantrymen were thrown into confusion. However, they clung to a precarious toehold on the ridge.
Several hundred yards to the north, Merle's division thrust up the ridge in a similar formation. Picton hurriedly massed his defenders by using the ridgetop road. Met at the crest by the 88th Foot and the 45th Foot and two Portuguese battalions in a concave line, the French tried unsuccessfully to deploy into line. Crushed by converging fire, the French fled down the slope.Merle was wounded while General of Brigade Jean François Graindorge fell mortally wounded. Wellington rode up to Colonel Alexander Wallace of the 88th and remarked, "Wallace, I have never witnessed a more gallant charge."
Seeing Heudelet's second brigade standing immobile at the foot of the ridge, Reynier rode up to BG Maximilien Foy and demanded an immediate attack. With the Allies out of position after defeating the first two attacks, Foy hit a weak spot in their defences. Fortuitously, the French struck the least prepared unit in the Allied army—a Portuguese militia unit—and routed it. But the morning mist cleared, revealing no enemies in front of the British right flank. Wellington had already ordered Leith to shift his men to the north to assist Picton. Before Foy's men could consolidate their gain, they were attacked by the 9th Foot and 38th Foot of Leith and some of Picton's men. The French were swept off the ridge and Foy wounded. After seeing this rout, Heudelet's other brigade withdrew to the base of the ridge.
Hearing gunfire, Ney assumed Reynier's men were enjoying success and ordered an attack. In this sector, the main highway climbed a long spur past the hamlets of Moura and Sula to reach the crest at the Convent of Bussaco. Against a very heavy British skirmish line, Loison's division fought its way forward. Near the crest, 1,800 men of the 43rd and 52nd infantry regiments lay down waiting. As Loison's leading brigade approached the convent grounds, the two British units stood up, fired a terrific volley at point blank range and charged with the bayonet.The French brigade collapsed and fled leaving BG Édouard Simon, their commander, wounded and a prisoner.
A short time later and slightly further south, Loison's second brigade under BG Claude François Ferey ran into a close-range fire from two batteries plus Anglo-Portuguese musketry. This unit was also routed. A final thrust by BG Antoine Louis Popon de Maucune's brigade of Marchand's division met defeat when it ran into Denis Pack's Portuguese brigade. The two sides occupied the rest of the day in vigorous skirmishing, but the French did not try to attack in force again.
The French suffered 522 dead, 3,612 wounded, and 364 captured. The Allied losses numbered 200 dead, 1,001 wounded, and 51 missing. The British and Portuguese each lost exactly 626 men.
Masséna now realised the size of Wellington's forces and the strength of his defensive position, so that afternoon ordered troops to move off to the right on a hazardous but skilful move to outflank the position, reaching another road to the north just ahead of a Portuguese Corps that had been sent there to defend it. 262:
Wellington, after spending the night in the convent, and finding his position turned, resumed the leisurely retreat of his army towards the, still being constructed, Lines of Torres Vedras. 263 He reached these in good order by 10 October.:
Continuing to advance, Masséna had left his sick and wounded troops at Coimbra, where a few days later, they fell into the hands of the Portuguese. 263:
This was the first major battle of the Peninsular War in which units of the reconstituted Portuguese Army fought, where the Portuguese troops played a prominent part and the victory served as a great morale boost to the inexperienced troops.
After probing the Lines in the Battle of Sobral on 14 October, Masséna found them too strong to attack and withdrew into winter quarters. Deprived of food for his men and harried by Anglo-Portuguese hit-and-run tactics, he lost a further 25,000 men captured or dead from starvation or sickness before he retreated into Spain early in 1811. This finally freed Portugal from French occupation except for the fortress of Almeida, near the frontier. During the retreat, several actions were fought, including the Battle of Sabugal.
General Julien Augustin Joseph Mermet fought in the Napoleonic Wars as a division commander in Italy and in the Peninsular War.
The Battle of Tamames was a sharp reversal suffered by part of Marshal Michel Ney's French army under Major-General Jean Marchand in the Peninsular War. The French, advancing out of Salamanca, were met and defeated in battle by a Spanish army on 18 October 1809.
The Combat of the Côa was a skirmish that occurred during the Peninsular War period of the Napoleonic Wars. It took place in the valley of the Côa River and it was the first significant battle for the new army of 65,000 men controlled by Marshal André Masséna, as the French prepared for their third invasion of Portugal.
Antoine-François Brenier de Montmorand served as a French general of division during the period of the First French Empire and became an officer of the Légion d'honneur.
The Battle of Sabugal was an engagement of the Peninsular War which took place on 3 April 1811 between Anglo-Portuguese forces under Arthur Wellesley and French troops under the command of Marshal André Masséna. It was the last of many skirmishes between Masséna's retreating French forces and those of the Anglo-Portuguese under Wellington, who were pursuing him after the failed 1810 French invasion of Portugal.
Louis Henri Loison briefly joined the French Army in 1787 and after the French Revolution became a junior officer. Blessed with military talent and courage, he rapidly rose to general officer rank during the French Revolutionary Wars. He also got into difficulties because of his fondness for plundering. In late 1795 he helped Napoleon Bonaparte crush a revolt against the government. After a hiatus, he returned in 1799 to fight in Switzerland where he earned another promotion. In 1800 he commanded a division under Napoleon in the Marengo Campaign.
Jean Gabriel Marchand, 1st Count Marchand went from being an attorney to a company commander in the army of the First French Republic in 1791. He fought almost exclusively in Italy throughout the French Revolutionary Wars and served on the staffs of a number of generals. He participated in Napoleon Bonaparte's celebrated 1796-1797 Italian campaign. In 1799, he was with army commander Barthélemy Catherine Joubert when that general was killed at Novi. Promoted to general officer soon after, he transferred to the Rhine theater in 1800.
Louis Tirlet was a French général de division and artillery specialist during the Napoleonic Wars. His name appears in the 21st column of the Arc de Triomphe.
The Battle of Redinha was a rearguard action which took place on March 12, 1811, during Masséna's retreat from Portugal, by a French division under Marshal Ney against a considerably larger Anglo-Portuguese force under Wellington. Challenging the Allies with only one or two divisions, Ney's 7,000 troops were pitched against 25,000 men. In a typical rearguard action, Ney delayed the Allied advance for a day and bought valuable time for the withdrawal of the main body of the French army.
The Battle of Casal Novo was a rear-guard action fought on March 14, 1811, during Massena's retreat from Portugal. During this retreat the French rear-guard, under command of Michel Ney, performed admirably in a series of sharp rear-guard actions. At Casal Novo, the recklessness of Sir William Erskine resulted in costly losses in the Light Division.
Anne-François-Charles Trelliard or Treillard or Treilhard, born 7 February 1764 – died 14 May 1832, joined the cavalry of the French Royal Army as a cadet gentleman in 1780. During the French Revolutionary Wars he fought in Germany and Holland, eventually rising in rank to become a general officer in 1799. He led a corps cavalry brigade at Austerlitz in the 1805 campaign. In the 1806-1807 campaign he fought at Saalfeld, Jena, and Pultusk.
Jean-Jacques Germain Pelet-Clozeau became a French general in the Napoleonic Wars and later was a politician and historian. He joined the French army in 1800 and became a topographic engineer. He joined the staff of Marshal André Masséna and was wounded at Caldiero in 1805. He served in southern Italy in 1806 and Poland in 1807. He was wounded at Ebelsberg and fought at Aspern-Essling and Wagram in 1809.
Antoine Louis Popon de Maucune led a French division against the British in 1811–1813 during the Peninsular War. He is referred to as Maucune in English-language sources. He joined the pioneer corps of the French army in 1786 and was a lieutenant by the time the French Revolutionary Wars broke out. He fought in the north in 1792 and in the Alps in 1793. Afterward he served in Italy through 1801. During this period, he fought at Arcole in 1796 and at the Trebbia, Novi and Genola in 1799. He was appointed to command the 39th Line Infantry Demi-Brigade and led it in the 1800 campaign.
The VI Corps of the Grande Armée was the name of a French military unit that existed during the Napoleonic Wars. It was formed at the Camp de Boulogne and assigned to Marshal Michel Ney. From 1805 through 1811, the army corps fought under Ney's command in the War of the Third Coalition, the War of the Fourth Coalition, and the Peninsular War. Jean Gabriel Marchand was in charge of the corps for a period when Ney went on leave. In early 1811, Ney was dismissed by Marshal André Masséna for disobedience and the corps was briefly led by Louis Henri Loison until the corps was dissolved in May 1811. The VI Corps was revived in 1812 for the French invasion of Russia and placed under Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr. It entirely consisted of Bavarian soldiers at that time. After the disastrous winter retreat the corps was virtually destroyed. In 1813 during the War of the Sixth Coalition it was recreated with reorganized French troops. Marshal Auguste Marmont took command of the corps and managed it until Emperor Napoleon's abdication in 1814. It took part in many battles including Dresden and Leipzig in 1813. During the Hundred Days, Georges Mouton, Count de Lobau commanded the VI Corps at the Battle of Waterloo.
François Nicolas Mathus Fririon joined the French army and rose through the ranks during the French Revolutionary Wars to become a general officer by 1800. After commanding a brigade with distinction during the War of the Fifth Coalition at Aspern-Essling and Wagram he was promoted and made chief of staff to Marshal André Masséna. He served in this role during Masséna's 1810–1811 invasion of Portugal. His history of that campaign was published posthumously by his son. His surname is one of the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, on Column 16.
Étienne Heudelet de Bierre joined the French army as a volunteer lieutenant in 1792. A year later he became a staff officer for a number of generals before becoming Laurent Gouvion Saint-Cyr's chief of staff in 1795. He fought under Jean Victor Marie Moreau in the 1796 campaign and fought at Kehl. He became a general officer in 1799, leading his troops at the First and Second Battles of Zurich. In April 1800 he was a brigade commander in Jean Victor Tharreau's division in Moreau's army. In December of that year he fought at Hohenlinden under Michel Ney.
The fortress of Real Fuerte de la Concepción is a star fortress built in the Vaubanesque style. It is located 0.6 miles (0.97 km) west of the village of Aldea del Obispo in the province of Salamanca, western Spain, part of the autonomous community of Castile and León. The fortress was constructed there because of its position of great strategic significance due to its proximity to the border between Spain and Portugal which lies 0.4 miles (0.64 km) to the west of the fortress. The Fortress of the Concepcion is also opposite the Portuguese castle fortress of Almeida which lies 5.5 miles (8.9 km) west-north-west of the fortress. In 2006, the derelict fortress was sold privately and the site was renovated into a luxury hotel which opened in 2012.
Pierre François Xavier Boyer became a French division commander during the Napoleonic Wars. He joined a volunteer regiment in 1792. He fought in the Italian campaign of 1796 and participated in the French invasion of Egypt in 1798. He became a general of brigade in 1801 and took part in the Expedition to Saint-Domingue in 1802. While sailing back to France he was captured by the British. After being exchanged, he fought at Jena and Pultusk in 1806, Friedland in 1807 and Wagram in 1809. Transferred to Spain, Boyer led a dragoon division at Salamanca and Battle of Venta del Pozo in 1812 and Vitoria in 1813. He earned the nickname "Pedro the Cruel" for brutal actions against Spanish partisans. He led an infantry division at the Nivelle and the Nive in late 1813. His division was transferred to the fighting near Paris and he was promoted general of division in February 1814. He led his troops at Mormant, Craonne, Laon and Arcis-sur-Aube.
Museu Militar do Bussaco - edição comemorativa do centenário 1910-2010, Quartzo Editora/DHCM, 2010, ISBN 978-972-8347-10-9.
Under Wellington's Command by G.A. Henty includes a section on the Battle of Bussaco (sp. 'Busaco' in the text).
Sharpe's Escape by Bernard Cornwell covers the battle.
Stranger from the Sea by Winston Graham features a visit to the front line by Ross Poldark, who is on a government fact-finding mission.