Battle of Bussaco

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Battle of Bussaco
Part of Peninsular War
St. Clair-Battle of Bussaco.jpg
British and Portuguese infantry deployed in line on the ridge at Bussaco
Date27 September 1810
Result Tactical Anglo-Portuguese victory [1]

Flag of Portugal (1750).svg Portugal

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Flag of France.svg France
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Viscount Wellington
Flag of Portugal (1750).svg Luís do Rego Barreto
Flag of France.svg André Masséna

25,000 Portuguese

25,000 British
Casualties and losses
1,250 dead or wounded [2] 4,500 dead or wounded [2]

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. [3] [4]

Peninsular War War by Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom against the French Empire (1807–1814)

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 mountains in Portugal

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 18th and 19th-century British soldier and statesman

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 French military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

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.

Michel Ney French soldier and military commander

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 Reynier French general

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.

Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo (1810) siege

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.

Siege of Almeida (1810)

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 Capital city in Lisbon metropolitan area, Portugal

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.

Lines of Torres Vedras Military defences during the Peninsular War in Portugal

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 Municipality in Centro, Portugal

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).

Allied organisation

Wellington had brought together six British infantry divisions:

Robert Craufurd Scottish soldier

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.

1st Infantry Division (United Kingdom) British Army combat formation

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.

Brent Spencer British Army general

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. [5] [6]

The Anglo Portuguese army numbered 50,000, with 50% Portuguese troops.

French organisation

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. [7]


Mountains and National Palace of Bussaco Bucaco.JPG
Mountains and National Palace of Bussaco

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 [8] :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. [9]

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. [10]


II Corps attack

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." [11] 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. [12] Merle was wounded while General of Brigade Jean François Graindorge fell mortally wounded. [13] Wellington rode up to Colonel Alexander Wallace of the 88th and remarked, "Wallace, I have never witnessed a more gallant charge." [14]

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 armya Portuguese militia unitand 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. [15] The French were swept off the ridge and Foy wounded. [13] After seeing this rout, Heudelet's other brigade withdrew to the base of the ridge.

VI Corps attack

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. [14] The French brigade collapsed and fled leaving BG Édouard Simon, their commander, wounded and a prisoner. [11]

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. [15]


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. [15]

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. [8] :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. [8] :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. [8] :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.

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  1. Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon . Yale University Press; 1 October 2008. ISBN   978-0-300-14768-1. p. 22. "while on other occasions a tactical victory might prove fruitless, when other considerations intervened and forced the victorious army to retreat, as after Talavera and Busaco."
  2. 1 2 Glover, p 139
  3. Douglas L. Wheeler, Walter C. Opello Historical Dictionary of Portugal 2010 -- Page 63 "The battle of Buçaco commenced in the morning of 27 September 1810, and the French were defeated with considerable losses. The site of the battle in the woods and hills of Buçaco is marked by a commemorative obelisk, not far from the ...
  4. Mark Ellingham, John Fisher, Graham Kenyon Rough Guide to Portugal - 2002 - Page 226 "The Battle of Buçaco and the Museu Militar - The Battle of Buçaco (1810) was fought largely on the ridge just .."
  5. Glover, pp 375-376
  6. Horward-Pelet, pp 523-528
  7. Horward-Pelet, pp 517-522
  8. 1 2 3 4 Porter, Maj Gen Whitworth (1889). History of the Corps of Royal Engineers Vol I. Chatham: The Institution of Royal Engineers.
  9. Zimmermann, pp 28-29
  10. Horward-Pelet, p 176
  11. 1 2 Horward-Pelet, p 179
  12. Glover, p 137
  13. 1 2 Horward-Pelet, p 180
  14. 1 2 Glover, p 138
  15. 1 2 3 Zimmermann, p 30


Museu Militar do Bussaco - edição comemorativa do centenário 1910-2010, Quartzo Editora/DHCM, 2010, ISBN   978-972-8347-10-9.

In fiction

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.

Coordinates: 40°20′40″N8°20′15″W / 40.34444°N 8.33750°W / 40.34444; -8.33750