Blockade of Almeida

Last updated
Blockade of Almeida 1811
Part of Peninsular War
Fortress of Almeida.jpg
Fortress of Almeida in Portugal
Date14 April to 10 May 1811
Location Almeida, Portugal
Result

French tactical victory

  • Successful French escape.
Belligerents
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Flag Portugal (1750).svg Portugal
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Antoine Brenier Flag of the United Kingdom.svg William Erskine
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Alexander Campbell
Flag Portugal (1750).svg Luís do Rego Barreto
Strength
1,400 13,000
Casualties and losses
360 50

In the Blockade of Almeida (14 April – 10 May 1811) a French garrison under Antoine François Brenier de Montmorand was surrounded by approximately 13,000 Anglo-Allied soldiers led by Generals Sir Alexander Campbell, 1st Baronet and Sir William Erskine, 2nd Baronet. After a French relief attempt failed, Brenier and his troops broke out at night after blowing up portions of the fortress. To the fury of the British army commander Arthur Wellesley, Viscount Wellington, most of the French escaped due to their commander's single-minded determination, British fumbling, and remarkably good luck. The action took place during the Peninsular War portion of the Napoleonic Wars. Almeida, Portugal is located near the Spanish border about 300 kilometres (186 mi) northeast of Lisbon. The town was originally captured from a Portuguese garrison during the 1810 Siege of Almeida.

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.

Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Campbell, 1st Baronet, was a senior officer of the British Army during the early nineteenth century. His long and varied career saw extensive action, including engagements in Europe during the American Revolutionary War, in India during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War and subsequently in the Peninsular War as one of the Duke of Wellington's generals. Badly wounded during the Peninsular campaign, Campbell was rewarded with a knighthood and a baronetcy, later holding a number of prestigious military commands.

Major-General Sir William Erskine, 2nd Baronet was an officer in the British Army, served as a member of Parliament, and achieved important commands in the Napoleonic Wars under the Duke of Wellington, but ended his service in insanity and suicide.

Contents

Background

On 11 October 1810, Marshal André Masséna's French army found itself confronted by the elaborately built and well-defended Lines of Torres Vedras in its invasion of Portugal. Foiled by the virtually impregnable defenses, the French commander halted to wait for reinforcements. Unable to secure enough food, the French army wasted away from starvation and illness. By 1 January 1811, the 65,000-strong army had shrunk to 46,500. Massena reluctantly retreated from Portugal beginning on 6 March. [1] The British army of Viscount Wellington beat the French II Corps of General of Division Jean Reynier at the Battle of Sabugal on 3 April 1811. [2] The next day, the British invested the fortress of Almeida. [3]

André Masséna French military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

André Masséna, 1st Duc de Rivoli, 1st Prince d'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.

Lines of Torres Vedras

The Lines of Torres Vedras were lines of forts 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 Masséna's 1810 offensive.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington 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. His victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 puts him in the first rank of Britain's military heroes.

After Marshal André Masséna's retreat from Portugal, the French installed a garrison of 1,400 men under Brenier in the fortress. These troops were blockaded in the town by forces under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Since the Anglo-Portuguese Army had no heavy guns to breach the walls, they were forced to starve the garrison out. Because of this, this operation was technically a blockade rather than a siege.

Anglo-Portuguese Army

The Anglo-Portuguese Army was the combined British and Portuguese army that participated in the Peninsular War, under the command of Arthur Wellesley. The Army is also referred to as the British-Portuguese Army and, in Portuguese, as the Exército Anglo-Luso or the Exército Anglo-Português.

Blockade effort to cut off supplies from a particular area by force

A blockade is an effort to cut off supplies, war material or communications from a particular area by force, either in part or totally. A blockade should not be confused with an embargo or sanctions, which are legal barriers to trade. It is also distinct from a siege in that a blockade is usually directed at an entire country or region, rather than a fortress or city. While most blockades historically took place at sea, blockade is still used on land to prevent someone coming into a certain area.

Siege military blockade of a city or fortress

A siege is a military blockade of a city, or fortress, with the intent of conquering by attrition, or a well-prepared assault. This derives from Latin: sedere, lit. 'to sit'. Siege warfare is a form of constant, low-intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static, defensive position. Consequently, an opportunity for negotiation between combatants is not uncommon, as proximity and fluctuating advantage can encourage diplomacy. The art of conducting and resisting sieges is called siege warfare, siegecraft, or poliorcetics.

From 3 to 5 May 1811, Masséna failed to relieve Almeida in the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro. During this time, the blockade was maintained by Major General William Erskine's 5th and Major General Alexander Campbell's 6th Divisions, plus Count Barbacena's 300-man Portuguese cavalry brigade. Campbell guarded the south and west sides of the fortress with too many soldiers and placed his men too far from the city. Though instructed by Wellington to block the Barba del Puerco bridge on the afternoon of the 10th, Erskine neglected to forward the necessary orders in time.

Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro battle

In the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, the British-Portuguese Army under Lord Wellington checked an attempt by the French Army of Portugal under Marshal André Masséna to relieve the besieged city of Almeida.

Escape

With great skill, Brenier slipped his men through the Anglo-Portuguese lines on the night of 10–11 May. The fortifications were rigged with explosives and blew up after the French cleared out. After overrunning a Portuguese outpost, Brenier headed northwest toward the Barba del Puerco bridge. Campbell and Brigadier General Denis Pack gave chase with some troops, but a British colonel whose regiment was stationed near the breakthrough failed to pursue. Another regiment arrived at the Barba del Puerco, but since the French had not gotten there yet, the unit marched to another location. The French were intercepted just as they reached the bridge and numbers of them were killed or captured. A total of 360 Frenchmen became casualties during the night. An unwise attempt by the 36th Foot Regiment to storm the bridge was repelled with 35 casualties by the French 31st Light Infantry Regiment from Reynier's II Corps.

36th (Herefordshire) Regiment of Foot

The 36th (Herefordshire) Regiment of Foot was an infantry regiment of the British Army, raised in 1701. Under the Childers Reforms it amalgamated with the 29th (Worcestershire) Regiment of Foot to form the Worcestershire Regiment in 1881. Its lineage is continued today by the Mercian Regiment.

An enraged Wellington later wrote,

They had about 13,000 to watch 1,400. There they were all sleeping in their spurs even; but the French got off. I begin to be of the opinion that there is nothing on earth so stupid as a gallant officer. [4]

Notes

  1. Glover, Michael (2001). The Peninsular War 1807–1814. London: Penguin. pp. 141–143. ISBN   0-141-39041-7.
  2. Smith, Digby (1998). The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill. pp. 357–358. ISBN   1-85367-276-9.
  3. Glover (2001), p. 148
  4. Glover 2001, p. 156.

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References

Michael Glover (1922–90) served in the British army during the Second World War, after which he joined the British Council and became a professional author. He has written many articles and books on Napoleonic and Victorian warfare.

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