First Battle of Porto

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First Battle of Porto
Part of the Peninsular War
Marshall Soult surveys the broken bridge as Oporto falls to the French on 29 March 1809. In the foreground a grenadier rescues an orphaned baby.
Date28 March 1809
Result French victory
Flag of Portugal (1750).svg Portugal Flag of France.svg French Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Portugal (1750).svg Caetano José Vaz Parreiras Flag of France.svg Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult

About 24,000 men:

  • 4,500 regular army
  • 10,000 ordenanças (militia)
  • 9,000 armed citizens
21,500 men including 3,100 cavalry
Casualties and losses
10,000 2,100 killed and wounded

In the First Battle of Porto (28 March 1809) the French under Marshal Soult defeated the Portuguese, under General Parreiras, outside the city of Porto [1] during the Peninsular War. Soult followed up his success by storming the city.

First French Empire Empire of Napoleon I of France between 1804–1815

The First French Empire, officially the French Empire, was the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte of France and the dominant power in much of continental Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. Although France had already established an overseas colonial empire beginning in the 17th century, the French state had remained a kingdom under the Bourbons and a republic after the Revolution. Historians refer to Napoleon's regime as the First Empire to distinguish it from the restorationist Second Empire (1852–1870) ruled by his nephew as Napoleon III.

Portugal Republic in Southwestern Europe

Portugal, officially the Portuguese Republic, is a country located mostly on the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It is the westernmost sovereign state of mainland Europe, being bordered to the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean and to the north and east by Spain. Its territory also includes the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, both autonomous regions with their own regional governments.

Porto Municipality in Norte, Portugal

Porto, also known as Oporto in some languages,is the second-largest city in Portugal, one of the Iberian Peninsula's major urban areas, famous for Port wine and football team FC Porto. Porto city has a population of 287,591 and a metropolitan area with 2.3 million people (2011) in an area of 2,395 km2 (925 sq mi), making it the second-largest urban area in Portugal. It is recognized as a gamma-level global city by the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) Study Group, the only Portuguese city besides Lisbon to be recognised as a global city.


It is estimated that 8,000 soldiers perished in the attack and that a great number of civilians were killed.

Soult's invasion of Portugal

Troop movements Batalha do Porto - 29Mar1809.jpg
Troop movements

After the Battle of Corunna, Napoleon ordered Marshal Nicolas Soult to invade Portugal from the north. He was to seize Porto by 1 February and Lisbon by 10 February. Napoleon failed to take into account both the wretched condition and the roads or the fact that a full-scale guerrilla war had broken out in Northern Portugal and Spain.

Battle of Corunna battle

The Battle of Corunna, in Spain known as Battle of Elviña, took place on 16 January 1809, when a French corps under Marshal of the Empire Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult attacked a British army under Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore. The battle took place amidst the Peninsular War, which was a part of the wider Napoleonic Wars. It was a result of a French campaign, led by Napoleon, which had defeated the Spanish armies and caused the British army to withdraw to the coast following an unsuccessful attempt by Moore to attack Soult's corps and divert the French army.

Napoleon 19th century French military leader and politician

Napoleon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French as Napoleon I from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815 during the Hundred Days. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over much of continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.

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.

Battle of Porto reenactment, in 2009. Battle of Porto reenactment (2) 2009.jpg
Battle of Porto reenactment, in 2009.

Soult's II Corps had four infantry divisions, commanded by Generals of Division Pierre Hugues Victoire Merle, Julien Augustin Joseph Mermet, Étienne Heudelet de Bierre, and Henri François Delaborde. Merle had four battalions each of the 2nd Light, 4th Light and 15th Line Infantry Regiments and three battalions of the 36th Line. Mermet's division included four battalions each of the 31st Light, 47th Line, and 122nd Line, and one battalion each of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Swiss Regiments. Heudelet led two battalions each of the 22nd Line and 66th Line, one battalion each of the 15th Light, 32nd Light, 82nd Line, Légion du Midi, Paris Guard, and Hanoverian Legion. Delaborde's command comprised three battalions each of the 17th Light, 70th Line, and 86th Line. General of Division Jean Baptiste Marie Franceschi-Delonne led Soult's corps cavalry, the 1st Hussar, 8th Dragoon, 22nd Chasseur à Cheval, and Hanoverian Chasseur Regiments. Attached were General of Division Armand Lebrun de La Houssaye's 3rd Dragoon Division and General of Division Jean Thomas Guillaume Lorge's 4th Dragoon Division. The 3rd Dragoon Division was made up of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 27th Dragoon Regiments. The 4th Dragoon Division consisted of the 13th, 15th, 22nd and 25th Dragoon Regiments. [2] In all, Soult had 23,500 men, including 3,100 cavalry. [3]

II Corps (Grande Armée) military unit of the Grande Armée

The II Corps of the Grande Armée was a military unit that existed during the Napoleonic Wars.

Pierre Hugues Victoire Merle French general

Pierre Hugues Victoire Merle was a French general during the First French Empire of Napoleon. He joined the French army as a private in 1781 but after the French Revolution, the pace of promotion quickened. He was appointed a general officer in 1794 for distinguishing himself during the War of the Pyrenees. After leading a brigade at Austerlitz in December 1805, he was promoted again. His division was in the first wave of the 1808 invasion of Spain, which precipitated the Peninsular War. In Spain, he led his division at Medina de Rioseco, Corunna, First and Second Porto, Bussaco, Sabugal, and Fuentes de Onoro. After being sent home from Spain, Merle was assigned to lead a division in the French invasion of Russia. He led his troops at First and Second Polotsk. He embraced the Bourbon cause in 1814, retired from the army in 1816, and died at Marseilles in 1830. Merle is one of the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe on Column 35.

Julien Augustin Joseph Mermet French army commander

General Julien Augustin Joseph Mermet fought in the Napoleonic Wars as a division commander in Italy and in the Peninsular War.

Soult's first attempt to invade Portugal was stopped by the local militia on 16 February. The French then moved northeast to Ourense in Spain, seized an unguarded bridge and marched south. On the way, Franceschi's cavalry overran Major General Nicolas Mahy's Spanish brigade at La Trepa on March 6, inflicting 700 casualties. The French crossed into Portugal and occupied Chaves on 9 March.

Ourense Place in Galicia, Spain

Ourense is a city in northwestern Spain, the capital of the province of the same name in Galicia. It is on the Portuguese Way path of the Road of St James, the Camino de Santiago.

The Siege of Chaves refers to the French siege and capture of Chaves, Portugal from 10 to 12 March 1809, and the subsequent siege and recapture of the town by Portuguese forces from 21 to 25 March 1809, during the second invasion of Portugal in the Peninsular War.

From Chaves, Soult moved west to Póvoa de Lanhoso where he was confronted by Baron Christian Adolph Friedrich von Eben's 25,000-man army composed mostly of Portuguese militia armed with muskets, pikes, and agricultural implements. After waiting several days for all his troops to arrive, Soult went over to the attack. On 20 March 1809 in the Battle of Braga the French veterans butchered their adversaries. The outmatched Portuguese lost 4,000 killed and 400 captured. The French, who lost 40 killed and 160 wounded, also seized 17 Portuguese cannons.

Póvoa de Lanhoso Municipality in Norte, Portugal

Póvoa de Lanhoso is a municipality in the district of Braga, Portugal. The population in 2011 was 21,886, in an area of 134.65 km².

Battle of Braga (1809) battle

The Battle of Braga or Battle of Póvoa de Lanhoso or Battle of Carvalho d'Este saw an Imperial French corps led by Marshal Nicolas Soult attack a Portuguese army commanded by Baron Christian Adolph Friedrich von Eben. Soult's professional soldiers slaughtered large numbers of their opponents, who were mostly badly disciplined and poorly armed militia. The action occurred during the Peninsular War, part of the Napoleonic Wars. Braga is situated about 45 kilometres (28 mi) north-northeast of Porto (Oporto).


Bishop Castro organized an army of 24,000 men to defend Porto.

Generals Lima and Parreiras commanded two battalions, each of the 6th, 18th and 21st Infantry Regiments, and one battalion of the 9th and other units. The 4,500 Portuguese regulars were supported by 10,000 ordenanças (militia) and 9,000 armed citizens. When Soult hurled Merle, Mermet, Heudelet, Franceschi and Lahoussaye at the Portuguese deployed north of the city, on the weakest part of the Portuguese line of defence, Castro's force soon dissolved and the battle became a massacre. The Portuguese tried to escape from the French in the city but were chased by the French cavalry throughout the streets, and their regular units were annihilated.

Thousands of fleeing civilians drowned when a bridge of boats across the Douro River (as soon as some Portuguese units started to sabotage the bridge to prevent the French from crossing the river) collapsed because of their weight and of Portuguese artillery fire (coming from the left side of the Douro) who were aiming at the French cavalry behind the Portuguese soldiers and citizens. [3]

In the roadstead, Soult captured a squadron of Spanish naval vessels and 30 merchant ships. The French also found large stockpiles of British military stores. In the battle and storming of the city, the French lost 72 officers and 2,000 rank and file casualties. The Portuguese lost about 8,000 killed and 197 cannons captured. [2]

Soult did not have very long to enjoy his success. Almost at once, the ordenanças cut his communications with Spain and a 1,800-man garrison was gobbled up by Francisco Silveira's Portuguese force in the Siege of Chaves. The French marshal started planning a retreat. The next action was the Battle of Grijó. The city was retaken on 12 May by the British and Portuguese under Wellesley in the Second Battle of Porto.

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  1. Porto has traditionally been called Oporto in English.
  2. 1 2 Smith
  3. 1 2 Glover