Second Battle of Porto

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Battle of Porto
Part of the Peninsular War
Fuga de Soult da cidade do Porto.jpg
Portuguese and British regiments pursuing the retreating French army at the Second Battle of Porto
Date12 May 1809
Location Portugal
Result

Anglo-Portuguese victory [1]

  • French retreat into Spain
Belligerents
Flag of France.svg French Empire Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Flag of Portugal (1750).svg Portugal
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Marshal Soult Flag of the United Kingdom.svg General Lord Wellesley
Strength
11,200 18,400 [2]
Casualties and losses
600 killed or wounded
1,500 captured [3]
23 killed
98 wounded

The Second Battle of Porto, also known as the Battle of the Douro, was a battle in which General Arthur Wellesley's Anglo-Portuguese Army defeated Marshal Nicolas Soult's French troops on 12 May 1809 and took back the city of Porto. After taking command of the British troops in Portugal on 22 April, Wellesley (later named 1st Duke of Wellington) immediately advanced on Porto and made a surprise crossing of the Douro River, approaching Porto where its defences were weak. Soult's late attempts to muster a defence were in vain. The French quickly abandoned the city in a disorderly retreat. [4]

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.

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.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom, officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but more commonly known as the UK or Britain, is a sovereign country lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state‍—‌the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Contents

This battle ended the second French invasion of Portugal. Soult soon found his retreat route to the east blocked and was forced to destroy his guns and burn his baggage train. [4] Wellesley pursued the French army, but Soult's army escaped annihilation by fleeing through the mountains.

Background

French occupation

In the First Battle of Porto (28 March 1809), the French under General Soult defeated the Portuguese under Generals Lima Barreto and Parreiras outside the city of Porto. After winning the battle, Soult stormed the city. In addition to 8,000 military casualties, large numbers of civilians died. [ citation needed ]

First Battle of Porto battle

In the First Battle of Porto the French under Marshal Soult defeated the Portuguese, under General Parreiras, outside the city of Porto during the Peninsular War. Soult followed up his success by storming the city.

France Republic with mainland in Europe and numerous oversea territories

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

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. It is 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.

While Soult was in Porto, a detached force operated to the east under the leadership of Major-General Louis Loison. Initially, this force included General of Division Henri Delaborde's infantry division and Lorge's cavalry division. A Portuguese force under Major General Francisco Silveira captured the French garrison of Chaves and blocked Soult's communications with Spain by blockading the area around Amarante.

Louis Henri Loison French general

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.

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.

Amarante, Portugal Municipality in Norte, Portugal

Amarante is a municipality and municipal seat in the northern Portuguese district of Porto. The population in 2011 was 56,264, in an area of 301.33 square kilometres (116.34 sq mi). The city itself had a population of 11,261 in 2001. The city has been part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network under the category of City of Music since 2017.

From 18 April to 3 May, the Portuguese held Loison on the west bank of the Tâmega River. On the latter day, French engineers succeeded in disarming the explosives-rigged bridge so that Delaborde's infantry could cross it. [5] By May, the French Marshal feared he was outnumbered by the English. Soult stayed up late on 11 May drawing-up his plans for retreat. General of Division Julien Augustin Joseph Mermet's division had already been sent off with the baggage and the artillery park.

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 retained a total of 10,000 infantry and 1,200 cavalry. Delaborde's division included three battalions each of the 17th Light, 70th Line, and 86th Line Infantry Regiments. General of Division Pierre Hugues Victoire Merle's division was composed of four battalions each of the 2nd and 4th Light Infantry Regiments, and three battalions of the 36th Line Infantry Regiment. General of Division Jean Baptiste Marie Franceschi-Delonne's cavalry was made up of the 1st Hussar Regiment, 8th Dragoon Regiment, and the 22nd and Hanoverian Chasseurs à Cheval Regiments. [3]

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.

Jean Baptiste Marie Franceschi-Delonne French general

Baron Jean Baptiste Marie Franceschi-Delonne was a French General who served throughout the Revolutionary campaign on the Rhine, took part in the campaign of Zurich in 1799, and distinguished himself very greatly by his escape from, and subsequent return to, Genoa, when in 1800 Masséna was closely besieged in that city. He became a cavalry colonel in 1803, was promoted general of brigade on the field of Austerlitz, and served in southern Italy and in Spain on the staff of King Joseph Bonaparte. During the Peninsular War he won great distinction as a cavalry general, and in 1810 Napoleon made him a baron. He was a prisoner in the hands of the Spaniards, into whose hands he had fallen while bearing important despatches during the campaign of Talavera. He was harshly treated by his captors, and died at Cartagena on 23 October 1810. His name is included on L'arc de Triomphe.

Hussar light cavalry originally from Hungary

A hussar was a member of a class of light cavalry, originating in Central Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. The title and distinctive dress of these horsemen were subsequently widely adopted by light cavalry regiments in European armies in the late 17th and 18th centuries.

Anglo-Portuguese advance

After coming up from Lisbon, the Anglo-Portuguese fought a skirmish with the French at the Battle of Grijó on 11 May. Arriving at the Douro, Wellesley was unable to cross the river because Soult's army had either destroyed or moved all the boats to the northern bank.

According to one historian, 18,400 men at Wellesley's command were organised thus: [2]

There were four 6-gun artillery batteries (RA: Sillery, Lawson. KGL: Tieling, Heise) under Colonel (Col) Edward Howorth. One had 9 pounders, two had 6 pounders and one had 3 pounders.

Historian Michael Glover stated that the order of battle was somewhat different. Glover lists the following organization. [6]

Farther to the east, William Carr Beresford (Marshal of the Portuguese army) led MG Christopher Tilson's British 3rd brigade (1,659 British and ca. 600 Portuguese grenadiers by 6 May morning state) and 5,000 Portuguese to link up with Silveira's force. MG Alex Randoll Mackenzie's British 2nd brigade and a large Portuguese force operated on the line of the Tagus river.

Action

On the morning of 12 May, Col John Waters was reconnoitring the river east of Porto. He was approached by a Portuguese barber who led him to a point on the bank hidden by brush where there was a skiff, a prior of the convent and three or four peasants. Partly at Waters' entreaties and partly at the urging of the Prior, the peasants got into the skiff with the British officer and crossed the 500-yard wide river, bringing back four unguarded wine barges from the opposite bank. [7]

A map of the battle Battle of the Douro.jpg
A map of the battle

When informed of this opportunity, Wellesley told them to let the men across. [8] Immediately, a company of the 3rd Foot crossed the river and occupied a walled seminary overlooking the landing site. By the time the French realized that Wellesley's forces were on the north bank, the entire battalion of the Buffs of Hill's brigade had already been sent into the seminary.

Soult, who was asleep at the time, remained unaware of these developments. General of Brigade Maximilien Foy, who was the first to see the British crossing, [9] requisitioned three battalions of the 17th Light Infantry and led an attack on the seminary around 11:30 am. Foy was wounded and his soldiers beaten back with heavy losses. Reinforced later in the day by three more battalions, the French attacked again. By this time, however, three more battalions had occupied the seminary and surrounding buildings, and the French were defeated once again.

Soult withdrew the troops guarding the Porto boats in order to reinforce Foy.

As soon as the French left the riverside, the people of Porto immediately set out in "anything that would float" and ferried more British troops over. Four British battalions crossed immediately and attacked the French from the rear. The French, already planning a leisurely evacuation of the city, instead fled precipitously northeastward.

In order to cut off the French retreat, MG John Murray's 2,900-man brigade with the 14th Light Dragoons had been sent across the Douro at a ferry five miles to the east of Porto. Murray stood aside and failed to block the French escape route, though there was a skirmish. The 14th, however, sped after the retreating French. They charged and succeeded in cutting off about 300 Frenchmen, securing many of them as prisoners. Out of 110 horsemen, 35 were killed in this action.

Aftermath

Reenactment of the battle Battle of Porto reenactment (1) 2009.jpg
Reenactment of the battle

The British lost 125 men. In the battle for the seminary, Wellesley's second-in-command, Maj-Gen Edward Paget had his arm shattered by a French bullet and it had to be amputated. In addition to 1800 captured the French suffered 600 casualties which included Foy who was wounded. [3]

Soult's retreat

Due to Murray's error of judgement and the bulk of Wellesley's army being on the south side of the Douro, the French escaped on 12 May. However, Loison failed to clear Silveira's force away from Soult's planned path of retreat to the northeast, so Soult was compelled to abandon all his equipment and take footpaths over the hills to the north. Soult's and Loison's forces met at Guimarães, but Wellesley's army marched north.

The British reached Braga (northwest of Guimarães) before the French, forcing Soult to retreat to the northeast again. Meanwhile, Beresford and Silveira were manoeuvring to block Soult's escape route in that direction. After escaping from several tight spots, Soult slipped away over the mountains to Orense in Spain. During the retreat, Soult's corps lost 4,500 men, its military chest and all 58 guns and baggage.

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References

Footnotes

  1. Brewster, David (1830). The Edinburgh encyclopaedia. Oxford University. p. 132.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Fletcher p 32-33
  3. 1 2 3 Smith, p 302
  4. 1 2 Glover, Michael (1974). The Peninsular War 1807 – 1814, A Concise Military History. Penguin Books. pp. 96–97 description of the retreat of Soult along the Valongo and Amaranthe road. ISBN   9780141390413.
  5. Smith, p 298-9
  6. Glover, pp 372-373
  7. Glover, Michael (1974). The Peninsular War 1807 – 1814, A Concise Military History. Penguin Books. pp. 94–95 description of the river crossing using four barges. ISBN   9780141390413.
  8. Glover, p 94
  9. Glover, Michael (1974). The Peninsular War 1807 – 1814, A Concise Military History. Penguin Books. p. 94, fourth paragraph, reference to Maximilien Foy’s observation of the British crossing the river. ISBN   9780141390413.

Bibliography

In fiction

The battle of Porto is depicted by Bernard Cornwell in Sharpe's Havoc , Simon Scarrow in Fire and Sword , Allan Mallinson in An Act of Courage , Iain Gale in Keane's Company and by Martin McDowell in the historical novel The Plains of Talavera .