Second Battle of Porto

Last updated

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

Anglo-Portuguese victory [1]

  • French retreat into Spain
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
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 or the Crossing of the Douro, [4] 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. [5]

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. 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 Combined English and Portuguese army during the Peninsular War

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 of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located 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. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.


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. [5] Wellesley pursued the French army, but Soult's army escaped annihilation by fleeing through the mountains.


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 majority of territory in Europe and numerous oversea territories around the world

France, officially the French Republic, is a sovereign state 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 67.02 million. France 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, 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.

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. [6] 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 early 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. [7]

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.


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. [8]

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. [9] 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, [10] 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.


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.

Related Research Articles

Battle of Salamanca battle

In Battle of Salamanca an Anglo-Portuguese army under the Duke of Wellington defeated Marshal Auguste Marmont's French forces among the hills around Arapiles, south of Salamanca, Spain on 22 July 1812 during the Peninsular War. A Spanish division was also present but took no part in the battle.

Battle of Talavera battle

The Battle of Talavera was fought just outside the town of Talavera de la Reina, Spain some 120 kilometres (75 mi) southwest of Madrid, during the Peninsular War. At Talavera, an Anglo-Spanish army under Sir Arthur Wellesley combined with a Spanish army under General Cuesta in operations against French-occupied Madrid. The French army withdrew at night after several of its attacks had been repulsed.

Battle of Bussaco battle

The Battle of Buçaco 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.

Maximilien Sébastien Foy French military leader, statesman and writer

Maximilien Sébastien Foy was a French military leader, statesman and writer.

Battle of Grijó

The Battle of Grijó was a battle that ended in victory for the Anglo-Portuguese Army commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley over the French army commanded by Marshal Nicolas Soult during the second French invasion of Portugal in the Peninsular War. The next day, Wellesley drove Soult from Porto in the Second Battle of Porto.

Battle of the Pyrenees (1813)

The Battle of the Pyrenees was a large-scale offensive launched on 25 July 1813 by Marshal Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult from the Pyrénées region on Emperor Napoleon’s order, in the hope of relieving French garrisons under siege at Pamplona and San Sebastián. After initial success the offensive ground to a halt in face of increased allied resistance under the command of Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington. Soult abandoned the offensive on 30 July and headed toward France, having failed to relieve either garrison.

The Light Division was a light infantry division of the British Army. Its origins lay in "Light Companies" formed during the late 18th century, to move at speed over inhospitable terrain and protect a main force with skirmishing tactics. These units took advantage of then-new technology in the form of rifles, which allowed it to emphasise marksmanship, and were aimed primarily at disrupting and harassing enemy forces, in skirmishes before the main forces clashed.

Battle of Orthez

The Battle of Orthez saw the Anglo-Portuguese Army under Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington attack an Imperial French army led by Marshal Nicolas Soult in southern France. The outnumbered French repelled several Allied assaults on their right flank, but their center and left flank were overcome and Soult was compelled to retreat. At first the withdrawal was conducted in good order, but it eventually ended in a scramble for safety and many French soldiers became prisoners. The engagement occurred near the end of the Peninsular War.

Combat of the Côa

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.

Battle of Maguilla

In the Battle of Maguilla a British cavalry brigade led by Major General John Slade attacked a similar-sized French cavalry brigade commanded by General of Brigade Charles Lallemand. The British dragoons scored an initial success, routing the French dragoons and capturing a number of them. The British troopers recklessly galloped after their foes, losing all order. At length, the French reserve squadron charged into the British, followed by the French main body which rallied. With the tables turned, the French dragoons chased the British until the horses of both sides were too exhausted for the battle to continue. The action took place during the Peninsular War, near Maguilla, Spain, a distance of 17 kilometres (11 mi) northeast of Llerena.

Pierre Belon Lapisse French general

Pierre Belon Lapisse, Baron de Sainte-Hélène commanded an infantry division in Napoleon's armies and was fatally wounded fighting against the British in the Peninsular War. He enlisted in the French Army during the reign of Louis XVI and fought in the American Revolutionary War. Appointed an officer at the start of the French Revolutionary Wars, he rose in rank to become a general officer by 1799. From 1805 to 1807 during the Napoleonic Wars, he led a brigade in the Grande Armée at Dornbirn, Jena, Kołoząb, Golymin, and Eylau. After promotion he commanded a division in the thick of the action at Friedland in 1807.

The Battle of Garris or Battle of Saint-Palais saw an Allied force under the direct command of General Arthur Wellesley, Marquess Wellington attack General of Division Jean Harispe's French division. The French defenders were driven back into the town of Saint-Palais in confusion. Because of this minor victory, the Allies were able to secure a crossing over the Bidouze River during this clash from the final stages of the Peninsular War.

Battle of Tordesillas (1812)

In the Battle of Tordesillas or Battle of Villa Muriel or Battle of Palencia between 25 and 29 October 1812, a French army led by Joseph Souham pushed back an Anglo-Portuguese-Spanish army commanded by Arthur Wellesley, Marquess Wellington. After its failed Siege of Burgos, the 35,000-man Allied army withdrew to the west, pursued by Souham's 53,000 French soldiers. On 23 October, French cavalry attacked the Allied rear guard in the inconclusive Battle of Venta del Pozo. The Allies pulled back behind the Pisuerga and Carrión Rivers and took up a defensive position.

Battle of Alcantara (1809)

The Battle of Alcantara saw an Imperial French division led by Marshal Claude Perrin Victor attack a Portuguese detachment under Colonel William Mayne. After a three hours skirmish, the French stormed across the Alcántara Bridge and forced the Portuguese to retreat. The clash happened during the Peninsular War, part of the Napoleonic Wars. Alcántara, Spain is situated on the Tagus river near the Portuguese border, 285 kilometres (177 mi) west-southwest of Madrid.

In the Battles of San Millán and Osma two divisions of the Allied army of Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington clashed with two divisions of King Joseph Bonaparte's Imperial French army in northeast Spain.

Battle of Tolosa (1813)

The Battle of Tolosa saw a British-Portuguese-Spanish column led by Thomas Graham attempt to cut off a retreating Franco-Italian force under Maximilien Sébastien Foy. Assisted by Antoine Louis Popon de Maucune's division, which fortuitously appeared, the French parried Graham's initial attacks then slipped away when threatened with envelopment. The town of Tolosa is located about 20 kilometres (12 mi) south of San Sebastián. The clash occurred during the Peninsular War, part of the wider Napoleonic Wars.

Battle of Arzobispo

The Battle of Arzobispo on 8 August 1809 saw two Imperial French corps commanded by Marshal Jean-de-Dieu Soult launch an assault crossing of the Tagus River against a Spanish force under José María de la Cueva, 14th Duke of Alburquerque. Alburquerque's troops rapidly retreated after suffering disproportionate losses, including 30 artillery pieces. El Puente del Arzobispo is located 36 kilometres (22 mi) southwest of Talavera de la Reina, Spain. The action occurred during the Peninsular War, part of a larger conflict known as the Napoleonic Wars.



  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. "Battle of Oporto 1808 (The Crossing of the Douro)". Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  5. 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.
  6. Smith, p 298-9
  7. Glover, pp 372-373
  8. 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.
  9. Glover, p 94
  10. 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.


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 .