Wednesday, 7 August 2019

The Battle of Bussaco - Peninsular War Tour 2019

Corunna Retreat - Peninsular War Tour 2019

Following our exploration of Ciudad Rodrigo and the frontier Carolyn and I set course over the Portuguese border following, roughly, the route taken by the French Army of Portugal as it commenced its march on Lisbon on the 15th September 1810.

Our progress would be swifter than Marshal Massena and we would not have to contend with ambushes by Portuguese Ordenencas or a lack of supplies and could look forward to a good billet at the end of our days drive, heading for the Palacio de Lousa Hotel in Lousa where we would base ourselves for a couple of nights while we set off to explore some of the key sites associated with the French invasion.

Our hotel for our two night stay at the 18th century baroque palace, namely the Palace de Lousa Hotel, purported to have also provided accommodation for Marshal Ney and the Duke of Wellington at different times during the French invasion.

The fortress of Ameida fell on the 28th August 1810 and Massena had won back time lost during the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, but still his main concern remained one of supplies, causing the French commander not to begin the march until a minimum of two weeks supplies had been brought forward to the town.

Wellington seems to have expected the French to take the southerly route along the River Mondego valley and with French cavalry spread out in front of the army, the precise direction of travel remained unconfirmed; until on the 17th September when Massena's route was determined to be the northern route into the mountains of Visue, delighting the Allied commander with choice presenting the French with some of the worst roads in the whole country.

Captain Jean Baptiste Antoine Marcellin Marbot,
was Aide-de-Camp to Marshal Massena. He was wounded twice at the Combat of Casal Novo
during the retreat in 1811 taking a sabre cut to the face and body

Captain Marbot wrote of the decision to take the northern route:

"One need only look at the map to see how unreasonable it was to go by Viseu  on the way from Celorico to Coimbra; a mistake all the greater from the fact that Viseu is separated from the Sierra d'Alcoba by high hills, which the army might have avoided by marching down the valley of the Mondego. 

The neighbourhood of Viseu produces no corn or vegetables and the troops found nothing there but lemons and grapes - not very sustaining food."

Much has been made of this decision on the route taken, with commentators pointing at the maps used by the French, to the advice given to them by their Portuguese advisers. However this is counterbalanced by the fact that Paris at the time had some very good maps of the country, not forgetting the French had invaded the territory twice before, and one of Massena's generals, General Junot had marched through it in 1808.

This interesting controversy is discussed in 'The Key To Lisbon' by Kenton White.

Another likely frustration for the French command was the poor and misleading information they were getting from their Portuguese advisers, described as covering their ignorance of the terrain with bombast.

Senior Staff Officer, Chef de Battalion (Major) Jean Pellet

Major Pellet recalled;

"The misfortune was that none of these self-styled strategists had gone over the ground they were describing, and they could not answer the only thing we asked them. 'Can a carriage go on this road? Is this river deep? Is this range of mountains impracticable?'"

The Third French Invasion of Portugal 1810-11

As the Allied army withdrew it began to enforce the ruthless 'scorched earth' policy agreed between Wellington and the Portuguese Regency, with peasants and their belongings forcibly removed, with anything else destroyed and those objecting to the harsh enforcement, dealt with firmly, sometimes summarily, with the French discovering men hanged or shot by the roadside.

In addition the Ordenanca or Militia were becoming bolder and more effective with their attacks on the French column of march under officers such as Colonel Nicholas Trant who at one stage threatened to capture and destroy a significant part of the reserve artillery until French troops were able to come to their assistance and drive off the threat.

The artillery suffered in particular with the terrible state of the roads as Colonel Jean Nicolas Noel of VIII Corps recorded;

"The entire countryside was rocky and mountainous; there were no roads, merely narrow, dangerous and stony pathways where the artillery avoided accidents only with enormous difficulty ... I had to send gunners, armed with pickaxes and mattocks ahead of me to clear the way."

As the French struggled over hills on poorly made tracks, showing no sign of attempting to cross the Mondego and onto better terrain, Wellington made plans to meet them on a long ridge close to Coimbra, a secondary planned position, and one he waited upon until certain the French were headed for before pulling in his detached divisions to mass on it with his cavalry observing the Mondego valley.

For his part, Massena was committed to marching on Coimbra, with his army practically cut off from its garrisons on the Portuguese border by roving bands of militia who ruthlessly killed French stragglers, he hoped the town would be a source of new supplies and provide an opportunity of establishing a new forward base where he could set up a hospital for his wounded and sick before pressing on to Lisbon.

Sir Charles Oman's classic map of the Battle of Bussaco showing the steep ridge extending at a right angle from the River Mondego, like a wall barring the way into Portugal and showing the positions of the two armies at the start of the battle. British brigades are shown in red, Portuguese brigades in green and the French in black. The battle can be looked at as two distinct actions with the two attacks on the ridge by Marshal Ney's VI Corps and General Reynier's II Corps, until Marshal Massena recognised the futility of pressing the attack and managed to turn the position on the Allied left flank.

Wellington had selected the Sierra de Bussaco, about eight miles north east of Coimbra some months prior to the French invasion, riding over the ground personally to assure himself of its defensive characteristics.

Those characteristics were and are formidable to this day with a nine mile long ridge with rocky outcrops sloping steeply on its eastern side where the French were likely to approach it and with ravines running up the slopes to a summit reaching 1,800 feet above sea level in places.

Although thickly wooded today, it was only partially so in 1810 with the rest open scrub-land with patches of gorse and rocks in many places.

The reverse slope was much shallower and more practicable for troops to retire down with the summit offering a fairly broad expanse with a width extending to 300-400 yards in places.

We began our tour of the battlefield by finding the monument to the battle that sits just in front of the right front wall of the convent as illustrated in the map above. This is a great place to get ones bearings from and can be seen on the ridge from the French positions. We started with looking at the convent itself, which was Wellington's headquarters building and the target area of the French attacks as they attempted to penetrate and then roll up the Allied line

The ridge was crossed by two roads the most important of which was the paved road from Mortagoa to Coimbra that crossed the summit close to the convent of Busaco in which Wellington made his HQ and had the large ten foot high wall loop-holed.

The crest was further improved by the building of a military road along which the Allied commander would be able to rapidly reposition his troops as the need required.

By the 27th of September Wellington had assembled 50,000 troops on the ridge with sixty guns distributed along the Allied line.

Marshal Michel Ney commanding VI Corps

Marshal Ney arrived on the 25th September and from a rather haphazard reconnaissance, frustrated by scores of Allied light troops occupying the forward slopes, he determined that the area of the convent above Sula appeared to be strongly held but seemingly also by little more than an Allied rearguard and that the position seemed more formidable than it really was writing to General Reynier claiming;

"If I were in command, I would attack without a moment's hesitation."

Hearing, the next day, that the Allies has been detected bringing up more troops to the position he is said to have adopted a more cautious view.

Scorning the continuous Allied retreats from position to position the French were however eager for battle especially as the Allied line stood between them and Coimbra, with the need for new supplies becoming increasingly urgent.

The optimism for a successful French attack was only buoyed by the thought that the Allies only had about 25,000 reliable British troops against which they would be facing an army of nearly double that in experienced French soldiers, discounting any contribution that the Portuguese army might make.

The Portuguese are rightly very proud of their military contribution to the successful outcome of the Peninsular War, and had already shown their improved performance in the Oporto campaign. However Wellington's 'Fighting Cocks' demonstrated their capability in a large battle for the first time at Bussaco and would be a vital part of the Allied army in its future campaigns.

It seems most of the senior French commanders agreed with Ney that a frontal assault on the ridge should be attempted, but a significant group of senior staff disagreed, siting the fact that a proper reconnaissance of the position had not been made, especially to confirm if it would be possible to turn the position instead.

General de Division Francois-Nicolas Fririon, Marshal Masenna's Chief of Staff

However the debate about whether to attack or not was brought to an abrupt close when Massena allegedly snapped at General Fririon's urgent entreaties to consider a further reconnaissance of the Allied left flank, saying;

"You come from the old Army of the Rhine, you like manoeuvring; but it is the first time that Wellington seems disposed to offer battle, and I will profit by the occasion."

Although the next morning as the assault was about to begin, perhaps Massena was having second thoughts when he was reported to have murmured quietly to Fririon

"Your suggestion of yesterday was worth considering."

The day we visited the convent, which sits amid beautiful parkland, it was a Portuguese Bank-holiday and thus very busy. We therefore didn't go inside to see the wall tile display depicting Allied troops in action during the battle, but tried instead to find places the average visitor might not have been so interested in.

Marshal Andre Massena initial assumption was that Wellington's line
ended above the San Antonio pass, but later when aware of other troops
positioned to their right discounted that they would be able to interfere with Reynier's attack

Massena's plan was to attack in two places using Ney's VI Corps and Reynier's II Corps holding Junot' VIII Corps in reserve.

The orders for Reynier's Corps were;

"II Corps will attack the right of the enemy's army; it will endeavour, in effect. to break through the enemy's line, after climbing the most accessible point of the mountain. They should move there in one or two columns, preceded by piquets. Once they have reached the summit, they will form in tight column  and continue along the crest of the mountain towards the Coimbra road. The point where it will have to stop will be the monastery of Bussaco."

General de Division Jean Reynier commanding II Corps

Reynier's troops were intended to cut the line of the ridge and then reform before turning north to roll up the Allied line towards the convent. Major Pellet recalled that Massena;

".... added several deployments verbally. General Reynier made a few observations on his attack and said he would be drubbed."

Further north Ney's orders were to observe Reynier's attack;

"The 6th Corps will attack the two roads leading to the road to Coimbra; one of the divisions will form a reserve and the artillery will be placed in different positions to support it if necessary. Marshal Ney will send his two columns of attack ... when General Reynier is master of the heights, and he marches on the monastery of Bussaco. It will be up to Marshal Ney to press his attack if he sees the enemy move to make an advance on General Reynier or to make a retreat."

The convent is a truly stunning looking building and would make a great centre piece for any tabletop re-fight of the battle

In the early morning mist of the 27th September the French forces assembled in their attack areas in preparation for the assault.

As my pictures follow the order we made our way around the battlefield, I will use the accounts of the two French attacks by Lieutenant William Grattan of the 88th 'Connaught Rangers' Foot and Major George Napier of the 52nd 'Oxfordshire' Light Infantry in a similar order to describe what happened, but bearing in mind that Reynier's attack started first.

The accounts by the soldiers who took part in these actions are by far my preference for reading when walking a battlefield and standing where they stood. The immediacy and first hand nature of the accounts are obviously biased and slanted to the individuals and what they thought they saw, and a more detailed break down of the likely occurrence as can be best pieced together from all accounts are to be found in some of the references quoted below.

That said I think the best way to imagine the events that occurred in the pictures I took on our visit are to see these same views through the eyes of Grattan and Napier as they saw things on the morning of the 27th September 1810.

Another one of Wellington's trees, this one an olive, reputedly where the Duke like to tether his horse

Massena spoke to the men of VI Corps prior to their attack declaring;

"My friends... this mountain is the key to Lisbon, it must be won with the bayonet ...."

The rather eye-catching gate along the front wall of the former convent

The convent would have made a useful strongpoint had the French attack proven successful and this part of the wall shows signs of loop-holing ordered by Wellington  - Chateau Hogoumont style.

Sir Charles Oman's map illustrating the attack made by Ney's VI Corps and with points indicating where I took my pictures of the battlefield today. Point 1 - Craufurd's windmill and command post, 2 - Ney's assembly area in Sula, 3 - The gate on the main wall of the convent, 4 - The battlefield monument, 5 - Massena's windmill and command post

George Thomas Napier as a Lieutenant General in later life

Major George Napier of the 52nd Light Infantry described the attack of VI Corps;

"The morning of the second day we perceived a movement in the enemy's camp, which was on the heights opposite us, a small stream running through the valley which divided the armies....

The French had now formed their columns and were moving steadily and gallantly down the valley below in three bodies, meaning to attack and penetrate our line at three different points - viz. the right, the centre and left, where our division (for we had been formed into two brigades, having had two Portuguese regiments incorporated with us, under the command of Colonels Beckwith, Rifle Corps and Barclay, 52nd Regiment) was stationed on the strongest part of the mountain.

Just along from the battlefield memorial is a small plaque directing visitors and Peninsular War enthusiasts to a piece of hallowed ground.

We were retired a few yards from the brow of the hill, so that our line was concealed from the view of the enemy as they advanced up the heights, and our skirmishers retired, keeping up a constant and well directed running fire upon them; and the brigade of horse artillery under Captain Hugh Ross threw such a heavy fire of shrapnel-shells, and so quick, that their column, which consisted of about eight thousand men, was put into a good deal of confusion and lost great numbers before it arrived at a ledge of ground just under the brow of the hill, where they halted a few minutes to take breath, the head of the column being exactly fronting my company, which was the right company of our brigade, and joining the left company of the 43rd, where my brother William was with his company.

The horse battery attached to the Light Division was commanded by Captain Hugh Ross and is reported by Napier to have thrown "such a heavy fire of shrapnel-shells, and so quick, that their column, which consisted of about eight thousand men, was put into a good deal of confusion and lost great numbers before it arrived at a ledge of ground just under the brow of the hill"

The famous windmill at the centre of the position occupied by the Light Division, from which General Robert 'Black Bob' Craufurd led his soldiers forward to the crest of the ridge and send the brigades of General Simon and Ferey, back down the steep slope they had just climbed amid artillery and skirmish fire.

General Craufurd himself stood on the brow of the hill watching every movement of the attack column, and when all our skirmishers had passed by and joined their respective corps, and the head of the enemy's column was within a very few yards of him, he turned round, came up to the 52nd, and called out  

'Now 52nd, revenge the death of Sir John Moore! Charge, charge! Huzza!'

and waving his hat in the air he was answered by a shout that appalled the enemy, and in one instant the brow of the hill bristled with two thousand British bayonets wielded by steady English hands, which soon buried them in the bodies of the fiery Gaul.

General Craufurd summons the Light Division to step forward as Portuguese Cacadores and 95th Riflemen retire before the advancing French columns. Craufurd, following the criticism he received after the action on the Coa, was keen to come to grips with the enemy and set the record straight. - Illustration by Christa Hook

My company met the head of the French column, and immediately calling to my men to form column of sections in order to give more force to our rush, we dashed forward; and as I was by this movement in front of my men a yard or two, a French soldier made a plunge at me with his bayonet, and at the same time his musket going off I received the contents just under my hip and fell.

At the same instant, the French fired upon my front section, consisting of about nine men in the front rank, all of whom fell, four of them dead, the rest wounded, so that most probably by my being a little advanced in front my life was saved, as the men killed were exactly those nearest to me.

Poor Colonel Barclay also received a severe wound (of which he afterwards died in England). I got upon my legs immediately again and pursued the enemy down the hill, for by this time they had been completely repulsed, and were running away as fast as their legs could carry them.

Another lifetime ambition ticked off the 'bucket-list'

A French infantryman's last view of the crest line above Sula

William and his friend Captain Lloyd, were upon my right, seeing the French were still in column and in great confusion from the unexpected suddenness of the charge and the shout which accompanied it, had wheeled up their companies by the left, and thus flanked the French column and poured a well directed fire right into them.

Major Arbuthnott, who was on my left did the same with the remaining companies of the 52nd, so that the enemy were beset on both flanks of his column, and, as you may suppose, the slaughter was great.

The view down from the line occupied by the 52nd Light Infantry with the ledge below the crest mentioned by Napier in his rather vivid account

We kept firing and bayoneting till we reached the bottom, and the enemy passed the brook and fell back upon their main body, which moved down to support them and cover their retreat.

All this was done in a very short time - that is, it was not above twenty minutes from the charge till the French were driven from the top to the bottom of the mountain like a parcel of sheep. I really did not think it was possible for such a column to be so completely destroyed in a few minutes as that was, particularly after witnessing how gallantly they moved up under a destructive fire from our artillery and a constant galling one from our sharpshooters.

The view to the right of Craufurd's line behind which the 3rd Cacadores reformed after retiring up the slope after their skirmish battle with Ferey's voltigeurs 

We took some prisoners, and among them General Simon, a gallant officer, but a bad and dishonourable man, who afterwards broke his parole of honour. He was horribly wounded in the face, his jaw broken and almost hanging down on his chest. 

Just as myself and another officer came to him, a soldier was going to put his bayonet into him, which we prevented, and sent him a prisoner to the general.

Marshal Ney's view of the ridge line above Sula

As I went down the hill following the enemy, I saw seven or eight French officers lying wounded, One of them as I passed caught hold of my little silver canteen and implored me to stop and give him a drink, but much as it pained me to refuse, I could not do it, being in full pursuit of the enemy, and it was impossible to stop for an instant.

This may be heard-hearted, but in war we often do and must do many harsh and unfeeling things. Had I stopped to give him a drink I must have done so for the others, and then I should have been the last at the bottom of the hill instead of one of the first in pursuit of the enemy; and recollect, my boys, that an officer should always be first in advancing against the enemy and last in retreating from him.

A close up of the top of the ridge from the same picture above. Craufurd's windmill is in behind the trees to the right

When we got to the bottom, where a small stream ran between us and the enemy position, by general consent we all mingled together searching for the wounded.

During this cessation of fighting we spoke to each other as though we were the greatest friends and without the least animosity or angry feeling!

Lieutenant Jonathan Leach of the 95th Rifles

Lieutenant Jonathan Leach of the 95th Rifles remembered the end of the action;

"I went down to the village of Sula, and had some conversation with several French officers and soldiers. They acknowledged their loss to have been very severe; and one man assured me that his company, which numbered one hundred men in the morning, could only muster twenty-two effective men after their repulse.

Amongst the dead in the immediate front of the Light Division, I found men belonging to the following French regiments, and cut buttons of their coats:- the 6th, 26th, 66th and 82nd, the Legion du Midi, and a regiment of Germans."

Marshal Ney, seeing the attacks had stalled, recalled the troops and by 09.00 the attacks of VI Corps had ceased.

Sir Charles Oman's map illustrating the attack made by Reynier's II Corps and with points indicating where I took my pictures of the battlefield today. Point 1 - Wallace's brigade position, 2 - The position of the 74th Foot and 21st Portuguese Regiment, 3 - Reynier's forming up position in San Antonio de Cantaro

The following account of the attack by Reynier's Corps in front of General Picton's 3rd Division is taken from William Grattan's ' Adventures with the Connaught Rangers' and the map above shows the position of the 88th Foot when contacted by Merle's Division and Heudelet's divisions;

"On the morning of the 27th the haze was so thick that little could be seen at any great distance, but the fire of the light troops along the face of the hill put it beyond doubt that a battle would take place. Lord Wellington was close to the brigade of Lightburne, and from the bustle amongst his staff, it was manifest that the point held by Picton's division was about to be attacked. Two guns belonging to Captain Lane's troop of artillery were ordered upon the left of the 88th Regiment, and immediately opened their fire, while the Portuguese battery, under the German Major Arentschildt, passed at a trot towards the Saint Antonio Pass, in front of the 74th British.

The view from the ridge, Point 1, looking towards Wallace's brigade position on the bend in the road. Note the ridge was not covered in this much foliage in 1810, but the gradient is as formidable as ever. 

A rolling fire of musketry, and some discharges of cannon, in the direction of Saint Antonio, announced what was taking place in that quarter, and the face of the hill immediately in front of the brigade of Lightburne, and to the left of the 88th Regiment, was beginning to show that the efforts of the enemy were about to be directed against this portion of the ground held by the 3rd Division.

This more contemporary view of the battle captures the gradient and the openness of the ridge 

The fog cleared away, and a bright sun enabled us to see what was passing before us. A vast crowd of tirailleurs were pressing onward with great ardour, and their fire, as well as their numbers, was so superior to that of our advance, that some men of the brigade of Lightburne, as also a few of the 88th Regiment, were killed while standing in line; a colour-sergeant named Macnamara was shot through the head close beside myself and Ensign Owgan.

Colonel King, commanding the 5th Regiment, which was one of those belonging to Lightburne's brigade, oppressed by a desultory fire he was unable to reply to without disturbing the formation of his battalion, brought his regiment a little out of its range, while Colonel Alexander Wallace, of the 88th, took a file of men from each company of his regiment, and placing them under the command of Captain George Bury and Lieutenant William Mackie, ordered them to advance to the aid of our people, who were overmatched and roughly handled at the moment.

The view from the ridge, Point 2, occupied by the 74th Foot and the 21st Portuguese Regiment with the village of Ouraca just in shot to the right

Our artillery still continued to discharge showers of grape and canister at half range, but the French light troops, fighting at open distance, heeded it not, and continued to multiply in great force. Nevertheless, in place of coming up direct in front of the 88th, they edged off to their left, out of sight of that corps, and far away from Lightburne's brigade, and from the nature of the ground they could be neither seen nor their exact object defined; as they went to their left, our advance inclined to the right, making a corresponding movement; but though nothing certain could be known, as we soon lost sight of both parties, the roll of musketry never ceased, and many of Bury's and Mackie's men returned wounded.

Those two officers greatly distinguished themselves, and Bury, though badly wounded, refused to quit the field. A soldier of Bury's company, of the name of Pollard, was shot through the shoulder; but seeing his captain, though wounded, continue at the head of his men, he threw off his knapsack, and fought beside his officer; but this brave fellow's career of glory was short, a bullet penetrated the plate of his cap, passed through his brain, and he fell dead at Bury's feet. These were the sort of materials the 88th were formed of, and these were the sort of men that were unnoticed by their General!

The view left, from the same position above, with the village of Pendurada peeking above the trees

Lord Wellington was no longer to be seen, and Wallace and his regiment, standing alone without orders, had to act for themselves. The Colonel sent his captain of Grenadiers (Dunne) to the right, where the rocks were highest, to ascertain how matters stood, for he did not wish, at his own peril, to quit the ground he had been ordered to occupy without some strong reason for so doing. All this time the brigade of Lightburne, as also the 88th, were standing at ordered arms.

In a few moments Dunne returned almost breathlesshe said the rocks were filling fast with Frenchmen, that a heavy column was coming up the hill beyond the rocks, and that the four companies of the 45th were about to be attacked. Wallace asked if he thought half the 88th would be able to do the business. "You will want every man," was the reply.

A sergeant of the 88th Connaught Rangers

Wallace, with a steady but cheerful countenance, turned to his men, and looking them full in the face, said, "Now, Connaught Rangers, mind what you are going to do; pay attention to what I have so often told you, and when I bring you face to face with those French rascals, drive them down the hill—don't give the false touch, but push home to the muzzle! I have nothing more to say, and if I had it would be of no use, for in a minit or two there'll be such an infernal noise about your ears that you won't be able to hear yourselves."

This address went home to the hearts of us all, but there was no cheering; a steady but determined calm had taken the place of any lighter feeling, and it seemed as if the men had made up their minds to go to their work unruffled and not too much excited.

Wallace then threw the battalion from line into column, right in front, and moved on our side of the rocky point at a quick pace; on reaching the rocks, he soon found it manifest that Dunne's report was not exaggerated; a number of Frenchmen were in possession of this cluster, and so soon as we approached within range we were made to appreciate the effects of their fire, for our column was raked from front to rear. The moment was critical, but Wallace, without being in the least taken aback, filed out the Grenadiers and the first battalion-company, commanded by Captains Dunne and Dansey, and ordered them to storm the rocks, while he took the fifth battalion-company, commanded by Captain Gates, also out of the column, and ordered that officer to attack the rocks at the opposite side to that assailed by Dunne and Dansey. This done, Wallace placed himself at the head of the remainder of the 88th, and pressed on to meet the French column.

The view from the French position, Point 3, amid the small hamlet of San Antonio de Cantaro, clearly showing through the gap in the trees the steep climb facing the French columns before contacting the Allied line.  One can really appreciate General Reynier's comment on receipt of his orders to attack this ridge, exclaiming 'he would be drubbed!'

At this moment the four companies of the 45th, commanded by Major Gwynne, a little to the left of the 88th, and in front of that regiment, commenced their fire, but it in no way arrested the advance of the French column, as it, with much order and regularity, mounted the hill, which at this point is rather flat. 

But here, again, another awkward circumstance occurred. A battalion of the 8th Portuguese Infantry, under Colonel Douglas, posted on a rising ground on our right, and a little in our rear, in place of advancing with us, opened a distant and ill-directed fire, and one which would exactly cross the path of the 88th, as that corps was moving onward to meet the French column, which consisted of three splendid regiments, viz. the 2nd Light Infantry, the 36th, and the 70th of the line. 

Wallace, seeing the loss and confusion that would infallibly ensue, sent Lieutenant John Fitzpatrick, an officer of tried gallantry, with orders to point out to this regiment the error into which it had fallen ; but Fitzpatrick had only time to take off his hat, and call out " Vamos commarades," when he received two bullets—one from the Portuguese, which passed through his back, and the other in his left leg from the French, which broke the bone, and caused a severe fracture; yet this regiment continued to fire away, regardless of the consequences, and a battalion of militia, which was immediately in rear of the 8th Portuguese, took to their heels the moment the first volley was discharged by their own countrymen

A wide angle view from Point 3 of the Allied ridge from San Antonio de Cantaro, held by 3rd Division. Massena was under the false impression that this was the end of the Allied line, but in fact Wellington had another three Allied brigades under General Hill, positioned along the ridge to the left of picture all within easy support using the road he had laid along the top in preparation for the battle.

Wallace threw himself from his horse, and placing himself at the head of the 45th and 88th, with Gwynne of the 45th on the one side of him, and Captain Seton of the 88th on the other, ran  forward at a charging pace into the midst of the terrible flame in his front. All was now confusion and uproar, smoke, fire and bullets, officers and soldiers, French drummers and French drums knocked down in every direction ; British, French, and Portuguese mixed togetherwhile in the midst of all was to be seen Wallace, fighting — like his ancestor of old — at the head of his devoted followers, and calling out to his soldiers to " press forward !''

Never was defeat more complete, and it was a proud moment for Wallace and Gwynne when they saw their gallant comrades breaking down and trampling under their feet this splendid division composed of some of the best troops the world could boast of. The leading regiment, the 36th, one of Napoleon's favourite battalions, was nearly destroyed; upwards of two hundred soldiers and their old colonel, covered with orders, lay dead in a small space, and the face of the hill was strewed with dead and wounded, which showed evident marks of the rapid execution done at this point; for Wallace never slackened his fire while a Frenchman was within his reach. 

He followed them down the edge of the hill, and then he formed his men in line, waiting for any orders he might receive, or for any fresh body that might attack him. Our gallant companions, the 45th, had an equal share in the glory of this short but murderous fight—they suffered severely; and the 88th lost nine officers and one hundred and thirty-five men. 

The 8th Portuguese also suffered, but in a less degree than the other two regiments, because their advance was not so rapid, but that regiment never gave way nor was it ever broken; indeed there was nothing to break it, because the French were all in front of the 45th and 88th, and if they had broken the Portuguese they must have first broken the two British regiments, which it is well known they did not!"

It has been said, and I believe truly, that Marshal Beresford, who was colonel of the 88th, expressed some uneasiness when he saw his regiment about to plunge into this unequal contest; but when they were mixed with Reynier's men and pushing them down the hill. Lord Wellington, tapping him on the shoulder, said, " Well, Beresford, look at them now!''

Further along the ridge, Arnaud's brigade consisting of the 86th Ligne and 31st Legere, three battalions each, pressed their attack up the defile and narrow zig-zag road from San Antonio to be met by the 74th 'Campbell's Highland' Foot supported by the 21st Portuguese Infantry, augmented by fire from the 5/60th Rifles.

The Allied infantry was well supported by Artenschildt's Portuguese nine pounders pouring in rapid amounts of canister.

The 31st Legere spearheaded Arnaud's brigade attack up the ridge from San Antonio de Cantaro but suffered terribly under fire from the Portuguese artillery, losing 45 killed and 250 wounded in the attack.

Capitaine Jean-Baptiste Lemmonier-Delafosse of the 31st Legere recalled;

While climbing .... I was pained to see my sergeant ... having his forearm carried off by a cannon ball, and a few minutes after having begun forming my company for battle, I received a bullet in the right eyebrow; the blow, not very dangerous, knocked me down, however. The waxed taffeta cap which covered my hat, torn by the bullet, made such a noise that I thought I had a broken skull."

Captain John Fremantle later an ADC to Wellington observed;

"The French walked up the hill in the most gallant style ... but despite repeated efforts to deploy into line, the 31e suffered too many casualties and was beginning to lose its cohesion. One or possibly two battalions formed partial lines, but suffered terribly from the effects of canister from Artenschildt's Portuguese batteries. The momentum of the attack had been lost."

Capitaine Lemmonier-Delafosse continued to describe the sustained fire they were subject to;

"I confess that in my life I have not seen it executed like this in accuracy or speed.... I got up, but stunned; Blinded by the blood that flowed from my wound, I was going to hand over command to Gay, my lieutenant, when, on all sides, a retreat was begun: was the order given? I do not believe it..."

The fully restored windmill seen in Moura and indicated on the map of Ney's Attack as Position 5.
From this prominent high ground amid the French lines Massena could observe the progress of both Ney's and Reynier's attacks

In his frustration at the collapse of his brigades, General Reynier angrily reproached General Foy who had been desperately trying to keep his brigade from being swept away by the two in front and recalled later Reynier's demand;

"General Reynier arrived and cried in anger 'Why don't you climb. You can march your troops if you want. You are doing nothing!' I hadn't the presence of mind not to reply. I refuted the accusation. I said to the 70th to follow en masse and to my left , I ran to the head of the 17th and climbed the mountain..."

The result was the same as suffered by Merle's Division and Arnaud's brigade with Foy's troops coming under continuous fire on its ascent being met by the British 1/9th and 2/38th Foot part of Barne's brigade, 5th Division who had arrived to support the hard pressed 3rd Division troops.

The fire from the two British battalions was described as most destructive and was followed up by a bayonet charge as the French attempted to form line; driving Foy's troops back down the hill and with Foy wounded in the arm by a musket ball to be carried down by his own soldiers.

The losses suffered by the French brigades involved in the attack had been severe and with the ridge shrouded in smoke, the battle petered out into skirmishing along the slopes.

The French are reported to have lost around 5,000 men with a remarkably high proportion of officers, most likely from the need for them  to encourage the troops in their long climb under intense Allied artillery and skirmish fire.

These officer casualties included General de Brigade Graindorge killed, and Generals Foy, Merle, Macaune and Simon wounded, together with fifty-two other officers, with II Corps suffering slightly higher losses than VI Corps.

In contrast Wellington's Allied army had lost just 1,252 casualties with roughly half each among the British and Portuguese contingents, with only two officers above the rank of major injured, being Portuguese Brigadier Champlemond and Colonel Barclay with none being killed.

An additional problem now loomed for the Army of Portugal in that 3,000 of its casualties were wounded and now needed to be transported until a hospital facility could be established.

The excellent views of the Allied ridge from Massena's position. The only thing wrong with it was that he had absolutely know idea what Wellington's position was on top of and behind it.

The battlefield monument can be seen clearly from Massena's position. The steep incline of the ridge can be seen perfectly from this position.

Just along the road below the battlefield monument is a very nice, small museum dedicated to the battle with various items relating to it.

Portuguese Nine Pounders, used so devastatingly by Artenschildt's gunners above San Antonio de Cantaro

5th Cacadores - Portuguese Light Infantry

Officer or sergeant of the 23rd Portuguese Regiment of Infantry

Loyal Lusitanian Legion - more about them on our visit to Alcantara and its famous bridge

Portuguese Militia or Ordanencas

French Charville and Allied Brown Bess Musket, the latter used by British and Portuguese troops

Musket rounds recovered from the battlefield

Massena thought better of committing Junot's VIII Corps against Bussaco ridge and in the afternoon discovered and captured the route to the north allowing his army to outflank the position and follow the Allied retreat to the Lines of Torres Vedras before Lisbon.

Allied troops resume the retreat, pictured here crossing the River Mondego in September 1810 - St Clair

In the next post Carolyn and I follow the route of Massena's retreat from Portugal as his half starved army staggered back to the Spanish border in early 1811 with Marshal Ney demonstrating his flair for rear-guard actions and Wellington's Light Division finding themselves missing General Craufurd, away from the army on home leave.

References referred to in this post:
The Key to Lisbon, The Third Invasion of Portugal 1810-11 - Kenton White
Wellington Against Massena, The Third Invasion of Portugal 1810-11 - David Buttery
Rough Sketches of the life of an Old Soldier - Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Leach
Adventures with the Connaught Rangers - William Grattan
George Napier of the 52nd - George T. Napier


  1. Another comprehensive and interesting post - thank you. I have a photo of "Wellington's Olive Tree" outside the convent from when I first visited 30-odd years ago. It was significantly larger - I gather someone later drove into it! Bussaco is a frustrating battlefield because of the forestation so you need to travel to a range of sites to get a better appreciation of the underlying terrain - your photos show it well.

    1. Thanks Jeremy.

      I thought that Olive tree had seen better days. Still at least it's doing a lot better that the former tree at Waterloo!

      I know what you mean about Bussaco, it does take some work to get your head around it when seeing it for the first time but after a view down the slope and then up it from the French lines I had that 'Eureka' moment when it all started to become clear.

  2. Hi, JJ. You inspire me to more painting for this campaign. I've actually added half a dozen units since you started your 'tour reports'. Thank you.


    1. Hi James,

      Thanks mate, and brilliant.

      Chez JJ is a bit up in the air at the moment as I ham having a new lounge put together at the moment and then a new kitchen goes in next month and so I can't play games or take pictures of new units, so the Peninsular War reports and the odd book review will have to suffice till I'm back to normal,so I'm really pleased to hear that your wargaming productivity is being helped with my efforts.

      All the best