Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

Multiethnic Military Dissent and Armed Resistance in 1811 Portugal: Controlling Conflict, Chaudron’s Attested Choice and The Formation of the Independents Part III

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy


The choices of political re-definition (id est, abandonment from the ranks) from Maréchal Masséna’s armée de Portugal, are the unequivocally documentary matter to perhaps a silent reality concerning the combattants’ factual conceptions for military duties towards the Empire.

Imposed monocratic views and ravings of omnipotence for hegemonic aggrandizements were rejected.

A number of dissentients, long mistrustful and outraged over the stagnant military operations in continental Portugal which had critically turned into a withdrawal movement of the French army corps, adhered to Chaudron’s conception for alternative living as a “contractual basis” for essential supplies.

Fiercely protective of their individual liberties, these soldiers were no longer motivated in their obligations de service, nor in the observance of the military laws.

Their conduct changed to conform to the dire straits -- à la campagne -- of surviving in a hostile foreign country.

The vividly reported and particular incident of Chaudron (i.e., alternative sociality, and destructing parametres adverse to the military servitudes des armes) had admirably conveyed the malcontent of the military conscripts and the revulsion of continued warfare conducted beyond their own national borders.

This complex recrudescence expeditiously became choices of anti-conformity of political background, and eventually resulted in armed opposition to the regular French troops. 

Mystification and alteration: the “conspiracy” of the silence

Emphatically, chef de bataillon Jean-Jacques-Germain Pelet-Clozeau[1] did not mention in his reminiscent narrative the practical circumstances which ultimately led to the capture of the reputed Chaudron.

Marshal Massena’s first aide de camp appears neither to conform to nor admit to the stirring renommée (renown; reputation, id est, notoriety) that that former French combatant had gained as an independent commander of multiethnic formations.

And those degenerate actions and continued audacities were to the utmost detriment of the French État-Major général (General-Staff), a pejorative discredit which was inconveniently coupled with strategic assets as well as tactical proficiency.

The “adroitly inspired” French officer does not even present and omit the direct circumstances and the mode by which Chaudron was taken a prisoner and put to death.

That compendiary information was enough for Pelet’s story’s lines, which were virtually deprived of any kind of additional and corroborated explications.

In terms of cogitation, and evaluation, one question arises: what were the reasons for this austere recollection?

What then was behind the veil of silence and the credibility of the assumptive écriture documentaire d’épopée (contemporary narrative composition)?

Just one fact had been “perceptibly” silenced: a bitterly contested collision d’armes (battle).

Emergency, armed intervention, and repression: a battle into oblivion

Pelet deemed it unimportant to recount the military operation which had been planned and put into strategic efficiency to destroy the troops of the independents, and which had counted on the tenacious efforts and mobility of a combined French force at three infantry battalion level.

The bloodily contested carnage that followed brought about the conquest of the fortressed monastery.

The combat was most cruelly-fought, with undiminished determination; also worth mentioning is the confirmed fact that the independently-armed formations actively relied on many hundred organized effectives.

Undeniably, in the savagely fought contest which ensued, none of them (French born) had a way out, except to die with weapons in hand, or to face death by the firing squads once they had been captured.

Excluded from Pelet’s narrative, the “intentionally” forgotten bataille meurtrière (bloody battle) was a significantly grave affaire, to counterbalance the honneur entaché (besmirched honour) of the French arms.

A testimonial account: Lemonnier-Delafosse’s reminiscences case study

An ulterior and significantly interesting and appreciated primary source material – and historical account – is the meticulous work compiled by capitaine Jean-Baptiste Lemonnier-Delafosse in the year 1850.

A former officer of the 31e régiment d’infanterie légère (commander: colonel Meunier; 2e corps de l’armée du Portugal), his absorbing Souvenirs militaries constitute a delightful référence historique for research and in-depth study.

Documentary piece

De mauvais sujets, seuls, désertaient, mais sur les derrières de l’armée; c’étaient des hommes sans courage, voulant vivre autrement que les autres, et jouir d’une liberté que la discipline leur refusait, je dis sans courage, mais c’était contre l’adversité; car, réunis au nombre de cinq à six cents et établis dans un couvent, on fut obligé de diriger des forces sur eux; ils y furent attaqués après les y avoir bloqués, et dans un combat acharné, où les trois quarts furent tués, ils prouvèrent encore qu’ils étaient Français. Ils y trouvèrent la fin de leur misère: ce corps avait pris la dénomination des Fricoteurs[2].

Trnsl.: “Some bad people, only, deserted, but on the rear of the army; they were men without courage, wanting to live differently than others, and enjoy a freedom that discipline denied them, I say without courage, but this was against the adversity; for, gathered in the number of five to six hundred and established in a convent, it was necessary to direct forces on them; they were attacked after having blocked them there, and in a fierce battle, where three quarters were killed, they still proved they were French. They found the end of their misery: that body had taken the denomination of Marauders”.

Comment: A couple of long, elaborated phrases.

One hundred two terms (87, 15) and a semantically composed articulation.

A deprecatory attribution is punctuated by the appellation fricoteurs[3].

These desperate men are pointed to, identified, and categorized; further, they are “stigmatized” with a slurring epithet: les mauvais sujets (the bad people).

The restive are the hard-shelled and indisposed French rank and file soldiers who neither acquiesce nor adapt themselves to the endurances and to the continuous and hardily-sustained privations of the 1811 military campaign in Portuguese territory.

The causal motivation is unequivocally the founding element.

This critical impasse emphasizes an acute and reproachable behaviour: it is because these sujets are “poor” in quality and untrustworthy in their professional accomplishments that they decide to desert from the regular army establishment, not because they are principled fellows of recognised professional qualities and devotion to the domination géopolitique de l’Empire (geo-political domination to the Empire).

The genesis of the justification thus ensues, to “forcibly” cover and “tolerate” the abandoning from the ranks and from the military responsibilities and regimen.

On the contrary, the exposed axiomatic truth is indirectly evident: the steadfast comrades are irreversibly the hard-bearing soldats assermentés that keep themselves faithful to their oath to the Emperor, those who remain passively remissive and subservient (i.e., unquestioningly obedient) to serve in arms and to carry out whatever sacrifice is demanded – oftentimes out of authoritarian possibilities.

This is a singular description, which involves a stretch of interpretative character and harsh moral judgment -- at least according to the écriture mémoriale (memoir writing gender) and literary recollection personalized by capitaine (captain) Lemonnier-Delafosse.

These dubious fellows are not upstanding men or soldiers; they are a heterogeneous collection without proper names, or noticeable individuals.

They are reduced to common people status (i.e., former military personnel) without nominal identity or military ranks.

What was once the virtue of shared courage (with their troop comrades), is no longer harboured in their changing will -- clear words, affirmed in the previously quoted narrative extrapolation.

What is the reason for Lemonnier-Delafosse’s long-lasting contempt?

Why then have the French malcontents silently and covertly leaving the ranks, if not on the grounds of motivational initiatives?

Was this determined solution not a remarkably taken choice, which implied boldness if not despairing decisions?

The dignité existentielle face aux adversités (existential dignity face to adversities) is not recognized neither as a conditioning limit, nor as a mitigating factor of human comprehension.

Calamités et misères

Fallen into grave affliction, misery and persistent discouragement[4], but not resigned to that calamitous state of things, the French ethnic soldiers acquiesced an option for a different life from others compagnons d’armes (companions in arms) -- again, a reported and written statement.

And in which place was this “new horizon of hopes” to happen?

Was that self-determination and practical experimental lifetime innovation to be systematized far away from the military camp area where the mumblers had lived up to the present contingences?

Has one discerning military historical analyst to believe that the râleurs (grumblers) wanted to live independently from their fellow-countrymen in a foreign land, brutally ransacked by French troops?

And with the presence of an outrageously indignant Lusitanian population[5], cruel and hostile towards the invading foreign armies of the autocrat Napoleon I?

Not counting, then, on the operative proficiencies and advance of the British military forces?

Beyond the simply credited and as much as succinctly exposed arguments, there are several issues and contentious considerations which effectively arise in the process of intelligibility.

At one point in his literary reminiscence, Lemonnier-Delafosse has a sudden and conscientiously inspired re-thinking on the nature of his previously rendered pronouncements.

His short specification that barely verged on accuracy, is objectively important for a better understanding of the revealing piece.

By a whisper of truth (was that calling for a terse matter of knowledge?), this officer asserts that the irreversible choice of the recalcitrant, irritated, and ensnared troupiers (privates) was forced upon them by adversities, and that it was against untold misery that the soldiers had consequently -- under critical and increasingly heated complications -- to confront their moral virtues and courage in order to survive.

This is neither an official excuse nor an instrumental apologetic note; in this instance, the narration documentaire (documentary narration) rationalizes a five-worded clear-cut explanation[6].

It is finally evident, to the settled scheme of literary comprehension, that there similarly co-existed a couple of two-fold plans of operations.

The first: it engendered the active war initiatives led by Maréchal Masséna’s armée de Portugal against the Anglo-Lusitanian armed forces; second: the “survival” operations against material adversity, extremely scarce when there was insufficient nourishment, and further arising countless difficulties in a hostile land.

The continuously demanding psychological burden which eventually developed from harsh times of extensive deprivations became the true unseen adversary of the French.

And the acrid conduct of the war operations (in this case, the winter 1811 stalemate situation) was mined by invisible offensive pushes that detrimentally affected the spirit of the soldiers, thus weakening their morale even further.

In consolidated terms of documentary analysis, substantial numbers of military abandoned the ranks, to search for sufficient sources of sustenance.

The anti-authoritarian dissenters, thus far, and the silent files of anti-Imperial dissidence, rapidly grew, attracting wider factions and affiliations of armed complicities.

A life away from the regular army establishment lessened the options for a living; ergo, it implied matured solutions of force, and definite choices with no return.

The constant growth of the discontented “combattants” was a clearly stated assertion, an objective confirmation.

It is an assertive truth, in that order, and comprehensive views, to point out the convergences of similarly alienated and disbanded British and Portuguese irregulars (i.e., former serving soldiers).

The freshly organized French armed groups soon widened their scope of power and firm resistance to include les elements étrangers (the foreign elements; i.e., the foreign-born)[7].

Exceeding the many hundreds of companions in arms -- in the style of minor combat formations -- the choice for convenient and safe Headquarters and fortified positions was aptly conjugated in one major defence emplacement (one monastery, the site of a religious community of former consecrated life).

Because the annoying circumstances such as exposure to danger and vulnerability, greatly increased to the armée de Portugal regular forces, which were mostly caused by the independent formations’ profitable “military” experience and uncontained audacity, it was a compelling necessity to clear out their micro army effectives and positions on ground.

Not an easy task; regular war operations were ordered, and their executive profitability implied tactical and strategic planning.

Troops were directed and manoeuvred toward the enemy strong-points to obliterate any kind of resistance, and to overwhelm any sort of interposition to the advance of the fiery determined French units.

Although the phases of the attacks have not been communicated by captain Lemonnier-Delafosse, it is inferred from the narrative description that that “line of intervention” was not a matter of plain solution.

Bringing continued pressure, the opposing forces were reduced, blocked, and trapped till reaching the area of their Headquarters.

Once on location, the last attack turned into a most disputed battle engagement.

It is markedly a point of analysis that the retreating independent groups had successfully reached their final and strongest line of containment, and that their armed organization and numbers attained here their maximum display in arms.

The blaze of glory: identities in conflict

“[...]; they were attacked after having blocked them there, and in a fierce battle, where three quarters were killed, they still proved they were French. They found the end of their misery: that body had taken the denomination of Marauders”.

Comment: After in-depth examination of the historic source narratives, a point of commanding attention is inferred in the fact that robust, large scale military operations were mounted against the formações armadas com estrutura de commando independente[8] (armed formations with structure of independent command).

The pre-arranged offensive movement implied penetrating into the controlled adversarial area, and gradually obliterating any strongpoint which raised resistance in opposition to the assaulting French companies.

As in regards to the ordered ground strategy (i.e., mobility, and pre-defined  dispositions), a related aspect emerged: the attacking forces were moved forward according to concurrent prescriptions aptly capitalized into a manoeuvre d’encerclement (encirclement manoeuver).

It was particularly evident that French troops, in their synergistic efforts to achieve military supremacy, converged up close and blockaded the ultimate bastion of arrest of the independents’ transnational units.

In this convulsive emergency, it is necessary to point out that the mighty fortressed walled monastery[9] constituted the final line of containment for any predisposed action of defence and armed interposition[10].

Its major architectural features conformed to a large defensive perimeter and composite spaces had been prepared to presumably lodge all the effectives.

In recent time, this location had been profaned and ignobly turned into a re-fitted -- sycophantic architectural adaptation -- and configured into the site of the independents’ headquarters.

Another significant aspect cannot be omitted: the strenuous display of the arms carried out by the recalcitrant independents; apparently, unbridled fury and “heroic” stands took place, however there was no remedy for breaking away; other than to perish, in the contest.

In the final showdown, human losses were a cruel affair[11].

Considering the bloody proportions of the fiercely raging combats, French military losses were not communicated[12].

Their reported severity against former active service combatants had none-the-less assumed acute characters.

Feral and lamentable, was the “chant du cygne” (swangsong).


1810, 19 February: Portugal and England sign a further Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Trade.

June: Third invasion of the French army this time led by Maréchal Massena.

English reinforcements arrive by boat from England.

24 July: Battle of Bridge of Côa. The English forces under General Robert Craufurd create severe casualties and delay the advance of the French troops led by Marshal Michael Ney.

1 August: Declaration by Marshal Massena that a large French army was invading Portugal from Ciudade Rodrigo, in Spain, to fight the English army and not the Portuguese.

15 August: Siege of Almeida – English forces forced to surrender on the 18th of August after heavy bombardment from French forces.

10 September: Fifty leading Portuguese liberals are exiled to the Island of Terceira, in Azores, for promoting the policies.

18 September: The French army occupies Viseu.

27 September: Battle of Buçaco – The French army led by Marshal Masséna suffers a serious defeat against an inferior number of English and Portuguese troops.

1 October: The French army occupies Coimbra and sacks the town.

7 October: Portuguese troops led by Coronel Trant retake Coimbra.

Wellesley awarded title of Marquês de Torres Vedras.

14 October: The French army led by Masséna tries to penetrate without success the Linhas de Torres fortifications at Sobral – the foreign troops also attempt to cross the river by boat but the Chamusca boatmen burn many of their boats.

29 October: General Francisco da Silveira Pinto da Fonseca Teixeira, Conde de Amarante encircles the Fort of Almeida; he retreats on the 13th as superior French reinforcements arrive.

15 November: The French army short of supplies withdraws to Santarém.

30 December: Battle of Bridge of Abade – General Silveira engages with the French army led by General Clarapède near Lamego.


[1]Général Baron Jean-Jacques-Germain Pelet-Clozeau was born at Toulouse on July 15, 1777, and died in Paris (December 20, 1858). His name is inscribed in the eastern façade of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, in Paris.  Biographical annotations are expounded in this series of academic essays in Footnote 2 of Part II of this essay.

[2]Lemonnier-Delafosse, Jean-Baptiste (Lieutenant-Colonel en retraite, Officier de la Légion d’Honneur). Campagnes de 1810 à 1815. Souvenirs militaires. Havre, Imprimerie du Commerce, Alph. Lemale, 1850, p. 103, l. 4-16. Equal quotation is extracted from the contemporary re-print, vide: Lemonnier-Delafosse, Jean-Baptiste (capitaine). Souvenirs Militaires. L.C.V. Services, Paris, 2002, p. 62, l. 36-40, p. 63, l. 1-4.  

[3] In this case, the derogatory comment and the “process of infamy” are malicious. In French idiom, the above-mentioned term acquires signification for “personnes qui fricotent des affaires louches”. A corresponding translation from French into English is that of fiddlers. It has concurrent synonimic meaning for aigrefin (swindler), arnaqueur, escroqueur, tripoteur (twiddler), malhonnête (dishonest), magouilleur (schemer), parasite (scrounger), tripatouilleur, sacripant (rascal).  

[4] Psychological prostration and confusion accumulée (accumulated confusion) lead the way to abjection.   

[5] A terrific string of  invasions occurred through the years, in 1808, 1809, and 1810. Countless calamities passed over Continental Portugal.

[6]Vide: documentary piece, l. 3: “[...] c’était contre l’adversité; […]”.

[7] Most of them were British and Portuguese soldiers with posttraumatic stress disorders.

[8] Id est, French dissidents, in addition to conniving British and Portuguese parties.

[9] One can penetratingly discern that all the areas established for armed resistance had been overwhelmed through the intense strenuous combats.  

[10]In this historic perspective, and through a correspondent documentary analysis, we can arguably assume in-depth circumstances of combat, and acquire the meaning that, on a military base, the independent corps’ formations were reduced to “non-deployable” consistency -- caused by heavy human losses. Was that a magisterial strategic perspicacity, or the bloody epitome of the armed violence between the antagonists?

[11] On a reasonable assumption of the historic source material  500-600 independents, an average of 375 (75%, minimum coefficient of estimation) to 450 (75%, maximum estimation) were killed in action. The proper interpretation to be acquired is that they were not taken prisoners.   

[12] The destiny of the British and Portuguese “interallied” parties is unknown (id est, not mentioned). Was that “rigidity of information” significant of pragmatic silence operated by the author? After close evaluation of the référence documentaire (documentary source), it can be assumed without any difficulty.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2013


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