Notes on the Portuguese Infantry of the Peninsular War: 1807-1814
This compilation originated as a quick reference to those infantrymen of Portugal that were drawn into the struggle against the forces of the Emperor Napoleon and his Marshals as they entered that country to take possession of it. Motivated by the war-gamers’ desire to present figures on a board that would be representative of known numbers and being aware that this country for most of Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley’s tenure of office as CIC contributed one third of that Officer’s regular infantry force it seemed natural that this information be gathered together and made, as is said these days “User-friendly”.
As men of French General Andoche Junot’s Corps came down into the theatre in 1807 entering Lisbon on 30th November the gauntlet was down there to be challenged. All kinds of military changes were beginning to take place as 1808 opened it came down of course to the economic upsets that most alerted British interests in this invasion. Lost trade could not be countenanced, the monarchy had fled taking the contents of the Treasury and little by little such Portuguese soldiery that existed was being ‘persuaded’ to join the ranks of Napoleon’s Grande Armee. All sorts of factions, commercial, military and religious to name just a few, sprang up and especially where the pain was being most felt, something had to be done!
Names that come down to us as things solidified into real action show a Frederick Baron Eben in Oporto and the swashbuckling ubiquitous British Brigadier Robert Wilson as at least generating more than just indignation, however, raising a force of native infantry in a country at least nominally in the hands of the French was going to need a lot more work.By mid-1808 the military situation in the whole Iberian Peninsula was in flux, Spain itself had been invaded and perhaps, just as importantly that rather junior Lieutenant General Arthur Wellesley had come ashore on the Portuguese Atlantic seaboard with enough British infantry to make a difference.
Enacting the embarrassing settlement at Cintra and once more leaving the country to its own devices at least the French did leave Portugal for a while, but back they came under Marshal Nicholas Soult whose men then occupied Oporto having come down from the north after his ‘victory’ at Corunna.
It is now 1809 and yet again, something must be done; of great significance to this compilation that British General Officer William Carr Beresford who chanced to be reasonably fluent in the native tongue came forward in answer to Portuguese requests for ‘help’. It was he who as a designated Marshal from early in 1809 was instrumental in bringing together pairs of Regular Portuguese Infantry Regiments to form Brigades, some to act Independently [supported logistically by the Portuguese Government of the Day] and others to be taken up as parts of British Infantry Divisions acting [supported] within these Divisional parent ‘Bodies. In the main these pairs once put together would remain together to see out the whole ‘period’, some few would change status and as many as ten Caçadores [Light Infantry] Battalions would find positions within the whole mix.
As already mentioned there had been work done previously to recruit [or re-form existing] units of infantry locally and once Beresford began to show results a pattern would emerge. It will be as well to show these regimental pairs and their brigaded light infantry Caçadore battalions as re-constituted under Beresford’s mandate as they came forward in defense of their homeland.
Those following on that show 20th of Campo Mayor Garrison and 22nd of Serpa as garrison of Abrantes would not be brigaded whilst 1st and 3rd Caçadores and 17th of Elvas will feature in the British Light Division’s 1st and 2nd Brigades under British Brigadiers, 1st Caçadores in 1st Brigade and 3rd Caçadores with 17th of Elvas in 2nd Brigade.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: April - November 2012
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