Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

A Strategic Syllogism of the 1810 Portuguese Campaign: a Day of Wrath, A Day of Death: Tojal, 20 September 1810 Part XII

History and Strategic Applications: Studies for the Bicentenary, 1810-2010

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy

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Please, for accurate historic and literary comprehension the readers are first invited to read Part X and Part XI.

Documentary text

I went alone to the advanced posts as a negotiator; a senior officer arrived, and I proposed he should hand over the luggage train, allowing the officers to join the army with half their cavalry as escort; he seemed to hesitate and asked to submit the matter to a more senior staff officer. He in turn asked for time for consultation; I refused, but allowed him to ask a third officer, who was Massena’s first aide-de-camp. This officer only wanted to waste time, and his only wish was to engage me against superior forces. So I broke off the negotiations, advising them of my determination to attack them promptly. It was already dark by this time; danger was increasing from all sides, and even to retire successfully we needed do so immediately, because without this preliminary nobody would have been able to retire without being followed[1].

Critical commentary: A stirring sequence of five lengthy sentences.

One hundred forty-eight terms (53, 25, 18, 15, 37) compose the dense, compact morphological structure of the narrative passages.

In the brisk unrest of the operative emergency, one can read through coronel Trant’s circumstantiated report that the Anglo-Luso senior commander daringly advanced alone until reaching within view of the enemy outposts.

The contextualization and, more importantly, the authenticity of this episode must be assumed with precaution, and with a firm attitude of critical analysis.

The sequence of the historic facts, pertinent to this incidental turning-out, is mined with reasonable suspicion.

None-the-less, this ambiguity is at the very least neither inserted in one adequate space of consequential facts nor correlated to the temporal events.

The draft of Trant’s report captiously enucleates with sheer composed writing the fact that the superior commanding-officer presented himself alone at the front of the French “line” of defense.

An unequivocally heroic action and dignifying behavior are claimed, and seemingly distinguished in the recognized matrix of the individual fortitude[2].

With specificity of case, one question is raised: what if a stray enemy bullet had killed the Portuguese corps’ commander?

Therefore, in practical terms, what about the irreversible consequences?

Why should Trant have exposed his own persona so unnecessarily, with candour, he, an experienced veteran officer who was entrusted with direct responsibilities and commanding executive role over many hundreds of  lives?

Correlated uncertainties

This figurative concept of the lone, undaunted hero who advances towards the line of strong-points defended by the French foe acquires some “ennobled” valences that if not dubious, are somehow out-of-place, and subjected to constructive criticism.

Was the linear sequence of events admittedly plausible?

Did it ensue in this actual, effective concatenation of military profitability?

Probing deeper in the evaluation of the documentary material, should discerning military strategy analysts believe that after the capture of the rural aldeia of Aderosomil, when the Portuguese corps’ units were pressing at the heels of the retiring French carriages, and had blocked the French great artillery park in a natural point of constraint, a formal proposition for a negotiable surrender was offered?

And did this concrete offer surprisingly materialize after the French had assumed positions of interposition, battle, and resistance?

Apparently, a number of flagrant contradictions are at hand, and creditably questionable.

In posed even-handed terms of documentary survey and cogitation, in examining Trant’s statement, how would this superior leading commander have allowed the French officers “[…] to join the army with half their cavalry […]” if they[3] had not yet been blocked without viable escape routes?

Is this magnanimity[4] exhibited out of respect to the foreign invader a credible proposition of valour due to the awe of French arms or an arrogant and assertive braggadocio?

A factual, caustic contradictory element is conspicuously gained as a validating matter: if the French had a way out, they would have eventually moved back all their carriages and supporting mobile forces.

But that facility was not considered[5].

In this perspective, the contemporary research analyst would have to reason why.

A practicable answer is expounded in the order of the causal incidences, by appraising that the French mobile compounds (id est, infantry detachments, cavalry escorts, and wheeled transports) were neither in a position to choose this convenient option of désengagement tactique (tactical adaptation)[6], nor ready to conform to a more robust solution of strength and raw power.

On 20 September 1810, this choice was not feasible.

Under severe, harsh circumstances, the French column had already been fixed by the Portuguese operative units in an emboscada - surpresa (ambush – surprise) on the ground.

If Trant had not been accredited all the tactical and strategic elements in his incontrovertible favour, how would he have dared to intimate the surrender to the French, who had vigoureusement[7] assumed defensive combat assets?

War compromise: the inter-colloquial choice

The previously reported documentary text has to be thoughtfully examined and appropriately interpreted according to the military paradigm of the active hostilities then in effect.

Clarifying the matter is assuredly and objectively not an easy task.

Which was the belligerent part to first proffer shared negotiations, or pourparlers, and the substantial recourse to the dialogic encounter to set the toughly-disputed combat scene?

The Portuguese troops had no time to waste, as, in fact they were in a hurry and exposed to danger to be “potentially” enveloped by the converging French army formations from Viseu, and similarly from the advancing reinforcements which escorted the grand parc d’artillerie (great artillery park).

Any kind of colloquial versatility and activated course of negotiations would have unequivocally favoured only the French.

If Trant had cautiously approached the advance enemy guard posts, it meant that there had been consolidated positions of defense[8]; further, that the Anglo-Luso officer had been subsequently called up as a trusted intermediary for the already evolving “conventional talks”[9].

This encadrement, and inferred logical and sequential explication, would explain the causal motivation why the veteran officer had stout-heartedly galloped in solitary[10] ahead.

It is assertedly declared: Trant’s patent finalization was to reach the negotiating parties during a similarly bartered truce of the arms.

The time factor: escamotage de guerre

Relatively speaking, information of serious, strict importance is gained after penetratingly and effectually assessing the affirmations of coronel Trant.

Notwithstanding Trant’s “claimed” advocation and appointed intermediary role during the pausing of the combats (i.e., properly intended as the cease fire), the explicative cadre of the historic facts persuades the inquiring modern historiographer to observe that the French, facing staggering difficulties for concurrent military deployment and active defense’s coordinated reactions against overwhelming Lusitanian forces, had decided to lead the game of dissimulation -- and deceptive fraudulence -- on a different level of audacity.

Due to major constrictive incidences (notably, the restricted number of soldiers, and accompanying escorts), that firm resolution and way out was neither oriented to the bloody, hardily-disputed severities of the armed contest nor to ultimately achieve the victorious supremacy on the ground.

That resort was a shrewdly conceived escamotage de guerre (war retraction), aptly finalized to gain time, thus permitting the fast approaching march of the bataillons d’escorte (escort battalions) and forces régimentaires régulières (regular regimental forces) which were retarded in elongated column within a few kilometers distance.

It is undeniably determined that the French wanted to reverse the ruse they had detrimentally fallen into, by changing the roles (i.e., pre-figured target, and assailant)[11].

By fixing the Portuguese strenuous onrushes, the French tried to block the attackers’ adversarial forces harbouring time and permitting the reinforcements to hastily press forward to the endangered area of conflict.

The apparently formal institution of the negotiated talks was nothing less than a spurious misleading artifice, without substantial forethoughts of definite, ultimate surrender.

The essential, cardinal purpose was to gain a détérioration de temps (declension of time), and nothing else exceeding the referred upon original prefiguration (i.e., to cajole the Portuguese Staff’s bona fides, regardless of the rectitude and principled intention of conduct).

The longer the convergent talks the longer would have been the time period conceded to the arrival and montée en ligne (mounted into the line) of French troupes d’appui (support troops; id est, reinforcements).

There is no doubt: that was a congenial trap[12].

In recapitulated terms, the long-enacted transition of the “parley” had been composed by the following “pieces” of pre-designed evaluation.

Disquisitive insights: collocutions and complexities

The French requested the formalistic, stereotyped participation of the commanding-officer of the Portuguese forces in order that he could be appointed as the trusted guarantor of any predisposed negotiation accords.

Instead, the truth is more clearly compatible: in another way, knowing the rank of this officer they could realize by excessive intuition the numerical strength of the opposing troops and, consequently, determine a balance in their actions.

The French, in turn, chose a qualified senior officer to evade through the formalized status quaestionis of the negotiations.

Anyhow, the Portuguese proposition irrevocably was clearly raised.

The heavily loaded luggage train must be handed over.

As accorded compensatory exit, all the officiers would have been left free to respectively join the nearby Armée de Portugal’s 8e Corps units, conjointly with one accompanying lot in the not negligible order of one half of the mounted troopers.

Confronted with this imposing intimidation, a remarkable fact emerged: the French had kept “hidden” a superior level of command and of operative responsibilities[13].

A more senior staff officer soon arrived to be educated on the above referred restrictive conditions -- obviously, this occurrence was a reiterated opportunité fallacieuse (fallacious expediency) to gain anew more conspicuous time advantages.

In analogous manner, this overbearing French officer solicited opinions consultatives (consulting views), resulting in even longer procrastination to acquire superior rank.

The imposture was then patent, and shamefully discovered.

The Portuguese realized that the French were operating a trick with a two-fold conclusion.

Therefore, no more listening was granted to them.

However, a last expedient was calculated to keep the Portuguese busy thinking on any true assumption of credibility: then it happened that another French officer appeared, reportedly to be none other than Maréchal Massena’s first aide-de-camp[14].

This officer likewise betrayed his conduct and fallacious behavioral posture – à la guerre comme à la guerre.

By unpredictable incidental contingencies, it occurred -- in the course of this colloquial incidence -- that the intervention of fresh French battle forces materialized.

These mounting unités d’assault (assault infantry units) were expeditiously advancing to the conflict emergency area.

To this end, the Portuguese finally penetrated that all the procedures of negotiation had been vainly accorded; these pourparlers were just a sophistry, a mischievous expedient to permit the infusion into the line of new, fresh auxiliary troops.

With the urgent reverses in the circumstances of combat, any colloquial negotiation was unhesitatingly broken off.

Keeping on their parole and well-respected sentiments of honoured dignity, the Portuguese declared invalid (i.e., specious, captious)[15] any antecedently arranged trégua das armas (truce of the arms).

Under constrictive contingences and reacting stubbornly, the Anglo-Luso officers stigmatized this case of imposture and fallacy.

With dignified probity they abandoned the collapsed negotiation scene.

Warfare fluctuations

It was already dark by this time; danger was increasing from all sides, and even to retire successfully we needed do so immediately, because without this preliminary nobody would have been able to retire without being followed.

Critical commentary: The transition of these latest events was not a pregnant advantage to the Portuguese corps’ formations.

The basically simplistic definition of “[…] dark […]” assumed a meaning not better clarified.

It is not defined if this adjectival reference specifically referred to the late day or weather conditions; or if it referred to an unexpected reversal of climatic stability.

Was that a clue, a crude interpretation for obfuscating overcast skies?

The use of the adverbial form “[…] already […]” assumes a particular connotation.

The correct comprehension should be assumed in the ordinary terms, this is to acquire significance that at that time of the day “dark” (i.e., the absence of light) was not the correct natural weather element.

By not having a good natural light, any visual observance at a distance, or by telescope, precluded the viewer from seeing details[16].

If the adjective “dark” would have been referred to the fast wrapping shadows of the dusk, coronel Trant would not have “corroded” his precious strategic time in any strategic inaction or regressive, stagnant negotiations of sort.

That tergiversation would have horribly damaged any pre-defined strategic advantage against the adversarial units.

A further disquisitional point is then contemplated; in the high intensity area of conflict, the increased level of collapsing strategic risk had reached consolidated peaks of compromising threat and dangerousness.

Documentary Appendix, Piece I – Primary Source, Portuguese Text

Apresentei-me só aos primeiros postos como parlametario; chegou um official superior, e propuz-lhe entregar-me a bagagem, permittindo aos officiaes reunirem-se ao seu exercito com metade da sua cavalleria para os escoltar; elle pareceu hesitar, e pediu submetter o negocio a um official do estado maior mais graduado. Este perdieu tempo para deliberar; recusei-lh’o, mas permitti-lhe consultar um terceiro official que era primeiro ajudante de campo do general em chefe Massena. Este official só quiz entreter tempo, tendo sómente en vista envolver-me entre forcas superiores. Rompi então a negociaciao, annunciando-lhe a minha determinaçao de os atacar promptamente. Já por este tempo fazia escuro; o perigo augmentava de todos o latos, e até para conseguir uma retirada era preciso effeitual-a desde logo, porque sem este preliminar já quasi não estaria no poder de alguem retirar sem ser perseguido.

Historiographical reference and literary text quotation extracted from: Luz Soriano, Simão José, da. História da Guerra Civil e do estabelecimento do governo parlamentar em Portugal comprehendendo a história diplomática militar e política d’este reino desde 1777 até 1834. Segunda Epocha. Tomo V – Parte II. Lisboa, Imprensa Nacional, 1893, p. 215, l. 1-16. Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal.

Notes:

[1] Original Portuguese text: “Apresentei-me só aos primeiros postos como parlametario; chegou um official superior, e propuz-lhe entregar-me a bagagem, permittindo aos officiaes reunirem-se ao seu exercito com metade da sua cavalleria para os escoltar; elle pareceu hesitar, e pediu submetter o negocio a um official do estado maior mais graduado. Este perdieu tempo para deliberar; recusei-lh’o, mas permitti-lhe consultar um terceiro official que era primeiro ajudante de campo do general em chefe Massena. Este official só quiz entreter tempo, tendo sómente en vista envolver-me entre forcas superiores. Rompi então a negociaciao, annunciando-lhe a minha determinaçao de os atacar promptamente. Já por este tempo fazia escuro; o perigo augmentava de todos o latos, e até para conseguir uma retirada era preciso effeitual-a desde logo, porque sem este preliminar já quasi não estaria no poder de alguem retirar sem ser perseguido” [vide: Luz Soriano, Simão José, da. História da Guerra Civil e do estabelecimento do governo parlamentar em Portugal comprehendendo a história diplomática militar e política d’este reino desde 1777 até 1834. Segunda Epocha. Tomo V – Parte II. Lisboa, Imprensa Nacional, 1893, p. 215, l. 1-16. Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal].  

[2] Under progressive historic source, it is possible to recognize that a neutral area – out of reach of muskets fire -- was specifically arranged for the open course of the negotiation.

[3] This plural reference is sympathetically intended:  i.e., the French units.

[4] Has Trant’s straightforward behavior instead to be intelligibly understood by his unrestricted impulsiveness? Or, was  temerity the key word?

[5] Effectually, in terms of strategic pragmatism that eventuality was not a contemplated choice.

[6] The correct literal translation (verbatim) is rendered by the words “tactical disengagement”.

[7] I.e., vigorously. The French displayed firm resolution, close organizational intents, and martial determination.

[8] As soon as the Portuguese were detected, the French had forcibly arrested their forward march advance, trying to assure themselves of any local resource for immediate protection within easy reach against the enemy threat. 

[9] Marbot asserts that a proffer for irreversible surrender had already been sent after bloody combat actions; notably mentioned were the Luso attacks to the tête (head) of the French column, and the enveloping of part of the convoy [vide: Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot. Paris, Librairie Plon, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Éditeurs, Rue Garancière, 10, 1891.  Vol. II, p. 379, l. 17-19]. 

[10] Does this literary punctuation, i.e., memorial vivification, mean without accompanying escort troopers?

[11] In comprehensive evaluations, these aims would have been fulfilled with a reversal in the strategic applications. By reversing the “target” and the actual field roles, the attacker (the Portuguese) would have become the attacked. Referring to the mutability of the assailant, the attacked (the French) would have instead turned into the attacker. With analytic propensity, all of this could occur by relying on the effectual instability of the time constraints.

[12] Clear, distinct confirmative elements are expounded by Marbot. Vide: Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot. Paris, Librairie Plon, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Éditeurs, Rue Garancière, 10, 1891.  Vol. II, p. 379, l. 20-23. 

[13] Evaluative historic cadre parameters. Abstracting from the original development and conducive colloquial course of the negotiation, one extremely predisposed French référence historique informed about those events of the past. A narrative passage distinctively recalled at least a couple of hard-core officers involved in the schemed talks: the chef d’escadron Fontinilly, and one capitaine named Prevot. The narration explicity quoted that: “[…]; le chef d’escadron Fontinilly, le capitaine Prevot et plusieurs autres officiers d’état major parlementèrent pour gagner du temps; […]” [vide: Aperçu Nouveau sur les campagnes des Français en Portugal, en 1807, 1808, 1809, 1810 et 1811. À Paris, Chez Delaunay, Libraire, Palais-Royal, Galeries de Bois, n°. 243, 1818, p. 150, l. 3-5]. More importantly, the evidence is proved: it is penetratingly affirmed that different French officers of the General-Staff were involved in the fallacious expediency. Under urgent circumstances of survival and strategic reversibility, these men “played a part”, “their part” in this piece of fraudulent mediation. C’était la guerre.

Author: a case in observation is that the nominal transcription is otherwise reported as de Prévost. Reputedly, this veteran is quoted in the commendable functions of général de division duc d’Abrantès’ (Jean-Andoche Junot) aide-de-camp. A capable professional, this officer was in charge of the pickets of the reserve artillery. Although coronel Trant had approached him for initiating a prospective surrender, with honourable terms, and parole, he was repudiated. De Fontenilles (another variously spelled cognominal form) with whom it was later conferred, claimed he had the authority of command -- over the convoy. With dignity, he rejected Trant’s propositions for a concorded surrender. His fiery attitudes were dictated by factual consideration: the personal awareness that he had previously dispatched an ordonnance (courier) to some kilometres in the rear, to summon up as steady reinforcements the nearest combat troops. Note of documentary research: the confirmed cognominal incidence of Fontenille, a chef d’escadron who served in the État-Major général (his position was that of officier adjoint to the General Staff), is thoughthfully reported in an essential primary French source [vide: Fririon, François Nicolas. Journal historique de la campagne de Portugal, entreprise par les français, sous les ordres du maréchal Masséna, prince d’Essling, du 15 septembre 1810 au 12 mai 1811. Leneveu, Paris, 1841, p. 59, l. 14].

[14] Purely considered as documentary evidence, does this information present a solid, creditable historic substantiation? Or, was it more craftily a bluff, a pretentious facade to once more impress the Portuguese? “Le maréchal n’ayant plus de colonel comme premier aide de camp, les fonctions en furent remplies par le plus ancien chef d’escadron de notre état-major c’était Pelet, bon camarade, homme courageux, mathématicien instruit, mais n’ayant jamais commandé aucune troupe, car, à sa sortie de l’École polytechnique, il avait été placé, selon ses goüts, dans le corps des ingénieurs géohraphes” [vide: Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot. Paris, Librairie Plon, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Éditeurs, Rue Garancière, 10, 1891.  Vol. II, p. 336, l. 4-11]. The second aide de camp was Marbot himself [vide: Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot. Paris, Librairie Plon, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Éditeurs, Rue Garancière, 10, 1891.  Vol. II, p. 338, l. 18]. The third aide de camp was the chef d’escadron Casabianca, of Corsican origin [vide: Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot. Paris, Librairie Plon, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Éditeurs, Rue Garancière, 10, 1891. Vol. II, p. 338, l. 19-21].  Further detailed documentary evidences are expounded, vide: Fririon, François Nicolas. Journal historique de la campagne de Portugal, entreprise par les français, sous les ordres du maréchal Masséna, prince d’Essling, du 15 septembre 1810 au 12 mai 1811. Leneveu, Paris, 1841, p. 59, l. 3-9. Abstracting from Maréchal Masséna’s fourteen aides de camp, there were additionally four officiers d’ordonnance. The first, was the capitaine Beaufort d’Hautpoul. Therefore what was behind the veiled identity of Masséna’s first aide de camp?

[15] In conclusion, the inexhaustive French colloquial inter-actions took their juncture, but these pourparlers did not succeed in manipulating the vigilant Portuguese Staff.  

[16] This severely restricted the Portuguese observers, who had to keep well vigilant all around the area to immediately notice and alert the arrival of new French troops.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2013

 

Miscellaneous Index | Day of Wrath, A Day of Death: Tojal, 20 September 1810 – Part I]

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