Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

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

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

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy

Wellingtoniana

Under primary, tense documentary efforts of historic research, the British point of view on the recent, obdurately-disputed combat “affair” in the surroundings of Tojal has been a military matter of consideration, presented and officially communicated by none other than the General commander of the British expeditionary corps in Continental Portugal.

Wellington’s inked war report, addressed in formalistic, composed deferential tones to the Secretary of State, undeniably claimed specific attention and participation of views on the latest results which affected the Portuguese theatre of conflict.

After carefully evaluating the contents and the ordinary daily expositions, emphasis is unquestionably placed on the objective evidence of the asseverations: that the news had a resounding transnational importance.

Documentary text

Lieut. General Viscount Wellington, K.B., to the Earl of Liverpool, Secretary of State.

Coimbra, 30th September, 1810.

MY LORD,

While the enemy was advancing from Celorico and Trancoso upon Viseu, the different divisions of militia and ordenanza were employed upon their flanks and rear; and Colonel Trant with his division attacked the escort of the military chest and reserve artillery near Tojal, on the 20th instant. He took 2 officers and 800 prisoners, but the enemy collected a force from the front and rear, which obliged him to retire again towards the Douro. I understand that the enemy’s communication is completely cut off, and he possesses only the ground upon which his army stands. […]”[1].

Critical commentary: After distinguished words of titled introduction, three sentences constitute the formal, terse literary essence of a ninety-seven (49, 27, 21) terms semantic structured.

The general strategic cadre is expounded in the first linear sentence, pointing to three contradistinct, differential geographical coordinates.

Further, the movements of the Portuguese troops – notably the militia, and the ordenanza – are signaled in their contextual importance and executive military profitability of armed intervention.

Trant’s effective capacities of military leadership are observed in regards to the fiery determined onrushes launched against the French invading forces in the rugged district area of Tojal.

The date of this event, which featured a strenuous clash of arms, occurred on the 20 September 1810.

The subsequent phraseology resounds in the categorization of the incorruptible glory.

The margins of a similar victorious counter-opposition against the French host are focused and assessed on the numbers of the captured enemy soldiers.

A couple of officers, and “eight hundred” (please, attention) soldiers of differentiated arms set the seal of the Portuguese indomitability.

Abstracting from two unnamed French officers, in observance is the explicit number of the French prisoners, computed in the hundreds of captives.

Trant’s Documentary Annotations

An inherent documentary aspect which can be neither glossed over nor equivocated is the effective number of the reported French prisoners.

Coronel Trant had vividly accounted in his relatório de batalha (battle relation) these succinct words:

I cannot evaluate the enemy’s casualties, but we made nearly eighty prisoners from different regiments, of whom two officers, three sergeants and two imperial gendarmes[2].

In the strict process of historic data valuations, did Wellington report the final assessment, comprehensive numbers of all the French soldiers who had fallen in captivity in the course of the recent combat actions?

Therefore, in practical terms of historic investigation, what kind of reflective evaluations can be expressed concerning Wellington’s afore-cited number of French captives?

Defined, pragmatic observations are thus reported.

First: sure matter of fact is that any exposed number of prisoners counted the French captured “in action”, as well as those who had surrendered a time before at Aderosomil, and in the final stages of the “conditioned” strategic flexibilities of the Portuguese movement of “abandono forçado” (forced abandonment, i.e., tactical regression, retreat) from the line of engagement and fire.

Three sequential moments of military impasse were considered as the potential crisis threats – which sensibly weakened the opposing French forces.

In evaluating a further enlarged view (eight hundred French captives), the expounded totality of the prisoners is considered strictly dissonant, and a “distorted transcription” in respect to the final result of Trant’s operative mission in Alta Beira.

Homefront: the Public Press

A differential element of knowledge and unequivocally attested historic perspective can be gained through a reading of the British public press, divulging, during that eventful time, a plethora of social as well as enthralling military news from the theater of war in Continental Portugal.

The news was solidly administered, and the official dispatches were spread to the popular masses with a view to increase the spirit of tenacity, of morale and political strengthening.

On the date of November 1, 1810, The Monthly Magazine, or British Register, reported the exact number of the French who had fallen in captivity: “He – Trant - took two officers and 100 prisoners; […]”[3].

Pre-defining a solid and sequential informative cadre, the Gentleman’s Magazine reported the same concurrent details of Wellington’s dispatch, received at the Earl of Liverpool’s office – and dated Coimbra, 30th September 1810[4].

As such, and as somewhat more, the focus is objectively stated on a sophisticated strategy of information.

Spreading news indicated significant and virtuous aspects notably that to acquire the growth of popular domestic morale, then, to develop a seemingly denotative line of enthusiastic support to the Government’s foreign politics, well enacted beyond the national borders of the Country.

More precisely, the “wings of victory” had always to be magnified, and to flutter higher to lift the psychological projections, the positive attitudes of the inhabitants and, in an analogous manner, those of the fighting forces (regular army standings).

Evidenced Substantiations

Apparently, in formal terms, not a conclusion, but a definite piece of historic qualification has been established.

After consequent necessary documentary evaluations are pondered and effectual comparisons made, it can be ascertained -- and confirmed -- that the figure related to the captured French prisoners which was reported in Wellington’s dispatch (Coimbra, 30th September, 1810)[5], had a flagrant, even if accidental typographic typo: one zero too much, about the eight hundred prisoners; definitedly an erratum (error) in printing.

Assuredly, fair evidential corroboration was expounded by the public press; in this process of generally published information, the correct lines and contents have been accurately edited.

French Historiography

In the sphere of the réseau[6] historiographique français and spreading cultural specificities, a significant, large work edited at mid-point of the XIXth century assuredly cannot be neglected.

Some fluent, appropriately selected narrative passages are considered for ameasured documentary analysis and founding historic scrutiny.

Documentary Text

During the execution of these movements, the artillery park and the luggages set out painfully for Viseu; and the 21, one did not have yet news of them at the general headquarter. The day before, they had escaped an imminent danger: the English Brigadier Trent [sic], of the corps of Baccelar, having left the night Moimento de Beira with 2.000 men of militia, 100 horses and 5 gun pieces, presented himself at 4 o’clock in the evening on the right and in front of the convoy. As the 3 battalions of escort had not been able to march joined together, because of the bad condition of the ways, the squadron-chief who commanded them had then only with him 3 sections of the 75th of line and 15 gendarmes. He ordered to horse the employees of the food-supplies and formed the infantry in square, after having beforehand dispatched an ordinance to the chief of the battalion who followed him at 4 kilometers. Brigadier Trent [sic], not being able to think that this superior officer dared to resist, summoned him to put the weapons low; but the French officer made semblance to negotiate to give to the rest of his world the time to join the head of the column. The English, understanding then that one sought to amuse him, broke the talks and engaged a fire of riflemen which ended in a loss of about twenty men on each side. The convoy continued on its way without any other accident until Viseu, where the last wagons arrived on the 23 in the evening[7].

Critical commentary: The reported documentary passages are neither the literary production effort nor the memorial reconstruction of a coeval eyewitness related to the clash of arms which occurred at Tojal.

Ergo, prudential views must, of necessity, be considered.

This narrative piece constitutes the supposed “research proficiency” and the generalized account of a XIXth century French military writer, General Jean-Baptiste Koch[8].

In primis, an actualized observation[9]: under documentary profile, the original strength compound of the Portuguese cavalry squadrons counted a robust organization which relied on two hundred riders.

At the beginning of the invasion, and of the military intervention operations in Portugal (15 September 1810), the French unit 75e de ligne[10] counted manpower composed of 425 combatants and 9 horses.

The artillery was composed of 1,028 men and 1,128 horses; and the gendarmerie impériale, 1 officer and 19 soldiers and 21 horses.

The équipages militaires (10e batt. des équipages, 4e comp.), counted 1 officer and 82 soldiers and 146 horses.

The heavy-armed French reinforcement which finally arrived to man the tough combat scene at Tojal (20 September 1810) were either esteemed as Irlandais[11], or as the Régiment de Prusse[12].

In this conflict emergency, some conjoint tactical action from the forward French advanced troops and the rear may have occurred to save the detrimental situation of strategic stalemate.

In this deteriorating cadre of military incidences, it is most interesting to perpend the following exponential details.

When on 1st October 1810 the armée de Portugal entered into Coimbra, the 75e de ligne counted 353 soldiers.

The Irish had instead 471 men. The Regimént de Prusse, 418 soldiers.

Quite a factor.

After through, systematic examination of the above-referenced exponential data, one incisive question is raised: where have all these men been lost?

N.B.

A definition of losses percentage follows esteemed in these terms of confirmation: 75e de ligne: coefficient of percentage 16.94 % (425 – 353 = 72). Irish: 45,29 % (861 – 471 = 390). Regimént de Prusse: 48.52 % (812 – 418 = 394).

Notes:

[1] Wellesley Wellington, Arthur (1st Duke of). The dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, K.G. during his various campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, The Low Countries, and France, from 1799 to 1818. Compiled from official and authentic documents by Lieut. Colonel Gurwood, Esquire to His Grace as Knight of the Bath. Volume the Sixth. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. MDCCCXXXVI, p. 444, l. 12-24.

[2] Primary documentary source: “Não posso calcular a perda do inimigo, mas fizemos-lhe perto de oitenta prisoneiros de differentes regimentos, incluido dois officiaes, tres sargentos e dous gendarmes imperiales” [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. 34-37. Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal].

[3] The Monthly Magazine; or, British Register, Volume XXX., Part II. for 1810, p. 364, vide: STATE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS IN OCTOBER, GREAT BRITAIN, Downing-street, Oct. 14, 1810.

[4] The Gentleman’s Magazine: and Historical Chronicle. From July to December 1810, Volume LXXX., London: Printed by John Nichols and Son, 1810, Part II., p. 369, LONDON GAZZETTE EXTRAORDINARY – Downing-street, Oct. 14.

[5] Vide: Wellesley Wellington, Arthur (1st Duke of). The dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, K.G. during his various campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, The Low Countries, and France, from 1799 to 1818. Compiled from official and authentic documents by Lieut. Colonel Gurwood, Esquire to His Grace as Knight of the Bath. Volume the Sixth. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. MDCCCXXXVI, p. 444.

[6] Id est, system. From the old French etymology resel; a diminutive form of rais, net. From the vulgar Latin, rētis (singular), or rētēs (plural), for the Latin substantive rete.

[7] Original French documentary text: “Pendant l’exécution de ces mouvements, le parc d’artillerie et les bagages s’acheminaient péniblement sur Viseu; et le 21, on n’en avait encore point de nouvelles au quartier général. La veille, ils avaient échappé à un danger imminent: le brigadier anglais Trent, du corps de Baccelar, ayant quitté la nuit Moimento de Beira avec 2,000 hommes de milice, 100 chevaux et 5 pièces de canon, se présenta à 4 heures du soir sur la droite et en avant du convoi. Comme le 3 bataillons d’escorte n’avaient pu marcher réunis, à cause du mauvais état des chemins, le chef d’escadron qui les commandait n’avait alors avec lui que 3 sections du 75e de ligne et 15 gendarmes. Il fit monter à cheval les employés des vivres et forma l’infanterie en carré, après avoir préalablement dépêché une ordonnance au chef du bataillon qui le suivait à 4 kilomètres. Le brigadier Trent, ne pouvant s’imaginer que cet officier supérieur osât résister, le somma de mettre bas les armes; mais l’officier français fit mine de parlementer pour donner au reste de son monde le temps de rejoindre la tête de la colonne. L’Anglais, comprenant alors qu’on cherchait à l’amuser, rompit les pourparlers et engagea un feu de tirailleurs qui aboutit à une perte d’une vingtaine d’hommes de chaque côté. Le convoi continua sa route sans autre accident jusqu’à Viseu, où les dernières voitures arrivèrent le 23 au soir” [vide: Koch, Jean-Baptiste (Général). Mémoires de Masséna. Rédigées d’après les documents qu’il a laissés et sur ceux du dépôt de la guerre et du dépôt des fortifications. Paulin et Lechevalier, Paris, 1848-1850. Modern printing edition: Mémoires de Masséna. Rédigées d’après les documents qu’il a laissés et sur ceux du dépôt de la guerre et du dépôt des fortifications recueillis par le Général Koch. Tome Septième. Paris, Chez Jean De Bonnot, 1967, p. 182, l. 15-32, p. 183, l. 1-8].First historic edition in: Koch, Jean-Baptiste (Général). Mémoires de Masséna. Rédigées d’après les documents qu’il a laissés et sur ceux du dépôt de la guerre et du dépôt des fortifications.Paulin et Lechevalier, Paris, 1848-1850.

[8] Koch Jean-Baptiste-Frédéric, Général de brigade (1782 - Paris, 1861). He is buried (32e division, 4e ligne, U, 35) in the cimetière du Père Lachaise, in Paris. Vide: Moiroux, Jules. Le cimetière du Père Lachaise. Paris, S. Mercadier, 1908, p. 207, l. 8-9.

[9] The original Portuguese data was not extemporized but rather extracted. There is no doubt that dependent variables of strength may have occurred after the severe military actions. In proper terms, as no historic sources are quoted (author, title, page, different quotations, or MS) to probe this numerical indication (100 horses), the “date” is destitute of any credible corroborative evidence.

[10] Armée de Portugal. Right wing, 8e Corps -- division Clausel, brigade Taupin [vide: PIÈCES JUSTIFICATIVES. N° III. Situation de l’armée de Portugal au moment de l’invasion (15 Septembre 1810), in: Koch, Jean-Baptiste (Général). Mémoires de Masséna. Rédigées d’après les documents qu’il a laissés et sur ceux du dépôt de la guerre et du dépôt des fortifications recueillis par le Général Koch. Tome Septième. Paris, Chez Jean De Bonnot, 1967, p. 568]. The chef de bataillon was Servant. For a diagrammatic comparison, 18 officers and 407 soldiers are correspondingly recalled in a primary 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. 66, l. 37].

[11] Division Solignac, brigade Thomières; the Irish combat troop (2e, 3e batt.) counted 30 officers, 831 men, and 14 horses [vide: PIÈCES JUSTIFICATIVES. N° III. Situation de l’armée de Portugal au moment de l’invasion (15 Septembre 1810), in: Koch, Jean-Baptiste (Général). Mémoires de Masséna. Rédigées d’après les documents qu’il a laissés et sur ceux du dépôt de la guerre et du dépôt des fortifications recueillis par le Général Koch. Tome Septième. Paris, Chez Jean De Bonnot, 1967, p. 568]. The appointed chef de bataillon was Oméara (in French). Marbot, in his Mémoires distinctively stated that: “L’officier français consentit adroitement à entrer en pourparlers, afin de donner aux Irlandais, qu'il avait fait prévenir, le temps d’arriver de la queue à la tète du convoi” [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]. Ancillary data corroborations are extracted from Fririon [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. 67, l. 20].

[12] Division Solignac, brigade Gratien; rank effectives: 27 officers, 785 soldiers, plus 18 horses [vide: PIÈCES JUSTIFICATIVES. N° III. Situation de l’armée de Portugal au moment de l’invasion (15 Septembre 1810), in: Koch, Jean-Baptiste (Général). Mémoires de Masséna. Rédigées d’après les documents qu’il a laissés et sur ceux du dépôt de la guerre et du dépôt des fortifications recueillis par le Général Koch. Tome Septième. Paris, Chez Jean De Bonnot, 1967, p. 568]. Primary source reference: Fririon [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. 67, l. 15].

Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2013

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

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