Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

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

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

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy


Terse summarizing words, with a significant and particularized incisiveness.

The recapitulation of a lifetime spent serving in arms.

The human dictate; the endearingly touching heritage and the substantial eulogistic affirmation of the family are here a dominating factor: domestic centrality of the peace, essential serenity values.

An age of upheaval, characterized by long protracted and devastating convulsions of political and military disorder.

The distant past time, conserved through written ability.

The time that once was – transmitted in the memory and in the ordinary daily life of the present; the evocative and nostalgic memorial account, a tribute to the past that will never come back.

One absorbing and credible and advantageous legible “archive of the memory” left in inheritance[1] to one’s own family’s members -- by means of consignment to direct family lineage, the consort, the male progeny.

History heritage and heritage of the memory, both coupling as literary ground of fertile civilization.


Ma chère femme, mes chers enfants, j’ai assisté, quoique bien jeune encore, à la grande et terrible Révolution de 1789.
J’ai vécu sous la Convention et le Directoire.
J’ai vu l’Empire.
J’ai pris part à ses guerres gigantesques et j’ai failli être écrasé par sa chute.
J’ai souvent approché de l’empereur Napoléon.
J’ai servi dans l’état-major de cinq de ses plus célèbres maréchaux, Bernadotte, Augereau, Murat, Lannes et Masséna.
J’ai connu tous les personnages marquants de cette époque.
J’ai subi l’exil en 1815”[2].

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (Corrèze), France. The Marbot Square. By unequivocal formal authority, it took the resounding distinct name to honour Général Baron de Marbot, one of the most celebrated cavaliers of the Premier Empire. Colonel d’empire, Jean Baptiste Antoine Marcellin de Marbot was born at La Rivière, Altillac, in 1782. A stouthearted young man at the age of seventeen, he enrolled (28 September 1799) in a prestigious light cavalry unit, the 1er régiment de hussards Bercheny. He served extensively in the military during the course of protracted Napoleonic campaigns and conflicts, notably in Italy (1799, 1800), Austria (1805), Prussia, Austria (1809), Spain, Portugal (1810-1811), Russia (1812). A qualified veteran officer, he served in the role and in the executive capacity of officier d’ordonnace and aide de camp of Marshals Pierre-François Augereau and André Masséna.  He died in 1854. His reminiscent Mémoires, a strikingly remarkable first-hand memorial account on the guerres napoléoniennes, are a densely chronicled survey on the geo-strategic hegemonies of the Empire. Contextualized in an epoch of paradigmatic military convulsions, an essential literary portrait and primary experiences under the arms are here capitalized.  

These evenhandedly detailed recollected annotations constitute, through their composite and pansophic learned peculiarity, the “mirrored” translation[3] of a crying heart, the “crying” of an age of amazing disasters that Jean Baptiste Antoine Marcellin Marbot[4] had experienced and lived through with  probity and an intrepid combatant’s fiery determination.

Intense recollections follow.

It is undeniably relevant to consider that the three edited volumes of Marbot’s Mémoires are one of the classic masterpieces of the épopée napoléonienne (napoleonic epic), and a cultural necessity to evaluate, through these primary first-hand accounts, the factually recognized obligations of historic research[5]

The thrilling account of the dramatic events that occurred around Tojal in September 1810 was perhaps consigned to oblivion -- a strategic cadre, matière documentaire toute oubliée (forgotten documentary matter) in the age of the French monocrat Napoleon I.

Marbot’s expansive reminiscences illustrate the most momentous events and the hard conflict emergencies in the epoch of the premier Empire, the colorful times, the difficulties faced by the rival armies counter-opposed in fronts of fire and strategic resolution.

It was also a time of cruelty (just to mention one exampled reference, the invasion of Portugal territory, years 1810, 1811), of mass destruction of both property and lives, and hardships on the civilians.

The acquired moral lesson that this teaches XXIst century modern generations is that warfare operations and extensive military campaigns are a calamitous and execrable and poor solution to the predicaments that are faced between nations, cultures and religions.

                                                        *         *         *         *         *

Negotiation effort

On examining Marbot’s vividly described écriture documentaire (documentary writing), it does not diminish the fluency of the intense sequential narration to read that during an unspecified lapse of time, an understanding was reached to not prioritise the weight of the arms and the successfully executed proficiency in combat.

It is not excessive to note that a reciprocal transaction between the Portuguese (proposition part), and the antagonist French, was a difficult accomplishment.

It is also interesting, if not quite singular, to point out that during the toughest fighting a break in the fighting was allowed, by then sending a mediator to treat with the French résistants indomitables (indomitable resistants) for the cessation of hostilities.

The attempt was effected with the Portuguese commanding officer’s (Colonel Trant) own initiative and principles of conduct because he intended to have the last French resistance countermanded without suffering any further bloodshed or heavy losses.

On the cognitive plan, the historical interpretation is enhanced by an additional reflection.

This proffer for a trégua (truce) is significantly unsparing of praise for the enemy’s strenuously sustained bravery, intrepidity, valour, and gallantry in action as well as an intrepid contempt of danger.

Further evidence stands out as a rare and valuable insight into the savagery of the butchery of the military confrontation, and unmentioned casualties, intentionally hushed-up and not reported by Marbot’s narrative.

But worth mentioning anyhow is the intensely violent environment of the “battleground”.

More importantly, in contrast to this attempt of “diplomatic” resolution were hidden pressing ulterior motives.

Lamego. Prospective view of the urban site.

Negotiating with the threat of using force was in effect a cunningly devised estratagema (stratagem; an elaborate scheme to deceive the French opponents), of attempting to attain a resolution in the combats by negotiation – thus to avoid any unexpectedly raised military complications and delay.

Beyond leading on the French, it aimed to reach a two-fold intent: it dealt with putting a stop to the course of the armed hostilities by relying on an attitude of posed mystification – which paradoxically envisaged further offensive ambition.

What had been a real possibility was the threat that it would already have been carried out by the Portuguese troop – and not as a dreaded anticipated “offensive”.

Second, and more effectually, was the most demanding need to speed up and limit the overall fighting: id est, to resolve the armed dispute because the clangour of the arms would have recalled the reinforcements of any French unit in the area to join in the line of the honneur des armes (honour of the arms).

The delay – which opened the negotiations – was a masterpiece, which was to gain maximum result with minimal effort.

If sparing the soldiers’ lives seemed a generous and heartily recommended necessity (the advantage to recover the wounded was profitable to both sides), gaining time (before the enemy troops arrived) had an essential priority for the Portuguese – towards the general framework of applied strategy.

The French officer adroitly consented to negotiate, in order to give the Irish time to come up from the rear of the convoy.  They appeared at length, coming up at the double.  As soon as the French officer saw them he broke off the conference, saying: ‘I cannot treat any further; here is my general coming to my support with 8000 men’.  Each resumed his position, but Trant shortly left his and made off, thinking he had to do with the advanced guard of a strong column. Thus the artillery was saved, but the army soon learnt the danger in which it had been, and the excitement was great[6].  

Comment: Five enthralling explicative sentences; a delineated semantic complex for a count of (23, 9, 30, 25, 22) one hundred nine terms.

Most significantly, the reminiscent Marbot does not deem it important to report the name of the French commandant (commander) to whom it was formally passed (and forcibly imposed) the injunction of negotiating – to avoid having the French militarily overwhelmed.

While thoroughly discerning this specific piece of information emerged the choice to keep the anonymity of his fellow-comrade; this sagacious literary pragmatism was dictated by the conniving of the French memorialist, by throwing all objective responsibilities upon this officer à l’armée (in the army) – that made him a stigmatized scapegoat.

This acknowledged literary work and Marbot’s benevolence established the precise dictate of honour that must be maintained in order to not defame an army colleague – who was forced to abruptly engage in fighting action, not through his own will, had found himself “swamped” in this marécage de désespoir (marsh of despair).

A really harsh situation of war developed before his eyes.

His name and rank are not known – because these specifications of identity have been purposely hushed-up.  The military responsibilities of the reverse surely could not be attributed to his strategic inexperience at command level.  This “operation behind the writing lines” is unequivocally interpreted as a “complicity in the plot of silence”[7]. It almost seems to approach the traits of the application of one code de l’honneur (code of honour), of courtoisie (respectfulness), of camaraderie (comradeship) – amid fellow-compatriots, in arms.

With dignity as well as acting under the constraints of ethical conduct, Marbot’s chivalrous attitude takes on new meaning. It is no longer an enigma – instead a surprising revelation: Marbot really knew whose responsibilities these were to be ascribed to, and that that information was a matter of consummate gossip and maligned murmurings by many sharp tongues.

In reading the text, it definitely appears that the French superior ranking officer had no other way, except to engage in pourparlers (negotiations) with the counter-acting enemy.

This entangled complexity tells the real state of things and the gravity of the situation which had developed after continued and damaging fire.

The compulsory choice “to accept” the negotiation proffer was therefore a logical consequence of the developing phases of the fighting – in which the French had suffered severe losses, in men and matériel (equipment).

By using the adverb “[…] adroitly […]” Marbot points to a concurrent reversed comprehension – in order to hide the reality of the situation.

It was to the French officer’s credit to have acted in the formal negotiation.  Because it left him only this expedient out to resolve the contest -- that is to gain time in order to permit the reinforcements to reach the combat.  It is clearly evident that the sudden arrival of fresh troops was a timely consequence to the open “x factor” of the combat.  Marbot presented instead a quite singular view: it was owing to the French officer’s merits – and to his time delay – that further support units (this is a euphemism for the reinforcements) had had time to reach the spot.

Instead, all of this led to the real comprehension of the facts: how long a time was needed for negotiations of an occupied enemy area?  Were the Portuguese not aware of this limitation when their attack was conducted under timely conditions? The sooner the action was accomplished, the sooner the safe strategic withdrawal.  Were the Portuguese officers so slothful, dull and clumsy as to wait and stand against stronger enemy forces?

Of course, that was not the case of any intelligent leadership – nonetheless that of Colonel Trant. It proved exactly to be a contrary connotation, well relying on the principled postulates of “the little war”.

Strategy discrepacies

“[…] in order to give the Irish time to come up from the rear of the convoy[8].

The subtle implications of this assertive phrase are all but elaborate, and the couverture littéraire (literary covering) provided by Marmot in this case reaches the zenith of ambivalence to botch the flow of the comprehensive view.

In reading this paradoxical statement (a causal proposition), the casual reader is induced to understand in a particular way how the commanding French officer had resolved to open negotiations with the Portuguese adversary.

He acted not merely on necessity, but on the basis of the capacity of the strategic concealment.

The French commandant wanted to gain time without fighting – and to prolong the talks, thus maintaining his actual defensive position without sustaining further loss in human lives (however, it cannot be excluded that he ran short of ammunition, and there is no clear evidence to the contrary).

This is the depth of military misrepresentation.

Under the circumstances, the skill of the French officer is implicit and well-balanced but abundantly overestimated (this is in extension of Marbot’s rendered meaning: that the officer had been singularly brave to trick the opponents).

The problematic points of Marbot’s narrative and altered meaning are notably a couple of misleading “clarifications” which combined together: a) the entering into negotiations by the French officer (first relevant contradiction: it is not specified whether or not he was the proposing party, why?;  because he really was not); b) the trick he relied upon to consent further units – the régiment irlandais (id est, Irish regimental troop)[9] – advance quickly to the front line.

One could be amazed at the conflicting evidence of this exposé (statement, of facts; report), raising controversy on the materials of research (Marbot’s sources, both oral, and written) and on their practical intelligibility.

According to the French perspective, the negotiating was a deliberately enacted bluff and not confirmed by any real will of surrender; nonetheless to hand over the parc d’artillerie (artillery park) to the cunning Portuguese.

How long would that illusive bluff have worked during the negotiations?

The most possible scenario: to deceive the attacking party.

Is the character of such an incredible action a reliable witness regarding the nature of this information?

In this instance the French memorialist has operated with inked ability. He just preserved (or privileged) “the line of the events”, in their consecutio temporum (temporal consecution, i.e., concatenation), but altered their meaning by using a carefully written incisive formulation: “[…], in order to […]”.

And this three-word selection was enough to project the ruserie (trick) of the French commander, to have fresh infantry to aggressively man the scene meutrière (bloody scene) of the fighting.

The above mentioned events truly occurred, but their cohesive meaning was adulterated – with a touch of grammar, and a causal proposition.  If this is not talent, it very nearly approaches that capability -- esprit de finesse (spirit of shrewdness) -- and to the real comprehension of this literary artifice.

Delving deeper with the criterion of authentic reflection and data examination, the discerning analyst would also consider the following methodological application, seeking to separate historically defensible evidence. Attacking the French convoy was neither a simple executed strategy (offensive surprise), nor an easy tactical enterprise.  With all the confusion and strife, the attack was soon recognized and could not be hidden – except in its extent along the column. The bursts could well be heard and the distance did not matter, even if the “enemy threat” could not yet be “visualized” by the French.

So what was going on?

Assuming these dangerous possibilities, how would the chef de battalion (battalion commander) react at the rear-guard? 

Would one superior ranking officer have remained immobile, in a state of passivity, or would he have moved his infantry on – trying to gather more intelligence on the matter?  Perplexity still arises: did the Irish battalion commander not know the strengths of the regular effectives accompanying the great column? These are pertinent questions, useful to understanding the situation that occurred.

“[…]. They appeared at length, coming up at the double[10].

The additional manpower reached the battle area with unrelenting power – and gained valuable momentum.

“[...] at the double” acquires the meaning of double pas (quick march) – to reach the action as soon as possible in order to extricate their fellow-comrades from defeat.

All in all, a firm line of devotion and military efficacy was accomplished.

One discordant discrepancy appeared to be that at the grave threat of attack “[…] all along the line”, the French commanding officer thought it better to agree to open the pourparlers (negotiations).

Inexplicably, why did he fear this possibility?

In exposing this matter, the opposing Portuguese forces had easily attained consistent advantages on the ground, where the contest was fought with fierce intensity.

To their credit and as war booty, soldiers, civilians, and wagons were counted as prey in the number of enemy casualties.

The bold demand for the French surrender would not have been validated if there were not the favourable conditions to meet the demand, which were claims such as the loss of soldiers and material.  It is important to note that the advance of the Irish infantry companies was discerned amid the negotiating officers.

Considering the military facts, we are informed that a battalion force counting some hundred regular soldiers had finally “opened” their straight-forward advance – and dictated a profitable “turning-point”.

Does it mean that the infantry had overcome and passed through any obstacle (armed interposition) that opposed them (in the vulnerable flank) during their advance?

Did this signify the spearhead ground troops had crushed any Portuguese attempt to arrest their movement?

Further questions are raised; Marbot wrote that “As soon as the French officer saw them he broke off the conference, […]”.

This is pure speculation, because the belligerent who had reported the major advantage was the Portuguese; the French, instead, had been compelled to treat under adverse conditions.  Would it not have been easier for the Portuguese to take them all prisoners? Quite the contrary; the officer’s party was to heckle and break off the negotiations. How was this possible?

Answer: we have to consider that the French were armed, and / or they took the opportunity of the moment to escape.

The long line of honour: reinforcements

“[…] “I cannot treat any further; here is my general coming to my support with 8000 men’.[…]”[11].

Playing on the fortuitous effects of the “chess match”, the expression yelled out by the enlivened officer had an immediate positive effect of encouraging the military determination of his companions-in-arms.

Interestingly, to the Portuguese an ominous silence prevailed – which did not prevent effective professional choices to face the new emergency.

To affirm that nonetheless a General was coming to his assistance at his secours (how did the commandant know that? – foreboding words; more: a bit of well-considered trickery), with a full diversionary force of some thousand men, was the apology of hardiesse tactique (tactical daring).

But this euphoric trepidation is equally most informative, to signify that the tête (head) of the Irish battalion was not advancing in open plan – where its actual ranks would have been recognized, but through a narrow defile.

The officer’s uncontained gleeful mood, speech and expression forced the Portuguese to interrupt the negotiation, and to come back to the precepts of the “little war”.

It is possible that it was this audacious expression that shielded the French negotiation team to avoid capture because of the difficult contingencies which meanwhile had developed.

It is equally appropriate to know that, even after the Irish troupe d’appui (support troop; reinforcements) arrival for the French, the Portuguese still held “in the line” with determination.

This apparent trifling detail should not go unnoticed by the discerning researcher.

Beyond the sustained bravery exhibited by the milícia Portuguêsa (Portuguese militia units), there was, however, no time to accomplish the desired results.

Relatively speaking, the timely advantage had elapsed (and proper strategic advantages had practically vanished) and a new military course of action caused by the “Irish” intervention would have “blocked” the Portuguese outside the capabilities – and limitations – of their own arranged plans.

Not because of minor military power and diminishing fortitude, orders were imparted to all the arms to cease fire, and to abandon the line of engagement as well as to evaluate new tactics.

To forsake the offensive line at those moments did not mean to abandon the fight against the French, but rather to avoid the unexpected strategic reversals.

And, most especially, to adhere to the battle plan which had been prepared before launching the armed confrontation.

Arguably, delays of glory were to seal the final shooting.

Under difficult circumstances, the attempt and the daring Portuguese manoeuvre on ground were not an error, not the failure other than an accident -- a fatal accident of war.


[1] Marbot’s Mémoires of the Empire were not published until 1891. 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. The English translation dated 1892. Vide: Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). The Memoirs of Baron De Marbot, late Lieutenant-General in the French Army. Translated from the French by Arthur John Butler late fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. London, Longmans, Green, and Co.; and New-York: 1892.  

[2] Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot. Gênes-Austerlitz-Eylau. I. Paris, Librairie Plon, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Éditeurs, Rue Garancière, 10, 1891, VII, l. 1-9.    

[3] Abstracting from the strict figurative meaning, a formalistic lettered translation follows in due order of comprehension: “TO MY WIFE AND TO MY TWO CHILDREN. My dear wife, my dear children, I have attended, through still very young, the great and terrible Revolution of 1879. I have lived under the Convention and the Executive Directory. I have seen the Empire. I have taken part in its gigantic wars and I have almost failed being crushed by its fall. I have often approached the emperor Napoléon. I have served in the headquarters of five of his most famous marshals, Bernadotte, Augereau, Murat, Lannes and Masséna. I have known all the important people of this time. I have suffered the exile in 1815”.

[4]This finely accomplished officer of merit was born in the castle of La Rivière, Beaulieu (Corrèze, France), on August 18, 1782. He ended his days in Paris (November 16, 1854). His grave can be visited in the cemetery of Père Lachaise, in Paris – coordinates: 44ème division (2ème ligne, N. 20). The souvenirs des campagnes of Général Baron De Marbot were preserved by the Vicomte de Boislecomte. The shako, pelisse (with fourrure de loup), gilet and dolman that had once belonged to colonel Marbot, commander of the 7e régiment de Hussards, are conserved in the Musée de l’Armée. Worth mentioning is that Marbot, from 1836 to 1848, lived in the château du Rancy, at Bonneuil-sur-Marne (France). In this mild location, the gallant Napoleonic veteran officer composed his memorialistic works.

[5] The pursuit of the above is a significant and relevant assignment which exposes a period of Napoleonic history. Careful and rigorous examination of primary documents  as well as adopting prudent and appropriate policies of historic investigation are required to manage and control the risk of literary fraud (i.e., unclear or contradictory episodes; memorial artifices; spurious narrative interpretations).

[6] Marbot, (Baron de). Adventures of General Marbot. Edited and illustrated by John W. Thomason Jr.. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, London, 1935, p. 267, l. 18-28.  

[7] Concerning this unquestionable literary evidence, has one discriminating research analyst to cogitate that this devious attitude accounted for Marbot’s impartiality? Was maréchal Masséna’s “third” aide-de-camp even-handed? The situation objectively considered, Marbot’s choice appeared a precise dictate of honoured gentlemanliness amid fellow colleagues in arms. With tact, an irreprochable formalité comportementale (behavioural formality) is here recognized.

[8] Marbot, (Baron de). Adventures of General Marbot. Edited and illustrated by John W. Thomason Jr.. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, London, 1935, p. 267, l. 19-20.

[9] It is a cardinal observation to remark that Marbot had previously used the uninominal collective term and diagrammatic military reference “[…] the Irish [...]”. No corroborative elements of clarification are expounded to have a better understanding on the afore-cited battle compound. In relative terms, what kind of armed formation that was? In the 8e corps d’armée, commanded by Jean Andoche Junot, Duc D’Abrantès, there was the Régiment irlandais (Irish regiment) -- Jean Baptiste Solignac’s second infantry division, Jean Guillaume Barthélemy Thomière’s second brigade. On August 11, 1811, the regiment became the 3ème régiment étranger (Irish). This cohesive light infantry force numbered a couple of fighting units (2nd, 3rd battalions). The colonel named O’Meara, but this officer was, at a later time, irrevocably removed by Junot. Man-power capabilitites were thus ordered: 37 officers, and 971 soldiers – plus 14 horses. An open point of “debate” and paradigmatic ambivalence is that the Prussian battalions of the 8th corps’ rearguard, too, had returned with celerity of movements to provide armed support to the endangered French artillery and heavy baggage wagons. The Prussian regimental formation was serving in the 8e corps as well -- second infantry division, second brigade. The commander was colonel Aubier. Combat equivalences relied on the steady and persevering activity of 29 officers and 957 men – plus 18 horses. For specific evaluations and organizational dysfunctions related to the Irish troop’s experiences during the 1810 campaign in Portugal, vide: Gallaher, John G.. Napoleon’s Irish Legion. Southern Illinois University Press, 1993, pp. 130-135. A further solid reading: Fieffé E.. Histoire des troupes étrangères au service de la France, depuis leur origine jusqu’à nos jours et de tous les régiments levé dans les pays conquis sous la première République et l’Empire. Par Eugène Fieffé, commis principal aux archives du ministère de la guerre. Paris, Dumaine, 1854. Of signal importance: Pelet-Clozeau (Général). Mémoires sur ma campagne du Portugal (1810-1811). Paris, Éditions Historiques Teissèdre, 2003. Beyond any factually comprehensive documentary and qualitative analysis, one relevant element emerges with critical distinction: the full and manifest gravity of the Anglo-Lusitanian armed assault that had mobilized on ground the French parc d’artillerie (artillery park) and the gros bagages (heavy baggages) column.

[10] Marbot, (Baron de). Adventures of General Marbot. Edited and illustrated by John W. Thomason Jr.. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, London, 1935,  p. 267, l. 20-21.

[11]Ibid., p. 267, l. 22-24.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2011


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