Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

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

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

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy

Introduction

Undeniably an inspired literary subject-matter and a hugely entertaining recollection of the Napoleonic Wars, Marbot’s Mémoires[1]were thoroughly anthologized by a capable and qualified veteran officer about the perilous consequential lifetime turbulences he had experienced through long-protracted military campaigns and aggressive hegemonic pushes along the Empire.

Beyond the purely formalistic textual contents -- the stirring reminiscent annotations of the 1810-1811 invasion of Portugal territory[2] --, the factually striking combat action which had occurred in the surroundings of Tojal (September 20, 1810) recounted, with detailed authenticity and vibrant compelling immediacy, the acutely endured battle risks and the calamitous tactical impasse of the armée de Portugal (French army) whose parc d’artillerie (artillery park) and gros bagages (heavy baggages) were suddenly confronted under major conjunctures of strategic pressure and trials of adversity against unrelenting Portuguese military power.

In the above indicated war expediency occasioned by fierce armed counter-opposition in the line of fire and of résistance adaptée (phases of shifted resistance), the risks incurred by the French units’ defensive deployment reached their zenith.

Due to unexpected concurrences of movement and pre-arranged tactical maneuvers whose proficiency was a recognized argument of debate and open to controversy, these practical organizational discrepancies could have provoked the complete failure of the whole invasion in foreign land.

This composite mémoire d’épopée and refined stylistic methodology heightened the specificity of Marbot’s significant relation on the actual events in the environs of Tojal; systematic documentary corollary and critical commentary have been considered corroborative materials of research and study to properly penetrate the context and the paradigmatic strategic development of the battle.

It is expected that these academic dissertations and elaborate intelligent processes will delve deeper into the mentioned causes and circumstances of armed attrition, and that they will illuminate insights and sequential contributions of objective data -- quae cum ita sint, penetrating cultural scrutability for contemporary readers.

                                                          *         *         *         *        *

In observation: Marbot’s reminiscent literary accounts are consistent historic matter and denote diverse components of research.

In primis, one discriminating historical analyst has to take into evaluation the author’s personal knowledgeability, aptly intended as first-hand experiences and research into the events of the conflict.

Maréchal Masséna’s second aide-de-camp appeared to conciliate the art of writing with a dense perspective view about the incredibly brutal military exploit around Tojal, unequivocal substantiation that this veteran officer knew “his resourceful compound”, either in gaining information through eyewitnesses who had participated in the latest forcible confrontation and, more strictly considered, from “documentary evidence”.  

By inductive statement there is no evidence to the contrary, that this stouthearted military professional was placed in the “advantageous capacity” to consult the écritures documentaires (original written reports) at Masséna’s Headquarters.

Secondly: in reporting about the behind-the-scenes tough-provoking eruptive diatribes raising between the leading French army’s corps commanders and Masséna’s ambiguous conduct, Marbot related distinctive and diametrically opposed views -- terse effective elements of disquietude caused by the tactical disfunctions, irreconcilable frustrations on the accountability that had to be ascribed at the French état-major général (General-Staff).

At any rate, what is focused is the memorial process and its cohesive reliability by means of the author’s narrative pragmatism, a prudent practicality -- just a revealing and breathtaking piece of disquisition --, tempered through an ennobled entraînement de l’honneur (practice, experience of honor).

An additional discerning, yet detailed element of cogitation permits one to ponder how, in a distant past time, the conflict emergencies were fought, and how important words like probité (honesty), intégrité (integrity), and fidélité des armes, were of paramount importance: most conditioning lexemes, that retained a substantial incisiveness on the human behaviours.

A forged three-part polynomial, this terminology was not an echoing breath with loud sound.

Relatively speaking, Marbot’s thoughtfully contemplated diagrammatic description of the pivotal combat action nearby Tojal was an épouvantable (appalling) war report; its written passages make for a very fascinating perspective on the events of the 1810 invasion of Portugal, yet an overlooked topic throughout modern European history and academic studies surveys.

Viseu, French General-Headquarters: responsibilities, clarifications, strategic cadres

From the unabashed echoing of the catastrophic combat action that had occurred nearby Tojal, one extracts from it the seriousness of the facts that had passed, and that were later ascertained.

The consequences engendered were a major cause and had an immediate impact on the action.

The disappointing news spread straightaway with a resounding esprit de consternation (spirit of consternation) through all the military corps of the army of Portugal[3].

In effect, there has been one crushing operative contradiction of war – a reflexive consequence on the limitations of the strategic cadre.

The Portuguese militias had launched an attack on the French army’s moving rear-guard, when instead the French army did not stay “en presence” of any recognized enemy fighting-force -- in exception, and in precised point of confirmation, of the British Expeditionary Corps.

A quickly-developing attack had been mounted by the Anglo-Luso formations on the exposed right flank, an offensive push as intrepid as exceptional, rapid fluctuations of war, unpredictable in the human logic; and that concurrent contingency signaled the diminished capacities to lead a whole army in foreign land by the high spheres of French command.

The question was gravely posed: how did the French General-Staff think to conquer a foreign country if the high officers in charge were not in the position to neither protect the marching troops nor to cover their own lines of operation?

Junot duc d’Abrantès (Jean-Andoche) was born at Bussy-le-Grand (Côte-d’Or) on September 25, 1771. 1810, 17 April: in the armée de Portugal, under Maréchal Masséna, with the 8e corps d’armée; June-July: covered the siege of Ciudad-Rodrigo.

After proper substantial analysis, the French army corps’ commanders could not to get along without being “summoned” to a “consult of war” by Marshal Masséna.

In other words (i.e., cognitive terms), these superior high-ranking officers “called themselves up” for a quick decisive confrontation, a heated face to face, with the ignominious parts to whom it was imputed “the failure” that could have fatally ruined the corps of maneuver and that would have caused the loss of the artillery pieces – if not the irreparable damage of the entire military campaign.

A climate of dark-covered clouds (id est, in a metaphorical language and applied interpretative sense) made dense over the French General-Staff.

Ney, Junot, Reynier, and Montbrun went straight off  to Viseu and addressed strong remonstrances to General Fririon, chief of the staff. He, however, asserted that, in spite of his demands, no information of the march of the columns had been given him, everything being settled by Masséna and Pelet[4].

Comment: A couple of sentences; and a forty-nine (21, 28) words syntactic elaboration.

The first impact in reading the quoted passage is hard; it expounded an understanding verging to the point when the irritated French corps’ commanders had moved “in forces” to the General-Headquarters at Viseu -- to set the question controversée (reproachable diatribe, harsh polemic) by themselves, and to restore balance to the honour of the arms. 

It seemed like the final epic of an inconsistent time: a time that honour had to be defended against “the enemies” of the French honour; enemies that lied ad extra (external) to the armed forces, and “enemies” that were ad intra (internal) of the army of Portugal’s command structure.

Unequivocally, those temporal inconveniences would have been settled one way or another, with unspecified modalities of conduct.

It is a relevant point to be considered that the leading corps’ commanders had not received any particular communication within the army forces.

The failure to understand that the General-Staff had not communicated in any way with the army corps’ commanders showed a grave omission of efficiency and lack of respect for their regard; it further marked the additional détérioration de compétence tactique (deterioration of tactical proficiency) and culpability to maintain the strategic security and an adequate communication (and inter-active) system between the army corps.

As “the matter” escaped the informative control of the General-Staff, it became quite an uncontrollable question of military dissent.

After an in-depth analysis of the documentary source, it consistently emerged that two “parties” were involved “in the ranks” and in contrast of tendency: on one side, the French General-Staff, with Maréchal Masséna, Duc de Rivoli, Prince d’Essling[5], major (correct rank title was chef de bataillon) Jean-Jacques-Germain Pelet-Clozeau, and willy nilly the chef de l’état-major général (chief of the staff), général de division François-Nicolas Fririon[6].

Ney, duc d’Elchingen (Michel), a native of Sarrelouis (Moselle) -- January 10, 1769. 1804, 19 May: maréchal d’Empire. 1810, 17 April: commander of the 6e Corps, under Masséna, at the armée de Portugal; 6 June-10 July: besieged Ciudad-Rodrigo, and conquered it; 24 July-28 August: captured the mighty fortified border site of Almeïda.

On the other side of the barricade of the silence, stood instead the fiery determined avengers of the truth, the Maréchal d’Empire Michel Ney[7], Duc d’Elchingen, commandant of the 6e Corps, Jean-Andoche Junot, Duc d’Abrantès[8], commander of the 8e Corps, Jean-Louis-Ebénézer Reynier[9], commandant of the 2e Corps, and Louis-Pierre Montbrun[10], the commander of the reserve cavalry corps.

What transpires is that général Fririon was “ordered” to delay the rambunctious storm, and to welcome the officiers généraux (General officers) at the Staff – this specification had to be read in the “assigned mission” he had been given – to ease the people’s minds, and trying to convey new strategic reports on the actual situation and therefore, to diminish the high nervous strain.

As in the consequential briefing the military conjuncture was then focused on the tactical movements of the advancing French divisional forces and mobile columns (was this a probative incident on the last occurred accident?), a strenuous articulated conversation and reciprocated flare-up of colloquial skirmishing erupted, and the interlocutor (Ney) pressed Fririon – who held the position (his given assignment), but had “to define” the methodological modules and to advocate the causal raison d’être that it was not “his” ordered care to check the tactical organization and the lines of movement (road itineraries) of the troops.

Did this loudmouthed exculpatory pronouncement signify a critical apology for a terse sense of duty?

Fririon removed himself from any presupposed implication (conceptualized as veiled accusations) of stringent tactical responsibilities.

That fact considered, Fririon indirectly “affirmed” he was a steady executor of the orders he received, but not of the incumbencies for which he had not been given definite dispositions.

In others words: this divisional officer had not departed from his keen duty, because those were not his conscientiousness and pragmatic solicitude at the General-Staff, but the primary competences of a higher level of consultation (Maréchal Masséna, major Pelet) and command.

For organizational functionalities, and comprehendingly translated in the language of military perception: the head of the army’s primary obligation was to impart the orders.

Fririon temperately expanded on how the General-Staff was bound to the “taken dispositions” of the “intra-professional superior level”, whose decisions he could only faithfully obey with readiness of intents and menial service.

Montbrun (Louis-Pierre) was born at Florensac (Hérault), on March 1, 1770. 1810, 17 April: commander of the réserve de cavalerie of the armée de Portugal, he had under his orders the brigades of Jen Baptiste Lorcet (3rd Dragoons, 6th Dragoons), Louis Joseph Cavrois (11th Dragoons) and Ornano (15th Dragoons, 25th Dragoons); 24 July-28 August: served at the siege of Almeïda.

Men against: the path of honour

Horrified and indignant at this state of things, the commanders of the four corps called on Masséna with a view of making well-deserved remarks on it.  Ney was the speaker, and from the aide-de-camp’s room we could hear him protesting; but Masséna, foreseeing that the conversation would become animated, took the generals into a more distant apartment. I do not know what was decided, but it appears that the commander-in-chief promised to change his mode of action, […]”[11].

Comment: Three sentences; an (27, 33, 22) eighty-three words phrased syntactic structure.

Telling passages; a fluent stylistic recollection and a plain reading.

It is unmistakably attested through the documentary account that the “storm” that was passing through the état major général (French General-Staff) at Viseu was expanding with passages of blustering turmoil and ravaging turbulences.

The data and criteria that emerged and that were discovered after the protracted and consuming concertation de guerre (war consultation) with général de division François-Nicolas Fririon, kicked up a fuss of unequivocally ill-concealed disfavor.

There were a number of factual elements of strident contradiction and proper strategic order and tactical organization were urgent necessities much demanded to reassure the seemingly shaken morale of the army forces.

Having pierced through the first barrier of containment (in the person of General Fririon), the corps’ commanders mounted “in the line” for the “final assault” after having been acquainted with the ultimate news on the actual state of the military affairs.

Sure points of expostulation: the disquieted officiers généraux did not feel comfortable being backed up by Monsieur le Maréchal Masséna’s leadership and non-dogmatic display of subjective choices and pragmatic propensities.

That was a devastating hit to the French army establishment in Portugal and soon had to be remedied.

The final rencontre colloquielle (colloquial meeting) and affrontement-éclaircissement (confront-clarification) proved to be an unequivocal solution of compromise, a strict circumstance of fact, as well as an impervious call for responsibilities that should be ascertained in full light as well as the quickly-enacted compensation of the military strategies that had to be planned.

In this grave context in the chain of command, Masséna tried to maintain the good-natured face to the gliding game; he decided to act in conformity with his own role of seasoned commander-in-chief and therefore to formally “receive” the subordinate corps’ commanders in his office, which was an act of politesse (courtesy), an acute attitude of obliging familiarity “amid” colleagues in arms.

A remarkable point to note: the subtle behaviourism and the honeyed, condescending attitudes of Maréchal Masséna retained the formal authority and the hierarchical procedure in order to ease the inevitable showdown.

This tact and sustained conversational formalism were truly a commendable approach.

No other way out: any flexible position and profitable course of emergency, as an alternative solution, was left open to him, either in his assumed executive position of commander-in-chief or as justified views on the toughly-disputed combat circumstances that occurred on September 20, 1810, near Tojal.

In relation to the former consideration, Prince d’Essling had first to defend his revered honour and practical experience of command, and then to present plausible detailed explanations on the recent incidental impasse that had been a matter of intricate contest in the area of Tojal. 

Abstracting from the mellifluous etiquette applications, the controversy (id est, raised arguments) on the military responsibilities was soon hotly-enraged.

Marbot’s precariously remembered observations – this resolute officer of valour was waiting in the room next door (those of the aides-de-camp) -- proved to be definitely affirmed: there raged a loud altercation, sustained tones, a redoutable face to face Ney versus Masséna.

When the climate became spirited, the senior Maréchal d’Empire decided, under pretext, to suddenly leave the meeting (id est, of attrition), and to gain time to extinguish the crackling fires.

Masséna most wisely resolved to change the place of the caustic action, and to lead the way toward a new compatibility, an apartment near the Staff.

With ostentatious nonchalance he cunningly mitigated the protestations that were levelled to his charge.

By this unexpected “tactical displacement” out of the room, Prince d’Essling had consequently favoured valuable, well-timed options: firstly, to avert further critical commotion; secondly, to avoid his household’s subordinates who were listening to the adulterated dialogic encounter thought of him as a disrespeted commander-in-chief by any corps’ commanders critical audacity.

An unquenchable sentiment of animated antagonism made Masséna very apprehensive -- the fear that his reputation de guerre could be provoked and tarnished by fallacious insinuations.

Masséna had well argued that Maréchal Ney had come up to Viseu’s Headquarters to make a point on the strategic cadre – clearly forcing the choice for the new directives that had to be taken.

Was not this the inductive motivation as to why Ney had appeared at the army’s General Staff adroitly supported by his accompanying entourage of fellow colleagues?

In terms of intelligibility, it is recognized a preponderant synergy: Ney’s compagnons d’armes (comrades-in-arms), by a pre-arranged display of calculated martial temerity and fiery determination, wanted to restore a course of sound leadership against the Anglo-Luso combined army as they were much eager to wrestle the glorious laurels of a victorious war.

In a resolved perspective, a confirmed point of documentary relevance was that improving decisions were optioned -- to quiet the new strategic asset and the operative flexibilities of the French army’s corps.

Notes:

[1] Original French publication in three volumes: I. Gênes, Austelitz, Eylau; II. Madrid, Essling, Torrès-Védras;III. Polotsk, la Bérésina, Leipzig, Waterloo. These voluminous books (390, 495, 446 pages) were published in Paris, in the year 1891, by the Librairie Plon, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Éditeurs, Rue Garancière, 10.

[2]Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot. Madrid-Essling-Torrès-Védras. II. Paris, Librairie Plon, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Éditeurs, Rue Garancière, 10, 1891, pp. 376-477.

[3]Thus the artillery was saved, but the army soon learnt the danger in which it had been, and the excitement was great”. Quotation in: 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. 26-28. “Le parc fut donc sauvé, mais le danger qu’il venait de courir, bientôt connu de toute l’armée, y causa la plus vive emotion”. Original French text quotation in: Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot. Madrid-Essling-Torrès-Védras. II. Paris, Librairie Plon, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Éditeurs, Rue Garancière, 10, 1891, p. 379, l. 31-33.

[4]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. 28-33. “Ney, Junot, Reynier, Montbrun se rendirent sur-le-champ à Viseu, pour addresser de vifs reproches au général Fririon, chef d’état-major, qui declara que, malgré ses vives réclamations, on ne lui avait même pas donné connaissance de la marche des colonnes, tout se décidant entre Masséna et Pelet”. Original French text quotation in: Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot. Madrid-Essling-Torrès-Védras. II. Paris, Librairie Plon, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Éditeurs, Rue Garancière, 10, 1891, p. 379, l. 33-34,  p. 380, l. 1-4.

[5]Masséna (André), duc de Rivoli, prince d’Essling, maréchal de France, né à Nice en Piémont le 6 mai 1758”. : subvoce, in: Mullié, Charles. Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850. Tome Second. Paris, Poignavant et Compagnie, 1852, pp. 272-276.

[6]François Nicolas Mathias (Fririon), né le 7 février 1766, à Vandières (Meuthe), […]”. Vide: subvoce, in: Mullié, Charles. Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850. Tome Premier. Paris, Poignavant et Compagnie, 1852, pp. 545-546.

[7]Ney (Michel), né a Sarrelouis le 10 janvier 1769, […]”. Vide: subvoce, in: Mullié, Charles. Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850. Tome Second. Paris, Poignavant et Compagnie, 1852, pp. 380-389. Further reading: English works: Atteridge, Andrew Hilliard. The Bravest of the Brave, Michel Ney, Marshal of France, Duke of Elchingen, Prince of the Moskowa 1769-1815. New York, Brentano, 1912;  Morton, J. B. Marshal Ney. London, Arthur Barker Ltd., 1958. French works: Bonnal, H. (Général). La vie militaire du Maréchal Ney, Duc d’Elchingen, Prince de la Moskowa. Paris, Librairie Militaire R. Chapelot, 1910-1914. Desprez, Claude. Le Maréchal Ney. Paris. Hachette et Cie, 1881; Heilly, Georges (D’). Le Maréchal Ney D’Après Les Documents Authentiques. Paris, A. Le Chevalier, 1869; Hulot, Frederic. Le Maréchal Ney. Paris, Pygmalion, 2000; Lucas-Dubreton, J.. Le Maréchal Ney, 1769-1815. Paris, Arthème Fayard, 1941; Ney (Maréchal, duc d’Elchingen). Mémoires du Maréchal Ney, duc d’Elchingen, prince de la Moskowa. Publiés par sa famille. Paris, Fournier, Londres, Bull, 1833; Nollet-Fabert. Éloge historique du maréchal Ney. Nancy, 1852; Perrin, Eric. Le maréchal Ney. Paris, Perrin, 1993; Welschinger, Henri. Le Maréchal Ney. 1815. Paris, Plon E., Nourrit & Cie, 1893.‎

[8]Junot, Andoche, duc d’Abrantès, né à Bussy-les-Forges (Côte-d’Or) le 24 octobre 1771”. Vide: subvoce, in: Mullié, Charles. Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850. Tome Second. Paris, Poignavant et Compagnie, 1852, pp. 103-104. Further reading: Cordier, Maxime. Junot qui ne fut pas Maréchal d’Empire. Roanne, Horvath, 1986; Lucas-Dubreton, J.. Junot dit “La Tempête”. Paris, Gallimard, 1937.

[9]Reynier (Jean Louis Ebenezel, comte), né à Lauzanne, le 14 janvier 1771”. Vide: subvoce, in: Mullié, Charles. Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850. Tome Second. Paris, Poignavant et Compagnie, 1852, pp. 497-498. 

[10]Montbrun (Louis-Pierre), né à Florensac (Hérault) le 1er mars 1770, […]”. Vide: subvoce, in: Mullié, Charles. Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850. Tome Second. Paris, Poignavant et Compagnie, 1852, pp. 322-324.  

[11]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. 33-34, p. 268, l. 1-7. “En apprenant un tel état de choses, les chefs des quatre corps d’armée, saisis de stupeur et d’indignation, entrèrent chez Masséna pour lui faire des jutes observations. Ney portait la parole, et du salon de service nous l’entendions protester; mais Masséna, prévoyant que la conversation allait s’animer, entraîna les généraux dans une pièce éloignée de celle qu’occupaient ses aides de camp. J’ignore ce que fut résolu: mais il parait que le généralissime promit d’en agir autrement, […]”. Original French text quotation in: Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot. Madrid-Essling-Torrès-Védras. II. Paris, Librairie Plon, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Éditeurs, Rue Garancière, 10, 1891, p. 380, l. 4-13.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2011

 

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