Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

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

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

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy


Under the profiled methodological processes of cultural preservation, in-depth historic researching and scrutability on the memories related to the terceira invasão francesa do território português[1], one pondered straight question would follow in consequential order: which is the memory and the corroborative documentary consistency (i.e., effectual trustworthiness) about the French sources related to the incidental combat contingency (September 1810) occurred at Tojal[2]?

 *       *       *       *       *

In this currently composed series of cultural elaborations and protracted serious studies, we[3] will search to formalize, through a methodic process of indefatigable historic research applications, qualified references and major probative attestations[4] of the toughly-disputed clash in the surroundings of Tojal.

Abstracting from Jean-Baptiste-Antonine-Marcellin de Marbot’s stunning memorial annotations which were expounded in his écriture commémorative d’épopée[5], in ordered terms we will endeavor to gain an increasing understanding of the enacted contingencies before and after the reported military facts.

Pelet’s relation: plausibility and conceptual adulteration

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne (Corrèze), France. The commemorative image, a carved statue of General Marbot was erected in the Place Marbot -- Marbot Square. A native of La Rivière, Altillac (August 18, 1782), Jean Baptiste Antoine Marcellin de Marbot died in Paris  (November 16, 1854). His name and enduring fame are rendered in the synonymic combination and by historic reference to the past glories of the Premier Empire. A remarkable figure and qualified veteran officer, Marbot served with persevering abnegation to bravery and unfaltering duty in action throughout toughly-disputed warfare emergencies; he experienced difficult and protracted military tasks in a variety of operative fronts, among them:  Italy (1799, 1800), Austria (1805), Prussia, Austria (1809), Spain, Portugal (1810-1811), till the final débâcle in Russia (1812). As literary pieces of amazing narrative vitality, his reminiscent Mémoires are factually a first-hand memorial account of the guerres napoléoniennes, (Napoleonic Wars) discerned through perspective views on the geo-strategic hegemonies of the Empire -- the hard life of the combatant is obvious. In his testamentary will dated 1821, Napoleon left an eulogistic statement (page 3), few words of merit thus conceived: “31 Idem. Au colonel Marbot […]; Je l’engage à continuer à écrire pour la défense de la gloire des armées françaises et à en confondre les calomniateurs et les apostats” [trnsl.: 31 Idem. To Colonel Marbot […]; I urge him to continue writing for the defence of the glory of the French armies and to confound their detractors and apostates]. The legacy of one hundred thousand francs added to that finesse singulière.

The pièce documentaire was not an adventure story, nor a fictitious account; not rendered as a literary fabrication, it was just an authentic and stirring piece of epic.

The vibrant exposé narratif expounds on the surprise attack launched by the fervent Portuguese troops against the great convoy of the armée de Portugal in the late September 1810.

The unexpectedly raised conflict emergency related to a seemingly remarkable skirmish that occurred in the area of Tojal is recalled in the memorial narrative of chef de bataillon Jean Jacques Germain Pelet-Clozeau[6], Masséna’s first aide-de-camp.

This officer wrote succinct, terse reminiscences in due order of subject-matter assessment and conducive historical reading.

Undeniably a hermeneutic factor: Pelet’s thoroughly considered observations were exposed with specificity of information on the most germane details, not to mention that relevant circumstantialities were scrutinized with a certain caustic skepticism.

In the modern documentary process of cultural intelligibility, what is prioritarized is that Pelet’s unconvincing attitude indicates diverse incongruities, thus confusing (i.e., dissimulating) high level of command (état-major général) responsibilities, flagrant contradictions in the systemic organization of the wheeled transports, tactical discrepancies, and, none-the-less, substantial divergences of view on the recent military affair.

On the same plan of dissenting attitude, it correspondingly did neither share nor sustain the claims and doxologic[7] strategic pretensions of one unnamed French Staff officer, who had laid claim to a sensational rencontre d’éclaircissement (colloquial intercourse, clarification) with Marshal Masséna.

Documentary text

“[…], but we still had no news of the grand parc or of the cavalry. The next day two soldiers, sent as messengers, announced that the baggage convoy had been attacked near Valverde by a force of soldiers and peasants. The 65th Line[8] was sent in advance of the parc. General Clauzel[9] was ordered to make a reconnaissance in the direction of São João [da Pesqueira] and Lamego, and also to send a few troops there to harass the rear of the militia and attack them if they could be overtaken[10].

Comment: Four sentences; a descriptive phraseology, and a plain syntactical grammar compound in the stylistic formality of ninenty (14, 25, 10, 41) counted terms.

According to the author’s delineative passages, and peculiar literary composition, the meanings have to be read under the cadence of the text contents.

The breath of glory: controversial aspects of a battle

An officer of the état major, marching with the headquarters baggage, arrived on the 22nd with detailed news of his battle and, even better, of his victory against five thousand men. The officer repeated his news so often to the Prince that the latter finally turned his back on him, saying It is beautiful, it is romantic, which it was not at all[11].

Comment: Four sentences.

An absorbing communicative plan; it enucleates consequential informative intersections.

A one hundred twelve (31, 32, 39, 10) worded articulation.

The first substantial acquisitive element annoted by Pelet recounted that an officer of the French état-major général had soon reached in town (Viseu).

Pushed under converging traits of behaviour and formal obligations de service (service duties), this professional had urgently reported to the General-Staff Headquarters the latterly occurred dangers which had befallen the French army’s réserve parc (reserve artillery park) and gros baggages (heavy baggages) convoy during its advanced phase of progression through the rugged province of Alta Beira.

The incidental causal motivation that had spurred the officer to expeditiously present his persona in urgent composure at the General-Staff’s quarter was not a stated argument of knowledgibility, however considered, its compelling graveness was established and emerged in the expounded memorial passages.

Jean Jacques Pelet, who was acquainted with the constrictive slowness and the tactical complexities which hindered the advancing French divisional troops, paradoxically left in his expository riminiscences some polysemous observations that need to be evaluated with a prudential attitude, as to their true significance.

A clear-cut perplexity that struck one discriminating researcher are the succinct, crude subjective lexemes used by Pelet.

The unnamed officer[12] exposed, with unremitting loquacity and raised tones of concitation, an assertive relation the bataille to the superior commander of the armée de Portugal, Maréchal Masséna.

The circumstances of this intense entrevue (colloquial meeting), whose date must not be subtracted from the chronological evidence of September 22, 1810, have been intentionally minimized in perspective by the “scrupulous” Pelet.

What therefore, were the inductive causes of Pelet’s conduct and cold, phlegmatic composure?

Another stringent question arises.

The cogitation is posed in actual terms: did chef de bataillon Pelet attend the above stated meeting?

Masséna’s first aide-de-camp expatiated on the “[…] detailed news […]”.

What has one discerning historian to substantiate behind a couple of terse tems that are the scriptural essence of this pièce documentaire?

In primis, the intellect of the writer and the documentary profitability resulted in a formal narrative on the combat action.

This consideration pointed out a logic to contextualize the facts, and to explain the serious delay undergone by the wheeled transports (with appropriate exculpatory mitigation)[13] due to the harsh combat incidence[14].

This contemplation describes in depth the tactical impasse and crucial events during battle and the hostilities that ensued; in particular, on the way the operative complications admittedly occurred in a frame of contextual impact that applied impacted strategy.

A flagrant “culpability” is discerned, in observation, through the documentary text, and studied survey; why had Pelet forgotten to mention the officer’s nominal reference concerning the recent fighting?

Why does he utilize allegedly and enigmatically the possessive adjective “[…] his […]”, followed soon after by the magniloquent referential lexicology of “[…] battle […]”?

Under predominant strategic havoc can one harsh armed encounter, a severely handed dispute on ground, merely belong to the construction narrative of a singular French officer?

Answer: that is not an incontrovertible point of validation.

In the above recollected firefight the engaged units had hundreds of regular effective troops in the organizational structure.

Therefore, in this profiled logic confirmation, why has the reiterated use of the adjective “[…] his […]” been contemplated through Pelet’s narrative course?

Was not this combat action sustained with resolve and unyelding esprit de résistance by the French troops on the ground?

Why did the perspicuous connotation of this “[…] battle […]” solely belong to this unnamed officer?

What cognizance would XXIst century military history researchers need to effectually comprehend the military collision through Pelet’s laconic compendiary clarification and literary excursus?

In terms of documentary corroboration, one critic analyst might infer that the protracted combat was conducted by this adamant officer.

Relatively speaking, this specific merit leaves open some considerations on the French officer’s effectual role and resourcefulness as a capable organized mind; more singularly, on his resolute intrepidity and pugnacity on the line of fire, interposition, and field resolution.

The eulogy of the arms: brief term investigation and dubitative elements of credibility

The officer repeated his news so often to the Prince that the latter finally turned his back on him, saying It is beautiful, it is romantic, which it was not at all[15].

Comment: In retrospect, Pelet’s ordinarily-worded annotations betrayed more intelligibility and factual consistency beyond the simple reading and settled composition scheme; it contained more in-depth analysis, and beyond its literary genre contents, evidence is given of a hidden construction, a consistent detail of importance.

At first, Marshal Masséna had not been persuaded by the sycophantic colloquial and expository clarifications of the loquacious compatriot officer.

The Commander-in-Chief of the armée de Portugal did not actually believe (and did not convince himself of) the recounted facts; as a consequence, he shrewdly and pervasively tried to sort out the constitutive elements of the truth (according to his own understanding and incontrovertible, clear intention to verify the “substantiality” of the crisis).

This expediency was consummated by means of a perspicacity: some trick questions.

The seasoned French army’s veteran commander correspondingly demanded in persistent sequential times a proper relation of and a conclusive final version of the recently occurred military skirmish.

Masséna had attempted to lead this subordinate officer into contradiction, and to catch him in any pronounced fallacious phraseology through vicious verbatim artifices.

It is a statement of fact that Maréchal Masséna’s primary intention was to dampen, and to entirely minimize and finally distort the declaimed gravité circonstanciée (detailed gravity, crucial situation) of the incurred Anglo-Lusitanian threat.

This “studied” (i.e., artificial) conformity, an acquiescent mannerism[16] of acts and able postures of command had been, in particular, his impassable line of déterminations de conduite (“assumed behavior”) during the fiery enacted tête à tête (head to head).

Acting through convergences of methodological adaptibility, the Prince d’Essling had tried to question and inquire about the groundlessness of the afore-indicated expositive relation.

In addition to any asserted contrasted arms action[17], the commander of the armée de Portugal tried to avail himself of any reticence, divergent point of narration, and dissimilarities in the descriptive relation of the encounter[18].


[1] Third French invasion of Portugal territory. Its chronological reference is assumed in the extensive periodization of the years 1810-1811.

[2] In the district area of Viseu, Portugal, it is worth pointing out that this specific location refers to the surrounding area; under this perspective, no battle action is implied to the inhabitated country village itself.  

[3] Not a pluralis maiestatis (majestatic plural) form nor an idiosyncrasic approach are considered in that way; its actual in-depth significance has to be caught by the honoured rendition of cultural friendship, of the readers, plus the author.    

[4] These documents will notably include, in primis, the briefly exposed memoir passages of Pelet, a quick-witted and resourceful French officer in the position and executive role of aide-de-camp to the Commander-in-Chief of the armée de Portugal. Further on, in the determination of research, we will scrutinize a significant documentary piece: an official letter sent to Paris by Marshal Masséna.  

[5] 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, pp. 378-380.    

[6] Jean-Jacques-Germain Pelet-Clozeau (a native of Toulouse, 15 July 1777), retained the rank and position of first aide-de-camp of Maréchal Masséna. During his turbulent experiences à la campagne in Portugal, he kept a through jounal full of reminiscent annotations. Quite often, Pelet recounted the harsh muddled discussions, annoying altercations, and convulsive diatribes and tirades which raged among the French corps commanders and generals, presenting severe criticism of the French tactics, as well as the English opponents. A stouthearted and persevering officer of merit, Pelet did not restrain his attitudes to criticize the staunch autocrat Napoleon I and even his superior high-ranking officer, the Maréchal d’Empire Masséna, of whom he was the most immediate and capable military adviser, and personal confidante. It is singularly evident to any modern military historian that Pelet-Clozeau tried to expose a formative cadre and the factual cognition concerning those substantial motivations which led to the appalling échec (failure) of the military plans and field operations in Portugal territory. Discerning readers can consider that one of the stunning and most significant passages of Pelet’s dense textual references related to a terrific meeting he had with the emperor Napoleon I in the memorable days of April 6 and 8, 1811. That meeting proved schocking; in the impassioned colloquial contest, Pelet had to advocate the “practical and documented defence” of Masséna’s leadership and military vulnerability as well as the detrimental blunders suffered in a foreign land. Pelet’s recollections do unequivocally constitute an exceptional memoir, however, this expressed consideration has to be evaluated under the traits of a distinguished narrative rendered through an autobiographical proceeding. For an historic and penetrating comparative support, scholars are commended to scrutinize and confront with a work entitled Souvenirs du général Béchet de Léocour (publiés et annotés par Christian Schneider, préface par Jean Tulard, Librairies Historique F. Teissèdre, Paris, 2000). A part of this memorial work vividly portrays the campaign circumstances in Portugal through the years 1810-1811. Béchet had been appointed chef d’état-major of Maréchal Michael Ney. The referenced name of Pelet is often passed à la plume (inked). Further, crucial waves of misunderstandings probe into the fact that the two irreconciliable Maréchaux d’Empire, Masséna, and Ney, were on the worst possible terms of stigmatized rivalry. Their mesnies militaires (military households) and subordinates in rank aptly disdained the reiterated incomprehensions and villanous contrappositions of their respective commanders, that, over time, had assumed deplorable degenerative characters of disputation and vituperations. In this relevant conflict of interests lay one of the main causal coefficients of the fatal échec de campagne (military campaign failure). Reading these different memoirs will allow researchers and scholars to achieve a quite balanced and perspicacious view on the affair. Further reading on the French invasions: Do Nascimento, Manuel. Troisième Invasion Napoléonienne au Portugal (Bicentenaire 1810-2010). L’Harmattan, Paris, 2010; Gotteri, Nicole. Napoléon et le Portugal. Paris, Bernard Giovanangeli, 2004; Molières, Michel. Les expéditions françaises en Portugal de 1807 à 1811. Editions Publibook, 2002.    

[7] This term has been particularly chosen for the relevant indicative meaning. It is originated from the ancient Greek ethimology, doxologhía, “praise”, composed of dóxa “opinion, glory, honor” (from dokêin, “believe, estimate”), and –loghía.   

[8] The 65ème régiment d’infanterie de Ligne, was a composite battle unit inserted in the cadres of the armée de Portugal -- 8eme Corps, second infantry division, second brigade. A remarkable regimental fighting force, it counted on a four-battalion (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th battalion) man-power. Under the proficient command authority of  Colonel Coutard were numbered eighty-two officers, 2,680 men -- plus fifty-two horses.  

[9] General Bertrand Clauzel was born at Mirepoix (Ariège), on September 12, 1772. He served in the armée de Portugal -- 8th Corps, first infantry division commander.  For different reported data (date of birth, year), and further reading, vide: Mullié, Charles. Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850. Paris, Poignavant et Compagnie, 1852, Vol. I, p. 311, l. 3-53.

[10] Horward, Donald D.. The French campaign in Portugal 1810-1811. An account by Jean Jacques Pelet. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1973, p. 167, l. 29-36.

[11] Horward, Donald D.. The French campaign in Portugal 1810-1811. An account by Jean Jacques Pelet. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1973, p. 167, l. 36-37, p. 168, l. 1-4.

[12]The confirmation points to one direct eye-witness and primary oral source of the event: a man, a military professional. Surprisingly, his name and rank are not reported. Why weren’t these importan elements not annotated? What kind of troubled affair can be read behind the dark curtain of this silence?

[13]Was that an daptation of circumstances ? Why? What practical motivational intent was deemed necessary?   

[14]Most interesting to note, in the reported data, is the validity of the pronounced affirmation (i.e., heard by Pelet) which accounts for the gravity and apparent predominance of the counter-opposed Portuguese adversarial forces on the ground; their number was some thousands of combatants.  

[15] Horward, Donald D.. The French campaign in Portugal 1810-1811. An account by Jean Jacques Pelet. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1973, p. 168, l. 2-4.

[16] Id est, affectation.

[17] Id est, the battle, considered as strategic context.   

[18] Proper attention must be paid to the distinct use of the speech categories, the two adjectives utilized: “[…] beautiful […]”, and “[…] romantic […]”. When we read “[..] which it was not at all [...]”, we have a new literary sense, the exact opposite of the first assumed meaning. That is, for beautiful: atonyms: unamazing, ugly, disappointing, unpleasant, but also base-minded (of behaviour). Romantic, takes the meaning of: passionate, sentimental, incline to sentimentalism, dreamer; atonyms: realistic, cool, ordinary, real, proven, true, serious, prosaic, authentic, believable. The hardened veteran and General-commander Masséna, through his long course of experienced military campaigns under the Empire and in the battlefield contests, thought that the expository traits of the relation were to be analyzed in a different optic, as to their credible tactics meaning. One point is that the reconstruction (and final arguments) of the whole “incident” could not be an easy military matter even for a direct eyewitness of the facts. And, above all, could Maréchal Masséna admit that the invincible French had been surprised on the ground by adversarial attacking parties causing untold damages? Was that fanciful? Beyond any careful (or disputable) relation de bataille (battle relation), quite a consequential question followed: to whom this failure was to be imputed?


Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2012


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