Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

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

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

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy

To gain a mature understanding of the present thematic dissertation, the readers are pleased invited to first read the Part VII.

*           *            *           *           *

Morale, of a Prince

The agile and contemptuous inquisitorial ability, and the firm process of a vigorous and determinated investigation challenged by Marshal Masséna under restrictive traits of formal interlocution[1], did not bring about the desired effects.

To all intents and purposes, Maréchal d’Empire Masséna had soon enough gotten vexed about that cajole, a reiterated verve and glorious rigmarole whose characterization much ressembled to a fluent perorative sequel.

His prostration and fainting reached the verge to such an extent that he nearly left fall the argumentation, and, in correlative manner, any kind of dubitative contrappositions.

The unexpected tossing and turning, shoulders turned[2] to the elocutionist was used to validate fact which has its own fine interpretative valence.

In conclusion: Masséna had assumed a systematized behaviourism, a posture of complete disbelief in regards to the narrative of his subordinate.

One consolidated observation is that, in order to ascertain the development of the past military conjuncture, time was needed.

Particular scrutiny must be paid to the articulated locution, the dissatisfying lexemes formulated by the leading-head of the armée de Portugal: a crude rough commentary, it indicated the way how the Commander-in-Chief did not actually believe to the seriousness of the described clash, neither through a strategic approach, nor in tactics, and, non-the-less, to the presumed reported data.

This collection would include, by tendential information, a reference to the incurred deaths in action and loss of ressources (materials) and équipements et complémentaires (equipments and complementaries).

The rethorical relation (a romanticized version akin to the gestes des armes, according to Masséna’s ambivalent opinion) was “[…] beautiful […]”; apart from this breviloquent adjectival form and subjective interpretation, was there anything else other than a battle not credible?

Does this interrogative cogitation sounds like the detailed description of the combat was not a persuading matter?

It seems axiomatic that, from the exposed dates, but not in the perception of the related circumstances, there were unconvincing elements not yet well clarified, and that could not be situated in the logic of the real.

Some factual and striking contradictions irrefutably emerged; in particular a detailed analysis, incontestably, these discrepacies could not be accepted as melted gold – by the General Staff, id est by the Prince d’Essling.

Critical assessment

Marshal Ney
Michel Ney, 1er Duc d’Elchingen. A native of Sarrelouis (Moselle; 10 January 1769), he died in Paris (7 December 1815). A stouthearted and strenuous French military commander during the French Revolutionary Wars and throughout the wars of the Empire, Ney was created Maréchal d’Empire (19 May 1804) by Napoleon I. 1810: Commander of the 6e Corps under Massena in the armée de Portugal.  He was variously appealed by the nominal distinctions (surnoms, i.e., nicknames) of le Rougeaud (the red faced, ruddy) and le Brave des Braves (the bravest of the brave). His name is inscribed in the Eastern façade of the Arc de Thiomphe de l’Étoile.

It appears that the fluent documentary narrative had not been de-contextualized nor abused of the facts, nor fault-finding or denigratory of the battle action.

A pragmatic element led to an understanding of persistant aptitude in facing the tactical vulnerability and the operative impasse (id est, mismatch) in the environment of Tojal, a task this unnamed officer performed under severely adverse circumstances.

Still, Pelet continued to relate with a rudimentary phraseologic articulation, not totally adapted to the acerbity of the recent conjuncture.

The tough conflict emergency which was thereafter referred to with the circumstantial and classificatory terminology of “[…] battle […]”, retained, in the subsequent narrative passages, the diacritic nomenclature of victoire d’appartenence (victory of appartenence).

With conditioned preferability, Pelet once more was determined to use the possessive adjective his” in regards to the officer.

Therefore, in this asset of proceeding logic, was this résultat victorieux of the arms not corresponding to the criterium of a national (i.e., French) acquisition, was the combat just “dreamed up” through the unnamed French officer’s far-sighted perspicacity?

What is the contemporary critical analysts’ intention by this literary artifice?

That the actual meaning has or has not to be evaluated in regard to the intervention and to the montée en ligne (mounting into line) of the French support regimental battalions?

This encounter covered a grevious disproportion of armed formations and ancillary disadvantages to the effective French fighting units.

Submitted to the dictates of a prejudiced choice, chef de bataillon Pelet did not rationalize the inter-acting conditions in regard to how the Portuguese troops’[3] obstruction was counterbalanced by his comrade in arms.

Pelet’s views were suspicious; according to his reconstructive of the affair, the fighting dynamics had proved evident contradictory[4].

All in all, the unnamed officer’s flamboyant claimed merits seemed -- to Masséna’s favorite Staff officer -- to be illusive to be considered in terms of conditioning factors.

Pelet’s succinctly exposed data did not permit weighting in a consonant manner the intrinsic tactical and strategic development of the battle.

With acumen, Maréchal Masséna’s first aide-de-camp covered, by means of an adulterated process of reversibility, the accountabilities which were to be ascribed to the état-major général.

The ascendancy of the French arms was personalized, and the stiff French combat shield (i.e., syncopated fire) was soon presented in this cadre of pragmatic valuations.

Worth mentioning is that all the reported facts have to be caught in a reverse action.

The enduring effort of the arms acquired a connotation of magnitude; the causal motivation: it was toughly-fought with resolution.

More importantly, it assumed a character of confirmed seriousness on the field of honour.

The vibrant armed constest had been set with pertinent references: the strategic climate was that of the battle, of the armed counter-opposition.

In this stunning historic experience, the ground operations and the sharp fighting must be scrutinized under the parameters of executive practicality.

The contention was disputed against superior Portuguese forces, whose reasonable estemation was based upon unit-strenghts in the order of some thousand men.

If the reported data was drawn from the figures of “five thousand” adversaries, what transpires was an epic contest, an accidental emergency.

A further point of evaluation must not be obnubilated: the fierceness of the maveuvers which were effectuated by the Portuguese milícias units.

This means the daring determination and persistent bravery of the impavid formações Português (Portuguese formations) fighting for the motherland.

Delving deeper for a factual interpretation of the events, binding strategic connections revealed intrinsic consequential difficulties.

A terminologic inflection: the baggages column

Since all the baggage wagons were marching in units according to the size of their load and the strength of their teams, it seemed certain that the united corps of Silveira and Trant went after them but were unsuccessful. The grand parc was still quite far in the rear[5].

Comment: Two sentences; a forty-nine (39, 10) worded semantic construction.

Unequivocally, an adapted writing system.

The specious stilistic, and persuasive communication, are a steadily discerned point of cognition.

It offers an acute predisposition for an adaptible, practical “grammar” (i.e., contents).

With consumed literary expediency, no choice was left -- to the author -- to alter the direct appellation and significant reference to the French convoy.

The plural terminology of “baggage wagons” appeared to be a consolidated sophism, an agile expedient to avert all the potential suspicion from the acerbity of the actual situation d’empêchement et ralentissement tactique.

In relative terms, a discriminating critic must acknowledge that Pelet delivered an attitude of adjustment on the current Portuguese assault.

The posed enemy threat was substantially relieved: with negligible attention of the hostile adversarial attack, as the danger was not considered a first level hindrance.

The Anglo-Lusitanian onrush was “philosophized” only as a faltering threat.

The état-major général, in a detrimentally held process of convinction mistook the informative cadre of the tactical and logistic references of the mobile column.

In order to simplify matters, and the collateral seriouness of the military crisis, Jean-Jacques-Germain Pelet-Clozeau tried to operate a covering subtlety, and to first dispel, and then to evade further argument.

For a time, the great column had been ordered in diverse mobile compounds; heterogeneous advance units had been organized for this pre-arranged designation.

Due to previously imparted dispositions, the wheeled transports consequently conformed their logistics to their seizes, according to the weights of the loaded wagons and to their lenghts.

Through an accurate scrutiny of the chronicle[6], this significant peculiarity acquires a further complex interpretation.

The great column had been correspondingly formed by unités d’étape (units, organizative cadres of stage), composed to compensate for intricate tactical advance movements.

These composite units were largely consistent, and not of diminished combat strenghts.

Although these were not numerous effective fighting formations, Pelet did not omit to remark that the wheeled carriages had been arranged in such a manner as to assure essential practical necessities: the volumes ramassés (compacted volumes) of the long distance horse transports, the bulky distribution of the goods, the number of the equipages (crews) and of the servients, the escortes armées (armed escorts) assigned to assuage the incumbencies of security and armed guard duties.

This methodology implied an elaborate and robust organizational system.

Many valuable elements were considered; at least three were dominant matters of concern.

In terms of the pragmatic situation facing the consequential disadvantages of mobility, what were the causal and contradictory impediments?

These discrepacies are agily evident; they are schemed and read according to a three-part analysis: first, the lack of equilibrium, which was raised among the mobile units and the groupings[7].

Second: the limitations of march and the established march phases of advance assigned to the respective formations[8].

Third: the exceeding lenghtening of the convoy and any delayed baggages, not to consider, then, the natural geomorphologic asperities[9] of the ground which caused major complications of sort to the regular progression.  

Determination of the incurred danger: figured power of the arms

The grand parc marched behind, escorted by one regiment of dragoons and three battalions of infantry under the command of General Gratien, who protested vainly against this position[10]

Comment: One phrase, and a twenty-eight words syntactic articulation.

Abstracting from all the researches effectuated and from the elements of checked documentary corroboration, can we  actually affirm the gravity of the military facts in the district area of Tojal?

Which was the real capacity of range of the threat mounted by the fiery motivated Portuguese troops?

He says, affirms and reports it with indulgent objectivity, and despite himself, the same Pelet expounds absolutely relevant details.

The seriousness of the battle action (i.e., the occurred danger) is evidenced by the reformulation (infantry plus cavalry) and from the rewriting (i.e., strengthening) of the regular effectives composing the armed escort troops ordered to the grand parc d’artillerie (great artillery park; the great convoy) of the armée de Portugal.

In terms of substantial analysis, these reinforcements involved mounted and infantry troops, a significant balance -- in a valuable tactical vision of factors, aptly considered in the practicability of the means of defence and attack.

Squadrons of proven experience and efficacy are observed in the cadres of light cavalry -- the Dragoons.

There was one major compound and relevant strength of arms: a whole mounted regimental unit.

In a similar manner, after the consideration for the effectives of cavalry, the complementarity of the infantry was considered; one armed component, relying on one regimental structure of a three-battalion man-power.

Unequivocally, combat troops of deterrence, and ready intervention and tactical deployment on the ground were imposed.

There lies one formal key “to measure” the effective damages which were incurred by the French fighting units at Tojal.

The undeniable importance of the encounter that occurred near Tojal is a validated documentary fact; furthermore, its severity is implied by the conspicuous number of troops assigned -- on an observation mission with accompanying escort -- to the convoy.

Général de brigade Pierre Guillaume Gratien[11] had all the motivations to protest against his nomination, and to externalize his acerbic resentment for the menial task with which he was trusted.

That was not the first line of assignation for combat requisites and glorious aspirations, nor for quick promotions and accessible distinctions.

In this case, it is noticed that the malaise de la gloire (trouble of the glory) always harvested its “victims” through the Empire, and at distance from metropolitan France.

Contrary to this interpretation, is the logic and the fact that the French commander had been tasked a heavy duty of formal responsibility: to ensure protection, and guard the “chore” of the armée de Portugal.

And to defend it, against any unexpectedly occurring recrudescences of military force.

The “formal cult” of the obedience was a call, to the superior orders imparted: pour la patrie et pour l’empereur (for the mother country and for the emperor).


[1] Id est, buoyancy.

[2] That décontraction comportementale (laid-back attitude) was not a refined posture suitable to the exchange of interrelated dialogic expressions. In recognized terms, it was an effect of frustraction, a signed psychological eruption, an outburst of uncontained nervousness.

[3] The Portuguese fighting units involved in the surprise attack included either regular cavalry squadrons and armed infantry units. The soldiers serving in the ranks were regulares e milícianos, in proper terms, regulars and militiamen.

[4] The implausibility of the innominate French officer’s articulated pronouncements (i.e., vibrant assertions) was a stringent contrast. Those caused incongruities originated ever growing suspicion. Author: after carefully protracted analytic work through the documentary historic sources, and after having contemplated the manifest gravity of the strategic situation, probative evidence is gained that the reported data about the French losses had been played down. In due terms of comprehension, and excluding all the possible different orientations of research, the figures accounted in the French battle relation were neither credible nor conclusive.

[5] 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. 4-8.

[6] Id est, the narrative passages.

[7] Groups and units did not move in concert; their serpentine line and gliding through difficult territory proved an element of confusion, and the incurred slow down were matters of fact. These recognized capricious tactics could not be anticipated through any accurate preparation and planning based on topographic resources and maps – which were fairly current but largely unreliable to expand into correct and corresponding executions and displayed skills of study.  

[8] It greatly differed, in terms of known practicability of routes and true, effectually corresponding kilometric distances, from the merely conceived mobility étapes (stages) which were planned on paper, and what resulted  instead the final constrictive reality of the march.  

[9] No question about the unmentioned difficulties of an armed invasion (which were affected by the categories and factors of time, space, and location) to cross through the rugged Portugal territory. The long column of the wheeled transports did not effectively maintain an homogeneous form and due to the terrain, it broke down in different sections of march.     

[10]Horward, Donald D.. The French campaign in Portugal 1810-1811. An account by Jean Jacques Pelet. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1973, p. 170, l. 24-26.

[11] General Pierre-Guillaume Gratien was born at Paris (Seine), on January 1, 1764, and died in 1814 (April, 24). He served in the armée de Portugal under the orders of the duc d’Abrantès. For biographical data 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. II, p. 20, l. 53-91, p. 21, p. 22, l.1-32.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2012


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