Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

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

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

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy

 

Introduction

In this absorbing historical research and comparative critical analysis of the original texts (primary sources) and documentary pieces, the discriminating military history analyst is compelled to subject it to critical examination, one significant documentary contribution; or none-the-less some relevant specifications related to the writing, a piéce de lettre (one piece of letter)[1], composed by the commander-in-chief of the armée de Portugal.

*            *            *            *            *

Masséna’s relation

For utilitarian convenience and for corresponding study purposes, the cited documentary piece can be conventionally subdivided into three parts, aptly following the facilitation of one brief systematic and practical adaptability of literary analysis.  

Documentary piece

Letterhead

Le Maréchal Prince d’Essling, Commandant en Chef de l’Armée de Portugal, à Son Altesse le Prince de Neufchâtel. Viseu, le 22 Septembre, 1810[2].

Trnsl.: “The Marshal Prince of Essling, Commander in Chief of the Army of Portugal, to His Highness the Prince of Neufchâtel. Viseu, the 22 September, 1810”.

Comment: A couple of formal sentences.

The semantic piece is structured on a composition of twenty-five words (20, 5).

Clearly titled terms compose the original French text.

Abstracting from the opening official title[3], a chronological element (with specificity of date) is reported with important details: the location of the French Headquarters of the invading armée de Portugal, the day, the month, the year.

Profitable elements of note are counted in their essential documentary corroboration.

First part

MONSEIGNEUR, L’armée est partie le 16 d’Almeida, comme j’ai eu l’honneur d’en rendre compte à V. A.. Les trois corps d’armée sont arrivés le 19 à Viseu, après avoir parcouru des chemins affreux. L’ennemi s’est retiré partout à notre approche, et il s’est réuni sur Coimbra. J’ai porté le 2me et 6me corps sur le pont du Criz. Les Anglais qui occupaient ces points en ont été chassés; le 8me corps est encore à Viseu[4].

Trnsl.: “MY LORD, The army has left the 16 from Almeida, as I had the honour to report to Y. H.. The three army corps have arrived on the 19 at Viseu, after having passed through dreadful roads. The enemy withdrew everywhere to our approach, and it gathered on Coimbra. I have bought the 2nd and 6th corps on the bridge of the Criz. The English who occupied these points have been expelled, the 8th corps is still in Viseu”.

Comment: Five sentences, for a syntactic complex (20, 17, 16, 12, 14, 16) of ninety-five terms.

We can easily define these phrases the first part of Masséna’s relation, and observe that the textual contents give precise and distinct dates as well as a valuable informative cadre on the French corps d’armée (army corps) and upon their marginal march movements through the Portugal territory.

Second part

Le grand parc d’artillerie et les gros bagages sont encore en arriére, et n’arriveront que demain. Les bagages ont été attaqués par 2000 Portugais, que 200 hommes ont suffi pour repousser avec perte. Il est impossible de trouver de plus mauvais chemins: ils sont hérissés de rochers: notre artillerie et nos bagages ont considérablement souffert, et je suis obligé de les attendre. Je les laisserai deux jours à Viseu, à leur arrivée, pour s’ y reposer, et je continuerai ma marche sur Coimbra, où on m’ assure que je trouverai les Anglais et Portugais réunis[5].

Trnsl.. “The great artillery park and the heavy baggages are still backward, and will not arrive until tomorrow. The baggages have been attacked by 2000 Portuguese, that 200 men were enough to repel with loss. It is impossible to find more bad roads: they are bristling with rocks: our artillery and our baggages have suffered greatly, and I am obliged to wait for them. I will leave them two days in Viseu, at their arrival, for having rest, and I will continue my march to Coimbra, where I am assured I will find the English and Portuguese reunited”.

Comment: Four sentences; and a (16, 17, 29, 34) ninety-six terms of a morphological composition.

The central part of this written report illustrates, but does not emphasize (just because it is balanced in style with the words used for the contents in the first part), a fighting contingency.

For this causal motivation it seems to acquire a plain and natural literary flow.

En abrégé (in a summary form), the new circumstantial matter focused on one toughly-disputed military occurrence.

Third part

Monseigneur, nous ne marchons qu’à travers du désert; pas une âme nulle part; tout est abandonné. Les Anglais poussent la barbarie jusqu’à faire fusiller le malheureux qui resterait chez lui; femmes, enfants, vieillards, tout fuit. Enfin on ne peut trouver nulle part un guide. Nos soldats trouvent des pommes de terre, et d’autres légumes; ils sont fort contents, et ne respirent qu’après le moment de rencontrer l’ennemi. Les marches nous ont fort peu donné de malades[6].

Trnsl.: “My Lord, we do not walk that through the desert only; not a soul anywhere; everything is abandoned. The British push the barbarity up to shoot the wretched who stay at home; women, children, old men, all fled. Finally one cannot find a guide anywhere. Our soldiers find some potatoes, and others vegetables; they are very happy, and cannot breathe until after the moment of meeting the enemy. The marches have given us strong few sick”.

Comment: Five sentences.

A seventy-eight (18, 20, 8, 24, 8) worded articulation.

The third part is conclusive to the contents of the whole letter and catches all the rising difficulties of social and military order which have been met by the invading French corps d’armée in a distant foreign country.

These vicissitudes were well-evidenced by the vôo sociais(social flight) of a whole people, the Portuguese, and by the presence of one foreign antagonist army, which were the British.

Aggravating circumstances, not the last was the consistent lack of fresh victuals, which consequently caused nutritional deficiencies and recognized the scarcity of subsistence.

Also worth mentioning is that the provisions were pillaged from the autochthonous population with deliberate intent and by means of rigidités de coercition (rigid constrictive measures, coercion).

Once more, the outrageous and blameworthy acts were hushed-up by Maréchal Masséna’s deceptive attitude that offered instead, through reversed expository annotations, every untimely evidence to the narrowness of the territory (that had become a scene of plunder to such as remained after the French troops moved out), but not to the failures of the services de ravitaillement à l’armée (supplying service in the army).

Ending

Je suis, &c., Le Maréchal Prince d’Essling, Commandant en Chef de l’Armée de Portugal, MASSENA[7].  

Trnsl.: “I am, & c., The Marshal Prince of Essling, Commander in Chief of the Army of Portugal, MASSENA”.    

Comment: One phrase. Closing styled conclusions.                                                

*            *            *            *            *

A case of ideological forgery               

In this contemporary documentary script it is possible to thoughtfully retrace the language of extrapolation (petite relation) of an incidental causality, a factual incident and contextualization of war, a vibrant combat action which took place against the Portuguese forces during the late September 1810 advance movement phase of the armée de Portugal.

One harshly fought attack was launched at the French baggage train.

Just a few epigrammatic lines – but nothing else, exceeds in the process of intelligibility and the informative scheme of the reported exposition.

The sheer comprehension of the main event, and the consequences it caused, are deficient, and not at all defined with complementary of detail.

A seventeen-word semantic structure (phrase 7) is restricted to its mere literary statement.

In reading the sentence, the bona fide of the contemporary research analyst and casual reader catches his attention so that one understands that the Portuguese, by a fairly consistent number of combatants (esteemed in the fighting compound -- infantry, cavalry -- of around two thousand units), had attacked the French grand parc d’artillerie in one unspecified location.

More so the attack was invested in a timely strategy as well as tactical opportunity, to harass the gros bagages (heavy baggages) of the French army convoy.

From the inked pen of Maréchal André Masséna, the deduction and rendered literary explanation follows in due order of comprehension: the French (bagages) had been attacked by the Portuguese; under the circumstances, and notwithstanding the overwhelming threat, the Lusitanian assault forces were repulsed by the two hundred fiercely determined men – which in turn inflicted untold losses on the adversarial formations.

This terse episode is almost singularly complete.

In the exposed relative terms one pertinent question quickly arises: has this unyielding struggle been victorious to the arms of the foreign French invaders?

However, considering the circumstances, there is this fact which notes that the “apparent” and contradictory success attained by the two hundred soldiers has not been celebrated with any resonating emphasis.

What is the perceptible reason for the crude silence?

The boldness and fury of the combatants’ pugnacious efforts – two hundred men were opposed against 2,000 adversaries, kept their position and honour.

Was this singular detail to mean that the unparalleled heroism of the French gained the day?

A further remark: did that armed contraposition admittedly happen, a questionable military proportion with a manifest military inferiority ratio of one to ten?

Was this subtle argumentative report an effectual call on the valeur incomparable (incomparable valour) of the French soldiers?

And the matrix of fierceness for an undauntedly sustained encounter?

Skimpy lines that bring little clarification, and allow little detail to discern through the vagueness of the episode to gain unequivocal corroborative elements and correct “tactics” understanding.

It is not an interpretative notion to recognize that the above indicated passages do form one exposé (however reductive and shrewdly limited, but not to downgrade Maréchal Masséna’s personal expediency for driving ambition and prestige) on the latest events around Viseu and of the remarkable assault on the grand parc d’artillerie.

Strictly speaking, the gravity of the facts is pervasively and prudently covered-up by a farcical expression.

The actual plan and the sequential concatenation of events which occurred in the environs of Tojal is supplanted and virtually omitted, for necessity of cause, to the detriment of the flow of military order: the strategic cadre, and the general phases of the combat.

The true dynamics of the eventual fighting were consequently remoulded; and one estrade de soutien (support stage) appropriately created by the French Marshal’s literary lenience was laid upon them.

From this process of formalistic historical investigation, what emerges from the reading is not the dure réalité (grim reality) of the strategic episode, but the réalité détournée (convenient reality) “personally considered” and subjectively interpreted (id est, modified, by a non eye-witness) according to the fierté dévorante (consuming pride) of Masséna’s striving personality.

Therefore, in practical terms of analytic scrutiny and documentary intelligibility, the battle report became an ingeniously styled operation, including a spurious retouching and interpolation of the related military matter (i.e., affair), whose location’s nominal reference -- one can steadily discern -- does not even appear under geographical coordinates of knowledge.

A subsequent equalization is expostulated: no place name referred to, and no circumstantial facts can be traced back; or, in simple reading terms: no one will know about the facts having no indication of the geographical site.

Undeniably, monsieur le Maréchal was not very objective about the events regarding the 1810 invasion of Portugal (and tried to devalue the unexpected hard severity of the occurred military contingency) -- that was a questionable virtue of the Prince d’Essling, one of the war Lords of the Danubian campaign of the year 1809.

But there again, in courses and recourses history is written by those persons who are often influenced by self-interest.

And Masséna’s reputation was arguably overrated.

The French General-commander was not low-key and unassuming, he had an inflated ego like so many contemporary military commanders such as Maréchal d’Empire Michel Ney[8] and Jean-Baptiste Drouët, comte d’Erlon[9].

The Parisian formalities: affectation and cult of the glory

Consciously, in this artless “informative” table Marshal Masséna subtly minimizes the reality of the latest occurrences, and the spuriousness of his récit écrit (written report) is mixed with lines of “inspired simplicity”.

Marshal Louis Berthier
Louis-Alexandre Berthier was born at Versailles (20 November 1753) – and died at  Bamberg (1 June 1815).  He was the son of lieutenant-colonel Jean-Baptiste Berthier (1721-1804) and of his épouse, Marie-Françoise L’Huillier de La Serre. On March 8, 1808, Berthier had contracted the nuptials with the Duchess Maria Elisabeth Amalie Franziska, the only daughter of Wilhelm, Herzog in Bayern (Duke Wilhelm in Bavaria) and Countess Palatine Maria Anna of Zweibrücken-Birkenfeld. In the grand tournant of the Napoleonic Empire, he was bestowed distinguished honorary tiles, notably: duc de Valengin (March 1806), prince de Neufchâtel (a sovereign title granted on 30 March1806), and prince de Wagram (15 August 1809; extinct by progeny in 1918). That proved quite an outstanding career under the monocrat Napoleon I: 1792, 22 May: maréchal de camp in the armée du Nord; 1795, 13 June: général de division; 1799, 11 November-1800, 2 April: Ministre de la guerre; 1800: 8 October-1807, 9 August: Ministre de la guerre; 14 June: wounded at Marengo; 1804: 19 May: maréchal d’Empire; 11 July: grand veneur; 1805, 2 February: grand-aigle et chef de la 1re cohorte de la Légion d’honneur; 30 August: major général de la Grande Armée; 1807: 9 August: vice-connétable; maréchal de le plan of the forest of Fontainebleau. 

One cognizant historian super partes has to stigmatize and clear the evidence of a man’s hypocritical effort (and assiduous ambivalence to mediate the truth, or to compromise its sequel; can these short annotations be evaluated as an ideological forgery?) to make noble sacrifices out of the foregoing circumstantial account.

More importantly, in the distortion of the facts and on their real assumed meaning, that is to say on Masséna’s personal image and glorious conveniences in Paris: under the impulse of soldierly honour, monsieur le Prince d’Essling did not want to lose face to le Prince de Neuchâtel et Valangin (Louis-Alexander Berthier) to which the letter was addressed with deference and formal tones of cordiality.

Irrefutably, through a stereotyped conventionality what is one to think then about le Maréchal, and the strategic reliability the Emperor Napoléon I had for him during the Portuguese campaign?

Could that unparalleled fidelity (i.e., political devotion) be breached and compromised by reporting unfavourable events, ambushes and unsuccessful battles against hostile enemy troops?

Or was it always a demanding necessity to report “solely” the triumphs (do these formal postulations and audacity of intents sound like altered victories, gained on paper but not on the ground, or in other words, propaganda?) of the French troops?

Therefore, anything termed military had to be considered in the magniloquent equivalency of réussite des armes (“success”), otherwise it would have stained the so far brilliant reputation of any Maréchal d’Empire.

In this assumption and to its excesses, Masséna’s command position and the Portuguese’s military determination made no difference.

The Empire had sacrificed its ink to the aggrandisement of golden fables, but the true epic was much feared – exempli gratia (as, for example), the blundering military failure occurred on July 19, 1808, at Bailén[10] taught.

To discern through the compelling severity of the encounter in the district of Tojal, inquiring contemporary military historians will find the correct key of reading in one specific textual passage annoted by Pelet.

In those words was inferred, in full evidence, the drama of the incurred enemy threat[11].

Documentary Appendix, Piece I -- original French text

Le Maréchal Prince d’Essling, Commandant en Chef de l’Armée de Portugal, à Son Altesse le Prince de Neufchâtel.

                                                                                                                Viseu, le 22 Septembre, 1810.

MONSEIGNEUR,
L’armée est partie le 16 d’Almeida, comme j’ai eu l’honneur d’en rendre compte à V. A.. Les trois corps d’armée sont arrivés le 19 à Viseu, après avoir parcouru des chemins affreux. L’ennemi s’est retiré partout à notre approche, et il s’est réuni sur Coimbra. J’ai porté le 2me et 6me corps sur le pont du Criz. 

Les Anglais qui occupaient ces points en ont été chassés; le 8me corps est encore à Viseu. Le grand parc d’artillerie et les gros bagages sont encore en arriére, et n’arriveront que demain. Les bagages ont été attaqués par 2000 Portugais, que 200 hommes ont suffi pour repousser avec perte. Il est impossible de trouver de plus mauvais chemins: ils sont hérissés de rochers: notre artillerie et nos bagages ont considérablement souffert, et je suis obligé de les attendre. Je les laisserai deux jours à Viseu, à leur arrivée, pour s’ y reposer, et je continuerai ma marche sur Coimbra, où on m’ assure que je trouverai les Anglais et Portugais réunis.

Monseigneur, nous ne marchons qu’à travers du désert; pas une âme nulle part; tout est abandonné. Les Anglais poussent la barbarie jusqu’à faire fusiller le malheureux qui resterait chez lui; femmes, enfants, vieillards, tout fuit. Enfin on ne peut trouver nulle part un guide. Nos soldats trouvent des pommes de terre, et d’autres légumes; ils sont fort contents, et ne respirent qu’après le moment de rencontrer l’ennemi.

Les marches nous ont fort peu donné de malades.

                                                                                       Je suis, &c.,
                                                                                       Le Maréchal Prince d’Essling,
                                                                                      Commandant en Chef de l’Armée de Portugal,
                                                                                      MASSENA
 .

Documentary Appendix, Piece II -- English translation

The Marshal Prince of Essling, Commander in Chief of the Army of Portugal, to His Highness the Prince of Neufchâtel.

                                                                                                            Viseu, the 22 September, 1810.

MY LORD,

The army has left the 16 from Almeida, as I had the honour to report to Y. H.. The three army corps have arrived on the 19 at Viseu, after having passed through dreadful roads. The enemy withdrew everywhere to our approach, and it gathered on Coimbra. I have bought the 2nd and 6th corps on the bridge of the Criz.

The English who occupied these points have been expelled, the 8th corps is still in Viseu. The great artillery park and heavy baggages are still backward, and will not arrive until tomorrow. The baggages have been attacked by 2000 Portuguese, that 200 men were enough to repel with loss. It is impossible to find more bad roads: they are bristling with rocks: our artillery and our baggages have suffered greatly, and I am obliged to wait for them. I will leave them two days in Viseu, at their arrival, for having rest, and I will continue my march to Coimbra, where I am assured I will find the English and Portuguese reunited.

My Lord, we do not walk through the desert only, not a soul anywhere, everything is abandoned. The British push the barbarity up to shoot the wretched who stay at home; women, children, old men, all fled. Finally we can not find a guide anywhere. Our soldiers find some potatoes, and others vegetables; they are very happy, and can not breathe until after the moment of meeting the enemy.

The marches have given us strong few sick.

                                                                                         I am, & c.,
                                                                                        The Marshal Prince of Essling,                                                                                       Commander in Chief of the Army of Portugal,
                                                                                      MASSENA.

Notes:

[1]We want to make it clear first, and to offer one premise: the actual possibilities have allowed the vision of the text only as a printed copy, which was however transcribed in the original writing base.

[2] Wellesley Wellington, Arthur (1st Duke of). The dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, K.G. during his various campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, The Low Countries, and France, from 1799 to 1818. Compiled from official and authentic documents by Lieut. Colonel Gurwood, Esquire to His Grace as Knight of the Bath. Volume the Sixth. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. MDCCCXXXVI, p. 436, l. 7-9.

[3]Le Maréchal – up to – Neufchatel.

[4]Wellesley Wellington, Arthur (1st Duke of). The dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington, K.G. during his various campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, The Low Countries, and France, from 1799 to 1818. Compiled from official and authentic documents by Lieut. Colonel Gurwood, Esquire to His Grace as Knight of the Bath. Volume the Sixth. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. MDCCCXXXVI, p. 436, l. 10-16.

[5]Ibidem, p. 436, l. 16-23.

[6]Ibidem, p. 436, l. 24-30.

[7]Ibidem, p. 436, l. 31-34.

[8]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.‎     

[9]Jean-Baptiste Drouët d’Erlon was born at Reims, on July 29, 1765; he died in Paris (25 January, 1844). Général de division, Grand Officier de la Légion d’honneur, Pair de France (19 November 1831), Maréchal de France (9 April 1843). Vide: Germain, Pierre. J.-B. Drouët d’Erlon, Maréchal de France, général comte d’Empire, premier gouverneur de l’Algérie. Éditions Fernand Lanore, Paris, 1985; Le Maréchal Drouet, comte D’Erlon. Vie militaire écrite par lui-même et dédiée à ses amis. Paris, Gustave Barba, 1844; L’Illustration N° 60, Monument élevé à la mémoire du maréchal Drouet d’Erlon. J. J. Dubochet, 20 april 1844.        

[10] In Spain. Guerra de la Independencia Española; General Don Francisco Javier Castaños Aragorri Urioste y Olavide, Conde de Castaños y Aragones, defeated the French under Général Pierre-Antoine Dupont de l’Étang. Vide: Beler, Guy (de). Baylen. Préface du lieutenant-colonel Antoine Madelin. Paris, Ed. Berger-Levrault, 1955; Clerc (Lt.-Colonel). Guerre d’Espagne. Capitulation de Baylen: causes et conséquences: d’après les archives espagnoles et les archives françaises de la Guerre, Nationales et des Affaires étrangères; Larchey. Suites (les) d’une capitulation. Relations des captifs de Baylen et de la glorieuse retraite du 116e régiment. Extraits choisis par Lorédan Larchey. Paris, [s.n.], 1884; Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot. Vol. II. Madrid – Essling – Torrés-Védras. Paris, Librairie Plon, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie, Imprimeurs-Éditeurs, Rue Garancière, 10, 1891, pp. 48-53; Riedmatten, Louiselle (de). Aspects tactiques et stratégiques de la bataille de Baylen: le rôle des régiments suisses. 1995; Saint-Maurice Cabany, E.. Étude historique sur la capitulation de Baylen: renfermant des documents authentiques et inédits, comprenant une narration détaillée de la Campagne de 1808 en Andalousie: et précédée d’une notice biographique sur le lieutenant général comte Dupont, ancien ministre de la guerre. Paris, Nécrologe universel du XIXe siècle: Revue générale biographique et nécrologique, 1846; Seze, R. (de). Baylen et la politique de Napoléon. Lyon, Vitte, 1904.

[11] The revealed bona fide percentage of the acquired danger by the hurried Lusitanian attack was proved by the new dispositions:  the well-thought out mobility of the strong French reinforcements were assigned as armed escorts to the great convoy of the armée de Portugal.  “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 the position” [vide: Horward, Donald D.. The French campaign in Portugal 1810-1811. An account by Jean Jacques Pelet. Edited, annotated, and translated by Donald D. Horward. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1973, p. 170, l. 24-26].

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2012

 

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