Multiethnic Military Dissent and Armed Resistance in 1811 Portugal: Controlling Conflict, Chaudron’s Attested Choice and The Formation of the Independents Part I

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy

History and strategic applications: studies for the bicentenary, 1811-2011


Under the remarkably and specifically profiled cultural contribution (id est, social and cultural history of modern warfare), and to thoroughly expound and clarify one particular academic research in the field of humanistic sciences, it is necessary to delve deeper into the topic – the documentary aspect has been meticulously cared for  –  and focus on contemporary XIXth century eye-witnesses: French military history sources.

The object of the investigation, Marshal Masséna’s military campaign in Continental Portugal, conjointly with a specific chronological period (years 1810, 1811), offers the demanding task to explore primary source material developed as a compelling direction in the course of the research and throughout the elaborate process of examining foreign texts. 

The power of the arms: phenomenological incongruities

Discerning the copious Portuguese campaign narratives (just to name some qualified authors: Delagrave[1], Fririon[2], Guingret[3], Lemonnier-Delafosse[4], Marbot[5], Noël[6]), it is actually possible to gain circumstantial literary knowledge, and to understand its proper meaning as to how the particulars were related to the phenomenon of désertion (desertion) in the ranks of the invading French corps – and that those eventualities did not appear to be unusual occurrences of sporadic intensity, as exposed for instance, in Pelet’s Memoir[7].

Because this officer held an important and responsible position and played an intermediate role developed from the rank of first aide de camp of Maréchal Masséna, there emerges incontrovertible evidence that the disciplinary order, the principled theorizations and controlled stability in the armée de Portugal, from an unspecified time, had begun to dangerously vacillate.

The official relations reported on single and isolated cases, the “non official” reality, revealed unexpected and surprising aspects.

At the beginning of the campaign, the cases of desertion were at first minor -- recognized marginally and semi-apparent circumstances of transition; none-the-less they had to be covered so as not to compromise the spirit and morale of the fighting units.

This thoughtful device was adopted so as not to generate distressing imbalances and discouraging comportments that irrevocably would have proved a disquieting source of insubordination.

However the afflicting circumstances were considered, in the progressive phases of the 1811 Portuguese campaign, their confirmed seriousness reached remarkable peaks and a grievous development, both of military and “political” character.

Single deserters were common in the army routine; not surprisingly, in later incidents these désabusés de la gloire (disillusioned of glory), miserable “troops”, began to sympathize while listening to campfire stories, and to share deep ties of brotherhood in order to pacify their disgraced state, manifested in non-conformist attitudes and volatile intentions.

Single soldiers who had taken unauthorized leave from the ranks, thought it much wiser to gather together and were well-aware of immediate resolutions of their determined choices -- to leave the regular French army establishment.

A Process of Definition: formations irrégulierès -- bandas armadas

Groups were thus incidentally formed.

Former fellow compatriots and a multi-ethnic assortment of nationalities joined together in solidarity, living an adventure, and a common life with common miseries.

Different mobile coteries were established by having their own independent structure, hierarchy, command-staff, and imparted directives.

By rapidly increasing the number of the mécontents (disaffected) and insatisfaits (dissatisfied) soldiers in the French service, these heterogeneous solidarities became stronger (by equally enrolling Portuguese and English “volunteers”), and consolidated into combat-ready formations.

With ever growing unscrupulous tactics, unrestricted audacity, and acumen, seemingly diverse entities gained fresh manpower, arms, and new companions.

Subsequently over time, the “communities in arms” established intertwined “alliances” and ultimately relied on relatos de compromisso (compromise) with the local civilian inhabitants.

More importantly, they became dreaded independent forces and were organized on ground with proper systems, military organization (infantry, plus cavalry cadres) and operative choices of efficiency, including defensive-offensive plans, long range expeditions, as well as hit and run incursions.

From the regrettable abandoning of the ranks – which was effectively caused by deficiencies of supplies and strict survival – enlisted men opted for rigorous choices that offered no possibility other than the tough, hard daily reality in a foreign land in order to survive.

It was an inescapable solution to create one innovative system of personal and collective choice; otherwise the constraining alternative was to die of hunger and famine.

The stringent possibility for survival made use of one network of support, which first took advantage of the local population as well as the territory’s resources.

Not to be dominated by the chains of violence and by protracted armed fights, accords and connivances of political and military compromise were established.

For the common wealth small concentrated areas were ensured – a kind of dominion susceptible to any intervention – that had to be controlled and defended to maintain adequate possession over the local productive sources.

Easily noted was the tremendous difference between life and death.

True strategic goals could be achieved only by having constant food supplies and fresh nourishment.

Essential reasons of daily economy -- plus the cost of living -- seemed to have become more difficult and aggravated their ways of military life in facing armed solutions.


1810, 19 February: Portugal and England sign a further Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Trade.

June: Third invasion of the French army this time led by Maréchal Massena.

English reinforcements arrive by boat from England.

24 July: Battle of Bridge of Côa. The English forces under General Robert Craufurd create severe casualties and delay the advance of the French troops led by Marshal Michael Ney.

1 August: Declaration by Marshal Massena that a large French army was invading Portugal from Ciudade Rodrigo, in Spain, to fight the English army and not the Portuguese.

15 August: Siege of Almeida – English forces forced to surrender on the 18th of August after heavy bombardment from French forces.

10 September: Fifty leading Portuguese liberals are exiled to the Island of Terceira, in Azores, for promoting the policies.

18 September: The French army occupies Viseu.

27 September: Battle of Buçaco – The French army led by Marshal Masséna suffers a serious defeat against an inferior number of English and Portuguese troops.

1 October: The French army occupies Coimbra and sacks the town.

7 October: Portuguese troops led by Coronel Trant retake Coimbra.

Wellesley awarded title of Marquês de Torres Vedras.

14 October: The French army led by Masséna tries to penetrate without success the Linhas de Torres fortifications at Sobral – the foreign troops also attempt to cross the river by boat but the Chamusca boatmen burn many of their boats.

29 October: General Francisco da Silveira Pinto da Fonseca Teixeira, Conde de Amarante encircles the Fort of Almeida; he retreats on the 13th as superior French reinforcements arrive.

15 November: The French army short of supplies withdraws to Santarém.

30 December: Battle of Bridge of Abade – General Silveira engages with the French army led by General Clarapède near Lamego.



[1] Delagrave, André. Campagne de l’armée française en Portugal, dans les années 1810 et 1811. Avec un précis de celles qui l’ont précédée. Par Mr. A.D.L.G., officier supérieur employé dans l’État-Major de cette armée. Paris, J. G. Dentu, Imprimeur-Libraire, Rue du Pont de Lodi, n° 9, près le Pont-Neuf. 1815. Further publication : Delagrave (Colonel). Mémoires. Campagne de Portugal (1810-1811). Avertissement et notes par Ed. Gachot. Paris, Delagrave, 1902.  

[2] Fririon, François Nicolas. Journal historique de la campagne de Portugal, entreprise par le français, sous les ordres du maréchal Masséna, prince d’Essling, du 15 septembre 1810 au 2 mai 1811. Leneveu, Paris, 1841.

[3] Guingret, P.-F. (Chef de bataillon, en demi-activité, et Officier de l’Ordre Royal de la Légion d’honneur). Relation historique et militaire de la campagne de Portugal, sous le Maréchal Masséna, Prince d’Essling; contenant les opérations militaires qui se rapportent à l’expédition de Masséna, et les divers faits de l’Armée de Portugal, jusqu’à la fin de la Guerre d’Espagne. Limoges, chez Bargeas, Imprimeur-Libraire, rue Ferrerie, Mai, 1817.

[4] Lemonnier-Delafosse, Jean-Baptiste. Campagnes de 1810 à 1815. Souvenirs Militaires faisant suite à ceux des Première campagne et deuxième campagnes de  St-Domingue, de 1801 à 1809. Havre, Imprimerie du Commerce – Alph. Lemale. 1850.

[5]Marbot, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine-Marcellin (Baron de). Mémoires du Général Baron de Marbot. Paris, Editions E. Plon, Nourrit & Cie, 1891 /1892. 

[6] Noël, Jean Nicolas Auguste (Colonel). Souvenirs militaires d’un officier du premier empire (1795-1832). Berger-Levrault, Pais, 1895.

[7] Général Baron Jean-Jacques-Germain Pelet-Clozeau was born a Toulouse on July 15, 1777, and died in Paris (December 20, 1858). English language edition: 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. French language edition: Pelet-Clozeau (Général). Mémoires sur ma campagne du Portugal (1810-1811). Édition établie par Christian Schneider. Éditions Historiques Teissèdre, Paris, 2003.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2012


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