On the morning of March 16th, the hills beyond the Ceira, where a whole army had been visible on the preceding day, were now seen to be almost void of defenders—only a trifling rearguard was visible watching the broken bridge from a distance. Wellington sent scouts over the river to reconnoitre, but did not cross it in force. He had accomplished his main design of thrusting the French off the Coimbra road and into the mountains, and he had entirely outmarched his provisions. He had now got so far from his base at Lisbon that food sent up from thence had far to travel, and he had not yet succeeded in setting up an intermediate dép?t at Coimbra, though store-ships were already ordered from Lisbon to its port of Figueira, now that there was no danger of the enemy crossing the lower Mondego. During the last week the army had used up all that it carried with it, and the Portuguese brigades, badly supplied by the native commissariat, had run short even before the British. Pack’s and Ashworth’s men had received no regular rations for four days, and had only kept up to the front by gleaning in the deserted bivouacs of the French, and borrowing the little that the British commissariat could spare. Everything had run dry by the 16th, and Wellington considered that no great harm would be suffered by waiting a day on the Ceira, for the first convoy to come up from the rear, since the French were now in rugged ground, where they could not make any long attempt to stand for sheer want of food. They must continue their retreat or starve in a depopulated country. Accordingly Wellington settled down at Lous?o and took stock of the general position of affairs: the result of his halt was an immense discharge of arrears of correspondence—he had written only one dispatch between the 10th and 16th of March, but got off seventeen on[p. 160] the last-named day. Some of these are very important, as showing that he regarded the crisis as over, and the ultimate evacuation of Portugal by the French as certain. The most notable are two orders to Beresford, making over to him once more the 4th Division and De Grey’s heavy dragoons for the expedition into Estremadura, which now had as its object not the relief of Badajoz (whose capitulation was known) but the holding back of Soult from Campo Mayor and Elvas.
It will be remembered that the 2nd Division and Hamilton’s Portuguese had been left behind near Abrantes when Wellington determined, on March 9th, not to send an expedition against Soult, till he could make it up to a force sufficient to cope with the army that was beleaguering Badajoz. They were not to commit themselves to any offensive operations, or to cross the Portuguese frontier, till the reinforcements arrived, but were to move a stage on their way toward the south. Accordingly the head quarters of the 2nd Division were at Tramagal on the 14th, with its attached cavalry (the 13th Light Dragoons) at Crato in advance, while the Portuguese horse of Otway had been sent to watch the roads to Elvas by Portalegre and Estremos. Here there was a halt for a week, Beresford being absent with Wellington for five days, and it was not till the 17th that the movement towards Estremadura began again, on his return. Meanwhile Masséna, oddly enough, knowing of the existence of a considerable allied force at Abrantes, and not feeling it on his own flank, formed a theory that it must have been sent in a long sweep up by the Zezere, to drop into the upper Mondego valley and cut him off from Spain. Nervousness as to this imaginary movement had no small effect on his main operations.
[p. 161]By sending off Cole and De Grey to join the future Army of Estremadura, on the 16th March, Wellington reduced the force about him by 7,000 men, and had no more than 38,000 left on the Ceira. The newly formed 7th Division, which was marching up from Lisbon, and would ultimately replace Cole with the main army, was at this moment only reaching Santarem; it did not come up to the front till March was at its end. For the rest of his operations against Masséna, therefore, Wellington was more than ever in a state of numerical inferiority, and forced to be cautious. But he was in a confident mood, foreseeing that the enemy could not now stop in Portugal, and must be starved into a prompt retreat over the frontier.
His conviction that the crisis was over is shown by another dispatch of the 20th March, in which he directs that the whole of the Lisbon Militia and Ordenan?a be dismissed to their homes, the former on furlough, the latter for good. The Militia of the lower Beira (the Castello Branco country) and of northern Estremadura were also to return to their native districts, to be sent on leave or kept under arms according as further events might determine. Thus the Lines of Torres Vedras were left ungarrisoned, there being no further danger to be feared in the direction of Lisbon.
There was still much work, however, for the Militia of the North, Trant’s and Wilson’s brigades, who were brought down to the middle Mondego, and sent successively to Pe?a Cova, Mortagoa, and Fornos, to guard the fords and restrain the French from endeavouring to raid the north bank of the river. It was unlikely that they would make a serious attempt to cross in force into the barren country under the Serra de Alcoba, when they were in such a desperate plight for food, and would have the allied army close behind them, for the troops were to march again on the 17th. The middle Mondego, it must be remembered, was bridgeless, and in flood from the spring rains: even if Masséna had driven off Trant and Wilson, it would have taken him a long time to build a bridge (since he had no pontoons)[p. 162] and Wellington would have been pressing him in the rear before he had got more than a vanguard over the water. The Marshal seems never to have contemplated at this date a movement on to Coimbra or Oporto by the north bank of the Mondego, such as is suggested as possible by some of the commentators on the campaign: after the day of Condeixa a retreat eastward was always in his mind. His army was too dilapidated to make the least offensive stroke. ‘I think it necessary for the interests of his Imperial majesty,’ wrote Masséna on the 19th, ‘to bring the troops back nearer to our base of operations by our fortresses [Almeida and Rodrigo], in order to let them recover a little from their fatigues and long privations, and to allow me to replace so much equipment which is now entirely lacking.’
On the 16th, the day after the combat of Foz do Arouce, the 2nd and 8th Corps marched before dawn, in drenching rain, and retired as far as the Alva river, where the bridge of Ponte de Murcella, repaired for a moment by Drouet when he passed it a few days before, had again been broken by Wilson’s Militia. It took all the day to repair it, and by the evening only the artillery had been sent across. The divisions of Mermet and Loison followed at a distance, leaving behind the much-tried battalions of Marchand, which Ney had once more chosen to form his rearguard. He drew them up across the road a few miles from the Ceira, expecting to be attacked once more in the morning. But to his surprise Wellington did not cross the river, and only sent a few scouts to discover the position of the Marshal. Meanwhile his engineers mended the bridge at Foz.
On the 17th, at dawn, Masséna sent the 8th Corps across the repaired bridge of Ponte de Murcella, after which it halted at[p. 163] Corti?a, Moita, and other villages beyond the Alva river, whose passage it was prepared to defend. But the 2nd Corps was marched up-stream to Sarzedo, the next ford, and placed there in position, with a detachment beyond the river at the town of Arganil on its south bank. The 6th Corps, following the other two, crossed the Alva at Ponte de Murcella later in the day, and joined the 8th; it left a small detachment beyond the bridge to observe the expected arrival of the Allies. Of the horsemen, Montbrun’s heavy dragoons watched the lower course of the Alva, from Ponte de Murcella to its junction with the Mondego, while Junot’s corps-cavalry was sent up the Alva eastward, to hold the fords beyond Arganil.
These dispositions seemed to indicate an intention to make a serious stand behind the Alva, where the positions are very strong. The river is a fierce mountain torrent in a deep bed, with precipitous banks, and very few fords. Wellington had fixed on this line, during the Bussaco campaign in the preceding autumn, as the position where he should await the French if they advanced by the south bank of the Mondego, and had thrown up earthworks on each side of the Ponte de Murcella. These were, of course, useless to Masséna, since they looked the wrong way; but the river line was almost as defensible from the north bank as from the south, and presented a very formidable obstacle to the pursuing enemy.
By the evening of the 17th Wellington was once more in touch with the enemy. The cavalry brigades of Slade and Arentschildt had crossed the bridge of Foz do Arouce, and followed the 6th Corps to the Alva, with the 6th and Light Divisions behind them. The infantry, however, did not show themselves, but encamped in the hills, some miles from the Ponte de Murcella. They found the road strewn with dead or dying mules and horses, and took a certain number of French sick and stragglers.
But Wellington had no intention of forcing the Ponte de Murcella position; while two divisions took this road, the rest of the army (1st, 3rd, 5th Divisions, and the Portuguese independent brigades) were marched eastward by the steep road along the top of the watershed between the Ceira and the Alva, the route Furcado-Arganil, towards the fords of the upper[p. 164] Alva. They drove out of the last-named place Reynier’s observing detachment, which reported that it had seen the Allies in great force marching up-stream. This news convinced Masséna that his adversary was intending either to cross the ford of Sarzedo and attack Reynier, or to move still further up the valley, and to pass the Alva in its upper course, so throwing himself across the main road to Celorico, by which the Army of Portugal was intending to retreat. Nothing but cavalry scouts having been seen opposite the Ponte de Murcella, it was supposed that Wellington’s whole army was marching on Arganil.
Accordingly, on the afternoon of the 17th, Masséna ordered the 8th Corps to break up hastily from its camps and to march all night to Galliges, on the high road beyond Reynier’s left. This was done, and Junot hurried off, leaving hundreds of foragers scattered on the slopes towards the Mondego, whither they had been sent out in search of food during the day. Ney remained behind at the Ponte de Murcella, to keep the passage as long as possible; he was uncertain, as was Masséna, whether there was in his front only a cavalry screen or a serious force of all arms.
On the morning of the 18th this problem was solved, for the Light Division came down to the river, drove Ney’s rearguard across it, and opened a cannonade against the troops of the 6th Corps visible on the opposite bank. No serious attempt was made to pass, the intention being only to hold Ney to his ground as long as possible by demonstrations, while the real crossing was made far up-stream. This plan had the desired result. In the afternoon Ney received the news that the Allies had begun to cross the Alva at the ford of Pombeiro, from which they had driven off one of Reynier’s battalions. If any considerable force got over the river at this point, the 6th Corps was cut off from the rest of the army; accordingly the Marshal ordered his three divisions to march off without a moment’s delay; ‘I never saw Johnny go off in such confusion,’ says a Light Division diarist. The cavalry brigade of Arentschildt sent out reconnoitring parties, who forded the river, while the engineers rigged up a temporary wooden bridge close to the Ponte de Mur[p. 165]cella, by which the 6th and Light Divisions were able to cross at dawn on the following day.
On the left the decisive crossing at Pombeiro had been made by the Guards’ brigade of the 1st Division: Reynier made no attempt to support the single battalion at the ford, but called it in, and drew up in battle order on the Serra de Moita some distance above the river. There was no fighting here, and after dusk the 2nd Corps decamped, taking the road Galliges-Chamusca-Gouvea-Celorico, which runs parallel to and above the Alva; the 6th Corps fell in behind the 2nd; the 8th, which had already got further to the east during the march of the preceding night, led the column and was beyond Galliges in the afternoon.
On the night of the 18th-19th and the following morning the whole French army made a most protracted and fatiguing march, which cost them many stragglers and much material. This was the longest stage which Masséna made during the whole retreat, more than twenty miles of mountain road being covered in one stretch. On the evening of the 19th the head of the 8th Corps was at Pinhan?os, that of the 2nd at ?arago?a and Sandomil, that of the 6th at Chamusca. The British cavalry in pursuit picked up an immense number of prisoners this day, mainly small parties of foragers belonging to the 6th and 8th Corps, who had been marauding in the direction of the Mondego when their regiments received sudden orders to march: they returned towards their camps to fall into the hands of the British cavalry. Arentschildt’s brigade alone took 200 this day, and the total according to Wellington’s dispatch was 600 men. Among them were an aide-de-camp of Loison’s and several other[p. 166] officers. Some droves of oxen were captured from the foragers and from the rear of the 6th Corps, and this was the only food which the British vanguard got that day, for once more, as several diarists ruefully note, ‘biscuit was out.’ The pursuers state that ‘quantities of tumbrils, carts, waggons and other articles were abandoned by the enemy’, and no doubt were right, though Masséna wrote that evening from Maceira, ‘Nous n’avons pas laissé en arrière un malade, un blessé, ni la moindre voiture d’artillerie ou de bagages’. But his dispatches frequently contained what he knew that Napoleon would desire to see rather than the truth. Considering the difficulties of the retreat, and the skilful way in which he had conducted it, he might have been contented with his actual achievements, and need not have padded out his reports with ‘terminological inexactitudes’. It must be confessed that his aide-de-camp Fririon played a good second to him when he wrote in his journal that between the 15th and 31st of March the Army of Portugal left behind only twenty prisoners and fifty men lost while marauding.
Map of the Lower Mondego
Enlarge THE LOWER MONDEGO.
To illustrate the First Stage of Masséna’s Retreat.
On the morning of the 20th March Wellington’s army was all across the Alva, but only the cavalry and the Light, 3rd, and 6th Divisions continued the pursuit. The small convoy received on the 17th was exhausted, and what little food remained was made over to the three divisions named above, while the 1st, 5th, and Pack’s and Ashworth’s Portuguese halted for five days at Moita and the neighbouring villages, till the first train of provisions sent up from Coimbra should arrive. Of the troops which could still be fed, the Light Division pushed on as far as Galliges that night, the 3rd and 6th were behind them. The French, thanks to their desperate night march, were already a long way ahead, and it was late on the 20th before the cavalry overtook, near Cea, their extreme rearguard, two battalions of Heudelet’s division and a hussar regiment. General Slade, whose brigade was leading, refused to attack them until infantry and guns came up to his aid, and the French slipped away before[p. 167] Elder’s Ca?adores and Bull’s battery reached him. ‘This was the second day without bread, and the third without corn for the horses, and we had marched nearly five leagues,’ explains a cavalry diarist. The pursuers were as harassed as the pursued, and could go no further, but Slade was thought to have shown weakness. He picked up a good many stragglers and sick, and found the road strewn with broken vehicles and dying mules.
Meanwhile Masséna had divided his army into two columns at the fork of the roads near Maceira. The 2nd Corps, taking, on the right hand, the southern and more hilly route, reached Gouvea. The 8th Corps, taking the northern fork, got to Villacortes, and sent its cavalry on ahead to the bridge of Fornos, which they found broken and guarded by Trant’s Militia. The 6th Corps, following the 8th, lay at Pinhan?os. Since leaving the Ponte de Murcella the French were a little less pressed for food: the district through which they were now passing was fertile, and had not been raided before; most of the peasantry had returned to it during the winter. Hasty plundering on both sides of the road brought in a certain amount of food, especially in the way of cattle, which had been sent up into the hills, but were often discovered by skilled marauders. There was continual bickering with the Ordenan?a, one party of whom, only 300 strong, tried, with more courage than discretion, to defend the village of Penalva against the advanced guard of the 2nd Corps. All along the road the pursuing Light Division found the dead bodies of peasantry, mixed with those of the French sick who had fallen by the way.
On the 21st the 8th Corps reached Celorico, where Drouet was found in position with Conroux’s division of the 9th Corps. The 6th Corps reached Carapichina and Corti?a. The 2nd, turning off at Villacortes on the Guarda road, had a most distressing mountain march to Villamonte. The pursuing infantry of the Light and 3rd Divisions reached Pinhan?os and Maceira, with the cavalry five miles in front, at the convent of Vinho. They had now dropped fifteen miles behind the French rear, and were[p. 168] quite out of touch with it, but continued to pick up stragglers—200 men are said to have been taken on that day. Like the enemy, they were now commencing to get a little food from the country. ‘The peasants, who had all fled to the mountains on the enemy’s retreat, on seeing us come down, baked bread for the troops, and gave us whatever they had left. They had suffered a good deal, all the principal houses had been burnt, and those left a good deal destroyed, but the [French] troops had not been able to discover all the corn, &c., concealed.’
On the 22nd the French army had reached the end of the main retreat. Two corps were concentrated in and near Celorico, the other (Reynier) reached Guarda, where it found Claparéde’s division of Drouet’s corps, which had been there for some weeks. They were now only three marches from Almeida and four from Ciudad Rodrigo; communication with these two places was open, for Drouet and the 9th Corps had now come into touch again with the Commander-in-Chief, and were available for keeping the roads safe. The English had been outmarched, and Masséna might have retired to Almeida and Rodrigo practically unmolested, by a good chaussée. But this was not to be the end of the campaign, as every one in the French army, save its Commander-in-Chief, fervently desired. For generals and rank and file alike were tired out, and yearned for a cessation of mountain marches, and a rest in well-provisioned cantonments, before they should be called upon for another effort. But another and a most unexpected episode was to take place before the weary columns reached Rodrigo. Masséna made one more attempt to ‘save his face,’ and to avoid being thrust over the Spanish frontier, along the road on to which his adversary had forced him. This led to a fortnight more of man?uvres in the mountains, and to the combats of Guarda and Sabugal, after which the French Marshal had to pocket his pride and acquiesce in the inevitable. These operations are of a character so different from those which preceded them that[p. 169] they must be treated as a separate story. The retreat from Santarem really ended at Celorico. The events between March 22nd and April 4th must be dealt with apart, since they practically amounted to a belated attempt on the part of Masséna to seize the offensive once more, and to shift the scene of war without his adversary’s consent. The project failed, and (as we shall see) was hopeless from the first.
Before dealing with it, a few remarks on the general character of the operations that had taken place between March 9th and March 22nd must be made. When reading in succession two narratives of Masséna’s retreat from Santarem to Celorico, one by an English and one by a French eye-witness, it is often difficult to realize that the two writers are describing the same series of operations. Most of the French conceive the retreat to have been a series of triumphant rearguard actions, in which their army got off practically unmolested, under cover of the skilful operations of a small covering force. On the other hand, the English tell the tale as if the whole French army was easily hunted out of Portugal by inferior numbers, foiled in repeated attempts to occupy a permanent position in the valley of the Mondego, and finally thrust back in a direction which it did not intend to take. Where the French tell of nothing but an orderly retreat and small losses, the English speak of the capture of hundreds of prisoners, and the destruction of the whole baggage-train of the retiring army.
To a certain extent the mental attitudes of both sets of narrators can be understood and justified by the impartial student. When a rearguard action takes place, the covering force left behind by the retiring army always thinks of itself as being opposed to the whole pursuing host. It considers itself to be braving the assault of immensely superior forces, and if it holds its own for a time and gets off without crushing losses, is well satisfied with its own 佛山夜生活社交app conduct. This is both justifiable and comprehensible. But to the pursuer the same rearguard action presents an entirely different moral aspect. The few squadrons and battalions forming the head of his advance find themselves suddenly brought to a check by a considerable hostile force arrayed in a formidable position. They are forced to halt till their supports begin to come up, from five, ten, or fifteen[p. 170] miles in the rear. Then, when a body of reserve has begun to accumulate behind them, they launch themselves upon the enemy, who gives ground after more or less fighting and retires. The leading brigade or division of the pursuers considers that it has victoriously driven the whole hostile army from its strong position, and is no less satisfied with itself than is the force to which it has been opposed. In short, all rearguard actions begin with a check to the pursuers;佛山桑拿按摩蒲友论坛 they all end with the retreat of the defenders. This is their necessary course; both parties, if their generals play the game properly, may be content with themselves; the one has gained time for the escape of the main body of the retreating host, the other has cleared the way for the progress of the pursuing army. The only method in which their relative merits can be tested, is by asking whether the rearguard detained the advanced guard as long as might have been expected, inflicted disproportionate losses upon it, and got away with the minimum of loss to itself, or whether, on the other hand, the advanced guard evicted its opponents from their position at a rapid rate, with small sacrifices, and with considerable punishment inflicted on the enemy. The mere facts that the rearguard held back the pursuers for some hours, and that the advanced guard ultimately carried the 佛山桑拿论坛 enemy’s position, are obligatory incidents of such fights. When we come to examine the details of the combats which took place between the 11th and 19th of March, we shall neither hold with the French narrators that for many days Ney and two divisions of the 6th Corps fought and held back Wellington’s whole army, nor with the English narrators that the Light and 3rd Divisions, unassisted by their comrades, hunted 40,000 French out of the valley of the lower Mondego. Yet it is true that of forty-four French infantry officers, who were killed or wounded in Portugal between these dates, no less than thirty-seven belonged to the divisions of Marchand and Mermet, while, similarly, of twenty-nine British and Portuguese officers hit in the same period, no less than nineteen belonged to the Light Division and eight more to the 3rd. Clearly therefore Ney did not contend with the whole British army, but only with its two leading 佛山桑拿会所美女图片 divisions, and those two divisions did not contend with the whole French army, but only with the two[p. 171] units which formed its rearguard. Fine writing on both sides, as to struggles against overwhelming odds, must be disregarded. Still more so may the exaggerated estimates as to loss inflicted on the enemy which are to be found in the narratives of most of the first-hand writers. What they are worth may be guessed from Marbot’s statement that the British lost 1,000 men at Redinha—No?l raises this liberal estimate to 1,800—the real casualty list being 240. Similarly Grattan tells us that the French had 1,000 men hors de combat at Foz do Arouce, when their actual loss seems to have been about 250.
The accusations of timidity and over-caution which these contemporary chroniclers lavish upon each other’s generals are equally absurd. Wellington is always rallied by the French for want of courage and enterprise, because he did not at once dash the first two or three battalions that came up against a division in 佛山桑拿飞机网0757d position, but waited for his supports. And Ney is criticized by both English and French writers for having sometimes withdrawn from the fight over early, because at Condeixa and on the Alva he hastened to get out of a dangerous situation. Both generals, in reality, acted with perfect tactical correctness; armies do not meet for the purpose of putting in the maximum of fighting, without 佛山桑拿0757 regard for ends or consequences, and the commander who attacks before he has a sufficient force collected is blameworthy just in the same degree as the commander who holds out too long in a hazardous position.
Most of the French criticism on Wellington is based on the false hypothesis that his army outnumbered Masséna’s during the whole retreat, and that he therefore should have achieved greater results. As a matter of fact, as we have seen, he was never stronger than the enemy, because he had been forced to detach Beresford’s two divisions against Soult before he started. And when, in the later stages of the retreat, the French were short of Conroux’s division of the 9th Corps, which had gone on to Celorico ahead of the main army, it must be remembered that Wellington from 佛山夜生活最繁华热闹的地方 March 16th onwards was deprived of Cole’s division and the heavy dragoons, who had been[p. 172] sent off southward to join Beresford. A pursuing army dealing with a superior retreating army must act with the greatest caution, lest it should suddenly run up against the enemy’s whole force, and find itself committed to an offensive action against greater numbers in a strong position. Wellington never fell into this trap; he man?uvred the French out of every line which they took up, without incurring any danger, or allowing his adversary any chance of harming him. While giving all credit to Ney for the brilliant rearguard tactics by which he often held back the pursuers for half a day, it is necessary to give equal credit to 佛山桑拿妈咪电话 Wellington for having fought his way through half a dozen formidable lines of defence, with a minimum of loss, and without once exposing himself to the chance of a serious check. After all, his object was to drive Masséna away from the Mondego and towards Spain, and that object he achieved in the most triumphant fashion.
SECTION XXIV: CHAPTER II
GUARDA AND SABUGAL.
MARCH 22nd-APRIL 12th, 1811
At noon on March 22nd, the day following that on which the French head quarters had reached Celorico, Masséna issued a new set of orders, entirely contradictory to those which he had been giving during the last fifteen days. Though 佛山南海区桑拿娱乐会所 on the 19th he had stated his intention of ‘falling back closer to his base of operations on the fortresses [Almeida and Rodrigo], and giving the army a rest after its fatigues and privations,’ he now proposed to plunge back once more into the mountains, and to swerve aside from his places of strength and his dép?ts. The commanders of the corps received the astounding news that it was the intention of the Commander-in-Chief to turn south-eastward, towards the Spanish frontier and the central Tagus, with the object of taking up a position in the Coria-Plasencia country, from which he would threaten central Portugal on a new front. This necessitated a march from Celorico through the mountains of Belmonte and Penamacor, and then across the Sierra de Meras, into the thinly-peopled plateau of northern Estremadura.
Supposing that the centre of the Iberian peninsula had been a fertile plain resembling Lombardy or Flanders, there would have been something to say for this plan. Still more might it have been advisable if the French army had been a fresh and intact force just opening a campaign. Pelet, Masséna’s chief aide-de-camp, tries to justify the proposal by saying that ‘it was more conformable to the general rules of strategy; we should have connected ourselves with the 5th Corps in Estremadura, with the Army of the Centre, and the general pivot of operations
at Madrid; we should have brought Lord Wellington back to the position that he had quitted; we should have kept the results of the advantages recently won in Estremadura, which were so soon to be lost;[p. 174] we should also have had the means to menace once more Central Portugal and the Lines of Torres Vedras.’ This is all very plausible, but it omits the crucial facts that the Army of Portugal was tired out, destitute of munitions, and almost destitute of food, and that it was proposed to lead it across two difficult ranges of mountains full of gorges and defiles, into a region which was one of the most thinly peopled and desolate in all Spain, where there was not a single French soldier, much less a dép?t of any sort. This was the same district in which Victor had starved in 1809, and in passing through which Wellington
had suffered so many privations on the way to Talavera. It had been visited in February by a flying column under Lahoussaye, sent out from Talavera, which had got as far as Plasencia and Alcantara, and then retired, because it was absolutely impossible for 3,000 men to live in it.
Masséna’s maps were very bad—the actual set used by his head-quarters staff is in existence, and can be seen at Belfast. But his intelligence department must have been worse than his maps, if he was unaware of the character of the country on the border of Portugal and Spain, and of that lying beyond, in northern Estremadura. He might have asked information about it from Reynier and Ney, who had both crossed it, but he did not. Most striking of all, however, is the ignorance shown in these orders of the physical and moral state of the French army. If it had ever reached Plasencia, it would have got there without a gun or a baggage mule—the caissons and carriages were almost all gone already. A single set of figures may serve to show the situation: the artillery of the 8th Corps started from Almeida in September 1810 with 142 wheeled units—guns, caissons, waggons, &c., and 891 horses. It got back to Ciudad Rodrigo on April 4, 1811, with 49 guns and caissons drawn by 182 horses, having lost 93 vehicles and 709 horses. Forty-one of the caissons and waggons had been destroyed before the commencement of the retreat, the rest had been dropped between Thomar and Celorico. There were left at the end of March only 24 guns[p. 175] with 25 caissons of ammunition, to draw which required all the horses remaining. How long could this artillery have fought with only one caisson of ammunition per gun left? How many horses would have been alive after another hundred miles of mountain roads? Even if some guns had got to Plasencia, how long would it have taken to get them ammunition from Salamanca or Madrid, the nearest dép?ts? The same question would be no less forcible with regard to infantry ammunition, which was depleted to an equal extent with that of the artillery.
But it is even more important to remember that the Army of Portugal was also in desperate straits for boots and clothing. In many regiments a third or a quarter of the men had no footgear but ‘rivlins,’ or mocassins made every few days from the hides of cattle. The uniforms were in rags; many soldiers had nothing that recalled the regulation attire but the capote that covered everything.
Yet the main thing of all was the moral aspect of affairs. The army would fight when it was its duty, as French armies always have done, but it was discontented, sulky, angry with the Marshal, to whom it attributed its miseries—though its indignation might have been more justly reserved for the Emperor, who had set his lieutenant an impossible task. The rank and file had sunk low in discipline, as must be always the case when troops have been living by daily plunder for six months. And this same want of discipline was most evident among the generals, who, now that Masséna had failed, openly criticized him before their staffs, and often neglected his orders. Masséna suspected Ney, Junot, and Reynier alike of intending to denounce him to the Emperor as a blunderer. It will be remembered that he had already detected Reynier in a trick of this description. Ney had been girding at his orders with fury ever since the retreat began, and was telling all who cared to listen that a hasty return to Spain was the only possible policy, and that the dream of holding out on the Mondego or the Alva was absurd.
[p. 176]It was probably not on mere strategic grounds, but because he was determined to assert himself, to prove that he was master of his own movements, and that he was not yet a beaten man or a failure, that Masséna issued orders on the 22nd for the 2nd Corps to make ready to move southward, not northward, from Guarda, and for the 6th and 8th to prepare to follow on the same route. This provoked an explosion of wrath on the part of Ney, who in the course of four hours of the afternoon wrote three successive letters to his commander, in terms of growing irritation. In the first, which was sent off before receiving the detailed orders for the new movement, he merely set forth all the objections to it, and inquired whether Masséna had the Emperor’s leave for such a general change of plans. In the second, after he had received and read the orders, he protested formally against them, and said that, unless positive instructions from Paris authorizing the new scheme had been received, the 6th Corps should not march. He gave many arguments, and they were incontestably true. ‘The army has need to rest behind the shelter of Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo, in order to receive the clothing and shoes which are absolutely necessary, and which must be brought up from the magazines. Your Excellency is mistaken in thinking that food can be got in abundance in the region of Coria and Plasencia. I have marched through that country [during the attempt to cut off Wellington’s retreat from Talavera in 1809], and it is impossible to exaggerate its sterility or the badness of its roads. Your Excellency will not get one single gun so far, with the teams that we have brought out of Portugal. Moreover this man?uvre, so singular at this particular moment, would entirely uncover Old Castile, and compromise all our operations in Spain. I am fully aware of the responsibility which I take upon myself in making formal opposition to your intentions, but, even if I were destined to be cashiered or condemned to death, I could not execute the march on Coria and Plasencia directed by your Highness, unless (of course) it has been ordered by the Emperor.’
Within two hours of the second letter Ney sent in the third, which was no mere protest, nor even a mere refusal to move, but[p. 177] an open declaration of his intention to march back to Almeida. ‘I warn your Excellency that to-morrow I shall leave my positions of Carapichina and Corti?o, and échelon my troops from Celorico to Freixadas, and on the day after they will be between Freixadas and Almeida. This disposition is forced on me, in order to prevent the whole force from disbanding, under the pretext of searching for the food necessary for its subsistence, for food is now absolutely lacking.’
Unless he was to surrender his authority altogether, and obey his subordinate, Masséna had now to strike. Ney had put himself absolutely in the wrong in the way of military subordination, though he was as absolutely in the right in the way of strategy. And the Commander-in-Chief had every technical justification when he formally deposed him from the command of the 6th Corps, and directed him to leave for Valladolid without delay, and there await the orders of the Emperor. Loison, the senior of the three divisional generals of the 6th Corps, was ordered to take over its command next morning. Several of Ney’s partisans urged him to refuse obedience, to seize the person of Masséna, and to declare himself Commander-in-Chief of the Army of Portugal. We are assured that he would have been backed in the step by the whole of his own corps, and would have met no resistance from the others, for Masséna was universally disliked, and every man wished to continue the retreat on Almeida of which Ney was the advocate. But he shrank from levying open war upon his chief, and departed among the tears of the whole 6th Corps, of which he knew every officer and many men by sight. It had been under him, without a break, since he first formed it at the camp of Montreuil, near Boulogne, in 1804.
Masséna started off his aide-de-camp Pelet for Paris next day, with orders to get to the Emperor without delay, and explain the situation before Ney could tell his tale. This his emissary succeeded in doing, and his representations to Napoleon were backed by those of Foy, who had borne Masséna’s earlier message[p. 178] of March 9, and was still in Paris. The Emperor seems to have approved of Masséna’s stringent dealing with his subordinate, and even to have expressed his satisfaction with the new plan for marching the Army of Portugal to the middle Tagus. He also declared that corps-commanders of the type of Ney and Junot were a mistake, and that to avoid further friction he would cut up the whole army into divisions, and abolish the corps altogether. But at the same time he allowed Ney to return to Paris, gave him a mere formal reproof, and then continued to employ him in posts of the highest importance. Next year the Marshal was to win his last title of ‘Prince of the Moscowa’ under his master’s eye, on the field of Borodino.
Ney having been superseded and banished, Masséna could carry out his wild plan for a march towards northern Estremadura through the midst of the Portuguese mountains. On the 23rd the 6th Corps was brought into Celorico, and its artillery moved forward as far as Ratoeiro on the Guarda road. The 8th Corps left Celorico and moved in the same direction, with its cavalry at Ponte do Ladr?o in advance. Drouet with Conroux’s division had already gone back towards Almeida, with the sick and wounded of the whole army; he was ordered to[p. 179] take post at Val-de-Mula on the Turon, between Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo. His other division, that of Claparéde, was sent from Guarda to join him on the same day. Drouet, according to some versions of the events of this critical week, had moved back of his own accord without waiting for Masséna’s orders. But it is clear that there was absolute necessity to tell off some covering force for the frontiers of Leon, if the main army was to be drawn away to the central Tagus, lest Wellington should send off a detachment to attack Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo, and find nothing to hinder him.
For the next five days the march southward and eastward was continued. After a rest of only two nights at Guarda, the 2nd Corps moved on the 24th of March by two bad parallel roads through the hills, and encamped with its first division at Sortelha and its second at Aguas Bellas: a flanking detachment of cavalry occupied Belmonte, further to the west, in order to keep a look-out on the valley of the Zezere. The 8th Corps took up the position which the 2nd had evacuated at Guarda: it is recorded to have lost many of its already depleted stock of horses in climbing the steep ascent into that town, which stands on the very summit of the Serra da Estrella, at a height of over 3,400 feet above sea-level. No other town in Portugal lies so high. The 6th Corps followed the 8th, but halted short of Guarda, to cover the slow progress of its artillery, which had to be dragged up the defile with doubled teams, so that half the guns and vehicles had to wait at the bottom, while their beasts were assisting to draw the first section to its lofty destination.
The 25th saw the head of the 2nd Corps at Val de Lobos on the road to Penamacor; the main body painfully trailed along behind. Junot and the 8th Corps left Guarda, but took, not the path that Reynier had followed, but an equally difficult one leading to Belmonte. But the guns could not proceed with the infantry divisions. They had to be left at Guarda, the Belmonte road being pronounced absolutely impracticable for them: this was a serious check to Masséna, who had counted on using this route for the whole corps. Of the 6th Corps one division (Marchand) entered Guarda, a second (Loison’s old division, now commanded by Ferey) halted at Rapoulla, at the foot of the[p. 180] great mountain on which that town lies. The other division (Mermet) had taken a flanking turn, more in the plain, and lay at Goveias, fifteen miles north-east from Guarda, with a rearguard at Freixadas on the road to Almeida.
On the 26th, the last day on which it can be said that Masséna’s insane scheme for marching to Estremadura was still being carried out, the whole 6th Corps closed up on Guarda; the 8th Corps at Belmonte sent out reconnaissances towards Covilh?o, Manteigas, and the Zezere; but the 2nd, which was heading the column of march, was completely stuck in the mountains between Sortelha and Penamacor. It must have seemed a bitter piece of irony to Reynier when he received orders ‘to profit by his stay in his position to collect grain, and bake bread and biscuit,’ for he was in an almost entirely uninhabited country, on the watershed between the sources of the Coa and the Zezere, with the Sierra de Meras, the frontier-range between Spain and Portugal, in front of him.
Next morning (March 27) Reynier, though he had the example of Ney’s fate before him, was driven by sheer necessity into sending an argumentative dispatch to the Commander-in-Chief, who had now got as far as Guarda. He begged him to give up his great plan: ‘no food could be procured for the whole way from Guarda to Plasencia; if the corps ever got to the latter place, it would find no resources there, for the Coria-Plasencia country does not grow its own corn, but is fed in ordinary times from the valley of the Tietar and other distant regions.’ This Reynier knew from his own experiences in that region, when he had been observing Hill in the preceding summer. He also warned Masséna that he was taking the army into an impasse, for the Tagus is a complete barrier between northern and southern Estremadura, and could not be crossed save at the ferry of Alconetar, where there were now no boats, the bridge of Alcantara (now broken), and that of Almaraz, where there was only a flying bridge of pontoons.
At the same time Junot was writing from Belmonte to say that he could go no further; not only had he been forced to leave all his guns behind at Guarda, but ‘les troupes meurent[p. 181] de faim, et ne peuvent pas se présenter en ligne.’ He had scoured the country as far as Covilh?o with his cavalry, in search of food, with the sole result of ruining the few horses that were still in passable condition.