Iberian Peninsula

Napoleonic Wars in the Iberian Peninsula: Battle at Buçaco September 27th, 1810


Introduction

The battle of Buçaco is considered by some as a battle that perhaps should not have happened. Wellesley and the British-Portuguese were going to fall back behind the Lines of Torres Vedras whatever might happen. There, behind fortifications, they could winter in an unassailable position.

By the time battle was enjoined, Masséna knew of the Lines, and their strength. His opponent would only allow battle when in a position of great strength or advantage. For a variety of reasons on both sides, desire for a victory before stalemate, a battle to please political masters, and contempt for opponents for a few, the battle was fought on September 27th 1810.

Current Situation in the Peninsula

Portugal is suffering its 3rd invasion by the French. This time Masséna is the Commander, and Junot of the first invasion is a subordinate General. Some british and Portuguese units have attempted to stop or slow the French. Craufurd met them at the Coa bridge, and Colonel Trant leading a Portuguese brigade nearly captured his siege train.

That siege train was headed toward Massena investng the city of Almeida. This city was expected to hold out for at least some weeks if not through the entire witer. It was well stocked and garrisoned. This hope failed when the Portuguese powder magazine exploded 2 days into the bombardment. It destroyed the castle, much of the city center, and 700 soldiers.

Preliminaries

General Wellesley began evacuating residents, supplies, and his army from northern Portugal as winter and Marshal Masséna approached. Wellesley meant to fall back behind a strong position that his engineers and the Portuguese had created over the last year. He had blocked some passes, put up a series of redoubts along the 3 main roads toward the south and Lisbon, in a line from the Atlantic to the Tagus River. His defenses included roads crossing behind these line to allow for quick movements of his own armies.

Masséna by chance or design, chose a poorer road, a fourth, toward the south. He wanted an alternate route, but his maps were poor, and 30 years old.

Wellesley quickly used his roads to bring his men to the Serra do Buçaco, a 9 mile long granite ridge. Masséna found them there on the 25th. He did not know their numbers as the men under Wellesley's command were forbidden fires, and were encamped just out of sight near the top of the ridge.

Masséna held the british in some contempt and chose to attack even though the ground did not favor his army.

Terrain

Serra do Buçaco, was a bare 9 mile long granite ridge. From the French side the ground rose high above his troops while at the base the hills were wooded and cut by gullies.

Participants

Wellesley commanded 50,000 troops, 25,000 British soldiers and 25,000 Portuguese. Masséna arrived with over 60,000 under Generals Ney, Reynier, and Junot.

The battle

Masséna ordered Ney and Reynier to attack the Allied Left-Centre, and held Junot in reserve. As Reynier's men climbed they were attacked and harassed on all sides. As they met fire at the top they were forced to retreat in some disorder.

Ney's men met very little resistance during their difficult climb. When they reached the top, they met devastating fire from the battalions of Craufurd, and the Portuguese under Pack. They then were routed by a bayonet attack.

Further attempts were met in like manner and repulsed with similar results

Anecdotes and ancillary events

Results

The Allied forces had 1,250 casualties, split evenly between the Portuguese and British. The French suffered 4,500 casualties.

Wellesley then retreated entirely behind his lines, safe from any possible attack. His men wintered in relative comfort.

Masséna refused to fall back, and spent the winter in the area, searching for supplies, destroying what he could not take, and hoping for an opportunity to fight but content to keep the Allies in the south. He finally left and returned to Spain in March of 1811, losing some 25,000 men, dead, injured, to disease, desertion or by capture. Further losses included much of their baggage, most of their cannon, and 1/2 of their horses.

Political situation

As with any event or conflict reactions were mixed. There was rejoicing in Lisbon and Britain over the victory. However the Portuguese populace suffered greatly. Many refugees starved from want of the food burned or consumed by the armies. Villages were burned and buildings were dismantled for firewood.




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