If any other persuasion were needed to induce the Marshal to take the western, and not the eastern, road to Oporto, it was the knowledge of the position of the enemy which he had attained by diligent cavalry reconnaissances. It was ascertained that Silveira with the remains of his division had fallen back to Villa Pouca, more than thirty miles away, in the direction of Villa Real. He could not be caught, and could retreat whithersoever he pleased. Freire, on the other hand, was lying at Braga with his unwieldy masses, and had made no attempt to march forward and fortify the passes of the Serra da Cabrera. By all accounts that the horsemen of Franceschi could gather, the defiles were blocked only by the Ordenanza of the mountain villages.
This astounding news was absolutely correct. Freire’s obvious course was to defend the rugged watershed, where positions abounded. But he contented himself with placing mere observation posts—bodies of thirty or 100 men—in the passes, while keeping his main army concentrated. The truth was that he was in a state of deep depression of mind, and prepared for a disaster. Judging from the line which he adopted in the previous year, while co-operating with Wellesley in the campaign against Junot, we may set him down as a timid rather than a cautious general. He had no confidence in himself or in his troops: the indiscipline and mutinous spirit of the motley levies which he commanded had reduced him to despair, and he received no support from the Bishop of Oporto and his faction, who were omnipotent in the province. Repeated demands for reinforcements of regular troops had brought him nothing but the 2nd battalion of the Lusitanian Legion, under Baron Eben. The Bishop kept back the greater part of the resources of which he could dispose, for the defence of his own city, in front of which he was erecting a great entrenched camp. Freire had also called on the Regency for aid, but they had done no more than order two line battalions under General Vittoria to join him, and these troops had not yet crossed the Douro. When he heard that the French were on the march, and that he[p. 229] himself would be the next to receive their visit, he so far lost heart that he contemplated retiring on Oporto without attempting to fight. Instead of defending the defiles of Ruivaens and Salamonde, he began to send to the rear his heavy stores, his military chest, and his artillery of position. This timid resolve was to be his ruin, for the excitable and suspicious multitude which surrounded him had every intention of defending their homes, and could only see treason and cowardice in the preparations for retreat. In a few days their fury was to burst forth into open mutiny, to the destruction of their general and their own ultimate ruin.
Soult meanwhile had set out from Chaves on March 14, with Franceschi and Delaborde at the head of his column, as they had been in all the operations since their departure from Orense. Mermet and Lahoussaye’s dragoons followed on the fifteenth: Heudelet, with whom were the head quarters’ staff and the baggage, marched on the sixteenth: Merle, covering the rear of the army, came in from Monterey on that day, and started from Chaves on the seventeenth. Only Vialannes’ brigade of dragoons was detached: these two regiments were directed to make a feint upon Villa Real, with the object of frightening and distracting Silveira, lest he should return to his old post when he heard that the French army had departed, and fall upon the rear of the marching columns. They beat up his outposts at Villa Pouca, announced everywhere the Marshal’s approach with his main body, and retired under cover of the night, after having deceived the Tras-os-Montes troops for a couple of days.
The divisions of Delaborde and Franceschi, while clearing the passes above Chaves, met with a desperate but futile resistance from the Ordenanza of the upper Cavado valley. Practically unaided by Freire, who had only sent to the defile of Salamonde 300 regular troops—a miserable mockery of assistance—the gallant peasantry did their best. ‘Even the smallest villages,’ wrote an aide-de-camp of Soult, ‘tried to defend themselves. It was not rare to see a peasant barricade himself all alone in his house, and fire from the windows on our men, till his door was[p. 230] battered in, and he met his death on our bayonets. The Portuguese defended themselves with desperation, and never asked for quarter: if only these brave and devoted fellows had possessed competent leaders, we should have been forced to give up the expedition, or else we should never have got out of the country. But their resistance was individual: each man died defending his hamlet or his home, and a single battalion of our advanced guard easily cleared the way for us. I saw during these days young girls in the fighting-line, firing on us, and meeting their death without recoiling a step. The priests had told them that they were martyrs, and that all who died defending their country went straight to paradise. In these petty combats, which lasted day after day, we frequently found, among the enemy’s dead, monks in their robes, their crucifixes still clasped in their hands. Indeed, while advancing we could see from afar these ecclesiastics passing about among the peasants, and animating them to the combat…. While the columns were on the march isolated peasants kept up a continual dropping fire on us from inaccessible crags above the road: at night they attacked our sentries, or crept down close to our bivouacs to shoot at the men who sat round the blaze. This sort of war was not very deadly, but infinitely fatiguing: there was not a moment of the day or night when we had not to be upon the qui vive. Moreover, every man who strayed from the ranks, whether he was sick, drunk, tired, or merely a marauder, was cut off and massacred. The peasants not only murdered them, but tortured them in the most horrid fashion before putting them to death.’
Among scenes of this description Franceschi and Delaborde forced their way down the valley of the Cavado, till they arrived at the village of Carvalho d’Este, six miles from Braga, where[p. 231] they found a range of hills on both sides of the road, occupied by the whole horde of 25,000 men who had been collected by Freire. The division which followed the French advanced guard had also to sustain several petty combats, for the survivors of the Ordenanza whom Delaborde had swept out of the way, closed in again to molest each column, as it passed by the defiles of Venda-Nova, Ruivaens, and Salamonde. Mermet’s division, which brought up the rear, had to beat off a serious attack from Silveira’s army. For that general, as soon as he discovered that he had been fooled by Lorges’ demonstration, sent across the Tamega a detachment of 3,000 men, who fell upon Soult’s rear. But a single regiment drove them off without much difficulty: they drew back to their own side of the mountains, and did not quit the valley of the Tamega.
It was on March 17 that Franceschi and Delaborde pushed forward to the foot of the Portuguese position, which swept round in a semicircle on each side of the high-road. Its western half was composed of the plateau of Monte Adaufé, whose left overhangs the river Cavado, while its right slopes upward to join the wooded Monte Vallongo. This latter hill is considerably more lofty than the Monte Adaufé and less easy of access. In front of the position, and bisected by the high-road, is the village of Carvalho d’Este: at the foot of the Monte Vallongo is another village, Lanhozo, whose name the French have chosen to bestow on the combat which followed. To the left-rear of the Monte Adaufé, pressed in between its slopes and the river, is a third village, Ponte do Prado, with a bridge across the Cavado, which is the only one by which the position can be turned. The town of Braga lies three miles further to the rear. The invaders halted on seeing the whole range of hills, some six miles long, crowned with masses of men in position. Franceschi would not take it upon himself to attack such a multitude, even though they were but peasantry and militia, of the same quality as the horde that had been defeated near Chaves a few days before. He sent back word to the Marshal, and drew up in front of the position to await the arrival of the main body.[p. 232] But noting that a long rocky spur of the Monte Adaufé projected from the main block of high ground which the enemy was holding, he caused it to be attacked by Foy’s brigade of infantry, and drove back without much difficulty the advanced guard of the Portuguese. The possession of this hill gave the French a foothold on the heights, and an advantageous emplacement for artillery such as could not be found in the plain below.
It was three days before the rest of Soult’s army joined the leading division—not until the twentieth was his entire force, with the exception of Merle’s infantry, concentrated at the foot of the enemy’s position, and ready to attack. This long period of waiting, when every mind was screwed up to the highest pitch of excitement, had completely broken down the nerve of the Portuguese, who spent the hours of respite in hysterical tumult and rioting. Freire, as we have already seen, had been planning a retreat on Oporto, but he found the spirit of his army so exalted that he thought it better to conceal his project. He pretended to have abandoned the idea of retiring, and gave orders for the construction of entrenchments and batteries on the Monte Adaufé, to enfilade the main approach by the high-road. But he could not disguise his down-heartedness, nor persuade his followers to trust him. Presently the wrecks of the Ordenanza levies, who had fought at Salamonde, fell back upon Braga, loudly accusing him of cowardice, for not supporting them in their advanced position. The whole camp was full of shouting, objectless firing in the air, confused cries of treason, and mutinous assemblies. On the day when the French appeared in front of the position Freire grew so alarmed at the threats against his life, which resounded on every side, that he secretly quitted Braga to fly to Oporto. But he was recognized and seized by the Ordenanza of Tobossa, a few miles to the rear. They brought him back to the camp as a prisoner, and handed him over to Baron Eben, the colonel of the 2nd battalion of the Lusitanian Legion, who had been acting as Freire’s second-in-command. This officer, an ambitious and presumptuous man, and a great ally of the Bishop of Oporto, played the demagogue, harangued the assembled multitude, and readily took over the charge of the army. He consigned his unfortunate predecessor to the gaol of Braga, and led on the mutineers to reinforce the[p. 233] array on Monte Adaufé. When Eben had departed, a party of Ordenanza returned to the city, dragged out the wretched Freire, and killed him in the street with their pikes. The same afternoon they murdered Major Villasboas, the chief of Freire’s engineers, and one or more of his aides-de-camp. They also seized and threw into prison the corregidor of Braga, and several other persons accused of sympathy with the French. Eben appears to have winked at these atrocities—much as his friend the Bishop of Oporto ignored the murders which were taking place in that city. By assuming command in the irregular fashion that we have seen, he had made himself the slave of the hysterical horde that surrounded him, and had to let them do what they pleased, lest he should fall under suspicion himself.
It would seem, however, that Eben did the little that was possible with such material in preparing to oppose Soult. He threw up more entrenchments on the Monte Adaufé, mounted the few guns that he possessed in commanding situations, and did his best to add to the lamentably depleted store of munitions on hand. Even the church roofs were stripped for lead, when it was found that there was absolutely no reserve of cartridges, and that the Ordenanza had wasted half of their stock in demonstrations and profitless firing at the French vedettes. On the morning of the nineteenth he extended his right wing to some hills below the Monte Vallongo, beyond the village of Lanhozo, a movement which threatened to outflank and surround that part of the French army which was in front of him, and to cut it off from the divisions still in the rear. This could not be tolerated, and Mermet’s infantry were dispatched to[p. 234] dislodge the 2,000 men who had taken up this advanced position. They were easily beaten out of the village and off the hill, and retired to their former station on the Monte Vallongo. The French here captured two guns and some prisoners. Soult gave these men copies of a proclamation which he had printed at Chaves, offering pardon to all Portuguese who should lay down their arms, and sent them back into Eben’s lines under a flag of truce. When the Ordenanza discovered what the papers were, they promptly put to death the twenty unfortunate men as traitors, without listening to their attempts to explain the situation.
On the morning of March 20, Soult had been joined by Lorges’ dragoons and his 长沙桑拿水会 other belated detachments, and prepared to attack the enemy’s position. To defend it Eben had now, beside 700 of his own Legion, one incomplete line regiment (Viana, no. 9), the militia of Braga and the neighbouring places, and some 23,000 Ordenanza levies, of whom 5,000 had firearms, 11,000 pikes, and the remaining 7,000 nothing better than scythes, goads, and instruments of husbandry. There were about fifteen or twenty pieces of artillery distributed along the front of the six-mile position, the majority of them in the entrenchments on the Monte Adaufé, placed so as to command the high-road.
Knowing the sort of rabble that was in front of him, Soult made no attempt to turn or outflank the Portuguese, but resolved to deliver a frontal attack all along the line, in the full belief that the enemy would give way the moment 长沙桑拿会所全套 that the charge was pushed home. He had now about 3,000 cavalry and 13,000 infantry with him—Merle being still absent. He told off Delaborde’s division with Lahoussaye’s dragoons to assail the enemy’s centre, on both sides of the high-road, where it crosses the Monte Adaufé. Mermet’s infantry and Franceschi’s light horse attacked, on the left, the wooded slopes of the Monte Vallongo. Heudelet’s division, on the right, sent one brigade to storm the heights above the river, and left the other brigade as a general reserve for the army. Lorges’ dragoons were also held back in support.
As might have been expected, Soult’s dispositions were completely successful. When the columns of Delaborde and Heudelet reached the foot of the enemy’s position, the motley horde which occupied it broke out into wild cheers and curses, 长沙桑拿论坛 and opened a heavy but ineffective fire. They stood as long as the French were climbing up the slopes, but when the infantry debouched on to the plateau of Monte Adaufé they began to waver and disperse. Then Soult let loose the cavalry of Lahoussaye, which had trotted up the high-road close in the rear of Delaborde’s battalions, the 17th Dragoons leading. There was no time for the reeling mass of peasants to escape. ‘We dashed into them,’ wrote one officer who took part in the charge; ‘we made a great butchery of them; we drove on among them pell-mell right into the streets of Braga, and we pushed them two leagues further, so that we covered in all four leagues at full gallop without giving them a moment to rally. Their guns, their baggage, their military chest, many standards fell into our power.’
Such was the fate of the Portuguese centre, on each side of the high-road. Further to the right, above the Cavado, Heudelet was equally successful in forcing his way up the northern slopes of the Monte Adaufé; the enemy broke when he reached the plateau, but as he had no heavy force of cavalry with him, their flight was not so disastrous or their loss so heavy as in the centre. Indeed, when they had been swept down into the valley behind the ridge, some of the Portuguese turned to bay at the Ponte do Prado, and inflicted a sharp check on the Hanoverian legion, the leading battalion in Heudelet’s advance. It was not till the 26th of the line came up to aid the Germans that the rallied peasantry again broke and fled. They only lost 300 men in this part of the field.
Far to the left, in the woods on the slope of the Monte Vallongo, Mermet and Franceschi had found it much harder to win their way to the edge of the plateau than had the troops in the centre. But it was only the physical obstacles that detained them: the resistance of the enemy was even feebler than in the centre. By the time that the infantry of Mermet emerged on the crest of the hill, the battle had already been won elsewhere. The Portuguese right wing crumpled up the moment that it was attacked, and fled devious over the hillsides, followed by Franceschi’s cavalry, who made a dreadful slaughter among the fugitives. Five miles behind their original position a body of militia with four guns rallied under the cliffs on which stands the village of Falperra. The cavalry held them in check till Mermet’s leading regiment, the 31st Léger, came up, and then, attacked by both arms at once, the whole body was ridden down and almost exterminated. ‘The commencement was a fight, the end a butchery,’ wrote an officer of the 31st; ‘if our enemies had been better armed and less ignorant of the art of war, they might have made us pay dearly for our victory. But for lack of muskets they were half of them armed with pikes only: they could not man?uvre in the least. How was such a mob to resist us? they could only have held their ground if they had been behind stone walls.’
The rout and pursuit died away in the southern valleys beyond Braga, and Soult could take stock of his victory. He had captured seventeen guns, five flags, and the whole of the stores of Eben’s army: he had killed, according to his own estimate, some 4,000 men, and taken only 400 prisoners. This shocking disproportion between the dead and the captives was caused by the fact that the French in most parts of the field had given no quarter. Some of their historians explain that their cruelty resulted from the discovery that the Portuguese had been murdering and mutilating the stragglers who fell into their hands. But it was really due to the exasperation of[p. 237] spirit that always accompanies guerrilla warfare. Constantly worried by petty ambushes, ‘sniped’ in their bivouacs, never allowed a moment of rest, the soldiers were in a state of nervous irritation which found vent in needless and unjustifiable cruelty. In the fight they had lost only forty killed and 160 wounded, figures which afford no excuse for the wholesale slaughter in the pursuit to which they gave themselves up.
In the first flush of victory the French supposed that they had made an end of the Ordenanza, and that northern Portugal was at their feet. ‘Cette journée a été fatale à l’insurrection portugaise,’ wrote one of the victors in his diary. But no greater mistake could have been made: though many of the routed horde dispersed to their homes, the majority rallied again behind the Avé, only ten or twelve miles from the battle-field. Nor did the battle of Braga even open the way to Galicia: General Botilho, with the levies of the Valenza and Viana district, closed in behind Soult and blocked the way to Tuy, the nearest French garrison. The Marshal had only conquered the ground on which he stood, and already his communication with Chaves, his last base, had been intercepted by detachments sent into the passes by Silveira.
Soult halted three days at Braga, a time which he utilized for the repair of his artillery, and the replenishing of the cartridge boxes of his infantry from the not too copious supply of munitions captured from the Portuguese. His cavalry scoured the country down the Cavado as far as Barcelos, and southward to the line of the Avé, only to find insurgents everywhere, the bridges broken, and the fords dredged up and staked.
The Marshal, however, undaunted by the gloomy outlook, resolved to march straight for his destined goal, without paying any attention to his communications. He now made Braga a temporary base, left there Heudelet’s division in charge of 600 sick and wounded, and moved on Oporto at the head of his three remaining infantry divisions and all his cavalry.
Two good chaussées, and one additional mountain road of inferior character, lead from Braga to Oporto, crossing the Avé,[p. 238] the one four, the next six, the third twenty-four miles from the sea. The first and most westerly passes it at Ponte de Avé, the second at Barca de Trofa, where there is both a bridge and a wide ford, the third and least obvious at Guimaraens not far from its source in the Serra de Santa Catalina. Soult resolved to use all three for his advance, wisely taking the difficult road by Guimaraens into his scheme, since he guessed that it would probably be unwatched by the Portuguese, precisely because it was far less eligible than the other two. He was perfectly right: the Bishop of Oporto, the moment that he heard of the fall of Braga, pushed up some artillery and militia to aid the Ordenanza in defending both the Ponte de Avé and the Barca de Trofa bridges. Each was cut: batteries were hastily thrown up commanding their approaches, and entrenchments were constructed in their rear. At Barca de Trofa the ford was dredged up and completely blocked with chevaux de frise. But the remote and secondary passage at Guimaraens was comparatively neglected, and left in charge of such of the local Ordenanza as had returned home after the rout of Braga.
Soult directed Lorges’ dragoons against the western road: he himself with Delaborde’s and Merle’s infantry and Lahoussaye’s cavalry took the central chaussée by Barca de Trofa. On the difficult flanking path by Guimaraens he sent Franceschi’s light horse and Mermet’s infantry. On both the main roads the Portuguese positions were so strong that the advancing columns were held back: Soult would not waste men—he was beginning to find that he had none to spare—in attempting to force the entrenched positions opposite him. After feeling them with caution, he pushed a column up-stream to a small bridge at San Justo, which had been barricaded but not broken. Here he established by night a heavy battery commanding the opposite bank. On the morning of the twenty-sixth he opened fire on the Portuguese positions across the water, and, when the enemy had been well battered, hurled the brigade of General Foy at the fortified bridge. It was carried, and Delaborde’s division was beginning to pass, when it met another French force debouching on the same point. This was composed of Mermet and Franceschi’s men: they had beaten the local Ordenanza at Guimaraens, crossed the Avé high up, and were[p. 239] now pushing along the southern bank to take the Barca de Trofa position in the flank. Thus Soult found that, even if his frontal assault at San Justo had failed, his left-hand column would have cleared the way for him a few hours later, being already across the river and in the enemy’s rear. Indeed his lateral detachment had done all that he had expected from it, and at no great cost. For though the Ordenanza had opposed it bravely enough, they had never been able to hold it back. The only notable loss that had been sustained was that of General Jardon, one of Mermet’s brigadiers, who had met his death by his own recklessness. Finding his men checked for a moment, he had seized a musket and charged on foot at the head of his skirmishing
line. This was not the place for a brigadier-general, and Jardon died unnecessarily, doing the work of a sub-lieutenant.