The day’s work had been a very pretty piece of man?uvring on both sides. Ney hung on to his two successive positions just so long as was safe, and absconded on each occasion at the critical moment, when his flanks were turned. A quarter of an hour’s more delay would have been ruin, 杭州kb群 but the retreat was made just in time. The two stands had delayed Wellington for a day, and his army had only advanced ten miles in the twenty-four hours. Yet it is unjust to accuse the British general of over-caution, as Napier and all the French annalists have done. He was quite right not to attack with the first division that came up, and to wait till he had three and a half in line. For he was aware that great strength lay in front of him, and, for all he knew, the troops of Mermet might have been supported not only by Marchand, as was actually the case, but by the whole of Junot’s corps. In that case an early attack would have meant a bloody check, and an enforced wait, till the 3rd, 4th, 1st, and 5th Divisions should have come up. As it was, the French rearguard was dislodged with a very modest loss on the part of the 杭州丝袜会所干嘛的 Allies, 12 officers and 193 men, of whom the large majority were in the Light and 3rd Divisions, the[p. 144] troops which had done the work. But the 4th Division and Pack’s Portuguese suffered some casualties, while waiting under cannon-fire for the flanking movement to take effect. The French loss was 14 officers and 213 men, nearly all from Mermet’s division, as that of Marchand was little engaged.
During this day the 6th Division, moving apart from the rest of the army, marched north-westward to Souré, and so got upon the western route to Coimbra. It was apparently Wellington’s intention to push this detachment round the western or seaward flank of the French army, so as to threaten with it the right wing of any position that the enemy might take up across the Coimbra chaussée. Indeed, having found no hostile force 杭州夜网最新地址 of any sort in front of it, the 6th Division was able to push in quite close to Coimbra on the next day, and to take up a position at Ega, which menaced Ney and Junot’s march across its front if they should still continue their retreat in the original direction. It was probably the movement of this division which caused the French to believe that Wellington had landed a detached force from ships at the mouth of the Mondego, and was pushing it forward towards Coimbra: an account of the march of this imaginary corps is to be found in several narratives.
Condeixa, to which Ney had retired on the evening of the combat of Redinha, is a most important strategical point, since here the chaussée leading to Coimbra is joined by the last crossroad which meets it south of the Mondego, that which runs eastward to the Ponte de 杭州桑拿按摩全套爽记Murcella and the Spanish frontier. As long as the French held Condeixa, they were in a position to choose between an attack on Coimbra and a retreat up the south bank of the river towards Almeida and their base. And[p. 145] with Wellington at his heels, Masséna had now to make his choice between the two courses. His dispatch of March 19th to Berthier informs us that he resolved for a moment to offer battle to the Allies at Condeixa, with the 6th and 8th Corps, calling in perhaps (though he does not mention it) the 2nd Corps from Espinhal, which is no more than twenty miles away. The reasons which he gives for not doing so are firstly, that, since the departure of Drouet and his division on the 11th, his whole force was no more than half that of Wellington; as a matter of fact he had still 45,000 men, his adversary just about the same number. Secondly, that the morale of the army was impaired by long privations and short rations. Thirdly, that the stock of ammunition was dangerously low, and the artillery horses could hardly move. Fourthly, that he was hampered by the fact that his lieutenants (he is alluding to Ney in especial) were set on abandoning Portugal, ‘which contributes in no small degree to a lack of that harmony which ought to reign in an army.’ Fifthly, that a defeat at Condeixa would mean the inevitable loss of all his artillery, train, wounded, and baggage, while a success would not seriously injure Wellington, who could always retire on to the Lines of Torres Vedras. Sixthly, that being in the midst of a population roused to fury by the ravages of his army, he found that he could gather in little or no food, and was fast using up the stock that he had brought with him. Taking all these points into consideration, and being informed by Montbrun that, even if he succeeded in seizing Coimbra, its bridge would take two days to repair, he had resolved to avoid a general action, to abandon any attempt to pass the Mondego, and to draw back towards the 9th Corps and the Spanish frontier, where he could find the food and the new equipment which the army needed.
Map of the combat of Redinha
Accordingly, on the early morning of March 13th the decisive step which committed Masséna to a retreat towards Celorico and the 9th Corps was taken. The 8th Corps was marched off, covering the train, along the road which leads by Miranda de Corvo to the Ponte de Murcella and the upper Mondego, instead of toward Coimbra, now only eight miles away. To cover its flank Loison’s division was moved from Raba?al, where it had lain on the day of the combat of Redinha, to Fonte Cuberta. Ney remained behind at Condeixa with his two old[p. 146] divisions, to cover the fork of the roads, and to detain the Allies as long as possible, while Junot and the trains were toiling along the bad and mountainous road towards Miranda de Corvo. The 2nd Corps was still kept at Espinhal, where it was observed by Nightingale’s brigade, which had dogged its steps at a cautious distance since the 9th.
These arrangements did not work very well, for Ney was turned out of the Condeixa position, much earlier than he or Masséna had expected, by Wellington’s skilful man?uvres. The movement used against him was much the same as at Redinha; the 3rd Division marched by a mountain path to turn his left, while the 6th Division, coming in from Souré by a wide sweep, appeared at Ega, almost behind his right wing, and threatened to get between him and Coimbra. Meanwhile the 4th and Light Divisions, with the rest of the army behind them, were halted on distant heights in his front, ready to attack when the turning movements should become pronounced. Ney was, very properly, anxious about his retreat, for he could not any longer (as at Pombal and Redinha) give back to his rear, but was forced to take a side direction, in order to follow the 8th Corps on the Miranda de Corvo road. The moment that he saw Picton making for this road, to cut him off from the rest of the French, he set fire to the town of Condeixa and moved off in great haste, just avoiding Picton, to Casal Novo, a village five miles east of his first position, where he formed up again at dusk. The day’s operations had been almost bloodless; nothing more than a few musket shots were exchanged by the skirmishers of the two sides. But they had been of the highest strategical importance, since they ended in the complete abandonment of the attempt to reach Coimbra by the French.
Incidentally, the rapid fashion in which Ney had been evicted from the cross-roads at Condeixa nearly led to disaster some of the outlying fractions of the French army. Masséna himself had halted at Fonte Cuberta, six miles to the south-east, with his staff and Loison’s division, which was escorting the reserve artillery of the 6th and 8th Corps. He was intending to cover Ney’s left from any wide turning movement by the British. The road on which this village lies falls into that from Condeixa to Miranda de Corvo about three miles from the first[p. 147]-named place. Ney, when preparing to evacuate Condeixa, sent an aide-de-camp to advise the Commander-in-Chief that he was about to retire. But the officer charged with the message lost his way, and only arrived at Fonte Cuberta late in the afternoon with the dispatch. By this time Ney had already reached Casal Novo, some distance beyond the point at which the Fonte Cuberta road fell into his line of retreat. Masséna and the division in his company were therefore cut off from their proper route for retiring on to the main army. Within a few minutes after the arrival of Ney’s messenger, a patrol of the German hussars arrived at the village, and nearly rode into Masséna and his staff, who were dining in the open air under a tree outside its entrance. There was a mutual surprise; the Marshal’s escort of fifty men ran to their arms, while the hussars halted, not understanding what they had come upon. If they had charged, Masséna might have been taken or slain, as several French narrators assert. He mounted and galloped back in haste towards Loison’s infantry, who were camped in and beyond the village. The hussars went off to report to their squadron commander that Fonte Cuberta was still occupied—it had been with the object of obtaining information on this point that the reconnaissance had been sent out. Masséna hastened to put Loison’s men under march for Casal Novo, by a very rugged side-track, called up Clausel’s division to cover him, and got off in the dusk unhindered, save by a few flank skirmishers belonging to Picton’s division, who came upon him in the dark and were brushed away with ease.
[p. 148]This incident led to a furious quarrel between Masséna and Ney, for the former asserted, as it seems, that the latter had promised to hold Condeixa for a whole day or more, and had moved off at noon out of mere malice, so as to leave his chief in an exposed position. If we may believe the narrative of Masséna’s aide-de-camp, Fririon, he asserted that Ney had deliberately wished to get him captured, and had executed his retreat ‘clandestinement’. It was impossible to persuade him to the contrary, and he saved up his wrath for the next occasion when he should be able to convict Ney of open disobedience, and not of mere errors of judgement. There can be no doubt that he was doing an injustice to his lieutenant in suspecting him of such a monstrous plot: Ney was a man of honour; Masséna had himself such a doubtful record for probity that we can well understand his suspicion of others. In truth, what happened was that the younger Marshal had promised to defend Condeixa longer than was really possible, when Wellington (as on this day) was in his happiest mood, and man?uvring with a skill which made a long resistance impracticable.
But Loison’s division was not the only French force which was in serious danger on March 13. Montbrun had lingered in front of Coimbra, till his retreat also was imperilled by the loss of Condeixa and its all-important bifurcation of roads. At eight o’clock in the morning he had made his last vain attempt to win his way into the city—this time by negotiation. He sent a parlementaire on to the broken bridge, with a demand that Trant should give up the place, and a promise that the citizens should suffer no harm, and the garrison should be allowed free[p. 149] egress. This last was really not his to grant, for during the night Trant had removed everything from the city except a battalion of Militia and the two guns at the bridge. The sergeant in command of these pieces (a certain José Correia Leal, whose name the Portuguese have very properly preserved) adroitly wasted time by detaining the French officer. He told him that he must wait till an answer came from Trant, whose absence he kept concealed, and then, after some hours, said that his commander had gone to visit a distant point of the river defences, from which he would not be back till the next morning. Meanwhile, if any attempt were made to attack the bridge, he had orders to blow up several more arches, which were mined. Time drifted on, and meanwhile Montbrun received at noon the news that Ney was forced to give up Condeixa, i. e. that there was no more prospect of using Coimbra as a crossing-point. Moreover his own retreat was in danger, if an English detachment should march straight from Condeixa towards the bridge, a distance of only eight miles. The French general was obliged to abscond, and the only route open to him, since the chaussée was lost, was a rough path which, after coasting along the south bank of the Mondego for some time, turns up into the valley of the E?a, and so reaches Miranda de Corvo.
After blowing up many of his wheeled vehicles, Montbrun hastened to take this track, and escaped by it, though he was discovered and pursued by some of Wellington’s cavalry patrols, who pressed his rearguard and made many prisoners. But the division of dragoons, with the infantry battalion attached, and the two horse artillery batteries—their caissons had to be destroyed because of the badness of the road—ultimately reached Miranda with no great loss.
This was a truly important day, the most critical in the whole campaign, since at its end Coimbra was safe, and the whole[p. 150] French army had been turned on to the road towards Spain. Wellington was satisfied, and had no reason to be otherwise. The accusation made against him by many critics of over-caution, which is said to have prevented him from destroying Loison’s and Montbrun’s detachments, seems unjustifiable. The cardinal fact that he was not superior in numerical strength to the army that he was pursuing is too often forgotten; indeed, the French writers from Masséna down to to-day have nearly always credited him with 50,000 or 60,000 men, whereas he had barely 45,000, of whom only 32,000 were British, and the Portuguese were still in great part untried troops; for though those of them who had passed the test of battle (Pack’s and Power’s brigades, the Ca?adores in the Light Division, and the artillery) had done admirably hitherto, there were still four whole brigades which had never been in serious action since they were reorganized in 1809. Nothing was to be risked, and partial attacks by unsupported vanguards were to be eschewed, when (as Wellington remarked in his dispatch of March 14) ‘the whole country affords advantageous positions to a retreating army, of which the enemy has shown that he knows how to avail himself. They are leaving the country, as they entered it, in one solid mass, covering their rear on every march by one (or sometimes two) corps d’armée, in the successive positions which the country affords, which corps d’armée are closely supported by the rest.’ A general action against equal or superior numbers ranged on a strong hill-position was clearly inadvisable, and the plan of man?uvring the enemy out of each line that he took up by a short flanking movement was infinitely preferable. Flanking movements take time, and unless the enemy is very slow or very rash, have effective rather than brilliant results. But Wellington never ‘played to the gallery’; he was no vendor of bulletins; he had a small army which it was difficult to reinforce, and he could not afford to waste his precious men in hazardous combats. It would have been of little profit to him if he had[p. 151] destroyed a division or two of the enemy, and had then arrived on the Spanish frontier with an army diminished by 10,000 men. The enemy had unlimited supports behind him; he had practically none. For when he had taken out his field army, and had detached Beresford to Estremadura, there were no regular troops left in Portugal save the newly formed 7th Division, which was coming up from Lisbon to join the main body.
Map of the combat of Casal Novo
Enlarge CASAL NOVO
That Wellington’s system was sound was sufficiently proved by an incident of the next morning’s march, when the army suffered the only check which it was destined to meet during the campaign, and lost more men than on any other day of this eventful month. At early dawn on the 14th there was a dense fog; notwithstanding this, Sir William Erskine, who was commanding the vanguard, composed of the Light Division, Pack’s Portuguese, and Arentschildt’s cavalry brigade, thought fit to march straight at the enemy, his orders of the preceding night being to stick to Ney’s heels. The French rearguard, Marchand’s division, was holding the village of Casal Novo, a strong post on a rising ground, surrounded with stone walls and enclosures, while the rest of the 6th and 8th Corps were defiling along the road to Ch?o de Lamas and Miranda de Corvo. The Light Division, heading the advancing column, ran into the pickets of the French, whereupon Erskine ordered out three companies of the 52nd and sent them forward to clear the way. They were soon heavily engaged, for Marchand was in force. When the fog lifted daylight showed the five battalions of the Light Division clubbed on the road, under the front of the enemy’s line of a battery and eleven battalions, ranged on the height of Casal Novo. Pack’s Portuguese and the 3rd Division were some distance off, coming along the defile which leads from Condeixa. The Light Division had to extend and fight hard in order to keep its ground, while the main body was coming up and developing a flanking movement against the French. It lost heavily of necessity, and was only released from a dangerous position by the movement of Picton and the 3rd Division to the right, which forced the French to abscond. Marchand’s division then fell back behind[p. 152] Mermet’s, which was in position two miles to the rear, between the villages of Casal de Azan and Villa Seca. This second position was properly turned, and carried without loss, if with some delay. Then the enemy was discovered in the afternoon in a third and still more formidable post, on the heights of Ch?o de Lamas. This was treated in the same fashion, the Light Division and Pack’s Portuguese turning its left, Picton its right, while the main body, coming up from the rear, halted opposite its centre. Ney then gave up his position, and fell back six miles down hill, towards Miranda de Corvo on the banks of the E?a river, where the 8th Corps and Montbrun’s cavalry were waiting for him. The pursuers, tired out by a running fight of twelve hours, during which they had gained fourteen miles of ground, halted in front of him. Their loss had been 11 officers and 119 men in the British, and 25 in the Portuguese ranks, a total of 155. More than half fell in the mismanaged business of the early morning, in which the 43rd, 52nd, and 95th lost 9 officers and over 80 men, in an utterly unnecessary combat. This was the first of two exhibitions of wrongheadedness by which the newly arrived general, William Erskine, lost Wellington’s confidence. The second, on April 3rd, was (as we shall see) to be a still more discreditable affair. The French loss at Casal Novo and in the succeeding skirmishes of the day was apparently much smaller than that of the British, though the official figure of 55 killed[p. 153] and wounded seems very low. On this morning the British, for the first time during the retreat, began to take prisoners on a considerable scale; there were more than 100 captured between Casal Novo and Miranda de Corvo, partly skirmishers cut off during the long bickering in woods and enclosures which filled the day, partly stragglers and marauders, who were taken in the country-side while wandering away from their colours.
On this evening Reynier and the 2nd Corps, so long divided from the rest of the French army, joined the main column. From March 10th to March 13th they had lain at Espinhal, resting after the difficult passage of the mountains, and endeavouring, without much success, to scrape together food to fill their depleted stores. Being closely observed, though not attacked, by Nightingale’s brigade, they could not scatter very far for marauding. But on the 14th Wellington, during the Casal Novo fighting, threw out Cole’s 4th Division far to his right to Penella, where it got into touch with Nightingale. Seeing that there was now a serious force in front of Reynier, and that it might thrust itself between him and the rest of the army, Masséna bade his[p. 154] lieutenant break up without delay, and come in to Miranda de Corvo. This was easily done by a ten-mile march in the afternoon, and the 2nd Corps camped on the further side of the E?a river that night. Thus the whole French army, save Conroux’s division, was concentrated, and 44,000 men under arms, dragging behind them a baggage-train that was still considerable, and over 5,000 sick and wounded, were gathered in the defile and the little plain north of it, with a most forbidding mountain range in their front, and the pursuing columns of Wellington in their rear.
The situation appeared so grave to Masséna that he resolved to lighten his army so far as was possible, in order to allow it to march faster. On this night there was a general destruction not only of all wheeled vehicles, save a minimum of ammunition waggons, but of all the baggage of the army, regimental as well as personal. Ney set the example by burning his own carriages, and abandoning all that could not be carried on pack mules. The sick and wounded were transferred from waggons on to beasts of burden—a change which caused the death or abandonment of many hundreds of them during the next two days. A strict inspection was made of all the surviving draught and pack animals, and when those still in a fair state had been set aside for the carriage of the sick and the ammunition, an order was issued that all the rest should be put to death. To avoid the noise which would have been caused by shooting them, the officer charged with this duty caused them all to be hamstrung, a cruel device which was surely unnecessary, for they could have been killed as easily as mutilated by the sword or knife. The horrid sight of more than 500 live horses, mules, and asses sprawling or hobbling in a bleeding mass, just outside the village of Miranda de Corvo, was never forgotten by those who witnessed it in the pursuit of the following morning.
[p. 155]The sacrifice of the baggage was the preliminary to a desperate and fatiguing night march. The 2nd Corps started off first, then the 8th, leaving the 6th as usual to bring up the rear. After firing Miranda de Corvo, in order that the conflagration in the narrow street leading up from the bridge might delay the advance of the Allies, Ney followed the rest of the army at one in the morning. All marched slowly in the dark for ten miles of an uphill road, and before noon reached the long descent into the valley of the Ceira, at the village of Foz do Arouce. The 2nd and 8th Corps crossed the stream with much delay, at a bridge which had been somewhat injured by the local Ordenan?a but was still serviceable. They deployed on a range of commanding heights on the further side, and encamped. Ney, always eager to carry on the detaining process which he had hitherto practised with such skill, only sent three of his six brigades across the river, though Masséna had ordered him to pass, and to destroy the bridge. He remained with the rest and Lamotte’s light cavalry, posted on two long hills with the village of Foz between them, on the hither side of the water. Though he had a good position, yet the defile to the rear was a dangerous thing for such a large body of troops, since the Ceira was in[p. 156] flood, and every man had to retire over the single damaged bridge. Moreover the troops, tired by the night march, guarded themselves badly; in especial the cavalry, which ought to have watched every road, with vedettes out for many miles to the front, huddled together near the river for the convenience of water and grazing: General Lamotte indeed crossed the Ceira with great part of his men, and seems to have kept no look-out whatever.
Wellington’s pursuit this morning started very late. The burning of the French baggage and of the town of Miranda had been noted in the last hours of the night. But at dawn a heavy fog arose, and Wellington refused to move his masses till it was certain that the French were not still in position on the heights beyond the river with all their 44,000 men. For if Masséna were seeking a battle, as was quite possible, now that he had concentrated all his three corps, it would be reckless to attack him when every man of the allied army had to file over a narrow bridge. It was not till reconnaissances had pushed across the E?a, and had explored the burning town, and the ground beyond for some miles, that orders were issued for the army to march on. Even then the fog had not lifted, and the morning was some hours old before the 3rd and Light Divisions were on their way. They followed the retreating French up the long ascent, picking up many sick and stragglers, and at about four o’clock in the afternoon came in sight of the enemy in their new position behind the Ceira, with a formidable front extending for several miles along the hills, and Ney’s rearguard visible on the lower eminences on the hither side of the stream. Picton and Erskine halted, thinking that it was too late in the afternoon to undertake a serious attack, and that Wellington would wait, as usual, for his supports to come up. They had directed their divisions to encamp and thrown out their pickets, when the Commander-in-Chief rode up, not long before dusk.[p. 157] Surveying the enemy, and seeing that few battalions were under arms, and that Ney was evidently expecting no fighting—his cavalry indeed had given him no proper warning of the approach of the Allies—Wellington resolved to strike at once, though his nearest reserve, the 6th Division, was still some way off. Picton was told to attack the French left, the Light Division their right. The first blow was very effective and partook of the nature of a surprise, for the enemy was caught unprepared. Some companies of the 95th Rifles, penetrating down a hollow road, arrived almost unopposed in the village of Foz, quite close to the bridge, while the rest of the Light Division was holding Marchand’s troops engaged in a frontal fight, and Picton was making good way against the brigade belonging to Mermet, which formed the French left. The noise of close combat breaking out almost in their rear, at a spot which seemed to indicate that the bridge was in danger, and their retreat cut off, caused a panic in the French right-centre, and the 39th regiment broke its ranks and hurried towards the bridge, where it met and became jammed against Lamotte’s cavalry, who were hastily returning to take up the position from which they had unwisely retired an hour or two before. Finding the passage impossible, the fugitives turned to a deep ford a little down-stream and plunged into it, where many were drowned and the regimental eagle was lost, while their colonel was taken prisoner. Ney saved the situation, which had arisen through his own disobedience to Masséna’s orders, by charging, with the third battalion of the 69th regiment the rifle companies which had got into Foz do Arouce and were threatening the bridge. They were driven back on to their support, the 52nd regiment, and the passage having been cleared by the Marshal’s exertions, the troops to the left and right crossed it in some disorder, and took refuge on the opposite bank. They were shelled during[p. 158] their defile, not only by Ross’s and Bull’s horse artillery batteries, but by some guns belonging to their own 8th Corps, which in the deepening twilight failed to distinguish between pursuers and pursued. By the time that night had fully set in, the French rearguard was all over the river, and the bridge was blown up. If the attack had been delivered an hour earlier, it is probable that Ney would have suffered losses far greater than he actually endured—perhaps 250 men killed, wounded, drowned, or taken—for the British divisions were prevented by the failing light from acting as effectively as they otherwise might against the masses hastily recrossing the bridge. Wellington’s loss was trifling—4 officers and 67 men, nearly a third of them in the rifle companies which had broken the French centre for a moment, and had then been driven back by Ney. The small remainder of the baggage of Marchand and Mermet was captured on this occasion, including some biscuit, which proved most grateful to the Light Division, as it had, like the rest of the British army, outmarched its transport.