Battle of Bussaco

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Battle of Bussaco
Part of Peninsular War
St. Clair-Battle of Bussaco.jpg
British infantry deployed in line on the ridge at Bussaco during the Peninsular War. Successive campaigns in the Iberian Peninsula led to a continuous drain on French manpower.
Date 27 September 1810
Location Bussaco, near Luso, Portugal
Result Anglo-Portuguese victory
Belligerents
United Kingdom Britain
Portugal
France France
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Viscount Wellington
Luís do Rego Barreto
France André Masséna
France Michel Ney
Strength
25,000 British
25,000 Portuguese
65,000
Casualties and losses
1,250 dead or wounded[1] 4,500 dead or wounded[1]

The Battle of Buçaco (pronounced: [buˈsaku]) or Bussaco (27 September 1810) resulted in the defeat of French forces by Lord Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese Army, in Portugal during the Peninsular War.[2][3]

Having occupied the heights of Bussaco (a 10-mile long ridge located at 40°20'40"N, 8°20'15"W) with 25,000 British and the same number of Portuguese, Wellington was attacked five times successively by 65,000 French under Marshal André Masséna. Masséna was uncertain as to the disposition and strength of the opposing forces because Wellington deployed them on the reverse slope of the ridge, where they could neither be easily seen nor easily softened up with artillery. The actual assaults were delivered by the corps of Marshal Michel Ney and General of Division (MG) Jean Reynier, but after much fierce fighting they failed to dislodge the allied forces and were driven off after having lost 4,500 men against 1,250 Anglo-Portuguese casualties.

Background[edit]

Operations[edit]

In 1810, Emperor Napoleon I ordered Masséna to drive the British from Portugal. Accordingly, the French marshal began the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo in April. The Spanish garrison held out until 9 July when the fortress fell. The Battle of the Côa was fought soon after. The Siege of Almeida ended with the fall of the Portuguese fortress in August. With all obstacles cleared from their path, the French marched on Lisbon in strength. Using selective demolition of bridges and roads, Viscount Wellington restricted the choice of routes the French could use, resulting in, at the end of September, the meeting where they found Wellington's army drawn up on the ridge of Bussaco.

Allied organization[edit]

Wellington had six British infantry divisions, the Light under Brigadier General (BG) Robert Craufurd, 1st led by Major General (MG) Brent Spencer, 2nd commanded by MG Rowland Hill, 3rd under MG Thomas Picton, 4th led by MG Lowry Cole, and 5th under MG James Leith. The latter three divisions each had a Portuguese brigade attached. In addition, there was a two-brigade Portuguese infantry division under MG John Hamilton, and three independent Portuguese brigades led by BG Denis Pack, BG Alexander Campbell and BG John Coleman.

BG George DeGrey, BG John Slade, BG George Anson and BG Henry Fane led four British cavalry brigades, plus four regiments of Portuguese cavalry. In batteries of six guns apiece, there were six British (Ross RHA, Bull RHA, Thompson, Lawson, two unknown), two King's German Legion (Rettberg, Cleeves) and five Portuguese (Rozierres, Da Cunha Preto, Da Silva, Freira, Sousa) batteries under BG Edward Howorth.[4][5] This was the first major battle of the Peninsular War in which units of the reconstituted Portuguese Army fought, and it served as a great morale boost to the inexperienced troops.

French organization[edit]

Masséna's army included the II Corps under Reynier, the VI Corps led by Ney, the VIII Corps under MG Jean Andoche Junot and a cavalry reserve led by MG Louis Pierre, Count Montbrun. The divisions of MG Pierre Hugues Victoire Merle and MG Étienne Heudelet de Bierre made up Reynier's corps. Ney's corps had three divisions under MGs Jean Marchand, Julien Mermet and Louis Loison. Junot had the divisions of MG Bertrand Clausel and MG Jean-Baptiste Solignac. Each French corps contained the standard brigade of light cavalry. General of Brigade (BG) Jean Baptiste Eblé, Masséna's artillery chief, commanded 112 guns.[6]

Plans[edit]

Mountains and National Palace of Bussaco
Battle Azulejo in National Palace of Bussaco

Wellington posted his army along the crest of Bussaco Ridge, facing east. To improve his lateral communications, he had his engineers cut a road that ran the length of the ridge on the reverse slope. Cole held the left (north) flank. Next came Craufurd, Spencer, Picton and Leith. Hill held the right (south) flank with Hamilton's men attached.[7]

Masséna, goaded by Ney and other officers to attack the British position rather than go around it, ordered a reconnaissance of the steep ridge. Very few of Wellington's troops were visible, as they remained on the reverse slope and were ordered not to light cooking fires. The French General planned to send Reynier at the centre of the ridge, which he believed to be the British right flank. Once the II Corps attack showed some signs of success, Masséna would launch Ney's corps at the British along the main road. The VIII Corps stood behind the VI Corps in reserve. While Ney announced that he was ready to attack and conquer, Reynier suddenly had second thoughts, predicting his attack would be beaten.[8]

Battle[edit]

II Corps attack[edit]

Map of the battle

Reynier's troops struck in the early morning mist. Heudelet sent his leading brigade straight up the slope in a formation one company wide and eight battalions deep. When the leading regiment reached the top of the ridge, they found themselves facing the 74th Foot and two Portuguese battalions in line, plus 12 cannon. The French tried to change formation from column into a line. Pelet says, "The column began to deploy as if at an exercise."[9] But the Allies brought intense musketry to bear. Soon, the French infantrymen were thrown into confusion. However, they clung to a precarious toehold on the ridge.

Several hundred yards to the north, Merle's division thrust up the ridge in a similar formation. Picton hurriedly massed his defenders by utilizing the ridgetop road. Met at the crest by the 88th Foot and the 45th Foot and two Portuguese battalions in a concave line, the French tried unsuccessfully to deploy into line. Crushed by converging fire, the French fled down the slope.[10] Merle was wounded while General of Brigade Jean François Graindorge fell mortally wounded.[11] Wellington rode up to Colonel Alexander Wallace of the 88th and remarked, "Wallace, I have never witnessed a more gallant charge."[12]

Seeing Heudelet's second brigade standing immobile at the foot of the ridge, Reynier rode up to BG Maximilien Foy and demanded an immediate attack. With the Allies out of position after defeating the first two attacks, Foy hit a weak spot in their defences. Fortuitously, the French struck the least prepared unit in the Allied army—a Portuguese militia unit—and routed it. But the morning mist cleared, revealing no enemies in front of the British right flank. Wellington had already ordered Leith to shift his men to the north to assist Picton. Before Foy's men could consolidate their gain, they were attacked by the 9th Foot and 38th Foot of Leith and some of Picton's men.[13] The French were swept off the ridge and Foy wounded.[11] After seeing this rout, Heudelet's other brigade withdrew to the base of the ridge.

VI Corps attack[edit]

Hearing gunfire, Ney assumed Reynier's men were enjoying success and ordered an attack. In this sector, the main highway climbed a long spur past the hamlets of Moura and Sula to reach the crest at the Convent of Bussaco. Against a very heavy British skirmish line, Loison's division fought its way forward. Near the crest, 1,800 men of the 1/43rd and 1/52nd Light Infantry battalions lay down waiting. As Loison's leading brigade approached the convent grounds, the two British units stood up, fired a terrific volley at point blank range and charged with the bayonet.[12] The French brigade collapsed and fled leaving BG Édouard Simon, their commander, wounded and a prisoner.[9]

A short time later and slightly further south, Loison's second brigade under BG Claude François Ferey ran into a close-range fire from two batteries plus Anglo-Portuguese musketry. This unit was also routed. A final thrust by BG Antoine Louis Popon de Maucune's brigade of Marchand's division met defeat when it ran into Denis Pack's Portuguese brigade. The two sides occupied the rest of the day in vigorous skirmishing, but the French did not try to attack in force again.[13]

Aftermath[edit]

The French suffered 522 dead, 3,612 wounded, and 364 captured. The Allied losses numbered 200 dead, 1,001 wounded, and 51 missing. The British and Portuguese each lost exactly 626 men.[13] Masséna then moved off to the right to flank the position, and Wellington, after spending the night in the convent, resumed the retreat of his army into the previously fortified Lines of Torres Vedras. He reached these by 10 October. After probing the Lines in the Battle of Sobral on 14 October, Masséna found them too strong to attack and withdrew into winter quarters. Deprived of food for his men and harried by Anglo-Portuguese hit-and-run tactics, he lost a further 25,000 men captured or dead from starvation or sickness before he retreated into Spain early in 1811. This finally freed Portugal from French occupation except for the fortress of Almeida, near the frontier. During the retreat, several actions were fought, including the Battle of Sabugal.

In Fiction[edit]

Sharpe's Escape by Bernard Cornwell covers the Battle of Bussaco.

References[edit]

Printed materials[edit]

  • Chartrand, Rene Bussaco 1810: Wellington defeats Napoleon's Marshals Osprey Publishing, 2001, ISBN 1-84176-310-1.
  • Glover, Michael Wellington's Peninsular Victories Macmillan, 1971, ISBN 0-330-02789-1.
  • Horward, Donald (ed.). Pelet, Jean Jacques, The French Campaign in Portugal, 1810-1811 Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1973.
  • Zimmermann, Dick, "The Battle of Bussaco," Wargamer's Digest, Dec. 1978.
  • Duque, José Matos A Batalha do Buçaco - 15 dias da história de Portugal, Quartzo Editora, 2012, ISBN 978-989-97003-0-7.

Museu Militar do Bussaco - edição comemorativa do centenário 1910-2010, Quartzo Editora/DHCM, 2010, ISBN 978-972-8347-10-9.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Glover, p 139
  2. ^ Douglas L. Wheeler, Walter C. Opello Historical Dictionary of Portugal 2010 -- Page 63 "The battle of Buçaco commenced in the morning of 27 September 1810, and the French were defeated with considerable losses. The site of the battle in the woods and hills of Buçaco is marked by a commemorative obelisk, not far from the ...
  3. ^ Mark Ellingham, John Fisher, Graham Kenyon Rough Guide to Portugal - 2002 - Page 226 "The Battle of Buçaco and the Museu Militar - The Battle of Buçaco (1810) was fought largely on the ridge just .."
  4. ^ Glover, pp 375-376
  5. ^ Horward-Pelet, pp 523-528
  6. ^ Horward-Pelet, pp 517-522
  7. ^ Zimmermann, pp 28-29
  8. ^ Horward-Pelet, p 176
  9. ^ a b Horward-Pelet, p 179
  10. ^ Glover, p 137
  11. ^ a b Horward-Pelet, p 180
  12. ^ a b Glover, p 138
  13. ^ a b c Zimmermann, p 30

Coordinates: 40°20′40″N 8°20′15″W / 40.34444°N 8.33750°W / 40.34444; -8.33750