Battle of Pombal
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|Battle of Pombal|
|Part of the Peninsular War|
|Commanders and leaders|
Luís do Rego Barreto
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Pombal (March 11, 1811) was a sharp skirmish fought at the eponymous town during Marshal Masséna's retreat from the Lines of Torres Vedras, the first in a series of lauded rearguard actions fought by Michel Ney. The French were pursued by Wellington and his British-Portuguese army but the Allied advance was energetically contested by Ney's efforts, preventing Wellington from crushing Masséna's army when it was critically vulnerable.
At the Battle of Pombal, Ney turned to face the larger Anglo-Portuguese forces and defeated their attack.
Unable to break the Lines of Torres Vedras, Ney was given charge of the rear-guard while the main body of the French army withdrew from Portugal. The rear-guard consisted of Mermet's and Marchand's divisions.
From the very beginning, Marshal Ney deceived the 'Iron Duke' (Wellington), manoeuvring his troops so that Wellington believed that the French were about to return to Torres Vedras, and thus he suspended an offensive operation for several hours, giving Masséna a huge running start.
When it became clear to Wellington that he had been deceived, the British-Portuguese left Torres Vedras and began a pursuit. The British-Portuguese caught up with Ney at the town of Pombal.
A British advanced-guard much larger than that of the French, the latter consisting of only two battalions of the 6th Light Infantry, attacked the town of Pombal. The two French battalions were overwhelmed by numbers and, after a bitter struggle, the French were forced out of Pombal.
It was then that Ney rushed in and spoke to the 6th Light Infantry. "Chasseurs," he said, "you are losing your beautiful reputation, and you will dishonour yourselves forever if you do not drive the enemy out of Pombal. Come on! Those who are brave, with me!" With these words he galloped towards Pombal and the sixteenth Chasseurs charged with great enthusiasm. The Anglo-Portuguese was driven out, all the way to the Arunca River where several allied soldiers drowned.
Despite his success, Ney promptly set fire to the town of Pombal and continued his retreat on the right bank of the Arunca. The next action would be the Battle of Redinha.
British general Sir Thomas Picton was impressed by Ney’s actions, as the former was able to observe the latter’s deceiving movements, claiming that it was a "perfect lesson in the art of war".
- James A. Weston (1895). Historic Doubts as to the Execution of Marshal Ney 1895. New York. 46-47.
- Charles-Théodore Beauvais (1820). Victoires, conquêtes, désastres, revers et guerres civiles des francais, volume 20.''
- Smith, Digby (1998). The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Databook. 355-356.