As the weeks wore on, and the winter drew to an end, Wilson obtained some slight reinforcements. When he first advanced the Spaniards could give him no help, for the garrison of Ciudad Rodrigo itself consisted of nothing but its six companies of[p. 258] urban militia, and a new battalion of 500 men, which had been on the point of setting out to join La Romana when its way to Leon was intercepted by the French. There were 1,400 men to man a fortress which required a garrison of 4,000! But before January was out, Pignatelli, the captain-general of Castile, had sent into the place a regiment which he had raised in the mountains of Avila, and Carlos d’Espa?a had begun to form some new battalions from the peasantry of the Ciudad Rodrigo district, stiffened by stragglers from La Romana’s army. In February the Central Junta gave Wilson a provisional command over the Spanish forces in Leon, and he used his authority to draw upon the garrison of Rodrigo for detachments to strengthen his outposts. He also requisitioned men from Almeida, when the Portuguese regiments there placed had begun to fill up their ranks to a respectable strength. A few cavalry of the re-formed 11th of the line were especially useful to him for scouting work.
With this small assistance, Wilson, whose total force never exceeded 400 horse and 3,000 infantry, kept Lapisse employed throughout February and March. He beat up the French quarters on several occasions, and twice captured large convoys of provisions which were being directed on Salamanca; to fall upon one of these, a great requisition of foodstuffs from Ledesma, he dashed far within Lapisse’s lines, but brought out all the wagons in safety and delivered them to the governor of Ciudad Rodrigo. At last, emboldened by his adversary’s timidity, he extended his right beyond the Sierra de Francia, and established part of the Legion under Colonel Mayne in the Puerto de Ba?os, the main pass between Salamanca and Estremadura. Thus Lapisse was completely cut off from all communication[p. 259] with Victor and the French army on the Tagus, save by the circuitous route through Madrid.
Jourdan, writing in the name of King Joseph, had duly transmitted to Lapisse the Emperor’s orders to march on Abrantes, the moment that it should be known that Soult had arrived at Oporto. He had even reiterated these directions in February, though both he and the King doubted their wisdom. Victor had written to Madrid to suggest that Alcantara would be a much better and safer objective for the division to aim at than Abrantes. He wished to draw Lapisse’s troops (which properly belonged to the 1st Corps) into his own sphere of operations, and repeatedly declared that without them he had no hope of bringing his Estremaduran campaign to a happy end, much less of executing any effective diversion against Portugal. Jourdan agreed with him, opining that Lapisse would miscarry, if he invaded central Portugal on an independent line of operations. But no one was so convinced of this as Lapisse himself, who, with his exaggerated ideas of the strength of Wilson, was most reluctant to move forward. As late as the end of March the Emperor’s orders were still ostensibly in vigour, and the general only excused himself for not marching, by pretending that he could not venture to advance till he had certain news of Soult’s movements. This the Galician insurgents were obliging enough to keep from him.
At last, however, Jourdan yielded to Victor’s wishes, and authorized Lapisse to drop down on to Alcantara, keeping outside the limits of Portugal, instead of making the attack on Rodrigo and the subsequent dash at Abrantes which the Emperor had prescribed. Overjoyed at escaping from the responsibility which he dreaded, Lapisse first prepared to march[p. 260] southward by the Puerto de Ba?os. But when he found it held by Mayne and the troops of Wilson’s right wing, he made no attempt to force the passage, but resolved to carry out his design by stratagem. Massing his division, he marched on Ciudad Rodrigo upon April 6. He pierced with ease the feeble screen of Wilson’s outposts and appeared in front of the Spanish fortress, which he duly summoned to surrender. But though the place might easily have been carried by a coup de main in January, it was now safe against anything but a formal siege, and Lapisse had neither a battering-train nor any real intention of attacking. When the governor returned a defiant answer, the French division made a show of sitting down in front of the walls. This was done in order to draw Wilson to the aid of the place, and the move was successful. Calling in all his outlying detachments from the nearer passes and collecting some of Carlos d’Espa?a’s levies, Sir Robert took post close to the walls of Ciudad Rodrigo, with a battalion of the Legion under Colonel Grant, some other Portuguese troops and four guns.
Having thus lured Wilson away from the passes, the French general suddenly broke up by night, and made a forced march for the Puerto de Perales, the nearest mountain-road to Alcantara. He thus obtained a full day’s start, and got off unmolested. Sir Robert and Carlos d’Espa?a followed on his track as soon as they discovered his departure, and Mayne also pursued, from the Puerto de Ba?os, but none of them could do more than harass his rearguard, with which they skirmished for three days in the passes. It would not have been wise of them to attempt more, even if they could have got into touch with the main body, for the French division was double their strength. Meanwhile the peasantry of the Sierra de Gata endeavoured to stop Lapisse’s progress, by blocking the defiles; but he swept them away with ease, and they never succeeded in delaying him for more than a few hours. Their incessant ‘sniping’ and night attacks exasperated the French, who dealt most ruthlessly with the country-side as they passed. When[p. 261] they arrived at Alcantara, and found the little town barricaded, they not only refused all quarter to the fighting-men when they stormed the place, but committed dreadful atrocities on the non-combatants. Not only murder and rape but mutilation and torture are reported by credible witnesses. After the houses had been sacked, the very tombs in the churches were broken open in search of plunder. Leaving Alcantara full of corpses and ruins [April 12], the division marched on by Caceres and joined Victor in his camp near Merida [April 19].
Since Lapisse, then, had moved off far to the south, and thrown in his lot with his old comrades of the 1st Corps, it was in vain that Soult sought for news of him on the Douro after the fall of Oporto. When Loison set out to cross the Tamega and to enter the Tras-os-Montes, in order that he might obtain information of the movements of the division at Salamanca, that division was making ready for its march to Alcantara; a fortnight later it had disappeared from the northern theatre of operations altogether, and Soult’s last chance of obtaining external help for his invasion of Portugal was gone. This section, in short, of Napoleon’s great plan for the march on Lisbon had been foiled, and foiled almost entirely by Sir Robert Wilson’s happy audacity and resourceful generalship. But for[p. 262] him, the timidity of Cradock, the impotence of the Spaniards, and the disorganization of the Portuguese army might have brought about the fall of Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida, at the same moment that Soult was entering Portugal on its northern frontier. His services have never received their proper meed of praise, either from the government which he served so well, or from the historians who have told the annals of the Peninsular War.
We must now return to the details of the Duke of Dalmatia’s operations. His movements were clearly dependent on the results of the two expeditions under Heudelet and Loison, which he had sent out to the north and the east after his victory of March 29.
Heudelet, after discharging on to Oporto the sick and wounded and the stores which he had been guarding at Braga, started out northward on April 6, with the 4,000 infantry of his own division and Lorges’ dragoons, whom the Marshal had ordered up to his aid from Villa de Conde. Heudelet was ordered to disperse the insurgents in the valleys of the Lima and Minho, and to relieve Tuy and Vigo, where the French garrisons were known to be in a state of siege. To reach them it was necessary to pierce through the screen of militia and Ordenanza under General Botilho, which had cut off all communication between Galicia and the army of Portugal since the month of February.
On April 7 the French general neared the line of the Lima, only to find the bridges barricaded and Botilho’s horde entrenched behind them. After some preliminary skirmishing, fords were discovered, which Heudelet’s infantry passed upon the following morning, sending the unfortunate Portuguese flying in every direction and capturing the three guns which formed their sole artillery. On the tenth the frontier fortress of Valenza was reached: it was found to be in a dilapidated condition, and garrisoned by only 200 men, who surrendered at the first summons. Tuy, where General Lamartinière had been shut up for the last seven weeks, faces Valenza across the broad estuary of the Minho, so that Heudelet was now in full communication with it.
Lamartinière, as it will be remembered, had been left behind,[p. 263] with Soult’s heavy artillery, wheeled transport, and sick, when the 2nd Corps marched for Orense on February 16. He had gathered in several belated detachments which had started from Santiago in the hope of joining the rear of the marching column, so that he had the respectable force of 3,300 men, though 1,200 of them were invalids or convalescents. The walls of Tuy were in a bad state of repair, but the governor had found no great difficulty in maintaining himself against the Galician insurgents on his own side of the Minho, and the Portuguese levies from the other bank which Botilho sent to the aid of the Spaniards. But he had been completely shut in since Soult’s departure, and could give no information concerning Ney’s operations in northern Galicia, or the general progress of the war in the other parts of Spain. The only news which he could supply was that Vigo, the next French garrison, had fallen into the hands of the enemy. On his way to Portugal Soult had dropped a force of 700 men at that fortress, lest its excellent harbour should be utilized by the British for throwing in supplies to the Galician insurgents. The paymaster-general of the 2nd Corps, with his treasure and its escort, had lagged behind during the Marshal’s advance, and, being beset by the peasantry, had entered Vigo instead of pushing on to Tuy.
When Soult had passed out of sight on the way to Orense, the Galicians of the coast-land, headed by Pablo Morillo, a lieutenant of the regular army whom La Romana had sent down from the interior, and by Manuel Garcia Del Barrio, a colonel dispatched by the Central Junta from Seville, had taken arms in great numbers, and blockaded Vigo. The French commander, Colonel Chalot, found himself unable to defend the whole extent of the fortifications for sheer want of men, and could not prevent the insurgents from establishing themselves close under the walls and keeping up a continual fire upon the garrison. He believed that a serious assault would infallibly succeed, and only refused to surrender because he was ashamed to yield to peasants. On March 23 two English frigates, the Lively and Venus, appeared off the harbour mouth, and began to supply the insurgents with ammunition, and to land heavy[p. 264] naval guns for their use. On the twenty-seventh one of the gates was battered in, and the Galicians were preparing to storm the place, when Chalot surrendered at discretion, only stipulating that he and his men should be handed over to the British, and not to the Spaniards. This request was granted, and Captain Mackinley received twenty-three officers and nearly 800 men as prisoners, besides a number of sick and several hundred non-combatants belonging to the train, and camp-followers. The plunder taken consisted of sixty wagons, 339 horses, and more than ￡6,000 in hard cash, composing the military chest of the 2nd Corps [March 28].
The Galicians had somewhat relaxed the blockade of Tuy in order to press that of Vigo, and on the very day when Chalot surrendered, General Lamartinière had sent out a flying column to endeavour to communicate with his colleague. It returned pursued by the Spaniards, to report to the governor that Vigo had fallen. On its way back to Tuy it suffered a loss of seventy prisoners and nearly 200 killed and wounded.
Heudelet and Lamartinière had now some 7,000 men collected at Tuy, a force with which they could easily have routed the whole of the insurgents of the Minho, and forced them to retire into the mountains. But Soult’s orders to his lieutenants were to avoid operations in Galicia, and to concentrate towards Portugal. Tuy was evacuated, and its garrison transferred across the frontier-river to the Portuguese fortress of Valenza. Before the transference was completed, the French generals received an unexpected visit from some troops of the 6th Corps. Ney, disquieted as to the condition of Tuy and Vigo, had sent a brigade under Maucune to seek for news of their garrisons. This force, cutting its way through the insurgents, came into[p. 265] Tuy on April 12. Thus Heudelet was at last able to get news of the operations of Ney. The information received was not encouraging: the Duke of Elchingen was beset by the Galicians on every side: La Romana had cut off one of his outlying garrisons, that of Villafranca, and his communications with Leon were so completely cut off that he had no reports to give as to the progress of affairs in the rest of Spain. Finding that Vigo was lost, and the garrison of Tuy relieved, Maucune retraced his steps and returned to Santiago, harassed for the whole of his march by the insurgents of the coast-land.
Meanwhile Heudelet’s communication with Oporto had been interrupted, for the Portuguese, routed on the Lima a week before, had come back to their old haunts, seized Braga, and blocked the high-road and the bridges. Soult only got into touch with his expeditionary force by sending out Lahoussaye with 3,000 men to reopen the road to the North. When this was done, he bade Heudelet evacuate Valenza (whose fortifications turned out to be in too bad order to be repaired in any reasonable space of time), and to disperse his division in garrisons for Braga, Viana, and Barcelos. The whole of the convoy and the sick from Tuy were sent up to Oporto.
The net result of Heudelet’s operations was that the Marshal, at the cost of immobilizing one of his four infantry divisions, obtained a somewhat precarious hold upon the flat country of Entre-Douro-e-Minho. The towns were in his hands, but the Ordenanza had only retired to the hills, and perpetually descended to worry Heudelet’s detachments, and to murder couriers and foraging parties. Meanwhile 4,000 men were wasted for all purposes of offensive action. Vigo, Tuy, and Valenza had all been abandoned, and touch with the army of Galicia had been completely lost.
Even this modest amount of success had been denied to Soult’s second expedition, that which he had sent under Loison towards the Tras-os-Montes. The enemy with whom the French had to deal in this region was Silveira, the same officer who had been defeated between Monterey and Chaves in the early days of March, when the 2nd Corps crossed the Portuguese frontier. He had fled with the wrecks of his force towards Villa Real, at the moment when Soult marched on Braga, and[p. 266] the Marshal had fondly hoped that he was now a negligible quantity in the campaign. This was far from being the case: the moment that Silveira heard that the French had crossed the mountains and marched on Braga, he had rallied his two regular regiments and his masses of Ordenanza, and pounced down on the detachment under Commandant Messager, which Soult had left in garrison at Chaves. This, it will be remembered, consisted of no more than a company of infantry, a quantity of convalescents and stragglers, and the untrustworthy Spanish-Portuguese ‘legion,’ which had been formed out of the prisoners captured on March 6 and 12. On the very day upon which Soult was routing Eben in front of Braga, Silveira appeared before the walls of Chaves with 6,000 men. Messager retired into the citadel, abandoning on the outer walls of the town a few guns, which the Portuguese were thus enabled to turn against the inner defences. After a siege of five days and much ineffective cannonading, the governor surrendered, mainly because the native ‘legion’ was preparing to open the gates to Silveira. Twelve hundred men were captured, of whom only one-third were Frenchmen capable of bearing arms, the rest being sick or ‘legionaries.’
Having made this successful stroke, Silveira marched down the Tamega to Amarante, making a movement parallel to Soult’s advance on Oporto. His recapture of Chaves brought several thousands more of Ordenanza to his standard, and at Amarante he was joined on the thirtieth by many of the fugitives who had escaped from the sack of Oporto on the previous day. He spread his army, now amounting to 9,000 or 10,000 men, along the left bank of the Tamega, whose bridges and fords he protected with entrenchments. Advanced[p. 267] guards were pushed out on the further side of the river on the three roads which lead to Oporto.
When, therefore, the troops under Loison, which Soult had sent out towards the Tras-os-Montes, drew near the Tamega, they found the Portuguese in force. The cavalry could get no further forward than Penafiel; when Foy’s infantry came up (April 7) Loison tried to force the enemy back, both on the Amarante and on the Canavezes road. He failed at each point, and sent back to the Marshal to ask for reinforcements. Seeing him halt, Silveira, whose fault was not a want of initiative, actually crossed the river with his whole army, and fell upon the two French brigades. He was checked, but not badly beaten, and Loison remained on the defensive (April 12).
At this moment Soult heard of the fall of Chaves, full seventeen days after it had happened. Realizing that Silveira was now growing formidable, he sent to Loison’s aid General Delaborde with the second of his infantry brigades, and Lorges’ dragoons. These reinforcements brought the troops facing Silveira up to a total of some 6,500 men—nearly a third of Soult’s whole disposable force. As Heudelet was still absent on the Minho with 4,000 men more, the Marshal had less than 10,000 left in and about Oporto. It was clear that the grand march on Lisbon was not likely to begin for many a long day.
On April 18 Loison advanced against Silveira, who boldly but unwisely offered him battle on the heights of Villamea in front of Amarante. Considering that he had but 2,000 regulars and 7,000 or 8,000 half-armed militia and Ordenanza, his conduct can only be described as rash in the extreme. He was, of course, beaten with great loss, and hustled back into the town of Amarante. He would have lost both it and its bridge, but for the gallantry of Colonel Patrick, an English officer commanding a battalion of the 12th of the line, who rallied his regiment in the streets, seized a group of houses and a convent at the bridge-head and beat off the pursuers. Patrick was mortally wounded, but the passage of the river was prevented. This saved the situation: Silveira got his men together, planted[p. 268] his artillery so as to command the bridge, and took post in entrenchments already constructed on the commanding heights on the left bank. Next day Loison stormed the buildings at the bridge-head, but found that he could get no further forward. The town was his, but he could not debouch from it, as the bridge was palisaded, built up with a barricade of masonry and raked by the Portuguese artillery. Soult now sent up to aid Loison still further reinforcements, Sarrut’s brigade of infantry from Merle’s division and the second brigade of Lahoussaye’s dragoons. Thus no less than 9,000 French troops, nearly half the army of Portugal, were concentrated at Amarante.
The fact that twelve whole days elapsed between the arrival of these last succours and the forcing of the passage of the Tamega had no small influence on the fate of Soult’s campaign. Hitherto the initiative had lain with him, and he had faced adversaries who could only take the defensive. This period was nearly at an end, for on April 22 Wellesley had landed at Lisbon, the English reinforcements had begun to arrive, and an army, differing in every quality from the hordes which the Marshal had encountered north of the Douro, was about to assume the offensive against him. By the time that Loison at last forced the bridge of Amarante, the British were already on the march for Coimbra and Oporto.
Silveira and his motley host, therefore, were doing admirable service to the cause of their country when they occupied 9,000 out of Soult’s 21,000 men from April 20 to May 2 on the banks of the Tamega. The ground was in their favour, but far stronger positions had been forced ere now, and it was fortunate that this one was maintained for so many days. The town of Amarante, it must be remembered, lies on comparatively low ground: its bridge is completely commanded by the heights on which Silveira had planted his camp and his batteries. The river flows in a deep-sunk ravine, and was at this moment swollen into an impassable torrent by the melting of the mountain snows. Loison more than once sent swimmers by night, in search of places where the strength of the current might be sufficiently moderate to allow of an attempt to pass on rafts or boats. Not one of these explorers could get near the further[p. 269] bank: they were swept off by the rushing water and cast ashore far down stream, on the same side from which they had started. There had been bridges above Amarante at Mondim and Aroza, and below it at Canavezes, but reconnaissances showed that they had all three been blown up, and that Portuguese detachments were watching their ruins, to prevent any attempt to reconstruct them. Loison found, therefore, that he could not turn Silveira’s position by a flanking movement: there was nothing to do save to wait till the river should fall, or to attempt to force the bridge of Amarante at all costs. Continual rains made it hopeless to expect the subsidence of the Tamega for many days, wherefore Loison devoted all his energies to the task of capturing the bridge. Even here there was one difficulty to be faced which might prove fatal: the French engineers had discovered that the structure was mined. It was necessary, therefore, not only to drive back the Portuguese, but to prevent them from blowing up the bridge at the moment of their retreat.
Loison had entrusted the details of the attack on the bridge to Delaborde, whose infantry held the advanced posts. That officer first tried to approach the head of the bridge by means of a flying sap; but when it had advanced a certain distance the fire of the Portuguese from across the river became so deadly, that after many men had been killed in the endeavour to work up to the palisades on the bridge, the attempt had to be abandoned. The next device recommended by the engineers was that an attempt should be made to lay a trestle bridge at a spot some way below the town, where a mill-dam contracted the width of the angry river. This was found to be impossible, the stream proving to be far deeper than had been supposed, while the Portuguese from the left bank picked off many of the workmen [April 25].
Soult was now growing vexed at the delay, and sent two guns of position from Oporto to Loison, to enable him to subdue the fire of the enemy’s batteries. He also offered to call up Heudelet’s division from Braga, even at the cost of abandoning his hold on the northern part of the province of Entre-Douro-e-Minho. But a mere increase of his already considerable force would have been of no service to Loison; it was a device for passing the Tamega that he needed.
Such a scheme was at last laid before him by Captain Bouchard, one of his engineers. The French officers had discovered, by a careful use of their glasses, that the Portuguese mine, which was to destroy the bridge, was situated in its left-hand arch, and that the mechanism by which it was to be worked was not a ‘sausage’ or a train of powder, but a loaded musket, whose muzzle was placed in the mine, while to its trigger was attached a cord which ran to the nearest trenches beyond the river. The musket was concealed 佛山桑拿体验 in a box, but its cord was visible to those provided with a good telescope. Bouchard argued that if the cord could be cut or broken, the enemy would not be able to touch off the mine, and he had thought out a plan for securing his end. He maintained that an explosion at the French side of the bridge would probably sever the cord without firing the mine, and that a sudden assault, made immediately after the explosion, and before the Portuguese could recover themselves, might carry the barricades. In spite of the strongly-expressed doubts of Foy and several other generals, Bouchard was finally permitted to carry out his scheme.
He executed it on the night of May 2, when a dense fog chanced to favour his daring and hazardous proceedings. Having first told off some tirailleurs to keep up a smart fire on the enemy’s trenches and 佛山桑拿按摩多少钱 distract his attention, he sent four sappers, each provided with a small powder-barrel, on to the bridge. The men, dressed in their grey capotes, crawled on hands and knees, each rolling his barrel (which was wrapped in cloth to deaden the sound) before him. They kept in the shadow, and getting close under the parapet of the bridge crept on till they reached the outermost Portuguese palisade. One after another, at long intervals, each got forward unobserved, left his barrel behind, and crawled back. The fourth sapper, starting to his feet on his return journey, was observed by the Portuguese and shot down, but Silveira’s men did not realize what he had been doing, and merely took him for some daring explorer who was[p. 271] endeavouring to spy out the state of the defences. After waiting for an hour, Bouchard sent out a fifth 佛山桑拿上门服务 sapper, who dragged behind him a ‘sausage’ of powder thirty yards long, which he successfully connected with the four barrels. All was now ready, and a battalion of picked grenadiers from Delaborde’s division, filed silently down into the street near the bridge-head: a whole brigade came behind them.
At two o’clock Bouchard fired his sausage, and the explosion followed. There were two chances of failure—one that the apparatus for firing the mine might not be disturbed by the concussion, the other that the shock might prove too strong, reach the mine, and destroy the bridge. Neither of these fatalities took place: the explosion duly broke the cord, shattered the nearest palisades, but did not affect the mine. Before the smoke had cleared away Delaborde’s grenadiers had dashed out on to the bridge, scrambled over the barricades, 佛山桑拿交流区 and driven off the guard on the further side. Regiment after regiment followed them, and charged up the mountain-side towards Silveira’s batteries and entrenchments. None of the Portuguese were under arms, save the few companies guarding the debouches from the bridge. These were swept away, and the French columns came storming into the bivouacs of the enemy before he was well awake. Hardly half a dozen cannon shots were fired on them from the batteries, and the greater part of the army of the Tras-os-Montes fled without firing a shot. Silveira escaped almost naked by the back window of the house above the bridge in which he had been sleeping.
All the ten guns in the Portuguese batteries, five standards, and several hundred prisoners fell into the hands of the victorious French, who lost (it is said) no more than two 佛山夜生活论坛 killed and seven wounded. Their good fortune had been extraordinary: without the opportune fog which hid their advance, their preliminary operations would probably have been discovered. If their explosion had done a little more or a little less than was hoped, the bridge might have been totally destroyed, or its barricades left practically uninjured—either of which chances would have foiled Bouchard’s plan. But the luck of the army of Portugal was still in the ascendant, and all went exactly as had been intended.
Thus the Tamega was passed, and Silveira decisively beaten: his levies had fled in all directions, and Soult opined that it would take a long time to rally them. The day after the fight Loison was joined at Amarante by Heudelet’s division from Braga, which, in obedience to the Marshal’s orders, had marched to join the expeditionary force, leaving
only a single battalion behind to hold Viana. This was an unfortunate move, as on Heudelet’s departure the Ordenanza came down from the Serra de Santa Catalina, and overran the district which had been evacuated, in spite of Lorges’ dragoons, who had been directed to keep the roads clear after the infantry had been withdrawn.
Meanwhile there were far more troops at Amarante than were needed for the pursuit of Silveira, so Soult called back to Oporto the division of Delaborde, leaving to Loison the infantry of Heudelet and Sarrut, with Lahoussaye’s two brigades of dragoons, a force of about 7,000 men. He ordered his lieutenant to scour the country as far as Villa Real, and to send reconnaissances on the roads toward Chaves and Braganza, with the object of frightening the insurgents to retreat as far as possible. But Loison was not to advance for more than two days’ march into the Tras-os-Montes, for rumours were beginning to arrive concerning the appearance of British troops in the direction of Coimbra, and the Marshal wished to keep his various divisions close enough to each other to enable them to concentrate with ease. If there were any truth in the news from the south, it would be dangerous to allow a force which formed a third of the whole army of Portugal to go astray in the heart of the mountains beyond the Tamega. Loison accordingly marched off on May 8 towards Villa Real, which he occupied without meeting with resistance. He learnt that Silveira and his regulars had crossed the Douro, and gone off in the direction of Lamego; but Botilho had fled up the Tamega towards Chaves, and the Ordenanza were lurking in the hills. He then returned to Amarante, where we may leave him, at the end of his tether, while we describe the state of affairs in Oporto.
SECTION XIII: CHAPTER VI
INTRIGUES AT OPORTO: THE CONSPIRACY OF ARGENTON
It will have occurred to every student of the operations of the army of Portugal during the month of April, that it was strange that Marshal Soult should have remained quiescent at Oporto, while the fate of his entire campaign was at stake during the fighting on the Tamega. His head quarters were only thirty miles from Amarante—but one day’s ride for himself and his staff—yet he never paid a single flying visit to the scene of operations, even after he had come to the conclusion that Loison was mismanaging the whole business. He sent his lieutenant many letters of reproach, forwarded to him guns of position, and ample reinforcements, but never came himself to the spot to urge on the advance, even when ten and twelve days had elapsed since the first unsuccessful attempts to force the passage of the Tamega.
The explanation of this persistent refusal of the Marshal to quit Oporto is to be found in the political not the military state of affairs. At Chaves he had proclaimed himself Viceroy of Portugal: his viceroyalty at that moment embraced only just so much soil as was covered by the encampments of his battalions. But after the capture of Oporto and the occupation of the neighbouring towns of the Entre-Douro-e-Minho, his position assumed an air of reality, and he himself allowed the duties of the viceroy to trespass on those of the commander of the Second Corps d’Armée. Nay more, there is good reason to believe that he was not merely dreaming of setting up a stable government in northern Portugal, but of something else. The evidence as to his intentions is hard to weigh, for most of it comes from the letters and diaries of men who disliked him, but there are certain facts which cannot be disguised, and the inference from them is irresistible.
With the example of Murat’s exaltation before them, the more ambitious and capable of Napoleon’s marshals could not refrain from dreaming of crowns and sceptres. Nothing seemed impossible in those astounding days, when the Emperor was creating sovereigns and realms by a stroke of the pen, whenever the notion seized him. The line between an appanaged duke and a vassal prince was a very thin one—as the case of Berthier shows. Junot had dreamed of royalty at Lisbon in 1808, and there seems little doubt that the same mirage of a crown floated before Soult’s eyes at Oporto in 1809. The city itself suggested the idea: in the Treaty of Fontainebleau Napoleon had put on paper the project for creating a ‘king of Northern Lusitania,’ with Oporto as his capital and the Entre-Douro-e-Minho as his realm. Soult was cautious and wary, but he was also greedy and ambitious. If, on the one hand, he had a wholesome fear of his master, he had on the other good reasons for believing that it might be possible to force his hand by presenting him with a fait accompli.
There was in the city the nucleus of a party which was not wholly indisposed to submit to the French domination. It was mainly composed of those enemies of the Bishop of Oporto who had been suffering from his anarchical rule of the last two months. They were the friends and relatives of those who had perished by the dagger or the rope, during the mob-law which had prevailed ever since Dom Antonio returned from Lisbon. To these may be added some men of purely material interests, who saw that the insurrection was ruining them, and a remnant of the old corrupt bureaucracy which had submitted once before to Junot—whose only thought was to keep or gain profitable posts under the government of the day, whatever that government might be. The whole body of dissidents from the cause of patriotism and independence was so small and weak, that it is impossible to believe that they would have taken any overt action if they had not received encouragement from Soult.
This much is certain—that when the disorders which accompanied the capture of Oporto were ended, Soult showed himself most anxious to conciliate the Portuguese, not only by introducing a regular and orderly government, but by going out of his way to soothe and flatter any notable who lingered in the city. In[p. 275] his anxiety to win over the clergy he caused new silver vessels and candelabra to be made to replace those which had been stolen from the churches in the sack. He filled up all civil appointments, whose holders had fled, from the small number of persons who were ready to adhere to the French. He again, as already at Chaves, endeavoured to enlist a native military force, by putting tempting offers before those officers of the regular army who had been made prisoners. All this might have had no other cause than the wish to build up a party of Afrancesados, such as already existed in Spain, and Soult openly declared that such was his object. This was the only purpose that he avowed in his dispatches to the Emperor, and in his communications with his colleagues.
But if the Marshal had no ulterior object in view, it is singular that all his native partisans concurred in setting on foot a movement for getting him saluted as king of northern Portugal. The new municipal authorities, whom he had established in the half-deserted towns occupied by his troops, sent in petitions begging him to assume the position of sovereign. Documents of this kind came in from Braga, Barcelos, Guimaraens, Feira, Oliveira and Villa de Conde. In Oporto proclamations were posted on the walls declaring that ‘the Prince Regent by his departure to Brazil had formally resigned his crown, and that the only salvation for Portugal would be that the Duke of Dalmatia, the most distinguished of the pupils of the great Napoleon, should ascend the vacant throne.’ A priest named Veloso and other persons went about in the street delivering harangues in favour of the creation of the ‘kingdom of Northern Lusitania.’ A register was opened in the municipal buildings[p. 276] to be signed by all persons who wished to join in the petition to the Marshal to assume the regal title, and a certain number of signatures were collected. A newspaper, called the Diario do Porto, was started, to support the movement, and ran for about a month. It is said that Soult’s partisans even succeeded in gathering small crowds together, before the mansion where his head quarters were established, to shout Viva o Rei Nicolao! and that the acclamations were acknowledged by showers of copper coins thrown from the windows. The latter part of this story is no doubt an invention of Soult’s enemies, but it was believed at the time by the majority of the French officers, and ‘Le Roi Nicolas’ was for the future his nickname in the army of Portugal. On April 19 the Marshal ordered his chief of the staff, General Ricard, to issue a circular letter to the generals of divisions and brigades, inviting their co-operation in the movement, and assuring them that no disloyalty to the Emperor would be involved even if the Marshal assumed regal powers. This document is the most convincing piece of evidence that exists as to Soult’s intentions. In it there is no attempt made to conceal the movement that had been set on foot: the writer’s only preoccupation is to show that it was not directed against Napoleon. When, five months later, Ricard’s circular came under the Emperor’s eye, it roused his wrath to such a pitch that he wrote in the most stinging and sarcastic terms to Soult. ‘He is astounded,’ he says, ‘to find the chief of the staff suggesting to the generals that the Marshal should be requested to take up the reins of government, and assume the attributes of supreme authority. If he had assumed[p. 277] sovereign power on his own responsibility, it would have been a crime, clear lèse-majesté, an attack on the imperial authority. How could a man of sense, like Soult, suppose that his master would permit him to exercise any power that had not been delegated to him? No wonder that the army grew discontented, and that rumours got about that the Marshal was working for himself, not for the Emperor or France. After receiving this circular, it is doubtful whether any French officer would not have been fully justified in refusing to obey any further orders issued from Oporto.’